Category Archives: Energy

Were the solar plants hit by Florence blown into oblivion?

No.

Faced with Hurricane Florence’s powerful winds and record rainfall, North Carolina’s solar farms held up with only minimal damage while other parts of the electricity system failed, an outcome that solar advocates hope will help to steer the broader energy debate….

When Florence made landfall on Sept. 14, it caused power outages across the region. As energy experts point out, the most vulnerable part of the system is not new at all: it’s the power lines and other equipment that transport electricity to customers.

Rooftop solar did ok as well.

Rooftop solar companies, such as Renu Energy Solutions in Charlotte, say there was little damage to their customers’ home solar systems. However, installers in some of the hardest-hit areas, such as Cape Fear, did not respond to messages seeking comment and there is a higher likelihood of damage there.

So, we’ll see how that goes, but I imagine the biggest problem for rooftop solar is a tree falling on the house, and when that happens, the home owner may have a bigger problem than some solar panels getting smashed.

The details are all here, in this story at Inside Climate News: Solar Energy Largely Unscathed by Hurricane Florence’s Wind and Rain

The promise of nuclear. Really, we promise!

Nuclear energy proponents drone on about the advantages of the Next Gen reactors. People should realize that the long list of advantages to that technology does not apply to any ONE technology, but rather, to a collection of different technologies that would not be part of any one reactor. So, there’s that. But now, we have one of the Great Breakthroughs evaporating even without that particular bit of smoke and mirrors being … cleared up and fogged over? Whatever. Anyway, here’s the story from MIT

Transatomic Power, an MIT spinout … is shutting down almost two years after the firm backtracked on bold claims for its design of a molten-salt reactor….

Transatomic had claimed its technology could generate electricity 75 times more efficiently than conventional light-water reactors, and run on their spent nuclear fuel. But in a white paper published in late 2016, it backed off the latter claim entirely and revised the 75 times figure to “more than twice,”…

[This] made it harder to raise the necessary additional funding, which was around $15 million. “We weren’t able to scale up the company rapidly enough to build a reactor in a reasonable time frame,” Dewan says.

So, no there isn’t really a reactor that will use up spent fuel and provide energy so cheap we won’t have to meter it.

Here is one of the articles that originally came out extolling the new technology’s virtues. I link to it here so you know what bullshit looks like.

To save the planet, this is what we have to do everywhere, all the time.

A huge amount of energy is spent going to the store. The grocery store, the hardware store, all the stores. The amount of energy spent to get an object to the store for you to buy is big, but this process is on average highly efficient. A train can hold a lot of objects, and pushing a train down the tracks is highly efficient. Also, we will hopefully eventually be running trains entirely on a combination of electricity delivered to the train indirectly, batteries, and bio-fueled generators on board. Delivering object for you to buy at the store is already efficient, but it will become more efficient with a relatively small number of (big) step.

But then everybody leaves their home and drives various distances to various stores. When I was a kid, there were two grocery stores in our neighborhood. One had no parking lot, the other had room for about five or six cars, but nobody drove to either one. We used those two wheel carts you drag along to the store (or laundromat). When you get to the grocery store, you fold the cart up and hook it to a push car, then, when you pack up your groceries, they go in that two wheeler and you drag it home. Everybody did that all the time. It was strange to drive your car to the grocery store.

I remember when my parents started to drive to get groceries. Instead of going to the store on foot (or more likely, sending one of the offspring to the store with a list), they would drive out to the edge of town to a large warehouse discount store that had sprung up, like a Cosco. Oddly, large suburban style grocery stores emerged, in my world, after these edge-of-town discount store. My parents would drive the station wagon out there, spend all day, come back and and fill the freezer and cupboards. Maybe once every six weeks. In between times, for milk and other perishables that you can’t freeze, it would be walking to the A&P. So that was all pretty efficient.

But today, tens of millions of Americans get in a car and drive a few miles to pick up some object or bunch of objects at the stores. The energy spent to do that is large. The total amount of energy we spend going to the store to get objects is probably less than the total amount of energy spent to get objects from producers (via warehouses) to stores, but not by as much as you might think.

One way to solve this is to not go to the store in a car and by an object. Order it on line. The delivery will be more efficient. Or, in some cases, go to the store on foot, bike, or public transit, get your your stuff in a big pile, and then have the store deliver it to your house. And, have all the delivery done by electric vehicles charged with energy produced without fossil carbon.

I envision a future in which we abandon mail boxes and replace them with small rooms with an indoor and outdoor access, some insulation and modest climate control, a place to put frozen stuff, refrigerator stuff, other stuff. That’s where the grocery store delivery service drops your stuff.

Or, if you are in need of new flat packed furniture, Ikea:

In a couple of years, if you buy a Malm bed at Ikea in Brooklyn and opt for delivery, Ikea will probably drop it off in an electric truck. The company is transitioning to zero-emissions delivery in New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Paris, and Shanghai by 2020. By 2025, Ikea aims to do the same for every store worldwide.

“Climate change is no longer just a threat, but it’s a reality,” says Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ikea Group. “We see how that impacts our business, our customers, and our coworkers more or less everyday . . . We want to be a leader, and take action, and speed up our plans.”

The company had announced earlier this year that it would shift to zero-emissions delivery by 2025, but now plans to work more quickly in key cities.

But where do you get one of those nice delivery receiving futuristic mail boxes with the climate control?

Here you go:

Minnesota Energy: Decarbonize, locally produce

The McKnight Foundation and GridLab contracted Vibrant Clean Energy, LLC, to prepare a report called Minnesota’s Smarter Grid: Pathways Towards a Clean, Reliable and Affordable Transportation and Energy System. Among other things, the report says:

The study has shown that the economy in Minnesota can decarbonize by 80% (from 2005 levels) by 2050. All the decarbonization pathways involve deeper energy efficiency of existing electric demands (particularly in the industrial sector), heavy electrification of transportation, transitioningheating of space and water from natural gas and resistive heating to heat pumps, building new zero-emission generation technologies, and retiring fossil-fuel generation.

The electrification of other sectors provides the electricity sector with new demands, which have different load profiles to existing demands and have greater flexibility potential. These new loads provide increasing sales for the electricity sector to invest against. Further, the greater flexibility allows the electricity grid to incorporate more variable resources, which are low-cost and nearzero emissions. Further, the electrification provides net cost savings for consumers because the reduction in spending on other energy supplies (natural gas for heating and gasoline for transportation) outweighs the additional spending in the electricity sector for the electrified loads.

You can get the PDF here.

How to save what is left of Nuclear Energy

In the past, most Americans (and probably many Europeans and Japanese) were either for or against nuclear. These days, a large middle area has opened up because nuclear is not fossil fuel, and may have an important role in future energy economies.

Having said that, building new nuclear plants have mostly moved into the pipe dream category. It is jut not happening. But maintaining and continuing to run existing plants is probably important, no what you think about nukes.

Here’s the thing. There are two reasons to shut down an existing plant. 1) It is too old or otherwise unsafe and needs to be closed. This is fairly rare but will become more common over the ext 30 years, and eventually, every one will be shuttered and converted over to nuclear waste storage facility. 2) it is too damn expensive to run.

We need to shut down the type 1 plants. We can have a conversation some other time about the strategy of replacing such plants with new nukes. We should not be shutting down type 2 plants now, because that puts pressure on the industry, which is relatively dumb when it comes to making long term decisions, to maintain or even build new methane, oil, or even coal plants.

But how do we save these type 2 plants from premature decommissioning?

With a carbon dividend. (I do not call this a carbon fee and divided or carbon tax because those terms are inaccurate. See: “The Carbon Dividend Is Not A Tax“)

This post at Think Progress outlines the problem and the solution. Warning: Ironies are exposed, so wear your face gear.

Decarbonizing the not so low hanging fruit

We, we humans, need to stop releasing fossil carbon into the atmosphere well before 2100 or we are doomed.

The main reason we are not heading headlong into that project, getting it done right away, is because of the fossil fuel industry combined with a deep seated self-hate on the part of Republicans, who would rather end civilization and make all of our children suffer than to do something an environmentalist might suggest.

The road to decarbonization is the same as the road to electrification plus the road to making all of our electricity with something other than coal, oil, methane, and the like. This could involve a certain amount of liquid fuel that is generated using wind and solar power, and magical bacteria or something, perhaps with a mix of plant material or other bio-sources.

There are easy ways to do part of this fast. For example, building wind farms is easy and produces piles of electricity. Same with solar. “But wait wait,” you say. “Those sources are intermittent, we can’t…” But I say to you, if this is your first thought, you are out of date (or are a Republican?). Solar and wind are indeed intermittent, but we can still use them as the backbone of our power system. This is a problem, but not one that can’t be figured out and has been, in fact, largely solved using a number of approaches. And, that is off the topic of this post.

We can also put solar panels on our roofs to a much greater degree than we do now. It has been estimated that a reasonable, not overdone but pretty thorough, deployment of PV panels on the roofs of America would cover about 40% of our in-building electrical needs as they stand now. This added to the eventual (though expensive, yet easy) deployment of heat pumps and total electrification of everything in those buildings probably averages out (the heat pumps reduce energy demand, the electrification increases demand for electricity as compared to gas or oil).

There are other types of low hanging fruit as well, such as increasing efficiency, telecommuting.

But what about the hard to do stuff, the major uses of energy that can’t be changes so easily?

There is a new review paper out in Science that discusses this. The paper is:

Net-zero emissions energy systems, boy Steven Davis, Nathan Lewis, Matthew Shaner, et al. Science 360(6396).

If you click on that link, you might be able to see the paper, as I think it is OpenAccess.

The paper identifies the following areas as tough nuts to crack:

  • Aviation
  • Long-distance transport
  • Shipping
  • Steel production
  • Cement production

It identifies the following technologies as helpful:

  • Hydrogen and ammonia fuels
  • Biofuels
  • Synthetic hydrocarbons
  • Direct solar fuels

The paper also identifies “highly reliable electricity” and energy storage as key areas of further development.

I do not see any major surprises in this paper, but that is because it is a review paper. I think it is a useful read to help organize one’s thinking on the transitions we will attempt, should the Republicans allow it, over the next decades.

Nuclear Plant Bill Riles, Confuses, Perhaps Conspires

There is a pair of bills working their way through the Minnesota state legislature that would change the way Xcel Energy can pay for certain costs of maintaining and upgrading its nuclear power plants between now and their eventual final shut down several years hence. Continue reading Nuclear Plant Bill Riles, Confuses, Perhaps Conspires

Are electric cars worth it?

My friend, and expert on electric cars, Phillip Adams, made a proposal at a public political meeting that we should make the transition to electric vehicles. He had a solid argument, and there were several different lines of reasoning leading to that conclusion.

A person speaking in opposition, with good intention, noted that we do burn coal to make electricity, and therefore, while we all want to eventually see all the cars be electric, don’t jump on that bandwagon too fast, buddy boy…

Phil was right, the arguer-againster-guy was wrong.

There are three main reasons for this. Continue reading Are electric cars worth it?

Coal Mine Safety

Remember Don Blankenship? He’s this guy:

On Wednesday West Virginia station WCHS reported that the former Massey Energy CEO, fresh off a one-year stint in a federal prison for conspiring to commit mine-safety violations in the run-up to the deadliest mining disaster in decades, has filed paperwork to run in next year’s Republican Senate primary.

Here’s a refresher on the Upper Big Branch disaster (60 minues/Anderson Cooper): Continue reading Coal Mine Safety

Trump Ruins Everything For Everybody (but good news from Minnesota)

Donald Trump went into a snit and his babysitter wasn’t around to control him, so he barged into a meeting and slapped high tariffs on metal imports. The stock market suffered a mini-crash, and according to some experts, 2 cents per watt have been added to utility scale solar projects. Continue reading Trump Ruins Everything For Everybody (but good news from Minnesota)