Category Archives: Energy

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)

About 30 Thousand U.S. Newborns At Risk From Fracking per Year?

A new study based in Pennsylvania measured health indicators of children born far, near, and very near, fracking sites. The study showed an effect that reached out to about 3 kilometers, but that was much stronger within about 1 kilometer, from fracking sites. The effects included lower birth weight and similar differences that are associated with in utero stress.

Given this finding, it is estimated that about 29,000 newborns are born in fracking danger zones per year in the US. Continue reading About 30 Thousand U.S. Newborns At Risk From Fracking per Year?