Category Archives: Energy

Pipelines: Just say no

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Two pieces of news about pipelines.

From MPR: MN court says PUC didn’t weigh oil spill impact in Line 3 pipeline decision

In a victory for Line 3 oil pipeline opponents, the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday reversed the state Public Utilities Commission’s approval of the Line 3 replacement project’s environmental review, saying it didn’t adequately address the potential impact of a spill in the Lake Superior watershed.

Last June, the PUC approved Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline, which has been transporting oil across northern Minnesota from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s.

From Politico: Trump administration seeks criminal crackdown on pipeline protests

The Trump administration is joining calls to treat some pipeline protests as a federal crime, mirroring state legislative efforts that have spread in the wake of high-profile demonstrations around the country.

Bring it on, suckas. Even a conservative federal judge has read the constitution.


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Books On The Energy Transition

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Be informed, have a look.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.

This is a great resource for understanding the diverse strategies available to decarbonize. There is a flaw, and I think it is a fairly significant one. Drawdown ranks the different strategies, so you can see what (seemingly) should be done first. But the ranking is highly susceptible to how the data are organized. For example, on shore vs. off shore wind, if combined, would probably rise to the top of the heap, but separately, are merely in the top several. Also, these things change quickly over time in part because we do some of these things, inevitably moving them lower in ranking. So don’t take the ranking too seriously.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.

I mention this book because I hope it can help the free market doe what it never actually does. The energy business is not, never was, and can’t really be a free market, so expecting market forces to do much useful is roughly the same as expecting the actual second coming of the messiah. Won’t happen. This book is not an ode to those market forces, though, but rather, a third stab (I think), and a thoughtful one, at a complex problem.

Related, of interest: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk. “Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all. ”

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, Rovbbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman. ” A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well.”


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Confessions Of A Rogue Nuclear Regulator: Review

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As the Midwest experiences unprecedented flooding, authorities assure us that a handful of nuclear power plants in the area will remain at full power and are not in danger. Flooding would be a disaster for a nuclear plant, as it could shut down cooling systems. In a very stormy situation, power to a nuclear plant, necessary to keep cooling systems going while the plant is experiencing an emergency shut down, could be interrupted, and flooding could then damage local petrolium based generators designed to keep the cooling pumps going.

Or course, it is impossible to imagine a nuclear power plant being built in such a way, or in such a place, or maintained in such a way, that mere flooding from excessive rain and a few dam or levy breaks, could threaten it. The nuclear plants are not built by idiots, and the regulatory agencies are very good at overseeing the whole process.

Rubble from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with flooding of the plant and shutting down of cooling systems. The plant was built on the sea well below the elevation of the highest known tsunamis, so this disaster was presumably fully anticipated.

… um … ok, well, to continue…

Dr. Greg Jaczko served on US Representative Ed Markey’s staff as a science fellow, and taught Georgetown University. He served as Senatory Harry Reid’s science advisor, and in other roles for the US Senate. He became a commisioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) early in January 20905, andwas appointed by President Obama, in 2009, to chair that body.

His philosophy as a regulator has been transparency and public participation. He worked to improve security regulations for nuclear plants, and oversaw the initiative to make these plants airplane strike resistant. He is most well known for taking the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear disaster into account when considering further development in American nuclear energy. He took a role in stopping plans for the development of the Yucca Mountain repository. He is responsible for stopping plans for the Southern Co to build new reactors at the Vogtle plant in Georgia.

His time as commissioner and head of the NRC is not without controversy. There are complaints about his management style, and women who worked with him claim to have been treated in a more demeaning manner than their male counterparts. Jaczko’s response to these complains has been to cite a conspiracy by pro-nuclear forces against him, because of his lack of blind support for the industry. This position, that the pro-nukers have unfairly treated Jaczko, is supported by a number of third party individuals. He was asked to resign before the end of his term, but claims that this was a strategy of Senator Reid’s, to have control over who the next appointee would be.

I have no fully formed opinion on this, but I suspect that a pro-regulation regulator in Washington is essentially pre-doomed, because most of the regulatory agencies have been taken over by the industries they regulate.

Anyway, Jaczko wrote a book, and it is a rollicking, interesting, disturbing, and important read. Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator is the Jaczko story told by Jaczko.

If Jaczko is legit, if the points he is pushing are valid, then we should expect pushback from surrogates supportive of the nuclear industry in response to the book. That of course happened. I have no intention of getting into an internet fight with the greenwashers, but if you scan for reviews of Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator, you’ll find greenish pro nukers writing negative ones in widely read outlets. At the same time, the book is “liked” in the reviews by both independent thinking science reviewers and the usual anti-nuclear activists.

The book is an engaging and fast read, important, and you should judge for yourself.


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Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex

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A polar vortex event like we experienced last week does not make the sunshine weaker, nor does it reduce the strength of the wind. In fact, very cold weather can be associated with very sunny conditions, and in Minnesota a long dreary cool but not frigid cloudy period ended with the arrival of a much sunnier but very cold Arctic air mass. And,the movement of great masses of air is what pushes those windmill blades around. Continue reading Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex


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Vermont could lead the way. But it doesn’t.

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Vermont. The state where everyone lives in a yurt and drinks organic maple syrup. Bernie Sanders is their Senator and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama lives there. Or, at least, the yurts are lined with Llama fur.

You’d think that Vermont could get its act together to reduce greenhouse gasses more than most other states, but in fact, that has not happened, and it is probably important to know why.

Vermont had implemented one of the more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans, but it turns out, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by about 16%. Like this following figure from this report shows:

Figure 1. Vermont Historic GHG Emissions Estimates and Future Emissions Reduction Goals.

From the Boston Globe:

“It wasn’t just disappointing and ironic, it was surprising,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney based in Vermont for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Many thought we were at least moving in the right direction. But we weren’t just missing the target, we were moving backward.”

The main reasons greenhouse gas emissions went up is because people, for the most part, did everything backwards. They did not buy electric cars, and they did buy bigger gas guzzling cars. They figured that as long as gas was cheap and easy to get, who cares about the planet?

Also, “Much of the blame falls on the aging pickup trucks, the state’s most commonly registered vehicles, which many residents often drive alone. The state also has a disproportionate number of tourists who clog its mountain roads on their way to ski resorts or leaf peeping.” (Boston Globe).

So much for the yurt people saving us all.


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Can you convert a regular bus into an electric bus?

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Of course you can, and they did it in Boulder. From the Boulder News,

What’s 30-feet long, bright orange and runs on electricity? Boulder’s newest old bus, the first in its fleet to go fossil fuel-free, courtesy of a Front Range company specializing in conversions that are both cheaper and faster than buying brand new.

Via Mobility Services, which operates the HOP line for the city of Boulder, commissioned and paid for Bus No. 15 to be stripped of its non-functional diesel engine and outfitted with an electric power train. Lightning Systems of Loveland performed the retrofit; Longmont’s UQM Technologies provided the electric motor The process cost $260,000 and took roughly four months.

The bus plugs in overnight; one charge powers a full day’s route.

Everybody needs to do this now.


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If I can’t have my flying car, can I please have my flying battery?

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MIT Technology review has a fascinating writeup on efforts to build electric planes. In my view, these efforts are at the same time shooting too low (the result would be the equivalent of flying short buses, at most) and possibly doable (which is good).

Have you ever noticed how much electricity weighs? Here is an experiment you can do. Get two identical alkaline batteries (small ones, like AA size), one totally discharged and the other fully charged.

Now, hold one in each hand and see if you can tell which one is heavier. Is the charged up one heavier?

No, of course not. Electricity stored as potential energy in a battery actually weighs nothing. This is an interesting idea. Airplane fuel does weigh something, but electricity itself does not. If only we could create a battery that weights almost nothing to carry all that weight-free electricity!

OK, now, while you are still holding the batteries, try something else. Do this quickly, because you don’t want anyone asking you “why are you holding these batteries” right now, because you’d have to say, “I’m trying to see how much electricity weighs,” and that is kind of a stupid question.

Hold the batteries over a hard surface that you don’t mind dropping a battery on. Maybe ten inches to a foot above the surface. Hold them upright. Now, drop them on the surface and see how they act.

The “full” battery, the one with the charge, will normally bounce better than the “empty” one.

This proves that something interesting is going on inside the battery. What? I don’t know, but I suspect it is at least tangentially related to the science behind the aforementioned MIT Technology Review write up: Top battery scientists have a plan to electrify flight and slash airline emissions. Go read it, it is very interesting.

After reading this, I had this thought: Have a relatively small battery i an aircraft that does not use the same exact technology as the long distance battery, and is good at ONLY rapid output of a lot of power, and is replaced and recycled after every flight. Ideally, the plane would actually drop the battery once it is done using it. Neighbors of airports may object.


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CO2 from Coal in the US: Good News

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Carbon dioxide emissions from US power generation have declined by over a quarter since 2005, according to a recent report from the US government. The largest part of this reduction is from reduced demand, with switching around among fossil fuels that are less vs more dirty and adding non carbon sources combine to make about the same difference. Like this:

From the US Department of Energy

The following graph shows the total generation and the total CO2 output of the US electricity generation system, comparing 2007 and 2017. Solar and wind don’t show up in 2005, but are a nice little chuck in 2017 (progress but too slow). Combined, non-carbon (still with nuclear as the largest part) went from 28% to 38% at the expense of fossil fuels. Within fossil fuel, there was a husge shift from coal towards natural gas. What we need to do now is to stop switching to methane, and start switching only to wind and solar. Right now.

From the US Department of Energy

Source


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Methane: There ought to be a law

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Regulators in Minnesota made the bone headed decision to approve the building of a new natural gas plant on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border near Duluth. They are idiots. There is no calculation that requires or even strongly suggests that this is a good idea. It has already been determined that this plant is not necessary. This is just the petroleum industry getting its way. I call for an investigation of the three (out of five) individuals who voted for this lame brained scheme. I want to know what stocks they own, and I want to see their bank records for the last, and next, five years.

Meanwhile, I call on Legislators in Minnesota to pass a law stating that we can not add any more fossil fuel sources into our energy mix, in utilities within or overlapping with the state of Minnesota. We need that bill passed during the next legislative session, to stop this plant and similar ideas in the fiture.

The building of this particular natural gas plant is not inevitable. It still has to be approved on the Wisconsin side of the border. From NPR:

If Wisconsin regulators approve the plan, the new power plant would produce at least 525 megawatts of electricity. Minnesota Power and its ratepayers would be on the hook for half the $700 million cost.

Minnesota Power covers roughly a third of the state, mostly in the northeastern quadrant of Minnesota, from Little Falls in the south to International Falls in the north and over to Duluth and up to Canada. Its customers include large taconite mines and power plants.

PUC regulators heard final arguments in the case earlier this month. Commissioners also decided Monday that the plan did not need to undergo additional environmental analysis, a decision that paved the way for its approval vote.

Methane is not a bridge fuel. It is a fossil fuel, and a greenhouse gas.


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Were the solar plants hit by Florence blown into oblivion?

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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


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The promise of nuclear. Really, we promise!

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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.


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

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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:


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Minnesota Energy: Decarbonize, locally produce

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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.


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