Tag Archives: Solar Power

The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

Carbon Brief has produced a US based (sorry, rest of the world) interactive graphic that accesses an extensive underlying database that shows everything about the electricity generation that there is to know. Each generation plant, each type of electricty, capacity, etc. and you can view the information by state, by type of energy, and with some other toggles.

Here is an example. Continue reading The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

The Energy Transition and the Question of Perfection

I just read an interesting piece on the widely influential VOX, by David Roberts, called “A beginner’s guide to the debate over 100% renewable energy.” It is worth a read, but I have some problems with it, and felt compelled to rant. No offense intended to David Roberts, but I run into certain malconstructed arguments so often that I feel compelled to promote a more careful thinking out of them, or at least, how they are presented. Roberts’ argument is not malconstructed, but the assumptions leading up to his key points include falsehoods.

I’m not going to explicitly disagree with the various elements of the solutions part of this article (the last parts). But the run-up to that discussion, in my opinion, reifies and supports a number of falsehoods, mainly the dramatic (and untrue) dichotomy between the perfect and wonderful large-plant mostly coal and petroleum sources of energy on one hand with alternatives fraught with All The Problems on the other. Since this VOX piece is a “beginner’s guide” I would hope we can stick a little more nuance into beginner’s thinking.

I choose to Fisk. Thusly:

“Doing that — using electricity to get around, heat our buildings, and run our factories — will increase demand for power. “

It decreases the demand for power, overall. Internal combustion engines are inefficient compared to electric, to such a degree that burning huge amounts of petroleum or coal in one place to ultimately power electric vehicles in a reasonable size region is more efficient than distributing burnable material to all those vehicles to run them. Electrification is inherently more efficient and lower maintenance.

“That means the electricity grid will have to get bigger,”

Our grid, in the US and generally, in the west, is fully embiggened. Globally, maybe. That depends on if a “big grid” is the best way to deliver power everywhere. It probably isn’t.

[The grid must become] “more sophisticated, more efficient, and more reliable — while it is decarbonizing. ”

This contrasts the improvement of the grid with decarbonizing as though they were opposites, but for most of the expected improvements of the grid, improvements of the grid and decarbonizing are the same actions. They are not in opposition to each other.

“On the other side are those who say that the primary goal should be zero carbon, not 100 percent renewables. They say that, in addition to wind, solar, and the rest of the technologies beloved by climate hawks, we’re also going to need a substantial amount of nuclear power and fossil fuel power with CCS.”

This is a false dichotomy in my opinion. There is uncertainty here, of course. But let’s try this. Let’s try decarbonizing 50% of our current power without nuclear. At that point we will know whether or not to invest trillions into an unpopular solution (and nuclear is unpopular). If we need to, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we won’t. Maybe something in between. But worrying about this now, and using uncertainty to argue one way or another, is a waste of conversational energy.

“(If you shrug and say, “it’s too early to know,” you’re correct, but you’re no fun to dispute with.)”

LOL. But no. Rather, I’m thinking that it is too early to know and, in contrast, you are hiding a pro-nuclear argument in a blanket of uncertainty! Maybe you are not, but this is what such arguments almost always look like. Beware the nuclear argument wearing sheep’s clothing. A greenish tinged sheep, yes, but still a sheep.

“The sun is not always shining; the wind is not always blowing.”

Another falsehood. Technically the sun is not always shining on us, true, but as sure as the Earth is spinning, the wind is always blowing. People who say this have never been to the Dakotas.

It does vary in intensity and by region. So does nuclear, by the way. Nuclear plants have to be shut down or slowed down regularly for refueling. When severe storms threaten, nuclear plants are often shut down, and that is not on a schedule. When any big power plant suffers a catastrophe there is a long term and catastrophic break in the grid, as compared to a cloudy day, or even, a broken windmill.

The sun is up during the day, and in may places and for many times, generally everywhere, the demand for power is greater during the day.

Overall, this is a falsehood because it attributes perfection to the traditional sources, especially to Nuclear, and great imperfection to the non-Carbon and non-Nuclear alternatives. That distinction is not nearly as clear and complete as generally stated.

“The fact that they are variable means that they are not dispatchable — the folks operating the power grid cannot turn them on and off as needed.”

Another falsehood. First, you can’t turn a major traditional power plant on or off as needed. Indeed, there are already major storage technologies and variation methodologies at work. There are high demand industries that are asked to increase or decrease their use, on the fly, to meet production variation on large grids. There are pumped storage systems. Etc. The fact is that there is variation and unpredictability in the current big-plant system, it is a problem, and it is a problem that has been quietly addressed. Quietly to the extent that people making comparisons between traditional big-plant electricity and clean energy systems often don’t even know about it.

“As VRE capacity increases, grid operators increasingly have to deal with large spikes in power (say, on a sunny, windy day), sometimes well above 100 percent of demand. “

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

“They also have to deal with large dips in VRE. It happens every day when the sun sets, but variations in VRE supply can also take place over weekly, monthly, seasonal, and even decadal time frames.”

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

“And finally, grid operators have to deal with rapid ramps, i.e., VRE going from producing almost no energy to producing a ton, or vice versa, over a short period of time. That requires rapid, flexible short-term resources that can ramp up or down in response.”

Yes indeed, and this is the challenge being addressed as we speak. Enlarging grid balancing systems, increasing storage, developing tunable high energy industries, and so on. This is the challenge, it is being met as we speak.

The article mentions the economic problems. I don’t see those as difficult to solve but they are important, but I’ve got no comments on that at the moment. Read the article.

“The last 10 to 20 percent of decarbonization is the hardest”

Absolutely. And, know what? The first 25% will be the easiest. Do that now, and we’ll know a LOT more about the next 25% and maybe it won’t seem so hard after all. Maybe a major technological solution will come along before we get to that last 10%, maybe society will change enough that people will simply agree to having occasional reductions in energy availability. But certainly, the greatest difficulty and uncertainty is linked to that last 10%.

Our goal should be to have that problem soon.

“A great deal can be accomplished just by substituting natural gas combined cycle power plants for coal plants.”

Yes, if by “a great deal” you mean the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Before extolling the virtues of methane, do check into it further. I once thought methane as a bridge was a good idea too, until I learned about what it involves, about leaking methane, etc. No, not really a good idea for the most part.

“Natural gas is cleaner than coal (by roughly half, depending on how you measure methane leakage), but it’s still a fossil fuel.”

My impression is that every time we learn something new about leakage, it is that the leakage is worse than we previously thought.

“If you build out a bunch of natural gas plants to get to 60 percent, then you’re stuck shutting them down to get past 60 percent.”

Well put.

Do read the article, but please, keep in mind that it is unfair (in the context of an argument) to attribute undue perfection to one option while emphasizing uncertain problems with the other. We need to forge ahead into that uncertainty and speed up this whole process. Everybody get to work on this please!

Small town getting a good way off the carbon-based grid

Geneseo, Illinois is a small town with fewer than 7,000 people. They plan to meet about half their electricity needs, on a good day (windy, sunny) with clean energy, after the installation of some new cool technology.

From the Dispatch Argus:

City officials have been notified of a $1 million grant for a one-megawatt solar energy array from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation.

Total cost of the project is expected to be $2 to $2.5 million. Under the project, renewable energy would provide about half the city’s daily nine-megawatt appetite for power — enough for about 220 homes — between the one-megawatt solar system and the three megawatts from the city’s two wind turbines on an ideal day.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize Mayor Nadine Palmgren to sign an agreement with the foundation for the grant. Ald. Howard Beck, 3rd Ward, was absent.

Council approval also will be needed for funding, seeking bids and awarding the project, according to electric superintendent Lewis Opsal.

Geneseo’s solar array would be located on five acres now a soybean field at the foot of the city’s wind turbines, where it would connect to an existing substation.

“It would be great for reducing our transmission costs,” said Mr. Opsal. “There is a long line of people very interested in that grant. It’s a perfect project for Geneseo.”

Kathy Allen, of Geneseo, questioned if the project would lower power bills in the city. Mr. Opsal said, hopefully, the city would be able to hold costs steady. He noted a large utility recently raised rates 23 percent and U.S. power rates could double in the future because of the closure of high-emission plants.

Ford Is Installing Green Energy Facilities

Ford is going to put the state of Michigan’s largest solar array at their headquarters in Dearborn Michigan, in cooperation with DTE Energy. This will provide 360 covered parking spaces with 30 spots for plug-in electric vehicles. I will be a 1.038 mW plant and will offset nearly 800 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. That’s actually a very small amount of solar power considering what could be done, but it is a start.

Meanwhile, Ford is also installing wind turbines at four US dealerships. This is a wind sail type turbine, which is fairly efficient and should be relatively bird friendly. Each installation will be accompanied by a 7 kW solar array. Each system will produce 20,000 kW of electricity each year, offsetting 14 tons of GHG annually per installation. The electricity will be used to provide electricity to the dealerships and power a few plug-in chargers for cars.

Koch Brothers And Utilities Try To Ruin Solar Energy

Solar energy is one of the best and most easily implemented options to reduce our use of fossil Carbon based fuels. Never mind that the sun is only up and strong for part of the day, and is often covered by clouds. If you put a few square meters of solar panels on the roof of a residential or commercial building, you get clean and free (after the investment into the system) electricity thereafter. Clearly, this is an underutilized technology. In recent years there has been a precipitous drop in the cost of implementing solar energy, so it is now economically kinda dumb to not put solar panels on your roof. Worked out over the long term, a properly done implementation of solar can save a home owner hundreds of dollars a year after accounting for the cost of the equipment, installation, maintenance, and permitting fees. And, since part of your energy is coming from non-Carbon based sources, by implementing solar you also save money on those Survivalist Training Courses you might otherwise have to buy for your grandchildren if you expect your progeny to continue to exist in the not-too-distant future.

But every dollar that you save by using solar energy is a sum of money not earned by utilities and the owners of the energy production system, which generally translates into Your Power Company + The Koch Brothers.

So, naturally, the Koch Brothers and various energy utilities have been investing money to make sure that solar is not worth it. One way to reduce the viability of solar to the home owner or small business is to reduce or eliminate the payments that utilities make back to the owner of the solar energy system in the purchase of excess energy produced during those bright sunny days when your solar panels are at home doing their job while you are off at work doing your job.

A Sunday Review editorial published over the weekend in the New York Times discusses this strategy. The Koch Brothers and others have, over the last few months, ramped up their spending to reduce or eliminate renewable energy incentives. Since for the most part utilities are regulated state by state, this is being done at the state level. At present, owing to grassroots organizing combined with a bit of rare common sense in state legislatures, most states require utilities to pay for energy fed back into the system by homeowners with small power plants. But, there are moves to reduce these paybacks or to charge homeowners a surcharge so the utilities actually make money on your electricity, to the extent that for many homeowners, installing solar may not be worth it. This is a kick in the groin for homeowners and small businesses who have already installed systems with certain expectation of cost and benefit, and it is a kick in the groin for the planet, and our future, because the shift to solar for some of our energy will be slowed down by these nefarious changes in regulation.

According to the NYT,

Oklahoma lawmakers recently approved such a surcharge at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative group that often dictates bills to Republican statehouses and receives financing from the utility industry and fossil-fuel producers, including the Kochs. As The Los Angeles Times reported recently, the Kochs and ALEC have made similar efforts in other states, though they were beaten back by solar advocates in Kansas and the surtax was reduced to $5 a month in Arizona.

But the Big Carbon advocates aren’t giving up. The same group is trying to repeal or freeze Ohio’s requirement that 12.5 percent of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2025. Twenty-nine states have established similar standards that call for 10 percent or more in renewable power. These states can now anticipate well-financed campaigns to eliminate these targets or scale them back.

In some contexts, the utilities and their lobbyists are making the simple, straight forward, and correct, argument that wanton installation and use of domestic solar will hurt their profits. But we all know that the number one problem with our energy system at present is that it is driven by profits of the few at the cost (often through externalities, such as everybody dies etc. etc.) all others. Energy utilities should be viable, not profitable, and everyone knows and agrees with that. (Except the energy utilities.) And, of course, the Wealthiest People In The World need to keep their Mega Yachts well appointed, so that’s a consideration that most common people take into account … and ignore, resent, and get mad about.

So, as the NYT points out, Koch and friends have an alternative strategy to gain the hearts, minds, and monies of the American people.

Solar expansion, they claim, will actually hurt consumers. The Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest utility, funneled large sums through a Koch operative to a nonprofit group that ran an ad claiming net metering would hurt older people on fixed incomes by raising electric rates. The ad tried to link the requirement to President Obama. Another Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. “Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,” the narrator says.

Here’s the ad that blames Obama for wanting to harm old people:

Thanks, Obama!

Here’s the ad that links Solar Energy and Obama Care to Solar Energy:

Do you find this annoying? Of course you do. But there is something you can do about it.

Since this battle is being fought at the state level in the US, if you are a US citizen and voter, just contact your state reps and tell them that you do not appreciate what the Koch Brothers and various utilities are doing. Send them a link to the NYT editorial …

… and tell them that you support home owners and businesses that want to use solar and that you don’t want to see any hint of legislation to interfere with that effort. Not sure who your state representatives are (or is, in some states, you have only one)? CLICK HERE to find out.

You might decide to not do this for one of two reasons, and in both cases you are wrong so please consider. Incorrect reason 1) “I live in a state that has already implemented good laws and regulations and I see no evidence that the Koch Brothers and Kin are coming after us, so why bother?” The reason this is wrong is that they are coming after your stat, you just don’t know it yet. Your letter, phone call, or email to your reps are a form of inoculation, imperfect, but potentially effective, against this. Incorrect reason 2) “My particular legislators are cool. They won’t vote in favor of any such Koch Sponsored Legislation (KSL).” That is wrong because your legislators are embedded in a complex system of give and take. It’s called “Politics.” They need a record of having been contacted by numerous constituents about this. That only happens if you contact them. So just do it.

Shawn Otto, in his book “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America,” reports that he once asked a legislator (at the federal level) what constituted a “groundswell” of support for a particular issue. I don’t recall the exact number, but Shawn was told something to the effect and of the magnitude of “a dozen or so” letters from constituents. Note, I said letters, not emails. A letter looks like this:


It’s a tremendous amount of work. You have to print it out, find an envelope somewhere, get a “stamp” which costs several cents, and put the object in one of these:


… but it is worth it. Every one of those is probably worth hundreds of emails, because emails can be automated. But just to be sure, you can send the same text as an email and as a “letter” and while you are at it, send a tweet or two. When you send a tweet to your representatives, be sure that the tweet does not begin with the @ sign because if it does, it will not be generally viewable to others who follow your Twitter account. Put a “.” or something (not a space) first, then others will see what you are up to and perhaps join in. (See this for how to use Twitter more effectively.)

OK, that’s all for now. Imma go tweet my reps. See you later.