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View Diary: GETTING TO ZERO: Is renewable energy economically viable? (313 comments)

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  •  A Reply (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayBat, raoul78

    Buffering wind here with wind there isn't really buffering, it's gambling. You've missed the real problem, which is that electricity produced MUST be balanced by electricity consumed at every single second on the grid. If you overbuild wind to make x% baseload, how then do you turn off the wind when it's making too much power for the demand? Failure to balance supply with demand results in brownouts or voltage spikes that can ruin electrical equipment. Therefore, the only way you can buffer an intermittent source is with a dispatchable source.

    This raises yet-another issue with renewables (which I should make its own diary too): deployment of renewables does (in effect) decrease total demand, but it increases dispatchable demand. And fully dispatchable electricity is (a) very expensive; and (b) very carbon-intensive -- except for hydro. The reason it's carbon intensive is that fully dispatchable gas generators must be available to be turned on and off at a moment's notice -- which means they're not actually turned "off", they're just put into an idle mode called "spinning reserve". Imagine your car in stop-and-go traffic. Imagine the gas mileage it gets in that condition. That's gas buffering.

    For that reason, making a dispatchable hydro buffer, as in pumped hydro, actually is the most favorable alternative from a carbon standpoint. So Weißbach is being optimistic in his assumption, not pessimistic.

    Regarding exergy calculations, I find your reasoning suspect. Not all energy inputs required for making a PV cell or a wind turbine are electrical: process heat is also required, even in a zero-carbon economy. Using solar or wind to generate process heat is obviously very inefficient.

    Note that Weißbach does not assume that any particular threshold value for EROI or EMROI is set in stone, and in fact speculates that the economic threshold will be different for different economies. If California gets more GDP for its energy buck, that's good for them -- but that would also mean that the economic threshold in California is actually higher than in the rest of the country, which puts renewables at an even greater disadvantage.

    We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

    by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 10:29:17 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  A surreply (6+ / 0-)

      First, it isn't gambling, it is statistics.   Several studies have looked at the capacity of large scale integration of wind power have concluded that in fact the bet that the wind is blowing is a virtual certainty, especially given the physics of the atmosphere (in that it is a single atmosphere that is never fully equilibrated thermally.). So, we can dispense with that notion right away. Here is a link to one such study that documents how this works on a regional scale.. Any study that doesn't incorporate the numbers for regional power systems will be inaccurate for wind heavy generation systems

       And again, the dispatchable demand require ya you refers to are also a product of fossil fuel planning thinking. You actually find exactly the solution in your earlier comment.  You build excess nameplate capacity.  Of course, wind turbines can feather just as nuclear can be placed in reserve.  The concept is no different and unlike thermal technologies wind doesn't take hours to ramp up.  So, the grid management issues are real, but so too are the solutions.  This is even without considering smarter grid management systems and potential use of storage technologies to create balancing demand.  

      The point that some thermal energy is needed (say for smelting) points to the kind of niche applications fossil fuels might be used for in future, but a substantial chunk of the manufacturing and assembly of these machines would not be fossil fuel derived and so doesn't require that 3x scaling.  Just because some heat is required does not make the assumption wrong for the rest of the process

      Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 10:55:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Missing the point, again (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deward Hastings, raoul78

        How do you match supply with demand, when you can't control the supply? Do we control the demand instead? Do you want to give people a sign-up sheet for when they can and can't use electricity, and call them on their cells when the weather changes? Is that really a good way to run an advanced economy?

        The bottom line is that the supply of electricity MUST be tightly controlled at all times. THERE IS NO REASONABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THIS. Which means that the higher proportion of non-controllable supplies there are on the grid, the more fully-controllable (i.e., fully dispatchable) supplies you must also have on the grid, as a buffer.

        Yes, the wind is always blowing somewhere. But how strong? How many KW to we have at this minute in time, and at this minute, and at this minute? That's why we have power companies, to manage that problem, that you never see and never think about.

        So you want to feather the wind turbines? Try that and hear the owners howl, as their availability (and profitability) goes even lower than it already is, and as hours of what would have been peak power production goes down the drain. Your "solution" just makes wind uneconomic.

        And, by the way ... statistics is gambling, too.

        We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

        by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:54:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This was one eye opener for me as well. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Keith Pickering, raoul78

          Even now, with predictable baseload generation, weather forecasting to predict demand is an essential part of managing the grid.

          Once you add in predicting both demand and supply, the amount of variability in the system becomes pretty daunting.

          The amount of science and technology that is behind flipping a switch and reliably having the bulb turn on 99.99% of the time I think is lost on a lot of people.

          •  What is lost on people (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raoul78, FishOutofWater

            Who have a vague understanding is how much the grid already operates this way.  I have cited just one study showing that claims by folks with only a shallow understanding of the energy system are frequently wrong headed. In fact, the claims that this can't be done or would be uneconomical are simply unsupported by the facts.  

            Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

            by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:22:29 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The study you cited (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              raoul78

              (by Budischak et. al.) simply ignores the need to balance supply with demand, overgenerating supply by as much as 3x demand at some times. Basically, what they've shown is that wind+storage can be cheap if you don't have to balance the load.

              To which I respond: well, duh.

              In the real world, people need real solutions, and ignoring the biggest problem doesn't advance the debate much, if at all.

              We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

              by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:01:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Once again (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                raoul78, deep info, FishOutofWater, jam, jes2

                The generation nameplate capacity of the grid is never balanced in the way you describe ever. Load balancing does not happen because generation capacity matches demand it happens because demand is managed.  This is like arguing yhat nuclear can't be used as base load because it might sometimes generate more power than is being demanded is operated at full power.  Your argent does not jibe with the way load balancing actually occurs it just doesn't

                Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

                by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:29:55 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  They absolutely balance the load (0+ / 0-)

                They just use an "overgeneration" model instead of a "load following" or "storage" model. Their model says that it can be cheaper to simply over-build cheap generation and then dump excess generation than it is to use storage or use expensive fuels to load follow.

                Thirteen men can't tell The People what is Constitutional and what isn't

                Conservative "constitutional scholar" referring to SCOTUS

                by jam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 12:02:54 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Totally false assumption (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raoul78, deep info, FishOutofWater

          That you can't control supply.   You can, as I described.  Your fairly unrealistic scenarios (you do realize that leakers are ordered to power down now since the energy grid is highly regulated. ).
          And has been demonstrated in the study I cite such a system would be cheaper than what we have now.  So no, it is and can be economical unless you want to make unrealistic assumptions to show otherwise I which case I have to wonder what the agenda is

          Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

          by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:18:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  additionally (0+ / 0-)

            part of the variability of output of a wind turbine is an economic decision. there is nothing magical about the rotor size/generator size combination. Put a 100 m rotor on a 500 kW generator and you are going to get capacity factors in the 70s or 80s but you will only generate about 1/2 to 2/3rd of the energy as you would with a 1.5 MW generator.

            Thirteen men can't tell The People what is Constitutional and what isn't

            Conservative "constitutional scholar" referring to SCOTUS

            by jam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 12:15:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raoul78, deep info, FishOutofWater, jam

          It cut off there

          Your unrealistic statement that power can't be controlled from renewable sources is pure poppycock.  One can have regulators at the level of the individual turbine or the entire field.  Solar thermal also can regulate the turbine speed and generation at will and a great deal faster than coal or a lot of gas plants.  

          Also, investors in many plants now go into it understanding their plants aren't going to be producing 24-7.  Peaker plants for instance are mostly idle. Only people who don't understand a damn thing are going to howl since they'll know in advance what the parameters are or they should put their money elsewhere.  

          Oh, and it isn't true I don't know or think about power companies.  Several of them are in fact clients of mine.  

          Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

          by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:28:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  And yes (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raoul78, FishOutofWater, jam

          Demand management is a critical piece of grid management and something we need to do more of.

          The shorter version of your argument seems to be that renewables won't work because we expect people and industry to be really dumb.  Admittedly, US utilities are slow and frequently stupid organizations, but that's not to say that it is in feasible to take some sensible steps and have good policy, even in the US

          Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

          by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:40:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not at all. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raoul78

            I'm not saying it won't work. It will work. But if you want an all-renewable grid, GDP will take a hit. You will be poorer, and your children will be poorer too.

            And it doesn't have to be that way. We can save the climate and grow the economy at the same time.

            We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

            by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:07:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This is simply not true (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              raoul78, deep info, Truedelphi, jes2

              We have a handful of nuclear physicists who don't understand the first damned thing about energy markets or the grid telling the professionals that they know better.  This whole study is such a bunch of garbage as to be meaningless

              One has to wonder how much the oil industry paid for the study

              Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

              by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:31:56 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well if you don't have any evidence (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                raoul78

                you might try name-calling. I hear that's very persuasive.

                We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

                by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 04:42:37 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Quite correct (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  raoul78, deep info, FishOutofWater, jam

                  There is no need for name calling.  Merely pointing out the large number of unrealistic and absurd assumptions is more than adequate to invalidate the conclusions entirely

                  A) no zero carbon economy would rely on pumped storage only as the sole solution to intermittency

                  B) there is no evidence that the ratio of energy prices to GDP represents any kind of limit to economic activity. (They merely calculate existing ratios and then assume without evidence that these are fixed requirements. Given then artificiality of the prices of energy, this is a highly dubious approach. As noted above, their assumptions generate factually incorrect conclusions about the impacts of energy effiency gains on GDP. In fact the behavior of real economies shows that the economic threshold is quite flexible and sensitive to all manner of changes in the economy.

                  C) they assume (incorrectly) that the energy inputs to procducing renewable capacity would be made using fossil fuels, which is facially not consistent with what they say they are analyzing

                  D) similar analyses of cost effectiveness based in engineering approaches from a ground up perspective have shown that in fact their conclusions of a near zero energy system would be ineconomical have shown that it would not be more expensive, their theoretical analysis notwithstanding.  Usually, when theory conflicts with reality, reality wins, especially when the theoretical analysis has such obvious errors

                  Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

                  by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:03:00 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  Switches, Keith. Switches. (0+ / 0-)

          Have you heard of switches?  It's trivial to remove excess power from the grid.

        •  I find it ironic (0+ / 0-)

          that you are being bellicose about not being able to dispatch wind and PV while in the very same paragraph advocating yet another non-dispatchable technology: nuclear.

          So, you want to have dispatchable nuclear? Try that and hear the owners howl, as their availability (and profitability) goes even lower than it already is.

          The bottom line is that the supply of electricity MUST be slightly controlled at all times. Non-controllable supplies such as nuclear must be offset - buffered, if you will - with controllable supplies. If you take the first derivative of the output of a nuclear power plant, you get zero as its output function is a constant. dV/dt for the grid is NEVER zero, thus nuclear cannot support the grid on its own.

          Thirteen men can't tell The People what is Constitutional and what isn't

          Conservative "constitutional scholar" referring to SCOTUS

          by jam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 11:32:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks (0+ / 0-)

              I've been looking for a good article like that on nuclear load following.

              (I was mostly just poking fun at Keith because he doesn't really understand the electricity market. If you have a PPA with a 100% offtake requirement, of course you howl when you are curtailed - no matter what generation asset you are managing. However, if you are a merchant plant, you take what you can get - but usually (hopefully) at a higher price than the PPA.)

              Of course nuclear can load follow, but it changes the economics - maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. But making the blanket statement that wind isn't controllable when deployed in an overgeneration model because the most popular current contract doesn't take overgeneration into account is the wrong way to think about it.

              Thirteen men can't tell The People what is Constitutional and what isn't

              Conservative "constitutional scholar" referring to SCOTUS

              by jam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 12:26:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  of course (0+ / 0-)

              as the article points out, it is currently illegal for a nuclear power plant to operate in an automatic load following mode in the US.

              Thirteen men can't tell The People what is Constitutional and what isn't

              Conservative "constitutional scholar" referring to SCOTUS

              by jam on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 12:29:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  And on the RMOI (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lurker123, raoul78, deep info

      Issue there are more problems with their logic the more I look at it the more ridiculous it looks bit this will take a little unpacking.  If nothing else their naive use of electricity prices fails to show any undertaking of how energy markets work.  Also, the use of monetary value as a proxy for energy use is pretty divorced from the realities of economies. That relationship is vastly more complex than their analysis includes.   As usual, we see a bunch of physicists trying to be clever and getting the basics wrong

      To startr, this notion that efficiency cuts against low EROI technologies is precisely backwards and shows a couple of confusions.  For example, in the real world, efficiency increases result in using less energy for a similar standard, but under their assumption of fixed thresholds, this would imply that efficiency would not result in energy savings but mandate an increase in production, which means an apples to oranges comparison.  This results in part because they are working with ratios rather than understanding the fundamentals that underlie those ratios. Here increasing efficiency means that you need less excess energy to produce the same standard, not that you have to have a higher standard for a constant amount of excess energy.  This means that increasing the ratio of GDP per energy lowers the threshold rather than raises it.  Te fact that their analysis goes the other way shows they have the wrong end of the cart somewhere.

      I'd unpack this more, but I've got other work to do

      Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

      by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:18:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Grid level storage (i.e. massive batteries) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raoul78, deep info

      That tech pretty much answers any concerns you might raise over wind and solar.

      •  Except cost. Which is the point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raoul78

        It costs 5 cents to generate a kWh, and about $150 to store it. The technology to make that competitive isn't there yet, and it's going to be a long, long time until it is. If ever.

        We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

        by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:27:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Where are you getting the cost (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          raoul78, deep info

          estimate for tech that hasn't even hit the market yet?

          •  That's lead-acid battery. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            raoul78

            Which is what most current grid-storage technologies are aiming for, but with greater lifetimes. Even if new battery tech comes in at half that, it's still a tough row to hoe.

            We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

            by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:01:15 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Ummm, not Ambri (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              raoul78, deep info

              AFAIK, they are NOT using lead acid. They haven't released any costs yet. Given that they're using completely different materials that are not high cost elements, I'm optimistic their price point will make it viable.

              •  I'll have to wait for that. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                raoul78

                Lead is already dirt-cheap, so if they can beat that, my guess is that it won't be by much.

                We can always hope. But I'm not counting any chickens.

                We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

                by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:53:37 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Liquid-metal Grid Battery= Gamechanger (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  ozsea1, raoul78

                  2 Mwh in a storage container? Its breakthrough tech, and the costs will be directly proportional to the economies of scale at which it is deployed.  Which is an argument that could be applied to Solar PV and other renewables.  Also Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) is a very viable utility-scale storage tech.
                    I appreciate the detail and thoughtfulness of the analysis. I'd like to see the same applied to scenarios that don't assume the Status Quo. How about including social cost of CO2? How about large scale investment in renewables and storage changing the economies of scale?
                    My bottom-line: if the true cost of fossil fuels were factored  in, and the markets (or gov't programs) invested in the long-term benefits of renewables & storage to the tune of the $100M a day that Big Oil is investing in unconventional fuels, I'm pretty sure that the economics would be positive. Its hard to turn out worse than the Thermogeddon we are headed to at full speed.

                  “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” - William Butler Yeats

                  by RandW on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:24:22 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Agreed. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    raoul78

                    Perhaps I might be able to do that in a future diary, although it's a lot of analysis. But we absolutely need to set a price on carbon, so that non-carbon technologies can compete (or compete better).

                    We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

                    by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 01:48:49 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

      •  Not to mention (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raoul78, deep info

        That with a mix of renewables and integration less storage is required.  Of course, this article doesn't calculate storage costs based on batteries but rather only using numbers for pumped hydro.  In this analysis, batteries do not exist and never will.   Ill let you decide whether that's a reasonable assumption to use

        Touch all that arises with a spirit of compassion. An activist seeks to change opinion.

        by Mindful Nature on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 11:00:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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