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It would be tough to imagine a worse month for fossil fuels than April was. Coal mines collapsed and killed miners. An oil rig sank and is still leaking. Events like these make us angry. We demand answers. We cry out for our apparent lack of progress on the energy front.

No matter what is in tomorrow's headlines, this country and the world is going to have to take a hard look at where our energy comes from, in our cars and at our light switches.

It's amazing to me how little even the most well-educated people among us think about energy. We don't think about electricity until the utility bill arrives, or when there's an outage. Many of us don't think about the true cost of our gasoline unless the car just hit "E" and we pull into a station.

But the best ideas we have for changing the way we consume energy make us ask even more questions.

For example if I buy an all-electric, plug-in car, how do I know the electricity I'm pumping into it every night is cleaner overall than filling it with gas? If I live in the Pacific Northwest or parts of Canada, much of that power comes from hydroelectric power plants. If I live in the South, it may come more from coal-fired plants, or nuclear plants.

That's not even to mention the fact that widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles would be the most demanding new technology for the utility industry since the invention of air conditioning. Even if only one in four people had one, it would still fundamentally change the supply-and-demand picture for companies that generate and transmit power.

For another example, someone told me we have to stop burning fossil fuel for electricity. We just have to. Now. But what if we shut down all of the coal plants in the country tomorrow? What is going to provide the other 50% of our electricity that doesn't come from coal?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking up for coal or other messy sources of energy. Coal is as foul and as dirty as it gets. But that's not all. It also produces a shit-ton of energy for our cell phones, iPods, lamps, TVs and margarita blenders. The 50 percent (or more, in some areas) of our energy mix that comes from coal is cheap and reliable. Many of the alternatives are neither.

If we have 10,000 megawatts of coal-fired power that we want to take off the grid and replace forever, it's not as simple as just building an equivalent amount of, say, solar or wind power. That solar and wind power also has to be as consistent as that coal power was, or else we wind up in the dark. This is what people mean when they refer to the "intermittancy" of wind power and solar power. While intermittancy is sometimes used to dismiss renewable energy out of hand (it should not, of course), it is a real problem.

While many are capable of producing back-up power on-sire with generators, things like factories, hospitals and schools can't go without power forever. People will eventually lose their jobs, or potentially even their lives. As convenient of a solution as it would be, we're not likely to stop being so reliant upon electricity anytime soon. In fact, we're much more likely to lean even more heavily upon it. So we have to make sure tomorrow's energy mixture is just as strong and reliable as today's -- only more clean than today's.

How can we do this? Well, investing in every form of renewable energy that we can build is an excellent idea. I say "all forms" because there are too many partisans in the energy sector. The solar people look at the wind people and say, "Wind is too variable! The wind doesn't always blow!" And the wind people retort with, "Well the sun doesn't always shine! Also, your mother's a whore!" And so forth. The biofuel, geothermal, hydropower and marine energy folks are no classier. Put them all together and you get a bar fight.

It just doesn't make sense to be an energy partisan. Every technology has its strengths as well as its shortcomings. And what makes sense for one area of the country might not make sense for another. This is one thing that makes drafting a one-size-fits-all energy policy for the entire country so difficult. Well, that, and industry pressure groups. ;-)

As if the generation side wasn't complicated enough, we also need to update the way electricity gets from the power plant to the light switch. This is the sector known as transmission and distribution. The industry has a host of new technologies that each promise to make the bulk power grid better at delivering power.

As more and more states and regions make laws and policies that attempt to get us using less electricity from our end, utilities and power producers begin to think more and more about energy efficiency. There's a lot of different ways to accomplish this goal, but it boils down to using up less stuff (coal, gas, nuclear power, whatever) so we don't have to produce as much of it. The best energy improvement of all is not using up any more than we have to, after all. Just like the best way to recycle is to not use that next plastic bottle.

To do this, utilities might offer rebates to customers who cut their usage. Or the federal government might give you a rebate for using more energy efficient appliances and air conditioning. A power company might send you free compact fluorescent bulbs as part of a program.

Or, getting away from the end-user area, a power producer could increase its own efficiency by building more transmission lines that allow them to send power with less loss. Or upgrade a unit at a natural gas-fired unit that uses less fuel. Or invest in a new controls system at an old power plant.

Again, there are a lot of ways to do this. However, the industry faces the serious problem of basically reversing the same business model is has always used. When we use more energy, they get more money. Now they're trying to convince us to use less juice? You can see where this might be a little difficult. But if they can't continue to meet our needs by building out more generation sources (whether because of money or regulatory red tape), then energy efficiency is going to have to be one of the solutions.

Our electrical grid itself hasn't changed that much since Thomas Edison invented it. Sure, it's gotten bigger. But the way it functions is definitely something old Tom would recognize. We've been doing it the same way for more than a century, and in a world where almost everything is digital now, the electric delivery system is still primarily electro-mechanical in nature. Steampunky even.

What promises to change this around is the smart grid. The smart grid is a set of technologies and applications that will change the way electricity is generated, delivered, measured and used.

A lot of smart grid stuff is theoretical, but some of it is already happening. The system will use advanced electrical meters, or smart meters, so that both you and the utility can know how exactly much power you're using, and when. Not in a Big Brother sort of way, but so you can use that information to change your energy habits, and so the utility can reward you for it with cheaper prices, rebates, etc. If you agreed to it, these meters would even shut off certain appliances in your home during the times when electricity is scarcest, and most expensive (these are called "peak" times).

The transmission side of the smart grid could use superconducting power lines that use up less power transporting it from one spot to another. On the generation side, the smart grid would be decentralized -- using electricity generated from small wind turbines, solar parks, and even stored inside utility-scale batteries.

I have to say, utility-scale energy storage systems capable of storing power on the megawatt level would be the biggest game-changer for the electricity sector imaginable right now. If you could store, say, 50 megawatts of wind power at a time when the wind was blowing hard and people didn't need the power that much, then dispatch it when the wind wasn't blowing and people were just coming home from work and cranking their A/Cs, then that's a significant breakthrough!

Basically, the smart grid would allow less energy to be lost in transit from place to place. It would integrate renewable sources of energy and use those technologies at their optimal efficiency. It would provide we the consumers with the true price tag of our energy use. It's hard to imagine anything greener.

So, when we talk about energy, it's easy to see all the problems that exist out there. But if you pry into things a little bit further, you can see there are also a lot of answers forming. It's an exciting time to be talking about energy. In an industry that has done things the same way since the invention of the light bulb, there is suddenly a sea change brought on by technology, more engaged consumers, and a changing culture.

I hope this has been helpful, and will spark some good discussion in the comments section. Please take a second to vote in the poll, and let me know if you'd like me to keep writing about electricity -- and if so, on which topics.

Originally posted to droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:53 AM PDT.

Poll

How'd you like this diary? Would you like me to keep writing about electricity? If so, on what subject?

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| 61 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Charge my mojo batteries (59+ / 0-)

    I hope this has been helpful, and will spark some good discussion in the comments section. Please take a second to vote in the poll, and let me know if you'd like me to keep writing about electricity -- and if so, on which topics.

    Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

    by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:53:14 AM PDT

  •  Damn, Droog! (11+ / 0-)

    Nice.

    Catholic Church: Example of Religion thats TOO BIG TO FAIL

    by Detroit Mark on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:56:26 AM PDT

    •  Really? (10+ / 0-)

      Cool. I wasn't sure how this would be received.

      I have learned a lot about how electricity gets made and gets delivered to us over the past year or so, and so I think I am starting to understand what a complicated set of challenges we have to work with as we develop better energy policy and clean up the industry.

      Things have to change, and quick. But before that happens, we have to understand how things work today.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:58:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Popular Science had an article a (5+ / 0-)

        few months back about the crumbling infrastructure. Included in that was a section about the possible benefits of improving the power distribution grid.

        In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

        by blue aardvark on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:31:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  This diary needs a little more research (4+ / 0-)

        Coal was producing well below 50% of our electricity but it has recently risen to 48%. The recent uptick in coal burning is disturbing, to say the least.

        For another example, someone told me we have to stop burning fossil fuel for electricity. We just have to. Now. But what if we shut down all of the coal plants in the country tomorrow? What is going to provide the other 50% of our electricity that doesn't come from coal?

        We must stop new coal fired plants from being built. Wind is far cleaner and cheaper in the long run.

        look for my DK Greenroots diary series Thursday evening. "It's the planet, stupid."

        by FishOutofWater on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:43:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  asdf (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, bfitzinAR, Cure7802

          More coal and gas plants are coming online to meet the electricity needs of the areas they serve. From what I have seen, natural gas is becoming really popular because the fuel as cheap and plentiful and natural gas plants pollute less than coal.

          Wind absolutely is growing. Even the economy hasn't slowed it down all that much (though it did have an impact on more capital intensive projects such as coal and gas).

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:48:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Another reason why natural gas generators (0+ / 0-)

            natural gas is becoming really popular because the fuel as cheap and plentiful and natural gas plants pollute less than coal.

            are popular is that they are relatively easy to start and stop, so they can fill in for temporary increases in demand.  They aren't really all that cheap; coal and wind are both a lot cheaper (although that may be changing in the next five to ten years for coal).  

            Renewable energy brings national security.

            by Calamity Jean on Fri May 07, 2010 at 04:37:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Energy transmission (5+ / 0-)

    is something I only remember from "science" texts and all I recall is that there is "loss of electricity". Is that a issue in the discussion?

    •  Yes, it is. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      texasmom, Joffan, JeffW, Cure7802

      I don't fully (yet) understand how transmission losses can be reduced. I am asking people who know.

      Somewhere between 5 and 8 percent of electricity transmitted is lost. And it's worse when you have to move it long distance -- which must be done when you've got a generation asset like a wind farm or a nuclear plant way out in the middle of nowhere.

      People don't like that stuff in their backyards, so that power has to be pushed to where people actually use it.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:01:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Loss is inversely proportional to voltage (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KroneckerD, Cure7802, Eli the ice man

        A higher voltage line loses less power per mile. That's why those lines from the power plants are running at 10,000 volts while the lines in your house are 120 and 240.

        In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

        by blue aardvark on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:33:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's the laws of Thermo Dynamics (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        droogie6655321, JeffW

        You can never get the same or more energy out than you put it. There will always be loss.

        All I know is what I read in the newspapers. Will Rogers

        by Tulsonian on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:58:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's pretty difficult to reduce transmission loss (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        droogie6655321, Joffan

        Most of the energy lost in power transmission is not through the lines themselves, but in the transformers they go through.

        By the time it arrives at your panel, power has gone through at least three transformers, each of which take their 1%+ of power (transformer losses vary with how much they're loaded). At worst, your power could go through six or seven of them before it gets to its destination.

        At the utility I worked at, the goal was less than 7% transmission and distribution loss. They were trying to make an effort to get it down to 5%. This number was mostly under the control of the substation engineers, who design the transformers, rather than the transmission line engineers or the smart grid guys.

        At best, a smart grid will be able to direct power through the shortest lines and the least amount of transformers. At worst, it will be a total clusterf*uck of new and old technology, none of which wants to talk to each other (power system protection on the transmission scale is already complicated enough, basically just a series of educated guesses).

        As can probably be gleaned, I'm leaning toward the latter. Not too excited about a "smart grid". Work to make the transformers more efficient, and the protection more robust.

        •  Avoiding the clusterfuck... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cure7802, Eli the ice man

          Is one reason why a lot of standards organizations are trying to come up with smart grid standards. So the systems will be able to talk with each other, not just two-way, but in any direction needed. This is true interoperability.

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:04:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm kinda worried about... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            badger, droogie6655321

            ...that type of large-scale interoperability, just from a system reliablilty perspective. Every node you add to a power system makes solving the equations needed to see what'd going on exponentially more complicated. If you've got a system with 1,000 nodes, no computer today is going to be able to solve it quickly enough to make the split-second desicions needed to protect equipment and keep the grid running. That's why power system protection engineering is pretty much just a series of educated guesses.

            With widespread adoption in standards, futher advances in technology, and lots of real-world testing to prove reliability and effectiveness, I'll be more excited about a smart grid. As it stands now, I'd rather have humans making those educated guesses. IMO, if we try to force things through right now, we're going to see a few August 2003-type events as our learning curve.

            •  This is why (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Eli the ice man

              The utility industry and the telecom/data processing industries are about to move to the same table in the lunchroom and become besties.

              At least they'll have to if we're gonna have a system that will be able to process the EXPONENTIALLY HUGE AND GROWING amount of data from smart meters, home area networks, and other smart grid techs.

              Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

              by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:34:38 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  adding to previous comments (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joffan

        The amount of power a transmission line carries is simply the current times the operating voltage line.

        Losses relate to the current carried and the impedance of the line. The line impedance is related to the cross-sectional area of the line, the conductivity of what it is made from, and for AC the frequency and surface area.  Leakage losses, current sneaking back by pathways over or through insulators or even the air, are related to the voltage used - higher voltage means more losses.

        The basic resistance of a line is proportional to how conductive the line is, of simple metals silver being the best, copper a close second, aluminum and sodium pretty good, iron and steel just so-so.  The more conductor area the current can flow through, the lower the resistance - just as it is easier for water to flow through a large pipe than a small. However the weight and cost goes up proportional to the cross sectional area, so there are practical limits.

        For AC current it's not just resistance, but impedance.  A conductor resists changing the current flowing through it, the conductor has inductance. This is related to the interaction of the changing current generating a varying magnetic field, and that field interacts with the conductor.  The changing current gets pushed from the center of the conductor to its surface, reducing the effective area and increasing resistance to current flow. The higher the frequency the greater this effect.

        There's also a capacitance effect, simply creating a voltage difference between two conductors - two wires - requires shoving some electrons around, energy that doesn't show up usefully at the other end.  The energy is stored and in theory can all be recovered by allowing current to flow which reduces the voltage difference between the two conductors; in the real world there are always some losses. On a long line this charging and discharging of the capacitance combined with the resistive losses effectively make it appear as if some current is leaking between the wires and not showing up at the far end.

        So DC has resistive and leakage losses, AC has those plus the impedance or reactive losses. On small lines not carrying a lot of current, working at lower voltage, and not being very long, the extra losses of AC are not important. However of very long transmission lines carrying large amounts of power (high voltage at high current) the extra losses of AC become important.

        Thus High Voltage DC and Ultra High Voltage DC transmission lines. UHVDC lines that have losses of 2% or less per thousand kilometers can be built.  However it is more difficult to change DC voltages, active devices instead of simple transformers must be used.  The relatively recent development of high power semiconductor devices has made this more practical, and they are also used to convert between DC and AC.

        However these active devices are more complex and expensive than the transformers used with plain AC, so DC is mostly used for point to point bulk power transmission, with AC serving the local distribution grid.

        Another effect of DC transmission lines is that they make it easier to interconnect large blocks of power generation and consumption. AC interconnections must have both ends synchronized in regards to the frequency and phase - when the AC peak voltage and current occurs - or else problems arise.  Differences lead to grid instability, and heavy loads can cause differences to arise. DC lines don't have that problem, the power is synchronized to the local grid when it is converted back into AC. (there are other stability issues common to both AC and DC systems)

        The effect of capacitive losses is much increased with lines for underground or underwater use, because the nearness of conductors and the use of materials other than air as insulators boosts the capacitance per length of line.  For those cases DC is a much better choice as its losses are much less.

        The interconversion between AC and DC has losses associated with it, AC voltage changing using transformers also has losses but these are a bit less than the AC-DC-AC interconversion.  Still the gains on long lines, or for moderate length buried or underwater lines, is enough to give the edge to DC.

        Superconductive lines reduce resistive losses to near zero, giving much lower line losses and allowing the use of lower voltages (although still several hundred kilovolts)  They have similar problems with AC as conventional lines, so superconductive bulk power transmission is done with DC using similar methods as for conventional DC. However the refrigeration power consumption means that the overall effective losses are around 1/2 to 1/3 of conventional transmission lines.  

        The much higher cost of the materials used, plus the higher complexity, has limited the application of superconductive lines to urban or other high density settings where there is no room for additional lines; it doesn't matter how much cheaper the alternative is if it won't fit where it is needed.

        As noted in another comment, AC transformer losses are important, particularly in the local and regional grid.  The power lines in those areas are also frequently operating at excessive loads giving higher losses because the growth in demand has outstripped line upgrades and because opposition to new transmission line construction has prevented the adding of new or expanded lines.

        So there's a long-winded wandering rant of power transmission lines are related stuff.

    •  Line losses are a given (5+ / 0-)

      They result from the resistance of the conductor. Only superconducting lines (now only feasible in certain situations, like the tight areas of NY) have 0 line loss.

      Not a huge amount to be done, yet.

      •  Superconducting lines... (5+ / 0-)

        That go long distances underground, carrying high voltage, are a really cool idea. I know of some that are working on it. Could write more later maybe.

        Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

        by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:16:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The problem with that is that the lines need to (6+ / 0-)

          be cooled with liquid nitrogen in order to remain superconducting.  Room-temperature superconductivity was been a wet dream for materials scientists and physicists for the last 20 years or so.

          The problem then would be cost, as most high-temperature superconductors that we've found so far are difficult to process and made of fairly exotic elements.  We're on the case, though.  We just need time and research grants.

          "I know this defies the law of gravity, but you see, I never studied law." -Bugs Bunny

          by KroneckerD on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:31:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Keep writing, (7+ / 0-)

    and on whatever interests you.  The Homestar bill passed the House yesterday; if anyone diaried, I didn't see it.  I know Obama touts the smartgrid, and I've always wondered who opposes that -- People for Stupid Electricity?

    Charter member, Excluded & Conspicuously Overlooked Advocates; still twittering RL_Miller

    by RLMiller on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:58:29 AM PDT

  •  Oil Rig Blew up Sank and killed 11 nt (3+ / 0-)

    Afghanistan:Graveyard to empires-It's not just a bumpersticker

    by JML9999 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 07:59:47 AM PDT

    •  Yep. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      euterpe, Cure7802, Patric Juillet

      There is SO MUCH STUFF we have to build from the ground up to recreate the system. That means jobs.

      When I visited a wind farm a while back, I saw what building one of those can do to a community. There were nice, new houses and lots of smiling people in a place where the oil and gas industry had largely left them high and dry, historically.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:04:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is what so many people... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        droogie6655321, JeffW, Patric Juillet

        fail to understand. Modernizing our electical generation/transmission capacity for a low-carbon future will require investment and employment across every sector of the economy. It'll create jobs in industries that don't even exist yet.

        People keep wondering where new jobs are going to come from...well, this is where. We have decades worth of work to do, and nearly limitless opportunities.

        Now if we could just light a fire under the Senate and get them to pass a climate/energy bill, we could start getting serious about these issues...

        "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

        by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:36:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A LOT has been done (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          hold tight, KroneckerD, Cure7802

          Through the Recovery Act to start building a green jobs foundation.

          Check out this DOE page:
          http://www.energy.gov/...

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:38:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Here's a list of projects funded in PA alone (3+ / 0-)

            to the tune of 812 million dollars.

            Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Applications
            Geologic Sequestration Training and Research Grant Program
            Program Direction - FE
            Modify Integrated Biorefinery Solicitation Program for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Biorefineries
            Management and Oversight (EE Program Direction)
            Solid State Lighting
            Enhance and Accelerate FEMP Service Functions to the Federal Government
            Geothermal Demonstrations
            EGS Technology R&D
            Ground Source Heat Pumps
            Enabling Fuel Cell Market Transformation
            Combined Heat and Power (CHP), District Energy Systems, Waste Heat Recovery Implementation and Deployment of Efficient Industrial Equipment
            Industrial Assessment Centers and Plant Best Practices
            Advanced Materials RD&D in Support of EERE Needs to Advance Clean Energy Technologies and Energy-Intensive Process R&D
            EE Conservation Block Grant Program
            Weatherization Assistance Program
            State Energy Program
            EE Appliance Rebate Programs
            PV Systems Development
            High-Penetration Solar Deployment
            Wind Energy Technology R&D and Testing
            Battery Manufacturing
            Hydroelectric Facility Modernization Program
            Energy Frontier Research Centers
            DIII-D Facility Upgrades
            Energy Sciences Fellowships and Early Career Research Program
            SBIR/STTR
            Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (EISA 1306)
            Smart Grid Regional and Energy Storage Demonstration Project (EISA 1304)
            Interconnection Transmission Planning and Analysis
            State Assistance on Electricity Policies
            Enhancing State and Local Governments Energy Assurance
            Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E)

            "I know this defies the law of gravity, but you see, I never studied law." -Bugs Bunny

            by KroneckerD on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:53:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's hard to overstate (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              KroneckerD, Cure7802, Patric Juillet

              How much the Obama administration has done for smarter, more reliable and cleaner energy. There are dozens of news stories a week, and the Recovery Act has been the primary driver.

              This is why I get so pissed off whenever people say he's just like Bush because he wanted to allow some oil and natural gas exploration.

              Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

              by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:55:03 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Stephen Chu as energy secretary... (5+ / 0-)

            is by far my favorite Obama appointee. That man is in the process of remaking the entire DoE bureaucracy from almost the ground up, and the President has given him the funds and the latitude to accomplish it.

            Wired had a great feature on him last month.

            Worth reading.

            The more of these types of folks we can get in government, the better.

            "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

            by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:57:54 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I drive to work (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    euterpe, droogie6655321, JeffW

    between the southern Twin Cities metro (Rosemount) to southern MN (Faribault). It's about 36 miles.

    I sometimes ride my motorcyle (Can-Am Spyder) and am amazed at the high winds that force me to hold on tight to my handlebars to keep from getting blown across the road.

    And I think to myself, imagine if one of these farms (there's a turf (sod) farm, and some corn fields) was to be used for a wind farm. imagine with all that nigh-constant wind, how much electricity we could generate right here in Minnesota.

    There are some wind farms in southern MN. But man, how much more we could use!

    We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. -- Jonathan Swift

    by raptavio on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:03:17 AM PDT

  •  You can build an equivalent capacity... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321, Calamity Jean

    ...of solar and wind. You just can't build all of it in one particular place. You need to distribute it around the country and have a good grid to send it where its needed.

    Now, if you were plugging in that electric car in Illinois, you'd only be getting your 40% of your juice from coal, with ~60 from fission and 3% from wind. And that wind component is rising. The downside of the nuclear component is that these plants are getting old, and run on an open fuel cycle, with the spent fuel being required to remain (by state law) onsite.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:03:30 AM PDT

    •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      Well, I don't know if we CAN, but we should definitely try. Push the limits. See what we can do.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:06:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You have to account for line losses. The further (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joffan, JeffW

      the electricity has to travel, the more loss you have, even with high voltage AC. That limits the siting of major installations and the efficiency of many renewables. Unfortunate and annoying, and no excuse for not pursuing renewables aggressively, but something that must be factored in.

      Distributed generation is something that we really need to be looking closely at. Every watt that we can generate on site is one less watt that has to be generated somewhere else and travel.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Fri May 07, 2010 at 11:36:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That goes without saying... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joffan, wondering if, FarWestGirl

        ...even if we blanketed Illinois with wind farms, and upgraded our existing nuclear capacity, we'd still need some fossil-fueled power for infill. There's a comment in the mid-afternoon OT that mentions a way to store power by synthesizing methane, and there's also the solid-state ammonia process Stranded Wind has diaried about.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Fri May 07, 2010 at 12:36:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  the problem with distributed is that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FarWestGirl

        the energy density - the generation capacity per area of land - of the common renewables, wind and solar, is less than the energy demand for the same area for most buildings denser than suburban single family dwellings.  Commercial building, apartments, highrises, and most industrial facilities simple can not generate enough power locally to met even a medium fraction of their demand.  The situation is made worse in denser urban settings where building shade each other.

        Another aspect is that solar power peaks too early, around solar noon, while power demand peaks mid-afternoon to mid-evening.  This means that even buildings with enough generation capacity to met their daily needs will need sufficient power storage to shift availability to the needed times, and that storage has its own losses.

        Storage is also needed because photovoltaic output can change quite rapidly, as much as 80 to 90 percent in seconds.  Without storage those rapid changes make it difficult to maintain grid stability, the network becomes too complex to reliably deliver power for available sources to demands for it.

        •  That's why there is an electrical grid. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW

          Commercial building, apartments, highrises, and most industrial facilities simply can not generate enough power locally to met even a medium fraction of their demand.

          Just because these buildings can't generate all of their power doesn't mean they shouldn't generate any.  Every little bit helps.  On-site storage of electricity is only required if the building doesn't have a grid connection.  

          Solar and wind don't go from full-on to full-off instantly like flipping a switch.  They "fade in" and "fade out" as clouds or wind gusts pass by.  This means that if there are solar panels on rooftops spread over several urban square miles the variations will average out.  

          Renewable energy brings national security.

          by Calamity Jean on Fri May 07, 2010 at 04:51:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  PV solar does change fast (0+ / 0-)

            as I said 80% drop in less than 10 seconds isn't uncommon on a large array.  That's pretty quick in terms of the grid interconnect.  Right now stability happens because the system is a big source with spare capacity feeding many small loads.  Change that to lots of nodes the flip between being a source and sink and stability might be a problem.

            I used to that that the averaging over several miles would really help, but then I read reports and studies on large PV arrays 10s of km apart, reports showing similar output fluctuations happening only seconds apart; in some cases no cloud shadows were visible, it was an increase or decrease in sunlight diffusion from high altitude clouds.

            And every little bit doesn't always help.  If money that could have been spent on larger high capacity factor systems instead end up on rooftops and backyard lower efficiency low capacity factor systems, then it's not helped but harmed. Even more so if those small systems don't produce the expected paybacks, causing the homeowners to (wrongly) conclude that renewable energy is a scam.

            •  Source? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JeffW

              ...I read reports and studies on large PV arrays 10s of km apart, reports showing similar output fluctuations happening only seconds apart; in some cases no cloud shadows were visible, it was an increase or decrease in sunlight diffusion from high altitude clouds.

              What studies?  I read quite a lot about renewable energy, and this is completely news to me.  I'd like to read those reports, where can I find them?  If light is diffused, it by definition varies gradually.  And in any case, solar thermal wouldn't have the same problem, since the heat collector acts as a buffer.  

              Renewable energy brings national security.

              by Calamity Jean on Sat May 08, 2010 at 07:20:02 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  not at home this weekend (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Joffan

                so I don't have the reports on hand, and my online searching is overwhelmed by the climate change debate related stuff, but I did locate a bit at  http://wpweb2.tepper.cmu.edu/... where you want to go to the article "The Spectrum of Power from Utility-Scale Wind Farms and Solar Photovoltaic Arrays"

                I thought that variation was not as important as it seems to be, until I started running into studies of actual systems. Unfortunately many of those papers were behind subscription walls, making it harder to share - many people don't want to fork over 30 to 60 dollars to read a report that challenges their views, but I've tried to gather a collection of stuff that's in the open.

                Similarly I started getting into conversations with network engineering folk who were becoming worried as their modeling of electric grids that included much highly distributed generation indicated worrisome stability problems, at least if sufficient distributed storage wasn't included.

                The point of that isn't that solar is worthless or impractical, but that A) both short duration and longer term energy storage appears to be needed, and B) distributed 'rooftop' solar isn't the panacea some take it to be (the same goes for rooftop/backyard wind)

                Yes, solar thermal doesn't have the same problems, or to a much lesser degree.  I said the same in another comment around the same time as this thread.  But that solar thermal isn't rooftop stuff, which is what many here see as the solution.  There is rooftop solar thermal, but it's efficiencies are relatively low, as are the thermal storage capacities; you get into the best allocation of resources issue, is it better to expend material and energy on the lower effectivity rooftop systems or on big utility type farms.

                Doing a search for the report I listed about, I ran across this site
                http://www.megawattsf.com/...
                while they are selling storage, and thus have a reason to emphasis problems needing power storage to solve, the report on emissions from systems with renewable generation is worth reading. It gives an example of where increasing the percentage of renewables is not delivering the expected improvements, suggesting that changes in the system designs are needed to gain full benefit from renewables.

                •  These problems can be overcome. (0+ / 0-)

                  The first article you mentioned, "The Spectrum of Power from Utility-Scale Wind Farms and Solar Photovoltaic Arrays", only looks at ONE large PV array and two wind farms, without mentioning how far apart the wind farms are.  Another article at the same source, "The variability of interconnected wind plants" makes the point that connecting wind farms separated by about 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) significantly reduces their combined variability.  Unfortunately, I can't say much more about it, because each page has this notation on it: "DRAFT: Do not cite or quote without permission of the authors."  Since I don't have their permission, I can't continue, but you might want to read it.  

                  Since you're not home this weekend, I'll give you a pass for citations this time, but when you have a chance to find them I'd still like to see some references about the collective variability of distributed small PV installations.  

                  I gathered that "Megawatts" is basically selling huge batteries.  They cite the same single large PV array as "The Spectrum of Power..." .  The paper that they refer to, "Air Emissions Due To Wind And Solar Power" discusses carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions of natural gas generators used as backup for only one large PV array and only four wind farms that as far as I could tell were not interconnected.  The generators analized are not designed to start and stop quickly or to run for long at less than full power.  Generators designed for renewable backup service would emit less pollutants.  Also, wind turbines can start and stop faster than gas turbines.  As wind power becomes more common, wind farms could hold one or several turbines in reserve, to be started as the wind dies down, and stopped as the wind picks up, to balance the output of the wind farm as a whole.  

                  The only rooftop solar thermal that is worth considering is water heating, anything else is too complicated and dangerous for non-experts.  

                  As many people have said, there is no ONE solution.  We need some wind and some PV, and some solar thermal, and some geothermal, and some hydroelectric, and some biogas, and some nukes, and a lot of efficiency improvements.  Some of these things are by their nature large industrial-size undertakings, like solar thermal, nuclear, and geothermal.  Others can be used in both large and small applications, like wind, PV and efficiency.  The important thing is to GET STARTED, because disaster is lurking not too far into the future.

                  Renewable energy brings national security.

                  by Calamity Jean on Mon May 10, 2010 at 06:03:52 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Write about Intermittency next (3+ / 0-)

    As you suggest, it is the one thing that tends to stop a lot of momentum in the public.

    "The wind doesn't always blow."

    "When the sun goes down, you're out of power."

    I really do think that if we have concrete responses and ready-to-build plans to those flippant retorts, we can really start tearing down existing coal-fired plants.

    "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass

    by Egalitare on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:10:22 AM PDT

    •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wondering if

      I tend to not think of things in terms like "coal vs. wind." Yes, coal is dirty, and it should be either retired and replaced or cleaned up.

      Clean and renewable is always better, but those aren't the only two tests of a technology. There is also reliability and how much they cost to build and bring to market.

      So we have to weigh things carefully, keeping the pros and cons in mind, and not dismiss any potential solution in favor of the one we find most appealing -- because no one technology will be the magic bullet that saves us.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:14:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The concrete response... (6+ / 0-)

      ...is nuclear and geothermal for baseload power.

      Nuclear power has carbon emissions similar to those of wind power, and has a much smaller land-use footprint. It should definitely be part of the carbon-cutting energy equation.

      And the waste? Recycle it. The French have been doing it for decades now quite successfully. There are also newer reactor designs that can take what was formerly high-level waste and get power out of it.

      What have you done for DC statehood today? Call your Rep and Senators and demand action.

      by mistersite on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:24:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That is one reply (5+ / 0-)

        And a promising one, I believe.

        I don't see a way for us to make the kind of emissions cuts that we need to without a large investment in new nuclear energy. It provides reliable, baseload power that could replace coal entirely, provided we built enough of it.

        Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

        by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:27:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  As long as we speak HONESTLY... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          droogie6655321

          ...about the actual and total costs of nuclear (including waste, of which fuel is only a tiny part. You can't take many pieces of a worn out nuclear facility and simply toss it in the nearest landfill), I'll keep listening. I am hoping that distributive, "low tech" options for storing excess renewables will also part of the conversation.

          "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass

          by Egalitare on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:02:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Talked to a friend (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            JeffW, Calamity Jean

            Who worked in a nuke plant. She said the only thing that bothered her was the on-site, spent waste pools. Just metal pools of water with spent fuel pellets inside.

            We do need a long-term solution for this. The DOE is looking into it as we speak, by order of Secretary Chu and President Obama.

            Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

            by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:07:54 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Another response (4+ / 0-)

        More of it means less intermittency.

        If I've got solar panels on my roof and a cloud goes overhead, their generation drops - though contrary to popular belief, they still produce some juice. But it'd have to be an awfully big cloud to cover the panels in California and the panels in New Jersey at the same time.

        Same goes for wind - a single wind farm is intermittent. A hundred wind farms, spread over a thousand miles, produce fairly consistent power.

        O it is excellent to have a giant's strength: but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant. --Measure for Measure, II.2

        by RogueStage on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:29:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is true (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, Calamity Jean, RLMiller

          Intermittancy is often overstated, but it does remain a real problem. It's just not as bad as some people say it is.

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:34:39 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  agree, however I read some studies on (0+ / 0-)

          the solar photovoltaic systems in Arizona where several arrays a hundred miles apart or so showed closely related changes in output.

          This is more of a problem because of the way output from a PV array can rapidly change, power output decreasing by as much as 80% in a few seconds, and recovering as quickly.  To me this suggests that local to the site short term power storage might be useful, something capably of smoothing out the rapid fluctuations, supplying stored power for some tens of seconds to several minutes.  Methods such as the ultra high speed flywheels in vacuum chambers, or flow batteries, might fit for that application even though their not as useful on the hours to days timescale.

          Such local storage would also reduce the requirements for the interconnecting grid, allowing it to be a bit more leisurely in compensating for fluctuations in generation capacity, simply because it would know about potential decreases a bit in advance of the decrease actually happening as the generators local stored power ran out.

          Concentrated solar therm has this short term storage almost built in, and certainly easy to add for moderate periods of storage.. Storage for hours to overnight isn't too bad, but does a bit more engineering for the extra thermal storage.

      •  and yet another response (4+ / 0-)

        is the smart grid: if wind is down in the Panhandle now, use the grid for more wind from West TX.

        Charter member, Excluded & Conspicuously Overlooked Advocates; still twittering RL_Miller

        by RLMiller on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:36:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Intermittency is a red herring (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      "The wind doesn't always blow."

      It's always blowing somewhere, maybe just not here right now.  Spread enough wind farms over many hundreds of miles, and the law of averages says that some of them will be making power at any one time, even if none of them make power all the time.  

      "When the sun goes down, you're out of power."

      Actually, that's a good thing, since the demand for power is higher during the day than at night.  

      Solar and wind power complement each other; wind blows all night, solar comes on in the daytime to supply additional energy.

      Solar and wind together could supply the majority of our need for power.  Any shortfalls could be covered by hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass, or, as the absolutely last resort, a small amount of natural gas.  

      Renewable energy brings national security.

      by Calamity Jean on Fri May 07, 2010 at 05:06:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nicely done! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    texasmom, euterpe, droogie6655321

    Very nicely done. I hope you take an "all of the above" approach to the subjects from your poll...'cause I'll read all of them.

    I've been trying to motivate myself to finally write a diary about climate/energy issues. Perhaps I just need to channel my "Inner Droog".

    T&R'ed.  

    "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

    by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:24:37 AM PDT

    •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      texasmom, Cure7802

      I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm not an expert, but do you have any questions?

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:25:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am no expert either... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        droogie6655321

        but I try and stay as educated as possible on these issues. Nice to see others doing the same.

        One thing I would like to know more about (from you or anyone else) is the regulatory hurdles to new transmission lines, solar-plants, windfarms etc. We on the left generally lean towards more heavily regulated systems, but this could prove counterproductive with regards to a rapid deployment of new clean-energy technologies. If it takes 9 years for an offshore windfarm to get final approval (Cape Wind), there is no way we can scale up clean energy in time.

        The question is, what sort of new regulatory regime would best help speed us off of carbon-based energy?

        "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

        by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:47:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is a lot of NIMBYism involved (7+ / 0-)

          People don't want transmission lines in their back yard. Or a nuclear plant. Or even a wind farm.

          I've heard some damn lame excuses. People actually think the wind farms will be noisy. I have stood at the base of a 1.5 MW model wind turbine (that's not the biggest, but pretty damn big) and I've had louder desk fans. Cows can graze underneath them and even enjoy the shade.

          There would be a lot less NIMBYism if people knew more about power generation and transmission.

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:50:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  People around here think (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            TexDem, droogie6655321, Cure7802

            they might be hit by all the dead birds falling out of the sky.  Sort of like opening day of dove season, maybe.  ;)

            Thanks for the diary, droog, it filled in some knowledge gaps in my head.  

            Sometimes it's better to individually address a problem rather than just criticize our politicians for failing to do so.

            by texasmom on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:56:42 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I wish someone (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              TexDem, texasmom, Cure7802

              Would build a wind turbine in my backyard. Especially if they gave me some royalties. ;-)

              Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

              by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:58:16 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  My husband, too (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                TexDem, droogie6655321, Cure7802

                He did say it would be nice if any vibrations scared away all the rattlesnakes.  With my luck, it would attract them like in Tremors.  ;)

                Sometimes it's better to individually address a problem rather than just criticize our politicians for failing to do so.

                by texasmom on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:04:51 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Well... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Calamity Jean

                ...you could always install your own, and sell the unused power to your local utility.

                This would be one way to distribute the generation and the cost, and, if you use batteries and a synchronous inverter, have a back-up supply for at least part of your own needs (depending on how big a set-up you have) should the grid go down. I always thought this owuld be a great way to get people in cities to install PV panels: provide back-up power for things like furnace/boiler controls and ignition, gas stove igniters, refrigerator and freezer, and some lights. Any power not stored or used by you goes into the grid. Take that to at least half of the house on a city block, and suddenly you've got some real power. If our house here in Chicago wasn't in such crappy shape, I would have considered something like this. We're definitely putting in a wind turbine and PV panels at our new house on the farm, along with batteries, inverters, and a grid connection.

                Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

                by JeffW on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:28:12 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  IMHO (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            droogie6655321

            I think solar panels should be coded in to all new construction. Residential and commercial.
             
            And that's just for beginners.

            •  The costs involved (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              TexDem, wondering if, JeffW, Cure7802

              (while they are getting cheaper) make them hard to justify unless there's some kind of production tax credit or investment tax credit to allow regular people to pay them off sooner so they can begin paying for themselves.

              Now, if you're Wal-Mart, for example, I would give some serious thought to a law that required big-box retailers to cover themselves in rooftop solar.

              Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

              by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:20:20 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The Tax Code has often been used (0+ / 0-)

                to get the public to lean one direction or the other.
                 
                Tax breaks to domestic producers of solar panels and other alternative energy equipment would be a given. IIRC, Saint Ronnie reversed several of Carter's innovative tax credits for alternative energy.
                 
                Then tax credits to homeowners for their installation. The question would be, do you give a greater credit to existing homes or new construction.

        •  As for the regulatory hurdles (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Joffan, Cure7802, Egalitare

          Each technology faces different ones. With nuclear, it's the NRC. Big red tape there, but perhaps justifiably so!

          With wind, you have to secure permission from landowners, and you have to secure your link to the grid as well.

          With hydro and coal and other types, you've got environmental impact studies, power purchase agreements (a buyer for your power produced), you've got to hold years of meetings with the public, you've got to get approval from your local utility commission.

          It takes years to build this stuff.

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:52:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It does take years. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            droogie6655321, Joffan, Calamity Jean

            My concern is that I think that takes too long. The question then become how to drastically speed up the approval process without sacrificing too much in environmental impacts and the like.

            It is a tough question that I don't know the answer to.

            "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

            by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:01:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Joffan, Cure7802

              I know for the nuclear sector, in an attempt to get the industry started again, we have enacted a more streamlined "combined licensing" program.

              It still takes years, but you can see the problem -- we need the power now.

              Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

              by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:02:31 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Good to hear. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                droogie6655321, Joffan, KroneckerD

                I know many around here are suspicious of nuclear power (or openly hostile to it), but I think it is going to necessarily play an integral part of our energy future. Replacing coal with natural gas is also going to be necessary, at least in the short to medium term.

                Folks need to understand the scale of the problem, and realize wind and solar can't do the job on their own.

                "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

                by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:09:26 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  The most likely scenario I see (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Joffan, KroneckerD, Cure7802

                  If we make coal plants prohibitively expensive to operate, and carbon capture tech doesn't deliver, we'll see coal replaced by a mix of natural gas, nuclear, hydro and other renewables.

                  And also, a LARGE investment in demand-side management. Getting people to use less power!

                  Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

                  by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:15:09 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  That's how I see it as well. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    droogie6655321, KroneckerD

                    It is also why I don't worry so much about energy bill funding for clean-coal. With a price on carbon, clean-coal will either prove itself viable, or it will become too expensive and companies will stop using it. Either way it achieves our goal of reduced emissions.

                    ...and I think demand side reductions are going to be the hidden giant. There are so many opportunites to make cuts in energy usage and inceases in efficiency. Building materials, lighting, appliances, consumer goods... a whole lot of small increases in efficiency will add up to a large overall reduction.

                    While we're on the subject, this is good news.

                    "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

                    by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:22:13 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

                      That is not a lasting decrease in emissions, I don't think. It IS the economy. And when it recovers, we may start returning to our previous numbers. Still...

                      It all starts to add up. People in the industry call DSM the "low-hanging fruit." Because they don't have to do anything -- except change human behavior and habits, which can be tricky.

                      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

                      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:25:24 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Only a third of the CO2 reduction... (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        droogie6655321

                        was attributed to the recession. The rest was from increased renewables and switches from coal to gas.

                        While it is the proverbial drop-in-the-bucket, this drop impressed me because it happened during the end of the Bush years, and inspite of a lack of federal policy. If it can happen under those conditions, how much better would it be after passage of even a flawed energy/climate bill? I would guess quite a bit.

                        I think industry can make far deeper emission cuts than most think possible if there is a price and caps on carbon.

                        "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

                        by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:33:51 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Really? (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Cure7802

                          Well then! That's great.

                          You know, I fully expect raspberries and derision for saying this, but the energy industry knows that change is coming, and has been seriously trying to prepare for it.

                          Whether it's the EPA enforcing its endangerment finding and regulating GHG as a public health threat, or whether it's a federal energy policy (with cap and trade or a carbon tax combined with a renewable energy portfolio standard), a low-carbon future is coming. And they know this.

                          That's why you see so many trying to retrofit old, inefficient power plants and replace others with clean energy. They know they're going to have to pay a higher price for their pollution soon, and while many of them have decided to stand in the way of positive change, they know they're only delaying the inevitable.

                          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

                          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:38:43 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  No raspberries from me. (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            droogie6655321, Calamity Jean

                            I think you're exactly right. This is why I'm still relatively optimistic about energy/climate legislation passing this year. Industry opposition is fractured (partly because of the clean-coal/ off-shore drilling sweetners), and while Congress can delay and complain as long as they want about passing legislation (because God forbid we ask legislators to legislate), at the end of the day they know the Administration is going to use the EPA if they don't act...and no one wants that.

                            I think they'll come to the table.

                            "How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?"

                            by Cure7802 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 10:00:25 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  It's high time (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Calamity Jean, Cure7802

                            For smart laws.

                            Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

                            by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 10:10:41 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                    •  Clean coal will never happen. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      JeffW

                      It is barely economically possible if coal remains cheap.  If coal gets to be expensive, it can't fly.  And coal's price may go up; I found this yesterday and found it quite interesting.  http://www.energybulletin.net/...  

                      Renewable energy brings national security.

                      by Calamity Jean on Fri May 07, 2010 at 05:16:44 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

  •  Droogie, you are a damn fine journalist. (6+ / 0-)

    This is a very concise, easy-to-understand summary of our current energy situation.  Well done.  

    I really appreciate this statement:

    It just doesn't make sense to be an energy partisan. Every technology has its strengths as well as its shortcomings. And what makes sense for one area of the country might not make sense for another. This is one thing that makes drafting a one-size-fits-all energy policy for the entire country so difficult. Well, that, and industry pressure groups. ;-)

    I've been called a "nuclear whore" on this site for advocating for increased generation of nuclear power, and I've been called a "shill for coal" by explaining to people how much of our energy comes from coal and why we can't immediately transition away from that.  We need to have rational discourse here about energy.  

    Tipped and Rec'd with the fury of 1000 suns.  I need to get back to my "nuclear whoring" and "coal-shilling" and continue this funding proposal for a next-generation solar cell that we're looking to work on.

    "I know this defies the law of gravity, but you see, I never studied law." -Bugs Bunny

    by KroneckerD on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:25:47 AM PDT

    •  This is what makes it hard to talk energy (6+ / 0-)

      If you point out how much coal power does to keep our lights on, and how hard it would be to replace it, you come off sounding like a dick who doesn't also realize what a dirty and dangerous source of power it is.

      And as I've said elsewhere in these comments, I think nuclear power shows perhaps the greatest potential to replace coal-fired generation. But it's not without its problems too.

      If there were easy answers here, we wouldn't be having a debate at all.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:30:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually Nicholi Tesla designed.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321

    the alternating current electrical grid to harness the power of Niagara Falls to power New York City.

    All I know is what I read in the newspapers. Will Rogers

    by Tulsonian on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:29:19 AM PDT

    •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

      Tesla did win the "current wars." But Edison pretty much invented the electricity industry in 1882 with the Edison Electric Co.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:31:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But take a look at our fair city. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        texasmom, droogie6655321

        We have people fighting the new bridge over the river because it has been proposed to build two levels one for cars and one for pedestrians and trains. Cars fine. Pedestrians? no way. Why would people even care? People here get pissed about the city spending money on sidewalks. Whole areas are completely un-walkable. So you have people who feel like if you give people alternative transportation then you threaten their way of life (suburbia). It's crazy.

        All I know is what I read in the newspapers. Will Rogers

        by Tulsonian on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:39:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sometimes I wonder (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          texasmom

          Are people that crotchety everywhere?

          I once wrote a story about how nobody wanted Woodland Hills mall built. Can you imagine what South Tulsa would look like without the 71st St. corridor that sprang up around that mall? It'd still be a cow pasture.

          Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

          by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:41:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  What I have long thought (3+ / 0-)

    is that the way to go is to have the government take over the job of distributing electricity - the city owns the wire into your house.

    Let the various alternative methods compete to sell electricity to put on that wire.

    And then tax every power method according to its external costs:
    Tax carbon fuels for the cost of greenhouse gases.
    Tax oil to discourage sending money to the House of Saud.
    Tax oil rigs to cover the costs of spills.
    Tax wind power for the dead birds.

    And so on.

    The government can subsidize basic research and tax as described above, and then let the free market sort it out. What works in Denver may be different than what works in Boston.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:30:46 AM PDT

    •  We can talk about... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue aardvark, libertyvalence

      Things like cap and trade and the carbon tax as means of reducing GHGs later on. Personally I love cap and trade. It worked for us before when we were looking to reduce NOX and SOX.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:33:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The government (county) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, blue aardvark

      owns the wires to my house, and the generators (hydro) that feed them. I pay less than 3 cents/kWh, they're nice people to deal with, and I get to vote for the board of directors.

      They also do research (they're a participant in the consortium developing hybrid school buses), develop industry (we've attracted several large server farms for both cheap power and good connectivity - the county runs fiber too), stabilize stream banks, build parks, and are much better at protecting salmon than the Federal dams above and below us.

      We are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

      by badger on Fri May 07, 2010 at 10:31:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I hate to think (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321, libertyvalence

    what our electric bill would be if my dh and I hadn't cut back on using electricity. If a motor blower isn't stoved up, we find a short or have frigid weather.

    We have been very careful to keep our usage down, for years, every since we moved to the country and found our electric was 2 times higher than in town. Then moving to an all electric house made us more determined.  We had butane for heating in our last house in the country and it is double the cost of natural gas in town, too.

    Finally, we received a reasonable bill, $128, for March and a little bit of February.

    Any energy use we cut out in our home helps cut out the need for more coal, oil or energy.  A steady drip wears away great stones.

    I couldnt shut off our computer router because others stayed up later than I did.  I didn't want to shut down our computer phone either, so I have moved what I can't shut off to a different electric bar so I can shut down more overnight.

    Frankly, I don't think our government or big business wants to stop buying oil.  How else would the MIDEAST even let them into their countries?  Too many want to keep the status quo of us being dependent on their oil.  

    Anything done to change to other forms of energy from coal should make sure that the planning includes jobs for the coal miners.

    When anyone replaces their old appliances, they need to search the net for energy star appliances.  They now have refrigerators that use the energy of burning two 60 watt bulbs full time.  

    We didn't say Wealth Care, we said Health Care

    by relentless on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:33:56 AM PDT

    •  It's true cost is a driver (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      relentless, Calamity Jean

      If people find they can't afford to use that much power, that's the most powerful persuasion to cut their usage.

      However, we'd be callous to suggest that high energy prices are a good thing. We have to remember that there are some people who can't cut as much as they need to.

      (I'm not saying you said that, but I have heard it said)

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:37:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Phasing Out Carbon by 2030 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321, FarWestGirl

    http://pubs.acs.org/...
    Options for Near-Term Phaseout of CO2 Emissions from Coal Use in the United States

    Pushker A. Kharecha*†, Charles F. Kutscher‡, James E. Hansen† and Edward Mazria

    Please notice that among the co-authors are James Hansen from NASA and Ed Mazria from Architecture 2030.

    Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

    by gmoke on Fri May 07, 2010 at 08:55:08 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321

    We are in a hole. We are at the point where the right says, ''being in a hole is a great, patriotic, American place to be. The liberals are keeping us from digging harder.''
           Then, everyone starts arguing, the ones yelling, ''shut up!'' will just add to the noise. The conservatives will get the war they have wanted, each thinking that he will be the one to survive. (All conservatives are nominally he, regardless of actual gender)
        Whatever, the hole will still be there, only, it will be impossible for one conservative and one progressive to help each other out.
          (The progressive, having dug herself out from the bottom of the pile of bodies.) What is left?

    Liberty Valence Saying, ''consumer protection'' is like saying, ''slavery protection.''

    by libertyvalence on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:06:18 AM PDT

  •  A better Battery changes the world (4+ / 0-)

    When we develop a battery to allow electricity as a reasonable form of transportation, we'll be on our way to real change.

    I'm not sure I agree with your wish for a centralized mass energy storage.  I would lean toward distributed storage at the home level.  The electric cars would be the mechanism to store electricity at the household level.  A second battery pack for the electric car would allow for quick changes for transportation when needed, and back up electricity when we're lacking wind and solar.  Of course NG/nuclear power plants would provide the ultimate backup.

    Having big power plants sitting idle is really expensive, but it's the price we must pay to prevent a civilization collapse.

    •  Well actually (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joffan, JeffW, Calamity Jean, Egalitare

      It wouldn't be that centralized. The important thing isn't location so much as the ability to hold power on the megawatt scale.

      If we had that, we could hook up wind farms and solar parks and biomass plants and store that power for when it's needed, then kick it over to meet the demand, say, when people come home at 6 p.m. and hook up their cars.

      In my mind, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, energy storage, biomass, geotherm, hydro, PHEVs, charging stations will all work in tandem, each one making optimal use of its strengths, with the others compensating for its weaknesses.

      That's the grid of the future.

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:12:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fully agreed, but; (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        droogie6655321

        I still would like to see KW's stored at millions of homes to reach those needed megawatts of storage, rather than another storage in a few places with some promised, yet to be tested technology with multiple points of possible failure.

        But I fully agree that the future holds many different methods of electricity generation, with each locality (or household) choosing the method that best meets their needs.  If we're going to have distributed power generation, we might as well go for distributed storage also. :)

  •  I liked it - I vote more sustain\renewables (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321

    If 60% of the power consumers had variable source setups where they can go on the grid for hours, and can switch to solar or a local renewable grid separate from a main source, then that would make a big difference to the overall draw on the the network.

    I was reading about this guy who built a Solar panel for about $104.85 to help power his home. If local solar became a DIY sort of movement, or someone went into business putting out the most affordable solar units for DIY'rs that could make a big difference in getting solar a foothold in the mainstream.

    The old CQ was that solar was too expensive for most people, and it only lasted for about 5-10 years before the equipment all went bad. But that's all 1970s first Gen thinking. It must have changed by now.

    Aperture Science. We do what we must, because we can.

    by lincoln deschain on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:27:34 AM PDT

  •  we're going to need combos (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321

    I don't think getting completely off of fossil fuels is doable in our lifetime... but, we can definitely lessen our use of them by using as much as we can of other things (wind, solar, etc.).  And the more of those alternative-sources we use, the faster technology will advance to make them better and more efficient... and, thus, less fossil fuels get used.

    One thing that ticks me off is ethanol.  The USA still seems to be looking at corn-based ethanol, which, from everything I understand, is one of the least-efficient kinds.  Brazil is almost fuel-independent because they're using sugar cane based ethanol.  We know this, yet we still go with corn instead?  Granted, I'm far from being any kind of expert on the subject, but that's weird to me.  If something's worked so well for Brazil, why do we ignore it?  

    "Glenn Beck ends up looking like a fat, stupid child. His face should be wearing a chef's hat on the side of a box of eclairs. " - Doug Stanhope

    by Front Toward Enemy on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:29:39 AM PDT

    •  I think it's doable in my lifetime (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Front Toward Enemy

      (I'm 27). But it's not doable in, say, David Letterman's lifetime. Which some people seem to think it is.

      Ethanol only makes sense because of the ridiculous subsidies we give to places like Iowa, where politicians made a lot of crazy promises. ;-)

      Arizona protest sign suggestion: "What did Brown do to you?"

      by droogie6655321 on Fri May 07, 2010 at 09:31:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Brazil (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Front Toward Enemy

      is nearly idea for growing sugar cane, about the most efficient higher plant for turning sunlight into fixed carbon. Very little area of the U.S. comes close to being as good as the Brazilian average.

      But Brazil also has a lot of fossil fuel production, and decent hydro power.  Looking at this it appears that in 2006 Brazil produced 49% of its energy from oil, 36% from hydro, 7% from natural gas, and 5% from coal.  Not all of the oil is consumed locally.  Another data source is this Wiki page.

      And from here:

      In 2005, Brazil consumed 2 million barrels (320,000 m3) of oil per day, versus 280,000 barrels (45,000 m3) of ethanol. Although Brazil is a major oil producer and now exports gasoline (19,000 m³/day), it still must import oil because of internal demand for other oil byproducts, chiefly diesel fuel, which cannot be easily replaced by ethanol. When trucks and other diesel-powered vehicles are considered ethanol represented 16.9% of total energy consumption by the road transport sector in terms of energy equivalent to crude oil, and 14.9% of the entire transport sector.

      Given those numbers showing that as a percentage somewhere in the mid-teens of all transportation fuel usage, ethanol is a significant factor in Brazil's energy independence but not the main reason for it.

      •  we can grow it down South... (0+ / 0-)

        Sugar cane grows pretty well down here.  I drive past a couple of fields of it every day.  I'm not sure about the rest of the U.S., but I think they could at least concentrate more on cane-for-ethanol farming in the South, to supplement the corn grown elsewhere.

        "Glenn Beck ends up looking like a fat, stupid child. His face should be wearing a chef's hat on the side of a box of eclairs. " - Doug Stanhope

        by Front Toward Enemy on Fri May 07, 2010 at 01:44:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Write about what's available (0+ / 0-)

    right now - and time frames.  I know some of that.  For example, wind and solar are green but have the intermittancy problem.  On the plus side, they can be online much faster than practically anything else - 2 years or less for utility versions, 6 weeks or less for the residential ones.  Coal- and gas-fired plants are 4-5 year builds.  So is landfill-gas-fired and it's "green" (not a net gain for carbon and doesn't require the kinds of drilling/mining that fossil fuels do.  We've had that technology for over 15 years that I personally know of.  Nuke plants are 10-year builds and are 50 or more % subsidized (not to mention the issue of what do we do with the waste).  Geothermal can be used directly to reduce load (heating & cooling ground pumps use the least amount of energy) or indirectly to make electricity.  Siting is an issue, but the build is in the 3-4 year timeframe.  I know of a "new" technology (a bioconversion process that produces ethanol from any carbonate feedstock using anaerobic bacteria and produces electricity from waste heat) that has been trying to go commercial for at least 5 years.  Once they finally break ground it will be a 2-year build (the first plant is planned for Indian River County, FL and will use citrus orchard/industry waste as the feedstock), with potential for expansion since it's modular construction.  I'd love to see a chart of what's available and what's in the near future with build timeframes and ranked by "green-ness".

  •  It if it's coming from nuclear plants. (0+ / 0-)

    it's cleaner.

  •  I really like your even-handed approach (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321, Joffan

    to stimulating rational debate.  I have nothing against renewables, and I'm very pronuclear - but with caveats.  There's both smart and dumb ways to do things, and with nuclear power we don't want to do anything dumb.  Nevertheless, with 50,000,000:1 superiority in energy density, and very high power densities, over the next best thing (fossil fuels) it has the intrinsic potential for smallest possible environmental footprint from physical plant build requirements, transmission requirements (reliable 24x7 power), raw material mining inputs and life-cycle waste generation for each GW-year of energy delivered.  

    We need a lot of unbiased, scientifically sound analysis to make informed decisions, smart choices, on how to decarbonize our economy. Its a debate worth having as only the future of the biosphere, and humanity, are at stake.  

    I think taxing carbon is the first step, and revenues generated should be invested in the science and engineering (next gen nuclear, smart grid, new battery tech, advanced solar, etc.) necessary to have a viable sustainable zero-carbon economy in 30-40 years.

    The intrinsic nature of Power is such that those who seek it most are least qualified to wield it.

    by mojo workin on Fri May 07, 2010 at 10:10:40 AM PDT

  •  Good to see (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    droogie6655321, RLMiller, Eric Nelson

    your interest in the subject.

    In addition to writing your own diaries about it, you can always jump into some of the other diaries about energy and climate change.

    Two excellent diarists who are tireless in their devotion to such issues are A Siegel (currently rec-listed) and RLMiller

    The best way to save the planet is to keep laughing!

    by LaughingPlanet on Fri May 07, 2010 at 10:28:16 AM PDT

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