Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Jobs and Energy

What are green jobs, and how does energy production tie in? The current thinking among the Carbon is Killing Us Crowd, those who devoutly believe that CO2 in the atmosphere is already causing catastrophic world-wide changes, is that green jobs derive from reducing or eliminating a fossil-fuel economy in favor of increasing a renewable energy-driven economy.

As one example, in California, the Air Resources Board (ARB) states that job losses in low-intensity industries will be more than offset by job gains in high-intensity industries. Their definition of "job intensity" is such that a major power plant that burns natural gas (and has few employees per unit of production, kWh electricty) has a very low job intensity. In contrast, a wind power farm with hundreds of windmills has a high job intensity due to the greater number of employees required to service and repair the windmills. This is a two-fer for the greenies, as evil carbon is not emitted, and more people have a job.

Yet, just a few decades ago, it was patently obvious that high labor cost was a hindrance to economic efficiency. To name just a few fields, bookkeepers were quite common before the computer age, but automation now does the job. Automated factories require far fewer employees than did the older, manually operated factories.

The green power revolution is said to cut jobs in traditional, fossil-fuel plants, and create many times the jobs in the green collar field.

This week saw a major announcement of job losses in the fossil-fuel plants, as Sunoco announced the closing of an oil refinery in New Jersey with the loss of 400 permanent jobs and hundreds more independent contractors. Should we wait to see the announcement of what, 3 times that number of green jobs? That would be roughly 1500 to 2000 more green jobs if the greenies' jobs-math is correct. One must wonder (as I certainly do) just how long is required for those 1500 to 2000 new green jobs to appear, and those displaced workers have steady paychecks again. Will that be by Christmas, so everyone has a merry Christmas? I doubt it.

The closure of the Sunoco refinery also plays into the Grand Game - the world-wide competition to provide energy. New refineries are under construction world-wide, and a couple of major expansions are underway in the U.S. India started up a very large refinery almost a year ago, and is exporting the products, some of which are imported by the U.S. Excess refining capacity drives down the price of petroleum products - this is basic economics - and that encourages greater consumption. More and more refineries will close, especially those that are smaller and inefficient compared to the larger and modern refineries.

As petroleum prices decrease, the economic incentives for renewable power plants also decrease. Hybrid electric, and pure electric vehicles have an initial cost premium that is supposed to be offset by the fuel savings - but only if petroleum fuels are sufficiently costly. At this time, the additional $3 to $4 thousand premium for a hybrid vehicle is simply not a wise investment.

Obama's Cash for Clunkers program accelerated the purchase - distorted the market - of high-miles-per-gallon vehicles and the (literal) destruction of older, gas guzzling cars. Thus, the demand for gasoline is lower than it otherwise would be, the gasoline price is also lower, and refineries in the U.S. are shutting down. Yet, now the automotive companies see fewer customers following the Cash for Clunkers fiasco, as a person with a new car will not likely set foot in a car dealership for several years.

And so it goes in the Grand Game. Hybrid cars that are not worth the price, oil refineries shutting down, fossil-fuel workers out of work, renewable power plants stagnating due to low economic incentives, and oh yes, crops barely beating the killing freeze this year to provide raw material for the bio-fuels industry. Who knows what the summer of 2010 will bring in that arena.

One wonders if the farmers will be asked to hire more workers as green jobs, and park the tractor in the barn. We tried that for centuries, using manual labor on farms. Those are exhausting, monotonous jobs that paid very low wages. Still, they are green jobs. There are approximately 700 newly-jobless workers in the New Jersey area. Does anyone think that farmers will hire any of them?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dilute Energy Sources

A thread on strayed onto nuclear power the other day, and I offered a few comments. This seems appropriate to reproduce them here, with additional comments added.

As some may remember from the 1960s an old saying "What if they gave a War, and nobody came?" Today, we can rephrase that for the South Texas Nuclear Project's proposed expansion as "What if they wanted to build a new nuclear power plant, and nobody invested?" The city of San Antonio is scheduled to vote on their level of participation in the STNP expansion, with the date presently set for October 13. This date keeps getting pushed back, so we shall see. The topic is wildly controversial, with very few people trusting or believing the nuclear advocates who insist that the plant can be built for only $13 billion, and be producing power four years after start of construction. My assessment, published in comments to various articles at, is that the expansion will cost at least $22 billion, and require 10 years or more to produce power. It is more likely to cost $25 billion.

As background, the City of San Antonio already owns 40 percent of the existing twin-reactor STNP, with the City of Austin owning 20 percent. It is quite instructive that the City of Austin this time declined to be a party to the STNP expansion. Austin learned its lesson quite well in the original fiasco, in which the nuclear proponents for STNP stated the plant would only cost $900 million, yet its final cost was $5.4 billion, for a cost over-run of $4.5 billion or six times the original estimate. There is no recent experience in the United States, but the new Generation III nuclear plant presently being built in Finland is billions of Euros over-budget, and so far behind schedule (it was to be started up by now, 2009), that the builder cannot provide an end date to the construction at this time. What an industry - who can trust the promoters? Their track record is horrendous.

The exchange of comments on the WUWT thread is shown below.

A commenter (beng) wrote the following. My response is below that.

(beng) : "Sorry, WUWT, for being OT.

Roger Sowell, the present state of nuclear power development is similar to objective climate research — they have been and are presently mostly dead-in-the-water in the US. Environmentalism and litigation have done their jobs very well over the decades.

If the US had maintained its can-do attitude, we would already have safe and proliferation-proof nuclear plants reprocessing their own fuel. The US is now falling behind the progressive (non-European) countries in science and technology development in general. Space exploration has been the exception, but now even that is at risk.

Sorry, but “renewable” energy sources are and will always be bit players in the big view. It’s a basic thermodynamic thing — low-density energy sources (wind, solar, even hydro) can never replace high-density sources like fossil fuels and especially nuclear (very high density). Unless we want to return to an 18th century society."

Roger Sowell


What a pessimistic viewpoint!

The reality is that renewable energy sources are now major players, as designed. The incubation and encouragement of innovation via government assistance has provided economically viable renewable power generation plants. Although the Road Not Taken argument makes it impossible to know where we would be today if not for the government assistance, the fact is that we do have viable solar power, viable wind power, viable geothermal power, and very promising wave power. Ocean current power is the next big thing, and it needs zero storage.

For California, only because I live here and am familiar with these numbers, in 2008 (source and percent of total state power generation):

Natural Gas 46.5%
Nuclear 14.9%
Large Hydro 9.6%
Coal (out of state) 15.5%
Renewable 13.5%

Renewables provided more than large hydro, and almost as much as nuclear in that year. As renewables continue to grow, and coal is eliminated, it will soon be the second largest power source. That is hardly a “bit player.”

The horrible realities of nuclear energy (outrageous cost, toxic byproducts that endure for centuries, among others) spurred development of renewables also.

The US government has very recently increased emphasis on offshore renewables development in wind, wave, and ocean current. Other countries also are developing their offshore renewable resources.

The thermodynamic argument is laughable! A dilute resource is just as viable as a concentrated resource. By your argument, sunshine is not viable because it is so dilute. Yet billions of plant leaves silently refute your argument every day, and have done so for billions of years. By extension, water vapor is not a viable energy source because it is spread out across the entire atmosphere. Yet thousands of hydroelectric plants give mute testimony that such a dilute resource (in the form of rainfall) is perfectly capable of providing economic energy. And, before hydroelectric plants were built, waterwheels provided power for centuries.

Thermodynamics has a place in the debate, but not where you seek to place it. A far better argument is one of economics. If I can build a windmill (taking advantage of that highly dilute resource, wind) and provide power at a lower cost than the highest alternative resource (e.g. a new nuclear power plant or a gas-fired peaker plant), then that is all that matters. Perhaps I tie the windmill to a water source, and use the windmill to pump water uphill into a hydroelectric plant, rather than direct generation of power. In this manner, I obtain a time-shifting of the power in the wind, and I do not care that the wind blows mostly at night while my electric demand is during the day. Thermodynamics has absolutely nothing to do with that aspect, simply economics does.

As to the US and its can-do attitude, it of course still exists. What we learned in the 60s and later the 70s is that radioactivity is too deadly to ever be widely implemented except under very carefully regulated and monitored conditions. There is a reason that children should not play with firearms, and there is a similar reason why nuclear fission processes are heavily regulated. If that increases the cost of building a power plant, and the time required to build it according to the laws, then so be it.

As I have stated before, if you do not like the existing laws, you are welcome to change them. This is the USA. We have in place procedures to do exactly that. Good luck to you.

A bit earlier in the comments, "crosspatch" offered that the modern Generation III nuclear power plants are much less costly due to a simpler design, which uses what he referred to as "the same technology that makes toilets work" or float valves. That hardly gives one a good feeling that the plant will actually operate safely. Float valves are notoriously unreliable - has anyone ever had to repair one of these on a toilet? Here is crosspatch's comment, and my reply.


"You might want to recognize a few facts about the US nuclear power industry’s abysmal record of building power plants on schedule and on-budget. Cost overruns of 5 or even 6" [this is crosspatch quoting what I had written earlier - RES]

[crosspatch's statement here] There has not been a single nuclear plant started in the US that I know of since 1979. Your figures are sheer propaganda and not related to any reality. Today’s plants are MUCH simpler to build than those plants were. China has ordered 200 of the AP series plants from Westinghouse.

Two of the drivers of plant construction costs are the cost of financing during the construction phase and the substantial amount of skilled-craft-labor hours needed on site during construction. The AP1000™ technique of modularization of plant construction mitigates both of these drivers.

Overnight construction costs
The AP1000 was designed to reduce capital costs and to be economically competitive with contemporary fossil-fueled plants. The amount of safety-grade equipment required is greatly reduced by using the passive safety system design. Consequently, less Seismic Category I building volume is required to house the safety equipment (approximately 45 percent less than a typical reactor). Modular construction design further reduces cost and shortens the construction schedule. Using advanced computer modeling capabilities, Westinghouse is able to optimize, choreograph and simulate the construction plan. The result is very high confidence in the construction schedule.

Simplification was a major design objective for the AP1000. The simplified plant design includes overall safety systems, normal operating systems, the control room, construction techniques, and instrumentation and control systems. The result is a plant that is easier and less expensive to build, operate and maintain.

The AP1000 design saves money and time with an accelerated construction time period of approximately 36 months, from the pouring of first concrete to the loading of fuel. Also, the innovative AP1000 features:

* 50% fewer safety-related valves
* 80% less safety-related piping
* 85% less control cable
* 35% fewer pumps
* 45% less seismic building volume

With so many of these plants currently being built worldwide, the construction has been modularized and the process refined so that they go in quickly. The plant design has eliminated much of the complexity of older designs. Passive emergency systems means they work without having to be activated by a computer or a person and can not be accidentally deactivated by a computer or a person.

To greatly simplify, it works like this:

If the pool surrounding the reactor core begins to heat, water evaporates. It condenses on the inside of the containment vessel and the water returns to a reservoir. When the water level in the pool drops to a certain level, float valves operate allowing water from the reservoir to flow and replace the water lost in the pool due to evaporation. Basically the same technology that makes toilets work. This can continue for two weeks worst case (longer in winter when the containment dome can shed heat to the outside air) without any pumps, external power, HVAC, anything. At the end of that period, cooling water sprayed on the containment vessel (fire hose) will allow operation indefinitely.

But in any case, you cost overrun argument is silly as there is not a single modern plant to which that argument can be applied in the US.

Also, much of the additional cost is due to “lawfare” applied by misguided, uneducated, fear mongering groups who would want to scare the living crap out of people about nuclear power. They have convinced a great portion of California that nuclear plants are unsafe in seismic areas, for example. We have reactors capable of surviving greater seismic loads than Earth can dish out. What is the equivalent seismic load of a depth charge going off next to a submarine hull?

The anti-nuclear movement is based on ignorance and works by stoking irrational fear in people. The only legitimate concern is spent fuel. If you reprocess that fuel on-site, that concern is gone, too. That is why China is doing it, India is doing it, France is doing it, Japan is doing it, and Germany will now likely be doing it. The entire world EXCEPT the US will be generating carbon-free power in huge quantity while we base our energy policy on rainbows, unicorns, and technology that might be here someday.

It is idiotic.

Roger Sowell

Crosspatch, and Mike Borgelt,

Those are the same tired (and untrue, ultimately) arguments the nuclear industry made 40 years ago — and look where we ended up. “We have a good design,” and “these plants are inherently safe,” and “we know how to build these plants.”

Sure you have, and sure they are, and sure you do. [sarc off] You cannot kid me, crosspatch, because I have worked all across this globe building and running process plants, refineries, chemical plants, and power plants. You can probably sell that propaganda to the gullible, non-technical public, but not to me nor any of my colleagues. We know better.

But the arguments at this point are futile. I will be accepting the apologies of all the nuclear nuts, after a so-called Generation III nuclear power plant is built here, in the US, not in other countries. The cost overruns and schedule delays will be public record. The higher cost of electricity will be common knowledge. (on second thought, nuclear nuts will likely not apologize, but instead will make perpetual excuses how it was not their fault, if only the environmentalists and their lawyers had stepped aside none of the cost overruns would have happened).

The nuclear power industry has always had rose-colored glasses, in a hopeless dream to build the most expensive, toxic legacy-creating, misguided form of power man has ever devised. The retail power price increases due to massive cost overruns will harm the poor and those on fixed incomes, and it will be those people who share your misguided optimism who are squarely to blame.

One last point, and that is end-of-life-cycle increased accidents. The existing nuclear power plants are entering the final phase of their operating lives, and they will (because they must) experience increased system failures and radiation emissions. This has already begun as pressures exist to maintain or increase operating rates, systems and pipes corrode, tritium leaks into groundwater, and other systems slowly fail over time.

With at least 50 nuclear power plants older than the average (in the US), the odds are increasing with every passing day that an accident that releases deadly radioactivity will happen. This is not good for your cause.

Roger Sowell

crosspatch, I respect your writings on WUWT, as you usually have interesting and (mostly) accurate things to say. But this time, IMHO, you fell quite a bit short of that mark.

Do you really want to hinge your argument for nuclear power plant safety on float valves, the “technology that makes toilets work?” I suppose toilet float valves work with close to 100 percent success somewhere in the universe, but not on this planet. Even a 99.9 percent success rate is not good enough for a nuclear power plant. That missing 0.1 percent represents 0.36 days, or roughly 8 hours of each year when the float valve will not work. Not nearly good enough.

I have spent too many hours fixing faulty float valve systems on toilets for that to be a convincing argument. I suppose next you will tell us that these are nuclear-grade float valves, not the cheap junk that are installed in actual toilets. Still, a float valve is one of the LEAST reliable of all instrumented control systems, and I have seen thousands of these in industrial (e.g.non-toilet) applications in my career. Their failure rates are legendary.

For just a partial list of float valve failure mechanisms, consider that float valves stick open, stick closed, stick partially closed, they corrode, they rust, they bend, they spring a leak and fill with fluid (water), the hinges freeze, and many, many others.

Thanks for the laugh on that one, I will be sure to include it in my presentations in the future! I think a bumper sticker is also in order.

“Don’t worry folks! These new nuclear plants are SAFE!!! We use the same float valve technology that makes your toilets work!!”

And a few final comments from me. The entire concept of allowing water to vaporize (boil) to prevent a runaway nuclear reaction from exploding or melting down has several problems. First, the amount of water that must be boiled then condensed is immense. Consider that a nuclear reactor produces approximately 3 times the amount of heat compared to the amount of electricity produced. Thus, for a 1250 MWe reactor/power plant, the nuclear reactor side is producing the equivalent of 3,750 MWe of heat.

The heat transfer surface (interior of the reactor dome, as offered by crosspatch) that is required to condense this amount of water would be absolutely immense. Further, the design apparently has the heat being transferred across a very thick wall of steel, then to the ambient air (hence the reference to better heat removal during winter, and it can be continued indefinitely by shooting water on the outside of the containment dome).

Finally, heat transfer to air has a very low "efficiency" or what is referred to technically as the heat-transfer coefficient. In practice, that means that a very large surface area is required to transfer the heat to the air. The smooth exterior of the containment vessel just does not have the surface area.

I do hope that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is competent at performing the necessary heat transfer calculations, and uses the appropriate heat-transfer coefficients. These new reactor designs are a disaster just waiting to happen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dumb Move by GM to End Saturn

"GM CEO Fritz Henderson said in [a] statement that Saturn and its dealership network will be phased out [following breakdown of talks to acquire Saturn by Penske]." [words in brackets my addition - RES] source: the Associated Press, September 30, 2009.

This has to go down in history as one of the dumbest business moves of all time. Shutting down Saturn, the car company that rescued GM a decade ago. Saturn, the car company that revolutionized the car buying experience - no haggling on the price. Everybody pays the same for a given model. Saturn, the car that runs and runs and runs, dependably, reliably, and with very low maintenance. Saturn, the car that tow-truck drivers almost never had to tow.

I have owned 3 different Saturns, all 4 door sedans with the 4 cylinder engine, all manual transmission, and they ran like the fine machines they are. Never any maintenance or engine problems. Easy to work on, to change the oil and filter, to change the spark plugs, and that is all the tuneup they required.

Brilliant, GM. Just brilliant. No wonder your company is bankrupt.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Oil in Abundance

Some fear-mongers drone on and on that oil is a scarce resource and that Peak Oil has happened. They view the rapid consumption of oil as a very bad thing, and spin fantasies about apocalyptic events created by a shortage of oil, such events due to happen any day now. Or perhaps next year. Or, really no later than about 20 years. They are quite interesting, these Peak Oilers. Their views are so optimistic in one sense, yet so pessimistic in another.

The optimism, and this is misplaced in my view, is that Man can and will develop sufficient green energy supplies - not based on fossil fuels - to keep every energy demand satisfied without oil, whether for transportation, heating, cooling, industry, entertainment, military, or otherwise. The green energy revolution they insist will be found does not emit carbon dioxide or other killer greenhouse gases, (although there is absolutely no proof that such emissions kill anything), instead, these green energy sources use the sun, the wind, the tide, plant material, even animal fats to produce vast amounts of energy. The technologies for the green energy are being frantically pursued by the laboratories, the scientists, engineers, financiers, and governments. Yet, to date, only small amounts of energy are produced from this massive effort.

The Peak Oilers' pessimism is for the ability of the earth to provide more oil, and for those in the oil business to find and produce that oil. Apparently, in the minds of the Peak Oilers, only those in the green energy field are smart, and those in the oil business are not too bright. Yet, history shows just the opposite to be true. Consider the efforts of Occidental Petroleum very recently.

Oxy, as it is commonly called, found a large amount of oil in California's Kern County, a place that was known for oil but was thought to contain no significant additional quantities. In fact, a refinery that processed local crudes in that area was to be shut down due to lack of crude supplies and imminent financial losses. The refiner, Shell, was not allowed to shut the refinery down but was forced to find a buyer, which they did. The buyer soon filed for bankruptcy.

A key element of Oxy's Kern County find, according to some sources, was the technology they used to evaluate the rocks deep in the earth without drilling. This takes considerable technology, involving seismic surveys, and computer analysis of the seismic results. If one has seen the movie Jurassic Park, a movie director's version of this is included where the fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur deep in the ground is discovered by a computer that analyzes seismic waves. Oxy declines to discuss their technology because that is an important competitive advantage in a very competitive industry.

Yet, we can surmise how this technology works. There are two components, improved imaging, and identifying the images. Seismic waves are sound waves produced from a sharp and very loud noise at the surface, then reflected upward by rocks deep underground. Different types of rocks, and different shapes of rocks, reflect the sound waves in different ways. The key is to have multiple sensitive microphones at key locations, listening for and recording the reflected sound waves. The phenomena is very much like an echo canyon, where a person can shout a short phrase, wait a second or so, and hear the sound echo back. A computer then assembles all the recorded sound waves, and processes them for issues such as time delay until returning to the surface, and strength. The exact interpretation process is proprietary because so much value lies in these computer programs.

The second issue is identifying the images. With a sufficiently large pool of data, one can label the images as to being a particular type of rock, its location, and whether there is likely to be oil or not. This data is obtained by actually drilling, and carefully recording the contents of the rock cuttings as the well progresses downward. What is actually discovered is compared to the computer images, and statistics are brought in to play. The geologists are also consulted, as they play a key role in understanding what rocks are where, and how old they are, and whether they are likely to contain oil or not. The Peak Oilers apparently do not understand much, if any, of this entire process, but instead hold the wrong view that oil companies are a bunch of brainless bumblers who haul a drilling rig out into a wasteland, then drill like mad, hoping to find oil. That may have been true in the early days of oil discovery, but no more.

So, congratulations to Oxy. Well done, guys and gals. One can only wonder how many additional oil discoveries will be made, using the high technologies of the modern oil company.

It helps, of course, to have the price of oil above $70 per barrel. OPEC has fumbled yet again, just as they did in the late 1970's with their sudden and dramatic price increase for oil. With oil at $70 per barrel, it makes economic sense to re-evaluate old oil fields, deeper drilling, and more seismic surveys.

Sea Level Silliness

We hear repeated bleatings from the Carbon is Killing Us crowd, the AGW true-believers, that the sea levels will rise and coral reefs around the world will die. What utter silliness.

We know that the seas rose many meters just after the most recent ice age, most likely on the order of 300 to 400 feet. Coral reefs did not die during the ice age, nor did they die during the ice melting period with the sea levels rising. As discussed elsewhere, several times during the past 12,000 years, the rate of sea level increase was much higher than that of today.

Coral reefs are darlings of the tree-huggers because they support a variety of sea life, and they look pretty in photographs. It is also fun to fly to a tropical paradise, don the snorkel, face mask, and swim fins, and swim around near a tropical coral reef.

So, who are we going to believe, the obvious facts staring us in the face, or the gloom-and-doom AGW Carbon is Killing Us crowd?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Zero Cost LNG

Can LNG, even after re-gasification and compression into distribution pipelines, ever be considered to have a zero cost? The answer is very, very close to yes, but only if one uses the same idiotic rationale as does the nuclear power industry.

For many years, the nuclear power advocates (see Nuclear Nuts) have bleated incessantly that nuclear power is the cheapest form of electric power, citing the infamous South Texas Nuclear Project for production costs of 1.35 cents per kWh. Fine, marvelous, superb, stupendous achievement. One hardly requires an advanced degree in finance, or a Certified Financial Analyst designation, to easily determine that no one in their right mind would build a new 2200 MW nuclear power plant for $17 to $25 billion and sell the power for 1.35 cents per kWh. Yet that is the completely misleading and irresponsible disinformation that nuclear nuts spread in their daily campaign for nuclear power.

On the same basis, therefore, what would be the price of LNG? Could it be zero? Probably not zero, but it would be far cheaper than nuclear power. Even the electric power produced from a natural gas power plant would have nearly zero cost. The way the nuclear nuts obtain their 1.35 cents is merely to ignore the many billions in capital costs to build the plant, and focus instead only on the fuel cost, labor, and maintenance. Natural gas from LNG is almost free on that basis. The gas fields are directly connected to the LNG plant, and the LNG plant provides its own energy by consuming a bit of the natural gas. The re-gasification plant also consumes zero energy, as it too is powered entirely by burning a bit of the re-gasified LNG. Even the LNG ships that transport the LNG across oceans have zero operating cost, as they too are powered by burning re-gasified LNG.

The next time one hears a nuclear nut telling anyone that nuclear power is the cheapest power around, at only 1.5 to 3 cents per kWh, tell them that electric power from natural gas is far cheaper. Tell them that LNG is just about free. Then when they begin to argue, ask them if they want to include capital costs, and compare prices on that basis. Otherwise, nuclear nuts should just shut up.

Their little game has been exposed.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Global Warming and Zero Wind

Unseasonal frost alerts and warnings were, and are, being issued by the National Weather Service in August of 2009. The northern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, upstate New York, Maine, and other New England states all have had such frost warnings in the past few days, as shown above in the bright blue areas in those states.

Is it a coincidence that masses of high pressure air, bearing no wind, settle over these areas? Is it coincidence that the humidity is lower than usual in the high pressure air? The cold temperatures are due, we are told, to heat radiating away from earth through the still, dry air and into the almost perfect blackness of outer space. Yet, we must understand that the CO2 concentration in the air remains the same.

One must suspect, as I certainly do, that winds or the lack thereof, play little to zero role in the vast GCMs, global climate models or general circulation models, so much favored by the AGW crowd who insist that Carbon is Going to Kill Us All -- sometime next week, likely on Tuesday. Yet it is quite apparent that the cold temperatures are due, at least in large part, to dry air masses that remain in a locale with little or no wind. It seems that the U.K. (England etc.) had a few days or weeks this past winter in which a high pressure cell remained fixed over the country, leading to very cold temperatures and no wind. The complaint was that the windmills produced no power during that period, and were useless.

It is also quite apparent that the IPCC's predicted increase in humidity, caused entirely by too much CO2 in the atmosphere that radiates heat downward and into the ocean, is not occurring. The dry air masses that are causing the early frost warnings in the northern U.S. states have, by definition, very low humidity. Yet, the CO2 continues to increase as measured by the station in Hawaii at Mauna Loa. Is there a disconnect here?

This leads to several questions.

1) Is global warming real?

2) Does CO2 actually increase air humidity?

3) Where is the humidity increasing?

4) If the CO2 is already at alarmingly high levels, shouldn't the humidity already be increasing, and these dry air masses that lead to frost warnings be a thing of the past?

5) If, as the IPCC claims, the tropics will have increased humidity, how will they know? Have any IPCC scientists ever been to the tropics? Did they notice that humidity is already very high, and not much increase can occur?

Many of us, myself included, are not trained as climate scientists. Yet, we are trained (as I am) in chemistry, physics, analytical thinking, statistical methods, and quite a few more in my particular case. I must add engineering principles, process control principles, legal principles of causation, production and introduction of evidence, material evidence and hearsay, expert witnesses, forensics, and rhetoric.

Just how long must we, as a country in the U.S., and other countries around the world, be expected to believe the IPCC when the evidence so clearly in front of us belies their deepest held and professed theories? To paraphrase an old but good one, Who are you going to believe, the IPCC or your lying eyes?

Crop-endangering frost in August in the Northern Hemisphere. In a global warming world, per the IPCC. Next they will be telling us all that snow last winter that blanketed Canada from coast to coast (for weeks on end) was really just white powder, likely due to China's power plants pumping out their aerosols. No telling what they will fabricate (or is it prevaricate?) to explain away the vast amounts of snow and cold weather this next winter will bring.

It is an ill wind that blows...nope, not this time. No wind. No humidity. But lots of frost. And CO2 continues to rise.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Money Well Spent for CNG Vehicles

The DOE awarded almost $300 million in grants this week to promote non-petroleum fuels in transportation. There were 25 grants to 24 different entities nationwide, because South Coast Air Management District received two separate grants. SCAQMD is the air pollution control district in Southern California with jurisdiction including Los Angeles. The combined effect of the program is to eliminate 38 million gallons per year of petroleum products consumption, in favor of more consumption of natural gas and bio-fuels. However, some of the vehicles will burn propane, which is produced both from petroleum and as a co-product of natural gas.

The savings of 38 million gallons per year sounds impressive, but place in context of total petroleum demand, it is barely a drop in the ocean. 38 million gallons per year is the same as 2,523 barrels per day. The U.S. consumes approximately 11 million barrels per day. Still, this is a move in the right direction.

As T. Boone Pickens advocates, more wind power frees up natural gas that would have been burned to produce that power. The natural gas is then available for vehicle consumption. Furthermore, every barrel of gasoline replaced by natural gas means that we import two fewer barrels of oil. When diesel fuel is replaced by natural gas, we import three fewer barrels of oil. This is somewhat simplified, but is not far off the mark.

The interesting thing is the cost effectiveness of these programs. The money will be spent on creating refueling infrastructure, plus purchasing trucks and other vehicles that will consume the alternative fuels. The DOE money represents approximately $7 .70 per gallon, one-time cost. Looked at another way, that is $118,000 per barrel per day. A new refinery costs approximately $28,000 per barrel per day, so DOE is spending roughly 4 times what a new refinery would cost on a per-barrel basis.

It could be worse. The federal government is known to spend money on some ridiculously frivolous things; at least this time the money is spent on reducing oil imports, and reducing transportation fuel costs by consuming natural gas. The bio-fuel and electric hybrid portion, though, will increase transportation fuel costs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bio-Diesel from Municipal Waste

The day has arrived, almost. Synthetic diesel fuel made from municipal solid waste and sewage sludge will be used by ground service equipment at Los Angeles International airport, LAX. Rentech announced this week it has contracts for 1.5 million gallons per year of its bio-diesel that several airlines will purchase.

The bio-fuel will be made in a plant near Los Angeles (where there is abundant trash and sewage sludge). Startup is expected in late 2012, but this presumes there will be a break in the impasse over environmental permits.

For some perspective, diesel sales in California typically are approximately 400,000 barrels per day, or 16.5 million gallons per day. Thus, the bit sold by Rentech will not make much of a dent in refineries' production.

But, with all the green energy credits available for converting waste to bio-fuel, the plant may be a money-maker. As an added bonus, the plant produces and sells electricity.

What is not known, yet, is the delivered price of the fuel to the airlines. Will it cost more than petroleum-based diesel? Will the state tax this fuel in the same amount as conventional diesel?

This is but one small part of the green revolution. Presumably there will be some green jobs in designing, building, operating, and maintaining the plant. California could use some more jobs, with unemployment at 11.9 percent based on the numbers announced today.

What is interesting about this process is that it should be immaterial how much CO2 is emitted, because it is all from biological origin. This CO2 will simply recycle through the cycle, from air to plants to useful materials to the trash and back into the plant. The part burned by the diesel engines will also create CO2, and this will join the cycle. Thus, the EIR will not have a very long section in discussing the harmful effects of CO2 from this plant. What a concept.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Earth Cloudiness 1969 and 2009

What a difference four decades makes! Below is a August 2009 photo of the Earth from space, showing almost no clouds. Below that is a famous photo from July 1969 taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, showing the Earth almost covered in clouds.

View of Earth from Apollo 11, July 1969, showing clouds covering much of the surface. Such cloudiness increases the Earth's albedo and leads to reduced air temperatures.

Natural Gas Pipelines in the US

Natural gas pipelines, as shown in the map below, cross much of the U.S. and have done so for many decades. This map shows only the major pipelines, and there are far more pipelines operating at low pressure that distribute the natural gas into businesses and homes. This map provides an excellent visual reminder that natural gas is safe and flows reliably and cheaply into almost every business and home in the U.S.

Farewell Mr. FatBigot

With some surprise I saw today that one of my favorite blogs, The Fat Bigot Opines, is no longer posting or accepting comments. I write this in the hopes that Mr. Fat Bigot himself reads this, or in the alternative, someone else sends the word to him.

Mr. Fat Bigot wrote a wonderful blog at, with a witty, pithy, sometimes scathing point of view on many topics, typically from his British perspective and flavored with his attorney background.

I read almost every blog entry over the past several months, always with great interest and sometimes amusement.

Mr. FB, I wish you all the best in your new endeavours. (British spelling there, in your honour).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cogeneration Reduces Grid Purchases

In the steel-making plant of Essar Steel Algoma, a new gas-fired cogeneration plant is reducing the load on the grid to the tune of 70 MW and at a cost of only $135 million. This is just one example of a theme I hit from time to time, that as power prices increase, industries will build their own power plants, or self-generate and reduce their purchases from the utility-supplied electrical grid. This happens at much smaller levels, also.

Here is an 8.5 megawatt cogeneration plant in a Las Vegas hotel, which could easily be duplicated at 1000 hotels or more across the country. Hotels have a need for electricity and hot water for their guests and restaurants, and are ideal for cogeneration from natural gas.

Another project is a tri-fecta, with a 12 MW gas-fired cogeneration plant installed in a tomato-growing greenhouse. The greenhouse utilizes the heat and CO2 from the engine exhaust, and electric power is sold to the grid.

With all this cogeneration activity today, with low electric prices, one can only imagine the flurry of activity when (or if) nuclear power plants are built again and severely raise power rates, and the costs of Global Warming legislation such as California's AB 32 are realized. Self-generation is not a fad, not a toy, and not a pipe dream as those in the nuclear power industry insist. Engineers have worked diligently and creatively for decades to provide robust, safe, clean, and economic alternatives to high power prices caused by poorly-considered nuclear power plants with their $20-plus billion price tags and decade or longer construction times. Imagine the surprise on the utility executives' faces when the new nuclear power plant is finally started up after 10 to 12 years, at a cost over-run of 200 or even 400 percent, and their customers say "No thanks, I have all the electric power I need at one-fourth the cost of yours."

There is no need for them to act surprised. This is exactly what happened in Louisiana just a couple of decades ago. It is known as the Nuclear Death Spiral.

Natural Gas Power Plants Booming

It is always a pleasure to watch the market work, especially when unrestricted by overly-burdensome government regulations. When natural gas was regulated in the 60's and 70's, a shortage of natural gas occurred and then-President Carter announced we had an energy crisis, a shortage. There was a crisis, allright, but it was a crisis of over-regulation and stifling the creative energy of oil and gas men. When those regulations were relaxed, amazingly, the energy crisis disappeared. Natural gas today is far more abundant, and less expensive as a result. Based on the huge reserves of natural gas, and the confident prospect of even more being placed into production for the foreseeable future, power companies are building combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants all around. First, a 350 MW combined-cycle natural gas power facility in Brockton, Mass, then TVA is moving ahead with plans for an $820 million, gas-fired power plant instead of a nuclear plant, finally (to name just three), CPV wants to construct a 1,200-megawatt, high-efficiency gas [fired power] plant that can help supply electricity demand in southern Ontario, Canada, instead of a nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, in the forlorn and gloomy world of new nuclear power, nothing is being built in the U.S., and those who planned to build nuclear power plants are scuttling those plans in favor of, what else, natural gas power plants (see above for two examples). Utilities do have some sense, after all. They also have shareholders who have the right and the power to sue the corporation in a shareholder derivative suit. The corporation could, of course, claim the business judgement rule defense, as their company loses money and the stock price plummets - all because they built a nuclear power plant that cost tens of billions of dollars, took a decade or more to complete, and then found their customers reducing their power demand by self-generation. With apologies to Field of Dreams writers, "If you build it, we won't buy."

Some pundits write that the natural gas industry is behaving irrationally with prices low, and production continuing as storage volumes are filled. That analysis shows a failure to grasp the fundamentals of business: buy low, and sell high. This is not complicated stuff, here. With natural gas prices at or near historic lows, yet the almost certainty that prices in the coming winter will be higher due to increased demand caused by cold weather and a (hopefully) increased economy, it makes all the sense in the world to produce gas now, store it, and sell it later for a nice profit. This cycle of produce and store in summer, and sell in winter has been with us for a couple of years at least. With global warming on the wane, indeed, winters are growing more severe, thus the demand for natural gas to heat buildings and homes is assured.

There is no conspiracy, no market manipulation, no chicanery, just common business sense by people who know what they are doing. Buy low. Sell high. A winning formula.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More Cooling from LNG Flowing

"Sempra LNG, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, said on July 31 that its second North American LNG terminal, this one near Lake Charles, La., has begun commercial operations." And with that, LNG importing into the U.S. Gulf Coast now has 4 terminals operating, plus two under construction. The only LNG terminal on the West Coast is just south of San Diego, as Mexico has fewer qualms about operating an LNG facility than squeamish Californians. But, much of the re-vaporized natural gas is sent to California, where it is burned as fuel in low-emission power plants and used as transportation fuel.

The advent of numerous LNG receiving and vaporization terminals is great news for everyone, as this ensures a low price for natural gas for decades to come, plus ample supplies of clean-burning, reliable, safe, and versatile fuel. No other fuel can match the versatility of natural gas, as it is used for power plants that are base loaded, also load following, also peak load service, for heating in homes, cooking in homes, process heating in industry, and as a chemical raw material for indispensible products such as ammonia for fertilizers, and industrial hydrogen. Natural gas is also used directly as a transportation fuel in cars, trucks, and buses. Natural gas is so abundant and so cheap that there are plants that convert it into synthetic diesel.

Even though the US has discovered and is exploiting huge deposits of natural gas from shale formations, it continues to be economic to import LNG from overseas. Some is from the Middle East, but other areas also have vast deposits of natural gas and convert the gas to LNG for export. Trinidad and Tobago have LNG plants, and so does Australia.

The re-gasification process requires heat input, or, stated another way, the environment cools somewhat around LNG re-gasification.

Natural gas: a safe, clean, non-toxic, abundant, low-cost, fuel that is welcome around the world, and serves as a political buffer to those European nations that suffered last winter from threats and actual shut-offs of natural gas from Russia. Plus, no one has ever been irradiated from natural gas, unlike toxic nuclear fission power plants. No natural gas furnace or gas turbine needs de-contamination after its useful life is over, as do nuclear power plants. When a natural gas power plant reaches the end of its useful life, workers in normal safety attire take the plant apart, bolt by bolt, and send the parts and pieces off to recycling. Production of natural gas does not forever poison the production site, unlike yellow cake for uranium that is used as nuclear fission fuel.

And, no plutonium is created by natural gas combustion.

Why would anyone want to build any other kind of power plant than natural gas? Especially one of the nuclear fission variety that costs 6 times as much, takes 3 or 4 times as long to build, and must charge triple or quadruple the price for the power produced? Nuclear power plants easily cost $10,000 per kW, while natural gas plants cost $1500 per kW. Also, new nuclear power plants under construction attract opposition group lawsuits the way bees are drawn to honey.

The kicker in modern times, though, may be the lower water consumption from a natural gas fired power plant, compared to the vast quantities of water required by a nuclear power plant. On an equal power output basis, a nuclear power plant will require twice as much water due to the inherently inefficient use of heat in the nuclear power plant.

Natural gas. The only logical choice.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Recession Causes Refinery Closures

One of the results of the ongoing economic recession is very low refinery utilization rates, and low operating margins. One recent source states that marginal refineries will shut down, especially those that are independent refineries with no oil production of their own.

That could very well happen, especially if crude prices rise as the U.S. dollar fluctuates in value, which it very well could do. The demand for products is not likely to increase soon, in fact, it will likely decrease as the end of the summer driving season nears. Diesel fuel consumption is not likely to increase because that is tied to overall economic activity, and despite (or because) of the Obama administration's intervention into the economy, there is no sign that diesel fuel demand will increase anytime soon.

California, the largest state economically as well as by population, is in intensive care mode even though last week a compromise budget was passed. The compromise did nothing to cure the economic problems, but merely postponed them for a few months. In fact, some local governments are threatening lawsuits against the State of California for not sending money to the local governments. This is a bit like four people about to eat lunch, with money enough for only three, then the biggest and strongest robs the weakest of his lunch money. There still is not enough money to go around, it is merely distributed differently. The impact on national fuel demand is due to the ripple effect from California's problems. Each state in the U.S. has some impact from California's fiscal irresponsibility, because California grows (perhaps grew is the correct word here) food crops and has three major ports (San Francisco, Los Angeles/Long Beach, and San Diego).

As to which refineries will close, traditionally the smallest in a competitive market are vulnerable, or those with the least efficient processing. As I wrote earlier, in California a refinery closure that was proposed drew the ire of a U.S. Senator and threats of anti-trust litigation. That refinery is now in bankruptcy proceedings. One must wonder if any other refinery must tolerate such treatment at the hands of Senators.

However, the above-referenced article states that Shell is considering shutting at least a part of a large refinery near Houston, the Deer Park complex. Shell Deer Park has a refinery and petrochemical complex.

At what point will the tax-and-spend and more-regulations-are-good forces realize that industry is the golden goose in America? It takes very little for massive refineries to choose to shut down and their tank farms converted into receiving terminals. Foreign refineries such as the new refinery in India are quite willing to refine crude oil and ship the products to the U.S. The loss in tax revenues to the local governments will be noticed. The improvement in air quality will not.

The looming cap-and-trade regulations, and additional burdens of ethanol-blended gasoline and bio-diesel will further erode refinery utilization, causing further shutdowns. Does the USA actually want to have the transportation infrastructure dependent on the vagaries of weather? That is exactly what is at stake with bio-fuels from corn, soy, and other crops. As one recent article states, "When the Bush administration and Congress required gasoline refiners to blend in 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol by 2015, they made the impossibly rosy assumption that American farmers would always enjoy good weather. But as every farmer knows, years with perfect growing conditions are uncommon and getting more rare.

In early April, Environmental Working Group Founder Ken Cook warned that the government’s food policy amounted to “hope for good weather.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

OPEC Reaction to Energy Storage Systems

In the Grand Game of global energy supplies and technology (which I describe here), OPEC is of course a key player. OPEC has some control over a few things, chief among which is the production rate of oil under their member states' control. In general, when OPEC increases production, oil prices fall, and vice versa. A key result of lower oil prices, and a major part of the Grand Game, is that the economic incentive for renewable energy decreases. For example, if a consumer is considering the purchase of a new car, either conventional engine or hybrid engine, he must pay more for the hybrid engine vehicle. However, the hybrid engine vehicle will use less gasoline and thus have reduced operating costs. The price of gasoline is a key variable in the calculations. If a sufficient number of consumers purchase the hybrid cars, gasoline demand will be lower than otherwise, and OPEC must reduce production to maintain the price of oil. However, if economies and populations are growing rapidly, the decreased oil demand may merely mean that OPEC is not required to invest in additional production capacity.

In the electric power side of the Grand Game, OPEC is not quite as directly involved, while others are key players. The big debate in the electric power side is renewable energy vs fossil-fired energy vs nuclear energy. OPEC is involved because the price of electric power influences, to some extent, the economic attractiveness of electric vehicles or plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. Electric vehicles that draw power from the grid compete directly with gasoline vehicles, and thus the connection to OPEC.

The renewable energy group includes solar, wind, wave, ocean current, hydroelectric, geothermal, municipal solid waste, and some forms of methane such as bio-gas and landfill gas. This discussion is about producing electric power, thus bio-fuels such as bio-diesel and bio-ethanol are not discussed. The great drawback to many of the renewable energy production technologies is their intermittent nature: the wind is highly variable, the sun shines only for a few hours each day at strengths suitable for power generation, and not at all when clouds or rain block the sun, and waves are variable. The intermittent nature of these renewables can be mitigated with an electricity storage system (ESS), or some other form of storage that consumes renewable electric power and reproduces that power later and upon demand.

Direct storage of electricity is possible, as batteries and ultra-capacitors have shown. The cost per kWh delivered is very high, however. Other ESS include high-speed flywheels, pumped storage hydroelectric, compressed air energy storage, high-pressure hydraulic storage, and a few others. A key breakthrough in flywheel ESS was announced a few days ago, for a large, grid-scale ESS that is to store 30 GW of power, and release power in MW quantities upon demand.

It will be interesting to observe OPEC's reaction to this flywheel ESS. The rules of the Grand Game require that OPEC do what it can to maintain the demand for oil, and the price of oil at a relatively high price. This maximizes OPEC revenue and ensures their survival. The flywheel ESS, if it indeed works as advertised, will release a flood of new renewable power projects in wind, solar, and wave technologies. This may reduce electric power prices, depending on the cost to build and operate the flywheel ESS. If the electric power prices are reduced sufficiently, plug-in hybrid cars or pure electric cars will become very attractive, thus reducing the demand for OPEC oil and the gasoline refined from it.

Therefore, it may be expected that OPEC will increase oil production, decreasing the price of oil and thus the cost to consumers of gasoline. It remains to be seen whether OPEC can increase oil production sufficiently to compete with the new reality of cheap, essentially unlimited electric power.

One interesting outcome could be that OPEC reduces output to create a spike in oil prices, thus increasing their revenue. This would be a short-lived situation, but it could increase OPEC's revenue for the few years remaining until the flywheel ESS are built and integrated into the grid, and intermittent renewable power plants are built in great numbers.

Of course, the flywheel ESS may allow power production at such a low price that nuclear power plants are no longer even considered as candidates for electric production. Nuclear power plants cost many billions of dollars to construct and require a decade-long construction period. The cost of electric power from a nuclear power plant is on the order of 30 to 40 cents per kWh. Renewable-based electricity with flywheel ESS will very likely produce electric power reliably and cheaply, at far less than a nuclear power plant. This is good news for everyone, as there will no longer be an excuse to build toxic, radioactive, ultrazhazardous nuclear power plants that poison the planet with plutonium and other deadly nucleotides for centuries.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Texas Wind Power Generation

The website found here and shown below is simply fascinating. This is the Texas ERCOT Real-Time information on the electrical power grid throughout most of Texas. What is really interesting (to me) is the line-item that shows Total Wind Output, in MW. As I write this, (8:10 p.m. PDT on July 15, 2009), the system records 2,915 MW from wind generators. That is roughly 6 percent of the total generation at that moment in Texas.

I have been following this for several days now, with a view toward confirming or falsifying several statements one reads in various blogs/journals/media about wind and how unreliable it is. I note several things: 1) wind power in Texas never seems to drop to zero. I have seen it down to around 2 percent during the day. Texans use a lot of power each day, and the wind decreases a bit in the mornings; 2) wind power increases at night usually, consistent with increasing winds; 3) the most I have observed from this ERCOT site, is 8 percent of total generation; 4) spinning reserve is invariably more than the wind power generated, but not by much.

Here is what the website showed at 22:04 local time (CDT): (reload the ERCOT webpage to update the information)

Posted Date15-JUL-2009
Posted Hour2204
Actual System Demand (Frequency Control)52712 MW
Scheduled Frequency60.000 Hz
Actual Frequency59.960 Hz
Time Error-1.162 sec
Total Generation52198 MW
Current Aggregated Regulation Deployment*-236 MW
Adjusted Responsive Reserve4134 MW
Total On-Line Capacity57338 MW
Total Spinning Reserve5140 MW
Total Wind Output2915 MW
DC Tie Flows
LineScheduledActualImp. Lim.Exp. Lim.
DC_E -579 -574 600 600
DC_L 0 1 70 100
DC_N 72 69 210 210
DC_R 0 0 0 150
DC_S 0 0 30 30
Total -507 -504 910 1090
NORTH-HOUSTON 1407 -38 3203
NORTH-SOUTH 245 58 1403
NORTH-WEST -62 52 826
SOUTH-NORTH -245 -58 346
WEST-NORTH 62 -52 1018
* Negative(-) = UP REG Deployed
Positive = DOWN REG Deployed

These observations are based on the various things put forth by those in the wind-power business. First, that wind power is only 1 percent of total generation. Not in Texas, it seems. From my observations, it appears that an average is about 4 percent. Second, that wind power drops to zero, and other generation systems must take over the load. I have yet to see it drop to zero, but then I have only watched for a few days, and then not full-time. Third, that a power grid begins to have troubles when wind energy approaches five or six percent of the total load (various sources use different figures here). The Texas grid seems to work just fine with wind providing 7 and 8 percent of the load. I have not read nor heard of any troubles in Texas due to wind-power.

It would be nice if this data were also presented in a graphical form, as California's ISO does. I would like to see a graph of total grid power generated over the 24 hours in a day, with a second line showing the amount of power provided by wind.

Some say renewables are not reliable, and do not provide any energy. Hah. Facts are stubborn things.

Oh. One other thing: the ongoing operating and maintenance costs for wind-energy is essentially zero. It is far, far, less than the cost of running a nuclear power plant, with their outrageously expensive piping, valves, pumps, heat exchangers, boilers, water softeners, toxic waste fuel storage areas, steam turbines, generators, steam condensers, cooling towers, and the hundreds of personnel required to operate. Not to mention the millions of dollars per year that are paid for the operating license. And wind power plants do not leak radioactive, toxic tritium into the water supply.

The wind is free. The wind is non-toxic. The wind does not create a toxic, radioactive waste that endures for centuries.

UPDATE 1 July 18, 2009: A wind energy resource link for Texas, also US, also offshore.

Texas Wind Power Map 2004Wind Classification Legend

This link shows the offshore Texas wind resource measured at 50 meters height; for an area 50 miles offshore and to the shore. The best wind areas (Class 5) are just offshore Corpus Christi, and ranging about 75 miles southward down the coast, and extend approximately 50 miles offshore. This area is more than 3,500 square miles, representing a huge un-tapped resource of wind power.

Also offshore Texas, there is an even larger area of Class 4 wind to the north and south of the Class 5 area, comprising approximately 9,000 square miles.