28 thoughts on “Green Energy

  1. Paul Milenkovic

    I followed your link.

    If you believe what you had linked to, “onshore wind” looks pretty cost competitive with a lot of “conventional” sources. Solar, on the other hand, fuggetaboutit!

    But the thing with onshore wind is this capacity factor and the intermittent nature of wind, not only locally but on continental scales as the people in Europe are finding out. Without some breakthrough in storage, wind is limited to maybe, just maybe, 20% of total generation. But it needs to be backed up with natural gas, fast-responding natural gas, which may be much lower in efficiency than combined-cycle natural gas.

    So what comes out ahead, a high-efficiency combined cycle natural gas or a medium-efficiency straight-cycle natural gas coupled to wind?

    The other thing is that your link seemed to give optimistic capital costs for nuclear. Given that nuclear is mired in regulation and red tape, nuclear for at least the first few plants is way expensive.

    Finally, the link seems to indicate that coal is cheap if you aren’t required to clean up after it but it gets rather expensive if you do. I wasn’t sure if they were talking “carbon sequestration”, which I think in the current climate (excuse the pun) is silly, or if they are talking precipitating and collecting all the fly ash, and with the natural radioactive elements and mercury in coal dust, seems like something coal power generators ought to do.

    1. Godzilla

      Nuclear is cheap if you have access to:
      - low interest rate loans
      - cheap concrete and steel

      Any country with a relatively sophisticated shipping industry can produce the required steel vessels. This includes China and South Korea.

      Most of the cost in the fuel, which is cheap as it is, lies in U-235 separation which is pathetically cheap if you use gas centrifuges to separate the fuel. BTW this is one of the reasons why nuclear power is still relatively expensive in the US given that existing reactors already paid themselves over and over.

  2. Larry J

    If environmentalists were really interested in “green” energy, they’d support nuclear and fracked natural gas. The fact that most enviromentalists support neither is telling.

    Before we all put on the sackcloth and ashes, though, note some good news: America’s carbon dioxide emissions are actually falling. In fact, they have not been this low since 1992. And while no single factor can account for the entire shift, much of the credit goes to something environmentalists often detest: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

    Among power sources, the worst source of CO2 emissions by far is coal. Natural gas generates half the CO2 per kilowatt-hour, and in the past few years natural gas has displaced coal to a remarkable degree. This year gas-fired electricity generation equaled coal-fired generation for the first time. According to the Energy Information Administration, that trend will continue as shale gas production rises from 5 trillion cubic feet in 2010 to more than 13 trillion cubic feet in 2035. Fracking made this possible — by opening up the Marcellus Shale deposit in Pennsylvania and many others. Twelve years ago, shale gas made up 2 percent of the U.S. supply. It now makes up 37 percent.

    All of that was achieved without government direction — and in the face of considerable environmental resistance. Now the world’s worst CO2 emitter, China — which gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal — has taken up fracking, too. China’s natural gas reserves are 50 percent bigger than America’s. If climate change is the worst danger facing the planet, as some environmentalists contend, then Chinese fracking should be good news.

    But most environmentalists hate fracking. Instead, they have placed their bets on other horses — many of which have come up lame (see: Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, A123 Systems, et al.). And even green-energy pursuits insulated from market forces pack a remarkably weak punch. The Navy has just built a 10-acre solar panel field at its Norfolk Naval Station, at a cost of $21 million in Obama stimulus money. It can power all of 200 homes — a mere 2 percent of the naval station’s power needs. An audit says the money saved on utility bills will recoup the project’s costs in roughly 447 years (not a typo).

    1. Jim

      Fracked natural gas is only green by comparison to coal, and is growing quickly in any case. Nuclear has gotten lots of Obama support, and is still going nowhere due to cost.

      Solar and wind aren’t cost-competitive now, but they have gotten much closer. It makes sense to invest in research into cheaper solar and wind, along with energy storage and a smarter, more resilient grid.

      1. Daver

        Same problems, regardless of cost. Solar and wind take up a lot of area, require a lot of infrastructure (the power lines to bring distributed power to their destinations), require back-up fossil-fuel plants which still need maintenance and still need to be powered up several times a month to make sure they still work. Maybe there’s a cost point at which solar or wind begin to make economic sense, but it’s a lot harder target than most people think.

      2. Karl Hallowell

        Fracked natural gas is only green by comparison to coal

        And that turns out to be good enough. I’m not expecting to see decades of CO2 decline from this. But it is interesting how quickly it happened. And coal isn’t particularly non-green these days due to scrubbers and such.

        It makes sense to invest in research into cheaper solar and wind, along with energy storage and a smarter, more resilient grid.

        The private sector is already doing that. Why call for actions that are ongoing?

        1. Jim

          Sadly, the private sector doesn’t invest much in energy research. The fracking boom was made possible by government-funded research going back decades. Cheap solar and wind power in the middle of this century depends on government-funded research today.

          1. wodun

            No one has a problem with the government doing research but there is a good discussion to be had on how much money should be funneled to poorly run crony companies.

            Just another example of the if you don’t agree with democrats, you must want [insert the most unlikely and extreme outcome here].

          2. Daver

            I’ll differ a bit–I have some problem with government doing research, even apart from the crony capitalism and corrupt business practices. Government research in an area seems like it would push out private research in that area, and government research is much more likely to be funneled into the areas the fuddy duddies think are important.

            But NACA did some useful research into flight dynamics (or at least I think they did–maybe the importance of their research has been distorted over time).

          3. Karl Hallowell

            Sadly, the private sector doesn’t invest much in energy research.

            Given how much governments have been willing to toss at renewables, why should private enterprise dump a bunch? For example, why spend $10 million of my own money to research solar cells when I can spend $100 million of some willing government’s money?

            If government pays the private world massively not to do something on their own, don’t be surprised when that’s exactly what happens.

          4. Josh Reiter

            Right on Karl. The government skews markets through largess to favored players. Sane people respond in kind.

          5. David S

            In addition, the people that get the government money are the connected people, not the competent people. Those two groups are almost exclusive. Government money drives away competence.

        1. Jim

          Why are you pointing fingers at me? I have no problem with nuclear power, but even heavily subsidized (Obama’s nuclear loan guarantees dwarf those for solar) it isn’t cheap enough to attract investment.

      3. Thales

        Solar and wind aren’t cost-competitive now, but they have gotten much closer. It makes sense to invest in research into cheaper solar and wind, along with energy storage and a smarter, more resilient grid.

        Where do these absurd talking points come from?

        Wind has and always will be excellent in certain situations, but poor for baseline generation, and politics is the only thing keeping solar from being used more than it is right now — if there were a genuine market for electricity generation instead 18,000 legal monopolies that prevented homeowners from selling excess solar power, private solar generation would increase by an order of magnitude in a decade years.

        1. Daver

          There’s a cost to incorporating home solar onto the grid–it tends to make the grid much less stable. The power companies would need to shift away from base-line generators and add more peakers to compensate. Fortunately the home solar market is tiny, even in California.

      4. Leland

        Solar and wind aren’t cost-competitive now, but they have gotten much closer.

        Please provide evidence supporting solar being cost competitive. I’m with Thales. Wind can be. I’ve never seen a cost competitive solar solution in practice, unless subsidized for both construction and operation.

  3. Godzilla

    This is a repeat of that happened in the 1970s. Oil prices and other fossil fuel prices went up so there was more investment in alternative energy sources like wind and solar. Heck they even considered building new nuclear reactors under a Democratic administration that’s how serious the problem is.

    Wind power is not that expensive and can compete with natural gas in cost. In places where there aren’t local natural gas resources it is even more cost effective since it is hard to do bulk transport of natural gas without a pipeline. LNG tanker transport is expensive. The problem with wind is that it is intermittent. You can cover some of the shortfalls by using pumped storage hydro but you can never use it economically for 100% of production.

    Solar PV has gotten a whole lot cheaper but it still isn’t cheap enough. We already hit the mythical $1/watt on solar panels but the cost of the rest of the system (inverter, etc) still makes grid supplied power cheaper.

    Now that the US is exploring new oil and natural gas resources the investments on renewables will probably start to wind down. But the oil price is still too high at $85 a barrel. The most likely scenario will be investment in natural gas power generation and higher efficiency combustion engines (e.g. direct injection gasoline engines).

    1. Daver

      Wind power is not that expensive if you’re comparing cost per peak kW, but most wind sites don’t run at peak. A few are prevented by local law from running at peak. You have a lot of ancillary costs as well–the wind farms typically aren’t built near the point of consumption, so you have all the power lines to deal with. There’s also a fair amount of environmental damage from putting up all those towers.

    2. Josh Reiter

      Wind power is only viable because of the tax breaks and that its a favored industry right at the moment. Governments at city and state levels are begging wind power to set up in their areas because they know there are all sorts of kick backs and stipends from the federal gov’t for supporting green energy. And it looks like the energy company lobbyist are pushing for this because it mean big infrastructure projects to build power lines and roads going out to the remote areas.

      A viable track of wind power takes up 15-25 miles of land and comprises 75-150, 400 ft. wind towers. One conventional power plant takes up a couple of square miles.

      1. Godzilla

        A viable track of wind power takes up 15-25 miles of land and comprises 75-150, 400 ft. wind towers. One conventional power plant takes up a couple of square miles.

        Sure. But the windmill isn’t that hard to erect and comes mostly prefabricated. The land can still be used for farming as the base of the windmill doesn’t take that much space. Plus you don’t have to spend money buying fuel to generate power. The places with the most wind are near slopes and who wants to live next to a slope anyway?

        1. Larry J

          Actually, you do have to spend money buying fuel to generate power. Wind is so unreliable that it has to be backed by conventional powerplants. Often, those are gas turbines which can be throttled to adjust for the varying wind or solar output*. That type of gas turbine is less efficient than the ones designed to operate at steady power levels.

          *Solar panel output can vary considerably on a partly cloudy day. Power levels plummet when a cloud’s shadow passes over the solar panels.

        2. Daver

          Agreed. Windmills aren’t that hard to erect (each tower is on the order of four oversize loads; erecting a farm plays hob with local traffic). But erecting a windmill is only a fraction of the problem–there’s building roads to the sites, stretching power lines from the sites, and the whole maintenance headache. And you still have the need for back-up power.

    1. Godzilla

      I have my own doom and gloom theory which has been on my head for the last decade or so. I have been waiting to write a sci-fi story about it. I have most of the characters and the environment where the plot is supposed to happen selected by now. However it still doesn’t fit together quite right. Hmmm… perhaps its better to make it a short story.

    2. Mike Borgelt

      I’m with you on that one , Trent. For a smart guy building rockets Elon is a dipshit. Interesting that he seems to believe in Tommy Gold’s theories on methane/hydrocarbons which indeed may not be silly.

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