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Renewables

Solar power in Florida

Guest Post by Peter Morcombe. Peter has over 24 years experience in high tech telecommunications and computers, specialising in fiber optics. Before retirement he worked for 12 years at the Duke University Free Electron Laser Laboratory. His professional qualifications include IEE, IEEE and LEOS. He is known to BNC readers by his commenting moniker ‘gallopingcamel’.

Florida Power & Light is a special kind of power company.  It is one of over 50 utility companies in Florida that sell electricity to the general public.  Florida has an electricity market comparable with Australia or 60% of the UK.  FP&L supplies about 40% of the total power consumed in the state; as one of its customers I appreciate the fact that it is the only company that currently charges less than $0.10 per kWh.

According to the Institute of Energy Research most of Florida’s electric power comes from natural gas (54%), coal (25%), nuclear (13%) and petroleum (4%).  Florida has no hydro, as its highest point is only 345 feet above sea level and minuscule wind power capacity because the state lacks good sites for wind turbines.

FP&L is the dominant electric utility in Florida:

President Obama at the opening of Florida's 25 MW peak, $150 million DeSoto PV plant

One of the things that makes FP&L special is its broad range of generating technologies.  It has four nuclear power plants each with a nameplate capacity of around 850 MW.  It has conventional steam turbine plants and combined cycle plants.  Recently, the company has been building power plants based on renewable energy sources such as photo-voltaic and solar thermal power.  Academics write about such projects but FP&L builds and operates them.  I decided to take a look at one of these technologies with the idea of assessing its potential for replacing conventional power-generating plants.

My first problem was gaining access.  I tried the “front door” by writing to FP&L’s “Public Relations” department, asking for permission to visit all of their power plants including the nuclear ones given my background in physics and radiation safety.  This approach was rebuffed unceremoniously so I tried various “back door” routes and eventually gained access to the Martin plant in April 2011.  The visit made a profound impression which has increased my enthusiasm to visit other generating plants.

Access is via minor roads with almost no traffic.  I was expecting large trucks delivering fuel and equipment but there was none of that.  The plant with its 500 foot chimneys was hard to see until I was within two miles even though the vapor plume was visible over ten miles away thanks to the early morning mist.  This plant has a peak capacity of 3,800 MW or roughly 7% of Florida’s power, so I was expecting it to stand out.  On arrival at the front gate there was nobody to provide access so I had to cool my heels for 20 minutes before being escorted in.  When visiting plants in the USA one is provided with safety equipment and this was no exception; hard hat, goggles and ear plugs.  The latter turned out to be useful.

The first question I asked is how can a large power plant operate without a major road or railway running into the site?  The answer was that the fuel comes in via a gas pipeline from Texas (over 1,000 miles away).  While there are huge tanks of kerosene (Jet A) on site that can run the plant for 45 days, they are seldom used.  All heat engines need a “sink” in order to operate so I asked why there were no cooling towers.  The “sink” for the Martin plant is an 18,000 acre lake (it used to be a swamp) that was rearranged so that warm water from the heat exchangers has to travel 26 miles before returning to the plant.  You can see parts of this lake in the photo below.  This works pretty well and the wild life appreciates it.  It reminded me of the eel farm at the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor in the UK.

Florida's Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The solar thermal component provides a maximum of 75 MW of the plant's 3,705 MW total power output

This picture is from a New York Times article published in 2010 when the solar plant was nearing completion.  In the foreground there are two 500 foot tall chimneys that belong to high pressure steam plants of 1970s vintage (two by 860 MW).  While impressively compact, the efficiency at ~ 38% is relatively low.  To the right of the steam plant there are four even more compact combined cycle plants that use gas turbines to drive primary generators and the high temperature is exhaust is then used to drive steam turbines coupled to secondary generators.  The result is a very high temperature differential between the “source” and “sink” which improves the thermodynamic efficiency of the plant.  Efficiencies above 60% are achieved at optimum load.

The 500 acres of mirrors can be seen in the background.  The official plant opening occurred on March 5, 2011 and in this video you can catch a glimpse of Rick Scott, Florida’s governor sitting next to Bill Gates.  Here is another video that explains the basic principles of system operation.

And now the numbers

The new solar plant is visually impressive with row upon row of huge mirrors. So is this the start of a revolution in electric power generation?   Can we expect power companies around the world to start replacing fossil fuel and nuclear plants with solar?  To answer such questions one must look at what this new plant does in relation to the resources that it requires.

The nameplate capacity of the Martin solar plant is 75 MWe but the average power delivered is 18 MW, for a “capacity factor” of 0.24 — unusually high for a solar plant.  This reflects the fact that the plant is conservatively rated; its peak capacity is about one third higher than its ‘nameplate’ capacity.

Germany has a total solar generating nameplate capacity of ~17 GW, but capacity factors are in the 0.10 to 0.13 range.  Spain, on the other hand, has ~4 GW with higher capacity factors (0.16 to 0.24).  The difference in performance between Spain and Germany appear to be more related to climate and latitude than differences in technology.

A solar powered future

Imagine a future in which so-called “environmentalist” politicians are given the mandate to prohibit the construction of nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in Florida. As wind and hydro are not suited to Florida, the only remaining option would be solar power. Here is a glimpse of what this future might look like and what it would take to get there:

Florida is planning to increase its peak electrical generating capacity from 52 GW in 2009 to 62 GW in 2018.  This works out at an increase of 1.9% (1,100 MW) per year.  The growth projections may be conservative given the following factors:

  1. Electrical consumption grew at an average rate of 3.6% p.a. from 1980-2005.
  2. Florida’s population is expected to grow from 18.8 million in 2010 to 23.8 million in 2030, a growth rate of 1.2%/year.
  3. With environmentalists in positions of influence (as we now see in Germany), there would be pressure to phase out fossil fueled automobiles in favor of electric automobiles.
  4. Comfort in Florida depends on an ample supply of cheap electricity to keep our air conditioners going from May through October.

Even at the conservative growth rate of 1.9%, Florida would need a peak generating capacity of 289 GW by the year 2100.  Thus over the next 90 years we might expect 289 – 52 = 237 GW of new generating capacity to be created.  What would this mean if the generators were all solar powered? The Martin solar plant shows that 18 MW of solar power requires ~500 acres of mirrors so the needed capacity would correspond to 6.6 million acres for mirrors alone, without allowing anything for energy storage.   Would that have a significant effect on land usage?

Even assuming an affordable solution to the problem of storing energy to cover the times when there is insufficient solar power to match demand, it is not credible to suggest that 19% of Florida be covered in mirrors; clearly solar fails the “scalability” test.  The situation is even worse in the UK, with its larger market and lower capacity factors for solar plants.  Australia, on the other hand, is large enough to accommodate mirrors sufficient for the needs of its relatively small population, assuming that the problems of power transmission, storage and high cost can be solved.

If we Floridians were so misguided as to start constructing solar plants at the scale dictated by 1.9% annual growth, over 27,000 acres of mirrors would have to be installed each year rising to a staggering 152,000 acres per year in 2100.  While there is plenty of swamp land here I can imagine the howls of protest from those same “environmentalists” when the bulldozers start their work.  I suspect that they will suddenly appreciate the compactness of gas, coal and nuclear power (if they still want low carbon) generators, once they have seen solar power scaled up.

When it comes to solar power, it probably makes more sense to compare Florida to Spain rather than Germany or the UK (see Editor’s Note at the foot of this post).  Spain created a rapid growth in solar capacity by means of government incentives designed to encourage private investment.  This new industry has reached such a large scale that the Spanish government can no longer afford the subsidies so solar projects are being abandoned.  For a more scholarly review of the Spanish situation take a look at this paper from Gabriel Calzada Alvarez who points out the economic consequences of such subsidies.

Here in Florida, as in many other states, there is a problem balancing the budget.  Consequently, dubious projects such as high speed rail and alternative energy are receiving more scrutiny than in prior years.  Florida Power & Light wants to raise electricity prices by 2% per year to pay for renewable energy, but this idea is getting little traction in Tallahassee.

Conclusion

NextEra Energy, FP&L’s parent, has done a great service by building the Martin county solar plant and even larger ones in California, which so clearly demonstrate the potential impacts of solar projects on electricity costs, state budgets and the environment.  Only weeks after the hoopla of the opening ceremony in Indiantown on March 5th it was evident, even to our legislators, that the costs outweigh the benefits.  If solar power is scaled up to provide the bulk of Florida’s growth in energy capacity each year, electricity rates are certain to increase and there is a real risk that huge facilities will be created only to be become uneconomic when the subsidies cease.  Could Florida and California be known as “Corrosion Belts” when the huge mirror farms are abandoned?

"Wreck of the Carrizo". The remote Carrizo Plain's status as one of the sunniest places in the state was exploited by the solar power industry from 1983 to 1994. This was by far the largest photovoltaic array in the world, with 100,000 1'x 4' photovoltaic arrays producing 5.2 megawatts at its peak. The plant was originally constructed by the Atlantic Richfield oil company (ARCO) in 1983. During the energy crisis of the late 1970s, ARCO became a solar energy pioneer, manufacturing the photovoltaic arrays themselves. ARCO first built a 1 megawatt pilot operation, the Lugo plant in Hesperia, California, which is also now closed. The Carrizo Solar Corporation, based in Albuquerque, NM, bought the two facilities from ARCO in 1990. But the price of oil never rose as was predicted, so the solar plant never became competitive with fossil fuel-based energy production (Carrizo sold its electricity to the local utility for between three and four cents a kilowatt-hour, while a minimum price of eight to ten cents a kilowatt-hour would be necessary in order for Carrizo to make a profit). Another photovoltaic facility was planned for the site by the Chatsworth Utility Power Group, and with an output of 100 megawatts it would have been many times larger than the existing facility. But the facility never got off the drawing board. The Carrizo Solar Company dismantled its 177-acre facility in the late 1990s, and the used panels are still being resold throughout the world.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

P. Byshe Shelley, 1818

———————————

Editor’s Note: Two similar articles on BNC by Tom Blees, looking at solar power in Germany and wind energy in Denmark, can be read here:


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

153 replies on “Solar power in Florida”

Street light solar panels seem to be all the rage. I wonder if the municipal authority gets rebates or RECs. The new 40 kph school crossing signs have a solar panel though I presume the grid cuts in if any battery runs flat.

It helps the punters feel good driving past in their 100 kw hydrocarbon powered cars to see all those LEDs using maybe 0.2 kw at night max judging by the size of the panels. If they were on bicycles they might not top 40 kph anyway.

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John: street lighting is a large expense for most councils, so the solar-powered streetlights using more efficient (possibly LED) luminaires aren’t necessarily a bad idea. In theory, the reliability & lifetime are much higher for the LED versions, too, more than offsetting the increased cost. I’m wondering how that’s panning out with the traffic lights? I certainly see enough that are partially blown (but they *are* much more visible than the old-style incandescant glob ones, particularly with strong sunlight shining on them)

Your scenario of the punters driving past in their 100kW vehicles is quite apt, though – especially as many feel they need to be doing 60 within metres of the end of the 40 zone, and burn a couple of litres of fuel getting there in as short a time as possible! An electric vehicle with regenerative braking would make such speed zone changes much more efficient, of course!

Horses for courses, as they say. Plenty of opportunities for new tech to play a part in the overall effort to wean civilisation off fossil fuels.

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Covering 16% of Florida’s land area in PV panels to cover its electric demand is not that interesting. Covering 86% of its land area to supply the electric demand of New England, now you’re talking interesting.

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@Verity Jones,
Ed Caryl looks at the similarly unfeasible solar concentrator technology and it’s lack of scalability in New Mexico..
The calculations show that 3 states in US using 10% of land area could supply all US energy consumption using CST..
Now imagine if 3 farming states using just 10% of land area for agriculture could supply all US food consumption. Would we say that this type of agriculture was “scalable”.
@Martin Nicholson
By my calculation using average population density of 40 persons/km sq, buildings occupy <0.5% of land area; so <0.5% of land area could provide 15-57% of world energy needs!. So roof top PV cannot supply 100%, we still have the other 99.5% of land area to supply the rest.
Solar has lots of issues(cost, locations, variability) but its silly to claim one is lack of scalability. Its as silly as saying wind cannot scale because it needs 100 tonnes steel per MW capacity.

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10% is a lot of energy sprawl, with non-trivial ecosystem(habitat) impact and serious litigation issues. 1% might be acceptable with broad public support but if its really 10% then that’s pretty serious deal-breaker.

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Also don’t forget that scalability and intermittency are intrinsically connected; energy sources that are not there 80-90% of the time and are non-dispatchable can’t scale to majority of supply.

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@Gallopingcamel
Echoing Cyril R, a dollar spent on solar is a dollar not spent on nuclear, a true solution.
In a free market economy this is as true as saying ” a dollar spend on ice cream is a dollar not spent on nuclear”.
In command economies such as China then this could very well be true, so I wonder why China doesn’t stop spending on hydro, wind and solar and spend X3 as much as present on building additional nuclear( hint: capacity constrains are higher for nuclear).

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Cyril R: I see you and a number of other commenters here asserting that solar energy sources are non-dispatchable. I thought that CST, in particular, had some viable storage options (e.g. molten salt thermal storage) that lead to the capability of being *more* dispatchable than most other thermal energy sources. Is there an analysis anywhere on the economics / performance characteristics of CST with molten salt storage? I understand Andasol was the first CST that used it (with ~7hrs storage), but I haven’t seen any data on performance or output of such a system.

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@Bern, if you to to the tap on this site that is titled “Renewable Limits” you will find the set of “TCASE” reports, a lot of them, that reviews every combination of renewables, including, I believe, the expensive (and dangerous) molten salt storage systems.

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The TCASE are excellent, all recommended reading.

Molten salt storage however is not dangerous. The nitrates are oxidising, but do not burn themselves. They also completely don’t react with steam which is great for a high temp steam generator.

Molten nitrate salt, in particular NaNO3-KNO3 equimolar eutectic, is a great heat transfer fluid. I’ve been analysing it as a third loop to add to a molten salt reactor, possibly in a silica thermocline for even better cheap-ness. Much better integration with steam turbines (if Brayton cycles don’t pan out/take too long to develop). The stuff only costs 50 cents per kg so you can use a lot of it and add an extra turbine to use the stored heat for peak electricity delivery. Needless to say this would be a much more productive and reliable application than a solar plant that has to deal with the vagaries of the weather.

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@Cyril R. I have worked with these molten salts in heat treating applications, particularly for aluminum alloys. I wouldn’t typify them as not dangerous. Mind you these where open pot setups, not closed loops, nevertheless at 700C it deserves respect.

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I couldn’t think of anything that is safe at 700 C. Hot fluids are all dangerous, though the nitrate eutectics can’t be used at 700 C – they decompose at such high temperatures, at standard pressure. This could be scary in overheating scenarios.

Closed loops can be much safer with these salts though, as its easier to get a nitrogen gas blanket on them constantly, so that decomposing is suppressed.

Its important to note that heat transfer nitrate salts aren’t a chemical application such as metal surface treatments.

I find the mineral oil thermal heat transfer fluids to be much more scary – they’re combustible and often operate at much higher pressure. Similarly steam pipes at very high pressure are kind of scary. If one breaks, your skin explodes off your body. Not a nice way to go.

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The real challenge will be generation infrastructure replacement – the Latrobe Valley plants were purchased from the SECV up for very cheap prices (thanks to Premier Kennet’s mates rates) and is now going to be run into the ground.

I think a lot depends on stability in the political environment. If the on again off again debate about a carbon tax persists then I doubt we will see much new investment. Hopefully the carbon tax will either be an accepted reality within two years or it will be a failed political experiment unlikely to be repeated. I’m batting for the latter but I doubt there will be much investment either way until the politics takes on some degree of finality.

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p.s. If the proposed carbon tax exempted plants that existed or which started construction before the imposition of the tax then we would not have this uncertainty. And whilst it would guide subsequent investment it would place a big immediate impost on households.

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Is this money in escrow? Its fine and dandy that its on contract but with nuclear plants lasting for what seems to be 60 years the utility may not even exist then. The biggest problem with nuclear is that its the taxpayer that takes care of waste, decommissioning, and disaster cleanup, if the money for decommissioning is in escrow I will cross that off.

I think an escrow of some form makes sense. However given the US governments management of finances I don’t think you would want them managing the escrow account.

As an alternative to escrow you could mandate that the operator owns a larger buffer zone around the plant. In the event that they become insolvent the real estate value can be used to pay for the clean up. And in the interum the land can be leased out for other purposes. Obviously you need to insulate the land from being used as financial collateral for other purposes and you need the clean up liability to be recognised for the purposes of insolvency law.

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Thanks for the link to TCASE7 – an interesting read. I note, though, that it’s based on projections, not actual operational data – would be interesting to see if the actual op data varied significantly from the projections.

Regarding the capacity factor issue – it seems to me we’re dealing with the usual marketing problems. A ’50MW’ plant that normally runs at a capacity factor is, in reality, a 20MW plant. A 1GW nuclear plant, with a 90% capacity factor, is in effect a 900MW plant (when you look at the effective generation over a long period – but, of course, that doesn’t look as good on the press release).

So it seems that concentrating solar thermal, with molten salt storage, is definitely *technically* feasible. The real question is whether it’s *economically* feasible. Certainly, the LCOE would have to fall by at least a factor of 3 for it to be at all competitive. That’s a big learning curve.

Does anyone know how the heliostat/central collector type CST plants compare, in terms of economics?

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@DV and Cyril . I was given a tour of a factory in Italy a few years back, and part of the process was heat treatment of metals (off peak off course) . I remember staring into an open pot of molten salts and I still get the shivers thinking back to the experience.!!! (Moderator , I realize this is OT , however molten salts storing enormous amounts of heat is sort of connected to solar) Gimme nuclear anytime !!!!

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Unclepete, again the heat transfer salts aren’t operated hot enough for decomposition, and obviously with a chemical surface metal treatment, you have chemical reactions.

I think molten nitrates are very useful – for various industrial heat transfer applications, and possibly also nuclear heat transport (it grabs tritium and is compatible with steam, two distinct advantages for e.g. molten fluoride salt reactors, as fluoride salts don’t grab tritium and are incompatible with steam).

Nuclear and molten salts aren’t opposed – some of the most innovative and possibly most efficient nuclear reactors use molten salts.

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gallopingcamel, on 16 May 2011 at 9:32 PM said:

“John Newlands,
“Windfuels” is an interesting concept; the technology is believable as it is an update of the Fischer-Tropsch process that helped Germany prolong WWII.”

Fischer-Tropsch is not going to be used. It`s efficiency maxes out at around 60%.
We do have a patented bio-reactor at TU-Vienna which uses biological processes to store electric energy in form of gas. It can convert CO2+hydrogen to methane. The tech is called “methanogenesi “.
http://ecosummit.net/articles/alexander-krajete-greenthitan-bio-power-storage-cleantech-startup

Like I wrote before, the storage potential of the german grid is 514Twh (compared to 0.6Twh of pumped storage).
This process is brand new and was developed by Alexander Krajete.

Austria also produces a litte over 1% of its electric-energy from bigas (in 300 cogeneration plants).
There are 3 new demo plants clarifying biogas with new membrane technology to feed into the gas grid.
The midterm goal s to produce 3% of NG usage from biogas.

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Advantages of the methane economy include multiple sources such as natgas, biogas and synthetic. These can be blended into the existing grid, stored with minor losses at low pressure and can fuel millions of existing ICE vehicles and stationary generators without throwing away much of the original heating value. Fischer Tropsch gas-to-liquid for example discards ~40% of the starting energy according to a Robert Rapier article.

The big disadvantage is fugitive emissions at high warming potential. One day natgas will be expensive while biogas I think will always be limited. Biogas will have low net energy if it has to be heavily scrubbed and is needed to power biomass harvesting machinery. Synthetic methane (eg Sabatier process) may have to step up to the plate one day using a combination of bio-CO2 and a cheap source of hydrogen. It is not clear whether the Audi e-gas approach has an adequate energy return.

The ability of methane to extend the life of sunk costs (grid, vehicles, ICE generators) may overcome the relatively poor efficiency. Of course we could always burn less natgas in power stations to save the resource for later.

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Bern,
You asked whether solar is “Economically Feasible”. That is a very good question and the answer depends on who you ask.

You could ask academics or environmentalists and they will provide some interesting opinions.

The people best qualified to answer your question own and operate power plants using a wide variety of electricity generating technologies. Florida Power & Light is a company that is better qualified than most in this respect.

It is my intention to visit as many FP&L plants as I can in order to make comparisons based on their views as opposed (for example) to the views of scientists beholden to the EPA for their funding.

This “Guest Post” is merely the beginning of a project that should include coal, nuclear and any other relevant technologies. Eventually, I hope to have access to actual operating cost data that will address your question in detail.

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Marcus,
From an energy standpoint the FTC efficiency is quite low but does that matter if the energy would otherwise be wasted?

Just to take a current example, would it not be better to create Windfuels in Oregon rather than to turn the wind turbines off as the BPA is mandating?

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@ Marcus . The process you described sounds fascinating. Does it involve a plasma reformer? I ask because I am trying to build one using parts scavenged from microwave ovens.

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Peter
That’s exactly the point. Pitching biological fuel reactors as renewable storage makes sense. It is positioned against the (chemical) Sabatier process. With the Sabatier process you lose about 36-40% of the energy. The efficiency of the Viennese bioreactor is around 80%. That should make a difference.

I am guessing Greenpeace is using Sabatier in its windgas approaches.

It does not involve plasma, it is a very fast biological, low temp. process (excess heat) with high throughput/m³ (from the linked pages “The highest theoretical conversion includes 69 tons CO2 and 12.5 tons H2
per hour in only 100 m3.”) qualifying it as 4th generation biofuel.
Some hints can be found on that pages (p9,20,21)

Click to access Presentation_StartyourRDBusinessInAustria.pdf

It`s not only the huge storage potential of the gasgrid that is interesting, also the transport capacity.

Any ideas on the economical side? You are at least using your own energy and substituting for import, Russian NG.

unclepete….what are you trying with your microwave ovens?

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Yes Marcus you have demonstrated the natural gas lock-in several times already. You might want to stop mentioning it, as it degrades your case for no nuclear, renewable powered Germany and other fantasies of the innumerate.

Storing electricity as methane, clearly you need to take some thermo courses. (snide remark deleted)

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Cyril…

Whats your problem with biomethane fuels anyways…they are at least co2 neutral unlike nuclear.
I wonder if you can produce a LCA of the nuclear fuel cycle to counter strom/smith or if you are just reading WNA press releases without the answers to their unsubstantial critique.
(Unsubstantiated personal opiniom deleted. Please supply evidence to support your contention.)
Methane is easy to distribute, can be used in transport and cogeneration.
You where asking to for economic storage answers…
As you know the innumerate Germans even suggest that it is possible to have a 60%/40% Wind/PV Solution with 7 days of storage…
There is your storage option that could power Germany for at least 6 month…
Be thankfull that other people are developing renewables for you.
If it was so great then Russia and China would not use any other generation than nuclear. Maybe Chinese are innumerate too when they built more fossile capacity than nuclear and invest more money in wind than in nuclear plants…
Why did they built UHVDC in the first place when it would have been so easy to pop 20 nukes in every corner of the country…

You may notice that there is a reason why 4th generation biofuels and other renewable innovations like monocrystalline thinfilm, are coming from Austria…
We have have votet against nuclear in the 70ties.

We two could maybe just stop communicating.
MODERATOR
The remark you objected to was removed, as it would have been anyway when I returned from sleeping. Please note the moderator is a part-time volunteer and the blog is not moderated 24/7. Comments are not held in a queue to await the moderator but are always reviewed at some stage.

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Marcus, the EU undertook the investigation of external costs of power, which used lifecycle analysis LCA of a variety of options. The report here has the key comparative results in Table 6 on page 17. The top row of results is the greenhouse gas expressed as kg CO2 equivalent per kWh; here’s my transcription to 3dp:

Coal, lignite: 1.230
Coal, hard: 0.798-1.070
Oil: 0.882
Oil CC: 0.526
Natgas: 0.640
Natgas CC: 0.423
Cogen: 0.590-0.731
Solar PV (south Eur): 0.034-0.054
Wind: 0.011-0.14
Nuclear: 0.005-0.008
Hydro: 0.004

General methods start on p5, nuclear specifics on p10.

Start from that, rather than Storm-Smith, and you will be on more realistic ground.

I’d be interested to see a LCA for your supposedly “co2 neutral” biomethane. Incidentally, where was the hydrogen for that bioreactor gas project coming from? In a full system design, I mean of course, not in the research project.

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@Joffan, thanks for answering Marcus and for the data – once again.

@Marcus – you seem excited about an option that could power Germany for 6 months. I don’t think I’d accept that; I like to be reasonably sure that power and heat will be available for 20 years or so. Six months worth of assured reserve doesn’t seem like much to me. It’s a little too much like living hand to mouth. Or do other energy sources provide the primary energy in your scenario?

And BW’s rant The Case for more resources transformational technology rather than spending money to master hiding waste at Next Big Future is on the money, IMO.

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Auto maker Audi seem very confident their synthetic methane system will scale up
http://www.autoevolution.com/news/gas-powered-audi-a3-tcng-unveiled-gallery-35436.html
Per Green Car Congress a pilot plant is to be built in Werlte, Germany with construction starting this July. They somehow infer the hydrogen input can be attributed to offshore wind. Hopefully it has EROEI > 4 or so like Brazilian ethanol.

The big question mark is price. It may only be affordable for VIP chauffeur driven limos or military jets on GTL fuel. The fact remains hydrocarbon fuels pack large energy density. Petrol and diesel have a heating value of about 35 MJ per litre or 40 MJ or 11 kwh per kg. A lead-acid battery stores about 0.2 kwh per kg. If synfuels don’t work out we will see fewer aircraft and long haul trucks in future.

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I am with Barry on the renewables versus nuclear, ie. whatever makes (economic and technical) sense. Thus it is simply not a case of either/ or, but , nuclear ,.and biofuels, and conversion and algae , and whatever . As long as it does not add to the CO2 load. Allow market forces to figure out the winner(s). I just wish our politicians would level the playing field and give nuclear at least a chance to compete fairly. I cannot recall who wrote the post, but it would make sense for the electricity consumers to demand cheap and abundant electric power with no Co2 emissions. And then the only answer is nuclear.

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Audi’s plan makes renewable electricity 5x more expensive just based on energy losses in their system:

http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=3065

That’s ignoring all capital investment mind you!

Using electricity to make natural gas. Uhh, wake up Greenies, reality does this the other way around!

This exemplifies why no nukes renewables only people are innumerate. They suggest 20% efficient energy storage systems. Even Audi is clearly behaving innumerate when it comes to matters of energy transition; however in their case they actually know its bunk, but use it as excuse to keep making low mileage gasoline combustion vehicles.

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Here’s why the German solar plans are crazy fossil fuel lock-in plans:

http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=2689

Bottom line, energy that is not there 89% of the time has to be supplemented by loads of fossil fuel.

German wind is only slightly less terrible, not being there 83% of the time.

Even solar in florida gets poor capacity factor, even with expensive overbuilt arrays you only get 20-25% capacity factor, ie the energy is not there 75-80% of the time. 99.5 percent natural gas burning in inefficient gas generators, 0.5 percent solar for greenwashing the former.

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Marcus asked for a lifecycle assessment for nuclear power that rebutted Storm and Smith. Here’s one excellent summary that does just that:

http://nuclearinfo.net/Nuclearpower/TheScienceOfNuclearPower

With an EROEI of 93 for the Forsmark plant and excellent low grade resources available at high EROEI, we can see that the Storm and Smith are good at making up all sorts of assumptions rather than checking them. This results in bizarre claims from Storm and Smith, for example they claim one mine in Namibia uses more energy than all of Namibia combined (!!!).

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Marcus, on 20 May 2011 at 7:53 AM said:

Maybe Chinese are innumerate too when they built more fossile capacity than nuclear and invest more money in wind than in nuclear plants

The Chinese are quite numerate. They also have timelines to work to. In 2008, Japan Steel Works which makes 80% of the worlds nuclear reactor pressure vessels was capable of 4 per year.

Japan Steel has since endeavored to triple capacity.

Source World Nuclear News
http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Japan_Steel_Works_to_triple_capacity-0312085.html

In 2008 Global Nuclear Pressure Vessel Manufacturing Capacity was maybe 5. The Chinese have 25 nuclear reactors under construction with an estimated build time of between 4 and 5 years.

So it would appear they are building as many nuclear reactors as they can get parts for at the current time.

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The Chinese are numerate in the sense that at least they don’t fool themselves about not being able to reduce carbon emissions to low levels for decades. Their economy is growing so fast it just means more fast fossil deployment and concomittant CO2 emissions.

The Germans are innumerate in the sense that they fool themselves that they can run the entire country on renewable energy. They can’t and they won’t. The German electric grid is very dirty, it is NOT green and they – and we – should stop tapping themselves on the shoulder for the horrible non-transitional (fossil lock in) path they’re on.

It is only when we take an honest look at the numbers that people will see that solar isn’t going to cut it, not now not in 50 years. Its nuclear or its fossil. Take your pick.

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The really unfortunate part of the debate between wind/solar and nuclear is that fossil-fuel is watching, laughing up its sleeve.

Cyril, the renewable crowd will never take an honest look at the numbers and you know it as well as I do. It’s not about the truth anymore for most of these people, it is about belief.

Paraphrasing Isaac Asimov: There is a cult of ignorance in the Anglosphere, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through its political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’

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DV82XL: that’s a highly apt quote from Asimov there…

harrywr2: that’s a very good point about manufacturing capacity for nuclear power plants. One thing many people seem to forget about the Chinese, however, is that it’s still a command economy. If they decide that cutting CO2 emissions is what they need to do, they will simply order coal-fired power stations to shut down.
I rather suspect that they’ll continue to ramp up their nuclear & other non-fossil energy generation capacity, and when the construction of that outstrips the increase in electricity demand, they’ll start retiring coal-fired plants, no matter that they might still have decades of useful life remaining. In other words: they’ll follow the path that results in CO2 emissions decreasing fastest while providing no constraint at all on their economy.

Contrast that with the hand-wringing going on in Australia over the future of the already 40-year-old brown-coal plants in the Latrobe valley. I rather suspect the private owners wont be happy with any less compensation than 100% of the new-build replacement cost, despite the age of the asset.

On the other hand, politically nuclear is in the too-hard basket here, so any replacement for a brown-coal plant is almost inevitably going to be fossil-fuel-powered. And, of course, it will have a 40+ year life, with immense political pressure to not adversely affect that economic life, as it’ll almost certainly be privately-owned (or sold off in yet another privatisation push).

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Just saw some numbers for the Gemasolar plant in Spain.

Solar thermal (tower + heliostats)
19.9MW nameplate capacity
Molten salt heat transfer & storage fluid
15 hours storage capacity

The article stated that the plant has an expected production of 110GHw per year. I make that about 12.5 MW average output, over the year, so a capacity factor of 0.63, which doesn’t seem so bad.

Of course, the crunch comes in the cost & area covered: 185 hectares of land (that’s an area 1.36km on a side, which seems awfully big for a 20MW nominal plant!)
A google search reveals an estimated project cost of 171m euros, or about AUD$230m. So that’s an effective $18,400 per kWe of capacity. Yikes!
I know it’s a FOAK price, but that seems an awfully high starting price. Would those who know more about these things care to comment?

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Cyril R., on 15 May 2011 at 8:55 PM — Your O & M for running an NPP is way too low sine the spent fuel & decommissionng have to be included there in the NREL simplified LCOE. I suggest that about US$250/kW-yr (and maybe a bit more) is approprate for the USA.

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things change , I just put 10 kw of solar 150 mph rated wind speed hurricane rated solar panels in the Bahamas on my house roof with 24kwh of battery backup for $ 2.40 per watt total cost . I did the installing and design as a electical eng.
will pay back in 3 years with the local 40 cent /kwh electrical cost.

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