Sunday, June 6, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward revisited

Quick note: I've fiddled with the formatting of the template, because I just wasn't happy with how my pics were laying out. So, older stuff is going to look kinda awkward. But hopefully, this will work out better in the future.

A few, a very few, may recall my blog entry Looking Forward, Looking Back, from a while back. I've had some time to mull this over for a while. Further, on IRC a couple of weeks back, there was a quick conversation concerning Wind Power with some quick off-the-cuff comments in the pro/con vein, and I was asked, "How can anyone be against wind power?". Well, it's complicated.

I want to try to examine this question, and at least scratch at the surface of some of implications of this technology, and shine some light on what that entails, as well as to condense some of my own ill formed thoughts on the matter.

As always, with most of my blogs, the images are clickable for a better view

So, on a personal note, I'm still looking forward, and I'm still looking back. The backdrop has changed a bit, More miles on the one, while the other has been upgraded/downgraded to yet another multi-hand car with over 100K on it. (my new minimum standard for used cars, it must be well past it's life as a proper suburban understands it), and it gets >2x the mileage of the dear old Subaru, but and is about 1/2 the 'car'. I have a lot more miles on the trike, but not nearly as many as I had hoped by the time.

Looking Forward

Looking Back

But the paradigms do not hold. Here, right now, in this time, today, the realities of the BP oil spill in the Gulf are all too real for a few, On the mind of a few more, and many more are at least aware, and I know quite well, that in the minds of a great many, it's no big deal.

If you look really closely, you can see a, single, car.

So, what has this to do with wind power?

Well, a lot actually.
It's a mistake, generally, to think things are, they way one thinks they are. Folks seem to think, that energy in general, electrical energy in particular, is cheap, abundant, and easy to acquire. There is little empirical and practically no theoretical evidence to support this common (in this country) thought. Same is true of oil. Because of this thought, or widely held belief, folks waste it. Just plain waste it. To wit:

Folks use a great deal of electrical power. Whether they mean to, or not, they do. If you believe the DOE, for the year 2009, 3,953,111 thousand megawatt hours. In simple terms, a 100 watt light bulb burning for 10 hours uses a kilowatt hour. One thousand kilowatt hours ia a megawatt hour. So, that's three million, nine hundred and fifty three thousand, one hundred and eleven - thousand megawatt hours.

Anyway, there's some noise around those numbers, generation vs use and all that. Oddly enough, when you start digging, you find out that some of the energy generated, is used, and not tracked. Large power plants, for instance, don't have power meters. They make the power, they also use a lot of power, and the power they use, isn't tracked in these numbers. Coal extraction uses a lot of power, and a lot of that power, isn't tracked in these numbers, and the real numbers surrounding nuclear power aren't all that easy to track down. It's remarkably difficult to actually determine what it costs to generate nuclear power. I've read numbers that -in big round numbers- put it in the $0.50/kwh range, , to generate. The nationwide average 'consumer price' is $0.15/kwh. Coal is a little easier, the price of coal by the ton is tracked on the futures market, and a pound of coal, in big round numbers can generate a kilowatt hour of electrical energy. yeah, that's right. One pound of coal, one kilowatt hour. See why it's so popular? Handy stuff coal.
Why 'we the people' are so determined to turn this: (looking back)

Into This: (Looking Forward)

So, No one (who is not on the board of large energy companies who are getting staggeringly wealthy practicing mountaintop removal) wants this for their world. Mountaintop removal is really outside the scope of this post, but it's quite a problem.

Surely there must be alternatives. Wind turbines such as these, can actually generate 2megawatts per hour when the 'wind is blowing'. Now, that's 2000kwh, or the same energy as a ton of coal.
So, these three, while the wind blows, could be generating the equivalent energy of three TONS of coal per hour. Wow. That's a win, eh? There are hundreds of these turbines in this windfarm, that's directly adjacent the Mount Storm Power Station.

Well, sadly, it's not quite that simple. Among the issues involved in this are:

None of this power is used locally. This windfarm supplies 'the mid atlantic grid'. Well, what that means isn't exactly clear. For our purposes here, I won't call it outright disingenuous. For one thing, it's not yet actually connected to the 'mid-atlantic grid' as such. A shiny brand spanking new leg of the 'Smart Grid' is being built in it's honor.

Birds and bats, yes, it's a real issue, it's not not a real issue. Migratory song birds are one thing, migratory raptors are another thing. Bats, still a different thing. But the big thing, The forests and ridges of WV are home to the greatest biodiversity outside of amazon basin, and according to some, even broader. Folks who opposed this project were called NIMBYs. But who are the real NIMBYs? West Virginia isn't using this power, the turbines weren't manufactured here. The folks who installed them aren't from here, and aside from a few landowners, who benefits? Well, folks who live far far far away. Sure, for a while, the local restaurants and room rentals were doing pretty well. The additional loads to the roadways was born by the WV taxpayer, the destruction of habitat will be born by all the life of the region. The invasive plants that are taking over the forests floors all along the ridge, and along the right of ways benefit, but the natives don't. Who is the NIMBY indeed.

Well, let's look:


Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line. a 500KV power line coming out of western PA, and headed right through this beautiful area, past the mount storm power generation, and headed down into Northern Virginia. Ah yes, Northern Virginia. The PSC pretty much sided with the supporters of these projects "so the nation's aging electrical grid can continue to provide cheap and reliable power to big Eastern cities and their growing suburbs."

let me restate:
"so the nation's aging electrical grid can continue to provide cheap and reliable power to big Eastern cities and their growing suburbs."

So, who's the NIMBY now?


More and more and more and more of this:

Again, if you look really closely, you can see a car.

And PATH? Potomac Allegheny Transmission Highline? Hoo-boy! talk about a wasp nest of controversy. This 768KV transmission line has been sold to the public under every banner imaginable. Just like the Mount Storm example above, Seems that PATH is the fancy new smart grid stuff. Wind power has been big rational behind the push for this power line. For these new non-base load generation station, we need a much more interactive grid. PATH is the answer. Oddly, PATH goes right past a whole lot of coal generation resources. Lots and lots and lots of coal, for pretty much the same reason. To get more power, out of WV and Ohio over the mountains, and into the growing monster maw of the I-95 corridor. Google about, look at the maps, there you have it.

A lot of energy in generated in WV, 70% of it leaves the state. As much as our nation needs energy, to light the Wall Mart parking lots at 3am, to run traffic lights all night long on 8 lanes of highway in the middle Tysons Corner Va, in the middle of the night, when that's a day-job-only office cubicle horror of concrete and asphalt, then WV must be the wealthiest state in the region. Heck, it has all the power!

Errr, no. Not exactly.

PATH and TrAIL are turning this: (Looking back)

A boreal forest at modest elevation near the Canaan Valley in WV, home to a biodiversity that isn't even understood, much less fully explored. Those of you who have driven through northern Michigan would be right at home here.

Into this: (Looking Forward)

Soil subsidence, contiguous forest broken up, there will be runoff, there will be erosion, and there are now breaks in the canopy where there were none before. And for the record, unlike when this area was logged off over a hundred years ago, this opening will never be allowed to close. It will be maintained with broadcast herbicides, which will accumulate, as they always do. And yes, this is the top of YOUR watershed.

"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water."
-Ben Franklin
--quoted from Poor Richards, but I think it was cribbed.

With each passing day, we have less and less contiguous forest. If you think this doesn't matter, then you are quite mistaken. (hint, it's the water, SxxxxD!) Pretty much everything I can link viz benefits of contiguous forest is behind one paywall or another.

Okay, okay, but what does this have to do with Wind Power?

Well, all of these many-multi Billion dollar projects was pushed through because it would exploit wind power. But whats actually being exploited in coal burning power. Wind power at this scale just doesn't play out.

One thing to keep in mind, The US, especially the 'beltway effected' US, (our Capitol Region) isn't europe. That picture above, of all the SUVs and Pickups in a parking lot. That's in the northern va suburbs (the area to be served by TrAIL) home to some of vast legions of Government Contractors (locally known as beltway bandits). The sense of entitlement here is foreign to many, but drive in the am commuter traffic, and it's palatable.
These folks don't do small. They don't turn out the lights, they turn them on and leave them on. I love sitting at a traffic light controlled well lit intersection at a red light at 4:30 am with no traffic in sight.

Base load, it's all about base load. Lots of power, needed all the time. Heck, as a system administrator, I consider it a victory if I can convince someone to turn off their workstation when they go on vacation. This website claims to debunk the 'myth' of base load. Well, it doesn't. Even with the new smarty-griddy stuff, variable loads are a pain in the neck to moderate. What a base load is to a coal plant, according to folks I've known who worked in them, is all the power they can make. Again, I can't find a paper that shows where anyone is shutting down their coal generation because the abundant wind energy is carrying the load.

However, what this large, industrial scale wind generation has done, has increased the capacity on paper. More capacity, more customers, more growth. More endless tract mansions, more big box store strip malls, more fast food, more and better lit highways. More insanity. And there is where it ties back into opening bit about oil.

Billions and billions have been spent already, and many more billions are in planning for more and bigger transmission highlines. More and bigger windfarms, and (this part you may or may not be hearing about) more natural gas fired power plants. Ah, now the Marcellus Shale enters the fray. When the TrAIL makes it down into northern va, There is already a proposal for a new natural gas power plant to be built very near the TrAIL. Hrmmm.

One of the funny bits about these large industrial wind turbines, is while they most certainly can make a whopping amount of power, they aren't all that reliable, even when the wind is blowing, and further, that power has to be transmitted over long distances. Most folks don't want these big noisy monsters in their backyards, so they make sure they are built far far away. On once-quiet and remote ridgetops. NIMBY indeed. Anyway, try reading some papers on transmission line loss, transmission line balancing and such. Line losses are quite real. The resources consumed in even a relatively short haul highline like TrAIL are immense. That's setting aside the environmental impacts of it's construction and maintenance, which of course, is setting aside the environmental impacts of it being there at all. Huge amounts of power are generated, and never realized in real work done by that power. Wasted. Now, for an industrial wind turbine, oddly, unlike those 'backyard' wind turbines with which some of us are familiar, these machines are not passive devices, they use power, a lot of power, to function. The blades need to be pitch adjusted according to the wind velocity, the whole turbine head needs to be kept 'on the wind' and I was actually stunned to learn, that in times of no wind, if the time is long enough, the generator itself needs to be powered, to spin the turbine like a fan, to keep the blades and driveline from taking a set. (this is my jaw hitting the table). Just like large ships in port will idle their drive line, slowly turning the screws when not underway. That stuff is heavy, and it's balance and trueness is critical.

So, how much power do the turbines use? Well, strangely, those numbers aren't published anywhere. Not publicly anyway. Seems that the real unvarnished numbers from these new wind farms aren't that easy to get.

So, do they make any power at all? I don't know! I can't find the numbers!

I know folks sold the project. I know folks bought the project, I know there were a lot of subsidies involved, and huge tax breaks, just simply huge. I know at lot of folks from all over driving every gigantic vehicle were all over the place while this farm was being built, using a lot of diesel. So, yeah, folks made money. Who pays? Well, initially the rate payers, and ultimately the tax payers. I know this, the executive boards of the energy companies do pretty well. I hope folks reading this blog are familiar enough with Enron-style accounting and powerpoints and excel spreadsheets to know that 'shenanigans' can be quite profitable. On the PATH and TrAIL, some of the investors might surprise you. Dig around and check it out.
(No, I'm not linking *my* blog to some of that stuff).

In short, I think the whole concept, (with which I was once in love) is a gigantic scam. I think the environment suffers, I think the american people are being fleeced.

Look, right now, they are revamping Tyson's Corner. A good friend of mine once hunted those open fields for pheasant, by himself, with a dog and a 16g side-by-side, when he was like 11 years old. I cannot imagine what he feels when he sees that concrete horror. Anyway, Finally they are adding a Metro line out there. On NPR, I heard the numbers, I don't know if I remember them correctly, but I know I'm close. Full time live-there residents are in the 15K neighborhood. There are 10x that many commuters that drive in and out of there every single day. That is INSANE. Sure, I'd like to see that region transition to something that made more sense. Was walkable, bikable. But as long as SUV-land is accepted/encouraged, that ain't happening. This Dulles extension is going to cost billions and billions. And it won't change a thing. What it will do, is use up a lot more of that tasty WV power.

Okay, you want to use a whole bunch of power? Generate it yourself. Get the railroads working properly again, and I'm sure the coal operators will sell you all the coal you want, burn it in your own backyard. Want wind power? Put it up in your own backyard. Nukes? If it ain't safe enough to put in DC, it ain't safe enough to put anywhere. NIMBY? Who's the NIMBY?

Once all the rooftops are covered with solar panels, Once all the metro tracks are shaded by the miles and miles of PV solar arrays, Once the able bodied are transporting themselves without the direct aide of fossil fuels, opening all kinds of wonderful options for those with the handicap cards, then come and say it's necessary to tear apart one of the most valuable ecological regions to meet our 'needs'. But I suspect, by that time, should it ever come, we'll know better. Much better.

Think of the jobs. Think of the health care benefits.

The cost of builidng and maintaining these gigantic infrastructures is killing everything. Running up our deficits, ruining our health, and our ways of life. I mean, the folks who could build this, could build anything! Just look at it!

So, what works? This works: (Really looking forward!)

This is my friend, Matt Sherald of PIMBY Energy LLC of Thomas WV. That's a 10kw monster Bergey Excel-S turbine. Bergey, ARE, others make stuff like this and much smaller.

Another local fellow, working out of his (admitted well outfitted) shop/garage is making his own turbine. I've seen the power house and brake/housing stuff up close and personal. Really kicking myself for not taking pictures.

Look, what's our deficit today? according to the BBC, it's way up there in the stratosphere above $1.4 Trillion, some number to which I cannot even relate. But I do know, that as a citizen, my share (if the census projections are close) is near $43K.

Yes, we need real leadership, but we also need to only accept real leadership, in large part, by taking a leadership role ourselves. I get a bit frustrated (heh) with folks over all this regulation talk. I don't want any more regulation, I want less, much less regulation. Something the loud folks who talk less regulation seem to miss is that there is no clear delineation between the regulators and the regulated. The first regulatory agency in the federal government, the Interstate Commerce Commission was set up by the railroads. There is no clear delineation between the federal government and the energy business for certain. Heck, there is no clear delineation between the federal government and big business at all.

Small scale power democratizes the energy market. The more folks take responsibility for their own requirements, the smaller those requirements will get, believe you me.

I don't want coal powered stuff, but it's not going to go away. I know that. And industrial wind power is a step in the wrong direction in my well considered opinion. In fact, all power infrastructure projects, as they currently exist share the same drawbacks. Think post-substation neighborhood grid. neighborhoods of solar roofs on grid tie/net metered systems downstream of the local substation don't bother the grid, and the social benefits are huge. Adapt the zoning laws to reflect the energy realities of today. Not some mistaken and shortsighted mythological 50s.

Yeah, I think MRI machines are good and useful, and all kinds of stuff like that. Street lights lighting the miles and miles of empty strip malls? Less so.

Big problems can be solved with small solutions.

"Oh, solar is too expensive, the kwh/$$ is all wrong". It's all a question of scale. The power in your wrist watch costs something akin to four thousand dollars per kilowatt hour. But people still have battery powered wrist watches. You think solar arrays are expensive on the roof? What do you think a nuke plant will cost? Ever notice that no one is willing to talk about one of those things outside the context of government backed loans?

I heard some talking head from Bank America on CSPAN this am, he was making noise that current PV solar was in the neighborhood of 15% efficient (at converting the solar radiation striking the surface area of the panel to electrical power) and if we could get that up to 30 percent we'd really have something. What? There are folks out there right now, who paid insane prices for solar PV 30+ years ago, who have been laughing at the rest of us, for OVER 30 YEARS. Sure, it would be great to get to 30%. But the stuff we have today, that we had 10, 20, 30+ years ago works,
still works. The first solar cells ever made back in the 1950s still work, and still don't pollute. I'm all for pushing the technology forward, but not if it's at the cost of deployment. How many times have I heard or read folks explaining that they are going to wait because they read some press release from some company that has no actual product, that the price was getting ready to drop? Well, I've heard it a lot. The best way to push this technology forward it to deploy it. The time is now.

One thing this fellow did touch on that wasn't quite so insane was that BoA (I know, not everyone's favorite too-big-to-fail right now) worked with GM (I know, ibid) on keeping their energy use flat while they expanded certain operations through increasing efficiency and energy auditing, and managed to find a bottom line savings of four billion dollars in energy costs. Yeah, four billion. That's what he said, I dunno. But I do know that ALL of the studies done, since Carter starting talking this game all those many decades ago, show that dollar for dollar, energy efficiency trumps energy use every single time. And that's where the future is.

Ready or not, here it comes.

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
-T.A. Edision
-- in conversation with Henry Ford and Firestone, from 'Uncommon Friends'. (a good read btw.)


federesco said...
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malik aayan said...

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