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Why Wind Farms Can Be Relied On For Almost Zero Power

Wind Farms and the Necessity of Back Up

Modern society is fundamentally dependent on a reliable and on-demand supply of electricity. This electricity comes almost entirely from burning coal and natural gas, fissioning uranium or by large hydro-electric dams. On aggregate, these power plants can be relied on to supply electricity around the clock; a reliability that would seem miraculous to people living only a few centuries ago when light availability was completely dependent on whether the sun shone. Wind farms, however, cannot currently provide this reliability. In fact, on the scale of most countries aggregate wind farm output can be assumed to have almost zero reliability. In this sense, every wind farm must have a fossil fuel power plant sitting in wait for when the wind does not blow.

Let me begin by unpacking a banal statement: All power plants need back up. A century of technical innovation has resulted in electricity grids that are ultra-reliable by any reasonable standard, but power plants still cut off on occasion; they are vastly complex industrial machines and things will sometimes go wrong. When a power plant does goes off-line, others will respond by changing their output. In this sense, all power plants are backed up by each other.

Coal power plant outages, however, are always independent of each other. I live in Scotland, and the probability of Longannett power station – a short drive from where I live – going off-line at exactly the same time as Drax power station – a 3 hour train journey away – is close to zero. The same cannot be said for wind farms.

Anyone who regularly watches weather forecasts knows that wind speeds over large areas, e.g. the whole of Britain, are closely linked. If you are comforted by the claim that “if it is not windy in one place, it will be windy elsewhere”, I suggest you watch a weather forecast.

How much the aggregate output of countries’ wind farms varies can be discovered by looking through spreadsheets produced by grid operators And the lesson is clear: In every country aggregate wind farm output often goes close to zero. I will illustrate this for Britain and Germany.

Wind farms can reliably supply less than 1% of installed capacity

Britain is perhaps the windiest country in Europe; while Germany is more or less the least windy. In 2009, Boccard estimated that the average capacity factor of Germany’s wind farms was 18.3%, while in Britain it was 26.1%. In other words 10 GW (GW = billion watts) of installed capacity in Britain will deliver about 2.6 GW on average, but the figure will be 1.8 GW in Germany. Recent production data in Germany and Britain indicate that these are still reasonable estimates. (Britain’s government publishes annual figures here.)

How much does wind farm output vary in these countries? Let’s look at Germany first.  Last year the power output of Germany’s wind farms peaked at 26 GW at 6 pm on the 5th of December (see technical note for details of calculations). In contrast, minimum power output of Germany’s wind farms was 0.128 GW at 2 pm on the 4th of September. Minimum power output was therefore only 0.5% of maximum power output. Not quite zero, but not much higher either.

GermanyOverall, Britain has a much better wind regime than Germany, with higher average wind speeds and fewer lulls. However, it also sees periods of close to zero wind.

Britain’s total wind farm output peaked at 6 GW at midnight on the 21st of December. Its output reached a minimum of 0.025 GW at 11 pm on the 16th of June. The minimum was therefore only 0.4% of the maximum. Britain installed some new capacity between June and September. However, the lesson is reasonably clear; Britain and Germany’s aggregate wind farm output can be expected to go below 1% of total installed capacity with reasonable regularity.

The day of the peak in Britain is also notable for another reason; it shows how much wind farm output can vary in a single day.  By the end of that day wind farm output was 1% of what it was at the start of it. As the graph below shows output went from around 2.5 GW to almost 0 GW in a single day. This is a switch from average output to almost zero output in 24 hours.

britain

 Wind farms should be viewed as fuel savers

The immediate consequence of this is that wind farms cannot be total replacements for fossil fuel or nuclear power plants. If we build wind farms, we need to acknowledge that we will also need conventional power plants to be ready to increase their output when wind farms produce almost no electricity. This will hopefully change with future innovation in energy storage or with the erection of continent sprawling super-grids, but it will likely remain the case for a while to come.

Wind farms, then, should be viewed as “fuel savers”. When they are generating electricity they save fuel, and CO2 emissions, because you need to ramp down a fossil fuel power plant. In other words, they displace electricity generation from fossil fuel power plants, but not the power plants themselves; the power plants will largely still be needed for when it is not windy.

This, of course, does not mean that we should not build wind farms. The benefits that result from the carbon dioxide emissions saved by wind farms are obvious. Similarly, wind farms are among the most economical ways of generating low carbon energy.  However, the role wind farms will play in an energy system should be acknowledged. Anyone advocating the large scale expansion of wind farms must recognise that they will have a large number of fossil fuel power plants on the side. Advocating an expansion of wind farms, while opposing almost all new gas power plants, as some environmentalists do, is either hypocritical or a display of ignorance of basic engineering realities. As the great physicist Richard Feynman said, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

Technical notes

1. Wind farm output covered in the above graphs does not cover all wind farms. Some wind farms are not “visible” to the grid, and are not reported in these statistics. Because I am only interested in variation, not absolute numbers, the exclusion of some wind farms should not be material.

2. Data is taken from PF Bach’s website, who has aggregated the data from the German and British grid providers.

3. Calculations were performed using R and plotted using the package ggplot2.

Robert Wilson's picture

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Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 21, 2014 1:03 pm GMT

Robert, I can’t wait for the sequel.  Imagine the graphs you can display of coal plant output when a boiler steam tube blows.  The GWs would drop to zero and stay there for weeks.  Or maybe a graph of a gas turbine pealer plant with its momentaty spikes that might achieve an annual CF of 3%. 

This, of course, does not mean that we should not utilize fossil power plants.  The damages that result from their carbon dioxide emissions are a price that must be paid for our reckless investment in so many of them.  Advocating the large scale expansion of wind farms and other renewable technologies and their wide geographic distribution is the only logical path forward.  The wind is always blowing somewhere just as the sun is always shining somewhere and energy storage facilities can be used to fill the occasional gaps.  That’s the reality Feynman was talking about.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 21, 2014 1:59 pm GMT

Crucially for the use of EVs as grid storage–so-called V2G–a new study suggests that the economics of this for EV owners would be marginal, even without factoring in vehicle depreciation due to battery cycle degradation. If there’s no incentive for car owners to incur the cost and potential impairment of mobility (your car not being fully charged when you need it) it won’t happen. 

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775309017303 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 21, 2014 2:57 pm GMT

Imagine the graphs you can display of coal plant output when a boiler steam tube blows.”

Wilson’s data shows the wind generation for all of the UK, for all of Germany.  The wind generation of these nations drops to near zero often for hours on a diurnal basis, and occassionally for days at time. Doubling or trippling the wind capacity in Germany or the the UK will not eliminate these instances.  For the analogy you draw for a coal plant to be accurate, all German or UK coal plants would need to trip simultaneously. 

Perhaps some future, economic, energy storage technology will resolve this problem at scale, but such does not yet exist.




Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 21, 2014 3:16 pm GMT

‘…this implies a continental scale supergrid….My own calculations show this would be cost effective once completed, … And when it is complete, the capacity factor for transmission will be highly variable day to day, hour to hour…just like the underlying variability of wind & solar.”

Some proposals for a so called supergrid assume a cost of HV transmission designed to carry average load, as it does now, when the requirements for moving around intermittent power as you indicate mean the lines would require a power rating three to fives times that of typical interstate lines in order to move the average power as is shuttled around by the current thermal fleet.   Do your calculations these make assumptions?


Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 21, 2014 3:20 pm GMT

the economics of this for EV owners would be marginal, even without factoring in vehicle depreciation due to battery cycle degradation.

At least for lead-acid batteries in grid regulation service, pack life is unimpaired.  AC Propulsion reported this more than a decade ago:

Figure 23 shows the progression of measured capacity of the pack over the course of the testing. The pack finished the testing with 13% more capacity than at the start. No conclusions can be drawn from this other than there was no apparent immediate harm done to the pack as a result of the testing.

The short charge/discharge cycles of regulation service resemble de-sulfation methods, so it’s not too surprising to me that lead-acid batteries were improved by it.

If there’s no incentive for car owners to incur the cost and potential impairment of mobility (your car not being fully charged when you need it) it won’t happen.

That’s mostly not the case, since overnight charging is usually complete in much less than the time available (e.g. 6.6 kW charges a Leaf in about 4 hours).  Plugging the car in during the day as a controllable load for a discounted electric price would be an incentive most owners would take.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 21, 2014 3:39 pm GMT

Geoffrey, as an EV owner I would never consider participating in such an arrangement for the reasons you cite.

Like net metering, V2G is another attempt of renewables advocacy to piggyback on existing infrastructure, at its owners’ expense, and add viability to generation with limited standalone value.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 21, 2014 6:28 pm GMT

Clifford, the spirit of companionship renewables advocacy displays towards coal recently is an interesting development.

This, of course, does not mean that we should not utilize fossil power plants.  The damages that result from their carbon dioxide emissions are a price that must be paid for our reckless investment in so many of them.

It amounts to an acknowledgement that renewables are worthless without fossils, so we’re going to have to tolerate them. Of course, fossil fuel producers welcome this endorsement with open arms – safe in the knowledge renewables’ meager contribution will never threaten their profitability.

The two industries, once bitter rivals, have become trusted partners.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Nov 21, 2014 6:41 pm GMT

The AC Propulsion quote was presumably relevant for its time. How many new EVs are equipped with Pb-acid batteries? Do you have anything to cite on cycle degradation for Li-ion or NiMH?

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 21, 2014 6:49 pm GMT

You misinterpret my comment.  The reality is we can’t manufacturer and install wind turbines and other renewable technologies fast enough to quickly alter our GHG-producing ways.  Otherwise, shut them all down.  Hydro is great way to adjust to follow demand and pumped hydro is great for smoothing out the variability of wind and sun.  We need more of both.

The rivalry between fossil energy and renewables, when based on truth, has never been bitter.  Any compasion shown towards coal is likely due to sympathy, as we watch those plants expire under the weight of their own toxic emissions.  It’s unwise to get too attached to somehing with a terminal illness.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 21, 2014 8:54 pm GMT

Clifford, renewables do require more hydro and pumped hydro – but it’s not available. Norway gets 96% of its electricity from hydro, but the country has a smaller population than Los Angeles – and there’s no evidence to suggest hydro exists anywhere else in the world in sufficient quantity to make up for deficiencies in wind and solar generation.

That means renewables will always be dependent on fossil fuels, and no matter how fast or how many windmills and solar panels we create, they will share their terminal illness.

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 21, 2014 9:22 pm GMT

Let’s hope we both last long enough so that I can laugh in your face over that one.  You apparently see fossil resources as infinite and forever economical to produce.  That suggests either poor knowledge or delusion.  Please comment further so we can decide which.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 21, 2014 9:37 pm GMT

Clifford, I realize the issues I raised about availability of hydro, as well as the inability of solar and wind to meet future energy needs, point out serious deficiencies in what has obviously been a firmly-held belief for you.

As painful as that might be, let’s address those and avoid ad hominems.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 21, 2014 9:56 pm GMT

The new thing for mild hybrids appears to be lead-carbon batteries, which are probably even less sensitive to cycling than PbSO4.  What I’ve seen about Li-ion suggests that they’re also highly tolerant of very shallow cycling; I don’t know about NiMH but the physical mechanisms of degradation (volume change) are shared by most types of batteries.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 21, 2014 10:24 pm GMT

Target of the renewable movement is 100% renewable. Hence near zero CO2.

Target is reached by the right combination of different technologies:
– Wind
– Solar
– Grid extension (so areas with over- and those with undersupply can be leveled)
– wave, tidal, etc.
And dispatchables such as:
– Hydro
– Geothermal (remote sensor technology should improve, so we know what we find if we drill)
– Short term storage (batteries, pumped storage, thermal such as CSP, etc)
– Long term storage via synfuels (power-to-gas, etc)
– Waste, biomass
etc.

Of course wind only, and then only a restricted area such as UK, delivers no great CO2 savings.
A policy concentrating on only one or two of the methods that I state above, is doomed to fail if the target is near 100% CO2 reduction.

The German 2030 situation with >50% of all consumed electricity generated by renewable is already substantial better. The 2050 situation with >80% renewable far better.

Still the Germans are substantial behind Denmark (now >50% renewable, 100% in 2040); Scotland (~50% renewable); Italy (~38% renewable, solar alone ~8%); Austria; etc.
(all figures concern electriciy)

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 21, 2014 10:27 pm GMT

I’m ready to address those, Bob, but first would you clarify your views on the nature of our fossil resources and for how much longer we can afford to extract them and tolerate the impact of their combustion on our climate?

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 22, 2014 1:02 am GMT

Roger,

AWEA has been advocating grid expansion for years though I agree it would be sensible for them to expand their advocacy.  I agree with you that at continental scale wind can decorrelate and reduce the amount of intermittency and that HVDC is the sensible way to go.  In fact for bulk power transmission at distance on 1000 mile scale it is by far the most economical aproach.  Among other things it allows for linking the nation’s three grids since the DC links have no phasing issues.  NREL studies done about 5 years ago found that the cost was was nearing a point where 30% penetration made sense.  Despite looking out well over a decade into the future, those studies did not factor in large amounts of 50% CF wind available with the advent of towers with 100m hub heights.  Nor did they account for the recent cost reductions in wind-power.  But most importantly they did not account for the load shifting potential of millions of EVs that will be commonplace in the next decade. 

To put it in perspective, by 2020, Tesla will be putting 50 GWhrs per year on the road with the Gigafactory.  It is hard to imagine that the rest of the auto industry won’t easily double that.  With 100kWhr batteries these vehicles will offer an excellent source of load shift.  Batteries of this size will last about a decade.  So if EV growth stopped in 2020 we would still see a load shift potential, equal to the entire US grid for an hour, sitting in people’s driveways.  But it is likely that the growth will continue rapidly as the price of Li-Ion batteries gets into the $100 / kWhr cost range.  Between agregating decorrelated wind resources and load shifting with the rapid EV build-out, it is clear that wind can become on par with other primary generation sources in the country’s portfolio.

If we develop a smart grid enabling load arbitrage through time of use consumption then higher penetrations are more than likely.  And if V2G is included then I think wind could be the dominant US electricity source by 2030.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 22, 2014 1:46 am GMT

Clifford, if it were up to me I would set a timeline to ban fossil fuels in the U.S., for most applications, by 2030.

I can hear the hue and cry emanating from the American Petroleum Institute now – “civilization will perish”, etc. There would be many difficulties, but even more innovation. Renewables will be incapable of making a significant contribution to energy, so we would have to come to terms with widespread and aggressive adoption of nuclear power. Carbon-neutral gasoline derived from N2F (nuclear to fuels) technology could help people and businesses avoid some hardship in a transition to electric transportation.

What we lack is not technology nor resources, but the will to get it done.

Spec Lawyer's picture
Spec Lawyer on Nov 22, 2014 6:22 pm GMT

Does anynone propose an ALL WIND renewable generation system?  Nope.  

What is proposed is a balance of offshore wind, hydropower, onshore wind, solar PV, geothermal, biomass, tidal power, wave power, etc.   Then throw in efficiency, demand-response, pumped-hydro, over-building, connections with other grids . . . and this alleged issue disappears.   At most, you need a few natural gas peakers. 

 

Looking at the issue as just wind & fossil fuel is intentionally putting on blinders to manufacture a complaint.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 22, 2014 7:13 pm GMT

I think you and Spec Lawyer are spot on.  And to build on your comments, much of the work suggesting 80% renewables by 2050 fails to take into account the tremendous load shifting potential of EVs.  This is particularly the case when including Time of Use metering.  And it gets even better if the EVs gain the ability to communicate rates allowing price optimized charging filling the demand troughs.  This allows a larger build out of renewables making higher amounts available during luls diminishing. 

Say, for example, you are in Texas and you double night time load.  And in response, wind capacity is doubled knowing that there is a stable load to purchase that night peaking electricity.  That leaves the day time load roughly what it has always been.  But you have doubled wind capacity.  So lets say it used to average 10% of daytime load, now it averages 20% of daytime load and at the same time emissions from autos are taken out of play.  A very powerful combination.   

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 22, 2014 7:22 pm GMT

Yes, in that scenario CA and Az Solar have the potential buttress the East Coast during peaking events.  Texas wind is available to provide support for West Coast peaking events.  Among other things.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 22, 2014 7:27 pm GMT

Spec Lawyer, the hopes of renewables activism depend on the assumption that somehow

a balance of offshore wind, hydropower, onshore wind, solar PV, geothermal, biomass, tidal power, wave power, efficiency, demand-response, pumped-hydro, over-building, connections with other grids…

will add up to enough energy, when there’s no evidence that’s the case. Instead of accepting the fact that renewables will never constitute a significant source of generation, activists instead kick the can down the road into some future utopia where physics plays by different rules.

Bah. We can substitute this tangled web of Rube Goldbergian nonsense with nuclear, and be done with it.

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 22, 2014 9:59 pm GMT

Bob, if nothing, you are consistent, but now I understand why.  You are a nuclear advocte.  No wonder you refuse to add up the GigaWatts, factor in the capoacity factors, crank in a bit of storage, and see that it all adds up to consumption.  Review the work of Jacobson at Stanford and note there’s not a bit of lingering nuclear.  Besides, who can afford it?

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 22, 2014 10:12 pm GMT

You are right.  What you are suggesting has been studied extensively.  Freezing technology at 2009 levels, an NREL led study that included considerable input from the affected grid reliability agencies, such as MISO, found that much higher penetration was feasible.  A subsequent study came out in which NREL used results of prior studies such as EWITS and modeled the country assuming an integrated grid.  They found that 80% renewables would work without destablizing the grid.  The NREL studies left out EVs entirely.  This page has links to a number of the studies showing how renewables can play nicely together.

It is worth pointing out that the studies were based on 2009 technology.  Now 100m turbine towers are opening up a significant expansion of wind CF while PV efficienceies are climbine with SunPower announcing they are building a production facility with 25% efficient solar cells.  So these studies are a starting point, not an ending point.  They are conservative. 

Given the charging flexibility of EVs they clearly offer a load shift opportunity that can make the grid much more resilient for the intermittency of renewables.  Consider that Tesla plans to have 100 kWhr batteries going into 500,000 cars per year by 2020 based upon their Giga Factory design of 50GWhr of battery production.  Given that 36 years ago there was not public Internet, it seems inconceivable that by 2050 we could not have secure data feeds with Time of Use metering information fed to autos for them to arbitrage when they charge.  Some are uncomfortable with this but I, for one think that a market based version of the grid cannot come soon enough.  And given that it has been practiced routinely for hot water heaters and is now also being put into practice by some utilities for EVs, it appears that the next decade will see dramatic changes in this direction.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 22, 2014 11:46 pm GMT

“…who can afford it [nuclear]?”

I’m afraid you’ve gotten it backwards.  Renewables with fossil fuel backup currently cost more than fossil fuels alone (see EIA data, and compare the “variable costs” of fossil fuel to the “LCOE” of renewables).  In countries that have to build the fossil backup from scratch, the cost difference is even greater.  Add in the cost of long distance power transmission or especially off-shore resource and energy storage, and the whole proposition becomes an expensive public relations project, not a serious energy option.

When considering complex systems of solar, wind, and other energy sources, it is not enough to add the GWatts and capacity factors; you need real data comparing grid demand to instantaneous resource availabilty.  See NREL’s RE Futures; e.g. fig 2-8 shows that 100 GW of storage is needed to get the US grid to 40% of generation from variable renewables (and note that the US wind and solar resources basically match or beat every other developed country).

On the other hand, nuclear costs about the same as coal, and only somewhat more than fossil gas (which is cheap mainly because it is a co-product from oil production, and hasn’t yet reached its full potential as a transportation fuel).

I agree that credible studies predict that the free market will not build new nuclear in a renewables-rich grid.  However, the free market also will not build energy storage (it is simply much cheaper to keep burning fossil fuels).  Also, the biomass burning that is used to replace fossil fuel backup in some renewable visions (included NREL’s RE Futures) strikes much of the environmental community (including myself) as an abomination.  In summary, renewables appear most likely to saturate at 40% of electricity supply; hence the renewable road is simply a way to lock-in continued fossil fuel dependence.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 23, 2014 12:18 am GMT

So, these transmission lines to move a large fraction of a terawatt from Texas, Arizona and California to the east coast… just how do you expect to get them all built, when there isn’t a proposed line in the entire USA that isn’t the subject of lawsuits?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 23, 2014 12:36 am GMT

say it used to average 10% of daytime load, now it averages 20% of daytime load and at the same time emissions from autos are taken out of play. A very powerful combination.

But we need something to take at least 80% of average daytime load, plus the EV load.  And if you can’t take that load all day every day, you still need to purchase and maintain the backup plants to fill in.  Worst, if you are going to build systems to make use of excess generation, you need to have enough power often enough to amortize their capital costs with whatever they do.  A duty cycle of 10-15% isn’t going to help pay off big construction loans.

The really powerful combination is nuclear plus EVs/PHEVs.  With capacity factors in excess of 90%, you’re guaranteed to have all or most of that generation when you need it.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 23, 2014 12:46 am GMT

“… In summary, renewables appear most likely to saturate at 40% of electricity supply…”
In Denmark 50% of the electricity is renewable, and the country will have ~65% in 2020. ~100% in 2040.
El Hierro, an island, has already 100% renewable using mainly pumped storage and wind.
etc.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 23, 2014 1:23 am GMT

Clifford, are you referring to Mark Jacobson, the Stanford professor who includes carbon emissions from incinerated cities, supposedly the result of nuclear proliferation, in nuclear energy’s carbon footprint? Like Arnie Gunderson, Robert Alvarez, and Helen Caldicott, he’s an antinuclear crackpot whose claim to fame is validating the irrational fears of others like him. If you’re going to attempt a legitimate scientific discussion and quote any of them as your source, our conversation is through.

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Nov 23, 2014 4:09 am GMT

Nathan,

EIA has always done a poor job with renewables.  Conveniently, just within the last week they showed their limitations by doing a crude simulation / analysis of tracking solar.  It failed to show the biggest advantage, which is the ability to push forward substantial amounts of power into the highest demand times.  Look at this TEC post and the comment with real data to see. 

A widely used source for LCOE is Lazards.  Unlike the EIA source that you provided, Lazards breaks down solar into its various categories showing that utility scale is lower cost than nuclear and commercial rooftop is comparable. 

To a degree you have convinced me that there is potential for innovations in the nuclear industry.  However, the nuclear industry has shown that they are fundamentally lazy and the new systems going in are still the old technology boiling water reactors.  They are coming in over budget and basically following the same old too big to fail script in which tax and rate payers eat the over-runs.  With renewables the investors eat the over-runs.  Also in renewables there is a substantial investor component to the R&D.  The nuclear industry lets the government drive their pace rather than risking the funds to develop the new technologies.  And there are many that are better than the current status quo boiling water reactors.  And they have had 30 years to get ready to roll them out and they have not. 

A good bit of analysis has been done to demonstrate that renewables can be done at penetrations in excess of 80%.  And that is without taking into account the load shift potential of EVs.  Also that report was based upon 2009 data and information.  At that time the data was for 80 m turbine towers.  That indicated that 40% CF was where most of the best wind was.  Since that time the wind resource data has been upgraded to show that there is a good deal of resource at 50% CF which is pretty compelling.  

Will some backup be required?  Yes.  But the picture for EVs has changed dramatically in the last 5 years strongly suggesting that they will offer an enormous load shift opportunity and potentially V2G.  100+ meter wind towers are offering large amounts of wind at 50%+ CF and there is serious progress being made in getting HVDC installed to get the power to the loads.  Power is selling for about $100 / MWhr on the East coast and wind PPAs are coming in at about $20 / MWhr.  Even peeling away the PTC that offers about $60 / MWhr to pay for getting the power from the midwest to the East coast.  Clean Line energy seems to think this offers a compelling business opportunity and they are well along in the process of obtaining right of ways for multiple HVDC power lines. 

We shall see what happens.  But the future of nuclear, if there is one, lies with privately funded ventures such as that which Bill Gates is involved with and many others that are seeking to solve the nuclear puzzle.

 

 

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 23, 2014 1:33 am GMT

I can certainly understand why their work is dispised in nuclear circles.  That does not relegate them to crackpot status.  Crackpots are be too easy to ignore.  Please remind us again how many new nuclear plants have been licensed in the US since 1978.

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Nov 23, 2014 3:35 am GMT

I don’t know whether I believe in CCS at any price but if one accepts that it can be done reliably,environmentally and economically, it does cloud the picture.

I think the advantages of nuclear over non CCS coal and gas at 20% or more of total generation is probably a good call. However to say that in 30 years nuclear will be cheaper than a grid comprised of 80% or more renewables is very hard to say.

Most who support nuclear future must rely on some of the studies/opinion that radiation release from past reactor meltdowns is of very little concern. I understand that this conclusion is an important part to acceptance of a nuclear future. While opinions vary widely on this issue, I find it a little concerning that the ones who will be in charge of the industry, may be the same ones who think radiation release is a minor issue.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 23, 2014 3:50 am GMT

” bit of analysis has been done to demonstrate that renewables can be done at penetrations in excess of 80%. “

The assumptions from NREL include hundreds of GW of more hydro when the U.S. is destroying hydro not building more; a 100 GW of biomass, i.e. burn up half the U.S. timber harvest which would have far worse particulate and other emissions than equiv NG; and some 35 GW of new geothermal, as if the remaining geothermal resource in the U.S. has always highly affordable and simply in need of a govt report to point it out.  Finally, assume a good portion of the existing U.S. thermal fleet stays in place  on stand by for the occasions when wind and solar are unavailable, the consequence of which is enormous cost.

 

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 23, 2014 6:49 am GMT

Certainly, there has been no new reactor designs commerciallized. This is NOT due to scientific ineptness, rather, it is due to political success (at continued fossil fueled expansion despite the “promise” of renewables). Here’s a link which explains why the molten salt reactor was cancled.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor#Oak_Ridge_National_Laboratory_molten_salt_breeder_reactor

Furthermore, the fast reactor was then cancled due to the politics of failure…

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interviews/till.html

Luckily, there is beginning to be some hope at actually re-developing carbon free 24/7 reliable power!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor#Recent_developments

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 23, 2014 7:26 am GMT

EIA … showed their limitations by doing a crude simulation / analysis of tracking solar. It failed to show the biggest advantage, which is the ability to push forward substantial amounts of power into the highest demand times.

In Texas the time of peak demand is right around sunset.  There was a near-blackout some years ago when an earlier-than-usual increase in demand coincided with an unforecast drop in wind output.  Tracking doesn’t help you when shadows are falling on your panels.

Lazards breaks down solar into its various categories showing that utility scale is lower cost than nuclear

It doesn’t account for what it costs at midnight in the middle of winter past 40 degrees North, when you need it the most.

the nuclear industry has shown that they are fundamentally lazy and the new systems going in are still the old technology boiling water reactors.

Wrong.  The nuclear industry in the USA is hamstrung by its regulators, who demand exorbitant sums to license anything truly innovative.  Also, the AP1000, NuScale and mPower are PWRs, not BWRs.

With renewables the investors eat the over-runs.

With investment tax credits, the tax credit is proportional to the expenditure.

The nuclear industry lets the government drive their pace rather than risking the funds to develop the new technologies.

they have had 30 years to get ready to roll them out and they have not.

Until the licensing rules were changed under Bush in 2005, there was no way to fight the lawfare of the anti-nuclear forces.  The industry has done a lot in the 9 years since.  TVA has even brought Watts Bar Unit 2 within months of loading fuel under the old rules, aiming for March 2015.

A good bit of analysis has been done to demonstrate that renewables can be done at penetrations in excess of 80%.

To use an old geekism, “| dream”.  Denmark has been struggling for at least 2.5 decades and hasn’t even broken 50% non-hydro renewables on its grid.  There is not one proof of the validity of those analyses anywhere in the world, and the “poster countries” are falling woefully short.

that is without taking into account the load shift potential of EVs.

EVs don’t work as load-shifters unless they can always get sufficient charge when they need it.  Drivers will usually demand a reserve against unanticipated need, which seriously limits how much energy they can buffer.  EVs work much better when they are matched against generation that is reliably available every day, not flows at the mercy of the weather.

the picture for EVs has changed dramatically in the last 5 years strongly suggesting that they will offer an enormous load shift opportunity and potentially V2G.

The best V2G opportunity is for regulation, especially down-regulation.  Loads which can be switched on or off on demand replace the need to ramp generation.  So long as the vehicle is guaranteed enough energy to replace its charge in the time available, the user doesn’t care about the exact timing.  The key point here is that you have to have power on-line when needed.

the future of nuclear, if there is one, lies with privately funded ventures such as that which Bill Gates is involved with and many others that are seeking to solve the nuclear puzzle.

The future of nuclear lies in paying for what users require, which is that the lights go on when they flick the switch.  The “maybe” of variable renewables doesn’t cut it regardless of their romantic appeal.  Nuclear does, and should be paid for it.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 23, 2014 11:04 am GMT

@Robert, Thanks for the links!

Do I understand correct that only the Chinese are building a prototype (2MW, ready in 2017)?

So in 2017 the Chinese are where OakRidge National Lab (ORNL) was in 1964 (start of their 7MW prototype). Hence we cannot expect a commercial MSR plant before 2030.

How to solve the problems which caused that the ORNL MSR was not viable:

1. The on-site chemical plant needed to manage core mixture and remove fission products (=increase of the cost price).

2. A small gradient in the molten salt liquid is enough to create hot spots. How to prevent as the temperature margin is small at 800 degrC operating temperature (ORNL had such problems).

3. How to restart when reactor and tubes are coold off suddenly (e.g. due to a leak), so the fluid in the tubes becomes fixed.

4.The embrittlement and corrosion (after decades in 800degrC) problems.

How to solve these, so that the design produces cheaper (>2times to become competitive) electricity than new PWR’s?

Clifford Goudey's picture
Clifford Goudey on Nov 23, 2014 12:27 pm GMT

Robert, you speak as though nuclear is unique in being confounded by non-technical issues.  Tell us why Cape Wind has taken 12 years for approval while BPs Macondo project took 3 months.  It was certainly not due to their levels of technical risk. 

Some people don’t like the looks of wind turbines and have gone to great lengths to prevent projects in their viewshed, sending them to less optimal locations and adding to their costs.  Many polluting or high-risk technologies are allowed by targeted legislation that limit the input in project review processes or eliminates review all together.  Oil industry waste being categorized as non-hazardous and nuclear liability limitations are good examples of that reality.

I don’t think the nuclear industry has a right to complain about politics given the propping up it has recieved over the last 60 years.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 23, 2014 6:25 pm GMT

I know ALL industries have a right to complain about political injustice. Basically, I am noting that there needs to be room for the passive safety, the waste reduction and the decay time reduction of the molten salt reactor.

The looks of wind turbines are by no means a reason to create additional political injustice, nor should people vote against large solar farms in light of the realization of excess CO2, due to petty visual reasons alone. The problem to be overcome is NOT “which carbon free source to use, but how to integrate ALL the sources for the least, that is, most intrinsic or non politically interrupted cost. Of course, expert scientists, of like mind with Alvin Weinberg should exercise authority for safety reasons.

Solar, wind and their necessary storage, being more intermittent, should by reason of simple laws of physics, cost more energy (and thus money) to build. However, there is no reason to think that humanity will not figure out how to make the machinery which makes batteries with a high Esoi for very cheap. Also, there is no reason to believe that advanced nuclear can not be some what load shifting (so we can reduce RE storage requirements considerably).

I was reading about the cleanline HVDC and know that is a good thing. An expansion along those lines would greatly facilitate ALL forms of carbon free power.

I am about to give up because like 90% of the billions are too poor (or too indiferent) to care about excess carbon dioxide and the other 10% would rather fight over which source to not allow. This is insanity in the face of the challenge the lies before us. The effects of global warming are already materializing – we DON’T have times to play favorites.

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans/sea-level.html

http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/oa/description/figures/PAGE_3_C...

Solar and wind will become a larger part of the energy picture. It is time that we integrate storage to facilitate the much higher levels of variability with the promise of nuclear WITHOUT political interferance.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 25, 2014 10:22 pm GMT

Please remind us again how many new nuclear plants have been licensed in the US since 1978.”

About half, or 47 now operating by my count were licensed after ’78, plus the 4 at under conststruction at Vogtle and V.C. have already been licensed. 

For reference see the list of US reactors year on wiki.

Edit:  I see now that the 47 above started construction after ’78, but were licensed before.  The four at Vogtle and V.C. were *licensed* recently. 





Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 23, 2014 6:42 pm GMT

It was certainly not due to their levels of technical risk. “

Yes, technical risk is indeed a problem for offshore wind in US waters. See e.g. the PNAS study showing how a middling Atlantic hurricane would demolish an entire wind farm;  see the turbines demolished in the Japanese remote islands by a storm.   Modern offshore oil and gas platforms survive storm after storm. 


Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Nov 23, 2014 7:40 pm GMT

Neither of us are qualified to determine the various different MSR concepts, however, the original design was proven for many years and turned off and on regularly with decades old tech. Granted, not all the details were addressed. It was political pressure which stopped research.

On a similar note, how do we solve the problems of not backing RE with any fossil fuels at the global level? I say this NOT to dismiss the possibility of massive RE storage for cheap, but to note that ALL non fossil sources do need additional research to reduce additional cost, to reduce embodied energy costs and to improve safety and environmental concerns.

We do not have time to play favorites in the general discussion and ALL sources MUST be put on the table.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 23, 2014 8:39 pm GMT

@Robert

Your question: “how do we solve the problems of not backing RE with any fossil fuels at the global level?”
That issue is addressed and solved long time ago.

German developments now concern optimisation, such as:
– the optimum balance between more grid extension or more storage or more over-capacity of wind & solar;
– cheaper long period storages; power-to-synfuel/gas etc.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 24, 2014 5:23 am GMT

“…radiation release from past reactor meltdowns is of very little concern… While opinions vary widely on this issue…”

Well, the most important question is whether radiation release make nuclear power more or less safe than fossil fuel (or renewables with fossil backup).  I think it is more accurate to say that “opinions vary as to whether the scientific establishment can/should be relied upon to make this determination on behalf of society”.  It is tempting to believe that the public and government can make these determinations independently of the scientific establishment (perhaps with some scientific input, via third parties), but this method is extremely vulnerable to the actions of wealthy lobbyist and big business.

This is a very serious problem, since failure to trust science is what causes diseases like ebola to spread out of control, and it is a potential mechanism for humanity to fail in our battle with pollution control and global warming.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 25, 2014 4:23 am GMT

Yes, I agree that the nuclear industry is not able to develop new products or implement cost reductions as easily or quickly as they should.  I believe a lot of this has to do with over-regulation.  Nuclear plants are not more complicated than jumbo jets or the factories that make cars (with multi-billion dollar investments needed to develop any of these), yet the aviation and automotive industries are much more innovative (and equally relevant to public safety).  I believe 90% of the regulation provide by the NRC could simply be eliminated with no harm to the public.  Companies that invest billions of their own money tend to be pretty careful with it.

Regarding NREL’s RE Futures report in which over 80% renewable power was studied, note that less than half of the electricity came from wind and solar PV.  This is important both because they are extremely scalable, and also these are the problem technologies for the grid due to the variability (so they tend to lock-in fossil fuel flexible generation for the majority of output).  Again, the NREL already includes a large amount of energy storage and long distance transmission in their study, so I don’t see how EVs and a few new transmission lines will change things much (power-to-fuel would help a lot, but it faces tough economics in fossil fuel producing countries).

Of the other renewable technologies, of course biomass burning is not scalable, and not environmentally friendly.  Geothermal and hydro can of course be intermixed with nuclear to make a carbon-free grid, so I’m supportive of them (desert CSP with storage also, but it has yet to become cost effective).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Nov 24, 2014 9:58 am GMT

@Nathan
The issue is not:”whether radiation release make nuclear power more or less safe than fossil fuel”.
The issue is whether it is more or less safe than renewable! Because that is the future.

100% renewable is the target of Denmark (2050 for all energy!), Germany (supported by ~85% of its population!), Austria, Scotland, etc.

The 2050 target of 80% in the Energiewende scenario was accepted in 2000 as it was ridiculous to estimate the scenario for after 2050. Even after 15years the Energiewende scenario shows already major forecasting errors. E.g.:

The costs of biomass didn’t come down. So expansion of biomass was strongly curtailed in the last adapation.

PV-solar became much cheaper. The scenario states max 52GW solar in 2050 (solar was expensive in 2000). Germany now has ~38GW and installs ~2GW/a. The FiT will become equal to the whole sale price in next decade, still expansion will continue as solar price decrease continues. So it will end with >130GW solar in 2050 (German peak consumption is 70GW).

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Nov 24, 2014 6:38 pm GMT

Thanks for that Mark, and for the other comments coming in.

You point out one of my chief gripes about how half truths seem to make it through…in this case, assuming that somehow transmission can escape the variable capacity factor of the underlying resource (wind and solar) which of course it cannot. I blogged on here before about how the next phase of evolution of HVDC is to create multiterminal loops. A multiterminal loop is the smallest self-redundant HVDC system; sort of the “unit cell” of a future meshed grid. For HVDC to reach its potential it MUST supply its own redundancy. At present, every HVDC system in the world relies on the AC grid for redundancy, and thus the maximum capacity of all existing HVDC links cannot go above the n-1 redundancy limit (basically, that the grid must be able to survive loss of any generator or any powerline without crashing). Today’s HVDC lins (overhead) could go to 9 GW, but the redundancy requirements rule such large lines out in most places,and the 30+ GW lines we actually will need are out of the question if redundancy is supplied via the AC grid. An HVDC loop with circuit breakers on the main loop between every next neighbor set of power taps has “intrinsic redundancy” since every node is connected to every other node in two directions, clockwise and counterclockwise. This morphology means that the n-1 rule does not apply to the main loop conductors (predicated on a cost breakthrough on HVDC circuit breakers), though the n-1 rule still applies to each individual power tap.

In an HVDC loop system, the total attached capacity via AC/DC converters might be ~3X the steady state full load capacity. This implies that all converters cannot max out at once. Also, if a large wind farm is next neighbor on the HVDC loop to a big pumped storage site (for example), most of the current will flow through the short distance between next neighbor power taps, and wil not impact the other part of the loop so much. Finally, in my technology for high efficiency underground HVDC, the elpipe (www.elpipe.com) one obtains high efficiency by using a lot more metal per amp (low ampacity corresponding to ~1% I^2R loss/1000 km), leading to resistive losses about 3X lower than the most efficient power lines of today; no magic here, just the brute force of using a lot more metal, as becomes feasible when rigid conductors rather than wires are used. The side benefit of this high efficiency is high overload capacity; an elpipe can handle 2X the steady state maximum power flow (4X the waste heat generation) for about an hour with aluminum conductors, or about 4 hours with sodium conductors (because melting of the sodium absorbs a lot of heat).

I am very blessed that I now have funding to develop the elpipe, which is basically a very simple idea that comes out of asking the question: how can we make an electric pipeline capable of carrying 30 GW while being passively cooled and quickly repairable? Of course there is still a lot of work to prove this, but no fundamentally new technologies need to be developed. The elpipe is a combination invention of a powerline, a pipeiine, and a (slow) train (used to allow rapid repair).

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Nov 24, 2014 7:24 pm GMT

posted 3x…sorry

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Nov 24, 2014 7:20 pm GMT

You said:

>no energy storage system exists -or is even envisaged- that can cover outages of this length.

Well, I’m not holding my breath, but there are indeed several potential pumped storage sites that are large enough to store power seasonally, or at least for a month:

http://elpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/pumped-storage-at-danakil-depression...

I know of four such places that pumped storage facilities could operate on this time scale: at Niagara Falls (between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario), and  three particular sites in Africa that allow for the possibility of high capacity pumped storage operating between the ocean and a depression that is below sea level: the Qattara depression in Egypt, the Danakil depression in Eritrea, Ethiopia and at Lake Assal and the surrounding Afal depression area in Djibouti.

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Nov 24, 2014 7:21 pm GMT

You said:

>no energy storage system exists -or is even envisaged- that can cover outages of this length.

Well, I’m not holding my breath, but there are indeed several potential pumped storage sites that are large enough to store power seasonally, or at least for a month:

http://elpipes.blogspot.com/2011/01/pumped-storage-at-danakil-depression...

I know of four such places that pumped storage facilities could operate on this time scale: at Niagara Falls (between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario), and  three particular sites in Africa that allow for the possibility of high capacity pumped storage operating between the ocean and a depression that is below sea level: the Qattara depression in Egypt, the Danakil depression in Eritrea, Ethiopia and at Lake Assal and the surrounding Afal depression area in Djibouti.

Roger Faulkner's picture
Roger Faulkner on Nov 24, 2014 8:42 pm GMT

On the gigafactory theme:

Tesla motors is not the only game in town, nor will it be first to market their batteries. My company Alevo has been operating in stealth mode for ten years, and on October 28 came out into the light with the announcement of our factory to make GridBank™ power modules. We are ahead of Tesla Motors, though with a lot less fanfare, and no government handouts. We have purchased a large manufacturing facility in Concord NC (2000 acres, 3.5 million square feet in the buildings; all permits in place), and we’ll have 2 MW, 1.0 MW-hour modules rolling off the line next spring. I’m working at this facility on next generaion products.

What is special about our batteries, which are Li-ion/iron phosphate chemistry is the long life, > 30,000 full charge/full discharge cycles with >75% of intial energy storage capacity retained, and no increase in internal resistance. We do this with a new inorganic, hydrogen-free electrolyte and a nickel foam electrode stabilizer (in our patents), plus a few proprietary things too. I’m very lucky to find myself with such a visionary company.

 

Jeffrey Miller's picture
Jeffrey Miller on Nov 24, 2014 9:46 pm GMT

According to your own calculations in the excellent post below, the 10GW Lake Erie/Lake Ontario pumped hydro generator would only be good for 1300/10 = 130 hours, or about 5 days when going all out. This is quite a bit short of a month.

http://theenergycollective.com/rogerrethinker/203821/niagara-pumped-stor...

The Lake Erie/Lake Ontario system has all the advantages nature can bestow – plentiful water; a large 100 m drop; and two huge natural reservoirs each spanning several tens of thousands of square kilometers, a situation that is extremely rare and valuable (try to imagine replicating this situation elsewhere – it is impossible). That this enormous system, with these extraordinary and unique (in North America) advantages, could nonetheless only supply 10GW (~2% of US demand) for five days was what convinced me that hydro storage is never going to play a huge role in our energy system. 

I am even less sanguine about the possibilities for large scale utility storage using batteries. 

 

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