Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NY’s Slacker Wind Energy Growth - A Bug or a Feature?

An image of the largest farmer (significantly) owned wind farm in the world - Agrowind, The Netherlands, which is finally nearing completion. Picture from Enercon’s “Windblatt” 2015 1st Issue:
 http://www.enercon.de/p/downloads/WB_012015_GB.pdf. The onshore portion of the wind farm consists of 38 x 7.5 MW Enercon E-126 turbiness on 135 meter tall concrete towers. The offshore portion (to be located about one to two kilometers offshore in the lake) will consist of 48 x 3.6 MW Siemens SWT-3.6-120 wind turbines. To get an idea of the scale, that tower is 443 feet (135 meters) tall and made of reinforced concrete sections - steel is too flexible for the masses/forces involved. The tip of the blade at its highest position is around 650 feet above the ground. These are not the kind of renewable energy system easily hidden...

The Agrowind project (http://www.nopagrowind.nl/) is an example of a “can do” mentality, large version. After all, nothing quite says Green Energy like wind turbines that can be seen for 40 miles on a clear day. It happens to be the biggest wind project in the Netherlands, but there also are a very large number of smaller and medium sized arrays in that country, plus a few big ones. Even though the Netherlands rests on THE biggest methane resource in all of Europe - the Groningen natural gas field (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groningen_gas_field) and it could totally power up its electricity needs with this methane, it chooses another path, saving the Groningen for export income and industrial chemistry. However, The Netherlands is no longer looking to natural gas as their main energy source (fossil fuel fields do deplete and get emptied over time....). The country is also very flat, and some parts are below sea level. As the ocean levels rise (and they are doing that as both surface waters warm and the Greenland/Antarctic ice caps melting/glaciers (such as those in the Alps in Europe) melt), the flat land parts of Northern Europe and the 100 million or so people residing on them are going to be adversely affected, both in terms of a danger to lives and money. There are literally trillions of dollars worth of very pricey real estate about to get converted to much lesser valued fish farms….. And the way around that fate, if there is one, is to make electricity via renewable means, as well as to quit using pollution based approaches to do that. Besides, once Groningen gets emptied, maybe having something in place to replace what methane is needed for would be a wise idea…

We have that same problem in NY State (except for methane fields of a commercially viable quality). Our most valuable real estate and more than 2/3 of the population of the state, most of the wealth of the state/in the state is tied up in the NY City metro/Long Island region. A 20 foot rise in water levels renders NY City inoperable - and that probably also goes for a 2 foot rise, because adding 2 feet of ocean level onto a storm surge will flood the subway and several million homes. Do that enough times and why bother fixing it. Instead, people and businesses will move elsewhere, but not necessarily within those parts of the state (like upstate) that do not flood via rising sea levels. And since most of upstate/rural NY lives off of the incomes generated in the NY City region, well, one definition of Stupid is to generate electricity and heat homes, offices, schools and businesses in a way that speeds up the drowning of the NY City region.

Roughly half the land area of NY State could be part of a wind turbine array. If but one turbine suited to the wind regime in NY State (which is NOT one of those Enercon’s, as those are “fast wind” speed turbines) was put on an average of every 2 square miles, that could provide enough electricity for all of NY State and then some. Couple this with pumped hydro for electrical energy storage plus the existing hydropower now operating and it becomes even easier to power up NY renewably. This could also be a jobs program like none seen since World War 2 and the twenty years after that, only this would build the world up, not destroy it. And instead of exporting the multiple billions of dollars to out of this state for heat and electricity plus importing the mass poverty that comes with exporting money in such quantities, we could practice money recycling and the job/economic growth that comes with such activity.

Actually, NY needs Low Wind Speed Turbines en masse (not fast wind speed turbines), ones suited for average wind speeds in the 6 to 7 meters per second range at 100 to 135 meters above the ground (the Agrowind site has 9 m/s average winds at 135 meters above the ground, c/o the North Sea). Only that rate of turbine deployment is simply not happening at the scale needed and in the time frame required. We need to come up with at least 16 GW of average delivered electricity within a decade to replace the gas burners and nukes but which would allow NY state to be largely heated with either biomass or electricity powered ground sourced heat pumps. Excuses and superstitious beliefs like “we don’t have enough money to do this in a decade or less” that are the evil hard core basis of neoliberalism or conservative thought now rule the roost. Money that goes to fund a positive actual real capital improvement/upgrade that does not perpetuate fossil fuel consumption (roads and airports, for example) can be created at a whim by banks, by wealthy people, by NY State government (bonds) and of course, by the Federal Government, but of course, that is simply not being allowed to occur. The beauty of the wind turbine investment is that it IS the lowest cost non-pollution way to produce 16 GW and more of delivered electricity in NY, and it is future payments for the electricity delivered by these over their 25 year lifespan (or more when repaired/replaced) that pay for the upfront investment. In a way, they become self financing, and in a world where negative interest rates are not that far off (and now exist in much of Europe), they represent a very decent long term investment. And things like not exporting tens of billions of dollars per year (which will be the norm once the present bubble petroglut based on fracking pops in the near future) is a nice added touch; after all, each gigabuck per year exported to import methane from Fracksylvania probably represents close to 15,000 jobs in NY State not created. Stuff like that adds up. And keeping methane demand low keeps methane prices low, and that happens when wind turbines displace gas fired electrical generation. That could be worth close to $50 billion to $100 billion per year right now in the country, just by displacing 1.5 trillion cubic feet of methane consumption as a result of making 20 GW with wind turbines nationwide.

In the next 18 months, close to $25 billion in new turbines will be installed in our country. Ones like Warren Buffett’s 400 MW wind project in Nebraska (the windiest state in the nation), which will also employ Low Wind Speed Turbines, but in high wind regions of Nebraska (which is most places in Nebraska) - see http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/Warren-Buffett-Betting-Big-On-Wind-Energy-In-Nebraska.html. Those will probably average 55 to 60% of their rated capacity, and that will make Berkshire Hathaway Energies a lot of money, even in a part of the country where electricity is almost as cheap as dirt. As for NY State, maybe all of $200 million will get spent in the next couple of years on wind energy; all the jobs generated will be construction ones, and after that, not much. Meanwhile, in the Quebec and Ontario, close to $2 billion per year will be invested in wind electricity through 2016, each. So why does NY State go the wimpy route? Why the urgent activity of drowning the NY City metro region though intense neglect? Why the mirage of spending a billion or so on solar PV which for the same money could make 8 times more electricity and put so much more of a hurt on the fracking for methane biz?

In fact, is NY’s horrid renewable energy approach a bug or a feature? Is the intent to prop up methane demand for the next decade so that a few NY banksters and their friends can scam gullible investors out of the oil and gas money? Does that game ever get old? Does the fun derived from defunding and defrauding investors (suckers) ever get boring? 

Next time you hear of politicians waxing poetically about some trivial deployment of renewables (such as NY’s PV program, or the pathetically small (though at least it is SOME) wind turbine deployment), think about the Dutch farmers who are now co-owners of this very impressive half billion dollar investment in a viable future. Oh, and guess where the best onshore winds are in NY State? If you said the south coast of Long Island and the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, well, you win a prize. And while the exact turbines in the picture cannot go in NY (Enercon REFUSES to sell in the USA, though a lot of theirs are deployed in Ontario and Quebec), lots of other companies would love to do an Agrowind type project and deploy some coastal and near coastal projects with their turbines. That the vast gulf between what could be and what will be in NY over the near future is not a thing to be proud of. Maybe holding those responsible for this inactivity by insisting they live along the ocean and STAY living there when the waters rise - well that might change some views and what can get accomplished. Nothing like the fear of drowning to motivate an end to destructive behavior and evolve into leadership that is not destructive and the equivalent of playing violins on the deck of the Titanic.

But surely there have to be better ways to instill decent behavior than that? So what are your views as to getting things done and not just talking till the proverbial cows come home and almost all the money that can get extracted from the fracking hellholes in Fracksylvania have been tapped dry? How can our political leaders get motivated? Or replaced with ones who can get motivated?

Anyway, the waters in NY City harbor are rising. And time’s a wasting. We really don’t have forever to do an electricity swap-out (pollution based to renewables). And then there is the opportunity cost involved, as well as the hundreds of thousands of NY residents who could be gainfully employed, but who won’t be ifs present trends persist/keep on “progressing” at current rates. Is having a coastline devoid of wind turbines worth drowning out 10 million people from their homes, and pushing NY State into an economic basket case condition? Well, we have about a decade to find out, maybe less. It would be nice to not see that dystopia come to pass…

Monday, April 20, 2015

Earth Day 2015 - Where What Should Be gets Sidelined, Bigtime

Well, we made it to another Earth Day, but the slide towards a Climate Calamity still continues, barely abated despite all the proclamations to do Something about it by so many, including some Important People. The world has crossed the numerical threshold of 400 ppm CO2 concentrations in the air, an event that was barely acknowledged and is never reinforced by our dominant media forms. What percentage of the American population even knows this factoid, let alone a smattering recognition of what it MEANS? Somehow, a good bet would be in the single to low double figures - slim probabilities exist that even 20% of our fellow countrypeople know that one. By the way, for the week beginning April 12 it was 404.02 ppm; last year, same time it was 401.48 ppm, and a decade ago it was 381.85 ppm. In general, the rate of rise in the CO2 concentrations per year is rising (accelerating) from the ~ 2 ppm/yr (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/weekly.html) rate of recent times. The whole sorry affair can be seen in movie format, too: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/history.html. Time for the popcorn….

Earth Day as a reflection point on where we are, where we have been and where we are going tends to be a bit of a downer. Well, more than a bit - the term “Heavy Downer” barely even touches it. But then that can lead to a sense of “so we’re doomed - can’t do anything about it, so why are you telling me this stuff, anyway?”. Which is SO incorrect, and yet such a politically correct thing to say. For example, consider this sort of recent news item that actually shows our local electricity and methane distribution monopoly (well, it’s not local, we are) - Iberdrola - in a shining light (http://www.windpoweroffshore.com/article/1319740/west-duddon-sands-completed-early). They are the proud half owners of the “West of Duddon Sands” offshore wind farm near Liverpool in the Irish Sea and it is busy turning out an average of 180 MW from this $US2.4 billion investment. And efforts like this is how we both stop the CO2 pollution that is running havoc with our planet’s (you know, the only one we’ve got) climate control system and create mass quantities of jobs and economic activity (http://www.4coffshore.com/windfarms/west-of-duddon-sands-united-kingdom-uk33.html#).

And yet, when we fix our gaze upon what that monopoly is doing in these parts - well, a polite analogy is milking a cow that is not getting fed enough food. The “best” they can come up with is to throw down $15 million for a yesteryear technology to keep the people, governments and businesses of Tompkins County further addicted to fracking sourced methane imported from elsewhere. Oh well, at least they do get to squeeze NYSEG customers of a steady $2 million/yr from this investment to make the world a worse place than it already is for as long as the methane flows and people can afford to pay for it, which might be a decade or two. “Pathetic” does not even get to how bad this is, especially compared to the West of Duddon Sands project in environmental, economic and social terms. Maybe the “ask” to Iberdrola is just insufficient - after all, if they become too onerous, too parasitic, why do we even need them? And they are so easily behavior modified via money - if only what passes for political, social and business leadership would grow an appropriate pair…. Oh well, as the guys in BOC were know to say when opening their shows, “On your feet or on your knees!” And then there is the fact that you can’t have a growing economy without investment and economic demand, and having an economy grow elsewhere is, for most of us around here, just going nowhere at all. Or that if people delegate leading to others, monopolies like Iberdrola will just go for the easy short term money extraction route - it’s kind of built into their corporate nature by now, and it is the default mode when other direction fails to arrive.

So, when Earth Day or 4/20 or whatever you favorite April holiday arrives, and you look for some reason to celebrate other than survival for survival’s sake, try looking in the mirror. Solutions abound that can take us to a better place and fast, but they are not happening around here - instead, a fog of myopia and ignorance like a thick cloud of opium poppy essence seems to dull us into doing so little, and being pretty defensive about it, too. Oh sure, a few chump change examples will get dredged up - great diversions abound, after all. And while we can’t do offshore wind around here and place the generation in places where few can see them - instead we could place about 180 big tall turbines (Low Wind Speed Turbines) in places where some of them could actually be seen by much of the well off power brokers in this region. That’s usually the main problem with commercial scale wind turbines - well, that and the fact that electricity made via the wind is electricity NOT made by burning methane or coal or playing Russian Roulette with nukes. Wind Turbines in the US now allow 1.6 trillion cubic feet per year of methane consumption to “not occur” - and if it did happen, methane prices might be double where they are now, and there would be great joy and profiteering with the “paleo-capitalists” that we call fossil fuel extractors. To do this local energy production we would have to more or less cooperate, as well as agree to pay on a long term basis for this investment in electricity generation that never melts down, runs out of fuel or more or less insures some additional energy extortion and further oil and methane based warfare will be cropping up. Those turbines would have an energy payback of less than 9 months, yet they will keep on spinning for around 25 years. And as for the price of that electricity… well, most of it is involved in the price we charge for the money to buy and install them, which is where doing it municipally may be a lower cost route than trying to bribe wealthy corporations via tax avoidance schemes that put the exclamation mark next to the word “clever!”. That electricity would be quite affordable and if done right, a big portion of the investment would get plowed back into the county.

Has Iberdrola EVER been asked by Tompkins County’s leaders to do a request for a Power Purchase Agreement to provide us with 90 MW on non-pollution based electricity? And what about for another 40 MW to provide electricity for Ground Sourced Heat Pumps that will allow those who live and do business in the County a prospect of kicking that vile methane habit? And if what passes for private industry cannot do what is needed, there is always the ability to collectively use the purchasing power for electricity and heat for good instead of an apathy that accommodates a great evil. An apathy and indifference that insures that the CO2 movie referenced above just gets worse and not better. 

Yes, we can do so much better than what is taking place. But so what if what we let happen through indifference, greed and dozens of other excuses will bring an endless set of curses from our descendants because we trashed the planet’s good for us climate and all that depends upon it for some short term gain that mostly went to such a tiny portion of humans? If we can’t do anything about China’s CO2 pollution (and you CAN - just don’t buy their crap), what about the stuff we are immediately responsible for? And guess what - all you have to lose is the inflated number of unemployed people. Because the cures for CO2 pollution involve more direct job creation and especially middle class manufacturing based jobs than will be replaced as pollution based energy goes the way of the dinosaurs - many times over. And another by-product is that college grads would face a vastly increased chance of getting an actual job in their profession, or at least a decent paying job. For a region whose economy is largely based on the education biz, that should be important, as you can’t keep on expecting students and their parents to fork over huge sums and don debt servitude ad infinitum with ever diminishing probabilities of escaping that ball and chain via gainful employment. If you want a viable future, it’s time to go renewable, and not just with baby steps. Of course, that assumes people want or even care about a viable future, and the jury on that one still seems to have not decided anything…..

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Offshore Wind - Evidently, Mostly a Euro Thing….

Picture from http://www.offshorewind.biz/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Nordsee-Ost-Wind-Turbines-Installed-3.jpg of an RE Power (now Senvion) 6.15 MW wind turbine, one of 48. This array (Nordsee Ost) recently became operational in the North Sea off of the northwest coast of Germany..

As of the end of 2014, the worldwide wind turbine capacity stood at 370 GW (http://www.wwindea.org/new-record-in-worldwide-wind-installations/), and this is roughly a $US 600 billion investment. Of this, 114 GW  has taken place in China (where installed turbines are much less expensive than in the rest of the world, are essentially only Chinese made, but at a cost…..), but the reasons why this has happened in China are quite often VERY different than why wind turbines are installed  in most other places. On average this 370 GW of wind turbine capacity will supply over 75 to near 100 GW of electricity. In other words, these turbines have prevented another 75 to 100 incidences of massive stupidity (new nukes) that would endanger so many for the benefit of so few. You’re welcome, world…..

A small but growing subset is offshore wind turbine installations - almost 9 GW (2.4% of the total) are now operational, though this represents around $US 40 billion worth of investments (about 7% of the total). Of these, only China (565 MW) and Japan (~ 20 MW) have offshore turbines installed outside of Europe - the remainder have been installed in Europe, mostly England, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, though France also has a huge ramp-up in the works. A really good report on Europe’s efforts can be found here: http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/files/library/publications/statistics/EWEA-European-Offshore-Statistics-2014.pdf. As of the end of 2014, operating capacity in Europe was 8045 MW which should produce 29.6 TW-hr/yr, or averaging 42 % of rated capacity (about 3.7 GW. Offshore wind capacity is around 7% of Europe’s wind turbine capacity and roughly 13% of the average electrical output, so offshore wind is a much bigger deal than in anywhere else in the world.

The average offshore wind turbine size installed last year was 3.7 MW (roughly twice what the average onshore capacity per turbine was in the US last year). The commercialization of a new generation of “big boys” (6 to 8 MW) has now begun, with blade rotor diameters of 150 to 164 meters. Without a doubt, Europe (especially Denmark, Germany, Spain, Belgium France and the Netherlands) is where the technology to both make and install offshore wind turbines resides. China’s offshore wind efforts (they have 6 MW experimental units installed) to date have not produced the same results (operational quality) as has been done in Europe, and offshore wind is expensive, no matter where it is installed - in China or Europe. The same applies to Korea and Japan, where land area to install wind turbines is at a premium.

In the US (which could easily supply all of our electricity many times over with offshore wind, especially in the Great Lakes and on the East/Gulf coast), it appears that we will get our first offshore array in Rhode Island. The 30 MW Block Island project (5 x 6 MW Alstom (France) Halaide turbines designed for “moderate offshore winds”) just closed on its financing. As for the Cape Wind project… who knows? The US east coast is a great place to do this - shallow water, expensive electricity, decent winds and over 100 million people near it, but offshore wind has to compete with onshore wind, coal, old nukes and methane that is (for now) sold for below the cost to actually extract it from the ground. Furthermore, few politicians seem to have the courage to point out that offshore wind could be such a massive job creation exercise as well as a way to provide a huge part of the US East Coast electricty - especially in conjunction with pumped hydro systems installed in the nearby mountains (Appalachians, etc). Just the mere fact that turbines might actually be seen by rich people in their boats or hanging out at their coastal vacation homes/palaces is actually all that is now needed to kill off any offshore wind prospects. So despite our known need to switch to affordable and dependable renewables and to quit doing CO2 pollution as a by-product of electricity generation, well, it looks like offshore wind in the US is just going to be a curiosity for some time. And if it is ever done, it will be a great way to boost employment - in Europe. And also a great way to export dollars to Europe in return for imported parts, technology and installation systems. There will be no US leadership or even significant contribution in offshore wind. ESPECIALLY in NY State, where it probably has the greatest potential benefit….

As to why Europe is such a happening place for offshore wind - well, in essence, it really is all about job creation. There are also additional motivating factors, such as the need to limit the export of dollars for the import of fossil fuels like methane from Russia, Libya, Qatar/Iran and Algeria, the need to replace obsolete nukes which are not going to get replaced with newer nukes and the fact that the best winds in Europe are blowing across the Atlantic, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Seas. With over 100 GW now installed onshore in Europe, some countries (notably Germany) are running out of room for new turbines. Germany has also installed more PV than any other country, despite having truly pathetic PV resources (in general, PV average outputs in Germany are less than 9% of PV rated capacity, though the nationwide average is 10.5% - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany). And since NO renewable electricity in Germany is subsidized via tax avoidance or grants, such projects have to make money (i.e. deliver electricity at a production cost less than the Feed-In Tariff price) or else they lose money. One of the reasons electricity prices are as high as they are in Germany is due to the huge PV investment (38.3 GW of capacity) of over $US 170 billion that has to be paid off while it only makes a yearly average of 4 GW of electricity. Between 4 to 6 times more electricity could have been delivered if that same investment had been done with wind turbines. In addition, PV now provides very few manufacturing jobs (dumping of product from China has pretty much exterminated the European PV industry) - in the initial years (2000-2010), most PV products were made in Europe. But “competing” with slaves is a tough act, and when installers insist on the cheapest product no matter what - well, no manufacturing jobs in PV in Europe is the result.

But China cannot supply the components or the products, let alone design them, at the price and quality needed for offshore wind in Europe, despite numerous attempts. So when a European offshore wind array is installed, this is a massive European job creation effort come to fruition. Many of the proposed offshore wind build-out scenarios have between 100,000 to 300,000 new jobs created in this effort. So far, there are ”only” 2.9 GW of future projects under construction, but in the last couple of weeks, another 1 GW of projects has been announced in the UK. Scotland is getting quite peeved at the slow pace of installs in the UK (which has more offshore wind/electricity made than any other country at 4.5 GW) - just the Scottish offshore winds alone could easily power up all of the UK.

What is actually being discovered is that the winds near Europe’s land are fast and steady, and unlike PV, an extremely consistent output tends to result from a combination of several of these widely dispersed geographically (Finland to Scotland to Spain). These turbines tend to act more like those proverbial “base load” generation systems, supplying at least some electricity more than 85% of the time, and often producing at a steady rate for weeks at a time during the windy season (October to April). This is a dagger stuck into the heart of the nuke industry if there ever was one which could doom that vampiric entity…..…. And combine the huge supply of new projects on the drawing board and under way with the new grid infrastructure (Germany, the Netherlands, UK, Belgium and Ireland are installing HVDC lines under the North Sea to eventually store and retrieve power in Norway and Sweden), this means that energy storage can be mated to offshore wind energy production. With that, who needs nukes? And what Europe probably needs more now than electricity is manufacturing and installation jobs. Offshore wind is a set of prodigious job creation systems - notably to make the turbines, installation ships, offshore substations, HVDC converters and the foundations, plus all the stuff that goes in to making those things. And the coup de grace - long term investors who are looking for a stable home for tens of billions of Euros/Dollars/Pounds really seem to like offshore wind, as do the bankers who collect fees for arranging such financing. Last year two more Euro 1 billion deals got arranged, along with numerous smaller ones financing component plants. It sure beats negative interest rates, and while there may be year to year variation in wind speeds, what is not questioned is that there will be more than enough wind to power up Europe blowing across the Atlantic, Baltic and Mediterranean for as long as humanity will exist.

As for the US, we also have a prodigious onshore wind resource - high quality wind on a massive scale that is at least 20 times the present electricity consumption level. And nearby Canada has at least this, too - so over 40 times what the US now consumes for electricity could be made only using high quality wind resources and fast speed wind land based wind turbines in the US and Canada. But meld that with Low Wind Speed Turbine turbines, and in general, why bother with offshore. Except for a few instances (NY City/Long Island, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington DC/Baltimore/Maryland/Virginia), offshore wind is redundant, or at best it just provides quality winds/electricity from those winds at high demand times. In this country, the idea that government energy policy should provide massive economic stimulus/job creation (except for pollution based approaches, like offshore oil and gas, fracking for oil and methane) has somehow been trashed, especially by those living large on THEIR SUBSIDIES and avoided external costs. And that is the core problem with respect to offshore wind power in the US at the present time.

So, if you want to know when the US will finally get a decent offshore wind effort going, the answer appears to be when this country once again gets serious about industrial jobs as wealth creation for the bulk of its people as well as for the nation at large. We really don’t have that as a policy with the exception of fracking. But ever since that financial bubble/fraudfest got popped when oil prices dropped for $100/bbl to near $50/bbl, even that has been extinguished. Now all we have is automobile and truck manufacture, but that is a stagnant industry. Offshore wind is a massive user of steel and skilled metalworking, aluminum (wiring), but we just aren’t that into those kinds of things anymore. Too bad….

About that turbine in the picture - check this out:

So next time you hear Gov. Cuomo heaving a mighty pitch to the nearby media access devices about an offshore wind farm off of Long Island, ask yourself this question, do you think he really cares about creating jobs in the metal working/manufacturing sector? Or would he rather be raising money with his bankster and hedge fund buddies, trying to figure out new ways to extract money from the public school system into their waiting arms? Would he risk the wrath of rich people who don’t want to see such things as they yacht around in the Atlantic near Long Island? Especially if this becomes an exercise in taking money away from the natural gas industry….?


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