Sunday, August 17, 2014

New Kid on the Block

The first of the brand new 6 MW Siemens wind turbine with a 154 meter rotor diameter (SWT-6.0-154) just got certified as a viable product recently. And with that in hand, commercial installation of this unit began last week at the “Westermost Rough” Wind Farm” 6 km offshore of eastern England last week, in a shallow part of the North Sea. But, odds are, this bit of good news was overshadowed by any number of more prominent bad things that happened last week. And it even has a nifty marketing campaign associated with it, too - “Turbina Sapiens” - a new breed of turbine. But just because a $150 billion a year corporation has a new product to push, one that could help make the world a better place in a big way (and that seems to be a pretty rare thing these days, too), why should that matter? This is not bad news (except to the nuclear fission or natural gas based power industry), so it can’t get past the “if it bleeds it leads” theme filter for the month of August…

There are very few really big wind turbines that are “commercial”, though several have been made as proof of concept or “initial models”, waiting for someone to come along and order some. These are generally pretty expensive and can cost between $15 million to $25 million each when installed, or more if they are installed offshore. So, by these standards a million dollar Lamborgini sports car would be a bargain…. But unlike that fancy car that may well be compensation for inadequate sexual prowess, this product is all business, and big business, too. And there are literally many billions of dollars committed to this product (and a few billion in preliminary sales, too), so there is a lot riding on the initial installation and operation. Should this become the new industry standard, possible sales are way in excess of $100 billion for this puppy…

Of the 5 MW or more “club”, here are the more prominent members:

Enercon E-126  7.5 MW  (land based)
Senvion 6.15 MW (126 and 152 meter rotor diameters) - formerly RE Power
Bard 5 MW (116 meter rotor)
Areva 5 MW (116 meter rotor)
Alstom 6MW x 150 meter rotor (Halaide)
Vestas-Mitsubishi 8 MW x 164 meter rotor
Gamesa G-128 x 5MW (land based)
Ming Yang 6 MW x 140 meter rotor diameter
Sinovel 5 and 6 MW x 128 meter rotor
XEMC-Darwind 5 MW x 115 meter rotor
CSIC-Haizhuang 5 MW (127 and 151 meter rotors)
Mitsubishi 7 MW x 165 meter rotor (Sea Angel)
Aerodyn 5 MW x 139 meter rotor

The Westermost Rough array will consist of 35 of these Siemens turbines, and it will set its owners (3 of them) back about 1 billion Euros. At present, Siemens has dominated the offshore wind market with it’s latest workhorse, the SWT-3.6-120 (also the model designated for the Cape Wind project in the USA). The new, bigger unit will attempt to bring more economies of scale and thus lower electricity production costs to its customers. And if it so happens to make greater profits, well, the folks at Siemens will be quite overjoyed, too.

The project uses 35 enormous monopoles (see that will be (mostly have been) rammed into the seabed (sandbank) of the north sea. These weighed between 600 to 900 tons, and were 6.5 meters (over 21 feet) in diameters. The last foundation was installed in May of this year, and the substation was installed in June. The depth ranges between 10 to 25 meters (35 to 85 feet), and since this is close enough to the coast, an ultra-expensive HVDC converter station is not needed. The combined energy will be exported to the land via a single set of cables at 132,000 volts. Based on previous installations, the average power from this 210 MW capacity array should be more than 100 MW, as this is a very windy patch of ocean, with cold, nasty tides and prone to greater than hurricane force winds/mountainous waves, especially in the winter months.

Unlike most of the Siemens turbines, this unit is a “direct drive” low speed generator. It uses a permanent magnet generator, so the rotor does not need to be magnetized with a huge amount of current when the unit starts turning. The operating turning rate is between 5 to 11 rpm, so this generator has a great many “poles” - conventional generators usually have between 4 to 6 poles. Because of this design, the nacelle “only” weighs around 396 tons. The lighter weight lessens the loads on the on the towers, foundations and makes installation of these slightly less than epic task - though just slightly. The blades are 75 meter long single piece assemblies (246 feet) that get fitted onto the 4 meter diameter hub. These will experience tremendous forces/strains and stresses over their 25 or more year long lifetime. And while simulation tests have predicted a long and prosperous life for them, only tome will tell. If the blades have been poorly designed and/or manufactured, sales of this unit will tank and so will Siemens’ dreams of being a major factor in the offshore wind biz. A lot of the companies (or in the case of China, the government owned/controlled/ordered around corporations) won’t make it with their big turbine efforts - blade quality being a major factor.

And just how big will this market be? Well, at this site, you can get an indication of how many prospective projects are in the works. And while not all of them will get realized, a lot of them will: There are 924 projects with a combined capacity of 292 GW, which is worth $US 1.3 TRILLION at $4.5 billion per GW of capacity. Of that, about half of those monies will get spent on the turbine, though in the case of Siemens, they also make offshore substation components and the substations themselves, plus associated transmission components. About half of these offshore wind farm possibilities are in Europe, but 65.7 GW of projects are in the planning stage and 0.43 GW are now in the construction phase (Cape Wind). China has 63 GW of projects in the works, while only 16.4 GW worth are listed for India. That country may be the one to watch, as it has a huge coastline, relatively few decent wind areas onshore and 1.3 billion people who mostly want to get powered up. India does not have really awesome offshore winds as exist in the Straits of Taipei or the North Sea or the Gulf of Maine, but they are certainly better than the most of their onshore winds.

Oh well, back to the scandal du jour, some of which are really serious, and some that are superfluous and seem to be more like sleight of hand ruses that those ruling the roost want to use to keep most people distracted from the truly outrageous stuff. And of course, there are those cute animal pictures…. (from 8-16-14 “Naked Capitalism” with hidden liberal messages (if cats and birds can live together, why can’t we. 

Sort of like the “If Europe can deploy 6 MW offshore wind turbines (and at least 3 varieties, too - Siemens, Alstom and especially Senvion/REPower) why can’t the USA? Oh, that’s right, we COULD, we just can’t be bothered while our hydrocarbon owned and operated rulers try and figure out how to capture trillions of dollars in windfall profits (or much of any profits, apparently) from our remaining natural gas supplies….

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Stopping the Frackers and Getting Beyond “No!”

Within NY State, the opposition to the fracking for methane nuttiness has been pretty amazing to watch. The “Just Mostly Say No!” efforts have achieved success on a shoestring budget and they have held a very unscrupulous, insistent and ambitious Governor and his bankster and hedgie buddies (who are the real players and beneficiaries behind the latest “Dash for Gas”) at bay. They have succeeded where most thought it not possible to the point where it is now politically toxic to support the financial and climatological nuttiness of fracking in NY, especially among the Democratic Party activists, who are the ones doing the candidate selection in this years primary election.

Cool. Doing anything good, if even a sliver of it, even for a bit, is so rare in this day and age (for example, none of the sleazoid crooks that tanked the economy in 2007-2008 ever went to jail, and they remain undeterred thanks to the “Holder Memo” (alias “Too Big to Jail” — see“too-big-jail”-1999) how’s that for an example of the Triumph of Evil?). So much seems so compromised and bastardized, with good things like renewable energy just a shadow of what it should be at this date. And that evil woman  busy pushing the propaganda that fracking is the best thing since sliced bread (“Log on to “Learn More” “) - with just the perfect posture, age, tone of voice, the walk toward the screen in such perfectly chosen corporate attire - is still “working the wall” and “working the pipe”, in a perfectly legal proverbial way. Or is she just digital imagery, as in the movie “S1m0ne” that starred Al Pacino ( Won’t someone shut her or it up?

Actually, the imagery may be digital on these propamercials (new word! - a combination of propaganda and commercial), but that actress/spokesperson/“gasbag” is a real person (probably really well paid, too - who says evil is only for the impoverished and that it sometimes doesn’t pay quite well). Her name is Brooke Alexander and she is a soap opera TV star (she plays a con-artist on “As the World Turns” - sometimes you just can’t make this up), and she is a former model and also the former American entrant to the Miss World contest. See

And oh yes, what should be the first word that should come into your mind when “natural gas” is spoken or written? That would be “clean”. And who could be opposed to “clean” - cleanliness being so close to godliness and all? Sure, that bears little resemblance to “truth” - at best, methane as a fossil fuel might be “less dirty”. But then parts of Corporate America did not spend hundreds of millions of dollars blanketing the airwaves and the internet and any other place where advertising could go to mate “clean” with “natural gas”. Too bad the “word” called “fracking” came along and that it gets used more and more…. Anyway, advertising is also propaganda, especially in this case of that bad to the bone Ms. Gasbag. 

But in the last several years, most fracking based primarily methane wells have lost a lot of money - way past $100 billion, something like $10 billion per quarter since 2009. (see where this chart comes from).

Natural gas used to be a generally predictable way to make money - and sometimes a LOT of money - but to get back to such a situation, prices for methane are going to have to rise because the average costs to produce it in the USA have zoomed by a factor of at least 10 since the dawn of the millennium. After all, if costs to stick methane in a pipe are greater than the revenue obtained from selling that methane there are no profits, just losses. And if there are no profits over a long stretch of time, what’s the sense in doing it? The mined methane biz is not a charity - after all, Exxon-Mobil sells more methane (not much of it via tracking either) than any other company in this country, and they are as close to a robotic money machine as has ever been constructed. Say what you will about the hydrocarbon explorers and drillers - they truly are only in it for the money or more properly the profits. Just like the advertising firms who came up with Ms. Gasbag, everything that she does and the modulation ever so scientifically designed in her voice. And “she” still has lots of money to burn, and loads of media outlets ever so anxious for those ad buys the Gas Biz does to keep “stoking the fires”.

So for now “she” waits, lurking waiting for a methane shortage, even a temporary one, as happened last winter, though one longer and more intense than that one. When most people get cold because they run out of money for oil and methane, or when none can be had for love nor money, won’t fracking sound like a wonderful idea to a lot of people - especially to one our most treasured resources - those many tens of millions of “low information votes”.

In reality, the Ngas Biz needs higher prices and they need them fast. They have stopped the furious pace of exploration and new drilling - present drilling rates have been less than 25% of what they were in 2008 when Ngas was really pricey ($12/MBtu and more at times) for several years. And since most fracking wells are in “fumes mode” after 5 years, the North American Ngas supply rate is slowly being cranked back. But then there is “associated gas” - that made as a side benefit from oil wells - more oil produced generally means more gas produced. Anyway, with slightly less supply (for example Canadian imports which used to supply 15% of this country’s supply have been dialed way back) and hopefully greater demand, there’s the hope for higher prices. That supply-demand balance only needs a nudge, and prices now near $5/MBtu will be at $10/MBtu, and thus generally profitable and in some cases, handsomely so.

But let’s examine Smokey The Bear’s main refrain - “Only YOU can prevent forest fires”. The same works for Ngas demand - where most of it is employed for heat and not electricity or chemical production. Only you can prevent increasing Ngas demand. Only you (via how your money is spent) can prevent Ngas demand itself….

If you really want to stop fracking for gas in NY State and a lot of other places, what should replace the “Just Say No” campaign is something along the lines of a morphed Smokey The Bear (but to avoid confusion, let’s use his cousin, Smokey Da Bear) saying - Only YOU can prevent Natural Gas Demand. That will send that infernal Ms. Gasbag back to a digital Solitary Confinement, and give us TV viewers a touch of blessed relief, but only a touch (it is TV after all). You can’t really win in an unfair fight where the Ngas pushers have a near infinite stash of cash compared to the anti-fractivists meager supply of donations. Playing permanent defense maximizes the possibility that it is a losing proposition, even if it is the only one they’ve got that works, and which to date has worked remarkably well. But as the saying goes, Rust never Sleeps. The Ngas biz can lurk until a price squeeze/price spike happens, and they are quite skilled art seizing opportunities, which will inevitably pop up.

So if anti-fractivists want to win and not just hang out in a temporary meta-stable draw, they need to shift the terms of this battle for the hearts and minds of…voters. A winning campaign would actually focus on reducing the consumption of methane every year, starting right now. For starts, how about 10%/yr - that’s an easy number to remember, though it can always be ramped up. This means less methane burned for heat and especially less methane burned for electricity, where there is a ready substitute in NY State  and many of the states in this country - onshore wind turbines - that can deliver way more electricity than is now made from methane at prices very similar to what electricity made from natural gas now costs. If demand drops sufficiently, prices will drop, the gas biz will lose even more money on MOST fracking wells, and drilling for those will pretty much cease and desist. If prices do rise, onshore wind turbines are THE only competition that can generate electricity at prices lower than gas prices at around $9/MBtu or higher. And just like in the Exploration and Delivery (E&P) part of the Ngas biz, the electricity generation biz companies are not charities - they too are only in it for the money. When they start losing money on gas, they won’t be using gas any more. Which once again leads to lower gas demand….

That fragile situation we have where the frackers have been booted from most (and perhaps all) of NY via the Dryden zoning ruling - that goes away in an energy crunch in a NY nanosecond (not that there is any significant methane reserves in Dryden to be had for less than $15/MBtu and probably much higher prices). The way to put the proverbial stake in the fracking vampire’s heart, or what passes for it, is to use less gas to make electricity, and to replace gas heating with ground sourced heat pumps once insulation and passive solar design been done as much as can be afforded.

As Smokey Da Bear (Smokey The Bear’s anti-fractivist cousin) would say:

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT NATURAL GAS DEMAND! So get cracking, lest some “friends” of Ms. Gasbag trash your nice piece of the woods with all the trash from their fracking… And if you must use electricity, try getting it from one of these or one similar made by a competitor:

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Hydro Battery - NY’s Ace up It’s Sleeve

The Blenheim-Gilboa pumped hydroelectric energy storage/generation facility (see is located southeast of Binghamton, NY in the Catskill Mountains. Rumor has it that this facility can restart the entire eastern half of NY State’s electric grid, should the need arise. Too bad it’s mostly wasted providing back-up to the Indian Point twins that are located near NY City. Last year it’s net electricity production averaged only 28.6 MW out of 1160 MW capacity (about 2.5% of capacity). On the other hand, NYPA’s other pumped hydro unit near Niagara Falls averaged 58.8 MW from a capacity of a mere 240 MW, which is around 24.5% of capacity. But, these systems only do what they are told to do…

The most cost effective renewable way to make electricity in NY State happens to be commercial scale wind turbines; it has been so for at least a decade and is likely to be that way for some time. NY State could easily obtain an average of 13 GW on a delivered basis (and more) if the decision to do so was made, but nobody seems to be in much of a deciding mode these days. In fact, Indecision seems to rule our domain….  That 13 GW on a delivered basis could replace all of the nuke, natural gas and coal supplied electricity (including the imported electricity from Fracksylvania (mostly coal based) and New Jersey (methane from Fracksylvania based)). But then the corporate entities supplying the fuels to the gas and coal plants would be very unhappy. And the owners of the 6 operating nukes in NY would no longer be able to extract their extra happy profits from those long since fully depreciated facilities that are getting older and less reliable/less safe as time ticks along.

Of course, if you wanted to be clever about it, merely getting rid of the natural gas based generation in NY would economically tank the coal and nuke facilities. This is because it is natural gas that raises electricity prices on the NYISO Casino markets enough so that lower cost nukes and coal burners can become very profitable, at least for a few hours of the day. Take away even SOME demand for natural gas and that can tank gas prices which means that on those situations that gas is employed to make electricity, there is no significant spike in the NYISO hourly prices. At that point, the owners of the coal and nukes can only obtain, at best, competitive prices for their electricity - costs plus a really low profit. And under those circumstances, the nukes and coal burners would get shut down, as the owners of those facilities do not want to merely earn a competitive rate of return. They want an “above average” rate of return, as that is what the highly paid management has promised the various boards of directors/shareholder representatives and others of that “tribe”, including the banksters that tanked our economy a few years back; getting merely “OK” results means they would get fired, or they might get fired, or they might not get their bonus, or they can’t quit/get fired and then get hired somewhere else at even higher and more obscene levels of compensation.

So, there is no need to employ CO2 pollution taxes to do in coal and gas burners - just miserable profit rates, or maybe even actual financial losses will be more than sufficient. Maybe someone should clue in some environmental groups on that little trick….. In fact, raising coal and gas prices just makes nukes more profitable, and gets them run even harder and thus less safer. And geez, isn’t that something we can all look forward to….

In addition, while raising the cost of electricity generation from fossil fuel based generators just makes nukes more profitable, it merely mitigates the losses from the sale of PV based electricity (or slightly lessens the enormous subsidies needed to allow PV sourced electricity in NY State to be sold at competitive rates on the NYISO Casino markets) and it does little to make wind based electricity more profitable, unless those price increases are AT LEAST 5 cents/kw-hr. And if price increases like that were the result of CO2 pollution taxes/fees for electricity generators, there would be serious hell to pay upon almost any politician who makes that happen. And since most of those politicos now in office prefer to stay in office, voting for something that trashes their electability is, shall we say, a hard sell. Even if it is the morally more correct thing to do, such morality also has unemployment for most politicians who vote for such an approach, even though they would now be such good buddies with the out of state owners of NY’s 6 old nukes. After all, the 5 c/kw-hr boost in coal and gas prices would translate into at least 5 c/kw-hr extra profits for nuke owners. And if they replicated 2013’s performance of 5109.2 MW average power production, that translates into an extra $2.2 billion annual profit.

Ka Ching! That’s more profit than they scored in actual revenue in 2013.. And with profits like that, the owners of those 6 nukes would hold on for dear life to that flow of lucre. You would almost need a nuke to pry their mitts off of that profit stream….

Of course, there is the problem of “on demand” and “production variability” for renewables like wind, PV and even tidal (even though the output from tidal energy devices is TOTALLY predictable on a daily basis). And the yearly output of wind turbines also tends to be very predictable, but just not the hourly, daily and to a lesser extent, monthly outputs. So how to meld the unpredictable hourly and daily demand for electricity with the unpredictable hourly and daily supply of electricity from a widely dispersed array of wind turbines? Well, projects like NY State’s biggest hydro battery is one way to go… Actually, like wind turbines, it is THE most dependable and THE lowest cost route to short and medium (hourly to weekly) electrical energy storage. Nothing else comes close - for example, large scale flow batteries are at least 10 times more expensive on a stored energy basis. And just try coming up with the cash or a low cost loan for 9000 MW-hr of energy storage with of batteries. For example, a 500 kw Zinc-Bromine flow system with 2.8 MW-hr of storage would run close to a megabuck. You would need around $3.3 billion worth of them to match Blenheim-Gilboa, which was made at a small fraction of that cost, even on an inflation adjusted basis….

So that problem is solved. All you need is hills and water located close together, and preferably close to a decent set of transmission lines (those those can always be built, and we have been told we need new ones, anyway). If you wanted to get visionary, could could populate NY with a number of such systems (Finger Lakes, in river valleys, along Lake Champlain, along the Taconic and Adirondack Mountains, and more of them in the Catskill Mountains). These new units probably would not have the capacity of the Gilboa facility, but even at 250 MW and a couple of TW-hr of energy storage, they could be a profound force for good in a world badly in need of such efforts. In fact, these pumped hydro units could become the new central power plants of the 21st century, as well as the buffer between variable supply and variable demand. For those times when more wind based electricity is being made than used, these pumped hydro units become a way to soak up excess generation. When winds are light and/or demand is heavy they provide extra energy upon demand. And nothing can stabilize a grid like more pumped hydro facilities.

Of course, you could ALSO use pumped hydro units to trash the probability of extreme profitability events for coal and nuke owners, and force them into, at best, a life of mediocre profits in the near future. This is because there would be little need to use fracking gas based methane to make electricity during peaking hours (usually between noon and 8 pm Monday through Fridays, and especially during weather extremes (hot or cold)). And without that daily fix of higher prices caused by gas burners kicking in to supply that last little bit of electricity needed to keep supply and demand in balance, the daily electricity price profile would tend to “flatline”. As would our need for nukes as well as coal and gas burners. Pumped hydro could chase the scourge of inefficient gas burners and higher marginal pricing during peak hours, and without that, the owners of nukes and coal burners and big gas burners would be looking at some major sad time.

But hey, we could always replace those pollution based approaches to making electricity with wind turbines, and employ far more people in the process than are now employed either making electricity the dangerous way (nukes) or the trashing the climate control system way (coal and gas burners). So if its jobs you want, go with the wind and pumped hydro. And yes, there are also lots of jobs to be had in constructing pumped hydro facilities, though not many to be had running them (too darn dependable for their own good). And these pumped hydro facilities can also double as parks, too. As for their footprint, the reservoir needed  is often only 100 acres (which is a circle 2200 feet in diameter). As for a way to kick-start an economy that is still 7 million jobs short nation-wide (about 450,000 for NY State), well, the combination of pumped hydro and wind turbine installations would be a good start. Better yet, some actual wind turbine manufacturing jobs would really fit the bill. 

So far, that is what has been “Missing In Action” for NY Staate - something like 300 manufacturing jobs in that part of the wind biz for NY while Ontario has 12,000, Quebec 6,000, Ohio 7,000, Pennsylvania close to 3,000. And after a decade of messing around, close to $3 billion in electricity sales taxes allocated (the bulk of the NYSERDA Systems Benefit Charge), the "better late than never" song is, as the saying goes, getting to wearing thin.

Bottom picture from by “Swisstek”

The upper reservoir for Blenheim-Gilboa complex - the hydro battery in storage mode...


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