Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the other hand...

I love it when this happens.  First you read about one exciting trend and what it could mean.
A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) says yes. A team led by Michael McElroy at Harvard University assessed the global capacity for wind power — the total amount of sheer energy that's being carried on the breeze — and found that current technology could harness enough power to supply more than 40 times the planet's present-day levels of electricity consumption. For the U.S., there's enough wind concentrated in the Midwest prairie states to supply as much as 16 times the current American demand for electricity. The energy is there, on the breeze — it just needs to be tapped. (Read more about green energy ideas.) [More]
Then in the same surf-session you stumble across something completely contrary.
The report by the Potential Gas Committee, the authority on gas supplies, shows the United States holds far larger reserves than previously thought. The jump is the largest increase in the 44-year history of reports from the committee.
The finding raises the possibility that natural gas could emerge as a critical transition fuel that could help to battle global warming. For a given amount of heat energy, burning gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, as burning coal.
Estimated natural gas reserves rose to 2,074 trillion cubic feet in 2008, from 1,532 trillion cubic feet in 2006, when the last report was issued. This includes the proven reserves compiled by the Energy Department of 237 trillion cubic feet, as well as the sum of the nation’s probable, possible and speculative reserves.
The new estimates show “an exceptionally strong and optimistic gas supply picture for the nation,” according to a summary of the report, which is issued every two years by a group of academics and industry experts that is supported by the Colorado School of Mines. [More]

If natural gas stays relatively cheap, it offers an environmentally  advantageous way to get electricity that both tops both coal and wind. Let's face it - we all are more likely to have NG hookups or LP tanks than simply a windmill in the back yard.

Of course, in some sense natural gas and wind power are complementary - wind turbines need gas turbine generators, which can fire up far more quickly than coal plants to be on standby when the wind drops.  I know the popular wind advocate answer is a "smarter grid" but really, we're talking about a Genius Grid if we want to get more than a few percent of of electricity from wind.
But Frank P. Prager, managing director of environmental policy at the company, said that the higher the reliance on wind, the more an electricity transmission grid would need to keep conventional generators on standby — generally low-efficiency plants that run on natural gas and can be started and stopped quickly.
He said that in one of the states the company serves, Colorado, planners calculate that if wind machines reach 20 percent of total generating capacity, the cost of standby generators will reach $8 a megawatt-hour of wind. That is on top of a generating cost of $50 or $60 a megawatt-hour, after including a federal tax credit of $18 a megawatt-hour.
By contrast, electricity from a new coal plant currently costs in the range of $33 to $41 a megawatt-hour, according to experts. That price, however, would rise if the carbon dioxide produced in burning coal were taxed, a distinct possibility over the life of a new coal plant. (A megawatt-hour is the amount of power that a large hospital or a Super Wal-Mart would use in an hour.)
Without major advances in ways to store large quantities of electricity or big changes in the way regional power grids are organized, wind may run up against its practical limits sooner than expected. [More]
First let's examine what a "smart grid"means.
A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency. Such a modernized electricity network is being promoted by many governments as a way of addressing energy independence, global warming and emergency resilience issues. [More]

Notice the term "transparency".  If we had, via a smart grid", a readout in our kitchens that showed the true economic price of electricity at any minute,  I think the response of consumers would be astonishing.  That is my conception of transparency.

This scenario presumes that consumers are billed in real time - at the actual cost of each kwh at that moment.

We have never had the technology to reflect instantaneously what some inputs  costs. But we do now. And my guess is if real-time rate meters are installed routinely, we could see a major flattening of the demand curve for electricity.

It could also mean bad news for the purveyors of wind energy paraphernalia.  Especially if you start adding up what a truly Smart Grid would cost.
Demonstration projects, including the smart meters installed in thousands of homes, are cropping up across the country. But the smart grid as seen by Gilligan and others probably will take years to develop and could cost $75 billion.
Overall transmission modernization, including new higher capacity lines along with the communications technology, could cost as much as $1 trillion, according to some estimates. [More]
Amazingly, fewer of us flinch when we talk ten of billions anymore. I think the larger obstacle is building the transmission lines that we need to move electricity from the windy Midwest to the coasts. How many farmers would welcome a tower in the middle of their field?

I have written ad nauseum about the over-hyped promises of wind energy. Nonetheless, I'm willing to be proven wrong.

I just don't see it happening now.  Especially because the powerful farm lobby will not tolerate a transparent energy market.  Which would mean bundling the environmental costs of energy with the product,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John, in Ontario we used to have many propane and NG autos-pick-ups-small trucks in the 80's and they seem to have disappeared now,,then you either was sales tax exempt or got a rebate on new vehicles with NG and many (including all local deere salesman) had overnight filling hook-up at home
--last propane fill-up for farm was 33 cents litre---reg. gas is 99 a litre or $4 gal. cdn...hope those crops are doing great!!