Enough with "renewables!" 1

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  1. Both the EIA and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have become less transparent in the statistics that they publish.

    Fifteen years ago, the websites of these organizations were my go-to source for analyzing, understanding, and explaining how energy is generated and used in the US and throughout the world. Since then, their websites have become more convoluted and difficult to navigate. Instead of providing easy options to access the actual data, they tend to steer the user to their reports, which more and more read like a sales pitch or political propaganda than an honest assessment that allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

    You can still find the actual numbers, if you work hard enough, but it has become much more difficult than it used to be. This is what happens when energy becomes more and more politicized and special interests become more powerful.

    1. I disagree, Brian. Perhaps you can find EIA’s actual numbers, but I sure can’t. And believe me, I’ve tried. .

      Started with an attempt to compare EIA’s Levelized Cost of Energy values with those from other sources. No joy.

      First, what is LCOE?

      NREL knows what LCOE is, and gives a formula.

      Lazard knows what LCOE is, and gives a slightly different (equally justifiable) formula.

      EIA claims to know what LCOE is: it’s buried deep within their NEMS model.

      NREL even has an online LCOE calculator. NREL can’t tell you what to put into it, but if you happen to know, they will cheerfully compute you an LCOE. So will your pocket calculator.

      At this point I bit the bullet, swallowed my pride, and began looking into Lazard. In addition to an actual formula, Lazard also tabulated reasonably current inputs. Applied unequally in their tabulated results of course, but at least one can see what they are doing.

      That was all eighteen months ago. I hope to revisit that LCOE morass someday and finish my article.

      But wait! There’s more!!

      Last night when I should have had better things to do, I came across an early (first?) Robert Bryce subredit Siemens Power CEO Confirms the Iron Law of Power Density. There Mr. Bryce provides a “Tons of material per TWh” graphic, with values taken from Table 10.4 (page 390) of EIA’s Quadrennial Technology Review 2015.

      Fascinating metric, “Tons of material per TWh”. One supposes that if one could estimate tons of steel and concrete per MW installed capacity, and could estimate a plant’s capacity factor, and it’s projected lifetime, then one could indeed ballpark “Tons of material per TWh”. And if one were suitably intrigued, one could go to EIA’s reference 52 to look for them.

      Of course, EIA’s reference 52 is to yet another of their black-box modelling programs, this time GREET — The Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies Model — with no further explanation whatsoever about what GREET does or how it was used to address this particular problem.

      Sigh. Well, I might not be Engineer-Poet. But I’m still not totally berift of resources:

      <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/519e/a5c55a312f3f45ccfcc4a093a941366c6658.pdf&quot;
      Metal And Concrete Inputs For Several Nuclear Power Plants, Peterson et al. 2005.

      Concrete Towers for Onshore and Offshore Wind Farms, Gifford, The Concrete Center, 2012.

      Then from Peterson’s paper I’d estimate 204,500 m^3 concrete and 70,900 MT (metric tons) steel for an EPR. Using concrete density 2.4 MT/m^3, 90% Cf, and 60 year plant life I’d get 650 MT concrete and 94 MT steel per TWh for EPR, or 744 total “Tonnes of material per TWh” or 818 “Tons material per TWh”.

      EIA GREET claims 920 tons material per TWh for nuclear, only 12% high. But they don’t show their work.

      Similarly for wind, using Gifford’s 2012 values for 2.5 MW onshore wind turbine of 460 tons metal and 3100 tons concrete, and assuming 25 yr plant life and 40% capacity factor, then including stem and nacelle one finds 2100 tons metal and 14,155 tons concrete per TWh, or 16,255 total tons material per TWh.

      EIA GREET claims 1800 tons steel and 8,000 tons concrete per TWH for “Wind”, or 9,800 total tons material per TWh. But they don’t say which wind, where, its alleged capacity factor, or assumed plant lifetime and whatever recycling. They don’t say.

      They don’t show their work.

      1. I didn’t say you could find ALL the numbers.I was complaining that it’s difficult to find even the basic numbers these days.

      2. I have never found any mention anywhere on EIA or NREL indicating the fact that Wind turbines use ten to fifteen percent of “generated power,” annually, taken from a source other than the Output of the generator to maintain the WT in a state of readiness to generate power. They ignore this power consumption as it is indicated on a different power meter. Thus, all of their “calculations” do not consider this in their glowing reports of the “efficiency” of these power hogs. When 15% of the annual generated power is put on a separate accounting sheet for a device that only has a 30 to 50% annual Capacity factor that means they are actually only achieving a 15 to 35 % capacity factor.

        Even a search for “How much power does a wind turbine use.” mostly finds answers of how much it Generates.

        Here are a few things to consider: [Note: this is not a complete list.]

        yaw mechanism (to keep the blade assembly perpendicular to the wind; — the nacelle (turbine housing) and blades together weigh 92 tons on a GE 1.5-MW turbine

        blade-pitch control (to keep the rotors spinning at a regular rate)

        Charge batteries needed to meet OSHA & FAA regulations and critical control equipment..

        Power for lights, FAA Lighting, controllers, communication, sensors, metering, data collection, communications of the data to the Dispatcher and all of the control mechanisms, etc.

        heating. defrosting and deicing the blades — this may require 10%-20% of the turbine’s nominal (rated) power

        heating, cooling, and dehumidifying the nacelle

        oil heater, pump, cooler, and filtering system in gearbox

        hydraulic brake (to lock the blades in very high wind)

        thyristors (to graduate the connection and disconnection between generator and grid) — 1%-2% of the energy passing through is lost

        magnetizing the stator — the stator may use power equal to 10% of the turbine’s rated capacity, in slower winds possibly much more

        using the generator as a motor (to help the blades start to turn when the wind speed is low)

        The use of this power generates heat which adds to the required cooling for the nacelle in the summer months.

  2. Thank you Valerie for bringing up the detailed and compelling
    article on the ubiquitous abuse of terms like “shift to renewables”
    in energy policy misinformation.

    Thanks also to James Baerg and Brian Mays for their comments
    about CO2 per kWh and data transparency to restore the focus
    on the data most relevant to climate change analysis.

    Actually, I’m not a fan of the use of loaded, ambiguous terms like
    “clean” and “green” as adjectives applied to the noun “energy”
    either. I think it would be far better to use “carbon-free” to describe
    energy production methods free of atmospheric carbon pollution.

    “carbon-free” gets right to the point of carbon reduction in the fight
    against climate change, whereas “clean” and “green” obscure it.
    Exactly what do we mean if we say that “nuclear is clean energy”?
    People will come back with “What about the waste”? At which point,
    we are off the road to fight climate change and into the weeds of
    mostly unrelated pro/anti nuclear arguments.

    1. Thanks Chris. I agree with the need to avoid the word “green.” People tend to use it interchangeably with “renewables,” so its meaning is vague. I’d argue that nuclear energy is “green” but some people use it to exclude nuclear.

      On the other hand, I think “clean” is typically used to mean low or no-carbon energy generation, although there is confusion there as well. Some might think it implies zero or low toxic emissions, like NOx and SOx, rather than CO2. To be completely clear, saying “clean, low-carbon emissions” would be the best but it’s tedious to repeat.

      1. Thanks Valerie, I have to concede that “green” and “clean” are really in
        different categories of linguistic abuse, possibly because “green” has
        its own political parties and environmental factions. I also now better
        appreciate that “clean” is thought by some to also denote absence of
        toxic emissions like oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, though that doesn’t
        seem to be helping nuclear energy’s public understanding enough.

        Perhaps not coincidentally, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur are both
        produced by chemical combustion of coal, and not by nuclear fission.
        Perhaps humanity would be better off if chemical combustion was
        subjected to the same levels of scrutiny as nuclear fission and
        radioactive decay.

        I still hope that someday science education will inspire more people to
        understand the differences between the world of electron shells and
        the world of atomic nuclei.

  3. “Fossil” and “nonfossil” are the two adjectives needed now and into the future as the increasingly dominant concern of the audience becomes achieving net zero emissions. That term too, needs tidying up. There is no “net” value if there are negligible negative emissions. And we are not concerned about emissions from recycled carbon or hydrogen. So the term should be “zero fossil emissions”.

    Categorising wind and solar as “nonfossil energy” would serve the climate movement and international obligations to protect the climate. It would be resisted by those who believe that the world’s problems arise because non-renewable mineral resources are running out, but they, like the Club of Rome, are vanishing into the past. It would also be resisted by those who believe that the term “renewables” explicitly excludes nuclear. They could be placated by the nuclear community changing its own adjective.

    Categorising fission energy as “nonfossil energy” would similarly serve the climate movement and obligations. There would be a similar minority who actually like the panache of the word “nuclear”, with its historical associations with nuclear weaponry and military power. However, I would like to think that our industry would settle for being called “fission power” and being categorised with solar and wind in the term, “nonfossil energy”.

    “Fossil” of course applies to coal, oil and gas and their derivative products. “Fossil” can also label hydrogen derived from fossil fuels, even though its marketing propaganda would promote it as carbon-free. “Fossil-free” then applies to hydrogen, synthetic fuel, aluminium, iron, cement and plastics made with nonfossil power and recycled carbon.

    The common category of “nonfossil energy” should be used when collecting and publishing statistics, and then subsequently be used in legislation explicitly. Benefits such as carbon tax and climate subsidies would then be shared between solar, wind, hydro, fission and fusion according to their various capacities to provide fossil-free power to the world.

  4. Renewables people are masters in marketing.

    Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated with demand, is called “variable”.

    Reliable, 24/7 baseload nuclear plants are “inflexible”.

    Objectively rubbish; wind and sunshine can’t be turned on when needed, making them much more inflexible than nuclear, the latter operating at baseload mode because its fuel costs are low so it makes sense for it to run full out whenever possible. But very clever marketing wise: turning a negative (intermittency) into a neutral term (variable) while turning a positive (reliable 24/7 power output) into a supposed negative (inflexible). Lies, but really clever lies.

    The nuclear industry is not capable of such clever lies. It only deals in stupid lies, such as nuclear accidents being really bad but unlikely to occur, when neither are true, and indeed, demonstrably false.

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