There is an informative article in the business section of the San Diego Tribune’s online publication titled Renewables need helping hand from gas. The article describes how combined cycle gas turbine plants work, with gas turbine exhausts feeding steam plant bottoming systems. It talks about air cooled condensers and about the use of peakers to supply power during periods when renewable energy system outputs change rapidly. (It does not talk much about the significantly lower efficiency of those peakers compared to both combined cycle plants and base load power plants using the best available technology.)
I strongly recommend the article for an overview of the kinds of changes that are evolving in the electrical grid in the San Diego area. The local utilities and independent power producers are working hard to supply reliable power using the currently popular methods of as much solar and wind as possible with some continuing contribution from existing nuclear plants – as long as those nuclear plants are allowed to continue to operate.
After reading the article, I had to congratulate the author and provide a critical thinking suggestion.
Your article titled “Renewables need helping hand from gas” was timely and informative. Many people have little understanding about the effort and resources that are required to make reliable power; your article does a great job of explaining a complex subject.
I would like you to put on your critical thinking cap, and consider the information you have provided from a slightly different point of view. Have you considered that at least some of the pressure to move towards renewable energy systems is provided by the oil and gas companies that supply the gas?
At some of the plants that you describe, 90% of the total cost of power from the plant is in the form of fuel purchases. Said another way, fully 90% of the revenue associated with building and operating plants producing a vital commodity worth hundreds of millions per year per plant is captured by the gas supplier and pipeline owners.
Renewables do not replace gas, they increase the demand for gas as a part of an integrated supply of reliable power when existing coal and nuclear plants are shutdown and replaced by the more popular option. Could it be that gas suppliers are supporting efforts to shut down coal and nuclear plants and also supporting efforts to prevent coal and nuclear plants from being considered for future power needs? Such action would lead to increased sales; what business would not like that result?
Seen through those lenses, I read a product endorsement for natural gas from the Environmental Defense Fund in the following words, “Natural gas ought to be viewed as complimentary, and not competing with renewables.” EDF has a long history of actively opposing nuclear energy, though it is now considering its stance in light of concerns about climate change.
Thank you again for the article.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast
I hope that readers here recognize that I am not a big fan of choosing power supplies through a popularity contest, especially a popularity contest that has been rigged through vast expenditures of advertising dollars. There are rational, objective measures of effectiveness that should be used as the basis for making such important, long-term decisions about the best way to supply a commodity that is one of the key foundations supporting a modern economy.
In related news, the governor of Oklahoma, a state with a large concentration of oil and gas extraction companies and associated resources, has vetoed a law that would have allowed the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority to invest in nuclear energy projects. He stated that the bill would “authorize actions that could serve as incentives for the construction of a nuclear power plant.” I guess in Oklahoma, such a bill needs to be killed to keep the gubernatorial contributors happy. A reader suggested this just might qualify as a smoking gun, but I need to do some campaign contribution research in order to apply that designation.
Update: (Posted May 28, 2010 at 3:45 am) For information about the size of the Oklahoma oil and gas industry, visit Oklahoma Oil and Gas Facts with information compiled by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. One key insight found there is that Oklahoma supplied about 7% of the natural gas consumed in the US in 2008 (1.7 TCF out of 23 TCF). That gas sold for an average well head price of $7.32. That means that the total revenue for the gas industry in Oklahoma in 2008 was about $12 billion.
Average well head prices in 2009 were considerably lower due to supplies that exceeded a recession-induced reduction in demand. In 2009, the total US consumption was about 400 billion cubic feet lower than in 2008, less than a 2% reduction from the previous year. According to the Energy Information Agency, natural gas wellhead prices averaged $3.71 nation wide in 2009. The dramatic effect – a 50% drop – of a small reduction in gas demand illustrates why I believe that the natural gas industry has a strong financial motive for discouraging the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy and natural gas compete in some of the same markets as fuel for electrical power production and as sources of building heat.
(Note: Nuclear energy supplies building heat indirectly through the use of heat pumps and resistance heaters in places where nuclear energy enables low cost electricity. In the near future, nuclear energy and natural gas could be involved in sharp elbow marketing battles for the vehicle propulsion market with electric automobiles, delivery trucks, trolleys and railroads competing against CNG fueled automobiles, delivery trucks, buses and large trucks.)