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33 Comments

  1. Hi Rod!
    Relevant to “where’s the wind..” let me suggest to you and your readers a post on ‘Our Finite World’. Gail is remarkably thoughtful and knowledgeable about energy and economics. What surprises me is that she rarely points to nuclear as a practical alternative… she highlights the WHY – …

    1. Gail is a collapsenik.  When I mentioned nuclear energy in her presence once, she exclaimed “you CAN’T!”  The only reason why you can’t is that you can’t have anything that will be dangerous when—not if—everything falls apart and humanity returns to pre-industrial conditions.

      Of course, the consequent mandated dependence on depleting and unreliable energy supplies practically guarantees a collapse.  I consider it immoral to increase the likelihood of such an event, because gigadeaths are inevitable.  If the left wants to minimize the damage, they should start by addressing the population overshoot in nations like Haiti.

      1. @Engineer-Poet

        Are you guys talking about Gail the Actuary? I provided her a pretty actively discussed post for The Oil Drum, but I got tired of the way the Peak Oilers on that site couldn’t stand the thought of a solution to the problem they liked to wail about.

        1. Yes, Gail Tverberg, aka Gail the Actuary.

          A lot of Greens don’t like the idea of solutions, period.  They appear to be addicted to the idea of tearing it all down.  I think the philosophy is ultimately just nihilism with a spray-coating of chlorophyll.

          1. You mean “solutions” like breeder reactors where no amount of money can determine the cause of reactivity transients

            Or the reactor powered airplane and car?

            Or the cleanup fund that is always raided? (see vermont)

            Or the SMR’s that no utility wants any part of?

            Those kind of solutions?

          2. Are you saying the roots of her philosophy can be traced to Paul Ehrlich, the butterfly scientist, who once said “Giving society cheap abundant energy is like giving an idiot child a machine gun”?

          3. @Engineer-Poet:
            “I think the philosophy is ultimately just nihilism with a spray-coating of chlorophyll.”

            Amen to that.

            Peak oil is a big cesspot of confirmation bias. We have plenty of higher cost alternative sources of oil from oil shale, to tar sands, to tight oil, to extra heavy oil such as the Orinoco Belt. When we run out of those – or the price gets too high, we can make oil products from gas, from coal, from biomass, and, ultimately, using nucllear, hydro, or other plentiful energy sources, we can make oil products from air.

            Peak oil doomsterism and collapsism fits with the deep green dream of humans going back to the trees. We ain’t goin’ nowhere, because ingenuity is our primary source of energy, and in the aggregate, it’s the biggest one out there.

          4. For what it’s worth, the Peak Oilers do have a point. Global crude production IS running into limits. Despite the gargantuan investments in new extraction of crude, supply is barely budging. Depletion from mature oil fields is running up to 6% a year. Clearly, there is reason for concern. The Peak Oil problem has been identified by the IEA as early as 1998, and has since been taken seriously by many authorities including investment banks, insurers, The US Army, the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, etc. In the last decade, Peak Oil has moved from mostly fringe to mainstream. It is clear that there is a problem, only there is much debate over the extent and the nature of the problem.

            Unfortunately, Peakists have mostly succumbed to collapsitarianism as EP has noted. While there are Peakists (like me, for example, but ironically also the original Shell Oil scientist M. King Hubbert AKA the ‘father’ of Peak Oil) who are optimistic that nuclear power does actually provide a solution to Peak Oil, it is clear that most people who call themselves Peakists deny that there is any solution to the issue of Peak Oil. Gail appears to be one of them, although there are priminent Peak Oil advocates who are much more extreme than her, IMO. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute comes to mind.

            1. @Joris van Dorp

              I fully subscribe to the terrifying notion that we are reaching the point where we have consumed about half of the earth’s precious hydrocarbon resources, and that the half that we consumed first was the easy half to find and extract.

              We are being incredibly selfish in a generational sense. We need to slow hydrocarbon consumption so that future generations have access to that valuable raw material.

              Hubbert was right. Production statistics support his projections; the only reason there has been a recent increase in overall production was that prices climbed high enough to press really hard right now and move some of the future production into the present. All that means is that the downward slope is going to be a lot more bumpy with some steep cliffs.

              I’m not a pessimist, by any means. We have no need to keep burning up so much of the earth’s hydrocarbon resources. With fission, we have the tool we need to move back to the point where annual production from carbohydrates can suffice to meet all of our ongoing needs for liquid fuel, but we cannot keep burning irreplaceable resources.

          5. I just posted a comment on Gail’s blog that clearly expose the ideal of hunter-gatherer society those guys are truly after.

            I’m fairly convinced a good part of them knows perfectly this is what they really want, but dislike telling in explicit words because that would show how little support there is for their philosophy globally.

            It would show they are not the saviors they claim to be, since they don’t intend to save anybody from anything, but to provoke instead the worst a global crisis can bring, and that would be a lot less popular amongst a majority of people.

            Actually as a clearly stated philosophy, while this is something I disagree with, I can understand why one would discuss it. The worst for me is to bring it in disguise, and promote it under the pretense they favor it *because* it’s the only choice we have.

          6. Are you saying the roots of her philosophy can be traced to Paul Ehrlich, the butterfly scientist, who once said “Giving society cheap abundant energy is like giving an idiot child a machine gun”?

            Hers personally, I have doubts; she seems to think the collapse will be in financials and liquid fuels, and that will lead to everything else falling apart (so AFAICT she’s more in the “cannot” rather than “should not” camp).  But that is the gist I get from so many “Greens”, such as jimbills who posts over at Climate Crocks.

            Another angle on the difference between me and Tverberg is that I know we have plenty of high-EROEI energy available, with minuscule environmental impacts to boot, and it is imperative to develop it ASAP.  She thinks that e.g. infrastructure cannot be maintained without liquid fuels, so nuclear will fall apart when the oil goes.  She won’t argue the proposition on its merits.

          7. Peak oil is a big cesspot of confirmation bias. We have plenty of higher cost alternative sources of oil

            Higher cost = lower EROI.  Those sources will go away in a nuclear economy, simply because iron-air batteries have a not-too-inferior delivered energy density to a tank of diesel fuel and will be cheaper.

            One of the things I’d love to see is SMRs like LEADIR being used to supply steam for SAGD in heavy-oil and tar sands belts.  Once SMRs are anywhere, people will want them everywhere.  Putting nuclear power on islands like Hawaii and Aruba would make their electricity supply cheaper, carbon-free and petroleum-free.  That, plus the EVs that naturally go with them, would start a wave of freedom from oil.

            1. @EP

              You wrote:

              That, plus the EVs that naturally go with them, would start a wave of freedom from oil.

              Can you imagine anything that would be more frightening to the managers of banks with portfolios full of hydrocarbon backed loans or to the heads-of-state in countries that make 50-80% of their money from selling hydrocarbon resources at current world prices?

          8. Oh, certainly.  And if you put that sword in my hands, they’d all be headless in short order.

          9. ROFL. Good one! “nihilism with a spray-coating of chlorophyll”

            Yesterday, in the Jan 2014 issue of SciAm, I read Vaclav Smil’s article discussing the timeline for major fuel system changeovers. That magazine’s something else, but I found Smil’s position remarkably level-headed. At least he’s not trying to tear it all down.

            Absent in the graphics was nuclear-powered generation (possibly because it’s never been dominant…except maybe France/Japan?). That comparison would’ve been interesting. I also enjoyed the distinction Smil made between old and new renewables. The “new” renewables get all the press and a terrific subsidy, yet as a subset contribute a vanishingly small amount, despite buildouts and compared the the “old” renewables like “hydro”. Smil cautioned that if fossil fuel use is to be curtailed, these laggard new-renewables will have to accept the mantle of trying to meet new power demand, as the old-renewables were mostly fully built out and less capable of further growth.

            I got the sense that he believes we can still be the world Al Gore envisions, he’s just far more realistic about the extended timeframe it will require.

            Quick shout out to Atomic Rod: this portal into the nuke industry helped restore my sensibility that this technology can be the miracle the 50s tried to suggest it was. I was seriously in doubt about it after Fukushima. Fortunately, everything I thought I knew was wrong! (And you can thank Adam Curry and the No Agenda podcast for teaching me that you and your podcast and this website even existed.)

  2. It’s not just the Pacific Northwest, either. Some time ago I plowed through the hourly weather records of more than a dozen weather stations in Minnesota (a windier state than most, with more installed wind power than most) and found that every single station had at least one “wind drought” of 200 hours or more during a 20-year period. Marshall is one of the windiest (average) sites in the state, yet it experienced a wind drought of over 1000 hours — six weeks! — during the mid 1990s. (I defined a wind drought to be any period where the measured surface wind speed was 3mph or less, which is generally necessary for a wind turbine to start).

    Needless to say, not even the most ardent advocates of energy storage are willing to claim that 1000 hours (or even 200 hours) of used-once-a-decade storage is cost effective.

    1. There’s a very good solution for this kind of seasonal lull in wind production: very, very cheap peaker production. You can build a lot of capacity very cheaply. It doesn’t matter that it’s not very efficient, because it won’t be used much. It can be powered by natural gas or hydrogen, stored cheaply underground.

      1. @Nick G

        Natural gas peakers are only quick and cheap if there is an available supply of gas. If pipeline construction is required, both cost and schedule become substantially more challenging.

        If you are planning to run to supply “seasonal” loads, you had better pay attention to efficiency. You can only afford to ignore it if run times are in the tens to hundreds of hours. Once you get into the thousands (1/8th of a year), fuel costs will become quite noticeable.

        1. Natural gas is the first choice, especially in the US, because it’s low CO2 and cheap. Where did you have in mind?

          Of course, anything will do: NG, coal, oil, H2.

          I agree that you can only afford to ignore it if run times are in the tens to hundreds of hours. That’s what the previous poster was talking about: periods of roughly 200 hours that occurred as rarely as every 20 years.

          1. Not “of course anything will do”. You cannot use anything but natural gas or distillate fuel oil in a peaking gas turbine. It must have a clean fuel source to run, not for pollution purposes but so you don’t destroy the blades. They are turned by pure combustion products.

            Anything fancier is no longer very cheap and certainly cannot be built just to sit around waiting to be used. Capital carrying costs would be enormous.

            I’m a practical man, not a dreamer or wisher. You are obviously not of similar persuasion.

          2. Just about any fossil fuel can be converted to something that can be burnt in a cheap generator. The cost per btu may be a bit high, but again, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t account for a large percentage of the grid’s kWhs.

            And, of course, the world in general and the US in particular has enough natural gas to provide 5% of the grid’s kWhs for centuries.

            There’s a difference between being impractical, and thinking outside the conventional box. You should know that, as you’ve been trying to implement new ideas for quite a while.

            1. @Nick G

              You give my imagination too much credit. I’ve never tried to implement any new ideas. I’ve simply tried to take advantage of other people’s proven ideas that they weren’t able to develop because of false advertising or suppression by competitors.

  3. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and some of my power occasionally comes from BPA (there are other power utilities in my area 100% sourced from BPA). Wind conditions like this are not at all unusual in winter, and encompass this whole corner of the United States. Winter power demand is high as there is a good amount electric heat in the area, including the electric heat pump in my house.

    I have also seen the opposite problem. A few years ago during spring melt after a winter of heavy snowfall, the wind turbines were spinning at or near their maximum as a weather front came through. The combination of max’ed out hydro and max’ed out wind power during a time of year with minimum demand nearly drove BPAs power grid to instability.

    1. I worked for Energy Northwest (Columbia Generating Station/BWR) for a few years.

      One year, many of the wind turbines were overspeed tripping. We got a call from the grid putting us into a grid alert and asking us to maximize output.

      Another year, we were downpowering 30% every night when demand dropped, and coming back up to rated every morning. The xenon transients drove the reactor operators nuts. The nukes had preconditioning limits and ramp rate limitations all over the place. Wind combined with a large snow pack runoff caused us to actually come offline on grid dispatch from time to time.

      1. Xenon transients is a solvable problem if you put enough effort in it. EDF in France knows how to handle that.

      2. can you look at the paper I posted there were some operational changes that I noted in the data of the BPA wind farms that I am trying to make sense of. Thanks

  4. Here is a more formal way to assess the BPA wind data, if one is so inclined. It is clear how wind impacts the rest of the grid. Additionally what Rod notes about the wind is visible in figure 1a. The uncertainty, entropy, reaches a minimum and appears to start going back up.

    Wind is just about worthless, actually it is worse than worthless, as it makes the other generators work harder for a smaller share of the power output Figure 9. Quite unfortunate really.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/bo2hqzr6tpxuq98/BPA%20Wind%20Analysis.pdf

    1. Unfortunately, we could not obtain generator level data. Such data is needed to do a formal aggregation of the various generators. Because of the lack of information, we treated wind as an aggregate that changed its density as generation capacity increased.

      @Cal Abel

      A question so that I can more fully understand your study? If I’m reading this correctly, you are assuming voltage control or reactive power compensation by wind generator type or at substation (FACTS device) is not being used?

      http://web.eecs.umich.edu/~hiskens/publications/05563248.pdf

      https://www.academia.edu/2220861/Comparative_Analysis_in_the_Performance_of_the_FACTS_Devices_on_Grid_Synchronization_of_WECS

      And others …

      1. What I am looking at is different. Because the grid is up, and because of the FERC regulations I assume that the grid is in equilibrium with stable voltage and frequency. I’m not looking at how the generators synchronize with the grid.

        Instead I am looking at the power produced by the generators and the uncertainty associated with it. This approach is based on thermodynamic fluctuation theory.

        1. @Cal Abel

          If the wind farms are already synchronized to the grid (by generator type, FERC interconnection standard, FACTS device, etc.) … why is there low entropy as you are trying to suggest?

          Have you seen the research by Max-Planck and others on the benefits of a distributed network with a large number of small generators (rather than small number of large generators)?

          http://www.mpg.de/6351135/power-grid-regenerative-energy

          I’m interested in your research. I’m curious if you could explain it further?

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