Switch to Clean Energy Can Be Fast and Cheap

Jan 26, 2016

Photo credit: iStock.com

By Umair Irfan

Wind and sunshine could power most of the United States by 2030 without raising electricity prices, according to a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Even when optimizing to cut costs and limiting themselves to existing technology, scientists showed that renewables can meet energy demands and slash carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

The study, published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change, factors in energy demand, costs and, crucially, the role of weather.

Co-author Alexander MacDonald, outgoing head of the American Meteorological Society and recently retired from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, said the study sprang from discussions he had at the 2009 U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Basically, it was really clear that nobody has really looked at the importance of weather for wind and solar energy,” he said.


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32 comments on “Switch to Clean Energy Can Be Fast and Cheap

  • A UK study showed that on-shore wind power was the cheapest source of electrical generation. It’s time to publicly debunk the widely promoted myth, that green power sources are going to cost vastly more than carbon polluting systems!



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  • They cheated by using natural gas. It is just a ruse to get rid of nuclear so that they can burn more fossil fuels, namely natural gas, which makes CO2.See:
    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/new-gird-renewables-key-cutting-emissions-19953
    Nuclear power is the only way to stop making CO2 that actually works. To stop Global Warming, we must replace all large fossil fueled power plants with nuclear.

    Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or quadruples your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:

    Since solar “works” 15% of the time and wind “works” 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don’t have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don’t have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.

    We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would “cost” in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.

    The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled power plants with the newest available generation of nuclear. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.  Generation 4 nuclear can ramp fast enough to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, but there is no reason to waste time and money on wind and solar.



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  • Anyone noticed the irony?

    Representatives from the Edison Electric Institute and Electric Power Research Institute did not respond to requests for comment, citing weather-related office closures.



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  • The advantage of Solar / Salt Thermal is that you use solar reflectors, to melt a low melting point salt, store the molten salt underground, and use it to run a conventional steam turbine. Because the salt retains the heat, it means you can produce solar electricity at 3.00am. Here is an explanation from a responsible adult.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_thermal_energy#Molten_salt_storage

    These power plants, and variations are coming on line now. Particularly good in the southern US states, southern Europe, and North Africa. Brilliant in Australia, the sunniest country on earth.



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  • Sitting in the smallest room reading through my stack of New Scientists (long ago I used to move with the Times) it struck me that an interesting number could be calculated from number twos. Carried away (mostly) in sewage pipes is 12% of all our global energy needs (it having, appropriately and when dry, the same energy content as soft brown coal.) Dried and burned (as the Germans and others are looking into) it not only delivers the energy of brown coal but it burns cleanly producing a safe useful ash unike coal and it eliminates an ongoing methanogenic risk.)

    Throw in animal manure and we could turn coal power stations and the new high temperature waste burning power stations into the carbon neutral baseload providers we need…..

    Clearly, for once, politicians and Republicans may be a major force for a green(ish) future.



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  • Hi Phil,

    I think thoughts like this every time I drive past our local sewage treatment plant, all the methane being wasted. Have you any idea how much base load we’d need, how much could this 12% meet our base load power demand?



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  • there is no reason to waste time and money on wind and solar.

    Nuclear is “too cheap to meter” they crowed last century.

    We need 21st century solutions, not archaic ideas which are too slow, too expensive and too dangerous to contemplate.

    Wasting money on nuclear plants involves lost opportunity to upgrade with modern methods, as outlined by this study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

    I estimate your anachronistic idea would cost at least $13 Gazillion, if not more.

    Nuclear power, the dream that failed – http://www.economist.com/node/21549936



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  • I actually worked on this about 20 years ago in the UK.
    In the end it seemed to be a load of c**p.
    The problem being that water is the waste transport medium for sewage and has to be removed before the ‘fuel’ can be burned.
    The process was designed so the energy obtained was used to remove the water from the incomming material. Then the surplus energy could be used for power generation.
    Problem was there was little or no surplus.
    The real problem with wind and solar is a technical one, mostly to do with matching demand to supply. Gas is really easy to turn up and down quickly.
    Many years ago Carl Sagan pointed out the problem was also very political since solar PV could, in theory, supply the entire world needs, but we would need a world grid system and that would be impossible without greater international cooperation. The sun always shines somewhere. At the time he quoted something like five square miles of the Sahara desert had enough energy landing each day to supply the whole world.



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  • Len Walsh
    Jan 27, 2016 at 6:08 am

    Wasting money on nuclear plants involves lost opportunity to upgrade with modern methods, as outlined by this study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

    The main problem with nuclear plants, is that we are stuck with the obsolete polluting technology chosen by war-warmongering “big-bomb-small-brain” politicians, while they neglected the safer cleaner thorium generation potentials, which will now take quite some time to develop.

    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012

    Thorium plants would also be useful for burning off some of the dangerous waste uranium plants have produced – while supplementing other green technologies.



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  • Hi Tim,

    Here is Australia is bloody hot much of the time, could the water not be evaporated? Also currently our water treatment plants digest the waste with bacteria releasing methane as a result. At the moment in most places this is simply going into the atmosphere causing even more greenhouse gases. All that energy should be used to help even out the grid. Solar PV, wind and wave, geothermal etc. together with methane should be able to even out the demands.

    Likewise as electric cars become more popular then there is a massive store of batteries that will be able to feed back into the grid when needed. I think from memory 20% of cars with batteries sufficient for 60kmk range would even out the daytime solar (if hooked up to a smart grid) in which you allocate part of you battery for use in the grid – your battery is partly subsided as a result and smart phone to book when you need it back at full power. Thus cars store excess energy during the day and release a portion of it in the night.

    What I’m interested in is how much energy our waste gas could contribute to powering the grid at night.



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  • Tim Smith
    Jan 27, 2016 at 6:23 am

    The real problem with wind and solar is a technical one, mostly to do with matching demand to supply. Gas is really easy to turn up and down quickly.

    Balancing supply and demand can be done with a mix of:- solar thermal with heat storage, hydro-electric (which is easy to turn on and off), tidal (which is predictable and varied by location), and wind.
    I gave explanations and links here:-
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/12/what-just-happened-in-solar-is-a-bigger-deal-than-oil-exports/#li-comment-193135



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  • Shit is astonishingly versatile as a fuel. Green gas generation from anaerobic waste digestion is a wonderful way of managing a problem of disposal and generating storable fuel. Burning directly after drying, using the waste heat from the burning seems…er…doable. (Perhaps it could be formed into bricks?)

    The latest high temperature waste incinerators burn waste by using additional gas burning to raise the combustion temperature and eliminate the risk of dioxin production from any plastics and the like not previously recovered from the waste stream. (The waste is mulched and liquidized and sprayed into the combustion chamber. The water content drops combustion temperature, though the energy, the latent heat of vapourisation, “lost” into the steam produced in the exhaust gasses can be recovered by staged heat exhangers on the flue.)

    Clearly, untreated sewage could be treated this way also after having its solids bulked up with additional pulverised waste. Some of this sent for anaerobic digestion could then provide the additional gas needed to raise the combustion temperature..

    It just takes time to explore and perfect these processes and optimally balance them.



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  • thorium generation potentials, which will now take quite some time to develop.

    If they’re not ready to deploy now Alan, I don’t see the necessity. According to this study America’s needs can be met by 2030, so they would need to be extremely cheap to contribute.

    Thanks for the link to the previous discussion too. It’s quite clear I think, that Delay is the new Denialism. Too late it seems, to satisfy the luddites. Alexander MacDonald and his colleagues announced very good news with this study.



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  • Didn’t answer your question, Reckless. Sorry.

    Humans produce 123g of finest faeces per day. 1kg of it contains 23MJ of energy. Our total (global) energy production (electricity and heat) etc. is 5.6E20 J per annum . Humans produce 0.67E20J per anum, per annum.

    I’ll go look up the split of energy used (heat to electricity), but, whatever, we will want to use CHP systems to be able to get up to 80% recovery….so usage would best feed both needs. It also suits distributed generators like these waste plants which are 50 to 100MW sizes and are candidates for CHP applications. Local waste of all sorts producing local heat and electrical power for local communities.



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  • One of the features of green energy systems, is that they have to be appropriate for local conditions.

    Hydroelectric power is excellent in Norway. Solar thermal and photovoltaic in sunny desserts.

    Tidal power can be excellent in parts of France, England, Scotland, Canada Australia, and India, where large tidal ranges and currents between islands exist, while it is no use to those in the middle of large continents, or where the tidal range is minimal – such as The Red Sea!



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  • Burning sewage is a bit like trying to burn damp logs with the hope that if the fire gets going properly then it will dry out the next logs you are putting on. If the wood is dried properly first you get a much better result. However if you use the heat to evaporate the water you could just use it to get energy a different way.
    Also might not be good to just have a load of raw sewage lying around for the water to evaporate. Its not quite so benign as a pile of logs. Maybe burning methane produced from waste is a better way to go. It is actually done here by tapping into old landfill sites and taking off the methane as it is produced.
    I am sure we can get all we need from renewable sources if we have the will to do it. But comercial and political interests get in the way. Nuclear power certainly doesn’t create any CO2 but is very costly to do properly. News today here is that EDF may not be able to fund their share of £18bn for the new reactor at Hinckley Point, and that’s only one third of the cost!
    The cost of implementing tidal flow systems proposed here are an awful lot less but there seems to be a lot of political inertia in getting on with it.



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  • Yes that’s got to be right, as I say above tidal flow should be great for the UK.
    But they’re not to to keen to get on with it at government level so it seems.
    My best guess for a technical reason can only be something to do with stability and control of the grid, nuclear makes that bit fairly easy when using it as a constant base supply and filling in with hydroelectric storage and gas turbine.
    Other than that it must be a political or comercial issue but maybe I’m just too cynical.



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  • Tim Smith
    Jan 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Nuclear power certainly doesn’t create any CO2 but is very costly to do properly. News today here is that EDF may not be able to fund their share of £18bn for the new reactor at Hinckley Point, and that’s only one third of the cost!

    Hinkley Point is penny-pinching UK government attempt at a cheap nuclear fix, using obsolete technology, and employing a French company with Chinese backing.



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  • Tim Smith
    Jan 27, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Yes that’s got to be right, as I say above tidal flow should be great for the UK.

    There are two different methods of using tidal flow. There is the Atlantic Tidal Turbine project of Orkney, and proposals for tidal barrages along the Welsh coast. The French Rance Tidal barrage indicates that such systems are viable in the long term.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_power
    The world’s first large-scale tidal power plant is the Rance Tidal Power Station in France, which became operational in 1966. It was the largest tidal power station in terms of power output, before Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station surpassed it. Total harvestable energy from tidal areas close to the coast is estimated to be around 1 terawatt worldwide.

    But they’re not to to keen to get on with it at government level so it seems.

    Cameron is not keen to get on with any green engery systems despite his claims and promises. He has cut a whole load of green development subsidies, while sponsoring gas-fracking and oil drilling!

    My best guess for a technical reason can only be something to do with stability and control of the grid,

    I don’t think so! I think it has much more to do with prevaricating Climate Change Deniers in the Tory Party, and pals with interests in gas fracking and oil.

    nuclear makes that bit fairly easy when using it as a constant base supply and filling in with hydroelectric storage and gas turbine.

    The proposed undersea cable to Norwegian hydro-electric makes sense. Gas is still producing CO2, albeit slightly less than coal, so it should be reduced as soon as possible.
    Britain did in the past, develop safer uranium nuclear reactors and COULD have developed thorium reactors, but for the decision to abandon these developments and use the dangerous but cheaper US deigns, – which also provided materials for bombs!



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  • @ Asteroid Miner

    They cheated by using natural gas. It’s just a ruse to get rid of
    nuclear, so that they can burn more fossil fuels

    You’re accusing Alexander MacDonald and his team of trying to trick us? Is that your message AM? They’re in cahoots with Stanford University’s professor Mark Z. Jacobson, supposedly unaffiliated, but secretly planning to sabotage America’s nuclear industry by using gas while pretending to use renewables? Renewables don’t work according to you. Any citation for that?
    Just who do you imagine is behind this grand conspiracy? The Commos, or the radical Green extremists?

    Using –

    solar “works” 15% of the time and wind “works” 20% of the time

    in a search revealed your identical Cut&Paste deposited at dozens of sites, each time without citations, and always neglected by you when others seek to discuss your unsupported claims.

    You failed to respond to Alan4iscussion the last time you spammed this site too, so I eagerly await your response.



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  • No Problems Phil, always happy to listen to someone who know much more about a subject than I do. Thanks for the time to find the answer. Unfortunately it’s prompted more questions.

    So under this proposal would methane be generated first and then the dried waste be burned in addition to the burning of the methane?

    As far as I can see what ever percentage we can get out in addition to energy used to collect and generate prepare the waste would be a good thing particularly if used to back up the increasingly wobbly baseline we are going to get from renewables.

    Another possible solution could be using hydro as a battery. Excess wind could potentially pump water into a dam where it could be used as a battery. I’ve assumed there may be too much loss in terms of loosing energy in pumping etc. However it would provide a handy way of turning power on an off at will. Are you aware of any research in this area?

    Regards



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  • Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the thoughts. You may well be right in many areas, some areas in Australia have very high daytime temps, very low rainfall and very low humidity. I’d agree there would be environmental concerns if waste areas leaked and got into the water supply. However in some many Australian towns and small cities there is very, very little rainfall for extended periods. Point made though.

    Nuclear power certainly doesn’t create any CO2 but is very costly to do properly.

    That’s the rub though isn’t it. My point has always been with nuclear energy that the current waste management is far to long to trust human politicians with. I think this point is often underestimated. So I used to fly my own aircraft, as such I am a bit hypersensitive to risk factors and know that while the aircraft I flew were on paper safe, you didn’t have to make too many minor errors it have a potential disaster. And when a potential disaster occurs it is only very precise and careful training that skews the odds back into a manageable situation (namely landing the aircraft intact – that was always the main goal, survival is not good enough- land it successfully and you get survival as a bonus). On paper nuclear can be done completely safely, until you hand it over to people who cut corners, avoid expensive long term responsibilities, choose not to listen to engineers etc. This is why I’m very interested in reactors that burn spend fuel rods and fusion. Anything that can shorten the time spent dealing with the waste minimizes the time we have to deal with the waste.

    Having said all of that ultimately humanity is going to have to deal in only completely renewables, one day all the non-renewable are going to be gone. Of course fusion would be a very long time indeed. For that reason I’m very much in favor working with renewables as much as possible and in seeing society find solutions to these problems.

    regards



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  • So under this proposal would methane be generated first and then the dried waste be burned in addition to the burning of the methane?

    Mostly, except the sludge plus biomass is only water reduced. Anaerobic digesters first acting on a sewage and mulched biodegradable waste. Any liquid requirement being met by the sewage. The gas drawn off and used as the main energy feedstock. Generally digesters leave you with moderately benign solids which can be ploughed back into fields, but if those residuals were incinerated the remaining carbon could be extracted, so too the remaining water. The amount needing hauling away would be reduced and be even more benign.

    The presence of water/steam within a furnace is multiply beneficial and if the extra investment of up front energy (from the bio-gas) in generating steam within the furnace is re-couped sufficiently from the now energy dense off-gas and steam, we can reap many other benefits. The steam itself converts unburned carbon particulates into methane and carbon monoxide, both more flammable gasses than carbon particulates, vapourisation within the furnace provides great turbulence to better mix fuels and oxygen AND NOX emissions are dramatically reduced by controling excess burning temperatures, also reducing tubing corrosion rates.

    A furnace to achieve this is quite complex with fuel injectors for the gas, the bio-mass enriched sewage sludge and using some of the remaining top water to regulate flame temperatures in the hot spots.

    Tim is correct in indicating that setting fire to sewage is a thankless task. Wet fuel is noted as having less temperature raising capacity due not least to the energy requirements of the water phase change. It is though entirely possible to see this energy as invested in a more energy dense, if cooler, off-gas (flue gas).



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  • In the North Sea, off the east coast of England, green electrical generation continues to progress.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-35483190

    ‘World’s biggest’ wind farm to be built off East Yorkshire coast

    A wind farm powering more than a million homes is to be built off the East Yorkshire coast.

    Developer Dong Energy said it had made the final investment decision to build the Hornsea Project One.

    The company claimed the 157 sq mile (407 sq km) site, expected to be operational by 2020, would be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

    Turbines will be manufactured by Siemens in its newly-built Hull factory.



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  • . . . and on the other side of the coin: –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-35512217

    Nearly 150 oil platforms in the UK North Sea are expected to be scrapped over the next 10 years, according to industry analysts.

    Of all the decommissioning over the next 25 years, more than half is likely to take place between 2019 and 2026.

    The estimate, from Douglas-Westwood, takes account of the fall in the price of oil.

    It suggested this will result in many oil fields in UK waters, including the North Sea, becoming uneconomic.

    Another consultancy, Wood Mackenzie, reported on Friday that, at recent prices, one in seven barrels of oil being produced in UK waters is at a cash loss.

    It said the UK is the country third most likely to see oil fields permanently shut down as a result of low prices. Canada and Venezuela have more production at a cash loss.



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