Tag Archives: natural gas

Forget about renewables, we are entering the gas age

Andrew Revkin from Dot Earth explores whether China will soon switch to natural gas and the answer appears to be, yes.

Reports showed that China — which was once considered gas poor — now has estimated volumes greater than those of the United States (which are, as you know, enormous).

 

With the two greatest economies on Earth (U.S., China) embracing natural gas (and Russia supplying Europe with substantial amounts), we appear to be entering a new “gas age”.

Again from Revkin’s article:

The gas revolution isn’t all roses.  People have legitimate worries about the environmental impacts of fracking—notably on air and water.  There are also some worrying signs that fracking operations might emit lots of greenhouse gases—which, if true, would negate much (perhaps all) of the climate change benefits from a shift to gas.  My read of that literature is that those fears have been overblown and new estimates based on serious measurement will be more reassuring.

 

Only time will tell how this new ‘gas age’ affects the planet.

 

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Future of clean energy in California – part renewable, part natural gas, and lots of changes

Living in California means power plants on the beach. It’s a fact of life driving up and down the coast. When you enter Los Angeles driving north there is a line of smokestacks so dense that some refer to it as “the apocalyptic city of the future.” Then as you enter San Diego driving south you pass along the “Betty Boop monument,” two giant domes with a small cap on top, which are the two nuclear generators of San Onofre.

They are all facing an uncertain future as California state law requires 33% renewable energy by 2020. Plus, an “upgrade law” which establishes higher standards for air pollution and environmental impact. That second law is the most far-reaching, and somewhat sneaky, because it directly attacks the existing power plants.

It forces all the existing plants to pay for expensive upgrades or be decommissioned, and many will be decommissioned.

As that happens you can see the future of energy in California start to take shape. 1 out of every 3 plants will be shut down and replaced by renewable energy. Another one-third will be upgraded, and the final third will be a mix. For Southern California that could mean nuclear energy, but it is more likely to be several lower-emission natural gas plants.

There is also a hope that renewable energy can take on up to half of the energy needs by 2020, but only time will tell.

To hit this point home, my local power plant, just a few miles away, is facing the decommission or upgrade dilemma. According to the owners, AES, the plant is a critical supplier in an ideal location so it won’t be shut down. The plant, a natural gas user, will be upgraded.

The plan they have put forward involves a much more modern set-up, including: replacing the industrial smokestack profile with an office building look, using air cooling instead of water (a big win for local ocean groups), much more efficient and powerful generators, quick start capabilities (from 12 hours to 10 minutes), and a reduced emission output.

For locals, like me, this is a partial win. We get rid of the ugly smokestacks and get cleaner energy, but still have a local plant giving off emissions and using fossil fuel.

The Orange County Register did a feature on what this change means for the community and the state – H.B. to lose landmark stacks for cleaner energy project

So, that image of driving along the California coast may soon change. Maybe those industrial smokestacks will turn into windmills, parks, or knowing how the state works, new million dollar homes.

 

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Wind is cheaper than coal? — Fact checking this statement

The other day I heard in passing, “wind is now cheaper than coal.” If true, this symbolizes the holy grail of renewable energy. It would mean that a turning point for not only cleaner energy, but global warming, climate change, pollution, foreign oil dependence, and more.

To fact check this, I pulled up the top 20 results from Google and narrowed them down to the below articles (most were duplicates pointing at these 5 stories).

Not at all definitive but it does give you an idea of the state of the industry. Just keep in mind that the prices may or may not include subsidies or tax breaks, which can drastically change the costs quoted below.

 

Jul 2012 - In India, wind is cheaper than coal in Indi (w/out subsidies) (Bloomberg Business)

The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India for the first time as improved turbine technology (from GE) and rising fossil-fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc (GKO) said.

 

Mar 2012 – In Michigan wind is cheaper than coal (American Wind Energy Assoc.)

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) recently issued a report that finds that electricity generated from renewable energy sources, at an average cost of $91 per megawatt-hour (9.1 cents/kilowatt-hour), is almost one-third cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant ($133 per MWh, or 13.3 cents/kWh).

Further, the report notes, “The actual cost of renewable energy contracts submitted to the Commission to date shows a downward pricing trend.

 

Feb 2012 – In California, prices doubled in the first decade of 21st century, since 2011 are dropping to parity with natural gas (SF Gate)

The price of renewable power contracts signed by California utilities more than doubled from 2003 through 2011 but has now started to plunge…

The cost of buying electricity from a new natural gas power plant…(in 2011) ranged from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract…The cost of renewable power from wind and solar facilities averaged between 8 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

 

Nov 2011 – Investigation of Bill Clinton’s claim that wind/solar are cheaper than nuclear (Politifact)

  • Conventional Coal – 94.8 (dollars/MWh)
  • Wind – Onshore – 97
  • Nuclear – 113.9
  • Solar – Photovoltaic – 210.7
  • Wind – Offshore – 243.2
  • Solar – Thermal – 311.8

Source: DOE’s Energy Information Administration

 

Nov 2011 – Google retires its initiative RE

It’s not clear here if Google feels this is already won and moving on, or if they have had enough and are quitting. One thing is certain, Google invested nearly a billion dollars ($850 million) in renewable energy last year.

This initiative was developed as an effort to drive down the cost of renewable energy, with an RE<C engineering team focused on researching improvements to solar power technology. At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts.

 

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Final report issued on San Onofre Nuclear Plant – Edison not to blame, it was a Mitsubishi computer glitch

The final review of the radiation leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) has been completed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Among its findings are that Southern California Edison (SCE) responded appropriately to the issue, while Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a company based in Japan, is to blame. They found that Mitsubishi’s “faulty computer modeling” resulted in mismatched components that, after only a year, had worn down significantly.

The good news is that we caught this issue before a catastrophic problem occurred, hinting that the safety protocols from SCE were adequate. The bad news is that we were one computer glitch away from a national disaster.

The outcome of all this is uncertain. You can bet that SCE would like to restart SONGS to start making money again, and they can do so by completing the checklist in the NRC report. They have said publicly this will not be until at least September, probably longer, meanwhile the public is digesting this news and preparing a public hearing from the NRC.

Many are speculating that since the plant was not needed during the heavy-use summer days, maybe it is not needed at all. But, that ignores the fact that other power plants were operating above capacity to compensate. Either way something will need to change, whether it’s an acceptance of the restart of SONGS, a new plan to make normal the over-operation of natural gas plants, or some blended model that takes into account the renewable energy sources coming online in the next few years.

 

More on this…

NRC:

 

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World scientists – we can’t raise the temperature by more than two degrees Celsius

The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius.

Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.)

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees.

We’re not getting any free lunch from the world’s economies, either. With only a single year’s lull in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis, we’ve continued to pour record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, year after year. In late May, the International Energy Agency published its latest figures – CO2 emissions last year rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before.

  • America had a warm winter and converted more coal-fired power plants to natural gas, so its emissions fell slightly
  • China kept booming, so its carbon output (which recently surpassed the U.S.) rose 9.3 percent
  • Japanese shut down their fleet of nukes post-Fukushima, so their emissions edged up 2.4 percent.

 

Keep reading: Rolling Stone - Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

 

 

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Coal power plants are going offline, in favor of Natural Gas plants

“In the past year, coal plants have been facing a perfect storm of falling natural gas prices, a continued trend of high coal prices and weak demand for electricity,” Susan Tierney wrote in the report.

Tierney wrote that those factors have combined to make coal a less desirable fuel source.

Coal-generated electricity has been waning over the past few years, dropping to its lowest level on record in March of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At the same time, natural gas-powered plants are becoming increasingly popular as the price of the fuel falls to record prices and few emissions emitted by natural gas.

According to Doyle Trading Consultants, the trend is expected to continue as more than 41,000 megawatts from coal-fired power plants could be retired by 2020. If true, the coal-fired fleet would be cut by 17 percent in eight years.

 

ViaPerfect storm sinking coal-fired generation, report says

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Over 100 coal plants have closed in U.S. – since last year

Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, bringing total retirements (executed and planned) since January 2010 past the 100 mark to 106.

A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.

More information – Clean Technica

Bloom Energy, an update – from start-up to acceleration, this company is winning

It’s been two years and time for an update on Bloom Energy. Back in February, 2010, the company made a big splash by announcing their technology and their customers.

The technology is revolutionary for the simple fact that it does not use steam-powered turbines. Every power plant in the world from coal to nuclear still uses a steam engine. Think Mark Twain on the Mississippi and you’re not far off.

This technology uses a Solid-Oxide fuel cell to convert natural gas into energy without combustion (or steam).

For decades, experts have agreed that solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) hold the greatest potential of any fuel cell technology. With low cost ceramic materials, and extremely high electrical efficiencies, SOFCs can deliver attractive economics without relying on CHP (steam). But until now, there were significant technical challenges inhibiting the commercialization of this promising new technology.

via Bloom Energy

The “low cost ceramic materials” is huge because traditional fuel cells use expensive and rare ones that America fights China for.

The other major component here is the “technical challenges” that Bloom has overcome using a term they call “R&D on steroids”.

As a venture capital backed company they have been able to rapidly iterate since 2001, resulting in some incredible efficiencies. The first is the fuel cell they launched in 2010 that requires half the natural gas for the same power from traditional sources.

The second, recently launched, allows for double the amount of power with the same cell. Put another way, with the same footprint you get 200 kw instead of 100 kw.

These innovations have been hugely popular among the right set of customers. Companies like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Google, Bank of America, AT&T, and Ebay have all installed the Bloom Servers at their offices.

That success is continuing as seen by the rapid growth in their workforce, which has increased by 70% since 2010, and added 1,000 manufacturing jobs in California. Not to mention establishing an international arm to push this technology worldwide.

Back in 2010, when the company was lauded as the next big thing many were skeptical, including myself. Here is my coverage of that press event launching Bloom Energy.

At this point, though, it seems clear that the only question is when GE will buy the company or start competing with them.

AES power plant in Huntington Beach

If you drive down PCH in Huntington Beach you will pass the only power plant in Orange County. Located at Newland and PCH, across the street from the beach.

The natural gas plant is owned by AES a leading global power company with 132 plants in 32 countries with $17 billion in revenue. It is currently listed at #150 on the Fortune 500 (pdf).

In California, it operates 2 other natural gas plants in Los Alamitos and Redondo Beach. As well as 5 wind stations. Although, the largest section of its portfolio are coal powered plants located elsewhere in the USA.

The plant in Huntington Beach was purchased from Southern California Edison in 1998 and has been in operation since 1958. It uses conventional GM steam turbines among others.

In 2001, the company petitioned to upgrade and then turn on gas burners 3 and 4 (additional source), which would bring the capacity up to 904 MW. They were successful and, in 2002, the city valued the plant at $325 million.

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Why Bloom is a Game Changer

Wow!

What an exciting day in energy. Today Bloom Energy changed the game with their Bloom Server, here is why.

We all know the story that the vast majority of our energy comes from old (and dirty) power plants that use coal and nuclear energy sources. Well the hidden truth behind these “energy sources” is that all they do is heat water to create steam and move turbines. They make steam!

How ridiculous is that. We can send a robot to Mars but to power my iPhone I need some boiling water?

This ridiculous market paradigm is what Bloom hopes to exploit (and make billions in the process). They ignore the source argument over replacing coal and nuclear with wind, solar, or heat. Instead focusing on the energy process itself and applying advanced technology to wring some efficiency out of it.

K.R. Sridhar, CEO of Bloom, PhD, and former Director of Space Technologies at UofA, did just that. He found that a combination of fuel cells and natural gas can get 2x as much power as the steam process can (using same inputs). In his own words, they did it through old fashioned innovation:

“I call it R&D on steroids,” K.R. Sridhar said at the start-up’s offices. “We created an R&D platform where you continuously improve, validate and test. Learn why it broke and move on.”

That RD process has turned out one of the most promising energy technologies to date (imagine needing half as much coal). A fuel cell made out of sand and coated in a cheap metal “oxide” (they are keeping the recipe a secret). Each cell is super thin and just a few inches wide/long and capable of turning natural gas into electricity.

That is the fuel cell side to all this, although it doesn’t sound at all like traditional fuel cells.

The kicker is that this is not future technology. These fuel cells are already in place at many large business sites. Google is reported to be the first to have installed one while eBay, who hosted the press event, said to have five Bloom Servers providing %15 of their energy. A server is about 4,000 cells jammed into a black box that looks like an IT server.

That is just the beginning. This technology is so promising that everybody is joining the party. The press event was attended by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, and Michael Bloomberg (“make no mistake, when we look at Bloom, we are looking at the future of business, economy, and America”).

Finally, the VP and CEO’s of FedEx, Walmart, Staples, Google, Coca Cola, Bank of America, Cox, and eBay were on hand to explain why they love Bloom.

A star studded public relations event or the future of energy technology?

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CNet Live Blog Of Bloom Energy Press Event

Engadget Live Blog of Bloom Energy Press Event