Sunday, September 14, 2014

California Peaking in Power Demand in 2014

Subtitle:  Grid Is Peaking a Bit Late This Year

Watching the California grid operator, CAISO (California Independent System Operator) is part of keeping tabs on climate change.  After all, if the warmist-alarmists are correct, the climate is getting warmer due to increasing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.  The warmists are completely wrong, of course.  

This post is timely since there has been a fairly cool summer thus far in California, with the grid not being pushed much.  Today, however, the temperatures reached 106 F at 2:00 pm in downtown Los Angeles as measured at the campus of University of Southern California.  Weather forecasts are for more of the same for the next two days.  The normal temperature for this part of September is 83-84 F, with record temperatures 100 to 103 F set in 2012 and 1909.   The cause of the high temperatures is merely a stationary high pressure system.  Additional CO2 in the earth's atmosphere has nothing to do with it.  

The power grid peaked today at 41,540 MW per the CAISO website.  Their forecast for tomorrow is about 10 percent higher at 44,842 MW.   The weekend is almost always lower in demand than a weekday.  

For perspective, below are the peak demands for the past few years, again from CAISO:  (format from left to right in Year, MW demand, Month and Day, time of peak in hours and minutes; 16:00 is 4:00 pm)

1998 44,659 August 12 14:30
1999 45,884 July 12 16:52
2000 43,784 August 16 15:17
2001 41,419 August 7 16:17
2002 42,441 July 10 15:01
2003 42,689 July 17 15:22
2004 45,597 September 8 16:00
2005 45,431 July 20 15:22
2006 50,270 July 24 14:44
2007 48,615 August 31 15:27
2008 46,897 June 20 16:21
2009 46,042 September 3 16:17
2010 47,350 August 25 16:20
2011 45,545 September 7 16:30
2012 46,846 August 13 15:53
2013 45,097 June 28 16:54
2014 45,090 September 15 17:00  (estimated, to be confirmed)

The latest such peak day was September 8, in 2004.  If tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday are the peak days, this will be the latest such peak for the past 17 years.  

The grid may be pushed a bit, since the San Onofre nuclear power plants are permanently offline since 2012 due to the radiation release caused by defective steam generators, but also from the lack of hydroelectric power during the ongoing drought.    The renewable generation in California includes solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and biogas.  Solar and wind are variable while the other three are very stable.   In the current heat wave, very little wind is blowing; the average for today (Sunday September 14) was approximately 1000 MW.   

The power to the grid, therefore, must either be provided by natural gas-fired power plants, the one remaining nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon, or imported if possible.  The state may also request load reductions from major users to ease the load.  

CAISO information on grid demand and supplies, including renewables, can be found at this link.

Update: 9/15/14, CAISO demand peaked at 45,090 MW today at approximately 17:00 hours.   This is the highest of the year, thus far.  Approximately 7,000 MW of this was provided by renewable energy: 4500 solar, 1000 wind, 900 geothermal, and the balance from small hydro, bio-mass and bio-gas.   - end update. 

Update:  9/17/14, the grid peak demand was lower today, at 43,757 MW at around 16:00 hours.  This reduced demand coincided with an increase in wind across the state, and wind-generated power.  The wind brings with it a cooling effect, reducing air conditioning loads.  The wind also produced approximately 2,800 MW of power.  Yet another benefit of wind-energy: cooling the atmosphere and thus reducing the load on the grid as it did today.  All the gas-fired plants were able to ease up a bit.   

The heat wave has ended, and cooler weather with lower grid demands will exist until sometime next summer.  -- end update

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (C) 2014 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved




Monday, September 1, 2014

Finland Nuclear Plant Delayed Yet Again

Subtitle: Four Year Construction Time More Than Tripled

The 1,600 MWe nuclear power plant under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland, is now delayed so much that first power production is not expected until sometime in 2018.  That is 9 years later than the original schedule, with a 13 year project construction time.  See link to the Finnish utility's website, TVO, and the announcement.  

This is yet more evidence that the nuclear power industry cannot deliver what they promise: the plant is not only years and years behind schedule, it is billions of Euros over budget.  

This plant has been the subject of previous SLB articles, see here, here, here, and here

This plant is designed for 1,600 MWe output, in an attempt to attain lower costs from economy of scale.  Larger plants can have lower production costs, and in many industries these economies are achieved.   But, with nuclear power plants, this does not seem to be the case.  Any economy of scale is surely obliterated by the increased financing costs on construction loans over a 13 year (2018-2005) construction period, plus escalations from inflation for materials, services, and labor.   These concepts are explored in some detail in Part Six of Truth About Nuclear Power (see link). 

The truth about the Finland reactor is that four more years are required, at least are now estimated as required, before startup.  Four years is a long time, and many more mistakes and problems can occur.  The plant may very well not see first production in 2018, but will likely be delayed much more.  

The reality is that, even after 50 years or more of design, development, actual experience, fine-tuning, and making best efforts around the world, nuclear power (as of 2011 per EIA statistics, see TANP part 11) provides only 11.7 percent of all power world-wide.   The only technologies smaller than nuclear’s share are oil (4.8 percent) and a catch-all category (4.5 percent) that includes wind, solar, geothermal, and various other renewable power.   One would expect that nuclear, if it were truly a superior technology economically and safe, would have easily surpassed coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power (41, 22, and 16 percent approximately, respectively).

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell  -- All rights reserved



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Molten Salt Reactor Not Good To Go

Subtitle: Extolling Virtues and Ignoring Faults is Deceptive 

A laughable post appeared today at WattsUpWithThat, titled "A Universally Acceptable and Economical Energy Source?"    The article describes, in over-the-top glowing terms, a molten salt nuclear reactor to produce commercial power.    Apparently the author, and those who commented on the post, have not read my article 28 on TANP from July 20, 2014 in which the multiple drawbacks of a MSR (molten salt reactor) are provided.   Nothing has changed since July, however, nuclear cheerleaders continue to sell, sell, sell the gullible, the ill-informed, their desperate message of Nuclear Is Cheap!  Nuclear Is Safe!    Nothing could be farther from the truth.     Link here to my earlier article on MSR. 

To recap the many drawbacks:

MSR will have much more expensive materials of construction for the reactor, steam generator, molten salt pumps, and associated piping and valves, compared to the PWR design.   There will be no cost savings, but likely a cost increase.  That alone puts MSR out of the running for future power production.  

The safety issue is also not resolved, as pressurized water leaking from the steam generator into the hot, radioactive molten salt will explosively turn to steam and cause incredible damage.  The chances are great that the radioactive molten salt would be explosively discharged out of the reactor system and create more than havoc.  Finally, controlling the reaction and power output, finding materials that last safely for 3 or 4 decades, and consuming vast quantities of cooling water are all serious problems.  

The greatest problem, though, is likely the scale-up by a factor of 250 to 1, from the tiny project at ORNL to a full-scale commercial plant with 1500 MWth output.   Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak.    There are serious reasons the US has not pursued development of the thorium MSR process. 


The WUWT article actually states some laugh-out-loud aspects of the "new" design.  First, the "new" design supposedly uses zero cooling water.   At the same time, the author claims higher efficiency.  Any decent process engineer will tell the author that waste heat must be dissipated to some heat sink, either cooling water or ambient air.  Cooling water is the usual choice because it is usually colder than air but more importantly, the capital cost of a water-cooled heat exchanger is far less than a comparable air-cooled heat exchanger.   A water-cooled exchanger is also far more compact, has fewer operating problems, and is not subject to serious control issues that air-cooled exchangers have.  

Next, the author claims the near-zero, or low pressure, for the molten salt as a safety feature.  As shown above, and in the TANP article 28, materials leak when tubes corrode, and the leak is from high-pressure into the low-pressure molten salt. 

Finally, the author claims a 500 MWe plant will cost only $2 billion and require only 36 months to construct.   That is approximately 1,500 MWth output.  That is indeed laughable, to have such a very low cost.  But then, nuclear advocates are very prone to hawking low-balled construction cost estimates, then blaming anyone but themselves for cost over-runs.  We see this time and again.   

The final point, and one that shall always be the deal-killer:  if the MSR reactor system was any good at all, why has it not already been developed, designed, tested, constructed, operated at larger and larger scales, and completely dominated the commercial power industry?   The answer is, of course, that MSR has insurmountable engineering issues, which are well-known to those in the industry.  

A version of the MSR is being built, we are told, in China.  Perhaps economics does not matter to them.  Perhaps operating problems also do not matter to them.  Perhaps the state-run media will refuse to report on the plant explosions and other serious upsets that will inevitably occur.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell  -- All rights reserved  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time-Shifting Building Cooling

Subtitle:  How To Cut Power Bills and Still Cool The Building

It has long been known that one can save on the power bill by using cheap power at night to chill water, or freeze the water into ice, then using the cold created thereby the next day to provide air conditioning.  University of Southern California, USC, has done this for some years.  Today, an article is published showing how Goldman Sachs is doing the same for its large skyscraper in Wall Street.  see link  

The beauty of the system is it can also be a way to cut power prices even more - especially when very expensive power prices exist due to brand-new nuclear power plants.  Instead of using electricity at night, one would purchase natural gas to run thermal chillers, store the chilled water or ice, then run only low-powered fans and pumps to chill the building the next day.   Customers in Georgia and South Carolina will soon be looking into this with great interest as the very, very expensive new nuclear plants are built on their grids. 

Removing a large load from the grid - especially at night - forces nuclear plants to reduce rate at night.  The utility then must request a rate increase to pay for the nuclear plant, since fewer kWh are produced.  This makes it even more attractive for its customers to either stop buying power, generate their own power, or as this article shows, purchase cheap natural gas at night in order to not run expensive air conditioners the next day.  

As shown earlier in The Truth About Nuclear Power, part 7, as nuclear power percentage increases on a grid, more and more customers will opt out of the grid by reducing their purchases, self-generating, or by other means.  see link  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- All rights reserved


Monday, August 18, 2014

French Nuclear Reactors Too Old - Cannot Cut It

An excellent article from EurActive,com, dated 8/18/2014, showing the weakness of aging nuclear power plants not just in France, but other countries in Europe.  As the nuclear plants grow older, their time off-line for maintenance and inspection increases.  see link

Yet another reason nuclear plants do not last 60 years, as some advocates claim.  Still another reason nuclear plants have higher costs per kWh produced: their output falls off as they age, and capital costs and fixed operating costs must be spread out over fewer and fewer kWh sold.    From the article:

" EDF's average load factor for its French nuclear fleet [was] 73 percent in 2013, which is also down from its highest level of 77.6 percent in 2005, the company's 2013 results show."  (load factor is the ratio of the actual output to the nameplate capacity)

The nuclear plants also become less and less reliable as they age, requiring 100 percent backup ready and running to take over the load when the plants are shut down.   Sound familiar?  This is the constant whining from the nuclear advocates about "unreliable" wind and solar power.   Yet, with a nuclear plant, the grid experiences approximately 1000 MW of power loss instantly when the nuke stops.  

At the present, 50 percent of the nuclear plants in Belgium are off-line for maintenance.  The power must be provided from other plants - essentially 100 percent backup for those plants.  

The Truth About Nuclear Power series (30 articles in total) address many of the same issues in Part 10, 11, 15, and 16  (see links below)




Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

Copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell.  All rights reserved.








Saturday, August 16, 2014

Speech on Fertilizer Explosion in West - Texas 2013

I am happy to accept a speaking engagement for the Southern California section of AIChE, (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) for their September, 2014 monthly meeting.   My topic will be the safety issues that led to the fatal explosion in West, Texas, of an ammonia-based fertilizer distribution company, and the legal issues that ensued. 

The little town is a bit south of Dallas.  The event started with a fire, followed a few minutes later by a tremendous explosion.  Several people lost their lives in the explosion.  A number of structures were destroyed or damaged.  The explosion registered on earthquake seismometers as 2.1 intensity.  

More on the speech will be added after the meeting.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

(c)  Copyright 2014 by Roger Sowell   All rights reserved. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Truth About Wind Energy - Part One

Subtitle:  Wind Energy for Long Term Power

Following the success of a 30-article series on The Truth About Nuclear Power  see link, this article begins a similar series on Truth About Wind Energy, TAWE.    Arguments rage about wind power, with detractors making wild claims about high electric power costs, grid instabilities, unfair subsidies from government, death to flying birds and mammals, unsightly turbines blighting views, and others.   Supporters show that wind has enormous potential to replace almost every other form of grid power, that grids operate stably and will be even better in the future, subsidies are found in other forms of power generation - especially nuclear power, there is an urgency to develop renewable power and global warming has nothing to do with it, and many other points that favor wind power. 

This series of articles, planned to be approximately one dozen, takes the many arguments and looks at each one factually, with sound engineering, economics, legal aspects, and policy objectives.

This first article is a work in-progress, and will likely be modified from time to time.   As with TANP articles, each article in the series will be linked at the bottom as it is published.

A first effort at topics for TAWE include:  Is wind economic? Costs to install wind turbines? Annual output, capacity factor? What about subsidies? Technology types for turbines? Onshore vs Offshore potential? Impact on existing grids? Backup power supplies required? Experience shows us what?    Emissions from backup plants?   Impact on birds, bats? Safety – is anyone injured? Brief history of wind power? Longterm outlook for energy supplies?  Time-shifting energy via storage and discharge?   A concluding chapter. 

Update: 8/4/2014 - Is wind economic?

The calculation for wind energy economics is very simple, in that the cost/benefit analysis is fairly easy to perform.  As with most cost/benefit analyses, we begin with the benefits.  It makes no sense to calculate the costs of a system if there are no benefits, so we must determine first if there are any benefits. 

Benefits are found from average output in kW multiplied by average hours per year of generation, multiplied by the average price per kWh for power sales.  

1)  $ = kW x hrs/y x $/kWh

Power from wind is given by the equation (2)

2)  kW = 1/2 / 1000 x Eff x density x Area x Velocity ^3

Where W = Watts power produced
Eff   =  percent of available wind energy extracted by the turbine
density = air density, a constant usually at 1.225 kg/cubic meter
Area = swept area of the wind turbine blades, square meters
Velocity = wind speed in meters per second

For a sample calculation, 
Eff = 0.4
Area = 5,026 sq meters (from a rotor 80 meters diameter)
Velocity = 16 meters per second (equivalent to 36 miles per hour)

Then kW = 0.5 /1000 x 0.4 x 1.225 x 5,026 x 16 ^3 
kW = 5,044

For a location where wind blows an average of 7 hours per day, then hours per year is 

3) hrs/y = 7 x 365  = 2555

If the average sales price is $0.075 per kWh, then

$ benefits per year = 5,044 x 2,555 x 0.075  = $967,000 (rounded to thousands)


We can then proceed to the cost side of the analysis, having established that a 5 MW wind turbine at that location would produce revenue of almost $1,000,000 per year. 


For an investor, seeking a minimum return on his money of 10 percent before taxes, a simple method of screening a project is to determine the number of years required to payback the investment.   Using 10 year payback period, then the investment can be:

4) Inv = 10 * 1,000,000 = $10,000,000 

A check on the investment per kW of turbine output shows 

5)  $/kW = 10,000,000 / 5,000  = 2,000 (approximately)

This result, $2,000 per kW, compares favorably to that published by California Energy Commission for onshore wind projects with 2009 installation, where the cost was $1,990 per kW.    It should be noted that wind turbine costs have declined considerably since then (only 5 years ago at this writing), with some sources indicating 30 percent decline.   (end update 8/4/14)

The above provides the basic equations for computing wind power output, however, the turbine efficiency and wind speed are critical for individual project performance.   In the US, there are actually few locations, if any, that have wind speed of 16 m/s (36 miles per hour) for 7 hours each day.  Wind speed maps of the US are available; these show a typical range from zero to 10 m/s.   Wind speed is also classified into 7 classes, 1 - 7, with good wind being in class 3 and 4, and excellent wind in class 5.  These classes are for wind speed of 6.4 to 7.5 m/s for class 3 to 4, and from 7.5 to 8.0 m/s for class 5.   In places offshore on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, wind averages 9 to 10 m/s.   The great wind corridor from the Canadian border to central Texas, and extending from the Rocky Mountains east approximately 450 miles, has annual average wind speeds of approximately 9 m/s.  

Using a value for class 7 wind, 9 m/s in the above equations, gives 894 kW, a factor of 5.6 times less than 5,044.    

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California


As always on SLB, comments are welcome however they must be on-topic, non-commercial, and respectful.  All comments are moderated by Roger Sowell.  Comments may not appear right away. 

Copyright 2014, Roger E. Sowell