Clean and Clean-Burn: Energy, the way it should be
Of all the energy that is available to us, solar energy is by far the most available and the most evenly distributed energy resource on planet Earth.
Wind and Solar + natural gas = Synergy
- Solar is available all day every day. But not at night.
- Wind is available day and night, but it can produce variable power levels as the wind blows over the landscape.
- Meanwhile, offshore wind turbines produce constant power, spinning at constant speeds for years at a time — except when an operator locks the blades during large storms or during the annual maintenance inspection.
Both solar power and wind power face varying levels of ‘intermittency‘ — which requires the use of ‘peaking power plants‘ or ‘load-following’ power plants — to meet total demand.
‘Catch my Fall’ — All electrical power generators are inter-dependent
How electricity grids use different power generators to meet total and constantly changing electricity demand.
In the case of renewable energy, the negatives include some variability in the total output of solar power or wind power generation due to temporary cloud cover or storms. At such times, natural gas-fired generation can ramp-up to cover any shortfall.
Note: This is a common and daily energy grid practice whether renewable energy is involved or not. Some gas-fired power plants are called peaking power plants which quickly ramp-up to meet output shortfalls. In fact, peaking power plants (which are almost always gas-fired) were created to meet temporary shortfalls — and were in widespread use long before renewable energy ever hit the market.
Also in the case of renewable energy, another negative is that the Sun disappears at night and solar panels stop contributing to the grid. And unless you have offshore wind turbines to make up the shortfall, onshore wind turbines may fall short of total demand. So at night, you need reliable power to make up shortfalls in primary generation.
Note: This is a common and daily energy grid practice whether renewable energy is involved or not. To cover this situation load-following power plants were designed to meet larger output shortfalls. In fact, load-following power plants were created to meet larger, daily, shortfalls — and were in widespread use long before renewable energy ever hit the market.
In the case of natural gas, the negative is that gas is subject to wild price swings, thereby making gas-fired generation very expensive. Which is why it evolved into peaking power plants, less often in the load-following role and almost never as a baseload power generator.
The other negative associated with natural gas is of course, the fact that gas turbines put out plenty of CO2. That we can deal with. Unlike coal, where the CO2 portion of the airborne emissions are almost the least of our worries — as coal emissions are loaded with toxic heavy metals, soot and other airborne toxins.
How can we deal with the CO2 emitted by gas-fired peaking power plants?
As gas-fired peaking power plants typically fire up anywhere from a couple of dozen hours annually, to a few hours of every day (usually to cover the additional load of many air conditioners suddenly switching on during hot summer days, for example) we aren’t talking about a whole lot of CO2.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) of gas-fired CO2 emissions via tree planting
- Peaking power plants operate for a few hours per year. We’re not talking that much CO2.
- Load-following power plants operate for many hours per year. More CO2.
But still, each mature tree absorbs (a low average of) 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere and keeps it in storage for many decades. Some trees, like the ancient Sequoia trees in California, are 3700 years old and store 26 tons of CO2 each!
And, as anyone who has worked in the forest industry knows; Once that first planting hits maturity (in about 10 years) they will begin dropping their yearly seeds. Some trees like the cottonwood tree produce 1 million seeds annually for the life of the tree. American Elm trees set 5 million seeds per year. More trees. Always good.
It’s an easy calculation: “How many tons of CO2 did ABC gas-fired power plant output last year?”
Therefore: “How many trees do we need to plant, to cover those emissions?”
Simply plant a corresponding number of trees and presto! gas-fired generation is carbon neutral
By calculating how many tons each gas-fired peaking plant contributes and planting enough trees each year to cover their CO2 contribution, it could allow them to become just as carbon neutral as solar panels or wind turbines.
The total number of trees that we would need to plant in order to draw gas-fired peaking power plant CO2 emissions down to zero would be a relatively small number — per local power plant.
By calculating how many tons each gas-fired load-following power plant contributes and planting enough trees annually to cover their CO2 contribution they too could become just as carbon neutral as solar panels or wind turbines. Many more trees, but still doable and a simple solution!
The total number of trees that we would need to plant in order to draw gas-fired load-following power plant CO2 emissions down to zero would be a much larger number. But NOT an impossible number!
So now is the time to get kids involved as part of their scholastic environmental studies, planting trees one day per month for the entire school year.
Let the peaking and load-following power plants contribute the tree seedlings as part of their media message that the local gas-fired power plant is completely carbon neutral (ta-da!) due to the combined forces of the gas power plant operator, the natural carbon storage attributes of trees, and students.
Up to one million trees could be planted annually if every school (all grades) in North America contributed to the effort — thereby sequestering an amount of CO2 equal to, or greater than, all gas-fired generation on the continent.
It’s so simple when you want something to work. Hallelujah!
Baseload, peaking, and load-following power plants
Historically, natural gas was too expensive to used in baseload power plants due to the wildly fluctuating natural gas pricing and high distribution costs, but it is in wide use around the world in the peaking power plant role, and less often, in the load following power plant role.
Renewable energy power plants can be linked to ‘peaking’ or ‘load-following’ natural gas-fired power plants to assure uninterrupted power flows.
Peaking power plants operate only during times of peak demand.
In countries with widespread air conditioning, demand peaks around the middle of the afternoon, so a typical peaking power plant may start up a couple of hours before this point and shut down a couple of hours after.
However, the duration of operation for peaking plants varies from a good portion of every day to a couple dozen hours per year.
Using natural gas for baseload power
Natural gas has some strong points in its favour. Often it is the case that we can tap into existing underground gas reservoirs by simply drilling a pipe into naturally occurring caverns in the Earth which have filled with natural gas over many millions of years. In such cases, all that is required is some minor processing to remove impurities and adding some moisture and CO2 to enable safe transport (whether by pipeline, railway, or truck) to gas-fired power plants which may be located hundreds of miles away.
It is the natural gas market pricing system that prevents gas from becoming anything other than a stopgap energy generator (read: peaking or load-following) and almost never a baseload energy generator.
Let’s look at local solutions to that problem.
Several corporations are working with local governments to find innovative ways to capture landfill gas to produce electricity from it.
Increasingly, landfills are now installing perforated pipes underground which draw the landfill gas (so-called ‘swamp methane’) to an on-site processing facility. It is a low-grade gas which is then blended with conventional natural gas to create an effective transportation or power generation fuel.
Waste Management Industries is a global leader in the implementation of this technology, using its own landfills and municipal landfills across North America to produce over 550 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 440,000 homes. This amount of energy is equivalent to offsetting over 2.2 million tons of coal per year. Many more similar operations are under construction as you read this.
Aquatera gives us another great example of how to turn a mundane landfill site into a valuable and clean Waste-to-Fuel resource.
Durban, South Africa, a city of 3.5 million people, has created a huge Waste-to-Fuel landfill power plant that provides electricity to more than 5000 nearby homes.
Durban Solid Waste (DSW) receives 4000 tons of trash per day which produces some 2600 cubic metres of gas daily.
The GE Clean Cycle Waste-to-Fuel power plant arrives in 4 large shipping containers, and once connected to the gas supply pipeline it is ready to power nearby buildings and to sell surplus power to the grid.
One GE Clean Cycle Waste-to-Fuel power plant unit can generate 1 million kWh per year from waste heat and avoid more than 350 metric tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to the emissions of almost 200 cars.
Blending Conventional Natural Gas with Landfill Gas
As conventional natural gas is expensive (and much of the cost is associated with transportation of the gas over long distances) when we blend it 50/50 with landfill gas, we drop the cost of the gas by half. Thereby making blended natural gas (from two very different sources) more competitive as a power generation fuel.
By blending conventional natural gas 50/50 with landfill gas; We could produce baseload power with it — but more likely than that, we could use it to produce reasonably-priced load-following or peaking power to augment existing and future renewable energy power plants — rather than allow all that raw methane from landfills to escape into the atmosphere.
Best of Both Worlds — Renewable Energy and Natural Gas
Partnering renewable energy with natural gas in this way allows each type of power generator to work to their best strength — while countering negatives associated with either renewable energy or natural gas.
Renewable power generation and lower cost natural gas can work together to make coal-fired electrical power generation obsolete and accelerate progress toward our clean air goals.
Wind Power smashes records across Europe
Britain’s fleet of onshore and offshore wind turbines met 22% of electricity demand on Sunday, setting a new record and outperforming coal, which met just 13% of demand.
Across the Channel, Spain has reported high levels of summer clean energy output with over 55% of electricity generation coming from zero emission sources during July. And Germany has announced that it generated more than a third of its energy from renewable sources in the first half of this year, while energy from fossil fuel plants – gas and coal – declined.
“Wind has become an absolutely fundamental component in this country’s energy mix,” RenewableUK Director of External Affairs Jennifer Webber said today in an e-mailed statement. “Wind is a dependable and reliable source of power in every month of year including high summer.” — Bloomberg
These figures are the latest clear signals that renewables are increasingly stealing the limelight from outdated fossil fuels. Earlier this year, onshore wind was revealed as the cheapest form of new electricity generation in Denmark and wind met over half of the country’s power demand last December. Renewable energy is also becoming cost competitive elsewhere with solar power reaching grid parity in Italy, Spain and Germany. This trend clearly indicates to European getting ready to agree a climate and energy framework to 2030 that the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is happening and here to stay. For more on this story click here.
Wind to power 50% of Denmark’s demand by 2020
While other countries debate whether to install wind turbines offshore or in remote areas, Denmark is building them right in its capital. Three windmills were recently inaugurated in a Copenhagen neighbourhood, and the city plans to add another 97.
“We’ve made a very ambitious commitment to make Copenhagen CO2-neutral by 2025,” Frank Jensen, the mayor, says. “But going green isn’t only a good thing. It’s a must.”
The city’s carbon-neutral plan, passed two years ago, will make Copenhagen the world’s first zero-carbon capital. With wind power making up 33% of Denmark’s energy supply, the country already features plenty of wind turbines.
Indeed, among the first sights greeting airborne visitors during the descent to Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport is a string of sea-based wind towers. By 2020, the windswept country plans to get 50% of its energy from wind power. — For more on this story visit Newsweek
Siemens receives Norwegian order for 67 wind turbines
Siemens has announced that it has received an order from Norwegian energy utilities Statoil and Statkraft for 67 wind turbines for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in the UK. The news comes just days after the UK installed their first 6 MW wind turbine at the burgeoning Westermost Rough offshore wind farm in the North Sea. Siemens will manufacture, deliver, install, and commission 67 of its direct-drive 6 MW wind turbines, each of which has a mammoth 154 meter rotor.
“We are proud to convince more and more customers about the advantages of our 6-megawatts-offshore machine”, said Dr. Markus Tacke, CEO of the Wind Power Division of Siemens Energy. “With Dudgeon we extend our project pipeline for this new turbine. This gives us the opportunity to further ramp up production capacity, which is a precondition to bring down the costs for offshore wind.”
The Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm will begin construction in early 2017, and upon completion is expected to provide electricity to more than 410,000 UK households. For more on this story, head over to CleanTechnica
Vestas reports healthy profits and order for 32 – 8MW Wind Turbines
One of the world’s largest wind energy manufacturers, Vestas Wind, reported healthy second quarter earnings for 2014, and is now waiting on DONG Energy’s final investment in a UK offshore wind project which would require the Vestas 8 MW turbines. Vestas reported a strong turnaround from their second quarter earnings a year previously with a 13% increase to €1.34 billion. The company reported a net profit in the second quarter of €94 million ($125 million), compared to a €62 loss a year earlier
The news came just a day before Vestas confirmed that they had entered into a conditional agreement with DONG Energy for the upcoming Burbo Bank Extension in Liverpool Bay off northwest England. Vestas would provide 32 8 MW V164 turbines for the extension project, and are awaiting DONG Energy’s commitment to the project before the deal is sealed.
“Larger and more cost-efficient wind turbines are key elements in the realization of Dong Energy’s strategy towards reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind,” said Samuel Leupold, an executive vice president at Dong. “Competition among the offshore wind turbine manufacturers will increase.”
Offshore construction of the Extension is expected to begin in 2016, and upon completion it is expected the project will be able to provide electricity for more than 230,000 UK homes. — Bloomberg
India’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi says 400 million Indian citizens presently living without electrical service in rural areas of the country will have electricity within five years via upcoming, massive investments in solar power.
Not only that, but the country’s various electrical grids (which are not necessarily connected to each other, nor to the main national grid) will benefit significantly from thousands of distributed solar installations by adding to overall capacity and helping to stabilize weaker parts of the infrastructure.
PM-elect Modi sees no reason why each rooftop in the country cannot install a number of solar panels. Indeed, when millions of rooftops are involved with an average of 10 panels per rooftop (for example), and plenty of land that is unsuitable for growing crops and entire canal systems are already covered with solar panels, you know big numbers are coming.
So, what could India do with 1 billion solar panels?
For starters, every home and business in the country could have reliable (daytime) electricity. Many towns and villages in remote areas would have electrical power for the first time in their history, thereby allowing them entry into the world’s knowledge-based economy. With the advent of electricity, education and commerce should flourish and easy access to online government services will offer significant benefit to many millions of India’s citizens.
And for locations with home-battery backup or diesel-backup power, 24-hour-per-day electricity will become the norm. Employment and productivity in these regions could be expected to rise dramatically and online medical advice could be a lifesaver for those who live in remote areas. All of these are good things to have in a rapidly developing nation.
Then there is the possibility of electrical power sales between electrical power producers and energy consumers of all sizes, whether neighbour-to-neighbour or direct-to-utility, along the projected pathways of the constantly evolving grid system. Finally, (daytime) surplus electricity sales to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan might become commonplace and profitable.
Mr. Modi is taking on an unparalleled task, fraught with challenges. Here is a comment on the present state of affairs in India as it relates to the proposed rural electrification of the country.
Four hundred million Indians, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined, lack electricity. An official of India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recently said that his government wants every home to be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019. Administrations have made similar claims numerous times since India gained independence in 1947, but this time renewable power sources could bring the longstanding promise closer to a realistic vision.
In a sprawling, diverse country of more than 1.2 billion residents this task is tantamount to a second green revolution, the first being agricultural advances that relieved famine across the subcontinent in the middle of the 20th century. — ThinkProgress
India’s utility industry is at a ‘tipping point’
The Indian utility industry is comprised of a mishmash of coal-fired generation, less than reliable nuclear power plants noted for their high maintenance costs, oil-fired power generation, along with some hydro-electric dams and biomass power generation. The ‘pylons and powerlines’ component of the national grid in India is in need of a complete overhaul. On top of all that, the fossil and nuclear power producers have been heavily subsidized for decades and theft of electricity continues to be a multi-billion dollar problem.
Prior to the Indian election, the country’s utility industry was summed up by industry expert, S.L. Rao;
Power retailers were behind on 155 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) of payments to their suppliers as of Jan. 31, reducing their ability to provide electricity to customers. Blackouts may spread as state utilities in Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra slash consumer bills in a populist wave before elections. That’s jeopardizing a $31 billion government bailout of the industry, which requires companies to boost rates.
“The power sector needs tough politics, and the only person in politics today who might be capable of that kind of toughness is Modi,” said S.L. Rao, the head of India’s central electricity regulator from 1998 to 2001, according to his website.
The Indian utility industry “has reached a stage where either we change the whole system quickly or it will collapse.” Rao, who was appointed to the regulatory body by an independent committee, said he maintains no political affiliation. — Bloomberg
On the bright side however, India’s outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begun a process to inform citizens of the benefits of renewable energy and was instrumental in promoting a 4 GigaWatt(GW) solar park being built in four stages. At present it is only partially operational, with 1GW of power flowing now and construction of the three remaining stages continues at a brisk pace. When completed, it will easily be the largest solar park in the world.
Dr. Singh also directed policy towards massive wind power capacity additions, with major offshore wind installations due to come online in 2015. However, even with the efforts of PM Singh, only 4% of total electrical generation came from renewable energy in 2013. Prime Minister Singh’s policy goal of 20GW of solar by 2022 looks likely to be superceded by PM-elect Modi. Perhaps in dramatic fashion.
Tulsi Tanti, Chairman of the Pune India based wind power company The Suzlon Group, told the newswire today that, “the BJP-led government will provide an environment conducive for growth and investments, with major reforms in the infrastructure and renewable energy sector. This is important as India’s economic environment will act as a catalyst in reviving the global economy.” — Forbes
It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work
Hundreds of thousands of direct and related jobs are expected during the 2014-2024 Indian renewable energy boom. And, bonus for consumers, the falling cost of solar and wind power electricity rates will have an overall deflationary effect on the national economy.
Later, as solar and wind power begin to displace fossil and nuclear power, declining healthcare costs, improved crop yields, cleaner air in cities resulting in a better quality of life for citizens — the new and stable energy paradigm will remove many of the historic constraints on the country and its people, allowing India to become all that it can and should be.
At this point, it looks like India’s transition to renewable energy may happen quickly and turn out to be the good-news story of the decade with massive economic, environmental, and human health ramifications — not just for India but for the region and the world. Hats off to India!
Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @JBSsaid
One of the best ways to measure the successful application of renewable energy are on those islands which are not connected to any other electrical grid.
Getting mainland grid power to islands can be an expensive proposition, making it impossible for many islands to receive electricity from the mainland. In the past, islands survived (or subsisted) on expensive diesel power units and obscene quantities of diesel fuel, in order to provide electricity for island residents. Rarely was any kind of renewable energy employed except for some Pacific islands that burned relatively small quantities of coconut oil or palm oil in their diesel generator.
However, islands now have the choice between clean, renewable electricity generation and diesel generator power. Solar power and wind power are the two main ways to have renewable energy on islands, but biomass and in some places, geothermal can provide residents with reliable electrical power.
Renewable Energy Powers At Least Three Populated Islands
At least three populated islands exist in the world that can legitimately be called ‘100% powered by renewable energy’ and more are soon to follow, as islands can now significantly benefit from renewable energy.
Samsø Island, Denmark. A 100% Wind Powered Island
Samsø Island, Denmark is a 100% wind-powered island whose 4100 residents receive all of their electricity from 21 wind turbines and are able to sell their considerable surplus electricity to the rest of the country via an undersea cable system.
Note, Samsø does not import electricity from the mainland grid, rather, they export Samsø Island’s renewable energy to the mainland.
In less than ten years, Samsø went from producing 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year — one of the highest carbon emissions per capita in Europe — to just 4.4 tonnes (the U.S. is at 17.6), and has proven that running on 100 percent renewable electricity is possible.
The island now heats 60 percent of its homes with three district heating plants running on straw, and one which runs on a combination of wood chips and solar panels. People outside of the heating plants’ reach have replaced or supplemented their oil burner with solar panels, ground-source heat pumps, or wood pellet boilers.
Eleven onshore wind turbines provide 11 megawatts of power, enough to power the entire electrical load of the island (29,000 MWh per year). And 10 offshore wind turbines produce 23 megawatts, enough to compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the island’s transport sector.
This was all accomplished within eight years, two years ahead of schedule. — Rocky Mountain Institute
Tokelau, South Pacific is an island nation made up of three tiny atolls which has been powered by 100% solar power since October 2012.
Previous to that, the Pacific nation was powered by diesel generators which frequently broke down and cost $800,000 per year just for fuel. That is quite a burden for a nation whose population amounts to a grand total of 1500 citizens.
Tokelauans only had electricity 15 to 18 hours per day. They now have three solar photovoltaic systems, one on each atoll. The 4,032 solar panels (with a capacity of around one megawatt), 392 inverters, and 1,344 batteries provide 150 percent of their current electricity demand, allowing the Tokelauans to eventually expand their electricity use.
In overcast weather, the generators run on local coconut oil, providing power while recharging the battery bank. The only fossil fuels used in Tokelau now are for the island nation’s three cars.
New Zealand advanced $7 million to Tokelau to install the PV systems. But with the amount of money saved on fuel imports — the system will pay for itself in a relatively short time period (nine years with simple payback). — CleanTechnica.com
Iceland has produced 100% of its electrical power from renewables since 1980. The country’s hydroelectric dams provide 74 percent of its electricity — geothermal power produces the remaining 26 percent. Some wind turbines are now being installed to meet anticipated future electrical demand.
The aluminum industry was attracted to Iceland to take advantage of the low renewable energy electricity prices on the island nation, which provides an economic boost to Iceland generally, and employment for some Icelanders.
Despite a land area of 100,000 km², only 300,000 people inhabit the island, two-thirds of those in the capital Reykjavik. Yet, Iceland shows what can be done when a nation puts its mind to the task of eliminating fossil fuels.
Until the extensive development of the island’s hydro and geothermal resources, the country was dependent upon coal and oil for providing transportation, fueling its fishing fleet, and heating its homes.
The latter is not something to take lightly in a nation just south of the Arctic Circle. Iceland’s older residents can remember a time when coal smoke, not steam from the island’s famed [volcanic] fumaroles, shrouded the capital.
Iceland is a leader in geothermal development and exports its technical expertise worldwide. The country, along with the Philippines and El Salvador, is among countries with the highest penetration of geothermal energy in electricity generation worldwide.
On a per capita basis, Iceland is an order of magnitude ahead of any other nation in installed geothermal generating capacity. — RenewEconomy.com.au
Perhaps moreso than anywhere else, island residents can reap the benefits of renewable energy. The high cost of shipping fossil fuels to islands, not to mention the high cost of the fossil product itself, can make the transition to renewables an economic and environmental benefit for island residents.
Other 100-percent-renewable-powered islands include Floreana in the Galapagos (population: 100) and El Hierro in the Canary Islands (population: 10,000+).
Islands with 100-percent-renewable-energy goals include: Cape Verde, Tuvalu, Gotland (Sweden), Eigg Island, Scotland, and all 15 of the Cook Islands.
By switching to renewable energy, island nations reduce their reliance on imported fuels, keep money in the local economy, provide their residents with reliable power, and lower their carbon emissions. They can also serve as “test beds” for adoption of new technologies and models of what can happen on a larger scale.
And island nations are helping us learn what needs to be done. — Laurie Guevara-Stone.