Orbital Marine Power (https://orbitalmarine.com) is developing a large, moored tidal turbine, the O2, which they claim is the most powerful tidal turbine in the world. The O2 soon will be deployed at sea off the Orkney Islands, northeast of Scotland.
Key features of the O2 tidal turbine are:
74 meter (243 ft) tubular steel hull with fore and aft mooring connections.
Hydraulically-actuated steel legs extending from the hull support the generator nacelles and rotors that are deployed underwater after the hull has been moored using a four-point mooring system.
Two 20 meter (65.6 ft) diameter, 2-bladed rotors give the O2 more than 600 m2 (6,458 ft2) of swept area to capture flowing tidal energy.
Blade pitch control enables bi-directional operation of the turbines with the hull in a fixed moored position (the hull doesn’t swing with the tide).
Each rotor drives a 1 MWe generator housed in the nacelle.
Power is delivered to shore by a submarine cable.
Here are three short videos that will give you a quick introduction to this remarkable machine:
If the O2 demonstration proves to be successful, Orbital Marine Power plans to develop and deploy larger tidal turbines in the future.
So, what does the O2 tidal turbine have in common with an airship? The Aeromodeller II airship design developed by Belgian engineer Lieven Standaert implements an airborne mooring as a means to generate power using two wind turbines while remaining aloft.
Both the O2 tidal turbine and the Aeromodeller II airship are buoyant vehicles in their respective media (water and air, respectively) and both are designed to extract power from that medium while moored (or tethered). Important differences are that the O2 tidal turbine is permanently moored and supplies power to users on land. The Aeromodeller II drops its anchor periodically to recharge its own power system while tethered and then raises its anchor to continue its journey. You’ll find more information on the Aeromodeller II airship in my separate article here: https://lynceans.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Aeromodeller-II-converted.pdf
In a 12 December 2019 NUCNET article, David Dalton, reporting on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid, summarized the following points made by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi:
The world is “well off the mark” from reaching the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
Around two-thirds of the world’s electricity still is generated through burning fossil fuels.
Greater use of low-carbon nuclear power is needed to ensure the global transition to clean energy includes a baseload backup to variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
Greater deployment of a diverse mix of low-carbon sources such as hydro, wind and solar, as well as nuclear power, and battery storage, will be needed to reverse that trend and set the world on track to meet climate goals.
I concur with these points and feel that Mr. Grossi has laid out a reasonable and responsible position on the future role of nuclear power in “green” energy solutions that are focused on the primary goal of reducing worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. The commercial nuclear power industry has demonstrated the ability to reliably generate carbon-free electricity, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in units of a thousand megawatts or more per power plant. Except for the largest hydroelectric facilities, no other component of a carbon-neutral energy infrastructure offers such capabilities, which are essential for delivering 24/7 service to large users and stabilizing the grid. Unfortunately, Mr. Grossi’s view is not shared by many EU energy advocates seeking to get member states to agree to the EU “Green Deal.”
The Energy Union has quite a challenge, starting with the EU’s energy mix (circa 2016) as shown in the following chart:
Complicating matters, the EU currently imports nearly 40% of its natural gas from Russia.
The European Union’s Green Deal is described as “a new growth strategy that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 and where economic growth is decoupled from resource use.” You’ll find the EU’s 11 December 2019 detailed description of the Green Deal here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1576150542719&uri=COM%3A2019%3A640%3AFIN
To enforce this “Green Deal,” the EU intends to adopt a “climate law” that is scheduled to be presented to Member States in March 2020.
The EU’s “Green Deal” is strongly biased against almost anything except renewable energy sources
On 11 December 2019, Reuters reported that, “European Union states have blocked a set of new rules governing which financial products can be called ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’, EU officials said, in a major setback for the bloc’s climate ambitions.” The Reuters report noted that EU lawmakers wanted nuclear and fossil fuel funding clearly excluded from the definition of “green” investments. You can read this Reuters report here: https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL8N28L3GD
This EU position is a particular problem for France, where nuclear power provided 71.7% of total French generating capacity in 2018 and about 90% of total electrical capacity was provided by low-carbon sources (nuclear + renewables). In October 2019, Électricité de France announced that it is planning to make a decision in 2021 on building several more large nuclear power plants, which will be needed in the next decade as its oldest 900 MWe pressurized water reactor (PWR) plants start reaching their retirement age.
In contrast, nuclear power provided 11.8% of total German generating capacity in 2018 and about 47% of total electrical capacity was provided by low-carbon sources (nuclear + renewables), while 48.3% of total generating capacity was provided by a fossil fuel sources. Germany plans to decommission the last of its seven remaining nuclear power plants, representing an aggregate of 9,256 MWe of carbon-free electric generating capacity, in the next three years, by December 2022. It will be a challenge for new renewable energy sources to be deployed in time to make up for the lost carbon-free generating capacity from nuclear power. It is notable that Germany gets 7% of its total generating capacity from burning biomass, which the EU, in its great wisdom, defines as a carbon-neutral renewable energy source. More on that later.
How does the EU define “clean energy”?
The EU’s definition of “clean energy” is rather elusive. On the EU Green Deal website, the Clean Energy fact sheet identifies the following three “key principle:”
Prioritize energy efficiency and develop a power sector based largely on renewable sources
Secure and affordable EU energy supply
Fully integrated, interconnected and digitalized EU energy market
Only “renewable sources” are actually defined as sources for “clean energy.” Nuclear power is not identified as a “clean” energy source. I was unable to find on the EU Green Deal website any performance metrics related to “clean” energy source performance relative to carbon emissions.
The focus is on a distributed electric power infrastructure that takes advantage of many ways to improve energy efficiency, manage power consumption and generate power from distributed renewable energy sources. Nuclear power is not mentioned at all in this document. However, “large scale biopower” from agricultural and forest sources is addressed.
How does the EU define “renewable energy sources”?
The latest EU directive on the promotion of energy use from renewable sources is Directive (EU) 2018/2001, dated 11 December 2018. The definition of “renewable energy sources” traces back to Directive 2003/54/EC, dated 26 June 2003:
“Renewable energy sources” means renewable non-fossil energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases)
So, fossil energy sources are excluded and nuclear energy sources are not included.
This seems logical but the devil is in the details. The main problem is that EU energy policy equates “renewable” with being “carbon free,” when, for some renewable energy sources, this is far from the truth. As an example, existing EU policy treats burning wood fuel in power plants as carbon-neutral while this fuel generates 15 to 20% more carbon dioxide per megawatt than the coal fuel it replaces. This has resulted in a trend among EU coal-burning power plants to switch to wood pellets and claim the emission credit while actually polluting more than before. See my 7 January 2017 post, “Hey, EU!! Wood may be a Renewable Energy Source, but it isn’t a Clean Energy Source,” for details. The direct link to this post is here: https://lynceans.org/all-posts/hey-eu-wood-may-be-a-renewable-energy-source-but-it-isnt-a-clean-energy-source/
Fortunately, this matter may be on its way to being addressed in an EU court. A 4 March 2019 article by Karen Savage, writing for Climate Liability News, reports, “The suit, which was filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, asks the court to prevent EU countries from counting forest wood as a renewable energy source under the 2018 revised Renewable Energy Directive known as RED II.” Major sources of wood pellets used in EU power plants are in the southeast U.S., where greatly increased logging activities are depleting established, slow-growth hardwood forests. So the EU is OK with a “clean” energy policy that, in practice, increases current pollution locally in the EU while simultaneously stripping hardwood forests in a location outside of the EU. It seems to me that this is an environmental “double whammy” that can only make sense on paper, but not in practice. You can read Karen Savage’s article here: https://www.climateliabilitynews.org/2019/03/04/biomass-european-union-lawsuit/
Regarding the EU Green Deal and Energy Union, I’m certain that the devil is in the details, and EU Member States need to have the opportunity to assess these details so there is no misunderstanding when EU climate laws are passed.
The EU’s Green Deal has major flaws and needs to be recast to acknowledge the important role that nuclear power can play as a large, carbon-free source of electric power while also helping to ensure 24/7 grid stability. Failing to recognize the role of nuclear power as a carbon-free source of electric power will serve to highlight the strong bias and hypocrisy of an EU energy leadership that has lost its way. It also would serve as another example of why Brexit makes sense.
Even fossil power, with appropriate advanced environmental controls, should have a role in the Green Deal. For example, a rapid shift away from coal to natural gas would significantly decrease near-term carbon dioxide emissions. Similarly, abandoning the laughable EU policy on “carbon-neutral” biomass would eliminate a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions within the EU, and it would save environmentally valuable hardwood forests in the southeast U.S. and elsewhere.
Update: 16 December 2019 – Finally, some common sense prevailed, but only under very intense political pressure and, probably, fear of failure
In an article by Samuel Petrequin, “EU leaders include nuclear energy in green transition,” the Associated Press reported:
“EU heads of state and government agreed that nuclear energy will be recognized as a way to fight climate change as part of a deal that endorsed the climate target. While Poland did not immediately agree to the plan, the concessions on nuclear energy were enough for the Czech Republic and Hungary to give their approval. The two nations had the support of France, which relies on nuclear power for 60% of its electricity. They managed to break the resistance of skeptical countries, including Luxembourg, Austria and Germany to get a clear reference to nuclear power in the meeting’s conclusions. ‘Nuclear energy is clean energy,’ Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said. ‘I don’t know why people have a problem with this.’”
The European Council memorandum contains only a single reference to “nuclear,” more in the form of a resigned acknowledgement rather than an endorsement.
“The European Council acknowledges the need to ensure energy security and to respect the right of the Member States to decide on their energy mix and to choose the most appropriate technologies. Some Member States have indicated that they use nuclear energy as part of their national energy mix.”
Congratulations to the representatives from France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and others for fighting the hard political fight and winning a place for nuclear power in the EU’s Green Deal. But be watchful because the EU anti-nuclear forces are still there.
Update: 20 March 2020 – Yes, the EU anti-nuclear forces are still there.
On 10 March 2020 the European Commission issued a press release announcing its new industrial strategy, “Making Europe’s businesses future-ready: A new Industrial Strategy for a globally competitive, green and digital Europe.” You can read the press release and download related documents here: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_416
While the plan highlights the need to “secure a sufficient and constant supply of low-carbon energy at competitive prices,” the word “nuclear” is notably absent from the EU’s industrial strategy. Not much of a surprise, considering the EU’s behavior on the Green New Deal.
The next day, on 11 March, the Brussels-based nuclear industry group Foratom called on the EU decision-makers to support the nuclear sector’s important role within the EU economy. Foratom’s Director General, Yves Desbazeille, noted, “Not only is it (nuclear) low-carbon, it is also flexible, dispatchable and cost-effective”.
Foratom highlighted the following key attributes of nuclear energy in the context of the EU industrial strategy:
Maintain the competitiveness of Europe’s industry as energy often accounts for a significant share of manufacturing costs,
Decarbonize industry and thus contribute towards the 2050 carbon neutrality target,
Provide industry with the energy it needs when it needs it, which is particularly important for processes which run 24/7,
Other industries by offering alternative sources of decarbonized energy such as hydrogen and heat (sector coupling).
This is further evidence that EU nuclear energy advocates are fighting an uphill battle for recognition by the entrenched EU bureaucracy that nuclear power is a zero-carbon source of power and it can make an important (and maybe essential) contribution to meeting the EU’s 2050 carbon neutrality goal.
Best wishes to Foratom in their efforts to secure a place in the EU industrial strategy for nuclear power.
Update 5 May 2020 – More support for EU nuclear power
SNETP (Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform) was established in 2007, with EC support, as a group of non-governmental organizations that promote and coordinate research on nuclear fission.
On 24 April 2020, SNETP sent a letter, endorsed by more than 100 organizations, to the Vice-presidents of the European Commission and the EU Commissioner for Energy calling for a “just and timely assessment of nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy of Sustainable Finance.”
When enacted, the EU’sTaxonomy Regulation is intended to be a tool to guide future energy investments by providing investors with information on which activities and technologies contribute to the EU’s sustainability goals. In their March 2020 final recommendations, the technical expert group (TEG) currently advising the EC on sustainable energy finance did not include nuclear power as a low-carbon and sustainable electricity source.
Clearly, the battle lines have formed, with the anti-nuclear elements of the EU bureaucracy on one side and organizations like Foratom and SNETP on the other. Against the behemoth EU bureaucracy, my best wishes go out to the underdogs, Foratom, SNETP, and other organizations and individuals that understand how nuclear power can play important roles in helping the EU achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
In an effort to improve the generating and economic performance of wind turbines, manufacturers have been designing and building increasingly larger machines. Practical limits on transporting these very long and heavy components between the factories and the installation sites may limit the scale of the wind turbines selected for some applications and may require novel solutions that affect component design, factory siting and choice of transportation mode. In this post, we’ll take a look at these issues.
1. The latest generation of wind turbines
1.1 GE Cypress platform
On 13 March 2019, General Electric (GE) Renewable Energy announced that its largest onshore wind turbine prototype, named Cypress, started commercial operation in the Netherlands. Unlike other large wind turbines, the prototype Cypress composite turbine blades come in two pieces and are assembled on site. Cypress was announced in September 2017 and construction of the prototype began in 2018.
The Cypress 5.3-158 prototype has a nominal generating capacity of 5.3 MW. A smaller Cypress 4.8-158 (with a 4.8 MW rating) is currently under production at GE’s Salzbergen, Germany factory, and it is expected to be commissioned by the end of the 2019. Both have a rotor diameter of 158 meters (518.3 ft).
GE reports that the Cypress platform is “powered by a revolutionary two-piece blade design that makes it possible to use larger rotors and site the turbines in a wider variety of locations. The Annual Electricity Production (AEP) improvements from the longer rotors help to drive down Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE), and the proprietary blade design allows these larger turbines to be installed in locations that were previously inaccessible.” Site accessibility can be limited by the practicality of ground transportation of single-piece blades that can be nearly 91.4 meters (300 feet) long.
1.2 GE LM 88.4 P, the longest one-piece rotor blade in the world
LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy business, has delivered the longest one-piece wind turbine blades built to date, the LM 88.4 P, which measure 88.4 meters (290 ft) long. Three of these giant blades are installed onshore in Denmark on an Adwen’s AD 8-180 wind turbine, which has an 8 MW nominal generating capacity and a 180 meter (590.5 ft) rotor diameter. You can get a sense of the size of an LM 88.4 P in the following photo showing a rotor blade leaving the factory.
1.3 GE Haliade-X platform
GE is developing an even larger wind turbine platform, the Haliade X, which will become the world’s largest wind turbine when it is completed. This 12 MW platform, which is being developed primarily for offshore wind farms, features 107 meter (351 ft) long one-piece blades and a 220 meter (722 ft) rotor diameter. The first prototype unit will be installed onshore near Rotterdam, Netherlands, where it will stand 259 meters (850 ft) tall, from the base of the tower to the top of the blade sweep.
Construction of the prototype Haliade-X wind turbine began in 2019. The first blade is shown in the photo below. After securing a “type certificate” for the Haliade-X platform, GE plans to start selling this wind turbine commercially as early as 2021. The near-term market focus appears to be new wind turbines sited in the North Sea.
1.4 Siemens Gamesa SG 10.0-193 DD platform
In January 2019, Siemens Gamesa launched its next generation (Generation V) of very large offshore wind turbines, the SG 10.0-193 DD, which has a nominal generator rating of 10 MW, blade length of 94 meters (308 ft) and a rotor diameter of 193 meters (633 ft). The nacelle housing the wind turbine hub and generator weighs up to 400 tons.
The EnVestusTM platform, which was introduced in 2019, is Vestas’ next generation in its evolution of wind turbines. The V162-5.6 MW has a rotor diameter of 162 meters (531 ft), which is the largest rotor size offered in the current EnVestusTM product portfolio. Various tower sizes are offered, with hub heights up to 166 meters (545 ft). With this tallest tower, the blade sweep of a V162-5.6 MW wind turbine reaches a height of 247 meters (810 ft).
The trend in Vestas wind turbine maximum rotor size is evident in the following diagram. In comparison, the largest GE wind turbine, the Haliade-X will have a rotor diameter of 220 meter (722 ft), and the largest Siemens Generation V wind turbine will have a rotor diameter of 193 meters (633 ft).
2. Transporting very large wind turbine components
The manufacturer’s efforts to improve wind turbine generating and economic performance has resulted in increasingly larger machine components, which are challenging the limits of today’s transportation infrastructure as the components are moved from the manufacturer’s factories to the installation sites. Here, we’ll look at the various ways these large components are transported.
2.1 Transportation of wind turbine components by land
Popular Mechanics reported that, “Moving long turbine blades is such a logistical nightmare that the companies involved sometimes resort to building new roads for the sole purpose of moving blades.” Transporting wind turbine tower and nacelle components can be equally challenging. You’ll find an interesting assessment by CGS Labs of the challenges of wind farm ground transportation planning at the following link: https://www.cgs-labs.com/Software/Autopath/Articles/Windturbinetransport.aspx
2.2. Transportation of wind turbine components by sea
The single-piece blades for the GE Haliade X wind turbine are so long that they couldn’t be transported by land from GE’s existing factories. Therefore, a new LM Wind Power blade factory for the offshore wind market was built in Cherbourg, France, on the banks of the English Channel in Normandy. This factory can load blades directly onto ships for delivery to offshore wind turbine sites.
In December 2016, Siemens Gamesa reported, “When our new factories in Hull, England and Cuxhaven, Germany become fully operational, and both Ro-Ro (“roll-on, roll-off”) vessels are in service as interconnection of our manufacturing and installation network, we expect savings of 15-20 percent in logistics costs compared to current transport procedures. This is another important contributor reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind.”
The Hull, UK rotor blade factory, located at the Alexandra Docks on the harbor, was completed in 2016. The Esbjerg, Denmark factory also is located on the harbor with direct access to shipping.
In 2018, Siemens Gamesa opened its modern factory in Cuxhaven, Germany for manufacturing offshore wind turbine nacelles. These three Siemens wind turbine factories have direct Ro-Ro access to shipping.In November 2016, Siemens commissioned its first specialized Ro-Ro transport vessel, the Rotra Vente. This ship is designed to transport multiple heavy nacelles, or up to nine tower sections, or three to four sets of rotor blades, depending on what else is being transported. A second specialized Ro-Ro transport vessel, the Rotra Mare, was commissioned in the spring of 2017 to transport tower sections and up to 12 rotor blades. These specialized transport vessels link the Siemens factories and transport the finished wind turbine components to the respective installation harbor.
2.3. Transportation of wind turbine components by airship
For more than two decades, there has been significant interest in the use of modern lighter-than-air craft and hybrid airships in a variety of heavy-lift roles. One such role is the transportation of large wind turbine components. Airships offer the potential to transport the components quickly between factory and installation site without the constraints of current ground and sea transportation networks.
Three examples of airship concepts for transporting wind turbine components are described below.
In 2017, Lockheed-Martin proposed its LMH-1 hybrid airship to deliver large wind turbine components weighing up to 23.5 tons (47,000 lb; 21,000 kg). The LMH-1 will be capable of flying 1,400 nautical miles (2,593 km) at a speed of about 70 knots (80 mph, 129 kph). Lockheed-Martin is expected to fly the commercial prototype of its LMH-1 hybrid airship in 2019. You can read Lockheed-Martin’s proposal for airship transport of wind turbine components here: https://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed-martin/eo/documents/webt/transporting-wind-turbine-blades.pdf
This type of airship conducts short takeoff and landing (STOL) operations when transporting heavy loads, but can operate from relatively unprepared sites. When off-loading heavy cargo, this airship must take on ballast at the landing site.
After LMH-1, Lockheed Martin has plans to build a medium-size (90 ton cargo) hybrid airship that would be more competitive with trucking and rail transport.
Variable buoyancy airships
In January 2013, Worldwide Aeros Corp. (Aeros), located in Montebello, CA, conducted the first “float test” of their Dragon Dream variable buoyancy airship. More recently, Aeros has reported that they are working on the first commercial prototype of a larger variable buoyancy airship to be known as the ML866 / Aeroscraft Gen 2, which will be 169 meters (555 ft) long. This airship is being designed with great range (3,100 nautical miles; 5,741 km) and a cruise speed of 100 – 120 knots. The ML866 will have a cargo capacity of 66 tons (132,000 lb; 59,874 kg). The first ML866 prototype is not expected to fly before the early 2020s.
This type of airship is designed to conduct vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) operations with a full cargo load, and can hover above a site and take on or deliver cargo without landing and without transferring ballast to/from the ground site.
The KNARR initiative is a project created by two Danish design architects, Rune Kirt and Mads Thomsen to design a freight solution using modern airships to reduce the cost and energy consumption of today’s wind turbine freight business and make the logistics for wind turbine freight simpler and more efficient. Their main point is that transportation and installation costs can be up to 60% of the total cost of a new wind turbine, and these activities have a large carbon footprint. Their solution is a modern airship that is designed specifically for transporting very large and heavy wind turbine components directly from the manufacturer’s factory to the installation site. For their work, they were awarded both the Danish Design Center’s Special Prize and the International Core77 Design “Speculative Concept.”. You can read more about the firm, KIRT x THOMSEN aps, and the KNARR initiative here: https://www.kirt-thomsen.com/case10_airship-knarr
The KNARR semi-rigid airship would be 360 meters (1,181 ft) long and would carry the wind turbine components in a large internal cargo bay. This type of airship is designed to conduct VTOL operations with a full cargo load. When off-loading heavy cargo, this airship must take on ballast at the landing site.
The KNARR airship is a concept only. No prototype is being built at this time. You can view a short video defining the wind turbine transport application of KNARR airship here: https://vimeo.com/21023051
The scale of the latest generation of wind turbines, particularly the GE LM 88.4 P, which measure 88.4 meters (290 ft) long, is approaching the limits of existing ground transportation infrastructure to handle delivery of such blades from the factory to the installation site. GE’s introduction of two-piece blades on their new Cypress platform will significantly improve the logistics for delivering these large blades to installation sites.
Siemens’ practice of siting its wind turbine component factories with ready access to Ro-Ro shipping at an adjacent port facility greatly reduces the complexity of delivering large components to a port near an installation site. GE has adopted the same approach with their latest factory for manufacturing the Haliad-X rotor blades in Cherbourg, France, on the English Channel.
Airships could revolutionize the transportation of large, heavy items such as wind turbine components. However, the earliest likely candidate, the Lockheed Martin LMH-1 will not be available until the early 2020s and will be limited to a maximum load of 23.5 tons (47,000 lb; 21,000 kg). It seems unlikely that larger heavy-lift airships will be introduced before about 2025.
So, in the meantime, we’ll see the largest wind turbines being installed in offshore sites. For onshore sites, we’ll see more creative ground transportation schemes, and, probably, a broader introduction of multi-part rotor blades.
4. Recommended additional reading on wind turbines:
On 23 August 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report entitled, “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” In his cover letter, Energy Secretary Rick Perry notes:
“It is apparent that in today’s competitive markets certain regulations and subsidies are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix. It is important for policy makers to consider their intended and unintended effects.”
Among the consequences of the national push to implement new generation capacity from variable renewable energy (VRE) resources (i.e., wind & solar) are: (1) increasing grid perturbations due to the variability of the output from VRE generators, and (2) early retirement of many baseload generating plants because of several factors, including the desire of many states to meet their energy demand with a generating portfolio containing a greater percentage of VRE generators. Grid perturbations can challenge the reliability of the U.S. bulk power systems that comprise our national electrical grid. The reduction of baseload capacity reduces the resilience of the bulk power system and its ability dampen these perturbations.
The DOE staff report contains the following typical daily load curve. Baseload plants include nuclear and coal that operate at high capacity factor and generally do not maneuver in response to a change in demand. The intermediate load is supplied by a mix of generators, including VRE generators, which typically operate at relatively low capacity factors. The peak load generators typically are natural gas power plants that can maneuver or be cycled (i.e., on / off) as needed to meet short-term load demand. The operating reserve is delivered by a combination of power plants that can be reliably dispatched if needed.
The trends in new generation additions and old generation retirements is summarized in the following graphic from the DOE staff report.
Here you can see that recent additions (since 2006) have focused on VRE generators (wind and solar) plus some new natural gas generators. In that same period, retirements have focused on oil, coal and nuclear generators, which likely were baseload generators.
The DOE staff report noted that continued closure of baseload plants puts areas of the country at greater risk of power outages. It offered a list of policy recommendations to reverse the trend, including providing power pricing advantages for baseload plants to continue operating, and speeding up and reducing costs for permitting for baseload power and transmission projects.
Regarding energy storage, the DOE staff report states the following in Section 4.1.3:
“Energy storage will be critical in the future if higher levels of VRE are deployed on the grid and require additional balancing of energy supply and demand in real time.”
“DOE has been investing in energy storage technology development for two decades, and major private investment is now active in commercializing and the beginnings of early deployment of grid-level storage, including within microgrids.”
Options for energy storage are identified in the DOE staff report.
You can download the DOE staff report to the Secretary and Secretary Perry’s cover letter here:
Lyncean members should recall our 2 August 2017 meeting and the presentation by Patrick Lee entitled, “A fast, flexible & coordinated control technology for the electric grid of the future.” This presentation described work by Sempra Energy and its subsidiary company PXiSE Energy Solutions to address the challenges to grid stability caused by VRE generators. An effective solution has been demonstrated by adding energy storage and managing the combined output of the VER generators and the energy storage devices in real-time to match supply and demand and help stabilize the grid. This integrated solution, with energy storage plus real-time automated controls, appears to be broadly applicable to VRE generators and offers the promise, especially in Hawaii and California, for resilient and reliable electrical grids even with a high percentage of VRE generators in the state’s generation portfolio.
You can download Patrick Lee’s 2 August 2017 presentation to the Lyncean Group of San Diego at the following link:
I was impressed in 2007 by the following chart in Scientific American, which shows where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how the energy is used in electricity generation and in four consumer sectors. One conclusion is that more than half of our energy is wasted, which is clearly shown in the bottom right corner of the chart. However, this result shouldn’t be surprising.
Source: Scientific American / Jen Christiansen, using LLNL & DOE 2007 data
The waste energy primarily arises from the efficiencies of the various energy conversion cycles being used. For example, the following 2003 chart shows the relative generating efficiencies of a wide range of electric power sources. You can see in the chart that there is a big plateau at 40% efficiency for many types of thermal cycle power plants. That means that 60% of the energy they used is lost as waste heat. The latest combined cycle plants have demonstrated net efficiencies as high as 62.22% (Bouchain, France, 2016, see details in my updated 17 March 2015 post, “Efficiency in Electricity Generation”).
Source: Eurelectric and VGB PowerTech, July 2003
Another source of waste is line loss in electricity transmission and distribution from generators to the end-users. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity transmission and distribution losses average about 6% of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed.
There is an expanded, interactive, zoomable map of U.S. energy data that goes far beyond the 2007 Scientific American chart shown above. You can access this interactive map at the following link:
The interactivity in the map is impressive, and the way it’s implemented encourages exploration of the data in the map. You can drill down on individual features and you can explore particular paths in much greater detail than you could in a physical chart containing the same information. Below are two example screenshots. The first screenshot is a top-level view. As in the Scientific American chart, energy sources are on the left and final disposition as energy services or waste energy is on the right. Note that waste energy is on the top right of the interactive map.
The second screenshot is a more detailed view of natural gas production and utilization.
As reported by Lulu Chang on the digitaltrends.com website, this interactive map was created by Saul Griffith at the firm Otherlab (https://otherlab.com). You can read her post at the following link:
On 9 January 2014 the Administration launched a “Quadrennial Energy Review” (QER) to examine “how to modernize the Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility…” You can read the Presidential Memorandum establishing the QER at the following link:
On April 21, 2015, the QER Task Force released the “first installment” of the QER report entitled “Energy Transmission, Storage, and Distribution Infrastructure.” The Task Force announcement stated:
“The first installment (QER 1.1) examines how to modernize our Nation’s energy infrastructure to promote economic competitiveness, energy security, and environmental responsibility, and is focused on energy transmission, storage, and distribution (TS&D), the networks of pipelines, wires, storage, waterways, railroads, and other facilities that form the backbone of our energy system.”
The complete QER 1.1 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:
On January 6, 2017, the QER Task Force released the “second installment” of the QER report entitled “Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System.” The Task Force announcement stated:
“The second installment (QER 1.2) finds the electricity system is a critical and essential national asset, and it is a strategic imperative to protect and enhance the value of the electricity system through modernization and transformation. QER 1.2 analyzes trends and issues confronting the Nation’s electricity sector out to 2040, examining the entire electricity system from generation to end use, and within the context of three overarching national goals: (1) enhance economic competitiveness; (2) promote environmental responsibility; and (3) provide for the Nation’s security.
The report provides 76 recommendations that seek to enable the modernization and transformation of the electricity system. Undertaken in conjunction with state and local governments, policymakers, industry, and other stakeholders, the recommendations provide the building blocks for longer-term, planned changes and activities.”
The complete QER 1.2 report or individual chapters are available at the following link:
I hope you take time to explore the QERs. I think the Task Force has collected a great deal of actionable information in the two reports. Converting this information into concrete actions will be a matter for the next Administration.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (The Paris Agreement) entered into force on 4 November 2016. To date, the Paris Agreement has been ratified by 122 of the 197 parties to the convention. This Agreement does not define renewable energy sources, and does not even use the words “renewable,” “biomass,” or “wood”. You can download this Agreement at the following link:
The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), based in Paris, France, is described as, “a global renewable energy multi-stakeholder policy network that provides international leadership for the rapid transition to renewable energy.” Their recent report, “Renewables 2016 Global Status Report,” provides an up-to-date summary of the status of the renewable energy industry, including the biomass industry, which accounts for the use of wood as a renewable biomass fuel. The REN21 report notes:
“Ongoing debate about the sustainability of bioenergy, including indirect land-use change and carbon balance, also affected development of this sector. Given these challenges, national policy frameworks continue to have a large influence on deployment.”
You can download the 2016 REN21 report at the following link:
For a revealing look at the European Union’s (EU) position on the use of biomass as an energy source, see the September 2015 European Parliament briefing, “Biomass for electricity and heating opportunities and challenges,” at the following link:
Here you’ll see that burning biomass as an energy source in the EU is accorded similar carbon-neutral status to generating energy from wind, solar and hydro. The EU’s rationale is stated as follows:
“Under EU legislation, biomass is carbon neutral, based on the assumption that the carbon released when solid biomass is burned will be re-absorbed during tree growth. Current EU policies provide incentives to use biomass for power generation.”
This policy framework, which treats biomass as a carbon neutral energy source, is set by the EU’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC), which requires that renewable energy sources account for 20% of the EU energy mix by 2020. You can download this directive at the following link:
The EU’s equation seems pretty simple: renewable = carbon neutral
EU policy assessment
In 2015, the organization Climate Central produced an assessment of this EU policy in a three-part document entitled, “Pulp Fiction – The European Accounting Error That’s Warming the Planet.” Their key points are summarized in the following quotes extracted from “Pulp Fiction”:
“Wood has quietly become the largest source of what counts as ‘renewable’ energy in the EU. Wood burning in Europe produced as much energy as burning 620 million barrels of oil last year (both in power plants and for home heating). That accounted for nearly half of all Europe’s renewable energy. That’s helping nations meet the requirements of EU climate laws on paper, if not in spirit.”
“The wood pellet mills are paying for trees to be cut down — trees that could be used by other industries, or left to grow and absorb carbon dioxide. And the mills are being bankrolled by climate subsidies in Europe, where wood pellets are replacing coal at a growing number of power plants.”
”That loophole treats electricity generated by burning wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero emissions’ energy source — the same as solar panels or wind turbines. When power plants in major European countries burn wood, the only carbon dioxide pollution they report is from the burning of fossil fuels needed to manufacture and transport the woody fuel. European law assumes climate pollution released directly by burning fuel made from trees doesn’t matter, because it will be re-absorbed by trees that grow to replace them.”
“Burning wood pellets to produce a megawatt-hour of electricity produces 15 to 20 percent more climate-changing carbon dioxide pollution than burning coal, analysis of Drax (a UK power plant) data shows. And that’s just the CO2 pouring out of the smokestack. Add in pollution from the fuel needed to grind, heat and dry the wood, plus transportation of the pellets, and the climate impacts are even worse. According to Enviva (a fuel pellet manufacturer), that adds another 20 percent worth of climate pollution for that one megawatt-hour.”
“No other country or U.S. region produces more wood and pulp every year than the Southeast, where loggers are cutting down roughly twice as many trees as they were in the 1950s.”
“But as this five-month Climate Central investigation reveals, renewable energy doesn’t necessarily mean clean energy. Burning trees as fuel in power plants is heating the atmosphere more quickly than coal.”
You can access the first part of “Pulp Fiction” at the following link and then easily navigate to the other two parts.
NRDC examined three cases of cumulative emissions from fuel pellets made from 70%, 40% and 20% whole trees. The NRDC chart for the 70% whole tree case is shown below.
You can see that the NRDC analysis indicates that cumulative emissions from burning wood pellets exceeds the cumulative emissions from coal and natural gas for many decades. After about 50 years, forest regrowth can recapture enough carbon to offset the cumulative emissions from wood pellets to below the levels for of fossil fuels. It takes about 15 – 20 more years to reach “carbon neutral” (zero net CO2 emissions) in the early 2080s.
The NRDC report concludes
“In sum, our modeling shows that wood pellets made of whole trees from bottomland hardwoods in the Atlantic plain of the U.S. Southeast—even in relatively small proportions— will emit carbon pollution comparable to or in excess of fossil fuels for approximately five decades. This 5-decade time period is significant: climate policy imperatives require dramatic short-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions from these pellets will persist in the atmosphere well past the time when significant reductions are needed.“
The situation in the U.S.
The U.S. Clean Power Plan, Section V.A, “The Best System of Emission Reduction,” (BSER) defines EPA’s determination of the BESR for reducing CO2 emissions from existing electric generating units. In Section V.A.6, EPA identifies areas of compliance flexibility not included in the BESR. Here’s what EPA offers regarding the use of biomass as a substitute for fossil fuels.
This sounds a lot like what is happening at the Drax power plant in the UK, where three of the six Drax units are co-firing wood pellets along with the other three units that still are operating with coal.
Fortunately, this co-firing option is a less attractive option under the Clean Power Plan than it is under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.
You can download the EPA’s Clean Power Plan at the following link:
On 9 February 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review.
The character J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye cartoon by Hy Eisman is well known for his penchant for asking for a hamburger today in exchange for a commitment to pay for it in the future.
It seems to me that the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is based on a similar philosophy. The “renewable” biomass carbon debt being accumulated now by the EU will not be repaid for 50 – 80 years.
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is little more than a time-shifted carbon trading scheme in which the cumulative CO2 emissions from burning a particular carbon-based fuel (wood pellets) are mitigated by future carbon sequestration in new-growth forests. This assumes that the new-growth forests are re-planted as aggressively as the old-growth forests are harvested for their biomass fuel content. By accepting this time-shifted carbon trading scheme, the EU has accepted a 50 – 80 year delay in tangible reductions in the cumulative emissions from burning carbon-based fuels (fossil or biomass).
So, if the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive is acceptable for biomass, why couldn’t a similar directive be developed for fossil fuels, which, pound-for-pound, have lower emissions than biomass? The same type of time-shifted carbon trading scheme could be achieved by aggressively planting new-growth forests all around the world to deliver the level of carbon sequestration needed to enable any fossil fuel to meet the same “carbon neutral” criteria that the EU Parliament, in all their wisdom, has applied to biomass.
If the EU Parliament truly accepts what they have done in their Renewable Energy Directive, then I challenge them to extend that “Wimpy” Directive to treat all carbon-based fuels on a common time-shifted carbon trading basis.
I think a better approach would be for the EU to eliminate the “carbon neutral” status of biomass and treat it the same as fossil fuels. Then the economic incentives for burning the more-polluting wood pellets would be eliminated, large-scale deforestation would be avoided, and utilities would refocus their portfolios of renewable energy sources on generators that really are “carbon neutral”.
In my 17 December 2016 post, “Climate Change and Nuclear Power,” there is a chart that shows the results of a comparative life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis for 10 electric power-generating technologies. In that chart, it is clear how carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies can greatly reduce the GHG emissions from gas and coal generators.
An overview of carbon dioxide capture and storage technology is presented in a December 2010 briefing paper issued by the London Imperial College. This paper includes the following process flow diagram showing the capture of CO2 from major sources, use or storage of CO2 underground, and use of CO2 as a feedstock in other industrial processes. Click on the graphic to enlarge.
You can download the London Imperial College briefing paper at the following link:
Here is a brief look at selected technologies being developed for underground storage (sequestration) and industrial utilization of CO2.
Store in basalt formations by making carbonate rock
Iceland generates about 85% of its electric power from renewable resources, primarily hydro and geothermal. Nonetheless, Reykjavik Energy initiated a project called CarbFix at their 303 MWe Hellisheidi geothermal power plant to control its rather modest CO2 emissions along with hydrogen sulfide and other gases found in geothermal steam.
Hellisheidi geothermal power plant. Source: Power Technology
The process system collects the CO2 and other gases, dissolves the gas in large volumes of water, and injects the water into porous, basaltic rock 400 – 800 meters (1,312 – 2,624 feet) below the surface. In the deep rock strata, the CO2 undergoes chemical reactions with the naturally occurring calcium, magnesium and iron in the basalt, permanently immobilizing the CO2 as environmentally benign carbonates. There typically are large quantities of calcium, magnesium and iron in basalt, giving a basalt formation a large CO2 storage capacity.
The surprising aspect of this process is that the injected CO2 was turned into hard rock very rapidly. Researchers found that in two years, more that 95% of the CO2 injected into the basaltic formation had been turned into carbonate.
For more information, see the 9 June 2016 Washington Post article by Chris Mooney, “This Iceland plant just turned carbon dioxide into solid rock — and they did it super fast,” at the following link:
“The researchers are enthusiastic about their possible solution, although they caution that they are still in the process of scaling up to be able to handle anything approaching the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide that are being emitted around the globe — and that transporting carbon dioxide to locations featuring basalt, and injecting it in large volumes along with even bigger amounts of water, would be a complex affair.”
Basalt formations are common worldwide, making up about 10% of continental rock and most of the ocean floor. Iceland is about 90% basalt.
Detailed results of this Reykjavik Energy project are reported in a May 2016 paper by J.M. Matter, M. Stute, et al., “Rapid carbon mineralization for permanent disposal of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions,” which is available on the Research Gate website at the following link:
Similar findings were made in a separate pilot project in the U.S. conducted by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership. In this project, 1,000 tons of pressurized liquid CO2 were injected into a basalt formation in eastern Washington state in 2013. Samples taken two years later confirmed that the CO2 had been converted to carbonate minerals.
These results were published in a November 2016 paper by B. P McGrail, et al., “Field Validation of Supercritical CO2 Reactivity with Basalts.” The abstract and the paper are available at the following link:
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has established an initiative dubbed SubTER (Subsurface Technology and Engineering Research, Development and Demonstration Crosscut) to study how rocks fracture and to develop a predictive understanding of fracture control. A key facility is an observatory set up 1,478 meters (4,850 feet) below the surface in the former Homestake mine near Lead, South Dakota (note: Berkeley shares this mine with the neutrino and dark matter detectors of the Sanford Underground Research Facility). The results of the Berkeley effort are expected to be applicable both to energy production and waste storage strategies, including carbon capture and sequestration.
You can read more about this Berkeley project in the article, “Underground Science: Berkeley Lab Digs Deep For Clean Energy Solutions,” on the Global Energy World website at the following link:
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have defined an efficient electrochemical process for converting CO2 into ethanol. While direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 to useful products has been studied for several decades, the yields of most reactions have been very low (single-digit percentages) and some required expensive catalysts.
Key points about the new process developed by ORNL are:
The electro-reduction process occurs in CO2 saturated water at ambient temperature and pressure with modest electrical requirements
The nanotechnology catalyst is made from inexpensive materials: carbon nanospike (CNS) electrode with electro-nucleated copper nanoparticles (Cu/CNS). The Cu/CNS catalyst is unusual because it primarily produces ethanol.
Process yield (conversion efficiency from CO2 to ethanol) is high: about 63%
The process can be scaled up.
A process like this could be used in an energy storage / conversion system that consumes extra electricity when it’s available and produces / stores ethanol for later use.
You can read more on this process in the 19 October 2016 article, “Scientists just accidentally discovered a process that turns CO2 directly into ethanol,” on the Science Alert website at the following link
The IEA issued their report, “World Energy Outlook 2016,” in November 2016. The report addresses the expected transformation of the global energy mix through 2040 as nations attempt to meet national commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, which entered into force on 4 November 2016.
You can download the Executive Summary of WEO-2016 at the following link:
Splitting water (H2O) is the process of splitting the water molecule into its constituent parts: hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction or lowers the energy required to get a reaction started, without being consumed itself in a chemical reaction.
Water molecule. Source: Laguna Design, Getty Images
A new catalyst, created as a thin film crystal comprised of one layer of iridium oxide (IrOx) and one layer of strontium iridium oxide (SrIrO3), is described in a September 2016 article by Umair Irfan entitled, “How Catalyst Could Split Water Cheaply.” This article is available on the Scientific American website at the following link:
The new catalyst, which is the only known catalyst to work in acid, applies to the oxygen evolution reaction; the slower half of the water-splitting process.
Author Irfan notes that, “Many of the artificial methods of making hydrogen and oxygen from water require materials that are too expensive, require too much energy or break down too quickly in real-world conditions…” The availability of a stable catalyst that can significantly improve the speed and economics of water splitting could help promote the shift toward more widespread use of clean, renewable fuels. The potential benefits include:
May significantly improve hydrogen fuel economics
May allow water splitting to compete with other technologies (i.e., batteries and pumped storage) for energy storage. See my 4 March 2016 posting on the growing need for grid energy storage.
May improve fuel cells
At this point, it is not clear exactly how the IrOx / SrIrO3 catalyst works, so more research is needed before the practicality of its use in industrial processes can be determined.
The complete paper, “A highly active and stable IrOx/SrIrO3 catalyst for the oxygen evolution reaction,” by Seitz, L. et al., is available to subscribers on the Science magazine website at the following link: