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Renewable Baseload Energy

Posted on 27 November 2010 by dana1981

A common argument against investing in renewable energy technology is that it cannot provide baseload power - that is, the ability to provide energy at all times on all days.  This raises two questions - (i) are there renewable energy sources that can provide baseload power, and (ii) do we even need renewable baseload energy?

Does Renewable Energy Need to Provide Baseload Power?

A common myth is that because some types of renewable energy do not provide baseload power, they require an equivalent amount of backup power provided by fossil fuel plants.  However, this is simply untrue.  As wind production fluctuates, it can be supplemented if necessary by a form of baseload power which can start up or whose output can be changed in a relatively short period of time.  Hydroelectric and natural gas plants are common choices for this type of reserve power (AWEA 2008). Although a fossil fuel, combustion of natural gas emits only 45% as much carbon dioxide as combustion of coal, and hydroelectric is of course a very low-carbon energy source.

The current energy production structure consists primarily of coal and nuclear energy providing baseload power, while natural gas and hydroelectric power generally provide the variable reserves to meet peak demand. Coal is cheap, dirty, and the plant output cannot be varied easily.  It also has high initial investment cost and a long return on investment time.  Hydroelectric power is also cheap, clean, and good for both baseload and meeting peak demand, but limited by available natural sources.  Natural gas is less dirty than coal, more expensive and used for peak demand.  Nuclear power is a low-carbon power source, but with an extremely high investment cost and long return on investment time.

Renewable energy can be used to replace some higher-carbon sources of energy in the power grid and achieve a reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, even if not used to provide baseload power.  Intermittent renewables can provide 10-20% of our electricity, with hydroelectric and other baseload renewable sources (see below) on top of that. Even if the rapid growth in wind and other intermittent renewable sources continues, it will be over a decade before storage of the intermittent sources becomes a necessity.

Renewable Baseload Energy Sources

Of course in an ideal world, renewable sources would meet all of our energy needs.  And there are several means by which renewable energy can indeed provide baseload power. 

Concentrated Solar Thermal

One of the more promising renewable energy technologies is concentrated solar thermal, which uses a system of mirrors or lenses to focus solar radiation on a collector.  This type of system can collect and store energy in pressurized steam, molten salt, phase change materials, or purified graphite.  

The first test of a large-scale thermal solar power tower plant was Solar One in the California Mojave Desert, constructed in 1981.  The project produced 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity using 1,818 mirrors, concentrating solar radiation onto a tower which used high-temperature heat transfer fluid to carry the energy to a boiler on the ground, where the steam was used to spin a series of turbines.  Water was used as an energy storage medium for Solar One.  The system was redesigned in 1995 and renamed Solar Two, which used molten salt as an energy storage medium.  In this type of system, molten salt at 290ºC is pumped from a cold storage tank through the receiver where it is heated to about 565ºC. The heated salt then moves on to the hot storage tank (Figure 1).  When power is needed from the plant, the hot salt is pumped to a generator that produces steam, which activates a turbine/generator system that creates electricity (NREL 2001).

 

Figure 1:  Solar Two Power Tower System Diagram (NREL 2001)

The Solar Two molten salt system was capable of storing enough energy to produce power three hours after the Sun had set.  By using thermal storage, power tower plants can potentially operate for 65 percent of the year without the need for a back-up fuel source. The first commercial concentrated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage - Andasol 1 - was completed in Spain in 2009.  Andasol 1 produces 50 MW of power and the molten salt storage can continue to power the plant for approximately 7.5 hours.

Abengoa Solar is building a 280 MW solar thermal plant in Arizona (the Solana Generating Station), scheduled to begin operation in 2013.  This plant will also have a molten salt system with up to 6 hours worth of storage.  The electrical utility Arizona Public Service has contracted to purchase the power from Solana station for approximately 14 cents per kilawatt-hour. 

Italian utility Enel recently unveiled "Archimede", the first concentrated solar thermal plant to use molten salts for both heat storage and heat transfer.  Molten salts can operate at higher temperatures than oils, which gives Archimede higher efficiency and power output.  With the higher temperature heat storage allowed by the direct use of salts, Archimede can extend its operating hours further than an oil-operated solar thermal plant with molten salt storage.  Archimede is a 5 MW plant with 8 hours of storage capacity.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides a long list of concentrated solar thermal plants in operation, under construction, and in development, many of which have energy storage systems.  In short, solar thermal molten salt power storage is already a reality, and a growing resource.

Geothermal

Geothermal systems extract energy from water exposed to hot rock deep beneath the earth's surface, and thus do not face the intermittency problems of other renewable energy sources like wind and solar.  An expert panel concluded that geothermal sources could produce approximately 100 gigawatts (GW) of baseload power to the USA by mid-century, which is approximately 10% of current US generating capacity (MIT 2006).  The panel also concluded that a research and development investment of less than $1 billion would make geothermal energy economically viable.

The MIT-led report focuses on a technology called enhanced or engineered geothermal systems (EGS), which doesn't require ideal subsurface conditions and could theoretically work anywhere.   installing an EGS plant typically involves drilling a 10- to 12-inch-wide, three- to four-kilometer-deep hole, expanding existing fractures in the rock at the bottom of the hole by pumping down water under high pressure, and drilling a second hole into those fractures.  Water pumped down one hole courses through the gaps in the rock, heats up, and flows back to the surface through the second hole. Finally, a plant harvests the heat and circulates the cooled water back down into the cracks (MIT 2007).

Currently there are 10.7 GW of geothermal power online globally, with a 20% increase in geothermal power online capacity since 2005.  The USA leads the world in geothermal production with 3.1 GW of installed capacity from 77 power plants (GEA 2010).

Wind Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES)

Various methods of storing wind energy have been explored, including pumped hydroelectric storage, batteries, superconducting magnets, flywheels, regenerative fuel cells, and CAES.  CAES has been identified as the most promising technology for utility-scale bulk wind energy storage due to relatively low costs, environmental impacts, and high reliability (Cavallo 2005).  CAES plants are currently operational in Huntorf, Germany (290 MW, since 1978) and Macintosh, Alabama (110 MW, since 1991).  Recently this type of system has been considered to solve the intermittency difficulties associated with wind turbines.  It is estimated that more than 80% of the U.S. territory has geology suitable for such underground storage (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

The Iowa Stored Energy Park has been proposed to store air in an underground geologic structure during time periods of low customer electric demand and high wind.  The project is hoping to store a 20 week supply of compressed air and have approximately 270 MW of generating capacity.  The project is anticipated to be operational in 2015. 

A similar system has been proposed to create a wind turbine-air compressor.  Instead of generating electricity, each wind turbine will pump air into CAES. This approach has the potential for saving money and improving overall efficiency by eliminating the intermediate and unnecessary electrical generation between the turbine and the air compressor  (Gardner and Haynes 2007).

Pumped Heat Energy Storage

Another promising energy storage technology involves pumping heat between tanks containing hot and cold insulated gravel.  Electrical power is input to the system, which compresses/expands air to approximately 500°C on the hot side and -150°C on the cold side. The air is passed through the two piles of gravel where it gives up its heat/cold to the gravel. In order to regenerate the electricity, the cycle is simply reversed.  The benefits of this type of system are that it would take up relatively little space, the round-trip efficiency is approximately 75%, and gravel is a very cheap and abundant material.

Spent Electric Vehicle (EV) Battery Storage

As plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles become more commonplace, the possibility exists to utilize the spent EV batteries for power grid storage after their automotive life, at which point they will still have significant storage capacity.  General Motors has been examining this possibility, for example.  If a sufficiently large number of former EV batteries could be hooked up to the power grid, they could provide storage capacity for intermittent renewable energy sources.

Summary

To sum up, there are several types of renewable energy which can provide baseload power.  Additionally, intermittent renewable energy can replace dirty energy sources like coal, although it currently requires a backup source such as natural gas which must be factored into the cost of intermittent sources.  It will be over a decade before we can produce sufficient intermittent renewable energy to require high levels of storage, and there are several promising energy storage technologies.  One study found that the UK power grid could accommodate approximately 10-20% of energy from intermittent renewable sources without a "significant issue" (Carbon Trust and DTI 2003).  By the time renewable energy sources begin to displace a significant part of hydrocarbon generation, there may even be new storage technologies coming into play.  The US Department of Energy has made large-scale energy storage one if its research priorities, recently awarding $24.7 million in research grants for Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage.

This post is the Intermediate version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "Renewables can't provide baseload power". 

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Comments 151 to 200 out of 425:

  1. actually thoughtfull @145
    (so rounding out sailrick's comments - the French built 29GW nuclear in 10 years, USA built 18GW solar in two years - blow it out and we see that we could build 90GW in the time it took the French to build 29GW - and not have any nuclear waste to deal with). [wind may have some problems scaling, but hasn't shown any yet (run out of "good" wind, transmission lines, intermittent supply]
    Let's deconstruct this: 1. You are comparing the US economy now to France thirty years ago. Just what would the ratio of the two GDPs be? Well, lets have a look here GDP France 1985: $543 million GDP US 2005: $12,600 million The US economy in 2005 was over 23 times the size of the French economy during the nuclear build out! 2. Lets compare apples to apples. What exactly does 90 GW of solar mean? As the type of solar is not specified, lets just call the capacity factor 20%, which is pretty generous for PV and lets call the capacity factor for nuclear 85%. So we "normalize" the capacity of the actual French 29 MWe nuclear to a notional value of 24.6 MW continuous and the US 90 GW solar to 18GW continuous. In other words, per unit of GDP, France built nuclear power (24.6 / 18) * (12,600 / 543) = (1.36 * 23) = 31 times faster per unit of GDP than the US is deploying solar. If anything this comparison flatters solar as it is not truly baseload. Your quote does not show what you think it does.
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  2. dana1981 #115 "This is a rebuttal of the 'skeptic' argument "Renewables can't provide baseload power". The gist of which is basically says it doesnt cut it. At least that's the overall impression you give. And with words like an "ideal world", it doesnt take much imagination to assume what real solutions involve. You cannot separate these two issues, as they intimately related. All designs, whehter buildings, cars, buses, planes, whatever, imply a finite number of people to board, occupy etc. As to what other posters have said, and no lack of sincerity, it is precisely the great energy associated with fossil fuels that led to the population explosion in the first place. So any plans about moving to alternate energy supplies without including some mention in consideration for stemming population are incomplete or at least appear very distorted.
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  3. From a European point of view, I think this discussion is lacking quite a lot. First, wind energy can cover much of base load when the generators are integrated over a sufficiently large area. Like a system of offshore wind power generators from Norther Norway to Portugal/Southern Spain. Simply put, the wind always blows _somewhere_, and the speeds needed for wind power generation are rather small - smaller than many think, I guess. Wind power is not so well suited for local generation as for integration in regional (world-wise) systems. Second, the potential role of hydro-electric power as equaliser is little investigated and even less exploited. In Europe, there is currently about 170 TWh magazine capacity, and in principle, this capacity could be utilized for a very high peak power output. Combined with pumping when wind and solar PV produces surplus energy, it is in principle possible to base a rather high total consumption entirely on wind, simple solar PV and hydro, provided wind and solar gives a sufficient and reliable output. Third, electrifying transport will both reduce the total energy consumption, make more "opportunistic" energy use possible (for instance switching between battery and fuel cells and coordination of domestic and transport energy use on household level), and free up lots of fossile fuels for co-generation, easing transition problems in the development of more sustainable energy systems. Fourth, the impact of ordinary PV is so far to a large degree unknown. The EU parliament has decides that within 10 years, all new EU houses shall be "plus-houses", over their life span generating more energy than they use. In most cases, this will probably imply both a tremendous focus on domestic energy-efficiency and a multiple eploitation of solar energy, both passively through building construction, and actively through PV and solar heating. There are several combinations possible, only starting to get into development and use now. Basically, when buildings are appropriately designed, most of heating needs in most of Europe can be covered by solar and heat pumps with rather high efficiency. There is no question whether the basic renewable technologies deliver. They do, and the challenge is to find good ways to optimize and integrate them.
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  4. dana1981 (#140), "Over the 10 year lease, it roughly breaks even with what I would have paid otherwise to my electric utility, despite the fact that my house has very low energy consumption" Are there subsidies for the lease (i.e. is it based just on capital costs of the equipment)? Also how much are you being paid for the electricity that you don't use? Can you give us a comparison to peak and off peak wholesale and retail rates for your area? Thanks very much, I also have some solar for incidental use plus glass mat batteries for storage. No subsidies and not breaking even in the least. I did it just as a hobby.
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  5. SNRatio #153 Adding to your argument, there's a study that I've posted before, but I think is still worth some attention: Czisch & Ernst 2001 High wind power penetration by the systematic use of smoothing effects within huge catchment areas shown in a European example They conclude it's possible to smooth out even seasonal variation with a large enough integrated area.
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  6. Quokka: "You are comparing the US economy now to France thirty years ago" Just to be clear - the "you" that you refer to is Sailrick - who made a comment that I didn't understand, so I did some research and shared what I learned. Quokka: "What exactly does 90 GW of solar mean?" Still not reading what I write, are you? I don't mind debating, but it really not much of a challenge when you don't bother to READ what I post. Do you want to try again?
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  7. Eric #154 - yes, there are some state (California) subsidies. I'm not sure how much - the solar company took care of that paperwork and incorporated the subsidies into the quoted cost. After a year of the lease, the electric utility (PG&E in my case) checks the meter - if it's negative (more produced than used), they pay me, I believe somewhere in the ballpark of 10-12 cents per kWh. I've only had the panels installed since August - it was very negative in summer, and has been positive in winter. Overall I've got just about zero net use from August through November.
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  8. dana1981, thanks for the info. It is interesting that they only check once a year. I think ultimately real time pricing with smart metering will extract the most value from your energy resource.
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  9. Rob Honeycutt@107 - “Waste is not a problem? It seems to currently be a problem.” Yes, because currently the waste is a mixture of fission products, uranium and plutonium with a half life of 35000 years. The waste from a “Integral Fast Reactor” is only fission products with a half life so short that the radioactivity disappears within three hundred (300) years. That, I think, is not a problem. IFR power plant of 1000 MWe needs one thousand kilograms (1000 kg) of natural uranium as a fuel in one year. The volume of 1000 kg uranium is about 50 liters. Think about it. That produces the same 1000 kg of waste, with have to be stored for 300 years. Spent fuel from light water reactors is suitable as fuel. So is plutonium for dismantled weapons, and depleted uranium left over from uranium enrichment is suitable as fuel. There is plenty of fuel in LWR waste so you don’t need uranium mines for a long time. You never need enrichment any more. Never. There are other types of reactors that can use Thorium as fuel. MSTR is breeding Thorium to Uranium-233 which is fissile. No plutonium at all in the process. So, the fourth generation of nuclear power offers an infinite energy source. It will solve the nuclear waste problem we are now facing. “I gotta say, anyone who claims that ANY solution is a panacea is not serious.” I didn’t claim that. Nuclear power is only good for replacing coal and natural gas in stationary heat and power production. It is capable to replace them all if we allow it. There are still a bunch of other problems to be solved. Professor Barry Brook has an excellent collection of articles in his blog Brave New Climate. If you want to know more, you can start here: http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/16/ifr-spm/ I you just want an easy overview, please watch this two videos: http://blip.tv/file/4198688 http://blip.tv/file/4199148
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  10. Kaj L wrote: "Yes, because currently the waste is a mixture of fission products, uranium and plutonium with a half life of 35000 years. The waste from a “Integral Fast Reactor” is only fission products with a half life so short that the radioactivity disappears within three hundred (300) years." So... the waste from a type of reactor which is not in actual use for commercial power generation anywhere in the world is only radioactive for three hundred years? Oh, well then. Problem solved. :]
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  11. This might be interesting for those who have not heard about this project on the topic of baseload energy with renewables Control of Virtual Power Plants with 100 % Renewable Energy Sources background paper unfortunately just a summary and a citation to corresponding procedings. Rohrig got the "german climate protection award" 2009 - not that this means anything, just to indicate that he is not a nobody in this topic. This is the (german) project site and some english descriptions. The basic finding is that by virtually combining 36 existing wind, solar, biomass and hydropower installations spread throughout Germany, you get a baseload-viable powerplant. It is just as reliable and powerful as a conventional large-scale power station.
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  12. The point of this post, that renewables can provide base load energy, is true. However, it is NOT accurate to claim that renewables can provide economically competitive base load energy. There have been any number of studies done by MIT, EPRI and even the modeling done by EPA, which look at the technology pathways by which the electric sector would decarbonize with a CO2 price. Yes, there is a lot of renewables build. Yes, there is a lot of energy efficiency. But there is also a lot of nuclear and coal with CCS and natural gas. The models line up the techs from least cost to highest costs -- there is a supply curve for each. They then select the least cost option until it runs into the higher part of the supply curve, then goes to the next most costly and so on. It is misleading to simply say "renewables can supply all the energy we need" w/out including the caveat "but it will cost a lot more than if we were to allow other low CO2 emitting techs to deploy."
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  13. Kevin - When considering costs we should include the cost of continuing CO2 increases. Coal with CCS is pretty unproven, and there's considerable reason to believe that there are risks of sequestered CO2 getting out of the subterranean storage. Natural gas is still a CO2 producer. Nuclear can help, but there are considerable risks and political issues. Renewables can supply baseline power, and reduce the societal cost of continuing temperature increases. Coal and natural gas get really expensive when you factor in climate change.
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  14. KR, No disputing the climate costs of coal and gas. The problem is nobody is really prepared to pay them. Conventional wisdom suggests that nothing much is about to come out of Cancun, and it's probably right. It seems improbable that the US is likely to price carbon any time soon. In this context, it is imperative that low CO2 technologies be as price competitive as possible if anything is to be achieved in practical terms. When it comes to baseload the only technologies that look to be fit for purpose over the next ten years are CCS, solar thermal and nuclear. That's it. Enhanced geothermal sounds great, but there is little realistic prospect of commercial deployment for at least a decade - perhaps quite a bit longer. Barry Brook summaries the findings of a meta-study of the costs of viable base-load technologies here The arithmetic adds up to nuclear The peer reviewed paper is paywalled, but you can get a PDF by emailing Barry. No doubt there will be a mix of generating technologies which is fine, but anti-nuclear greens are going to have to change their position or there will be no chance whatsoever of averting dangerous climate change. Perhaps I might rephrase that as anti nuclear greens will find themselves marginalized sometime over the next decade if, as is most likely, renewables prove to be too expensive. It is interesting to consider this news Mumbai: The world's largest nuclear park has got the go ahead and the quote from the Indian Environment minister: "India has a population of 1.2 billion. It is the height of foolish romance that India can meet its energy needs from solar and bioenergy". Also consider that this will be nearly 10GWe capacity and occupying 990 hectares. To do something similar with solar thermal you would be looking at something like 1000 sq kms. Energy density counts.
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  15. Eric #158 - they actually check it monthly, but only pay out annually. I used to have a smart meter, but the utility installed a two-way meter which isn't smart when the solar panels went in. I was a bit disappointed by that. Kevin #162 - aside from the fact that several of these renewable baseload technologies are fairly economically competitive already (and their costs are falling), as a couple other comments have noted, you also have to take into account the costs of the climate change which they are preventing (and other air pollution associated with burning fossil fuels). And a good point from swieder #161 on basically creating baseload capacity by diversifying the grid with various renewable sources.
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  16. One cost that gets overlooked is the cost of water. All of the coal powered station that I know of get a very sweet deal on water. If all "burn-stuff" power generators had to pay the real cost for the water they use, the relative costs would be a lot more realistic. (And perhaps the miners should pay, and pay fully, for the water they divert, appropriate or pollute.) For power stations, some kind of weighted average of industrial, agricultural and domestic prices should be used in combination with a valuation of environmental and fisheries benefits foregone. This of course applies equally to nuclear as it does to coal and other more obvious burning. My belief, without having any reports or other backup, is that manufacturers of renewable power equipment pay standard industrial prices for any water they use in their processes. This is yet another invisible subsidy in the comparative costs exercise. Seeing as both the mining and generation processes for fuel based power either exclude water costs entirely or benefit from no, or insufficient, accountability for the water abused, misused or wasted in acquiring and burning the raw materials.
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  17. I think there are many more externalized cost by using fossile energy production then "just" CO2 cost. Since decades, environmental impact by pollution of air, oceans&rivers and other causes high cost attributed to human health care. The cost are buried on each individual as well as on the society/nation (by overcoming environmental damages - see latest popular example in the gulf). All these cost plus subsidies/grants in favor of these energy technologies are not considered in the $/kWh bill you get. My opinion is that even without climate change, the true cost of renewable are competitive. I dont want to picture the cost of fossile energy artifically high to "get" renewable cost-effective - i truly beieve all cost should be considered and in that case they are cost-effective. Energy prices by fossile and nuclear today simply do not reflect the true value of electricity.
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  18. Estimates of external costs of electricity generation by fuel source are given here EU External Costs for Electricity and Transport The nuclear costs in the study I referenced above include cost of waste management/disposal and cost of decommissioning.
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  19. Its funny how the economic limitations imposed by fossil fuel seem acceptable, whereas those by renewables are not even possible to discuss. When gas was being rationed in the seventies, people got up in lines at 4 in the morning... etc.
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  20. RSVP wrote : "Its funny how the economic limitations imposed by fossil fuel seem acceptable, whereas those by renewables are not even possible to discuss." Yes, hilarious, especially after 170 posts of discussion, and counting...
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  21. Some good background reading The Case for Baseload - An Engineer's Perspective .
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  22. RSVP: "Its funny how the economic limitations imposed by fossil fuel seem acceptable, whereas those by renewables are not even possible to discuss." Answer: Carbon Emissions.
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  23. Re: Swieder@161 Thanks, I didn't know about that ISET project.
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  24. swieder #161 That Kombikraftwerk link is very interesting. Combining different renewable sources seems to smooth the output enough to have a reliable baseload source. The smoothing effect of a continental-wide grid of windmills would be achieved by a country-wide grid of different renewables.
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  25. 174 Alexandre The ZCA 2020 purports to be an achievable plan for zero carbon stationary energy using only renewables for Australia to be implemented by 2020. It is founded on spacial smoothing with biomass backup for the solar thermal part. Most importantly it has cost estimates - which are almost certainly very optimistic and time line which is absurdly optimistic. Nevertheless it is quite substantial and well put together. ZCA 2020 You should also read the critiques: http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/08/12/zca2020-critique/ http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/09/trainer-zca-2020-critique/
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  26. Kevin @ 162... Bear in mind there are two ways to look at the cost of base load. One with carbon pricing and one without. People can cover their eyes to the future costs of continued CO2 emissions and get one answer. Or, people can grit their teeth, open their eyes and start looking seriously at what the costs of business as usual are going to be. Each of these will result in vastly different economics for the cost of base load power. Either way the costs are there. One priced into energy. One priced into society.
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  27. I've only just spotted this thread and haven't been following it. Others may have already posted this link to "The Case for Baseload": http://www.eei.org/magazine/EEI%20Electric%20Perspectives%20Article%20Listing/2010-09-01-BASELOAD.pdf This explains why the concept of baseload is rock solid and intermittent renewables cannot meet the requirements. Baseload comprises over 75% of our electricity demand and generation in Australia. It cannot be ignored. David Mills, Mark Diesnedorf, Mark Jacobson and many other renewable energy advocates have been arguing for over 20 years that solar and wind power can meet our needs for reliable power. It is just not true. This is also an excellent article pointing out the reality of how much intermittent renewable energy generation can be accommodated in the grid. Rupert Soames Speach to Scottish Parliament, 12 November 2010: http://www.aggreko.com/media-centre/press-releases/speech-to-scottish-parliament.aspx There is reality and there is wishful thinking. We've had 40 years of anti-nuclear protesting and 30 years of renewable energy advocacy and wishful thinking. It is time for some reality.
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  28. I think it is important to differentiate between investment and operating costs. With sufficiently high calculation interest rate, any sustainable project can be made "too expensive", and with sufficiently low rate, a lot of impractical projects may become "profitable". Because this rate is so essential to all calculations, I tend to distrust purely theoretical analyses. To me, it is much more important what kind of track record the different systems have. So far, it seems to me that renewable technologies are more expensive to implement, but I don't know if the operating costs always have to be that high. I think we need quite a lot of operation data for full-scale systems to make safe judgments. Experience from Scandinavia, where Denmark has a very high coverage of wind power, Sweden has started utilizing biomass for energy production on a large scale (in an ecologically rather safe manner), and Norway traditionally has ca 50% coverage of _total_ energy consumption from hydroelectric power, indicates that sustainability doesn't necessarily come at extremely high costs.
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  29. Peter Lang - You might want to look at the link Alexandre posted, noting low and even negative correlation between power available when generating stations are widely enough separated. This includes a fairly detailed case study for Europe. It's worth noting that the correlation between windmills separated by as few as couple hundred meters show extremely low values over the <1 minute scale, and proper site selection around Europe shows negative correlation sufficient to handle even seasonal irregularities without a dropout - thus supplying baseline power. I don't know if the same analysis would apply to Australia (due to area and local variations - that would take a sufficiently detailed wind/solar survey), but it would be interesting to look into. You had complained about intermittent power at a particular wind farm - but sufficiently separated wind farms mixed with sufficiently separated solar farms might be quite capable of complete baseline power for Australia too. Yes, long distance DC lines and power storage are important requirements for renewables. But if we have sufficient power and low correlation between sites, your concerns about huge natural gas burners for backup essentially go away. Power storage for short term variations is required for coal and nuclear too - they simply don't ramp up/down fast enough for those variations. If you wish to go on about nuclear (as opposed to the renewables discussed here), I would suggest directing people to the threads where that conversation has already taken place - no need to repeat it here.
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  30. Peter @ 177... I've not read the entire article you linked to but I would suggest that is one case against renewables for baseload. There are obviously huge investor dollars going into renewables right now, and I don't think those dollars are being put in just out of the goodness of people's hearts. They are in this because they think this will be the future of energy generation. Think about it this way: One, we have peak oil either here or coming soon. People can try to wiggle around about that idea and what it means but it's going to affect the future energy mix. Two, at some point climate change is going to become dreadfully obvious to everyone. If we price carbon early it's going be a relatively painless transition. If we put it off, we're still going to have to price carbon but it's going to have to be very aggressive and very painful. There is just no getting around it. Eventually we are going to end up with a carbon free baseload. A large part of that may be nuclear. But I would certainly bet a % of my investment dollars that a sufficient chuck of that baseload is going to be renewables as well.
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  31. #178, #179 I don't think base load is a precisely defined quantity - it is dependent on the energy system, energy use and incentives/price structures. If, for example, nighttime power were 10 times as expensive as daytime (think PV-based supply, high CO2-taxes for fossile backup), most persons and businesses would be able to adapt to that. (People charging their electric vehicles at daytime and partly running household applications off battery at nighttime, for example.) Most heating can be buffered, and process industry could have its own supply structure, etc etc. Without rather high-resolution wind data, it is, generally, impossible to give precise estimates of the coverage of a regional wind turbine system, but if a fossile-based generation capacity is already in place, the question will just be how much this backup will be run, not whether a system can be based on renewable energy as one main component. If the main variability is on short (hours) time scales, solar thermal could have a role, biomass could be used for longer time scales.
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  32. As if right on cue Steven Chu spoke yesterday at the National Press Club. Dr Chu states that China is investing aggressively in renewables and expects to be drawing 20% of their electricity from renewables by 2020. Peter Sinclair posted an abbreviated version of his talk here. Or there is a full length video of his speech here.
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  33. @RSVP: "As to what other posters have said, and no lack of sincerity, it is precisely the great energy associated with fossil fuels that led to the population explosion in the first place." I'm sure you can provide scientific evidence that the two are directly correlated? I'm intrigued by this idea, because the countries that have had the biggest population increases are far from being the ones with the most gas-powered vehicles per capita. I'll be waiting for that info while making sure that quokka and Peter Lang are repeating the same old arguments about why Nuclear is the *only* solution, disregarding the reality of what renewables have accomplished in just a few years while diminishing the real costs of nuclear...
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  34. KR, This talk about wind power and solar power being able to provide baseload generation is just nonsense. I'd suggest you and the others pushing this advocacy of renewables should take more notice of the people in the industry than of the academics wanting renewables at any cost. The Australian NEM is the largest grid in the world in arial extent (so I understand). Wind farms are distrobuted over the southern part in an area 1200km east-west by 800 km north-south. This grid demonstrates high correlation of wind power output. In May we went for a week with almost no output from all the wind farms spread over this area - at times the output was negative by up to 4 MW - thaty is the wind farms were drawing more power that they were generating. The same is being found throughout the world. However, even if positive correlation was the case over much larger areas, the cost of the transmission systems and of the grid power and frequency control systems is enormous. In Australia, the current capital cost of wind farms is aboiut $2900/kW. Grid enhancements allow $1000/kW. Gas back up about $1000/kW. Total about $4900/kW. That is for about 30% of the energy coming from wind power. If you want say 90% coming from wind power (on average) then the cost is three times higher for the wind farms and transmission. The total cost per average kW is 3x($2900+$1000)+$1000 = $12,700/kWy/y. For comparison, nuclear would be about $4,500/kWy/y. This is based on the newly contracted price for the 5400MW nuclear power station being built in UAE by a Korean consortium; the cost is $3,800/kW with say 85% capacity factor, $3,800/85% = $4,470/kWy/y. The comparison is not even close. If we could just throw off the blinkers and stop the wishful thinking about renewable energy, the answer to cutting emissions from electricity generation is obvious. Did you read the links I provided. Have you read the the "Zero Carbon Australia - Stationary Energy Plan - Critique"? Links were provided by Quokka at 2:18 this morning. I'd urge you and others who are objective to read the critiques.
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  35. KR, To see the positive correlation across the Australian NEM wind farms look at the charts for - August 2010 (seven cycles of power output from 20% to 80% of capacity), http://windfarmperformance.info/documents/analysis/monthly/aemo_wind_201008_hhour.pdf - May 2010 (Capacity factor averaged less than 5% for a week and was negative on 65 5-minute intervals during that week) http://windfarmperformance.info/documents/analysis/monthly/aemo_wind_201005_hhour.pdf To get the data: http://www.landscapeguardians.org.au/data/aemo/
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  36. KR, There is another really important point to understand. The claims about how much CO2 emissions are avoided by wind farms are bogus. It seems that wind farms avoid littel if any CO2 emissions and can actually cause more emissions than if there is no wind in the system. This explains: http://www.masterresource.org/2010/06/subsidizing-co2-emissions/
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  37. Rob Honeycutt, Investor dollars are being poured into renewables because the government is mandating them and subsidising them. Wind power is subsidised by about 100% to 150% and solar by about 1000%. The investors are guaranteed the income from government and consumers for 20 years. Under such conditions of course investors will invest. The point I'd make is, people contributing on Skeptical Science think they can do objective research. But just wishing and wanting is not going to make renewables viable. They are not viable and probably never can be (at more than about 10% of the total generation). There is far too much to explain in the comments field. I'd urge those that are seriously interested to actually read the links from people in the industry, not just the renewable energy advocates. The anti nuclear protesters over the past 40 years (the same people as the renewable energy advocates), by blocking nuclear have caused CO2 emissions to be about 20% higher now than they would have been if the development of nuclear power had been allowed to progress in the Western democracies over the past 40 years. Not only are emissions 20% higher now than they could and should have been but they will remain much higher for many decades because the development process was stalled and it will take decades to recover to catch up. That is what irrational advocacy does. So, I urge you that think you can do objective research to start informing yourselves. Look beyond the spin propagated by the so called environmental NGO's like Greenpeace, WWF, FoE, and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
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  38. Rob Honeycutt, Have you heard of the Pareto Principle. One application is to put most of your effort into what can have the largest effect. Non hydro renewables may provide 10% of future power supply - perhaps. Nuclear and pumped hydro can provide 100% now. It has been doing nearly that for the past 30 odd years in France and providing low cost electricity as well. We have a proven way to cut emissions at low cost. Why waste any more time chasing the renewable dream. @180 last paragraph you put out the often stated argument which in effect is "I am not against nuclear, but renewables will be part of the solution so let's focus on them". This has been going on for 20 years in Australia so no one is prepared to remove the impediments to nuclear in Australia. We need to put our main effort where we can get the biggest gains. That is on nuclear. So I'd urge all those who want to cut emissions to put their efforts into changing the opinions of the anti-nukes - the environmental NGOs, media (especially ABC), and the politicians. It is far more important, and urgent, to remove the impediments to nuclear than it is to implement a carbon price. Once a carbon price is implemented then the many impediments to nuclear and favouritism for fossil fuels and renewables will be very hard to remove. We need to focus first on removing the impediments to nuclear.
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  39. Peter Lang - First, what you want is negative correlation between wind sites. If you use sites with negative correlations, when the wind dies at one site it's high at another - say sites on opposite sides of the country. And using a mix of renewables (solar and wind) reduces correlation of down times even more. Second, you are once again focusing on a single area of Australia, the South-East. As I stated in an earlier discussion, widely separated sites are required. I don't know the details of Australian wind samples, it may not be possible to get sufficient negative correlation to supply significant baseline. On the other hand, it quite possibly may. It certainly seems possible in Europe, but again I don't have detailed multi-site wind/sun surveys with correlations in Australia. Third, with sufficient negatively correlated sites, base capacity, and storage, your argument that wind farm backups would burn more gas than straight non-stop natural gas turbines is, frankly, simply ridiculous. That requires near-constant use of the turbines with stop/start cycle energy outweighing the time off due to wind input - and with uncorrelated sites and storage, that's not going to be the case. Personally, I consider Masterresource a strongly biased and poor source (like WUWT) - I would prefer seeing calculations by someone without an axe to grind. The article you pointed out on baseline requirements is interesting - instant loads covered by generators, intermediate by gas turbines. Solar cannot cover the 'generator spin' loads, although wind can. There are certainly some points worth considering there, points directly related to renewables. I would strongly suggest (Moderators - opinions?) that any discussion of nuclear energy pros and cons remain on What should we do about climate change?, where that has been hashed out over 379 comments to date. Please do not hijack this thread.
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] Agreed. This thread is about Renewable Baseload Energy. Comments about nuclear energy are off-topic here, and should more appropriately be posted on the What-should-we-do-about-climate-change thread. Thank you all in advance.
  40. An Australian study (very small) on wind speed correlations: Gloor 2010 "Due consideration must be given to local conditions when assessing these correlations. Take Carnarvon and Geraldton for example. Though they are fairly distant from each other (446 km) they show a strong correlation (0.47) as they are in the same wind conditions of the Trade Winds that blow constantly and consistently over a wide area. So wind farms in Carnarvon and Geraldton would tend to go offline at the same time despite being quite well separated in distance. Contrast this with Perth Metro to Albany. Albany is in the southern ocean wind pattern, well out of the trade winds and has a lower correlation (0.33) with Perth Metro despite being only (375km) distant. So wind farms in Albany could continue to provide power to Perth when the wind farms around Perth would be at low output potentially. This is taking advantage of the different wind regimes. ... The graph of correlation with distance for these datasets does show a decreasing correlation with increasing distance however the spread of data is quite large. There is not a neat line of decreasing correlation but more a broad range. However it does support the idea that widely spread wind farms, taking into account the wind regimes of the sites, can be less correlated than closely spaced wind farms. If the correlation relationship held up then these wind farms, if connected together, could perhaps provide more reliable power than a single wind farm or group of closely grouped wind farms."
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  41. "The point of this post, that renewables can provide base load energy, is true. However, it is NOT accurate to claim that renewables can provide economically competitive base load energy" Economically competitive vs what? Subsidized-up-the-ying-yang fossil fuels, whose free public garbage dumping rights alone are worth something on the order of a trillion dollar per year?
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  42. KR, You said: "First, what you want is negative correlation between wind sites." I agree. But that is not what happens in practice over areas of over a thousand km east west as is demonstrated in the Australian National Grid and other large grids. @ 184 I said: "This grid demonstrates high correlation of wind power output." That is, high positive correlation, the opposite of high negative correlation. I thought I was sufficently clear. Solar and wind cannot provide baseload generation at a cost that is anywhhere near viable. Furthermore, they are unlikely to ever be the case. US DOE hasd a goal for solar thermal with energy storage to be able to provide "baseload" generation by 2030. But the costs would appear to be enormous. The costs of providing 24 hour power (as long as there is not more than 1 day of overcast weather in a row and no dust storms) are reasonably estimated in Quokka's first link in post #175.
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  43. Peter Lang - I would be very interested in a wind correlation study for Australia. That would prove or disprove any possibility of reliable power by splitting generation between different regions. Not knowing Australian wind patterns, might it possible that this region is covered by the same strong trade winds? The study I referred to here indicated correlations as low as 0.3 for Australian sites only 375km separation (small by the measures proposed) - if you chose sites in different wind patterns.
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  44. Ogemaniac, "Economically competitive vs what? Subsidized-up-the-ying-yang fossil fuels, whose free public garbage dumping rights alone are worth something on the order of a trillion dollar per year?" It is renewables that are "Subsidized-up-the-ying-yang". Try putting properly comparable figures on your assertions (per $/MWh; even better, take it a step further and provide $/MWh of energy that meets our demand for power quality). Regarding the cost of externailites, why don't you provide actual figures instead of adjectives. Read this and get a handle on the actual value of externalities: http://www.externe.info/externpr.pdf Look at the tables at the top and bottom of page 13. The point is that even when the externailities are included, renewables are still many times higher cost that fossil fuels or the other (unmentionable) baseload electricity generation technology. You should also taske into consideration what is the real cost to society of higher cost energy. Have a long hard think about that!!
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  45. KR, The best wind sites are selected. All of what you are talking about is well known. The investors and the regulator want the best sites. But I suggest you take a look at the costs. You cannot deal with this in the absence of cost. That is the crunch. One problem is that many people have very little understanding of economics, costs, financing. It is impossible to have a rational discussion with people who want to talk about their beliefs and hopes but cannot ore will not consider the cost of what they advocate.
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  46. Peter Lang - Looking at Quokka's links, the proposal discussed includes 60% concentrating solar and 40% wind. This is already reducing correlation considerably. I'll also note that this proposal (I'm sure it's optimistic, no worries about that) estimates that when global concentrating solar (CSP) reaches 8-9GW the costs will drop below coal energy costs. This proposal alone has 42GW of CSP. The timeline critiques are quite reasonable - I cannot see action occurring on that schedule. But even if the costs are off by a factor of two, even if the energy requirements are off by a factor of two - this is one potential approach to reducing CO2 consumption.
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  47. KR, If you are not prepared to look at the links that have been suggested to you, then there is little point in the discussion. The points you are making have been covvered manny many times elsewhere. None of it is new.
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  48. KR, You say "But even if the costs are off by a factor of two, even if the energy requirements are off by a factor of two." You clearly did not read the critique or else you did not understand it.
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  49. Peter Lang - I'm still running the numbers from the critiques, I'll comment when I have a better feel for them. As to site placement, unless there is large scale (national) oversight, I suspect that the individual power companies will not chose the best mix of sites, but rather load sites to the highest wind levels regardless of large scale correlation.
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  50. I'd go with KR's comment at #193, about the wind farms all being in the same wind pattern. If you look at the locations of the windfarms on that Landscape Guardians site (thanks for that link, Peter Lang!), you'll see that they're all on the south-east coast of Australia, and are all sited to pick up the winds coming off the southern ocean. Great place to put a wind farm, if you get paid a fixed amount per kWh irrespective of when it's produced. Not so great to put them all there if you're interested in producing something closer to a base-load profile - the correlation between sites along the southern coast of Australia is often going to be very positive, and dependent almost entirely upon the weather patterns at the time. On the other hand, that's where the greatest wind resource is, so a means of storing that power (or having fast-reacting backup that can fill in the gaps) would be great. As I understand it, that's more-or-less what the ZCA people are proposing with their solar thermal with storage. Cost is a different issue - and, while an important consideration as to whether 100% renewables is the way to go, it doesn't actually affect the question of whether renewables are *capable* of providing baseload. The answer to that question seems to be "yes". It may be very expensive to do so, and we may be far better off with a large contribution by nuclear, but just because it might be unacceptably expensive doesn't mean it's not possible. :-D BTW, I read an old post on Climate Progress earlier, linking to a study suggesting the annual cost due to climate change effects of "business as usual" will be something around $1.5 trillion by the middle of the century. Net present value of the next 80 years worth of climate change costs was something like $1,240 trillion. Scary numbers.
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