April 16, 2014
Energy Usage Trends In USA
Lawrence Livermore National Lab reports on US energy usage in 2013.
Americans used more renewable, fossil and even nuclear energy in 2013, according to the most recent energy flow charts released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Each year, the Laboratory releases energy flow charts that illustrate the nation's consumption and use of energy. Overall, Americans used 2.3 quadrillion thermal units more in 2013 than the previous year.
The Laboratory also has released a companion chart illustrating the nation's energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Americans' carbon dioxide emissions increased to 5,390 million metric tons, the first annual increase since 2010.
Out of the 2.3 quads increase in energy usage 10% (0.24 quads) came from growth in wind power. Wind would need to grow 10 times faster to supply the amount of energy usage growth of the United States in 2013. Is a 10x acceleration in wind installations possible? Seems unlikely.
Wind energy continued to grow strongly, increasing 18 percent from 1.36 quadrillion BTUs, or quads, in 2012 to 1.6 quads in 2013 (a BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy; 3,400 BTU is equivalent to about 1 kilowatt-hour). New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines. Most new wind turbines can generate 2 to 2.5 megawatts of power.
To put that 1.6 quads from wind in perspective: The US used 97.4 quads in 2013. So 1.64% of total energy usage came from wind power.
Nuclear energy supplied over 5 times more energy than wind power. Nuclear did that with reliable base load power that runs all hours of night and day all year around. But coal provided over twice the energy of nuclear and oil provided almost double energy of coal.
Charles C. Mann, author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (which I am slowly reading) and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (which I will read some day) argues in a Wired piece that the future is Clean Coal with carbon capture and storage. This is going to be cheaper than nuclear power?
Even if FirstSolar can deliver on their optimistic projections for efficiency increases won't we still need non-wind and non-solar baseload power in large quantities? I am still skeptical of renewables as the majority sources of our energy supplies.
Randall Parker, 2014 April 16 08:43 PM
I'll mention that the increase in US energy consumption was an upward tick that is hopefully the result of an improving economy, but for all I know it could have been the result of the weather. In Australia we've had a strong economy but a falling grid electricity demand and at least two of the three factors involved are operating in the United States - improved efficiency, and rooftop solar. The third - enormous hikes in electricity prices probably won't apply to the US, although increasing gas prices may result in some increase.
If the price is right there is no particular reason why wind power cannot rapidly expand. Here in South Australia we went from almost no wind power to getting about a quarter of our electricity from it in about seven years. And of course, what China is doing is pretty impressive:
Some people are concerned about whether or not baseload generating capacity is needed, but that's easily answered. It's not. It's April now, so no baseload generating capacity should be operating in South Autralia. The coal fueled Northern Power Station has probably shut down to wait for higher electricity prices in the spring and despite this we have no problem meeting our electricity demand even though we have no generating capacity that operates 24/7. There's no problem because we just pay people to meet demand. I understand a similar system operates in much of the US. If it was profitable for our baseload plant to meet demand in winter it would, but it isn't, so it doesn't.
Coal with carbon capture isn't likely to go anywhere beyond perhaps a few pilot plants. This is because ordinary coal plants can't compete with wind and solar. There is no need for First Solar or anyone else to deliver on improved efficiency, as currently solar is being installed in Italy for 0.9 euros a watt and in China for $1.03-$1.05 a watt. At that cost solar is far cheaper than new coal, gas, or nuclear capacity. Now just what the final mix of low emission energy sources will be in various countries once energy has been decarbonized I don't know. But in a few years things will be clearer. Right now I think we should just concentrate on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as cost effectively as possible.
Frankly, I couldn't care less about silly carbon emissions. Even a cursory look at the data shows man-made global warming is a fraud. Still, I'm all about renewable energy. As long as it causes less real pollution and it's cost effective why not? I just wish the government wouldn't poor billions into research and start-ups with no ROI.
Ronald is right: All you need to do is to believe, close your eyes, and click your heels together three times. There is no need at all for baseload power. No need for dispatchable power either. Just wait for the wind to blow or the sun to shine, and use whatever power the power faeries choose to send you. Know your place. Stay there.
And as for power storage? It's not in the cards for any affordable future. But we can dream about affordable power storage and feel good about ourselves. Because in our dreams, we are not polluting, we are not emitting, we are not suffering. In our dreams.
Concerning the energy thing,I just want to throw out a little factoid you may find interesting.If world energy use increases 1% per year would exhaust all conceivable resources in the solar system in one thousand years.This is taken from "The anthropic principle"Tipler and Barrow pg.170.
Juzor, we are rather fond of our dispatchable power fairies. However, we are calling on them less often than we used to.
Is a 10x acceleration in wind installations possible?
Wind power produces electricity. An EV, like the Volt, needs about .3kWh per mile. On the other hand, the average US vehicle gets about 22MPG, which is about 1.5kWh per mile. So, you only need 20% as many quads of wind power to provide the same level of transportation that we have today.
skeptical of renewables as the majority sources of our energy supplies.
As Ron notes, variance isn't that hard to deal with. To deal with seasonal variation we might need to store 5% of total grid output as underground hydrogen - fairly cheap and easy, with proven tech.
I read the Wired article on carbon capture and storage (CCS), and am disappointed. We're told that coal will be used because it's cheap and plentiful, but that CCS would double the cost of coal generation. How does that suggest that CCS will be used??
Wind and solar are cheaper even now than Coal with CCS. Why are we even talking about CCS??
CCS is the alternative to nuclear power, which is Too Evil For Words in the minds of many.
Wind and solar costs: What are their costs of shaped into baseload power with extensive storage?
Yes, why build coal+CCS if you could build nukes instead? I doubt coal+CCS is cheaper. But do we know?
As for underground hydrogen: There is energy lost generating the hydrogen and then more energy lost turning the hydrogen back into electric power (plus the equivalent of a natural gas electric generating plant to turn hydrogen back into electric power). So why would wind plus hydrogen storage be cheaper than nukes?
Wind can stop for days over a large area. Either large amounts of storage capacity are needed or a lot of idle backup power plants need to be funded.
Randall, people will install whatever generating capacity is the most profitable for them regardless of whether or not there is any storage capacity. Here in Australia rooftop solar is the cheapest source of electricity for households and so people are installing a lot of it and they will continue to do so whether or not any new storage capacity is built. And since solar helps meet peak demand we not only have sufficient existing generating capacity to meet all demand when the sun isn't shining, we have an oversupply, so no one is in a hurry to add any utility scale energy storage to the grid. (But home and business energy storage is another matter and may be installed.)
I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense to debate about wind/solar vs nuclear. They'll both produce low-CO2 power. I'd suggest that diversity of supply is a good thing - if you like nuclear, that should be no barrier to liking wind/solar as well.
Seasonal lulls are straightforward to handle. 1st, you don't rely on any one source for too much of your power. 2nd, you overbuild, just as we do now - US generating capacity is about 2.5x as large as average demand. 3rd, you store excess production from that overbuild very cheaply - cheap us far more important than efficient when you don't use it very often.
Nick, both wind and solar power are terrible for the economics of nuclear power. Here in Australia it looks like wind farms might be profitable to build as long as wholesale electricity prices average about 5 cents a kilowatt-hour or more. Since new nuclear plants won't be profitable to build until average wholesale prices are significantly higher, wind will be built first and so will, to a large extent, keep a lid on prices preventing from reaching a point where nuclear could be profitable.
Utility scale solar has a similar effect and keeps daytime electricity prices low. But point of use solar is very interesting in that it competes with the retail price of electricity rather than the wholesale price. Because of this households and businesses may continue to install it even if the average wholesale price of electricity during the day often drops to zero. So rooftop solar can greatly depress average wholesale electricity prices. This will cause some demand to shift to the day to take advantage of lower electricity prices resulting in less demand at other times, and also less existing hydroelectric capacity and pumped storage will be used during the day leaving more available to meet evening demand and periods of low wind and sunshine and this will help keep wholesale prices lower than what they would be otherwise.
There may be lulls in the production of electricity by renewables when the wholesale price of electricity becomes quite high, but since nuclear plants are baseload generators it is average wholesale prices that are important for determining if they can make a profit. They are not at all suited to a role as peak generators that step in to meet demand during periods of high prices.
All of that depends on the regulatory structure that shapes & creates the power market.
Most of the regional grids in the US pay for capacity. That might help nuclear. Similarly, utilities are pushing to increase their flat charges for connection to the grid, to suppress solar. Heck, if they can convince legislators, they could tax PV even if it's not connected to the grid.
Personally, I think utilities should be required to promote wind/solar, but fossil fuel interests are powerful.
Nick, regulatory structure certainly affects what capacity gets built, but if payments are made for maintaining dispatchable capacity that's not likely to be nuclear, as it costs far too much to have reactors sitting idle waiting for their demand to be needed. And I suppose legislators could always ban rooftop solar or tax it out of existence, but that doesn't seem likely. I have heard that Americans like having the option of producing their own electricity and big business owns a lot of roofs it can put solar on.
Most of the regional grids in the US pay for capacity.
If PJM did, or for proper "fuel diversity", Vermont Yankee would be wildly successful instead of scheduled for decommissioning this year. Instead, the New England grid is allocating $78 million for oil (jet fuel) reserves for gas-turbine plants so they can stay up during natural gas shortages, but nothing for nuclear. The bias could hardly be more blatant.
utilities are pushing to increase their flat charges for connection to the grid, to suppress solar.
False. It's to charge solar generators part of the cost of their access to the grid. Net metering pays them for capacity, for spinning reserve, for regulation, and for reactive power that they are NOT PROVIDING, let alone upkeep for the grid itself. Just meeting the costs of their lack of firm availability would wipe out much of the putative value of solar PV.
I think utilities should be required to promote wind/solar
I think wind and solar should be used where and when they make sense... and at no other places or times. My upcoming book, working title "Splitting the Difference", will spell out when, where and how those things make sense.
China's elite is betting on nuclear. You'd be insane to ignore their reasons.
If PJM did, or for proper "fuel diversity", Vermont Yankee would be wildly successful instead of scheduled for decommissioning this year.
Sounds plausible. I'd be curious to see at least a back-of-the-envelope analysis.
False. It's to charge solar generators part of the cost of their access to the grid
Well, that's what the utilities say, and superficially it makes sense. But, what about the cost of externalities? As long as we don't charge for pollution (including CO2, mercury, sulfur, etc) and other externalities (trade balances, national security, etc) it's hard to tell. Again, it would be nice to see something quantitative. The exact level of appropriate charges for carbon are unclear, but it would be nice to see someone take a shot at a quantitative analysis.
My upcoming book, working title "Splitting the Difference", will spell out when, where and how those things make sense.
Don't forget to include the effect of all the various load-following strategies: overbuilding, long-distance transmission, demand side management (especially with EVs), supply diversity, short term storage (pumped storage, chemical batteries, etc) and long term storage (very cheap underground gas storage, with very cheap peak generators), forecasting, etc.
A model might help: perhaps an excel spreadsheet with real demand and supply data for a year, modeling the impact and cost of various strategies.
China's elite is betting on nuclear.
Possibly not - see below:
"In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China’s wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away—outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State."
Don't forget to include the effect of all the various load-following strategies
I don't expect to need any. Load-following is only necessary if you have no productive use for low duty cycle interruptible power. I've got several tricks in my bag, and just one of them can absorb several thousand TWh/yr worldwide.
I wouldn't put any faith in articles on Cleantechnica. It's an ideological site (I was banned after just one comment there), and China is now planning to have 88 GW of nuclear plants running by 2020. At 90% capacity factor, they will generate almost 700 TWh per year. With the well-documented problems caused by wind's variability, the expansion of wind beyond 20% of net generation is going to be quite difficult. Once any flow-driven generation gets its fraction of total generation close to its capacity factor, its output will run up against the limits of immediate demand. If you have neither dump loads nor storage, that's a hard limit.
If we have so much dump load that we don't even need demand side management, then why say "If you have neither dump loads nor storage, that's a hard limit."?
We don't have much in the way of dump loads; they don't exist yet. I could easily create tens of GW available during the heating season in the USA alone for a cost of maybe 1¢/W, and I've several other options which ought to be able to absorb similar amounts of excess power and put it to productive use.
It's all going in the book.
Well, then that greatly increases how much wind the grid can absorb - far beyond that 20% limit, right?
It's worth keeping in mind that demand-side-management is much cheaper than $.01/W: it's almost free. If the 230M vehicles in the US had 50kWh of storage each, that would be 11.5 TwHrs of storage, all provided by vehicle owners. That's about 24 hours of grid output. There's enormous potential for absorbing diurnal variance in wind & solar (and nuclear) output, all pretty much free to the grid - it has to charge sometime, so the large variation in prices during the day would be more than enough to cause owners to program their cars to automatically arbitrage between different times of the day.
It may be hard to imagine an all-electric fleet with that much storage, but that's where Tesla's planning to go.
The Wikipedia entry for existing and under-construction nuclear plants seems to show a total of about 44GW: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_reactors
With a planned completion time of about 5 years, this would suggest that China won't have more than 44GW by 2019. If you have better info, it would be nice to add to the Wikipedia list!
If the 230M vehicles in the US had 50kWh of storage each, that would be 11.5 TwHrs of storage, all provided by vehicle owners.
If you search for "Tesla-class battery" you'll find my previous commentary on that exact subject. The problem is that wind in particular can drop out for days, even weeks. Deficits are not easy to ameliorate; transportation is an immediate need that can't wait for the weather to provide. On the other hand there are some loads which can wait for days, weeks, even months. If you have surpluses, those are good places to use them.
that greatly increases how much wind the grid can absorb - far beyond that 20% limit, right?
Correct, but dump loads don't fix immediate deficit situations; they just provide a way to raise the baseline for all generation, RE included (e.g. with enough dump loads you can meet peak electric demand with nuclear and route the off-peak excess to dump loads). On the other hand, dump loads can offset non-electric energy demand and provide non-time-critical supplies of other things. If you can absorb enough energy in non-time-critical loads you can load up on the cheapest variable generation you can build and make productive, albeit poorly-compensated, use of it.
You have to take into account fire hazard risk though. Those lithium-ion batteries blow up and explode and catch on fire. Considering all the risks, they don't provide the safety, reliability, and energy of clean carbon resources.
CCTFT, lithium batteries could still be worth the risk in weird countries like Australia where we are so bizarre we actually pour highly flammable gasoline into our vehicles and power them by a rapid series of controlled explosions.
My god, Ronald, they actually let people do that? What about the photochemical smog problem from evaporation, and the risk to water supplies if it spills?
I'm shocked, shocked!
If you think that's weird, in Australia we have a special kind of burnable rock that we throw beneath giant boilers to make electricity. It can be pretty foul stuff and one of the holes we dig it out of caught on fire recently and covered a small town in smoke for a month and a half. And the funny thing is it's a $22,000 fine to sell cigarettes to children here, but apparently removing fire fighting equipment and leaving a coal seam exposed to the elements with the result that a town that contains a good number of children gets covered in toxic smoke is apparently okay. But in defence of the coal mining company who could have predicted a bush fire in Australia of all places? I mean, really, the odds against it would have to be some sort of measurement of probability.
What a crazy world we live in.
Clearly, dump loads are much less valuable than other measures to deal with variance. Now, demand side management with EVs is useful for daily, even weekly variance, but you're concerned about seasonal variance, right? Well, there are many solutions, especially overbuilding combined with long term storage (very cheap underground gas storage, with very cheap peak generators).
Just like the sun is always shining somewhere, so the wind is always blowing somewhere: the pressure to equalize temperatures between the equator and poles is always present, so the wind will always be flowing somewhere. Each time you double the geographical connections of your grid, your greatly reduce the ratio of variance to mean production: the peaks and troughs get smaller and rarer.
In a reasonably large grid, seasonal lulls in wind production won't be all that large or long: they'll account for less than 10% of kWhs overall.
Wind production will vary around the mean, but very roughly half the time production will be above, roughly half the time production will be below. Production might be below 50% of the mean perhaps 25% of the time. Many of those periods will be short: periods in which production is 50% below the mean for a week or more might account for a gap of 10% of kWhs.
Let's say we want to produce 100GW from wind. At 33% capacity factor, we'll need 300GW nominal capacity. If we overbuild by 50%, we'll build 450GW (which increases our cost per kWh from perhaps $.06 to about $.09). That will mean that very roughly 25% the time production will be below our desired 100GW average production. Production might be below 50GW perhaps 10% of the time. Periods in which production is below 50GW for a week or more might account for a gap of 4-5% of kWhs.
Now, on average we're producing 50GW of unneeded power. We use that to electrolyze water over the 80% of the year that we have excess power (which means we utilize the electrolytic units efficiently, we don't need that much capacity, and the capex is relatively small), we store the hydrogen in extremely cheap underground storage, and burn it in extremely cheap peaker turbines. The process will be inefficient, but it doesn't matter: the 50GW of excess power will create 110 TWhrs of stored power at 25% efficiency, long enough to replace even 100GW of missing wind production for 45 days (far more than than the 10-15 days needed!).
In reality we'd need much less storage than that: we'd use supply diversity, long distance transmission, seasonal demand side management, forecasting etc., to further reduce the amount needed. We'd probably only need to overbuild by about 15%, so dealing with intermittency will only cost roughly a 15% premium.
And, of course, that's mighty long-term and theoretical. We're going to have natural gas for a long time - more than enough to provide 5-10% of our kWhs for centuries.
Let's say we want to produce 100GW from wind. At 33% capacity factor, we'll need 300GW nominal capacity. If we overbuild by 50%, we'll build 450GW
Okay, 450 GW nameplate, 100 GW nominal load, gotcha. Maximum excess is 350 GW.
Now, on average we're producing 50GW of unneeded power.
Well, on average. But to make use of all of what you're producing, you need 350 GW of capture capacity. That's 7 times your average surplus. That's a whole lot of capital equipment that just sits idle most of the time, running up amortization costs and requiring preventive maintenance. We won't talk about all the thousands of miles of transmission lines that getting immediate flows from "somewhere the wind is blowing" will need, their losses, or other new system costs.
It's numbers like that which kill all the "totally renewable" energy scenarios. The supply is inherently unreliable, and the costs of smoothing it out are immense.
You know what the real irony is? The proponents of unreliable energy sources turn and condemn nuclear generators for being unable to crank their output up and down rapidly. Why should a solid, reliable generator have to apologize for being solid and reliable? These people's grasp on reality is so tenuous, they invert vices into virtues and virtue to vice.
to make use of all of what you're producing, you need 350 GW of capture capacity.
Well, sure, but you don't need to capture everything - that would be very far from optimal. You might only install enough equipment to make use of 50GW of excess output. After all, that much excess would be present half the time, and some excess would be present probably 50% of the remaining time, so your 50GW of capacity would be probably be 67% utilized. That would give 50GW x 67% utilization x 8,760 hours/year x 25% efficiency = 73 terawatt-hours. That's enough to replace 100% of the 100GW desired production for 30 days, which is far more than needed.
The same thing applies to long-distance transmission - we have some now, and we'd only add an optimal increment in combination with many other load-balancing strategies.
Keep in mind that this discussion of long-term/seasonal storage/backup is mighty long-term and theoretical. If overbuilding results in excess power it'll be used for something of value, but it won't be *necessary* for backup - we're going to have natural gas (and other hydrocarbons) for a long time - more than enough to provide 5-10% of our kWhs for several centuries. That's more than long enough to consider this a non-problem which will be solved one way or another by then.
Again, you might want to model this. I've done it, and it gave me very reassuring answers. It might be the only way to satisfy yourself.
Here's a good article on forecasting, just one of many elements of an effective strategy for incorporating renewable variance:
"forecasts are helping power companies deal with one of the biggest challenges of wind power: its intermittency. Using small amounts of wind power is no problem for utilities. They are accustomed to dealing with variability—after all, demand for electricity changes from season to season, even from minute to minute. However, a utility that wants to use a lot of wind power needs backup power to protect against a sudden loss of wind. These backup plants, which typically burn fossil fuels, are expensive and dirty. But with more accurate forecasts, utilities can cut the amount of power that needs to be held in reserve, minimizing their role.
Before the forecasts were developed, Xcel Energy, which supplies much of Colorado’s power, ran ads opposing a proposal that it use renewable sources for a modest 10 percent of its power. It mailed flyers to its customers claiming that such a mandate would increase electricity costs by as much as $1.5 billion over 20 years.
But thanks in large part to the improved forecasts, Xcel, one of the country’s largest utilities, has made an about-face.
It has installed more wind power than any other U.S. utility and supports a mandate for utilities to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources, saying it can easily handle much more than that.
..forecasts from NCAR are already having a big effect. Last year, on a windy weekend when power demand was low, Xcel set a record: during one hour, 60 percent of its electricity for Colorado was coming from the wind. “That kind of wind penetration would have given dispatchers a heart attack a few years ago,” says Drake Bartlett, who heads renewable-energy integration for Xcel. Back then, he notes, they wouldn’t have known whether they might suddenly lose all that power. “Now we’re taking it in stride,” he says. “And that record is going to fall.”"
Two new Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) plants are demonstrating that CCS is more expensive than wind (or nuclear).
The first is in Saskatchewan. It's expected to cost $1.2B, and have a nominal capacity of 110MW. The second, in Mississippia, is called Boundary Dam. Bounday Dam will cost about $5 (up from the initial estimate of $2.4B) for a capacity of 565MW.
If we assume an average utilization of 75% (a little higher than the industry average) we get an overall cost per average Watt of $12.25. If we assume 7% interest and a 30 year life, that gives us a cost for capital alone of 11.3 cents per kWh.
These plants are selling their CO2 output for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), but that's not scalable to a large number of plants: the market for EOR could absorb only two or three percent of coal CO2, and long distance movement of CO2 for this purpose would be very expensive.
The article suggests that the IPCC is pushing for biomass with CCS, but I strongly suspect it makes much more sense just to grow biomass and bury it, rather than trying to capture the carbon with CCS.