What is YOUR primary power source?

Click to enlarge

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz


Admin and tech questions OK for nuclear plant construction

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission unanimously approved a radical new reactor design on Thursday, clearing away a major obstacle for two utilities to begin construction on projects in South Carolina and Georgia.

The decision, a milestone in the much-delayed revival of plant construction sought by the nuclear industry, involves the Westinghouse AP1000, a 1,154-megawatt reactor with a so-called advanced passive design. It relies more heavily on forces like gravity and natural heat convection and less on pumps, valves and operator actions than other models do, in theory diminishing the probability of an accident.

Which says nothing about cost overruns, kickbacks for lobbyists and political graft in construction.

Two reactors are planned for the Southern Company’s plant near Augusta, Ga., and another two at the Summer plant of South Carolina Electric and Gas in Fairfield County, S.C.

Continue reading

Massive solar tower planned for Arizona desert

An ambitious solar energy project on a massive scale is about to get underway in the Arizona desert. EnviroMission is undergoing land acquisition and site-specific engineering to build its first full-scale solar tower – and when we say full-scale, we mean it! The mammoth 800-plus meter (2625 ft) tall tower will instantly become one of the world’s tallest buildings. Its 200-megawatt power generation capacity will reliably feed the grid with enough power for 150,000 US homes, and once it’s built, it can be expected to more or less sit there producing clean, renewable power with virtually no maintenance until it’s more than 80 years old…

Enviromission’s solar tower is a simple idea taken to gigantic proportions. The sun beats down on a large covered greenhouse area at the bottom, warming the air underneath it. Hot air wants to rise, so there’s a central point for it to rush towards and escape; the tower in the middle. And there’s a bunch of turbines at the base of the tower that generate electricity from that natural updraft…

Then, raise that tower up so that it’s hundreds of meters in the air – because for every hundred metres you go up from the surface, the ambient temperature drops by about 1 degree. The greater the temperature differential, the harder the tower sucks up that hot air at the bottom – and the more energy you can generate through the turbines.

The advantages of this kind of power source are clear:

Because it works on temperature differential, not absolute temperature, it works in any weather;

Because the heat of the day warms the ground up so much, it continues working at night;

Because you want large tracts of hot, dry land for best results, you can build it on more or less useless land in the desert;

It requires virtually no maintenance – apart from a bit of turbine servicing now and then, the tower “just works” once it’s going, and lasts as long as its structure stays standing;

The critter is scheduled to start producing power in 2015. If we had a public power company that made it to the 20th Century – if not the 21st – we could do something similar here in New Mexico.

From a separate temporal view, we’ve known how to evaluate the physics of propositions like this for decades. Computer modeling of the process, processes like this, isn’t new either. But, to return to my theme song about computational analysis, the amount of computing horsepower easily and cheaply available to recheck the physics, the details of design, has scaled up beyond comprehension compared to even a decade ago. And software to match sits inside off-the-shelf laptops with graphics sufficient to educate any VC worth his or her greenbacks on how well a project like this one will produce a return.

The only people who aren’t likely to get it – are the fracking politicians and bureaucrats who sit in the way of any kind of progress in this nation. And that could have changed by now, too – but, hasn’t.

Ski slope in Copenhagen to be built atop a power station – and, uh, it blows smoke rings!

A collaboration led by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has announced that it’s been selected to design a new waste-to-power station on the outskirts of Copenhagen. In an attempt to unify an industrial area and residential housing, the project will turn the vast roofing expanse of the power station into an Alpine ski resort. Skiers will begin their downward journey from the top of the smokestack, which will also pump out smoke rings every time a ton of carbon dioxide is produced to remind citizens of the impact of power consumption.

The radical design is being prepared for a waste-to-energy and recycling company called Amagerforbrænding, which already operates an incineration plant that converts the waste from five districts into electricity and heating…

Denmark and Sweden both use a fair amount of waste-to-power conversion for generating electricity. Most of what they burn is biomass remaining from timber industries.

In fact, the good dude we get ½-ton “spools” of trim and slabs from – to use as kindling all winter – is installing a 6-figure machine at his sawmill to produce biomass of the most efficient sizes for use in electricity generation by new powerplants in-state.

First test of CO₂ capture at a coal-fired power plant about to start

CO₂ capture facility sprawls alongside cooling tower at Mountaineer plant

Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.

A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millennia rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant.

The experiment, which the company says could begin in the next few days, is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. Visitors from as far as China and India, which are struggling with their own coal-related pollution, have been trooping through the plant.

The United States still depends on coal-fired plants, many of them built decades ago, to meet half of its electricity needs. Some industry experts argue that retrofitting them could prove far more feasible than building brand new, cleaner ones.

Yet the economic viability of the Mountaineer plant’s new technology, known as carbon capture and sequestration, remains uncertain…

And as with any new technology, even the engineers are unsure how well it will work: will all of the carbon dioxide stay put?

Should be interesting as all get-out. Of course, regardless of results, diehard coal investors will claim it worked. The Earth-religion segment of environmentalist activists will claim it didn’t.

I’m waiting for solid data, analysis that is peer-reviewed – preferably by universities without subsidies from coal companies.

Sanyo Electric and Nippon Oil announce joint solar venture

Sanyo’s Solar Ark solar generator
Daylife/AP Photo by Katsumi Kasahara

Japan’s Sanyo Electric and Nippon Oil announced they would collaborate to produce thin-film solar cells for large-scale power generation. The 50-50 joint venture will spend roughly 20 billion yen (226 million dollars) to build a factory in Japan that can annually produce enough solar cells to produce electricity worth 80 megawatts.

The venture should have capacity of one gigawatt by March 2016 and two gigawatts by March 2021, when the companies estimate the solar cell market will be worth 10 trillion yen.

“The solar power market is showing temporary flat growth for now due to the global slowdown, but we expect the market to grow significantly in the medium- to long-term,” Sanyo president Seiichiro Sano told a news conference.

The venture will initially target markets in Asia, the Middle East and Oceania. They will include the United States in their goals if and when Congress and the White House ever get beyond panicking over the economy.

The current global economic crisis should not pose significant problems, as the venture focuses on long-term projects, Nishio said. “The current economic situation will eventually improve. We are not concerned about the effects of the current economic condition on the management of this company,” he said.

Ain’t it something to hear from some of the Big Boys outside the U.S.? Instead of whining about the next two quarters of Wall Street crumbling, they’re focusing on how to make long-term money from manufacturing sensible infrastructure products.

Wave Power pilot plant successful in Sweden

For nearly three years, a wave power plant has stood on the bottom of the ocean a couple of kilometers off the west coast of Sweden, near Lysekil. Rafael Waters, from the Uppsala University Division of Electricity, designed and built the facility as part of his doctoral project. The station is uniquely durable and maintenance-free thanks to its simple mechanical construction, which was engineered at the Division.

“Instead of trying to adapt conventional energy technology to the special challenges of wave energy, we developed a technology that is adapted to the ocean from the start,” says Rafael Waters.

The generator in the wave power facility in Lysekil is very special. It is a so-called linear generator that generates electricity apace with the slow movements of the waves. An ordinary generator transforms rotation energy to electricity, and it needs to turn at about 1500 rpm to be efficient. It is then necessary somehow to convert the slow wave movement to a rapid rotating movement.

“Our generator has functioned without any trouble every time we started it up over the years, even though it has received no maintenance and has sometimes stood still for months.”

KISS still works. Probably not expensive enough to garner interest from the really big power companies.

All right. That’s too cynical even for me. Not expensive enough to garner interest from the U.S. government or Congress.

Solar Cell investments to reach parity with semiconductor industry

Worldwide investments in the production of Photovoltaic (PV) cells will rise to the same level as those for semiconductor manufacturing by 2010, due to booming demand for solar energy, according to iSuppli Corp.

Global production of PV cells is expected to rise to as much as 12 Gigawatts (GW) by 2010, up from 3.5GW in 2007. By 2010, as many as 400 production lines in the world that can produce at least 1 Megawatt (MW) of PV cells per year will be in place, representing a four-fold increase from about 90 to 100 production lines in 2007. Factories capable of 1GW of annual PV production also will be established in the future to ensure continued strong delivery of PV cells to the market.

The market for PV cells is estimated to grow by 40 percent annually until 2010, and 20 percent beyond, said Dr. Henning Wicht. Nearly all market participants plan to increase their sales by a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 40 to 50 percent during the next few years. Wicht noted that heavy investments will be required to finance the expansion of PV cell production. Each PV factory will require an investment of $500 million and more, will employ as many as 1,000 workers per site, and will generate annual revenue of $1 billion per year or more, putting them into the size, cost and employment range of semiconductor fabs…

With these cost reductions, many regions throughout the world will soon reach grid parity…a point at which PV electricity costs the same or less than power derived from the electrical grid. PV grid parity is expected beginning 2012 in nations where sunshine is plentiful and constant, and 2018 in areas of the world with adequate or medium sun exposure.

The people who build and profit from power generation know where the future lies. How long will it take the public and politicians to catch up?