Tag Archives: solar photovoltaic

Demand Destruction from Home

Demand destruction is what coal mining companies, utilities, and anyone who benefits from a centrally controlled power grid dreads.  Why?  Demand destruction represents an existential threat to the entire business model of these entities.

Consider the state of Iowa’s electricity generation mix and my recently installed solar photovoltaic system.  Iowa’s electricity generation mix breaks down like this for April of 2017:

Iowa Energy Chart.gif

In Iowa non-hydroelectric renewables usually equals wind given the relatively low penetration of solar photovoltaic generation.  Another caveat is that the wind tends to blow strongly in the spring and demand for electricity has not spiked with the onset of the summer air conditioning season.

Now consider the impact of a solar photovoltaic system, mine or someone else’s.  When that demand leaves the grid, so to speak, what generation sources do you think will be curtailed?  In order I think it would be coal, nuclear, natural gas, and finally wind.  Why?  Wind turbines do not have a recurring fuel cost, so the cost to retire them does not include a perpetuity of fuel cost baked in which can be a significant driver for an asset with a long life.

In other terms, do you keep generating power by paying to burn a fuel or just harvest the wind for free?  In business school the number one lesson I learned in marketing was to not compete with free.  You will lose every time.

So, as demand disappears from the grid as a result of distributed residential solar the traditional fossil fuel sources are forced to compete with installed and cheap wind power for a dwindling number of customers.  I exaggerate to some degree to get the point across, but in Iowa this may not be such a moot point given the plans for wind power development in the next three years.

Depending upon how you measure it Iowa has more than 6,900 megawatts of wind power providing anywhere from 35% to 40% of the state’s electricity.  This is great news in and of itself, but the state’s two major utilities—MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy—have announced investments for an additional 3,000 megawatts or more by 2020.  Just with these additions—barring any additional activity by other energy players—would bring Iowa nearly 10,000 megawatts of wind power and give the state the capacity to produce more than 50% of its electricity from the wind.  This is without a significant portion of the state’s electricity demand being displaced by distributed residential solar or energy efficiency.

As you can see from the chart that when the wind blows heavily, which it tends to do in the spring, wind is already the largest source of electricity generation in the state.  That trend was true for February, March, and April of 2017. This is only going to grow in the future.

Our homes can be the drivers of change for a cleaner and greener world.

Friday Linkage 2/21/2014

I am going to blame climate change of the schizophrenic February weather here in Iowa.  On Monday it snowed about four or five inches.  On Tuesday and Wednesday it was forty or almost fifty degrees.  On Thursday and into Friday we got a nice wallop of a winter storm.  I cannot wait to see what the future looks like if this is the present.

On to the links…

Saving an Endangered British Species: The Pub—It’s not the most important news story of the week, but it is the most poignant to me.  There is something deeply romantic about the “local.”  However, as time marches on and dollars get in the way the local pub is going to give way to malls and lofts.

Obama Directs EPA and DOT to Tighten Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy Trucks by 2016—This is one of those “boring but very important” stories that tends to get missed in all the headlines about containers being repurposed into student housing or another ten uses for mason jars.  As the article states, these trucks represent 7% of the vehicles on the road yet account for 25% of the transportation fuel consumed.

New York Scrubs Microbeads—Microbeads, those little balls of plastic in cosmetics and facial cleansers, are really bad for water.  Why?  Because the small little bits of plastic do not necessarily get filtered out and make their way into the food system.  All for cleaner, brighter skin.

Train Carrying Canadian Oil Derails In Western Pennsylvania—I am not in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline and I think that it would be best if tar sands oil were left in the ground.  However, if the oil is going to be transported to the U.S. should it not come over the border in a way that is safer than trains of flammable liquid rolling through our towns?

Here’s Why 50 Percent More Coal Plants Could Be Retiring Than Experts Previously Thought—Maybe it’s because coal basically sucks.  It pollutes.  It’s a big contributor to climate change.  Mining coal is a disaster.  Oh wait, and it does not make economic sense.  Okay.  Got it.

A Huge Solar Plant Opens, Facing Doubts About Its Future—The Ivanpah facility is amazing and according to the chattering class it will probably be the last of its kind built.  Still, 377 megawatts from the sun is amazing.

Water-Cleaning Technology Could Help Farmers—When you read through this article think about the technology that the company is using.  Not a single thing is brand new or needing to be worked on.  This is an application of existing technology to solve a current problem.  Pretty sweet.

Can Anybody Save California?—The title is provocative, but the question is too simple.  The real question is can anyone save what California has become?  There is a future for the state if it can learn to live within its hydrological means, but history has shown that it is incapable or unwilling to even try.

Denmark Is About To Set Even More Ambitious Climate Goals Than All Of Europe—I wish more countries could be like Denmark.  It’s not just their stance on trying to mitigate climate change, but the country’s whole attitude in general.  If I could choose a country beside the U.S. to live in it would probably be Denmark.

How One Brown Student Shut Down The NRA—Sometimes all it takes to stop the giant is persistence and the courage to stand up.  There are few bullies bigger than the NRA.  In American politics they are the Christ Christie of special interests, but they can be taken down.

No, GMOs Won’t Harm Your Health—The fervor about the health impairment of GMOs reminds me of the anti-vaccine fears promoted by a misinformed population that could not be swayed from their opinion regardless of facts.  Of course, that also sounds like climate deniers who cling to faith as the sole reason to ignore science.

Butter and Whole Milk Linked to Lower Obesity Rates—Have we finally moved past the anti-fat crusade?

How To Clean Your Microwave Naturally With Just a Lemon—Cleaning the inside of a microwave is about the worst job in the kitchen because there does not seem to be a way to do it well.  I use a cup of vinegar in a way similar to the lemon in this article.

God’s 12 Biggest Dick Moves in the Old Testament—Speaking of faith, here is a decent list of the biggest ass clown moves God pulled in the Bible.  I always find it interesting when “New Testament” Christians tell me how God is all about love and what not.  If they read the Old Testament things might be a little different.  Then again, these people like to cherry pick what parts of the Bible they need to suit their prejudices.

The African Savannah Is Even More Beautiful From a Bird’s-Eye View—Nature is freakin’ amazing.  Sometimes we just need to sit back and be amazed by the beauty.

Friday Linkage 12/13/2013

Baby, it’s cold outside.  Two weeks into the most recent cold snap and it feels like it’s the middle of February.  Too bad this is still December.

The thing that blows my mind is the media’s coverage of snowstorms.  If there is 4 to 6 inches of snow in the Midwest, it might get a mention on the news in terms of cancelling flights.  For the most part we clear our driveways, go a little slower, and everyone accepts being a little bit later for everything that day.  If the same storm gets to New York City you would think that it was the start of the zombie apocalypse.  There will literally be live stringers showing the first snowflakes falling.

On to the links…

F.D.A. Restricts Antibiotics Use for Livestock—This story cannot be overlooked and it needs to be followed because I am certain that industry will try to weaken every part of this new policy.  The prophylactic use of antibiotics to make animals grow larger is ridiculous and a giant risk to public health.

329 U.S. Coal Plants are No Longer Cost Effective—As the cost of natural gas continues to fall, renewables become increasingly cost competitive, pollution controls warrant upgrades, and the public is no longer willing to bear the cost of externalities related to coal powered electrical generation expect this number to increase.  Now if we could only take more of the plants off line sooner.

Eastern States Press Midwest to Improve Air—Here’s a potential solution to the problem of coal fired electrical generation.  In general, a lot of the states that generate electricity this way do not realize all of the damaging effects because the pollution is carried eastward.  Apparently, the states on the eastern seaboard are pissed about that fact.

How We’re Destroying Our Kids’ Brains—If you wanted another reason to clean up pollution here it is.  Apparently, pollution may be damaging the brains of our children.  Man, we really suck balls as a species.

In South Africa, Renewables Vie With the Political Power of Coal—Coal is a big bad all over the world.  In a country like South Africa, blessed with abundant wind and sunshine, it must overcome the entrenched political might of king coal. Ugh!

Do Solar Thermal Hot Water Heaters Still Make Sense?—When I first started following the solar industry, solar thermal made the most sense in terms of payback versus photovoltaic because of the price differential.  Now that the price of solar PV panels has come down the benefits of being tied into the grid make a lot more sense.

How Marijuana Prohibition Drives Up Energy Costs And Warms The Planet—Add this to the list of things that an end to the prohibition on marijuana would solve.  It’s stunning to think about the resources devoted to covert indoor growing operations.

Why Farm to School Will Save Our Food System—Tying school food programs into more sustainable and local food systems is a major win because these programs buy so much food.  It’s a classic case of getting a large, single actor to move that makes a huge impact.

Supermarkets Selling Chicken that is Nearly One-Fifth Water—Dude, the chicken in those little foam trays is just nasty.  If it is not a den of microbes trying to kill you, up to twenty percent of it might be plain old water.  Now you know why so much liquid is in the pan when you brown those flaccid hunks of meat.

How to Grow Chickens without Buying Grain—If you do not want watery supermarket chicken, you might want to consider some backyard chickens.  Granted, it’s usually for egg production but those hens will get old sooner or later.

World’s Largest Palm Oil Company Commits To Zero Deforestation—I do not put a lot of stock on these kinds of promises, but I do believe that grassroots pressure to limit the impacts of palm oil cultivation is having an impact on practices.  A few years ago if you had asked someone about palm oil they would have looked at you with ignorance.  Now, quite a few people would know it is a bad actor ecologically speaking.

Nine Beers Americans No Longer Drink—It’s tough to be in the business of selling big beer these days.  People’s tastes have evolved and craft brewers have moved to fill those niches.  Pretty soon only college kids motivated more by cost per ounce than anything else will the ones lining up for cases of Milwaukee’s Best.  Wait a second, aren’t they the only ones who drink that stuff now?

Geothermal Potential

Wind and solar get the lion’s share of attention when it comes to discussing renewable energy and the portfolio of options for zero carbon electricity generation.  Nuclear energy is brought up by its proponents as part of the solution, but the cost and risk, in regards to both the project liability and the waste disposal issue, preclude it from being a serious part of the discussion.  Hydropower is definitely part of the solution because it is well proven and can provide consistent power, but it is unlikely that any new major hydropower projects are going to be built because of the damage existing facilities have done to our waterways.  Any gain in hydropower will be achieved through wringing out more electricity from currently running facilities, replacing derelict power generation facilities, or retrofitting existing dams to accommodate hydropower.  Granted, there is probably a lot of potential in those three options but I am no expert.

One renewable energy source that is consistently overlooked is geothermal.  Maybe it’s because we cannot picture a geothermal plant or, if we can, it conjures up images of Iceland.  However, geothermal power is an excellent source of base load renewable power.  What do I mean by base load?  This is the power that is available consistently 24 hours a day.  Wind and solar are intermittent and variable, so it is hard to go to a system that depends upon such power.  This is the argument that the coal and natural gas lobbies use to defend the construction and operation of their facilities.  Geothermal power, however, is there all the time.

But what is the potential for the power?  Not everyone lives in a place like Iceland or Hawaii where the hot core of the earth is literally bursting at the seams and pouring out as lava.  Here is what the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) worked up using date from Southern Methodist University:

geothermal_resource2009-final

The western United States is brimming with potential for geothermal power.  Even my little portion of southeast Iowa looks like it might be sitting on a potential spot for favorable, if not optimum, conditions.

Iceland, a country known for its volcanic activity and hot springs, gets an estimated 30% of its electricity from geothermal sources.  Now, imagine a world where everyone got 30% of their electricity from geothermal and what that would represent in terms of closures of dirty fossil fuel plants.

Don’t think it can be done in the U.S.?  Why not?

Let’s look at Iowa, my home state, for a moment.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) the production of electricity in January 2013, the latest month for which data is available publicly, looked like this:

Chart Energy

Iowa is already getting almost one-third of its electricity from renewables, a combination including a small amount of hydroelectric, with the rest coming primarily from coal.  At these levels there is approximately 100 GWh of coal fired electricity being generated per day.  Using my crude mathematics skill—100 GWh per day = 100,000 MWh per day = 4167 MW per hour—you would need to install ~4200 MWs of capacity to totally supplant coal.  Granted, no facility is 100% efficient so assuming 75% efficiency the installed capacity would have to be rated at approximately 5,500 MW.

Now, the U.S. as a whole does not have that much installed capacity for geothermal but I was trying to replace all coal fired generation.  There is nothing to say that coal cannot be supplanted by a portfolio of options, one of which could be geothermal.  I am just trying to show that there is a place in the conversation for geothermal energy.

The more research that I do into the issue the more I am left with the distinct feeling that no one really knows how much geothermal power potential exists.

The problem is that there does not appear to be a lot of movement to develop these resources in any cohesive national way.  We hear a lot about the production tax credit for wind power or feed-in tariffs for solar energy, but there is no equivalent government incentive for geothermal that would spur development.  Why?

As we look to transition to a carbon neutral economy a solution like geothermal power cannot be ignored.

Friday Linkage 12/14/2012

I don’t have an open this week.  Everything just seems a little off today with the school shooting in Connecticut.  It’s a sad and scary world.

Here are the links…

The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement—Every few years someone writes an essay about a particular shift in the green or environmental movement.  A while back it was about how the environmental movement was dead.  Now, it’s about a shift to so-called eco-pragmatists.  Okay, whatever.  Here’s my two cents.  It’s not a shift, but an expansion of eco-consciousness that now comprises more demographics than those commonly associated with patchouli and Birkenstock sandals.

The people who have concerns about the environment and the natural world are still present, but a new crop of people are taking to the cause in a different way.  It’s a big enough tent for everyone to participate in the discussion without this turning into the progressive version of the right wing’s “purity tests” that lead to political candidates for high office like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee.

Another Look at a Beverage Ingredient: Brominated Vegetable Oil—Do we really, as a country, have any idea what the ingredients are in the food we buy?  Hopefully, we buy as much unprocessed food as possible because it seems like something comes up every day that is more frightening.  Today, it’s brominated vegetable oil in your soda.  Basically, the stuff is banned all over the world except for the U.S.  Surprise, surprise.  The line that scared me those most from the article was as follows:

“About 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be added to foods, about 3,000 of which have never been reviewed for safety by the F.D.A., according to Pew’s research. Of those, about 1,000 never come before the F.D.A. unless someone has a problem with them; they are declared safe by a company and its handpicked advisers. “

Teaming Up to Make New Antibiotics—Antibiotics are one of the true miracles of modern medicine.  Through the use of these compounds humans and animals have been freed from the cycle of death related to infection.  Now, through humans’ overuse of antibiotics and a general malaise with regard to developing new compounds, our mastery over infection is waning.  The time to act is now.

How Agroforestry Can Help Combat Climate Change—I read articles like this and it makes me wonder if we have even begun to explore the myriad ways our traditional agricultural systems could adapt.  It seems that if it is not using a giant machine from John Deere the world does not notice.  BTW, don’t the pigs in the pictures look happy?

How to Feed the World without Destroying It—Unlike what some boosters of industrial agriculture say we do not need to destroy the natural world in order to feed humanity.  Plus, the answer is in infographic form:

info_soil2

Bringing Local Food Communities Online—Farmigo is trying to make the farmers market experience so easy that it’s like ordering the latest garbage book about strange bondage behavior from Amazon.  Sure, you might lose the experience of walking the farmers market, interacting with growers, and being part of a community but it is better, way better, than getting your produce from WalMart.

U.S. Solar Photovoltaics Install 684MW in Q3 2012—The figure of 684MW in quarter 3 of 2012 represents a 44 percent increase over the same period in the prior year.  The installed capacity brought online in the first three quarters of 2012 already exceeds the total for the entire year in 2011.  These are good numbers, but it is my belief that it only represents a fraction of the potential of solar photovoltaic in the U.S.

Solar Panels for Every Home—A resilient power grid would add as much distributed generating capacity as possible because disruptions like those post-Sandy would be lessened.  Furthermore, the condition of our national power grid does not really accommodate the addition of a lot of new power.

Wind and Solar Paired with Storage Could Power the Grid 99.99% of the Time—I think what is missing from the discussion about expanding the use of renewables is that these technologies have moved beyond fringe, in terms of being able to provide power.  Now, the question becomes how much of our grid can be powered with renewables.  Bring it on.

Permafrost 101: Why We Need To Account For Thawing Ground In Climate Projections—The world may not end in 2012 as many people believed the Mayans predicted—I believe they just figured it was too far out in the future to worry about so why waste the time—but there are still things to be worried about.  Zombies?  No.  The effect of permafrost thawing?  Yes.  Honey Boo Boo?  Hell yes!

The Bayou Corne Sinkhole: Massive Oil and Gas Disaster You Probably Know Nothing About—I admit that I had heard nothing about this and I read a lot.  Most of it is not even about Honey Boo Boo.  Honest.  It’s not a natural disaster either.  It’s the result of oil and gas drilling.  This is just horrific.

Electricity Rates on the Rise

The infographic from One Block Off the Grid  highlights why I worry about my household’s electricity usage.  Granted, as I pointed out in an earlier post, my household, on average, uses a lot less electricity than even the lowest state’s per household amount.  However, resiliency, in my opinion, is about reducing my exposure to the almost guaranteed increase in the cost of electricity that is to come in the future.

Another reason to be concerned about your household’s electricity use is the growth in natural gas as a generation fuel and the continued use of coal.

Coal’s problems are well established.  No matter how cleanly it is burned, coal is a dirty fuel.  From mining through to combustion the list of problems is long.  Whether it is mountain top removal or bad practices at mining companies or mercury or soot or some other pollutant, coal is a bad actor when it comes to energy.  It’s cheap and the U.S. has a lot of coal, but that does mean we should be burning the stuff.

Natural gas seems like the better choice.  It’s cleaner than coal on almost all fronts—although its clear superiority has been challenged as of late.  However, hydraulic fracturing or fracking has come to the forefront as a concern.  The U.S. is entering a so-called “golden age of natural gas” as fracking has opened up huge deposits of gas as viable operations across the country.  The growth in gas production is starting to rearrange the entire energy infrastructure as coal is replaced en masse for energy generation and the petrochemical industry gears up to take advantage of this new found bounty.

But the environmental concerns are legion.  The process of fracking is suspected in the poisoning of sub-surface water and the wastewater from the operations sits in polluted lagoons waiting to cause a problem.  Don’t think vast pools of wastewater are a problem?  Just ask people affected by the coal ash disaster in Tennessee or residents near manure lagoons after a flash flood.  It’s as nasty as it sounds.

But, if everyone used less electricity—that oh so dreaded concept of efficiency—there would be less need for any kind of electrical generation.  Furthermore, the percentage of the total generation regime that renewables accounts for could increase because polluting sources like coal and natural gas plants could be taken off line or reserved for peak load moments.

Distributed generation, e.g. photovoltaic systems on residential rooftops, figures into this equation greatly because it places electricity generation near the loads.  In some regions solar PV dovetails nicely with peak demand because the prime solar generation hours coincide with the hottest times of the day and, therefore, with peak demand for things like refrigeration or air conditioning.

Then again, this all just sounds like hippie utopian thinking.  Damn Ecotopia!