Sunday, February 28, 2010

Weekly Wind Report

If there's one thing I don't mind, its facts. I've been open about my position on wind power and its usefulness (or lack thereof) in generating electricity for Ontario. So I don't mind looking and publicizing facts about wind power.

So in that trend, I'll be posting data taken from the IESO public reports concerning wind generation in Ontario every weekend.

For the week of February 16 - 23, there were 1085 MW of installed capacity of wind generation.

The maximum amount of electricity generated by wind at any point in time in that week was 565 MW.

The mimimum amount of electricity generated by wind at any point in time in that week was a meagre 22 MW.

The average capacity factor over the week was 20.84%.

The graph tells the rest of the story.

Figure 1: Electricity generation by wind power (February 16 - 23rd by hour). Data publicly available on IESO website.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

McGuinty Ignores Facts, Pushes Ahead

This is a very good article concerning green power and their potential in Ontario. I would just like to highlight one very important quote.

In a report two years ago, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) told the government that "wind and solar power will never be more than a niche supplier of power in Ontario."
People in the system know that wind and solar power is a dead end for Ontario. People in the Obama administration know that wind and solar power are dead ends in the USA.

Why doe environmentalists and Premier Dalton McGuinty continue to insist that we throw good money after bad in the hopes that some day some magic bullet will appear that will solve all the problems. First it was the 'smart grid', then it was talk about strategically placing windmills all across Ontario and now some people are stuck on something called the 'nitrogen grid' finally making wind power a viable alternative.

Lets be honest with ourselves and with our money. Wind power is a waste of time and money in Ontario. Environmentally, it will lead to increased carbon dioxide emissions. Financially, they are extremely expensive.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Science Policy Follies

“Simply put, we're putting the science back into the rocket science at NASA,” White House science adviser John Holdren said at a budget briefing Monday.
So, Obama has decided to cut NASA's plans to return to the moon, redirecting that money to vague research plans for rockets.

The point of politicians in science policy is not, or should not be, to direct every step of the research that is going on. A leader/manager should however set clear goals and expectations and monitor the progress that is going on without poking their nose in too deeply. Redirecting money to a project without establishing clear goals as to what you want them to achieve is not sound policy, regardless of the field.

To give a simplistic analogy, if you are building a house, you may help design the house layout, but it is unlikely that you would actually assist in building the house unless you had some training. You would probably establish an expectation on cost and the time required and follow up on their progress in order to make sure that they are on track. You would also establish expectations as to the size of the house, the style the house is going to be, sizes of different rooms and so on, in advance of the beginning of construction.

If you simply told a builder, 'build me a home!' and left him to his own devices without any clear goals, time frame or price limitations, you probably would not elicit much sympathy if they built you a home that you do not like at a price that you can't afford.

Science policy is not much more complicated. Political leaders should establish a goal, a time frame and set a reasonable budget to complete these goals after consultation with the people who will be accomplishing it.

Mr. Crawley said the Bush moon plan was well thought out, but based on existing technologies and underfunded.

Bush's plan may have been well thought out, but probably could not be accomplished with the money that they were willing to pay and seems to have lacked appropriate monitoring. But at least he had a goal, a time frame and a budget that people could work towards, Obama hasn't seemed to offered any of this, but plenty of criticisms of his predecessor on this file.

Allocating money to vague 'research' without a goal or a time frame is a recipe for disaster. Not because of the inability of researchers to perform research, but because without a clear goal they may waste time pursuing one goal only to be told later that the rockets are actually to be used for a different purpose.

I'm sure everyone has had a personal experience where they were told to work on a project without clear direction, only to wind up being told halfway through that you will have to restart because you were not performing the job the way your supervisor wanted it done. Right?

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Interesting Way to Sell a Car

This is an interesting way to sell cars I guess. I'm not sure if I'd be more likely to buy an Audi based on this advertisement, but watching it makes me laugh.

Based on some comments on Youtube I think there is some worry that we may be headed down this path where ultimately people are arrested for such 'crimes' as using incandescent light bulbs, but I think these fears are ultimately overblown. This sort of thing couldn't happen without the support of the majority of the population, which I don't think they'll ever have.

So enjoy the commercial, and don't get too hung up on it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Could Wind Power Increase Carbon Dioxide Emissions?

The real problem with wind power is its unreliability, as I've stated time and time again. But in places like Canada, can wind power actually increase the reliance on fossil fuels? It seems counter-intuitive but the answer is 'yes'.

In countries like, Denmark, which relied almost exclusively on fossil fuels in order to provide electricity, the introduction of wind power, even as an unreliable source of electricity, can enable the country to reduce its fossil fuel reliance over what it would have been had wind power not been introduced. But this is because it is replacing fossil fuels exclusively.

In a province like Ontario, the situation is far different because we rely on nuclear electricity to produce electricity for what is known as the 'base load'. Nuclear power is extremely useful at providing a constant, consistent amount of electricity over an extended period of time and that is how it is applied in Ontario. In order to handle the vast majority of the fluctuations in electricity demand, Ontario uses coal, gasoline or hydro.

Figure 1: Nuclear power in Ontario over a 3 day period (January 9th -11th, 2010). Blue line represents the rated power, and the red represents the actual production. Data publicly available on the IESO website.

Ontario's demand fluctuates between 15000 MW and 21000 MW these days (see here), but nuclear electricity generally provides a constant 10000 MW of electricity regardless of what time it is during the day. When Bruce A restart is complete in a year or two (hopefully), this will increase to around 11500 MW. That means, at low demand, nuclear power currently are the source for 66% of the electricity. Hydroelectric projects provide an additional 3000-5000 MW of electricity.

So, ideally, at low demand, Ontario's electricity generation is practically emission free. However, because coal and gasoline are easy to 'tune', they are used in small amounts at low demand in order to match supply and demand better.

The problem with wind power really is its unpredictability. One day it might be working at 80% efficiency, the next, it might be producing at 5%. But because of McGuinty's laws, wind power always must be incorporated into the grid when it is available, no matter what.

Figure 2: Wind power in Ontario over a 3-day period (January 9th - 11th, 2010). The blue line represents the rated power, the pink represents the actual output. Data publicly available on the IESO website.

Figure 3: Wind power in Ontario over the month of January. The blue line represents the actual output from wind power sources. Maximum rated output is 1100 MW for all wind powered generators. Data publicly available on the IESO website.

McGuinty is planning on increasing wind power up to at least 3600 MW within the next few years thanks to his recently inked 'deal'. This means, that in a few years, if low demand remains where it is, it is possible that at low demand wind power will replace hydroelectricity and even some nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power in Ontario is not designed to be able to handle such fluctuations in power output. Moreover, once a reactor is off the grid for some hours, it must shut down and remain off for about a day and a half before it can restart at all. So in order to accommodate the potential for high wind power during low demand times, Ontario would have to instruct nuclear power plants turn off completely (derating is possible too but not generally preferable) and remain off during high demand periods.

Then, during high demand periods, Ontario will have to use additional gasoline and coal fired power plants in order to replace the nuclear power plants that are off. To make matters worse, the wind power may drop during high demand periods, requiring even more gasoline and coal fired power plants to operate.

Which then leads to an amusing situation. Producing more wind power may actually result in an increase in carbon dioxide emissions in addition to an increase in your electricity bills.

Still think wind power is an environmentalists best friend?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why Energy Policy Matters

If you own an apartment or a home you know what how it feels to pay utility bills. As a student living with your parents or in a dorm where your utilities come as part of the package, you don't appreciate how much things like electricity really cost you.

Or how necessary it is.

Imagine if you had to live without electricity for one week and I don't mean that silly 'Earth Hour', where people turn off their lights for an hour. I mean, shut off your refridgerator, freezer, don't recharge your cell phone, don't turn on your computer, for a whole week. Could you reasonably survive?

With most of your bills, if you were cut off, it would not harm your standard of living much. If you can't pay your cable bills or satellite bills, its not a big deal. If you can't pay your internet bills, its an inconvenience. If you can't pay your phone bills, its extremely inconvenient.

But if you can't pay your water or electrical bills, your standard of living will suffer dramatically and will likely threaten your health.

So we are absolutely dependent on electricity, no matter what happens or how much it costs, we need to have it. More so than even gasoline. But cheap electricity can give people, especially the working and middle class the ability to provide a standard of living close to or equal to the upper class in many ways. Both the rich and the poor use electricity to preserve food, provide heating or cooling, enjoy entertainment, enable communication and access information in remarkably similar ways. For example, while a working class family may have a cheaper television than a richer family, both televisions require electricity (some more than others) to provide entertainment.

On the other hand, expensive electricity affects the working and middle classes more than the upper class. The upper class will always be able to afford electricity in order to provide the comforts to which we all are accustomed, even if the prices were to soar to three or four times the current values. The upper class might cut back some, turn the heating on lower, set the A/C higher in the summer, buy more energy efficient televisions and so on. Generally, they would carry on their lives as they normally do, with only some minor adjustments. But the lower classes don't have that luxury since they are generally already extremely careful with their electricity use. For middle and lower class families, the choices become more serious as they must weigh what "luxuries" they can do without and whether they need to invest large sums of money that they might not even have replacing older energy-'inefficient' appliances. And even if the increase is not that drastic, any increase in electricity costs removes money that middle class or lower class families might have been able to spend on other items, like say, clothing or food.

That is why I strongly advocate for energy sources that provide cheap and reliable electricity. Its an effective means of assisting class mobility, its good for the economy and provides a standard of living that is unmatched in our history.

That's why energy policy matters so much to me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blowing in the Wind

There's a lot of talk about wind power being the 'future' of Ontario. Which gives us the opportunity, fortunately or unfortunately, to see wind power in action and gauge its true usefulness in generating electricity.

An extremely good resource is the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) website, which documents the price of electricity in Ontario, the spot prices, Provincial Benefit, and sources for the electricity. It also gives us the fact that there is almost 1100 MW of installed capacity of wind power and tells us at any point of time, what amount of electricity is actually generated by wind power.

I've been watching it for a few days and am relatively surprised by a couple of things on a broad overview. One thing is the remarkable predictability that I've seen in the wind power. Predictability is a very good thing when it comes to electricity generation. The other thing is the fact that it never exceeds about 30% of its maximum at any point in time. Which means that its true 'capacity factor' is lower than what I've been estimating and what is estimated by wind advocates.

If this is true, then things are likely to only get worse. I'd wager that cheapest and most reliable wind energy locations are already occupied and from here on out the locations will either cost more or be less reliable than the ones we already have.

So Dalton McGuinty has put us at the leading edge of wind technology, but unfortunately for him and for us, it looks like that edge is heading over a cliff.

UPDATE: I am doing some downloading and analyzing of the data and have found some times above 30% capacity factor believe it or not. I'm going to try to do a comprehensive look at the data later.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Death By a Thousand Papercuts

This is almost getting routine.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report is supposed to be the world's most authoritative scientific account of the scale of global warming.

But the Telegraph, of London, has discovered a series of new flaws in it including:

* the publication of inaccurate data on the potential of wave power to produce electricity around the world, which was wrongly attributed;

* examples of statements based on student dissertations, two of which were unpublished; and

* more claims that were based on reports produced by environmental pressure groups.

How did this thing get through peer review? The IPCC is supposed to be the pinnacle of science-based policy advocacy. Instead, these 'errors' are exposing it to be a policy driven document more interested in advocating a particular point of view than looking for 'truth'.

Each error may seem minor in isolation, but cumulatively, they can sink the IPCC. One thing I'm happy to see, is that journalists are beginning to take a serious look at the IPCC and its claims and are willing to criticize it. Regardless how you feel about climate change, greater scrutiny is better than less.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wishing Death Upon Your Critics

Usually... not a smart idea.

But nothing about this guy surprises me anymore. His attempt to blame lobbyists after 'easy' money was a nice touch, except for the fact that he received millions of dollars to investigate the bogus claims he made.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where is Dalton Sending Your Money?

After my previous arguments concerning the cost of nuclear power versus how much Dalton McGuinty is promising to pay the Korean consortium per kWh, I decided to do a little bit of my own analysis on how much wind power costs per kWh and came to a relatively surprising result which leads to some very disturbing questions.

It is estimated by wind energy proponents that, per MW of installed capacity, the cost for constructing and installing a wind turbine is $1-2 million per MW. Lets assume the upper limit and calculate the cost per kWh for a 50 MW turbine.


Like nuclear power plants, most of the cost is built into the initial construction. A 50 MW wind turbine costs roughly $100 million to build and install. Assume the life expectancy of the turbine is about 20 years. That means that the cost is about $5 million / year. Lets add an additional $2.5 million / year for maintenance, repairs and other costs.

Electricity Produced

Just as before, the calculation for the number of kWh is straightforward. Assuming a capacity factor of 30% then the wind turbine will generate 153 million kWh each year.

Total Costs

Using these numbers, the costs are $0.049 / kWh. Which is, a lot lower than the $0.135 / kWh that the Ontario government promised the Koreans for their electricity.

Either one of two things must have happened in order to account for this massive discrepancy. Either the cost of wind power is much higher than wind advocates are letting on, or the Ontario government has been duped into paying the Koreans over twice what the electricity should be worth. Which do you think is more likely?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Windmills Versus Nukes

After I mentioned in a previous post about the so-called 'deal' that Ontario signed with Samsung to provide electricity at 13.5 cents per kWh, I started to wonder, how much would it cost per kWh if Ontario went with the $26 billion plan for the new nuclear reactors at Darlington? Would it be more or less than the rate at which we will be paying for the windmills?

I could quote some studies that looked at the overall costs for nuclear reactors, but why quote a study when you can do a back of the envelope calculation yourself?

So, there were two reactors to be built, that would produce 1200 MW of electricity each, and are estimated to live for about 40 years, producing electricity 80-90% of the time.

Construction and Operation Costs

The estimated costs were $26 billion. That, I am assuming, includes wages for construction personnel and all materials.

I'm going to go out on a limb and estimate the number of direct employees as something like 1000 being paid at $100 000 / year. I think that is a fair estimate, and easy to work with. That means each year the cost of wages would be $100 million. Over 40 years, that means $4 billion.

The cost of uranium fuel I know is quite low and we'll assume that compared to the $4 billion it is irrelevant. But just to be conservative, lets include a generic 'other costs' as $10 billion over the 40 year period to include other costs such as replacement parts, analysis requests, updates to computer systems and the like as a filler. That means in addition to the $100 million a year the two stations will spend on its employees, it will spend $250 million on equipment every year for 40 years.

That makes the total costs over 40 years as $40 billion. Or $1 billion / year.

Electricity Generation

The two nuclear stations both generate 1200 MW of electricity, 90% of the time.

1200 MW x 2 stations x 24 hours/day x 365 days/year x 0.9

So that means that the amount of electricity generated in a year would be 18.9 billion kWh.

Cost Per kWh

This is easy, if the costs of the plant are $1 billion / year and it produces 18.9 billion kWh every year then dividing one by the other and you get...

5.3 cents per kWh

Even if we estimate that the nuclear power plants only operate 60% of the time, we still end up only costing 7.9 cents per kWh.

Which is still around half of what it is estimated that those windmills are costing you.


One might be tempted to say that my back of the envelope calculation is filled with assumptions, and you'd be right. But there's one reason that I'm reasonably sure my calculation is reasonable, and that is because it is similar to the prices that those other studies I mentioned quoted.

So which would you rather have, a windmill that may or may not be working depending on if the wind blows or not. Or a nuclear power plant that produces electricity consistently 80-90% of the time at half the cost.

I mean, we're just talking at least doubling your electricity bills.