Latest Buzz...


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Efficient coal power plants are bad investments

The coal industry lobby is abuzz with talk of ultra-supercritical (USC) coal power plants and, more recently, "high efficiency, low emission" (HELE) coal power plants. The technology is very expensive. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are very high.

The coal lobby turned its back on efficient coal-fired electricity generation in 2011 on realising the demand for coal would fall dramatically. (See "The coal industry's "War on Coal" campaign is all spin".)

The current buzz is a sad attempt to sell inefficient and very expensive coal technology in the hope of locking naive customers into buying coal and wasting money for decades to come.

Australia's Resources Minister, Matt Canavan is receiving very poor advice. According to an article by Michael McKenna in "The Australian" on 17 January 2017:

Matt Canavan backs technology to cut our carbon emissions

Resources Minister Matt Canavan
Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Picture: Jack Tran
"Australia could reach its carbon reduction target by replacing its ageing electricity generators with the latest and emerging low emission coal-fired power station technology [sic]."

The Minerals Council of Australia issued a media release on the same day as The Australian printed Michael McKenna's article about Resources Minister Matt Canavan. The Minerals Council's media release also made incorrect statements about coal-fired power technology.

The following extract from the article "Setting the Benchmark: The World’s Most Efficient Coal-Fired Power Plants" has two key points:
  1. The 600-MW ultra-supercritical (USC) coal power plant in the United States cost $1.8 billion to build. That is $3,000 per MW of generating capacity. 
  2. The Japanese ultra-supercritical (USC) coal power plant is hailed as the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the world in terms of emissions intensity, but the amount of CO2 produced per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced is not given.

The CO2 emission intensity of the much-vaunted Japanese USC coal power plant is 802 kilograms per megawatt-hour which is 802 grams per kilowatt-hour. (See "Japan’s Isogo Power Plant Burnishes Clean Coal’s Credentials" for the information: "'As a result, we can achieve a gross thermal efficiency as high as 45 percent,' says Sasatsu. This, he adds, compares well with the 40 percent efficiency achieved by the old units, and it results in a reduction in carbon dioxide of 17 percent. That brings it down to 802 kg/MWh")

In contrast - if you really feel you must use fossil fuels to generate electricity - combined-cycle gas turbine power stations are about one-third the cost to build ($1,000 per MW of generating capacity) and have CO2 emissions of just 330 kilograms per megawatt-hour which is 330 grams per kilowatt-hour. (See "EIA publishes construction cost information for electric power generators" and "The coal lobby scores an own-goal".) Note the EIA hasn't any data on construction costs of coal power stations because no-one in its survey wasted their money building one.

I've got more than 99 pages of research but Matt Canavan's Ain't one.

Matt Canavan and Michael McKenna have failed to respond to requests for links to the alleged "research" mentioned in the article printed in The Australian on 17 January 2017.

Australian Energy Market Commission
Frontier Economics
8 December 2016
Australian Energy Market Commission

9 December 2016
Climate Change Authority

24 November 2016

25 November 2015
Department of the Environment and Energy
ACIL Allen Consulting
24 April 2015
Department of the Environment and Energy
5 May 2016
Department of the Environment and Energy
Dr Alan Finkel AO
13 December 2016
Department of the Environment and Energy

23 December 2016

Setting the Benchmark: The World’s Most Efficient Coal-Fired Power Plants

By Dawn Santoianni
Managing Director, Tau Technical Communications LLC
International efforts to mitigate climate impacts have intensely scrutinized carbon emissions from the electricity sector. Coal, in particular, has been targeted as a source of emissions that could be reduced. The International Energy Agency recognizes that “coal is an important source of energy for world…we must find ways to use coal more efficiently and to reduce its environmental footprint.”1
The 600-MW John W. Turk Jr. power plant in Arkansas holds many distinctions. Completed in December 2012, it was the first USC plant built in the U.S. It also reigns as the country’s most efficient coal-fired power plant with an electrical efficiency of 40% HHV basis (~42% LHV basis).2 After the project was announced in 2006, American Electric Power’s (AEP) Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) spent several years trying to secure the necessary permits while fighting legal battles launched as part of national anti-coal campaigns. Under the legal settlement, SWEPCO agreed to retire an older 582-MW coal-fired unit in Texas, secure 400 MW of renewable power, and set aside US$10 million for land conservation and energy efficiency projects. At a final cost of US$1.8 billion to build the plant, the Turk plant also became the most expensive project ever built in Arkansas.
The Isogo Thermal Power Station is located only six kilometers from Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. The power station originally consisted of two 1960s-vintage 265-MW subcritical units. During the late 1990s, Yokohama’s environmental improvement plans aimed to enhance the stability of electric power supply while retiring older facilities. Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-POWER), which owns and operates Isogo, entered into a pollution prevention agreement with the city. The new USC Unit 1 (600 MW) was built while the original facility remained in operation, becoming operational itself in 2002. The two older units were then shut down and demolished. The new USC Unit 2 (also 600 MW) was constructed on the site of the old plant and started commercial operation in 2009. Isogo Unit 2 operates at 25 MPa (3626 psi) and 600°C/620°C reheat achieving 45% efficiency, while Unit 1 operates at a slightly lower 600°C/610°C. Completion of both units more than doubled the power generated at the small peninsula site while lowering emissions levels to that of a natural gas-fired combined-cycle plant [sic].
Combined, the two larger new units emit 50% less SOx, 80% less NOx, 70% less particulate, and 17% less CO2 than the older subcritical units that were replaced.3
...The system provides such exceptional pollution control that Isogo is ranked the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the world in terms of emissions intensity.
  1. International Energy Agency (IEA). (2012). Technology roadmap:High-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired power generation
  2. Williams, J. (2014). America’s best coal plants. Power Engineering, 118(7)
  3. Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (2009). Replacement activities completed at Isogo Thermal. J-POWER Annual Report 2009

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Energy security

Energy security and a reasonable cost for energy can be achieved with a number of design options.

One option for a group of homes with solar PV systems is:
  • Share an energy storage system that begins each day holding enough energy to make up for any solar PV electricity shortfall.
  • During the day use solar PV electricity for each household, only drawing from the energy storage system when demand exceeds the solar PV output.
  • At night use a grid-based electricity generator for each household. "Top up" the energy storage system at night where it has supplied power during the day. 
  • A number of projects and initiatives are exploring grid-based electricity generator business models. The University of Technology Sydney for instance:
The energy storage system provides energy security by supplying electricity whenever solar PV output is reduced by cloud cover.

It also supplies extra capacity for exceptional demand periods with both the energy storage system and the solar PV systems delivering electricity.
First Imergy ESP5 Vanadium Energy Storage System arrives in Australia
CoverTel Power is proud to announce
the first Imergy Vanadium Flow Power system has landed in Melbourne Australia

This is an alternative to gold-plating the electricity grid ("poles-and-wires") to provide extra capacity that is hardly ever needed. It is also an alternative to building power stations that sit idle for all but rare occasions when they are used to satisfy exceptional demand.

The electricity grid and grid-based electricity generators are used more efficiently because they service a consistent overnight demand. There is no need for costly "gold-plating" and expensive reserve capacity. Because of this electricity prices are reduced.

Electric vehicles can also be most conveniently recharged at night. This too improves energy security by eliminating dependence on imported transport fuels.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Making salmon farming more sustainable

Irrigation farmers have found aquaculture is both profitable and a well-suited addition to crop production.
Murray Cod - Fishes of Australia
Murray Cod - Fishes of Australia

Water to be used for irrigation is first used in fish-growing ponds. Dissolved oxygen and nutrient levels are monitored and at regular intervals the water enriched with fish waste is pumped onto cropland where it provides not only water but fertiliser too. Fresh irrigation water is used to top up the fish-growing ponds, replacing the water that is pumped periodically from them.

In Tasmania, intensive aquaculture has been relying on the ecosystem to process fish waste. In upper layers of water in which sunlight penetrates, the addition of fertiliser promotes the growth of phytoplankton. This has proven to be sufficient so that dissolved oxygen levels in the water remain suitable for fish farming.

A problem that has been found is that at some locations or during extended periods of calm seas, fish waste can accumulate in deep water layers where bacterial action dramatically reduces dissolved oxygen levels. Later just one severe storm can then create an upwelling from this deep water layer with catastrophic effects - suffocating the stock in fish growing pens.

Solving this problem may be profitable for the industry. It is also a better option than leaving this potential for occasional but large financial loss to chance.

The fish waste descending from the fish growing pens should be removed at the same rate it is created. A floating containment and low-cost pumping mechanism (see below) could be designed to do this. This will get rid of the possibility that an oxygen-depleted water layer can develop in a basin below and near the growing pens.

The removed fish waste should support a commercially viable companion industry. For instance, the fertilser may be useful in another aquaculture industry - one producing fish feed via the growth of phytoplankton and algae for marine species that can be harvested for production of fish feed.

Fishy Farms - Landline - ABC

PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: Tasmania's salmon and trout industry has a farmgate value of $500 million and employs 1,500 people. The industry is expected to double by 2030, but not everyone is happy. Conservationists and some rural residents are questioning aquaculture's rapid expansion and its effect on the state's waterways. Fiona Breen with this report.

FIONA BREEN, REPORTER: During a big storm here on Macquarie Harbour huge amounts of seawater flushed into the harbour, pushing toxic water near the sea floor up to the surface. 270,000 of Petuna's fish suffocated.
The company had started expanding three years ago, but stopped after in-house monitoring of the waterway at the edge of Tasmania's famous World Heritage-listed forests revealed serious problems.
Organic loads in the water were up and dissolved oxygen was down. The storm earlier this year killed hundreds of tonnes of salmon and trout here on Macquarie Harbour.

An Open Ocean Trial of Controlled Upwelling Using Wave Pump Technology

Although wave pumps have only been successfully deployed as a small-scale means to generate power (Isaacs et al. 1976), a variety of other applications have recently been proposed, including increasing primary productivity and fish production (Kenyon 2007; Kirke 2003), fueling aquaculture (Liu and Jin 1995)...

Each of these proposals requires pumps that would remain operational in the open ocean long enough to generate and sustain phytoplankton blooms. The minimum operational time scale needed will depend on the pump efficiency, the number of pumps deployed, and the physical and chemical characteristics of the target region. Given our present understanding of phytoplankton bloom dynamics, this time scale is likely be on the order of weeks to months. In addition, these proposals assume a predictable biological response of the upper ocean to deep water additions.

Angelicque White, Karin Björkman, Eric Grabowski, Ricardo Letelier, Steve Poulos, Blake Watkins, and David Karl, 2010: An Open Ocean Trial of Controlled Upwelling Using Wave Pump Technology. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, vol. 27, issue 2, p. 385-396, doi: 10.1175/2009JTECHO679.1.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Electricity pricing opportunities

Policy makers received another jolt when the short term cost of electricity in South Australia leapt from a year-long average of about $60 per megawatt-hour to $9,000 per megawatt-hour.

This market fluctuation is nothing new. Demand for electricity is expected to vary a lot from time to time. Policy makers have chosen settings to promote investment in both generating capacity and distribution grids to be able to quickly respond with extra supply.

The policy problem is quite visible in the need to provide adequate transport infrastructure for peak periods while accepting that there will be times the infrastructure will not be required...

Freeway showing peak period traffic flow
Freeway showing peak period traffic flow

Freeway empty on weekends
Freeway empty on weekends
 Electricity price spikes have occurred during summer heat waves when there has been little reliance on renewable energy sources and fossil fuel generating plant has been operating without any incidents that limited capacity.
NSW electricity price spikes, January and February 2011
NSW electricity price spikes, January and February 2011
These occasional electricity price spikes are what the usual policy settings rely upon to encourage investment in capacity that will be idle most of the time. For instance, early in 2011 AGL proposed building a $1.5 billion power plant it foreshadowed would be "switched off for months on end."
"AGL project manager Neil Cooke said the planned $1.5 billion gas turbine power station would only operate between 200 and 400 hours a year during periods of peak demand and could be switched off for months on end."
(Article in Canberra Times, May 7, 2011 - page 15)

An intention to transition electricity generation to lower-emission technology does not materially alter this policy problem: whether it is a $1.5 billion power plant that is intended to be switched off "for months on end" or a $1.5 billion battery storage facility in its place.

Replacing freeways with mass transit would face the identical issues of peak demand far exceeding the capacity required on weekends.

With electricity generation and distribution there are some options to improve flexibility that might reduce the amount to be invested in equipment that is intended to be switched off "for months on end".

The development of robotics in automated manufacturing is increasing the flexibility to help reduce investment in electricity supply...

The principle can be seen in agriculture where crops are naturally adapted to be opportunistic consumers of sunlight and rainfall.

Automated factories and refineries that operate when electricity supply is at normal prices and switch off when the price begins to climb could be a more economic solution.

$1.5 billion invested on manufacturing  plant that is intended to be idled for short periods may be better for the economy than $1.5 billion invested in electricity capacity that will be kept idle for all but short periods.

This has implications for policy settings that for now are designed to promote investment in excess electricity generating and distribution capacity.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Some innovations need system integrators and coordination

Much innovation occurs by incremental improvements in technology. Jet engines gradually replaced piston engines in the aircraft industry. Cathode ray tube television sets have been replaced by flat screen televisions.

Other innovations are not so easily made by incremental adoption. A vehicle manufacture developing the first model able to be fueled by unleaded petrol would have difficulty finding a customer if no petrol station sold unleaded petrol. A petrol station proprietor would be unlikely to stock unleaded petrol when no customers drove vehicles needing unleaded petrol and no oil refinery made unleaded petrol....

Innovations are often disruptive and the benefits come with adverse effects ...

Many innovations only work when they are part of a collection of co-ordinated changes that are adopted across a number of industry participants.

The components needed to make some innovations work may exist in other fields. Industry participants and product developers can benefit from the skills of  system integrators to locate components for a viable design made up from a collection of products that will work well together.
An example of a wandering albatross GPS track
An example of a wandering albatross GPS track

The technology capabilities of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, "Tracking seabirds to inform conservation of the marine environment" suggests a way to overcome the quite real concern of the Federal Government that electric cars will hit its bottom line by driving a fall in fuel excise revenue.
Advances in the miniaturisation and mass-production of low-cost, lightweight, high-precision GPS tags, enables tracking the detailed movements of large numbers of seabirds, including some of the smaller species.

"The Turnbull Government is preparing to drive a new debate over how roads are funded in Australia, with the revenue collected from fuel excise expected to shrink in coming years. Right now motorists pay almost 40 cents a litre in tax, delivering close to a $11 billion dollars a year to the Treasury." (@ABCNews, 16 August 2016)

The existing fuel excise that funds roads is raised in proportion to the amount of fuel motorists buy. Motorists who drive only during off-peak times on regional roads pay at the same rate as motorists driving on expressways in cities during peak periods. A replacement technology that can measure the time, distance and location of trips may be sold on the basis that it is more equitable than the existing fuel levy that contributes to road funding.

Mass production of batteries for electric vehicles will drive a significant reduction in their manufacturing cost.

There is an opportunity to combine this predictable reduction in the cost of lithium-ion battery energy storage with the continuing decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) systems.

The two technologies don't immediately work well together when people typically drive to work early in the morning and return home late in the day. Any solar energy generated at their home during the day cannot be conveniently used to recharge their electric vehicle.

An option to improve the overall performance and cost-effectiveness of these technologies has been developed ....

This technology makes an electric vehicle's battery pack an interchangeable unit: "6 Reasons Tesla's Battery Swapping Could Take It To a Better Place."

Having an electric vehicle battery at home being recharged during the day allows energy in the battery to be partly discharged at times when spikes in the energy demand exceeds the output of the solar PV system, such as an air-conditioning turning on for 20 - 30 minutes late in the afternoon to cool the home before the residents begin returning from school and work. 

Another approach

Vanadium flow batteries can be charged and discharged almost indefinitely with little loss in capacity. They weigh more than lithium-ion batteries holding the same amount of energy so they are more suited for fixed energy storage than for powering vehicles.

Instead of using an interchangeable lithium-ion pack to store solar energy during the day and swapping it with a discharged lithium-ion battery pack in a car, a vanadium flow battery could be charged with solar energy during the day and the stored energy could recharge a car's lithium-ion battery pack overnight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dairy industry hit by mysterious crisis

Dairy Australia collects production and sales information for the industry.

Dairy Australia's information shows no surprising change in production or in demand.

Among the noteworthy changes are:
  • A 21.4 % annual increase in the volume of milk exports.  There was a corresponding increase of 19.7 % in the value of these exports from last year (July 2014 -  June 2015) to this year (July 2015 - June 2016).  
  • A 63.4 % annual increase in the value of whole milk powder exports.  This increased value was obtained with just a 2.4 % increase in the volume of these exports from last year (July 2014 -  June 2015) to this year (July 2015 - June 2016). 

Milk production (millions of litres)

Production fell slightly in 2015/16. A collapse in price can't be explained by an increasing supply.

Dairy Export Report - June 2016

Exports increased in volume and in value...