Clean & Clean-burn: Renewable Energy & Natural Gas powered Electricity Grids

by John Brian Shannon

Clean and Clean-Burn: Energy, the way it should be

Planetary energy graphic courtesy of Perez and Perez.
Planetary energy graphic courtesy of Perez and Perez.

Of all the energy that is available to us, solar energy is by far the most available and the most evenly distributed energy resource on planet Earth.

Wind and Solar + natural gas = Synergy

  • Solar is available all day every day. But not at night.
  • Wind is available day and night, but it can produce variable power levels as the wind blows over the landscape.
  • Meanwhile, offshore wind turbines produce constant power, spinning at constant speeds for years at a time — except when an operator locks the blades during large storms or during the annual maintenance inspection.

Both solar power and wind power face varying levels of ‘intermittency‘ — which requires the use of ‘peaking power plants‘ or ‘load-following’ power plants — to meet total demand.

‘Catch my Fall’ — All electrical power generators are interdependent

How electricity grids use different power generators to meet total and constantly changing electricity demand.

In the case of renewable energy, the negatives include some variability in the total output of solar power or wind power generation due to temporary cloud cover or storms. At such times, natural gas-fired generation can ramp-up to cover any shortfall.

Note: This is a common and daily energy grid practice whether renewable energy is involved or not. Some gas-fired power plants are called peaking power plants which quickly ramp-up to meet output shortfalls. In fact, peaking power plants (which are almost always gas-fired) were created to meet temporary shortfalls — and were in widespread use long before renewable energy ever hit the market.

Also in the case of renewable energy, another negative is that the Sun disappears at night and solar panels stop contributing to the grid. And unless you have offshore wind turbines to make up the shortfall, onshore wind turbines may fall short of total demand. So at night, you need reliable power to make up shortfalls in primary generation.

Note: This is a common and daily energy grid practice whether renewable energy is involved or not. To cover this situation load-following power plants were designed to meet larger output shortfalls. In fact, load-following power plants were created to meet larger, daily, shortfalls — and were in widespread use long before renewable energy ever hit the market.

In the case of natural gas, the negative is that gas is subject to wild price swings, thereby making gas-fired generation very expensive. Which is why it evolved into peaking power plants, less often in the load-following role and almost never as a baseload power generator.

The other negative associated with natural gas is of course, the fact that gas turbines put out plenty of CO2. That we can deal with. Unlike coal, where the CO2 portion of the airborne emissions are almost the least of our worries — as coal emissions are loaded with toxic heavy metals, soot and other airborne toxins.

How can we deal with the CO2 emitted by gas-fired power plants?

As gas-fired peaking power plants typically fire up anywhere from a couple of dozen hours annually, to a few hours of every day (usually to cover the additional load of many air conditioners suddenly switching on during hot summer days, for example) we aren’t talking about a whole lot of CO2.

Gas-fired load-following power plants typically run for a few hours every day and to cover demand in case of primary generator (like hydro-electric or nuclear power plant) maintenance. In the case of load-following plants, much more CO2 is produced annually.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) of gas-fired CO2 emissions via tree planting

  • Peaking power plants operate for a few hours per year. We’re not talking that much CO2.
  • Load-following power plants operate for many hours per year. More CO2.

But still, each mature tree absorbs (a low average of) 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere and keeps it in storage for many decades. Some trees, like the ancient Sequoia trees in California, are 3700 years old and store 26 tons of CO2 each! Certain trees native to Australia store even more carbon and live longer than Sequoia trees.

And, as anyone who has worked in the forest industry knows; Once that first planting hits maturity (in about 10 years) they will begin dropping their yearly seeds. Some trees like the cottonwood tree produce 1 million seeds annually for the life of the tree. American Elm trees set 5 million seeds per year. More trees. Always good.

It’s an easy calculation: “How many tons of CO2 did ‘ABC’ gas-fired power plant output last year?”
Therefore: “How many trees do we need to plant, in order to cover those emissions?”

Simply plant a corresponding number of trees and presto! gas-fired generation is carbon neutral

By calculating how many tons each gas-fired peaking power plant contributes and planting enough trees each year to cover their CO2 contribution, tree planting could allow gas-fired power plants to become as carbon neutral as solar power or wind power.

The total number of trees that we would need to plant in order to draw gas-fired peaking power plant CO2 emissions down to zero would be a relatively small number, per local power plant.

By calculating how many tons each gas-fired load-following power plant contributes and planting enough trees annually to cover their CO2 contribution they too could become just as carbon neutral as solar panels or wind turbines. Many more trees, but still doable and a simple solution!

The total number of trees that we would need to plant in order to draw gas-fired load-following power plant CO2 emissions down to zero would be a much larger number. But not an impossible number.

So now is the time to get kids involved as part of their scholastic environmental studies, planting trees one day per month for the entire school year.

Let the gas-fired power plant operators contribute the tree seedlings as part of their media message that the local gas-fired power plant is completely carbon neutral (ta-da!) due to the combined forces of the power plant operator, the natural carbon storage attributes of trees, and students.

Up to one million trees could be planted annually if every school (all grades) in North America contributed to the effort — thereby sequestering an amount of CO2 equal to, or greater than, all gas-fired generation on the continent.

It’s so simple when you want something to work. Hallelujah!

Baseload, peaking, and load-following power plants

Historically, natural gas was too expensive to used in baseload power plants due to the wildly fluctuating natural gas pricing and high distribution costs, but it is in wide use around the world in the peaking power plant role, and less often, in the load following power plant role.

Renewable energy power plants can be linked to ‘peaking’ or ‘load-following’ natural gas-fired power plants to assure uninterrupted power flows.

Peaking power plants operate only during times of peak demand.

In countries with widespread air conditioning, demand peaks around the middle of the afternoon, so a typical peaking power plant may start up a couple of hours before this point and shut down a couple of hours after.

However, the duration of operation for peaking plants varies from a good portion of every day to a couple dozen hours per year.

Peaking power plants include hydroelectric and gas turbine power plants. Many gas turbine power plants can be fueled with natural gas or diesel. — Wikipedia

Using natural gas for baseload power

Natural gas has some strong points in its favour. Often it is the case that we can tap into existing underground gas reservoirs by simply drilling a pipe into naturally occurring caverns in the Earth which have filled with natural gas over many millions of years. In such cases, all that is required is some minor processing to remove impurities and adding some moisture and CO2 to enable safe transport (whether by pipeline, railway, or truck) to gas-fired power plants which may be located hundreds of miles away.

It is the natural gas market pricing system that prevents gas from becoming anything other than a stopgap energy generator (read: peaking or load-following) and almost never a baseload energy generator.

Let’s look at local solutions to that problem.

Waste-to-Fuels

Several corporations are working with local governments to find innovative ways to capture landfill methane gas to produce electricity from it.

Keep in mind that the methane gas that escapes from every single landfill in the world (whether still operating or having ceased operations long ago) is 23 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2.

Increasingly, landfills are now installing perforated pipes underground which draw the landfill gas (so-called ‘swamp methane’) to an on-site processing facility. It is a low-grade gas which is sometimes blended with conventional natural gas to create an effective transportation or power generation fuel. Visit the Caterpillar Gas Power Solutions website here.

Waste Management is a global leader in the implementation of this technology, using its own landfills and municipal landfills across North America to produce over 550 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power more than 440,000 homes. This amount of energy is equivalent to offsetting over 2.2 million tons of coal per year. Many more similar operations are under construction as you read this. Read the Waste Management landfill bioreactor brochure (downloadable PDF) here.

Durban, South Africa, a city of 3.5 million people, has created a huge Waste-to-Fuel landfill power plant that provides electricity to more than 5000 nearby homes.

Durban Solid Waste receives 4000 tons of trash each weekday which produces some 2600 cubic metres of gas every day of the year.

The GE Clean Cycle Waste-to-Fuel power plant arrives in 4 large shipping containers, and once connected to the gas supply pipeline it is ready to power nearby buildings and to sell surplus power to the grid.

One GE Clean Cycle Waste-to-Fuel power plant unit can generate 1 million kWh per year from waste heat and avoid more than 350 metric tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to the emissions of almost 200 cars.

Blending Conventional Natural Gas with Landfill Gas

As conventional natural gas is expensive (and much of the cost is associated with transportation of the gas over long distances) when we blend it 50/50 with landfill gas, we drop the cost of the gas by half. Thereby making blended natural gas (from two very different sources) more competitive as a power generation fuel.

By blending conventional natural gas 50/50 with landfill gas; We could produce baseload power with it — but more likely than that, we could use it to produce reasonably-priced load-following or peaking power to augment existing and future renewable energy power plants — rather than allow all that raw methane from landfills to escape into the atmosphere.

Best of Both Worlds — Renewable Energy and Natural Gas

Partnering renewable energy with natural gas in this way allows each type of power generator to work to their best strength — while countering negatives associated with either renewable energy or natural gas.

Renewable power generation and lower cost natural gas can work together to make coal-fired electrical power generation obsolete and accelerate progress toward our clean air goals.

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NY Governor Andrew Cuomo Announces $1 Billion for Clean Energy

by Kiley Kroh.

solar panels new york city skyline
New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has allocated $1 billion dollars for clean energy in the state. Image by reneweconomy.com.au

Originally published on ClimateProgress

New York governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday and announced an even greater commitment to clean energy, including $1 billion in new funding for solar energy projects.

Launched in 2012, Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative has already been a tremendous success, with almost 300 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic capacity installed or under development, more than was installed in the entire decade prior to the program.

Now with another major financial boost, Cuomo aims to install 3,000 (MW) of solar across New York.

“That’s enough solar to power 465,000 New York homes, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually — the equivalent of taking almost 435,000 cars off the road — and create more than 13,000 new solar jobs,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In addition to the ten-year financial boost for NY-Sun, Cuomo announced a new program entitled K-Solar, which will incentivize the deployment of solar energy by using the state’s 5,000 schools as “demonstration hubs” to increase the number of solar energy projects in their surrounding communities.

The governor also unveiled the $40 million NY Prize competition, which will bolster community microgrids in the state, helping to make the electrical grid more resilient in the face of increasing extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy. Additionally, Renewable Heat NY will seek to utilize private sector investment to boost biomass heating as a cheaper, renewable alternative to home heating oil.

As Cuomo’s impressive commitment to clean energy pays off in the state’s rapidly growing solar industry, NRDC notes that not only is NY-Sun expanding the marketplace, it has also served to “to drive down the cost of installed solar power by establishing new, cost-effective and efficient practices and technologies.”

Thanks to this suite of forward-thinking policies, New York has skyrocketed through the U.S. solar rankings.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, “with enough solar to power more than 30,900 homes, New York currently ranks 12th in the country for installed solar capacity. There are more than 411 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in New York, employing more than 3,300 people.”

And those figures are on the rise. An analysis of clean energy jobs created in the third quarter of 2013 ranked New York third in the U.S., behind only California and Nevada.

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This article, New York Governor Announces $1 Billion Commitment To Clean Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Top 10 Most Interesting Energy and Environment Articles From October

by David L Roberts

Elevated radiation levels of US
Elevated radiation levels in the U.S.A.

Here’s my latest monthly report of the “Top 10” most compelling clean energy, climate, and environment-related news stories encountered last month. These articles may have an impact on your business, your life, and the world we live in. Or, at the very least, might surprise you about what’s going on.

Over a thousand articles were reviewed across various energy platforms and 40+ were found to be of particular interest, which were sent to my private reader list. This newsletter is available upon request. The 10 most interesting to me are shown here, with a startling #1 article at the end.

10. A report from three Bay Area companies paints a positive outlook for investment in cleantech, stating that cleantech accounts for 25% of all investment capital today. Now that cleantech expectations are more in line with capabilities, many large multinational companies are stepping in as investors, both for their own energy efficiency (carbon footprint) goals as well as venture capitalist–like goals.

9. Denmark is striving for 100% power generation from renewables by 2050, and it has been announced that it will receive a WWF Gift to the World award for this leadership. Other nations planning to be carbon neutral are Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Tuvalu, Bhutan, The Maldives and Costa Rica.

8. Navigant Research estimates the currently small global market for energy storage (today at $150 million) will rapidly expand to $10 billion by 2023 due to acceleration of wind and solar installs.

• California currently mandates 33% of utility power be derived from renewables and is now considering mandating energy storage as well. To address inherent intermittency, this evolving industry is seeing growing commercialization of many technologies including batteries (lithium-ion and sodium-sulphur), flywheel, molten salt, and pumped hydro storage.

7. Scientists from Potsdam Institute (PIK) forecast the planet is on path to increase global temperature 9 degrees F in a century through GHG emissions, creating a scenario of floods and droughts that would place 1 billion people at risk — 13% of the global population.

• The Asian Dev. Bank reports that, by 2035, Asia will increase its energy consumption by 67%, representing half the world’s energy demands — and half the world’s GHG emissions. The bank soberly estimates that coal will account for 83% of this growth and that CO2-emitting gasoline cars will remain dominant.

Here’s one view of global climate change in 25+ years, with predictions of more droughts, floods and impacts on over 1 billion people as a result of rising sea levels — with island nations, coastal cities, and tropical zones most vulnerable.

6. While a national cap-and-trade program has been illusive, the New Jersey legislature is considers rejoining the 9-state (eastern) regional carbon-trading program, RGGI. RGGI is the oldest such program in the US, but a similar program now exists in California, Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The western regional carbon and GHG emissions trading program hopes of to expand to surrounding states at some point.

5. The Energy Information Administration reports that the US produced 3.8% less CO2 in 2012 (vs. 2011), continuing a recent downtrend of GHG emissions since 2007. Some of the main credits for the drop in emissions are considered to be a slowed down economy, power plants converting from coal to gas, increasing use of renewable energy, and an improvement in “energy intensity” — a macro energy efficiency measure of energy usage per unit of GDP.

• Notably, however, the switch from coal to gas, while reducing CO2, increases the (risk of) emissions of methane, which is 20 times more harmful than CO2.

4. A report from the UK predicts that advanced (drop-in) biofuels such as butanol will begin to play a large long-term role in reducing GHG emissions. Compared to hydrogen or electric vehicle formats, the benefit here is the fact that biofuels can be used in international combustion engines. Since internal combustion engines are expected to dominate for the foreseeable future, many argue that advanced biofuels are sorely needed.

CEFC is the first to make and distribute the advance biofuel biomethane, called Redeem, thru a network of 35 fueling stations in CA. It is made from methane from landfills (and other sources) and is available both compressed and in liquid form.

3. T. Boone Pickens and Waste Management are two notables committed to “renewable” natural gas that’s an alternative to fossil gas currently produced via tracking. Redeem is renewable since it’s a natural by-product of decomposing biodegradable materials (methane et al), such as that found in landfills.

Some communities are now capturing methane gas naturally produced in land fills (aka “garbage dumps”) and selling it to intermediaries to produce electricity.

2. China’s Harbin City (11 million) was closed down due to an excessive pollution index of 1000, which the WHO states is over 3 times the 300 index it considers “hazardous.” WHO considers an index of 20 to be “safe.”

The #1 Energy Story Of October

1. In case you’re wondering about the effects of Fukushima, here’s a frighteningly well documented report about doses of cesium 137, iodine 131, and strontium 90 that have already infected wildlife all along the west coast of North America, including my favorite — wild caught Pacific salmon. This may affect human health for generations.

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This article, Top 10 Most Interesting Energy & Environment Articles From October, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

David L Roberts is a marketing consultant to renewable energy startups.

10 Top Cleantech and Environment Stories From September

by David L Roberts

.

Image Credit: Solar panel, wind turbine & globe via Shutterstock

Here’s my latest monthly report of the “Top 10” most compelling non-CleanTechnica clean energy and environment-related news stories encountered last month. These articles may have an impact on your business, your life, and the world we live in. Or, at the very least, might surprise you about what’s going on.

Over a thousand articles were reviewed across various energy platforms, 30+ were found to be of particular interest and are available in my newsletter upon request. The 10 most interesting to me are shown here, most important posted last.

10. Here’s a report of renewable energy platforms for 2011 and 2012, highlighting the top wind and solar companies and the top consuming countries. In summary, renewables are entering a 5-year period of essential innovation, consolidation, and bankruptcies. Late bond payments and defaults on $8.4B in debt abound for recent Chinese leaders: Suntech, LDK, GCL, ZK and Yingli.

9. GlobalData reports that renewable energy sources will account for 20% of the global energy mix by 2030, with natural gas rapidly transitioning, but with solar thermal being the predominant renewable.

8. A study of the 6000 power plants in the US reports that the “50 dirtiest” produce 33% of US GHG emissions, but only 16% of the electricity. They account for 2% of the global GHG total and, if they were a country, would produce more than Canada, Germany, and North Korea. They are located in coal-lobbying states of Alabama, Missouri, Texas, and Georgia.

7. There’s more scientific evidence that manmade contributions to global warming are responsible for many recent extreme weather events. The report states that as GHG emissions and global temps increase, agricultural yields will decline; storm severity will worsen, producing flooding; droughts will extend; and forest fire burning acreage will increase. Germany’s Environment Minister claims humans are the primary cause of global warming.

6. New “leaked” report from climate watchdog IPCC, challenges the direct relationship between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature warming. Whereas CO2 levels have increased 1997-2012, global temps (they say) have risen at a quarter of the rate predicted in 2007, leading to a renewed debate about climate change correlations. Stay tuned, as this could be huge!

5. According to Climate Central, the current amount of climate warming CO2 in the atmosphere has already “locked in” over 4 feet of rising tides along US coastlines by 2100. This will displace over 3 million folks in over 300 communities, most notably Florida, Texas, and the East Coast.

4. Giant Honeywell, a Fortune 100 Co, introduces interface software that enables partner organizations to integrate their energy management (EMS) programs with Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostats. Not to be outdone, French energy giant Schneider delves into the home EMS market with its “Wiser” line of hardware and software. Both are principally for the home EMS market with adaptability to smartphones, tablets, or computer.

3. Energy management (EMS) programs that are widely adopted across Europe and the US are finally taking hold in China. Their first formal program is being piloted in industrial Dezhou City between the Dezhou Energy Conservation Center, 52 Chinese industrial companies and the Institute of Industrial Productivity (IIP) — a global company based in DC.

2. Surprisingly, the oil & gas industry accounted for 49% of all the investments in CO2 mitigation technologies 2000-2012. Of the $336B total invested, it breaks out this way: O&G invested $165B ($84B is for shale gas alone), private industry $91B, and the federal govt $79B.

THE NUMBER ONE CLEAN ENERGY ARTICLE IN SEPTEMBER

1. The largest fossil fuel company, Exxon/Mobil, admits that global warming is real, that fossil fuels are the main cause, and that society must shift to renewable power sources. Embedded chart shows progression of GHG pollution thru 2100, suggesting we have already reached the point of safe “stabilization.”

BONUS NEWS FEATURE – FOR FUN

Keep your eyes open — and nostrils closed — for developments on this discovery by researchers in Australia. The Mediterranean legume — Biserrula — when fed to livestock, is shown to reduce methane flatulence in livestock by 90%. This is important because livestock are estimated by some researchers to contribute at least 51% of the worlds’ GHG emissions.

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This article, 10 Top Cleantech & Environment Stories From September, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

David L Roberts is a marketing consultant to renewable energy startups.

Adelaide Creates World’s First Solar-Powered Public Transit System

Originally published on Ecolocalizer

Many local communities are looking at ways that they can incorporate green technology into their city’s municipal infrastructure. One impressive success story is the Tindo electric bus in Adelaide, Australia.

Although many cities have experimented with using hybrid or electric technology in their public transport systems, this vehicle is the world’s first 100% solar-powered electric bus; and not only is it powered by the sun, but this service is also offered free of charge.

Bus image via Adelaide City Council
Bus image via Adelaide City Council

Named after an Aboriginal word for “Sun” the Tindo was designed to be part of the Adelaide Connector Bus service, a free service run by the City Council.

What makes the bus unique from other solar-powered vehicles is that there aren’t any solar panels physically on the vehicle. Instead, the bus received electric power from solar panels located on the city’s central bus station. These provide enough energy to allow the bus to run freely from the city centre and the North Adelaide, and will also offer air conditioning and WiFi to its 40 passengers.

The Council commissioned this bus from a New Zealand company called Designline International, as part of a wider green initiative. Adelaide residents have shown a keen interest in reducing emissions, with many seeking out hybrid cars like the MitsMirubishi age, or choosing to go electric, while many residents already choose to carpool or bicycle on their commute as well.

In the City Council’s Strategy Plan for 2012-2016, further plans to make the streets more sustainable are outlined. This includes a more comprehensive network of footpaths and bike trails to enable commuters to get around without a car.

The latest figures from 2010 showed that 36% of the city’s carbon emissions came from transportation. Although residents are turning to hybrids like new Ssangyong cars and the ever-popular Prius to reduce personal emissions, the city’s public transportation network has helped further reduce emissions.

The Tindo has no combustion engine, which makes it a zero emissions vehicle. Its regenerative braking system also saves an additional 30% of energy consumption. In its first year alone it’s estimated that the solar-powered bus saved over 70,000 kg of carbon emissions and 14,000 litres of diesel.

Due to its unique solar photovoltaic charging system and ability to travel over 200 kilometres between recharges, this vehicle has received a great deal of attention from the wider green community. It’s been featured in the Solar City Convention Spirit Festival, Global Green Challenge, and Heritage Bus Tour. Although solar busses can be found in Austria, China, Wales, and India, they have yet to become a widespread public transport solution. Of these various solar busses, the Tindo is still the only one which is completely powered by the sun.

The Tindo’s success shows that public transportation can be further improved to reduce a community’s carbon emissions while improving the residents’ way of life at the same time. Its adoption has helped make Adelaide one of Australia’s most green-friendly cities, an attitude mirrored by its residents.

This article, Adelaide Creates World’s First Solar-Powered Public Transit System, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.