A company called Moriah Hydro Corp. hopes to build a gigantic, 260 megawatt pumped storage hydroelectric facility in upstate New York, and it will use a series of abandoned, interconnected iron mines to do the job. That’s a nifty approach that gets around one of the sticky issues involved in pumped storage, which is where to find sites for massive new reservoirs. That still leaves the question of what kind of energy will be stored, but let’s take a closer look at the project and see what’s what.
The Mineville Pumped Hydro Project
For those of you new to the topic, a pumped storage facility simply recycles the same water between an upper reservoir and a lower reservoir, rather than letting it run down a river as in a conventional hydroelectric facility.
According to Cassell, the new reservoirs would be contained completely within the existing mines and existing tunnels will be used to channel the flow. The powerhouse will also be constructed underground.
In other words, there will be minimal disruption to the existing landscape. That’s accord with another pumped storage project that recently caught our attention, at Glyn Rhonwy in Wales.
The powerhouse for the Welsh project will be located in an existing brownfield site, and it will use existing abandoned quarries for storage. However, the quarries have already been repurposed for recreational climbing and hiking, and some (but not all) of the trails will be lost when the new facility is built.
Clean Energy For Pumped Hydro
The Mineville project is off to a good start in terms of land use. As for the energy needed to do the pumping, pumped storage is notable because it is the only utility-scale energy storage technology in common use today, with hundreds of facilities around the world, and because it is ideal for storing intermittent energy sources, particularly wind (the Glyn Rhonwy project, for example, is specifically designed to store energy from a nearby wind farm).
Another notable aspect of pumped hydro is its use of existing, proven technology; namely, pumps and turbines, which means that the main obstacle is finding suitable sites for new facilities rather than the development of transformational technology.
One approach would be to use existing dams for new pumped storage facilities, which in the US would mean hundreds of potential sites.
On the other hand, at least one novel approach to pumped hydro overcomes the land use obstacle, by employing a pair of parallel, vertical shafts rather than using open surface reservoirs.
Tina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.
“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”
And so it is time — as a number of energy variables have changed.
Only 3% of America’s existing 80,000 dams, presently have electrical generators attached to them. Yes, you read right!
What could be better than 100% of America’s dams producing clean electricity — instead of only 3% — thereby adding 77,600 more dams to the U.S. hydroelectric power grid?
Here are some other factors that you may want to consider.
The 80% price drop for solar panels over the past 30 months. (Solar power is now priced comparably to other electricity)
The dramatic fall of wind turbine prices.
Two new laws signed by U.S. President Obama which will allow most of America’s hydro-electric dam operators to add electrical power generation equipment to existing dams.
Run-of-River(small-scale) dams to be built, to produce electrical power in rivers which have yet to be tapped for power. These dams essentially section off some of the water running down the river, using a berm to sequester some of the flow, to direct it to turbines and electrical generators. Meanwhile, the rest of the river continues flowing unaffected. Think of a berm which directs 1/3rd of the river water off to the side, which then runs down through pipes and turbines to produce electrical power.
Pumped Storage simplified. Think of a regular hydroelectric dam — the water flows down through the dam, the generator in the dam produces electricity. Simple enough. But with pumped storage, a water collection system below the turbines pumps the water back uphill behind the dam for reuse at a later time. Up ’till now, it has been hideously expensive to do that, as the cost to pump a million gallons of water uphill each day, was more than the dollars generated by the water as it ran downhill through the turbines in the first place! But now that solar power and wind power have become so competitively-priced, it is natural that they should be installed beside hydro-electric dams to provide power for pumped storage. If much of the water that spills over the dam produces electrical power — then pumping it back up behind the dam cheaply, means it can be used again and again to produce power. Solar panels (during the daylight hours) and wind turbines (at night) can provide the low-cost electricity to send the water back uphill into the reservoir.
Ready for some GigaWatt math?
a) Add electrical power generation to the 77,600 American dams that presently do not produce any electrical energy.
b) Add Pumped Storage units to ALL 80,000 of America’s dams.
c) Add Run of River electrical power generation complete with Pumped Storage to the country’s rivers. The potential number of R-of-R electrical power generation sites could be as high as 50,000.
If you add up all the potential power generation capacity of a, b, and c, it becomes a very large calculation, and you might find it is your “Turn, Turn, Turn” to buy a larger calculator!
By taking this clear and logical path, the U.S.A. would take a huge forward leap in its clean energy production and thereby allow some deteriorating coal and nuclear power plants to be quietly retired.
If you are a clean energy advocate and want to write to your member of Congress, tell them you want;
Electrical power generators ADDED to all existing 80,000 U.S. dams — which is 77,600 more than today
Pumped Storage ADDED to all 80,000 American dam sites
The one thing everyone working on energy issues in America can agree upon is non-existent energy policy action at the national level. But late last week President Obama signed two bipartisan bills that could create a major boost for US renewables generation from an unlikely source – small hydropower.
It’s kind of amazing they havn’t gotten much attention, since they’re the first real energy legislation to pass Congress since 2009.
But a 2012 report from the Department of Energy underscored why overlooking hydropower’s potential was a mistake. 80,000 dams are in service across the US, but only 3% have installed generators. DOE’s report found America could create more than 12 GW of new generation capacity by installing turbines on 54,000 sites where they don’t currently exist and upgrading older generation technology with more efficient turbines.
Opening The Floodgates
Part of the reason American hasn’t added much new hydropower generation is because of red tape, with even the smallest proposals taking years to receive approval. But that’s just the problem these two bills will help solve.
The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency bill modifies existing laws to streamline small hydro projects and add generation to existing dams and closed-loop energy storage through several steps:
Increasing the small hydro exemption to 10 megawatts (MW), up from 5 MW
Removing conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction
Increasing the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects
Giving FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits
Requiring FERC to explore a 2-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pump storage
In addition, the Small Conduit Hydropower Development bill authorizes the Interior Department to contract out small hydropower development at Bureau of Reclamation facilities across the US, helping add capacity at government property and irrigation canals.
“By cutting unnecessary Washington red tape, this law gives hydropower developers the certainty they need to move forward with new projects on over 40,000 miles of federal canals throughout the West,” said US Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).
But now that federal policymakers have finally worked together in a bipartisan way to identify and knock down barriers to private investment, American could be flowing toward a hydro-powered future. Just imagine the potential if Congress could agree on any other clean energy issues.
Renewable energy is a kind of energy, one that is automatically replenished by the environment, such as the rainfall which is collected behind hydroelectric dams and can be used to produce hydroelectric power.
It may surprise you to know that there are only two kinds of energy; Renewable and Non-Renewable. All the different types of energy are categorized under those two kinds of energy.
The Sun’s light and heat is employed (directly) to produce solar power and (indirectly) for wind power production, and heat in the Earth’s crust is used to generate geothermal energy. Another type of renewable energy used around the world is biomass.
Please view the graphic below, to see the world’s total available energy from all sources.
We can see that in 2009, the total world energy demand from all sources, including all forms of transportation worldwide, amounted to 16 Terawatt years of energy — including all forms of transportation which itself accounted for one-third of all energy demand on the planet.
By 2050, it is expected that worldwide energy demand (including transportation) will reach 28 Terawatt years of energy.
We can see from the graphic that the Renewable energy from solar power has the most potential and by itself, could have produced an amount of energy 1437.5 times the total world energy demand of 2009 (including transportation).
Even with the increasing energy demands of our civilization by 2050, solar power by itself, could provide 821.4 times the world’s total energy demand, including all transportation.
Of course, wind power could do the same between now and 2050, or even up to 2100 with its much higher level of demand. The Renewable energy available worldwide from wind power alone is equal to the energy required to power our entire civilization, including all forms of transportation.
Other types of Renewable energy such as Biomass, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, and Hydroelectric power, are important, but even when exploited to their maximum potential they are nowhere near being able to satisfy world energy demand — nor do they need to. They can complement solar power and wind power, adding to national electricity grids during times of the day with low wind activity and at night, when solar power is not adding power to the grid.
Another type of energy which can be considered renewable energy, (when the proper production processes are used) is the energy we get from from fuels such as gasoline, (when made from algae + water) or ethanol/methanol, (when it is made from a combination of organic waste material + enzymes + water).
Some biofuels are made from green plants, but require more inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides to grow them, than the final product is worth — which is why it is very important to select the right plants to create biofuel or it isn’t a sustainable energy solution. If the optimum plants are not selected for biofuel processing, government subsidies must then be employed to make the process affordable for farmers and biofuel producers.
Algae, switchgrass, jatropha, millettia and camelina, are sustainable choices for biofuel production, as is organic waste when processed with enzymes.
Due to the fierce competition in solar panel manufacturing since Chinese manufacturers entered the market, solar (PV) panels have dropped in price — so much so, that electricity produced at solar power plants can now be sold at comparable rates to the electricity produced at conventional power plants.
Wind turbines also have fallen in price dramatically and now compete against conventional energy around the world — with or without subsidies.
To compare Renewable and Non-renewable energy, it is important to examine two different variables; Subsidies and Externalities.
Both Renewable energy and Non-renewable energy benefit from various subsidy schemes around the world.
The U.S. federal government subsidizes energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type.
The various U.S. state governments subsidize energy producers with vastly different subsidy rates for each energy type AND subsidy rates vary considerably between the different states.
Sometimes a subsidy in country “A” (to promote extraction of petroleum for example) will have another subsidy added to it in country “B” which imports that petroleum (one subsidy on top of another subsidy) which helps bring down the price at the gas pump.
To make biofuel from corn (a poor choice of plant for biofuel production) farmers and producers were subsidized until January 1, 2013, by the U.S. government at $0.60 per litre.
Over time, subsidies can add up to many billions of dollars per year.
Please see the chart below, which shows the yearly subsidies enjoyed by the different energy producers in the U.S.
From the chart, we see that Oil and Gas receives $4.86 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
From the chart we see that the Nuclear power industry receives $3.5 billion per year, from the U.S. government.
How were these numbers arrived at?
In the case of Oil & Gas, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the Oil and Gas industry from 1918 – 2009 and divided it by 91 years, which equals $4.86 billion per year.
In the case of nuclear, DBL Investors took the grand total of subsidies paid to the nuclear power industry from 1947 – 1999 and divided it by 52 years, which equals $3.50 billion per year.
Similar calculation methods are applied to Biofuels 1980 – 2009 and Renewables 1994 – 2009.
Whatever the kind of energy, there are always externalities to deal with.
In the case of wind turbines, they can create noise, and for some people the noise is uncomfortable. And, they are either a source of wonder or an eyesore — depending on your viewpoint.
Hydroelectric dams dramatically lower fish stocks in rivers, although there have been some notable programmes designed to mitigate this in some river systems.
In China, the externalities from burning fossil fuels cause 410,000 deaths per year.
“China faces a number of serious environmental issues caused by overpopulation and rapid industrial growth. Water pollution and a resulting shortage of drinking water is one such issue, as is air pollution caused by an over-reliance on coal as fuel. It has been estimated that 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.” – Common Language Project
This problem does not stop at the borders of any one country, for it is a worldwide externality.
The polluted air in China does not stay in the country, but circulates around the northern hemisphere, taking between 5 to 7 days to reach the western coastline of North America.
Similarly, the polluted air from North America takes 4 to 6 days to reach Europe.
And then there is the depleting ozone layer and oxygen levels in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels and man-made chemical compounds — along with dramatically increasing CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) gases, which increase the solar insolation value of the atmosphere (trapping heat) and thereby increasing the average worldwide temperature.
Scientists say that for each 1 C degree of global warming, it costs governments, businesses and citizens, 1 Trillion dollars per year to mitigate those effects.
According to 97 percent of the climate scientists testifying under sworn oath in the United States Congress in April of 2012, most of the global warming measured since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, is ‘anthropogenic’ — that is, caused by humans. Profoundly, it is in our best interest to make the switch to Renewable Energy.
Massive spending reductions for governments will be the result of switching to Renewable energy, as the costs to human health (national health care systems externality) and the costs of mitigating the damage caused by climate change (agriculture, property and emergency management externality), will drop dramatically.
Not to mention the billions of dollars of savings when conventional energy subsidies end.