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[OM] Renewable energy, batteries, etc. was: LEDs R Us

Subject: [OM] Renewable energy, batteries, etc. was: LEDs R Us
From: Chuck Norcutt <chucknorcutt@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 2015 16:36:33 -0400
Dams are relatively cheap if you have a place to build them. Even without a river a high canyon would allow for reasonably priced pumped water storage. But the battery problem (energy storage) is, I think, much worse than most people realize. All other known forms of energy storage tend to be about 10X the price of pumped water storage. While Tesla's battery walls (or whatever they call them) are an interesting innovation they're still lithium-ion batteries. While he's lowered the cost he's still light years away from the low cost storage required to make economic sense of intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind.

Back in 2007 Google charged a couple of engineers with finding a way to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal fired plant. Google shut down the project in 2011 after the engineers declared that it couldn't be done with known technology. You can read about it here <http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/what-it-would-really-take-to-reverse-climate-change>

Some try to refute this "can't be done" point by showing the decreasing cost of production from renewables <http://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/energy/renewables/someday-is-now-for-solar-wind-power-says-lazard> but they conveniently forget to factor in the cost of energy storage required to displace all the conventional power plants required for backup generation.

And to bring home the point you need only read this <http://www.theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/471651/catch-22-energy-storage> titled "The Catch-22 of Energy Storage". This article is based on a paper by Weißbach et al that promotes the concept of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI). It'S based on the biological notion that, if a predator is to survive, it must gain more energy from eating the prey than it took to catch it. There's a link to the original paper at the end of the article.

An EROEI of 1 means we got only as much energy back as it took to build and operate the facility. Clearly that's not sufficient. Considering the costs of distribution, maintenance, etc. the real break even is about 7. Some say the concept is a bit wishy-washy but Weißbach et al argue that the energy system for a modern society (transportation, food, family support, education, health care and the arts) requires an EREOI of about 14:1. Weißbach et al produce bar graphs showing the EREOI for many forms of energy production with and without buffering. Buffering is just a general term for batteries or some other form of energy storage. Solar photovoltaic is at the bottom of the list with an EOREI of 3.9 and drops to 1.6 with buffering. It's important to note that it never breaks even with or without buffering. Wind manages to hit an EOREI of 16 or well above break even... until you add the buffer. Then wind falls to 3.9 or well below break even. For Ken's world that means wind can peform well as long as it's not asked to put on its big-boy pants and provide all power without those gas turbine backups.

Solar, using concentrating collectors like Ivanpah in the Mojave Desert can have an EOREI of 19 but throw in the batteries (remember, we're in the desert) and it drops to 9. Still above break even but not much to write home about. And all has not gone well for Ivanpah. One thing in particular caught my attention as something I hadn't thought of. The sun doesn't shine at night causing Ivanpah's boilers cool off at night. Therefore the facility has to heat the boilers with gas for four hours every morning to get them back up to temperature when the sun comes up. Using gas pre-heating was in the design but was only supposed to require 1 hour run time. The morning's gas consumption is said to be enough to power more than 220,000 homes.

Gas turbines and coal are quite close at 28 and 30 respectively. But buffering isn't required for either. Hydro comes in at 49 or 35 if buffered. I assume that buffering here means holding back the flow to conserve water. Nuclear tops the charts at 75 and, of course, also needs no buffering.

Me, I'm holding out for thorium reactors. We can power them with all that radioactive waste that no one wants to bury at Yucca Mountain.

Chuck Norcutt

On 10/25/2015 11:23 AM, Mike Lazzari wrote:
Wind is a bad economic decision.  ....
  The distribution system is actually the most expensive part ....
I agree Chuck. But there are a couple of gaps in the mountain range here
that are conveniently located near large dams. In some places it does
make sense. In most places though the subsidies just make it an
expensive and huge blight on the landscape.  The subsidized large solar
arrays in the desert are similarly both destructive and expensive. What
ever happened to individual rooftop arrays? Even now the cost of
batteries isn't so bad compared with the cost of the subsidies and
distribution. Even without and/or inadequate storage it would lessen the
load on the net.

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