Friday, July 19, 2013

Kent Hawkins Offers Reasonable Doubt About Wind's Carbon Mitigation Effectiveness (updated repost)

Nuclear Green Revolution had its' origin in a debate which I had with GRIST'S David Roberts. Roberts argued that investments in nuclear power would be a mistake. When confronted with the need for post carbon power sources, Roberts claimed that renewables could provide all the power we need at a lower cost than nuclear power. I did not have a source that provided a strong contradiction, so I set out setting up a preliminary source from scratch. My source looked at what renewables cost and what we got for our money and what else it would take a renewable post carbon system to work. My conclusion was that renewables would be more expensive and far less reliable than nuclear power and the ability of renewables to mitigate CO2 discharges for energy was at best questionable. 

I recognized that my work was far from perfect and that I lacked the technological expertise to produce a wholly satisfactory source. I remarked that I am not the best possible person to do what I was doing, but I would continue to do it until someone who was better qualified would step into the gap. Eventually that happened. Kent Hawkins was one of the people who was better qualified to write about renewable energy than I am.  He was producing work that was far superior in quality to mine. From that point onward I began to rely on Hawkins to justify the argument that nuclear power was less expensive and more effective than renewables as a means of carbon mitigation. I wrote a post on Hawkins' work in the spring of 2010 and have not reviewed that for the last three years, however I think that we need to look at what has been done and what is being done in order to demonstrate the carbon mitigation superiority of nuclear power. The following is my 2010 post and it will be followed by a further post on Hawkins' later work.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kent Hawkins, is a "principal" of the MasterResource blog. According to his MasterResource biography, Hawkins
holds electrical engineering degrees from Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.

In his professional career, Mr. Hawkins specialized in communications systems engineering, operations research, and management consulting. The majority of his working life was in the information technology industry with such companies as IBM and EDS.

Since retirement, Kent has devoted a substantial amount of time to the study of electricity generation and distribution policies. His commentary and studies have been published in national magazines and newspapers in Canada, and, most recently, in the quarterly publication of the U. S. Association for Energy Economics, Dialogue.
Hawkins' association with MasterResource is not by itself a recommendation, since MasterResource supports what I can only take to be an ideologically driven view of climate change, and on its climate change posts should be vetted for knowledge pollution. What ever Hawkins ideology, it does not appear to impact his research method on energy issues. Hawkins offers views that are clearly falsifiable, his facts come from reputable sources, his logic seems sound, and as of yet, the wind industry has been unable to muster more than a weak critique of Hawkins conclusions.

it is easy to understand why Hawkins' work is attractive to the Libertarian leaning perspective of MasterResource. Hawkins lays out his case to the International Association for Energy Economicsin an essay titled, Integrating Renewables: Have Policymakers Faced the RealitiesHawkins states: "The current push for government intervention in electricity generation rests on one or more of these policy objectives:"
Reduced reliance on fossil fuels
Substantially reduced CO2 emissions
Energy independence within a political jurisdiction
Right policy mix for the short and long term
Sustainable economic growth with 21st century industries
Reliable and economic electricity supply.
Hawkins then asks a question that is both fair and reasonable,
Can renewables help achieve these goals, especially in regard to environmental improvement?
Hawkins then answers his own rhetorical question,
A close look at the realities suggest that they cannot, and that as a consequence, public policy support for these energy sources may be fleeting, because they:
Stress the other electricity system elements, which results in increased fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions
Have no capacity value, the most important measure of performance
Force inappropriate grid upgrades
Do not provide the needed 21st century economic development
Reduce electricity system reliability
Increase costs
Thus Hawkins does not assume the absence of a link between green house gas emissions and climate change. Rather he notes that energy policy assumes such a link existed, and is directed to control greenhouse gas emissions. His questions then are not about the existence of climate change, but about the effectiveness of mitigation policy. People like me, who believe that greenhouse gas -climate change link is real, should be concerned about the effectiveness of mitigation policy. This is not an issue that can not be determined by an ideological vetting of Hawkins.
Hawkins states his case in a hypothesis, null-hypothesis form. The hypothesis is that "renewables help achieve these goals." The null-hypothesis is
they (renewables) cannot (achieve policy goals) . . .
Hawkins still needs to prove his case. By the rules of Karl Popper's theory of scientific knowledge, true statements are those which cannot be disproved through strong support for the null-hypothesis. The truth of a hypothesis is affirmed by demonstrating that evidence does not support its falsification. In order for Hawkins to demonstrated he is correct, he must demonstrate that available evidence that supports the null-hypothesis.

Hawkins states the null-hypothesis briefly at the beginning of a recent 4-part essay in MasterResource.
There is no convincing proof that utility-scale wind plants reduce fossil fuel consumption or CO2 emissions. Although there are are a number of reports claiming gains can be made that will combat climate change, free us from fossil fuel “addiction,” provide energy independence and needed 21st century industrial development, such reports are not substantiated by definitive and comprehensive analyses.
The Hawkins essay is in fact a review of three case studies found in two reports on the effects of wind integration on carbon emissions. The first report, titled The impact of wind generated electricity on fossil fuel consumption and written by C. le Pair & K. de Groot
commissioned by offers an account of fossil fuel use in support roles for wind generation in the Netherlands. The second report, titled HOW LESS BECAME MORE... Wind, Power and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market and commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States by Bentec Energy. The reports finding would appear to not be biased by the payers interests, since the report seems to suggest that investments in renewables usually serve the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry.

C. le Pair & K. de Groot indicate that they are testing of Hawkins null-hypothesis:
Kent Hawkins recently published a study of the technical characteristics of gas powered electricity generators, which are used for back-up of other units. He concluded “The general conclusion is clear: industrial wind power does not produce the claimed benefits of reductions in fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions when up-and-down backup generation inefficiencies are taken into account.”
C. le Pair & K. de Groot offer an indirect test of the Hawkins null-hypothesis using fossil fuel use and electrical generation data. The authors explicitly referenced Hawkins:
Kent Hawkins7 recently published a study of the technical characteristics of gas powered electricity generators, which are used for back-up of other units. He concluded : “The general conclusion is clear: industrial wind power does not produce the claimed benefits of reductions in fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions when up-and-down backup generation inefficiencies are taken into account.”
The study under review found that 100 percent of the claimed emissions savings from wind power was negated by fossil fuel backup to firm up wind’s intermittency. The calculator finds roughly similar results to that of le Pair and de Groot for the level of wind penetration in the Netherlands.
The Bentek Energy study does not mention Hawkins, but its summery of findings offers support for Hawkins's null-hypothesis.
Wind energy promises a clean, renewable resource that uses no fossil fuel and generates zero emissions. Careful examination of the data suggests that the numbers do not add up as expected.
The “must take” provisions of Colorado’s Renewable Portfolio Standard require that other sources of generation, such as coal plants, must be “cycled” to accommodate wind power. This cycling makes coal generating units operate much less efficiently... so inefficiently, that these units produce significantly greater emissions.
This study reviews the data that supports this conclusion, outlines mitigation measures which can be used to realize the full potential of wind generation, and provides recommendations for policy makers.
The Bentek study looks at two cases involving wind use in Colorado and Texas. Using the two case studies offers more confidence in the conclusions. In the Colorado case the report stated,
The preceding chapter documented the SO2, NOX and CO2 implications of two “wind events” defined as such by PSCO in their training manual. The important policy concern hinges on whether these types of events are common or whether the July 2 and Sept. 29, 2008, events are exceptional and rarely happen. To the degree that the events are exceptional, then the RPS standard appears to have little impact on levels of SO2 and NOX emissions. On the other hand, a troubling public policy question is raised if wind-induced coal cycling is common and generates higher levels of SO2 and NOX emissions. In that case, the mandates of the RPS standard are in direct conflict with the need to reduce SO2 and NOX in order to meet EPA ozone attainment requirements.

This chapter concludes that, although circumstantial, the evidence strongly suggests that the latter is in fact true: incidence of coal cycling is common and has risen sharply since introduction of wind generation, and in 2008 and 2009 the result has been significantly greater emissions of SO2, NOX and CO2 than would have occurred if the coal units had not been cycled.

The report also found,
In 2009, generation from PSCO’s coal-fired plants fell off by about 20%, but their emissions did not diminish proportionately. Again, cycling appears to be a central factor. In 2009, there were 1,327 cycling incidents and they resulted in creating between 398,000 and 6.8 million pounds of SO2, 80,000 and 3.1 million pounds of NOX and between 94,000 and 147,000 pounds of CO2 more than would have been generated had the plants been run stably.
The case study of carbon emissions for the ERCOT system found identical problems.
these wind-driven, coal- cycling events resulted in significantly more SO2 and NOX emissions than if wind generation had not been utilized. The same results were found on the PSCO system. Not only does wind generation not allow ERCOT utilities to save SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions, it is directly responsible for creating more SO2 and NOX emissions and CO2 emission savings are minimal at best.
Hawkins is a major figure in a growing debate about the carbon mitigation effectiveness of wind electrical generationsHawkins offers his own account of the wind effectiveness. debate. If Hawkins and others who agree with him are correct, wind is an ineffective tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. New evidence is emerging that tends to contradict Hawkins null-hypothesise, as he notes.
There is a notable consistency among these three approaches. Look for more studies, based on actual experience, to emerge from countries not now dependent on foreign markets for export of wind turbine products and services, confirming the inability of new renewables, especially wind, to contribute to the reduction in fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions reduction in electricity generation. In the absence of comprehensive, objective and transparent studies that finally settle the matter, policies in support of new renewables should be severely curtailed.
Given a growing body of evidence which appears to contradict Hawkins null-hypothesis, there is an urgent need for a public debate over the effectiveness of wind powered electrical generation as a carbon mitigation. A wind effectiveness debate should involve both decision makers, and the general public.


John in the Lot said...

I have written about the inability of wind and solar to replace all nuclear and fossil fuel power generation plants several times but I hadn’t considered that the “standby” requirement might increase emissions overall. The examples quoted in the Bentek study; concerning the need to “cycle” coal plants in order to meet the load when the wind drops, are relevant in the cases of Colorado and Texas, but less relevant for electricity networks in countries where there is a greater diversity of sources of electricity generation. Gas plants can start up much more quickly than coal plants. GE claims a combined cycle design, which can start in 30 minutes. Assuming that the exploitation of shale gas, about to be inflicted on some areas of the UK, really does reduce gas prices, this would be a cheaper backup option, which wouldn't contribute much to CO2 emissions.
But if LFTRs were modularised, made smaller and more widely distributed can they be made to have similarly short start up times and therefore act as zero emission, load following, backup plants to intermittent renewable sources?

Michael Goggin said...

Kent Hawkins and his myth that wind energy's emission reductions are less than expected have been shot down:


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