Monday, December 10, 2007

Sovacool, Not So Cool

Dr. Benjamin K. Sovacool is currently a Research Fellow in the Energy Governance Program at the Centre on Asia and Globalization, part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, VA, where he has taught for the Government and International Affairs Program and the Department of History. Dr. Sovacool recently completed work on a grant from the National Science Foundation's Electric Power Networks Efficiency and Security Program investigating the social impediments to distributed and renewable energy systems. He has also consulted for the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Change Technology Program. His most recent book is an edited volume entitled Energy and American Society-Thirteen Myths, published by Springer in 2007. - Sovocool biography

Considering that Canada is 32.7% above its Kyoto target, and doesn't have a clue how to get its emissions under control, and the ammount of money being spent on wind generation, a technology that is bound to keep the coal mines in business for a long time, and that politicians want to shut nuclear power plants down, and replace them with, you guessed it, windmills with fossil fuel "back ups," we are not going to make 1990, or even come close. What will work will be peak oil, and a lot of people will be buying EVs by 2020. By 2020, we should pretty much have out heads straight about nuclear power, and be beginning the ramp up to replacing all the fossil fuel power plants. Maybe that will be completed by 2040.

I look for some greater measure of sanity, maybe in 4 years. Right now a lot of people with bad ideas and a desire for attention have taken the stage. We will know that things are getting serious when the egoistic idiots get driven from the stage.

The idea at the moment is to throw a lot of money at renewables, in the hope that some of it will stick. The advocates of wind generation are blowing more hot air than anyone else around. These guys all seem to have an amazing ability to ask the most simple question about wind energy. An example of this thinking is found in a recent post on Scitizen, a blog that links science and society. It is written by and for people who don't know much about either. Scitizen is of course anti-Nuk and pro-wind. It is hard for me to not be cynical and sarcastic. Being pro-wind means that Scitizen has made itself a par of the coal lobby, since all those coal fired power plants are not going away as long as there are needed to back-up, ie. serve as the base power sources, in a society that pretends it is solving its CO2 emissions problems by building a lot of wind generators.

The obligatory anti-Nuclear post was written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, an editor of Scitizen, and a recent Blacksburg, PhD, whose dissertation was titled, "The Power Production Paradox: Reflecting on the Socio-technical Impediments to Distributed Generation Technologies." Sovacool's wrote a September 2005 article, in the often anti-nuclear Foreign Policy, "Think Again: Nuclear Energy."   I should have, by now unleashed enough key words to alert at least some of you where Sobacool is coming from and where he is heading.

In his Foreign Policy article, Sovacool argues, for example:
"The reprocessing and enrichment of uranium often relies on fossil fuel-generated electricity. Data from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and USEC, a uranium enrichment company, indicate that enriching the amount of uranium needed to fuel 1,000-megawatt reactor for a year using the most efficient method can require 5,500 megawatt hours of gas- and coal-fired electricity (a 100-megawatt power plant running for 550 hours). Two of America’s most polluting coal plants in Ohio and Indiana produce electricity primarily for uranium enrichment. In this way, many nuclear power plants contribute indirectly but substantially to global warming, and fail to reduce U.S. dependence on petroleum and coal."

Shades of "Stormsmith" and Helen Caldicott. How long has it been since the gaseous diffusion plant been at Portmouth, Ohio been closed? At least since May of 2001, and yet Sovacool, in 2005 described Portmouth as still being operational. Jeese Louise! We are left to ask, Is the fellow an incompetent scholar? Or is he a Second Helen Caldicott? He does not seem to understand the difference between the separation of uranium isotopes and the reprocessing of used reactor fuel.

In personal communication with me, Sovacool claimed that the $1,200 per KW that the Chinese are paying for AP-1000 is expensive. He was unaware of the price of two off shore wind farms recently cited by the New York Times. Nor was he aware of recent price tags for new coal fired plants.

He did know that the California Energy Commission had decided that wind power is really cheap. And guess who is not looking deeply at the issue. Sovocool apparently believes that if you hook up enough wind farms, you can cancel out the the intermittency of wind.

I posted a comment onto Scitizen:
This theory can be tested in the real world, Germany's E.ON Netz operates one of the biggest 'feed-in' wind power nets in Europe. According to the E.ON Netz 2005 Report, E.ON Netz's net has 7600MW of rated wind generating capacity. On average across the year of 2005, E.ON Netz had 7600 MW of installed wind capacity. It produced an average of 1327MW of power. That's an operational level of 18 per cent of capacity. . E.ON Netz increased its wind capacity by 12% in 2005. Actual generation, however, went up just 1.5%. On May 15, 2005 at 12.15pm E.ON wind generators were producing just 8MW of electricity.

Texas has both West Texas and off shore wind resources. In 2005 the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) looked at the Reliability of Wind power in Texas. . Texas is considered second only to South Dekota in wind energy potential, and a great deal of money is being invested in Texas wind farms. Here is what the ERCOT found: 1. Wind generated electricity was not significantly less expensive than other sources, based on the Texas experience. 2. In order to take advantage of preposed wind generation projects, three billion dollars would have to be invested in the statewide electrical grid. 3. Wind Generated electricity was not reliable.

ERCOT currently assigns 10% of the installed capacity of wind turbines to its calculation of the ERCOT peak capacity reserve margin. Based on a review of historical data of actual wind turbine generation during ERCOT system peaks (from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in July and August), the average output for wind turbines was 16.8% of capacity. However, the data also showed that for any hour during these months, the output of the wind turbines could range from 0% of installed capacity to 49% of installed capacity. Because of wind's intermittency, the ERCOT Technical Advisory Committee, considered recommending a wind capacity value of 2%.

Stephen R. Connors of MIT analized data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other data sources tracking off shore wind speeds, electricity demand, and power systems operations over time for the North East. Conner found that offshore wind farms in the Northeast would generate far more electricity in winter than in summer, when electricity demand is highest. Connor noted about New England off shore wind power that "it’s not there when you need it most—midday during the summer when demand and prices are high,”

Mike Cowan of Western Area Power Administration’s Upper Great Plains Region reports that Western’s Upper Great Plains Region has about 150 megawatts of wind power that has been installed, but that generation from wind was insignificant during the hottest days of summer. The Upper Great Plains are considered to have the greatest potential for wind generation in the country.

The Tennessee Valley Authority installed a wind generating Farm on Buffalo Mountain in East Tennessee. Buffalo Mountain is considered one of the windiest spots in Tennessee. During Augusts, Buffalo Mountain receieves enough wind to generate electricity 7% of the time. The wind resources of the entire American South East are considered poor.

David Dixon studied the performance of California's wind generators during California's "heat storms" during the summer of 2006. Dixon stated, "By most people’s analysis, wind’s performance was disappointing. Specifically during this period of peak demand, statewide wind often operated at only 5% of capacity, or less."

California has 2,500 MW of rated wind generating capacity. On July 24, 2006 California Electrical demands peaked at over 50.000 MWs. Wind generation plumited to around 5% of rated capacity that day. There were record heat waves in California, the East Coast and the Southern States, during July 2006.

Clearly then the notion that linking wind generators is going to smoth power production does not survive empirical tests.

Joseph Somsel has observed, "the advocacy of wind power comes from three sources - rent-seeking entrepreneurs angling for corporate welfare, daydreamers, and politicians seeking to avoid difficult decisions. "

Updare 12/11/07: Sovocool has not responded to my latest round of comment on out discussion.  I am afraid that I have not been too kind to him.  I am not too patient with Blacksburg PhD's who still haven't learn to do their homework.


Luke said...

"Is the fellow an incompetent scholar? Or is he a Second Helen Caldicott?"

It begs the question: What's the difference?

Great blog, by the way. I must add it to my blogroll.

Charles Barton said...

Luke, An incompetent scholar does not check on information before he reports that it is true. He will not get his facts straight because he is lazy. Helen Caldicott repeats information she knows to be untrue. Showing her that she is wrong will do no good, bucause she will simply attack you and ignore the truth.

Katie said...

I like your blog and also your other Blogger blog. I'd like to spend a little more time reading them. I'm intensely interested.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Sovacool (oh I guess he'd be angry I left his prefix off), the way he expresses his findings, as well as the basis of many of his opinions, is not scientific in its approach. Not that non-science is bad; what I'm trying to say is: he obscures the facts by the way he writes about science as if it were prose, and his arguments are not based in the science he is trying to make a career on. I believe there is a place in this world for analysts of science, but that they should proceed with the same caution that so many scientists lack: don't overstate conclusions of your work, and put your work in appropriate context. If you look at Dr. Sovacool's background, he has no formal science education, which ultimately I believe is the reason for his often unstructured "reviews" of energy technology that end up confusing and negating his points, for better or worse.

Despite all of this I would not discount Blacksburg and the PhDs it produces. Can one very loud man--informed or uninformed-- represent us all? I am doing my PhD elsewhere, in a completely different science field, but nonetheless believe that Blacksburg is a wondrous place that produces many "scholars." So please, personally bash whomever you want, but leave me, and I suppose "us," out of it.


Charles Barton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Barton said...

Katie, Thank you for your comment. I of course and not entirely serious in my putdown of Blacksburg PhD's. This is a game which I learned a very long time ago, and indeed would probably would have never played it again, until I saw how Sovacool's Blacksburg PhD, had had blown him up like a puffer fish with self deluded pride. I have not the slightest doubt that many fine scientist, engineers and scholars have received Doctorates there. Dr. Sovacool, is very impressed with his education, a little too much so, since he has as of yet failed to learn to appreciate the limits of his knowledge. I am attempting to expose him to an education in the school of hard knocks. I am sure he will survive my knocks, and hopefully will gain some humility from the experience.


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