Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Jacobson-Delucchi plan revealed

The devil is in the details, and the details are where the renewable energy schemes come apart. This is the case for the Jacobson-Delucchi plan recently published in Scientific-American to set the world on a course to an all renewable energy scheme. But support for Mark Z. Jacobson's thinking about renewable energy has hardly been universal, and Jacobson has not responded to many criticisms of his work. in particular Bill Hannahan has offered significant criticisms of Mark. Z. Jacobson research on wind reliability, in the form of a paper offered to the Editor of the "Journal of Applied Meteorology & Climatology" (JAMC). Mark Z. Jacobson refused to cooperate with the review process for Hannahan's paper, and although the editor of the JAMC could have published Bill's paper even without Jacobson's cooperation, he refused to to so.

It should be noted that Jacobson, like many other renewable energy advocates regularly sidesteps and ignores criticisms. Thus legitimate questions exist about the value of Jacobson's scientific work, and Jacobson has failed to take reasonable steps to answer those criticisms. While Jacobson's work on wind reliability is repeatedly mentioned by renewable advocate, the mention of that work, in the absence of unanswered arguments that Jacobson's work is deeply flawed, suggest that the renewable power enterprise lacks critical standards for its knowledge claims. On Tuesday, I posted numerous informal criticisms of Jacobson's latest Scientific American Paper, that were left as comments on the Scientific American Web Page, in response to its announcement of the Jacobson-Delucchi paper. As of this morning 50 comments have been posted in response to the SA announcement. Many of these comments point to serious problems with the Jacobson-Delucchi plan. For example, "EGPreston" wrote,
By profession I do transmission studies for wind and solar clients. My company name is TAC meaning Transmission Adequacy Consulting at web page I currently am doing studies all across the US. "A path to sustainable energy by 2030" omits the transmission system needed by 2030. Because the wind and solar and water and geothermal projects are not in the locations of the existing power plants, new lines will be needed. Looking at the graph on page 63, and carefully measuring scales on the graph, I estimate that there is 40,000 MW of wind and 40,000 MW of centralized solar on that graph. The reason I omitted rooftop solar is because Jacobson has its contribution to be rather small. For example, multiplying out the numbers on page 61 you will get 5.1 TW of rooftop solar and 26.7 TW of large scale solar of 300 MW size in farms, much like wind farms. This seems reasonable since centralized solar is twice as cost effective as rooftop solar. Since the rooftop solar is small I will omit it from these comments. That leaves us needing 80,000 MW of new wind solar and geothermal generation just to serve California. I think an estimate of 500 miles from wind and solar resources to major load centers is reasonable. A 500 kV transmission line is rated at about 2000 MW max power. But you don't want to operate it at that power level because the losses are too high and there is no reserve capacity in the line to handle the first contingency problem. Therefore I will estimate we will load the new 500 kV lines to about 1500 MW on average. So we have 80,000 MW of renewable sources widely scattered around the Western System (WECC) with each carrying 1500 MW so that we need roughly 50 new 500 kV lines of 500 miles each, for a total length of 25,000 miles. The article assumes there is little solar power energy storage and it also assumes the wind be blowing at night. We know for sure that the solar power is not available at night so we are nearly totally dependent on wind for night time energy. You are going to ask about the geothermal energy. One geothermal project I recently worked on for determining the transmission access for looked like a good project until the geothermal energy extraction failed to work. Recently other geothermal projects have created human induced earthquakes. Geothermal energy seem less likely today than just a few years ago. So we are nearly totally dependent on wind energy for the nighttime CA energy as envisioned in the 100% renewables by 2030. If we plan for those few occurrences when there is no wind in the WECC system, we must interconnect WECC with the rest of the US so CA can draw power from other wind generators that do have wind (hopefully) outside the WECC area, such as the Texas coast and east of the rocky mountains where massive wind farms can be constructed. However we will need at least 40,000 MW of lines that I estimate will average 2000 miles in length. If we used 500 kV lines, we would need about 25 of these lines bridging from WECC to the US eastern grid and ERCOT and the total length would be about 50,000 miles. By 2030 we would need 75,000 miles of new 500 kV lines just to serve California with 100% renewables. Considering that we have the period from 2010 to 2030, that means we would have to construct about 4000 miles of new 500 kV lines every year from now until 2030 for the renewables plan as outlined in this article to work. I do not believe this is achievable at all. Therefore the concept envisioned in the SA article is not a workable plan because the transmission problems have not been addressed. The lines aren’t going to get built. The wind is not going to interconnect. The SA article plan is not even a desirable plan. The environmental impact and cost would be horrendous. Lets get realistic.
Criticisms such as Prestons' cannot be ignored, if Jacobson and Delucchi wish for their plan to be taken seriously. So far Jacobson and Delucchi have offered no response to their critics. Unfortunately, as I have noted, this conforms to Jacobson's past pattern.

A Scientific American article is not a real scientific paper. It does not amass reliably produced evidence, to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the weigh of evidence supports a proposition. Traditionally Scientific American stuck to mainstream science, science that was not controversial. Thus it should be noted that of 5 papers referenced by Jacobson and Delucchi in their Scientific American article, two contain Jacobson's name in the authorship line. Both are the subject of unresolved controversy. A third paper is coauthored by Ben Sovacool, who is a political scientist. I have addressed the uneven quality of Sovacool's work in the past. Following as assessment of Sovacool's account of some of his research, I concluded,
Sovacool has produced another typical example of his work. His research is weak, his research methods are suspects, and his conclusions will not withstand critical examination.
To his credit Sovacool vigorously defended his research, but it should be noted that his database was neither based on random sampling, nor was it comprehensive, thus no valid generalizations would have followed from it. At any rate the Sovacool paper Jacobson and Delucchi referenced cannot be accessed on the Internet, nor are critical reviews of it found on the Internet. A further paper referenced paper, The Technical, Geographical, and Economic Feasibility for Solar Energy to Supply the Energy Needs of the U.S. by V. Fthenakis, J. E. Mason, and K. Zweibel has just been made available on line. The Fthenakis, Mason, and. Zweibel paper has not been the subject of open reviews on the internet. Thus it hardly can be maintained that Jacobson and Delucchi have expressed views that represent the consensus of a scholarly and scientific community, or that their own views are represent good science. Statements such as the claim that
Nuclear power results in up to 25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, when reactor construction and uranium refining and transport are considered.
simply are not based on sound research. Sovacool, upon whose research Jacobson partially depends concludes, found that 81% of the studies of carbon emission from the nuclear power cycle,
had methodological shortcomings that justified excluding them from the assessment conducted here. . . . Of the remaining 19% of studies, , , they varied greatly in their comprehensiveness, . . . studies differed in whether they assessed future emissions for a few individual reactors or past emissions for the global nuclear fleet; assumed existing technologies or those under development; and presumed whether the electricity needed for mining and enrichment came from fossil fuels, other nuclear plants, renewable energy technologies, or a combination thereof,

Clearly then we are looking at an area of research that requires from which no valid conclusions can be drawn. in light of Sovacool's note on the limitations of he research evidence, Jacobson's sweeping dismissal of nuclear power was an unwarranted expression of personal prejudice. We the Scientific American still an intellectually respectable journal, the 25 times statement would undoubtedly have been removed before publication.

In addition Jacobson and Delucchi stated that
we consider only technologies that do not present significant waste disposal or terrorism risks.
Yet they considered Hydroelectric which poses significant risks from terrorist attacks, and photovoltaic which posses significant waste disposal issues. Again we have the author's uninformed personal judgment being substituted for matters of fact. And as the "scots engineer" comments,
the authors have been disingenuous . . .

"demyer"referring to the comments which Jacobson and Delucchi have drawn, states,
The comments by others have pretty much shot a lot of holes in the plan, particularly wind power

I will thus leave to the author's Scientific American critics to spell out many of the numerous shortcomings of the Jacobson and Delucchi plan. I do wish to offer my comments on the claim that a renewables mix, and electrical costs under the plan.

Jacobson and Delucchi claim
Intermittency problems can be mitigated by a smart balance of sources, . . . relying on wind at night when it is often plentiful, using solar by day and turning to a reliable source such as hydroelectric that can be turned on and off quickly to smooth out supply or meet peak demand. For example, interconnecting wind farms that are only 100 to 200 miles apart can compensate for hours of zero power at any one farm should the wind not be blowing there.
Thus without telling us exactly what they are doing, Jacobson and Delucchi introduce a costly solution to the problem of intermittency - redundancy. If the wind does not blow all of the time, we are going to use a little sunshine to get us through wind free days, they tell us. First we should note that redundancy does not always work. Sometimes the wind stops blowing at night. But redundancy has a cost. If we are going to rely on redundant wind and solar generating facilities, the cost of round-the-clock electricity will include the cost of both wind and solar electricity. Thus if a wind facility costs $3 million and a solar facility costs $6 million, and we need both to provide round-the-clock electricity, the cost of our generating system will be $9 million. In addition the facilities may need to be interconnected, and that will cost extra.

Now it turns out that paying for a solar and a wind facility is not going to be enough to insure reliability for a renewable system. Mark Z Jacobson has studied what sort of redundancy is required to make a wind system as reliable as a coal-fired power plant. What Jacobson found is that if you build one windmill in West Texas, it might generate electricity at 40% of its rated generating capacity. Most of the time, the windmill will produce far less than its rated capacity, but on very windy days, it might produce almost all of its capacity, but on may other days, the windmill would produce very little of its rated capacity. A windmill located a few hundred miles away might produce electricity better on some days and worse on other days. a windmill in Kansas would perform differently, and a windmill in Oklahoma still differently. So if you hook up two windmills in Texas, with one in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma, and one in Kansas, you might be able to produce a decent amount of power, say 20% of the windmill's rated power output, most (80%) of the time.

Another way of saying this is that 50% of the time, if you hook up 5 windmills at selected sites in 4 states, you will generate the electrical equivalent of one windmill's full power output 4 out of every 5 days. What you will do for electricity on the 5th day is not clear. What is clear is that reliable electricity from wind will cost you a lot. You will have to pay for 5 windmills in order to be assured of at least 1 windmill's worth of electrical output 4 out of every 5 days, and you will have to pay for something to be assure of electricity on the other day. So Jacobson's wind scheme is quite expensive, in fact more expensive than a nuclear power plant's.

Would a solar-wind mix be cheaper? We have noted that solar generating facilities of a given power output would be more expensive than wind facilities of a similar power output rating. By careful wind site locations, you can increase wind output to 40% and even 45% of rated capacity in some instances. By moving your solar facility into a cloudless desert, you might improve your power output to a little better than 20% of your rated capacity. Solar output starts out the day weak in the morning, builds up till noon, and then starts dropping off. It is hard to think about solar without including storage, and that will add to the cost of an already expensive solar generating system. The actual cost of solar generating systems being built this year (2009), make nuclear generating systems look really cheap. So you cannot count on a solar-wind mix to be cheaper than generating electricity with nuclear power.

Finally we ought to consider the Jacobson and Delucchi claim that electricity can be produced by their renewable system, can be produced
as cheap as coal.
But we need to look closely at their reasoning. They claim
Power from wind turbines, for example, already costs about the same or less than it does from a new coal or natural gas plant, and in the future wind power is expected to be the least costly of all options.
Well here we encounter a paradox. If wind power is so cheap, why is it that wind operators say they need a heavy subsidy in order to operate. Why is wind not able to compete on the open market? The answer is simple. Wind does not produce electricity when consumers want it. We have already seen that Jacobson's own in order to get wind generated electricity to consumers, wind producers have to buy windmill after windmill, and spread them all over the map, at increased transmission costs. So wind generated electricity may be cheap, but wind generated electricity when you want it is not cheap at all.

What of solar then? Jacobson and Delucchi claim
Solar power is relatively expensive now but should be competitive as early as 2020. A careful analysis by Vasilis Fthenakis of Brookhaven National Laboratory indicates that within 10 years, photovoltaic system costs could drop to about 10¢/kWh, including long-distance transmission and the cost of compressed-air storage of power for use at night. The same analysis estimates that concentrated solar power system with enough thermal storage to generate electricity 24 hours a day in spring, summer and fall could deliver electricity at 10¢/kWh or less.
Since I have just found a link to the referenced Fthenakis paper, and have not had a chance to review it, I will simply note that Fthenakis' conclusions are dramatically at odds with those of Australian Engineer Peter Lang, (See a review by Barry Brook with comments by others here.) A revised version of Lang's paper can be found here, and Brook's discussion of those revisions are found here. Lang argues that the capital costs of a reliable Solar power system would be 25 times as high as that of an all-nuclear power generation system. Since the contentions of Lang and Fthenakis are clearly at odds, and the referenced Fthenakis paper has not yet been reviewed, I will withhold final judgment on the issue, but will note that Fthenakis views, if accurately represented by the Scientific American article, probably do not represent mainstream thinking about future solar costs.

Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark Delucchi have thus written a new Scientific American article which claims much that has not been accepted by other researchers on renewable energy. Their article has already drawn significant criticisms, and no doubt will continue to do so. They also reference sources that appear to go well beyond mainstream of views on the future cost and utility of renewables. The Jacobson-Delucchi article also refers to Jacobson's past work which has also received significant criticism. Jacobson has proven in the past to be reticent to respond to criticisms of his work. And Jacobson and Delucchi have, as of yet, failed to respond to the criticisms posted on the Scientific American Web site. Therefore the current Jacobson-Delucchi Scientific American article can not be said the represent a plausible account of our energy future. The article contains an unsubstantiated and borderline irrational attack on nuclear power. Unfortunately this cult-like attack on nuclear power has been a frequent feature of Scientific American during the last couple of years.


donb said...

Jacobson and Delucchi claim:
Intermittency problems can be mitigated by a smart balance of sources, . . . relying on wind at night when it is often plentiful, using solar by day and turning to a reliable source such as hydroelectric that can be turned on and off quickly to smooth out supply or meet peak demand. For example, interconnecting wind farms that are only 100 to 200 miles apart can compensate for hours of zero power at any one farm should the wind not be blowing there.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the BPA systems has wind farms connected to it which are 100 to 200 miles apart. Check for yourself how reliable the power is:
(look at the lower trace in blue)
In January this year, there was essentially no wind power generated for over a week.

Anonymous said...

Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis produced the very shallow and deeply flawed Solar Grand Plan in the January 2008 Scientific American.

It was ripped apart in the comments section.

Bill Hannahan

Alexis Madrigal said...

I think you guys are taking this the wrong way. These plans are more in the mode of nuclear promoters of the 1960s a la Alvin Weinberg's plans for nuplexes to desalinate the ocean and terraform the arid West and Middle East.

In my mind, Jacobson does useful technoutopian thinking, which is a mode with a very, very long history in the United States.

Personally, I'm glad to see people trying to push beyond the limits of exacting data. That's a lesson that renewable energy advocates picked up from the nuclear crowd because it works. I just hope that they also learn the lesson that actual implementation is going to be more difficult and costly than they think. That is to say, I get presenting the vision, but you can't get drunk off the Kool-Aid you distribute.

Sociologically, I wonder how much the comment sections on Scientific American stories matter to the Davos crowd or scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, etc. Not saying they don't. I just wonder.

Charles Barton said...

Alexis, I have been known to push my argument beyond my data, there is a difference between thinking beyond data, and arguing beyond reason. When Jacobson argues that we should include the CO2 produced by a nuclear exchange every 30 years as a liability of nuclear power, he goes beyond not just data, but beyond reason. This is unfortunately not the only point at which Jaconson is clearly being irrational. Foolishness might be fun on Saturday Night Live, but not on the pages of Scientific American. I have little patience with foolishness there.

The sociology of the Issue is a different matter. i don't know about Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, but I do know something about ORNL and a generation of anti-nuclear attitudes from from the White House and the D0E has destroyed the capacity for bold and innovative thinking there. As for the Davos crowd, who knows and who cares. The SA commenters are working stiffs, scientists, engineers, and energy business operators. Current energy thinking in the Obama Administration has largely left people like that out of the energy decision mix. Our present national government seems only too happy to drink the Kool-Aid, and pass it on to the rest of us. I do not enjoy watching people I believe to be intelligent acting like fools ovr matters that involve the future of hundreds of millions of people.

Alexis Madrigal said...

Jacobson's response (and I haven't talked to him about this, but just guessing) is that the primary metric we are now using for power aside from $/kWh is CO2. As such, to make the real threat of nuclear exchange count on the new double bottom line, you have to try to calculate its CO2 impact. I agree that it's a messy way of trying to account for nuclear risks.

For me, nuclear advocates are making the mistake they did in the past: not taking their success seriously enough. If nuclear power becomes the dominant power source across the world with the current technology — thousands more reactors displacing — it's hard to argue that the chances of some kind of nuclear exchange don't rise. How you account for that, quantify it, etc, are unclear, though. The numbers are probably unknowable but the possibility is certainly not unthinkable or irrational.

A generation of anti-nuclear attitudes from the DOE? Short generation.

There are plenty of working stiffs, scientists, engineers, and energy business operators involved in the Obama administration's decision making. There always have been. It's just not your crowd. And that's frustrating.

I get it. It pissed off the green tech people that nuclear people were in charge for forty years, too.

And I think the Administration needs to take y'all seriously. Coming up with ways to continue diversifying the energy supply away from coal is good. Thorium reactor, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Alexis, I think the widespread use of nuclear power would make nuclear war far LESS likely because wars have traditionally been fought over access to resources. With thorium-powered nuclear energy, every country has enough thorium to power themselves indefinitely. Far less to fight over.

Charles Barton said...

Alexis, as kirk indicates Jacobson does not make a credible case that increasing the number of reactors would increase the possibility of a nuclear exchange. In fact if you will look and my analysis of Jaconson's argument you should not that Jacobson makes false assumptions about the relationship between civilian nuclear power and the the development of nuclear weapons technology. There is simply no empirical evidence that possession of civilian nuclear power technology leads nations to develop, nuclear weapons. You have simply ignored my argument. You have ignored the same realities that Jacobson ignores.

Alexis Madrigal said...

@Charles: The answer to your argument is, basically, small sample size. In countries, reactors, and years.

I don't think that it's possible to say definitively what the impacts of 1000s of nuclear reactors all over the world are. There can't be a "reality" to ignore for a future that doesn't exist yet. We're all projecting, which is why we we're all making assumptions. Trans-science, not science.

I think making the assumption that more plutonium and enriched uranium in circulation makes the chances of a nuclear incident more likely is not nuts. You disagree.

So far, I hear: the effect is nil from you, Kirk says it would reduce the chances of nuclear exchange, and I say it would increase them.

These are questions where reasonable people can disagree. And I don't think any position is crazy. We're all just trying to figure it out with little evidence and a lot of possible scenarios.

Here's Weinberg's take, since we both respect him:

"A nuclear world such as we envisage will long have had to come to terms with plutonium. Ten tons of plutonium per day is mind-boggling. It is hard to conceive of the enterprise being conducted except in well-defined, permanent sites, and under the supervision of a special cadres, perhaps a kind of nuclear United Nations." — from "Can the Sun Replace Uranium?"

Charles Barton said...

Alexis, Sample size? Now you are being down right silly. My argument is as follows:
1. Contrary to Jacobson, nuclear powers acquired nuclear weapons technology prior to acquiring civilian nuclear power technology.
2. Nations that have acquired civilian nuclear power technology before possessing nuclear weapons, did not go on to acquire nuclear weapons technology.

One could further argue that there is no easy route from Civilian nuclear power technology, to military technology, while there is a route from military technology to civilian technology. However, almost with out exception the route from military technology to civilian technology has been rejected as posing safety hazards, or for being costly, or for posing other technical problems. Hence, Jacobson's contentions is contradicted by all evidence.

Engineer-Poet said...

Charles, pardon me for saying this, BUT...

you really need a copy editor!

Charles Barton said...

Engineer-Poet, an editor would be nice, but you are going to have to learn the virtue of patience.

Anonymous said...

A bloger wrote that the Grand Solar Plan, published by Sc Am in Jan 2008 and its sequel with all the technical details, published in Energy Policy were not available on line and so on.."Technical, Geographical, and Economic Feasibility for Solar Energy to Supply the Energy Needs of the U.S. by V. Fthenakis, J. E. Mason, and K. Zweibel has just been made available on line. The Fthenakis, Mason, and. Zweibel paper has not been the subject of open reviews on the internet."
Obviously both papers were peer-reviewed by experts to be published in these high impact journals. If you have doubts of how accurate the technical estimates of these papers are, check the estimates on the forecasted in 2007-published in 2008 reduction of the production cost of PV; three and a half years later we were shown to be very accurate in our forecasts. Another paper of mine (Fthenakis), also published in Energy Policy that compared PV and nuclear life cycles in terms of GHG emissions was presented and accepted as valid in the California Energy Commission Nucleat Issues Workshop.
Stop winning about solar and wind, accept the facts and spend your energies in trying to make the technology that you like safer and less expensive.
Vasilis Fthenakis

Charles Barton said...

Vasilis, I repeatedly find renewable energy advocaters offering conceptual and logical errors, withholding important information if it shows renewable energyin a bad light. At the same time many renewable advocates exagerate yje dsfryu ptoblems of nuclear power, and complain about nuclear costs. even though 24 houre a day renewable energy would be far more expensive. You appear to belong to the renewable camp that is determine to commit all of these sins. You begs for imunity from criticism as well as the right to attak nuclear advocates.


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