The Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI or EROI) of any energy gathering system is a measure of that system’s efficiency. The concept was originally derived in ecology and has been transferred to analyse human industrial society. In today’s energy mix, hydroelectric power ± nuclear power have values > 50. At the other end of the scale, solar PV and biofuels have values <5.
It is assumed that ERoEI >5 to 7 is required for modern society to function. This marks the edge of The Net Energy Cliff and it is clear that new Green technologies designed to save humanity from CO2 may kill humanity through energy starvation instead. Fossil fuels remain comfortably away from the cliff edge but march closer to it for every year that passes. The Cheetah symbolises an energy system living on the edge.
Recently there has been much rejoicing in the green media that the entire country of Portugal succeeded in powering itself with 100% renewables for four straight days from May 7 through May 10, 2016. Here we look into the question of whether this is true (it is) and second the question of what caused it (the weather). Over the period in question Portugal was able to make maximum use of its hydro and wind capacity because of unusually heavy rains (inset) and strong winds, a combination of renewables-favorable weather conditions that has been described as “fantastic”, although the tourism industry may take a different view.
This week we feature the fire at the 392MW Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Plant in California – already threatened with shutdown owing to its inability to meet performance goals – which took one of the three units off line. The fire is thought to have been a result of misaligned mirrors that melted steam ducts and cables rather than the salt working fluid they were supposed to melt.
One of the three towers at the 392-MW Ivanpah concentrating solar power (CSP) plant is offline after sustaining damage due to a small fire Thursday morning. The San Bernardino County Fire Department posted a photo showing melted and burnt steam ducts at the tower. The department received reports of the fire at unit 3 of the solar park just after 0930 local time.
Last week’s post on The Energy return of Solar PV caused quite a stir. Yesterday I received a response to some of the comments from Ferroccio Ferroni and Robert Hopkirk addressing some of the queries raised by readers. Their response is given below the fold. But first I have a few comments to add.
The Gorona del Viento (GdV) plant on the Canary Island of El Hierro is a flagship project designed ultimately to provide the island with 100% renewable electricity and to demonstrate that hybrid wind/pumped hydro systems can be used to generate 100% renewable electricity in other parts of the world. GdV comprises a wind park with 11.5 MW capacity and a pumped hydro storage plant with 11.3MW capacity, installed at a total cost of €84 million. This is the fifth in a series of operational updates that began in September last year. Details on GdV plant layout, operation and capacities are given in the September update. Previous posts on GdV are accessible through the El Hierro Portal. This short post documents a change in operating procedures at Gorona del Viento (GdV) that occurred shortly after 7am on May 16th (yesterday as I write). Continue reading →
This report provides a comprehensive description of the Irish electricity generating system and how it is evolving to cope with ever higher levels of intermittent wind power. Of particular interest, the report contains information on actual generation for specific power stations and shows how their use has declined between 2010 and 2015. The report also describes commercial / technical solutions to efficiently deal with the load balancing issue. Neither I nor Energy Matters have any commercial relationship with the companies involved: Incoteco ApS, Rolls Royce plc or Ormat inc.
This week’s Blowout features one of the storage options for intermittent renewable energy – the electric vehicle that discharges back into the grid. Nissan and Enel are about to launch a 100-vehicle pilot project that will charge from and discharge back into the UK grid. It will be interesting to see how it works out.
The first vehicle-to-grid (V2G) trials are set to take place in the UK that will see energy stored in the batteries of electric cars being ceded back to the National Grid. The V2G trial is being led by Nissan and energy company Enel and will see 100 electric cars installed with the technology being connected to the grid.
As one of the lucky winners of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition, some 60 Native American residents of the Isle de Jean Charles in the Mississippi Delta will shortly be relocated to a place safe from the relentlessly rising seas that have supposedly destroyed most of their island. This will make the island’s residents the US’s – and arguably the world’s – first certified, card-carrying climate change refugees. This post addresses the questions of a) whether they really are victims of climate change and b) whether we might now see a rapid increase in their numbers. The conclusions are a) no they aren’t and b) no we won’t – moving people is far too expensive.
Guest post by Javier who has a PhD in molecular biology and writes this Spanish blog.
1. Solar activity variability and its proxies
The Sun is a variable star and periodically changes its activity levels producing variations in radiation emission, magnetic field intensity, magnetic polarity, particle emissions, and surface convection. These changes affect the Earth in several ways that manifest through auroras, magnetic storms, changes in galactic (GCR) and solar cosmic rays, and a generally agreed small climate effect. Solar variability is included in some coupled general circulation climate models.
A new study by Ferroni and Hopkirk  estimates the ERoEI of temperate latitude solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to be 0.83. If correct, that means more energy is used to make the PV panels than will ever be recovered from them during their 25 year lifetime. A PV panel will produce more CO2 than if coal were simply used directly to make electricity. Worse than that, all the CO2 from PV production is in the atmosphere today, while burning coal to make electricity, the emissions would be spread over the 25 year period. The image shows the true green credentials of solar PV where industrial wastelands have been created in China so that Europeans can make believe they are reducing CO2 emissions (image credit Business Insider).
A few careless campers who forgot to extinguish their campfire, or maybe a few kids playing with matches, or a cigarette, or an arsonist, a piece of glass, whatever, have in the last few days done more to bring the global oil market back into balance than OPEC and the rest of the world’s producers put together:
The raging wildfire burning through vast areas in and around Fort McMurray has forced more nearby oilsands companies to shut down their operations and forced staff and output reductions at more far-flung facilities in northern Alberta.
Most regions experienced production losses in March with the exceptions of Iran (+80,000 bpd) and Europe (+90,000 bpd compared with a year ago). Total liquids were down -260,000 bpd for a loss of -990,000 bpd since the peak last July. The oil price rally has continued with WTI on $44 as I write. While many signs point to the worst of the rout being over it remains premature to declare that it is over.
Drilling continues to decline across the board with US oil+gas rigs = 420, this is the lowest level of US drilling for over 20 years. Two strongly opposing forces control the near and medium term destiny of the oil market. The collapse in drilling must surely lead to an acceleration of production decline near term. Offset by the ever present risk of shale drillers returning to action on the back of a continued price rally.
In August 2012 Australia imposed a carbon tax on fossil fuel generation, and almost immediately Hydro Tasmania took advantage by shipping large quantities of cheap hydropower to the mainland via the 500MW “Basslink” interconnector (image). But the shipments combined with a lack of rainfall in 2015 depleted the volume of water stored behind Tasmania’s dams – and then the Basslink interconnector failed. As a result Tasmania has now had to purchase diesel generators and reactivate its only gas-fired plant to avoid potential power shortages. Tasmania’s case is a classic example of how misguided government attempts to decarbonize electricity generation can seriously distort an electricity market.
The Gorona del Viento (GdV) plant on the Canary Island of El Hierro is a flagship project designed ultimately to provide the island with 100% renewable electricity and to demonstrate that hybrid wind/pumped hydro systems can be used to generate 100% renewable electricity in other parts of the world. GdV comprises a wind park with 11.5 MW capacity and a pumped hydro storage plant with 11.3MW capacity, installed at a total cost of €84 million. This is the fifth in a series of operational updates that began in September last year. Details on GdV plant layout, operation and capacities are given in the September update. Previous posts on GdV are accessible through the El Hierro Portal. Continue reading →
From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Sir David MacKay, author of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air died of cancer on 14th April 2016. Mark Lynas interviewed Sir David on April 3rd and has provided a very fitting tribute. The video, is twenty-three minutes long and there is a lot to like.
David was an occasional commenter on Energy Matters. Here’s a selection of his more recent comments:
Guest Post by Andy Dawson who is an energy sector systems consultant and former nuclear engineer.
How to decarbonise UK Power generation is a topic of heated debate, with renewables enthusiasts often keen to argue that there are a range of obstacles to the use of nuclear generation to meet more than a small proportion of total demand. Reasons cited are availability of space/sites, grid integration and the challenges of meeting variable demand. So, is an all-nuclear UK grid (with the small sleight of hand of pumped storage hydro in support) potentially viable?
I’ll set out an argument that it is indeed so, and more so that it comfortably exceeds any current carbon intensity targets.
Between July 2014 and January 2015 the price of OPEC’s oil “market basket” fell from over $100/bbl to less than $50/bbl, causing considerable hardship to the OPEC countries who rely on oil exports to finance their national budgets – which is all twelve of them. Under these circumstances the logical reaction for a cash-strapped, oil-rich country would be to pump more oil to increase revenues , yet only two – Saudi Arabia and Iraq – actually did so. The remaining ten, which account for over 50% of OPEC’s current total output, seem to have already been pumping as fast as they could or were prevented from doing so by civil war (Libya) or sanctions (Iran) or by other factors outside their control. The implication is that all the talk about freezing OPEC production at January 2016 levels may be just so much hot air. With Saudi Arabia also now pumping at capacity according to Euan’s March vital statistics post OPEC may no longer be capable of increasing production above current levels even if it wanted to.
Every EU country has a renewable energy target to be met by 2020 where the target is set as a percentage of gross final energy consumption. Since most countries are using combinations of hydro, solar and wind electricity (primary electricity) to achieve their targets, one needs a way of comparing primary electricity with energy from coal, oil and gas etc. The standard way adopted by the EU and by BP is to convert all forms of energy to tonnes of oil equivalent (toe). If coal, oil or gas is used to make electricity then there are large thermal losses doing so. BP account for this by grossing up renewable electricity by a factor of 100/38 (2.63) to account for “thermal gain” when converting from primary electricity to a fossil fuel equivalent. The EU does not do this, hence the toe figures reported by the EU and BP differ. Which methodology is correct?
Finally we have news to report on OPEC – and it turns out to be no news at all. The much-anticipated meeting in Doha, which was attended by Russia and other non-OPEC producers and which was expected to lead to an agreement to freeze production at January 2016 levels, ended without agreement because Saudi Arabia refused to consider a production freeze unless Iran did too. So, back to square one.
Hopes on the part of investors, oil companies and oil exporting nations for a negotiated “freeze” in global output melted away on Sunday after 16 major petroleum producers meeting in Doha, Qatar failed to reach an agreement, possibly setting the stage for further weakness in crude oil prices.