Blowout week 44

With a continued focus on the possibility of power outages we lead off this week with the remarkable recovery of the Didcot B power station:

BBC Oxford: Didcot B power station generating again after fire

Part of Didcot B Power Station is generating electricity again after a switch-on operation likened to starting up the Starship Enterprise. It is understood the unit will produce about 350MW – roughly half its normal capacity of around 700MW. For the foreseeable future the plant is expected to provide about three quarters of its full power capacity. That is 1 to 1.1GW of power compared to its full capacity of just under 1.4GW.

Although the photo accompanying the article was a little less encouraging:

Caption: Smoke started gushing from the unit once it was fully switched on

We follow it up with a story which one hopes is not a sign of things to come:

Reuters: Power outage shuts down Bangladesh

Bangladesh was hit on Saturday by a major power outage that brought much of normal life to a standstill, forced hospitals and garment factories to rely on back-up generators and even plunged the prime minister’s official residence into darkness. The national grid collapsed so the whole country lost power,” said Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director of state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board. “Our repeated efforts to restore electricity across Bangladesh failed repeatedly.”

24 more stories below the fold, including drones overflying French nuclear plants, Ukrainian separatists to hold elections, Australia’s new climate policy, Russia claiming rights to Arctic oil & gas, inadequate subsidies killing UK offshore wind, solar in the Sahara, shale in the US, rocket fuel from asteroids, how global warming causes harsh winters and endangers US postal workers and how daylight saving causes cyberloafing.

Telegraph:  National Grid unveils emergency measures to prevent winter blackouts

Emergency measures to prevent blackouts this winter have been unveiled by National Grid after Britain’s spare power capacity fell to just 4 per cent. A series of power plant breakdowns and closures have left the safety buffer between maximum supply and peak demand in a typical cold spell at the tightest level for seven years, National Grid said. It is now finalising deals with three energy companies to pay them to each keep a power station in reserve – guaranteeing the plants are available to fire up if needed. National Grid said the measures, alongside existing emergency demand-reduction plans to pay businesses to cut their usage at peak times, would together cost households less than £1 and should bolster spare capacity back to 6 per cent. The margin going into last winter was 5 per cent and this winter had been expected to be between 5 per cent and 10 per cent before the unplanned outages, which included several fires, and nuclear safety problems.

Ofgem:  Responds to National Grid’s measures

We are confident that National Grid has the right levers to keep the lights on and maintain a risk of customer disconnections which is better than the reliability standard set by government. However, given the tighter margins there can never be any room for complacency and National Grid and the industry must remain vigilant at all times.

Guardian:  And Ed Davey responds to everybody.

Davey said: “There will be no blackouts. Period.”

This is Money:  Steel plants and car makers fear damage from National Grid’s emergency measures

Steel plants and car makers fear National Grid’s plans to keep the lights on this winter may force them to cut their use of electricity. ‘What price do we have to pay to make sure the lights stay on?’ said Jeremy Nicholson of the Energy Intensive Users group, which represents major manufacturers. The National Grid has a scheme to ask heavy users to cut demand when the system is strained. The scheme pays companies not to use electricity at peak time, but could result in less industrial output. ‘We cannot do that sustainably over a whole season. Industry is trying to do its bit as supplies become tighter, but we are entering a very tricky phase,’ said Nicholson.

Telegraph:  Wind farms won’t keep the lights on.

Wind farms can never be relied upon to keep the lights on in Britain because there are long periods each winter in which they produce barely any power, according to a new report by the Adam Smith Institute. The huge variation in wind farms’ power output means they cannot be counted on to produce energy when needed, and an equivalent amount of generation from traditional fossil fuel plants will be needed as back-up, the study finds. Wind farm proponents often claim that the intermittent technology can be relied upon because the wind is always blowing somewhere in the UK. But the report finds that a 10GW fleet of wind farms across the UK could “guarantee” to provide less than two per cent of its maximum output, because “long gaps in significant wind production occur in all seasons”.

Telegraph:  Offshore wind farms to be scrapped because of subsidy cuts?

Several proposed offshore wind farms may be scrapped in coming months because the Government is not awarding enough subsidies, the head of energy giant ScottishPower has said. Keith Anderson, chief corporate officer, said it was cutting the size of its planned 240-turbine East Anglia offshore wind farm because the budget for subsidies to be awarded this year was “not big enough”. The project could be scrapped altogether if it did not secure a subsidy contract this year. Those offshore wind farms that do get built in coming years will be unnecessarily expensive because ministers are effectively forcing companies to build smaller projects, preventing them from developing economies of scale, he claimed.

Telegraph:  EU no longer forcing Britain to build wind farms

Britain will no longer be forced to build wind and solar farms from 2020, under a new EU climate change deal that leaves countries free to choose how to cut their carbon emissions. EU leaders vowed on Friday to cut Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030, against 1990 levels, in an agreement that ministers say will bring the rest of Europe in line with the UK’s existing commitments. Following UK lobbying, the deal does not impose binding national targets for renewable energy or energy efficiency.

New York Times:  Clock Is Ticking for Oil and Gas Industry in Britain

Many industry executives say that, after nearly 50 years of production, Britain’s oil sector has reached a crucial point. To put it bluntly, Britain’s offshore oil industry has entered old age. The size of discoveries has tailed off sharply, a classic sign of maturity. Production has fallen 37 percent from 2010 levels, while costs, thanks in part to the need to maintain creaky infrastructure, have soared. All of this adds up to sharply reduced profitability of the oil and gas fields, to a point where some of them lose money. Executives say that unless the British government and energy companies adjust to the new realities, the industry could find itself in deep trouble.

BBC:  Shell to shut down two Brent platforms

There’s both symbolic and a real significance behind Shell’s announcement to close down and scrap two of its platforms in the Brent field, east of Shetland. Production from the giant offshore field has fallen away. It used to pump 500,000 barrels per day. That peak was in 1984. For the past two decades, it’s produced mainly gas, peaking in 2001. One Brent platform, Delta, was permanently closed three years ago, and the only remaining one, Charlie, has its days numbered.

ABC News:  Ukraine separatists gear up for vote

Rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine prepared Saturday to elect legislators and executives in a vote that has been roundly condemned by the international community but backed by Russia. Separatist authorities argue that Sunday’s votes in the Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic will lend legitimacy to their aspirations for self-determination. “We have put too much at stake on the altar of the victory and through this election we are legitimizing our government and thereby separating from Ukraine even further,” said rebel election chief Roman Lyagin.

Oil Price:  Ukraine facing harsh winter due to coal shortages

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that by the end of this year Ukraine will be 4 million tons short of coal. The deficit stems from the fact that 88 of the 93 Ukrainian mines operating in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, which together account for 70% of domestic production, are located in areas controlled by the militants. As a result of the war, 69 mines in the Donbas have ceased activity, and several have been destroyed. Even those mines still operating are having problems making deliveries to Ukrainian power plants due to damaged railway lines. As a result, coal production in September fell by 51% compared to the same month last year, and Ukrainian power stations are starting to feel the lack of fuel more acutely. In September, electricity production fell by 13.7%. An even greater decrease in power is being prevented by stockpiles of coal at the power stations, but these are shrinking rapidly.

Telegraph:  Russia renews claim to 1.2 million sq km of Arctic

Russia is to renew its claim to a huge swathe of the Arctic in the hope it can secure the rights to billions of tons of oil and gas. Sergei Donskoy, minister for natural resources, said Russia had completed research on its submission to the UN, under which it hopes to gain an extra 1.2 million square km (460,000 square miles). Mr Donskoy said Russia’s application – which could net it at least five billion tons of hitherto unexploited oil and gas reserves – would be submitted to the UN in the spring.

Guardian:  Brent crude drops below $86 in face of rising global supply

Goldman Sachs has forecast that brent crude could drop in price to $80 a barrel next year as it slashed its oil price estimates due to a global supply glut. The investment bank said oil could fall to $80 a barrel in the second quarter of next year as production growth from countries outside the Opec countries outpaces demand. “Non-Opec production has been delivering consistent record growth since May 2013, allowing the market to cope with an almost complete shutdown of production in Libya, sanctions on Iran, and slowing production growth in Iraq … A lower oil-price environment with increased volatility is likely to prove challenging for the whole oil sector.”

Market Watch:  US gasoline prices drop below $3/gallon

For the first time since Dec. 22, 2010, Americans will be able to fill up their gas guzzlers without too much pain at the pump. On Saturday, the average gas price in the U.S. will drop below $3 a gallon, snapping the longest streak above that level, according to motor club AAA. The decline in gas prices is estimated to help consumers save roughly $250 million a day, versus when gas prices were at $3.68 a gallon, providing an added jolt to the economy.

Christian Science Monitor:  US oil boom in trouble?

Oil prices continue to drop, energy companies are taking on large amounts of debt, and some call into question rosy projections about a long-term US shale boom. Should we be concerned about the future of American oil and gas?

Guardian:  Australia’s new climate change plan

More than three months after repealing the carbon tax, the Abbott government has finally succeeded in replacing Labor’s climate policy with one of its own. The legislation will establish the $2.55bn emissions reduction fund, an incentive pool for companies to voluntarily find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Companies opting into the scheme will compete for government money by devising projects that can reduce emissions cheaply. The government is confident it can meet Australia’s 5% emissions reduction target by 2020 by funding these green projects, such as cleaning up power stations or capturing gas at landfill sites. Greens leader Christine Milne – who has fought the scheme since its inception in 2010 – dismissed it as an expensive sham that would do nothing to address global warming.

Fox News:  Argentina tries to attract oil & gas investment

Argentina’s Congress has passed an energy law aimed at luring foreign investment into its promising shale oil and gas. The measure cuts the minimum investment needed for energy companies to be exempt from import controls. It also sets new terms for concessions to 25 years for conventional energy and 35 years for shale. Argentina has one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil and gas, but only a few companies have made commitments to develop the fields because many fear the government’s interventionist energy policies.

Voice of America:  Solar power plant in Africa to supply Europe

By 2018, a large solar power plant in the Tunisian part of the Sahara desert may start sending power to energy-hungry Western Europe. The company running the plant says once it is fully operational it will generate almost twice as much electricity as an average nuclear plant and supply two million homes in Europe. A company called Nur Energy plans to capture some of it by building a solar plant similar to an Israeli one in the Negev desert that uses heliotropic mirrors. This technology, unlike photovoltaic cells, can generate energy even when the sky is overcast or at night. Thousands of mirrors, spread over 100 square kilometers, will concentrate sunlight to a tower where it heats and melts a special salt. Kevin Sara, the CEO of Nur Energy, said the technology makes storage easy. “You can then store that heat very easily, so you can continue producing electricity after the sun goes down,” said Sara.

Guardian:  The curious case of the drones and the French nuclear power plants

French authorities said on Friday they had detected drones over two nuclear power plants, the latest in a baffling series of incidents across the country. A spokesman for security forces said: “Drone-type machines overflew two nuclear plants during the night. They were detected by police in charge of protecting the plants and staff. These machines were not neutralised because they did not represent a direct threat” to the nuclear facilities, the spokesman added. National energy company EDF said on Wednesday it had identified seven drones flying over its plants this month and had filed a complaint with the police. An enquiry has been launched, with a source close to the probe saying they were trying to find the pilot of the remote-controlled drones. The drone flights have sparked questions over the security of nuclear plants in France. The country relies heavily on nuclear energy for electricity.

CNN:  Branson: ‘We are determined to find out what went wrong’ in spaceplane incident

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said Saturday that invesigators will find out what caused the Virgin Galactic’s Space ShipTwo to break apart during a test flight over the Mojave Desert Friday, killing one pilot and injuring another. “We are determined to find out what went wrong,” he said at a press conference. Branson said everybody knows commercial space travel is “an incredibly hard project.””This is the biggest test program ever carried out in commercial aviation history to ensure that this never happens to the public,” he said. “The bravery of test pilots cannot be overstated. Nobody underestimates the risks involved in space travel.”The company, he said, will not “push on blindly.”

Guardian:  Global warming doubles risk of severe winters

The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards. Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather. “The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” said Prof Masato Mori, at the University of Tokyo, who led the new research.

Huffington Post:  Climate change endangers US Postal Service employees

The Postal Service is concerned that increased flooding, rising sea levels, more intense weather events, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns could disrupt its ability to provide mail service and increase costs for maintaining infrastructure. These issues could jeopardize delivery to Postal Service customers and the safety of the nearly 500,000 USPS employees who deliver mail and perform other critical tasks.

Planetary Resources:  The trillion dollar market: fuel in space from asteroids

The catalyst for rapid expansion into every frontier in history has been access to cheap, local resources. And in space, access to rocket fuel is currently neither cheap, nor local. But on asteroids, abundant quantities of hydrogen and oxygen can be used to create rocket fuel, the same stuff used by the Space Shuttle. This allows companies like Vivisat to fuel spacetugs that will be used to keep satellites in their Geostationary slots, or fuel up your spacecraft before zooming off to Mars. The possibilities are endless!

Christian Science Monitor:  Does daylight saving save anything?

Daylight saving was instituted in order to save energy, but that may not be as true as it once was. Changing clocks twice a year also may disrupt our “body clocks,” reducing productivity. In Indiana, daylight saving time caused a 1 percent jump in electricity, according to a 2010 study. The energy saved from reduced lighting in the summer months was canceled out by an increase in the use of heating and air conditioning, In a piece headlined “Daylight Saving Time Is Bad For Your Health,” Business Insider warns that a small shift in time “can have a large impact on our body clock. Transitions associated with the start and end of DST disturb sleep patterns, and make people restless at night, which results in sleepiness the next day,” according to this report. “This sleepiness leads to a loss of productivity and an increase in ‘cyberloafing’ in which people muck around more on the computer instead of working.”

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35 Responses to Blowout week 44

  1. Euan Mearns says:

    The story on solar power in Tunisia is interesting if it ever comes to pass. Desertek phase1? Does anyone have info on how successful the Israeli plant is and what all this is going to cost?

    • Euan: Tunisia is a concentrated solar power plant where heliostats focus solar energy on a molten salt reservoir that generates steam to drive a turbine. Normally the reservoir retains heat for several hours so it continues to generate power after the sun has gone down. However, the rated capacity is normally that of the turbine, not the solar array, and I’m pretty sure the 1.9GW they quote is the capacity of the solar array. The capacity of the turbine may be only a fifth or a tenth of that (going from memory here).

      Costs will be high. As I recollect the 20MW (turbine capacity) Gemasolar plant in Spain cost 85 million Euros, or about $5,500/installed kW. Then you have to add the undersea interconnector to Italy – no idea how much that would be.

      And the plant will deliver maximum power to Europe in the summer when it’s not needed but only about half as much on cold winter nights when it is.

  2. Euan Mearns says:

    A coule of comments on the story about melting Arctic sea ice causing colder winters. Its possible that this is true but I’m not aware of any proof that the increased summer melt has anything to do with increased lower troposphere temperatures. Rather, it seems to be linked to The Gulf Stream extending further N into the Arctic, transporting heat with it. Probably all part of a natural cycle.

    A while back I was reading around historic sea ice levels and found that sea ice levels in the Arctic were reduced during the Little Ice Age – unintuitive I know.

  3. sam Taylor says:

    The Bangladesh story is a little worrying. I do hope we don’t track olduvai too closely.

  4. clivebest says:

    Davey said: “There will be no blackouts. Period.”

    Perhaps every house in the UK should be provided with a “Davey lamp” . That way he can keep his word.


  5. Jacob says:

    About the Tunis thermal solar power plant – it seems to be the same technology used in the recently opened, Ivanpah plant in California. (Nameplate capacity 392 MW).
    In it’s first 8 months of production it produced about 1/3 of planned (promised) output, and had an 11% capacity factor.

    • The company said that “weather at Ivanpah since February has generally been worse than expected, resulting in reduced output.” July, when generation dipped to 35,967 MWh from 64,275 MWh in June — the plant’s best month so far — was particularly lacking in sunshine, BrightSource said, at least relative to the expectations the company developed over several years of meteorological study of the area.

      I suspect CSP plants would be more vulnerable to lack of sunshine than conventional PV plants. PV generates at least some electricity even at low light levels, but CSP plants have to keep the tower hot enough to generate high-temperature steam (as at Ivanpah) or melt salt (as at Gemasolar). So presumably there’s a sunlight threshold below which they don’t generate anything. Does anyone have any information on this?

      • Jacob says:

        There is also the problem of the heat loss at night. When the sun starts to heat in the morning it takes some time for the steam to build up pressure, so production starts later. Energy is lost during the night, when the steam cools. This cyclical loss is avoided by PV.

        • Each plant also includes a partial-load natural gas-fired steam boiler, which would be used for thermal input to the turbine during the morning start-up cycle to assist the plant in coming up to operating temperature more quickly. The boiler would also be operated during transient cloudy conditions, in order to maintain the turbine on-line and ready to resume production from solar thermal input, after the clouds pass. After the clouds pass and solar thermal input resumes, the turbine would be returned to full solar production.

          Seems like they aren’t burning enough gas 😉

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