Friday, August 29, 2008

translation to EE-speak

Ignore the below. I did a little more searching and found this paper from 2003 talking about the problems related to shedding large loads as a type of spinning reserve. It endorses the idea of load management for reliability improvement, but suggests that managing small loads is preferable.

I still think the idea I wrote about yesterday is a good one. This is pretty rare for me. I usually bore of my ideas within a few hours or look back on them from another perspective and find that they were unoriginal or impractical or poorly thought out. I suspect that most "new" ideas in the world suffer a similar fate.

But I like this one. It is an evolution of an existing process that may be practical and beneficial enough to be worth implementing. My brief search so far hasn't revealed any previous discussion of this exact idea, so there is even a small chance that it may even be somewhat original.

Utilities do something similar already, establishing contracts with certain customers where the customer agrees to be the first load shed to avoid a blackout in exchange for a lower price for electricity. And at least one California Utility recently established a system whereby several back-up generators already installed at customer sites around the city would be turned on to increase production to avoid a blackout.

So, this is essentially the same idea, but instead of responding to near catastrophic events that occur once a year, it would be designed to respond to economic conditions that occur up to several times a day.

The mechanism for implementation within today's energy market would be to sell the flexibility of a load (or collection of loads) on the energy market as spinning reserves. (Spinning reserves are generation facilities that must be run on a standby basis in order for a power system to remain reliable. If the need arises, these plants can quickly increase their power output, so that supply and demand always match. Usually, they are steam-based fossil-fuel-fired plants where the boiler is kept hot enough to allow a fast response to demand.) All power systems need spinning reserves to function properly. The more unpredictable your supply or demand is, the more spinning reserves you need.

Spinning reserves are a largely ignored blemish on the face of wind power, because systems that have more wind power need more spinning reserves to remain reliable and spinning reserves are a source of CO2. Meanwhile, wind energy producers are given CO2 credits based only on how much energy they sell to the system, completely ignoring the increased need for spinning reserves.

So, there you go. If you are looking for a business plan in the utility industry, this one is available. It'd probably work best in California because they have a screwed up, expensive, and deregulated electrical system, year-round irrigation demand, market-based power scheduling, and high concentration of wind energy. Presumably, you could even come up with a way to demonstrate that the process reduced CO2 (by displacing spinning reserves), so you could also realize profits from CO2 credit sales.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

market driven irrigation scheduling as form of "pumped storage"

A small idea for how to reduce the cost of integrating wind through the addition of complexity:

Run irrigation equipment when the wind allows it. Less succinctly: use real-time market-based electricity pricing to influence the short term power consumption of large electric loads to manage the fluctuations of output from large concentrations of must-run power generation (a replacement for running reserves).

I've previously talked about some of the challenges to integrating large amounts of wind energy into a mature power system and mentioned how real time pricing of power for plug in hybrid electric vehicles could be greatly beneficial. I still think it is a good idea, but one with significant barriers to success. One of these barriers being that there are virtually no plug in hybrid electric vehicles. Another being the general principle that the more people are involved in a process the more likely it is to fail. And this process would require that everybody be involved.

So, the same idea applied to a smaller number of larger loads that actually exist today is called for. Simply stated: when there is excess generation in a local portion of the electric system (when the wind is blowing), the price of electricity would be lowered for large customers and they would choose to run their equipment (the irrigation runs). When there is a shortage of generation in a local portion of the electric system (when the wind isn't blowing), the price for large consumers would be raised and they would choose to not run some of their equipment (the irrigation stops running).

This is a good example because the precise timing of irrigation isn't terribly important. Irrigation represents a large fraction of load in rural areas, so if you can influence irrigation scheduling you may be able to make a measurable impact on your ability to cheaply integrate wind power. Most wind power is located in rural areas near the irrigation loads. A potential problem may be that in many places, the highly variable wind inputs may happen at times of the year when there aren't crops to water (winter in the Dakotas, for example, probably isn't a big watering season).

What does this have to do with pumped storage (seen in the title)? The only practical way to store large amounts of energy today is by pumping water up behind a reservoir when you have excess power, then running it through turbines to generate power when you need it. Using irrigation controls as discussed here is basically the same idea, except smarter and more likely to succeed because it doesn't involve building any new infrastructure.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

hogwash economics and environmentalisms

so much surrounding economics and the environment is pure rubbish.

like these drs. of doom claiming that flying will be prohibitively expensive in our lifetimes.

honestly, how do you fool someone into not laughing in your face when you make such claims?

the claim was probably based on the naive assumptions that oil consumption always goes up, that there is not now and there will never be a replacement for oil, and that there is only so much oil in the world.

1) sometimes oil consumption goes down - in the US with gas prices around $4/gallon (prices that most of the rest of the industrialized world has been dealing with for decades), our oil consumption goes down. we drive less when it is expensive to drive. imagine that. economics work.

2) there are at least hundreds of substitutes for oil, possibly thousands. from biomass to coal-to-liquids to solar to nuclear. we don't use any of them in any significant way because oil is helluva cheap. if push comes to shove and people face the possibility of not being able to move around the planet economically or putting some extra carbon in the atmosphere by using jet fuel made via a coal-to-liquids process, the vast majority of people will choose to fly.

3) yes, fine. there is one amount of oil in the planet and it is a finite number. but the number that most environmentalists use for soothsaying isn't that very large finite number. they use the much smaller "economically viable oil deposits" number, which is virtually worthless. as technology progresses, the costs of extracting "uneconomical" oil deposits come down and as prices rise, deposits move from the uneconomical column to the economical one. so, the actual amount of oil that humanity will eventually extract from the earth could be many many times larger than the "total deposits" number that environmentalists use.

economists have ignored environmentalists for decades, bringing us beef production processes that use 15,500 liters per kilo* of beef among other things. maybe environmentalists are just trying to return the favor.

* at this rate of water consumption, agricultural water has been determined by the economic system to be nearly absolutely worthless. even if the entire retail price of beef went only to pay for the water used in the production of the beef (at $20/kilo for a decent cut of beef), you'd only pay $.0013 per liter of water. just over a tenth of a cent. the real price paid is probably closer to 5-10% of that. anyone want to make a guess why we talk about water shortages and what could possibly be done to reduce the risk of having one? giving clean water an economic value greater than 0 would be a good place to start.

Friday, August 15, 2008

what is the opposite of a colony?

in the day of empires, rich & powerful countries would invade less powerful ones in order to force their population in servitude and slowly strip the country of resources.

so what do you call it when a rich & powerful country invades another country, then pays to upgrade the infrastructure there while the newly established puppet government sits on its assets and watches?

this is apparently the situation in Iraq and it is not a good deal for anyone involved.

the US has big budget deficit, economic, and infrastructure problems that could be improved by big spending big on improvement projects at home (much like the New Deal projects that helped end the great depression).

Iraq has massive unemployment and skilled labor shortage problems that could be improved by the Iraqi government putting its assets to use building their own infrastructure. How will the people of Iraq ever learn to run a modern economy if the US just builds it for them using contract laborers from the US?

add in the fact that employed people are far less likely to become terrorists, and the facts that the Iraqi government needs to get its act together and the US needs to get out of the way becomes a security issue.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

change in sentiment re:housing

houses are beginning to be seen as liabilities, not assets.

they went straight from being the centerpieces of get-rich-quick schemes to being a huge burden to be avoided because they constrain lifestyle choices and reduce mobility.

it is just one article, but it is a sign of the times. and this sign is pointing to the increasing possibility that housing prices will over-correct before returning to their historical (inflation-adjusted) price range.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

hydraulic transmission to simplify wind power?

i'm a bit out of my depth here, but thoroughly interested.

the idea, briefly mentioned here as an aside, is that a new high-efficiency hydraulic pump will allow a simplification of wind turbine design by allowing the big lump of electric generator to be relocated from the nacelle to the ground. this is advantageous because the generator is big and heavy and occasionally requires maintenance. moving a big, heavy thing that requires maintenance from the top of a 250 foot pole to the ground provides obvious advantages. the reason it isn't already a common practice is because the mechanical transmission options available have been too expensive (like a 250ft long crankshaft) or too inefficient (like the commercially available hydraulic pumps).

sounds pretty cool, no? it could reduce wind energy costs by making the turbines less expensive and easier to maintain. the unpopular knowledge is that wind turbine transmissions have long been a weak point.

my extrapolation questions based on a pretty weak hydraulic fluid background:
1) can you take the hydraulic outputs from several wind turbines to power one generator and further reduce costs? a single 100 MW hydraulic-powered generator should demonstrate significant costs savings compared to 100 1 MW generators.
2) can you economically store energy using hydraulic pressure? enough to level the power output from wind sources on a 10 minute scale? 1 hr scale? more? this would increase the value of wind power by decreasing the cost of integrating it into the power system

edit: this paper by Artemis IP in Scotland demonstrating a hydraulic transmission for wind generation suggests that moving the electric generator from the nacelle isn't terribly interesting and implies that only a very small amount of energy storage for sub-second smoothing purposes is worthwhile. the study was done for wind turbines at the 800 kW scale. maybe the results will be different at the 3-5 MW scale.

joggers and drunkards: get a room

i see little difference between them, yet one is publicly acceptable - nearly unavoidable, really - while the other is a ticketable offense.

both joggers and drunkards:
1) bring inappropriate bodily fluids to the streets
2) make excessive noise when in groups
3) frequently ignore traffic conventions

i don't really mind people exercising any more than i mind people drinking. i just don't see any reason why my experience in public spaces should suffer so that they can parade their addictions.

that is what dedicated spaces (bars and gyms) are for.

joggers (and drunkards) really don't normally bother me. only when there are dozens of them on my way somewhere are they annoying - as there were this morning on my 3 block 6:15 am walk to my bus stop. it makes me look forward to rainy winter mornings that will break the spirit of most of this self-righteous anti-decorus* crowd. or, at least encourage them to get up late enough that i won't see them.

*adjectival form of decorum that i just made up

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

halfhearted kangaroo study

apparently, switching from cows + sheep to kangaroo as a source of red meat could reduce Australia's total carbon output by 3%, mainly because kangaroos produce less methane.

the study also mentions a few other small issues, such as reduced erosion from padded feet versus hooves. glaringly absent is a look at Australia's most constrained resource: water. drought is the normal state of affairs in Australia recently and i've mentioned before how much more effective their water restriction policies could be if they included dietary considerations.

presumably, kangaroo production is less water intensive than beef production, since kangaroos are more natural animals raised in more natural ways and native to the region. if so, then it'd be a comparatively simple matter of setting policy to encourage kangaroo consumption as a nationalistic and environmentally friendly alternative. to drive the point home, it may even be worthwhile to look at including an "excess water use and erosion" tax on beef.

for reference, kangaroo meat is already sold in normal grocery stores in Australia, so for the generality of the population to switch to this alternative would not be as odd as it would be for Americans to switch to deer, which is rarely found in grocery stores here. psychologically, i think it'd be more like Americans switching from beef to sheep.

Monday, August 11, 2008

kinky loan history

the best explanation i've read about what exactly subprime and alt-a loans are, why they exist, and what they mean for where we are today from my favorite blogger on the subject.

"Think of it this way: subprime borrowers had proven that they couldn't carry 50 pounds, so the subprime lenders found a way to restructure their debts so that they were only carrying 40. Alt-A lenders took a lot of people who had proven they could carry 50 pounds and used that fact to justify adding another 50 pounds to the burden."

this is why alt-a is more dangerous than subprime. far greater losses can be expected - and in more expensive neighborhoods. alt-a loans are everywhere. anyone capable of paying their credit card debt on a monthly basis could qualify for a loan on a house that the lender knew they had no chance of ever being able to afford.

as for the end game of how we get out of this current situation:

One of the main reasons we are in a mortgage credit crunch is that two possible models of "recovery" lending--subprime and Alt-A--got used up blowing the bubble. I think it will be a long time before lending standards ease significantly, and I think subprime will come back first. But I do suspect we've seen the last of Alt-A for a much longer time."

thoroughly worth reading.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

my next car

as i mentioned this morning, i'm not really into trucks or SUVs.

this is more my style:

engine: 47kW electric motor
top speed: 80mph
range: 100 mi
availability: not commercially available, maybe in 5 yrs or so. in demonstration today.

i'm happy with the car i have today (a 1st gen pontiac vibe aka toyota matrix aka slightly taller toyota corolla hatchback) and can think of no car that would better suit my needs, but electric is just plain cool.

and i'm convinced that the best way to meet the regulatory requirements for huge amounts renewable energy is through the intelligent integration electric cars into the system.

in 5 or 7 years when i want to replace my ride, hopefully this kind of thing will be available at a price point i will be able to tolerate.

best time to buy that truck or SUV


i don't like big trucks or SUVs, but if i did, i'd be visiting dealer lots today.

with sales volume of all vehicles more than 20% off compared to last year and sales of large trucks and SUVs down even more, every dealership is desperate to get large trucks off of their lots.

what about high gas prices, you say?

yeah, what about them? firstly, the fuel is the cheapest part of a new car, even SUVs. depreciation is far more expensive.

secondly, gas prices are falling and are likely to continue to do so for a good long while. if oil prices were pushed up by speculation, then the 17% fall in prices since this time last month should scare the speculators out and help force prices down further. if prices were forced up by rising demand - mostly from China & India, then the recent economic contractions in those countries should also help reduce prices.

and if the war in Iraq ever ends and they start exporting oil on a large scale, gas will basically be free again.

the other big factors killing sales are low consumer sentiment and trouble financing.

so, if you're optimistic and have real cash in hand, you're golden. you can basically name your price.

just don't by a Dodge or Chrysler. i've heard rumors that they are going under. and a bankrupt brand is bad for resale value.

Monday, August 4, 2008

one more nail in the Chrysler coffin

Chrysler Death Watch continues as Chrysler fails to raise $6B out of $30B it needed, even at 2.25% above LIBOR.

2.25% above libor (currently at 2.4%) is getting pretty close to what you and i pay to borrow money. for a corporate giant to not be able to borrow money at this rate indicates a good bit of fear that Chrysler may not be able to pay it back.

this is what happens when you build inefficient unreliable trash (except for the magnum and 300c, both beautiful, and both are rebodied Mercedes e-classes) that nobody wants for 30 years then lend money to people who have no chance of paying you back.

another biofuel feedstock that competes less with food

i don't understand the fixation on ethanol. that's not true: people study ethanol because ethanol studies are funded, other biofuel studies are not. i prefer biobutanol b/c it is more similar to gasoline and therefore cheaper to integrate. why politically support ethanol, which is more different?

to the point of the post, major field trials growing a more productive biofuel feedstock have started in Illinois. apparently, this unimproved version of the crop is a perennial (you plant it once and it keeps coming back), is tolerant of poor soil (so it competes less with food sources), and is very productive (the authors claim that 20% of our fuel needs could be served by 10% of our cropland).

now if we can just go in and modify the idiotic ethanol policy to be a technology-neutral biofuel policy, we might actually have a chance to succeed in accomplishing something useful.

Friday, August 1, 2008

1 minor renewable energy miracle achieved

several miracles will be necessary before renewable energy (RE) is practical on a large scale (of, say, more than about 20% of electrical load) as i mentioned in my recent post about Gore's silly 100% RE claims.

one of the miracles i mentioned was that a cheap, efficient way of storing energy at a large scale would be needed.

well, one small step in that direction has been announced by a research team at MIT. one way of storing energy from RE is to break water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis and later convert it back into water and recover the energy. they came up with a more efficient electrode for doing this.

the energy storage problem is still far from solved, though. being able to more cheaply produce hydrogen is nice and all, but you still have to store the hydrogen somewhere, and then cheaply convert it back into electricity at some point. and when you start talking about doing this at the large scale energy level, it quickly becomes obvious that we aren't there yet. not by a long shot.