Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #420

The Week That Was: August 22, 2020

By Ken Haapala, President,SEPP,Brought to You by http://www.SEPP.org

Quote of the Week: “Private corporations and persons that own, operate, control, or manage a line, plant, or system for … the production, generation, transmission, or furnishing of heat, light, water, power, … directly or indirectly to or for the public, and common carriers, are public utilities subject to control by the Legislature.” – Section 3, Article XII Public Utilities, California Constitution, added Nov 5, 1974

Number of the Week: 10% of 27,695 MW Equals Zero

I’m shocked! Shocked! To protect the energy system which provides electric power for most of the state, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) was forced to create rolling blackouts during unusually hot days this past week. Immediately the chief executive of the state, Governor Gavin Newsom began blaming others for these needed actions, sending a letter to CAISO and the Public Utility Commission. According to the state constitution, the Commission “consists of 5 members appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate, a majority of the membership concurring, for staggered 6-year terms.” CAISO has no authority over the Commission.

Newsom’s letter claimed: “These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” and he later declared “This cannot stand.”

For years, CAISO has been warning anyone who will listen of the dangers of relying too heavily on unreliable renewables, particularly solar power, which requires rapid increases in reliable power in the late afternoon of sunny days when the sun goes down. These power outages are a result of legislative and executive errors from failure to recognize the serious damage that relying on untrustworthy power will do.

To illustrate the risks involved, CAISO used its Duck Chart [presented in the links below] showing the risk of overgeneration from solar power during the middle of the day as compared with the net load and the rapid ramp-up needed to meet the net load in the early evening. From 2012 to 2020, each year the belly of the beast descended, showing the overgeneration risk increased, and the ramp-up needed from reliable generation increased. As estimated on March 31, for 2020 the ramp need was about 13,000 megawatts in three hours – about one-half of the maximum net load (consumption or demand) which occurs around 8 pm.

Providing such ramp-up is highly inefficient. If realized in time, hydro-electric can do it, but the cost is excessive wear on heavy turbines. Pumped hydro storage can do it, but the power needs to be replenished daily, something that cannot be assured if the primary sources of power are unreliable solar or wind. The likely choice is gas turbines which can ramp-up in about 15 minutes. But these are far less efficient than modern natural gas combined cycle (NGCC). Straight gas turbines have about 35% to 44% efficiency, depending on the model, its age, and the amount of ramping up and down it has to do. The efficiency diminishes when run at variable speeds. Thanks to continued innovation, the efficiency of NGCC is exceeding 60% Thanks to continued innovation, the efficiency of NGCC is exceeding 60%.

Blackouts in California have provided a stark example of how green ideology has so blinded some government officials that they ignore stark warnings that their policies are leading to economic disasters. There is no magic technology or pixie dust that can make unreliable solar and wind reliable. Government officials who claim the problems have been solved are irresponsible.

While the California officials have been congratulating themselves on green power, as Steve Goreham notes, from 2008 to 2017 the state had the most power outages of any state, 4297, more than 2.5 times the number of the next highest state, Texas. And, as Robert Bryce notes some of the highest electricity rates in the country, “19.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is 47% higher than the national average of about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

[As a side-note, in discussing the Duck Curve, the web site of The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a laboratory of DOE includes the curve and states:

“So, fear not: the duck curve doesn’t spell doom for variable renewables. In the U.S., PV deployment is approaching the highest levels of solar studied in the 2008 report by Denholm et al. And thanks to more than 10 years of forward-looking grid integration analyses from NREL, grid planners and operators have access to a wealth of data, analysis, and tools to help get their proverbial ducks in row to manage it.”

Thus far, NREL has failed to get the ducks in a row.]

See links under Energy Issues – US, California Dreaming and https://www.energy.gov/fe/how-gas-turbine-power-plants-work#:~:text=A%20simple%20cycle%20gas%20turbine,of%2060%20percent%20or%20more.


Destabilizing Wind: As discussed above, the Duck Curve illustrates how overreliance on solar power can destabilize the grid, especially on hot, sunny days with evening approaching. The question is, does wind power have similar weaknesses? In a presentation titled “The Storage Delusion” at the annual meeting of the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness (DDP) physics Professor emeritus Howard Hayden shows that it deos and explains why.

Wind power can ramp up and down very quickly and unpredictably, based on wind speed and unrelated to time of day. This can destabilize the grid without warning. Thus, a grid with a high percentage of wind power is subject to not only sudden drops in power, but also rapid increases requiring equally rapid decreases in conventional power. It is exceedingly difficult to keep the grid stable with a lot of wind power on it.

To illustrate the weaknesses of solar and wind, Hayden asks, Can you buy electricity from it at midnight or when the wind does not blow? The answers are obvious. But usually advocates claim you can store it, or the wind is blowing somewhere. The latter response is foolish, one cannot build wind turbines everywhere, and the cost of providing transmission lines to carry it to wherever it may be needed is prohibitive.

In addressing storage, Hayden shows that the only proven storage on a utility scale is pumped-hydro storage. As for other types, most hydrogen comes from natural gas, creating CO2, which contradicts the goal of avoiding creating CO2. Compressed air has been tried but has not been well received. The earliest system, Huntort CAES was created in Germany in 1978.

As Hayden states, flywheels just spin and are excellent for brief backup in data centers and electronic manufacturing such as computer chips until other generating systems such as diesel can be brought online.  They are certainly not grid scale. Capacitors are unsuitable on a grid scale, and a solar/molten-salt scheme has been tried in Nevada and failed.

All backup and storage systems involve a loss in energy. Hayden uses an estimate of the loss from pumped storage which was based on a dated (not clear) table by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA’s most recent estimate of loss in a closed system where water is pumped uphill is from 15 to 30%. Discussed in the June 13 TWTW, the largest pumped-storage facility in the world, Bath County Pumped Storage Station, in Virginia, reports an operating loss of 20%.

As presented by Hayden, wind and solar cannot be considered reliable forms of electricity generation, and except for pumped-hydro storage, energy storage is a delusion. Electricity storage is only in batteries which are not feasible on a utility scale. Until this problem is addressed, deployment of wind and solar will continue to be unreliable and a waste of resources. Please note that Howard Hayden is a director of SEPP.

[Interestingly a severe line of thunderstorms, known as a Derecho, went through eastern Iowa and northwest Illinois on August 10 with wind speeds up to 100 to 130 miles per hour. TWTW found reports on the damage, but nothing on what happened to wind power except the turbines were not significantly damaged. Turbines shut off automatically when wind speeds exceed 25 meters per second (56 mph).

See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy, Changing Weather and https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=41833


Going the Wrong Way: As discussed in the Aug 8 TWTW, we have 12 different datasets of atmospheric temperature trends as well as the HITRAN molecular spectroscopic database that can be used to estimate the interaction between greenhouse gases and infrared radiation from surface of the earth to space. Calculations from these databases confirm calculations by The Right Climate Stuff team that an appropriate upper bound for possible increase in temperatures from a doubling of carbon dioxide should be no greater than 1.5ºC or about 3ºF. Any increase from increasing CO2 may be far less. There is no climate emergency.

This week, using the latest models acceptable to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called CMIP6, a modeling group sponsored by the EU lowered the latest upper bound of prior IPCC reports but raised the lower bound and suggested a warming ranging between 1.9–3.4 K  (ºC). This compares with a range of 1.5 to 4.5 K (ºC) in prior UN IPCC reports.

In short, it appears that the modeling community is going further away from the physical (observed) world and deeper into the imaginary (modeling) world. Writing in Judith Curry’s Climate Etc., mathematician Nic Lewis address some of the issues in these new estimates. One must ask How can greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause a greater warming of the surface than occurs in the atmosphere? See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Defending the Orthodoxy.


No Trends: Researchers Craig Loehle and Erica Staehling have found no increasing trends in the 167-year record of hurricanes hitting the US. The abstract states:

“Hurricane and major hurricane landfall counts exhibited no significant overall trend over 167 years of available data, nor did accumulated cyclone energy over the continental USA over 119 years of available data, although shorter-term trends were evident in all three datasets.”

See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.


April Fools Winner: The voting for the 2020 April Fools Award is over. Initially, it appeared the Greta Thunberg would easily win. Her message of doom resonated with the IPCC and its followers, who apparently prefer expressions of teenage angst to reasoned judgement.

But in the end, it was the clear example of why modeling should not be used for government policy unless the models have been thoroughly tested against the finest databases possible that swayed the day in favor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London. He demonstrated to political leaders who care to learn that mathematically models might produce interesting and alarming results but should be used as the basis of government policy very carefully and as the data changes the policies must change. Otherwise the results can be disastrous.


Number of the Week: 10% of 27,695 MW Equals Zero. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)is the largest operator of hydroelectric power in the country. As of Sep 24, 2019, 80.1% of its 27,695 MW nameplate capacity is hydro (22,180 MW), 10% is wind (2770 MW). This week BPA was generating up to 12,000 MW of hydropower while the regional demand was only up to 8,000 MW. The balance is being sent to California via the Pacific Intertie.

Many times, this week, wind power was zero (0), as it is as this is being written. What California will do when the 2256 MW Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the only remaining nuclear plant in California, is shut down in 2024 & 2025 remains to be seen. Previously, BPA sent power south in the summer when it was needed for air conditioning and received power from the nuclear plants in the winter when it was needed for heating. What will happen to this arrangement remains to be seen. See links under Energy Issues – US.



An Alaska Oil Opening, at Last

Interior opens ANWR for oil leases, after only 30 years of trying.

Editorial, WSJ, Aug 17, 2020


TWTW Summary: The editorial states:

“Who says American democracy is hard? It only took 30 years to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, and on Monday the Interior Department opened the largely barren acreage to oil leases.

“Congress created ANWR way back in 1980 with a mandate to study its potential for oil and gas. In the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Republican House and Senate finally mandated that the federal government establish a plan for energy development. The environmental lobby opposed any drilling, but native communities in the region and Alaskans have long supported it as an economic boon with little risk to the land or grazing caribou of popular nature photography.

“Some 92% of ANWR will remain untouched under the Interior plan, and the rest should be protected with extensive drilling protocols. Accidents can happen, but the leases and drilling could provide thousands of new jobs and revenue for Alaska and the federal government. The U.S. Geological Survey believes the ANWR coastal plain is the largest source of onshore oil reserves in North America. Alaskans are especially pleased because the flow of oil from current drilling sites is slowing down, and the pipeline to the lower 48 states needs new supplies. Alaskans also count on royalties from oil drilling for their state and personal coffers.”

TWTW adds that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) needs more oil production in Alaska to keep operating. After discussing some political issues, the editorial concludes by addressing a rollback by a Biden White House.

That would be a shame because, barring some technological breakthrough, America will need oil and gas for electric power and transportation for decades to come. Might as well let Americans benefit from producing it.


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