Utility To Replace N-Gas Peaker Plants With Energy Storage

Duane M. Tilden, P.Eng                          November 10, 2018

The main caveat of Energy Efficiency is to do more with less. Energy Efficiency is low-lying fruit, easy to harvest. For utilities and the grid there are many advancements coming that will allow us to enable a more resilient and sustainable electrical transmission system connecting providers, consumers, and prosumers.

Electricity Prosumers & Renewable Energy

“Active energy consumers, often called ‘prosumers’ because they both consume and produce electricity, could dramatically change the electricity system. Various types of prosumers exist: residential prosumers who produce electricity at home – mainly through solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops, citizen-led energy cooperatives or housing associations, commercial prosumers whose main business activity is not electricity production, and public institutions like schools or hospitals. The rise in the number of prosumers has been facilitated by the fall in the cost of renewable energy technologies, especially solar panels, which in some Member States produce electricity at a cost that is the same or lower than retail prices.” (1)

What is a Peaker Plant?

Peaking power plants, also known as peaker plants, and occasionally just “peakers”, are power plants that generally run only when there is a high demand, known as peak demand, for electricity.[1][2] Because they supply power only occasionally, the power supplied commands a much higher price per kilowatt hour than base load power. Peak load power plants are dispatched in combination with base load power plants, which supply a dependable and consistent amount of electricity, to meet the minimum demand.” (2)

As more renewable energy projects are added to provided base load power, in an absence of electricity when renewable sources of electricity are inactive a greater reliance is put on peaker plants to make up energy shortfall . However, as improvements in energy storage solutions gain traction through capacity and competitive costing it is now possible to replace fossil fuel powered peaker plants with energy storage.

Public Utilities Commission of the State of California (CPUC)

In a recent decision the State of California has proceeded with plans to develop and procure electrical storage solutions for the Public Utility as an alternative to aging natural gas peaker plants. A net reduction in carbon emissions by eliminating fossil fuel consumption.

Energy Storage California 2018

Table 1 – Summary of Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E’s) energy storage power purchase
agreements (PPAs)

“Approval of PG&E’s landmark energy storage solicitation is the most significant example to date of batteries taking the place of fossil fuel generation on the power grid.

Energy storage has helped decrease the California’s reliance on gas for years, particularly since 2016, when regulators ordered accelerated battery procurements to counteract the closure of a natural gas storage facility outside Los Angeles.

The PG&E projects, however, are the first time a utility and its regulators have sought to directly replace multiple major power plants with battery storage.

The projects would take the place of three plants owned by generator Calpine — the 580 MW Metcalf plant and the Feather River and Yuba City generators, both 48 MW.

​Calpine and the California ISO last year asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve reliability-must-run (RMR) contracts for the plants, arguing they are essential to maintain power reliability. The one-year contracts would see California ratepayers finance the continued operation of the generators, which are losing money in the ISO’s wholesale market.

FERC approved the request in April, but California regulators were already planning for when the plants retire. In January, they ordered PG&E to seek alternatives to the generators, writing that the lack of competition in RMR contracts could mean higher prices for customers. ” (4)

 

References:

  1. European Parliament Think Tank – Electricity Prosumers
  2. Peaking_power_plant
  3. Resolution E-4949. Pacific Gas and Electric request approval of four energy storage facilities with the following counterparties: mNOC, Dynegy, Hummingbird Energy Storage, LLC, and Tesla.
  4. Storage to replace California Peaker Plants
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Quote

via The 50 Year Underground Coal Mine Fire

“In this part of Pennsylvania, a mine town gone bust is hardly news. But there is none whose demise has been so spectacular and observable. Centralia has been on fire, literally, for the past four decades.

The Centralia mine fire began in 1962 when a pile of burning trash ignited an exposed seam of coal. The fire soon seeped down into the lattice of old mine tunnels beneath town. When it was founded in 1866, Centralia’s ocean of underground coal, aptly named the Mammoth Vein, meant limitless wealth. But once the fire began, it came to mean endless destruction.

This abandoned section of Route 61 runs smack through one of Centralia’s so-called hot zones. In these areas the underground fire directly affects the surface landscape. The traffic that used to flow over this section of road has been permanently detoured several hundred yards to the east. Thanks to a recent snowfall, the tracks of other visitors are obvious — that is until the snow cover abruptly ends. It’s as if someone has drawn a line across the road. On one side there’s snow. On the opposite side there’s bone-dry asphalt. The road’s surface is not exactly warm. But the asphalt is definitely not as cold as it should be on a chilly day in the Appalachian Mountains. In the roadside woods, all the trees are dead, baked to death by the subterranean smolder. Even their bark has peeled away.

Further in, a crack 50 feet in length has ripped through the highway. Puffs of white gas steadily float out. I step to the edge of the crack. It’s about two feet wide and two feet deep, filled with garbage and chunks of broken pavement. Then the wind shifts slightly, and a gas cloud bends in my direction. I cover my nose and mouth with the collar of my jacket. Standing on the roof of this inferno has suddenly lost its appeal. I turn and walk back to my car.”

http://wapo.st/1eMhdGq

Related image

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide – A Plan to Eliminate 25% of Existing Power Plants

Duane M. Tilden, P.Eng                           October 26, 2018

Is it possible that we can drastically reduce the existing fleet of power plants by 25% or more? Yes, this does seem to be a rather extravagant claim considering how many power providers or utilities such an increase in energy efficiency in output will impact.  Examining the United States as our example:

As of December 31, 2017, there were about 8,652 power plants in the United States that have operational generators with a combined nameplate electricity generation capacity of at least 1 megawatt (MW). A power plant may have one or more generators, and some generators may use more than one type of fuel. (1)

So, reducing the existing fleet by 25% would enable us to decommission approximately 2,163 of these plants.  This plan would require the examination of the total supply chain to optimize these reductions whilst maintaining the integrity of the existing distribution network. A significant project having enormous impact on the economy and meeting carbon reduction strategies on a global scale.

Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (SCCD) Turbines

In previous posts I have discussed the technology of SCCD turbines for power production and how this system can be used for a wide variety of power production and energy extraction methods. A recent article published by Euan Mearns with commentary delves even deeper into this technology to discuss the global impacts of increased power production efficiency on reducing carbon emissions.

GHG’s, carbon, NOx, pollution, waste heat, entropy effects, and consumption of resources are all commensurately reduced when we systematically increase power production energy efficiency at the plant level. An improvement of energy efficiency at the system level has a profound impact in output capacity or input reduction. For example, if we can increase the efficiency by 10% from 30% to 40% in conversion, the output of the plant is improved by 4/3 or 33% or inversely, the input requirement will reduce by 3/4 or 25%.

Power Plant Energy Efficiency

To measure the energy efficiency of a thermo-electric power plant we use the heat rate. Depending on the quality of the fuel and the systems installed we convert heat energy into electrical energy using steam generators or boilers. We convert water into steam to drive turbines which are coupled to generators which convert mechanical motion into electricity.

Examination of data provided will be simplified using statistical averages. In 2017 the average heat rates and conversion efficiencies for thermal-electric power plants in the US (2) are given as follows:

  • Coal: 10465 Btu/Kw – 32.6%
  • Petroleum: 10834 Btu/Kw – 31.5%
  • Natural Gas: 7812 Btu/Kw – 43.7%
  • Nuclear: 10459 Btu/Kw – 32.6%

Examination of the US EIA data for 2017 shows us that currently Natural gas is 11.1% more efficient than Coal in producing electricity while consuming 25.4% less fuel for the same energy output.

So we already have proof that at a plant level, energy efficiency gains in consumption are leveraged by smaller improvements in the thermodynamic cycle. For natural gas power plants the current state of the art is to use a combined cycle combustion process which is not employed in other thermo-electric power plants.

HOW A COMBINED-CYCLE POWER PLANT PRODUCES ELECTRICITY (3)

This is how a combined-cycle plant works to produce electricity and captures waste heat from the gas turbine to increase efficiency and electrical output.

  1. Gas turbine burns fuel.

    • The gas turbine compresses air and mixes it with fuel that is heated to a very high temperature. The hot air-fuel mixture moves through the gas turbine blades, making them spin.
    • The fast-spinning turbine drives a generator that converts a portion of the spinning energy into electricity.
  2. Heat recovery system captures exhaust.

    • A Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG) captures exhaust heat from the gas turbine that would otherwise escape through the exhaust stack.
    • The HRSG creates steam from the gas turbine exhaust heat and delivers it to the steam turbine.
  3. Steam turbine delivers additional electricity.

    • The steam turbine sends its energy to the generator drive shaft, where it is converted into additional electricity.

Image result for combined cycle power plant

Figure 1. Schematic of Combined Cycle Gas/Steam Turbine Power Plant with Heat Recovery (4)

Comparing Combined Cycle Gas Turbines with SCCD Turbines

The study of thermodynamic cycles is generally a domain studied and designed by engineers and physicists who employ advanced math and physics skills. The turbine is based on the Brayton cycle, while steam turbines operate on the Rankine cycle. The Rankine cycle uses a working fluid such as water, which undergoes a phase change from water to steam. The Brayton cycle is based on a single phase working fluid, in this case combusted natural gas.

Both SCCD turbines and Gas Turbines operate on the Brayton cycle, however, they use different working fluids and requirements based on operating conditions. The gas fired turbine takes in air which is compressed by the inlet section of the turbine and natural gas is combined with the compressed air and ignited. The hot expanding gasses turn the turbine converting heat to mechanical energy. A jet engine operates on the Brayton cycle.

For a combined cycle gas turbine some of the waste heat is recovered by a heat exchange system in the flue stack, converted to steam to drive  a second turbine to produce more electricity and increase the overall energy efficiency of the system.

In the case of an SCCD the turbines working fluid is maintained in a closed loop, continually being heated through a heat exchanger from a source and run in piping through the turbine and a compressor. Secondary heat exchangers for recuperation and cooling may be employed. These are all emerging technologies undergoing serious R&D by the US DOE in partnership with industry and others.

Closed Loop SCO2 Recompression Brayton Cycle Flow Diagram

Figure 2. Closed Loop SCO2 Recompression Brayton Cycle Flow Diagram (NETL)

 

Technology Development for Supercritical Carbon Dioxide (SCO2) Based Power Cycles

The Advanced Turbines Program at NETL will conduct R&D for directly and indirectly heated supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) based power cycles for fossil fuel applications. The focus will be on components for indirectly heated fossil fuel power cycles with turbine inlet temperature in the range of 1300 – 1400 ºF (700 – 760 ºC) and oxy-fuel combustion for directly heated supercritical CO2 based power cycles.

The supercritical carbon dioxide power cycle operates in a manner similar to other turbine cycles, but it uses CO2 as the working fluid in the turbomachinery. The cycle is operated above the critical point of CO2so that it does not change phases (from liquid to gas), but rather undergoes drastic density changes over small ranges of temperature and pressure. This allows a large amount of energy to be extracted at high temperature from equipment that is relatively small in size. SCO2 turbines will have a nominal gas path diameter an order of magnitude smaller than utility scale combustion turbines or steam turbines.

The cycle envisioned for the first fossil-based indirectly heated application is a non-condensing closed-loop Brayton cycle with heat addition and rejection on either side of the expander, like that in Figure 1. In this cycle, the CO2 is heated indirectly from a heat source through a heat exchanger, not unlike the way steam would be heated in a conventional boiler. Energy is extracted from the CO2 as it is expanded in the turbine. Remaining heat is extracted in one or more highly efficient heat recuperators to preheat the CO2 going back to the main heat source. These recuperators help increase the overall efficiency of the cycle by limiting heat rejection from the cycle. (4)

Commentary and Conclusion

We already are on the way to developing new systems that offer significant improvements to existing. Advancements in materials and technology, as well as other drivers including climate concerns and democratizing the energy supply. Every percentage of increase in performance reduces the consumption of fossil fuels, depletion of natural resources, generated waste products and potential impacts on climate.

SCCD systems offer a retrofit solution into existing power plants where these systems can be installed to replace existing steam turbines to reach energy efficiency levels of Combined Cycle Gas Turbines. This is a remarkable development in technology which can be enabled globally, in a very short time frame.

References:

  1. USEIA: How many power plants are there in the United States?
  2. USEIA: Average Operating Heat Rate for Selected Energy Sources
  3. GE: combined-cycle-power-plant-how-it-works
  4. https://www.netl.doe.gov/research/coal/energy-systems/turbines/supercritical-co2-turbomachinery

 

Study Finds BC Pension Fund Manager is Funding Climate Agreement Breach

A study* released by the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), a watchdog organization indicates that public pensions could be overly invested in the fossil fuel industry. This is a concern as international agreements signed by Canada are directed to reducing emissions, while public money is invested in an agenda that requires growth and production in a sector which is in decline.

Image result for kinder morgan pipeline

Figure 1. Map of proposed expansion current pipeline and tanker route – Kinder Morgan / Trans Mountain Pipeline. (1)

 

Image result for kinder morgan pipeline

Figure 2. Map of impact of refinery facilities and proximity to conservation areas, a University, a Salmon spawning inlet, residential housing and major transport routes. (1)

 

The area that will be impacted by the growth of the facility are diverse and vulnerable. This is not a brownfield development, and in fact is on the side of a mountain and part of a larger watershed. Serious consideration should be given to relocating the facility or decommissioning.

There are alternate locations better suited for this type of high hazard industrial facility, away from sensitive areas and remote from populations and high traffic harbours. Why are these alternatives not being discussed?

Here’s a snippet taken from the introduction of the report and their findings. How can we stop carbon emissions when local investing strategies are in the opposite direction? Are public pension funds safely invested and competently managed? Likely not.

 

CMP researchers Zoë Yunker, Jessica Dempsey and James Rowe chose to look into BCI’s investment practices because it controls one of the province’s largest pools of wealth ($135.5 billion) — the pensions of over half-a-million British Columbians. Which means BCI’s decisions have a significant impact on capital markets and on our broader society.

Their research asked, “Is BCI is investing funds in ways that effectively respond to the climate change crisis?”

Unfortunately, the answer is “No.” BCI has invested billions of dollars in companies with large oil, gas and coal reserves — companies whose financial worth depends on overshooting their carbon budget — and is even increasing many investments in these companies.

As another recent CMP study clearly shows what’s at stake. Canada’s Energy Outlook, authored by veteran earth scientist David Hughes, reveals that the projected expansion of oil and gas production will make it all but impossible for Canada to meet our emissions-reduction targets. The study also shows that returns to the public from oil and gas production have gone down significantly. (2)

 

*This study is part of the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry. The CMP is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute. This research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

References:

  1. kinder_morgan_pipeline_route_maps
  2. fossil-fuelled-pensions

Oilsands and Fossil Fuels Receive Major Blow Due to Paris Agreement

LONDON — Europe’s largest bank HSBC said on Friday it would mostly stop funding new coal power plants, oilsands and arctic drilling, becoming the latest in a long line of investors to shun the fossil fuels.

Other large banks such as ING and BNP Paribas have made similar pledges in recent months as investors have mounted pressure to make sure bank’s actions align with the Paris Agreement, a global pact to limit greenhouse gas emissions and curb rising temperatures.

“We recognize the need to reduce emissions rapidly to achieve the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement… and our responsibility to support the communities in which we operate,” Daniel Klier, group head of strategy and global head of sustainable finance, said in a statement.

via Europe’s biggest bank HSBC says it will no longer finance oilsands projects — Financial Post

Banning the Internal Combustion Engine: Is this the end of Fossil Fuels?

As a general rule I find that most North Americans are unaware that there is a growing movement of countries that are banning new sales of vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel and may also include other fuels such as propane, compressed and LNG (liquid natural gas).

The local news is rife with plans to grow our exploitation of natural resources and build more pipelines for anticipated expansion to new markets such as China. The federal government is in the process of colluding with the petroleum industry to force the construction of a dil-bit pipeline in a densely populated region of Greater Vancouver.  Meanwhile our future markets are vanishing as other governments are phasing out fossil fuels and their engines.

Image #1: A rendering of the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) platform with truck chassis. 

SURUS was designed to form a foundation for a family of commercial vehicle solutions that leverages a single propulsion system integrated into a common chassis. (1)

Fuel cell technology is a key piece of GM’s zero-emission strategy.

General Motors’ Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS) is an electric vehicle platform with autonomous capabilities powered by a flexible fuel cell. GM displayed it at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army, as the commercially designed platform could be adapted for military use.

SURUS leverages GM’s newest Hydrotec fuel cell system, autonomous capability and truck chassis components to deliver high-performance, zero-emission propulsion to minimize logistical burdens and reduce human exposure to harm. Benefits include quiet and odor-free operation, off-road mobility, field configuration, instantaneous high torque, exportable power generation, water generation and quick refueling times. (1)

 

Table 1. List of Countries Banning the ICE & Timeline (2)
Wikipedia Table of Countries Banning the Internal Combustion Engine.png

At an automotive conference in Tianjin, China revealed it was developing plans towards banning fossil fuel-based cars. Though China has not set a 2040 goal like the U.K. and France, it said it was working with other regulators on a time-specific ban.

“The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said.

Both India and Norway have also said they have electric car targets set for the next few decades. India, home to heavily polluted cities, said by 2030 it plans to have vehicles solely powered by electricity. (3)

Final Remarks:

I explain this worldwide movement to the electric vehicle and the impact this will have oil markets, however, most of whom I discuss this issue with are unaware of these vital facts. In addition we are seeing growing alternate forms of power sources for our electrical grid, such as solar, wind, tidal, hydro-electric, geothermal and others.

If you ran a business that called for a major investments in capital for infrastructure, would you make it knowing that your market is non-existent? Maybe it’s time for Canadians and Americans to wake up and smell the coffee.

References:

  1. fuel-cell-electric-truck-platform
  2. List_of_countries_banning_fossil_fuel_vehicles
  3. how-internal-combustion-engine-bans-could-catalyze-big-oil-concerns

Why Oil and Pipelines Are a Bad Deal For Canadians – Kinder Morgan/Oil Sands

Let’s get straight to the point. Canadians are getting ripped off. We pay the among the highest prices in the world for our own plentiful resources. Meanwhile we ship it to the US and abroad. This is in clear conflict with stewardship goals of our resources, environment and our collective future. What gives Mr. Trudeau?

Canada taxes its oil and gas companies at a fraction of the rate they are taxed abroad, including by countries ranked among the world’s most corrupt, according to an analysis of public data by the Guardian.

The low rate that oil companies pay in Canada represents billions of dollars in potential revenue lost, which an industry expert who looked at the data says is a worrying sign that the country may be “a kind of tax haven for our own companies.”

The countries where oil companies paid higher rates of taxes, royalties and fees per barrel in 2016 include Nigeria, Indonesia, Ivory Coast and the UK.

“I think it will come as a surprise to most Canadians, including a lot of politicians, that Canada is giving oil companies a cut-rate deal relative to other countries,” said Keith Stewart, an energy analyst with Greenpeace.

Companies like Chevron Canada paid almost three times as much to Nigeria and almost seven times as much to Indonesia as it did to Canadian, provincial and municipal governments.

Chevron used to run its Nigeria and Indonesia projects out of the U.S., but after allegations that they evaded billions in taxes, their operations were moved to Canada.

According to data collected by the Guardian, Suncor also paid six times more taxes to the UK, and Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) paid almost four times more to Ivory Coast. (1)

Image result for oilsands

Figure 1. Taken from: Alberta First Nation presents evidence against Teck’s exploratory drilling for oil sands mine (2)

CALGARY – British Columbia’s government wants to restrict shipments of oilsands crude in pipelines and on railways cars in the province through a series of proposed new rules that is set to create additional uncertainty for Kinder Morgan Canada’s $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The proposed rules also open B.C. up to jurisdictional challenges and have already exacerbated a spat with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who called the proposals “both illegal and unconstitutional.”

B.C. Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman announced Tuesday rules to limit “the increase of diluted bitumen transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”

To that end, B.C. will establish an independent scientific advisory panel to make recommendations on if and how heavy oils can be safely transported and, if spilled, cleaned up.

Tuesday’s announcement did not specifically mention Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, which will boost the shipments of oil from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 bpd, but the B.C. NDP had promised to block the pipeline’s construction during an election campaign last year.

In an interview with the Financial Post, Heyman said B.C.’s Environmental Management Act “gives us the right, in addition to our responsibility, to defend B.C.’s vulnerable coastline, our inland waterways, our economic and environmental interests and that’s what British Columbians expect us to do.” (3)

Justin Trudeau, Bill Nye

References:

  1. revealed-oil-giants-pay-billions-less-tax-in-canada-than-abroad
  2. athabasca-chipewyan-first-nation-present-evidence-against-tecks-drilling-oil-sands-mine 
  3. b-c-proposes-new-rules-to-restrict-oilsands-exports-in-fresh-setback-for-trans-mountain-pipeline

Hybrid Electric Bus uses Hydrogen as Fuel

“[…] According to Paulo Emilio, this is the most efficient hydrogen bus in the world. “A European company tested a hydrogen bus in ten cities, which consumed 25 kilos of hydrogen for each 100 kilometers; this month, the same company launched an improved version, with 14 kilos of hydrogen consumed for each 100 kilometers” where as “our bus consumes just 5 kilos of hydrogen”, he says. […]”

via Literally, a green bus

Sustainable Smart Cities and Disaster Mitigation – Preparing for the 1000 Year Storm

Hurricanes Cause Massive Damage

In light of recent events, such as the current hurricane season of 2017 which has already struck large sections of Texas with Hurricane Harvey causing massive damage which has been estimated at $180 billion by Texas Governor Greg Abbott (1) there are questions about how we can prepare cities better for disaster. One method considered is in our building codes, which are constantly being upgraded and improved, by constructing buildings to be more resilient and handle harsher conditions.

There is a limit to what a building code can do and enforce. Areas and regions that have seen widespread destruction, will have to be rebuilt.  However, to what standards? The existing building codes will have to be examined for their efficacy in storm-proofing buildings to withstand the effects of high winds and water penetration, some of which has already been performed.

Codes do not prevent external disasters such as from storms, tornadoes, tidal waves (tsunami), earthquakes, forest fire, lightning, landslides, nuclear melt-down and other extreme natural and man-made events. What building codes do is establish minimum standards of construction for various types of buildings and structures. Damage to buildings, vehicles, roads, power systems and other components of a city’s infrastructure are vulnerable to flooding which cannot be addressed in a building code. Other standards are needed to address this problem.

Storm-Proofing Cities

Other issues arise regarding flooding, and how water can be better managed in the future to mitigate water collection and drainage. These may require higher levels of involvement across a community and perhaps beyond municipal constraints, requiring state-wide developments. Breakwaters, sea walls, levees, spill ways and other forms of structures may be added to emergency pumping stations and micro-grid generator/storage facilities as examples of infrastructure improvements that could be utilized.

Bigger decisions may have to be considered as to the level of reconstruction of buildings in vulnerable areas. Sea warming as noted occurring has some scientists pondering if there is a connection between global warming and increased storm volatility as indicated by water temperature rises and tidal records (2). If bigger and more frequent storms are to come, then it must be considered in future building and infrastructure planning.

Regional Infrastructure and Resiliency

Exposed regions as well as larger, regional concerns in areas of maintaining power, roadways, and diverting and draining water are major in the resiliency of a community. When a social network breaks down, there is much lost, and recovery of a region can be adversely affected by loss of property and work.

Many of the lower classes will not have insurance and lose everything. Sick and elderly can be especially exposed, not having means to prepare or escape an oncoming disaster, and many will likely perish unless they can get access to aide or a shelter quickly.

Constructing better sea walls and storm surge barriers may be an effective means to diverting water in the event of a hurricane on densely populated coastal areas. Although considered costly to construct, they are a fraction of the cost of damage that may be caused by a high, forceful storm surge which can obliterate large unprotected populated areas. The Netherlands and England have made major advancements in coastal preparedness for storms.

Storm Surge Barriers

Overall Effectiveness for Reducing Flood Damage

There are only a few storm surge barriers in the United States, although major systems installed abroad demonstrate their efficacy. The Eastern Scheldt barrier in the Netherlands (completed in 1986) and the Thames barrier in the United Kingdom (completed in 1982) have prevented major flooding. Lavery and Donovan (2005) note that the Thames barrier, part of a flood risk reduction system of barriers, floodgates, floodwalls, and embankments, has reliably protected the City of London from North Sea storm surge since its completion.

Four storm surge barriers were constructed by the USACE in New England in the 1960s (Fox Point, Stamford, New Bedford, and Pawcatuck) and a fifth in 1986 in New London, Connecticut. The barriers were designed after a series of severe hurricanes struck New England in 1938, 1944, and 1954 (see Appendix B), which highlighted the vulnerability of the area. The 1938 hurricane damaged or destroyed 200,000 buildings and caused 600 fatalities (Morang, 2007; Pielke et al., 2008).

The 2,880-ft (878-m) Fox Point Barrier (Figure 1-8) stretches across

the Providence River, protecting downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The barrier successfully prevented a 2-ft (0.6-m) surge elevation (in excess of tide elevation) from Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and a 4-ft (1.2-m) surge from Hurricane Bob in 1991 (Morang, 2007) and was also used during Hurricane Sandy. The New Bedford, Massachusetts, Hurricane Barrier consists of a 4,500-ft-long (1372-m) earthen levee with a stone cap to an elevation of 20 ft (6 m), with a 150-ft-wide (46-m) gate for navigation. The barrier was reportedly effective during Hurricane Bob (1991), an unnamed coastal storm in 1997 (Morang, 2007), and Hurricane Sandy. During Hurricane Sandy, the peak total height of water (tide plus storm surge) was 6.8 feet (2.1 m), similar to the levels reached in 1991 and 1997. The Stamford, Connecticut, Hurricane Barrier has experienced six storms producing a surge of 9.0 ft (2.7 m) or higher between its completion (1969) and Hurricane Sandy. During Hurricane Sandy, the barrier experienced a storm surge of 11.1 ft (3.4 m), exceeding that of the 1938 hurricane (USACE, 2012). (3)

The biggest challenge is to build storm surge barriers large enough for future Hurricanes. There is a question that given the magnitude of current and future storms that these constructed barriers may be breached.  Engineers design structures to meet certain standards, and with weather these were the unlikely 1 in 100 year storm events. However, this standard is not good enough as Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana exemplified, as being rated a 1 in 250 year storm event. With climate changes these events may become more frequent.

Much of the damage from Katrina came not from high winds or rain but from storm surge that caused breaches in levees and floodwalls, pouring water into 80 percent of New Orleans. To the south, Katrina flooded all of St. Bernard Parish and the east bank of Plaquemines Parish. Plaquemines Parish flooded again in 2012 with Hurricane Isaac.

Soon after Katrina, Congress directed the Corps of Engineers to build a system that could protect against a storm that has a 1 percent chance of happening each year, a “1-in-100-year” storm.

The standard is less a measure of safety and more a benchmark that allows the city to be covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. Louisiana’s master coastal plan calls for a much stronger 500-year system. The corps says Katrina was a 250-year storm for the New Orleans area.

Since 2005, the Army Corps has revamped the storm protection system’s 350 miles of levees and floodwalls, 73 pumping stations, three canal-closure structures, and four gated outlets. The corps built a much-heralded 26-foot-high, 1.8-mile surge barrier in Lake Borgne, about 12 miles east of the center of the city.

During Katrina, a 15- to 16-foot-high storm surge in Lake Borgne forced its way into the Intracoastal Waterway, putting pressure on the Industrial Canal levees that breached and caused catastrophic flooding in the city’s Lower 9th Ward.

“In New Orleans, we know that no matter how high we build this or how wide we build it, eventually there will be a storm that’s able to overtop it,” New Orleans District Army Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett says, admiring the immense surge barrier from a boat on Lake Borgne. “What we want is this to be a strong structure that will be able to withstand that with limited to no damage from the overtopping.” (4)

500 Year Floods

Hurricane Harvey brought an immense amount of extreme rain, which brought a record 64″ in one storm to the Houston metropolitan region. This is a staggering amount of water, over 5 feet in height, this amount of water could only overwhelm low-lying areas, and depressions in topography. Flash floods can happen during extreme storms, where a drainage system is designed for a 1:100 year flood event, and not for a 1:500 or 1:1000 year flood event. Road ways can easily become rivers as drainage systems back up and surface water has no place to collect.

500-year-floods

Figure 1. 500 year flood events in the USA since 2015 (5)

New standards in development may need to accommodate more stringent standards. Existing municipal drainage systems are not designed to handle extreme rain and other means of drainage systems may have to be developed to divert water away from centers of population. Communities will be built to new standards, where storm water management is given a higher priority to avert flooding.

BN-UX285_HARVEY_M_20170831100012

Figure 2. Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey (6)

Given the future uncertainty of our climate and weather, we cannot continue to ignore the devastating effects that disasters have on cities and regions. We must ask some difficult questions regarding the intelligence of continuing to build and live in increasingly higher risk regions.

On a personal level every citizen must take some responsibility in their choices of where to live. As for governments they need to decide how best to allocate limited resources in rebuilding and upgrading storm protection systems. It is anticipated that some areas will be abandoned as risks become too high for effective protection from future storm events.

The Oil and Gas Industry

It seems there is an irony involved with the possibility that storms severity is linked to global warming, and that access to vulnerable regions often are in part economically driven by the oil and gas industry.  Hurricane Harvey is the most recent storm which is affecting fuel prices across the USA. Refinery capacity has shrunk due to plant shut-downs.  Shortages in local fuel supplies are occurring, as remaining gasoline stations run dry.

Goldman Sachs estimates that the hurricane has taken 3 million barrels a day — or about 17% — of refining capacity offline, and that’s likely to increase the overall level of crude-oil inventories over the next couple of months. (7)

Oil and gas are particularly vulnerable to exposure to the weather, and it is in their own best interests to provide local protection to the area so that they can continue extracting the resource. However, ancillary industries such as refining may better be served by relocation away from danger areas. Also, supply lines become choked by disaster, and can potentially have consequences beyond the region which was exposed to the disaster.

The Electric Vehicle in the Smart City

Such events can only put upward pressure on the price of fuel, while providing further incentive to move away from the internal combustion engine as means of motive power. Electric vehicles would provide a much better ability to recover quickly from storm events as they are not restricted by access to fuel. Micro-grids in cities provide sectors of available power for which electric emergency response vehicles can move.

By moving reliance away from carbon based fuels to renewable electric sources and energy storage, future development in cities may see the benefits inherent in the electric vehicle. Burning fuels create heat, water and carbon dioxide in the combustion process. They consume our breathable oxygen and pollute the atmosphere. Pipelines, tankers and rail cars can break and spill causing pollution. Exploration causes damage to the environment.

A city that is energy efficient and reliant on renewable sources of energy that benignly interact with the environment can approach self-sustainability and a high degree of resilience against disaster. This combined with designing to much higher standards which keep in mind the current volatility our climate is experiencing, and uses the lessons learned in other areas as indicators of best practices into the future.

 

References

  1. Hurricane Harvey Damages Could Cost up to $180 Billion
  2. Global warming is ‘causing more hurricanes’
  3. “3 Performance of Coastal Risk Reduction Strategies.” National Research Council. 2014. Reducing Coastal Risk on the East and Gulf Coasts. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18811.
  4. Rising Sea Levels May Limit New Orleans Adaptation Efforts
  5. Houston is experiencing its third ‘500-year’ flood in 3 years. How is that possible?
  6. Hurricane Harvey Slams Texas With Devastating Force
  7. GOLDMAN: Harvey’s damage to America’s oil industry could last several months

What Does Moist Enthalpy Tell Us?

“In terms of assessing trends in globally-averaged surface air temperature as a metric to diagnose the radiative equilibrium of the Earth, the neglect of using moist enthalpy, therefore, necessarily produces an inaccurate metric, since the water vapor content of the surface air will generally have different temporal variability and trends than the air temperature.”

Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr.

In our blog of July 11, we introduced the concept of moist enthalpy (see also Pielke, R.A. Sr., C. Davey, and J. Morgan, 2004: Assessing “global warming” with surface heat content. Eos, 85, No. 21, 210-211. ). This is an important climate change metric, since it illustrates why surface air temperature alone is inadequate to monitor trends of surface heating and cooling. Heat is measured in units of Joules. Degrees Celsius is an incomplete metric of heat.

Surface air moist enthalpy does capture the proper measure of heat. It is defined as CpT + Lq where Cp is the heat capacity of air at constant pressure, T is air temperature, L is the latent heat of phase change of water vapor, and q is the specific humidity of air. T is what we measure with a thermometer, while q is derived by measuring the wet bulb temperature (or, alternatively, dewpoint…

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