Site C Dam Construction in BC – A Political Water Grab?

Mega projects grab headlines and provide many photo opportunities for politicians.  Since the construction of the depression era Hoover Dam, these massive construction projects have historically provided for jobs and opportunity when the economy is slow.  However, some questions remain, such as; are these projects in everyone’s best interests, what are we losing, and is there a better way to accomplish our goals?

“‘Water grabbing’ refers to a situation in which public or private entities are able to take control of, or reallocate, precious water resources for profit or for power — and at the expense of local communities and the ecosystems on which their livelihoods are based.

The effects have been well-documented: examples include families driven away from their villages to make room for mega dams, privatization of water sources that fails to improve access for the public, and industrial activity that damages water quality.”

[…]

“…hydropower comprises about 70 per cent of the world’s renewable energy mix, and guarantees a lower amount of total emissions than fossil fuel plants, its overall impacts are not always positive. This is especially the case when dams are not planned with an emphasis on the impacts on people and the environment.

In North America, many dams built in the 1980s are now being demolished because of their impacts on fish species such as salmon. In some cases they are replaced with more modern dams that do not require building large-scale reservoirs.” (1)

A Short Political History of the Site C Dam

Site C dam construction

Figure 1.  Construction on the Site C dam on the Peace River in the fall of 2016. Photo: Garth Lenz. (2)

“On May 10, 1990, the Vancouver Sun reported remarks made by then Energy Minister Jack Davis at an Electric Energy Forum: “Power projects initiated by B.C. Hydro will be increasingly guided by environmental concerns because of mounting public pressure.” Noting the province’s abundance of power sources, he said: “We have the scope to be different.”

However, during a 1991 Social Credit party leadership campaign the winner, Rita Johnston declared in her policy statement that she wanted to accelerate construction of the “$3 billion” dam. Johnston’s leadership was brief because the Socreds were defeated in October 1991.

In 1993, the dam was declared dead by then BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen. Site C is dead for two reasons,” Eliesen said. “The fiscal exposure is too great … the dam is too costly. Also it is environmentally unacceptable.”

Despite these twists and turns, B.C. Hydro’s staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive.

Fast forward to April 19, 2010, when then B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell made his announcement that Site C was on again, now branded as a “clean energy project” and an important part of “B.C.’s economic and ecological future.”

Campbell claimed the dam would power 460,000 new homes and repeated the mantra of an increasing power demand of 20 to 40 per cent in the following 20 years.

In the ensuing seven years since the 2010 announcement, power demand has stayed virtually the same, despite BC Hydro’s forecast for it to climb nearly 20 per cent during that time. The reality is B.C.’s electricity demand has been essentially flat since 2005, despite ongoing population growth.

Campbell resigned in 2011 amidst uproar over the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), opening the field for a leadership race, which Christy Clark won. That brings us to the May 2013 election, during which Clark pushed liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports as the solution to B.C.’s economic woes. With the LNG dream came a potential new demand for grid electricity, making Site C even more of a hot topic.

Four years on from Clark’s pronouncement there are no LNG plants up and running, despite her promise of thousands of jobs. Without a market for Site C’s power, Clark has started ruminating about sending it to Alberta, despite a lack of transmission or a clear market.

Oxford University Professor Bent Flyvbjerg has studied politicians’ fascination with mega projects, describing the rapture they feel building monuments to themselves: “Mega projects garner attention, which adds to the visibility they gain from them.”

This goes some way to explaining the four-decade obsession with building the Site C dam, despite the lack of clear demand for the electricity. (2)

 

References:

  1.  Water and power: Mega-dams, mega-damage?
    http://www.scidev.net/global/water/data-visualisation/water-power-mega-dams-mega-damage.html
  2. Four Decades and Counting: A Brief History of the Site C Dam https://www.desmog.ca/2017/03/23/four-decades-and-counting-brief-history-site-c-dam

Benchmarking Buildings by Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

There are many metrics and measurements when it comes to evaluating energy as we use it in our daily lives.  In order to compare between different sources or end uses we often have to make conversions in our terms so that our comparisons are equitable.  This may be further complicated as different countries often use different standards of measure, however, we will convert to common units.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is the practice of comparing the measured performance of a device, process, facility, or organization to itself, its peers, or established norms, with the goal of informing and motivating performance improvement. When applied to building energy use, benchmarking serves as a mechanism to measure energy performance of a single building over time, relative to other similar buildings, or to modeled simulations of a reference building built to a specific standard (such as an energy code). (1)

Benchmarking is a common practice in buildings to establish existing consumption rates and to identify areas that require improvement and to help prioritize improvement projects.  These benchmarks can be established for a building, system within a building, or even a larger campus, facility or power source.  Usually an energy or facility manager will determine energy consumption over a fixed period of time, 1 to 3 years, and compare it to similar facilities.  Normalized by gross square footage of the building the EUI is usually expressed as kBtu/sf per year.

Energy Intensity (EI) of a Country

Figure 1:  Energy Intensity of different economies The graph shows the amount of energy it takes to produce a US $ of GNP for selected countries. (2)

Not to be confused with Energy Use Intensity, Energy Intensity is an economic measure of energy use normalized by the GDP of a country and is considered a measure of a Nation’s Energy Efficiency.  Countries with a high EI have a higher cost to convert energy into GDP, whereas countries with low EI have lower costs of converting energy into GDP.  Many factors contribute to the EI value, including climate, energy sources and  economic productivity. (2)

Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

The EUI of a building includes the electrical power use and heating fuel consumption for heating and hot water generation.  Many facilities require different loads according to their primary use or function, including cooling and refrigeration.  For the comfort of occupants electricity is needed for lighting and plug loads to meet the functioning needs of the equipment in the facility.  Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) may require electricity or another fuel such as natural gas.  Hot water may be generated with electricity or a fuel.  A site may also have solar PV or hot water, wind power, and daylighting programs.  There are also many strategies which may be employed by building operators to reduce loads and energy consumption including controls, storage, micro-grid, purchasing offsets, etc.

When comparing buildings, people not only talk about total energy demands, but also talk about “energy use intensity” (EUI).  Energy intensiveness is simply energy demand per unit area of the building’s floorplan, usually in square meters or square feet. This allows you to compare the energy demand of buildings that are different sizes, so you can see which performs better.

EUI is a particularly useful metric for setting energy use benchmarks and goals. The EUI usually varies quite a bit based on the building program, the climate, and the building size. (3)

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Figure 2.  Typical EUI for selected buildings.  This graph is based on research EPA conducted on more than 100,000 buildings (4)

Site Energy vs Source Energy

As we go forward into the future, it is rather unclear how current events will affect the international agreements on reducing carbon consumption.  However, generally speaking, renewable energy sources are seen to becoming more economic for power production.  For many facilities this means that supplementing existing grid sources for power with on-site power production is making economic sense.  Future building improvements may include sub-systems, batteries and energy storage schemes, renewable sources or automated or advanced control systems to reduce reliance on grid sourced power.

The energy intensity values in the tables above only consider the amount of electricity and fuel that are used on-site (“secondary” or “site” energy). They do not consider the fuel consumed to generate that heat or electricity. Many building codes and some tabulations of EUI attempt to capture the total impact of delivering energy to a building by defining the term  “primary” or “source” energy which includes the fuel used to generate power on-site or at a power plant far away.

When measuring energy used to provide thermal or visual comfort, site energy is the most useful measurement. But when measuring total energy usage to determine environmental impacts, the source energy is the more accurate measurement.

Sometimes low on-site energy use actually causes more energy use upstream.  For example, 2 kWh of natural gas burned on-site for heat might seem worse than 1 kWh of electricity used on-site to provide the same heating with a heat pump.  However, 1 kWh of site electricity from the average US electrical grid is equal to 3.3 kWh of source energy, because of inefficiencies in power plants that burn fuel for electricity, and because of small losses in transmission lines.  So in fact the 2 kWh of natural gas burned on site is better for heating. The table below provides the conversion factors assumed by the US Environmental Protection Agency for converting between site and source energy. (3)

References:

(1) BUILDING ENERGY USE BENCHMARKING  https://energy.gov/eere/slsc/building-energy-use-benchmarking

(2) ENERGY INTENSITY  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_intensity

(3) MEASURING BUILDING ENERGY USE  https://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/buildings/measuring-building-energy-use

(4) WHAT IS ENERGY USE INTENSITY (EUI)?  https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/facility-owners-and-managers/existing-buildings/use-portfolio-manager/understand-metrics/what-energy

Aluminum, a Quantum Leap in Renewable Energy Storage

The future for the metal aluminum has never looked better, for the great investment it represents as a multi-faceted energy efficiency lending material, electrical energy storage medium (battery), and for the advancement of renewable energy sources.  These are spectacular claims, and yet in 1855 aluminum was so scarce it sold for about 1200 $/Kg (1) until metallurgists Hall & Heroult invented the modern smelting process over 100 years ago (2).

Image result for aluminum electrolysis

Figure 1.  Schematic of Hall Heroult Aluminum Reduction Cell (3)

 

Aluminum is an energy intensive production process.  High temperatures are required to melt aluminum to the molten state.  Carbon electrodes are used to melt an alchemical mixture of alumina with molten cryolite, a naturally occurring mineral.  The cryolite acts as an electrolyte to the carbon anode and cathodes.  Alumina (Al2O3) also known as aluminum oxide or Bauxite is fed into the cell and dissolved into the cryolite, over-voltages reduce the Al2O3 into molten aluminum which pools at the bottom of the cell and is tapped out for further refining.

Aluminum Smelting Process as a Battery

The smelting of Aluminum is a reversible electrolytic reaction, and with modifications to current plant design it is possible to convert the process to provide energy storage which can  be tapped and supplied to the electrical grid when required.  According to the research the biggest challenge to this conversion process is to maintain heat balances of the pots when discharging energy to prevent freeze-up of the cells.  Trimet Aluminum has overcome this problem by incorporating shell heat-exchange technology to the sides of the cell to maintain operating temperatures.  Trial runs with this technology have been positive where plans are to push the technology to +/- 25% energy input/output.  If this technology is applied to all 3 Trimet plants in Germany, it is claimed that up to 7700 MWh of electrical storage is possible (4).

Trimet Aluminum SE, Germany’s largest producer of the metal, is experimenting with using vast pools of molten aluminum as virtual batteries. The company is turning aluminum oxide into aluminum by way of electrolysis in a chemical process that uses an electric current to separate the aluminum from oxygen. The negative and positive electrodes, in combination with the liquid metal that settles at the bottom of the tank and the oxygen above, form an enormous battery.

By controlling the rate of electrolysis, Trimet has been able to experiment with both electricity consumption and storage.  By slowing down the electrolysis process, the plant is able to adjust its energy consumption up and down by roughly 25 percent.  This allows the plant to store power from the grid when energy is cheap and abundant and resell power when demand is high and supply is scarce. (5)

Related image

Figure 2. TRIMET Aluminium SE Hamburg with emission control technology (6)

 

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Figure 3.  Rio Tinto Alcan inaugurates new AP60 aluminum smelter in Quebec (7)

Aluminum as a Material and it’s Energy Efficiency Properties

Aluminum and it’s alloys generally have high strength-to-weight ratio’s and are often specified in the aircraft industry where weight reduction is critical.  A plane made of steel would require more energy to fly,  as the metal is heavier for a given strength.  For marine vessels, an aluminum hull structure, built to the same standards, weighs roughly 35% to 45% less than the same hull in steel (8). Weight reduction directly converts to energy savings as more energy would be required to propel the aircraft.

Other modes of transportation, including automobiles, trucking, and rail transport may similarly also benefit from being constructed of lighter materials, such as aluminum.  Indeed this would continue the long-standing trend of weight reduction in the design of vehicles.  The recent emergence of electric vehicles (EV’s) have required weight reduction to offset the high weight of batteries which are necessary for their operations.  The weight reduction translates into longer range and better handling.

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Figure 4.  Tesla Model S (9)

 

In the 1960s, aluminium was used in the niche market for cog railways. Then, in the 1980s, aluminium emerged as the metal of choice for suburban transportation and high-speed trains, which benefited from lower running costs and improved acceleration. In 1996, the TGV Duplex train was introduced, combining the concept of high speed with that of optimal capacity, transporting 40% more passengers while weighing 12% less than the single deck version, all thanks to its aluminium structure.

Today, aluminium metros and trams operate in many countries. Canada’s LRC, France’s TGV Duplex trains and Japan’s Hikari Rail Star, the newest version of the Shinkansen Bullet train, all utilize large amounts of aluminium.  (10)

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Figure 5.   Image of Japanese Bullet Train  (11)

Aluminum For Renewable Energy

One of the biggest criticisms against renewable technologies, such as solar and wind has been that they are intermittent, and not always available when demand demand for energy is high.  Even in traditional grid type fossil fuel plants it has been necessary to operate “peaker plants” which provide energy during peak times and seasons.

In California, recent technological breakthroughs in battery technology have been seen as a means of providing storage options to replace power plants for peak operation. However, there remains skepticism that battery solutions will be able to provide the necessary storage capacity needed during these times (12).  The aluminum smelter as an energy provider during these high demand times may be the optimum solution needed in a new age renewables economy.

The EnPot technology has the potential to make the aluminium smelting industry not only more competitive, but also more responsive to the wider community and environment around it, especially as nations try to increase the percentage of power generated from renewable sources.

The flexibility EnPot offers smelter operators can allow the aluminium industry to be part of the solution of accommodating increased intermittency.  (13)

References:

(1)  http://www.aluminum-production.com/aluminum_history.html

(2)  http://www.aluminum-production.com/Basic_functioning.html

(3)  http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0103-50532000000300008

(4)  The ‘Virtual Battery‘ – Operating an Aluminium Smelter with Flexible Energy Input.  https://energiapotior.squarespace.com/s/Enpot-Trimet-LightMetals2016.pdf

(5)  http://www.metalsproclimate.com/metals-pro-climate/best-practice/reduction-of-pfc-process-emissions

(6) http://www.sauder.ubc.ca/Faculty/Research_Centres/Centre_for_Social_Innovation_and_Impact_Investing/Programs/Clean_Capital/Clean_Capital_News_Archive_2014/Aluminum_smelters_could_act_as_enormous_batteries

(7)  http://www.canadianmetalworking.com/2014/01/rio-tinto-alcan-inaugurates-new-ap60-aluminum-smelter-in-quebec/

(8)  http://www.kastenmarine.com/alumVSsteel.htm

(9)  http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1077672_2012-tesla-model-s-is-aluminum-its-secret-weapon

(10)  http://transport.world-aluminium.org/en/modes/trainssubways.html

(11)  http://www.aluminiumleader.com/focus/aluminium_carriages_help_provide_high_speed_rail_service/

(12)  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-22/batteries-gaining-favor-over-gas-peaker-plants-in-california

(13)  http://www.energiapotior.com/the-virtual-battery

Transitioning Oil & Gas Wells to Renewable Geothermal Energy

Infinity Turbine 2016 ROT IT50

Figure 1:  Radial Outflow Turbine Generator – Organic Rankine Cycle – ORC Turbine (1)

Existing oil and gas wells offer access to untapped sources of heat which can be converted to electricity or used for other energy intensive purposes.  This includes many abandoned wells, which can be reactivated as power sources.  These wells, in many cases “stranded assets” have been drilled, explored, and have roads built for access.  This makes re-utilization of existing infrastructure cost-effective while minimizing harm to the environment associated with exploration.

In a recently published article in Alberta Oil, an oil & gas industry magazine they point out many of the benefits of converting existing and abandoned wells to geothermal energy.

A recent Continental Resources-University of North Dakota project in the Williston Basin is producing 250 kW of power from two water source wells. The units fit into two shipping containers, and costs US$250,000. This type of micro-generation is prospective in Alberta, and a handful of areas also have potential for multi-MW baseload power production.

In addition to producing power, we can use heat for farming, greenhouses, pasteurization, vegetable drying, brewing and curing engineered hardwood. Imagine what Alberta’s famously innovative farmers and landowners would accomplish if they were given the option to use heat produced from old wells on their properties. Northern communities, where a great many oil and gas wells are drilled nearby, can perhaps reap the most benefits of all. Geothermal can reduce reliance on diesel fuel, and provide food security via wellhead-sourced, geothermally heated, local greenhouse produce. (2)

Water can be recirculated by pumps to extract heat from the earth, and through heat exchangers be used as a source of energy for various forms of machines designed to convert low grade waste heat into electricity.  The Stirling Cycle engine is one such mechanical device which can be operated with low grade heat.  However recent developments in the Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) engine seem to hold the greatest promise for conversion of heat to electricity in these installations.

In a “boom or bust” industry subject to the cycles of supply and demand coupling a new source of renewable energy to resource extraction makes sense on many fronts.  It could be an economic stimulus not only to the province of Alberta, but throughout the world where oil and gas infrastructure exists, offering new jobs and alternative local power sources readily available.

References:

(1)  http://www.infinityturbine.com/

(2)  http://www.albertaoilmagazine.com/2016/10/geothermal-industry-wants-abandoned-wells/

Related Blog Posts:

  1. https://duanetilden.com/2016/01/14/alberta-energy-production-and-a-renewable-future/
  2. https://duanetilden.com/2014/12/21/renewable-geothermal-power-with-oil-and-gas-coproduction-technology-may-be-feasible/
  3. https://duanetilden.com/2015/07/25/a-new-era-for-geothermal-energy-in-alberta/
  4. https://duanetilden.com/2015/07/27/oil-well-waste-water-used-to-generate-geothermal-power/
  5. https://duanetilden.com/2013/10/29/supercritical-co2-refines-cogeneration-for-industry/

The End of Oil Domination? – German Government Votes to Ban Sales of ICE Vehicles by 2030

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Figure 1:  Chart showing recent drop in Diesel Car sales, AID Newsletter

 

“[…] Germany’s Bundesrat has passed a resolution to ban the internal combustion engine starting in 2030,Germany’s Spiegel Magazin writes. Higher taxes may hasten the ICE’s departure.

An across-the-aisle Bundesrat resolution calls on the EU Commission in Brussels to pass directives assuring that “latest in 2030, only zero-emission passenger vehicles will be approved” for use on EU roads. Germany’s Bundesrat is a legislative body representing the sixteen states of Germany. On its own, the resolution has no legislative effect. EU type approval is regulated on the EU level. However, German regulations traditionally have shaped EU and UNECE regulations.

EU automakers will be alarmed that the resolution, as quoted by der Spiegel, calls on the EU Commission to “review the current practices of taxation and dues with regard to a stimulation of emission-free mobility.”

  • “Stimulation of emission-free mobility” can mean incentives to buy EVs. Lavish subsidies doled out by EU states have barely moved the needle so far.
  • A “review the current practices of taxation and dues” is an unambiguously broad hint to end the tax advantages enjoyed by diesel in many EU member states. The lower price of diesel fuel, paired with its higher mileage per liter, are the reason that half of the cars on Europe’s roads are diesel-driven. Higher taxes would fuel diesel’s demise. […]

With diesel already on its tipping point in Europe, higher taxes and increased prices at the pump would be the beginning of the fuel’s end. As evidenced at the Paris auto show, the EU auto industry seems to be ready to switch to electric power, and politicians just signaled their willingness to force the switch to zero-emission, if necessary. Environmentalists undoubtedly will applaud this move, and the sooner diesel is stopped from poisoning our lungs with cancer-causing nitrous oxide, the better. Cult-like supporters of electric carmaker Tesla will register the developments with trepidation.

When EU carmakers are forced by law to produce the 13+ million electric cars the region would need per year, the upstart carmaker would lose its USP, and end up as roadkill. Maybe even earlier. Prompted by a recent accident on a German Autobahn, experts of Germany’s transport ministry declared Tesla’s autopilot a “considerable traffic hazard,” Der Spiegel wrote yesterday.Transport Minister Dobrindt so far stands between removing Germany’s 3,000 Tesla cars from the road, the magazine writes. Actually, until the report surfaced, the minister’s plan was to subsidize Autopilot research in Germany’s inner cities. “Let’s hope no Tesla accident happens,” the minister’s bureaucrats told Der Spiegel. It happened, but no-one died.”

Via Forbes:  http://bit.ly/2e8HSQf

 

Thermoelectric Materials: Converting Heat to Electricity

When we think of using electricity one of the prevalent uses is to provide a heat source.  We see this in our everyday lives as ranges and ovens, microwaves, kettles, hot water tanks, baseboard heaters, as well as other applications.  So how about reversing the process and capturing heat and directly converting to electricity, is this possible?  As it happens there is a classification of materials which have a property called a thermoelectric effect.

Boosting energy efficiency is an important element of the transition to a sustainable energy system. There are big savings to be made. For example, less than half the energy content of diesel is actually used to power a diesel truck. The rest is lost, mostly in the form of heat. Many industrial processes also deal with the problem of excessive .

That’s why many research teams are working to develop that can convert waste heat into energy. But it’s no easy task. To efficiently convert heat to electricity, the materials need to be good at conducting electricity, but at the same time poor at conducting heat. For many materials, that’s a contradiction in terms.

“One particular challenge is creating thermoelectric materials that are so stable that they work well at high temperatures,” says Anders Palmqvist, professor of materials chemistry, who is conducting research on thermoelectric materials. (1)

2dthermoelec.jpg

Image 1:  The enlarged illustration (in the circle) shows a 2D electron gas on the surface of a zinc oxide semiconductor. When exposed to a temperature difference, the 2D region exhibits a significantly higher thermoelectric performance compared to that of bulk zinc oxide. The bottom figure shows that the electronic density of states distribution is quantized for 2D and continuous for 3D materials. Credit: Shimizu et al. ©2016 PNAS

The thermoelectric effect is not as efficient as converting electricity to heat, which is generally 100% efficient.  However, with waste energy streams even a small conversion rate may return a significant flow of usable electricity which would normally go up a stack or out a tailpipe.

The large amount of waste heat produced by power plants and automobile engines can be converted into electricity due to the thermoelectric effect, a physics effect that converts temperature differences into electrical energy. Now in a new study, researchers have confirmed theoretical predictions that two-dimensional (2D) materials—those that are as thin as a single nanometer—exhibit a significantly higher thermoelectric effect than three-dimensional (3D) materials, which are typically used for these applications.

The study, which is published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Sunao Shimizu et al., could provide a way to improve the recycling of into useful energy.

Previous research has predicted that 2D materials should have better thermoelectric properties than 3D materials because the electrons in 2D materials are more tightly confined in a much smaller space. This confinement effect changes the way that the electrons can arrange themselves. In 3D materials, this arrangement (called the density of states distribution) is continuous, but in 2D materials, this distribution becomes quantized—only certain values are allowed. At certain densities, the quantization means that less energy is required to move electrons around, which in turn increases the efficiency with which the material can convert heat into . (2)

 

Related Articles:

References:

  1. http://phys.org/news/2016-06-track-electricity.html#jCp
  2. http://phys.org/news/2016-06-electricity-dimensions.html#jCp

Flow Batteries: Developments in Energy Storage Systems (ESS)

The need for large scale storage solutions come to the forefront as a means to adjust supply to demand on the electrical grid.  Energy storage systems can adjust time of delivery to eliminate the need for peaker plants, allow for the addition of intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, or allow for large users to reduce facility operating costs by using a storage system to supplement energy supply reducing peak demand, most notably for summer A/C loads in buildings.

vanadium-flow-battery-wind-energy

Out of engineering research laboratories in materials science and electro-chemistry  are coming new energy storage systems designed for the future to solve these issues meanwhile opening up new enterprises and industry.  The characteristics of an ideal flow battery would include:  a long service life, modularity and scalability, no standby losses, chargeability, low maintenance, and safe.  In addition a flow battery will have to be economic compared to other systems which will need to be determined using LCOE analysis.

Related Articles:

  1. https://duanetilden.com/2015/01/27/determining-the-true-cost-lcoe-of-battery-energy-storage/
  2. https://duanetilden.com/2015/01/26/what-is-levelized-cost-of-energy-or-lcoe/
  3. https://duanetilden.com/2016/01/18/energy-storage-compared-to-conventional-resources-using-lcoe-analysis/
  4. https://duanetilden.com/2015/02/17/vanadium-flow-battery-competes-with-lithium-and-lead-acid-at-grid-scale/ 

Links:

 

 

Apple Creates Clean Energy Subsidiary

“Apple has created a subsidiary to sell the excess electricity generated by its hundreds of megawatts of solar projects. The company, called Apple Energy LLC, filed a request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sell power on wholesale markets across the US.

The company has announced plans for 521 megawatts of solar projects globally. It’s using that clean energy to power all of its data centers, as well as most of its Apple Stores and corporate offices. In addition, it has other investments in hydroelectric, biogas, and geothermal power, and looks to purchase green energy off the grid when it can’t generate its own power. In all, Apple says it generates enough electricity to cover 93 percent of its energy usage worldwide.

But it’s possible that Apple is building power generation capacity that exceeds its needs in anticipation of future growth. In the meantime, selling off the excess helps recoup costs by selling to power companies at wholesale rates, which then gets sold onward to end customers.

It’s unlikely that Apple, which generated more than $233 billion in revenue in fiscal 2015, will turn power generation into a meaningful revenue stream — but it might as well get something out of the investment. The company issued $1.5 billion in green bonds earlier this year to finance its clean energy projects.” (2)

Related Articles:

References:

  1. http://inhabitat.com/apple-is-launching-a-new-company-to-sell-surplus-solar-energy/apple-cupertino-hq-foster-partners-1/
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/9/11896502/apple-clean-solar-energy-subsidiary-wholesale

The Smart Grid – Modern Electrical Infrastructure

When we talk about the emerging Smart Grid there comes with the topic an array of exciting and new technologies; Micro-Grids, Distributed Generation, Smart Meters, Load Shifting, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles with Battery Storage for Demand Response, and more.  Recent development in Renewable Energy sources has been driven by concerns over Climate Change, allowing for unprecedented growth in residential and commercial PV Solar Panel installations.

redwoodhighschool.jpg

Figure 1:  Redwood High School in Larkspur, CA installed a 705kW SunPower system that’s projected to save $250,000 annually. The carports include EV charging stations for four cars. (1)

Climate Change and burning of fossil fuels are hot topics in the world. Most recently the city of San Francisco has mandated the installation of solar panels on all new buildings constructed under 10 storeys, which will come into effect in 2017 as a measure to reduce carbon emissions.  Currently all new buildings in California are required to set aside 15% of roof area for solar. (2)

“Under existing state law, California’s Title 24 Energy Standards require 15% of roof area on new small and mid-sized buildings to be “solar ready,” which means the roof is unshaded by the proposed building itself, and free of obtrusions. This state law applies to all new residential and commercial buildings of 10 floors or less.

Supervisor Wiener’s ordinance builds on this state law by requiring this 15% of “solar ready” roof area to have solar actually installed. This can take the form of either solar photovoltaic or solar water panels, both of which supply 100% renewable energy.” (3)

Weather and Aging Infrastructure:

Despite an increasing abundance of energy-efficient buildings and other measures, electricity demand has risen by around 10% over the last decade, partly driven by the massive growth of digital device usage and the expanding demand for air conditioning, as summers continue to get hotter in many states.

According to 2013 data from the Department of Energy (DOE), US power grid outages have risen by 285% since records on blackouts began in 1984, for the most part driven by the grid’s vulnerability to unusual and extreme weather events – such as the devastating Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that caused extensive power outages across the East Coast – which are becoming less unusual as the years roll on.

“We used to have two to five major weather events per year from the 50s to the 80s,” said University of Minnesota Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Massoud Amin in a 2014 interview with the International Business Times.

“Between 2008 and 2012, major outages caused by weather increased to 70 to 130 outages per year. Weather used to account for about 17% to 21% of all root causes. Now, in the last five years, it’s accounting for 68% to 73% of all major outages.” (4)

How is the Smart Grid so different from the traditional electrical grid?

The established model of providing power to consumers involves the supply of electricity generated from a distant source and transmitted at high voltage to sub-stations local to the consumer, refer to Figure 2.  The power plants that generate the electricity are mostly thermo-electric (coal, gas and nuclear power), with some hydro-electric sources (dams and reservoirs) and most recently wind farms and large solar installations.

“The national power grid that keeps America’s lights on is a massive and immensely valuable asset. Built in the decades after the Second World War and valued today at around $876bn, the country’s grid system as a whole connects electricity from thousands of power plants to 150 million customers through more than five million miles of power lines and around 3,300 utility companies.” (4)

power_fig1 Old Grid Model.gif

Figure 2:  Existing Transmission and Distribution Grid Structure within the Power Industry (5)

The (Transmission & Distribution) market supplies equipment, services and production systems for energy markets. The initial stage in the process is converting power from a generation source (coal, nuclear, wind, etc.) into a high voltage electrical format that can be transported using the power grid, either overhead or underground. This “transformation” occurs very close to the source of the power generation.

The second stage occurs when this high-voltage power is “stepped-down” by the use of switching gears and then controlled by using circuit breakers and arresters to protect against surges. This medium voltage electrical power can then be safely distributed to urban or populated areas.

The final stage involves stepping the power down to useable voltage for the commercial or residential customer.  In short, while power generation relates to the installed capacity to produce energy from an organic or natural resource, the T&D space involves the follow up “post-power generation production” as systems and grids are put in place to transport this power to end users. (5)

The Smart Grid is an evolution in multiple technologies which in cases is overlaying or emerging from the existing grid.  New generating facilities such as wind power or solar installations which may be small or local to a municipal or industrial user are being tied into the existing grid infra-structure.  In some cases residential PV Solar systems are being tied into the Grid with some form of agreement to purchase excess energy, in some cases at rates favorable to the installer, depending on the utility and region.

Another characteristic of the evolving Smart Grid is in communication technology and scalability.  Use of wifi protocols for communication between parts of the system allow for new processes and access to resources which were previously unavailable.  Ability to control systems to defer demand to non-peak hours within a building as one example.

Microgrids, smaller autonomous systems servicing a campus of buildings or larger industry,  may plug into a larger City-wide Smart Grid in a modular manner.  In the event of a catastrophic event such as a hurricane or earthquake the Smart Grid offers users resiliency through multiple sources of energy supply.

Distributed Generation includes a number of different and smaller scale energy sources into the mix.  The newer, small scale Renewable Energy projects which are being tied to the electrical grid as well as other technologies such as Co-Generation, Waste To Energy facilities, Landfill Gas Systems, Geothermal and the like.  As growth continues there needs to be ways to control and manage these multiple energy sources into the grid.  Also increased needs to maintain privacy, isolate and control systems, and prevent unauthorized access and control.  This is leading to growth in  Energy Management and Security Systems.

ARES-rail-train

Figure 3:  An artist’s rendering of the massive rail used in the ARES power storage project to store renewable energy as gravitational potential energy. Source: ARES North America (6)

Energy Storage is emerging as necessary in the Smart Grid due to fluctuations in source supply of energy, especially Solar and Wind Power, and the intermittent and cyclical nature of user demand.   The existing grid does not have the need for energy storage systems as energy sources were traditionally large power stations which generally responded to anticipated need during the course of the day.

As more Renewable Energy systems go online the need for storage will grow.  Energy Storage in its various forms will also enable Load Shifting or Peak Shaving strategies for economic gains in user operations.  These strategies are already becoming commercially available for buildings to save the facility operators rate charges by limiting demand during peak periods at higher utility rates.

RTEmagicC_CSE1412_MAG_PP_FENERGY_Figure_1.jpg

Figure 4:  Effect of Peak Shaving using Energy Storage  (6) 

Peak-load shifting is the process of mitigating the effects of large energy load blocks during a period of time by advancing or delaying their effects until the power supply system can readily accept additional load. The traditional intent behind this process is to minimize generation capacity requirements by regulating load flow. If the loads themselves cannot be regulated, this must be accomplished by implementing energy storage systems (ESSs) to shift the load profile as seen by the generators (see Figure 4).

Depending on the application, peak-load shifting can be referred to as “peak shaving” or “peak smoothing.” The ESS is charged while the electrical supply system is powering minimal load and the cost of electric usage is reduced, such as at night. It is then discharged to provide additional power during periods of increased loading, while costs for using electricity are increased. This technique can be employed to mitigate utility bills. It also effectively shifts the impact of the load on the system, minimizing the generation capacity required. (6)

Challenges with chemical storage systems such as batteries are scale and cost.  Currently pumped hydro is the predominant method of storing energy from intermittent sources providing 99% of global energy storage. (7)

inline_demandresponse

Figure 5:  Actual Savings accrued due to Demand Response Program  (8) 

Demand Response (DR) is another technology getting traction in the Smart Grid economy. As previously mentioned Energy Management and Security Systems are “…converging with Energy Storage technology to make DR a hot topic.  First, the tools necessary to determine where energy is being stored, where it is needed and when to deliver it is have developed over decades in the telecommunications sector.  Secondly, the more recent rush of advanced battery research is making it possible to store energy and provide the flexibility necessary for demand response to really work. Mix that with the growing ability to generate energy on premises through solar, wind and other methods (Distributed Generation) and a potent new distributed structure is created.” (9)

Demand response programs provide financial incentives to reduce energy consumption during peak periods of energy demand. As utilities and independent system operators (ISOs) are pressured to keep costs down and find ways to get as many miles as they can out of every kilowatt, demand response programs have gained popularity. (8)

VirtualPowerPlant#1

Figure 6:  The Demonstration Project 2’s Virtual Power Plant (10) 

Virtual Power Plant: When an increasing share of energy is produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind, electricity production can fluctuate significantly. In the future there will be a need for services which can help balance power systems in excess of what conventional assets will be able to provide. Virtual power plants (VPPs) are one of the most promising new technologies that can deliver the necessary stabilising services.  (11)

In the VPP model an energy aggregator gathers a portfolio of smaller generators and operates them as a unified and flexible resource on the energy market or sells their power as system reserve.

VPPs are designed to maximize asset owners’ profits while also balancing the grid. They can match load fluctuations through forecasting, advance metering and computerized control, and can perform real-time optimization of energy resources.

“Virtual power plants essentially represent an ‘Internet of Energy,’ tapping existing grid networks to tailor electricity supply and demand services for a customer,” said Navigant senior analyst Peter Asmus in a market report. The VPP market will grow from less than US $1 billion per year in 2013 to $3.6 billion per year by 2020, according to Navigant’s research — and one reason is that with more variable renewables on the grid flexibility and demand response are becoming more crucial.  (12)

How-Microgrids-Work.jpg

Figure 7:   Example of a Microgrid System With Loads, Generation, Storage and Coupling to a Utility Grid (13)

Microgrids:  Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience (14).  The structure of a microgrid is a smaller version of the smart grid formed in a recursive  hierarchy where multiple local microgrids may interconnect to form the larger smart grid which services a region or community.

Summary:

The convergence of aging existing infrastructure, continued growth in populations and electrical demand and concerns over climate change have lead to the emerging smart grid and it’s array of new technologies.  This trend is expected to continue as new growth and replacement will be necessary for an aging electrical grid system, from the larger scope transmission systems and utilities, to smaller scale microgrids.  These systems will become integrated and modular, almost plug-and-play, with inter-connectivity and control through wireless internet protocols.

References:

  1. https://cleanpowermarketinggroup.com/category/blog/
  2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/474969107/san-francisco-requires-new-buildings-to-install-solar-panels
  3. https://medium.com/@Scott_Wiener/press-release-board-of-supervisors-unanimously-passes-supervisor-wiener-s-legislation-to-require-693deb9c2369#.3913ug8ph
  4. http://www.power-technology.com/features/featureupgrading-the-us-power-grid-for-the-21st-century-4866973/
  5. http://www.incontext.indiana.edu/2010/july-aug/article3.asp
  6. http://www.csemag.com/single-article/implementing-energy-storage-for-peak-load-shifting/95b3d2a5db6725428142c5a605ac6d89.html
  7. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/05/26/batteries-or-train-pumped-energy-for-grid-scale-power-storage/#30b5b497de55
  8. http://www.summitenergygps.com/optimize-rebates-incentives-credits.html
  9. https://duanetilden.com/2015/12/26/demand-response-energy-distribution-a-technological-revolution/
  10. https://hub.globalccsinstitute.com/publications/twenties-project-final-report-short-version/demonstration-project-2-large-scale-virtual-power-plant-integration-derint
  11. http://energy.gov/oe/services/technology-development/smart-grid/role-microgrids-helping-advance-nation-s-energy-system
  12. http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/print/volume-16/issue-5/solar-energy/virtual-power-plants-a-new-model-for-renewables-integration.html
  13. http://w3.usa.siemens.com/smartgrid/us/en/microgrid/pages/microgrids.aspx
  14. http://energy.gov/oe/services/technology-development/smart-grid/role-microgrids-helping-advance-nation-s-energy-system

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PV Panel Energy Conversion Efficiency Rankings

The purpose of this brief is to investigate into the types of solar panel systems with a look at their theoretical maximum Energy Conversion Efficiency both in research and the top 20 manufactured commercial PV panels. 

PVeff(rev160420)

Figure 1:  Reported timeline of solar cell energy conversion efficiencies since 1976 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) (1)

Solar panel efficiency refers to the capacity of the panel to convert sunlight into electricity.   “Energy conversion efficiency is measured by dividing the electrical output by the incident light power.” (1)  There is a theoretical limit to the efficiency of a solar cell of “86.8% of the amount of in-coming radiation. When the in-coming radiation comes only from an area of the sky the size of the sun, the efficiency limit drops to 68.7%.”

Figure 1 shows that there has been considerable laboratory research and data available on the various configurations of photo-voltaic solar cells and their energy conversion efficiency from 1976 to date.  One major advantage is that as PV module efficiency increases the amount of material  or area required (system size) to maintain a specific nominal output of electricity will generally decrease.

Of course, not all types of systems and technologies are economically feasible at this time for mainstream production.  The top 20 PV solar cells are listed in Figure 2 below with their accompanying measured energy efficiency.

top-20-most-efficient-solar-panels-chart

Figure 2:  Table of the top 20 most efficient solar panels on the North American Market (2)

Why Monocrystalline Si Panels are more Efficient:

Current technology has the most efficient solar PV modules composed of monocrystalline silicon.  Lower efficiency panels are composed of polycrystalline silicon and are generally about 13 to 16% efficient.  This lower efficiency is attributed to higher occurrences of defects in the crystal lattice which affects movement of electrons.  These defects can be imperfections and impurities, as well as a result of the number of grain boundaries present in the lattice.  A monocrystal by definition has only grain boundaries at the edge of the lattice.  However a polycrystalline PV module is full of grain boundaries which present additional discontinuities in the crystalline lattice; impeding electron flow thus reducing conversion efficiency. (3) (4)

Other Factors that can affect Solar Panel Conversion Efficiency in Installations (5):

Direction and angle of your roof 
Your roof will usually need to be South, East or West facing and angled between 10 and 60 degrees to work at its peak efficiency.

Shade
The less shade the better. Your solar panels will have a lower efficiency if they are in the shade for significant periods during the day.

Temperature
Solar panel systems need to be installed a few inches above the roof in order to allow enough airflow to cool them down.  Cooler northern climates also improve efficiency to partially compensate for lower intensity.

Time of year
Solar panels work well all year round but will produce more energy during summer months when the sun is out for longer.  In the far northern regions the sun can be out during the summer for most of the day, conversely during the winter the sun may only be out for a few hours each day.

Size of system
Typical residential solar panel systems range from 2kW to 4kW. The bigger the system the more power you will be able to produce.  For commercial and larger systems refer to a qualified consultant.

 

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency
  2. http://sroeco.com/solar/top-20-efficient-solar-panels-on-the-market/
  3. http://energyinformative.org/best-solar-panel-monocrystalline-polycrystalline-thin-film/
  4. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy11osti/50650.pdf
  5. http://www.theecoexperts.co.uk/which-solar-panels-are-most-efficient