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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Zip Code 00000

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

 

Oldest Nuclear Power Plant in US to be Retired – The 60 Year Decommissioning Process

When a nuclear plant retires, it stops producing electricity and enters into the decommissioning phase. Decommissioning involves removing and safely storing spent nuclear fuel, decontaminating the plant to reduce residual radioactivity, dismantling plant structures, removing contaminated materials to disposal facilities, and then releasing the property for other uses once the NRC has determined the site is safe.

According to Exelon, Oyster Creek will undergo a six-step decommissioning process. The typical decommissioning period for a nuclear power plant is about 60 years, so parts of the Oyster Creek plant structure could remain in place until 2075. (1.)

retired nuclear power plants and nuclear power plants that have announced retirement

Since 2013, six commercial nuclear reactors in the United States have shut down, and an additional eight reactors have announced plans to retire by 2025. The retirement process for nuclear power plants involves disposing of nuclear waste and decontaminating equipment and facilities to reduce residual radioactivity, making it much more expensive and time consuming than retiring other power plants. As of 2017, a total of 10 commercial nuclear reactors in the United States have been successfully decommissioned, and another 20 U.S. nuclear reactors are currently in different stages of the decommissioning process.

To fully decommission a power plant, the facility must be deconstructed and the site returned to greenfield status (meaning the site is safe for reuse for purposes such as housing, farming, or industrial use). Nuclear reactor operators must safely dispose of any onsite nuclear waste and remove or contain any radioactive material, including nuclear fuel as well as irradiated equipment and buildings. (2.)

References:

  1. America’s oldest operating nuclear power plant to retire on Monday
  2. Decommissioning nuclear reactors is a long-term and costly process

Energy Efficiency of Power Production: How Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Turbines Operate

Duane M. Tilden, P.Eng.                                    Sept 1, 2018

Foreword:

This is another article in an ongoing series of reports on the technological development of supercritical carbon dioxide in the power production and energy efficiency sectors of industry, power plants and utilities.

dodge-sco23 supercritical CO2 turbine

Figure 1. Size comparison of Supercritical Power Turbine to Conventional Steam Turbine (1)

Abstract:

The ever increasing search for improving energy and power production efficiency is a natural quest as developments in technology seek to be utilized to improve operations and supply cost effectively. The technologies behind the utilization of supercritical carbon dioxide and other such fluids have long been established. We are furthering our exploration into this sector of power production developing new technologies along the way to a smarter economy and modernization of infrastructure.

The Principle of Operation

Supercritical fluids can play an important role in developing better electricity generators because of their liquid- and gas-like properties. A supercritical fluid is an optimal working fluid because it has a temperature and pressure above its critical point, meaning that it doesn’t have a definite liquid or gas phase. Consequently, the slightest changes in pressure or temperature cause huge changes in the material’s density.

With any supercritical fluid, the ease of compressibility goes up, explains Stapp, so it becomes something more like water. Because supercritical CO2 also compresses more easily than steam, the amount of work done during the compression phase—normally accounting for 25 percent of the work performed inside the system—is dramatically reduced; the energy saved there greatly contributes to the turbine’s overall efficiency.

“We expand it like a gas, and pressurize it like a liquid,” says James Pasch, principle investigator of the Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Brayton Cycle Research and Development Program. “You can do this with any fluid, but supercritical carbon dioxide matches really well with ambient temperatures.”

Carbon dioxide is optimal for this application because it doesn’t go through a phase change at any point during the cycle. Its critical temperature, 88 degrees Fahrenheit, is very close to ambient temperature, which means the heat emitted by the turbine is the same temperature as the surrounding environment. Supercritical carbon dioxide is also very dense; at its critical point, the fluid is about half the density of water. So, in addition to being easier to compress, less work is required to cycle it back to the heat source for re-expansion.

The Brayton Cycle also offers direct environmental benefits. For one, it’s carbon neutral. The system takes carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it in the recompression cycle loop. Just as important is the fact that the system limits water usage by minimizing discharge, evaporation, and withdraw.

“That’s a big deal for the southwest,” says Gary Rochau, manager of Sandia’s Advanced Nuclear Concepts Department. Sandia’s generator can work in places where water is in limited supply. This puts it on par with the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Arizona that uses recycled waste water as cooling water, saving groundwater and municipal water supplies for other uses. (2)

Figure 1. Illustration of a Supercritical CO2 Turbine [Peregrine Turbine Technologies] (2)

Advances in Materials and Technology

GE Reports first wrote about Hofer last year when he 3D printed a plastic prototype of the turbine. His team, partnered with Southwest Research Institute and Gas Technology Institute, has since submitted the design to the U.S. Department of Energy and won an $80 million award to build the 10 MW turbine. The turbine features a rotor that is 4.5 feet long, 7 inches in diameter, and only weighs 150 pounds. The engineers are now completing a scaled-down, 1 MW version of the machine and will test it in July at the Southwest Research Institute.

The idea of using CO2 to power a steam turbine has been around for a while. It first appeared in the late 1960s, and an MIT doctoral student resurrected it in 2004. “The industry has been really interested in the potential benefits of using CO2 in place of steam in advanced supercritical power plants,” Hofer says.

By “supercritical” Hofer means efficient power stations using CO2 squeezed and heated so much that it becomes a supercritical fluid, which behaves like a gas and a liquid at the same time. The world’s most efficient thermal power plant, RDK 8 in Germany, uses an “ultrasupercritical” steam turbine operating at 600 degrees Celsius and pressure of 4,000 pounds per square inch, more than what’s exerted when a bullet strikes a solid object.

Hofer says that the steam power plant technology “has been on a continuous march” to increase efficiency and steam temperature, but once it tops 700 degrees Celsius, “the CO2 cycle becomes more efficient than the steam cycle.” Hofer’s turbine and casing are made from a nickel-based superalloy because it can handle temperatures as high as 715 degrees Celsius and pressures approaching 3,600 pounds per square inch. “You need a high-strength material for a design like this,” he says.

 Figure 2. GE Global Research engineer Doug Hofer is building a compact and highly efficient turbine that fits on a conference table but can generate 10 megawatts (MW), enough to power 10,000 U.S. homes. The turbine, made from a nickel-based superalloy that can handle temperatures up to 715 degrees Celsius and pressures approaching 3,600 pounds per square inch, replaces steam with ultrahot and superpressurized carbon dioxide, allowing for a smaller design.

The hellish heat and pressure turn CO2 into a hot, dense liquid, allowing Hofer to shrink the turbine’s size and potentially increase its efficiency a few percentage points above where state-of-the-art steam systems operate today. “The pressure and fluid density at the exit of our turbine is two orders of magnitude higher than in a steam turbine,” Hofer says. “Therefore, to push the same mass through, you can have a much smaller turbine because the flow at the exit end is much denser.”

Hofer’s design uses a small amount of CO2 in a closed loop. “It’s important to remember that this is not a CO2 capture or sequestration technology,” he says. Hofer says that the technology, which is being developed as part of GE’s Ecomagination program, could one day start replacing steam turbines. “It’s on the multigenerational roadmap for steam-powered systems,” he says.

By virtue of becoming more efficient, the technology could help power-plant operators reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The efficiency of converting coal into electricity matters: more efficient power plants use less fuel and emit less climate-damaging carbon dioxide,” wrote the authors of the International Energy Agency report on measuring coal plant performance. (3)

Previous Blog Posts on Supercritical Carbon Dioxide:

  1. https://duanetilden.com/2016/11/11/transitioning-oil-gas-wells-to-renewable-geothermal-energy/
  2. https://duanetilden.com/2016/03/13/supercritical-co2-used-for-solar-battery-power-system/
  3. https://duanetilden.com/2015/04/23/doe-invests-in-super-critical-carbon-dioxide-turbine-research-to-replace-steam-for-electric-power-generators/
  4. https://duanetilden.com/2013/10/29/supercritical-co2-refines-cogeneration-for-industry/
  5. https://duanetilden.com/2013/10/29/supercritical-co2-turbine-for-power-production-waste-heat-energy-recovery/
  6. https://duanetilden.com/2013/10/29/waste-heat-recovery-using-supercritical-co2-turbines-to-create-electrical-power/

 

References:

  1. supercritical-carbon-dioxide-power-cycles-starting-to-hit-the-market/
  2. supercritical-carbon-dioxide-can-make-electric-turbines-greener
  3. ecomagination-ge-building-co2-powered-turbine-generates-10-megawatts-fits-table/

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

Microgrids and the Blockchain – Transforming the Energy Supply

Author: Duane M. Tilden, P.Eng.           Date: June 10, 2018

In the transition from the centralized utility is the development of the Micro-grid.  The Micro-grid offers many benefits to society, including; (a) use of renewable energy sources that reduce or eliminate the production of GHG’s, (b) increases in energy efficiency of energy transmission due to shortening of transmission distances and infrastructure, (c) improved municipal resilience against disaster and power reductions, and finally, (d) promotion of economic activity that improves universal standard of living. (1)

The Brooklyn Microgrid Experiment

A Network of Energy Cells (2)

In order to be successful, blockchain platforms and microgrids require a regulatory framework. In New York State, such a framework is provided by “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV). The platform’s objectives are to minimize the vulnerability of the power supply system that became visible during Hurricane Sandy, to use more sources of renewable energy, and to reduce costs.

The Brooklyn Microgrid is a good test case for these objectives. “A microgrid is a nucleus that sets the stage for an energy future consisting of networks of energy cells,” says Stefan Jessenberger from Siemens’ Energy Management Division. “Blockchain also supports this process, because it makes it much easier to conduct energy trading within cells.”

Siemens Digital Grid, next47, and LO3 Energy all believe in the potential of blockchain-based microgrids, because this technology can be used wherever there are decentralized energy sources. “Our experiences with the Brooklyn Microgrid will certainly flow into future projects,” says Kessler.

 
Image #1: A Canal in Brooklyn, New York (5)

The Future is Now

But something else is happening to the grid as energy generation changes – the rise of microgrids. These smaller grid systems are linked to localised power sources, often referred to as “distributed generation” sources. For example, a handful of buildings in a city with their own solar panels might be connected to nearby residences.

In fact, that is exactly the model that LO3 Energy has experimented with in its Brooklyn Microgrid project. Customers signed up to it can choose to power their homes via a range of local renewable energy sources. People with their own solar panels can sell surplus electricity to their neighbours, for example. It’s a peer-to-peer network for electricity.

To ensure that accurate records of these transactions are kept, LO3 has opted to use blockchain distributed ledger technology. This means the microgrid’s accounting is decentralised and shared by everyone on the network.

“It’s virtually unhackable,” says founder and chief executive Lawrence Orsini, explaining that tampering with these records is almost impossible because of the fact that everyone has their own, regularly updated copy of the ledger.

LO3 is now rapidly expanding with a series of other projects around the world. One is based in South Australia, where Orsini explains there is already a lot of distributed generation going on – and plenty of grid stability issues. Users can now experiment with LO3 to get access to electricity from solar-fuelled batteries nearby when needed. (3)

Physical and Virtual Microgrids

Challenging the traditional electrical supply model are microgrids. The “microgrid” term normally refers to a localised grid that can disconnect from the main grid and operate autonomously. It uses local sources of energy to serve local users, integrating the supply of energy from various producers, including local power generators and providers of renewable energy such as solar power. Consumers with their own energy production capabilities (wind turbines or solar energy systems) can sell their surplus energy production back to peers in the microgrid, on a pay-per-use basis (becoming ‘prosumers’).

While physical microgrids are still rare, we do observe the development of virtual microgrids using peer-to-peer energy trading. Blockchain is just one element in the transformation of electricity supply, providing Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to members of a peer-to-peer energy network, or microgrid. It offers [or ‘provides’] a reliable, lower-cost digital platform for making, validating, recording and settling energy transactions in real time across a localised and decentralised energy system.

With increasing demand for more flexible energy supplies we expect a continued increase in the number of virtual microgrids and a gradual movement towards true, physical microgrids along 4 stages […] (4)

“This project…, is the first version of a new kind of energy market, operated by consumers, which will change the way we generate and consume electricity.”
New Scientist (5)

References:  

  1. microgrid-as-a-service-maas-and-the-blockchain/
  2. smart-grids-and-energy-storage-microgrid-in-brooklyn
  3. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/microgrids-wired-energy
  4. energy-and-resources/articles/will-microgrids-transform-the-marke.html
  5. http://brooklynmicrogrid.com/

A Modern Renaissance of Electrical Power: Microgrid Technology – Part 1

NYC First Power Grid - Edison #2.png

Figure 1:  The original Edison DC microgrid in New York City, which started operation on September 4, 1882 (1)

A.  Historical Development of Electric Power in the Metropolitan City

The development of electricity for commercial, municipal and industrial use developed at a frantic pace in the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The original distribution system consisted of copper wiring laid below the streets of New York’s east side.  The first power plants and distribution systems were small compared to today’s interconnected grids which span nations and continents.  These small “islands” of electrical power were the original microgrids.  In time they grew to become the massive infrastructure which delivers us electrical power we have become dependent upon for the operation of our modern society.

1) Let There Be Light! – Invention of the Light Bulb

When electricity first came on the scene in the 1800’s it was a relatively unknown force. Distribution systems from a central plant were a new concept originally intended to provide electric power for the newly invented incandescent light bulb.  Thomas Edison first developed a DC power electric grid to test out and prove his ideas in New York, at the Manhattan Pearl Street Station in the 1870’s.  This first “microgrid” turned out to be a formidable undertaking.

[…] Edison’s great illumination took far longer to bring about than he expected, and the project was plagued with challenges. “It was massive, all of the problems he had to solve,” says writer Jill Jonnes, author of Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, to PBS. For instance, Edison had to do the dirty work of actually convincing city officials to let him use the Lower East Side as a testing ground, which would require digging up long stretches of street to install 80,000 feet insulated copper wiring below the surface.

He also had to design all of the hardware that would go into his first power grid, including switchboards, lamps, and even the actual meters used to charge specific amounts to specific buildings. That included even the six massive steam-powered generators—each weighing 30 tons—which Edison had created to serve this unprecedented new grid, according to IEEE. As PBS explains, Edison was responsible for figuring out all sorts of operational details of the project—including a “bank of 1,000 lamps for testing the system:” (1)

Although Edison was the first to develop a small DC electrical distribution system in a city, there was competition between DC and AC power system schemes in the early years of electrical grid development.  At the same time, there were a hodge-podge of other power sources and distribution methods in the early days of modern city development.

In the 1880s, electricity competed with steam, hydraulics, and especially coal gas. Coal gas was first produced on customer’s premises but later evolved into gasification plants that enjoyed economies of scale. In the industrialized world, cities had networks of piped gas, used for lighting. But gas lamps produced poor light, wasted heat, made rooms hot and smoky, and gave off hydrogen and carbon monoxide. In the 1880s electric lighting soon became advantageous compared to gas lighting. (2)

2) Upward Growth – Elevators and Tall Buildings

Another innovation which had been developing at the same time as electrical production and distribution, was the elevator, a necessity for the development of tall buildings and eventually towers and skyscrapers .  While there are ancient references to elevating devices and lifts, the original electric elevator was first introduced in Germany in 1880 by Werner von Siemens (3).  It was necessary for upward growth in urban centers that a safe and efficient means of moving people and goods was vital for the development of tall buildings.

Later in the 1800s, with the advent of electricity, the electric motor was integrated into elevator technology by German inventor Werner von Siemens. With the motor mounted at the bottom of the cab, this design employed a gearing scheme to climb shaft walls fitted with racks. In 1887, an electric elevator was developed in Baltimore, using a revolving drum to wind the hoisting rope, but these drums could not practically be made large enough to store the long hoisting ropes that would be required by skyscrapers.

Motor technology and control methods evolved rapidly. In 1889 came the direct-connected geared electric elevator, allowing for the building of significantly taller structures. By 1903, this design had evolved into the gearless traction electric elevator, allowing hundred-plus story buildings to become possible and forever changing the urban landscape. Multi-speed motors replaced the original single-speed models to help with landing-leveling and smoother overall operation.

Electromagnet technology replaced manual rope-driven switching and braking. Push-button controls and various complex signal systems modernized the elevator even further. Safety improvements have been continual, including a notable development by Charles Otis, son of original “safety” inventor Elisha, that engaged the “safety” at any excessive speed, even if the hoisting rope remained intact. (4)

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Figure 2:  The Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, Manhattan, New York City – The World’s Tallest Building, 1926 (5)

3) Hydroelectric A/C Power – Tesla, Westinghouse and Niagara Falls

Although Niagara Falls was not the first hydroelectric project it was by far the largest and from the massive power production capacity spawned a second Industrial Revolution.

“On September 30, 1882, the world’s first hydroelectric power plant began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. […] Unlike Edison’s New York plant which used steam power to drive its generators, the Appleton plant used the natural energy of the Fox River. When the plant opened, it produced enough electricity to light Rogers’s home, the plant itself, and a nearby building. Hydroelectric power plants of today generate a lot more electricity. By the early 20th century, these plants produced a significant portion of the country’s electric energy. The cheap electricity provided by the plants spurred industrial growth in many regions of the country. To get even more power out of the flowing water, the government started building dams.” (6)

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Figure 3:  The interior of Power House No. 1 of the Niagara Falls Power Company (1895-1899) (7)

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Figure 4:  Adam’s power station with three Tesla AC generators at Niagara Falls, November 16, 1896. (7)

Electrical Transmission, Tesla and the Polyphase Motor

The problem of the best means of transmission, though, would be worked out not by the commission but in the natural course of things, which included great strides in the development of AC. In addition, the natural course of things included some special intervention from on high (that is, from Edison himself).

But above all, it involved Tesla, probably the only inventor ever who could be put in a class with Edison’s in terms of the number and significance of his innovations. The Croatian-born scientific mystic–he spoke of his insight into the mechanical principles of the motor as a kind of religious vision–had once worked for Edison. He had started out with the Edison Company in Paris, where his remarkable abilities were noticed by Edison’s business cohort and close friend Charles Batchelor, who encouraged Tesla to transfer to the Edison office in New York City, which he did in 1884. There Edison, too, became impressed with him after he successfully performed a number of challenging assignments. But when Tesla asked Edison to let him undertake research on AC–in particular on his concept for an AC motor–Edison rejected the idea. Not only wasn’t Edison interested in motors, he refused to have anything to do with the rival current.

So for the time being Tesla threw himself into work on DC. He told Edison he thought he could substantially improve the DC dynamo. Edison told him if he could, it would earn him a $50,000 bonus. This would have enabled Tesla to set up a laboratory of his own where he could have pursued his AC interests. By dint of extremely long hours and diligent effort, he came up with a set of some 24 designs for new equipment, which would eventually be used to replace Edison’s present equipment.

But he never found the promised $50,000 in his pay envelope. When he asked Edison about this matter, Edison told him he had been joking. “You don’t understand American humor,” he said. Deeply disappointed, Tesla quit his position with the Edison company, and with financial backers, started his own company, which enabled him to work on his AC ideas, among other obligations.

The motor Tesla patented in 1888 is known as the induction motor. It not only provided a serviceable motor for AC, but the induction motor had a distinct advantage over the DC motor. (About two-thirds of the motors in use today are induction motors.)

The idea of the induction motor is simplicity itself, based on the Faraday principle. And its simplicity is its advantage over the DC motor.

An electrical motor–whether DC or AC–is a generator in reverse. The generator operates by causing a conductor (armature) to move (rotate) in a magnetic field, producing a current in the armature. The motor operates by causing a current to flow in an armature in a magnetic field, producing rotation of the armature. A generator uses motion to produce electricity. A motor uses electricity to produce motion.

The DC motor uses commutators and brushes (a contact switching mechanism that opens and closes circuits) to change the direction of the current in the rotating armature, and thus sustain the direction of rotation and direction of current.

In the AC induction motor, the current supply to the armature is by induction from the magnetic field produced by the field current.  The induction motor thus does away with the troublesome commutators and brushes (or any other contact switching mechanism). However, in the induction motor the armature wouldn’t turn except as a result of rotation of the magnetic field, which is achieved through the use of polyphase current. The different current phases function in tandem (analogous to pedals on a bicycle) to create differently oriented magnetic fields to propel the armature.  

Westinghouse bought up the patents on the Tesla motors almost immediately and set to work trying to adapt them to the single-phase system then in use. This didn’t work. So he started developing a two-phase system. But in December 1890, because of the company’s financial straits–the company had incurred large liabilities through the purchase of a number of smaller companies, and had to temporarily cut back on research and development projects–Westinghouse stopped the work on polyphase. (8)

4) The Modern Centralized Electric Power System

After the innovative technologies which allowed expansion and growth within metropolitan centers were developed there was a race to establish large power plants and distribution systems from power sources to users.  Alternating Current aka AC power was found to the preferred method of power transmission over copper wires from distant sources.  Direct Current power transmission proved problematic over distances, generated resistance heat resulting in line power losses. (9)

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Figure 5:  New York City streets in 1890. Besides telegraph lines, multiple electric lines were required for each class of device requiring different voltages (11)

AC has a major advantage in that it is possible to transmit AC power as high voltage and convert it to low voltage to serve individual users.

From the late 1800s onward, a patchwork of AC and DC grids cropped up across the country, in direct competition with one another. Small systems were consolidated throughout the early 1900s, and local and state governments began cobbling together regulations and regulatory groups. However, even with regulations, some businessmen found ways to create elaborate and powerful monopolies. Public outrage at the subsequent costs came to a head during the Great Depression and sparked Federal regulations, as well as projects to provide electricity to rural areas, through the Tennessee Valley Authority and others.

By the 1930s regulated electric utilities became well-established, providing all three major aspects of electricity, the power plants, transmission lines, and distribution. This type of electricity system, a regulated monopoly, is called a vertically-integrated utility. Bigger transmission lines and more remote power plants were built, and transmission systems became significantly larger, crossing many miles of land and even state lines.

As electricity became more widespread, larger plants were constructed to provide more electricity, and bigger transmission lines were used to transmit electricity from farther away. In 1978 the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act was passed, making it possible for power plants owned by non-utilities to sell electricity too, opening the door to privatization.

By the 1990s, the Federal government was completely in support of opening access to the electricity grid to everyone, not only the vertically-integrated utilities. The vertically-integrated utilities didn’t want competition and found ways to prevent outsiders from using their transmission lines, so the government stepped in and created rules to force open access to the lines, and set the stage for Independent System Operators, not-for-profit entities that managed the transmission of electricity in different regions.

Today’s electricity grid – actually three separate grids – is extraordinarily complex as a result. From the very beginning of electricity in America, systems were varied and regionally-adapted, and it is no different today. Some states have their own independent electricity grid operators, like California and Texas. Other states are part of regional operators, like the Midwest Independent System Operator or the New England Independent System Operator. Not all regions use a system operator, and there are still municipalities that provide all aspects of electricity. (10)

 

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Figure 6:  Diagram of a modern electric power system (11)

A Brief History of Electrical Transmission Development

The first transmission of three-phase alternating current using high voltage took place in 1891 during the international electricity exhibition in Frankfurt. A 15,000 V transmission line, approximately 175 km long, connected Lauffen on the Neckar and Frankfurt.[6][12]

Voltages used for electric power transmission increased throughout the 20th century. By 1914, fifty-five transmission systems each operating at more than 70,000 V were in service. The highest voltage then used was 150,000 V.[13] By allowing multiple generating plants to be interconnected over a wide area, electricity production cost was reduced. The most efficient available plants could be used to supply the varying loads during the day. Reliability was improved and capital investment cost was reduced, since stand-by generating capacity could be shared over many more customers and a wider geographic area. Remote and low-cost sources of energy, such as hydroelectric power or mine-mouth coal, could be exploited to lower energy production cost.[3][6]

The rapid industrialization in the 20th century made electrical transmission lines and grids a critical infrastructure item in most industrialized nations. The interconnection of local generation plants and small distribution networks was greatly spurred by the requirements of World War I, with large electrical generating plants built by governments to provide power to munitions factories. Later these generating plants were connected to supply civil loads through long-distance transmission. (11)

 

To be continued in Part 2:  Distributed Generation and The Microgrid Revolution

 

References:

  1. The Forgotten Story Of NYC’s First Power Grid  by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan
  2. The Electrical Grid – Wikipedia
  3. The History of the Elevator – Wikipedia
  4. Elevator History – Columbia Elevator
  5. The History of Elevators and Escalators – The Wonder Book Of Knowledge | by Henry Chase (1921)
  6. The World’s First Hydroelectric Power Station
  7. Tesla Memorial Society of New York Website 
  8. The Day They Turned The Falls On: The Invention Of The Universal Electrical Power System by Jack Foran
  9. How electricity grew up? A brief history of the electrical grid
  10. The electricity grid: A history
  11. Electric power transmission

An Engineer’s Take On Major Climate Change

Summary:
1. Climate science is very complicated and very far from being settled.

2. Earth’s climate is overwhelmingly dominated by negative-feedbacks that are currently poorly represented in our Modeling efforts and not sufficiently part of ongoing investigations.

3. Climate warming drives atmospheric CO2 upward as it stimulates all natural sources of CO2 emission. Climate cooling drives atmospheric CO2 downward.

4. Massive yet delayed thermal modulations to the dissolved CO2 content of the oceans is what ultimately drives and dominates the modulations to atmospheric CO2.

5. The current spike in atmospheric CO2 is largely natural (~98%). i.e. Of the 100ppm increase we have seen recently (going from 280 to 380ppm), the move from 280 to 378ppm is natural while the last bit from 378 to 380ppm is rightfully anthropogenic.

6. The current spike in atmospheric CO2 would most likely be larger than now observed if human beings had never evolved. The additional CO2 contribution from insects and microbes (and mammalia for that matter) would most likely have produced a greater current spike in atmospheric CO2.

7. Atmospheric CO2 has a tertiary to non-existent impact on the instigation and amplification of climate change. CO2 is not pivotal. Modulations to atmospheric CO2 are the effect of climate change and not the cause.

Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Ronald D. Voisin

Let’s examine, at a high and salient level, the positive-feedback Anthropogenic Global Warming, Green-House-Gas Heating Effect (AGW-GHGHE) with its supposed pivotal role for CO2. The thinking is that a small increase in atmospheric CO2 will trigger a large increase in atmospheric Green-House-Gas water vapor. And then the combination of these two enhanced atmospheric constituents will lead to run-away, or at least appreciable and unprecedented – often characterized as catastrophic – global warming.

This theory relies entirely on a powerful positive-feedback and overriding (pivotal) role for CO2. It further assumes that rising atmospheric CO2 is largely or even entirely anthropogenic. Both of these points are individually and fundamentally required at the basis of alarm. Yet neither of them is in evidence whatsoever. And neither of them is even remotely true. CO2 is not only “not pivotal” but it…

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Water Conservation and a Change in Climate Ends California Drought

Water scarcity is becoming a greater problem in our world as human demands for water increases due to population growth, industry, agriculture, and energy production. When the water supply is being pushed beyond its natural limits disaster may occur.  For California residents the end of the drought is good news.  Return of wet weather raises reservoir levels and effectively prevents wildfires.  However, another drought could be around the corner in years to come.  Thus government and water users need to remain vigilant and continue to seek ways to conserve and reduce water use.
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Figure 1. 2017 California Major Water Reservoir Levels
By Bark Gomez and Yasemin Saplakoglu, Bay Area News Group (1)
Friday, April 07, 2017 05:17PM

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s historic drought Friday, lifting emergency orders that had forced residents to stop running sprinklers as often and encouraged them to rip out thirsty lawns during the state’s driest four-year period on record.

The drought strained native fish that migrate up rivers and forced farmers in the nation’s leading agricultural state to rely heavily on groundwater, with some tearing out orchards. It also dried up wells, forcing hundreds of families in rural areas to drink bottled water and bathe from buckets.

Brown declared the drought emergency in 2014, and officials later ordered mandatory conservation for the first time in state history. Regulators last year relaxed the rules after a rainfall was close to normal.

But monster storms this winter erased nearly all signs of drought, blanketing the Sierra Nevada with deep snow, California’s key water source, and boosting reservoirs.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a statement. “Conservation must remain a way of life.” (2)

References:

  1. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/04/08/what-permanent-drought-california-governor-officially-declares-end-to-drought-emergency/ 
  2. http://abc7news.com/weather/governor-ends-drought-state-of-emergency-in-most-of-ca/1846410/