BrightSource Energy Inc., Google Inc., Ivanpah, Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, NRG Energy Inc., solar technology
“I taut I taw a solar plant! I did! I did see a solar—ZAP!” Our technological prowess is truly marvelous; we live in amazing times. Unfortunately, human nature never changes and regardless of our advancement, we still fall prey to the inevitable doctrine of unanticipated consequences. If we’re green types, we’re entirely unable to anticipate the most obvious and anticipated consequences. Hot Air has the story:
On Thursday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was in sunny California at the picture-perfect ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand-new Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station, an exemplar of what we’re told is cutting-edge solar technology and the lucky recipient of a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee (note: the total cost of the project is $2.2 billion). As the WSJ report notes, however, the first-of-its-kind solar plant may be among the last:
The $2.2 billion solar farm, which spans over five square miles of federal land southwest of Las Vegas, includes three towers as tall as 40-story buildings. Nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, reflect sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam that drives power generators.
The owners of the project— NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy Inc., the company that developed the “tower power” solar technology—call the plant a major feat of engineering that can light up about 140,000 homes a year.
Wow. Amazing. Uh, correct me if I’m wrong about this, but doesn’t solar power fail in the dark, because there is no—you know—sunlight? And doesn’t that mean those 140,000 homes would be lit only about half of the time—oh, and when there are clouds or storms, or… Remember: government is involved, so:
Ivanpah is among the biggest in a spate of power-plant-sized solar projects that have begun operating in the past two years, spurred in part by a hefty investment tax credit that expires at the end of 2016. Most of them are in California, where state law requires utilities to use renewable sources for a third of the electricity they sell by 2020. …
That makes for expensive power. Experts have estimated that electricity from giant solar projects will cost at least twice as much as electricity from conventional sources. But neither the utilities that have contracted to buy the power nor state regulators have disclosed what the price will be, only that it will be passed on to electricity customers.
Federal loan guarantee? Check. Tax credits? Check. Portfolio standards? Check. And what are consumers, a.k.a. taxpayers, getting for the “investment” that the federal and state governments have so astutely made on their behalf? Higher energy bills, that’s what. The Journal notes that Ivanpah costs about four times as much as a conventional natural gas-fired plant, but will produce far less electricity and take up a lot more land. That’s a sweet deal right there.
So. The Obamites are doing their best to destroy the cheapest and most plentiful source of electricity—coal—while pushing billions into technological wonders like solar and wind power that can produce only a tiny fraction of the nation’s electrical needs, at far greater cost and intermittently at best. Solar works only when the sun is shining, wind only when the wind is blowing, and even then, both do not produce regular, reliable power. But—as they say on late night TV—wait! There’s more!
The BrightSource system appears to be scorching birds that fly through the intense heat surrounding the towers, which can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The company, which is based in Oakland, Calif., reported finding dozens of dead birds at the Ivanpah plant over the past several months, while workers were testing the plant before it started operating in December. …
Regulators said they anticipated that some birds would be killed once the Ivanpah plant started operating, but that they didn’t expect so many to die during the plant’s construction and testing. The dead birds included a peregrine falcon, a grebe, two hawks, four nighthawks and a variety of warblers and sparrows. State and federal regulators are overseeing a two-year study of the facility’s effects on birds.
Well of course! Who could possibly have foreseen that birds flying though massive beams of 1000° heat might be harmed? Obviously the same is true of those technological, public policy, political geniuses that could not possibly foresee massive wind farms as what they actually are: avian Cuisinarts.
This is truly an Obama accomplishment on a par with saving jobs and the economy by destroying jobs and the economy and then calling it a good thing because people won’t be locked in jobs they don’t want. Apparently they don’t want the wages that go with those jobs either, which is good because they won’t be able to afford the electricity anyway.
Now we have billions poured into the most inefficient and costly methods of generating electricity known to man, which also have the effect of killing hundreds of thousands of members of endangered species, or turning those not currently endangered into endangered species, and all in the name of—what, exactly– green? Climate change? The war on women? Obamacare? But hey, that’s a good thing, because those birds were probably tired of all that noisy wing flapping anyway.
Perhaps Mr. Obama can sell his quick-frying method to Kentucky Fried Chicken? And I’m sure KFC can branch out into more exotic fare, provided courtesy of Barack Obama, NRG Energy Inc., Google Inc. and BrightSource Energy Inc. Heck, all those birds are just layin’ around the plant, pre-cooked. That way the taxpayers might get some benefit from this latest energy boondoggle.
Wilson Warren said:
It’s not an electricity by solar (sunlight) plant, it is a solar thermal plant. The sunlight (focused by mirrors) is used to heat a fluid (which can be stored for later use – like when it’s dark…) and the fluid is used to heat water which creates steam. And the steam produced by the heat is used just like a coal or nat-gas plant to spin a generator.
” The Obamites are doing their best to destroy the cheapest and most plentiful source of electricity—coal—” — :::scratches his chin, looking at the multibillion ton celestial entity of flaming hydrogen and helium. Then looks at a charcoal bag of briquettes:: Um…. Mike…. Assuming the earth was one huge lump of coal, I am pretty confident the sun has ya beat on ‘plentiful’, and probably cheapest as well, considering the sun WILL keep shining. Coal stays right where its at unless dug up.
Compare the real-world (and right here I know I’ve lost you) cost of extracting one megawatt of electricity from coal vs. that of extracting from solar energy.
For bonus points, explain how coal plants are still profitable even under onerous Federal restrictions… while solar plants ‘need’ massive subsidies just to be interesting enough to investors to get built.
Extra bonus!- Explain why the presence of the Snail Darter/Spotted Owl/Greater Los Angeles Garbage Fly is sufficient to halt development, while flash-frying endangered birds (or mulching them with a wind turbine) is groovy…
1) over what time frame. ;) I know given time, one foot by one foot panel will eventually produce that much juice, you would be hard pressed to establish a plant that small. Further explanation past 2 and 3.
2) Establishment. R and D is done, there really is no specific science to burning something, humans have been doing it since we crawled into a cave.
3) Its not, but then again, the tech is still being developed, which goes to the $$ figure problem.
And there in lay the problem. Regarding solar, you are wanting to talk about a plant. I’m not. The beauty of the photovoltaic panel is that as time and development increase, so does the efficiency and space it takes up, and last I checked (which was a few years ago), the average price of paneling runs ten feet by ten feet to make one KW/hr in good conditions. Running the numbers on my home, it would cost roughly 10K to cover in panels, and pay for itself in ten years, given past state of the art tech and its expected rate of decay. Depending on how long you would like to own the home, or if you have the disposable cash lying around, its not a bad investment. Some days the meter might even be spinning backwards, which could speed the process along. I think saying “Oh, yeah, you may or may not receive a power bill, and if you do, it shouldn’t be more than 50 bucks” is a good selling point.
Where I am at, we literally have acres and acres of unused roof space which hold… NOTHING. Seriously, think about it. The roof of a mall contains little more than a few AC units, conduit loops and piping, the roof of a Kroger easily has the capacity to cover itself, electricity wise, and possibly some surrounding residences. There is no need to step up the juice and step down the juice if that is the case.
Obviously, this does not solve problems everywhere. Sunlight is fickle, but a balanced approach to making use of what resources we do have to cut back on the fossil fuels seems like a better approach than hurr-durr burning stuff to get what we want. Fuel burns to heat water to boil to evap to spin a turbine to power a generator to make da’ volts. The more steps you can cut from that chain, the more efficient the energy, right? Like wise, the more distance you can cut from production to consumption, the more efficient, right? The PV panel seems to me the best route to circumvent a lot of links in the chain, and the distances for many places. If solar were to be a viable supplement, that would there by drive down the cost of fossil fueled plants (less demand, more supply, less cost, etc), but… that doesn’t benefit the profitability of those coal plants does it?
Tin foil hat time: what if all those ‘burdensome regulations’ are done as the silent agreement not to develop and fund other sources of power?
Just a few of the problems with solar: it’s inefficient, it requires storage for the energy it produces, and it requires large amounts of (expensive) land for scale. It will never be practical. Ever. If you want to understand the inefficiencies of solar, look at satellites: solar panels and batteries are, and always have been, a huge problem due to the energy conversion limitations.
Hydroelectric is a wonderful technology, but – as was mentioned above – some enviro will find a snail darter and new plants will never leave the drawing board. Same with nuclear – a great source of energy; but, again, the enviros will go nuts to prevent its future implementation. Oil is wonderful, too – yet the enviros shout about global warming, or whatever they call it this week.
As P. J. O’Rourke declared: environmentalists are just watermelons; green on the outside, red in the middle. They need to be defeated. Hopefully sanity will prevail and their defeat will be complete after their true motives are fully exposed.
“it’s inefficient, it requires storage for the energy it produces, and it requires large amounts of (expensive) land for scale.”— unless the goal is a supplement, not a replacement, and the space you save in fossil fuels you are simply taking from another location via mine. Solar power is not a concept for “plant” based power production.
” If you want to understand the inefficiencies of solar, look at satellites: solar panels and batteries are, and always have been, a huge problem due to the energy conversion limitations.” — then put a coal fired plant on one. ;)
As long as they have a little satellite coal tender! ;)
While these solar tower schemes would be impracticable in a free-marked economy due to a number of shortcomings, an inability to produce electricity during the dark is not one of them. The sunlight is used to heat a liquid inside the tower. The heated liquid then heats a coolant which is used to turn turbines. The primary liquid though, depending on the design, can remain hot enough to produce electricity for up to 6 hours. This means that during cloudy days and several hours of the night, these towers will still produce electricity. This of course doesn’t make up for all of the other flaws with solar-thermal towers, but they can produce power more constantly than normal solar panels.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks for the tech. update and welcome to SMM! You’re quite right, but the issue remains that solar power of any kind cannot compete with conventional power generation methods in terms of capacity, reliability, and of course, cost. But then again, Mr. Obama has always wanted electric power costs to skyrocket. This is surely one way to accomplish that ugly and destructive goal.
It’s ironic, really, that we have a ultra-low-carbon, ultra-low-emission, proven energy source which can be entirely made in the USA. It’s suitable for direct competition with coal in the base-load power bracket, and capacity factors are over 90%. I’m talking about nuclear fission, the power source that always gets forgotten in these discussions.
If Obama wanted to really cut carbon emissions, he’d go for nuclear energy. It would even help the democrats in rural areas – those power plants provide lots of great paying union jobs. The IBEW and other unions would be ecstatic. The local governments love nuclear plants, because they generate lots of tax revenue and bring in jobs, while not polluting the air.
Leonard Jones said:
A great source of info on this stuff is Dr. Dixie Lee Ray’s Trashing The Planet.
Here are the problems with solar power that she deals with:
Solar radiation is too diffuse. It follows the law of inverse squares. An area
of X at 1 million miles from the sun receives as much radiation as an area of
X times 4 at a distance of 2 million miles and X times 9 at 3 million miles. This
is huge orders of magnitude less at 92.9 million miles.
Solar and Photo voltaic plants would have to cover an area larger than a city
in order to provide enough power to run the city. But solar power is hideously
inefficient. Theoretically, it should work as long as the sun is out, but it’s peak
output is measured in mere hours. Then you have to factor in overcast skies.
What you get is output of 6 hours a day, even less at peak.
Another issue with solar plants is that cleaning the mirrors or panels is very
labor intensive. Dr. Ray pointed out that nuke plant safety was spotless
compared to solar because guys with Windex and rags kept injuring
themselves falling off ladders.
As a former Millwright, I used to do a lot of work in the Barstow CA area. There
were 2 big solar plants in California at the time. Both of which took up acres and
acres of mirrors. They both put out 10mw.
By comparison, you could drop a 747 engine anywhere with access to natural gas and cooling water, and be running a combined cycle CoGen operation putting
out close to 50mw in an area not much bigger than a large suburban lot or two.
But this would create CO2! For the truly stupid, I have to state that carbon dioxide
is not a pollutant. It is a trace gas that exists in our atmosphere at 0.035%. It has
no effect whatsoever on the average global temperature of out planet. To put this
another way, it is less than 4 parts in 10,000.
So, dig into the pennies you have been hoarding. Count out 10,000 cents. Cut
one in half and keep it, along with 3 whole pennies. Since mankind only produces
a small fraction of CO2 compared to nature, cut the 1/2 penny in half and throw
the rest into the pile. The 1/4 cent you are left with is an overstatement of the
amount of carbon dioxide than is generated by mankind.
Dixie Lee Ray had a PhD in Marine Biology. When she was appointed by
President Eisenhower to head the Atomic Energy Commission, she was an
expert in nuclear physics and nuclear energy before she ever set foot in the
office. Her intellect was was such that the president knew he made the right
choice when he appointed her.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Leonard Jones:
Thanks for the great information. As a photographer, I’ve long dealt with the inverse square law in flash photography. Very simplistically, doubling the distance light from a flash has to travel doesn’t double the amount of power necessary, it increases it far, far more. In power generation there are also many efficiency, storage, resistance and other issues involved that leave solar power far behind.
Leonard Jones said:
As a Marine Biologist, she also came up with what I thought was brilliant idea.
She said that there were places in the ocean at abysmal depths that were as
devoid of life as the Gobi Desert.
She proposed dumping spent nuclear fuel rods in Davy Jones Locker. The
extreme depths and cold would moderate the radioactive emissions and
prevent the worlds terrorists from retrieving the material.
One of the problems trying to deal with environmentalists is that they have an unrealistic view of the world and the mindset of those who oppose them. They refuse to take into account the cost of their proposed programs and the effect they would have on the people affected.
While there are many reasonable people who can be described as environmentalists they are invisible next to the shrieking mob that has taken point on such issues. According to the enviro-whackos anyone who opposes their agenda does so for nefarious reasons and not for realistic reasons such as excessive costs for few, if any, benefits.
Victor Davis Hanson has written about this in such articles in National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/370425/californias-two-droughts-victor-davis-hanson
If we are to manage our impact on the environment we have to be realistic and not stick our heads in the sand, and refuse to acknowledge the plain facts and embracing ridiculous ideals that can never be achieved.
Environmentalists who wish to truly make things better need to reach out to those who have no desire to harm the environment but require more than some pie in the sky scheme that does little for the environment while imposing huge costs on everyone to really do some good.
Leonard Jones said:
PS As a piss poor shutterbug, I also understand the limitations of flash. I invested
in a 15 and 18mp dSLR, about 10 lenses, hot shoe and macro ring flash, etc.
I spent 850 bucks on a Tamron 200-500mm lens. After that, I found that that I
needed a 500+ dollar tripod and ball head to support the lens.
In truth, I have taken the gadget bag out a few times. I have become a collector!
DNS Guns said:
Obama as well as every other politician screaming that co2 is a poison never mention the number one greenhouse gas. Water vapor. We may have some control over the amount of co2 we release but we have zero control over the amount of water vapor. Obama and those spewing the sky is falling want us to believe they know how to control the weather. All it takes is green energy and massive amounts of federal dollars thrown at technology that isn’t feasible without them.
The company uses the usual environmentalist jargon and inappropriate Unit dimensions by claiming that the plant will produce enough power to light up 140,000 homes per year. Their website is so deceptive that they will not even state what the peak capacity much less probable capacity factor is.
Wikipedia, which seems to be far more credible than the company, cites a specified peak generating capacity of 392 Megawatts. At this peak capacity that is about
392eex6 Watts / 140eex3 homes = about 3 Kilowatts per home or given RMS voltage, enough power to serve the needs of a single 20 amp, 240 Volt circuit breaker that MIGHT be adequate to run a small air conditioner. I will point out that the plant has no provision to store power to be fed into the grid when the sun goes down. However; Iwill stipulate that peak power demand for air conditioning coincides with peak generation. The maximum theoretical capacity factor for this plant is about 30% so average power generation is only 120 Megawatt. This is comparable to spending $10 billion to build a 1,000 MW nuclear power plant.
IMHO, the money would be far better spent on combined cycle natural gas power plants or helping home owners install on site photovoltaic cells on their homes.
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