/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Texas versus California - Electricity Production

Using the approach introduced in the previous post, I will now investigate how electricity is produced and imported in Texas and California.  I choose these two states because I have strong ties to both of them, and they also enjoy very different public images.  Texas is generally viewed as pro-oil, gas, coal and nuclear power, while Californians appear to oppose all of these sources of electricity in their outlets, while touting the green and renewable sources.  It is therefore instructive to look at the main sources of your electricity when you live in Texas or California.

For the record, last year, Texas produced twice the amount of electricity imported and produced in California. Most of the difference was caused by air-conditioning everything in Texas, but also by Texas' large base of heavy industry, which is already gone from California, perhaps forever.

I start with my home state,Texas, because it is very simple to describe its electricity sources.  Basically, Texas has its own electrical grid, independent of the rest of the U.S. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT operates the electric grid and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of the state.  This grid is powered almost always by the energy sources and power plants within Texas' national borders.  Texas imports cheap, low-sulfur coal from Wyoming, just like everybody else (two counties in Wyoming produce almost 1/2 of U.S. coal).  But Texas could quickly switch to its own, much lower quality coal, or tap into its own huge production of natural gas.   In 2009, Texas produced 152 days of its electricity from coal, 145 days of electricity from natural gas, 45 days of electricity from nuclear reactors and 1 day from hydro turbines.
Click on the image above to see it in full-size.
Over the last 15 years, the base load electricity in Texas has been stably divided among coal, natural gas, and nuclear power sources.  Coal and natural gas had almost equal shares, together delivering almost 300 days of electricity per year in 2010.  Also in 2010, nuclear power delivered about 45 days, and hydropower a short one day of electricity in Texas.  I remind you that Texas is a very dry state with just a couple of big dams.

Most of the remaining 20 odd days of electricity was delivered in Texas by wind turbines. With the exponential rate of growth of wind-generated electricity in Texas through 2011, wind's share is now closer to 25 days of electricity per year.
Click on the image above to see it in full size.
In 2009, the remainder of electricity in Texas was generated from petroleum (2 days), wood and other biomass (0.5 day), and wind (20 days).  Please note the exponential rate of increase of wind-generated electricity in Texas.  Twenty days of wind electricity in Texas is equivalent to 40 days of wind electricity in California, given the 50% smaller consumption of electricity in California.  In Texas, there was no discernible production of electricity from geothermal sources and solar photovoltaics.

The situation is not nearly as simple in California.  First of all, California has been "decarbonizing" its economy by ceasing local electricity production from coal, and instead buying mostly coal-generated electricity from the surrounding states.  Second, California produces only 13% of the natural gas it consumes, so most - if not all - gas used to produce electricity there comes through pipelines from elsewhere in the western U.S. and western Canada.  California is at the end of those pipelines, forcing it to compete with other states for supplies.

With these two caveats, the picture of electricity generation in California is not all that different from that in Texas.  In 2010, coal produced 112 days of electricity consumed in California, natural gas 138 days, and nuclear reactors 41 days.  California is much better endowed in hydropower, and in 2010 it produced an incredible 43 days of electricity with water turbines. 
Click on the image above to see it in full size.
In 2010, the base load electricity in California was generated from coal (112 days), natural gas (138 days), nuclear reactors (41 days), and hydro turbines (43) days.  Coal was imported as mostly electricity, and almost all natural gas was imported as fuel. Therefore, one way or another, California imports almost 5 days of the electricity it consumes each week. If this is not downright dangerous, what is?

The renewable sources of power generated some 30 days of electricity in California.  Wood and other biomass generated 7 days of electricity, wind 6 days, and solar concentrators and photovoltaics a whopping one day.  I say "a whopping one day,"  because in 2010, the U.S. figure was probably 2 hours of electricity per year.  Please note that 1 day here equals 24 hours of electricity. 

The largest source of renewable electricity in California is geothermal steam that delivered 16 days of electricity per year in 2010. Geothermal steam is generally cheaper than photovoltaics and works most of the time. Unfortunately, the term "geothermal" does not have the same sex-appeal as "clean solar energy".


Click on the image above to see it in full size.
The giant solar power plants in the Mojave desert, like the one above, have paid off handsomely. After a multibillion dollar investment, California can now boast its own very sexy solar power for 6 hours a day over 4 consecutive sunny days in one year (but not over the intervening nights). 
In 2010, the renewable electricity in California was split among wood and other biomass (7 days), wind (6 days), geothermal (16 days, and solar (1 day).  Note that in 2010, the "clean" California generated one month of its electricity from renewable sources, about the same fraction as the "dirty" Texas. 
Remarkably, from wind alone, Texas generates 1/3 more renewable electricity than California from all renewable energy sources.
In summary, I hope that you see now how difficult it is to get away from the base-load electricity generated from coal, natural gas and uranium.  Incidentally, New York wants to shut down their 2000 MW Indian Point nuclear power plant.  It's a great idea, as long as they understand clearly that the environmentally-friendly coal from blowing up West Virginia will come to rescue, or they will have to use a whole lot more of natural gas from that hydrofractured shale next door, or they will have to start turning off those lights, plasma TVs, computers, air-conditioners, etc.   Otherwise, the good New Yorkers will experience some really nice brownouts or blackouts, or both.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where is my energy coming from?

To keep our internet, telephones, computers, television sets, refrigerators and lights going, we require electricity 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. It is therefore instructive to know what sources of energy provide electricity in our outlets day-by-day.  The data from the U.S. Department of Energy are plotted below as days of electricity per year supplied to the U.S. customers from each major primary energy source.

It turns out that between 1997 and 2008, coal supplied between 176 and 200 days of electricity to all U.S. outlets.  Coal fuels the base-load power stations and its consumption has been remarkably constant.

Similarly, in 2008, natural gas supplied 79 days of electricity, nuclear power 72 days, and hydropower 23 days.  The electricity share of natural gas grew from 50 days per year a decade ago, to almost 80 days in 2008.  No new nuclear reactors have been built in the U.S. since late 1970s, but the nuclear power industry has learned how to manage their reactors better, and their share of electricity generation has grown somewhat.  The share of hydropower has decreased substantially over the last decade because of droughts and dam silting.

Together, these four basic sources of primary energy delivered 350 days of electricity in 2008.  The remaining 15 days of electricity were delivered by petroleum (4 days), biomass (5 days), wind turbines (5 days), geothermal steam generators (1 day), and photovoltaics/solar thermal concentrators (1 hour).
To see the full size image, click on the image above.

Electricity generation in the U.S. uses 37% of primary energy (heat generating energy), more than any other sector of the energy economy.  In 2008, coal delivered 176 days of electricity; natural gas, 79 days; nuclear power, 72 days; hydropower, 23 days; and all remaining sources combined, 15 days. Overall, 70 % of electricity in the U.S. was generated from purely fossil fuel sources in 2008. Data source: DOE EIA, accessed 03/28/2010.


To see the full size image, click on the image above.

The remaining 15 days of electricity generation in the U.S. can be split as follows: In 2008, four days of electricity came from petroleum (essentially a single power plant in Honolulu, Hawaii); 5 days from biomass burning to cogenerate electricity from wood chips, agricultural residues, etc.; 5 days from wind turbines, and growing fast, especially in Texas; 1 day from geothermal steam, mostly in California; and 1 hour from solar photovoltaics and solar thermal concentrators, also mostly in California. When someone tells you that electricity generation from photovoltaics doubles every year or so, please understand its tragically negligible significance. Data source: DOE EIA, accessed 03/28/2010.


The transportation sector is totally dominated by petroleum, as shown below, assurances to the contrary from the Renewable Fuels Association notwithstanding.  Our freedom from petroleum-based liquid transportation fuels currently lasts for only one week per year and perhaps two weeks in the future.  In 2008, automotive gasoline provided 202 days of all transportation needs in the U.S., diesel fuel 100 days and jet fuel 38 days.  Residual or bunker oil used to be burned in electrical power stations up until 1985, but now it powers ships almost exclusively.  Ethanol sufficed to power transportation in the U.S. for 8 days in 2008, and ethanol production itself requires a significant amount of fossil fuels.

The message is clear:  The only way out of the total dependence on petroleum-based liquid transportation fuels is to electrify railroads, and move goods and people across the U.S. using electricity.  Currently, there are no other choices, unless one prefers to be deluded by biofuels or a "hydrogen economy."

To see the full size image, click on the image above.

Consumption of liquid transportation fuels in the U.S. uses 31% of primary energy (heat generating energy), and is the second largest sector of the energy economy.  In 2008, automotive gasoline delivered 202 days of transportation; distillate oil (mostly diesel fuel), 99 days; aviation jet fuel, 38 days; residual oil, 18 days (now used almost exclusively to power ships); and ethanol, 8 days.  When someone tells you that driving your car on ethanol will make the U.S. energy-secure, laugh, because fossil fuels provide 98% of energy used to power U.S. transportation. Oil shortages caused by the peaking global oil production will cause disproportionate disruptions in transportation, but none in electricity supply. This is the reason why a crash program in railroad electrification would benefit the U.S. enormously. Data source: DOE EIA, accessed 03/28/2010. 

I hope that now you understand my concern with so many cooks and drivers in the U.S. publicly flaunting their ignorance as "energy experts."  What is it about energy, this divine source of almost everything in a modern society, that makes people say so many innate and emotional things?  Because they have barbecued

P.S. Please check out the 1,000 juicy comments to that WSJ editorial. Did you notice that this energy commentariat consists mostly of men?  Are they trying to suggest that "my energy is bigger than yours?"  If not, why are they so angry?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Things we say and do

Four years ago, in September 2007, I participated in a ministerial conference of OECD in Paris.  This conference was attended by the ministers of transportation and environment from the European Union, the U.S. observers, as well as a few invited industry people and faculty.

OECD stands for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was conceived as a counterweight to OPEC. The largest contributor to OECD is the United States, which provides nearly 24% of the budget, followed by Japan. As a consequence, the U.S. exerts some influence on OECD.

At that Paris conference, I was asked to make a dinner speech.  [Reading this topical speech is essential to your understanding of my arguments against the serious public confusion surrounding issues of big energy.]

Halfway through my speech everybody in the room stopped eating and you could hear a fly, because no forks and knives were clicking. There were but a few questions afterwards. It appears that this speech has disqualified me permanently from receiving further invitations by OECD. Perhaps I caused too much indigestion. Or, perhaps, the U.S. delegation, then headed by a person well known for saying "no" to anything that might be environmentally beneficial, had something to do with blacklisting me.

Later, I learned that the U.S. insisted on firing the two OECD employees, one Dutch and another American, who were in charge of organizing the conference. And why not?  Why was I allowed to put this paper into the record?  I have to confess that my paper had some impact on the EU policy towards the customary wanton rape and pillage of the poor countries in the tropics. This never-ceasing rape has been lovingly sponsored by the World Bank (and IMF and others).  The World Bank has been providing loans and loan guarantees to the local despots and transnational corporations, who then do the actual raping.

The World Bank loans have been fabulously lucrative to us.  Historically, the World Bank preferred to fund large projects: hydroelectric dams, roads, power stations, mines, etc.  Not only most of the construction and machinery would be handled by us, but much of the loaned money would be embezzled and sent back directly to us in big suitcases.  But never mind, the poor nations would still have to repay the loans and interest with their resources and environment.  Customarily, an American heads the World Bank, but now China wants in on the action. 

But I digress. So, back to the story.

In May 2007, at an earlier preparatory meeting to the ministerial conference, also in Paris, a representative of Denmark made some really stupid remarks that were a proof of either her gross incompetence or thorough dishonesty. Basically she was pushing the "second generation biofuels" for a company that was giving her money. A representative of Germany (a Ph.D. chemical engineer like me) and I did not try to contradict her, and, at the coffee break, a senior diplomat from Italy asked us why we did not point out the obvious inconsistencies in her remarks and did not debunk the false statements she made. That Italian gentleman then said to both of us something I would always remember. He said:
Please understand that you may be the only people in the room, who understand the facts and the scientific truth. The remaining people are lawyers and politicians, like me, and they have no way of discerning whether something that was said was true or not. So if you do not react quickly, a lie will enter the record and will stand as fact for this audience and many others.
By the way, the superb German delegate I just mentioned was swiftly removed from his position in the German EPA, and no one from the German government attended the ministerial conference in September.  This outstanding German proposed the most scientific and radical policy that would govern international approach to biofuels. They say that "our girl,"  Chancellor Angela Merkel, was personally involved in his disposal. But who called Ms. Merkel?

After these two OECD meetings, of the six people who entered my story here, the only person who was not directly hurt was I, because I was a tenured professor from Berkeley. I also had a thick skin and an invaluable experience of opposing autocrats in the old communist Poland. Another professor from Berkeley, who was asked to present at the preparatory meeting in Paris an untenable position of someone else, committed suicide a couple of months later.

That someone else, yet another Berkeley professor, who is now a big wig at the World Bank, weaseled his way out of the May meeting in Paris by telling a touching but verifiably false story. He said that he would have to go to Mexico instead of Paris to help with a sudden death there of his graduate student.  Instead, he went to New York and gave a TV interview.  In Paris, the stakes were high, because arguments for California's "decarbonized" future economy were unveiled for the first time to the public. That "dry run" in Paris by a junior Berkeley faculty standing in for his boss was met with a great deal of skepticism.
Nevertheless, when they encourage you to think that tenure is bad, think twice. If it were not for tenure, I wouldn't be here to chronicle this forgotten story of the cutthroat, brass knuckles politics surrounding big energy. 
Ever since that OECD conference, I felt obliged to challenge lies that were hurled in my presence at the unsuspecting public. For that whimsical custom of mine I paid a high price at Berkeley.

Next, I will describe the unbearable stupidity of some of the arguments surrounding supply of energy in the U.S. In this context, the famous Czech writer, Milan Kundera, would have a good laugh:
This reconciliation [with the bottomless evil that we clearly recognize as such, TWP] reveals the profound moral perversity of the world that rests essentially on the nonexistence of return, for in this world everything is pardoned in advance and therefore everything cynically permitted.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, page 4.

In a couple of short installments, designed not to bore you too much, I will build a foundation for my arguments against the sensational and propagandist articles, like the one on natural gas by Mr. Ian Urbina, a journalist, who writes for the New York Times. Such articles are too shallow to be meaningful and further confuse the already confused people.

What I said in that OECD speech four years ago is impacting today the lives of people who two years ago would never even think about energy. It takes a decade or so to enact an energy policy, and this policy may last for several decades. Thus, a bad energy policy, one which is based on false arguments, may end up hurting not only us, but also our children and grandchildren. Tomorrow is July the 4th, an auspicious day to ponder the state of this Union, in addition to drinking beer and barbecuing. So think about what I just said.

P.S. Here is some more of the brass knuckles politics, this time in the context of natural gas. Just think how difficult it will be to understand the truth behind a flood of contradictory statements. And we haven't even started yet.  Mr. Berman should grow a much thicker skin if he wants to stay in this game.

P.S.P.S.  Have you read  some of the diverse reader comments to an anonymous WSJ oped on hydrofracturing?  If you have, do try to make sense out of this emotionally-charged cacophony, will you?

P.S.P.S.P.S.  Only now the ethanol subsidy fiasco is coming to an end. How many times have I been publicly attacked and disparaged for saying the same thing over-and-over-again for the last 7 years or so?