NewEnergyNews: Getting Natural Gas, Solar, and Wind to Play Well Together; Natural gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind. Solar and wind shouldn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

NewEnergyNews

Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge: To make every day Earth Day.

YESTERDAY

  • THE STUDY: U.S. WIND RIGHT NOW
  • QUICK NEWS, August 26: CLIMATE MODELS PROVE RIGHT AGAIN; ABOUT INVESTING IN SOLAR; GM VS TESLA IN THE 200 MILE RACE

    THE DAY BEFORE

  • THE STUDY: NEW CALMER WINDS AHEAD FOR EUROPE
  • QUICK NEWS, August 25: JULY’S U.S. ENERGY BUILD WAS ALL NEW ENERGY; CLIMATE CHANGE FOR ENERGY INVESTORS; WIND CAN GROW FASTER THAN NUCLEAR
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    GET THE DAILY HEADLINES EMAIL: CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS OR SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    THE DAY BEFORE THE DAY BEFORE

  • Weekend Video: New Thoughts About New Energy For A New Climate
  • Weekend Video: Carbon
  • Weekend Video: Why Utilities Struggle With New Energy
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-WHY DENIERS’ BRAINS REJECT CLIMATE CHANGE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-CHINESE TO HELP SAUDIS GO NEW ENERGY BY 2032
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-BUILDING EFFICIENCY TO BOOM IN EUROPE
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-GEOTHERMAL SEEKS CARIBBEAN BREAKTHROUGH
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, August 21:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE RISKIEST ENERGY PLAYS IN THE WORLD
  • TTTA Thursday-FACTS ON BIRDS AND SOLAR POWER
  • TTTA Thursday-WIND PRICES AT ALL TIME LOWS
  • TTTA Thursday-PRICES DROPPING ON GREEN BUILDING
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: IMPORTS, EXPORTS AND NEW ENERGY
  • QUICK NEWS, August 20: COURTS DISMISS 98% OF WIND HEALTH COMPLAINTS; TURNING OLD CAR BATTERIES INTO NEW SOLAR PANELS; OCEAN ENERGY PIONEERS
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    Anne B. Butterfield of Daily Camera and Huffington Post, is a biweekly contributor to NewEnergyNews

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT)

    November 26, 2013 (Huffington Post via NewEnergyNews)

    Everywhere we turn, environmental news is filled with horrid developments and glimpses of irreversible tipping points.

    Just a handful of examples are breathtaking: Scientists have dared to pinpoint the years at which locations around the world may reach runaway heat, and in the northern hemisphere it's well in sight for our children: 2047. Survivors of Superstorm Sandy are packing up as costs of repair and insurance go out of reach, one threat that climate science has long predicted. Or we could simply talk about the plight of bees and the potential impact on food supplies. Surprising no one who explores the Pacific Ocean, sailor Ivan MacFadyen described long a journey dubbed The Ocean is Broken, in which he saw vast expanses of trash and almost no wildlife save for a whale struggling a with giant tumor on its head, evoking the tons of radioactive water coming daily from Fukushima's lamed nuclear power center. Rampaging fishing methods and ocean acidification are now reported as causing the overpopulation of jellyfish that have jammed the intakes of nuclear plants around the world. Yet the shutting down of nuclear plants is a trifling setback compared with the doom that can result in coming days at Fukushima in the delicate job to extract bent and spent fuel rods from a ruined storage tank, a project dubbed "radioactive pick up sticks."

    With all these horrors to ponder you wouldn't expect to hear that you should also worry about the United States running out of coal. But you would be wrong, says Leslie Glustrom, founder and research director for Clean Energy Action. Her contention is that we've passed the peak in our nation's legendary supply of coal that powers over one-third of our grid capacity. This grim news is faithfully spelled out in three reports, with the complete story told in Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves (pdf). (Disclosure: I serve on CEA's board and have known the author for years.)

    Glustrom's research presents a sea change in how we should understand our energy challenges, or experience grim consequences. It's not only about toxic and heat-trapping emissions anymore; it's also about having enough energy generation to run big cities and regions that now rely on coal. Glustrom worries openly about how commerce will go on in many regions in 2025 if they don't plan their energy futures right.

    2013-11-05-FigureES4_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    Scrutinizing data for prices on delivered coal nationwide, Glustrom's new report establishes that coal's price has risen nearly 8 percent annually for eight years, roughly doubling, due mostly to thinner, deeper coal seams plus costlier diesel transport expenses. Higher coal prices in a time of "cheap" natural gas and affordable renewables means coal companies are lamed by low or no profits, as they hold debt levels that dwarf their market value and carry very high interest rates.

    2013-11-05-Table_ES2_FULL.jpgclick to enlarge

    2013-11-05-Figure_ES2_FULL.jpg

    One leading coal company, Patriot, filed for bankruptcy last year; many others are also struggling under bankruptcy watch and not eager to upgrade equipment for the tougher mining ahead. Add to this the bizarre event this fall of a coal lease failing to sell in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the "Fort Knox" of the nation's coal supply, with some pundits agreeing this portends a tightening of the nation's coal supply, not to mention the array of researchers cited in the report. Indeed, at the mid point of 2013, only 488 millions tons of coal were produced in the U.S.; unless a major catch up happens by year-end, 2013 may be as low in production as 1993.

    Coal may exist in large quantities geologically, but economically, it's getting out of reach, as confirmed by US Geological Survey in studies indicating that less than 20 percent of US coal formations are economically recoverable, as explored in the CEA report. To Glustrom, that number plus others translate to 10 to 20 years more of burning coal in the US. It takes capital, accessible coal with good heat content and favorable market conditions to assure that mining companies will stay in business. She has observed a classic disconnect between camps of professionals in which geologists tend to assume money is "infinite" and financial analysts tend to assume that available coal is "infinite." Both biases are faulty and together they court disaster, and "it is only by combining thoughtful estimates of available coal and available money that our country can come to a realistic estimate of the amount of US coal that can be mined at a profit." This brings us back to her main and rather simple point: "If the companies cannot make a profit by mining coal they won't be mining for long."

    No one is more emphatic than Glustrom herself that she cannot predict the future, but she presents trend lines that are robust and confirmed assertively by the editorial board at West Virginia Gazette:

    Although Clean Energy Action is a "green" nonprofit opposed to fossil fuels, this study contains many hard economic facts. As we've said before, West Virginia's leaders should lower their protests about pollution controls, and instead launch intelligent planning for the profound shift that is occurring in the Mountain State's economy.

    The report "Warning, Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" and its companion reports belong in the hands of energy and climate policy makers, investors, bankers, and rate payer watchdog groups, so that states can plan for, rather than react to, a future with sea change risk factors.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    It bears mentioning that even China is enacting a "peak coal" mentality, with Shanghai declaring that it will completely ban coal burning in 2017 with intent to close down hundreds of coal burning boilers and industrial furnaces, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. And Citi Research, in "The Unimaginable: Peak Coal in China," took a look at all forms of energy production in China and figured that demand for coal will flatten or peak by 2020 and those "coal exporting countries that have been counting on strong future coal demand could be most at risk." Include US coal producers in that group of exporters.

    Our world is undergoing many sorts of change and upheaval. We in the industrialized world have spent about a century dismissing ocean trash, overfishing, pesticides, nuclear hazard, and oil and coal burning with a shrug of, "Hey it's fine, nature can manage it." Now we're surrounded by impacts of industrial-grade consumption, including depletion of critical resources and tipping points of many kinds. It is not enough to think of only ourselves and plan for strictly our own survival or convenience. The threat to animals everywhere, indeed to whole systems of the living, is the grief-filled backdrop of our times. It's "all hands on deck" at this point of human voyaging, and in our nation's capital, we certainly don't have that. Towns, states and regions need to plan fiercely and follow through. And a fine example is Boulder Colorado's recent victory to keep on track for clean energy by separating from its electric utility that makes 59 percent of its power from coal.

    Clean Energy Action is disseminating "Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves" for free to all manner of relevant professionals who should be concerned about long range trends which now include the supply risks of coal, and is supporting that outreach through a fundraising campaign.

    [Clean Energy Action is fundraising to support the dissemination of this report through December 11. Contribute here.]

    Author's note: Want to support my work? Please "fan" me at Huffpost Denver, here (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-butterfield). Thanks.

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    Anne's previous NewEnergyNews columns:

  • Another Tipping Point: US Coal Supply Decline So Real Even West Virginia Concurs (REPORT), November 26, 2013
  • SOLAR FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE ~ Xcel's Push to Undermine Rooftop Solar, September 20, 2013
  • NEW BILLS AND NEW BIRDS in Colorado's recent session, May 20, 2013
  • Lies, damned lies and politicians (October 8, 2012)
  • Colorado's Elegant Solution to Fracking (April 23, 2012)
  • Shale Gas: From Geologic Bubble to Economic Bubble (March 15, 2012)
  • Taken for granted no more (February 5, 2012)
  • The Republican clown car circus (January 6, 2012)
  • Twenty-Somethings of Colorado With Skin in the Game (November 22, 2011)
  • Occupy, Xcel, and the Mother of All Cliffs (October 31, 2011)
  • Boulder Can Own Its Power With Distributed Generation (June 7, 2011)
  • The Plunging Cost of Renewables and Boulder's Energy Future (April 19, 2011)
  • Paddling Down the River Denial (January 12, 2011)
  • The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark (December 16, 2010)
  • Click here for an archive of Butterfield columns

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    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart

    email: herman@NewEnergyNews.net

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    Your intrepid reporter

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      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.

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  • Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    Getting Natural Gas, Solar, and Wind to Play Well Together; Natural gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind. Solar and wind shouldn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    Getting Natural Gas, Solar, and Wind to Play Well Together; Natural gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind. Solar and wind shouldn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 21, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Increasing levels of solar and wind in the power production system need to be firmed by natural gas.

    The Renewables Electricity Futures Study, a new comprehensive report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, concluded that “variable generation levels of up to nearly 50% of annual electricity can be accommodated when a broad portfolio of supply- and demand-side flexibility resources is available at a level substantially higher than in today’s electricity system” and that broad portfolio should include “sufficient capacity on the system for planning reserves” and “demand-side interruptible load, conventional generators (particularly natural gas generators), and storage.”

    What is unknown is how current, unprecedentedly low natural gas prices will affect the growth of solar and wind.

    Erik J.A. Swenson, a partner in the Washington law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, presented on U.S. natural gas policy at the recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference and argued that making the export of liquid natural gas (LNG) easier will drive the market price up and grow solar and wind.

    In full disclosure, Swenson acknowledged that Fulbright represents clients that want to export LNG.

    “Wind and solar combined with natural gas present a good combination of greenness and cost,” Swenson said. “Wind and solar are intermittent sources of generation and gas is the natural firmer.”

    New natural gas plants have “a relatively low capital cost” compared to nuclear and coal, he said, and “can be designed to throttle up and down better, depending on where they are needed to fit into the market.” Where state renewable energy standards require increasing penetrations of solar and wind, “there is going to be a lot of demand for gas-fired generation to firm it up.” That is why, he said, “gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind.”

    But, he added, “gas prices have traditionally been volatile.” Which is why wind and solar needn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    “If you couple gas with wind and solar, you can reduce the volatility.” Wind and solar are variable, but “it is pretty predictable over time as to what the capacity factor from a wind or a solar plant will be." And, he added, “generating costs are near zero, [because] there are no fuel costs.”

    The bottom line is that “if you mix the volatility of the gas per kilowatt-hour output with the dead flat wind and solar output, you end up with a flatter, less volatile combination.”

    The effective partnership depends, however, on a moderate natural gas price, what Swenson called the "Goldilocks price."

    “If gas is expensive, electricity as a whole becomes less affordable, and consumers are going to be less receptive to wind and solar because they will see it is an added expense. On the other hand, if gas is cheap, it makes wind and solar look expensive. And, with cheap gas, you can afford to shut down coal plants and that takes pressure off the need to take other steps to deal with greenhouse gases.”

    The NYMEX natural gas price has been below $3 per MMBTU this entire year. Swenson’s decades of experience with natural gas and his gleanings from a variety of other sources lead him to accept a conclusion he cited from a September 2010 Exeter Associates/Center for Resource Solutions report: “The base assumption of $9.50/MBtu for natural gas resulted in the displacement of natural gas-fired generation, leaving less-flexible coal plants to accommodate the variability of the wind and solar resources.”

    This resulted in less wind and solar and more coal. But “when the price of natural gas was set at $3.50/MBtu instead of $9.50/MBtu,” according to the report, “wind and solar generation primarily displaced coal generation.”

    Swenson believes the key to moving today’s extremely low natural gas price to that $3.50 range is an adjustment to U.S. policy that would facilitate the export of natural gas, primarily in the form of LNG. “By adjusting the amount of gas exports, you can find yourself with gas priced in a way that helps encourage solar and wind generation.”

    The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Fuels is currently considering freeing up strictures to natural gas exporting delineated in the Natural Gas Act of 1938. There is contention over the costs and benefits to the U.S. in doing so.

    A Brookings Institution study suggested there is a modest net benefit overall from allowing gas to be exported: “The benefits that come from improved trade relations, the income from selling the gas, and the new jobs, and so forth,” Swenson said, “are greater than any detriment that comes from increasing the price of power or gas.”

    The Japanese nuclear disaster has put upward pressure on the international price of natural gas and recently accessible shale gas resources make U.S. supplies seem abundant, Swenson said, and, as a result, “there are a lot of folks in the U.S. interested in exporting natural gas.”

    Allowing them to do so may have drawbacks. But, as Swenson pointed out, it may make possible hitting the 'Goldilocks' price range around the just-right price of “$3.50 per MMBTU [and] benefit other policy goals such as the development of solar and wind."

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