NewEnergyNews: New Federal Grid Rules for Solar and Wind; “Attempting to fit variable renewable energy resources into these operating practices is often like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

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: NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN TRANSMISSION
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 20: ELEVEN GOOD THINGS ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY; YAHOO BUYS WIND; SMART THERMOSTATS’ BILLION DOLLAR FUTURE
  • THE DAY BEFORE

  • Weekend Video: The Ocean Speaks Out
  • Weekend Video: Adapting To The Inevitable
  • Weekend Video: The Joy Of Driving EVs Powered By The Sun
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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

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-HOTTEST SEPTEMBER EVER; WORLD’S HOTTEST MONTHS STREAK AT SIX
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-EU WIND BEATS FOSSIL, NUKE ENERGY PRICES
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-DESERTEC SUCCUMBS TO MIDEAST TURMOIL
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-JAPAN UPS PUSH FOR GEOTHERMAL
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 16:

  • TTTA Thursday-THE MILITARY FALLS FOR THE HOAX
  • TTTA Thursday-FORTUNE 100 BUSINESSES BOOST SUN
  • TTTA Thursday-IOWA UTILITY BUYS WIND TO CUT COSTS
  • TTTA Thursday-GETTING ENERGY EFFICIENCY FROM THE CLOUD
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: NEW ENERGY BECOMES PRICE COMPETITIVE
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 15: NEW NUMBERS SHOW BIG OCEAN WIND POWER; SOLAR TURNS IN A NEW DIRECTION; FUEL CELL MARKETS TO VARY, GROW
  • THE LAST DAY UP HERE

  • THE STUDY: WORLD WIND COMES ON
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 14: THE UTILITY-SOLAR DEBATE OVER WHO PAYS; TECHNICIANS WANTED – APPLY TO WIND; MAKING MULTIFAMILY BLDGS MORE EFFICIENT
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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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  • Friday, November 16, 2012

    New Federal Grid Rules for Solar and Wind; “Attempting to fit variable renewable energy resources into these operating practices is often like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

    New Federal Grid Rules for Solar and Wind; “Attempting to fit variable renewable energy resources into these operating practices is often like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

    Herman K. Trabish, July 2, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Not long ago, grid operators only had to worry about coal, nuclear, natural gas and big hydro as sources of electricity generation. Except for the pollution, the threat of radioactive disaster, and blocking rivers, it was a simpler, more innocent time.

    A day-ahead schedule with an hourly real-time update of dispatch in response to unexpected rising and falling demand worked fine for grid operators. The only forecasts they had to worry about were planned maintenance and major changes in weather.

    Continued reliance today on such antiquated grid operating standards amounts to de facto discrimination against variable renewables like wind and solar.

    To integrate variable renewables into a transmission system, sub-hourly scheduling and dispatch of generation, based on detailed forecasts of renewable resources and the state of the older power plants, is vital.

    “Many of these grid operating practices were put in place decades ago to accommodate peculiar attributes of the fossil, nuclear, and hydroelectric power plants that made up nearly the entire generating fleet at the time,” the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and its allies wrote last fall in pre-decision comments on proposed rule changes by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC).“Attempting to fit variable renewable energy resources into these operating practices is often like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.”

    The proposed rule changes were part of an ongoing effort by FERC to push grid operators toward adapting to a changing resource mix.

    Thanks to capabilities available to grid operators through smart transmission systems equipped with the newest computing and communications technology, it is entirely feasible to incorporate the schedule and forecast changes that will integrate higher levels of wind and solar and end discrimination against them.

    FERC commissioners recently released their latest rulemaking. The new rules offer some advances but, according to the wind and solar industries, do not go far enough. The new FERC rules:

    -do require grid operators to offer sub-hourly (15-minute or shorter interval) scheduling;

    -do not require them to do sub-hourly dispatch of generation; and

    -do require renewables generators to report their (typically more accurate and detailed) resource forecasts to grid operators.

    Such decision-making is an imperfectly incremental political process. “Variable energy resources make up an increasing share of new capacity coming on-line,” Obama-appointed FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. “This final rule eliminates undue burdens on these resources and will help transmission providers and their customers effectively manage the costs of integration.”

    “Based on what was revealed,” said AWEA Senior Vice President for Public Policy Rob Gramlich of the new rules, “FERC got it partially right.”

    There is debate as to whether the cost of implementing the changes will outweigh the benefits. AWEA argued, in its comments on the FERC proposal, that if grid operators persist in their old familiar ways, they will cost utility ratepayers, invite outages and risk security breaches.

    Others question whether transmission systems are ready for the changes they are being asked to implement. “Do the regulator and the legislators have enough information about what this will take?” California transmission system official Jim Detmers recently asked about California’s mandate to integrate renewables. “I’m looking for them to answer the questions rather than just charge off and take us down the road.”

    Authorities on transmission system operations say the most significant omission in the rulemaking is a requirement to use generation sources in the sub-hourly units in which dispatch can be planned. By continuing to dispatch at hourly intervals, grid operators will need to use a great deal more fossil fuel reserves. This could keep power prices high and neutralize the impact of renewables.

    “We should be thinking seriously,” Detmers had said of California’s integration challenge,“about how much mass or spinning reserve we should maintain on the system.”

    "A slew of recent studies," conservative energy writer and fossil fuel advocate Robert Bryce wrote, “show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions -- or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless."

    One of Bryce’s key studies was a study of Xcel Energy’s integration of wind in Colorado. Xcel Environmental Policy Vice President Frank Prager dismissed Bryce’s claim. “Since 2007, we have added hundreds of megawatts of wind generation, and our overall emissions have declined."

    National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) modeling of the Eastern and Western U.S. transmission systems concluded that as much as 35 percent renewables will not increase fossil use or costs. But the kinds of changes FERC and the solar and wind industries want, those NREL studies argued, are crucial to high levels of integration.

    This is a “dramatic makeover of the grid,” a former utility official with over 40 years of experience in energy policy recently opined to GTM. “If you’re a transmission planner and there is a blackout on your watch, that is a career-defining moment. So you get really passionate about some of this stuff and you don’t like change.”

    But, he added, “people are going to have to change their minds about how they do things [because] we’re not very good at dealing with wind and solar and variable resources that come on and go off with nature and as the sun rises and sets.”

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