NewEnergyNews: Holiday Reading: ESolar’s Bet on Modular Solar Power Towers With Storage; CEO: “Our objective is to compete straight up with the best-in-class PVs.”

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

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE- EU UPS THE WORLD’S BAR ON EMISSIONS CUT TARGETS
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-FIRST BIG MOROCCO SOLAR NEAR POWERING UP
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-NORTH SEA WIND-HYDRO INTERLINK TO GROW
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-TURKISH GEOTHERMAL GETS INTELLIGENT
  • THE DAY BEFORE

    THINGS-TO-THINK-ABOUT THURSDAY, Oct. 23:

  • TTTA Thursday-EVANGELICALS IN ‘CREATION CARE’ CLIMATE FIGHT
  • TTTA Thursday-ADVANCED WIND-MAKERS MAKANI, SHEERWIND READY DEMOS
  • TTTA Thursday-TEA PARTY BACKS SOLAR, ATTACKS UTILITY MONOPOLIES
  • TTTA Thursday-WHAT DRIVERS DON’T KNOW HOLDS BACK THE FUTURE
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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

  • THE STUDY: THE IMPACT ON REAL PEOPLE OF RISING POWER PRICES
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 22: SCHOOLS SAVE W/GEOTHERMAL HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; BUILDING FOR NEXT-GEN U.S. BIOFUELS; ENERGY STORAGE MARKET EMERGING
  • THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • THE STUDY: WHERE U.S. OFFSHORE WIND WILL CONNECT
  • QUICK NEWS, Oct. 21: SOLARCITY TO CROWDFUND WITH $1,000 BONDS; NEW JERSEY LOOKS AT OCEAN WIND; SMART LED LIGHTING MRKT TO DOUBLE
  • AND THE DAY BEFORE THAT

  • 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 LAST DAY UP HERE

  • 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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    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.

    - -------------------

    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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  • Monday, December 24, 2012

    Holiday Reading: ESolar’s Bet on Modular Solar Power Towers With Storage; CEO: “Our objective is to compete straight up with the best-in-class PVs.”

    Holiday Reading: ESolar’s Bet on Modular Solar Power Towers With Storage; CEO: “Our objective is to compete straight up with the best-in-class PVs.”

    Herman K. Trabish, July 3, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    NREL’s just-released Renewable Electricity Futures study concluded the most abundant U.S. renewable resource is solar. The U.S. technical potential of utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) was estimated at 80,000 gigawatts. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) was 37,000 gigawatts.Distributed PV was estimated at 700 gigawatts.

    The U.S. needs about 1100 gigawatts of electricity production capacity, so the race is on between PV and CSP to capture the market that other utility-scale renewables don’t.

    BrightSource, SolarReserve and Abengoa, emerging forces in CSP solar power tower technology, are working on large-scale technologies. ESolar is going the other way.

    “What is so unique about our technology is the modular nature of it and the scalability,” explained eSolar President/CEO John Van Scoter. “Instead of one-size-fits-all,” he said, “we can literally build these up just like building blocks and adapt to different customer requirements.”

    ESolar’s Sierra SunTower in California has been in operation since 2009, and its Bikaner power tower in India has been in operation since last April. Its business partners include General Electric (GE) and Babcock & Wilcox, two major energy sector multinationals. And it has a roadmap for scaling its cost down and its reach outward.

    The company has just completed phase two of a $50 million move, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Babcock & Wilcox, to molten salt storage. “That will dramatically reduce the LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] delivered to the grid compared to steam-only non-storage systems,” Van Scoter said. “We chose to move the roadmap in that direction back in 2010 in order to be competitive,” he added.

    The LCOE reduction is, Van Scoter acknowledged, to compete with PV. ESolar’s roadmap, he said, shows industry LCOE predictions for both crystalline silicon and thin-film PV. “Our objective is to compete straight-up with the best-in-class PVs on an ongoing basis but have the advantage of being dispatchable with storage.”

    Van Scoter expects to beat PV with the company's first commercial deployment of a solar power tower with molten salt storage in 2014-2015. “We know where PV is going to be, so we can back into where the capex for the system has to be. We break down that capex for the individual sub-systems. And we are designing the cost for each of those individual sub-systems.”

    Sierra SunTower is a two-tower, five-megawatt, first-generation project. It has been producing as would be expected, explained plant manager Joe Long. But, he added during a walk through the facility, “I can show you as many things that we would not do again as things we would.”

    “Right now, our base module is roughly 4 megawatts electric, not 2.5 megawatts like you see at Sierra SunTower,” Van Scoter said, but “the basic concept and materials are all proven.” With 4-megawatt blocks, eSolar can, he explained, “build any size plant up to 200 megawatts.”

    Phase three of the molten salt storage project will be a proof of concept plant they hope to have operative by the end of next year. “We have a number of sites right now that we are considering,” Van Scoter said. “Some are here in the states, some are overseas. We’ve seen tremendous interest in the Middle East and North Africa.”

    It is possible the storage technology will be tried at Sierra SunTower, he explained, but added, “We would like to do something larger.”

    ESolar has learned from its first-generation facilities. SCS5, a “next-generation heliostat,” Van Scoter said, has slightly larger mirrors and a smaller and more easily implanted base, but “will continue to be mass-produced and pre-fabricated in very low cost factories around the world.”

    The company has also streamlined the system’s power electronics, cabling installation and robotic heliostat cleaning. The first two will reduce costs and the third, Van Scoter said, “will reduce water consumption by an order of magnitude.”

    ESolar is talking to a variety of potential customers around the world “about projects ranging from twenty to more than 100 megawatts,” Van Scoter said. “With the exception of India andChina, we are seeing pretty much across-the-board movement to dry cooling,” he added. “The molten salt system is designed for either, but we expect the vast majority of those to be deployed as dry-cooled systems.”

    Adapting to dry-cooling technology “isn’t a concern,” Van Scoter said. “There are many people who can do it. And with General Electric as our partner -- they bring an incredible reach and capability.”

    GE invested $40 million in eSolar after “nine months of due diligence,” according to Van Scoter. GE’s investment, he said, gave it a worldwide license, with the exception of India and China, to develop a breakthrough integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) concept. The first, a 500-megawatt GE natural gas plant in combination with a 50-megawatt eSolar power tower facility, is expected to “get full notice to proceed in 2012.”

    Van Scoter said ISCC could do for solar what the Prius did for cars. “I think it will drive volume. It will drive learning. It will drive cost. It then will ultimately drive stand-alone systems down to more competitive positions in time.”

    That might happen sooner if eSolar brings its LCOE down while the China import tariff, the loss of the 1603 manufacturing tax credit, and expected stalls in major markets provide PV’s LCOE back-up.

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