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  • This Is Just Sad

    Posted by Shannon Love on May 28th, 2010 (All posts by )

    Instapundit links to a glowing article about “Swarm Power” which had “the potential to stir up the electricity market.”

    Their great idea? Every building will have its own electricity generator based on “automotive” technology. Wow, what an insight. I wonder what else we could call these gadgets?

    How about “a diesel backup generator just like every major building has had for the last 80 years.

    Guess that isn’t as catchy as “Swarm Power”.

    This isn’t advancement.

    It’s an explicit statement that a lot of people think the German power grid won’t be able to keep the lights on in a few years.

    The giveaway:

    Thanks to intelligent controls and network connections, large quantities of electricity could be fed into the public grid, thereby offsetting fluctuating energy volumes from renewable energy sources such as wind and sun.

    Translation: Alternative energy is too unreliable to actually provide baseline power, so we’re going to need millions of fossil-fuel backup generators scattered everywhere to take up the slack. We’re going to use millions of relatively inefficient petroleum-burning generators so that we don’t have to build nuclear plants.

    The idea of tying all the backup generators together in a network so that the generators can kick on before the grid goes down is a good idea but its just an evolution of the current system. The system is still just a bunch of fossil-fuel backup generators.

    The end result of this system will be an increased consumption of liquid and gas fossil fuels as well as increased consumption of fossil fuels per watt produced. It will produce significantly more CO2 per watt than do large-scale fossil fuel plants and way, way more than nukes.

    It’s sad and pathetic that this is being advanced as a bright new idea instead of a desperate attempt to mitigate the destruction caused by political fads masquerading as energy policy.

     

    43 Responses to “This Is Just Sad”

    1. Joe Wooten Says:

      Very sad. They do not realize the per KW installed cost of this will be way more than 2 large 1000 MWe central stations. More eco-idiot pipe dreams that do not consider the very practical economics of electrical generation.

    2. Joseph Somsel Says:

      Glenn Reynolds has a great site and entertaining wit but his understanding of energy issues is unsophisticated.

      Here in California, the air quality permits required to use standby generators for grid power support would be unobtainable. I know, I tried a similar idea during the 2001 electricity crisis here. Discharge permits for NOX were not being granted – one had to buy allotments from existing sources. Diesel fuel was absolutely prohibited.

    3. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I was going to guess natural gas, but it was just a guess. Isn’t this what Amory Lovins has been peddling for, lo, these many years?

    4. bobby b Says:

      The Swarm idea isn’t wrong, or ill-conceived – the difficulty here is that you are judging it by its efficacy in producing only the results that you deem desirable. So, by your standards, it doesn’t work. Your failure here lies in your disregard for other, alternative sets of desired results.

      For instance, consider the fact that huge growth in the combustion-powered individually-sited power generation scheme will, with complete certainty, result in huge increases in the number of accidental deaths from electricution as homeowners and businesses try to save a few bucks by doing their own wiring and set-up.

      Additionally, factor in the expected increase in deaths of utility workers sent out to fix power outages who will be killed when homeowners and businesses click on all of those generators when the lights go out but who forget that whole “disconnect from the system first” instruction.

      Add to that the expected huge increase in the number of deaths and displacements from population centers due to structural fires caused by all of the “emergency” fuel storage that will become rampant once people start seeing their generator as a lifeline in any sustained civil disruption.

      If you can’t force a drop in petro-use of 20%, simply attack the problem from another direction – drop the population by 20%.

      See, solving for “X” does you no good if the test was really looking for “Y”.

    5. david foster Says:

      This approach does differ from the common backup generator in that it involves the use of rejected heat for building heating…which, especially in cold climates, does improve the total energy efficiency quite a bit. I doubt if the improvement is enough to make it cost-competitive (on an unsubsidized basis) with a central combined-cycle plant, and almost certainly not with a central plant which recovers heat via a “district heating” approach (ie, steam or hot-water pipes to buildings in the area)…I had the impression that district heating was fairly common in Germany.

    6. Joseph Somsel Says:

      General Motors has a production line that makes about 25 MWe a week (equivalent) of generation equipment using large block motors (the kind in a monster pickup or a full boat Suburban, say 7 liters displacement.)

      Add a turbocharger and a metering throttle body, connect to an induction motor and one can get about 100 kW of electrical power per unit. Don’t forget a catalytic connverter on the exhaust. However, it takes well over 12,000 BTU of natural gas to make each kW-hr.

      By comparison, a large combined cycle gas turbine needs only about 7,000 BTU per kW-hr of output.

      So you need about half as much natural gas for the same output. Plus, you’ll have to rebuild the large blocks about once a year of continuous running where the CCGT can go years without major overhaul.

      Our electrical grid has developed around large, central station generation for darn good reasons.

    7. Craig Says:

      If you can’t force a drop in petro-use of 20%, simply attack the problem from another direction – drop the population by 20%.

      Hey, it cuts the costs of Obamacare, too. No need to mess with the death panels.

    8. Pawn Says:

      Sounds pretty third-world. Next they’ll think of having us peddle Gilligan-cycles to watch TV!

    9. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I fully expect to see many illegal generators appear in California in the next year or two. I may have one of them. If your legislature behaves as a third world legislature, pretty soon society catches up.

    10. Douglas Says:

      The swarm thing isn’t that new. IT’s been recommended as a way of securing the grid by using small scale nukes, and has been forwarded by fans of polywell fusion as an application for cheep energy. I don’t recall glenn praising the efficiency of THIS swarm, but rather the durability that comes with self reliance, or small scale applications decentralizing the grid.

    11. NedLudd Says:

      As I understand it, the current way of generating power, central generation with a distribution infrastructure was developed at the scale it currently is because it was the most cost effective way to create and distribute power. Peak demand and remote locations were the situations in which local generation was considered reasonable. We have since added backup power for individual sites, such as computer rooms and homes that chose to have that capability. Since then, we have added wind and solar as a means of reducing a users power consumption (a variant of peak demand reduction expanded somewhat).

      The so called swarm is no different in net effect as the use of coal fired furnaces. If the “swarm” needs refueling, we are resurrecting a business which disappeared effectively about 50 years ago (It still lives on in some areas requiring fuel oil for heating). Imagine a fuel provider coming to each member of the “swarm” to feed its local generating capacity. I can’t wait until we bring back coal trucks. The iceman cometh again.

    12. Fatty Bolger Says:

      It’s going to be a lot harder to mitigate air pollution at 1000 individual sites than at just one big one. I’m not talking about CO2, but real pollution.

    13. Insufficiently Sensitive Says:

      I thought I saw, stated or implied, that natural gas was assumed to be the fuel in this mighty buzzing swarm. Most buildings are already connected to it, so there would just be minor plumbing involved in extending the service pipe to the new gen set.

      Agree about the aggravated exhaust pollution, and the (small) increase in DIY installation accidents.

      It is interesting that this proposal is taken seriously in Germany, where you’d think the greenies would be howling against all the new CO2 emissions. Also, the ‘intelligent controls and network connections’ would raise havoc with building occupants’ use of such gen sets – all too likely remotely starting or stopping them at inconvenient times, as California plans to do.

    14. Porkov Says:

      Who says this “swarm” can’t be nuclear? I know that the hospital I work for is seriously considering this.

    15. JKB Says:

      If only we’d gone with Edison rather than Tesla. Then we would have a long tradition of home power generation as well as the infrastructure. Now this idea is different in that excess power is fed into the grid permitting the generator to run at optimum RPM even with reduced local loads. And yes, lets not forget capturing waste heat to use. It’s all very different.

      I thought we could just plug our Prius into the house when the power went out?

    16. david foster Says:

      The utilization of waste heat, which is created in large amounts as a byproduct of power production, is indeed an important efficiency consideration–although the level of distributed generation proposed in the “swarm power” article is probably not the best way to go about it. See my post macrogrid and microgrid for more on this.

    17. juandos Says:

      Alternative energy is too unreliable to actually provide baseline power, so we’re going to need millions of fossil-fuel backup generators scattered everywhere to take up the slack“…

      Proving yet again the people have the government they deserve…

      After all are we in this country not the very embodiment of that old saying?

    18. Koblog Says:

      It will produce significantly more CO2 per watt than do large-scale fossil fuel plants…

      You bought into the hoax that there is something evil about C02.

      You lost the argument right there. If you play by the scammers’ rules, you lose.

    19. Anonymous Says:

      “bobby b Says: ”

      Bobby b said a load of carp, only spelled differently. There is no reason to think there will be a greater rate of electrocuted linesman if personal generation becomes common.

      As to the rest, if you want the population reduced, make sure you start with yourself.

    20. JohnV Says:

      The idea makes more sense if you consider it as a home heater (replacing one’s furnace and water heater) that incidentally produces electricity. The proportion of fuel used to make heat versus electricity is not a measure of efficiency — the real measure of inefficiency would be how much fuel is not captured as heat or converted to electricity. The better question to ask is “Is the cost of the electricity produced low enough to recover the cost of installing and operating the unit”.

      The challenge as others is the source and kind of fuel and the reliability/cost of the equipment.

    21. David H Dennis Says:

      In a place where heat is extremely expensive, this might actually be pretty cost-effective. Right now, a small entertainment venue I’m involved with can cost a couple of thousand dollars a month for heat. If we take the heat out of a generator and it is basically a free byproduct of generation, that might make a lot of sense.

      It sure is funny thinking about a “green” scheme based on internal combustion engines, though.

      However, I remember reading that transmission line losses can amount to 50% of the power generated. So if we have power generated where it’s used, could that not roughly equal the efficiency of a large generator? Maybe that plus using the heat could provide a net benefit for this scheme.

      You might notice that installation and maintenance is included with this scheme, so there would be no reason for anyone inexperienced to tackle those dangerous jobs. Also I would think it would be straightforward to design an automated interlock that ensured that the grid would not be supplied under specified circumstances, such as when people are working on local wiring.

      This device might be comparable in complexity to a large gas heating plant or water heater, both of which exist in households by the millions and rarely cause trouble.

      D

    22. TomSaxon Says:

      I have to disagree, I think it IS an advancement. I don’t entirely agree with the notion of “swarm”, but I do strongly advocate any system that results from most individuals being self-sufficient and many of them producing enough to create an exchangeable surplus. That kind of emergence market is ultra-redundant and nearly fool-proof. As opposed to national or international monoliths which serve as centralized generation and distribution systems. Doesn’t matter much what the essential thing is that is being produced; desired results as the consequence of self-organization and individual self-sufficiency always trump centralized production and distribution.

      Bringing this back to the grid: we know that in response to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, States have mandated electrical consumption reduction percentages and deadlines. And so was born the Smart Meter and along with it an increase of the cost of power used during peak times, and the remote shutoff capacity. Increased cost of electricity used during peak time to “incentivize” voluntary consumption reduction, and remote-shutoff to simply shut you (or an appliance selected by the utility) off, if the price increase doesn’t give you sufficient incentive.

      Centralization is not ultimate goodness, and a completely centralized civilization is no utopia. Instead, centralization of most, if not all, major essential systems (power, food, economy, government etc), is really the midwife to an emergent advanced network civilization where the hubs of production and distribution are very many and much much more local.

    23. Rick Caird Says:

      It sounds like most of those complaining about the idea of swarms are still enamored with the idea of centralization. But, I would bet that every single one of those posts came from a PC, not a big mainframe like we had through the mid 80′s. When PC’s were first available, those favoring centralization (and I was one of them) argued essentially the same arguments against PC’s and PC swarms that were offered here against electrical swarms. It turned out decentralization worked out quite well, thank you. There is no single point of failure. There are more complex applications and a greater variety of applications than could be expected if we had to wait for the technical IT staff go go through their justifications and implementations. And yes, there are “swarms” of PC’s and swarms of servers. It turned out we were better off connecting multiple limited purpose servers than we were with a single centralized server.

      Some of those swarms are actually used for good things like very multi threaded compute bound problems like linear programming applications. Others have been harnessed by hackers into very large botnets. So, those that knee jerk favor large centralized generating facilities will, in the end, lose. Just like there are places for large centralized computer applications and a place for distribute application, so will we find a balance between distributed generation and centralized generation.

    24. david foster Says:

      Rick…you can’t draw these conclusions only from general principles; the centralization/decentralization point that works is a function of available technology and economics. Absent the invention of the microprocessor, for example, PCs would have simply been too expensive for most people to afford and less-economical for businesses than timesharing and transaction-processing systems in which most of the intelligence was centralized. In the early days of the commercial Internet, the broad use of “cloud” computing was inhibited by bandwidth costs…falling costs of bandwidth are now driving the migration of much intelligence away from the desktop and into the “cloud” (ie, into data centers)

    25. _Jon Says:

      You make good points, but the term “fossil-fuel” is very off. That isn’t how these resources are created and the use of this term really hurts your argument.

    26. TMLutas Says:

      The analogy to computers is very apt. There are competing forces of centralization and decentralization. We decentralized on to PC and PC based server hardware but now we’re consolidating servers into virtual instances on heavy duty iron. IBM sells mainframes that run 35,000+ instances of Linux on them.

      Power generation sometimes makes sense as a central application, other times as a decentralized application. The line will move as various smart, inventive people come up with improved centralized and decentralized solutions. The only problem is when somebody gets religion and tries to force an inappropriate solution to a situation where the other “camp” makes more sense.

      We have embedded in much of our utility commerce a bias against local production and decentralization that is politically imposed. We should strip that out of our systems and just let the information flow of the markets inform people without distortion. People will then choose what is right for their own situation. That solution will give you only two certainties:
      1. It will be efficient
      2. The ultimate mix of centralized and decentralized solutions will be a surprise to most people.

    27. Pawn Says:

      Mr. Saxon,

      And the advantage of this “network” is…? The main reason for the current centralization of power production is economy of scale. Our directly related transportation infrastructure is based on centralization. There is a reason why this is so. This is one of the fundamental reasons America outperforms and will continue to outperform Europe economically. If you don’t understand why these things are the way they are, proposing alternatives is a waste of the listeners time. Our power system did not just pop into existence one day after someone thought that centralization was a good idea, it evolved due to a combination of technological and market forces in a relatively free political atmosphere.

      Your “network”, swarm or whatever is another attempt to use apparently political principals to undermine an “evil” centralized system that places too much control in the hands of a few that serve to make an “evil” profit. No one other than a brain-dead Utopian would replace a robust system that works so well that most people take it for granted with a totally dysfunctional, bureaucratic wet dream, (read, nightmare). Ask California about how that worked out.

      And to the person seemingly oblivious to the hazards of decentralized electrification:

      http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/face/In-house/full9002.html

      http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/face/In-house/full9005.html

    28. Merrill Guice Says:

      I am in the evil energy industry. One of the benefits of being evil is having facts. Let me inject a few here.

      Over 80% of generated electricity is lost (converted) TO HEAT due to line resistance on the trip from the big generator to your home. Placing electric generation close to the user increases efficiency because less of the electricity is lost. Natural gas generators produce much less CO2 than coal.

      We already have large institutions that are on “peaking” electricity rates that use on site power generation during the peak times when their rates are set. The savings more than pay for the generator in a 36 month time frame.

      I do not know of the grid in Europe, but here in the states, the so called grid is really held together with glue and bubblegum. The Chinese released a paper from a student who showed how hacking one point of the grid would cause a rolling blackout that would bring down all power in the US. It would take days to get the entire thing working again.

      So, there are advantages to having your own generator and decentralizing the grid. As for solar and wind and all of that realize that the fairy godmother is not going to make them work soon, if ever.

    29. MikeinAppalachia Says:

      Mr. Guice-I don’t know with what “energy industry” you are “in”-but it certainly isn’t an electric utility in the USA as is mine. Typical transmission losses, depending on the transmission voltage, fall between 2-6% on average and typical distribution losses might go as high as 6-10%. On average, from the generator terminals to a residential meter, line losses (including substations and distribution transformers) are about 10%.
      I don’t know where your 80% comes from but it is certainly NOT “line losses”.

    30. M. Report Says:

      One advantage of decentralized
      power generation: Fault tolerance;
      One does not lose 1000Mw at once.

      Let me put it another way: If 3
      muslim terrorists, a mortar, and
      a dozen rounds of HEAT ammunition
      are the ‘Man Caused Disaster’ about
      to happen, would you rather they
      were targeting one powerplant which
      serves a city, and will take three
      years to replace, or 12 swarm units ?

    31. Shannon Love Says:

      Some general observations:

      (1) I don’t think that CO2 production is much of problem but most of the people attacking the traditional power grid and preventing the adoption of nuclear power do think it a problem. I think it important to point out how their mindless oppositionalism often leads them to hypocritically embrace technologies that create more not less CO2. People who oppose nuclear power will inevitably trigger the consumption of more carbon emitting fuels.

      (2) Waste heat recovery is nothing new, not even in the case of backup generators. In the Northeast, it’s fairly common to find the radiators of backup generators dumping into the heating system of the buildings they power. Even so, the heat produced by these systems in the form of warm air is relatively trivial.

      (3) Waste heat is often just that. Half the year or more, buildings have to actively remove heat. So the waste heat recovery is really only helpful in the winter, in northern climes. Everywhere else it provides no benefit.

      (4) A natural gas based system would not really be a decentralized “swarm” system. It would simply be a transferral from dependence one centralized network, the electrical grid, to another centralized network, the natural gas distribution “grid” of pipelines. You can’t easily store natural gas taken from pipelines so the generators would be just a susceptible to interruption as any other natural gas dependent mechanism.

      (5) The laws of thermodynamics and electrodynamics dictate that large generators are more efficient than small ones. There is no technology on the horizon which will change that fact. The advantage is so great that it pays to build one big generator and then string wires for dozens of miles to carry the electricity to the load.

      (6) I’m a big fan of decentralization but a lot of things that are supposedly decentralized, such as the internet, are really decentralized. In the case of the internet, it is centralized on a few root name servers, routers and telecom backbones. It passes through numerous choke points. Despite being designed to route around failure, specific failures and government action can bring the net down. (Future mesh networking might fix that but we don’t have that right now.)

      Likewise, no reliable power generator save a small thermoelectric nuke is really self contained. Alternative systems like wind and solar only produce power on natures schedule which defeats the purpose of producing power anyway. All other generators require fuel which much be delivered by a supply network. That means they’re tied fairly closely to the network.

      The biggest danger to rational energy policy is fantasy. To much of our energy policy is driven by people wanting a certain kind of world based on a certain kind of technology. You can just will the forces of nature to make the kind of world you want. You have to accept the limits imposed by natural law and human understanding of that law.

      Right now, we don’t have that. We have energy policy driven by political and social longing. Emotions don’t keep the lights on.

    32. jgreene Says:

      I read the “swarm” article the other day and my immediate reaction was the extension of my built-in BULLSHIT detectors.

      What was the SOURCE of the power? The article was just pure BS masquerading as something new.

    33. TomSaxon Says:

      Mr. Pawn,

      My point was that none of our current major centralized institutions just popped into existence but rather evolved organically into being what they are through a process of efficiency-selection. When something new is found that probably will work better it is implimented as possible and so these systems evolve.

      I don’t understand why you are introducing a moral or political narrative into this. Through the process of “efficiency-selection” our major critical systems evolved step by step from less efficient networks to more efficient centralized systems and then onto less efficient centralized systems. The current phase is where those same systems will become less centralized and more networked in a more efficient way. It is just the cycle of the evolution of civilization which no one can plan but can only hope to influence towards one result or another.

      The network civilization I am talking about has no stated advantage because its advantages are not defined by statements or ethical arguments or political narratives, but rather by simply what works.

      The current centralized system was the best system up to the point of its full implimentation- that certainly does not mean it is perfect and will not improve. It means that it will continue to evolve and improve and that next stage is multiple smaller localized hubs working together as a network.

      These things happen organically as a result of self-organization, emergence, and connnectionism. The more we understand these fundamental qualities of any major complex system, the more we will be able to guide said major systems towards greater and greater efficiency. And so civilization advances.

      My primary function at my job is to support and ensure the FERC/NERC compliance of my customers. The grid as it is now is not a well choreographed dance of harmonious parts but instead is a truly gigantic mess of impossibly intertwined knots that control operators of transmission utilities must constantly attempt to untie and re-tie in order to ensure transmission and distribution reliability.

      It got that way because of exactly what I said above: small networks expanding outward until they knot-up with other small networks and the result is a massive centralized mess. Even that “mess” though was a huge improvement on what came before it: less efficient localized hubs.

      The next stage, in phases, is breaking that big ball of knots down into more managable and logicaly organized localized hubs. Not for any political or ethical reasons, but simply because IF/as we impliment smaller changes to the large system with reliability being the goal, the system will become less of a mess, and will be more reliable. Local generation, transmission, and distribution is best for its locality because it is customized to handle demand loads specific to said locality. Surplus can be sold/transfered as needed.

      The more local the better, until eventually the consumer is generating his own power and sending surplus to the grid as/where needed.

      How could anyone argue that providing yourself with all the power you need is less reliable than depending on a massive centralized system? If YOUR generating capacity fails altogether or is reduced drastically due to generation problems, you can pick up the surplus generated by someone else. And even if you can’t, YOU will be the only one affected by the reduction in your own capacity. As it is now, if one major transmission station is suddenly subject to a dramatic problem, it can wipe out the transmission and distribution capacity of thousands of interconnected substations which in turn would affect millions of people.

      BTW America does not out-perform europe because of centralized systems, quite the contrary, it out performs europe because of a largely decentralized market and common/naturalistic law as opposed to rigid legal positivism. As we see our markets become more and more centralized (and less free) we watch them tumble.

      History shows the failure of contrived centralization when civilization is evolving towards self-organized decentralization: The USSR and North Korea are pretty obvious examples of that.

      Since you seem fond of links, hhere are a few that may help you out:

      Emergence primer: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/3410/03.html

      Spontaneous Order:
      http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_content&task=view&id=169&Itemid=259

    34. TomSaxon Says:

      Shannon Love,

      I agree with your last set of comments. My only standard in determining the quality of a system of generation, transmission or distribution is reliability. Because in reliability is contained every other relevent factor like pricing, efficiency etc.

      I see the next immediate step being nuclear generation at multiple localized points across the board. I do not like or trust the super complex system of substations, switches, interconnection points, operating districts etc. I would like to see ANY essential product (including electricity of course) generated and distributed as close to the end consumer as possible. So the paradigm I am speaking from is of course one where the end game is self-sufficient end-user generation.

      I think we are currently being artificially held back from that next immediate step. Alot of people do not like nuclear generation, but really I see it as the next step we have to take to come closer to the end game.

    35. Shannon Love Says:

      Tom Saxon,

      I think the next major step will be “micro-nukes” such as those made by Hyperion that slot into existing coal plants. Those will shrink down to where they can run individual facilities or small communities. That alone would help a lot.

      However, in the end, long term local self-reliance is a chimera. You simply can’t live at the standard of industrial civilization without extensive world wide trade. There are just to many components to the things we need. Even if you had some kind of micro-nuke, it would only run for 5 years or so and then it would have to swapped out with one with fresh fuel.

      It’s good to build in emergency resistance to our systems but we will never escape dependence on others and I pretty sure we shouldn’t want to. In the past, when people didn’t need each other for trade, they tended to regard others as prey. I don’t wish to return to that kind of society.

    36. Anonymous Says:

      Pawn, one of your examples has nothing to do with the dangers of decentralized power generation–it’s an example of the dangers of centralized power generation; and the other just shows that the safety measures in place here are adequate–all permanent backup generators here are installed with isolation switches. (Also in neither example did the electrocuted linesman follow proper safety procedures, they gambled and lost throwing their own dice.)

      “Your “network”, swarm or whatever is another attempt to use apparently political principals to undermine an “evil” centralized system that places too much control in the hands of a few that serve to make an “evil” profit.”

      Autonomy is a very positive political principle, and nothing needs to be “evil” for that to stay true.

    37. Ize Cream Says:

      Hahahaaa, You fools!
      I have an extension cord out to my car and plug it into my cigarette lighter.

      Please donate for my gas money.

    38. Pawn Says:

      Ms. Love,

      “The biggest danger to rational energy policy is fantasy.”

      A-freekin-men.

      Sadly, these fantasies burden emerging technologies with unrealistic promises necessary to sell them to the gullible.

      And there is always the default conspiracy theory to fall back to avoid confrontation with the consequences of ignorance.

      Some folks never let reality get in the way of their worldview. There is some pretty twisted thinking being embraced again with the re-emergence of the so-called “green” movement. This thinking thirty years ago lead us to our current situation. Back then it was called “NO NUKES”.

      Two or three nuclear plants started today are not going to help much. Hell, we can’t even find many engineers who know how to design/build these plants anymore.

    39. Joe Wooten Says:

      Pawn,

      I work for Westinghouse nuclear right now and we are designing and building 4 new nuke plants in China and 4 more in the US (Georgia/South Carolina). We are also restarting construction completion of Watts Bar 2 and TVA is also still considering restarting construction on the 2 units at the Bellafonte plant, which will go to Areva since they bought the old B&W nuclear division back in the 1990′s. The choke point to building units here is not the engineering, but the craft labor. Since the nuclear drawdown in the early 1990′s, and the current bias against craft training in the public schol system, we are going to be very short on welders, pipefitters, electricians, and millwrights. Electricians won’t be as big a problem as the other crafts as there are a lot of un/under-employed electricians that can be re-trained. The other crafts, especially welding and pipe fitting are young man jobs, and most of those who built the last plants are in their 50′s or retired.

      The craft unions could help on this, but they will refuse to train workers that will go on to work on non-union sites, thereby dooming them when new nukes are finally built in the rust belt. The public school system thinks everyone should go to college and have shut down all training at school systems, even though many young men just are not college material.

    40. peter jackson Says:

      I could see household generators in the future, when our household wiring is near super-conducting and our appliances and HVAC systems sip only a fraction of the power that they do today. Especially if they run on natural gas.

    41. Pawn Says:

      Mr. Wooten,

      Thanks for the info. My comment was based on the upswing in job postings for the nuke engineers that are familiar with the (dusty) comliance process. Heck the government isn’t even up to speed anymore. It’s interesting that much of your work is in restarting abandonded plants and work in China.

      Don’t worry about the domestic tradesfolk. The market will take care of the need despite the obstructionist unions. People need work very badly now. I knew a few people back in the day that were nomad nukie welders. Lifestyle sucked but the money was very good. Maybe we can pick up a few from Mexico. (Very bad/dark joke).

      I hope the nuke industry can get restarted but I’m still very disappointed in the results of the US freestyle approach. When China gets their own domestic production up to speed then we are in big trouble economically.

      All of this IMHO, of course.

    42. Joseph Somsel Says:

      My colleague forgot to mention the South Texas Project Units 3 and 4 which Westinghouse is heavily involved in. We’re supporting our parent company, Toshiba, which is supplying two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) certified at 1350 MW each. STP 3 and 4, South of Houston, were the FIRST new reactor license application in 30 years in the US.

      Mr. Love’s summary is correct in the essentials. The grid is centralized around large central stations because that is the competitive architecture given the physical and technological choices available to us. Tesla beat Edison a long time ago.

      While I like the idea of small nuclear units, their adaptation in the American economy will depend in large part on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Already, the regulatory burdens placed on nuclear power plants create a strong economic incentive for larger and larger plants. A 60 MWe plant requires almost as many licencing specialist and lawyer man-hours per year as a 3000 MW plant.

      Part 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations on nuclear has been developed of the last 50+ years almost exclusively for very large light water reactors. That’s what the NRC knows. To allow small, modular, and dispersed reactors will require a complete rethinking and recodification of these regulations. CONCURRENTLY with a rapid expansion of large LWRs.

      The NRC and the US industry just do not have the human resources to do both new big nukes and a reconceptualization/rewrite of the regs for small ones.

      It could happen but it won’t happen fast.

    43. Joe Wooten Says:

      OOPS! I’ve been so involved with AP-1000 that I forgot about STP3/4. I agree with your analysis on small modular reactors too. I have the same opinion about the PBMR that we are also involved with. Too small for the large grid of a major industrialized nation. The number of people involved was the main reason Consumers Power closed the Big Rock Point plant in Michigan 12 years ago. It took alost as many people to run it as it did the Palisades plant a few miles to the south and put out only 60 MWe or so.