Pickens: Wind + Natural Gas

Today at 10:00 EDT, the oilman / corporate raider T Boone Pickens will hold a press conference to launch his plan (humbly entitled “the Pickens Plan”) for sharply reducing the American demand for imported oil. The address of the webcast is at the link.

Here is the Pickens Plan website, and here’s a USA Today article on the plan.

In a nutshell, the idea is:

1)Heavy use of wind power-much of it to be produced in massive wind farms–to generate electricity. This would free up large amounts of natural gas, which is now a primary fuel for electrical generation.
2)Shift a substantial portion of America’s car and truck fleet to run on natural gas, which would of course become relatively cheaper if it were less in demand for power generation.

Let’s discuss.

20 thoughts on “Pickens: Wind + Natural Gas”

  1. The plan won’t work. Building wind farms and converting vehicals will take several years, 5+ at a minimum. By that time the price of oil will have dropped. Take it from a Texan, no oil boom last forever.

    There is also the tiny problem that wind power cannot replace natural gas plants. They can only reduce their natural gas consumption under ideal conditions. That means we will have to pay the cost of the wind farms plus the cost of a 100% redundant backup in the form of natural gas burning plants. The likely savings in natural gas will be far lower than the Pickens expects.

    By the time you add in the energy cost of building the plants and refitting vehicles, it will actually cause a short term i.e. less than 5 years, increase in oil consumption. Cost equals resources. Anything that cost more takes more resources. Its just that simple.

  2. Shannon…he never really explains why he prefers wind to solar-thermal, which *does* have an inherent energy-storage capability (through molten salt or other heat-storing substance.)

    For wind, though, I don’t think you would need 100% backup in the form of nat gas plants. If the wind network covers a broad enough area, then geographical diversity should provide some inherent ability to ride through periods of low wind. This is highly susceptible to modeling by putting together the wind data for various locations.

    Some work is being done, by GE and others, on wind energy storage via compressed air. Not clear yet how real this is.

    One advantage of hybrid-electric vs nat gas for vehicles is that the batteries will tend to be charged at off-peak times and also, given appropriate pricing, at times when plentiful wind or other intermittent source is available.

  3. Now that John Deere has bailed from the CNG engine manufacturing business, it will be interesting to see if Cummins can keep up with the demand from CNG-powered fleets.

  4. When he has to send a prospectus, I’ll believe it’s an idea with merit. Until then, it’s just like more money for Amtrak or biofuels.

  5. What Shannon wrote. What the plan really calls for is conversion from coal/oil to natgas with a windmill auxiliary system. The problem is that there are periods of up to days in length when there isn’t enough wind to generate electricity, so it’s necessary to maintain gas turbines capable of generating 100% of capacity.

    The flaws of this plan were well discussed on another blog within the past couple of days, but I don’t remember which blog it was.

  6. After a couple minutes thought and a bit of google searching I agree with Shannon Love.

    Natural gas is significantly cheaper than gasoline right now. Hence the result Pickens envisions should be happening already.

    By my calculations 1 mmbtu of gas =7.69 gallons = about 32.23$ at the moment where I live.
    1 mmbtu of natural gas = 12.98$ today.

    I may be too stupid and/or ignorant to understand what I’m looking at but in any case I used these two sites to conjure up my numbers: http://www.wtrg.com/daily/gasprice.html and www iowadnr gov air prof ghg files title_v_inventory_form xls

    Of course, feel free to mock me if I screwed that up.

  7. The wind guys always underestimate the need for energy storage and the cost for the specialty manufacture of the generators and blades. The German government mandated the purchase by power companines of wind power and the variable nature of the generation drives them nuts. If the wind fades at peak times they get slamed by costumers if they maintain generators on standby it cost them more money.
    Frankly, I’d keep both hands on my wallet when dealing with Ol’ T Bone. I suspect he’s looking for subsidies.

  8. Another problem is that natural gas production right now is pretty much pegged (max out). That means you have to get the windmills online before you switched over the vehicals or you face shortages.

    Also, natural gas is the primary component of fertilizer so any upward pressure this plan would cause on natural gas prices would cause a rise in food prices as well.

  9. David Foster,

    For wind, though, I don’t think you would need 100% backup in the form of nat gas plants

    Yes, you would. Consider an event like an ice storm that covers several states. Such storms shutdown wind turbines for several days by coating their blades with crippling ice just as it would a helicopter. If you don’t have weather resistant generation, you’re boned.

    Even if you go to a system of wind farms spread out over thousands of miles, you have to build in enough redundancy so that if half your turbines went offline, you would still have power from the remaining 50%. Factor in transmission losses and your looking at 60%+ redundancy in wind turbines alone. So you would need enough turbines to supply peak power requirements plus another 60%. All this redundancy really starts to add up.

  10. Where does the base-load generation come from? Are we going to keep subsidizing Wind (Pickens admits his Panhandle windfarms work only with the subsidies)?
    Where are we going to get all that natural gas? The last point is especially important because the biggest producer of Nat Gas is a country that I would never want to rely on and has a heck of a lot more nukes than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Pickens is just trying to get more Fed/State funding for his Wind farms.

  11. Right now the industry is screaming for people who understand electrical, hydraulic and mechanical stuff well enough to install or maintain the ones already in existence.

    To find those skill sets and willingness to do it 200 feet in the air in the winter with a major wind chill factor (they are installed where the wind is after all) and you don’t have enough people to support it unless they somehow build in elevators and closed rooms for the equipment.

  12. Daytrader..won’t this be a problem with almost any energy source, though? Nuclear, solar, wind, offshore oil & gas platforms, even plain old gas & coal plants…all these need people who can weld, people who understand electricity, etc…working conditions probably tougher for some of the technologies than for others, though.

  13. David, ever been to Altamont Pass? I can’t remember ever seeing more than 60% of the blades spinning. Imagine that wind with sub freezing temperatures, snow. Prairie thunderstorms and twisters. For a good time, drive a couple of hours to Omaha. Pay would have to be really good.

  14. When i hear all this talk in the news about alterantive this and renewable that, I just can’t help shake the thought that all of these people are talking about something that really doesnt’ even exist.. and will never exist to the scale that is being daydreamed about.

    Its like everyone is living in some fantasy land , where if they talk about soemthing enough, it might seem close to becoming real!

    And this nonsense is not restrained to the bizarro energy security issue.. it goes across all of them… that anyone thinks the Federal Govt is not free-falling into bankrupacy.. that a nuclear Iran is tolerable… that raising taxes on the people who actualy pay them wont hurt economy .. ugh. i cant take it sometimes.

  15. Congress could just pass a law “No state nor local government shall regulate against the siting of any electrical power plant or electrical transmission line [hey, everything is interstate commerce these days]” and we could let the market deal with the issue. You could build a wind generator or a nuclear power plant on your own land!

  16. The only feasible way to integrate large amounts of wind onto the grid, and not destabilize either grid frequency or voltage is to be able to supplement the natural variability in wind output with other generation sources that can make up for the variability. To date, natural gas turbines and hydro are the only two sources that can be brought on line quickly enough to make up for a significant hiccup in wind generation. Since there will never be another hydro project in the United States, that leaves the gas as the only source for reliable peaking capacity.

    If Pickens is going to replace rather than compliment wind with gas, it wont work.

  17. As far as integration goes it can be managed if you build the individual sites far enough apart from each other so that the average output remains relativly constant. Not to say that major storms/weather patterns wont have an effect but it should be relativily perdictable. I am willing to accept a slightly less reliable power grid over the current situation. 100% reducancy would be a waste.

    Of course extra capacity could be used to produce hydrogen which could be compressed, stored and used in a fuel cell to make up the difference. Its all a question of what we are willing to pay to cut this noose around our necks.

    One thing that I think people haven’t commented on is that the move to natural gas cars greatly simplifies the production of automotive fuel from coal since syn-gas from coal was used interchangeable with natural gas from about a century.

    Picken’s plan is genius for the simple reason that it might be doable. The perfect is the worst enemy of the good in this country. Its not perfect, by Picken’s own admission its only a stopgap to buy time, but it is a potential stopgap,

  18. There is a thermodynamic possibility to using wind power for air compression, to complement the burning of gas in gas turbines. A 1 mW gas turbine will generate 2.8 mW of power, but comsume 1.8 mW in compressing the air. If wind is used to compress gas and store it for a limited period, say under 48 hours, then when gas is added and combusted, the 1 mW gas turbine will be able to use a higher portion of the 2.8 mW generated.
    The biggest problem will be finding an effective way to compress the gas to a high enough pressure, while possibly operating at a variable speed. I suggest hooking the wind generators to the grid to give them a constant speed, then using the power generated to compress air. Every energy transformation wastes a certain amount, but it is worth investigating.

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