This Seems Significant

California regulators are considering changes to the ‘net metering’ rules, which allow owners of home solar panels to sell excess electricity back to the grid.   These changes may include a connection fee of several hundred dollars per year.

People who have rooftop solar–and who also have grid connections–usually expect the grid to be there for them, with whatever power they need, when night, clouds, etc cut their solar output to a low level. This certainly implies capital costs for the utility power generators and transmission/distribution companies.  The concern is that those who get solar when it’s available, but rely on grid power at other times, are not paying their fare share of the infrastructure’s capital costs.

As an indicator of these costs, a modern combined-cycle gas turbine plant costs about $970 per peak kilowatt..  So a simplistic analysis would suggest that if a homeowner has a peak demand of 10 kw, he is driving $9700 in capital costs for the grid.  This is probably somewhat excessive, since everyone’s peaks won’t occur at exactly the same moment…but the number is not trivial.  A lot of assumptions would need to go into estimating a ‘correct’ cost, and those assumptions will surely be argued about fervently in California in the near future.

Key question: Could this be a turning point leading to a more realistic understanding of wind/solar costs in situations where reliable electricity is important, as opposed to the simplistic narratives about wind/solar’s ‘cheapness’?  I mean, if even California is seeing a need to do something that would surely slow the uptake of ‘renewable’ energy…


Zero Hedge




63 thoughts on “This Seems Significant”

  1. Live by the subsidy, die by the subsidy.

    Long time ago, California had a subsidy for rooftop solar heating panels for backyard swimming pools. When that subsidy went away, that industry died.

    If the economics worked for unsustainable undependable “renewable” energy, there would be no need for subsidies.

    But the Big One is still to come — What happens when the State has to start charging Electric Vehicle owners for all the lost revenue from gasoline taxes? EVs need to pay their share of the road system!

    At the Federal level, government is spending about $1.75 for each $1.00 it takes in as taxes. That is unsustainable. Eventually, all subsidies are going to go away.

  2. What happens when they start charging a demand charge for charging an electric car? Those can add up fast. What happens if there’s no off peak because all the cars are charging?

    Tesla’s answer seems to be their power wall so now you’ll have to buy two sets of batteries for your car. Those will be a little harder to park in the drive if they start catching fire like the Bolts.

  3. Yes, it should be a turning point but expect massive pushback in CA. Solar panel owners will argue that they already paid out $20K capital costs for their panels and wiring. Of course it’s a nonsensical argument because they provide so little power to other grid users, and their power isn’t dispatchable, but expect to hear that argument.

  4. I was under the impression that it was difficult to sell power back to the power companies with solar and wind rigs due to the way that the grid worked. Maybe things have changed since I looked at it last.

    I actually looked into putting a windmill on my property a few years ago. It would have had to be over a hundred feet in the air to capture the correct wind pattern and had a payback of around 130 years. So, no.

  5. Note also: Even if one is *not* actually selling electricity back to the grid…but is still using rooftop solar for a substantial % of their needs, while still maintaining a grid connection for when they need it…then they are still imposing extra costs on the grid, because the capital investment to support their *peak* use must still be there, while the number of kwh they buy for it to be recovered against is smaller.

  6. When I lived in CA, I considered solar panels on my roof. I knew a few neighbors who had done so. At the time I was serving on the local planning commission so I got a bit more information through the grapevine. That’s when I heard about changes in the “net metering” rules. That was ten years ago but, at the time, the plan was to limit net metering to “wholesale rates.” In other words net metering would be limited and not “reverse metering” as we had been promised. I did not buy solar and five years later moved to Arizona where I get three calls a day, average, about solar. Still haven’t done it.

  7. Wind and solar are often referred to as “IRR”s – Intermittent Renewable Resources. This intermittency causes other costs – not just to supply the peak MWh but to maintain the grid. If wind and solar increase/decrease output by 1 MW, then the rest of the generation has to ramp down/up 1 MW, so extra generation is needed for every MW of IRRs.
    There is also the cost of removal of old, no longer working solar panels and windmills. If the homeowner hasn’t included the cost of eventual disposal of solar panels in their calculations, they could be in for a rude surprise.

  8. I’ve had representatives selling solar panels under an Illinois renewables program call at my house. My house’s electric bill under the current policy isn’t high enough to qualify. Sometimes all you have to do is turn the power off when you’re not using it.

    The panels they’re selling have inverters that return properly filtered power to Edison while the solar panels are working, which means people get credited (I’m not sure at what rate) for solar power they aren’t drawing. The way the local circuits are set up, only five houses per step-down transformer circuit can have the solar added. Although a transformer can step up or down, apparently if too much juice tries to go back into the grid, they can become overloaded, or perhaps the stability of the local power system itself is at risk. (That problem is likely to arise if there are too many 220 v car charging circuits added to a local circuit as well.)

  9. The reality is that the current grid simply isn’t designed for small-scale power production to be fed back into it, and the unpredictable nature of such production is crippling to anyone trying to design such a thing.

    I know a guy who does engineering for the electrical grid up here in rural Eastern Washington. You want to hear “high, mad laughter”? Ask him about any of that BS. If he could do it, he’d outlaw the entire ridiculous idea, along with the entire range of so-called “renewables”. The entire paradigm of our grid would need changing, were you to try to implement any of that BS on any sort of wide scale.

    The economics just don’t make sense, and neither does the engineering. It never has, and only the fact that the bloody activists captured the politicians and forced this BS through explains how we got here. The subsidies are being paid by ripping off all the other taxpayers and customers, but because it’s so diffuse, nobody can tease it out of their bills or tax returns. If you knew? You’d be outraged.

    Truthfully, the only thing that’s going to save the grid from this mismanagement is for it to be totally destroyed by it. The future of electrical generation is likely going to be local, and consist of small generating plants that are either nuclear or geothermal, set up in cellular fashion. The unfortunate reality here is that the eco-freak activists are bankrupting the big energy companies, and when the whole system collapses, you’ll probably see Toshiba or GE bootlegging small nuclear power plants into communities that are tired of the incompetence and idiocy of all the “big power” types. I actually figure that the collapse of “big government” here in the US is going to be the only thing saving us from going back to the caves and living as hunter-gatherers, because if it’s left to the Elizabeth Warren’s and Nancy Pelosi’s, that’s right where we’re headed.

    Sounds nuts, don’t it? Wait twenty years; see if it still does.

  10. Kirk…”The future of electrical generation is likely going to be local, and consist of small generating plants that are either nuclear or geothermal, set up in cellular fashion.”

    Several years ago, GE Power was talking about a Distributed Power concept, in which small engines or turbines would be powered by natural gas and would serve a neighborhood or a business. (Of course, you’d still need the gas pipeline network to be operational, but gas seems to run with less disruptions than electricity.) Haven’t heard much about this approach lately, probably because the ‘environmental’ demands now include the suppression of natural gas.

  11. Electric power systems are … complicated. Small distributed generators can have poor economics because of the need to be over-sized in order to meet occasional demand peaks. There are advantages in having a big interconnected power generation system, because it makes it easier (and cheaper) to handle those swings in demand — and can provide stability & reliability of supply. But that means synchronizing polyphase electric generation at multiple generators — which involves the mathematics of imaginary numbers. How many of the politicians who imposed mandates & subsidies are familiar with imaginary numbers?

    A ripping yarn that touches on this kind of topic is “Rad Decision” by James Aach (2005), a nuclear power engineer.

    The politicized way we run our public utility commissions is a bit like taking the trombone player from the Titanic’s orchestra and putting him on the bridge in command of the ship.

  12. Net metering shouldn’t exist. Power companies provide you with power if you want it. If you want to intermittently generate power in excess of your needs and feed it back into the grid, fine, but you won’t get paid for it. It’s a tradeoff. Because you still demand grid power but don’t contribute as much to pay for capital costs, you give your excess power to the grid, gratis.

    This should still appeal to greenies because they’re using less CCGT power.

  13. How many of the politicians who imposed mandates & subsidies are familiar with imaginary numbers?

    Based on how they exercise their budgeting responsibilities, one would think they are quite familiar with the concept … but of course, that is a different form of “imaginary” than you are referring to, Gavin. But what else can you expect, from both a Ruling Class and their urban supporters who have come to believe that electricity magically appears from nowhere at their wall sockets?

    Our power-distribution system was originally designed with the assumption that, from the substation to your home, power flows only one way – down the feeder, TO your home. The imposition of intermittent power from millions of sources, flowing FROM each home to the substation and beyond is a serious complication when it comes to protective relaying and economic dispatch. It is amazing that the utilities have been able to cope with that (or are they simply remaining silent about the problems, lest they offend the Powers That Be in their Field of Dreams, where “if they mandate and/or subsidize it, it will come” ??)

    It also effectively turns the grid into a peaking provider, which is neither as efficient, nor as reliable, as the continuous use of large-scale base-load sources for the 24/7/365 power production that our industry/economy/standard of living is built upon. In fact, because of the lack of cost-effective energy storage, renewables have to be backed up by Icky Brown/Neutron Blue sources on practically a watt-for-watt basis to assure that 24/7/365 reliability – effectively incurring the capital and maintenance costs of two power-generation systems, in return for some fuel savings and warm-and-fuzzy virtue signaling (and the gut satisfaction of Sticking it to Greedy Big Energy).

    Energy storage? Every time someone refers to a report of The Next Big Thing In Batteries That Will Make It All Work, I have the same response – I’ll believe it when the Next Big Thing
    hits my own receiving dock in production quantities.

    A big part of my day job is designing power equipment – at much-smaller-than-utility-scale – for off-grid use in remote locations where there is no grid, yet the situation justifies bringing power there. I do use energy storage and inverters – and when called for, solar – in these systems, to support Icky Brown (diesel, usually) generator sets. The “green” tech is utilized primarily to “fuel stretch” the Icky Brown tech – enabling the generators to run at near-full load for maximum efficiency, both supplying the load and charging the batteries (along with solar charging), then turning the generators off and having the inverters carry the load, instead of spinning the generators 24/7.

    I live with the devils-in-the-details every day … from the life-cycle of batteries, to the “undocumented features” of the inverters, to the increased attention one must pay to the operation of such a system relative to their wall socket. And while the applications these systems go into can justify their costs, that is true because either there is no grid, or the grid that is there exhibits the reliability of a Third World bureaucracy – so grid power is not an option; it’s either portable power, or forget the application entirely.

    Life is not a Field of Dreams … neither “if we mandate it, it will come” nor “if we subsidize it, it will come” can override the laws of physics and economics.

  14. “ I did not buy solar and five years later moved to Arizona where I get three calls a day, average, about solar. Still haven’t done it.”

    Only seem to be getting one, or maybe two, calls a day up here in Phoenix. Wonder if the environment for flogging solar is better down there in the progressive paradise of Tucson?

  15. ” The concern is that those who get solar when it’s available, but rely on grid power at other times, are not paying their fare share of the infrastructure’s capital costs.”

    Simple solution: two bills. One flat fee for being connected to the grid, one to pay for the electricity you actually use.

  16. Bert,
    This is actually a very common thing for industrial and large commercial users.

    Say you have a piece of equipment with a 100 HP motor that draws about 60-65 KW in operation. When starting it will draw 375 KW. What’s called demand metering will record the maximum power consumed as well as the cumulative total and the customer will be charged for both. I’ve seen demand charges of several dollars per KW. As far as I know, all of the “smart” meters are capable of this and a lot more now.

    The maximum that most houses will draw is probably around 10 KW unless we’re talking a pretty large house. Most of the loads also tend to be more constant.The places with the biggest solar usage already are paying pretty punishing rates so I’m not sure that an extra $50 a month would be noticed.

    I think most places have switched over to paying only wholesale rate for small scale power sold back into the grid. This should be less than 1/3 the retail price. I believe that some of the original schemes credited full retail price.

    The real problem is the subsidies payed for these “renewables”.

  17. So how much will adding an EV battery charger at home add to one’s peak demand?…(searching)…some data here, for home chargers:

    …looks like about 4-6 kw, for a reasonably decent charge rate.

    For ‘superchargers’ installed for public use, we’re talking about 72-250 kw. That’s *per charger*…install, let’s say, 4 of them in your restaurant parking lot, and I wonder if you can be sure that the power company will be able to supply the additional load?

  18. Manny of the points that I would haave made have already been made by others especially about the cost of utility generation varying over the day and the capital cost that needs to be paid for but is not being paid by small solar. Someone else also pointed out that the electrical grid is designed to transmit power from utility to user but not the other way.

    One thing that has not been mentioned is VARs. VAR is Volt Amp Reactive. or reactive power. Rotating generators, as used by utilities and even small gensets in your house generate VARS.

    Solar and wind both generate DC that is then inverted electronically into AC. Inverted power does not provide any reactive power.

    At a small scale, it does not matter much. There are enough excess VARs sloshing around the network to take care of it. At some point, I think around 5% of total system generation, the missing VARS become problematic and the utilty, or someone, need to start installing hardware to compensate.

    It is very complex and one of those things I understood fairly well back in the 80s but no longer do.

    I’m just trying to make the point that not all AC electricity is the same. Providers of inverted AC need to pay for the costs compensating for that.

  19. David,
    As far as I know, home chargers are capable of throttling their power usage to limit the overall demand. As an example when running a dryer or air conditioning. They can also respond to commands from the utility or will be required to. This will obviously lengthen charging times. This also depends on having them installed, programmed and configured properly including a compatible smart meter.

    Most electrics carry their own actual chargers, the charging station is really just a glorified power outlet that communicates with the car to tell it how much power it can draw.

    Adding a substantial load is already subject to negotiation with the utilities. At the very least there would be installation charges for increasing the size of the service. Such a large, intermittent load would almost certainly be subject to demand charges. If the increase is feasible (and it may not be many places), but requires something like an additional line, the cost could exceed six figures and require a timetable of years for permits and construction. That’s assuming that the politicians don’t simply establish some sort of entitlement that we’ll all have to pay for.

    So the answer to your final question is no, you can’t, and will pay quite a lot even if they will. Probably why I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

  20. JH…”At a small scale, it does not matter much. There are enough excess VARs sloshing around the network to take care of it. At some point, I think around 5% of total system generation, the missing VARS become problematic and the utilty, or someone, need to start installing hardware to compensate.”

    How would you like the assignment of explaining reactive power, and its implications for solar and wind, to a *congresscreature*, or, worse, to Biden/Harris?

    Of course, there is always Lord Chesterfield’s approach:

  21. David,

    I don’t even want the responsibility of explaining it to myself and I used know a fair amount about it!

    Fun trivia fact

    Navy ships used to be and maybe still are DC powered. AC power was provided by “motor-generator” sets. This is a DC motor on one end of a shaft with an ac generator on the other. Controls regulate the DC voltage in to give a constant 60 hertz out.

    Still a thing, apparently. Interesting Wikipedia article on them.

    John Henry

  22. Luckily, the march of progress has included making both synchronous rectification and active power factor control reasonably cheap. One of the requirements of car chargers is a high power factor. Since there is no legacy to speak of, that’s one less complication.

    One of the bright spots of the unlamented passing of compact flourescents from the scene is that most had really poor power factors, I recall seeing 23% cited for the worst. Most LEDs are a lot better.

    One thing you never hear in connection with Tesla’s electric semis is that finding someplace where there is enough system capacity to charge dozens of these at the same time will be like finding someplace to put an aluminum smelter. There are large swaths of the country where it will be completely impossible.

  23. A lot of the problem with the delusional thinking RE: small-scale electrical generation is that very few people know what all goes into it; it’s an esoteric field, so far as “general public knowledge” goes. People don’t even know that they don’t know about it–They think they do, ‘cos whenever they flick a light switch or plug something in, the power is “just there”, and they don’t recognize the complexity lying behind that wall switch or outlet.

    I’d plump down for “better education”, but the raw fact is, I don’t think that would flippin’ help. The real problem is the arrogance of the people expounding on things like renewables, and the idiot politicians that respond to the pressures.

    The electrification of the transport industry is inevitably going to lead to utter collapse of the grid, absent some very significant changes coming on-line in the near future. The idiots are trying to force vast technologic change in tiny little time periods, not even cognizant that the supporting resources and technologies aren’t there to sustain such things. It’s going to be a huge mess, because the majority of the decision-makers are entirely unqualified to be making these decisions. In a normal capitalistic market economy, the economy itself would make many of these decisions, but because the moron class has embraced the equity of the socialist system, we’re pretty much screwed.

    The root flaw with socialism is perhaps not that it’s against human nature, but that it enables some features of human nature to come to the fore. In a market economy, you make a bad decision, you generally pay for it. In a socialist economy, everything is subject to intervention and “management”, and is the result of someone who won’t pay consequences for a wrong decision making decisions normally performed out in the marketplace. Thus, all the varied and sundry idiocies documented in the Soviet economy…

    Man proposes, God disposes. You may think it will work, decreeing that everything go all-electric before 2030, but the reality is, if that would work, it’d already be happening without subsidies–Precisely as the rooftop solar industry would be, if it actually made any kind of economic sense. It doesn’t, you need subsidies and mandates to support it, and all you’re really doing is making Chinese communists wealthy off their ability to sell slave labor to idiot-class sociopaths here in the West.

    I object to “renewable energy” not because I’m some sort of fossil-fuel loving psychopath, but because it doesn’t work; it doesn’t make economic sense. Every time I drive by those landscape-blighting wind generators strewn across the hills around Cle Elum and Ellensburg Washington, I note that they’re rarely actually turning. I also remember reading the projections about how they’d be achieving 80% availability to generate, and I have to wonder at the sheer amazing fortune that I always seem to be driving by during the other 20%…

    It’s also interesting how you can’t quite locate the actual records about how much power those installations have delivered since construction, or much of anything past the original blue-sky projections. There should be more than enough actual performance data out there about the amount of real-world energy those blights upon the landscape have delivered, but it is seemingly some sort of state secret…

    My guess is that none of those installations have ever delivered their projected power outputs, and aren’t likely to, ever. There are good reasons you don’t see them trumpeting all the wunnerful, wunnerful news about how much energy they produce for us, and how clean it really is.

    It ought to be mandated that they do that, along with the actual energy and monetary inputs, right along with the environmental damages like the dead birds and bats; I’ve got friends in agriculture down that way, and they all report that they’re spending significantly more money on pesticides to deal with the increase in insects due to their predators being clonked on the head by “Big Wind”, with the concomitant follow-on damages cascading through the ecosystem because of the added chemical inputs.

    There are no free lunches, with these things. The fantastic belief in renewables is a perfect example of the sort of nuttiness that you find in things like the Dutch Tulip Mania–It’s all the result of man-made delusion and wishful thinking.

    I think the idiot class had better hope that someone figures out fusion or small-scale safe fission damn quickly, because if they don’t? The whole house of cards that is our technologic civilization stands teetering on the precipice. That whole deal with the urea shortages…? Guess what that means, folks? Lots of those high-tech diesel engines can’t function without that stuff, and they can’t be easily retrofitted to do without it. Lose cheap urea? LOL… Dumbasses don’t even grasp the basics of what they’re doing when they start out doing stupid things like what this administration has been doing since day one. The “Energy Secretary” doesn’t even know how many barrels of oil a day the country uses, or needs… Ya think they’re equipped to understand how to keep everything else going?

    Based on that one interview alone, Biden and his cabal ought to be subject to impeachment, for sheer unadulterated incompetency.

  24. Good point MCS. Wikipedia says the supercharger is 73KW per each or 2 outlets.

    Assuming 480vac, 3 phase is available, that will require 150 amps each.

    put 2 superchargers, 2 outlets each, and you need 600AMPS. That seems like a lot to me.

    I did a back of the envelope calculation and got about 300 GW capacity needed to replace gasoline cars, not counting trucks, trains etc. 1GW is a typical nuclear plant.

    We do not have the capacity to distribute an additional 300GW around the US.

  25. I’ve been a big believer in cogeneration since the late 70s.

    IC engines convert about 40% of the energy input (NG, diesel, gasoline) into mechanical energy. the other 60% goes out the exhaust, radiator, oil cooler and misc losses. In a gas turbine it all goes out the exhaust.

    Cogeneration is the useful production of mechanical energy and heat. In addition to ICE cogeneration, there are other forms but I’m going to ignore them here.

    It is relatively simple to recover a large portion of that heat. Typically, Cogen plants can can achieve around 70% overall efficiency.

    IF, and this is a big if, they have a use for the recovered heat. This can he building heating and air conditioning, process steam or, on a large scale, generating high pressure steam and using this to run a steam turbine, typically to run a generator. These are called combined cycle.

    In the 80’s, I was in bad odor at Alcon for dragging them into a legal mess around cogeneration, although on an economic basis, it was better than chocolate ice cream and pretty nifty on an engineering basis too. Because of that I was looking for something else to do.

    I was in discussion with a Thermoelectron subsidiary (since spun off) called Tecogen. They had a skid mounted cogen package based on a 70HP Fiat engine. The market was laundries, smal industrial plants and other places that needed large amounts of hot water. When it needed service you just drove to the site and dropped another unit in place. Needed more than 1 system could provide? No problem, you just added another. I still think it was a really nifty system.

    It still seems like there should be a market for something like this in, for example, these sites that have 5-10 restaurants together. They can be run to meet heat load with the utility making up or taking the excess power.

    It also seems like there would be an opportunity to use smaller, 5-10kw packaged systems for home heating. Nobody seems to be doing that either.

    Cogeneration plants are, under the Public Utilties Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) of 1978, classified the same as solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Utilities MUST connect and MUST buy and sell power.

    There is a lot installed in industry, some in hospitals but an awful lot of, seemingly, good applications left for the taking.

    John Henry

  26. On the costs of so-called “renewables” — there is an interesting report based on actual performance of offshore wind power in the UK and Denmark:

    “The dramatically falling costs of renewables are now a political, a media, and conversational cliché. However, the claim is demonstrably false. Audited accounts show that far from getting cheaper, wind power is actually becoming more expensive.”

  27. I dunno… Wind worked for thousands of years as primary propulsion for shipping. I’m willing to entertain the idea that they might be able to still leverage it to achieve a net reduction in burnt fuel.

    I still think they should have built more commercial civilian nukes, but the reaction gained by the NS Savannah pretty much precluded that happening. You would think that building big ships with modularized nuclear power plants would be a no-brainer, but… Yeah. Not so much. I think the Russians are still building nuclear-powered icebreakers, but that’s about it.

    One way or another, the greenies seem hell-bent on deindustrializing the world. I don’t think people are going to like that, but they’re gonna be seeing more and more of the effect from these policies as time progresses.

    Wind-powered shipping might actually be one of the saner ideas they’ve come up with, but… I dunno. Let’s see what the numbers actually generated by the experiment look like. I rather suspect that the “kite” idea is gonna leave about as many synthetic sails festooning the ocean as fishing nets do at the moment…

  28. I have sailed from California to Hawaii and the route followed is very different from the Great Circle route followed by most cargo ships. I will be interesting to see the experiments doing this. I suspect that speed will be a factor.

  29. There have been quite a few proposals for approaches to reviving commercial sail, and I believe a few of actual ships in operation.

    There may be a niche for sail involving cargos with high value per weight and cube and low time sensitivity which are marketed to passionate environmentalists. Would probably work better if the ships had some level of aesthetic appeal, which most of the proposals so far do not.

  30. It was very common for power plants located in cities to supply steam through underground pipelines to buildings. A lot of these systems still operate in places like Manhattan although I think the power plants have been shut down in many places and they operate from natural gas.

    Natural gas is a dry fuel in terms of washing the lubricating oil from the cylinder walls of IC engines. Maintenance is usually minimal and it is common for automotive engines converted to natural gas to last more than 10,000 hours with oil change intervals of 1,000 hours. Industrial engines like Cummins might last several times that, operated 24/7.

    In the ’80’s, the gas company in the Texas Panhandle was trying to sell a gas powered air conditioner for houses. It was run by a small air cooled engine and was supposed to need service once a year to change the oil. This was when gas was much less expensive than electricity. That balance has see-sawed several time since then. I don’t think they sold many systems.

    I thought that feed lots could generate methane from their manure and use it to generate power but never found anyone interested and had a living to make. It’s fairly common for land fills to collect methane and sell it into the natural gas system.

    I’m pretty sure any sort of wide spread point of use power generation would run up against air pollution laws in most cities.

  31. For it to be useful for district heating, it would have to be located in the middle of the district like the Zuni plant on the South Plate river in downtown Denver. That’s not something I see happening any time soon with any sort of nuclear plant. With people generally unwilling to tolerate any sort of inconvenience let alone something perceived as dangerous, you’re not going to see them in any sort of urban area. The facts won’t matter one bit.

    One of the reasons that urban electrical grids have become less reliable is that most of the urban generating capacity has been shut down. These plants were mostly small, old and not very efficient but they made the systems more resilient.

  32. David,

    I know very little about fuel cells but I don’t think they generate much waste heat.

    That’s an impression and I could be wrong.

  33. Mcs,

    I think the district heating plants just made steam and did not use it for generation first.

    Generating plants usually condense and recirculate the water. By the time the steam comes out of the final low pressure stage of the turbine it is close to room temperature

  34. We honestly ought to be trying to capture every single joule used anywhere in industry for use where it makes sense. You’d be horrified to wrap your heads around the waste going on with regards to things like wastewater treatment, animal waste handling, and all the rest of the things. If they were to capture all the energy potential in just dairy farming alone…? Good grief.

    It’s a mentality thing, too–The energy markets have been so loose and inefficient for so long that nobody really stops to look at things like animal waste as potential sources of energy, yet… Were you to run all that pig and/or cattle poop through a bioreactor to turn it into methane gas and processed organic waste for fertilizer? The amount of energy you’d get would be considerable. Friend of ours put one of those things into their organic dairy farm, and it damn near paid for itself inside a year. Problem was, the regulatory expense incurred because of the outdated laws meant he had to pay too much to get rid of the processed sludge, which was a major expense. He should have been able to put it on his pastures as fertilizer, but… Against the law, so he had to pay for it to be hauled off.

    There are a lot of inefficiencies like that scattered throughout the industrial ecosystem. You’d be surprised at the things they waste, because the laws and regulations governing things were written for the last century, and never updated.

  35. John Henry: “I think the district heating plants just made steam and did not use it for generation first.”

    This reminds me of one winter in a Former USSR city. My apartment, like all the rest in the area, was heated by the rejected heat from the thermal power station. (The hot water is rejected heat, not wasted heat — an unavoidable consequence of the mysteries of Thermodynamics). Hot water from the power plant was pumped continuously around the neighborhood keep us all warm and comfortable. The apartment (quite modern) did not even have a water heater — no need.

    You can guess what happened. Mid-winter, the local power station had a malfunction and had to shut down for repairs. The electric grid kept the lights on — the great benefit of a grid with multiple power stations. But now we had only cold water.

    In terms of energy use, circulating hot water around the district is highly efficient. However, there is a trade-off — one that would probably be unacceptable to the Usual Suspects in the West: the power station has to sit in the middle of the city.

  36. I’ve been a big believer in cogeneration since the late 70s.

    Me too.

    IF, and this is a big if, they have a use for the recovered heat. This can the building heating and air conditioning, process steam or, on a large scale, generating high pressure steam and using this to run a steam turbine, typically to run a generator. These are called combined cycle.

    The US military base in Germany where I was stationed, in the 1980’s, was built by the Germany military as an airfield in WWI. Whether for the purposes of the US or the Kaiser or the 3rd Reich or the West Germans, a military in occupation of the base found it expedient to have an independent supply of electricity AND steam, supported by furnaces and generators over in a corner of the site. Pipes and copper wires ran thru tunnels under all the buildings and bunkers. In the 80’s Reagan attempted to “co-generate” political support among certain factions of the German and US political coalition by filling US military power plants’ coal bunkers with coal from “CONUS” — the CONtinential US. Low sulfur Wyoming coal, I think. Buying US fuel bought votes for Reagan in the US and lowering sulfur emissions during the acid rain scare bought, maybe, one vote (singular) among environmentally concerned Germans.

    But that’s a digression. The point is, actually, steam and electric co-generation is a proven thing on closed sites like military bases, college campuses, and industrial parks. IF — big damn IF — green liberal climate/carbon activists were less interested in scoring virtue points than solving the problem, the opportunities are obvious. Co-generate (probably gas, better would be small modular nukes) on military bases, especially in remote northern areas like Fort Drum NY or Wainwright AK. Co-generate among the closely sited university campuses in Boston with whatever hi-tech power tool MIT wants to play with. And of course wherever Amazon or Google or Space-X runs server farms, not only provide electric to the servers, but use heat-pumps to move waste heat from the server rooms to augment the waste heat from the turbines and power the offices and homes of the employees.

  37. Part of the problem for doing a lot of this here in the US stems from exactly what you’re describing–We simply haven’t built out housing and other facilities in such a way as to make this work efficiently.

    There are other things you can do, however–If you’ve got a bloody great server farm out in the middle of nowheresville, you might want to think about all the other uses that cooling water could be used for, like hothouses and aquaculture. There are always things you can do with the stuff, if you’ve the slightest imagination and incentive.

    Guy I used to work for was an environmental engineer, and he was a fascinating person to have around, just to BS with. I got to read a bunch of his textbooks and proposals from when he’d been in college, and the amount of potential out there that is just wasted is mind-boggling. If I remember right, he’d worked on a proposal for a nuclear power plant that did away with the classic cooling tower setup, and had the warm water cascading through a system of aquaponics setups that also processed wastewater from the city that the nuclear plant serviced. The freakin’ proposal looked like a tropical paradise transplanted to Minnesota, where it was designed to go–And, all of it fueled by the warm water temperature differentials that nuke plant created, with zero waste along the way. If you included all the calculated efficiencies and everything else that went with it, they were literally going to get use out of every bit of energy that plant provided, with some actual increase because of the cascading effect through the ecosystem they were creating.

    Fascinating stuff, to talk about. However, getting something like that through approval and all the rest of the political BS? Effectively impossible in today’s environment. We’ve locked ourselves into the system we have, legislatively and technology-wise. Which is really something we ought to be looking at changing…

  38. a proposal for a nuclear power plant that did away with the classic cooling tower setup, and had the warm water cascading through a system of aquaponics setups that also processed wastewater from the city that the nuclear plant serviced. The freakin’ proposal looked like a tropical paradise transplanted to Minnesota, where it was designed to go–And, all of it fueled by the warm water temperature differentials that nuke plant created, with zero waste along the way. If you included all the calculated efficiencies and everything else that went with it, they were literally going to get use out of every bit of energy that plant provided, with some actual increase because of the cascading effect through the ecosystem they were creating.

    This would be a great thread for the Chicago Boyz forum, applying the economic problems highlighted by Ron Coase in discussions of “the firm” — removing transaction costs and distributing benefits fairly among disparate participants. A Disney World sort of enterprise where a territory as wide and varied as some counties might all be under a single dictatorial authority — not subject to the competing interests of various antagonistic agents.

    Maybe Musk. A co-generative/cooperative arcology (a la Todos Santos of Niven and Pournelle’s fiction) on Earth would be good practice for his dreamt-of Mars colony, wouldn’t it?

    I do recall the CANDU heavy water, natural enrichment, nuclear reactors of the 1960’s, built in the frozen cities of our neighbor nation to the north, did distribute hot water to office buildings nearby. It’s not an unproven concept.

  39. If I remember correctly, the student plan/study/design work included a lot of references to Paolo Soleri’s work with Arcosanti, but they were paying rather more attention to the engineering throughout the system than the optics/architecture/PR stuff that Soleri was. There was a good deal of modularity to the whole thing, with the idea that you’d start with the initial power plant/water treatment systems and let it grow out, with the idea that it would eventually take over or absorb the existing conventionally-designed city.

    As fairly well-read layman, I thought the idea showed a lot of potential, but would be a horrendous thing to try to make happen. I think they (the students doing the work) were really naive about all the legal and regulatory issues they’d face with something on the scale they were talking about–Not to mention, there was the whole “What are you going to do when the nuclear plant reaches it’s end-of-life…?” question that they were just hand-waving away.

    It was a hell of a read, though–I’ve seen less ambitious science fiction, with worse writing.

  40. John Henry,
    It most certainly was a power plant. Dad was an engineer with the company that owned and ran it in the ’50’s-’60’s. The cooling towers at every power plant aren’t for show, It wasn’t a very big plant and went into service in 1900. It was taken out of electrical service in 2015 but is still supplying steam.

    While not co-generation, there was an operation in Southern Colorado on a hot spring. They used the 104°F water to heat a green house first, it then was used to farm tilapia and the offal from processing the tilapia was fed to alligators primarily for hides. All of this at just below 8,000 feet.

  41. Seems like every couple years we see talk about how wind power would be really neat for shipping. Most are windpowered ships and most I dismiss as BS. As Michael mentioned, windships need to travel rather circuitous routs and schedules to take advantage of prevailing wind and current patterns.

    They are also slow, even the fast clippers couldn’t average more that 7-10 knots where modern ships run more than twice that on shorter routes to fixed schedules.

    On the other hand, I saw that kite/parasail the other day and though it looked interesting. I don’t know much more than a couple paragraphs but:

    1) It could be used on any ship. Just tie it to existing deck bollards and use existing winches for trimming.

    2) It looks pretty low cost, basically a fancy parachute.

    3) It would only work going downwind +/- perhaps 45 degrees. It would also only work if the wind was greater than ship speed, say 20 knots.

    4) It would have to be pretty big to have much effect. That should not add a lot to cost but might be hard to control.

    5) Autonomous drone technology might be useful. I’m spitballing here but perhaps 2-3 drones could be attached to the upper edge of the sale and used for launching as well as for shaping and trimming the sail. Add some II and wind sensors and it could be completely autonomous.

    6) I would want to make sure that the sail did not impede forward visibility.

    In general it seems like an interesting idea and I hope someone tries it.

  42. David Foster,

    …cargos with high value per weight and cube and low time sensitivity which are marketed to passionate environmentalists…

    The appeal is becoming… more selective. ;-)

  43. I took a glance at the sail thing and filed as more interesting if they get beyond the artist’s rendering stage. I remember the area was 500 square meters or around 5,000 SF. I’d imagine it would weigh a couple of tons so it would take a pretty big drone. I believe they intend to launch it from the deck like a big kite. This is something I’d much rather witness from a considerable distance. There are a lot of sailors missing various pieces from sails a lot smaller.

    There are some ships with rigid foil sails and at least one with flexner, rotating sails. A big limit is they have to be able to reduce the height enough to get under bridges. Most of the proposals and trials are either smallish tankers or car carriers. They require a deck so none of them apply to container ships. I presume that is one of the attractions of the para-sails.

    Shipping cost consists of paying for the ship, paying for the crew and paying for fuel. All of these ideas increase the cost of the ship and many are mechanically very complicated and might increase the crew cost as well in order to save some fuel. If they can make the arithmetic work, we’ll see a lot more, otherwise…

  44. }}} I mean, if even California is seeing a need to do something that would surely slow the uptake of ‘renewable’ energy…

    Cali is looking for something to increase taxes (aka “fees”) on.

    Nothing more.

    As to the “unintended consequence” of “negating the demand for solar”… since when the eph has Cali ever considered THAT ahead of making its idiot policies?

    Seriously. Some dunderhead in Cali’s legislature noted there was a source of revenue they hadn’t gone after, and backed a law that would let them get at it. Nothing more.

  45. Houska,

    I would really appreciate if you are going to send me down a rabbit hole, you do it earlier in the day so I don’t lose sleep! This is just the kind of question that makes my brain itch.

    So here is what I found at about 12:30 this morning:

    The Cutty Sark, the biggest, fastest, clipper ship had a sail area of 32,000 square feet (3/4 acre) which Wikipedia says equals 3,000 horsepower. It had a displacement of 2100 tons. It once achieved a top speed of 17 knots.

    The Emma Maersk, one of the largest container ships has a 109,000 HP diesel and displaces 156,000 tons. It can carry 11,000 20′ containers. It cruises at 25 knots, top speed 29 knots.

    If we assume that with modern materials and technology sail efficiency is doubled we would have 32,000/6000 hp call it 5hp/sq foot. MCS mentions the sail is 5,000 square feet so 25,000 HP which is a lot and seems like it would be well worth the trouble. on the other hand, 5,000sq feet would be 125′ long by 40′ high so management might be a bear.

    On the other hand, winds would have to be at least 30 knots for the sail to even inflate and would have to be astern +/- @30-45 degrees. How much time do those conditions occur? One would have to look at wind patterns on the sailing route.

    I still think it is an interesting idea and it seems like something that would require little in the way of ship modification. Other than some mounting points, it seems like it could be a modular system that would bolt near the bow.

    Seriously, Houska, thank you for the question. It made me think some interesting (to me) thoughts, 2 topics I enjoy.

  46. }}} How many of the politicians who imposed mandates & subsidies are familiar with imaginary numbers?

    I’m pretty sure every politician in the world is familiar with imaginary numbers. They use them in figuring out ALL their budget calculations.



    THOSE imaginary numbers…

    **Never Mind**

  47. I forgot to mention this earlier. A couple years ago Puerto Rico developed a comprehensive energy plan. I discussed some aspects of it in my blog.

    Some good points, some bad. Way too much emphasis on solar/wind but other than that not terrible.

    One of the points it addresses is “Net Metering”. Net Metering is legally (I think) defined as the utility paying the retail rate to the homeowner. IN PR, this is now mandated, though it does permit the utility to charge a one time connection fee which can be a little or a lot depending on where in the grid the power is put back in.

    One of the things that I like is that there is a provision that no more than 5% of homeowners can get the net metering rate. It recognizes the costs and issues of small scale injection to the grid. It is allowing some to try to jumpstart solar.

    When it gets to more than 5%, a more realistic rate will be imposed. Unlike California, I understand that anyone that is already in will be grandfathered forever or at least for some extended period.

    Larger, utility scale, producers, such as wind and solar farms get paid a negotiated rate. Since this was negotiated 5-10 years ago, it is about 18c per KWH. The contracts are public and I have seen the rates.

    The wind farm, about 18MW, about 10 miles from my house was getting 18.5 cents, IIRC. In 2017, Hurrican Maria blew the blades off of all of them. (Pictures in my blog) they have never replaced the blades.

    In other words, a typical wind project is so economically viable that it makes more sense to abandon it than to repair it for perhaps 20% of the original build cost.

  48. It would only work going downwind +/- perhaps 45 degrees. It would also only work if the wind was greater than ship speed, say 20 knots.

    I don’t think sails would be that practical for cargo ships, but one effect of sailing fast is to pull the apparent wind forward. That can actually allow a sailboat to sail faster than the wind. That applies to relatively light sailboats and I don’t know how it would work with large ships. The apparent wind is a vector sum of the boat speed and the wind speed. Going dead downwind subtracts the boat speed from the wind speed.

  49. Sails likely won’t work out to haul giant container ships around the world, but… Shift the paradigm: What would work with sail as the primary propulsion? Is there a market for such a low-energy cost system, and what would it haul?

    Answer those questions, and you could probably find a market for something like an automated clipper ship. I don’t think there is such a thing, but who knows?

  50. I’ve heard of an application for sailboats in this century.

    Apparently, not all sand is equal. River sand has been –sometimes — ground out of mountains, while ocean sand has been –often– ground out of coral, seashells, and volcanic pumice. So ocean sand is more porous and crush-prone than river sand. So when building modern concrete foundations on islands, (say for a new beach front hotel or casino) there is a market or requirement that boatloads of river sand be brought to the island.

    Sand being a particularly low value per weight commodity, and not particularly perishable, the story goes that islanders run back and forth from the river deltas to the ocean beaches just to haul sand. If they don’t sell it immediately, it will keep to sell later. If the builder needs more, yes, he hires a barge and steam-tug. But in general the sand market is, I’m told, sail driven.

    Of course this all happens only so long as the US Federal commodities regulators have nothing at all to do with it… As soon at they get hold of the sand markets, Milton Friedman assures us, there will be a shortage.

  51. Just saw that the Biden “Genius” Administration has just mandated a 40 mpg standard for automobile manufacture…

    What I see missing from any of this bullshit is input from engineers and manufacturers. Do you know how we got the mongosso SUV market? CAFE drove that train, right off the cliff: The only way they could get the size and power needed for the family market that used to be served by the large station wagon was to move the whole shebang into the “light truck” end of things, and Hey! Presto!, we’ve got the much-decried SUV as an “unintended consequence”.

    Fscking idiots still don’t recognize why that happened–The environmentalists and activists are directly responsible for that whole bit of automotive design insanity happening, ‘cos of totally unrealistic and unrealizable (in the time frame allotted…) design standards.

    Can’t help but wonder what will stem from this set of distortions… Because, make no mistake, people will figure out a way to satisfy the market needs.

    Oh, and let us not forget that there’s a chunk of the “people ain’t breedin’…” problem that stems precisely from the fact that they can’t find affordable transportation for their families… Ya can’t stick a five-member family these days into your standard econobox sedan, so they either buy a gas-guzzling SUV or they stop at two kids.

    Unintended second- and third-order effects, folks… That’s what the Democrats do. Watch the latest stupidity with gun laws, and see where the whole “defund the police” thing takes us, with regards to anyone voting Democrat or paying attention to them.

    The more I see of Pelosi and her likely successors, the more I keep thinking of that guy I knew back in the early 1990s, who told me he thought that people would eventually and inevitably be hunting his fellow Democrats through the streets with dogs… I still want to know WTF he saw on that “training” trip he took back East, with the Party. I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t get some convincing early intimations about the pedophilia and so forth surrounding Epstein. That thought occurred to me, because I recently connected a couple of facts I remember him telling me about his trip, where he mentioned that he’d gotten lucky and was going to be staying on the same floor with a bunch of Clinton admin figures, and how he didn’t say one flippin’ word about what that was like, afterwards. Or… Maybe he did.

  52. Michael you are correct for masted sails. That is how that America’s Cup catamaran was able to get up to 40-45 knots.

    But would it hold true with a spinnaker which is basically what we are talking about here. I have limited experience with spinnakers both as a kid taking sailing lessons on dinghies and in the 90s when I had an O’Day 27 that came with a spinnaker. My son and I tried to fly a couple of times with mixed results. He knew nothing and I knew only a bit more.

    I don’t think a spinnaker can go much to one side or the other. Perhaps 30%? I suspect that you have a lot more experience with them than me and will bow to your knowledge.

  53. In the 1930’s, many municipal wastewater treatment plants used the biogas generated by their sludge digesters for space heating. Some plants cleaned up the gas, and used it to generate electricity on site.

    Nominally, the cleaned up gas is 65% methane and 35% carbon dioxide, but the raw gas is saturated with water vapor, has a substantial amount of nitrogen (10% or so), about 1 to 2% hydrogen sulfide and aerosolized grease and grit. And therein lies the problem. The clean gas (CH4 and CO2) is a low btu fuel, but is useful. However, removing the aerosols and hydrogen sulfide makes this gas comparatively expensive.

    Every wastewater plant that used to generate electricity from biogas eventually stopped, because the power on the transmission grids was cheaper than that generated locally.

    A great many plants also stopped using biogas for space heating when natural gas became available. Again it was costs. Although you can use the dirty raw gas as is in space heating, the hydrogen sulfide produces sulfuric acid, and the resulting corrosion to the gas burners made for high maintenance costs. Gas piping needs regular cleaning, too, because the grease aerosols accumulate on the pipe walls, reducing transmission capacity.

  54. From my reading, the state of the art has advanced somewhat since the 1930s, and a lot of those problems have been solved or minimized.

    Any way you look at it, capturing and burning that methane for fuel is a net gain for the environment, even if you’re only using it to heat the greenhouses you’ve got integrated into your final-stage wastewater treatment system.

    Somewhere out there on the ‘net is a study with a spreadsheet in it that goes over the numbers we’re currently wasting by simply releasing that gas into the atmosphere; it’s not chicken feed. There are a lot of synergies we could be making use of, with regards to all this, as well–That sewage sludge can make excellent fertilizer, once you’ve gone and extracted all the heavy metals and other resources out of it. In a lot of municipal systems, they’re paying for it to go into landfills or to be dumped at sea, which is nuts.

    Part of the problem is that regulators don’t look at these things as opportunities, just as “that’s the way it’s done…” issues, and never change their definitions of the entire system they’re regulating.

    Personally, I think that law and regulation ought to be reworked whenever it becomes sensible to do so–Some things remain standard practice because that was what they did back in the 1880s, and here we are.

  55. Natural gas, as produced, has varying proportions of everything mentioned above except the grease and grit. It’s probably a matter of amount, both the quantity of gas and the amount of impurities and whether it’s economic to clean it up. I was reminded that a lot of gas is still flared because it isn’t economic to build the gathering pipe line to use it. Oil and liquids can be put in a tank and trucked away while gas can not.

    Hydrogen sulfide at 1,000 PPM (0.1%) is a weapon grade poison gas, 1% would be very dangerous to use for anything.

    The catch with turning feed lot manure into gas was that the pens would have to be cleaned about every seven days or so because the gas producing constituents are consumed at the end of around 28 days regardless. When you’re talking more than 100,000 cows, that’s a lot of pens to clean. I think some dairys are doing something but many of them use liquid manure systems.

  56. This seems significant:

    It seems that the company that prints Chinese currency was doing a one for you (the government) and one for me deal. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear a list of other countries that have outsourced their currency production to China. Not us, we still do it the old fashioned way, using good old political patronage. That assumes they just aren’t going to freelance Benjamins.

    China seems to be crashing in so many different ways, all at the same time.

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