Thursday, October 30, 2008

Solar Energy Thermal Power Plant Opens in California

On October 23, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California in cooperation with Ausra Inc. , a large solar energy manufacturer and developer, started the first solar thermal power plant built in California in twenty years. The Kimberlina Solar Energy Facility was built by Ausra Inc. and at full capacity it will generate 5 MW of electricity or enough to power 3,500 homes located in central California.

In his own words Governor Schwarzenegger stated, "this next generation solar power plant is further evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay, and it will lead to more California homes and businesses powered by sunshine, not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry." Two years ago California passed a bill requiring a rollback in greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2020. This would represent a 25 percent reduction. The governor said the Kimberlina solar thermal power plant will help the state in trying to reach that goal.

The first solar plant in the country to utilize Ausra's technology. This facility is a different type of facility with which most people are familiar. They don't use photovoltaic solar panels, which convert the light from the Sun into electricity and are often mounted on rooftops, this solar thermal facility uses large arrays of mirrors to concentrate and capture the Sun's heat, converting it into electricity and relevant energy.

This process will produce high temperature steam for process plants and other industry challenges, solar concentrators use directed concentrated sunlight to boil water. The large turbines in power plants (nuclear and fossil fuel) use steam to power their generators. Electricity is the main objective and is being produced now in this fashion. The concern is that financing must be available, and will all utilities contribute to financing projects using renewables.

Ausra is developing a low cost thermal storage system that will store thermal energy and make it possible to generate electric power on demand. Their core technology is called the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector solar collector and steam generator. It was developed first at Sydney University in the early 1990's. It was used in the commercial setting first by Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd. in Australia in 2004. It is currently used in a much more finalized design on a much larger scale by Ausra all over the world. In the words of Robert Morgan, executive vice president and chief development officer for Ausra, "behind these striking, 1,000 foot long mirrors is a design philosophy that uses an elegant simplicity to lower costs and accelerate our ability to deliver at large scale and on schedule, making solar power much more of a player in our collective energy future." Bob Fishman, Ausra chairman CEO and president said, "Kimberlina represents more than an industry milestone, it represents the best of American and Australian ingenuity and get-it-done attitude. I'm particularly proud of the best of Ausra employees who designed and built this plant safely in five months, with zero loss-time accidents and entirely with private capital."

An event was held to launch the facility and Pacific Gas & Electric executive Peter Darbee pledged that his company would never forget it's commitment to curb global warming. He stated, "climate change is a very, very serious problem. "

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wind Turbines Offshore in Deep Water For The Northeast US

The state of New Jersey is helping to fund an initiative by Garden State Offshore Energy to build wind turbines 16 miles offshore. The state would like to have 3000 megawatts of wind power from offshore wind farms by the year 2020, which is 13 percent of the state's electricity needs. The Garden State initiative will provide 350 megawatts of electrical power, and represent the US's first deepwater wind turbines.

Proposed wind turbines in this country have been challenged diligently by the public and shipping interests and this has slowed or outright stopped some proposed offshore wind farms. With the deepwater turbines this is no longer a problem. When the turbines are closer in to shore they are visible and some feel eyesores. Shipping interests say shipping lanes are compromised by the wind turbines. The problem was that no wind farms were allowed any further out than 3-4 miles. The federal government has now agreed to open up deep ocean waters, and by new federal government rules this will create vast areas of space to place wind turbines. The area that they have agreed to let companies develop is the outer continental shelf, it extends to the edge of U.S. territory 230 miles out. These wind farms would not obstruct views, or interfere with any other activity.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency that is responsible for the new rules planned to finalize to rules by the end of 2008. They will lease plots of the shelf to developers of wind farms and other renewable energy projects. These other projects include ocean current and wave-harvesting technologies. States along the northeast coast where 80 percent of the population of the U.S. lives, have decided to providing some of the funding for these wind farms in the hope that they will have some of the energy from the farms transmitted into state grids and help meet renewable energy requirements. The Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition's founder Sean O'Neill thinks the leases may be too expensive and the environmental review process too extensive. Other groups are saying that there are too many barriers to overcome, and they want to know are these waters really open?

Opening the shelf is probably the only way to have offshore wind projects for the U.S. There have been problems in the past trying to get something like this done. Most proposed wind projects in state waters can be seen from shore, and there's potential interference with shipping lanes. Wind turbines in these conditions have to have a smaller design and this leads to a reduction in the anticipated amount of electricity causing profits to fall. In addition no one seemed to know who had control, before the new federal government rules. As a result there is not a single offshore wind turbine operating in the U.S. today.

Nearly 80 percent of the population of the U.S. live in coastal states. In the heavily populated areas there is simply no room for wind turbine farms. Wind turbines located on the continental shelf will generate 1000 gigawatts of electricity. That number is more than the electrical capacity of the entire U.S. The U.S. is in the rear with regard to offshore wind turbines, Europe has more than 2 dozen wind parks in their waters.

New designs have to be developed for deep water wind turbines. At shallow depths it is a simple matter to drive a pole into the floor of the sea, this is called a monopile. The concept is like having to drive piles for reinforced concrete construction. Obviously they cannot have the deepwater turbines without new designs that will take the depth of the water into consideration.

Engineers and researchers are trying new designs like underwater tripods and lattice type structures called jackets. German developer Alpha Ventus is in the next few months going to build a dozen turbines with tripod and lattice structures in deep water. The leading developer in this type of technology are the engineering staff for Beatrice Wind Farm in the North Sea close to Scotland, with turbines 138 feet deep and over 15 miles from shore.

Engineers have determined these designs would be good for depths of 200 feet. The option they have for deeper water is floating structures used by the oil industry. The platforms would not be exactly the same as the oil industry has experience in using, however they would be very similar. Private developers in Europe say they are working on prototypes for this model. Otherwise this technology could take up to a decade to to get up and running.

The cost of deepwater windturbine installation is twice that of wind turbines on land. The industry here in the U.S. is being very careful, they don't want to fail because of fear that would hamper or completely stop further offshore construction of wind turbine farms.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nuclear Power Is Not A Renewable Energy Resource

There is quite a bit of talk about nuclear power as it is being touted as a clean reliable energy source. It is actually put on par with solutions to our power needs like solar and wind power. I beg to differ. The nuclear power industry is getting as old as I am! Nuclear plant owners are trying to see if they may be able to capitalize on these developments. They are doing retrofits and upgrades in every plant they can in order to spruce themselves up for the unwary public.

The problem as I stated earlier is the age of the nuclear plants currently in existence. Around 40 percent of U.S. nuclear power stations are over 30 years old. More than 90 percent of all plants in the U.S. are over 20 years old. Well, you might say, so what? If they are working out, then let's use them. Therein lies the rub. Nuclear power plants are built using reinforced concrete and structural steel , with concrete having the higher numbers in so far as materials used are concerned.

Over time the materials used to build a plant start to corrode and develop cracks (known as stress corrosion cracking [SCC]) because of age and exposure to radiation. If you consider steam turbines then the blade attachment areas and disc bores of low pressure turbine rotors are in danger of SCC.

The owners of some plants want to replace low pressure steam paths with higher pressure steam flow equipment. This theoretically could result in higher output. The emphasis on theoretically is mine. I have worked in the nuclear power industry as an engineer and one thing is certain, and that is nothing is certain. It is hoped that this solution will address reliability issues with these existing steam turbines.

The retrofit that most are opting for would include installing new low pressure rotors, rotating and stationary blades, inner casings and blade carriers. The scope of this type of retrofit would be large and costly. They would have to install or replace: high efficiency, integrally shrouded, reaction type blading for their front stages; longer last stage rotating blades to reduce the energy content of the steam leaving the turbine, thereby increasing turbine output; provide consistent and predictable vibration characteristics, snubbers at three quarter height will need to interconnect the last stage rotating blades and the second to last stage blades will need to be linked by integral tip shrouding; provide reduced stage leakage due to better sealing and reaction characteristics over the length of the blade; and select materials to provide erosion corrosion characteristics.

These upgrades are not all that would need to be done, and I include them here to show the complexity of this proposed fix of the aging nuclear power plants. This is not to confuse the layman but merely to show that this undertaking would be of immense scope and would cost millions of dollars. Dollars perhaps better spent pursuing alternative energy in the form of renewable energy resources.

The owners of some of these plants are saying that by the low carbon output (i.e. lower CO2 which has been shown to cause global warming) and possible gains in capacity, they could in some cases identify around 350MW of electricity increase by 2014.

I don't want to give the impression that nuclear power should be abandoned, I am a scientist and I would not make rash statements like this without some sort of research. It is simply obvious that we are already paying a very high price for electricity generated by nuclear power. The cost alone would be enough to deter some, and there is still the question of safety. Obviously we have not mastered nuclear power to the point that we can claim that it is 100 percent safe. The byproduct of nuclear power or it's waste is weapons grade plutonium. That is enough to make me question the sanity of utilizing this option. There has never been a permanent solution for the question of waste storage.

There would certainly be a decrease of carbon dioxide emissions if we pursue this course, however is that enough? We have the technology for several different course to pursue. The carbon dioxide emission problem would simply cease to exist with renewable energy resources generating our electricity. The money needed for this option is not available, but if we can spend so recklessly on nuclear power, could we not use the same funds for sustainable and renewable energy sources?

I am saddened to say that in some cases utility operators, owners of the aging nuclear plant system would not invest in installing new power transmission lines to enable more wind turbine or solar power systems. Too costly, and not part of the scope of their work. This from the people selling us our electric power. My bills have increased over the past year by 20 percent. My income certainly did not increase by anywhere near that amount.

We should at least look at this problem and lobby our elected officials to make a stand for the sake of all Americans, for the sake of the people of earth in general. The utility companies work for you and me, write to them, we are their customers. We should at least try.

Why don't we investigate wind power or solar power, there would be costs, but that is another article altogether. Just bear in mind that nuclear power is not renewable or sustainable.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fossil Fuels Causing Increased Global Warming and Health Issues

There are studies that point to another problem with fossil fuels and global warming, people are experiencing more and more allergies and allergic reactions. There has been in the last decade a 50 percent increase in older patients who are having allergic symptoms. These are people from 60 to 80 years old. Older people are for the first time in their lives being diagnosed with asthma. This is from doctors in the northeast part of the country, which has been cited for increased levels of carbon dioxide in the air. There are not many forest lands and fossil fuels are being burned heavily in this area. Older people tended in the past to suffer less from allergies and allergic reaction, not anymore. They are suffering enmasse' the same as the rest of the population due to global warming.
The rampant use of fossil fuels causing global warming, is changing the climate and some experts believe this is in turn increasing pollen counts and making the pollen more potent. Warmer temperatures are extending the growing season, and that increases the growth of both tree and grass pollen and makes their potency higher than it has ever been. The USDA Agricultural Research Service's ecologists believe the carbon dioxide itself helps plant growth. This increases the incidence of allergy problems.
Lewis Ziska is a plant ecologist for the USDA Argricultural Research Service, and he is the first researcher to show how global warming could affect allergies, and actually cause people who never had allergies to suddenly start to suffer from them.
Mr. Ziska in 2001 planted ragweed in urban, rural and suburban sites in and around Baltimore Maryland. He used the same seed and soil and the same amount of water. In the urban areas the temperatures were higher and the carbon dioxide levels were 20 percent higher than they were in the rural plots. The plants were larger and produced five times more pollen than the rural plots. Mr. Ziska published his study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Dr. Paul R. Epstein of the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard Medical School published a study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and in it he stated that carbon dioxide stimulates all plant life, however weedy plants, like ragweed, are stimulated more so. Ragweed pollen increased by 2/3 when it was exposed to twice the amount of carbon dioxide than there is in the atmosphere currently. According to scientists the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double by the end of this century if we use fossil fuels at the current rate.
Some species of trees are producing 3 times as much pollen as they were prior to the advent of fossil fuels used in our industrial revolution until now. Poison ivy is now sometimes three times the size of plants found 50 to 60 years ago. Because of increased Co2, poison ivy oil that causes the itch is getting stronger researchers including Dr. Epstein say.
The largest problem concerning increased carbon dioxide is the burning of fuels like diesel, which causes a greater impact on asthma patients. Dr. Epstein explains that airborne pollen binds with diesel particles and go deep into lungs, there it irritates and can change into asthma. Nitrates in diesel aggravate the cells that cause allergic reactions. The older the patient the more problems they they may have with lung function. Beside smoking, and pollution, the natural aging process causes problems.
Allergists are seeing more problems. Dr. Jefferey G. Demain has done research that focused on insects that caused allergies, like bees. He found that symptoms are lasting longer and are much stronger than in the past. Higher temperatures due to global warming cause the insects to live longer. He has seen a large increase in cases of stinging allergies that require treatment.
If you are over 60 or an infant there is a greater risk for anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock. This is a reaction to an allergen that causes difficulty breathing and swelling in the throat. Older patients with insect venom allergies as well as the very young, are at a greater risk of a serious problem or death if stung. The increased risk of anaphylaxis, and possible respiratory disorders that elderly people may have, make it a serious problem.
Global Warming is causing existing allergies to accelerate and is now causing people who heretofore did not have allergies to have them. This is the legacy that we have created for our future generations, illness and allergic reactions caused by the very air we breath simply because of climate changes. Climate changes directly caused by global warming.
Fossil fuels are the culprits with regard to global warming and we are not only killing other species, we are destroying the human race. We can save ourselves by converting to clean renewable energy sources. We have the technology to convert to solar and wind power almost painlessly. This is only one more reason that we should pursue this course. We are running out of options.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

U.S. Conference of Mayors Study Validate Green Collar Jobs

The United States Conference of Mayors released a report stating that 4.2 million green collar jobs could be created by the year 2038 if we gradually convert to renewable energy sources. In addition to renewable energy jobs would be created by opening fields like sustainable agriculture, and green building. The Mayors are right, if we calmly pursue this strategy, then there would be over four million jobs in 2038. However we don't have that much time. We must pursue this alternative aggressively, the writing is on the wall.

The leading presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and many in the scientific community believe that 5 million new jobs could be achieved in the next decade. Senator Obama is closer to what we as a nation actually need. We cannot let this problem linger on for over two generations. Some in the scientific community predict triple this outcome if we aggressively pursue alternative energy policies, utilizing solar and wind power.

The report completed by Global Insight, Inc., states that currently 750,000 people work in the green collar job sector. This ranges from scientists and engineers to makers of energy efficient products. That is one half of one percent of total employment. Taking this report into account 10 percent new job growth would occur over the next three decades. That could make it the fastest growing job segment of this country.

This growth cannot be realized without a shift away from our current use of fossil fuels. This would be the main hindrance to this solution no matter how much growth we attempt to pursue from these methods. There must also be an increase in energy efficiency.

The report assumes that by 2038 40 percent of all electricity produced in this country will come from alternative sources, half of this electrical power will come from solar and wind energy. Thirty percent of motor fuels it is assumed will come from ethanol and biodiesel. There is the assumption that there would be a 35 percent reduction of electrical power use by retrofitting buildings to achieve optimal energy efficiency. The report envisions 30 percent of motor fuels will come from ethanol and biodiesel at that juncture.

The report states currently only three percent of electrical power is generated by the use of alternative sources (solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass) of energy. Nonfossil fuels (ethanol and biodiesel) are currently providing only 5 percent of motor fuels according to this report.

The conference according to it's president (Miami's Mayor Manny Diaz) feel that the investment of funds to bring alternative sources of energy to the forefront is a sound one and that it will pay huge dividends. They also feel that the federal government must embrace this solution as well.

The report states that the largest gains in employment would be in the use of alternative sources of transportation fuels generating 1.5 million new jobs, renewable energy according to the report would generate another 1.2 million new jobs. A little over 80,000 jobs would be gained in the industry that concerns making homes and buildings energy efficient according to the report. The gains in research, consulting, legal, and engineering would be around 1.4 million jobs.

The report was presented at a Mayor's conference in Miami. The main issue was that alternative energy must be embraced and most Americans would agree with that judgement. The time frame is the only point that even Senator Obama does not agree with nor myself. I feel as most of the scientific community does that the time frame for this solution should be the next decade, not the next three.