Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nat Gas Plus Wind and Solar A recipe For Success

There are many who think shale gas is bad.  I do not!  There are many who think PV and wind power generation are bad.  I do not.  Of course wind and solar still receive subsidies and sometime the solar cells are placed in locations with little sunlight over the year but inherently both wind power and solar power if properly located can generate significant amounts of energy for the grid.  My solar project in the Atacama desert of Chile dispatched 270 gigawatt hours of power in a year from 100 MW of peak capacity (>30% capacity factor).  Of course in upper New York State or Ontario Canada the same cells will be lucky to dispatch 40% of this amount of energy (12% capacity factor).

The real reason that the grid can take more and more PV and Wind generation is that shale gas has lowered the cost of natural gas significantly ($10 per million BTU to $3 per million BTU) and gas fired power stations can run and provide the grid stability from spinning reserves and what are called ancillary services.   Had natural gas remained expensive then dirty coal power stations would need to generate power for the grid and also provide the spinning reserves.  Now natural gas fired station do the job more and more.

Therefore one has to come to the conclusion there is a good and symbiotic relationship between shale gas and the renewable energy from PVs and wind.  I discussed this a little as a hypothesis back in 2003 when I wrote my book on energy and sustainability Hydrogen Hope or Hype?

Of course in 2003 both wind and PV were more expensive but the book did contemplate an improvement in cost due to a “Moore’s” type law of learning for these technologies.   The book showed an acre of land can yield approximately 10,000 kwh of energy per year if dedicated to corn ethanol, 100,000 kwh per year if dedicated to wind (the land can still be used for food), and 1,000,000 kwh per year if the land was covered in PV cells.  The efficiencies of the wind turbines (larger and better blades, taller, better gear boxes, etc.) have probably gone up by 50% since the time the book was written.  The efficiencies of the PV cells have also increased approximately 50% since the book was written.

The book also foretold that fuel cells would be a Betamax technology.  Technologies that would remain expensive, and would not become widely adopted.  Wow I was correct!    The book foretold of the wonders of LED lights and flat panel displays, again brilliantly spot on.   The one hoped for technology in the book that did not materialize was the lower cost production of Titanium metal from Titanium Dioxide (found in sea sand).  This technology has made no progress and Titanium remains very expensive.  Had inexpensive titanium metal become available cars and airplanes could have been lightened and nuclear waste could be safely stored in drums made of Titanium.  Cambridge University in the UK was working on the Titanium from TiO2 process in 2003 but they simply hit a brick wall. 

I have Titanium frames on my spectacles, but I still have a 1999 C 280 Mercedes made of heavy steel.  Gladly the PV cells, the wind turbines, and the methods to improve shale gas production saw wonderful improvement since I bought my car in December 1998.  Mercedes makes such a fine German car that I will hold onto it until the Brits finally succeed in making inexpensive Titanium.


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