Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Solar Power - Part 2

Another limitation of solar power is its inability to provide base load levels of power. An example of this is in this article by Max Schulz (Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Director of its Centre for Energy Policy and the Environment) on California’s energy crisis. This section is in reference to the facility known as Rancho Seco (seen above):

This facility was once the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, capable of generating over 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power upward of 900,000 homes. Rancho Seco opened in 1975, when antinuclear fervour in California was just beginning to gain momentum, and at one point, it generated more electricity than any other nuclear plant in the world.

….Antinuclear advocates seized on the fact that the reactor’s design was similar to Three Mile Island’s in Pennsylvania, which had suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, and demanded that it be closed. In a 1989 referendum on whether to decommission Rancho Seco, 53 percent of Sacramento voters agreed. Just 14 years after powering up, and nearly two decades before its operating license was to expire, the nuclear reactor shut down.

The facility didn’t entirely close, though. In 1984, trying to position itself as a national leader in solar power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) began building photovoltaic solar panels on the site, taking advantage of the already constructed infrastructure to transmit power. At the same time, in a bid to position itself as a national leader in solar power, SMUD instituted programs subsidizing the construction of photovoltaic panels for Sacramento homes and businesses. The utility halted the installation of new panels in 2002, after it became clear that the program would cost perhaps three times more than projected and had lost millions of dollars, falling well short of its modest goal to install 2 MW of solar energy that year.

Today, Rancho Seco possesses one of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the world. Yet it provides less than 4 MW of electricity, or less than half of 1 percent of what the closed nuclear plant optimally offered. Total solar capacity for the Sacramento region is less than 50 MW, or about 6 percent of the nuclear plant’s output.

In fact, after millions of dollars in subsidies and other support for solar power,
the entire state of California has less than 250 MW of solar capacity.

So despite what people like Australian Green’s Senator Christine Milne or Greenpeace might say about solar energy being capable of providing base load power, it simply doesn’t seem possible with the current technology. So what was the results of California’s switch to renewable sources of energy production? Max Schulz continues:

The Rancho Seco story helps explain California’s infamous turn-of the-millennium energy crisis. In 2000 and 2001, numerous rolling blackouts and power outages caused billions of dollars in damages in the state.

A dirty secret about California’s energy economy is that it imports lots of energy from neighbouring states to make up for the shortfall caused by having too few power plants. Up to 20 percent of the state’s power comes from coal-burning plants in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Montana, and another significant portion comes from large-scale hydropower in Oregon, Washington State, and the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas.

Once again we see an example of an economy that has become reliant in part on renewables to meet it's energy needs having to make up for the shortfalls by importing it from neighbouring states, just like the wind powered Denmark did with it's neighbouring countries. Continuing with Max Schulz's article:

Another secret: California’s proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The state has some of the highest energy prices in the country — nearly twice the national average.

..As a result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have been fleeing the Golden State in droves for lower cost locales. Twenty years ago or so, you could count eight automobile factories in California; today, there’s just one, and it’s the same story with other industries, from chemicals to aerospace.

..It isn’t just the high price of power that’s compelling California businesses to shift operations to other regions. The state’s unreliable power grid has its economic costs, too. A 2003 U.S. Department of Energy report noted that “a recent rolling blackout in the greater San Francisco Bay area caused an estimated $75 million in losses in the Silicon Valley.” A 20 minute outage at a Hewlett-Packard circuit-fabrication plant, the report observed, “would result in a day’s production loss at a cost of $30 million.”

The shortages are starting to rattle some Silicon Valley heavyweights. Intel chief executive Craig Barrett, for instance, vowed in 2001 not to build a chip-making facility in California until power supplies became more reliable. This October, Intel opened a $3 billion factory near Phoenix for mass production of its new 45 nanometer microprocessors. Google, meanwhile, as chosen to build the massive server farms that will fuel its expansion anywhere but in California. The most celebrated is an enormous installation along the Columbia River in the Dalles, Oregon, a facility that will house tens of thousands of computers, requiring mind-boggling amounts of power. A 1.8-gigawatt hydroelectric power plant will offer Google power for a small fraction of what it would cost in the Golden State.
The irony is that the Silicon Valley companies that have become the face of California’s twenty-first-century economy are increasingly building the facilities that will give them their future value in other states.

Whilst the article above was written in 2008, the uber environmentalism towards energy production continues well into 2009, with this article via Watts Up With That:

California hoses its energy future – again

.. a major solar power project in California has been canceled. It seems that even creating solar power in the middle of nowhere in a desert can’t get past California environmentalists these days.


BrightSource Energy Inc. had planned a 5,130-acre solar power farm in a remote part of the Mojave Desert, on land previously intended for conservation. The company, based in Oakland, Calif., said Thursday that it was instead seeking an alternative site for the project.

The Wildlands Conservancy, a California environmental group, had tried to block the solar development, as had Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who proposed that the area become a national monument.

The land was donated by Wildlands to the Interior Department during the Clinton administration, with assurances from President Bill Clinton himself, the group says, that it would be protected in perpetuity. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a Bush administration initiative, opened the land to the development of solar projects.

Here’s the details on the project
from the company website:

BrightSource is currently developing its first solar power complex in California’s Mojave Desert. The Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will be located in Ivanpah, approximately 50 miles northwest of Needles, California, and about five miles from the California-Nevada border. The complex will be a 6-square mile facility (4065 acres) within the 25,000-square mile Mojave Desert and will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 450,000 tons per year.

Fast facts

* Location: Ivanpah, California* Output: Up to 440 megawatts* The Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will power 150,000 homes and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 450,000 tons per year.* The Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will nearly double the amount of solar thermal electricity produced today in the US.* Ivanpah will create 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction.

Project details

The 440 megawatt Ivanpah Solar Power Complex will be built in three phases – two 110 megawatt facilities and one 220 megawatt facility. The first phase (110 megawatts) is scheduled to begin construction in early 2010 and completed by 2012. The second phase will begin construction roughly six months after the start of the first phase in early 2010.

A 100 megawatt solar thermal plant utilizes approximately 50,000 heliostats.

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