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Nature mag gives short-shrift to baseload solar

By Joe Romm  

"Nature mag gives short-shrift to baseload solar"

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csp-salon.jpgNature recently ran an article on “Energy alternatives: Electricity without carbon.” Like most discussions written by people who don’t follow clean energy closely, the article lumped baseload solar (also known as concentrated solar thermal power) in with solar PV and generally treated it as an afterthought.

Here is everything that they wrote about baseload solar:

Solar cells are not the only technology by which sunlight can be turned into electricity. Concentrated solar thermal systems use mirrors to focus the Sun’s heat, typically heating up a working fluid that in turn drives a turbine. The mirrors can be set in troughs, in parabolas that track the Sun, or in arrays that focus the heat on a central tower. As yet, the installed capacity is quite small, and the technology will always remain limited to places where there are a lot of cloud-free days — it needs direct sun, whereas photovoltaics can make do with more diffuse light.

Costs: The cost per kilowatt-hour of concentrated solar thermal power is estimated by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, at about $0.17….

Capacity: Earth receives about 100,000 TW of solar power at its surface — enough energy every hour to supply humanity’s energy needs for a year…. Theoretically, the world’s entire primary energy needs could be served by less than a tenth of the area of the Sahara. [This was actually all part of their PV analysis.]

Advantages: The Sun represents an effectively unlimited supply of fuel at no cost, which is widely distributed and leaves no residue. The public accepts solar technology and in most places approves of it — it is subject to less geopolitical, environmental and aesthetic concern than nuclear, wind or hydro, although extremely large desert installations might elicit protests….

Both photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal technologies have clear room for improvement. It is not unreasonable to imagine that in a decade or two new technologies could lower the cost per watt for photovoltaics by a factor of ten, something that is almost unimaginable for any other non-carbon electricity source.

[Nature has no comment on the price of baseload solar, which could easily drop 30% to 50% over the next several years, making it the cheapest form of carbon-free baseload power.]

Disadvantages: The ultimate limitation on solar power is darkness…. Some concentrated solar thermal systems get around this by storing up heat during the day for use at night (molten salt is one possible storage medium), which is one of the reasons they might be preferred over photovoltaics for large installations….

Another problem is that large installations will usually be in deserts, and so the distribution of the electricity generated will pose problems. A 2006 study by the German Aerospace Centre proposed that by 2050 Europe could be importing 100 GW from an assortment of photovoltaic and solar thermal plants across the Middle East and North Africa. But the report also noted that this would require new direct-current high-voltage electricity distribution systems….

Verdict: In the middle to long run, the size of the resource and the potential for further technological development make it hard not to see solar power as the most promising carbon-free technology. But without significantly enhanced storage options it cannot solve the problem in its entirety.

MY VERDICT: Quite a lame treatment, for a leading science journal. Baseload solar could easily be a major player in the short to middle run if we’re smart, perhaps the single biggest source of new carbon-free generation. It certainly deserved its own section, especially given that “ocean energy” got its own section.

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37 Responses to Nature mag gives short-shrift to baseload solar

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    If we had a single, very current, very reliable for “all things energy” there would be no excuse for sloppy journalism or inaccurate forum posts.

    Just think.

    One place where one could go and get good information on wind, solar, nuclear, coal, and all other forms of electricity production.

  2. Larry Coleman says:

    The last line in the quoted Nature piece is emblematic of the problem with much of the public discussion of energy: “But without significantly enhanced storage options [solar power] cannot solve the problem in its entirety.”
    Of course, if we set aside all energy sources that “cannot solve the problem in its entirety,” we are left with exactly nothing. Why is it that article after article on solar energy ends with the statement that it ” cannot solve the problem in its entirety”? The answer is, I think, simple: the writers are not thinking. They simply repeat what they are told. You would think that Nature would do better.

  3. Brian Merson says:

    This is another one of those situations where once a phrase starts being used it gains a momentum of its own, regardless of whether it’s accurate or conveys an accurate message. In this case, the statement “cannot solve the problem in its entirety” is, of course, accurate. However, it doesn’t accurately tell the story. It is factual, but not thorough. You would think that at least scientific and/or investigative media would do the latter. Apparently, you would be wrong.

    The real energy story is that there are no energy sources that can solve the world’s energy problems in their entirety (at least in the short to medium term… long term, there are possibilities). Oil, gas, coal, solar, wind, nuclear, whatever. Each, by itself, is only a partial solution. Each has limitations, side-effects, or both. The question that needs to be asked and answered is not “where are we going to find a clean, cheap energy source to provide all the energy we need?” (answer: you won’t), but rather, “is our energy portfolio going to be a smart energy portfolio or a self-destructive portfolio?”

    I would like to think, for the sake of my kids and the generations that will follow them, that the answer will be a smart portfolio. If that is the case, then, like any business portfolio manager, when confronted with changing situation you change your portfolio.

    Climate change, peak oil, pollution concerns, security concerns…. seems like there are plenty of pretty strong hints that a portfolio adjustment towards a cleaner, truly sustainable, and ultimately, cheaper energy portfolio is long overdue. The message that the media (hopefully all, but at least scientific and investigative) somehow needs to grasp and hammer on is that “we already have an energy portfolio, but it frankly stinks…. it’s [long past] time to get a better one.”

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Off-topic, but this appears to be the most precise regional forecast (for Germany) yet devised:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,576078,00.html

  5. charlesH says:

    Joe,

    “Nature has no comment on the price of base load solar, which could easily drop 30% to 50% over the next several years, making it the cheapest form of carbon-free baseload power.”

    Are you talking about 24/7 base load or 6hr base load for AC load?

    Where do you expect the cost improvements? The thermal plant is mature technology and likely to go up with inflation as all other thermal sources.

    Do you expect the cost of tracking mirrors to drop dramatically? They are not exotic technology. Steel and glass plus labor to install.

    [JR: I and most others expect all of those to drop as economies of scale and the learning curve kicks in. I am talking, as I have said many times, about load following in this country. There is no point in wasting money to provide power at 4 am now, or, for that matter, ever.]

  6. Joe,
    Your dismissal of (summertime) solar baseload is astonishing. You are the one who insist on calling solar thermal with storage “solar baseload” and then you say that it would be “wasting money to provide power at 4am”. I’ve been quoted a lower price for 6-8 month solar baseload than for load following solar thermal at 6 hours and even if it is the same price it is worth investing in from a climate perspective.

    How do you propose shutting down coal power plants and not building more nukes if you dismiss the economics of thermal storage out of hand?

    I’m scratching my head….

    Michael

    [JR: I have no idea what you are talking about. I am supporting the economics of the solar baseload with thermal storage. Have been for a while. In this country, people are basically giving away electricity in the early morning. I don't really see how that is going to change in the next quarter-century. If we shut down coal plants, we will be replacing them with wind power, which delivers more than enough electricity in the early morning. I don't propose shutting down the nuclear plants or the Hydro plants. So, along with wind, we'll have a huge amounts of carbon free power at 4 am for decades. I just don't see the economics of providing more than 4 to 6 hours of storage for baseload solar. I am scratching my head.]

  7. Bill Woods says:

    So stop claiming that solar thermal is “baseload” power. It isn’t. Baseload power, by definition, is available pretty reliably 24/7. Hydro and nuclear can do that. Solar isn’t 24/7 (and wind isn’t reliable).

    Solar thermal has a bright future providing power for the peak demand period — from early afternoon to early evening. Don’t make it out to be more than it can be. Look, you yourself say “There is no point in wasting money to provide power at 4 am now, or, for that matter, ever.” And that’ll be true even if the cost comes down to 50% of that $0.17/kWh figure.

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    Actually wind, given ample dispersal of wind farms, is reliable 24/7.

    The arguement that you are making, that the wind doesn’t always blow in one particular place applies to nuclear, coal, hydro and gas. A some given points in time each individual plant goes offline.

    Nuclear, for example, has to be shut down periodically for maintenance. Nuclear can only provide baseline by linking multiple nuclear plants.

  9. Cyril R. says:

    You want the highest effective load carrying capacity, or ELCC. That’ the highest correlation with the load, or ‘load-following’. Right now that’s roughly 50-60 percent, all US grids aggregated geographically and temporally over all scales.

    Going higher wouldn’t make sense unless there would be a specific baseload demand (such as industrial processes etc.).

  10. Earl Killian says:

    To amplify Bob Wallace’s last comment, please see Archer, C. L. and M. Z. Jacobson, 2007: Supplying baseload power and reducing transmissions requirements by interconnecting wind farms. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 46, 1701-1717.

    They take the reliability of coal plants as a baseline, and look at what fraction of interconnected wind farms can be counted on to be as reliable as the coal plant. They write,

    “Firm capacity” is the fraction of installed wind capacity that is online at the same probability as that of a coal-fired power plant. On average, coal plants are free from unscheduled or scheduled maintenance for 79%–92% of the year, averaging 87.5% in the United States from 2000 to 2004 (Giebel 2000; North American Electric Reliability Council 2005). Figure 3 shows that, while the guaranteed power generated by a single wind farm for 92% of the hours of the year was 0 kW, the power guaranteed by 7 and 19 interconnected farms was 60 and 171 kW, giving firm capacities of 0.04 and 0.11, respectively. Furthermore, 19 interconnected wind farms guaranteed 222 kW of power (firm capacity of 0.15) for 87.5% of the year, the same percent of the year that an average coal plant in the United States guarantees power. Last, 19 farms guaranteed 312 kW of power for 79% of the year, 4 times the guaranteed power generated by one farm for 79% of the year.

  11. Earl Killian says:

    A line Joe didn’t quote in the Nature OpEd was “. Of all renewables, solar currently has the lowest capacity factor, at about 14%.” It was quite inappropriate to lump all of solar with a single CF. First, the capacity factor of solar cited is of course quite location sensitive, and CSP plants are likely to built at locations with better statistics (which are abundant). Second, Thermal Energy Storage can produce CFs equal to coal power CFs.

    To illustrate the first point, the capacity factor of the Stirling Energy Systems plant being built in Victorville, CA for Southern California Edison is estimated as 23.9%, not 14%. Shame on Nature for being so sloppy.

  12. Bob Wallace says:

    Wheel squeaking here….

    A good reliable source could bring all this scattered information together where even lazy, sloppy journalists could have it at hand.

    Think of a site where a handful of skilled writers could produce concise, easy to read summaries of where we are and where we are likely to go in the near future.

    All the “Cyrils” and “Earls” could be the stringers that bring data to the discussion.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — Somebody checked the power requirements for Califonia. As I recall it was 36 GW at max daynime load and 24 GW at min nightime load. This 3/2 ratio seemed rather a small variation.

  14. Earl Killian says:

    David B. Benson, it depends upon the time of year and day of the week. If you look today at http://www.caiso.com/ you will see that 3am is shown as 24 GW, and 3pm as 44 GW. That’s a ratio of 1.83. If you look tomorrow, you will probably see a smaller peak, as a number of office buildings are not in operation on a Saturday.

  15. Earl Killian says:

    Bill Woods wrote, “So stop claiming that solar thermal is “baseload” power. It isn’t. Baseload power, by definition, is available pretty reliably 24/7. Hydro and nuclear can do that. Solar isn’t 24/7 (and wind isn’t reliable).

    Please see Solar Thermal Power as the Plausible Basis of Grid Supply, by David Mills and Rob Morgan. In particular see Table 2 where it suggests SM3 could provide 92% of the US supply at 7.8 cents per kWh, 365×7. Given that we already have 7% hydro and 20% nuclear, and 2.4% other renewables, we need only 71%, and they offer us much more. For Ausra, Thermal Energy Storage actually allows them to achieve lower cost. They write, “This is shown for the blended state case, in which 92% of the blended state annual load can be supplied by the cheapest array option, SM3. The explanation for the cost minimum is as follows: below SM3, the turbines produce less output per day because there is less array per turbine, increasing kWh cost.”

    Caveat: To my knowledge, Ausra has not yet demonstrated the Thermal Energy Storage system on which this is based.

  16. Earl Killian says:

    Oops, I mean 365×24 in the last post, not 365×7.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Earl Killian — Thanks. Do you happen to know the abssolute peak, which I assume happens on the hottest days?

    IS then the maximum ratio as small as 2. or is it larger?

  18. Earl Killian says:

    David B. Benson,
    I don’t know if this answers your question or not:
    http://www.caiso.com/1ffd/1ffdaed355180.pdf
    They predicted 50.27 GW as “record peak demand”.
    There is supposedly historical load data at http://oasis.caiso.com/ but I don’t have any experience with it.

  19. I’m not anti-wind but the results and reliability of power from interconnected wind farms is still a theoretical notion that has not yet been well substantiated. Most serious European studies of this look at the role of other renewables in firming wind capacity. Denmark 20% penetration of wind power , for instance, takes advantage of unused hydro capacity in Norway and firming from the German grid. I look forward to being proved wrong in this but one cannot ask grid operators to rely entirely on wind for nighttime power…yet.

    Joe,
    It is still seems quite daft for you to publicize solar thermal with storage as “solar baseload” and then dismiss the notion that there is an economic reason to use solar thermal AS baseload. You are contradicting the notion of what baseload is, as pointed out by other commenters.

    [JR: It might be daft if I hadn't it explained it so many times. CSP with 4 to 6 hours storage is load following from dawn to well past the evening time of heavy usage. That is what I would call "better than baseload." Midnight to 6 am is heavily oversubscribed, in places you have to give away or throw away electricity -- and that isn't going to change as we aggressively move toward wind, unless we also aggressively toward for plug-ins. But if we did plug ins, then, again, what would be the point of wasting money giving CSP 10 to 12 hours storage? There is no question you could put in enough storage to make CSP technically baseload, but you'd be crazy to do so. So CSP with 4 to 6 hours is load following and "effectively baseload." I'm using baseload solar as an understandable shorthand. You don't have to.]

    The economics of baseload are that the higher utilization rate of your capital expenditure in the turbine allows for lower per kilowatt costs; one of the most expensive parts of the solar thermal plant is the turbine. Thermal storage will become cheaper as more of it gets built; furthermore the lowest per kilowatt costs that I have been quoted for a solar thermal plant with storage have been for plants with 16 plus hours of storage and continuous summertime operation.

    In a solar-dominated renewable grid, nighttime power will not be nearly as cheap as it is now; it’s current low cost is partly a function of demand but also of the efficiency and cheapness of coal and to a lesser extent existing nuclear power plants (that operate at 90% capacity).

    [JR: This is an incorrect statement, assuming you were counting wind, which is almost certain to outpace PV and CSP for at least the next decade if not longer.]

    Ausra is currently acting more as a (much appreciated) publicist than a technology company in the area of thermal storage and solar baseload though may well come up with their own solution. Other companies with higher temperature plant designs already have storage solutions.

    I believe the one promising solution would be “combined renewable power plants” that use a variety of renewable generators to further extend thermal storage capacity which may function as a power reserve for less easily storable renewable energy sources.

    [JR: I doubt this solution makes much sense. Anything other than thermal storage is expensive, wind almost anywhere on the grid is a good match for baseload solar, and plug ins solve the rest of the problem.]

  20. Cyril R. says:

    The statement about nighttime power not being cheap in a hypothetical grid with a major solar thermal load following plant component, is not very useful, misleading even. People don’t want to use power at night. They want to sleep. Well most of them. Same for companies and even many industrial uses. This demand is kept artificially high by cheaptime of use metering that many utilities employ, making nighttime power very cheap. With a coal dominated grid, daytime peaking power is expensive, just when people want to use their power.

    But in the load following solar thermal grid, demand and supply match almost perfectly, so there will be relatively little variations in daytime vs nighttime electricity costs.

    What matters, then, is the average levelized cost in a hypothetical solar thermal load following grid vs a coal grid with gas peak assist. The coal grid could benefit more from cheap storage. Such as demand side thermal storage; AC cold (ice) storage and space heating hot (water) storage. Which will certainly be cheaper than expensive natural gas peakers. But then a wind grid using that same demand side thermal storage would be cheap, up to a very large penetration of wind, which is a limit so high it’s not very relevant for us now, and not an argument against wind for the forseeable future. And coal has other costs, such as the greenhouse gas which has to be offset or sequestered. And something has to be done about heavy metals from coal burning and the impact of coal mining. Then there are the rapidly risen coal prices. Is a reasonably responsible coal grid going to be cheaper than a wind grid? I don’t think so, not by much anyway. And such a wind grid is definately not anymore hypothetical than a clean coal grid, and would certainly be cleaner than the cleanest coal. Considering technology, politics and economics right now.

    And nuclear? IMHO it depends firstly on economics, but many may disagree with me on this issue, which is somewhat understandable.

  21. Cyril R,
    You’ve contradicted yourself within the course of your own comment. Right now night time power is in some places one third to one fifth the cost of daytime power depending on power usage. You are projecting that they will be equally expensive, which may in fact turn out to be the case. Therefore it would be no longer “cheap” the way it is now.

    Divorcing ourselves from the huge energy stores in coal, natural gas and uranium deposits will have consequences as we shift more to depend on energy flows rather than energy stores or stocks. I think it desirable to move in this direction rapidly but that doesn’t mean I and or we need to paper over some real engineering and economic challenges involved in the transition.

    Joe,
    I’m surprised at your arrogance: you think you can take the power engineering concept “baseload” and make it mean whatever you want it to mean. Neither I nor other readers can be expected to read your previous posts like the Talmud and refer to them…your blog is good but not THAT good.

    I don’t want to minimize the usefulness and importance of load-following solar thermal plants (6-8 hours storage). But they aren’t “baseload”. I think you are mistaking the positive current economics of building solar thermal “load-following” plants which cover what currently is the most expensive day and early evening power and the desirability of also creating true solar baseload. If we are shutting down coal plants, the night time power starts to get expensive too.

    It might be better if you took more of a yeshiva-bocher’s approach to the challenges of power engineering, power plant economics and how we can make renewables reproduce some of the utility of fossil generators on the grid. For instance your assertions about wind power need substantiation. If you’ve looked at the power density profile of wind over time you start to see the challenge. Wind power requires storage and or firming to create the smooth “baseload” power profile upon which power users have come to depend. This is not a trivial problem and that non-triviality requires time and money to resolve. $.15/kWh for all-night clean power looks pretty good from there.

    True solar baseload has the storage issue pretty well in hand. Therefore it is worth pursuing. At least the companies Solar Reserve and Sener Ingeniera think that it’s worth pursuing…and they are experts in the area of solar thermal and thermal storage (and you’re not).

    So just blithely asserting that we can throw renewable energy FLOWS at the grid, sprinkle in some plug-in vehicles, and hope they will produce usable power is skating over the complexities of the task ahead of us. I expect a little more depth of understanding of the issues from a guy with a physics Ph.D.

  22. David B. Benson says:

    Earl Killian — 50.27/24 = 2.095, call it 2.1. Thanks again.

    I agree that calling it ‘load-following solar power’ is not only more descriptive, but IMO sounds a whole lot better than ‘baseload solar’.

  23. Joe says:

    Michael: I’m glad I can surprise you.

    As I’ve said many times, we must have a major shift to plugs in. But we could take 20% wind before that. In any case, yes, smart plug ins plus wind are plenty good.

    Many other countries need something closer to true baseload, but even they won’t be baseload, since true baseload is constant power. We need near-baseload, which is closer to load following.

    All you other folks out there can call it “load-following solar power” or “contribute solar thermal electric power” or whatever, but the term load-following has no meaning for 99.99% of people and therefore will go nowhere.

    I have explained many times why I call it baseload solar. To those who think load-following sounds better, I say, go for it. I’m gonna
    stick with baseload solar.

  24. David B. Benson says:

    What perce4ntage will understand ‘baseload solar power’?

  25. Joe says:

    All those who understand what “baseload” means — so a couple orders of magnitude more than who understand “load following.”

  26. Bill Woods says:

    The Humpty Dumpty school of semantics, huh?

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

  27. Joe,
    People, including you, are going to have to get a lot more intimate with the power grid and power engineering concepts if we are going to build the renewable grid of the future.

    Baseload sounds good but already means something different (very important). Load-following also means something and, as David Benson points out, is just a little bit more obscure than “baseload”. How about “demand-responsive” or “demand-following” solar. How about “solar on tap”?

    The shorthand of misusing an already existing term is going to short-circuit the public education process that has to take place about what we are going to need renewables to do if we are going to cut carbon emissions substantially. Finding baseload alternatives is perhaps the most difficult and pressing issue and you’re kind of obscuring it by borrowing this term and screwing around with its meaning.

  28. Joe says:

    People who are going to criticize on the grounds of semantics or suppose an intimate knowledge of the power grid and power engineering concepts ought to do their own homework first.

    CSP with 4 to 6 hours storage does not “follow the load” because the load doesn’t disappear at 2 am! So much for “load-following solar.”

    Now you are certainly entitled to say if you want, “but load following means something different than its specific words.” But then you give up the semantic argument.

    Equally important, there are many different definitions of “baseload.” Here is the the one from the online Energy Dictionary, which is the one Wikipedia relies on: “Most commonly referred to as baseload demand, this is the minimum amount of power that a utility or distribution company must make available to its customers, or the amount of power required to meet minimum demands based on reasonable expectations of customer requirements. Baseload values typically vary from hour to hour in most commercial and industrial areas.” Hmm. Baseload values vary from hour to hour in most places. Who would have guessed?

    If we weren’t fighting an active disinformation campaign, I might be more sympathetic to your arguments. But the biggest rap on renewables is that they can’t provide baseload power and hence can’t replace coal or nuclear. That is a message pounded in over and over again. The point of the name baseload solar is to take that myth head on. No other name does that. And if it leads to a even more informed discussion by would-be semanticists, all the better.

    I’ll guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether its a good name or not. BTW, your other are equally inaccurate.

    That said, I might do a post on this, just so I can always link to it and thus eliminate any confusion or ambiguity. Defining one’s terms solves any semantic or technical problem.]

  29. Earl Killian says:

    As I understand it, baseload plants are intended to operate 24×7 except during maintenance. If the load is lower, they would need to throw away power, I expect that they are sized so this occurs infrequently.

    Therefore, every baseload plant must be coupled with peaking plants that can produce the grid power beyond the minimum. Peaking power plants are
    much more expensive per kWh than baseload plants in large part because their capital investment must be charged against operation a fraction of a day, instead of over 24 hours a day. In some sense this results from the artificial separation of plants into baseload and peakers. If you build a coal plant, a paired peaker is essentially required. It would be more appropriate, IMO, to lump these two plants together, rather than keeping them separate. It is the cost of power from the combination that is relevant.

    One reason Ausra sees Thermal Energy Storage (TES) as important to bringing down the cost of their Concentrated Solar Power plants is that it allows them to amortize the capital cost of turbines over a larger number of hours per day. For example, in a CSP plant without TES, the capital cost consists of the collectors (cost C) and the turbines (cost T). Then C+T is amortized over 12 hours a day (and only at peak power for part of that). The cost per kWh is proportional to (C+T)/C. The
    cost is reduced if you add TES (cost S) where S

    The above is a simplistic analysis, but it should give the idea. I would imagine, for example, that it would often be a good idea to have two turbines per field: you run both during peak load, and shut down one when load falls off. Then you have (6C+2T+2S)/6C and you’ve got a combined baseload+peaker (breakeven S<2T). This sort of CSP+TES should be compared to baseload+peakers, IMO.

  30. Earl Killian says:

    Michael Hoexter wrote, “Denmark 20% penetration of wind power , for instance, takes advantage of unused hydro capacity in Norway.

    How about some backup for the claim that Norway’s hydro is unused? The way I understand it, Danish excess wind is sent to Norway, which uses it instead of hydro power. When Denmark needs more than its wind provides, Norway generates power from the water that was held back courtesy of Danish wind. Hydro should be used as storage for other technologies, rather than as primary power. Does anyone know the extent of its storage use in the US. I know there is some, but how much?

  31. Bill Woods says:

    “In 2000 the United States had 19.5 GW of pumped storage capacity, accounting for 2.5% of baseload generating capacity. PHS generated (net) -5.5 GWh of energy[2] because more energy is consumed in pumping than is generated; losses occur due to water evaporation, electric turbine/pump efficiency, and friction.

    In 1999 the EU had 32 GW capacity of pumped storage out of a total of 188 GW of hydropower and representing 5.5% of total electrical capacity in the EU.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

    That’s dedicated storage; it doesn’t count hydro used for load-following without pumping water back uphill during periods of low demand. Hoover Dam, with a nameplate capacity of 2,080 MW, is producing an average of 500 MW.

    http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/faqs/powerfaq.html

  32. Cyril R. says:

    Cyril R,
    You’ve contradicted yourself within the course of your own comment. Right now night time power is in some places one third to one fifth the cost of daytime power depending on power usage. You are projecting that they will be equally expensive, which may in fact turn out to be the case. Therefore it would be no longer “cheap” the way it is now.

    No, you didn’t understand the more important argument that the average levelized cost is more important than either night time or daytime power costs. Please read my posts completely before making accusations.

  33. Cyril R. says:

    How about we educate the masses about grid dynamics? That would be the end of non-sequitur and blanket arguments like “solar is intermittent so is useless” and “we absolutely need reliable power sources that can deliver constant output in our energy future”.

    As I’ve pointed out before, the energy revolution also needs to be one of education. Too many people know too little about ‘tricity and that’s a real problem in any democracy.

  34. Joe,
    Your response is truly hair-splitting. A Talmudic argument if there ever was one. I think we’re both too intelligent to get lost in the trees rather than see the forest.

    And my designations of these power plant are NOT inaccurate. Just asserting something doesn’t make it true.

    Talk to those who apply “baseload” to a power plant or source (and not demand) and they apply it to a 24×7 power source with a basically flat power output profile. “load-following” power plants do not always follow the load but are somewhat more responsive to power demand and are supposed to chop predictable peaks in power usage (A STE plant with 6 to 8 hours storage is well-designed for this purpose) . Finally “peakers” are fast ramping powerplants (usually gas-turbines or hydro) that cover surges in demand. Still faster are frequency regulation plants that regulate the AC frequency of the grid. It’s all about speed of response, levelized cost per unit power and, especially important in the case of renewables, availability and strength of the primary energy.

    Earl,
    Information about how Denmark handles wind is easy to find. I am not writing a dissertation here in the comments section.

    Try here:
    http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/8/31/194053/962#more

  35. Earl Killian says:

    Michael, thank you for the Sharman pointer. It supplements what I learned from Danish sources. I believe that confirms what I said about hydro. It said nothing about Norwegian hydro being unused. I have no idea where you got that.

    One reason that wind is a good match to plug-in cars is that they could in theory ramp up and down quickly in response to what is being generated, instead of having thermal power plants trying to accomplish the same thing. Eventually we will have other devices doing the same thing via smart grid technology: e.g. heat pumps will produce extra heating or cooling when there is extra wind energy, and less when there is not enough. Many water pumps can shift work to times when power is available. While the production of fuels from electricity (e.g. hydrogen or methanol or gasoline) is unlikely to be a major power demand (it is too inefficient), there may be some, and such production could modulate production in response to wind variation.

  36. solar thermal energy is big in Spain. they are planning 60 plants in the coming years

  37. shop says:

    The arguement that you are making, that the wind doesn’t always blow in one particular place applies to nuclear, coal, hydro and gas. A some given points in time each individual plant goes offline.