2021 Blog Archive


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Sunday June 6, 2021 – Smart Grids and Micro-Grids

Sunday May 23, 2021 - Infrastructure Build-out

Sunday May 16, 2021 – Electrify Transportation

Sunday May 9, 2021 – Electrical Storage

Sunday May 2, 2021 – Renewable Energy

Sunday April 25, 2021 – Energy Efficiency

Sunday March 7, 2021 – Green Hydrogen

Sunday January 31, 2021 – PHEV Emissions Controversy

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Sunday June 6, 2021 – Smart Grids and Micro-Grids -- When we walk into a room and flip the light-switch we take it for granted that the light is going to come on. It really isn’t that simple though, there is a lot of things that have to happen to make sure that the electrical energy to illuminate that light bulb happens. It all works because of the electric grid.When we walk into a room and flip the light-switch we take it for granted that the light is going to come on. It really isn’t that simple though, there is a lot of things that have to happen to make sure that the electrical energy to illuminate that light bulb happens. It all works because of the electric grid.

The electric grid consists of over 9,200 electric generator units connected by more than 300,000 miles of transmission lines. These lines link the generator capacity to substations and transformers that eventually deliver electricity to homes, offices, and factories within the stable voltage range required by the appliances that utilize this electrical energy.

The electrical grid is a balancing act and it attempts to match supply with demand. Too much supply and the excess energy is converted into heat within the grid which will eventually lead to failures. Too little supply and the voltage drops too low for appliances etc. to use and the grid has to shut down.

The effects of over-supply can usually be seen as sagging transmission lines which expand due to overheating. The solution is to cut down on generating capacity by shutting down generating units. Under-supply can be indicated by dimming lights as voltage drops and is solved by bringing additional generation, usually known as Peaker plants, online. When there are no more Peaker plants to bring online, sections of the grid must be shut down in a process known as rolling blackouts.

Smart grids attempt to alleviate these problems using sophisticated software and intelligent appliances to control the supply and load on the grid. For example, during exceptionally hot weather in California high use of air conditioning can place such a high load on the grid that rolling blackouts have to be initiated. With a smart grid, intelligent thermostats can be controlled to cycle A/C off and on to allow to stay relatively cool while reducing the strain on the grid caused by high A/C usage.

In times when demand is low it can be increased using smart technology to do things like start up EV charging stations where EVs are plugging in to be charged. This usually means lower costs to the EV driver. This may prevent the need to bleed off energy generated by power plants that take a long time to restart (for example nuclear generation capacity).
Control of the grid can also be used to make sure that the lowest cost methods of producing electricity are utilized first. It can also be used to take older, more polluting generating facilities off line when not required.

The growth of solar or wind energy has also opened up a new opportunity, micro-grids.

Micro-grids are small grid structures that can be utilized in settings such as villages or large complexes. For a remote village not connected to the national grid, a micro grid could provide electricity for everyone in the village. The basis behind the power generation may be a solar array or windmill that is connected to a large battery storage unit. The battery system is then linked via Inverter to a grid that supports all the buildings in the village.

Eventually, when the grid reaches the village, the micro-grid can be connected to it to provide a smoother electricity for the village. The same concept can be used for a housing complex of factory.

The use of smart grids can also be used to vulnerability to hacking. The loss of fuel after a pipeline carrying gasoline from Texas to the gulf coast was shut down due to a ransomware attack caused massive disruption on the east coast. When such a situation threatens the micro-grid can be isolated and continue to provide electricity to the utilities’ customers.

In order to optimize the electricity grid to reduce fuel usage and enhance stability in a future mostly driven by supplies of renewable energy, large expenditure is going to be required to make the grid smarter and utilize more micro-grids. 

Next - Modifying Diets   

Sunday May 23, 2021 - Infrastructure Build-out - Moving toward electrified transportation means that we will need to be able to fuel all these vehicles.  This means building a fueling infrastructure to supply all of the required fuel be it electricity, hydrogen, or biofuels. 


Right now, most of our zero-emission transportation is done using battery electric vehicles.  If you live in a single-family home, things used to be simple, you just needed to have a plug or a charger installed in your garage, carport, or driveway.  Most cars and NEVs had limited range and could be charged overnight.  These cars were usually second cars and most drivers didn’t venture beyond their range, which worked well.


Moving everyone into driving battery electric vehicles is a different matter.  Drivers want to be able to take long road trips and now that batteries have improved low range is no longer a factor.  Even so, to travel long distances means travelling beyond the range of current batteries which requires charging stops.  Most people are not going to stop every 200 miles and stay overnight to recharge before driving the next 200 miles so the ability to charge quickly on route is paramount to the success of battery electric vehicles.


In addition, people living in apartments, or those who have to park on the street overnight, have been pretty much excluded from the growth of electric cars.  These people need to be able to charge their cars without having to spend long hours at a remote charging station.  For now, they have the option of getting a PHEV so they can charge when convenient, such as when visiting a shopping center, but in the long run that may not work for BEV owners.


Going forward we are going to have to make sure that we have building codes in place so that new apartment buildings get the ability to hook up EV chargers.  Workplace chargers should also become common place.  Most people spend around 9 hours per day at their work place.  A car like the Mustang Mach-e can get at least 80 miles of range from a 3KW level 2 charger and twice that from a 6KW charger.  That should be more than enough for most people’s daily commute.


Fast charging is the real key however.  Tesla has set up a network of about 25,000 superchargers and continues to build them out.  It gives most Tesla drivers the ability to drive long distances with a 30 to 60 minute stop every couple of hundred miles to recharge.  Other manufacturers have elected to use third party companies to set up their charging networks and since they are mostly using the same standard, these stations can be used by most drivers.


Further development in both battery technology and DC charger technology is needed to allow even faster charging speeds, with the objective of allowing a 200 or so mile range to be gained with about 10 minutes of charging.


For hydrogen, the old gas station model can be reused.  The downside of this is that it is very expensive to add hydrogen fueling stations to existing gas station, and even more expensive to create hydrogen only stations.  To make hydrogen fuel cells viable will require a huge investment in building out stations.  Hydrogen is also very expensive and further research will need to be done to bring down the cost.


Personally, I see hydrogen as a niche solution for things like semi-trucks and long-haul busses, perhaps even trains in some cases.  Even some of those uses may be more cost effective using battery electric rather than fuel cell technology.


Biofuel could use the same infrastructure currently used for gasoline/Diesel.  The problem with biofuel is the land use that would be required to produce enough of the fuel makes it most likely to be not viable.  Again, I see this as a niche solution, probably one that will serve the airline industry where electric propulsion will only be viable for short-haul flights.


Whatever fuels we use the infrastructure has to be reliable.  When people need to fuel their vehicles, they not only need to be able to find a station near them, it also needs to work.  The current network of gas stations across the country are highly reliable and it takes a disaster, like the recent hacking that stopped the pipeline carrying gasoline to most of the east coast, to provide much of an issue. 


Fueling stations for both battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have proved to be a lot less reliable.  I experienced this myself yesterday. 


I drove over to Westfield Topanga & The Village shopping center which is just beyond my all-electric range. There were 6 charging points showing as available there. The chargers were the Chargepoint chargers that had two connectors that share power if both are in use so they deliver a maximum of around 6KW. Three of the parking spaces were iced, one was connected to an EV and the other 2 were available. A Tesla pulled into one of the other spaces the same time as I parked by the same charger. I tried to plug in and everything went OK but the charge would not initiate. One of the ice cars moved and I tried that charger but it wouldn’t even recognize my Chargepoint card.


I gave up and moved to a none-EV parking space. Driving a PHEV meant that this wasn’t a problem for me as I could use the gas engine to get home, but someone with a BEV could have been in real trouble. On the way I back to the mall entrance I noticed that the Tesla was also showing that it was not charging. Only 1 of the three chargers was working. Some additional research showed that one of the chargers had been out of service for almost four months.

Hydrogen has had its problems too. There have been several occasions when hydrogen supply has been interrupted and FCEV drivers here in California have had to park up their cars because they couldn’t get fuel. There has also been a big turnover in fueling stations with most of the ones that were set up in the early program now closed. The hydrogen infrastructure in California is growing slowly but things like trips to Las Vegas are still out for California FCEV owners.

Reliability is key, especially now while infrastructure is lagging behind vehicle sales. We need to enforce regulations about parking at charging stations while not connected and charging. Chargers need to be fixed rapidly so people don’t have to move from charger to charger to find one that works.

We also need to be thinking about emergency situations. This winter the electric grid in large parts of Texas was down for as much as 4 days. A large-scale outage like that can be devastating to those that need to charge up an electric vehicle. One solution to this is to deploy chargers powered by solar that has battery backup. When disaster strikes and the grid goes offline City and State governments could deploy emergency chargers such as the ones being manufactured by Beam (formally Envision Solar). These can be trucked to a location and set up in a matter of minutes.


Moving to a future where transportation is electric will mean that we will have to build out infrastructure so that cars and trucks can be fueled with convenience that meets or exceeds what we see for hydrocarbon base transportation.  We will need to have some innovation like using loops under roads to charge cars as they drive (currently being tested) and to improve both battery and charging technology.  We have a good start but still have a long way to go.


Next Smart Grids and Micro-grids

     Sunday May 16, 2021 – Electrify Transportation - In the USA transportation account for 29% of carbon dioxide emissions.  It is also a major source of air pollution in our cities.  In 2019 it is estimated the 60,200 people died as a direct result of air pollution.  One of the major things we need to do is to switch our transportation system to zero emission technologies.


We have already started making progress in the US especially in California where in 1990 California introduced the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate which specified that the major automakers had to sell a percentage of vehicles that were zero emission.  So far in 2021 about 1 in 10 cars being sold in California are now zero emissions.


Things started slowly as vehicle manufacturers began to lease a very limited number of electric vehicles.  To reduce air pollution the state gave ZEV credits to some none zero emission vehicles such as conventional hybrids and natural gas vehicles.  While this helped somewhat with air pollution it did little to reduce the overall amount of CO2 generated.


All the car makers did the minimum they could in terms of making ZEVs and eventually the ZEV rules were greatly weakened to the point where many of the early ZEV mandate cars were taken back and destroyed.  Fortunately, the rise of Tesla showed that there was demand for electric cars and, as the threat of global warming became more and more obvious, other countries began pushing for ZEVs.


Environmentalists often want for us to move to walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation instead of using private cars to get around.  Walking is only valid for short distances and bikes are also not very viable for many with the long commutes that have become the norm in modern America.  In many cities public transportation is a good option but it has to be convenient to encourage people to leave their cars at home.


While we often think about transportation from the point of view of the personal vehicle it is actually fundamental to our way of life.  We not only use transportation to get from a to b, it is also needed to move goods from where they are produced to where they are consumed.  In order to eliminate CO2 from our transportation systems we have to make all types of transportation zero emissions


For the most part this means moving our transportation systems to run on electric rather than the gas/diesel/GNG that fuels most of our transportation at the moment.


For land transportation most American families have one to several family vehicles.  Electrification of these vehicles has been pushed as a priority as they are responsible for the lion’s share of the CO2 produced by transportation.  Currently we have two choices for zero emissions, hydrogen or battery electric.


Hydrogen is the solution being pushed by Japanese and Korean carmakers.  Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have one advantage over battery electric vehicles, they can be refueled very quickly, taking about the same amount of time as a gas car.  There is a downside though, production of hydrogen is very energy intensive and the fueling infrastructure is expensive to install and is totally lacking in all but a very few locations.


On the positive side the cost of the fuel cell stack is starting to come down and durability has increased to the point where you would expect less than 10% degradation after 150,000 miles.  Hydrogen is still expensive however and several companies are working to bring production costs down.  At the moment, while CARB defines fuel cell vehicles as zero emissions most hydrogen is being produced by reformatting natural gas.  This does compare with battery electric vehicles being fueled from a grid that has a high percentage of fossil fuel generation in the mix.


Battery electric vehicles are now beginning to sell quite well in some places although other areas are being more resistant.  Part of the issue is that there are currently no electric pickup trucks available.  This is about to change with Ford working on an all-electric version of its popular F-150 and GM planning to launch and electric pickup based on the Hummer platform.  Chevrolet is also working on an electric version of the Silverado and startup Rivian is about to begin deliveries of their R1T truck.


California has already said that it will no longer allow the sale of new gas vehicles starting in 2035.  Given the size of the California market this will push the auto manufacturers to produce more electric models or risk losing major market share.


It’s not just personal electric vehicles that need to be replaced, it is also delivery and long-haul trucks that need to be converted to electric.  There are currently several delivery vans that are being trialed at the moment.  Amazon has a small fleet of Mercedes-Benz electric Sprinter vans that they are testing in the Los Angeles are and also have a small number of Vans from Rivian that are being tested in California and Colorado.  They have 100,000 of the Rivian vans on order.  Ford also has an electric version of their Transit van undergoing testing.


Several manufacturers are working on development of Large trucks such as the electric Semi currently being developed at Tesla.  Toyota have also been working with a truck maker Kenworth to build semi-trucks powered by fuel cells.  They currently have a number of these being trialed at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Volvo is also working on a battery electric semi. 


Busses are another item that is highly suitable for conversion to battery electric.  Most busses are used around the City with fairly short routes allowing for charging at the end of each trip using DC fast charging technology.  There is also work being done to use inductive charging to charge the vehicle as it travels along by picking up energy from loops under the road. 


The leading manufacturer of electric busses is the Chinese company BYD who have deployed over 400,000 battery electric busses in China.  In Contrast, the US has deployed a little over 300 electric busses.  The largest manufacturer of busses in the US is Proterra.


The other transportation system. which carries millions of passengers per day worldwide, is subway systems and light rail.  The good news here is that these systems, for the most part, already run on electricity, so it only comes down to providing these systems with clean renewable energy.


Surface rail is a different matter.  While many rail lines are run by electricity the overwhelming number of lines are still operated by diesel locomotives.  These systems, be they passenger of goods, need to be converted to run on electric as soon as possible. 


Boats present one of the biggest problems.  Some companies are already building small boats that can be used around lakes and harbors and as lithium-ion batteries improve storage density it will also be possible to build electric pleasure boats with plenty of range to travel locally, say doing the 52-mile round trip from Long Beach to Catalina Island.  Large freighters and cruise ships are a different matter and right now it looks more likely that these vessels will be powered by hydrogen, although some experimentation is being done with wind turbines and solar panels.


The biggest challenge of all is going to be airplanes.  While companies are already in the advanced stages of building small electric planes that could be used for short-haul flights we still don’t have the technology to power a plane for long distances at high speed.  The largest electric airplane to fly is the e-Caravan.  The plane seat 9 and is capable of carrying passengers for as much as 1,200 miles at 25,000 ft.  It has a top speed of 234mph.


The solution here is probably going to be either hydrogen, or more likely biofuel.  My feeling is that we will need to work with biofuels at first but may be able to have hydrogen powered flight later.


Another solution being looked at is the use of hyperloop.  Hyperloop would involve accelerating a passenger module up to around 600mph in a tunnel using magnetic levitation.  Such a module would be able to go from East to West coast in about the same time a modern aircraft can cover the distance.  It would, of course, be very expensive building tunnels between has San Francisco and New York, and a major engineering feat.  Once built these lines would probably pay for themselves over time.


To prevent the worst effects of global warming we need to cut CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050.  We cannot accomplish this unless the entire fleet is electrified or uses renewable fuels.

Next Infrastructure build out.

Sunday May 9, 2021 – Electrical Storage - While renewable energy sources such as geothermal and small hydro are reliable sources of energy, wind and solar are intermittent.  Wind energy can only be generated when the wind blows and solar can only be generated when it is daylight.  Demand also rises and falls over time and for the grid to remain stable the supply of electricity has to match demand.


The solution to allow the generation of energy to match the energy needed in a system mostly powered by wind and solar is energy storage.  When energy generation is plentiful, such as when the wind blows or the sun shines, any surplus energy is stored for later use.


We already store electricity in batteries; I do it every day when I charge my car or my cell phone.  The key requirement here is to store energy at a grid level.  Elon Musk once tweeted, “What’s really amazing is that you can store all energy needed to power a continent overnight with 1 square kilometer of stacked Tesla Megapacks!.”


One of the earliest ways to store energy at grid scale was to use pump storage.  Pump storage requires two reservoirs, one up-hill from the other.  When there is a surplus of electricity generation water is pumped from the lower reservoir to the upper one.  When additional energy is needed by the grid the water is allowed to flow down from the upper reservoir to the lower one by way of a turbine that generates electricity.


This was first done at Engeweiher pumped storage facility near Schaffhausen, Switzerland in 1907.  Since then, multiple other pump storage facilities have been created around the world.  Right now, in the USA, there are facilities to store up to 22.6 GW which represents about 2.1% of generation capacity.  The issue with pump storage is that finding places to put such facilities is getting harder and harder and these facilities are also expensive to build.


Another storage method is to use compressed air as a storage medium.  The idea behind this is that excess energy is used to compress air in caverns underground.  When this energy is needed for the grid, the compressed air can be used to turn a generator and provide electricity.

Compressed air has been used to power tools for a long time now.  When you get your tires changes the mechanic will remove the bolts and tighten them up again with a wrench powered by compressed air.  The first compressed air grid level storage was the 290 megawatt Huntorf plant in Germany built in 1978.


There are currently several projects going on in the USA to add grid level storage using compressed air.  One advantage this has is that as the use of natural gas is phased out the large underground caverns currently used to store the natural gas can be repurposed as reservoirs for compressed air storage.


The biggest growth in grid level storage at the current time is the use of batteries.  Batteries have been used for dealing with grid outages for a long time.  The rise of computers left companies vulnerable to the loss of data due to power outages.  To solve this problem companies introduced Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) which was a bank of batteries that fully charged could keep the data center running for a period of time after power loss.  This might be just long enough to stop working and save the in-flight data, up to being able to run the entire data center for several hours.


Tesla now have a battery backup system called the Powerwall that can be installed along with their solar panels to allow a house to continue to have power even if the grid goes down.  Such a combination of batteries and solar panels can be used to “Keep the lights on” even when the grid is offline for several days.  This type of setup can also allow people to live off-grid.


As batteries have gotten cheaper on a per-KWHr basis and more durable in terms of the number of times they could be recycled, it has become more feasible to use batteries to allow grid level storage.  One of the things bringing down the cost of battery storage is that electric vehicle batteries can now be repurposed when they get to the end of their useful life in vehicles, usually when their capacity falls below 80%.  While such batteries are no longer viable in the electric car, they can continue to be used in grid level storage projects.


Recently, South Australia made the news by putting a large battery grid storage project online at Hornsdale Power Reserve.  The large battery farm, capable of storing over 100MWHr of electricity has been extremely successful and has allowed the smoothing of electricity supply allowing Australia to better exploit its renewable energy resources,


Another large project, Moss Landing in Northern California went live in October, 2020.  This is a combination of a large solar array and a grid storage battery system capable of storing 182.5 MWHrs.  This installation was built by PG&E instead of building a natural gas fired peaker plant, a station designed to provide power during peak demand periods.


There are at least 6 other projects, totaling about 4 GW, that are in process and expected to go online during 2021 and others are in the early planning stages.


A variation of battery storage is to use the batteries in existing electric vehicles; known as vehicle to grid.  Under this scheme electric vehicles are connected to the grid and are charged as normal when there is a surplus of electricity generation.  When there is a need for more energy by the grid the grid can request energy from the electric vehicles connected to it.  The vehicle owner would be able to set up if the energy is made available and if so, how much can be taken from the car.  The owner would get a payment for the electricity used which would allow for a small profit for the vehicle owner. 


Vehicle to grid has been demonstrated by several manufacturers but so far, no electric utility is taking advantage of this option.  The biggest issue is the setting of prices for the electricity sold to the utility.  The price has to cover the cost of charging plus the cost of any loss in capacity caused by additional number of charge cycles on the battery and still leave enough profit to make it worthwhile for the vehicle owner. 


An alternative to using batteries is to use flywheels for storage.  In this situation the energy is stored in the form of a spinning flywheel and this energy can be recouped when the grid needs additional energy.  The big advantage on flywheel energy storage is that it is quite efficient.  However, while flywheels can last a long time and require little maintenance, they are expensive.


For example, Hazel Spidle in Hazel Township, PA can store 20 MW.  This is a much smaller capacity that using pump storage or batteries so I expect that this will be a minor method for grid level storage, but might be useful in microgrids.


Another way of storing energy is by the use of hydrogen.  When there is a surplus of electricity it can be used to extract hydrogen from water.  When demand on the grid exceeds supply the hydrogen can be used to generate electricity using fuel cells. 


This method of storage tends to be less efficient than using batteries so at the moment, as far as I know, there is no projects in process to use hydrogen storage at the grid level.


Moving from the relative stability of a grid driven mostly by the burning of fossil fuels to a grid that powered from most forms of renewable electricity generation, that is subject to the fluctuation in supply, will mean we will need to have more grid level electrical storage.  As many of the methods outlined above require a long time to build the required infrastructure it is a good idea to do things like we see at Moss Landing where the energy storage is done as part of the project to build out the renewable energy generation.


Next Electrify Transportation

Sunday May 2, 2021 – Renewable Energy - Right now, the US generates about 60% of electricity from hydrocarbon sources, mostly Natural Gas and Coal. A further 20% is generated from Nuclear. The remainder is generated from Wind, Solar, and Large Hydro, etc. If we want to stand any chance of stopping the worst of the effects of global warming, we need to replace the fossil fuel sources with renewable energy.

We have already made some inroads into reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels in the electric generation sector but most of this has been done by swapping coal for natural gas as the fuel being burned. Since coal is a much bigger source of carbon dioxide than natural gas this has been a good thing but all carbon sources need to go. We would be better served working to eliminate all carbon sources rather than just swapping one for the other which, in the end, will only mean we take longer to eliminate carbon emissions.

I will start off by talking about Nuclear. Nuclear is a none carbon source of energy generation and as such has been suggested by many as being a solution to eliminating fossil fuels. Nuclear does present its own problems. First of all, it is a relatively expensive way to generate electricity. Second, while it does not produce carbon emissions it does leave nuclear waste that will be toxic to all life for thousands of years. Safe disposal of nuclear waste is truly a major problem.

Existing Nuclear should be kept because the need to eliminate fossil fuels is greater than eliminating nuclear. In the long run though, it would be appropriate to eliminate Nuclear as a power generation source as the danger and cost of nuclear really makes the option unacceptable.

Another fuel that is touted as renewable is bio-fuels like wood chips. The idea is that trees clear CO2 from the atmosphere and use this to grow. At some point the wood is burned to generate electricity releasing carbon dioxide. The released carbon dioxide is then absorbed by trees and turned back into wood. This is a net zero solution but not a very practical solution as we would need to dedicate large areas of forest for energy production.

Another existing generation method, large hydro, is not considered a renewable energy source although I have never figured out why. Large hydro often involves building a dam on a river and flooding a large area behind the dam to use as a generation source. These lakes can also to use as a reservoir in many instances, for example, Lake Mead in Nevada provides most of the water for Las Vegas.

Large hydro does often change the flow of rivers and the flooding also covers area which could quite often be used for more productive uses such as farming. The places where we could build large hydro have pretty-much been used already so while we can continue to use the existing large hydro facilities, we would not be able to expand its use by much.

Small hydro on the other hand can still be expanded. In this case a small turbine, or group of turbines, is placed in the current flow of a river and generates electricity. This type of set-up is fine as long as it doesn’t do damage to the local fish population and does not get in the way of boats using the river. Small hydro is probably better for use in micro-grids rather than being applied as a major grid generation source.

A variant on small hydro is the generation of electricity using tidal power. Tidal power can be used in areas that have a very strong tide. The tide is predictable so it doesn’t tend to have the intermittency problems that we see with wind or Solar. Early implementations of tidal power would collect water in pools as the tide come in then let the water out through a turbine as the tide goes out. There are a number of such units in use around the world with the largest being the Sihwa Lake Tidal Power Station in South Korea that can generate 254MW.

Other devices are currently being evaluated including one that looks like a plane that is being tested in Scotland. The device has two wings each of which as a 52-foot-long turbine attached. This device can generate as much as 2 megawatts and has the advantage of working equally well with the tide going in or out.

Wind power is also expanding at the moment with a movement to place wind farms off shore where wind tends to be more consistent. Right now, the largest generator of wind power in the US is Texas which gets about 20% of its electricity from Wind. In the near term, at least, wind will be one of the most important components of power generation to replace coal and natural gas.

Another energy generation source that is growing quickly is Solar. The cost of Solar is falling while the efficiency is slowly increasing. Solar is already a cheaper source of energy that coal of natural gas and cost just continue to fall.

To replace the entire amount of energy currently generated by fossil fuel would require a solar array of about 360,000 square miles. This may seem like a lot but it only represents a rectangular area 60 miles by 60 miles; an area that can be easily accommodated in the deserts of Southern California.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to build an array that size, we would want to spread it around the country. In Thailand they are close to completing a solar farm that floats on the lake behind Sirindhorn Dam. It will contains144,000-solar-panels, cover 111-square-miles, and will generate about 45 megawatts of power. Here in California, there is a proposal to cover the California aqueduct and other waterways with solar panels. The California aqueduct is 444 miles long and about 110 feet wide (about 10 square miles). Covering it with solar panels will generate a considerable amount of electricity with the added benefit that it would reduce evaporation saving a large amount of water.

Geothermal is another source of renewable electricity generation. Geothermal energy is energy generated by the temperature difference between the earth at depth verses the temperature on the surface.

In practice geothermal energy is usually generated from volcanic areas where steam is often present. Geothermal generates quite a bit of electricity in some areas, most notably Iceland and New Zealand. The USA has large amounts of potential sources for geothermal but much of this potential has not been exploited. Most geothermal power plants are over near the west coast but there is still a great deal more sites available, especially in Hawaii and the area around Yellowstone National Park.

Geothermal has one big advantage, it is not intermittent so it would be a good source for providing base load capability while other sources such as wind and solar are expanded to provide generation capacity for energy requirements above baseline.

The move from carbon-based energy sources to renewable energy is the major pillar needed to prevent global warming. Doing this will provide a path that will help other solutions to preventing the worst consequences of uncontrolled warming. It is imperative we move forward with the expansion of geothermal, wind, solar, and tidal power generation as quickly as possible.


Next Electrical Storage

Ten Things to Address Global Warming We have known for quite some time now that we need to take steps quickly to avoid the worst effects of Global Warming.  There is not a silver bullet that will address this issue; we need to do multiple things all of which, done together, will help us avert a crisis which, in the worst-case scenario, could lead to a mass extinction event.


In a series of 10 articles, I will try and set out my vision for what needs to be done to prevent the world from overheating.

Sunday April 25, 2021 – Energy Efficiency

It might not seem like an important first step but it is.  Energy efficiency means using less energy to do the same thing.  We have been following this path for quite a while now and while our efforts haven’t been enough to curb the amount of fossil fuel used it has put quite a cap on the growth in usage that we have seen


For transportation energy efficiency means going further on the same amount of fuel.  The world has made great strides in this area by making engines more fuel efficient.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated into less fuel usage as much as allowing larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles like SUVs to be driven with only small increases in the amount of fuel being burned.


This trend is being pushed further as governments around the world introduce tougher and tougher fuel economy requirements.  The automobile manufacturers are responding with a number of strategies.


Fuel economy can be improved by reducing the weight of a vehicle.  This needs to be done without impacting the safety of the car or truck.  To accomplish this, manufacturers introduced things like crumple zones which are designed to compact during a collision to absorb the energy of the crash eliminating or at lease reducing the severity of injuries.


Vehicles can also be made lighter by using lighter materials.  For example, to reduce the weight of its F150 pickup truck Ford switched from using steal for the body to fabricating in from Aluminum.  Other manufacturers are also experimenting with the use of carbon fiber which can produce body panels that are both lighter and stronger than steel. 


The real improvements in fuel efficiency are being made in the power train.  Fuel savings can often be gained by adding additional gears into the transmission.  In the past most cars had either 3 speed or 4 speed transmissions but now 6 speed transmissions are becoming much more common.


Another strategy for improving power train efficiency is to add electric motors.  This can be as simple as adding a bigger starter motor and battery to allow the engine to shut down when the car is at a stop, then start immediately when the driver removed their foot from the brake pedal.  More complex systems, like those used in most conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius, involves the combined use of electric motors and the gas engine.  Systems like this can show extensive fuel economy improvements over using just ICE alone.


It’s not just in the Automotive world that we need to build efficiency.  Big gains can also be found in lighting for the home.  For over a century the incandescent lightbulb ruled supreme.  This lightbulb proved much better than the use of oil or gas lights but still consumed quite a bit of energy.  A typical bulb would consume 100W and several would be required to adequately light a room.  In recent years the introduction of the Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb provided the same amount of light but consumed about 23 W.  They were not done though.  The introduction of the light emitting diode (LED) bulb meant that you can get the same amount of light using only 15W.  People are now replacing lights with more efficient bulbs when the existing bulb fails.


A big user of energy in a house is for air conditioning and heating.  The amount of energy required to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home or office and be reduced by ensuring that the building has adequate insulation.  This can often be seen in snowy weather.  One house will have a roof clean of snow when house next door will still show significant amounts of snow on the roof.  The lack of snow indicates that heat is escaping from the house through the roof.  The house with the snow probably has good insolation in the attic which prevents this heat loss.  This house will use a significant amount less energy.


Energy transfer can also be done more efficiently.  For example, replacing an AC unit with a heat pump can significantly reduce the amount of energy required to cool a house.  Tesla also use heat pumps in the AC system on some Model Y vehicles.


In the US the Federal government has introduced the Energy Star designation for appliances.  Having and energy star rating means that the appliance has met energy Federally mandated energy efficiency standards.  The Energy Star designation applies to most electrical equipment from computers to refrigerators.


Advances in energy efficiency are occurring on a regular basis but don’t mean a thing unless they are implemented.  The best thing that we can do to help them succeed is to implement them.  When you change out an appliance look for the Energy Star label on the replacement unit.  When lightbulbs fail update them to a more efficient option like CFL or LED.  An LED television is going to use less energy than a direct view television so select an LED TV for your next television.


Given all this, we still need to conserve energy when we can.  That means turning of lights when you leave the room, or reducing or eliminating phantom loads by unplugging things like chargers when they are not in use.


None of this will prevent global warming to it is at least going to slow it down.  It will also be a big contributor to making everything else that needs to be done a success.

Next - Renewable Energy

Sunday March 7, 2021 – Green Hydrogen I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz on Twitter about “Green Hydrogen”.  It reminded me about every article about diesel using the term “clean diesel” when they were pushing diesel as a low CO2 emissions fuel.  I thought it was time to take another look at hydrogen.


There are many ways to extract hydrogen and each of these have their own name designated by a color.


·       Brown hydrogen is created through the process of coal gasification and is the process that creates the most pollution.


·       Gray Hydrogen is created by steam reformatting of methane.  The process requires the use of an external source for heating water to create steam that is then used to break down the methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.


·       Blue hydrogen is created the same way as Gray hydrogen but the resultant carbon output is captured and stored instead of being released into the atmosphere.


·       Green hydrogen is created by a process of electrolysis of water.  This can be a zero-carbon solution if the electricity is created from renewable energy but at the moment this is more likely to be generated using the local power mix which will vary depending on the location that the hydrogen is being generated.


Once the hydrogen has been created it needs to be transported, either by pipeline or by truck to the hydrogen fueling station after which it needs to be stored in tanks under pressure and finally pumped in the fuel tanks of the hydrogen fuel cell car, usually at a pressure of 10,000 psi.


While most manufacturers are moving towards battery electric vehicles some, notably Toyota and Honda, are headed down the fuel cell vehicle track.  A few, most notably Hyundai/Kia are hedging their bets and developing both types of vehicle.


Green hydrogen is possible although I suspect that the way the term is being used right now is more closely aligned to clean diesel than to true zero emissions fuel.  Most hydrogen is currently generated as Gray hydrogen so right now green hydrogen is pretty nice, although from the postings you would think it was the way most hydrogen is created.  At the moment it looks like only about 1% of hydrogen is actually generated using only renewable energy.


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are extensively supported by government agencies like the California Air Resources Board which gives much bigger incentives to fuel cell vehicles than they do for battery electric vehicles.


The biggest plus for hydrogen fuel stations is that they can be refilled in about the same time as a conventional gas vehicle.  This is a big advantage for many people although this advantage is slowly being chipped away as battery electric vehicle charge times are coming down because of newer high charge rate DC chargers being rolled out across the country. 


It is getting more and more common for EV owners to take long road trips in their cars.  The FCEV owner on the other hand has to deal with one overriding factor, the lack of hydrogen fueling stations.  The cost of implementing a hydrogen fuel pump location is many times more that setting up DC charging infrastructure and so far, only a small number of stations have been built outside California, which makes a cross county trip impossible.


The other issue I have seen is that hydrogen fuel stations seem to come and go.  One of the earliest stations was built on Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA.  This original station closed down and a second station was opened a few blocks away.  I hardly ever saw anyone using these pumps and when I drove past this station last week, I noticed that this too was closed.  The number of stations is slowly increasing but it seems like a lot of stations function for a while then shut down so the number of stations isn’t expanding as fast as it could.


I can see hydrogen being a fuel that is used in long haul vehicles, possibly ships and semi tractor-trailers, but I think that they just aren’t developing fast enough to displace BEVs.  I suspect a better use of fuel cells will be as a back-up for renewable energy.  When there is a surplus of renewable energy, use it to generate hydrogen though electrolysis, and when demand exceeds supply use the stored hydrogen to generate electricity to meet the demand.

Sunday January 31, 2021 – PHEV Emissions Controversy Earlier this month I saw a lot of articles about a new study coming out of Europe that seemed to show that plug-in Hybrids produced more CO2 than the manufacturer claimed and the equivalent ICE vehicle may product less CO2.  Having driven a plug-in hybrid since 2012 I am very skeptical about this and thought I would set down some of my experiences.


I drive a 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in which I have owned from new.  I have also communicated with lots of other PHEV drivers so I have a lot of real-world experience.  It is important to note however that I have not been measuring the amount of CO2 being pushed out of my tail pipe so my speculations are based on observed mpg.


When I first got the Prius Plug-in I didn’t have anywhere to charge it and so after driving from the dealership to home I got to drive it like a conventional Prius.  I bought the plug-in because, being a strong advocate for electric vehicles, I wanted to promote plug-in sales and this was a way to do that.  I was not alone in not plugging my Prius in, I found plenty of drivers who had bought a Prius Plug-in to get the CA carpool stickers and had no intention of ever taking it near an electric outlet.


My plug-in Prius was a replacement for a standard Prius that I had owned since 2005.  Over the next few months, I found I was averaging about 4 mpg better with this Prius than I did with the conventional Prius.  Since the two cars were driven mostly the same distance over the same route during that time so I would call the CO2 output for the Plug-in.  One big advantage the PHEV has over an HEV is that because the battery is so much larger the PHEV can regenerate much more energy than the HEV while running down a long hill.


Eventually they installed a public charging station at the local library which was pretty close to my home.  I began going there on Sunday afternoon and charging.  I found that with careful driving I could make it the 8.5 miles to work on Monday morning and about 3 miles of the way home.  Since the library charger was supplied by a large solar array this definitely gave the plug-in Prius the edge on CO2 output.


I soon found out that the distance travelled before the engine would come on depend on a lot of things.  The first thing to know is that hard acceleration starts the ICE.  I experimented with the various modes over the next few days and found that I could keep the car running all electric best if I ran it in Eco mode.  It has been set in Eco mode ever since.  Eventually I learned to accelerate carefully and soon learned how to keep the ICE from coming on.  Other drivers I talked to would stop the car and turn it off and back on again to reset back into EV only.  I heard from Toyota that this wasn’t a good practice so I would let the car run a full warm-up after which the ICE would turn off again if acceleration was slower or the car was running at a constant speed.


There are other reasons for the ICE to come on.  It is set to trigger if the car reaches a speed of 62 mph.  I’ve found that if I am very careful, I can occasionally get the car up to about 64 mph before it clicks in.   Running the AC doesn’t turn the ICE on but you do take a significant hit on range and when you range is only about 11 miles this is not insignificant.  When you turn on the heater the car gets its heart from the ICE so it instigates a warm-up cycle and will then run the ICE intermittently to keep the engine warm while the heating is on.  I understand that these same situations also trigger the start of the ICE in the Prius Prime and RAV4-PHEV although these can go a bit faster in EV mode before the ICE starts.  Both these vehicles have a much longer EV range that the Prius Plug-in.


After a year my situation changed and I got a job about 2 miles from home where I also had access to a charger.  I needed to charge one to two times per week to handle my commute and one to three times on a weekend depending on where I was going.  I found that I could drive almost entirely on electric.  The Prius Plug-in runs a warm-up cycle every 200Km so the ICE does start once in a while.  In my case that translated to starting every 114 to 117 miles.  I was filled up about 2 times per year usually to facilitate road trips.


Since much of my daily driving would have been done in warm-up mode if I was driving a ICE vehicle the amount of CO2 I produced would have been much greater than anything the plug-in Prius could has put out.  Of course, there is the long tailpipe theory but I was charging either on 100% renewable or the local mix which was 30% renewables with the rest mostly from natural gas.  The dreaded coal made up at most 17% of energy content and that amount has been dropping slowly over the years.


The short commute couldn’t last forever and eventually I me moved both office and home.  I finished up with a more normal commute of 18.5 miles each way.  The bad news was that there are not any chargers at my new location, but the good news is that my new home has a garage so I can charge overnight.  I found I was getting 11 to 12 miles on a charge going to work in a morning but running HEV in the afternoon.  On one memorable occasion, all the ducks lined up correctly and I managed to squeeze 17 miles out of the battery before the ICE came on.  I was seeing mpg around 86 for the round trip which is still pretty good.  I had to fill up about every 2 weeks. 


Now with COVID-19 causing havoc I am basically stuck in home though I do have to do a couple of runs down to Orange County every month so I end up filling up about once per month.  Most local driving is done electric so I am still getting much better mpg than I would even with a standard Prius.


The one thing the report did mention is that the car produced a lot more carbon when run in recharge mode.  In this mode you use the engine for both driving the car and recharging the traction pack.  This is very low efficiency and will result in lot more CO2 going into the environment than if the car was charged by plugging it in.  This mode is used in some places like London where if you enter the city with a fully charged battery you can avoid the congestion charges.  Here in California this mode is usually disables because if the car has it enabled it is no longer eligible for California’s rebates.  The Prius plug-in does not have this mode as an option.


The bottom line is that the amount of carbon put out by the plug-in hybrid is less than the equivalent HEV and much less than the equivalent ICE.  How much of a difference it makes depends on your driving habits.  If you never charge the car, or run it all the time with the heater on, then the ICE will run.  In my experience this still gets a little better mpg than the equivalent hybrid but it is only marginally better.  If you charge your Plug-in on a regular basis, and are careful to keep it running in EV Mode, you are going to see reductions in the output of CO2. 


Depending on how you drive you may produce more CO2 than the manufacturer claims but you are still going to be doing better than a regular ICE.  The PHEV can make a great tool to transition to a pure electric vehicle and is a good learning tool to get you into the habit of plugging in.  I know that my next vehicle will probably not have a gas tank.