No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Fossil Fuels

Et tu Texas?

In recent years Texas has done very well economically, showing solid growth which has, in turn, attracted millions to immigrate there from other parts of the USA, like the benighted Progressive state of California. Texas emerged from the GFC faster and in better shape than almost any other state in the union, and its job growth was a major part of the reason for the steady reduction in the US’s unemployment rate after 2009.

One of the many attractions was that Texas did not appear to worship Gaia and as a result had low electricity prices and a reliable power system.

Unfortunately it turns out that Texas has been pushing down the same path as California in building Unreliable Energy, particularly wind farms, which now constitute 23% of electrical capacity in the state, with Natural-gas-fired power plants at 40% of Texas’s electricity, coal at 18% and nuclear at 11%. And so the inevitable has happened as a massive cold snap, the worst in decades, has hit Texas.

On the demand side Texas, like California, has its usual electrical peak in Summer because in the USA Winter warmth is almost exclusively provided via gas-fired central heating. But the cold froze up the logistics of gas production and delivery for homes (not power stations) so electricity was it, causing a massive increase in power consumption. At the same time the cold snap also froze those Texas windmills, producing a gap between supply and demand.

Then, because the grid had been rendered unstable by the loss of renewables power, it began tripping off reliable base-load power stations that were still operating, increasing the gap still further. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) estimated that almost 34,000 megawatts of electricity was forced off the system. On average, a single megawatt can power about 500 homes. As a result they also reported that the spot price for electricity in Texas hit a stunning $9000 per MegaWatt-hour. Even in the summer months, $100 per MW-hr would be high. The only solution to stop the whole thing collapsing was rolling blackouts. Those baseload stations, whether gas, coal or nuclear, are not designed to stop and start on a dime. They can take days to be re-started.

But all of this was a short-term problem. The long-term problem is that Texas just did not have the base-load capacity required to fill the supply gap that always happens with renewable energy, as well as providing the excess capacity to keep the grid stable. The reason for that lack of base-load capacity, the root cause of the Texas blackouts, is a national and state policy that has prioritized the adoption of unreliable wind/solar energy over reliable energy.

In the last 4-5 years, Texas lost a net of 3,000 megawatts of thermal out of a total installed capacity 73,000 megawatts today. That was because operators couldn’t see a return on investment due to being undercut by wind and solar which is cheap not because wind and sun are free but because:

  1. It’s subsidized (at both state and federal levels).
  2. It doesn’t have to pay for the costs of grid reliability by purchasing battery farms or contracting with gas peaker plants to produce power when needed.

This subsidized wind and solar power have, as planned, pushed reliable thermal operators out of business or prevented new generation from being built as operators can’t make money in the market. This reduced the capacity margin. In 2009, coal-fired plants generated nearly 37 percent of the state’s electricity (now 18%) while wind provided about 6 percent (now 23). In the same period, Texas energy consumption rose by 20 percent. Just last week, the Republican Governor Greg Abbott proudly accepted something called the Wind Leadership Award, given with gratitude by Tri Global Energy, a company getting rich from those green energy subsidies.

Paradoxically these “wind and sun are free” power plants also produce higher power prices:

Because intermittent wind and solar can always go near zero – as we saw recently in TX – they don’t replace the cost of reliable power plants, they add to the cost of reliable power plants. This is why the more wind and solar grids use, the higher their electricity prices. To lessen the price increases from “unreliables” governments try to get away with as few reliable power plants online as they can get away with. TX is no exception. The Public Utilities Commission of TX has called their grid’s margin for error (“reserve margin”) “very scary.”

And here’s the real kicker: at the same time that pressure is on for 100% renewable electricity, the demand for electricity is increasing as more devices are created or converted to use it. Elon Musk has recently warned that even in good times, any push to electric cars would double electric demand worldwide. None other than the CEO of Toyota agreed with Musk. No grid anywhere is ready for that. California’s can’t even really handle its current load well but it’s pushing to ban gas vehicles. That’s idiotic.

And that’s just the cars. As this article points out the gas that’s burned in the USA represents a fantastic amount of energy:

In January 2019, U.S. natural gas demand set a record of 145 billion cubic feet per day. That record will be smashed during this blizzard, and daily volumes will exceed 150 Bcf. That is an enormous amount of energy. In fact, on the coldest days of winter, the amount of energy delivered by the gas grid is roughly three times as great as the energy consumed during the hottest days of the summer.

And as California has experienced in recent years, coping in summer now with significant amounts of renewable energy has resulted in blackouts, brownouts and grid crashes. Doubling the demand and more, while also pushing for 100% renewable would simply mean a system that would collapse often.

During peak cold events like this one, the gas grid delivers about 80 Bcf/d to homes and businesses. In energy equivalent terms, that’s roughly 83 trillion Btu, or the energy output of about 1 terawatt of electric generation capacity for 24 hours. Put another way, to equal the 80 Bcf/d of gas delivered during cold snaps, the U.S. would need an electric grid as large as all existing generation in the country, which is currently about 1.2 terawatts.

So another doubling. This is just not doable as a GHG emissions-free target short of a huge increase in nuclear power. And of course that’s just the USA: think of China, India, Asia, or Africa, which are on the same economic growth path that the West went through in the 20th century.

As an aside the electrification of everything has already had an ironic impact in the case of Texas in this cold snap, in that the natural gas pipeline operators, in trying to appease the Greens, have steadily replaced fuel-fired pumps that run on the gas in the pipe, (therefore are failsafe so long as the pipe has something in it and is intact) with electrically powered booster pumps. The gas only freezes at cryogenic temperatures, and the machinery has plenty of heat source in the pipe. Thus was an ultra-reliable and essential energy delivery system that would always continue to operate (short of physical destruction) turned it into yet another fragile system dependent on multiple outside elements. When any of those elements fail so does the natural gas delivery.

Still, even as they freeze there will be Texans who can get a grim laugh from the following.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 20, 2021 at 10:00 am


St Jacinda’s virtual signalling of her governments intention  to ban further oil and gas exploration on-shore and off-shore is a good move.    Sure, we are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas admissions but the move will have only minimal effect.

Our demand for fossil fuels is what it is and any production shortfall (and we are a net importer of energy) has to be made-up by importing it from o’seas.    Not great for the balance of payments but as St Jacinda’s exposure to commerce and economics has been limited to working as an assistant in a fish and chip shop (at least Pauline Hanson owned her one) she might not understand that.

What the government can do is to encourage a switch to alternative energy sources as a means of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.   That’s great in theory as long as the alternative source costs about the same as oil and gas.   If it costs more then government has three choices #1 taxpayer subsidy or #2 let the economy take the hit or #3 a combination of both.   Whatever, there is a price to pay and nobody will be exempt.

Then of course there is the small matter of the 10,000 well paid jobs likely to disappear when the industry shuts down.    Perhaps the Jones boy might be able to convince them to go and plant some of his billion trees for him but I think not.

But is was refreshing to here him in parliament yesterday when  asked to comment on his pledge to the Taranaki oil industry back in 2013 that a Labour government was absolutely committed to supporting it.    His response …”political rhetoric isn’t static” (Hansard).     At least that’s being honest but it begs the question … how many more of ‘his’ government’s commitments are going to be consigned to the dustbin labelled political rhetoric?

Written by The Veteran

March 21, 2018 at 4:09 am

Posted in New Zealand

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