Trump Can’t Save Coal

By Nick Cunningham, a Vermont-based writer on energy and environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter @nickcunningham1. Originally published at OilPrice

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday that will begin a lengthy process of dismantling former President Obama’s signature achievement on climate change – regulations that put limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump boasted about a new era of American energy, telling coal miners standing behind him, “You know what it says, right? You’re going back to work.”

The Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. But removing the Clean Power Plan is not as easy as signing an executive order. It will take years even if things go well. The EPA can’t just ignore or scrap the rule; the administration will have to craft a repayment plan and justify it with science. And the rulemaking process is not always a smooth one. With environmental groups promising legal action, it will likely be a bumpy road, meaning the process might stretch beyond Trump’s term in office.

The Clean Power Plan was indeed targeted at coal-fired power plants – and for good reason. Burning coal is twice as carbon-intensive as natural gas and is a main contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Under any reasonable scenario, achieving climate objectives depends heavily on reducing coal consumption.

That put a lot of focus on Tuesday’s executive order. Vice President Mike Pence declared that “the war on coal is over.”

Indeed, it is. But coal lost that war years ago. Cheap natural gas has been undermining the business case for coal for nearly a decade now, well before former President Obama took aim at power plant emissions. Coal’s real enemy has long been the “shale gas revolution.” More recently, renewable energy has piled on the pain. Rapidly expanding installations of solar and wind power are grabbing more market share, putting deeper pressure on coal.

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Competing with cheap natural gas and renewables is vastly more difficult because the nation’s coal fleet is rapidly aging. The Sierra Club says that in recent years some 250 coal plants have been retired or are preparing for retirement. In 2016, the industry shut down 14,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plant capacity, a year after a record loss of 17,000 megawatts of coal capacity in 2015, according to Reuters.

Even with a friendly administration, the plants will continue to shutter. Just a few weeks ago, for example, Dayton Power & Light said that it would shut down 2 large coal plants in Ohio, accounting for a massive 3,000 megawatts. The plants employ hundreds of people, but the company said the plants are not “economically viable beyond mid-2018.”Trump’s executive order will do nothing to save these plants.

Still, the Clean Power Plan would have accelerated coal’s decline, providing a boost to natural gas and renewables. With the CPP, natural gas would overtake coal generation by 2024, and renewables would surpass coal by 2029. Those timelines could be pushed off into the future without the CPP.

The coal industry is euphoric with President Trump’s move. Coal stocks soared on Tuesday in the hopes of a revival. But make no mistake, coal is still in terminal decline – it’s only the speed of decline that is up for debate. The best that Trump can do is delay the closure of aging coal plants. That will not bring back coal jobs in any meaningful way, however. Even Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest private coal miner in the country and major Trump supporter, admitted as much. Murray told The Guardian a few days ago that President Trump should “temper” his expectations about new coal jobs. “I suggested that he temper his expectations. Those are my exact words,” Murray said. “He can’t bring them back.”

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The markets will continue to hammer coal. Not only is natural gas often a cheaper source of electricity, but increasingly renewable energy is competing with coal on strictly a cost basis. On top of that, policies at the state level will push renewable energy forward. California is leading the way, but dozens of other states are following. Just this week the state of Maryland boosted its 2020 renewable energy target from 20 to 25 percent, for example.

Moreover, the loss of coal jobs has been going on for decades. Automation has been the real job killer – only recently has the decline in coal production compounded those job losses. U.S. coal production has declined in six out of seven quarters before the middle of last year.

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Today, the solar industry employs more people than the coal industry, a disparity that will only grow over time. President Trump, despite his promises of sending miners back to work, won’t be able to change that. The promise of bringing coal jobs back is “one of the most cruel deceptions” in politics right now, says Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat from coal country.

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53 comments

  1. different clue

    This post seems to be saying that the magic of the market is solving the coal problem for us, and all we have to do is wait. That may be correct, but I would not count on it.

    One can have a lot more coal mining without a lot more coal jobs. And more coal mining would be good enough for the trumpists. The trumpists will bend every effort at every level to build more railroad infrastructure and coastal coal-port infrastructure to export coal as intensely as Australia does. The trumpists and others will bend every effort at every level to build more gas pipeline infrastructure to get as much gas as possible to gas liquification centers on the various coasts to export as much gas as fast as possible. If the trumpists and the fossil fuelists can get enough gas exported fast enough, they can turn a “surplus” into a shortage and get the price of coal back up enough to start a whole new renaissance in coal plant building.

    If a hundred million global de-warmers want to de-warm the global and skydrain the carbon, they are going to have to perform actual actions . . . including personal lifestyle re-engineering to reduce their use of electricity most of all, and of natural gas after that; so as to do their part to keep demand for coal low enough to keep the price down, and to keep demand for natural gas low enough to prevent the trumpists from pushing natural gas into a shortage in order to re-raise the price of both gas and coal.

    Actions to reduce and restrict purchase and use of electricity and coal and natural gas could be thought of as “draining the trump”. This article seems to believe that the trump will magically drain itself, but I don’t think that is a safe approach. Global de-warmers should perform various overt drain-the-trump actions to make sure that the trump is truly drained.

    Information and inspiration on how to do that could be exchanged on all kinds of sites and places. Perhaps a hashtwitter called #DrainTheTrump could gain followers who would all post links to possible information sources on strangling down and choking back the personal use of coal, gas and electric energy by millions of devoted and committed people.

    A decently ordered society would engineer into existence new jobs for disemployed coal miners forced out of work as their jobs were killed by targeted public policy. Since we don’t have that society, we will have to do what energy conservation we can and let the processes of Market Stalinism solve the coal-to-carbon skydumping problem.

    1. Thor's Hammer

      Coal mining in 2017 has little to do with the image of dust coated workers toiling far underground to pry it out of the earth. Mining takes place in open pits using giant machines run by operators sitting in air conditioned cabs. 40% of all coal comes from Wyoming— four times as much as from #2,West Virginia.
      Changing that to 50% would only create a few hundred more jobs.

      However Wyoming coal has to be moved to the Midwest or even shipped to China to be burned. And guess who has a monopoly on the shipping? Burlington Northern railway, a recent Berkshire Hathaway acquisition. So who really benefits from the Trump shell game? Not the grimy coal miners used as props in one of Chump’s photo ops!

    2. jrs

      The problem is that with the growth of other economies any reduction in use in the U.S. is likely to be offset by greater use elsewhere. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to do, just not sufficient probably. There are other reasons to not favor coal mining in the U.S. besides global warming as it is of course causes vast amounts of local pollution.

      1. different clue

        You may be correct. Still, as you also suggest, reducing coal use in this country would be the beneficial thing to do for other reasons as well.

        Still, if we increased the energy efficiency with which we perform economic activities in this country, would we really shrink our economy? I have read that the per capita use of electricity in California is the same today as what it was in 1972. Whereas the per capita use of electricity in the rest of America keeps rising per capita. And has therefor the California economy shrank since 1972? No, it has kept growing right along, along with its population. So reducing coal use need not necessarily reduce the size of economic activity.

        And it could get even better. If we reprotectionized America, we could begin repatriating our production-held-hostage in foreign captivity, and resume the making of things in this country. At least simple basic things. And since we make things at less carbon output per thing than China does, if we could reduce the amount of things China makes, we could forcibly reduce the amount of CO2 that China emits. But sentimental crap about “international co-operation” won’t get us there. Only militant belligerent protectionism will get us there.

        1. NFW

          When consumers’ lithium batteries stop going into the dump because they get paid to recycle them, then I’ll still be a long way from believing the extremely dirty and expensive business of handling coal ash, and disposing of the processed ash, still full of toxins**, to extract extremely low density lithium deposits## has a case.

          **The team has also reviewed two techniques for lithium extraction. The first, a patented technology for extracting both lithium and aluminum metals from coal ash involves sulfur sintering the ash and acid leaching the metal from the solution to obtain lithium carbonate in a yield of 95.6 percent, actually recovery of the metal is 60 percent. The second approach, alkali sintering avoids the need for the sulfur step but has a lower yield at 85.3 percent and a recovery of 55 percent.

          Wikipedia says

          ##Despite their name, rare earth elements are – with the exception of the radioactive promethium – relatively plentiful in Earth’s crust, with cerium being the 25th most abundant element at 68 parts per million, or as abundant as copper.

          I don’t know what is going on here, other than propaganda, but any article, like the 2nd link, that ends with calling coal clean and green needs to be look at askance.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Its absolutely bizarre if true. Coal ash has some construction uses, but is generally far too common so its more likely to be dumped or stockpiled than used. I find it hard to understand how it can be economically viable to ship it from India and China for use, especially as there is so much construction going on in those countries that could use it up. Even if there were localised shortages in the US, its still essentially a bulk filler material, and thats rarely suitable for long distance transport (although in general I’d note that even a short road haul can cost more than a long distance shipping haul). I can only assume there is something specific about this ash that gives it a local value to the US.

        1. NFW

          No so sure it’s hard to believe. China sold loads of Gypsum panels to the USA made from the recovery stream of sulphur strippers in coal fired power plants(most older US plants don’t even have these strippers, they just sprinkle it over the biosphere). The problem, of course, was unlike mostly mined gypsum used by the USA producers, this product is full of heavy metal toxins, coal tar toxins, and combustion by product chemicals with teratological and carcinogenic effects. Most western nations ban the use of fly ash and stripper produced gypsum products even in bitumen paving (rain water runoff from roads, road dust inhalation, etc), but America would import this stuff from China because it’s cheaper. No one was willing to pay for the lab checks, and the importers just closed shop when the lawsuits started up.

          1. craazyboy

            ‘Tis truly a bizzarro set of econ-politico stuff that makes this magic happen. Ya’d think they would just bury it under the new Chinese highway system? I’m also of the opinion China is trying to fill up our landfills with Chinese furniture, solely because it’s profitable for the Chinese furniture industry to do so.

            “Headwaters” is a leading US firm that buys up flyash and turns it into building materials. I used to have stock in them 15 years ago, tho I’m not certain what the current scoop on industry economics is. But there was some tax advantageous IRS rulings that would make it worthwhile for life insurance companies to create annuities which would build the flyash recovery/cleanup plants. Headwaters would usually lease these so they didn’t need to put up money in the deal. I never did find out where they shipped the separated out toxic stuff – I assumed the products didn’t contain it.

            I sold my stock when the tax law was set to expire – Headwaters management was very distressed over that – they implied the entire biz/industry would go thru a Phoenix style re-birth – sans any current investors. So I ran and never looked back.

            http://www.headwaters.com/

      2. different clue

        Maybe Chinese scientists could figure out how to use the toxic fly ash to replace the lead in their lead paint toys for export to foreign children.

  2. Scott

    While I largely agree with the article, it repeats the claim that the solar industry employs more people than the coal industry. I believe that this came from a survey by a national solar organization (not exactly an independent party). When I’ve looked at the studies in the past, the comparisons to other industries are poor. I believe it compared all solar jobs (installation, manufacturing, development, etc.) to coal mining jobs, ignoring the jobs at power plants, in transportation, maintenance, manufacturing equipment. I’d like so see a more apples to apples comparison on jobs rather than solar industry’s PR.

    In addition, the vast majority of these jobs are in installation and using the same logic that is used to oppose new pipelines, therefore aren’t real jobs and shouldn’t count. This is of course a ridiculous argument, but it does raise an important question – once the solar build out is complete, how many jobs will there be? And when will it be complete? One of the major reasons that solar is being built is that the costs are highly predictable – it is largely paying for the initial construction.

    1. craazyboy

      Solar is overhyped, tho probably the most sensible thing of our present choices.

      But a large factor in the recent fall in prices is the dumping of solar panels in the US by Chinese and Korean firms. You could say lets put in a solar plant in every coal town and the people go to work there. Except coal mining is a well paid union job. I can’t vouch if this little anecdote is universal, but a friend of a friend had a job at a strip mine here, driving a big grading tractor, and he claimed he made $80K plus good bennies. Then on the install side, the work requires someone brave enough to climb a ladder and work on a second story residential rooftop. I’ll bet min wage and a green card, maybe, is all it takes. The company would have a real electrician or two and someone well versed in solar tech, but that would be just a handful of employees. Probably the owners in a smaller company. On the plus side, there is not a lot of entry barrier. A little training, and if you ever did roofing, you are most of the way there.

      So the claims of cheap solar are riding on these “economies”.

    2. Ignacio

      There are jobs on solar PV/ thermal cell production (raw materials, fabrication, transport and complementary technologies: inversor, batteries etc.), installation, maintenance, replacement, disposal and recycling. Lots of jobs!

      You can add jobs for passive solar energy in construction: design, production and integration of architectural elements for passive solar utilisation.

      Bet in coal is loosing strategy!!!

      1. craazyboy

        Actually, one of the most attractive things about rooftop solar is the lack of work it needs. No electric grid, no big operating plant to keep running, no materials to transport after parts are made and installed…

        As far as solar and electrical parts, guess who are the world’s biggest 3 suppliers? China, Japan, Korea….

  3. Steve H.

    : Cheap natural gas has been undermining the business case for coal for nearly a decade now, well before former President Obama took aim at power plant emissions. Coal’s real enemy has long been the “shale gas revolution.” More recently, renewable energy has piled on the pain.

    and

    : Automation has been the real job killer – only recently has the decline in coal production compounded those job losses.

    So we’re really talking about who benefits from subsidy and speculation bezzles. That’s a current political (local and global) issue, and doesn’t deal with long-term factors and externalities.

    The issue is who gets to get paid to be non-productive. Lots of Pain Townships up in the mountains, while Happyville seems correlated with how high up the elevator shaft you live

  4. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    Looking at the comments, I was struck by the minimal concern about air quality. Is the entire argument based on dollars rather than on the health of our children?

    Where is the outrage that a demented leader is willing to cause disease and early death, just so he can get a few votes from coal miners?

    1. John k

      Yes. Coal should be taxed to pay for damage, lake acidification, cancer, etc… to say nothing of current and coming warming costs.
      Same with oil… but we subsidize it with depletion allowance, plus gas tax too low to even cover road maintenance.

    2. different clue

      Well, the optics of causing disease and early death to disemployed ex-coal miners to spare “someone elses” children doesn’t look good either.

      A President Sanders would not have stuck himself in the forked stick of that false choice. He would have grabbed the bull by the horns of the dilemna and overtly pressed for crafting other equal-value jobs for coal miners beFORE firing all their jobs. Maybe a future Sanderform President would do that very thing. But only if we can lance every Clintonite boil in the Democratic Party and drain out all the Clintonite pus.

  5. Thor's Hammer

    The marginal cost for new renewable energy sourced from wind and solar is already lower than new energy sourced from fracked natural gas or coal. The reason is simple: Fraudulent cost calculation— using statistics to lie. If the externalized costs of health degradation and shorter life spans, climate change effects upon agricultural productivity, rising sea levels and attempts at mitigation, and ocean acidification are included in any reasonable life cycle cost analysis, coal and natural gas become prohibitively expensive.

    Which doesn’t change the fact that relying on renewables to power a technological society that looks anywhere like the present one is delusional. Even with a HVDC long distance grid overlay to level out some of the fluctuations in supply, renewables still suffer from extremely low energy density in comparison to coal, NG, and oil— to say nothing of nuclear. Of course a planetary sustainable society can’t look like the present demented consumptionist/exponential growth model regardless of the energy base.

    As a footnote, the energy content of the thorium present in the fly ash from a coal plant reputedly is greater than the energy produced from burning the coal. Not a statement about how to use fly ash, but rather a reflection of how common the element thorium is and the extreme energy density of nuclear reactions.

    And a second footnote: “Clean” natural gas isn’t so clean when you factor in the externalized costs of continual drilling and fracking, the 10% energy cost of pressurizing pipelines to keep the gas moving through them, the C02 direct emissions from flaring wells that are not linked to pipelines, and the gas that escapes during the drilling and fracking process. Then try to use it as a transportation fuel with millions of re-fueling operations (and accompanying leaks) and it is far from clean.

  6. rjs

    natural gas prices are unsustainably low, so they’ll have to move up to sustain production at a level necessary to meet US needs (heating demand for the past two winters was 17% below the mean…moreover, there’s a lot of LNG export terminals under construction, with most global prices twice those in the US…that will make coal competative again…and anecdotally, “5 South Korean utilities jointly bought a total of 1.5 million tonnes of coal from the United States to arrive from the third quarter, a spokesman at one of the utilities said on Tuesday. The purchase comes as South Korea, the world’s fourth-largest coal importer, encourages energy companies and utilities to seek U.S. energy resources under pro-fossil fuel Trump administration in an effort to diversify supply sources”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-coal-usa-idUSKBN16Z09L

  7. Fastball

    Unfortunately, natural gas is no panacea. Pound for pound, the escaped (“waste”) methane produced by fracking for NG is some 80 x more potent an added source of carbon than CO2 in the short term.

    No, natural gas is no solution either. It is going to take renewable power to meet our goals as a civilization.

    1. George S

      Correct. Fugitive emissions from gas wells have to remain below about 2.5% of produced gas in order to achieve the climate advantage over coal. Unfortunately, they tend to be more like 5% and even 10-12% and higher.

    2. different clue

      Its going to take lowering our energy-availabilty goals as a civilization down to what renewable energy can feasibly provide . . . to allow us to live on renewable energy.

  8. blert

    The Greens in Germany discovered that wind power can NEVER be more than a marginal source of energy.

    This was discovered the HARD way… in a total panic… as wind power nearly destroyed the national grid.

    Siemens and others wrote off billions — and shut down entire manufacturing divisions.

    It turned out — in practice — that the infinite grid can only handle so much Green energy.

    It does NOT scale up all that well.

    ‘Why’ gets too technical for the non-electrical engineering set to comprehend.

    Suffice it to say that Siemens choked on multi-billion DM write-offs.

    Reality hit them like a brick over the head. Yes, no one saw it coming.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        There are three fundamental problems with Germany’s Energiewende. One is cost: https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/energy-guides/average-electricity-prices-kwh.html. German electricity prices have risen sharply since the Energiewende began. Only Denmark is pricier.

        The other is that the intermittent supply usually doesn’t line up with demand, requiring all sorts of manual intervention and “re-dispatch” measures (https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/energy-consumption-rise-higher-re-dispatch-costs-2015) to keep the grid stable. As the percentage of renewables online increases, these costs will go up. And not linearly, but exponentially.

        I’ve personally talked with a German engineer who works in the power generation business, and he lamented their new need to add PSS systems (https://www.quora.com/What-is-power-system-stabilizer) to all new generators to compensate for less intrinsic stability in the grid. They’d previously been unnecessary, but the less controllable renewable sources are adding all sorts of unwanted voltage and frequency oscillations to the system. He also condemned Germany’s decision to shut down their nuclear fleet. Said it was a terrible mistake.

        And the third? Germany has reduced CO2 emissions by a mere 4% since the Energiewende went into effect in 2010: https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-climate-targets. So much cost. So little benefit. See the chart on the left. Their rate of improvement is slowing.

        The only thing that will rescue renewables is a break-through in energy storage technologies that is radically cheaper than anything we have today. Do you want to bet the planet’s future on that? Nuclear is the way to go.

        1. PH

          Nukes are not the answer.

          Not economical. No one will build them without massive government subsidies.

          Not safe. Dangerous to run, and waste is dangerous. Only ever hypothetically safe assuming vigorous and diligent government regulation — and that has been a laughable assumption for years. NRC is completely captive to industry.

          For an example, look at retrofit of Sam Onofre for good example of greedy incompetent management and complete fecklessness of of NRC. Only luck avoided catastrophe. And now CA rate- payers are on the hook for billions.

          1. IDontKnow

            Meh, wait till everyone has to start paying for soil remediation and polluted ground water remediation (if it can even be done) when those liners (if they have them) in the coal fly ash ponds, some already 50-100 years old, finish going bad. Detroit’s a picnick in the park but one which no one has solved yet.

            The capitalist have collected their money and disappeared into the corporate washing machine long ago. They were stupid enough to think their decedents could buy their way out. Same problem soon with the new pollution created by solar panel manufacturing. There is a reason it’s in China, it takes a brutal dictatorship to kill off a nation in 30-50 years. To be fair, we do the same, but just slower and therefore less competitively.

            Energy, fffff! There’s all those leaking petroleum tanks all around the world, and highly toxic and mobile MTBE additives (for cleaning the air, natch,who cares about water).

            Somebody let the (less hairy) apes loose off the savannah with more power than they were/are able to handle. These days it’s like watching the end of Thelma and Louise, just a matter of style, but the closing shot is ordained.

            1. bob

              Or, wait till ‘the greens’ start paying you to put fly ash into concrete, so they can claim it’s ‘recycled’.

              LEED

              ‘the greens’ are not environmentalists in this case, they’re the greenback sorts, using environmentalists to get a tax break, and cheap financing.

          2. Chris

            “The NRC is completely captive to industry.”

            You can’t be serious? They’ve done more to increase costs and add redundancy in all things nuclear for a generation. SONGS was shutdown due to an incompetent vendor and tremendous regulatory burdens. Their new steam generators went bad because they were poor copies of a good Westinghouse design. Things were tripped safely as they should have. You make it sound like the plant was going to explode!

            No one would be any power plant if the external costs were required to be budgeted for like they are in nuclear. And you’re missing the reason why people are interested in nuclear in the first place. Even without reprocessing the fuel, nuclear is economical because it gives you the best capacity factor of all forms of energy generation we have developed so far. When you need clean baseload, you want nuclear. It’s that simple.

      2. blert

        The links go on forever.

        http://www.epaw.org/echoes.php?lang=en&article=n367

        You can Google the corporate history of Siemens — and the write-offs.

        These were so severe as to terminate hundreds of careers, too.

        &&&

        For the non-electrical engineering crowd: power is delivered to your home via “the infinate bus.” ( 50 or 60 Hertz )

        Green power is delivered into the infinite bus via solid state ‘smart’ electronics.

        ( Inverter power )

        These operate at fantastic switching speeds — that produce harmonics.

        The entire logic of the inverters awaits the timing cycle of the infinite bus. It’s the ‘clock’ for the inverters — all of them.

        But their very output — beyond a magic threshold — contaminates the ‘clock.’

        Further, on an instananeous basis, inverters can stack voltages up into the heavens.

        ( Google around about Fourier transforms. )

        The bottom line: Green power does not scale well — much to the comlpete surprise of the electrical engineering community of Germany.

        There are two forms of green power that pencil out: hydro-electric and pholto-voltaic.

        Everything else has proved to be a bust.

        BTW, there is enough hydro-power potential in Peru to power the entire Western Hemisphere — all energies — and still export power to the rest of the planet.

        Yup.

        No-one talks about it.

        Why ?

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Blert exaggerates here slightly. You can compensate for the harmonics that PWM-based renewable converters & inverters create using harmonic filters and interleaved firing algorithms. But this reduces your output efficiency, and you have to spend more money buying those filters in the first place. They’re NOT cheap.

          But he’s right about them needing a clean sine wave to synchronize with. This is particularly relevant when dealing with “black start” scenarios, where you’re trying to recover from a black-out. Most wind converters (and essentially all PV inverters) will steadfastly REFUSE to provide even a watt to the grid until something else (e.g., a conventional generator) has already brought voltages back up to spec.

          People are working on how to do black starts with renewables (see http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7835487/?reload=true for an example), but at present, pretty much every single renewable generation system out there relies on a conventional generator to do the work of getting them back on the grid.

          1. IDontKnow

            Yes, One wonders how many of those big screen TV’s have shortened lives because someone in the neighborhood has a crappy power inverter on their solar system. No one doing those carbon calculations either.

          2. bob

            Short of an ‘internet of things’ type solution (magic!, code to follow), how on earth do you hope to be able to sync up multiple devices for a scenario like this, and then to get them properly in phase?

            Without the base load to act as a time keeper, this is a lot worse than the double male extension cord.

            It’s also probably why the equipment is designed the way it is — to not fry linesmen.

    1. John k

      Problem is lack of base storage, which is coming. For now they probably did not have enough gas to handle peaking.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Base storage? With what technology?

        I’ve been reading articles on some new battery energy storage systems, but the biggest one I ever read about was Tesla’s 80 MWh. To the untrained eye, that sounds huge (and for a battery system it is huge), but compared to some of the pumped storage facilities out there, it’s absolute peanuts. [I live close to the Bath County Pumped Storage facility. 22000 MWh. More than 250X the Tesla offering. 80 MWh is a TOY.]

        Indeed, if you look at the entirety of California’s Energy Storage Mandate (which calls for 1325 MW of power capability with an unstated but implied run-time of 4 hours), it only adds up to 5300 MWh. Which is still less than a quarter of my home-town pumped storage station.

        General rule of thumb: If a grid-energy storage system doesn’t deal with GWh or TJ as the unit of energy, it’s too small to bother with.

        1. bob

          I do love the fact that pumping water uphill, then letting it run downhill through a turbine is WAY WAY WAY more efficient than any ‘batteries’, even before dealing with scale problems.

          It really is that simple folks. The tech bros haven’t reached the level of the water wheel.

          “just another 10 years!”

          1. bob

            Then again, maybe that is the future they imagine. They could lose the pump, and hire “contractors” to walk buckets of water uphill all day, capturing and monetizing the efficiencies of self locomotion. Thousands of people. Walking buckets of water.

            “do you have an Elon back-up battery?”

            “no, I’ve got a team. Elonites, they call them. They walk water uphill all day on the grounds of my estate. They travel in packs of 2000. They bring the turbine. Their rated capacity is 100 MWh running on gruel. They are a bit messy, and you have to feed them, but it’s still more efficient that the battery. I’m an environmentalist, you understand.”

    2. craazyboy

      A major impediment for large scale deployment in the US is that only 5% of the US population live in areas that are considered “good” wind areas – “good” meaning “not marginal” in terms of total cost of wind power.

      The Wind Power Assc. concluded that in a study they did in the early aughts. They are a pro industry group.

      Also, a Dallas utility did a study some time ago which proved out their fears that a significantly large variable power source would cause their grid to go unstable and xformers would go pop here and there.

      Combine these factors, serious doubts about the viability of ultra high voltage grids, and Germany’s problems, make the idea of a National Grid getting power everywhere we want it sound like very magical thinking.

  9. Thor's Hammer

    Fastball, what are our goals as a civilization? Exponential growth in wealth, two (electric) cars in every garage, population doubling rate the same as 2017? It isn’t going to happen, and certainly isn’t going to be powered by renewable energy (or for that matter fossil fuels). A population closer to two billion rather than seven is probably the maximum sustainable planetary population with a renewable energy base.

  10. different clue

    About storing intermittently huge amounts of energy generated by intermittent sources like wind . . . didn’t someone write in a NaCap thread a million or more words ago about a second tier oil company ( Atlantic Richfield?) which had scientists studying what to do with the very endest stagest petcoke left after every valuable molecule had been refined out of a bunch of oil? Didn’t they discover that the carbon residue could be made so full of so many nanopores and nanoholes that Hydrogen atoms would stick to all these carbon residue nano holepore surfaces? And that so much Hydrogen would pack itself into the nano swiss cheese petcoke that the Hydrogen would become a “paraliquid” . . . allowing bulk liquid equivalent amounts of Hydrogen to be stored at room temperatures and pressures?

    If I remember right, and if that was really true, then we may have an answer on how to store excess wind electricity. Use the excess to electrolyze water and store the Hydrogen in huge pet-coke-filled tank farms. Bring the hydrogen back out to burn it for generated power whenever that power is needed.

    Just a thought from a layman with no engineering background whatsoever.

    1. craazyboy

      Sounds great at big picture level. A high energy density, portable liquid fuel, that’s relatively easy to make without needing ridiculous amounts of infrastructure and capital investment. This would be far better than battery technology. A word of caution – R&D scientists are very good at making up attractive stories like this. I’ve bought stock in some….

      Chemistry was one of my worser subjects in college, but I think at detail level, you need the hydrogen bond to the pet coke to be stable, but still easily enough broken somehow so free hydrogen can be released and then can be burned using oxygen.

      However, a fuel like this doesn’t sound like it would be compatible with our existing fleet of internal combustion engines. Some of the other biofuel approaches would still be needed for that rather large need.

      1. different clue

        No, but it might be good for storing vast amounts of highly densified hydrogen in facilities right next to a turbine plant designed to get the hydrogen back out of storage and burn it to recover some of the energy as clean even electricity fit to feed into a grid.

        The wind plants could all be wired up strictly and only to electrolyze water for capturing and storing the hydrogen. Sending all of the wind energy to electrolysis plants and zero of the wind energy to the grid would solve the problem of uneven wind energy polluting the grid.

        1. craazyboy

          The best part is if the pet coke – hydrogen is stable enough. Then you ship the compound to de-centralized turbines to generate power and cut out hundreds or thousands of miles of grid.

          You’ve also separated your max production rate from your demand consumption rate, assuming it has some shelf life.

          T. Boone Pickens had his wind power plan – in the Texas /OK border region that has about the best and most consistent wind in the country – and it was to provide power to the greater Dallas/Ft Worth area with 10 millionish residents and industry. But he cancelled it when he looked into the cost and risk of the new , few hundred mile grid it would need. I always had the impression Pickens, really, really, wanted the project to work, too.

          The problems with storing and transporting pure H are many. It’s a tiny molecule and leaks out of anything. It’s highly corrosive to pipelines and storage tanks. Being small, it isn’t very energetic to start with. But a stable compound would solve all that.

          Come to think of it, pet coke plus hydrogen sounds like a hydrocarbon, almost.

          1. different clue

            I wish whoever had written that comment about this research and these patents would come back and re-write about it again. I don’t have the background to fully understand what I think I read.

            But what I think I read was this, among other things . . . that the hydrogen would “adsorb” itself onto all the surfaces of all the nanopores and nanoholes in the final carbon residue after all refining. It was also somewhat easy to strip back off, leaving the carbon with all its nano-adsorption sites and surfaces entirely intact and able to accept a whole new recharge of adsorbed hydrogen atoms.

            It would be worth a look for so many things. Including on-generator-site storage of renewably electrolyzed hydrogen for re-burning for electricity when the primary renewable electricity producers were down due to darkness, or no wind, or etc. It would be a great smooth-out for solar-electric facilities in seaside deserts and hyperdeserts like North Africa, Arabia, the Atacama Desert, etc.

  11. Expat

    Just put one article about coal pollution in front of Trump and he will reverse his position. The guy has no morals and no principles. I don’t think he is dumb but he is intellectually incurious. If it’s not about The Donald and his Money, he doesn’t care, doesn’t have an opinion, and will do whatever the Faeries tell him to do.

    I still have not found a single right-wing lunatic who likes coal and oil who can explain to me why global climate change is an international conspiracy by the liberals to destroy our way of life. The argument starts and ends there. There is no explanation as to why the liberal tree-huggers want to destroy civilization as we know it.

    If there are any climate change deniers out there, could you please explain why: the science is untrue, why there is a conspiracy, and why polluting is good. Thanks. I keep trying to get this answered over on ZeroHedge but it’s hard to ask the question without using words with only four letters.

    1. different clue

      Now you’ve done it. Now we’ll get thousands of words of keyboard sewage pretending to explain just exactly what you have asked about.

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