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WanderingEng's profile

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I had no idea that's the last one. I've driven by it; Lake George has been a stop for me between flying into Albany and hiking further north. Maybe I should try the food next time.

It's been a few years since I've crossed the border, but US agent interviews before hitting Canada? Is that new?

    I'm pretty certain state governors are the only ones who can deploy the National Guard.

Guard members can be nationalized, and I think the president could nationalize them for this. But it's insane to do so. Alabama desegregation is a great example. The Alabama governor deployed the Guard to stop desegregation, so the president nationalized the same troops to force it.

    I'm also pretty certain that while they've been used for peacekeeping in the past, I'm pretty certain the National Guard doesn't have very in depth law enforcement training.

Oh god this. As a former member of the Army National Guard, they barely have army training. They're trained, and I'm proud of my service, but they need additional training before deploying anywhere for anything. The Cold War philosophy was the front line troops would slow the soviets down long enough to deploy the best regular Army units. The lower tier regular Army would follow in weeks, and the Guard would follow in months. Even when doing their primary jobs. Pretty much the only thing the Guard can do out the gate is fill sandbags for floods.

That can work on paper, and the technology exists to do it (compressed air, pumped hydro, batteries). The challenge is the cost. It's surprisingly cheap to dig up coal and burn it for energy. There are a million terrible side effects of fossil fuels, but faced with them consumers almost exclusively will pick the cheaper option.

I don't know much about McKibben, but Googling him I see he's a part of 350.org. Metric, a band I like, had 350.org at shows in the lobby a year or so ago. Just stealing the line from his Wikipedia article:

    McKibben has been quoted as saying that he personally believes increased use of nuclear power is necessary to reduce carbon emissions, yet he is reluctant to publicly promote nuclear energy because such a position “would split this movement in half”.

I agree with that entirely. If the goal is carbon reductions, nuclear can play an important role at the expense of nuclear waste and risks. But many of the people actively concerned about carbon emissions are similarly concerned about nuclear waste and risks. And my thought on that is holding firm on no nuclear directly results in more coal and natural gas use.

When we were being taught multiplication and division, I remember being shown a film (may have been actual film; this was about 1988) with a skit where someone was hired to cut a 10" piece of candy into three, 3" pieces. And if they wasted any, they'd be fired. In the skit, the factory said they just couldn't find someone to do this simple task. So the employee cut three pieces and ate the leftover 1". I think of that when I see calls for low or no carbon wind and solar energy supplies. While coming from a good place, it's impractical (at today's costs) and ends up with a very flawed system meeting nobody's goals.

Storage could be a solution for sure. Compressed air has been discussed, and I think there are a couple real examples. There's a Wikipedia article on it. A couple projects are mentioned in the History section. The issue I understand with compressed air is heat. It gets hot when compressed, and that heat energy is lost. Then when decompressed, heat needs to be added.

In a way, storage can be thought of as generation capacity. The system today works on intermittent energy supply (e.g. coal train deliveries a few times a week) that can be stored (pile of coal) and converted to electric energy on demand (by burning it in a boiler). Doing the same with wind or solar (intermittent energy supply), pumped into storage (whether air, batteries or hydro dams) and converted on demand (storage output) essentially provides the same functionality.

My general caution with energy is people often talk past each other. One side will say "(blank) is currently impractical and wildly expensive" while the other side will say "no you're wrong, long term forecasts expect the cost to come down with technology improvements likely to expand functionality." Both sides miss the time scale the other is using.

I'm probably just as guilty of this. Utilities tend to be in the first camp. Nobody wants serial number 1. It's too much risk for an industry that demands extremely high uptime.

It isn't what you asked, but on islands where they often import diesel for power generation, solar is probably cheaper across the board. Even if it only offsets fuel and not the capital cost of a diesel plant, imported fuel is stupid expensive.

The arguments that solar is cheaper than natural gas (or anything else) seem to center around retail costs of energy. So an argument might be that a homeowner can install rooftop solar for a cost of $4/watt. With a broad assumption of a thirty year lifetime and average production of 15%, and ignoring the investment cost, they can produce energy for about $0.10/kWh, a favorable price in most of the US when we're at a customer meter.

Where solar falls short is in broader system planning. There are minimum capacity requirements. Utilities, whether investor owned or non-profit municipals, must be able to meet load demands. Solar has limited ability to meet peak load demands, so a natural gas plant is needed anyway.

Since the power into the grid has to equal the power out, something controllable is necessary.

Again that falls to natural gas.

When we get up onto the wholesale side of things, typical energy prices are in the mid-$20/MWh. Xcel Energy recently finished a 100 MW solar plant in Minnesota at a cost of $180M. Making the same assumptions as before, we have a cost of $45/MWh ($0.045/kWh). On the wholesale side it's less competitive, though its immunity to fuel cost fluctuations are a pro. But again it lacks capacity and controllability.

So my take is one can make arguments based on fact that will show solar is cheaper than natural gas, but those arguments have a limited scope and are deliberately structured to give the desired result. That doesn't mean solar is bad; its cost reductions have been impressive. But there are challenges to continued growth.

On the topic of cost reductions, much of the savings has been in panel costs. It seems to be to the point where labor is the biggest cost. That explains part of the gap in cost between a utility scale plant like Xcel's (labor efficiencies) and rooftop solar.

And in ten years time solar will be fifty times higher yet!

Hyping anything with misleading statistics is annoying. It gives wrong impressions to pretty much everyone. Proponent? We're winning! Opponent? They have no credibility! General public? The future is here, only to be disappointed down the road when change is incremental.

I'm very curious to see where solar goes. In my area, wind is a far bigger player than solar (and has similar but different pros and cons). My expectation is solar will be like every other change in the power system. It'll be a bit player for years, and then it'll just be the norm.

WanderingEng  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: February 8, 2017

Maybe plan a gold heist at the Mint to help clear your mind.

WanderingEng  ·  link  ·  parent  ·  post: Pubski: February 8, 2017

I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter. I've been thinking of doing some running + cycling this summer but have never done the two back to back. Is this what I need?

    electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent while solar expanded 5,000 percent.

Holy shit, the dishonesty in this statistic. Natural gas expanded 33 percent to become 34% of total generation. Solar expanded 5000 percent to become... 1%. Coal dropped 53% but is still out producing solar by more than 20:1. My point is the gulfs between solar and coal and natural gas is so enormous the growth and contractions can't be compared so simply. Having only a penny to your name and finding a $50 bill on the street doesn't make one richer than someone who had $1000 to begin with.

Full disclosure: I work in the electric industry though not in electric generation.

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