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October 05, 2007


Kit P

Somebody who lives in New England should read his own blog more closely. FPL made a commitment to California to build solar plants. Florida does not have a good solar resources for making electricity. How did I learn this? From FPL. Some of the people read what they want to read and ignore the bad news.

FPL is going to build a 5 MWe demonstration solar thermal plant in Florida. I think I can predict the future here. FPL will provide a computer simulation of a large solar plant covering the everglades and then compare it to a new nuke at an existing site.

Gasification or anaerobic digestion of biomass has some potential in Florida. I have read some interesting business plans that may be able to compete with the cost of new nukes.


As a Flordia resident (central east coast) I've long wondered why there isn't more of a solar initiative being pursued. Also, it seems like biofuels would make a great deal of sense. There are many thousands of acres of dying citrus groves with trees that could readily be used for fuel. Every push of the bulldozer blade for the relentless development yeilds large quantities of soon rotting vegetation.

Kit P

Solar is not a good way to make electricity anyplace under the best of circumstances. Therefore, it is also not a good way to reduce AGW. The people selling solar equipment and political science majors will tell you different.

Since Mark is a Florida resident, he is more qualified than me decide how his energy is produced. Everyplace I have been that has sun and water I have seen enough clean waste biomass to fuel a 5 MWe biomass plant about every 15 miles. The curse of having a POS PU is making trips to the dump. I rescue enough firewood from the landfill to heat my house.

If you look closely several biomass projects are in some form of development in Florida. It does not get the good press that solar does enjoys, but biomass is the second largest source of renewable energy after hydroelectric generation.

Jim Holm

I used TECO's huge Big Bend plant as an example in my www.EndOfGlobalWarming.com paper on how to do a crash program of CO2 remediation. I wonder if someone there read it? I hope so. Coal Yard Nukes have to be a lot less costly than a whole new plant.

Carl Hage

...Primary drivers of the decision announced today include continued uncertainty related to carbon dioxide (CO2) regulations, particularly capture and sequestration issues

It's not surprising to me cancelling/postponing an IGCC plant. Our national energy policy continues to avoid changing the economic system-- we need a cost for CO2 emissions and a predictable profit from avoiding CO2 emissions. Why would any business build CO2 capture unless costs are known?

Right now, any actions with coal plants are just a guess about what future policy might be. Some advocate cap-and-trade, but the European is an example of a failed policy-- the CO2 price varied widely then collapsed earlier this year. Investors in clean technology need a predictable price for energy production and emission tax/feed/trade etc.

A set price for CO2 would be helpful, and money collected could be refunded to people, encouraging conservation, rather then just traded with selected energy producers.


Kit P,

"Solar is not a good way to make electricity anyplace under the best of circumstances"

I don't know what you mean by "not good." If you mean "not economic," here in California the brown rate for electricity can reach $0.35/kWh or more. Solar is economic without any government subsidy at all. (See http://tinyurl.com/3yvxjb)

Of course anywhere one needs electricity and doesn't want to run transmission lines makes it also very economic.

Even without technology breakthroughs, the combination of incremental improvements in solar cells and the rising cost of electricity will make solar energy cost competitive without any rebates within ten years. With California's new carbon emissions cap, that could happen sooner.

If you mean "not energy economic" (i.e. it takes more energy to make the panels than one gets out of them), that's not true either. Full-cycle studies show after 5-7 years the panels will have made more energy than put into making them.

If you mean, "not environmentally sound" (i.e. the energy benefit does not outweigh the pollution created in the manufacture of the panels), I'd have to research that a bit. My impression is that making solar panels does produce some nasty waste. If that waste isn't being processed properly, solar panels may not win that point.

Also, the original post makes an overly broad generalization. Nuclear energy has a lower carbon footprint only while it is mining ores that are 0.01% or richer. Below that amount, the amount of carbon produced during the mining of uranium makes nuclear energy a higher carbon footprint technology than a gas-fired plant. I couldn't find the reference I wanted, but this link provides a good overview: http://tinyurl.com/28d74v

Also, estimates that you hear of "infinite uranium supply" or similar might be true but miss the next important factor after total supply to look at, which is "how much can be profitably extracted?" We are mining the richest ores first. When we're through those we then move to the poor-grade ores and suddenly the math doesn't work as well for nuclear energy. Depending on which prediction you study, there may not be as much rich ore left as people think.

For more see:

Andre' Angelantoni
The Six-Month Carbon Diet for Business

Kit P

Andre, even in California, the good ways to make electricity when and where you need it include:

Natural gas (oil)

Maybe Andre, thinks the engineers who make electricity are stupid. We start with what works and what is easiest. This usually translates to what is cheapest. Sometime after their was enough electricity to meet demand to keep your children warm at night, concern for environment became popular.

So Andre is concerned for environment and want this engineer to factor it into the design. Me too, that is why I took all those environmental engineering courses. Now Andre, explain why I am wrong to think that solar panel and windmills are not but ugly mechanical contraptions that have ever graced a beautiful landscape?

People in California do not even want to look at them. They demand that they get built somewhere else. The problem is that are conflicting requirements. Andre needs to explain why solar panels have an intrinsic value to justify using a bad way to make electrical as a consideration.


Uh, Jim, when you state that nuclear is probably the safest route, you mean when the nuclear waste goes somewhere else besides your backyard, your grandchildren's, their great grandchildren's, their great, great, grandchildren's...


Of course they are not stupid. Some have just been too lazy to explore new options. That is their comfort zone, you said it yourself, (We start with what works and what is easiest).
I guess only time will tell what technology really sticks, I bet on the original source.

Paul Dietz

jcwinnie: I would be perfectly happy with properly packaged nuclear waste going into my and my descendants' neighborhoods. It's not as if the stuff would be any significant threat.


when the nuclear waste goes somewhere else besides your backyard, your grandchildren's, their great grandchildren's, their great, great, grandchildren's...

Given the way it is packaged and stored, yes in my back yard.

95% of the energy is still there to be used by those same future generations - what a gift to them. When making nuke fuel from virgin ore becomes too expensive, there will be an energy gold mine in place, ready to be used.

Ames Tiedeman

Look what is on the Moon? Can this be our energy future?

Look at this quote.

When helium-3 combines with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) the fusion reaction proceeds at a very high temperature and it can produce awesome amounts of energy.

"Just 25 tonnes of helium, which can be transported on a space shuttle, is enough to provide electricity for the US for one full year."

This is why China wants to go to the moon by 2017. We are going back in 2020. We need to get there faster. We should have a national goal of 2013, 5 years .


I agree that we should go back to the moon, but helium 3 should not be the basis for our economy. Why would we want to set ourselves up for dependence on another "foreign" energy source? We have plenty of uranium and thorium right here on earth. If scarcity or political conflicts ever threaten land based sources, uranium can be extracted from seawater for about $190 per kilogram. There is enough uranium in seawater for thousands of years, at least. Much of the current nuclear "waste" can be reprocessed and used for fuel or transmuted into short lived waste using any one of several available technologies.

If you have a preference for fusion power, why not try one of the hydrogen/boron schemes? They have about the same chances of success, have similar benefits, and use fuel that is abundant right here on earth.

Why would anyone want to base the energy economy of the world on a flimsy supply chain like lunar Helium 3?

Kit P

By original source, I assume greg means burning wood. We stopped using wood because it was a dirty limiteds resource. Engineers love R&D and pushing the envelope. Thanks to pollution control technology developed for coal and computer driven automation, I think biomass can be utilized more while having a very positive the environment.

If the goal is to produce electrical while minimizing ghg, waste biomass has several advantages. Rotting biomass pollutes ground water and the air. Air emissions include N2, N20 (GWP= 300), CH4 (GWP= 20), and CO2 (GWP= 1).

Production of electricity with biomass, wind or solar offsets the ghg emissions from whatever source does not have to fossil fuels. Waste biomass can also take credit for capturing N20 and CH4. In the process, nutrients are also captures that can be used for their fertilizer value avoiding the ground water pollution and the ghg associated with fertilizer production.

Back to Florida!!! Fertilizer production has huge environmental impact especially phosphate production. One of the legacies environmental insults is settling ponds. There is a native plant that both fixes nitrogen and uptakes phosphate for remediation of these settling ponds. Using anaerobic digestion of the plants can produce biogas to fuel fertilizer production and the same time nitrogen and phosphate rich compost is produced. Using compost will reduce runoff from chemical fertilizer.

The best renewable energy project is a backyard compost pile. The capital cost is low and neglecting labor cost should be neglected because of therapeutic value of running holding good compost in your hand and feeling the tithe it adds to the soil in your garden.

The technologies for mass compost/enrgy production has existed for many years and are used in every large city in the world. So greg, does that meet your criteria exploring new options getting our of one's comfort zone. Did I mention I have a plan too. Collecting dust on my book shelf at work. I did not write the ones for Florida or California, but I did write the ones for my state.


That whole He3 thing is just an attempt to invent a minable space product by spaceflight enthusiasts. Without an economical working Fusion reactor it is worthless. It is not for lack of appropriate isotopes that we don't have fusion power. We aren't even close to having a viable reactor. It is a much much easier technical problem to develop a lunar mining program, than to create and proliferate a prectical fusion reactor design. There is no need to spend money on a lunar mining project, until such time as we can demonstrate that we actually have a use for the material.


Eventually, new power plants will have to be built. However, the utility companies might be able to buy themselves some time if they used the following technologies to scavenge low level (+175F) heat energy from existing power plants:


These technologies would also seem to be tailor made for solar (thermal) power plants.


Okay, one more source and then I'll shut up for awhile:

"If even 20 per cent of industrial waste heat, say, could be converted to electricity in this way, Stinger estimates the US alone could add over 200 gigawatts of generating capacity - almost 20 per cent of its power needs..."



original is the one from which the others originate. Try again.

Kit P

“says Joseph Roop, an economist at the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.” And what do economist know?

Yes you can use propane as a heat transfer fluid. Ammonia too. I wonder if these fluids have other properties that have caused engineers to stick with water? Now I remember, huge risk, no benefit.

So, no to “utility companies might be able to buy themselves some time” because the thermo cycle is already very efficient. Not that other averagejoe can't find some other industry that could use these gadgets. What is a little more propane risk at a refinery?

Generally speaking, a power plant uprate about 5% during a major overhaul by improving thermal performance. This partly due to refurbish old equipment and improvement in turbine design. The Clinton admin would sue utilities for improving efficiency at coal plants.


In addition to improving the efficiency of existing power plants, waste heat recovery from flue gases can reduce pollution control costs.

"Not only could the system replace multiple existing emission control systems, but "in a couple years these plants will have to meet tougher NOx standards," Stinger says. "This system will enable them to do that without tearing up the plant to install major new emissions control equipment."


"Preliminary test results of the unit demonstrate the capability to achieve 97% to 99% reduction in NOx and Sox, and 99.5% reduction in particulate matter. A significant reduction (>60%) in CO has also been observed."


Sounds like a win/win situation to me...


I suspect our resident Natering Nabob of Negativity is probably correct about the waste heat to energy. I've been seeing claims of this for a few years now. I would think if it were an affordable upgrade we would be seeing quite a few people jumping onto the moneymaking opportunity.

Now Kit brings up some of the difficulties with our bureacratic legalistic methods of regulation. Old power plants were allowed to grandfather their high pollution levels- but only until they make significant upgrades. The idea was that as old equipment is retired the industry would become cleaner. A side-effect can be the avoidance of any upgrade that can trigger the end of the old high polluting license.
A similar issue can result with product efficiency standards. Take for instance air conditioning. A required higher efficiency standard for new units is great, but that generally means that the cost of the new units is higher. Some customers will delay replacement because of the higher cost. It clearly needs some input from economists, and not just 30second sound bite debate to get these sorts of issues right.

Paul Dietz

That whole He3 thing is just an attempt to invent a minable space product by spaceflight enthusiasts. Without an economical working Fusion reactor it is worthless.

And developing the fusion reactor operating on D/3He is the easy part. Mining 3He on the moon is orders of magnitude beyond current capabilities. The stuff occurs in the regolith at concentrations around 10 ppb (more in the small grain size fraction, since it is implanted into the surface of regolith grains by the solar wind). This means extracting 25 tons will involve the processing of billions of tons of regolith. Simply the energy required to release the 3He from the regolith will be a significant fraction of its fusion energy potential, and energy production facilities on the moon (as well as mining facilities) will be many times more expensive than on Earth.


Quotes without comment:

If the goal is to produce electrical while minimizing ghg, waste biomass has several advantages. Rotting biomass pollutes ground water and the air.
-- Kit P

The best renewable energy project is a backyard compost pile.
-- Kit P, same thread

It is understandable why TECO cancelled their IGCC plan. The regulations are as uncertain as the science is for CO2 green house warming. When the global warming hype runs it’s course the next big issue will probably be global cooling since the earth has made many such cycles in the last few billion years. I hope that TECO will follow the lead of Texas and pursue nuclear power. Nuclear is the greenest and lowest cost base power available. I hope my state pursues nuclear. They can store the waste on my farm, as I have no fear of the current storage techniques for my children and grand children... JohnBo


Kit P also appears to be in a position of some political power or influence:

Did I mention I have a plan too. Collecting dust on my book shelf at work. I did not write the ones for Florida or California, but I did write the ones for my state.

The words "Grima Wormtongue" come to mind.

Scary isn't it?


Sounds like He3 suffers from a very typical chicken-and-egg dilemma. Investors don't like putting large amounts of money in power plants that have no fuel. They also wouldn't invert their wallets to ambitious fuel mining schemes for which there is no power plant.

Kit P

Virgina recently published an energy plan that recommended investing in changes at the coal export depot in Norfolk to allow it to import coal. I can name two other large electric utilities that also have subsidiaries that mine and transport large amounts of coal. They are considering new nukes.

The Virgina report also discussed opening a uranium mine. There have also been news releases out of Florida about extracting uranium from phosphate mining.

Mining and transporting coal is a huge and may have reached production capacity in some parts of the US. The same is true for China.

JohnBo, please note I have not got to AGW regulations yet.


Paul Dietz: you clearly know a lot of physics. I'm a bit rusty. The main proposed fusion reaction has been Dueterium Tritium:
H2 +H3 => He4 + N
D He3 would be:
H2 +He3 => He4 + H1 (?)
I assume that H2+H2 => He4 + energy is difficult because there is no obvious carrier for the energy?

The second reaction would be nice because the products are all charged, i.e. they would be contained by the magnetic confinement for the plasma, and would serve to heat the plasma, and probably the energy is extractable via electromagnetic means. The former reaaction is "easier" because the electrostatic repulsion of the Nuclei is less, i.e. it could burn at a lower temperature.
High energy Neutrons are not nice things to deal with, they tend to induce radioactivity in first wall material etc.

Paul Dietz

bigTom: that's right, the main D+3He reaction produces no neutrons. There are neutrons produced from other reactions:

D + D --> 3He + n
D + D --> T + p followed by D + T --> 4He + n

However, the neutron power in a D3He reactor will likely be only about 10% of that in a DT reaction of the same total power. This means the first wall and blanket might be expected to last the life of the reactor, rather having the mostly heavily irradiated part have to be replaced every few years.

Whether this is a sufficient advangage to overcome the considerably lower reactivity of D3He is difficult to say.

You're right, D + D --> 4He (and nothing else) violates conservation of energy and/or momentum. You need something else coming off to balance the books. There is

D + D --> 4He + gamma

but it goes at a much lower rate than the other two reactions I gave above (since the tiny intermediate compound nucleus is a lousy radiator of electromagnetic waves, and will usually fall apart before it can radiate a photon.)

Paul Dietz

There have also been news releases out of Florida about extracting uranium from phosphate mining.

This is actually rather old technology. It was being done decades ago (liquid-liquid exchange between dissolved acid phosphate solution and a mixture of kerosene and tributyl phosphate, IIRC) but it was stopped when the price of uranium fell too low for it to be economical.

Stephen Boulet

Ausra solar (article on Scientific American) is talking about 16 hours of storage, and, unlike any fusion technology, is not pushing the envelope of known science. Coupled with up-and-coming energy storage technologies to handle the transportation sector, I think we might have a winner.


Paul Dietz

Ausra solar (article on Scientific American) is talking about 16 hours of storage, and, unlike any fusion technology, is not pushing the envelope of known science.

Let's see... if the plant is 25% efficient, and has a power of 100 MW(e), then the stored thermal energy is equivalent to the yield of a 5 kiloton atomic bomb. I hope they don't have any sudden failures of their storage system.


Paul. Presumably their thermal storage is something like a large mass of crushed rock. Low grade heat in that form is not likely to be subject to sudden release.

Solar availability has a much better match to peak demand in California thaen in markets further east. In California you can be nearly 100% confident that the greatest demand will come on days with vitually 100% sunshine. The few cloudy summer days (away from the immediate coast you can count these on one hand) will have little air-conditioning demand. That clearly isn't the case in Florida.

Paul Dietz

Paul. Presumably their thermal storage is something like a large mass of crushed rock.

Well, we've been reading about them storing the energy as pressurized water. If the tank holding tens of kilotons of pressurized water were to rupture, the result would be a very impressive explosion.

Even if they do store the energy in a solid material, a significant fraction of the pressurized volume will be the spaces between the solid objects. This space will be filled with pressurized water. So a significant fraction of the stored energy will be in this fluid phase, not the solid phase.

Perhaps, you might argue, they will use a much larger number of smaller containers, so the failure of any one would be less catastrophic. This would increase the complexity and cost of the entire system, however, and increase the likelihood of a failure, while arguably reducing its magnitude.


Paul Dietz, bigTom, Stephen Boulet:

Ausra is actually commercializing their Underground Thermal Energy Storage (UTES) idea right now. They also refer to it as "cavern storage", as it uses deep (200-400 meters) metal lined cavern (or artificially excavated?) formations, to store water between 250-350 degrees Celsius.

They claim that suitable rock formations are common, that it is in the realm of modern mining technology, and that this method of storing heat is the least expensive.

Some years ago, someone named Tanner analyzed the cost and feasibility of this system for the CLFR design, and calculated costs of around 3$ per kWh(thermal).

Even if they can build this system for double that price, it is still very cheap. It would lower their current capital costs and LCOE claims considerably. And it doesn't sound like a major engineering challenge. Also, in the event of a major spill (which would be unlikely; the steam pipes, valves, pumps behavior is all mature and commercially available technology and their behavior is well known), the heat transfer fluid (HTF) will be water. I can't imagine that would cause any lasting environmental damage. A catastrophic blow-up of the reservoir is also unlikely, because of the great depth relative to the pressures used in the system.

They also propose to use a well proven turbine from the nuclear industry: VVER nuclear turbine. In this turbine design, the HTF can be flashed directly, avoiding expensive equipment like heat exchangers and lowering overall system losses.

If water use is a serious problem (the nuclear turbine might use more due to lower efficiency) then dry cooling could be used. In fact it's already been done with troughs before. The only considerable water use will be for cleaning the reflectors, but this is several times less than conventional thermal plants. Dry cooling does reduce system performance slightly, and requires a bit more land area for the condenser. Another possibility is that solar thermal power plants produce their own desalinated water, either by using some of the waste heat or some electricity to power a reverse osmosis device.

The reflectors themselves will also provide partial shading for the local flora and fauna, which might very well increase the survivability of the species that are present in the area. They could also hire an expert environmental organization to advise them in siting, construction and O&M to minimize impact on the local environment.

In addition, the need to site away from estuaries will help social acceptance.

Someone mentioned before that desert solar, such as CLFR in the Mojave, is not reliable. Large areas of the Mojave are cloudless 99+ percent of the time. That sounds pretty reliable. And anyway, clouds passing by could be compensated by the heat storage relatively easily.

It was also asserted that solar is a diffuse resource. However, only about 10 - 13 square meters of a good desert location would be needed to supply almost all of the average American household’s electric needs, and that is already including all losses (system, storage, transmission). If that’s diffuse, then consider the average floor area of an American home. Your houses are far more diffuse than your electric demand required land area if powered by solar thermal electric plants, especially if it’s this new CLFR design.

Mills also perceives that while base load is what coal and nuclear fission provide, what is really needed holistically is load following clean power sources. The average load factor in the USA is very low compared to the total capacity installed. With a claimed 96% correlation between USA demand and the solar thermal power plants with medium amounts of heat storage, and a very large resource in the Southwest (easily more than 12,000 GWp with this new land efficient design, and that’s only including the most suitable locations), a vast majority of grid load could be supplied by such plants.

Certainly, Stephen Boulet has a point that CLFR uses very simple design to produce power, compared to any hot fusion design. My own experience is that simple, low tech solutions are market-prevalent over the more complicated and elaborate solutions, ceteris paribus of course. If I was forced to take a bet, I’d go with solar thermal over hot fusion, at least for the immediate future.

I’ve been compiling a list of the advantages, it’s rather exhaustive but let me know if I missed something:
- Low temperature operation is found to be more cost effective (less expensive selective coatings and steam pipes, and less receiver emissivity losses)
- The structural supports are very simple (less material required)
- The reflectors can choose which receiver to focus at, minimizing shading, which allows more densely packed reflectors, which in turn yields a higher output per square kilometer (200 MWp, but current cost optimum is around 120-140MWp vs. less than 70MWp for troughs)
- The optics in general do not have to be perfectly calibrated (the reflector/receiver ratio is relatively low)
- The reflector in particular can be made simpler and cheaper (as the receiver is positioned higher, a lower curvature is required, enabling the use of reflecting laminates or inexpensive commodity flat glass mirrors which can be slightly bended into the required curvature)
- The reflector is also mounted close to the ground, thereby reducing wind loads (lowering structural and foundational requirements), visual obstruction (“horizon pollution”) and making cleaning and maintenance easier (the reflector can be accessed from below)
- As the receiver is directed downwards there will be less dust accumulation on the receiver (less receiver cleaning required. Think of how few times you had to clean your ceiling…)
- A fixed receiver can be more simple, reliable and allows water or steam to be used directly, eliminating the need for heat exchangers and lowering overall heat transfer fluid (HTF) costs; with troughs this is more difficult as costly ball joints and couplings are required
- The receiver pipes can be changed and repaired without breaking into the pressure circuit (allowing the array continued operation)
- Less actuators per square meter of reflectors
- Very simple control and monitoring software and hardware

These benefits compound to a design that is less expensive, simpler and can scale rapidly.
CLFR appears to have all the aspects of a game changer: simple, lower cost, faster scale-up possible. And these benefits can amplify each other as well.
Troughs do seem to have at least one advantage though: a greater quantity and also more specific data on the performance of large arrays, especially over longer periods of time. However, for CLFR there is still a reasonable amount of data available on array capital and installation costs; a coal plant reheating project of about 40MWp (electrical) has recently been realized in Australia (New South Wales). Although it is plausible that the design will perform well over time (given its simplicity and durability), the absence of long term performance data is an uncertainty for CLFR plants.
Anyway, more competition in the solar thermal electric market will likely drive down costs and push plant construction and power plant size further.
Solar thermal electric just got a shot of steroids.
What I think is required, is a considerable expansion of HVDC grid: an intricate continent-wide network. There are already large distances of HVDC grids in the US, this is proven technology and the costs are well known, losses are relatively low. Constructing this network will have other benefits, such as increasing the income of states due to additional employment and in-state production of HVDC equipment and parts. And afterwards there will be more O&M employment. Interlinking all of the US will also increase the reliability of the grid in general, particularly if combined with smart grids, also on a large scale interconnected. Such an advanced grid is good no matter what power sources will be used in the future.
At the same time, a major effort towards Negawatts – in particular technical efficiency improvements - should at least be given a very serious try.
To pay for all this, perhaps there could be a tax per kWh? Don’t worry, nothing big, about 0.1 cents per kWh would be enough to pay for a large yearly expansion of a continental HVDC network, with enough left for the major efficiency campaign.

Well uncle Sam, what do you think of The Plan?

Stephen Boulet

Thanks Amsterdamned for the excellent write-up. I found the comparison paper on competing thermal storage technologies to be a very interesting read. The cavern storage sounds quite feasible, and if not low temperature oil storage is proven and doesn't have an overlarge cost premium.




Yes, the resource in Australia looks excellent. And looking at the Californian CST suitability map reveals excellent sweet spots northwest of Los Angeles and west of San Diego. They're close to high capacity grid lines and also very close to the load. San Francisco is further off but also has high capacity grid connections to the solar sweet spots. Also, look at the transmission lines going out of the state towards Nevada. So the southern Nevada solar resource could also be coupled to the Californian grid and vice versa.

What do they mean by "other" power plants?


[that should be northeast and east respectively.]

Kit P

'Other plants' could be landfill gas, diesel generators, waste to energy and so forth.

Amsterdamned, you do understand that the transmission lines are bringing power into California and more need to be built to keep up with growth?

The parent company of the San Diego utility is building a LNG terminal just south of the border so California can depend on Russia and Iran for electricity.

If I think building solar plants is not a very good plan to meet California's energy, it is not near as bad as the real plan for what the energy providers have in mind for California.


Kit P thank you. That makes sense.

About those transmission lines, yes of course California is importing large amounts of electricity. More high voltage lines could be built, that's probably a good idea to do anyway. It wouldn't be that large an investment for such a rich state.

The USA has a large continental interconnected gas and oil pipeline systems. Why not electricity on such a large scale? Probably because transporting coal and gas is cheaper over long distances. But a larger grid can have many benefits. The grid here in Europe is pretty well interconnected, and that has proven to be very useful.

What do the energy providers have in mind for California that upsets you so much?

Kit P

Amsterdamned, the US and North America does have a very extensive and large interconnected grid. The basic problem with the grid and energy projects in general is the long lead time for projects. Places like San Diego and Florida is they are at the end of the transportation routes for energy. Generators and transmission system operators have to tell the public 10 years in advance that expensive facilitates need to be built in there back yard.

The California plan (I have read and it is available on line) to meet the growing electricity demand is to import LNG. The public face of California energy plan is to talk about renewable energy (mostly built in other states) and pretend the increasing demand is not coming from fossil fuels.

This is a bad plan for three important reasons:

Air quality in southern California
Energy security

I think solar and conservation are great. Thirty years ago this was the plan for California to keep from building new plants. I am still waiting.


Kit P,

California already has at least two HVDC lines running into it (one from Utah and one from Oregon), and more can be installed. Other states have financial incentive to provide California's electricity through these HVDC lines. California's electricity could therefore become mostly nuclear, despite California's ban on nuclear-powerplant construction. We might then call California a "nuclear state by proxy" -- NSP.


Well yes some streamlining would be necessary for new projects. Regarding financing, a small tax per kWh (e.g. 0.1 cents) would not be an unacceptable financial burden for anyone, and it would be enough for a large yearly extension of continental HVDC. Combined with smart grid uprgrades, this could really make things more manageable. Utilities will not likely construct such a large scale high capacity grid on their own volition.

It doesn't have to be a state owned transmission network, private utilities and NGO's could work together to ensure competitiveness and overall grid reliability.

The main reason why the solar thermal powerplants haven't been built in the past is most likely just that they were too expensive. Way too expensive.

This appears to be changing right now, with new designs entering the market, large projects being built and large amounts of private funding becoming available. That is usually a strong indicator of competitiveness.

What's interesting about solar thermal powerplants is that they benefit considerably from plant scale-up and higher volume production. With more private funding now available, larger plants can now be built, so decreasing cost trends can be catalyzed.


The best opportunity in the American Southeast for renewable energy isnt solar, its biomass. The biomass potential - both by burning grown fuel sources and Brazilian cane bagasse - is tremendous. The boiler technology must improve over time though.



Biomass is solar.


Nuclear fission may also be considered to be a form of solar energy. Stellar would be more precise though, as solar often refers to our star in specific. The elements found on earth were formed in stars of previous generations, with the exception of all hydrogen and some helium, beryllium and lithium.

Of course, this has little practical implications (for energy uses), so from that perspective it's not a very useful determination.

It is, however, useful to discern between solar thermal, PV, wind, wave, hydro, bio-energy and ocean-thermal. Even though they're all solar by definition.


The idea that it would produce more CO2 to use uranium even from lower-grade ore is FUD put out by the anti-nuke crowd. Ores of many metals are profitably mined at very low concentrations. Uranium has 5 orders of magnitude more energy than coal. Most of the CO2 FUD relies on bad assumptions about using antiquated enrichment technologies that are being phased out, and by assuming that the electricity to run them comes from the current mix which is dominated by coal, a neat bit of circular logic. (Because, obviously, as nukes gain market share the CO2 emitted to enrich the uranium goes down, eventually to zero once all coal plants are replaced by nukes.) Admittedly some of the "infinite supply" hype makes an error in the opposite direction, assuming a breakthrough in extraction from extremely diffuse sources such as seawater that we certainly can't count on. That said, there are ample reserves to run our civilisation on nukes for millenia without breakthroughs, provided we are willing to reprocess fuel to fully burn the directly fissonable U235, to use proven technology that burns the other 98% of the uranium we currently waste, and finally to burn thorium which is four times as abundant as uranium but is not naturally fissionable.


Doug, I have good news for you. It actually is practical to harvest uranium from seawater. The Japanese Atomic Energy Research Institute has developed a new adsorbant filter material that preferentially binds with uranium in seawater. In the pilot study, the filter material was enclosed in a cage structure and moored offshore. Once anchored, the system was totally passive, relying on natural ocean currents. After a few months, the filter system was hauled up and returned to shore for processing. The upshot of all this is an estimated cost of about $200-477 per kilogram of extracted uranium... depending on the filter cage system used. The oceans hold about 4.5 billion tons of uranium, so economical extraction could continue well into the future. Here's a link to the Japanese study:


This page deals with a breakdown of costs, but if you want to read the intro page, just use the "backward" button on the bottom of the webpage.


4.5 billion tons of uranium would contain 4,044,439,830,431,567,938 TJ of energy, give or take. Even if only 1% can be converted to end-use electricity, that should last a good long time.

Kit P

Yesterday, I read an article about Florida. Another utility was refused a permit for a coal plant even though the permit met the “letter of the law”. This utility is taking it to court. This is no laws at this time regulating CO2 in the US. It would appear that TECO is playing a waiting game.

Demand in Florida is also growing at twice the national average. When new housing is built, I would assume that it would be to the latest energy standards and therefore conservation is considered when predicting resource requirements.

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