Friday, October 20, 2017

World’s First Offshore Wind Farm Retires: A Post-Mortem

It barely paid for its construction and maintenance

The first-ever offshore wind farm, Vindeby, in Danish waters, is being decommissioned after twenty-five years, DONG Energy has announced. By its nature it was an experiment, and we can now see whether or not is has been a successful alternative to fossil or nuclear-fuelled electricity.

It consisted of eleven turbines, each with a capacity of 0.45 MW, giving a total export capacity for the wind farm of 5 MW. The hub height of each turbine was 37.5 m and blade height 17 m, small by today’s standards. Because of its date of construction, it would have been all but totally reliant on conventional energy for its manufacture and installation. The original stated project cost was £7.16 million in 1991, which is equivalent to approximately £10 million today.

During its lifetime, it delivered 243 GWh to the Danish electricity grid. This means that the actual amount of electricity generated was 22% of that which would have been generated if it had delivered 5 MW all the time for 25 years. In technical terms, it had a load factor of 0.22.

From the same source we see the initial expectation was that 3506 houses would be powered annually, with a saving of 7085 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. There was no clear indication of Vindeby’s expected lifetime. Since the average household’s annual use of energy in Denmark[4] is 5000 kWh, we can calculate that the windfarm’s anticipated energy output was 438 GWh over its 25-year lifetime. The actual total of 243 GWh was therefore only 55% of that expectation.

The (annual average) spot price for electricity from both the European Energy Exchange and Nordpool quoted over the period 2006–2014 dropped approximately linearly from €50–55/MWh in 2006 to €32–37/MWh in 2014.[5] If we assume that this trend was constant over 1991–2017, we can see that the average wholesale price paid for the Vindeby electricity was of order of €50/MWh. On this basis the revenue of the windfarm was approximately €12 million: perhaps €15 million at today’s prices.

This means that the windmill spent 75% of its life paying off the £10 million cost of its construction, and most of the rest paying for maintenance. In terms of effective energy revenue, the return on input cost was close to 1:1. The individual project may have been just profitable, but the project is insufficiently productive as will be seen below.

Other windfarms have performed even worse. Lely, an smaller farm sited off the Netherlands coast, was decommissioned last year.[6] It consisted of four turbines of 0.5 MW capacity, and cost £4.4 million in 1992. One nacelle and blades failed in 2014 because of metal fatigue.[7] It produced 3500 MWh per year, implying a load factor of 20%. At the same €50/MWh as above, it would have earned €4.2 million, less than the initial project cost, let alone the additional cost of any maintenance, by any way of reckoning.[8]

The reader should note that the analysis above assumes that the scrap value of the wind turbines will pay for the decommissioning process, and so does not degrade the ratio any further: presumably the bases will remain in the sea. This assumption has been made explicit for the Cowley Ridge wind farm in Alberta, Canada, for which the actual electricity energy delivered into the Canadian grid is not in the public domain, so this similar exercise cannot be repeated.

For a typical fossil-fuel plant, effective energy revenue return on input cost is of the order of 50:1 if one considers the plant alone and about 15:1 when one includes the cost of the fuel. For a nuclear plant the ratio is more like 70:1, and the fuel is a negligible part of the overall cost. The energy generation and distribution sector makes up approximately 9% of the whole world economy, suggesting that the global energy sector has an energy return ratio of 11:1.[10] It is this high average ratio, buoyed by much higher ratios in certain areas (e.g.15:1 in Europe), that allows our present world economy to function.

The lesson learned from the considerations discussed above is that wind farms like these early examples could not power a modern economy unless assisted by substantial fossil-fuelled energy.

Interestingly, DONG Energy, which built Vindeby, is proposing the much newer and bigger Hornsea Project One in the North Sea. This wind farm will have 174 turbines, each with a hub height of 113 m, 75 m blades and a nameplate capacity of 7 MW. It is due to be commissioned in 2020. The project capacity is 1218 MW, and it has a current cost estimate of €3.36 billion. No clear statement of expected lifetime has been provided, but DONG has stated that 862,655 homes will be powered annually. Assuming the average per-household electricity use in the UK[12] to be 4000 kWh, this implies a constant generation of 394 MW over the year, which is 32% of capacity, which is probably realistic.

The agreed wholesale price of the Hornsea energy over the next twenty-five years is £140/MWh. Even assuming a very generous load factor of 50%, Hornsea’s lifetime revenue would be about £20 billion, suggesting a ratio of revenue to cost of 6:1 (reduced further by any maintenance costs), still barely half the average value that prevails in the global economy, which is more than 85% fossil-fuel based.

The secret of the fossil fuel success in the world economy is the high calorific value of the fuel. A ton of coal costing £42.50 produces of the order of 2000 kWh of electricity in a new coal-fired power plants (up 30% from older plants). This sells for £400 wholesale, with an energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of 10:1. A therm of natural gas costs £0.40, and produces 30 kWh of electricity, which sells for £6, representing an EROEI of 15:1.  Fuel-less technologies do not have this advantage.

The disappointing results from Vindeby, and the likely results from Hornsea and similar projects must be seen in the context of the increasing wealth of a growing world population. If all the world’s 10.3 billion people alive in 2055 were to lead a European (as opposed to American) style of life, we would need 2.5 times the primary energy as used today. If, say, half of the energy is suddenly produced with an energy return on investment of 5.5:1 (i.e. half the present world average), then for the same investment we would get only 75% of the energy and we would need to cut energy consumption: the first 10% reduction could come by curtailing higher education, international air travel, the internet, advanced medicine and high culture. We could invest proportionately more of our economy in energy production than we do now, but that will still mean a step backward against the trend of the last 200 years of reducing the proportion of the total economy taken by the energy sector.[13] To avoid this undesirable scenario we would need new forms of energy to match the fossil/nuclear fuel performance.

In this context it is useful to remember that global economic growth is very sensitive to the cost of energy. The energy cost spikes in the mid-1970s and in 2010 form the boundaries between the 5% growth rate of the global economy from 1950–1975, the 3% from 1980–2008, and the 2.5% since 2012. There is a lot at stake in the choice between cheap fossil fuels and expensive renewables.


Will Tesla Be A Zero This Month?

The Tesla production line seems to be at a halt

Leading up to the end of September, we saw new-high Model 3 VIN numbers in the wild almost every other day, culminating in number 521.

But since the beginning of October, nothing. I can’t find a single one above 521 with VIN picture evidence on any forum.

It’s unlikely to end up this way, but the sole evidence we have to date is this: Tesla is on track to deliver zero Model 3 units in October.

Of course, I don’t believe it will be exactly zero.  However, it’s no longer an impossibility.  It’s looking like my previous estimate of 240 units may be way too high.

Talking about anywhere from zero to 240 is almost meaningless given that Chevrolet Bolt EV U.S. sales are rising rapidly and could hit 3,000 per month soon.

No, I don't mean the stock. I mean Model 3 customer deliveries.

People had a lot of fun about me pointing out that the Chevrolet (GM) Bolt EV outsold the Tesla (TSLA) Model 3 in August to the tune of 28:1 in the U.S.: August Sales Are In: Chevrolet Bolt EV Out Sold Tesla Model 3 To The Tune Of 28:1.

Just wait for September, they said, and this ratio would be closed or reversed. Then September came around, and the Bolt EV outsold the Model 3 to the tune of 23:1 in the U.S.: Will Tesla Manage To Sell 720 Model 3 Units In December? Maybe Less?

Just wait for October, they now said, and this ratio would once again be closed or reversed into Tesla's favor. Well, we are now in the second half of October, and I'm eager to hear if the bulls remain of the belief that the Model 3 will finally crush GM's electric juggernaut, the Bolt EV, in October.

At this stage, I'll continue to roll the dice one more time in favor of betting that for a third full month, the Chevrolet Bolt EV will out-sell the Tesla Model 3 in the U.S. - and probably by a very wide margin, along the lines or 10:1 or more. Maybe even 100:1 or an infinite margin.

Why does it seem a good idea to make such a prediction right now? If we assume that the Chevrolet Bolt EV will continue to sell at the current rate - let alone continue to grow, the bar is somewhere North of 2,500 units, perhaps closer to 3,000 or even higher. What makes me believe that the Tesla Model 3 will be somewhere below 240 units and with a potential for zero, in October?


Pruitt Holds the Line Against the Left at the EPA

"Green" groups will no longer get away with surreptitious changes to climate-related rules.

The EPA is getting a refreshing makeover after Gina McCarthy spent years directing the agency to enact unconstitutional power grabs and enforcing other forms of corruption. For example, the Clean Power Plan — a carbon-capture scheme that was developed under Barack Obama’s administration — was recently and mercifully flagged by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for elimination, saving the economy upwards of $73 billion annually.

Now it’s ecofascists’ turn to feel the direct influence of new management. Under McCarthy, “green” interest groups basically viewed the EPA as the go-to agency for changes to climate-related rules and regulations. Not anymore. As Reuters reports, Pruitt “issued a directive to his agency on Monday seeking to end the practice of settling lawsuits with environmental groups behind closed doors, saying the groups have had too much influence on regulation.”

The report goes on to note, “The EPA under former President Barack Obama quietly settled lawsuits from environmental groups with little input from regulated entities, such as power plants, and state governments.” How’s that for the most transparent administration in history? But according to Pruitt, “The days of regulation through litigation are over. We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the agency.”

Reuters adds, “Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said sue and settle has led to ‘egregious antics’ that have ‘effectively handed over the setting of agency priorities to environmental pressure groups,’ and has led to rushed rulemaking by the agency.” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) regurgitated this view: “The Environmental Protection Agency should not make regulations by settling lawsuits behind closed doors. Under the last administration, the EPA advanced its political agenda by abusing its authority and leaving states and Congress in the dark. The public deserves to know how its government is operating.”

There’s really no reason to oppose these changes — unless you’re an activist who can no longer deploy covert tactics to circumvent the Rule of Law. And, to no one’s surprise, green groups aren’t happy with Pruitt’s move. What became customary at Obama’s EPA should never have become so. But it did, no doubt because McCarthy agreed with these lawsuits. Obama’s EPA was not impartial, nor was it transparent or legally minded. Pruitt is doing a masterful job ensuring this injustice ends.


Surprise: Defying Models, Antarctic Sea Ice Extent 100 Years Ago Similar To Today

Satellite measurements of Antarctic sea ice do not go back even 40 years. That’s not very much, especially when we consider that many natural climate cycles have periods of 60 years and more.

Luckily we have the field of climate reconstruction. Using historical documents and sediment cores, the development of ice cover can be estimated. In November, 2016, Tom Edinburg and Jonathan Day examined shipping log books from the time of Antarctic explorers and published on ice extent in The Cryosphere:

Estimating the extent of Antarctic summer sea ice during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration

In stark contrast to the sharp decline in Arctic sea ice, there has been a steady increase in ice extent around Antarctica during the last three decades, especially in the Weddell and Ross seas. In general, climate models do not to capture this trend and a lack of information about sea ice coverage in the pre-satellite period limits our ability to quantify the sensitivity of sea ice to climate change and robustly validate climate models.

However, evidence of the presence and nature of sea ice was often recorded during early Antarctic exploration, though these sources have not previously been explored or exploited until now. We have analysed observations of the summer sea ice edge from the ship logbooks of explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and their contemporaries during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (1897–1917), and in this study we compare these to satellite observations from the period 1989–2014, offering insight into the ice conditions of this period, from direct observations, for the first time.

This comparison shows that the summer sea ice edge was between 1.0 and 1.7° further north in the Weddell Sea during this period but that ice conditions were surprisingly comparable to the present day in other sectors.”

The surprising result: with respect to sea ice extent 100 years ago things looked similar to what we have today, with the exception of the Weddell Sea. A study by Hobbs et al. 2016 also looked back at the last century, here using geoscientific sea ice reconstructions. Once again the strong discrepancies between the real ice development and model simulations were criticized:

Century-scale perspectives on observed and simulated Southern Ocean sea ice trends from proxy reconstructions

Since 1979 when continuous satellite observations began, Southern Ocean sea ice cover has increased, whilst global coupled climate models simulate a decrease over the same period. It is uncertain whether the observed trends are anthropogenically forced or due to internal variability, or whether the apparent discrepancy between models and observations can be explained by internal variability.

The shortness of the satellite record is one source of this uncertainty, and a possible solution is to use proxy reconstructions, which extend the analysis period but at the expense of higher observational uncertainty.

In this work, we evaluate the utility for change detection of 20th century Southern Ocean sea ice proxies. We find that there are reliable proxies for the East Antarctic, Amundsen, Bellingshausen and Weddell sectors in late winter, and for the Weddell Sea in late autumn. Models and reconstructions agree that sea ice extent in the East Antarctic, Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas has decreased since the early 1970s, consistent with an anthropogenic response.

However, the decrease is small compared to internal variability, and the change is not robustly detectable. We also find that optimal fingerprinting filters out much of the uncertainty in proxy reconstructions. The Ross Sea is a confounding factor, with a significant increase in sea ice since 1979 that is not captured by climate models; however, existing proxy reconstructions of this region are not yet sufficiently reliable for formal change detection.”

A paper published by Ellen & Abrams 2016 even looked back 300 years ago and showed that the increase in sea ice from 1979-2016 has been part of a long-term growth trend of the 20th century:

Ice core reconstruction of sea ice change in the Amundsen-Ross Seas since 1702 A.D.

Antarctic sea ice has been increasing in recent decades, but with strong regional differences in the expression of sea ice change. Declining sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea since 1979 (the satellite era) has been linked to the observed warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, while the Ross Sea sector has seen a marked increase in sea ice during this period.

Here we present a 308 year record of methansulphonic acid from coastal West Antarctica, representing sea ice conditions in the Amundsen-Ross Sea. We demonstrate that the recent increase in sea ice in this region is part of a longer trend, with an estimated ~1° northward expansion in winter sea ice extent (SIE) during the twentieth century and a total expansion of ~1.3° since 1702.

The greatest reconstructed SIE occurred during the mid-1990s, with five of the past 30 years considered exceptional in the context of the past three centuries.”


Greens have the mind of a flea

Comment from Australia on opposition to a planned big new coal mine (Adani)

The Coalition has begun to restore a modicum of rationality to the electricity market in Australia. There is more to do. They must assault the green mindset.

Greens are shallow, short-term and anti-democratic, precisely the opposite of the ideals they claim to champion: deep, long-term thinking with liberal democratic souls and pure of heart.

Instead, Greens are shallow because they spend their lives campaigning on the basis of crises that never eventuate. Overpopulation, mass starvation, ruination by agricultural chemicals, mass extinction of species, ecosystem collapse and resource depletion never happen. The world refuses to succumb to the calamity du jour.

But Greens need a calamity to thrive. When one calamity fails to materialise, they invent another. The latest is the alleged threat to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the Adani Carmichael coalmine. The reef is an icon, the mine its bete noire.

A Morgan Poll suggests that most Australians do not think the Adani (Carmichael) mine should proceed. I have my doubts about the veracity of the result, especially as another ­Morgan poll of “issues of concern” showed that climate change was mentioned by ­8 per cent of Australians, about the voting strength of the Greens.

Why, when climate change is such a low priority, should Adani be such a target? The Adani polling result is a shocking indictment of the wilful misrepresentation of evidence in the Adani case. Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale says he is prepared to stand in front of bulldozers and be arrested to stop it. Green activists allegedly are trying to recruit pro­fessional moles to infiltrate jobs in the construction of the mine.

Di Natale believes that “losing” the Great Barrier Reef would cost 70,000 jobs. How will the reef be lost? Greens conflate an alleged physical threat to the reef with a broader climate threat. Coal has been hauled across the reef for generations without harm. There is no physical threat to the reef from shipping Adani coal across it.

The Morgan poll on Adani reflects a deliberate conflation of direct and indirect harm. There is no direct physical threat and the indirect threat is a fast fading theory. Even “the brightest man in Australia”, Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, would know that if Australia were uninhabited there would be no change to the potential threat to the reef from burning coal.

Recall Bjorn Lomborg’s observation of the Paris Accord, achieving the 1.5C global warming target “would require nothing less than the entire planet abandoning the use of every single fossil fuel in less than four years”.

Adani, as with so many other proponents for resource extraction in Australia, has complied with environmental legislation. Green activists assisted both major political parties to write such legislation. From the 1970s environmental impact statements have grown into extraordinarily complex studies, in the Adani case costing tens of millions of dollars and years to compile. And, after all the hurdles have been cleared, still green activists are unhappy. Democracy is ignored.

Instead, greens threaten to trash the law. Di Natale boasts: “You will see a campaign every bit as big as the campaign that stopped the damming of the Franklin.” The Franklin is a lovely river, most of it would have survived a dam, and Tasmania could have been energy self-sufficient with it. Instead, when drought hits Tasmania, the state must rely on coal generation from Victoria for electricity. Green Tasmania is bludging off the mainland.

Hydro is a renewable source of energy. Or at least it was until greens discovered wild rivers. And greens stopped nuclear power, the cleanest source of power. The trouble with greens is their thinking is so short-term.

The time has come to slap a writ on campaigners who set out to destroy others’ livelihoods. The time has come to confront, disrupt and punish environmental campaigners who break the law, ignore parliament and harm legitimate business and workers.

Civil disobedience has an honourable place in the world. It has helped to change attitudes and laws that ended slavery, secured the rights of women, and blacks, and gays. But it is an abuse of the noble tradition to suggest that civil disobedience is justified to prevent a theoretical harm at a far-distant time. Stopping an unrelated activity, a coalmine in Australia, at significant immediate cost to Australians and Indians will not stop climate change.

Activists are damaging Australia. It is about time politicians grew a backbone and confronted these latter-day Luddites.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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