Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 39)

Posted on Tue 06/17/2008 by




Marilyn Monroe in Manhattan. 

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I’ve been reliably informed that I can write articles that might be of an important nature, and gain a small dedicated reader base. However, if I really want a huge number of people to read an article, then I need to include something about a celebrity. So, when you look at the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, you’ll nod your head knowingly, and think to yourself that Tony’s finally gone over to the dark side. However, that iconic image is actually germane to the series of articles I’m writing about. It shows Marilyn posing over an open grate as an updraft of warm air cause her dress to billow out. the image was taken to advertise the movie ‘The Seven Year Itch’.

This was one of numerous photographs taken of the scene, and this one was taken by Matty Zimmerman.

Yes, you might say, this could be a very tenuous link to global warming, the Kyoto Protocol, and how we need to cut back on electrical power production by the use of burning coal, but really, this Marilyn Monroe image would seem to have no link whatsoever to all of that.

It would probably bear even less of a link to this second image of the cooling towers of Unit One of the Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant. I’ll make the link shortly, but I want you to look at the image of the towers closely. That’s just steam billowing out from the top of both towers there. At the base of the towers, you’ll notice a raised circular area extending outwards. This covers the ponds on the inside where the steam cools in what is basically just a huge pool. The nuclear process itself involves exposing enriched rods inside a huge vat like structure full of water. As the rods are exposed the reaction generates tremendous heat.

Cooling towers, Unit Number One, Three Mile Island Nuclear facility. 

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This heat is used to boil water, and the steam drives the multi stage turbine which in turn drives the generator. The steam, after the process of driving the turbine then goes to the large cooling ponds over which sit the towers.The water cools and is recycled constantly back through the reactor in a large loop, augmented with the addition of more water. In cooler weather, as you might imagine, the warm steam vaporises on contact with the cool air giving the impression of a large cloud billowing from the tops of the towers. Often, images like these are used to portray the pollution being emitted into the pristine atmosphere by power plants, because this is the most visibly obvious thing you will see at a power plant. This portrayal is erroneous, as what you see is cooling steam or plain water vapor.

The third image shows part of the New York skyline at night, and I want you to look closely at that image also.

Those huge buildings lit like that show better at night, but the lights are also on all day as well. This is the most startling image I can show to accentuate the term ‘Baseload Power’. If we need to cut back on the use of electricity, surely we could just turn off those lights at night. The saving on a scale like this would be quite large, but in actual fact it would really only be minimal. The lighting is only a minor part of what you see with all those buildings lit like that. A huge amount of electrical power is needed for each building. For the elevators, the lighting, for pumping water up to each of the floors, and for power for every office or room. However, the largest part of that power usage stems from the airconditioning. It’s not like you can open the windows for access to air.

New York Skyline at night. 

Image Siddharth Kapur. Click on image to open in a larger window.

Safety decrees that the windows cannot be opened. So, all the air in the building must come from an outside source. It has to be constantly recycled throughout the building. As part of that process it is also kept at a comfortable temperature all year round. This temperature is set at the same level all year round for comfort reasons. However, having said that, it works in two different ways. In the warmer months the temperature has to be cooled, and the opposite applies in the cooler months when the air has to be warmed, both with respect to the outside ambient air temperatures. So, those air conditioners are not just to keep the surroundings warm in Winter and cool in Summer, it’s actually to even have air inside those structures.
Now, you think why don’t we just shut off all the power inside those buildings at night. During the night, those buildings are still occupied by that part of the work force who does work at night. Also, the cleaners work in the buildings at night, and they need lighting and power, and more importantly, fresh air to breathe.
However, the main reason that the power must be kept up to those buildings is for the air conditioners themselves. To move air around those buildings, to warm it and to cool it takes time and energy. If you shut off the air in those buildings, they will cool in Winter and warm in the Summer. To get that temperature back to the required level would take more than just the daytime when those buildings are occupied by those working there. The compressors would be working flat out all the time and it still would not reach the normal set level. That’s why they are kept running constantly, only shut down for servicing in quiet times one at a time so the others for that building can take up the extra.

Each and every one of those buildings requires that huge electrical need and they need that set level of power for 24 hours each day for as long as the building is standing.

This is baseload power, the amount of power needed to keep all that humming along. This cannot be replaced by small peaking power units that are only designed to run for short times. It also cannot be replaced with solar power that is variable, especially in places like New York in the North East of the Continent. It cannot be replaced by wind towers either, because of the variability of them as well. No, you must have a constant set level of power that is an absolute. That is baseload power.

So, what is the link that binds these three iconic images. The third photograph shows New York lit up by large baseload power, nearly all of those structures connected to the one main grid.

The second photograph shows steam escaping from a large power plant. Some smaller plants use the combined cycle method where exhaust heat and steam is used to drive a secondary generator to add to the power generated. If this exhausted steam could be used in addition to generating power, that would add to the efficiency.

This process is already being used and in fact is not a recently discovered process. It is called Combined Heat and Power (CHP). It is also called Cogeneration, and also Trigeneration. A fuel source drives a turbine. The heat generated by the process is then used a second time to either drive another generator, or to supply heating to a building where it is used. A third part of the process uses the heat to work air conditioning. One large unit can supply all the electrical power, all the heating and all the cooling for a large building.

In fact, in New York, this process is currently in use supplying 384 separate sites with all the power, heating and cooling they need. The electricity generated is around 6000MW or the equivalent of three huge baseload power plants. These 384 sites are independent of the main grid, and are self sufficient. Admitted, some use coal, but others use Natural Gas, two or three other gases, fuel oil petroleum derivatives, diesel, Biomass, wood, biofuel, and other fuels.

So Marilyn Monroe. Where does she fit in? This process called CHP was originally introduced in the 1880’s in Manhattan and was used on a fairly widespread basis. When grid power started to come on line, CHP fell somewhat out of vogue, but now, it has come back into the frame in a serious way. The warm air lifting Marilyn’s dress is from the CHP process. Think of all the movies and TV shows where you see New York images with steam coming out of the grates at ground level.

That is CHP.