Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 43)

Posted on Wed 06/25/2008 by


Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Facility Pennsylvania.Image courtesy FirstEnergy Corp. Click on image to open in a larger window.
SOLEL Solar Thermal Plant Kramer Valley California.Image courtesy Alan Radecki is a Commons Image. Click on image to open in a larger window.


In the previous post I mentioned statistics and economics with respect to actual comparisons. Sometimes things like that are greeted by disbelief, because no matter how logically the argument may be made, it just doesn’t sound quite right.

So to further emphasise the point, I’ve included two images here to accentuate the differences. It may look as if I’m making a case for Nuclear power at the expense of the others, but this is not the truth. The point I want to make with this is that cheap and endless power from the Sun is far from the truth that environmentalists sanguinely believe and then try to impress that belief upon us. What I try to do here is to place the actuality in front of your eyes, so that there is no doubt about it.

So, to the comparison.

That image on the left is the Nuclear Power facility at Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania. It produces power from two reactors, heating water to steam to drive a turbine and a generator for each reactor. The total Power produced is 1850 MW and the plant hums along day and night at 95% production, one unit since 1976, and the second since 1987. The plant has a licensed life of 40 years and that license can be extended. The facility can be closed at that time and refurbished possibly for a further twenty years or so. The plant is situated on 500 acres of land. Because it consistently produces this power, it can be used for baseload power.

The second image is that of the SOLEL plant in the Mojave Desert at Kramer Junction in California.
This plant works by focussing the Sun via usage of parabolic dished mirrors onto a central area. The mirrors are arranged in rows and along that focal point’s length runs a pipe carrying water. The Sun heats the water to steam which then runs a turbine to drive a generator. This is one version of a Solar Thermal plant. There are close to one million mirrors, and there are 5 separate areas shown in this one image. The total power produced here is 165MW. Why it has been placed here in the Mojave Desert is that here, there are 330 days in the year of full Sun, the ideal place for a plant of this nature. This plant covers an area of 1600 Acres. The Company, in its own description for the plant, state that the plant can be used for peaking power. It is licensed to produce power for Southern California Edison for 30 years, the expected lifetime of the mirrors, which as is their nature, are subject to breakage during their life and some images I have seen show just that.

The comparison here is that production of power. For the solar plant to produce a similar total, you would need between 11 and 12 of these similarly sized facilities, and they could still not be able to be used for baseload power. That would mean an area covered equating to 19200 Acres, or 30 square miles.

The cost for this equality would also be around the same ratio.

That is why Power Companies are not rushing into producing Solar power, because those costs would have to be passed onto the consumer.

NASA scientist James Hansen has again spoken how the burning of coal for electrical power is a major cause in production of greenhouse gases. As with everyone else, the realisation of just saying it is easier than the explaining the end result, and people read reports like this from credentialed Scientists and mistakenly get fixated upon the cause rather than the solution. Then the theory gets propounded that somehow coal will be okay if we capture the CO2 from the exhausts, and when a renowned Scientist says it like that, people again get the false impression that this is easy, and within reach when the theory is just that, a theory, and if proven is still close on thirty years away into the future.

If we so desperately need to replace coal fired power plants, just what do we replace them with?
Again I must stress that here we need to replace baseload power with baseload power, and where this is most important is for the sector that uses the greater percentage of that electricity, that being the Commercial and Industrial sector which uses 62% of the produced electricity within the US. If you really think about it, the remaining 38% of power used for residential purposes is in the main Peaking power, which is the spike first thing in the morning before everyone leaves for work and school, and then again at the time everyone gets home from work around the early evening.
Baseload power hums along all day for the sector where everyone works and Peaking power comes on line to top this up at those spike times. Baseload power is those really large plants that can by their very nature hum along all day every day for nigh on half a century and more. Peaking power is provided by all those smaller plants that can come on line for shorter periods.
Large baseload plants are mainly in three categories, Coal fired, which provide the bulk, Nuclear plants, and to a lesser extent Hydro electric plants. Those latter two, Nuclear and Hydro plants are in the main designed specifically to be baseload plants. There’s no such thing as a small nuclear plant that only comes on line for peaking power, because the nuclear reaction needs to be constant, so the plants are designed as large from the getgo. The same applies for the Hydro plants. I mean who ever heard of a small dam on a small creek to occasionally run up to speed. No, they are both designed big to run all the time as baseload power producers.
With coal fired plants, they can be designed large, medium and small, for baseload and peaking power. They are also small when used for Combined Heating and Power for individual uses in commercial and industrial use.
So what we have to do is to replace those huge coal fired power plants that supply in the region of 2000 MW or more, those plants that use 10,000 tons of coal on average each and every day, and what we have to do to comply with the recommendations laid out in the Kyoto Protocol is to close 50 of these huge coal fired power plants across the US.
Remember, you can only replace baseload with baseload. You cannot run those smaller plants at full speed continuously.

Now perhaps the enormity of the situation can be seen.

When Scientists explain the situation, they are limited by one thing, The Media Sound Bite. It has to be explained in the simplest possible manner in the shortest possible time, so when a Scientist is asked by the Media to explain the implications, all he has time to say, is we need to cut back on producing greenhouses gases and these are caused in the main by the burning of coal. That’s all he has time to say, and non technical, non scientific minds latch onto that 30 second sound bite and the simplicity of the whole thing gets perpetuated.
It is not that simple.