Why IS The Threat Of CO2 Emissions Dangerous? (It’s Not What You Think) Part 2

Posted on Sun 02/01/2009 by



In the previous post, I mentioned that most of the coal fired power plants in the U.S. are reaching the time when their effective life span is almost finished. Regulation of them brought about by what amounts really to a scare campaign, sees any new plans for newer and more efficient plants that burn less coal, and do it more efficiently, are not even getting out of planning because of those two words attached to the front of them, ‘coal fired’.

Where that leaves us is with a dilemma.
As those older plants come to the end of their life, there is nothing new coming that can take its place.

I also mentioned efficiency for power plants. Coal fired plants can turn over at that continuous speed of 3600 RPM, rotating the immense weight of the multi stage turbine and generator, of around 400 tons non stop for their lifetime, only winding down for scheduled maintenance. They can operate at an efficiency approaching 85% for those older technology plants and around 90% for the newer super critical plants. Even considering that down time for maintenance, and the down time to refurbish some of the really older plants during the year, the total coal fired inventory in the U.S. last year still delivered 76% of their total power output over the whole year.

Nuclear power plants run at an even higher efficiency still, up around 95% of their rated nameplate capacity, and even taking maintenance downtime into consideration, all those Nuclear power plants in the U.S. delivered 92% of their nameplate capacity over the whole year.

This efficiency rating is very important, and why it is important is because of that one thing.

Baseload Power.

That is something that environmentalists just do not get.

They tell us that baseload is a crock, and a diversion, but what they do not understand is that baseload power is what is required absolutely, 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This is the power required to keep everything working. Hospitals, workplaces, industry, cities, every large building you see on the skyline of every city and town. This power just has to be there all the time, and it has to be constant and reliable. This accounts for almost 75% of all the power generated in the U.S.

Households provide the two daily spikes that are called Peaking Power, and for that, those other generators come on line and run up to speed fairly quickly to provide that extra power. The nature of them is that they can come on line quickly. They are smaller, and designed specifically to only run for short periods, so they just cannot be used to supply constant Baseload power for 100% of the time. This can be effectively shown when we add up the nameplate capacities for all those Peaking Power plants, which includes all those natural gas fired turbines. Even though the total nameplate capacity is huge, the actual power delivered from them over the whole year amounts to only 24% of the overall total, which again effectively indicates that they are only in operation for one quarter of the year, or, extrapolated out, one quarter of the day, an hour and a half or so in the morning and four and a half hours or so in the evening, Peaking Power times. See the point about rated efficiency and the need for baseload power to provide everything outside those peaks.

As you might imagine, those large plants, coal and nuclear have the huge weights of the turbine/generator complex, and they cannot be run up quickly because the high temperature and high pressure steam that drives them needs time to come up to temperature and that is a slow task indeed.
So, those large coal and nuclear plants just hum along all day every day for 50 and more years at close to their maximum efficiency.

At the opposite end of the scale, those two renewable types of plant that are being hailed as the way we must now proceed can not ever supply this absolute need for constant baseload power.
These two forms of power generation can only be used to supply power for those Peaking power times when extra power is required. They can feed the grid, sure, but they can only be used to add that extra power. They cannot be the sole source of generated power for that area supplied by that portion of the grid.

Last year the combined inventory of Wind plants supplied just under 29% of their rated nameplate capacity, so in effect, they are only supplying their maximum rated power under best operating conditions for less than one third of the time.

Solar power supplied even less than that again, operating at an efficiency of just on 15%.

These two sources of power that are looked upon as the way of the future produce just over 1% of the total generated power in the U.S. and all but the tiniest of percentages of that 1% total comes from wind plants, because solar plants are hugely expensive for almost negligible power. Wind Plants and Solar plants also have a (very) much shorter life span, and require more in the way of constant maintenance.

So, as those large coal fired plants reach the end of their life, and with nothing new coming on stream to the grid to take their place, then supply of electrical power becomes problematic.

You can quite sanguinely say that this will force us to start building more efficient wind and solar plants, but how can you regulate the wind to blow at a minimum of 16 MPH for 24 hours a day and for 365 days a year. How can you regulate the Sun to shine brightly and hotly enough to keep those solar panels producing the maximum power when just one cloud flitting across the sun produces a 50 to 60% cut in power that then takes time to heat back up to its maximum level to produce that power. What happens during periods of long overcast? What do you do for the long cold winters when the sun is not even warm enough to melt the snow, let alone heat up solar panels.

As one of those large power plants reaches the end of its life, you will need to find equivalent power to replace it. If the plant is one of those large plants of around 2000 MW nameplate power, then you will need to replace it with wind towers that will produce that equivalent power, and to build those towers in the same area where the coal fired plant is being decommissioned, because you cannot transmit the electrical power over vast distances. So, if the 2000 MW coal fired plant closes, you will need 2300 wind towers to produce that power at the current 29% efficiency.
Using Cape Wind as an example, their 140 wind towers cost $1 Billion, so right there you’re looking at an cost just for the plants themselves of just on $17 Billion, and, on top of that you will still need to extend the life of the old coal fired plant out by the ten years it will take to construct that, providing it can be done in that time frame.

Now, perhaps you can see the dilemma.

So, as those coal fired plants shut down, and mark my words, shut down they will, there will be no electrical power. You just cannot keep them running forever.
This will not be perceived as a victory for the environmentalists. This will not be a victory for clean air.
This will be an absolute disaster, as people in that area just have to do without electrical power, not only in their homes, but in every aspect of their everyday life, where they live, where they work, where they shop. The whole gamut of their lives.
I can just see it now. There will literally be rioting in the streets.

This whole thing has been a failure of planning.
Failure to realise the scope of the matter. Failure to realise that effective planning needed to be put in place to replace those aging plants.
Something of this scale needed to be started ten, fifteen years ago before the environmentalists scared everybody off what is the only means of supplying that constant reliable and dedicated power supply, because now, it’s too late. Everyone at every level is too scared to even contemplate a new coal fired power plant, because ill founded protesting will see that it never progresses more than that thought bubble stage.
Those ranting environmentalists will protest and get their way.

Then, one morning, even those protesters will wake up, try to turn on the heating in the depths of Winter, try to have a hot shower, cook breakfast, go to work, and find that they just can’t do this any more, because there is no electricity, because the old coal fired power plant that supplied all that power for so long has finally given up the ghost.

There will be no power to truck in from somewhere else. There will be no power to steal from another County, another State.

There will just be no electrical power.

The protests from that point onwards will be of an entirely different nature, but it will all be too late.