Electricity – Paying Three Times For The Same Thing, And Some Unintended Consequences (PART 1)

Posted on Wed 02/03/2010 by

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PART ONE OF TWO PARTS

Don’t you just love the way Politicians find new ways to gouge you. They don’t call it a tax, and won’t hear of anyone who does, in fact, roundly vilifying anyone who does dare call it a tax. Then they find a way to give it a name that makes it seem acceptable, a name that IF anyone does criticise it, gives them ammunition to attack that person with labels signifying they are destroyers of, in this case, the environment that we all have to live in. Then, without offering a truthful explanation, and with the media in their back pocket, they introduce these new measures, and the only real thing that we actually CAN do is to pay ….. and pay ….. and pay.

The same applies with the electrical power we all use, something that has now become a staple of life, something we cannot do without, and something we all have to use.

To correctly understand just how we do use it, you need an understanding of its production, and the way we use it. Those large scale plants that produce the huge amounts of electrical power, in the main coal fired power plants and nuclear power plants work precisely as they are designed. Their size is the reason that they hum along at the same rate all day every day, because that is how they work at their most efficient. They are immensely heavy generators, around 250 to 400 tons in weight, and they rotate at 3600 RPM. To do this, they require an immense amount of steam to drive the turbine that drives the generator. They cannot be run up and down in speed easily or in a short space of time, and in fact they are not designed to do this. They provide vast amounts of power to the grids in their area, and we as consumers then draw that power down from what is there.

Now look closely at this simple graph, probably the most misunderstood diagram in the whole electrical power area. It is the Load Curve for power consumption.

Load Curves for actual electrical power consumption.

If you click on the image it will open in a new and larger window. As simple as the diagram looks, it requires some explanation as to what it shows and what it means.

This graph has no real need for  labels to be annotated to the X and Y axes, where in the Country or even the World that this graph applies, or even who it might apply to. That X axis indicates time on a 24 hour basis, and  the Y axis indicates total power consumption on a percentage basis. This graph applies almost the same in New York as it is in Miami, as it is in Los Angeles, as it is in Seattle, as it is in St. Louis, as it would be in all the smaller cities and towns in between. It is the same in London, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo, and for every city and town in every Western World Country. It also applies right down to the single household application to every residential application in every one of those Western Countries. The power consumption for Summer is indicated by the orange line and the blue line indicates power consumption for Winter. The other seasons apply as for the warmer periods of Spring and Autumn as for Summer, and the cooler times as for Winter.

As you can easily see from the graph, there is a dip in the early AM hours when we are all in bed. In Summer, power gradually rises during the morning, and then gradually decreases until around 10PM. In Winter, there is a short spike early in the morning when we all rise, turn on the lights, turn on the heat, shower, cook breakfast, you know, everyday life at home. Then there is another, and this time significant spike in the late afternoon around 3.30PM peaking around 5.30 to 7PM and then gradually decreasing till around midnight. This is the time we all get home from school and work, the time when we turn on the heat, shower, most importantly, cook dinner, relax with music and the TV, you know, normal everyday life at home.

Now, look again at the graph where the dip is. The line directly above that goes across the whole page. That is around the 60% mark. That line drops below that line for barely a couple of hours in Summer, and an hour in the Winter. So, everything below that line is power that is still being consumed, and that is for the whole 24 hours of every day. Because that dip is so small, then nearly two thirds of all the power (everywhere) is still being consumed. That counts for nearly all the coal fired and nuclear power in the Country. Those plants supply all that power that is required ABSOLUTELY, all day every day.

During the day as consumption rises, then other plants come on line to add the top to what is being already supplied by those plants, and then we as consumers draw down from that overall total. These plants that add that extra are plants that can easily run up and down in speed, and in the main are Natural gas fired turbines that drive the generators. These plants are specifically designed to run for those shorter periods of time when that extra is needed, and after that peak passes then they can be sequentially shut down until it is back to just the power provide by the large plants that lumber along flat out all the time.

Those plants from the renewable sector cannot be relied upon to supply power during the Peak periods, and in fact are probably not taken into account when planning for power that has to be available during those specific times. Solar power only supplies its power during daylight hours, so in Winter those peaks are not during daylight hours, and Solar Power only supplies 0.02% of all U.S. power anyway, so even that minute amount of power is of no consequence. Wind Power also cannot be effectively relied upon because those Peak power times are specific, and wind towers power availability is variable relying on the wind, which may or may not be lowing during those specific times, and even so, it supplies barely 1.6% of the total consumed power anyway, so that small amount would make very little impact if any, so it is not considered.

That power below the line is what is termed Base Load Power, and the other periods of time are what is termed Peaking Power.

Now, keep in mind that those Natural Gas fired plants still emit Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and in fact KWH/KWH, they emit 55 to 60% that of those coal fired plants, so they in fact are also quite substantial emitters themselves. In fact, all those Natural Gas Plants emit around 420 Million tons of CO2 each year and they only run on average 4 to 6 hours a day.

So you are already paying for the electrical power you use. That cost covers the cost of construction for all those plants, the cost of the fuel, the cost of the wages for all the people working in the power production industry, the cost of maintenance, the cost of the transmission infrastructure and a small percentage on top of that.

You consume the electrical power you have always consumed. It changes very little, and if you think about it long and hard, there are very few savings you can make in the way you already consume that electricity, and any changes that you do make are only minor in nature, and would amount to only small monetary savings.

CARBON CAP AND TRADE (THE BIG NEW TAX)

Considering what you already do consume, now think of adding an extra cost (for the amount you already pay) on top of that again, this time for the proposed Carbon Cap And Trade Bill.

This new tax (and there’s no other name for it) will take one of two forms. An outright tax on the CO2 being emitted by all those plants, or a cap being introduced and then anything above that being levied on those emitters. If one or the other, that extra cost will be passed directly down to you as the consumer of the electricity. That amount has been quoted around $50 per ton, and overall, just in the U.S. alone nearly 3.5 Billion tons of CO2 is being emitted just from the production of electrical power. So, even though you already pay for your electricity, there will be an added cost if this piece of legislation is approved. Those proposing this Bill will tell you it will ultimately lead to a drop in emissions. However, any changes you make will be minute compared to the overall picture, and even if every single consumer did in fact find reductions, that amount of 3.5 Billion tons will not be affected by an amount that will actually make a difference. So you will still be paying a considerable amount more for the electrical power you already consume,, and any changes at that personal level will not mean much in the way of any major savings for you, so it will just result in a net raise in the cost of electrical power for you. The fallacy that it will reduce emissions by a substantial amount is something that will never eventuate.

In PART 2, I will detail how you will further be charged extra again, for the same amount of electricity you already consume. That PART 2 is directly below this on the same home page, or if you are visiting externally, then take this link.