Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach.
Sometimes when I’m reading about renewable technologies, I just break out laughing at the madness that the war on carbon has wrought. Consider the Ivanpah solar tower electric power plant. It covers five square miles in Southern California with mirrors which are all focusing the sun on a central tower. The concentrated sunlight boils water that is used to run a steam turbine to generate electricity.
Sounds like at a minimum it would be ecologically neutral … but unfortunately, the Law of Unintended Consequences never sleeps, and the Ivanpah tower has turned out to be a death trap for birds, killing hundreds and hundreds every year:
“After several studies, the conclusion for why birds are drawn to the searing beams of the solar field goes like this: Insects are attracted to the bright light of the reflecting mirrors, much as moths are lured to a porch light. Small birds — insect eaters such as finches, swallows and warblers — go after the bugs. In turn, predators such as hawks and falcons pursue the smaller birds.
But once the birds enter the focal field of the mirrors, called the “solar flux,” injury or death can occur in a few seconds. The reflected light from the mirrors is 800 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Either the birds are incinerated in flight; their feathers are singed, causing them to fall to their deaths; or they are too injured to fly and are killed on the ground by predators, according to a report by the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory.”
– David Danelski, Solar: Ivanpah Solar Described as Deadly Trap for Wildlife,” Riverside-Press Enterprise, April 8, 2014.
But of course, that’s not what made me laugh. That’s a tragedy which unfortunately will be mostly ignored by those good-hearted environmentally conscious folks suffering from chronic carbophobia.
The next oddity about Ivanpah is that despite being powered by light, it is light-years away from being economically viable. Like the old sailors say, “The wind is free … but everything else costs money”.
But being totally uneconomical doesn’t matter, because despite costing $2.2 billion to build, Google is a major shareholder, so at least they could afford to foot the bills for their high-priced bird-burner …
… get real. Google would much rather use taxpayer dollars to burn birds alive than foot the costs themselves. Being good businessmen and women they sought and got a $1.6 billion dollar taxpayer funded loan, presumably because no bank on the planet would touch the project. And if the banks wouldn’t touch it, why should you and I?
But that’s not enough for these greedy green pluted bloatocrats. Now, they are applying for a $539 million dollar GIFT of your and my taxpayer money in order to repay the money that you and I already lent them … we should give them the money to repay ourselves? Give an unimaginably wealthy company money to repay us what we have loaned them? Have I wandered into a parallel universe? This is GOOGLE, folks, and they’re trying to poor-mouth us?
And of course, that’s not what made me laugh either. That is another tragedy which unfortunately will be ignored by those who wish to see electricity prices rise … you know, folks like President Obama, who famously said:
Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket …
Of course, such an electricity price rise would mean nothing to him, like every recent President he’ll leave office a multi-millionaire. And such an energy price rise means nothing to the Google execs who are burning birds alive … but for those of us here on the ground, causing the electricity rates to skyrocket is not the moral high ground, it is a crime against the poor.
So that is no laughing matter at all.
No, the part that I didn’t know about Ivanpah (and other solar steam plants), the part that got me smiling, was that there is a problem with a solar tower that is generating steam. This is that steam turbines don’t do well at all with half a head of steam. For full efficiency a turbine needs full pressure steam in order to operate. And it has to have full pressure, not when the valves are closed to let the pressure build up, but when the turbine is actually using the steam.
And since you can’t store steam, that in turn means that Google can’t start up their you-beaut solar tower until fairly late in the morning.
Well, the solution that the good engineers hired by Google came up with was simple.
Start the sucker up using natural gas. That way, first you can heat the cool boiler water before the sun comes up. Then, as more and more solar energy comes online during the morning, you can taper off on the natural gas.
But having a solar plant that runs on natural gas, although funny, wasn’t the best part … it gets better:
One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get plant humming every morning. MARKETWATCH
These good folks have underestimated the amount of fossil fuels that the plant would need by a factor of four, and they want us to follow their lead in reorganizing the world’s energy supply? And of course, in the familiar refrain, the taxpayer is expected to foot the bill for their ignorance and their inept calculations.
So now, I find out that the Ivanpah plant runs on natural gas four hours a day, and I gotta say, I did find that funny. But in the most ironic twist of all, the above link goes on to say:
Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.
And that brought the joke all the way around. I found that hilariously ironic. Because of alarmism based on computer model predictions of rising temperatures in 100 years, we’ve built a fossil-fuel fired solar plant which is already in trouble because of failed computer model predictions of the clouds over the next few years … don’t know about you, but that cracked me up.
Now, even the best solar energy conversion devices don’t operate 24 hours a day, or even 12 hours a day. Generally, eight hours a day or even less is the norm. And that has been cut down by clouds … so at present, dreaded fossil fuels are likely providing a third of the energy to fuel the plant.
Gotta say, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about things like the natural-gas powered Ivanpah solar power plant fiasco. On the whole I have to favor laughter … but dear heavens, the damage that environmentalists are doing in the name of the environment is appalling. Burning birds alive in the name of making energy prices skyrocket? Have we sunk this low? Really?
In any case, my best guess is that this is a self-limiting problem, or it would be without subsidies. The “levelized cost” of solar thermal is horrendous. It is the only technology which is more expensive than offshore wind, and it is the most expensive of the commonly analyzed grid-scale renewable choices. It won’t work without the kind of multi-million dollar taxpayer subsidies that the Google folks think that they deserve … me, I would never have given them the loan of taxpayer money in the first place, that’s the bank’s job, not the government’s job. More to the point, I think they deserve to pay the damn loan back themselves.
Let me close on a more optimistic note. The referenced article says:
Bird carnage combined with opposition by Native American tribes to industrial projects on undeveloped land has made California regulators wary of approving more. Last September, Abengoa and BrightSource abandoned their quest to build a solar-thermal project near Joshua Tree National Park when the state regulator told them the plant’s footprint would have to be cut in half.
In March the Board of Supervisors of Inyo County, a sparsely populated part of California that is home to Death Valley National Park, voted to ban solar-thermal power plants altogether. “Ivanpah had a significant effect on the decision making,” said Joshua Hart, the county’s planning director.
If the final end of Ivanpah is the end of any further Ivanpahs ever, I suppose that I’d say that Ivanpah was worth whatever it cost … although I’m sure the birds would have preferred a different path to that outcome. As long as Ivanpah is in operation birds will continue to be burned alive in the name of driving up electricity prices … and these monomoniacal carbophobes still think that they have the high moral ground regarding fossil fuels?
Because I rather suspect that neither the birds nor the poor would agree …
De Costumbre: If you disagree with what I or anyone says, please have the courtesy to quote the exact words that you object to. That way, we can all understand exactly what you find objectionable.