Another Novel Approach to Balancing the Grid in Califonria

GE and Southern California Edison recently worked on a project together to more efficiently ramp up generation in the evening when the sun is starting to set and people are coming home to turn everything on. My research assistant a.k.a. my mom just pointed me to this interesting new method that combines a lithium ion battery system with two existing natural gas turbines. The total output of the system will be 50 MWs, and they are calling it the LM6000.

Before there was so much solar and wind power on the grid, energy supply and demand were smoothly coordinated by slowly ramping up natural gas turbines for up to twelve hours. This process worked fine in the old days, but with today’s variable renewable Natural Gasenergy sources it is a much bigger challenge.  The traditional system of ramping up a gas turbine wasted a huge amount of fuel and therefore released a ton of carbon into the atmosphere. The reason for this is that traditional systems have to burn fuel for hours while they are is standby mode and waiting to connect to the grid.

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With the LM6000 system SCE will be able to instantly begin discharging power from the energy stored in batteries while they ramp up the gas turbines. This system allows for much more flexibility then current technology because they can literally start providing energy supply in seconds as opposed to hours. This is going to add stability and reliability to the grid for all of the end customers.  By having this capability SCE is also positioning itself to be able to acquire more solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) without fear of how to balance supply and demand. Another benefit to the new set up is that is that it can be economical because instead of wasting all of that fuel to start up the gas turbines now they just turn on the battery. Then as the gas turbines start ramping up. All of that energy can actually be sent into the grid instead of being wasted as heat.

If you are interested in more renewable energy information please follow me on twitter @EvanNWarner

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The Struggle is Real When it Comes to Developing Geothermal Power Plants

Geothermal Power generation is a really difficult industry to get into. There are many barriers for companies trying to start geothermal power plants. First of all you have to be located in the correct areas in the country.  For some reason, most of the geologically viable regions are located in the west coast of the U.S. and a majority of the hottest smu_georesourcesmap11resources are located in California and Nevada. So geological restrictions alone eliminate about 40 of the US states from ever having a producing geothermal power plant.

Once you narrow down your search to the correct geological region, you can identify localized regions that you believe have geothermal activity. In order to have a functioning power plant you need to find a sight with two qualities. It has to have high temperatures close to the surface, by close I am talking in geologic terms so less than 10,000 ft.  It also has to have a reservoir of naturally occurring water in the same area.  After you have picked the area you want to set your plant at, you need to acquire the land or at least the rights to use the land.

After acquiring your land access you need to begin the permitting process. You need to secure drilling permits to drill on the land. Many times there is a lot of environmental impact studies that are involved in the permitting process. Once you have your permits, start drilling test wells so that you can get a better picture of what is going on underground. By drilling test wells, you can send instrumentation down into the earth to start getting some temperature profiles, mapping the fractures, and measuring the amount of water flow that will come out of the specific hole.

After collecting all of this downhole data you can create a model of how you understand the resource to be behaving underground.  This model is very important for figuring out where you are going to drill your production and injection wells. After you get an understanding of the resource you have to start drilling your wells. Geothermal wells can cost between $1 million and $10 million each. The drilling requires you to hit the fault in the exact right location. If you don’t hit it just right, your $5 million well can be a complete dud that you have to plug.

As soon as you have your tested production and injection wells, now you can spend the $50 to $150 million to get your power plant built. At the same time you have to work on securing a long term power purchase agreement with someone who promises to buy your electricity. This entire process can take around six or seven years before you are actually generating any electricity and bringing in any revenue. Geothermal is definitely not for the faint of heart!

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Nuclear Fusion: The Ultimate Renewable Energy Source

There is a form of energy that will be renewable, abundant, base-load, and make all of your dreams come true, it is called nuclear fusion. So far scientists have yet to figure out a way to produce these reactions in a safe and reliable way, but we witness the power of fusion every day. The sun and all stars for that matter are giant nuclear reactors that suntake hydrogen atoms and merge them together to form helium atoms. This process gives off an extraordinary amount of energy that we experience as the sun’s light and heat. Scientists have been able to create nuclear fusion reactions in the past just not in a controlled way. Hydrogen bombs utilize these same reactions that I am referring to. They give off an extreme albeit uncontrolled amount of energy. If we could channel that same energy we could power the world.

Nuclear fusion is a process of taking hydrogen atoms and fusing them together so that they form helium. Normally it is very difficult to get atoms that close to each other because there are forces that repel other atoms away from them. Inside the sun there is a huge gravitational force which creates intense pressure and temperature and allows these reactions to occur. This process on earth will take some very sophisticated and expensive equipment in order to recreate that environment. So how do normal nuclear power plants work? Traditional nuclear power plants work through basically the opposite process. Nuclear power plants as we know them use nuclear fission which is a method of splitting atoms apart and harnessing the energy that is released.

The benefits of nuclear fusion are really spectacular. Nuclear fusion reactions give off about four times as much energy as nuclear fission reactions. Also the byproduct of nuclear fusion is just helium atoms and there is no nuclear waste to dispose of. Because there is so much hydrogen on earth we have basically a never ending supply of fuel. All of this energy could be produced consistently 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and there are no carbon emissions to worry about. I really hope that I can see this technology become the norm in my lifetime. The bad part is, there is a joke about fusion which says the technology is always about 40 years from being developed.

If you are interested in more renewable energy information please follow me on twitter @EvanNWarner

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Pros and Cons of Air Cooled and Water Cooled Geothermal Power Plants

In my blog ‘Identifying Potential Sources of Power Generation’ I discussed the concept of heat sources and heat sinks. Most power plants use the ambient air temperature as their heat sink a.k.a. the cold end of their process. But there are actually two ambient temperatures that can be useful as a heat sink for a power plant.  I’m going to try not to get too lost in weeds in this post, so if you want more information about this, you can look up psychrometrics.  Anyway, the first one is just the regular air temperature known as the dry bulb temperature. This is the temperature that will come into play for air cooled power plants. The second air temperature that is useful is called the wet bulb temperature. This temperature is based on a combination of the Dry bulb temperature and humidity. The reason that it is important is because this is the temperature that water will evaporate at.

In a water cooled power plant, water is sent through the top of cooling tower (basically a large box with metal mesh inside) and then as it falls some of it evaporates. The cool water that comes out of the cooling tower usually has a temperature a few degrees higher than the wet-bulb temperature but usually several degrees colder than the dry bulb temperature. The cooling water then acts as the plant’s heat sink. One advantage of the water cooled system is that your heat sink will be at a lower temperature and therefore your process will be more efficient. Another advantage is that water is much better at holding and absorbing heat than air is. This also makes your process more efficient. The main downside of a water cooled power plant is that it is often difficult to get water rights to keep them running. A key component of a water cooled plant is that some of the water has to evaporate in the cooling tower. So that water has to be replaced by new water from somewhere.


For an air cooled power plant, the heat sink will be the higher dry bulb temperature. Of course in the opposite of the water cooled scenario, the air cooled plant has lower efficiency. Because air cooled power plants are less efficient it also means the condensers have to be much larger to get the same effect. Air cooled power plants take up much more land area than their water cooled cousins. They also have a lot of moving parts with all of the fans that blow the air. All of those fans require periodic maintenance. The good things about air cooled power plants are that you can put them anywhere even in the middle of a desert, and you don’t have to worry about things freezing.

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