Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What the dormouse said

Note: Mr. DeVore has responded in comments linked below.

I don't know why Chuck DeVore, Orange County Assembly Person would insult the California utilities he says he wants to help, but he seems to be a bit deranged in most of his arguments. He wants to repeal a long standing law in California that bans new power nuclear plants. To open, he insults Californians, calling them hypocrites because 80% of them don't carpool or use mass transit. He is outraged that California will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 13 years while growing 20% in population. For 7 million new people, that's about 400 new homes a day. Every day I hear of a new housing development in California with solar power built in. What part of 2 gigawatts doesn't he understand? And, what of existing homes? While new applications for rebates for solar installations were falling off earlier this year owing to time-of-use rates, applications for rental of solar power systems were more than covering the deficit. As of today there are more than 3,600 applications for no-rebate systems which don't immediately show up on the million solar roof books. Will the existing homes in California have fewer installations than the new homes? What part of 6 gigawatts doesn't he understand? Why, this is the capacity he is proposing for new nuclear power all in thirteen years.

He has particular problems with understanding electricity. He proposes that out-of-state power sources would suffer huge transmission losses and argues that nuclear power should not be sited out of state because of this. But he must not know that the Pacific Intertie already supplies LA from Washington and manages this distance quite well. But, since LA already sucks the Colorado River dry, north is about the only direction he can go to site new out-of-state nuclear power while closer solar installations like Solar One will require less in the way of new lines. In fact, north is the only direction he can go for new nuclear power even in-state since coastal sites will face the risk of sea level rise and are unsuitable for new nuclear power plants. So, what he really wants is for the City of Sacramento to build four new nuclear power plants to power southern California. But then he'll have to wait for the levy system to get repaired because Sacramento faces its own flooding issues. And with the changing flows that loss of snowpack will bring, the Sacramento and American Rivers may experience the same kind of problems that shut down reactors on the Tenneseee River and in Europe. So, four new nuclear power plants in the middle of the State Capital to be started after the levies are fixed (10 years) and the law is changed (? years) and taking 6 years for completion gives a minimum of 16 years before any electricity is produced at all with no certainty that the plants can even operate under changing flow conditions. The lack of realism is astounding. Perhaps it is not so much that the utilities are risk adverse as he demeans them, but rather they not raving mad.

He makes another astounding statement: converting transportation to electricity would require doubling generation capacity. This shows a complete lack of understanding of the poor efficiency of the internal combustion engine. Electric transportation is much more efficient and would require at most a 30% increase in generating capacity and likely much less. But most roofs can provide this, so the 8 gigawatts of solar capacity that we may easily anticipate from home roofs alone make a very good start on this.

Others of his deluded statements include that life cycle carbon dioxide emissions from nuclear power are lower than for solar power: Nuclear plants can't be built without fossil fuels and concrete and nuclear power plants can't be recycled while solar panels don't require fossil fuels to make and recycling makes their net energy ratio higher than any other power source.

His plan to change the law in California also apparently hinges on a plan to change the federal law aimed at preventing weapons proliferation. So, now he has to change two laws and meet a 13 year deadline. These are talking points, not serious proposals. The people of Orange County should take a good look at who is paying for the nuclear kool-aid he's been drinking and give him a good long rest.


chuckdevore said...

Mr. Dudley, you claim to be an astronomer, so I will guess that you are far better at math than at forming a strong argument without resorting to weak ad hominems against your opponents.

Allow me to take most of your arguments one by one.

You say, “To open, he insults Californians, calling them hypocrites…” Actually, I was citing a recent Public Policy Institute poll that concluded the same. The newspaper headlines resulting from that poll included:

“Californians all talk on environment – Poll reveals discrepancy between lifestyles, desire for green living” Alameda Times-Star, CA - Jul 30, 2007

“Californians blow hot air on warming – Residents grow opinionated, hypocritical on environmental issues” – Inside Bay Area, CA - Aug 1, 2007

“Poll finds climate change hypocrisy – Californians want strong environmental standards, but drive solo to work in gas-guzzling SUVs” – Oakland Tribune, July 30, 2007

So, it seems that Californians actually appear to want their cake and eat it too with regards the environment.

Now, as for your “What part of 2 gigawatts doesn't he (DeVore) understand?” or “What part of 6 gigawatts doesn't he (DeVore) understand?” To this, I assume you are referring to Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to add about 3,000 megawatts (3 gigawatts) of rated photovoltaic (PV) power to one million roofs. I voted against this give away to the rich for the following reason: it is a terrible abuse of the free market and it is a waste of capital.

Please allow me (a politician with a liberal arts degree) to run through the math for you: each rooftop installation of about 3 kW will run about $30,000 to $40,000 before rebates paid for by people like me. Taking the low range of the cost, $30,000, we can see that one million roof will cost about $30,000,000,000 to achieve 3,000 megawatts (3 gigawatts) of rated power.

PV rarely performs at rated power in the field due to a number of factors (tree shading, improper installation, dust buildup, clouds, etc.), further, PV adds nothing at night. Therefore, your actual output will be far less than 3,000 megawatts (3 gigawatts) on a 24/7 basis. Although, I will grant you that the peak output of PV, occurring as it does about an hour before typical peak power demand in the summer, can be useful in forestalling the need for added natural gas peaker plants. But, at what cost to the ratepayer/consumer?

We’ve already seen that it will take about $30 billion to equip a million roofs with a million 3 kW systems. Alternatively, with $30 billion, we could build 7-10 1,600 megawatt nuclear reactors that run in excess of 90 percent efficiency. This would add multiple times the power of PV – but you already know that.

Alternatively, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, (See: a 1 kW PV system generates more than $10,000 of electricity over 30 years. Extrapolating, a 3 kW PV system generates more than $30,000 of electricity over 30 years. This means that you cannot even pay for the cost of money (interest) on the install. This is a sub-optimum use of capital, i.e., a waste of money at current energy costs and PV costs.

Now, you also criticize me for having, “…particular problems with understanding electricity. He proposes that out-of-state power sources would suffer huge transmission losses and argues that nuclear power should not be sited out of state because of this. But he must not know that the Pacific Intertie already supplies LA from Washington and manages this distance quite well.” Originally coming from Washington State as I do, I understand quite well the Grand Coulee Dam and its generation of 20,685,826,251 kWh in 2005. So, I also understand that the Grand Coulee Dam produces excess power in the summer – power which would otherwise be wasted if it wasn’t shipped to California at the cost of about 15 percent line loss. Because the Grand Coulee Dam is based on a seasonal asset – water runoff – it makes sense to use the power in California rather than let it be wasted in running over the spillways. You cannot make the same argument about a powerplant that is not dependent on a specific location such as a hydroelectric dam. Further, Washington State is growing. At what point will their need for additional power trump our desire to have them export it to us? Also, what about a drought in the Pacific Northwest, what would that do to our power reliability?

You then argue for projects such as Solar One which, you are correct, will require less in the way of power line than building large out-of-state capacity. But, sadly, you ignore the costs of Solar One compared to alternatives. Solar remains seven to nine times more costly than nuclear when measuring actual power produced.

You then claim, without any evidence at all that, “So, what he (DeVore) really wants is for the City of Sacramento to build four new nuclear power plants to power southern California.” This is untrue. I have never said, written, nor even thought such a thing. Fresno is already trying to get a 1,600 megawatt reactor built to power the sixth largest city in the state. Victorville has also expressed interest in nuclear power. I have no desire to see cities with little appetite for a nuclear plant play unwilling host to one.

Lastly, you claim, “He (DeVore) makes another astounding statement: converting transportation to electricity would require doubling generation capacity. This shows a complete lack of understanding of the poor efficiency of the internal combustion engine. Electric transportation is much more efficient and would require at most a 30% increase in generating capacity and likely much less.” Of course you are assuming high efficiencies for power generation, distribution, and conversion of that energy to either stored electrical energy (a battery) and/or hydrogen, through electrolysis. I don’t doubt we could see some improvement in efficiency from conversion of internal combustion to electric – but, the issue here is cost again. If the electricity to charge EV batteries comes from rooftop PV, you might as well walk, because you will not be able to afford to drive. Oil converted to gasoline is likely to be far less expensive than green electricity for some time to come. Using cheap nuclear power to charge EV batteries and to make hydrogen, on the other hand, shows great promise for displacing petroleum-based fuels – especially if dynamic time pricing makes midnight electricity rates very inexpensive such that people will be incentivized to charge their EVs and make hydrogen at night.

That’s all for now, Mr. Dudley. Thanks for the argument, even if you were a bit abrasive in your comments.

All the best,

Chuck DeVore
State Assemblyman, 70th District

Chris Dudley said...

Mr. DeViore,

Welcome to Real Energy!

I'll put this bluntly: joining others in insulting Califronians is just as insulting as doing it on your own. As a politician, adopting a pose of divisiveness only reflect on your style of leadership.

It is quite unfortunate that you did not support the million solar roof initiative and while you can clearly see that my numbers for solar extend well beyond the scope of this project, let us look at the misconceptions you have expressed so that you might reverse your position.

First, you call it a give away to the rich. In fact is assists homeowners in California, and as the slow down in applications earlier this year shows, many people are looking at smaller (2 kWp) systems because larger systems do quite well under time of use rates. Califonians are trying to do what they can with limited means. You may set the bar wherever you wish, but if you insist on calling Californians who are struggling to make the mortgage rich many voters will consider you out of touch. Californians are not so stupid. Solar makes a great deal of sense when it drops them a tier or two in the rates but when they do the math on time of use rates they find that they don't have enough money to invest in an 80% of use system that could save them money. There is a hump to get over. Fortunately, the Assembly reversed on requiring time of use rates so that the iniative may proceed. I don't know how you voted on this. I would hope that you will support consumer choice on rate structure in the future and not restrict people who have installed solar power in an unfair manner.

You are claiming that because you estimate that installed solar costs $10/Watt, Californians will pay $30 billion for the million solar roof project. This seems a little strange. California requires about 230 megawatts of fabrication per year to meet its goal so almost all of the installed power will be from new fabrication plants. The cost estimates for fabrication at new plants are much lower than for current plants by a factor of 4. Istallation methods are also becoming cheaper as capital equipment that saves on labor becomes more affordable in a larger market. Thus, your cost estimate is vastly inflated. Economies of scale advantages have not yet been realized for solar power, but California is being crazy like a fox because it is making that scale happen. Most of the solar that is installed under the million solar roof initiatve will cost under $4/Watt.

Now, here is why your nuclear power idea is particularly bad. New nuclear power costs about $2.50/Watt just to build and then it need to cover operating costs while sucking up subsidies for liability and regulation. It can not compete economically with $4/Watt solar installed at the point of use. The million solar roof initiative is much less costly to Californians than your ideas about nuclear power. You can see now why I estimate installed solar to be much more than what comes in under the million solar roof initiative. My customers don't get any rebate and yet they still save money on electricity. So, there is really no market in California for new nuclear power and building it for export is likely to fail as well given that many of your neighbors have good solar resources. Further, trying to make the case for base load when what is needed is peak seems a little awkward.

I understand now that you are not a native of California. We of the diaspora take a certain amount of pride in the way California has shown leadership to the Nation and the world.
I would urge you to do what you can to upgrade the Pacific Intertie so that you may supply electricity to the northwest. Current HVDC technology has a 5% loss over 930 miles so your 15% estimate indicates room for improvement. This would be a much more sensible place to concentrate your efforts than wasting them on nuclear power.

Now, here is a question for you: what water resources will be required of Fresno to cool a nuclear power plant? You say that nuclear power is 90% efficient, but you are confused. Plants are 90% available but only 30% efficient. The waste heat must go somewhere and if there are not water resources consistently available, they will not operate. This is why you plan calls for the use of the Sacramento River though you may not have thought it through. Nuclear power is just as vunerable to drought as hydro if it is not sited at a water resource that has a minimum adequate flow. Nuclear power is mostly available but it is not reliable because you can lose it when you need it most.

I think you will be pleased with the service provided by Nevada Solar One, it is going to help your grid reliability quite a bit.

Again, welcome. Please write again if oyu need further help in better understanding energy issues, or for any other reason. I appreciate your spirit!

chuckdevore said...

Regarding Fresno, water quality requirements are forcing them to build tertiary treatment for their waste water. Before they put it back into the San Joaquin River. They expect to use this treated water as their coolant.

Regarding subsidies, they are a far greater proportion of the cost of solar than they are of the cost of nuclear power -- especially when compared regarding power output.

All the best,

Chuck DeVore
State Assemblyman, 70th District

Chris Dudley said...

Mr. DeVore,

Thanks for your answer. I suspect that the plan in Fresno will run into trouble when Chinook habitat is considered though warming may make that a moot point. I notice also that Fresno is under water restrictions and snowpack seems limited. Warming may play a role in seasonal water availability in this location. Might want to look further north.

I do think you need to have a hard look at subsidies. Nuclear power got a subsidy of $15/kWh produced in it's first 15 years, about twice that for solar. What is different is that solar is moving quickly to the point where it needs no subsidy, thanks in part to California's effort to grow the market. Nuclear power cannot operate as a mature industry without subsidies. That is quite an indictment.

All sectors get subsidies. Hydro plays a double role in power generation and flood control so there is some support, or perhaps synergy there. Coal gets a great deal in the way of research subsidies while nuclear power recieves a huge share of research subsidies partly because the problem of nuclear waste is so intractable. One expects research subsidies for solar to continue until the 80% efficiency limit is reached. DARPA, for example, is rushing development of 50% efficient panels to reduce battery weight for soldiers. But few in the business expect production subsidies to continue much longer because solar is getting so cheap. This contrasts strongly with the situation of nuclear power where irresponsible behavior on the part of the industry, such as the inability to account for spent fuel at Humbolt 3, must be constantly monitored by the government while liability for accidents that may result from that irresponsible behavior is assumed by the government.

When subsidies encourage a more vibrant market that improve citizens' lives, they serve a very important purpose. But when they simply prop up a failing industry like nuclear power they only raise the cost and risk for everyone. I would urge you to ask your representatives in Congress to repeal the Price-Anderson Act so that the nuclear power industry can pay for its own liability insurance. If even Lloyds won't take them, they can simply post a bond. To cover a circle of radius 20 miles with $400K homes on half acre lots requires a bond $640 billion for property damage. Assuming an accident rate of one every 40 years one only need add a 4 cents per kWh charge to nuclear rates to cover property and casualty with a $100K payout, 10 cents per kWh for a $400K casualty payout. This is comparable to California's solar subsidy as you have calculated it, so it would seem to be time for nuclear power to grow up. If the fear of losing the bond has the effect of getting the nuclear power industry to behave more responsibly, the burden on taxpayers for providing safety regulation would also decrease. With our present national debt, this would also be the responsible thing for the federal government to do since covering the liability for a nuclear accident on its own might very well put us under the tender ministrations of the IMF.

The effort to repeal Price-Anderson, together with working to upgrade the Pacific Intertie would serve your constituents and all the people of California much better than what you are presently attempting to do.

I hope these discussions are helpful. I am being a bit brief in presenting calcualtions so please let me know if more detail would be preferred.

chuckdevore said...

You wrote: "I do think you need to have a hard look at subsidies. Nuclear power got a subsidy of $15/kWh produced in it's first 15 years." Define. I have found solar supporters typically lump in nuclear weapons research with commercial nuclear development.

Nuclear now produces 19 percent of America's power -- 78 percent of France's power. Any current R&D and subsidies should be viewed within that context.

The California Energy Commission itself shows nuclear to have a Current Cost of Electricity
(2003 data, cents/kWh) of 1.4 to 1.9 cents vs. coal at 1.8 to 2.0,
Natural Gas at 5.2 to 15.9, and solar at 13.5 to 42.7. Their data, not mine.

As for insurance, you can say the exact same thing about homes downstream of hydroelectric dams. That said, how many die every year from coal in the U.S.? (60,000 by some estimates.) How many by nuclear?

Solar has received subsidies in California since the mid-1990s as I recall. We always hear that cost competitiveness with the grid is just around the corner.

The solar roof initiative is said to cost $3 billion in ratepayer subsidies to pay a portion of the installs for one million roofs to make 3,000 megawatts of peak capacity. That is not a good investment in terms of cost of money.

By subsidizing the rich, I meant exactly what I wrote. How many immigrant Latino families in L.A. will do a solar install? How many African American families in Oakland? Now, how many families in Marin County with two BMWs in the driveway will do a solar install for $20,000 after rebates paid for by me and other ratepayers who have not done an install?

Chris Dudley said...

Mr. DeVore,

I think you need to examine the difference between flooding and nuclear accidents. Flood insurance is sold seperately from homeowners policies, but you cannot buy insurance against a nuclear accident. Further, dams reduce the overall risk of flooding and so reduce premiums in aggregate. You are correct that coal raises the cost of medical and life insurance so it might make some sense to reapportion these costs into electic rates. Since the risk is to life rather that both life and property we should look at this a bit differently but using your 60,000 per year number coal looks like a nuclear accident every 53 years rather than every 40. If we scale to the relative contribution of coal and nuclear to generation, then the coal number goes up to 130 years. On the other hand, moving towards scrubbers has a demonstrated effect on mortality. California has been a leader on this issue and your risk may be lower. The federal government finds clean coal (with sequestration) to be less expensive than new nuclear generation though I'm not sure that available reserves of coal and uranium have been properly considered. However, I don't think you originally were interested in increasing coal generation. But, in the case of hydro and coal it is not the case that no insurance is available at all. With nuclear power we risk the insolvency of the federal government itself.

In terms of R&D subsidies, this report looks mostly at nuclear, wind and solar but does not go back in time far enough to look at hydro. There is also a problem in adopting its fixed time window methodology because urgency also comes into how subsidies are applied. For nuclear power, Atoms for Peace and worries about proliferation probably increased urgency while if we apply the same 15 year window to fusion R&D the number of kWh produced is zero so the ratio is infinite. But, fusion R&D has intentionally been put on a slow track owing to the assumption that fossil fuels would last until mid-century. As a rough way of looking at the way technically challenging energy sources are treated, the report method is helpful. For a viable industry, R&D subsidies tend to zero relative to power produced which is why these kinds of subsidies make so much sense. The issue with nuclear power is that it still recieves such a large production subsidy, which does not tend to zero, so long after its commercial deployment. This is why repeal of Price-Anderson should be a priority.

The pricing given by the California Energy Commission shows exactly why California's emphasis on solar makes so much sense. Gas is what is putting a drag on your economy so switching to solar with its reducing but comparable cost in an environment where gas can only rise makes this very smart. Swapping around between coal and nuclear looks like a wash though clean coal is thought to be less expensive than new nuclear power. Switching to solar now makes immediate economic sense because your cost issues are in peak demand. Questions about base load should likely be deferred until initiatives that California utilities are starting in storage are more developed. Synergy between storage and transportation looks quite promising, in which case the cheapest form of generation, wind or future solar, can be used to handle base.

If the subsidy for solar in California is only $1/Watt, perhaps it would make sense to restructure. This is the cost of the inverters, so, if you used regulation to say that meters must accept 24 volt DC as an input you could eliminate the subsidy now. This would standarize inverters and likely reduce costs overall since utilities would have a better barganing position than individual installers for obtaining volume discounts.

Where I live, there is actually some sad conflict because the buyers of new homes are often immigrants and minorities. There was a large scale arson at a development a couple of years back that appears to have been rooted in racism. Your population increase is largely driven by immigration so I would expect that your new home market is also driven by this. There are also reduced credit requirements for new home purchases. Given the activity in building solar in from the start in new homes (which also reduces costs) I would expect that your immigrants may end up with a higher relative fraction of solar in the short term than the rest of the population. The issue you raise about poverty might be best addressed by finding ways to encourage landlords to install solar power.

If you yourself are a homeowner, you can take advantage of the rebate which you might want to consider. Alternatively, if you don't mind foregoing the rebate and renting equipment instead I'd be happy to help you get started. I think you'll find that you'll save money doing this. Currently we have more customers signed up in the 946xx zip code near Oakland (43) than in the 927xx zip code near you (19). We are a startup, so you'll have to wait a bit to actually get the installation, but there is no cost to sign up and no obligation until after you approve the system design.

Please write again with any questions you may have.

Chris Dudley said...

I got the comparison between coal and nuclear wrong: coal with sequestration is thought to be a little less than 2% more expensive than advanced nuclear to build, operate and maintain. Other estimates for nuclear power are higher. For Calvert Cliffs 3, the estimated cost to build is $2.50/Watt compared to $2.08/Watt estimated by the EIA above. By comparison, First Solar expects to charge $1.25/Watt for its panels before either of these systems could come on line.

Chris Dudley said...

There is further news on the strains that the San Joaquin River is already facing. This suggests that a Fresno nuclear power plant would be competing for a resource that is already over allocated. Presumably, Victorville faces even more constrained conditions. Is Silverwood Lake the proposed cooling water source?