Sure, wind and solar don’t actually seem to work very well for providing grid energy. However, they do one thing that seems to be popular: provide a great smoke screen to hide the enormous amount of actual smoke being blown out of coal stacks.
The US Coal industry would like to remind you that coal and wind make a great pair. Coal provides the power and wind makes it seem palatable. In reality, using wind in combination with coal is about the same as using coal alone. Even if you do manage to build enough turbines to create a non-minuscule amount of power, it always has to be backed up by reserve totaling the full generating capacity. When used in a spinning reserve capacity, coal fired plants don’t actually consume all that much coal than when they’re running at full tilt. In order to allow for the kind of instantaneous dispatch required, the plant must maintain full steam pressure and cannot allow the system to slow down or cool.
However, the coal industry would like to point out a couple of things: Coal is plentiful and cheap. It’s as plentiful as dirt and as cheap as dirt. It’s also as dirty as dirt, if not dirtier. They would like to assure us all, however, that new “clean coal” plants are not quite as filthy as the older plants. Unlike the old coal plants, that dump all the filth into the atmosphere, the new plants only dump some into the atmosphere and dump the rest into ash and precipitate ponds.
The natural gas industry would like to point out that it is not quite as filthy as coal. When it comes to dirt burners coal is king and gas plants only produce a nominal amount of filth in the form of sulfur, nitrous and soot emissions.
Gas plants do also have some advantage over coal in terms of load-following. Although keeping a gas fired plant in spinning reserve mode does use a significant amount of gas, it’s not quite as bad a break as coal. That said, there has been some debate over exactly how much you really can save by paring wind and gas. Forcing a gas turbine to throttle up and down tends to impact the effeciency of the system and if the plant is forced to go to full power after a period of low activity, it may have to operate in “simple cycle” mode, until it is able to generate enough heat to get the steam turbines spun up – this can cut the effeciency in half.
While simple cycle gas turbines (the less effecient kind) are capable of providing reasonable fast dispatch, the only form of power generation that is proven to not be extremely lossy when used in a reserve capacity is hydro electric power. A hydroelectric plant can go from idle to full power almost instantaneously and without wasting huge amounts of energy like gas and coal plants. But the gas industry would like to point out that natural gas is really cheap (today), and they hope you won’t remember that a few years ago it was really expensive. Also, they prefer not to talk about the fact that it will likely go up again.
Contrary to what these ads say, there’s nothing “new” about coal or natural gas, other than their newly found partner in deception, the “renewable” sector.
So there you have it, dirt burners or fart burners. Which will it be? Either way, both are more than happy to add a few wind turbines or solar panels for window dressing if that is what it takes to allow them to continue what they do. But hey, natural gas plants don’t usually blow up (okay, they do once in a while, but more often than not, they don’t.) And as for coal, sure it indirectly kills tens of thousands a year, but most years it only kills a dozen or so directly, in mine disasters or massive ash spills. Of course, both have the issue of producing large amounts of radioactive waste. (yes, you read right)
Can anyone think of any other power sources that are actually clean and don’t need a dirt burner or fart burner to keep them backed up? Anyone? Anyone?
This entry was posted on Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 11:05 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Enviornment, Nuclear, Obfuscation, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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