Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Solar-Powered City of Tomorrow" Will Probably Be More Nuclear Than Solar

From Time:
An NFL lineman turned visionary developer today is unveiling startlingly ambitious plans for a solar-powered city of tomorrow in southwest Florida's outback, featuring the world's largest photovoltaic solar plant, a truly smart power grid, recharging stations for electric vehicles and a variety of other green innovations. The community of Babcock Ranch is designed to break new frontiers in sustainable development, quite a shift for a state that has never been sustainable and lately hasn't had much development.
Where will the power for this "green" city come from?
Kitson has been promising unprecedented sustainability all along, but today's shocker was the announcement of Florida Power & Light's plan to provide electricity for Babcock Ranch with a 75-megawatt photovoltaic plant nearly twice as big as the current record holder in Germany. Solar power has been slow to catch on in the gas-powered Sunshine State, but FPL hopes to start construction on the 400-acre, $300 million plant by year's end. The utility expects it will provide enough power for Babcock Ranch and beyond.
Furthermore, Time writer Michael Grunwald claims that:
At $4 million per megawatt — FPL estimates the cost to its customers at about 31� per month over the life of the project — it should be more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys.
This statement raises the obvious question of why FPL is trying to expand its nuclear capacity if solar photovoltaics are already four times as cost effective. The answer, in fact, is elegantly simple: Grunwald's math is way off. Not only will the solar plant produce power at least twice as costly as that from FPL's new reactors, but thanks to its likely <25% capacity factor and a lack of energy storage, this "solar-powered city of tomorrow" will likely end up consuming more nuclear-generated electricity than solar-generated electricity.

A quick Google search reveals that Grunwald's numbers are simply inaccurate to begin with:
The Babcock Ranch project will cost between $350 million and $400 million, FP&L officials said. Three other solar projects now being built by FP&L will add 31 cents to the average monthly bill of the utility's 4.5 million customers.
Instead of the $4000/kW given by Grunwald, that's $4667-$5333/kW. This is still considerably lower than the estimates that I had seen in studies commissioned by Florida PSC, for instance this one. This study expected ground-mounted single-axis tracking solar PV installations to reach this price point in approximately 2014. Still, even at that point using favorable assumptions electricity from these facilities was projected to cost over $0.20/kW-hr, with government subsidies reducing that price to $0.136-$0.15/kW-hr. Meanwhile, the same study concluded on the basis of equivalent methodology that the new nuclear plants currently being planned in Florida will produce power at a cost of approximately $0.12-$0.13/kW-hr, beginning in 2016. This was assuming the relatively high figure of $7700/kW capital cost for the nuclear plants. The Navigant study does, however, make it absolutely clear why the Florida PSC has adopted the particular set of policies it has by endorsing aggressive pursuit of both nuclear power and some renewables. However, in ALL scenarios it studies nuclear power is cheaper than all forms of solar electricity after 2016, even with government subsidies. Far from being "more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys," this plant will ultimately be considerably more expensive.

Furthermore, it will not actually power Babcock Ranch most of the time. As reported by the Miami Herald:
Though researchers are working to create storage capability for sunlight-generated power, solar electricity at present only is available during daytime hours. The concept is FPL's 75-megawatt solar generator will produce more power for the state's electric while the sun shines than the city will use in 24 hours.

''We're going to generate more renewable energy than the city consumes,'' said Kitson spokeswoman Lisa Hall. ``It will be a leader in solar. It's a great opportunity to overcome that storage thing. The carbon footprint is going to be net zero.''

Basically, the solar plant will produce four times as much electricity as is used by the development one-quarter of the time. The majority of the electricity generated by the plant will go out into the grid and be used throughout Florida. At night and when the sun isn't shining brightly enough to produce much power, the city will receive its electricity from the rest of FPL's generation base... including the reactors at Turkey Point. Currently about 19% of FPL's electricity in Florida is generated at Turkey Point and St. Lucie, but with the ongoing uprates and the two new units at Turkey Point this should increase to 30%+. Furthermore, as solar insolation varies considerably between summer and winter, most of the electricity from the solar plant will be produced in the summer. This means that the PV arrays will produce far more electricity than the city will use in the daytime in June, and far less than it needs in the winter and, of course, none whatsoever at night. So it is unavoidable that most of the energy consumed by Babcock Ranch will come from elsewhere on FPL's grid, and given the probable makeup of their generation mix one decade from now, it will use more electricity generated by nuclear reactors than by its own solar plant.

Isn't that just deliciously ironic?


DV8 2XL said...

I am fed up with the intellectual sleights of hand, the cooked numbers and the ultimately incorrect prognostications of the promoters, champions and cheerleaders of solar energy.

Instead of switching to solar-driven energy systems, humanity as a planet has been steadily moving away from these systems historically over time. Using a level of mathematics readily accessible to even the most math-challenged liberal arts major it can be shown that there is a calculable upper limit to the amount of energy that can be obtained from the various solar sources.

It can also be shown that the maximum obtainable supply (taking into account realistic conversion efficiencies and resource requirements) of solar energy at present is indeed large. However humanity's incessant need for energy is not only larger, but growing larger over time.

Those who favor total reliance on renewable energy fail to grasp that windmills only work well where the wind constantly blows, hydroelectric power plants only can be built on rivers that exist (new ones aren't being made), and photovoltaic cells don't work during the night or on cloudy days. And the cost of having backup power systems is staggering

ihatethetv said...

And I'm tired of trying to explain to people that net zero is as good as disconnected off the grid. Any time solar is running instead of coal or oil you have emissions savings. So any solar growth is good in my book.

You can call it intellectual sleights to hand, but frankly I think you're being simplistic for faulting that. Electricity is a complex subject.

Yes solar doesn't run continuously, it's on during the sunlight...but who cares which plants are running at a specific time over the long term?

Consider this: Gasoline in a piston engine doesn't produce constant power, it's one explosion every Xrms/2 seconds per cylinder....A powerful, previously un-harness-able explosion ever few hundred milliseconds. The novel idea in the combustion engine is that you can take that and make it regular and controllable and regular. Solar needs this too and the technology exists in many forms. It just needs to become cost and carbon efficient to store and move it.

Even without storage capability, if it were cheap enough solar could on take a huge fraction of our power use (I'd guess somewhere around 50%) because it generates during our times of peak load.

DV8 2XL said...

First of all ihatethetv, very, very little oil is burned to generate electricity, so solar is never going to save much petroleum - ever.

Second, you seem ignorant of the basic operation of a coal-fired thermal generating plant. They cannot be switched on and off like a car engine. They have to keep running if power is to be available for dispatch to back-up a renewable source like solar. This being the case absolutely no savings of fuel are realized at all.

Your attempt at an analogy with reciprocating internal combustion engines is also deeply flawed - the more efficient ICE is the continuously fired gas turbine.

Electricity is a complex subject, I suggest you become more familiar with it before commenting further.

And I might note that the solar industry itself concedes that even with effective storage, they are unlikely to do better than 20% of total load.

ihatethetv said...

While I'll concede that not much oil is used in the production of electricity (something around 1.6% in the USA this year), all fuel sources are connected.

Plug in hybrids are just one application of the technology that could shift load from portable oil-based power to batteries. It really comes down to power/weight, price, durability, etc in the batteries. Once they compete with ICE there's a tipping point from oil use in portable devices to electricity. In my view, that's not far off.

You can say they're disconnected if you want.

You really missed my point on the analogy. I mean, the turbine has nothing to do with what I'm talking about.

My point is this: A technology (the piston engine) harnessed non-uniform power profile and made it regular and usable.

The grid has a problem that is similar in nature, but vastly bigger in scope. It needs to satisfy very dynamic load profiles across space and time using power from both static and dynamic sources.

I don't claim to know much about coal power generation. If it can't be throttled, that should be worked on. I'd guess that may not be because of a fundamental issue rather than lack of proper motivation to do so. Thinking systemically could provide that insight that it is needed.

In response to this statement: "Electricity is a complex subject, I suggest you become more familiar with it before commenting further. "

I'll just call you an asshole

DV8 2XL said...

The apparent depth of your ignorance in these matters is profound.

You obviously have no idea at all what you are talking about, and I am not in the mood to go out of my way to explain anything to someone that flings insults.

You really do need to be more familiar with the technical issues of electric generation before commenting further, because plainly you cannot forge any sort of intelligent opinion on the subject if you don't