Common Good Dialogue -Alan Page's Blog

Old Energy Position Papers

Energy Position Paper 2007 (see also sub pages below)

By Alan C. Page, Green Diamond Systems

                                    125 Blue Meadow Road

                                    Belchertown, MA 01007

                                    alan@greendiamondsystems.com

The Global Warming problem is a creation of our own inventions.  A recent major contributor to this problem is the structure of the electric energy production and distribution system now in place in the USA and the model promoted throughout the world by the USA.

 

While the distribution grid has some significant life enhancing qualities, it also has discouraged the development of any sense of responsibility for our individual energy use.  The current structure of this power distribution model has questionable utility because of its tremendous inefficiencies and resulting pollution.  The following discussion presents some data and analysis of this intolerable situation. 

 

Figure 1 below is a depiction of USA Energy Flows in 2005 presented in Science Magazine Vol 315 #5813 pg 797 and was prepared by Lawrence Livermore labs etal.

 

The gray section at the top right is the estimated losses by the various sectors of the national energy budget.  The section of losses at the middle of the grey bar represents the losses from the electric production and distribution sector.  It is interesting to note that the losses are greater by almost 20% than the entire raw energy supplied by coal .


Questions to be Answered:

How could such waste arise?

What are the components of the energy losses?

How can this loss be minimized?

How does this discussion relate to the “Global Warming” issue?

What difference does the use of renewable energy make to the efficiency  of energy use or reduction of environmental damage?

 

How could such waste arise?

Many of these problems would not exist if we were individually “responsible” for the collection and transformation of the energy that we each use.  However, a century or more ago entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse were looking for ways to make lots of money. Edison realized that if he could limit the ability of people to cooperate locally then he could provide power from large facilities that he controlled.  Edison had a position diametrically opposed to that taken by Westinghouse.  Edison’s ideas gave birth to the electric utility.  He accomplished his goal of centralized power generation by making it illegal for power to be shared across a public road unless it was done through a utility.  Some of the components of efficient large scale generation include: displacement of the facility far from population because of noise and pollution, and continuous operation because they could not turn off or even slow down the steam sources to match the presence or absence of load.  We have come to accept these situations as normal, but they are mainly there to guarantee the utilities a means to profit from their activity. 

Our media are supported by the various large vendors of services and no longer question the bases of most of our root problems.  For instance, none of these questions are addressed in the Special Edition of Science Magazine on energy issues that is the source of Figure 1. 

A cursory review of fossil fueled electric generation efficiencies yields the conclusion that the delivered efficiency of the carbonaceous fuel derived portion of the electric power generation and distribution system is under 20% of the total energy consumed.  For individual situations, it may be much worse than that.  Included in the facilitation of centralized production of electricity (as well as most other things) is the lack of any ways of valuation of the effects that result from this concentration of effort.  Although we have developed new systems of marketing some of these impacts, the development of a system of understanding the resulting effects frequently lags the cultural adoption of each concentration of sector activity by several decades or more.  We can see this in the recent growth of WalMart as a powerhouse of marketing of low cost goods despite the obvious dislocations caused by long distance movement of cheap commodities.

What are the components of the energy losses?

  The details of this analysis include the following parts: energy losses from fuel to generation, line loss, unaccepted load, conservation losses, and system integrity and maintenance requirements.  A complete analysis would include the energy expended in finding, extracting, transporting, and mitigating the energy consumed, and the energy required to cleanup after all phases of the energy use, this is beyond the scope of this document.

 

1: Energy losses from fuel to generation -  this is essentially the inefficiency of the conversion of raw energy to electric power and is represented as the % of the energy consumed that is lost as waste heat at the generation site if it is not recovered for some other use at these.  It is rarely less than 60% (except in very new combined cycle gas systems and fuel cells plus turbine units which are claimed to be 60% efficient) and may be as high as 80%.

2: Line loss – this is the portion of electric energy lost in transmission and transformation while on the grid.  It ranges from negligible for local users to more than 20% for poorly designed systems.  The value of 10% is used in this analysis.

3: Unaccepted load – this is the portion of generated electricity that gets loaded on the grid but has no market and is eventually not recovered by conservation measures.  This component arises from the inability of large generators to be throttled down when the demand for power decreases.  It is similar to the situation found at home when a small gasoline generator is running but there are no lights or motors connected.  The fuel is consumed but the potential power is not used (lost).  This unaccepted load may range from 20 to 50% of the power placed on the grid.

4: Conservation losses – these mentioned above come from inefficiencies in the capture, storage and re-release of energy on the grid.  These losses are generally half of the energy recovered.  These losses only result when these measures are available, and may only be applied to the unaccepted load portion of the total power available on the grid.  The gross energy recovered by this sector is estimated to be 2 to 10% of the unaccepted load.

5:  System integrity and maintenance requirements – are those energy expenditures that result from the existence of a power distribution system.  They do not exist in a stand alone system.  These losses are estimated to be between 10 to 15% of the total energy consumed for generation.

 

Loss Category

Loss %

Energy Source

Net Loss (older systems)

Net Loss (newest systems)

 

1: Energy losses from fuel to generation

70%

Raw fuel energy

70%

40%

2: Line loss,

10%

Net loaded electric energy on the grid:

10% of the 30% of raw fuel energy:

 3%

10% of the 60% of raw fuel energy:

 6%

3: Unaccepted load

25% - older systems

5% - newer systems

Net loaded electric energy on the grid:

25% of the 30% of raw fuel energy:

 7.5%

5% of the 60% of raw fuel energy:

 3%

4: Conservation losses

50% - older systems

Negligible in newer systems

2% of the unaccepted load, 7.5% of the net loaded electric energy on the grid

2% of the 7.5% of unaccepted load:

 0.15%

0%

5: System integrity and maintenance requirements

10%

Raw fuel energy

10%

10%

Total loss

 

 

90.65%

59%

 

From the above table one could assume that we will soon migrate all power generation to the much more efficient combined cycle gas powered systems.  A quick glance at the natural gas portion of the US energy budget in figure 1 shows that this sector currently supplies 3.45% of our electric energy.  Couple this with the fact that the US has no significant growth potential in natural gas supply and you understand that the 30% increase in efficiency will not do much other than cause the displacement of some production in high population areas for peaking power.  The combination of the two classes of generation result in a change in overall efficiency of 1.6% to just over 89% loss for the whole system (assuming that the distribution of losses is correct as stated in figure 1.)

 

How can this loss be minimized?

            Without massive improvement in generation efficiency, the only alternative is to find a use for the waste heat at all generation facilities.  A step in the right direction would be for all new power generation to be required to be sited with a use for all waste heat.  This can not happen if there are no productive activities performed in the region where the power is required, as is becoming the case in the US with the encouragement of our government.

            Obviously, improvements in generation efficiencies are only significant when coupled with very local use.  Grid delivered power from efficient generation sources must also be accompanied with enhanced  generation and load control, reduction of infrastructure energy expenditures, and elimination of line losses throughout the system for much of the overall efficiency to change. 

            One sure way to bring about large changes is for us all demand “local co-generated power.”  Local means self, neighbor, or neighborhood generated power.  Co-generated means that the waste heat has some useful way to be recovered for some productive use before being released into the atmosphere.  “Local” also allows each of us to observe the tradeoffs associated with using electricity and to assume responsibility for the effects of our consumption.  Such an arrangement will provide the incentives needed for each to become responsible for controlling our energy use, i.e. to live as if our lives depended on our choices.  In this option most of the grid would be eliminated or be relegated to a safety net to provide minimal power for maintenance of essential services like refrigeration and minimal heating.  This choice eliminates the possibility of unaccepted load and the losses from the state-changes (from electric to potential energy and back to electricity) needed for conservation of this unaccepted load.  The infrastructure energy expense would also be reduced. 

            One of the possibilities for local generation, that has escaped mention in most discussion so far, is for everyone to use the fuel they spend on heating or cooling twice; first, to generate electricity for their own use or for neighbors, and then to recover the waste heat to do the heating and cooling.

 

How does this discussion relate to the “Global Warming” issue?

There are many linkages; probably too many for full consideration here, but two major components stand out.  1: We have become comfortable with the promotion of the idea that we are entitled to whatever we want or need whenever we need or want it.  2: Our use of coal for electric generation appears to be completely redundant (the total loss of grid provided power is greater than (119% of) the total raw coal energy consumed in making electricity for the grid.)

The first issue of consumer empowerment will be extremely difficult to reverse without a major calamity.  Global warming may provide such a motivator but by the time it is apparent to consumers it will probably be too late to do much about it.  Hurricane Katrina and Rita did little to focus attention on anything beyond how awful the backup systems were for those affected by the storms.

The second issue is interesting because there are so many parts to the questions of “why we continue to rely on coal at all?”, and “why we are seeing the accelerating growth of coal fired power generation in other countries?” 

The first issue of immediate gratification and the growth of the WalMart syndrome interact with the second issue of extreme inefficiency of raw energy use by increasing the likelihood that products will be produced at distances from consumers even greater than the distance that large power facilities can be installed from the user.  This means that even if we wanted to combine these functions of central power generation with material production it is now almost impossible to do so.  (This is the basis for co-generation of electricity – positioning a generator at the facility of a producer of goods.)  So the most feasible step at this point is for those who can to take the step of generating their own electricity.

 

What difference does the use of renewable energy for power generation make to the efficiency  of electric energy use or to the reduction of environmental damage?

One must analyze the installation of the particular facility.  A wind farm for instance has none of the losses associated with the generation portion of fuel based power generation.  Solar systems have similar attributes to wind.  Both systems require backups for periods when power production is low or absent.  Such backup may take the form of the grid, or in small installations, a battery or other form of generation backup.  A biomass facility without co-gen may be equivalent to a combined-cycle gas plant or worse if the system is less efficient.  The biomass, solar and wind systems are all carbon neutral once the infrastructure-energy-releases have been mitigated.  However, unless these systems are closely coupled in local production all other inefficiencies apply.

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