Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hydropower 104

Hydropower “courses” 101 through 103 were offered in February and March of this year with little fanfare and even less response. Understandable.

People in this country, at this time, are more concerned with such time-sensitive arguments as The Economy or The Condition of Healthcare in America, than the condition of our air and water supplies in the year 2020 or even 2040.

BUT our little organization, age 101, has been around the track several times; we’ve seen it, live (before television). Wars, Depression (real one), Recessions, Presidential Assassinations; Critical and Deadly Droughts.

We’ve also seen some good things: Cures of Polio, Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Pneumonia, diphtheria; discovery of Penicillin; decrease in death rate from pneumonia and influenza, to mention a few.

We also saw the reawakening of the importance of the power of water to produce energy – primarily electricity. Huge dams were built, Coulee and Hoover, series of dams in cooperatives such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, all using replaceable energy sources when the phase “renewable” wasn’t even considered.

We have also seen a great increase in public concern over the condition of what has become known as the Ecology.

And this is where we can find two diametrically opposed groups with the best of intentions – providing a serious impediment to the future of clean air and water.
There is no question that clean earth needs natural resource management as provided by the ecological sciences. There also is no question that the burning of fossil fuels damages the ecology as we know it today.

What needs to be explained to both parties is that the development of more hydropower does not have to impinge on and certainly not threaten the ecology. The development of the tidal, flow and small vertical water power generation is designed to avoid any harmful impact on the good balance of nature and its plants and animals.

Again, the Fossil Agents use the fear of the need to build huge dams that would indeed disturb the ecology, to keep the good guys on both sides from working together- as they most certainly must.

In Hydropower 105 you will find an explanation of all the small hydro projects that will do the job while keeping the peace.
Please stay tuned

Is There Any Clean Power in Mexico?

And we’re not talking just energy. Mexico is a very clear example of one of our favorite subjects: The politics of energy and the energy of politics (see earlier editions).

In the United States and Canada the battles are between oil/coal/fossil and the clean air and water group hydro/solar/wind. Mexico’s problems are compounded by the internecine drug war wherein it is truly difficult to tell who the good guys and bad guys are.

As if this isn’t bad enough, it becomes worse when you consider that Mexico is the third largest supplier of petroleum to the United States, second only to Canada and Venezuela. It currently supplies us with more than Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Rogelio Neri, former head of Mexico’s federal electricity commission blamed the inability of the nation’s oil industry to produce enough oil to meet rising demand that could cause Mexico to halt all oil exports – including the 11% of the United States total imports.

At the same time Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary and a former border state governor stated that the United States and Mexico are “winning the often brutal war” against the drug cartels that operate across the US/Mexico border.

“We are not only fighting this fight, we are winning it,” she told the Southwest Border Task Force gathered in El Paso, TX in early August 2009. She highlighted a string of drug and weapons seizures as proof that the $billion plus war is succeeding in spite of a violet “push-back” from gangs who have often appeared able to outgun and outspend the Mexican “federales.”

Thus the question of Mexico’s viability as a key supplier of oil to the U.S. is of great interest in terms of (1) the price of oil (2) the security of U.S. oil supplies and (3) the viability of Mexico as a self-governing state.

Respected Mexico observer George Baker is confident that Mexico will continue to be an exporter because Mexico’s viability and thus its “domestic tranquility – to the extent that it has much left given that it is fighting both drug-related and political violence – depends on it.”
Regardless – if Mexico stops exporting oil in four to six years, that is not a lot of time to find replacement for the 1,088 thousand barrels per day now being delivered.

It is clear that the OPEC group still has a threatening choke-hold on oil supplies that we still need. Recall that Venezuela is a member of OPEC – yes, a founding member.

If anything this situation calls for a real “all-court press” to develop the renewable power sources in North America – primarily HYDROPOWER! We can’t say it enough!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Canada Awakes – In Time?

Any good Canadian will tell you that it hasn’t been Canada that’s been asleep. “The bloody Yanks south of the border are the sleepwalkers!”

And of course some of the “bloody yanks” will tell you that the “Canooks” have been promoting their dirty oil instead of that huge potential of hydropower sitting there- waiting for development – i.e., Investment, Money, capital, Dollar$.

Nowhere on Earth are there two neighbor nations on friendlier terms than the U.S. and Canada. Until 9/11 crossing the border between the two didn’t require passports or anything more than personal I.D. and a general statement of one’s reasons for the visit, personal or business.

So it is no surprise that cross-the-border business, in both directions, flourishes within the limits set by various regulations, states, provinces and federal governments.

So putting aside the friendly joshing about sleep – both countries have shown signs of finally recognizing the need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy and promote their plentiful hydropower potentials.

A perfect example of this cooperation is shown in a report published on August 3, 2009 in Chateaugay, New York by the New York Power Authority (NYPA). In it the NYPA announced that New York and Canadian authorities are planning a new huge international hydropower project.

Under the proposed program NY would import up to 2,000 megawatts (2 million kilowatts) of power from “multiple sources, including hydropower from Canada.”

Among the sources will also be power produced from Canadian Wind Farms that have been seeking a market outlet.

The project will cost between $4 and $6 billion phased over an eight year period. The NYPA says that the project will be the largest conducted in the State of New York in more than a half-century.

Further evidence of the growing US/Canadian energy alliance is seen in similar projects being proposed along the border of Canada and Minnesota, Montana and New England.

We can only hope – and trust – that the message of clean air and water resulting from the use of hydropower over fossil fuels is gaining credence and understanding by more and more responsible Americans.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Are They Doing Everywhere Else?

That is everywhere other that North America. Some samples:

Norway – 99% of all power produced in Norway is through hydropower. Studies are also being made for feasibility of other renewable power sources

Sweden – Has some of the world’s largest sources of uranium- but they are not being further developed. 54% power is hydro and 37% nuclear. By 2010 nuclear should be fully replaced by Renewables – mostly hydro

Denmark-20% of nation’s power is generated by Wind Turbines. Once heavy in oil and gas use, Demark has been energy self-sufficient since 1998 – using biofuels, wave energy and hydrogen. Demark provides 65% of the world wind turbine market.

Russia-Always a major user of oil and natural gas – with Mideast sources right on its borders, hydropower is becoming a major replacement. There are 50 larger hydropower plants in operation – some needing repair – and many more major units planned that were held up at the breakup of USSR.

Japan- called the “Land of Rising Conservation” conversions from oil to fuel cells, solar energy and strong efforts in conservation stemming from Japan’s acute sense of insecurity as a resource-poor nation that imports most of its energy from the troubled Mideast reserves. Renewable energy sources development is top priority.

Australia- like Japan, there is a lack of potential hydropower sites impeding the growth of that portion of the renewable energy source market. However there is a strong movement to develop ocean, tidal and wave energy ultimately “contributing significantly to the global hydropower sector.”

China- Wind power sector to grow 64% this year to20 million kilowatts (20 GW) and hydropower is to increase to 300 GW nearly three times the 2007 level. However there are plans to increase the Chinese nuclear capacity to 75 GW up from 40 GW. China plans to be the world leader in hydropower generation in 10 years.

India- Hydropower is beginning to have significant impact on Indian electricity generation after years of slow development of renewable energy sources. Emphasis has been on solar development the growth of understanding about the need and benefits of hydropower have begun to emerge.

Brazil / Peru- The two countries are in talks leading to the construction of up to 15 hydropower plants in the Andean region. The first 5 will have generating capacity of 6 Gigawatts (6,000 MW). This will “replace a considerable amount of fossil fuel harm.”

Looks like we are not alone in the world after all.

Monday, August 17, 2009

“And If Elected, I Promise…..”

How many times have we heard campaign rhetoric start with that phrase? As former New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said, “We campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”

How true, and in the case of energy, how sad: perhaps eventually tragic. And this is the reason that we have taken on the mission of insisting that our children understand the urgency of cleaning up our air and water not twenty years from now – but NOW!

But what are our elected officials actually doing?

The operative word is “politician” which is, after all what our elected officials are. And it seems that what politicians do best – and what gets them elected from time to time – is talk.

And talks seems to be all we can expect for the near future – say a year or two? That is because the talkers are busy working their way out of a financial crisis brought on mainly by – are you ready? – politicians not minding the economic and banking stores for the past ten years!

So when a newly elected president announces that his answer to air and water pollution is develop “clean coal” over the next twenty years, we cringe. For one thing he cannot still be president 20 years from now, or even 9 years. And so he will not have to answer the questions our children will raise about the junk that had to be buried from the coal after it was “cleaned.”

A number of US senate and congress candidates have made some very well-intentioned statements promising the elimination of importing fuel from the Mid-east. Of course they don’t complete the thought by telling what fuel will replace the Arab gold – but we know don’t we? – COAL! That great American product!

And on questioning some of them we are told that our Hydropower ideas are fine but there is no room for big dams anywhere in the country. Wonder where they got that idea? I’ll Tell You. The fossil fuel boys have staged a full scale program of misleading the people about hydropower and its “harmful” impact on the ecology. Can you think of any worse impact on the ecology than unbreathable air and undrinkable water?

Well, if the fossil fiasco is not cured in those famous “twenty years to Clean Obama Coal” there may just be nothing for our grandchildren’s grandchildren to look forward to- or more specifically – to survive in.

Get on your representatives!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The American Electric Grid – from Virtual to Real

Here we go again! There are times when explaining the status of the American energy systems seems like fiction touched with a little wizardry. Small wonder because even some experts are convinced that some things are true when they really aren’t.

I guess we better explain that! Perhaps a National Public Radio (NPR) report said it best: “The U.S electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines.” The operative word is “independently.”

And the bottom line is there is no single US electric grid.

What is additionally bothersome is that some transmission lines, whose function is to connect the power supplies to the consumers, are, in NPRs words “Aging.”

In fact the entire infrastructure is in such a state of poor health that the increase in demand and rise in domestic electricity consumption has forced utility and government experts to proceed with the deepest critical examination to determine current status of the entire spectrum of the American electrical systems.

So the “American grid” is actually a collection of smaller grids comprised of thirteen groups of states each with its own set of interconnections. Canada has a similar collection of five groups of provinces with grids established within each.

The small state grids, called “Coordination Councils” (CCs) are connected to neighboring CCs and thus an accepted theory is that through these connections power could be sent from Maine to California.

The fact is that any power generated in Maine and sent toward California would be gobbled up by any one of the hungry CCs between “here and there.”

We have seen a number of blackouts through the years. Some of them have been very serious: 1965, 1977 and 2003 just to mention a few. The terrible news was that after each of these “grid failures” we, the American People, have been told that nothing has been done to prevent further failures! - And so they continue.

Our representatives need to study and cure (1) the existing electrical system defects and shortages, (2) the persons and organizations responsible for use, maintenance and growth of the systems, (3) Areas of conflict of interest involving public utility ownership of parts of the “grids” and (4) conflict between local, state and federal laws (supposedly) controlling the power supply and transmission systems so essential to human health and safety.

Next – let’s look at what the Pols have done so far!

North America – Wet or Dry?

No, we’re not talking prohibition or state laws involving the sale of liquors.

But there are serious problems in parts of the country that involve serious dry spells resulting in drought conditions that impact on everything in the area – including energy supply.

We have reported earlier that the most serious areas of drought are along the Pacific and Gulf coasts – which are, surprisingly areas where the desalination of sea water could be most feasible. (See our blog entitled “Desalination and Geothermal – Ideal Marriage?”)

The continental US has areas of great water supply and others that have become – or are becoming - centers of serious and likely permanent drought.

The Pacific Northwest, mainly the states of Oregon and Washington, are famous for the prodigious amount of hydropower generated there. About 51 percent of all the hydroelectricity generated in the country is made in the Pacific states. (Not including Alaska or Hawaii).

The main dry areas that have developed in recent decades have been found in California and Texas. The electrical requirements of these two states are significant – with continuing “grid” impact.

There is one major area in which conditions are considered “drought” but continue to improve with hope for reclassification to only “dry.” That covers the northern part of Michigan and parts of mid-Minnesota. Weather “eyes” are keeping close watch on this area.

Many of our recent issues have dealt with hydropower which we see as the one major and true “green” source of energy for the future.

A number of our reports have also dealt with the real and the virtual “national” grid systems in place and where seriously needed.

A third component that requires study and application is the population centers located throughout the nation and the electricity requirements in and near them.

All of these factors will come together in our next report that we hope will bring all the components up to date and enable a serious approach for our representatives to study, learn and use in the appropriate legislation and controls required to finally harness the fossil insults to our environment.

And yes, North America is both – wet and dry and the two can be made compatible.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Does Water Make the Grid Rusty?

You mean there’s a “grid” for water supply?

Well, not in the way that electricity is delivered throughout the nation.

So if the question is whether there is something like a grid for water the answer is “sort of” and that’s because clean water very often has to get from its source to its ultimate consumer and that requires major plumbing, sometimes pipes big enough to drive a truck through.

Electricity generated by hydropower involves similar logistics. One has to get the power generated at the hydro source to the ultimate consumer and that does indeed involve a grid. And in a national, coordinated sense the grid required to deliver hydropower generated electricity is indeed – Rusty!

The same grid that carries power generated by burning coal, oil or gas must be used to deliver water power. The problem is that while many fossil fueled plants are within cities or close to them, the hydropower is often in far away and remote locations. That doesn’t make the delivery system rusty, but the system in a national sense is inadequate and in some areas in poor shape and that condition if not rust, is certainly not acceptable.

We have reported before that due to the recent financial crisis there are literally trillions of dollars of investment money ready to upgrade the “national” grid – when the economy “settles down.” That can build a grid system capable of delivering power anywhere it is needed.

We have also reported on the development small local hydropower plants being developed that don’t require big dams or, in fact, any dams at all , but generate power from water that flows: yes, horizontally. And the flow plants have absolutely no impact on the ecology – another great blessing of hydropower generation.

As for the location of power plants, those burning fossil fuels can be located almost anywhere but the fuel or fuels have to be delivered to them. With hydropower just the opposite is the case
Hydropower must be created at the sources of flowing, tidal or falling water. That means that the Electric Grid has to be there for its product to be delivered.

This last point raises an additional question – the subject of one of our next issues:
Does grid wiring pose different problems, such as unsightly power lines, high tension power concerns? We continue to believe that all problems have solutions – and we pursue them eagerly.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Waterpower is the Maine Thing

To begin, of all the hydropower generated in New England, 52.6% is in Maine. And there is more on the way! But what would seem like a perfect connection to all the hydropower needed to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in New England –isn’t yet open.

One problem, indigenous to New England is that petroleum use had grown over the years to the point where at least 60% of the energy use in New England was oil and another 13% or so was based on natural gas.

With reliance on the delivery of Mid-East oil to the area and a small amount of natural gas from Canada, it finally occurred to some independent “down-easterners” to get back to basics – Water power- the very energy form that got the area moving a few hundred years earlier.

The people who believed that while coal and oil can harm the ecology, felt it might be a good idea to bring in more natural gas to replace some of that energy. Never mind, said the independents, that close at hand was enough water power to solve all the local energy problems.
Well, let someone prove it, was the answer – and so they did.

A study made by several authorities indicated that there are thousands of Megawatts of potentially undeveloped hydropower projects in the state. Many of these are not suitable for electricity generation but hundreds of MW are.

Accordingly, there now exist 119 DEP hydropower projects in Maine as of January 1, 2009.These when completed will increase the Maine electricity production capacity by 201.6 MW to a total of 767.5 MW of electricity.

“All well and good,” said the naysayers, “but we are already getting oil and gas delivered to us. How do you get the hydropower here?”

And that’s a very good question, which raises another good question; “What about all that Canadian hydropower sitting just over the border?”

The answer, or course, is NOT blowing in the wind, but part of the Eastern North American Interconnect wherein a number of grid connections exist between Maine and (a) Quebec hydropower and (b) the Canadian Maritimes area hydropower.

For more details see Northeast Power Coordinating Council, Inc. reports (on the Internet as NPCC). While numbers and details will be included in a future update, suffice it to say for now that between the Maine and Canadian potentials, oil, gas and the small amount of coal consumed in Maine could be eliminated.