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« Corporate worms starting to turn | Main | Thinking, or not thinking, about coffee »
Friday
Mar182016

Two years later

Engineers and industry agree that although challenges abound in utility-scale solar in the sunniest places on Earth, we have the technology to go big in the desert

The vast and glittering Ivanpah solar facility in California will soon start sending electrons to the grid, likely by the end of the summer. When all three of its units are operating by the end of the year, its 392-megawatt output will make it the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, providing enough energy to power 140,000 homes. And it is pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere.

Scientific American, 1 July 2013

[Ivanpah] isn’t producing the electricity it is contractually required to deliver to PG&E Corp., which says the solar plant may be forced to shut down if it doesn’t receive a break Thursday from state regulators.

Marketwatch, yesterday

H/T Anthony

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Reader Comments (120)

Betaplug: If Abengoa and partner, Veolia, is going down the tubes it couldn't have happened to a more deserving fellow (Deben). Thank you for the good news on a lazy Sunday!

Mar 20, 2016 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

@golf charlie: ever tried to photograph Uranus with Klingonfilm?

It's an interesting experience.

Mar 20, 2016 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

golf Charlie. Fear not, clangfilm was discontinued in the 1960s as being too noisy. Klingonfilm went on to sweep the entire known universe (and beyond!). Clangfilm is now only remembered by few, mostly the partially deaf.

I commiserate with your difficulties over space fried eggs. My own hang up is zero gravity spaghetti; its propensity to tie one's self into knots is legendary. Don't mention string theory (too obvious).

Mar 20, 2016 at 3:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Eeek! Mr Kendall, it was Golf Charlie you wished to punish, not all of us! Please keep your comments serious – you have much to offer, there. On the humour side… not so much.

Mar 20, 2016 at 10:28 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Enough, I'm gone. It was pleasurable while it lasted.

Mar 20, 2016 at 11:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Back to basics folks - the design analysis failed to account for accurate morning warmup and cloud compensation. Those two factors are known, and can easily be input into the operational model. The resulting answer will tell whether it should live or die, without added time to fudge the numbers. Based on increased CO2 production alone, it should have been shut down, except guess who is selling them the NG...😜

Mar 21, 2016 at 5:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Brad, I'm feeling particularly thick this early in the morning, but perhaps you could explain why a system that figuratively works on the sun's heat should require warming in the morning. An analogy with the morning inactivity of cold blooded animals would appear therefore to be wrong, but why?

In the morning the mirrors would be misaligned but that could be countered by realigning them to anticipate their required morning settings using power generated the previous evening, just before sunset (and that would hardly be termed warming). Do the mirrors need warming to drive off morning due (always a problem in deserts). If this is the case why don't they coat the mirrors with the material reputed to prevent water beading (and long promised for our car windscreens)? Alternatively trickle feed the mirrors during the early morning to prevent any dew from forming. The only other need for warming that I can imagine is that the system uses a working fluid that can only work efficiently above a given temperature and that temperature is not achieved during the earliest daylight hours. But then aren't the mirrors providing enough heat? If not, why not just wait? What am I missing?

Mar 21, 2016 at 6:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Brad. Rotten spell checker !!!!!! DEW not due.

Mar 21, 2016 at 6:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Re: Alan Kendall,

If they don't use gas to get the water to operational temperature then they lose several hours of generating ability every day.

It would mean that instead of generating for 12 hours per day it would only generate for 8 or 9 hours and for the few hours whilst it warmed up they can not charge exorbitant prices for generated electricity.

Mar 21, 2016 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

All previous bloggers. Apologies for unnecessary using up some of your precious reading time, because I've just read an earlier post in this thread (by joePublic) that explains the working fluid indeed does require preheating in mornings and cloudy periods. However, I'm not much the wiser. It would seem to me that the system used is not a particularely well designed one. When I lived in California my solar water heating system automatically drained when outside temperatures were too low. Why couldn't the solar towers be fitted with a similar draining system that replaced one working fluid with another that performed more efficiently under the prevailing conditions? Efficiency might be lower, but at least it would still be non-renewable and probably (possibly?) greater than using gas.

However, it seems to me that the problem resides in the contract that must exist between the producing and power distributing companies. Why would the power producer have to supply electricity when conditions were sub-optimal? After all we don't expect wind turbines to produce electricity during periods of no wind, or supply power from gas boilers in their supporting columns (or do they: am I equally ignorant about this as well?).

Mar 21, 2016 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Alan Kendall, the problem is not so much a technical one, as a financial one. These schemes are designed to produce maximum income, rather than maximum power.

This involves getting the maximum amount of subsidy, whilst legislators penalise competitors. The subsidy farmers know that fossil fuels are the most efficient method of producing bursts of high energy, so gas heating is perfect, and not bad, because it is for the benefit of increased profits, and so doesn't count.

'Hypocrisy' has been deleted from the Official Green Blob Dictionary. 'Value for money', and 'Common Sense', are on the Endangered List.

Mar 21, 2016 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golfCharlie. The more I read you the more cynical you appear (at least on occasion).

I cannot believe that there were not competent engineers on board, who given the opportunity to design something on the cutting edge of the technology, didn't do so. If they did, why were they overruled? If the boiler trips in response to contrails, it would seem it was designed only to perform with optimal conditions. Why wasn't the frequency of non optimal conditions considered? Why was a contact signed to provide power even when it was known that solar energy would not always be available? So many questions.

I cannot believe, as you gC suggest, that an installation designed specifically to Hoover up grants and subsidies, cannot be built to maximize power output in different weather conditions and that output could not be sold without having to resort to using a quite different and less efficient power generation system.

Perhaps the reasons will.never come to light. Cockups commonly are hidden from view as they are when associated with government decisions or climate science methodologies.

Mar 21, 2016 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Alan Kendall, it is difficult NOT to be cynical, when viewing spectacular failures involving other people's money, being used and put at risk.

With the best, and most up to date technology, what could have gone wrong? It is a long way from my technical expertise, but as a sometime yachtie, the practical issues of electric power onboard, at sea, without burning diesel, are well understood. Nelson sailed without electricity, and Robin Know-Johnston sailed around the world, effectively without it.

The 'Ellen MacArthur generation' of round the world racers, do have engines on board, but driving generators, not propellors.

I think generating power from the sun, wind, waves, tides etc, is a brilliant idea. I learnt to sail in the (tidal) Mill Pond in Emsworth, over 40 years ago. Wind pumps helped dry out modern Holland, water power got UK technology upgraded for 'industry', and ready for steam power. Solar powers the International Space Station, and all the other orbitting satellites so necessary for modern life.

When a community acquires the technology to turn a light on, at night, with the flick of a switch, the birth rate goes down. So does child mortality, and life expectancy goes up. The Green Blob does not want reliable power being supplied to developing countries.

I am old enough to remember the 3 day week, power cuts due to restricted supply etc, and have witnessed the political consequences (for better or worse). I am from a remote South Downs area, so power cuts, phone and internet failures etc ARE STILL a part of normal life, and I am inconvenienced, but used to it. The majority of the UK is not. Hence the rush to get diesel powered emergency generators installed to support strategic infrastructure.

I was at University during the Scargill v Thatcher Miners strike, and again, rightly or wrongly, the consequences live on. It was also the time of the famine that led to Live Aid etc, that was never blamed on Global Warming. Now, everything slightly bad is found to be due to Global Warming, whether chips or coffee going up in price due to a bad harvest, or steelworkers losing their jobs in the UK, so the steel can be made cheaper in the Eastern end of the world.

I don't know where power generation comes in your personal experience, but the technical questions you raise in your second para seem pretty sensible to me. Unless there is a trial for corruption, we may never know the truth. How many people got a jail sentence out of the 2008 Financial Crash?

In my experience of troubleshooting, a technical failure or Act of God is easy to blame. As soon as the finger gets pointed at an individual, organisation or culture, and someone is 'blamed', the truth blurring commences.

Some people object to the fact that Geology, in its various forms, (as you have explained!) cannot provide the definitive proofs that Global Warmists demand. I am not the only one who respects your professionalism.

Very few people will ask awkward questions, if their well paid job depends on it.

I remember Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. "Gentlemen, we have the technology, we can rebuild him, and make the first Bionic Man". Forty years on, we can't rely on boiling a kettle.

Mar 21, 2016 at 5:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

@ Alan Kendal 3.35 pm

Given your second paragraph "I cannot believe that there were not competent engineers on board, who given the opportunity to design something on the cutting edge of the technology, didn't do so .....". How can you doubt GC? In this context your "cock up" theory doesn't seem sustainable.

Mar 21, 2016 at 5:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterjohnbrading

johnbrading, thanks for your response. I do believe that in the majority of cases, it is cock-up, rather than conspiracy, that is to blame for things going wrong.

In this instance, no one had an incentive to point out things were not going right. None of the experts/professionals lost any money, and they will all blame insufficient funding first, and then everybody else second.

Mar 21, 2016 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Johnbrading, the inference one might draw from my almost rhetorical question is that competent engineering may have been thrown aside for other reasons. These may have included competition between different experts or overbearing non-engineering managerial oversight. I have personally experienced both in the oil industry - in once instance causing my company to waste a reputed 2billion US dollars on unnecessary geophysical expenditures. This, and perhaps the solar tower technology, was a cock up of the first magnitude. In the case of the solar installation the cock up could be completely independent of any grab for subsidies.

Mar 21, 2016 at 8:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Alan Kendall, any business doing well, can afford to lose/waste some money exploring new options and ideas. If one individual or group makes a habit of it, they may face the chop, along with the Chief Executive.

Americans are deemed to need far more dentistry, than Brits, especially children. Most Americans have medical insurance, most Brits rely on the NHS.

As soon as Government/taxpayer/EU/US subsidies are involved, costs go up, and accountability falls by the wayside. Those in a position to provide grants and subsidies, with other peoples money, do so because they have been convinced of the viability/necessity of the scheme, by the evidence they have been shown. No politician or civil servant is ever quick to admit fault, as that might mean liability for the fault, irrespective of the financial loss.

If no one has actually committed an offence, no one will be held accountable. Many have made money, and those who have had to pay for it, have no means of redress.

Mar 21, 2016 at 11:51 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

golfCharlie, I have no interest whatsoever in apportioning blame. I am just perplexed that a more viable engineering solution was not sought or adopted, and how or why management would accept a supply contract that bound it to supply power when its technology was inadequate to do so. All I can do is speculate and share my ignorance in the hope that those with expertise might enlighten me (us). I just happen to believe the subsidy/grant gathering explanation is insufficient - but that's only my opinion, I know not.

Mar 22, 2016 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

Alan Kendall

Follow the money? Spot the winners and losers?

You are correct that I can be cynical, but troubleshooting in various different fields has brought me into contact with the human face of collateral damage. The losers are not always wholly innocent, but the winners are rarely found guilty of anything.

Mar 23, 2016 at 12:20 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Following the money, see SunEdison (SUNE).

Yesterday their stock plunged another 25% following a DebtWire report that the company was in DIP loan negotiations with lenders, the final step before filing for bankruptcy, after talks to reach an out of court solution with 2nd lien lenders had failed.

Commentators note that "should SUNE be forced to liquidate projects out of its 5.5GW backlog in a Bankruptcy, the impact to US solar market project fundamentals (incl. rooftop) could be detrimental." This means that none other than Elon Musk may be slammed after SUNE has no choice but to file.

What's driving this? Perhaps "the key point of differentiation is our view that SUNE will develop just 1.95GW of projects in 2016 (vs. guidance of 3.3-3.7GW) "

e.g. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2016/03/22/why-sunedison-incs-shares-plunged-22-today.aspx

Another solar-power firm heading into the sunset?

Mar 23, 2016 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRudolph Hucker

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