Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Power emergency from lack of wind?

This does not bode well for wind power.

One of the problems I've pointed out with wind power is that the wind doesn't blow just because I want to cook dinner. It's an intermittent source that can replace demand power, but not base load units. Now we've got evidence of another problem.

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A drop in wind generation late on Tuesday, coupled with colder weather, triggered an electric emergency that caused the Texas grid operator to cut service to some large customers, the grid agency said on Wednesday...

System operators curtailed power to interruptible customers to shave 1,100 megawatts of demand within 10 minutes, ERCOT said. Interruptible customers are generally large industrial customers who are paid to reduce power use when emergencies occur...

ERCOT said the grid's frequency dropped suddenly when wind production fell from more than 1,700 megawatts, before the event, to 300 MW when the emergency was declared.

In addition, ERCOT said multiple power suppliers fell below the amount of power they were scheduled to produce on Tuesday. That, coupled with the loss of wind generated in West Texas, created problems moving power to the west from North Texas.

Wind power is a small fraction of total generation today. Proponents want to increase its contribution significantly. If this can happen at this level, we've got some things to work out before that can happen.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Electricity from waste

As with many projects, this one is running over budget - about 20% over budget. It is an interesting project in that it turns mostly waste products into energy.

A biomass power plant scheduled to fire up this spring in Snowflake is on schedule but will cost $12.5 million more than planned, Tempe-based Renegy Holdings Inc. officials said.

The plant will provide 24 megawatts of electricity to split between Arizona Public Service Co. and Salt River Project customers. It's enough power for 6,000 or more homes in the state and now is expected to cost $58.5 million by the time it opens in May.

The plant will burn recycled newspaper sludge and wood chips from forest-thinning to generate steam and power.

Like many of these types of projects, it used a lot of public financing to get going. Almost $40 million in this case.

The amount of power it will produce isn't very large in the overall scheme of things. However it will help APS meet the Corporation Comission's requirement of 1% of power coming from non-hydro renewable sources.

So we're going to get electricity from a combination of wood chips, waste paper, public financing and tax breaks (Federal Production Tax Credits.)


Getting your stimulus

Just a note on the mechanics of receiving your economic stimulus - you need to file your 2007 tax return first.

WASHINGTON - The only way to receive a rebate from the economic stimulus package is to file a tax return, the Internal Revenue Service said Friday. That includes recipients of Social Security and veterans' benefits who do not normally need to file returns.

The IRS said some low-income people who are not required to file will be eligible to receive payments of $300, or $600 on joint returns, if they had at least $3,000 in qualifying income. But to do so they must file a return.

For more information see this on the IRS web site.



Sunday, February 10, 2008

Free Electricity with that Townhome

This sounded great until I ran the numbers.

An ambitious Valley developer is putting his money where his ideals are with plans for an innovative townhome project he hopes will run almost entirely on solar energy. Industry leaders are hoping the development — likely the first of its kind in Arizona — will spur more builders to jump into the solar game...

Each of the 36 townhomes in Gifford’s Phoenix project, called Aura at Camelback, will have a rooftop solar photovoltaic system, which converts sunlight into electricity.

The builder is so certain the solar units will meet most, if not all, of the homes’ energy needs, he’s picking up the tab for the owners’ electricity bills for the first five years.

Apparently the builder has a lot of confidence in solar power and the energy efficiency of his townhomes. Then we get to the details.

With Catalyst’s guarantee, homeowners will receive a credit for five years of electricity costs when they purchase a home.

If they produce more energy than they use, “then they just pocket the money,” Gifford said. If they go over, the developer will pay the difference at the end of the five year-period...

Gifford is confident, however, that with more efficiently designed homes, the right-sized systems and conservative users, the solar units will produce between 75 percent and 100 percent of needed electricity.

And finally:

The homes will have elevators and range in price from $900,000 to $1.3 million.

So let's calculate his risk.

For those townhomes electricity could run about $2,500 a year, probably less. Over 5 years that's $12,500. He expects to pay no more than 25% of that but just to be conservative and look at the worst case let's suppose it's 50%. That's $6,250 of exposure on a unit selling for an average of $1.1 million or a risk of about one half of one percent of the selling price.

In my estimate, Gifford is a typical enterpreneur. He is taking a risk, but a very caluculated one that he'll profit from. The free advertising is worth a whole lot more than one half of one percent of the selling price - which he may not even have to pay.