Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Metro Vancouver considering producing power from water system

Metro Vancouver is seeking a a consultant to do a feasibility study to investigate developing power from the water transmission system.   I am very interested to see that they are doing this as all over BC we have water systems that could be producing power.

The energy of the water could turn turbines and produce electrical power.   The sale of this power would help defray the costs of the water system and would offer another source of green power.

Generating power from municipal water systems or from irrigation systems is the lowest hanging green power generation possible.    The water system is already in place, all that needs to be done is adding some form of a turbine at an appropriate spot in the system.

At the moment the only municipal water system that I know of that is producing power is Lake Country from their Eldorado resevoir.  It is a very small system, but provides Lake Country with about $250,000 to $300,000 a year in revenue.  I am not certain, but I think there are three systems connected to ranch irrigation systems.

We have about 200 other municipal water systems that could produce power.   My quick estimate is that they could bring us about 1000-2000 GWh of power per year.    This is on the order of 1/4 to 1/3 of what Site C on the Peace would produce.   This would also be around $10 million a year for local water systems in electrical power sales.

Municipal water systems would have consistent flows year around, there would be not slow times as people are always showering and washing.

If we look further at irrigation systems, there is a potential for something on the same order of power production per year, though they would be on average much smaller.

It is these easy small solutions with no negative impacts that should be pushed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Will it make any difference?

One of my rain barrels
Saanich is offering a series of free lectures on topics related to climate change and what people could do at home.   The first one is on rainwater management and is this coming Saturday.

The cost to hold these lectures and the impact they will have are not likely going to be worth it.  The municipality would have a much bigger impact if it spent more money on building good sidewalks than holding these lectures.  They would also have more of an impact if they made some changes to streets to allow buses to move a bit faster.

The whole set of pages for Saanich on climate change are simplistic.   As an example, the carbon calculator, it has various problems.  

It assumes all vehicles in a class and how you drive them are the same, if you want to calculate the CO2 emissions you just need to know the number of litres you use in a year.   The CO2 emissions for electrical power is constantly fluctuating based on what power source we are drawing on.   If you use power in the middle of the night, you have a higher CO2 impact because that power is in part coming from coal fired plants in the US or Alberta.

Air travel is also not as simplistic as the calculator suggests.   Much depends on the number of passengers on the plane, how old the plane is and the speed it is flown at.   If you fly WestJet, your CO2 emissions will be lower because they have very new planes and have more passengers than average.  If you fly Harbour Air you have zero CO2 emissions since the airline is carbon neutral.

The calculator misses out a major source of greenhouse gases, the eating of meat.

It also misses out the impact of what I do that might reduce CO2.

The Saanich pages feel like "flavour of the month".   There is no real thought or rigorous academic backing for what is being done or what is suggested people do.   Lots of resources are going into project work that will have no impact.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Good piece from George Monboit

George Monboit writes in the Guardian and outlines the problem with climate change in this article.   We have to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the biggest replacement will have to come electricity, specifically electricity with low carbon emissions.   It is the need to replace the dirty the power with clean power that leads us to the problem.

Read his piece, he really does outline the dilemma well.   Here are some of my comments in relation to it.

  • Global energy use is going to rise for at least the next thirty to fifty years, likely for longer than that.  We have the majority of the global population going to go through the point in their economic development in which energy needs will be dramatically rising.
  • To reduce demand the price of energy will have to rise dramatically.   The one and only thing that has ever managed to reduce demand has been a rise in price.   If the goal is a net reduction of energy use over the next generation, there will have to be a 100% or more increase in all energy prices immediately and then a phase in over the next 30 years an annual increase several times that of inflation.
  • There are various green energy sources but as of yet many of them are not competitive with a coal fired power plant.   As we see here in BC, the subsidy of green power is seen as a bad thing - not that I would call the BC Hydro IPP contracts a subsidy as they will be hugely  financially beneficially in a few years.
  • No government has the tiniest ability to deal with the situation.  People have to accept that any serious solution is going to come from the private sector that sees a buck can be made.
  • Most of the public is in complete denial about what it will take to actually lower CO2 emissions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One low carbon power source is off the table

After the tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear power plants - there are a total of 10 reactors at two sites producing a peak of 9096 MW per hour - nuclear power worldwide has been dealt a serious blow.

Global warming has offered a new life to nuclear power globally because once a reactor is up and running there are very few CO2 emissions.    In general the environmental movement has not jumped on the nuclear band wagon, but given that the Kyoto protocol calls for a drop in CO2 emissions in developed countries and nukes achieve that, many countries have ramped up plans for new nuclear power plants

Since the late 1980s the rate of new nuclear power reactors globally has remained steady at about 420.   Basically the near disaster at Three Mile Island in 1979 and the actual melt down at Chernobyl in 1986 ended the expansion of nuclear power.  It has only been with the rise in concern about global warming that the expansion of nuclear power has come back.   There are now numerous plans around the world to build large numbers of new reactors.  2008, 2009 and 2010 saw the start of 10, 12, and 15 new reactors.  At teh end of 2010 there were 441 nuclear power plants in operation and 63 under construction.

And then there was a tsunami.

On its own, the Fukushima nuclear disaster would be worldwide news, but it is only one part of the earthquake-tsunami.   It is not only the Fukushima plants, but the Onagawa and Tokai plants that had problems as well.   It also has highlighted the fact that in 2007 the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant suffered some damage in a small earthquake. The same happened in 2008 at the Kurihara Nuclear Power Plant.

The idea that nuclear power is safe is not nearly as certain as people thought a couple of weeks ago.

The problems in 2007 and 2008 in Japan highlight the relative danger of nuclear power plants and earthquakes and this does not take very large earthquakes.  The potential of a major nuclear disaster in the event of a major earthquake seems to be almost certain.

Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California
Within the region of the Cascadia subduction zone, there is one nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station in Richland Washington.  There was a second one, the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon, which closed in 1992 after only 16 years of operation.  Of bigger concern is the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California.   It may survive an earthquake, but what about a tsunami?

Diablo Canyon was designed and built before there was a lot of thinking of megathrust earthquakes of tsunamis.

Nuclear power is not likely to be dead, but it has been hit with a serious blow and is unlikely to recover anytime soon if there is a complete meltdown of the Fukushima power plant.