GRA
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:30 pm

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:It's long been known that a 100 x 100 mile square in the Nevada desert, if covered with PV modules, could meet all our electricity demand (ignoring the need for storage, transmission etc).
I've always hated that claim. The idea of putting PV in the desert, simply because there is more insulation there, is a bad one. Just like building this Ivanpah plant at twice the per-kWh price of PV is a bad one. PV is best sited at the load.

I think your last statement is too categorical, so we'll have to disagree on that. Having designed my share of AE systems, my take would be PV (or any other intermittent renewable) is best sited wherever it's best sited. Could be at the load, could be many miles away. Many factors determine where the 'best' place is.

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:Higher PV efficiencies will help, but at the moment, cities just don't have enough roof/lot space (correctly oriented) to make it work. An awful lot of the 'street' impervious surface in cities is actually primarily for parallel parking, so I suppose you _could_ cantilever panels out over it. Of course, a better usage would be to use that space for buildings and decrease the street widths, thus also reducing the urban heat island effect. I don't remember the specific fractions of space devoted to driving versus parking lanes: the details are almost certainly in Shoup, Donald C.; "The High Cost of Free Parking". The book is quite large, but here's the original paper that was expanded into the book: http://www.uctc.net/papers/351.pdf. I love the quote at the start.

Anyway, the typical U.S. urban/suburban two-lane street has a couple of 10 or 11 foot wide lanes plus an 8 foot parking 'lane' on each side. I can see serious liability issues with cantilevering over the street, though, in addition to any cost, technical or aesthetic objections.
Regardless of all these complaints, we have a massive quantity of places where PV can be sited that are not being used. Building an expensive solar-thermal plant in pristine desert at twice the price of PV is not a good environmental solution, IMO.

Sure, I'm not saying that rooftop PV isn't a good option in many cases, and there are many places it could go. However, I think you're applying 20/20 hindsight in calling Ivanpah 'expensive', cause when it was designed CSP was cheaper. Although it seems unlikely, that could change back. And you still have to factor in the cost of equivalent storage or other generation when comparing it to PV, before you can call it expensive. The fact is that if not CSP, there'll be lots of PV in the desert.

As to pristine desert, well, very little of the desert is pristine, especially when an Interstate passes through it a couple of hundred yards away; there's also a golf course within a couple of miles. Let's just say 'less directly affected by human activity' and leave it at that.
Guy [I have lots of experience designing/selling off-grid AE systems, some using EVs but don't own one. Local trips are by foot, bike and/or rapid transit].

The 'best' is the enemy of 'good enough'. Copper shot, not Silver bullets.

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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Fri Feb 21, 2014 6:15 pm

RegGuheert wrote:I've always hated that claim. The idea of putting PV in the desert, simply because there is more insulation there, is a bad one.


To me the claim illustrates how little of the U.S. area is needed to supply our entire electrical supply, not necessarily suggesting that it all be sited at one place in the Nevada desert. It's thought-provoking; not a plan.
I noticed you're still working with polymers.

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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 9:13 am

I'm posting GRA's recent post on Ivanpah in this thread so that we can discuss it on-topic:

GRA wrote:Issues at Ivanpah and solar-thermal in general, via the WSJ. Nothing we didn't already know, but this provides more details:
High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver
$2.2 billion California project generates 40% of expected electricity
http://www.wsj.com/articles/high-tech-s ... 1434138485

Part:
. . . The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California’s Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department. . . .

Turns out, there is a lot more to go wrong with the new technology. Replacing broken equipment and learning better ways to operate the complex assortment of machinery has stalled Ivanpah’s ability to reach full potential, said Randy Hickok, a senior vice president at NRG. New solar-thermal technology isn’t as simple as traditional solar panel installations. Since older solar photovoltaic panels have been around for decades, they improve in efficiency and price every year, he said.

“There’s a lot more on-the-job learning with Ivanpah,” Mr. Hickok said, adding that engineers have had to fix leaky tubes connected to water boilers and contend with a vibrating steam turbine that threatened nearby equipment.

One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get the plant humming every morning. Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.

Ivanpah isn’t the only new solar-thermal project struggling to energize the grid. A large mirror-powered plant built in Arizona almost two years ago by Abengoa SA of Spain has also had its share of hiccups. Designed to deliver a million megawatt hours of power annually, the plant is putting out roughly half that, federal data show.

NRG and Abengoa say their plants will reach power targets once the kinks are worked out.

In contrast, incremental improvements to traditional solar panels have allowed SunPower Corp. to get more electricity than it originally thought it could from its 1,500-acre solar farm. California Valley Solar Ranch was designed to produce 600,000 megawatt-hours a year in 2013 when it started operating, but today it can generate up to 4% more. . . .

Solar-thermal developers including Abengoa and BrightSource continue to build new plants in South Africa, Chile and China. But Lucas Davis, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says it is unlikely more U.S. projects will gain traction as utilities opt for cheaper solar farms that use panels.

“I don’t expect a lot of solar thermal to get built. It’s just too expensive,” he said. . . .

Electricity prices from new solar farms average around 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to GTM Research, which tracks renewable energy markets. That compares with between 12 and 25 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity generated by the Ivanpah power plant, state and federal data show.

It is unclear how much power would cost from a brand new solar-thermal plant, but it would be more than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, said Parthiv Kurup, an analyst at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo. . . .

Even if solar-thermal developers could offer the same power prices as their solar-panel rivals do, solar-thermal plants face environmental hurdles in the U.S.

The Ivanpah plant was delayed several months and had millions of dollars in cost overruns because of wildlife protections for the endangered Desert Tortoise. Once built, U.S. government biologists found the plant’s superheated mirrors were killing birds. In April, biologists working for the state estimated that 3,500 birds died at Ivanpah in the span of a year, many of them burned alive while flying through a part of the solar installment where air temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bird carnage combined with opposition by Native American tribes to industrial projects on undeveloped land has made California regulators wary of approving more. Last September, Abengoa and BrightSource abandoned their quest to build a solar-thermal project near Joshua Tree National Park when the state regulator told them the plant’s footprint would have to be cut in half.

In March the Board of Supervisors of Inyo County, a sparsely populated part of California that is home to Death Valley National Park, voted to ban solar-thermal power plants altogether. “Ivanpah had a significant effect on the decision making,” said Joshua Hart, the county’s planning director.


That $0.05/kWh for utility-scale intertied PV is very encouraging. What's wind now, about $0.03/kWh (it was averaging about $0.04/kWh in 2011-2012)?
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:02 am

GRA wrote:Issues at Ivanpah and solar-thermal in general, via the WSJ. Nothing we didn't already know, but this provides more details: ...
Here is another link to the same article at Marketwatch (which is not paywalled): High-tech solar projects fail to deliver

Note that if you need to burn four hours' worth of natural gas in the morning to get this thing started every morning, then it seems the major benefit of these solar-thermal-electric plant is not such a strong proposition:
drees wrote:Yeah, the big benefit of solar thermal is that it will have some storage which will enable it to produce power later into the day.
IMO, it would make much more sense to install PV at 1/3 the cost and at lower environmental impact and burn the four hours' worth of natural gas in the evening when the demand is in place.

On top of all this, the investors have asked for a $539M bailout for to help payoff their government-backed loan:
IBD wrote:But now its owners — NRG, Web giant Google and BrightSource Energy in Oakland, Calif. — are hoping to secure a $539 million federal grant to help pay off their $1.6 billion federal loan.
I'm sorry, but if these companies wish to make such poor investments, then they need to be prepared to suffer the consequences without additional taxpayer support.
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GRA
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 2:56 pm

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:Issues at Ivanpah and solar-thermal in general, via the WSJ. Nothing we didn't already know, but this provides more details: ...
Here is another link to the same article at Marketwatch (which is not paywalled): High-tech solar projects fail to deliver

Note that if you need to burn four hours' worth of natural gas in the morning to get this thing started every morning, then it seems the major benefit of these solar-thermal-electric plant is not such a strong proposition:
drees wrote:Yeah, the big benefit of solar thermal is that it will have some storage which will enable it to produce power later into the day.
IMO, it would make much more sense to install PV at 1/3 the cost and at lower environmental impact and burn the four hours' worth of natural gas in the evening when the demand is in place.

On top of all this, the investors have asked for a $539M bailout for to help payoff their government-backed loan:
IBD wrote:But now its owners — NRG, Web giant Google and BrightSource Energy in Oakland, Calif. — are hoping to secure a $539 million federal grant to help pay off their $1.6 billion federal loan.
I'm sorry, but if these companies wish to make such poor investments, then they need to be prepared to suffer the consequences without additional taxpayer support.

Agreed on the need to burn so much NG; what we don't know is if this is inherent (seems questionable, as a 300% underestimate would be a major design screw-up) or just part of the teething troubles. As for the lack of insolation, well, it's like Mark Twain said, everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it! They certainly had insolation data, and designed the plant based on that.

Re it being a 'poor investment,' remember that at the time of design and financing CSP was considerably cheaper than PV. No one was expecting PV prices to drop like a stone owing to China's entry, and the delayed permitting due to environmental review pushed the plant back far enough to get caught. As the permitting process dragged on the economics changed, and Google at that point decided that they wouldn't be involved in CSP beyond Ivanpah. Which is an entirely different matter from whether they should get a government bailout. I still think it's a useful exercise to see just how valuable the ability to time shift is, and to compare it with other forms of storage used with PV (or just burning the NG directly, as you say).
Guy [I have lots of experience designing/selling off-grid AE systems, some using EVs but don't own one. Local trips are by foot, bike and/or rapid transit].

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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 3:15 pm

GRA wrote:Agreed on the need to burn so much NG; what we don't know is if this is inherent (seems questionable, as a 300% underestimate would be a major design screw-up) or just part of the teething troubles.
It seems like a major design screw-up at this point. They clearly didn't know enough to build this thing. A small pilot project should have been built first.
GRA wrote:As for the lack of insolation, well, it's like Mark Twain said, everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it! They certainly had insolation data, and designed the plant based on that.
We have outstanding insolation data in the US, but it is not perfect. This reminds me of something SolarGuppy once wrote about the fact that "experts" didn't believe him when he told them that his arrays produced MORE electricity if he pointed them east rather than south. All the data said to point south, but he had the results to prove it. The issue was that he lived in Florida where afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Pointing the arrays east caused them to have optimal performance in the morning when it was not raining and therefore allowed them to produce more overall electricity. Something similar may have played a role in this project.
GRA wrote:Re it being a 'poor investment,' remember that at the time of design and financing CSP was considerably cheaper than PV. No one was expecting PV prices to drop like a stone owing to China's entry, and the delayed permitting due to environmental review pushed the plant back far enough to get caught. As the permitting process dragged on the economics changed, and Google at that point decided that they wouldn't be involved in CSP beyond Ivanpah. Which is an entirely different matter from whether they should get a government bailout. I still think it's a useful exercise to see just how valuable the ability to time shift is, and to compare it with other forms of storage used with PV (or just burning the NG directly, as you say).
I could be wrong, but I don't think PV was at $0.15/kWh even when they started this project. The bottom line is that I'm not in favor of corporations taking risks and getting the benefits of the profits if they succeed, but passing on the losses to the taxpayer if they do poorly.
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 4:18 pm

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:Agreed on the need to burn so much NG; what we don't know is if this is inherent (seems questionable, as a 300% underestimate would be a major design screw-up) or just part of the teething troubles.
It seems like a major design screw-up at this point. They clearly didn't know enough to build this thing. A small pilot project should have been built first.
There have been plenty of CSP plants before this, including some in the Mojave (Luz Solar 1 and 2). I"m beginning to wonder about that '4 times as much' number, as the change in their permit only upped their total allowed yearly NG usage from 328 to 525 MMSCF per boiler pair. See http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/Publi ... _Amend.pdf


RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:As for the lack of insolation, well, it's like Mark Twain said, everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it! They certainly had insolation data, and designed the plant based on that.
We have outstanding insolation data in the US, but it is not perfect. This reminds me of something SolarGuppy once wrote about the fact that "experts" didn't believe him when he told them that his arrays produced MORE electricity if he pointed them east rather than south. All the data said to point south, but he had the results to prove it. The issue was that he lived in Florida where afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Pointing the arrays east caused them to have optimal performance in the morning when it was not raining and therefore allowed them to produce more overall electricity. Something similar may have played a role in this project.
Don't see how it could, as these are central power towers surrounded by mirrors, not a fixed array (and such local variations for fixed PV are well known. Here in the Bay Area, it's often worthwhile to point your panels west of south, because in the summer it's often overcast in the morning). No, I think it's just weather variation from the average.

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:Re it being a 'poor investment,' remember that at the time of design and financing CSP was considerably cheaper than PV. No one was expecting PV prices to drop like a stone owing to China's entry, and the delayed permitting due to environmental review pushed the plant back far enough to get caught. As the permitting process dragged on the economics changed, and Google at that point decided that they wouldn't be involved in CSP beyond Ivanpah. Which is an entirely different matter from whether they should get a government bailout. I still think it's a useful exercise to see just how valuable the ability to time shift is, and to compare it with other forms of storage used with PV (or just burning the NG directly, as you say).
I could be wrong, but I don't think PV was at $0.15/kWh even when they started this project. The bottom line is that I'm not in favor of corporations taking risks and getting the benefits of the profits if they succeed, but passing on the losses to the taxpayer if they do poorly.
The project was begun in the last decade (2007? NLT 2009), and was also downsized during the course of environmental review. Then you have to remember that the cost of generation is only part of the equation, there's also storage (or use of fossil-fuels instead) that has to be considered; these were CSP plants _with_ storage. As to your point about 'heads I win, tails you lose' bailouts, I don't disagree.
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 5:35 pm

GRA wrote:
RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:As for the lack of insolation, well, it's like Mark Twain said, everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it! They certainly had insolation data, and designed the plant based on that.
We have outstanding insolation data in the US, but it is not perfect. This reminds me of something SolarGuppy once wrote about the fact that "experts" didn't believe him when he told them that his arrays produced MORE electricity if he pointed them east rather than south. All the data said to point south, but he had the results to prove it. The issue was that he lived in Florida where afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Pointing the arrays east caused them to have optimal performance in the morning when it was not raining and therefore allowed them to produce more overall electricity. Something similar may have played a role in this project.
Don't see how it could, as these are central power towers surrounded by mirrors, not a fixed array (and such local variations for fixed PV are well known. Here in the Bay Area, it's often worthwhile to point your panels west of south, because in the summer it's often overcast in the morning). No, I think it's just weather variation from the average.
The point is that insolation data (from NREL, anyway) does not tell you what the clouds do throughout the day in different seasons. So how do you design such a system with average data for any given month of the year? The simple answer is that you cannot, since you cannot answer simple questions such as "Are there light clouds all day long reducing the insolation?" or "Is the sunlight time-modulated by very dense clouds?" and "If so, when do they occur?"

This fact that turbines do not achieve high efficiency if not consistently run at high power levels is exactly the same issue plaguing the world's most efficient gas turbine power plant. In that case, operational limitations resulting from government regulations cause the efficiency to drop enough to make the plant uneconomical to operate. I suspect the operator's threat to shut it down is just a ploy to get government handouts, but the fact remains that these modern, high-tech turbines achieve their excellent results only under a limited range of operating parameters.
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:08 pm

GRA wrote:Then you have to remember that the cost of generation is only part of the equation, there's also storage (or use of fossil-fuels instead) that has to be considered; these were CSP plants _with_ storage. As to your point about 'heads I win, tails you lose' bailouts, I don't disagree.
Ivapnah does not contain any storage.
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Re: $2.2 billion solar thermal plant known as Ivanpah

Sat Jun 20, 2015 4:06 pm

RegGuheert wrote:
GRA wrote:
RegGuheert wrote:We have outstanding insolation data in the US, but it is not perfect. This reminds me of something SolarGuppy once wrote about the fact that "experts" didn't believe him when he told them that his arrays produced MORE electricity if he pointed them east rather than south. All the data said to point south, but he had the results to prove it. The issue was that he lived in Florida where afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Pointing the arrays east caused them to have optimal performance in the morning when it was not raining and therefore allowed them to produce more overall electricity. Something similar may have played a role in this project.
Don't see how it could, as these are central power towers surrounded by mirrors, not a fixed array (and such local variations for fixed PV are well known. Here in the Bay Area, it's often worthwhile to point your panels west of south, because in the summer it's often overcast in the morning). No, I think it's just weather variation from the average.
The point is that insolation data (from NREL, anyway) does not tell you what the clouds do throughout the day in different seasons. So how do you design such a system with average data for any given month of the year? The simple answer is that you cannot, since you cannot answer simple questions such as "Are there light clouds all day long reducing the insolation?" or "Is the sunlight time-modulated by very dense clouds?" and "If so, when do they occur?" <snip>
Reg, are you saying that anyone building a utility-scale multi-million dollar solar plant wouldn't put up their own monitoring equipment on a site to track solar irradiance minute by minute for a year or more? Such data is widely available from inexpensive sensors - I've used that from the CDEC remote snow survey sensors, most of which also record data for temp, wind speed, solar max/min/avg insolation in W/m2 by the hour/daily/monthly, etc. If you want to monitor it by the minute or by the second, you can do that as well. Here's some:
http://eko-eu.com/products/photovoltaic ... g-stations

No one building such a plant is going to do so without far more granular data than is likely to be available from NREL. What's accurate enough for for a homeowner isn't going to cut it for a commercial installation.
Last edited by GRA on Sat Jun 20, 2015 4:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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