Time To Play The Green Tea Card?

Ever wonder about the fact that the ideology of the two US political parties happens to be directly contrary to the implied ideology of their energy policies?  We have a party on the right that espouses limited government, personal responsibility, local control and minimal regulation. The party on the left promotes the advantages of government, the value of regulation and places limitations on local decisions that are contrary to national policies. If there were a consistent ideology, the left would be the friend of all forms of central generation, looking out for the greater good through a national, centrally controlled and regulated transmission grid.  Conversely, the right would be demanding distributed generation, local control of energy of all forms, and an end to large scale generation as well as transmission lines for which the providers of rights of way gain no direct benefit.

That might be changing.  A little.

An odd coalition has formed in Georgia between members of the Tea Party and the Sierra Club called the Green Tea Coalition (https://www.facebook.com/thegreenteacoalition).  The Green Tea Coalition (GTC) was organized in Georgia initially to fight, oddly enough, the Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the front organization for the Koch brothers, over a proposal before the Georgia Public Service Commission to require Georgia power to increase its solar capacity by 525 MW by the end of 2016.  Ultimately the Commission voted to mandate the capacity increase.

Since that vote in August the GTC have taken on the cause of cost controls for the Vogtle nuclear plant, in one of the few states where Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) is allowed in rates.  They also published a Utility Customer Bill of Rights that would exclude CWIP and utility lobbying expenses from rate recovery.  Just this month Georgia Power withdrawing a proposed tariff on residential solar, attacked as the “solar tax” by GTC.

In Arizona a similar organization has taken root (Tell Utilities Solar Won’t be Killed – TUSK), led by the son of Barry Goldwater Jr., to fight Arizona Public Service’s attempts to roll back solar subsidies and charge a $100/month fee for net metering. And like the GTC, finds itself head to head with two other Koch s front organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council and the “60 Plus Association.”

Both organizations have prompted “main stream” conservative figures and news outlets to refer to them as defectors.  The AFP, “on behalf of the Georgia Tea Party Inc.,” without any apparent irony, claimed the GTC “breaks with tea party values.”

The Tea Party has been responsible for considerable political disruption of late, driven by ideology and misguided zeal.  The argument that distributed generation under local control surely has an ideological appeal to them.   Might rechanneling this energy to support greener, or at least olive drab technology options make sense in other regions?

Where are the smart nuclear advocates?

Enthusiasm for nuclear power among its advocates has found new energy lately and has generated reams of what they view as important arguments in newspapers, TV ads and industry forums. Instead of focusing on nuclear’s primary barrier to widespread use – economics – all manner of peripheral arguments are being made.  Their arguments can be categorized as: 1) the public’s perception of nuclear risk is misplaced and would improve with proper education; 2) nuclear is in competition with renewables and they are therefore the enemy; and 3) nuclear is the low carbon option for the future. The first argument is actually irrelevant; the second is rather silly.  The carbon argument could be useful to mitigate economics if there was a way to value it, but I doubt many large utilities and large industrials are avidly lobbying for carbon cap and trade or carbon taxes.  Without something like those measures, carbon reduction is simply a nice sentiment.

Public Perception

So what about the public?  The fact of the matter is that, at least in the U.S., public perception or nuclear hazards has not halted the construction of any nuclear power plants, nor is it likely to do so in the future.  What’s interesting is that this has been the case for the last 30 or 40 years, in spite of Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1982) and Fukushima (2011).

Check out the results of polls between 1977 and 2006.  The next figure shows the results of three separate surveys repeated on roughly a two year cycle between 1976 and 2006.  Public acceptance was over 50% until the TMI accident.  It remained below 50% until 1991 and has been above 50% through 2006.


Public Approval of Nuclear Power, 1977-2006

gallup

Source: NC State University

The figure below shows that a Gallup poll begun in 1994 and conducted annually from 2004 through 2012 shows that, with the exception of 2001; public acceptance has been above 50%.


Gallup Poll on Nuclear Power Favorability in U.S., 1994 – 2012

gallup2

Source: Gallup Group

I have a suspicion that many advocates simply assume that its public fears that halt new plants, without knowing the facts.

Renewables

Anyone who starts down the path of arguing for nuclear by arguing against renewables simply advertises their lack of knowledge as to how electricity is generated, transmitted and delivered.  Simply put, nuclear is base loaded power – power that is generating virtually 24/7.  It competes in a wholesale market that contains the cheapest sources of power available.  As demand rises, new generation is called, or dispatched, based on cost.  Until there exists economic grid scale storage for renewables they do not compete with base loaded power.

They do compete with renewables for subsidies, and lately renewables are getting a little more than the value of nuclear’s PTC, liability insurance, R&D and loan guarantees.  If one adds up all the subsidies nuclear has received for the last 50 years, it will take a very long time for the aggregate of renewable subsidies to surpass nuclear’s, however.

Carbon

Nuclear power plants emit virtually no conventional emissions and are viewed by some either as “zero-emissions” or as “carbon free.”   The table below shows the annual emissions of primary pollutants for three large power plants in Pennsylvania in 2009, as compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Emissions Profile, Large Electricity Generating Stations 2009

     

Nitrogen Oxides

Sulfur Oxides

Carbon Dioxide

  Fuel

GWh

Tons

Tons/kWh

Tons

Tons/kWh

Tons

Tons/kWh

Homer City Unit 3 Coal

                    4,118

         4,507

          1.09

         55,431

              13.46

         4,165,058

         1,011.43

Fayette Energy Facility Natural Gas

                       983

               72

          0.07

                   6

                0.01

         1,176,466

         1,196.81

Limerick 1 Nuclear

                 10,019

0.0

0.0

0.0

                     0.0

0.0

                      0.0

Source: EPA

Nuclear has therefore begun to figure more prominently in national generation portfolios as part of carbon mitigation strategies.

This is, however, an area of controversy.  Like the electric car, emissions are not limited to what the device produces but what emissions occurred to construct and fuel it.  While the power plant does not emit carbon or other harmful compounds, the processes used to manufacture the fuel, plant construction, nuclear waste management and decommissioning all have their own carbon footprint.  And as with most technologies that are politically charged, there are studies that will support almost any position.

The IAEA conducted a study to assess the full range of emissions over the life cycle of the power plant.  The results of their most recent work are shown in the following table.

IAEA Life Cycle Carbon Emissions, Nuclear Generation

 

Grams CO2/kWh

Generation Source

Minimum

Mean

Maximum

Lignite

800

1,100

1,700

Coal

770

1,000

1,300

Oil

500

800

1,200

Natural Gas

400

500

800

Coal with Carbon Sequestration

10

100

300

Biomass

35

65

100

Solar PV

40

50

80

Wind

10

10

30

Hydro

0

5

35

Nuclear

3

7

25

Source: IAEA

A researcher at the University of Singapore surveyed 103 different life cycle greenhouse gas emissions studies involving nuclear power. Of that population he qualified a subset as havi8ng sufficient detail and appropriate methodology.  The result is summarized I this table.

Summary Statistics of Qualified Nuclear Life Cycle Emission Studies

 

Grams CO2/kWh

Life  Cycle Segment

Minimum

Mean

Maximum

Front-end

0.58

25.09

118

Construction

.027

8.20

35

Operation

0.1

11.58

40

Back-end

0.4

9.2

40.75

Decommissioning

0.01

12.01

54.5

Total

1.36

66.08

288.25

 Source:  National University of Singapore

The results of this survey give a more realistic appraisal of nuclear carbon emissions; nonetheless nuclear remains low in the list of alternatives. And as with all politicized discussions, you can find a study that supports nearly every position.

Smarter Advocacy

So why not be a smart advocate for nuclear?  Here’s how:

  1. End the endless churning of articles and op-eds along the lines of “If only the public understood how low the risks are,” or “Renewables will never be a significant source of energy/will never provide all our energy needs.”
  2. Deal with the real elephant in the room – cost.  It’s clear that the all in costs of new nuclear plants are more expensive than their alternatives in free market economies.  What is the value added that makes it worthwhile to pay a premium for nuclear?  That is the key to greater market penetration.
  3. Find value propositions that rationalize the premium.  One value added could be carbon mitigation.  Unfortunately it has no quantified value in the US at the moment, but could offset part of the nuclear premium if it were valued.  Nuclear advocates should get squarely behind any legislative initiative for a cap and trade market for carbon or carbon taxes that can be quantified and avoided.

 

Probabilistic Assessment of Global Nuclear Power Plant Construction Through 2030

The following is the Executive Summary of a recent report.  The full content can be freely downloaded at: Global Nuclear Industry

1      Executive Summary

1.1      Research Objectives

The nuclear power industry has begun to receive serious attention once again with the promise of new reactor designs and has increasingly been named among the portfolios of national governments as long-term sources of electricity.  Unfortunately, this industry has a long history of over optimism in terms of both the readiness of technology and its economics. Those parties interested in determining the kinds of growth opportunities in nuclear power business sector might offer them need a realistic appraisal of what is likely to emerge in the next eight years.

This report answers several questions regarding commercial nuclear power: Is the perceived resurgence of this industry plausible and if so, how much of a market does it constitute?  Are nuclear capacity addition forecasts accurate?  Are cost estimates for plant construction and operation reasonable?  How does the cost of electricity from these new designs compare with alternative sources of electricity?

This report also attempts to provide some context to the business of nuclear power, insight as to why it declined in the 80s and then remained dormant over much of the 90’s; what issues have been resolved since then and what barriers remain.

The objectives of the report are to equip the reader with realistic and objective insight into:

  • The nature of the nuclear power “renaissance” and whether or not it is a short term or sustainable change in the industry; and
  • Cost assessments and comparisons of nuclear technologies among themselves and other electricity generation sources

By providing

  • A synthesis forecast of all available official information regarding new nuclear plant capacity plans and capital investment; and a
  • Probabilistic forecast of new nuclear plant capacity and investments through 2030.

1.2      Scope

This report examines the global nuclear power industry and its prospects between 2014 and 2030.  The report scope includes:

  • Brief history of nuclear power commercial development;
  • Basics of nuclear generation; descriptions of the primary technologies deployed as well as the new generations of reactor designs currently in development;
  • Impact of the Fukushima-Daichi incident on the commercial industry;
  • Market drivers and barriers;
  • Assessment of the economics of the new generation technologies and how they compare with other generation sources; and
  • Forecasts of capacity additions as well as capital investments in nuclear power from 2014-2030.

In addition to providing a business context to commercial nuclear power, this report provides:

  • Insight into the relative economics of comparable sources of electricity generation;
  • A discussion of the economics of the large scale NPPs now in construction and the small modular reactor (SMR) designs that are in development; and
  • A more meaningful way to look at the growth projections of this industry.

1.3      Methodology

Worthington Sawtelle reviewed the most recent primary forecasts for nuclear power plant construction (capacity, scheduled commercial operation, construction status, cost) produced by the World Nuclear Association, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Nuclear Energy Institute and the International Energy Agency.  These forecasts were further refined and supplemented by:

  • Reports and presentations by the staff of all relevant government agencies and state owned entities, including those of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Russian State Nuclear Organizations, the China National Nuclear Corporation and the Indian Department of Atomic Energy;
  • Direct testimony in rate regulatory proceedings regarding the timing and costs of nuclear plants currently under construction in several U.S. states, and;
  • Private sector company financials and plans from investor and conference presentations.

In addition, we consulted secondary sources for the report, including industry journals and publications, product literature, white papers and technical journals, and financial reports for industry suppliers.

All Key Participants cited in the report were given the opportunity to be interviewed or provide input and most complied.

The base year for analysis and projection is 2014. With 2014 as a baseline, we developed market projections for 2014 to 2020 and then to 2030. These projections begin with a database that synthesizes the above sources.  We then combined its unique understanding of the key market drivers, and their impact from a historical and analytical perspective, with scenario and probability based forecasting techniques to capture the uncertainties in the forecast. Each of the market forecast sections in this report give detailed descriptions of the analytical methodologies used. All dollar projections presented in this report are in 2013 constant dollars unless otherwise cited.

1.4      Observations

Commercial nuclear power generation has had an unsettled role among the world’s choices for electricity generation. There have been periods when it was hailed as the single best option for long term, large-scale economical electricity generation.  There have also been periods where, at least in certain countries, nuclear power generation was regarded as anathema.   Indeed, during the 80’s and 90’s, very few nuclear power plants (NPPs) were constructed.  Beginning in the early 2000’s nuclear power seemed to be making a comeback with the promise of safe, environmentally sound and economic power generation delivered by a new generation of reactor designs.  A few environmental groups even accepted it as having a place among low carbon energy source portfolios.

In this decade, most countries are planning for a future where sources of electricity are environmentally benign, but sufficiently robust and economic to fuel strong economic growth. Developing nations view energy and electricity as a potential constraint on their economic growth; their available energy needs to stay ahead of their economy’s leaps and bounds.  Nuclear power is a strong consideration in these countries but less so in developed nations where capital is limited and energy demand is flat.  In 2011 it accounted for about 12.3% of electricity supply worldwide; in 2012 about 13.5%.

Much of the enthusiasm for nuclear comes from the promises of several new reactor designs including advanced pressurized water and boiling water reactors (PWR and BWR), as well as gas cooled reactors and fast neutron reactors (GCR and FNR).  These new designs have passive safety measures that allow for safe shutdown without operator intervention.  In addition, another group of small modular reactors (SMR) are in development that are scalable to meet specific energy demands of several hundred megawatts (MW).

Many of the same issues that plagued nuclear power in the past remain unresolved: cost; waste management; decommissioning expense and perceived risk.  The Fukushima-Daichi incident in Japan in 2011 heightened awareness to these issues and caused reductions in many nuclear power construction plans.

Assessing business opportunities in nuclear power is no simple task because of its hybrid nature.  Governments developed the technology as an adjunct to nuclear weapons and nuclear submarine programs.  Construction and operation of NPPs remains a government role in most countries. In fact, it is fair to say that nuclear power fits best in the context of large centrally planned economies where substantial financial resources are available and where the government bears the economic and technological risk.  Nuclear power is nonetheless a commercial venture in some free market economies with varying degrees of autonomy from government control with a very large network of fully commercial suppliers for components.  Governments and the supplier sector, both of whom need to market the viability of the technology and influence public opinion for continued support, heavily influence most forecasts of nuclear power growth.  Some governments chose to be rather opaque regarding details, especially regarding costs and the extent to which reported costs are subsidized.  These circumstances have resulted in consistently overstated forecasts and overly optimistic anticipated costs, traditions that continue today.

We believe a reasonable approach to assessing this industry incorporates a probabilistic forecast of new capacity and investment.

Figure 1 and Figure 2 present our forecast of cumulative new global nuclear capacity and the corresponding investment required.  The figures indicate that the likely range of either metric are significantly less than that of the World Nuclear Association (WNA), but within the (rather broad) range of the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast.

Figure 1 Probable Range of Cumulative Capacity Additions 2014 – 2020, MW

Fig 1 - Copy

Source: Worthington Sawtelle LLC

Figure 2 Probable Range of Cumulative Capacity Additions 2014 – 2030, MW

Fig 2 - Copy

Source: Worthington Sawtelle LLC

Figure 3 and Figure 4  present these capacity addition forecasts in terms of the necessary investment required (on an overnight cost of capital basis. $2013).  Note the disparity between the probable range of investment and the amount that would be required if all announced plans were realized.

 

Figure 3 Probable Range of Overnight Capital Expenditures 2014 – 2020, $ Billions

Fig 3 - Copy

Source: Worthington Sawtelle LLC

Figure 4 Probable Range of Overnight Capital Expenditures, 2014 – 2030, $ Billions

Fig 4

 

Source: Worthington Sawtelle LLC

Worthington Sawtelle LLC believes these probabalistic forecast are likely to be far more accurate than the announced plans of the various industries.

1.5      Findings

Worthington Sawtelle LLC has assessed all of these factors and concludes:

  • International agencies have adopted a “high/low” forecasting basis that is so broad as to be meaningless; nuclear industry associations project capital additions about double what this probabilistic based forecast suggests.
  • Likewise, the “as announced” forecasts likely overstate cumulative nuclear investments between 2014 and 2030 by about $300 billion but understate costs on a per unit basis
  • A “nuclear renaissance” of sorts is happening, although not in the West, but in China, Russia, Korea and India.
  • The cost of electricity from new generation large NPPs is likely to be less expensive than smaller scale SMRs;
  • The state of development in SMRs is such that they do not factor in a forecast of new capacity through 2020; and,
  • Growth in decommissioning services will build with capital expenditures for decommissioning potentially rivaling or even surpassing new builds.

Nuclear Renaissance? Probably not…

“Renaissance” is a term frequently used to describe the growth in nuclear power plant construction worldwide.  I recently completed an examination of the nuclear power market and determined that this word (meaning “reborn” in French) has been misapplied. 

No nuclear power plants began construction in the US between 1979 and 2011 – now there are four: 1 in 2011 and three in 2012.  What’s unclear is whether there will be any more.  Fifteen additional plants have been announced, but none have firm construction starts and a few of them have been “indefinitely deferred” or cancelled.  During the 90’s and 2000’s a few plants in Europe began operation, mostly in France.  There are only two currently under construction in France and Finland and both are considerably delayed and over budget. So I would not call what’s happening in Western Europe and the US a “renaissance” by any stretch.  In Russia and Asia, however, it’s not a period of resurging nuclear interest.    Nuclear power plant construction certainly slowed for a while, but by no means did it stop completely.  In fact, a huge growth spurt is happening in South Korea, China, and Russia.  In fact, from 2008 through 2012 China began construction of 30 GW of new plants.  Japan had a number of plants in construction as well, but all have been suspended since Fukushima. 

At present there are 372 GW of nuclear power plants.  They contributed about 12% of the world’s electricity production.  Official forecasts predict an additional 117 GW to be installed by 2020, or an increase of about 23% at a cost of about $344 billion.  Globally, the most likely new nuclear capacity installed by 2020 will be between two thirds and three fourths of the official forecasts and the invested capital about 75% to 85% of official.  In fact, on a probabilistic basis, the official forecasts are higher than the highest metric on the distribution curves. 

Declarations of a renaissance typically originate from organizations whose primary purpose is to promote the technology or are based upon data provided by those organizations.  The source forecasts from the World Nuclear Association (WNA), (NEI) Nuclear Energy Institute, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are the most frequently cited reports.  The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency also produce outlooks however these seem to rely on data similar to others. 

Additionally, many countries publish their own national outlooks and in many cases, these forecasts reflect official energy policies – policies that can be as much about intent as national pride.  These forecasts are part and parcel to the IAEA and WNA forecasts.

Given the sources of these outlooks and forecasts (with the possible exception of the EIA), they represent what appeared to me as extreme optimism and worthy of considerably deeper analysis.  In addition, some of the drivers that impact such a forecasts are rather uncertain themselves, especially global and national economic conditions.  I therefore chose to use three different forecasting methodologies: a compendium of all the official forecasts to establish the “as announced” case using the announced operation dates and capital costs where available; a scenario forecast that incorporated some assumptions about economic futures where the as announced case reflected the highest growth; and a probabilistic analysis that sought to capture the uncertainties in the scenario analysis and provide a likely range of installed capacity and capital investment.

Other findings

In addition to the conclusion that considerably less construction of plants than announced plans is likely, and at a higher unit cost, the analysis showed that:

  • Utilities installing nuclear power plants in the US and Europe are paying a premium for this technology over other electricity generation sources. Assuming the capital costs experienced by the units currently in construction in the US and Europe, the levelized all in cost for nuclear is just about 16 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s more than any other alternative base loaded generation.  In fact a recent Congressional Budget Office report cited a range of costs for a new coal plant with carbon capture and storage between 9 and 15 cents/kWh.  GTM cites a number of solar power purchase agreements at between 7 and 9 cents.  Since these metrics are quite public, the question is not whether nuclear power is economic, but rather how much of a premium over alternatives are utilities paying to make use of the technology.
  • Outside the US nuclear appears to be marginally economic however official capital cost estimates from those countries are not transparent – the extent of subsidization not included in those estimates cannot be determined.  China just announced that all nuclear power generation should meet a cost target of about 7 cents/kWh – this is not a number that is likely to be achieved in Western countries.
  • Small nuclear plants may be coming, but none will be commercial before 2020 and they are likely to be as expensive as their big brothers. A number of countries and private firms are working on several different concepts for small modular nuclear plants.  These designs integrate all major components in a single encapsulated system that will shut itself down without human intervention under certain circumstances.  They are small relative to the gigawatt plus sized units in construction, but are all in at least the tens if not hundreds of megawatt size.   The hope is that the smaller units might be less capital intensive and easier to construct and license but it is not clear at al they will be any less expensive (on a per unit basis) than their large cousins.  I generated probability distributions for the installed capital costs for some of the front runners and compared them with the big units- any differences were too small to be meaningful.  Over the next two or three years a few demonstration units will begin operation, but this new class of reactors will not be commercial at any time through the period of the report – 2020.
  • Decommissioning expenditure forecasts for nuclear, however substantial now, probably understate what will actually happen.  Plans are being put in place to decommission all the plants in Europe, some at the end of their license lives and some much earlier than that.  Some reactors in the US may receive license extension, but others will proceed to decommissioning.  In Japan the new licensing process is just about complete and it is not certain which of the currently shut down reactors can comply with the new regulations.  Recently a number of plants have begun decommissioning and the actual costs are considerably higher than previously considered.  The range of costs are between $1,000 and $4,000 per kWe, much higher than the originally installed costs of these units.  Long term expenditures for decommissioning are likely to exceed investments in new nuclear installations.
  • Several major issues associated with nuclear power from its inception remain unsolved and unresolved over the last 20 years.

Probabilistic risk analysis proved to be a far better means to assess a market with the inherent uncertainties of this one.

Fuel Cells and 7-Eleven

About 8 years or so ago, some friends and I were trying to get traction with a fuel cell implementation scheme.  We knew of suppliers who had 1 to 5 kW fuel cell power supplies and we knew at least one supplier of a proven hydride canister storage system.  The concept was pretty straightforward: find customers in a town or city that were interested in standby power and serve their hydrogen needs with a central hydride canister fueling station where they could just swap out empties for full cylinders, ala Blue Rhino and other propane suppliers in the US.  We wanted to demonstrate that there were ways to eliminate several perceived market barriers: safety of high pressure hydrogen; high cost hydrogen; infrastructure; and customer acceptance.  For a variety of reasons we were not successful.  A firm here in Taiwan has fully realized this notion recently, although in their case the fuel cells power motor scooters.

Image

The fleet at dedication ceremony

Asia Pacific Fuel Cell Technologies (APFCT) has been running a demonstration program in the city of Kenting, a popular beach resort at the southern end of Taiwan, since last November.  The 80 scooters each use 2 metal hydride canisters- enough to give each of them about 80 km of range (with all of the caveats about maintaining 30 kph and no hills).  Twenty are in use by the county government, with the remainder free for use by anyone who stays at 17 B&B’s. So far the fleet has logged over 200,000 km.  Empty canisters can be swapped at police stations, scooter repair shops, the B&B’s and 7-Elevens.  Taiwan is an ideal market, with the highest concentration of gas powered scooters – over 50 million – and the highest concentration of convenience stores in the world.

Image

A canister exchange station

What’s interesting here is that APFCT has done this entirely from the ground up with their own portfolio of technologies: the fuel cell; its control system; the hydride canister system; and even the scooter.  They even obtained a road worthiness certificate for the scooters from the government and, along the way, promulgated a national fuel cell scooter standard. 

Image

The two canister solution

Once the Kenting demonstration is concluded APFCT is eyeing the potential market on the mainland, where over 50 million electric scooters were produced last year.  They intend to secure relationships with appropriate manufacturers to mass produce the scooters as well as fueling distribution relationships.  They are also looking at small personal vehicles as another potential product line. 

Image

 

The ‘micro-car” uses the same power system as the scooter

Taiwan’s Nuclear Spring

Politicians and political parties in most countries occasionally take baffling decisions and positions, especially to outsiders. Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang’s (or Chinese Nationalist Party) nuclear power policy demonstrated their version of this phenomenon this spring. 

The KMT, through Taiwan Power (Taipower, 台電), has presided over the construction and operation of three nuclear power plants.  Chin San began operation in 1978/79 with two GE BWR-4’s; Kuosheng in 1981/83 with two BWR-6 units; and Maanshan in 1984/85 with two Westinghouse PWR’s.  Combined they represent a little over 5 GW in net electrical capacity.  Lungmen units 1 and 2, GE ABWRs, began construction in 1999, are about 96% complete and would add another 2.6 GW of capacity.  The Lungmen plant (usually referred to as the “Fourth Nuclear Plant” in Taiwan) became a major political issue after Fukushima and presented a dilemma for the KMT in the 2012 elections.  The KMT has ruled Taiwan since 1945, except for 2000- 2008 when the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had control.  The DPP has been very critical of the KMT’s nuclear energy policies. 

On February 27 the KMT announced that it would conduct a national referendum whether to stop construction of the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Station.  Ostensibly the referendum will “provide a platform for the public to decide whether to continue to build the fourth nuclear power plant,” according to KMT legislator Lee Ching-hua. The real reason why the KMT would pursue a referendum is pretty transparent: no public referendums in Taiwan have ever passed and if such a referendum is rejected it cannot be proposed again for 8 years, well after the 2016 Presidential elections and when the Fourth Plant would be complete.  The KMT would appear to be co-opting the opposition party’s ability to frame and control the issue.

March 3, the Democratic Republic of North Korea announced that it was suing Taipower for US $10 million for breach of a contract to store nuclear waste in that country.  Waste from the operating plants is currently stored on Orchid Island.

On March 7, the KMT released its draft of the referendum and helpful reasons to support or reject the proposal.  This is the wording as translated in the local press.

Proposed Referendum Wording:

Do you agree that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be halted and that it not become operational?

Why to vote yes:

Why to vote no:

Operating a nuclear plant is not the safest way to generate energy and carries the risk of causing irreparable consequences.

Generating nuclear power is a relatively clean process in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and helps cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions so it can honor the environmental pledges it has made.

Nuclear power is not the cheapest source of energy, considering the cost of disposing of nuclear waste, decommissioning a plant and cleaning up the construction site.

A nuclear-free homeland cannot be achieved in one step. Nuclear power plants are a key element in the nation’s gradual progress toward that goal, as they provide a stable supply of energy that can allow people to change their lifestyles and the government to adjust the industrial structure to set the nation on a path toward becoming nuclear-free and having a near-zero-emission economy.

There are many safety issues have been discovered at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant during its construction, which are compounded by the fact that Taiwan Power Company is not experienced in integrating components for the plant made by different companies, concerns that the operator has withheld information about safety violations and a general lack of confidence in the government’s regulatory mechanisms.

Terminating the construction of the power plant could lead to power shortages because all renewable energy technologies, such as natural gas, are still undeveloped, extremely expensive and vulnerable to fluctuations in the prices of raw materials in the global market.

Taiwan is frequently hit by earthquakes and typhoons and the power plant is in a vast metropolitan area. If there was a threat of a radiation leak, the government does not have the capability to evacuate the entire area that would be at risk.

Halting the plant’s construction could send prices of electricity soaring, severely impacting the economy and people’s livelihoods, resulting in a decline in GDP, driving industries overseas and raising unemployment.

After the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in 2011, Japan temporarily shut down all its nuclear power plants and some other countries starting working toward becoming nuclear-free. Taiwan can also adopt such a policy and develop alternative sources of energy.

If the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant cannot be put into operation, it might be necessary to extend operating licenses of the nation’s three operational nuclear plants, which could carry serious risks because of the three plants’ aging reactors.

 

Imagine such a presentation of pros and cons like these for a US nuclear plant.

Curiously the announcement of the referendum and its wording came on the Thursday prior to the 2nd anniversary of the Fukushima incident, which fell on the following Monday, allowing for a full weekend of protests, which had already been planned but became much more popular after the referendum announcements.  That Saturday, an estimated 200,000 people took to the streets to demand construction of the Fourth Nuclear Plant to be halted. In addition, they sought the early decommissioning of the other three plants.

The New Taipei City Council passes a resolution to halt construction on March 20.  The Fourth Nuclear Plant is within New Taipei City.

On the 21st the Taiwan EPA announced that without the Fourth Nuclear Plant it cannot meet its CO2 reduction goals, and that “reaching the goal of 100-percent renewable energy is not realistic,” according to Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Stephen Shen.  The Taiwan official goal for renewable energy is 8% by 2025; in 2012 renewables accounted for 1.5% of total generation. 

On March 28 (the 34th anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident) Taipower claims not completing the Fourth Nuclear Plant will harm US relations.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly rebukes the claim the next day.

KMT legislators have starting coming out against completing the plant, including the Mayor of Taipei.

The China Post recently cited a Taiwan saying used to describe the fickle weather in spring on the island. “A spring day is like a stepmother’s face,” her face changing color many times a day.  Politics in Taiwan seems just as unpredictable as the stepmother this March.  

I suspect the DPP at this point is quite happy they were co-opted.

 

Avoiding Another Smart Grid False Start

Utilities now looking to automate their distribution grids ought not repeat the mistakes made by some AMI deployments by designing it as one more hardware overlay. Instead, future programs and especially communications should be designed within the context of a network using state-of-the-art information and data management technologies. That’s one of the key messages in the recent GTM Research report “Distribution Automation Communication Networks: Strategies and Market Outlook, 2012-2016.” In fact, the report finds that: ”Implementing and obtaining the benefits of DA programs requires access to new communications networks that do not now exist within most distribution grids. In addition, the design, engineering, implementation and operation of these systems require intellectual resources and competencies that are usually associated with IT operations, not electric utilities.”

Thus far, we’ve seen a number of situations where AMI systems have been installed by utilities using purpose-built communications systems, systems that are not going to be adequate to support DA and other more sophisticated technologies over the long term.

Last week a discussion on a LinkedIn group had a topic listed as “The Case Against the ‘Smart Grid’.”  What had been posted for comment was a YouTube presentation by Bruce Nordman at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Although three years old, the presentation makes a number of points that build upon the findings in the GTM Research report. One of Bruce’s arguments is that semantics are important because they frame the thinking behind system design. Defining the “smart grid” as encompassing everything from power plants to end-use devices drives thinking to a mix of networking concepts with hardware concepts.

Without a clear separation between the two, such thinking can distort network design and allow ancient control paradigms to flourish. This hardware-centric focus distracts attention from the real grid and limits the understanding of its broad potential. The focus ultimately was on building systems, but its observations were quite prescient when we look at what happened to AMI.

In many AMI systems deployed to date, the meter was regarded as the end-use device, sometimes connected to a home area network. AMI-unique communications were installed to periodically talk to the meter and deployed to meet the requirements of that metering system, most likely using the least cost option. What the GTM report identifies and which Nordman amplifies is the fact that the distribution system constitutes one domain, the home network another domain and the meter the interface between them.  Further upstream in the grid, the distribution domain interfaces with a number of other domains that include substations, transmission, business operations, customer data and the overall enterprise network.  Unfortunately, this longer-term perspective has been the exception rather than the rule in many programs.

It’s not hard to understand why we ended up with meter-centric “smart grid” programs. Meters are easy to describe, customers can see them and billions were paid out to implement meter programs. Presumably that’s one of the reasons why the Department of Energy chose to invest billions in meter programs, rather than gain the larger and more immediate returns from invisible distribution and transmission infrastructure automation investments. Nonetheless, this hardware focus distorted the transformation of the grid to a network and, because of its difficult business case, has made it harder in some regulatory jurisdictions to gain rate recognition of DA programs.

Regardless of whether or not a utility has an AMI network, the opportunity exists to design its next steps within the proper context and with the longer-term view. At present, that’s an IP-based networking system that connects the application and physical layers in a distributed, universally interoperable network. The GTM report noted as much in its recommendation that utilities adopt the OSI Layer model in network design. Key to the flow among layers and interoperability is the common layer: Internet Protocol, as shown in the figure below.

FIGURE: DA Communication Article Figure

Source: GTM Research

As the report notes: “ …Internet Protocol (IP) networking frameworks are becoming the baseline for smart grid communication networks and are likely to be the only realistic path to achieving interoperability within the system.”

Note: This is an article I submitted to and was published by Greentech Media: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/avoiding-another-smart-grid-false-start

India’s Outages: What Can We Learn?

India’s recent national outages on July 30 and 31 have received a great deal of attention in the press.  Nearly 800 million people were without power and India suffered hits to its economy and its global reputation as a result.  Years from now some definitive report will outline the details, but enough is known now to glean some important considerations for energy policy makers.    While some may quickly dismiss the event as endemic to uniquely Indian conditions, the event highlights a number of important considerations for grid operators, engineers and policy makers in other countries.  Here’s a very quick summary of India’s grid status and what we know about the events that ultimately tripped much of the national grid.

Regional Electricity Supply and Demand Imbalances

India has five regional grids: Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern and North-Eastern.  The Northern, Eastern and North-Eastern grids were affected by the outages. 

Image

Source: BBC and Power Grid Corporation of India

India has an abundance of generation in the Eastern and North-Eastern grids, primarily coal, but the other three grids are in deficit at peak periods, regardless of season.

 Image

 

 

Image

Source: Power Grid Corporation of India

It doesn’t take a transmission planner to see a looming problem here.  While the summer is theoretically in net surplus, potentially significant swings in demand in the Northern or Southern grids could quickly upset the balance. The national grid company, Power Grid Corporation of India, Ltd. (PGCIL) has been constructing a number of HDVC and HVAC lines to link the regions. Most transmission links are AC; at present there are 3 HVDC lines in operation, with three more under construction. 

Image

Regulatory and Operational Framework

Regional Load Despatch Centres (RLDCs) operate the regional grids.  The RLDCs are theoretically under the control of the National Load Despatch Centre (NLDC).  The NLDC and the RLDCs are wholly owned subsidiaries of PGCIL. 

Like the US, India has a patchwork quilt of regulatory jurisdictions.  Each of the 28 states has its own regulatory body run by elected officials, the State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERC).  Each SERC is autonomous.  Federal regulation is provided by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), however all real control lies with the SERCs.   

There is far more political maneuvering within India’s regulatory bodies than in the US, however.  Rate increases only occur immediately after elections, for example, and while the US is not immune to parochial decision making, it is rife in India.

What We Know So Far

In both disturbances, heavy power flow on the Bina -Agra line exceeded limits.  This particular line connects the Northern and Western grids through two 765 kV circuits that have been operating at 400 kV and is one of four major corridors between the two regions. 

Image

 

At the time of the outage, one of the circuits was being upgraded to 765 kV and was out of service.  The operating line had a Surge Impedance Loading (SIL) of 691 MW but was operating above 1,000 MW.  Apparently several circuits in the Eastern grid were operating above SIL as well.   

In addition, frequency regulation deteriorated to 47.69 Hz in the 50 Hz system, reportedly because of a refusal on the part of some states to install frequency regulation which would have initiated automated demand reductions.  As in the case of the SIL standards, states continued to draw on generation at system frequencies that were below regulatory minimums.

Although some reading between the lines is necessary from subsequent corrective orders, the NLDC in a memo to the regions noted that, in addition to the protective technology “mis-operations” the outage was exacerbated by the fact that there was sustained high loading during a period of high ambient temperatures and the absence of dynamic reactive power compensation resulted in voltage dips in the system. The NLDC’s primary corrective action was to demand that operational protocols and limits be enforced by the RLDC’s throughout the system.

The Indian press has speculated that many of the seemingly technical problems were in fact man made.  In India, access to reliable electricity directly correlates to economic growth.  Those regions that have reliable power are prospering; the have-nots are not.  Electricity is becoming seen by some as a right.  If the electricity is less reliable, or unavailable, it’s the politicians that are blamed.  The Indian press alleges that before this event, controls and technology such as under frequency relays were not enforced or installed because of political intervention; during the outage some politicians in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan demanded that no power reduction measures be taken so that their state would continue to be served.

The inevitable cascade then occurred.  Twice.  With one exception:  the Southern grid is not synchronized with the others and is linked via an HVDC line, providing that grid with a firewall against cascades in the other systems.

We also know that the system had a warning the day before.  On July 29 the Bina – Agra line had a “near miss” due to the same set of circumstances. 

Strategic Implications

Clearly there are several very obvious lessons learned here: never take a major line out of service during a peak power period; and protective technologies; operating limits are worthless if they are not engaged or ignored; and HVDC interconnections of asynchronous grids do, indeed, isolate grids from cascading disturbances.  More important, however, are the longer term implications.

Transmission investment and demand growth mismatch.  This issue is perhaps best highlighted with a comparison of India and China.  The two countries share some similarities: huge populations; high economic growth; and growing electricity demand.   India and China are in the process of building High Voltage DC lines to both link regional grids and to import large amounts of power that happen to be located in regions of low demand to the high demand areas.  But that’s where the similarities end.  See below.

 

India

China

Percent of population without access to electricity (WEO2011)

25%

0.6%

Population without access to electricity (WEO2011)

289 million

8 million

Forecasted growth in electricity demand, 2012 – 2020 (quads: IEO2011)

4.2

20.9

Forecasted annual growth in electricity demand, 2012 – 2020 (IEO2011)

4.5%

4.1%

Km of HVDC lines planned through 2020

5,500

56,000

Planned investment in HVDC lines through 2020

$ 9.4 billion

$ 84.2 billion

India’s planned investments in transmission do not seem to keep pace with its demand. 

Over reliance on central generation.  About 55% of Indian generation comes from coal fired thermal plants.  At present 87 GW of coal units are under construction and another 380 GW are in some stage of planning and permitting.

Status (through 2020)

# of Plants

Capacity, GW

Proposed

133

157

Early Development

114

157

Advanced Development

58

66

Construction

109

87

Deferred

62

37

Commission since 1/1/2010

30

50

Cancelled

19

22

Unconfirmed

20

25

Uncertain

6

15

Total

551

617

It is not at all clear that an already fragile transmission network with limited forecasted investment can accommodate all this new generation.  In addition, the outage occurred because of overloading at a peak period.  And of course, base loaded, multi-GW sized coal plants cannot solve the peaking problem inherent in the Indian system.

Perhaps the more important consideration is whether or not complete reliance on the central generation paradigm continues to make sense.  Perhaps some portion of this massive investment in large scale generation plants might be better directed to increasing transmission capacity, especially using multi-link HVDC, placing a much higher reliance on distributed generation; and optimizing the network as it currently exists.

Many of the most prosperous economic zones in locations like Mumbai are prosperous simply because they have installed their own generation sources, shielding them from the poor reliability of the public network.  Distributed generation can add considerably to balancing load disparities across the various grids and act as an effective supply (when aggregated) during peak periods.

In addition, India has considerable solar and wind resources that are not being utilized in the Western and Southern regions.

Absence of a true national grid.  Indian economic planning, including its energy infrastructure planning, is driven by a 5 year planning process.  The 11th 5 Year Plan ends in 2012; the 12th 5 Year Plan is in development.   The ability of state entities to override RDC’s and the NRDC effectively renders India’s “national” grid impotent.  As the 12th Plan is completed, investments in infrastructure need to be coupled with strong means to implement national policy and national control. 

VSC vs. CSC HVDC technology.  All of the currently planned HVDC lines in India are expected to use current sourced converters (CSC).  CSC systems are tried and true, and have the ability to cope with the very large capacities intended by Indian system planners.  CSC systems do not offer several advantages of voltage source converters (VSC), which include independent continuous control of active and reactive power, dynamic voltage control, and multiple stations.  VSC technology is currently limited to about 1,200 MW at 500 kV, whereas CSC can reach 16,000 MW at 800 kV, however VSC is making rapid advances.  India’s currently planned lines may need to be CSC technology, however new lines might be best suited for VSC technology.

Smart Grid technology. Putting aside the jurisdictional control issues, clearly the Indian system has no ability to visualize the state of its system on a real time basis and does not rely on any automated protective systems.  Any number of technologies could have made a difference: dynamic loading; synchrophasors; Flexible AC Transmission (FACT) systems; etc.

Final Thoughts

This was a rather breezy explanation of what is known about the Indian outages.  It would be easy to dismiss the events as par for the course in India and ignore some of the implications for other national systems.  The US is by no means immune from the potentiality of becoming something that looks like the Indian system.  Certainly the US networks are not as fragile as India’s, but we suffer from the same:

  • Inability to enact national policies, especially as they relate to smart grid technologies and distributed generation;
  • Mismatch in transmission investments and electricity demand growth;
  • Patchwork quilt of regulatory policies that prevents the implementation of a national grid;
  • Insufficient HVDC regional interconnections;
  • National legislation overly influenced by fossil fuel providers; and
  • Over reliance on the central generation paradigm.

Difficult as it may seem, these are real issues for which there are no easy solutions.  We may not be as fortunate as the Indians to have a wake up call like having half our population in the dark for two days. 

Taiwan Power: Quietly Getting the Smart Grid Right?

Taiwan Power – Quietly Getting the Smart Grid Right?

Imagine a utility that is vertically integrated and operates the entire grid through which it provides service.  It has various components of substation automation in place, as well as a Fault Isolation and Restoration (FLISR) system.  It faces the same challenges that many other utilities face as it develops its strategic plans for the next 5 to 10 years: increasing and substantial interconnection of renewable generation; strong pressure on the part of its regulator to minimize and defer new capital investment in generation and transmission; and a need to plan and implement its own version of an intelligent grid operation and management system, including smart meters.  Unlike other utilities, though, it is just beginning its smart grid planning now and has the opportunityof designing its smart grid program components and communications network from high voltage systems down to individual customers and can do so with the benefit of lessons learned around the world.  The utility is Taiwan Power Corporation (TPC) – and its story offers an interesting and instructive case study of how smart grid can be successfully implemented.

A little background: the TPC system operates the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity inTaiwan.  Peak load (summer) is not quite 34 GW; total installed capacity is nearly 41 GW; and annual sales at about 208 Billion kWh to about 12.7 million customers.  InUSterms, Taipower is the rough equivalent of PG&E, SCE, SDG&E, LADWP and SMUD combined.  Its generation mix is similar to theUSas a whole: 40 % coal; 19% nuclear; and 28% LNG.  TPC’s System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) are 18.224 minutes/customer-year and 0.204 frequency per customer-year, respectively. These data indicate a system reliability much higher than theUSaverages (244 for SAIDI and 1.49 for SAIFI) and placeTaiwanin the top 5 most reliable national systems. Taipower system wide line losses are about 4.6%; in theUSthe average is about 7 %.  This despite the fact thatTaiwanis subject to earthquakes and typhoons (nearly 40 % of all their feeders are underground).

Taiwanenergy policy, regulation and rate regulatory matters are developed and administered through the Bureau of Energy (BOE), part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.  How these policies are implemented is ultimately a matter of negotiation between the BOE and TPC.  BOE, with TPC input,  just promulgated a 20 year US $ 4 billion smart grid investment program. The program’s objectives are not much different from most other programs: 1) ensure continued high reliability; 2) encourage conservation and emissions reduction; enhance the use of green energy by improving interconnection capacity to 30% by 2030; and 4) develop low carbon smart grid industry that ultimately generates US $30 billion in value.  The following table lays out the phased goals for the program:

 

Current

Phase I
2012 – 2015

Phase II
2016 – 2020

Phase III
2021 – 2030

SAIDI
(Minutes/customer-year)

21

17.5

16

15.5

System line loss targets (%)

4.72

4.64

4.54

4.42

Smart substations

25

303

583

Distribution Automation System

70%

80%

88%

100%

Renewable energy integrated
(% system capacity)

< 10 %

15%

20%

30%

AMI (meters)

1,200 High Voltage (HV)

2,300 HV;
1 million Low Voltage (LV)

6 millionLV

National deployment

Emissions  reductions
(millions MT/year)

11.78

35.99

114.71

Revenue from newly developed Industry
(USD millions)

830

2,400

10,000

23,000

 

About $2.74 of the $ 4 billion investment is targeted for AMI; with about $ 800 k devoted to distribution automation and smart substations.  The remainder will be used for emissions reduction programs and for economic development.  Prior to this program, TPC had already invested considerable amounts in its distribution automation systems.  Seventy percent of its distribution system is already automated.  Its fault isolation and restoration system is well established throughout the island.  Some preliminary testing of meters has already occurred.   

TPC has just begun to implement Phase 1 for all but the last goal, which is not its responsibility.  As in theUS, virtually all the public attention and much of the investment is focused on smart meters.  Of most interest, however, is how TPC s approaching the communications network necessary for the program and the distribution level activities that are planned.

Phase 1 is really an intensive period of technology verification testing, the results of which will guide detailed planning for the future.  Taiwan includes a number of islands in addition to the main island- one of those, Peng-Hu (澎湖), will be the test bed for smart grid testing.  Peng-Hu already has a small and large scale wind and solar generation to supplement its diesel generators.  TPC will be installing a total of 30,000 meters on Peng Hu, along with a few smart substations and a demand response program.  During the later stage of the phase electric vehicle charging stations will be installed. 

TPC will be testing both PLC and RF mesh systems in the Peng-Hu trial.  They are out for bids on the initial meters, one requirement of which is the ability to upgrade firmware to accommodate future technology enhancements or changes in communications networks.  PLC is probably the more likely near term choice for the pilot and the initial AMI, as they have fewer concerns about outage disruption of the distribution automation system than other utilities. Longer term, and with its anticipated future growth, RF mesh or other radio options are more probable.  TPC has the ability to obtain licensed frequency spectrum from the National Communications Commission (NCC).

TPC intends to maximize the use of its extensive fiber optic network to support much of the substation and distribution automation program.

Peng-Hu and later phases will also be used to determine the best method to integrate their AMI, demand response, and existing SCADA with the distribution automation control system through their Common Information Model.

TPC, in some respects, is a much larger version of someUSutilities and faces many of the same issues regarding capital investment, cost reduction, efficiency improvements, enhanced customer engagement and integration of distributed energy resources.  Unlike US utilities, it benefits from a fully vertically integrated business structure and answers to only one regulator in a country with a national energy policy. Regardless TPC offers a few interesting lessons for other utilities:

  • Craft a long term vision and work tactical planning accordingly.
  • Define the implementation of intelligent grid management and automation in networking terms and utilize the OSI model to guide the network architecture.
  • Give transmission and distribution grid improvements higher priority than metering as the plan is rolled out.
  • Build in flexibility for both customer growth and step function improvements in technology.

TPC appears to be well positioned to further modernize a grid system that is already far more reliable than many systems.  Careful examination of TPC’s approach, as well as monitoring their future decisions and results could be quite valuable to other utilities and vendors, regardless of where they might be in their own smart grid program or product development plans.

(Also posted at Greentech Media: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Taiwan-Power-Quietly-Getting-the-Smart-Grid-Right/)