Wants half-billion public bailout
From The Hockey Schtick (h/t Richard Cumming) we learn that the Ivanpah solar thermal plant (the world’s largest), on the edge of the Mojave desert in California, has failed to keep its promise of renewable, reliable, cheap, climate-changing electric power. Which is a shame, but at least it’s their own money they’re playing with.
Only it isn’t. Its owners, none other than giga-giants Google and NRG Energy, want another $539 million of public funds to help them pay off a federal construction loan of $1.6 billion. How’s that for audacity? Apparently it’s possible for the giga-rich to demand public funds under Obama’s determinedly loony policy to burn public money on unproven ‘green’ projects to ‘save’ the planet.
So Ivanpah has failed its early production targets before a year is up, having produced only a quarter (254,263 MWh) of the planned electricity, and it’s applying to burn more fossil fuel which will emit 60% more CO2 to warm the globe.
Why does it need fossil fuel? Well, the plant was designed to include a small amount of gas-fired heating for nights and cloudy days, so the plant could continue to generate electricity. How can it do that? Because the solar rays don’t heat the water directly, they heat a container of liquid salt (sodium chloride), which in turn boils the water. These giant containers of liquid salt stay hot for several hours, but if they cool down, you can reheat them with the gas.
So why does it need so much more fossil fuel? Apparently the weather has been cloudy and nights have been cold, so they say the sun hasn’t been working too well. We could speculate that their boilers are inefficient as well, but who knows?
The Hockey Schtick tells us that over half the electricity it puts out isn’t from solar power at all, but from this inefficient use of fossil fuel. How immensely ironic that is, since it’s the only reason the solar plant exists. We just don’t need it except to save ourselves from CO2, but it’s actually increasing our output of the blasted stuff! Ivanpah has been a huge, taxpayer-subsidised expense, at least $US2.2 billion so far, plus high electricity rates guaranteed by long-term contracts with California utilities (i.e., ratepayers), causing 59% more greenhouse gas emissions and giving 75% less electricity than promised. The blog ends by asking: could Ivanpah be the world’s biggest green energy boondoggle ever?
Let’s look at that. To start, let’s zoom right in on the Unit 1 solar receiver.
Now we’ll step back to include Units 2 and 3.
Now what about the overall context?
In 2013, solar power produced 0.23% of America’s total electricity generation of 4,058 billion KWh. As far as I can ascertain there’ll be a slight improvement in 2014, perhaps to 0.5%, probably much less. Which means the deserts must be covered with these environmental disasters before solar thermal will make the slightest dent in the dependence on coal, gas and nuclear generation.
The Ivanpah installation apparently doubled America’s solar thermal electricity generation, but that’s because they’re starting from nothing. It’s still a pitiful amount (0.23%) compared with the gargantuan demand, and no matter how the activists might wish the demand to go away, it won’t go away. It must be satisfied somehow because our personal mobility, transportation of all kinds, medical services, modern materials and most of the rest of our technology are such highly valuable components of our liberty we will never simply give them up.
For scale, here, courtesy of Google Maps, is the Ivanpah development as at June last year, from 50km up, with a handy 10km yellow line. You might like to amuse yourself by working out how many of these things the US deserts might accommodate. There’s a great deal of demand plants like this must strive to meet, but there’s still plenty of desert—doesn’t that fill you with hope for the future?