Natural Gas is essential for energy storage

Preface. In a 100% renewable energy storage system mainly dependent on wind and solar, there needs to be a tremendous amount of energy storage for up to six weeks when there is little wind or sunshine. The only storage now is Pumped Hydro Storage which can store at best 2% of the energy generated a day in the 10 states that have hydropower, Compressed Air Energy Storage at just one place only in Alabama, and almost non-existent battery storage that can’t scale up to what’s needed due to lack of lithium and other minerals. This is why natural gas is THE energy storage today. Gas steps in when wind or sun stop, and steps out when they blow or shine so the grid doesn’t become unbalanced and black out. Gas is essential for the few days with peak demand when weather is very hot or cold, as well as the baseload power around the clock. The U.S. electric grid uses 35% of natural gas, and this percentage is expected to grow as coal and nuclear power plants continue to shut down.

But the electric grid is competing with other essential uses of finite natural gas. About half of us alive today, four billion people, are here because of fertilizer (ammonia) made from natural gas and with natural gas as the energy source to create the tremendous heat and pressure needed to produce it to grow up to 5 times more food than before fossil fertilizer. Natural gas also heats homes and businesses and for cooking. Natural gas is a component of half a million products and again, often the energy source of production.

In the news: 2020 California grid operator warned of power shortages as state transitioned to clean energy. Growing shortfall as solar power goes offline in early evenings California is having black outs because there isn’t enough natural gas to balance solar and wind. The article says that “We have a much more risky supply of energy now because the sun doesn’t always shine when we want and the wind doesn’t always blow when we want, now that 33% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

With large solar farms making up an increasing percentage of California’s power generation, crunch time happens in the late afternoon, particularly on hot days. People turn on air conditioning and other devices around 5 p.m. as the heat peaks and they come home from work. Electricity demand surges, just as the sun is setting and solar power is drying up.

Wolak, of Stanford, said the state should make efforts to keep gas-power plants around until battery storage technology for solar plants can be ramped up. “Some folks in the environmental community want to shut down all the gas plants. That would be a disaster,” said Jan Smutny Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, a trade association representing solar, wind, geothemal and gas power plants. “Last night 60% of the power in the ISO was being produced by those gas plants. They are your insurance policy to get through heat waves.”

Many of the state’s gas plants have become less competitive because they are more expensive to run than solar, he said. In fact, some have been shutting down on their own because utilities are buying more power from solar and wind.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Clemente, J. 2020. Germany proves how essential natural gas is. Forbes.

No country ever has spent more money forcing the adoption of renewable energy than Germany. Passed in 2010, Germany’s Energiewende is an “energy transition” based on relentlessly installing as much wind and solar power capacity as possible, with little to no consideration to cost.

The Energiewende demanding the use of renewables could ultimately cost the country as much as $4 trillion by 2050. Already costing hundreds of billions of dollars, wind and solar now generate just ~18% and ~8% of Germany’s electricity, respectively, and still account for just a small fraction of total energy needs:

Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on renewables, wind and solar barely register, and Germany is still overwhelmingly fossil fuel-based.

The reality is that natural gas is also quickly becoming an even more important source of energy in Germany. Not just as a vital standalone energy source providing 25% of all energy consumed, gas is the backup fuel needed for intermittent wind and solar. As the energy policy advisor to the U.S., Germany, and the other 34 developed, rich OECD nations, the International Energy Agency (IEA) touts gas as the backbone of the electric power system, to have a flexible, reliable grid where gas supports renewables (Schulz 2020).

Germany wants to add three or four more Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals to help expand Europe’s total LNG import facilities to nearly 35, a “dash to gas” that is extremely telling for a continent that has deployed massive funding and policy support to force more wind and solar into the system.

Indeed, Germany offers a number of lessons for the U.S. and the world – a series of energy warnings that we must heed. Illustrated by Germany’s plan to eliminate both coal and nuclear, which effectively is happening here in the U.S., gas only becomes more essential.

Further, massive payouts to force more wind and solar power into the system can only last for so long, and there are physical and cost limitations that not even rich countries can ignore forever. To illustrate, as tax breaks run out, opposition grows, barriers to new power lines persist, and construction approvals slow, there is a major shortage of new wind projects: “Germans fall out of love with wind power.”

Many though probably see this slowdown in German wind as a positive, financially drained of the levies to pay for renewables subsidies. The “renewables only” tunnel vision has helped soar Germany’s electricity prices for families to being three to four times more expensive than they are here in the U.S.: “If Renewables Are So Cheap Why Is Germany’s Electricity So Expensive?”

After Denmark, Germany has had the highest electricity prices in the world. In fact, ridiculously high energy prices have sadly created a new term in Germany: energy poverty, “Renewable Energy Mandates Are Making Poor People Poorer.”

Just think about it: despite years of promises to effectively “get rid of them,” oil (33%) and gas (25%) still supply almost 60% of Germany’s primary energy needs (not all that surprising since wind and solar are strictly sources of electricity, a secondary energy source that accounts for just 20-30% of all energy demand).

If Germany cannot survive on just “wind and solar” how are the poor countries supposed to?

References

Schulz, F. 2020. German needs more LNG to complement renewables, IEA says. euractiv.com

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8 Responses to Natural Gas is essential for energy storage

  1. Kevin M. says:

    We can do a lot more with Hydro and we should the vast majority of existing dams in the U.S.—more than 90 percent, or 80,000 dams—don’t produce electricity. We can rebuild or retrofit those dams. There are also run of the river hydro stations being built now. Most measurements give hydro an eroi of over 50 some have claimed 110 but that is probably an outlier. Whatever we do we are going to generate more co2 unfortunately, but we need baseload and grid stability. In my readings I have gotten the impression hydro-electric is the smartest way to get it where we can build the dams.

    What do you think?

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-23/the-u-s-could-create-more-clean-hydroelectric-energy-without-building-new-dams
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960148113007064
    https://www.e-education.psu.edu/eme444/node/400

    • energyskeptic says:

      Hydropower is dispatchable like natural gas and the best way to restart a grid when it crashes. Dams are not renewable, since their average lifespans are 60-80 years. By 2025, 70% of the dams in the U.S. will be over 50 years old (ASCE 2019). Dams can fail in extreme floods, when their reservoir fills with sediment, or their concrete erodes. Climate change will further reduce hydropower. It already has — the southwest is in the worst mega-drought in 500 years and one of the most severe in history (MacFarlane 2018). The Hoover Dam has been downrated from 2,074 Megawatts to 1,592 as water levels continue to drop in Lake Mead.

      Pumped Hydro Storage (PHS)

      PHS (and hydroelectric) can back up natural gas to quickly balance the grid when water is available.

      PHS is commercial, and generates power by using electric turbines to move water from a lower level at night when demand is low uphill to a reservoir above. In the day when demand is high, the water is released to flow downhill to generate electricity. Locations must have both high elevation and space for a reservoir above an existing body of water, which is why there are only 43 of them in the U.S., with just two built since 1995. New locations are limited and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

      PHS stores 98% all of the electrical energy in the world (Mongird 2019). In the U.S. PHS generated negative 5.26 Terrawatt hours (TWh) because it took 20-30% more energy to pump water uphill than was generated downhill. This is just 0.12% of the total 4,118 TWh annual electricity generation in 2019. On average, the grid carries 11.28 TWh every day. We’d need 316 TWh of storage since at least four weeks of electricity storage is needed to overcome seasonal summer wind and winter solar power (Droste-Franke 2015).

      With U.S. PHS at – 0.014 TWh a day, it would take 237,000 more PHS dams to store a month of electricity.

      That sounds like far too many dams, but here’s why. PHS has very little energy density compared to oil. To store the energy contained in just one gallon of gasoline takes 55,000 gallons of water pumped 726 feet high (CCST 2012). Such low energy density would require 16 Mississippi rivers to provide just half of U.S. peak load flowing from a reservoir 650 feet above a second reservoir (Palmer 2020).

      • Kevin M. says:

        I think most dams were just poorly constructed and need to be rebuilt anyway. The Hoover dam has a potential lifespan measured in thousands of years although I do believe that is with maintenance.

        People in the southwest should start exiting now. I don’t see how that region can support as many people as it does now going forward. For the smaller population that might be able to stay in some areas solar should be their primary electricity source.

        I was looking at charts that show hydro drops off in summer when solar picks up so I would think that in many areas they would be complementary.

        As I have said before though we should aim to get radically more efficient.

        • energyskeptic says:

          I heard a talk at UCB in 2008 about how once solar reaches 5% it cuts into the profits of natural gas and hydropower and other plants that cost a lot of capital and were expected to be running far more than they are now, because solar has first rights. Dams simply have to release water if there’s a threat of overflow, and solar gets first rights, so some water is released that doesn’t generate the power it could have. And for half the year solar contributes almost nothing. At the same time that hydropower can’t run either to provide agricultural and city water until the next rains come. If they come.

  2. Kevin M. says:

    The potential for hydropower in America is also pretty conveniently located where most of the people are.

    https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/NPD_Map_20131205_0.jpg

    • energyskeptic says:

      Hydropower is concentrated in just ten states that have 80% of hydropower, with Washington state a whopping 25% of that (HS 2011). These ten states can’t use hydropower year-round due to drought, water storage for cities and agriculture, fisheries, and the ecosystem. Nor can more dams be built; there are few places to put them.

  3. Hans Verbeek says:

    Germany realizes how dependent it is on natural gas. The construction of the Nordstream-pipeline ensured the flow of Russian natural gas to Germany. As the second Nordstream-pipeline (Nordstream2) neared completion, the US managed to stop the construction with sanctions. The US clearly wants Germany to buy American LNG, instead of Russian pipeline-gas. The Forbes article completely ignores the Russian natural gas (and Norwegian natural gas for that manner)

  4. mark says:

    It appears that a lot of demand response has prevented another stage III event at CASIO (ie blackout)!

    https://calmatters.org/newsletters/whatmatters/2020/08/rolling-blackouts-california-heat-wave-outages-newso/