Saturday, January 20, 2018

78 Miles of solar

AES, which has a coal (454MW) and solar plant (4MW) plant in Guayama, is recommending the installation of 10,000MW of solar in Puerto Rico. They are advocating this as the primary source of PR's electrical supply. The use of batteries is included to even out availability but they do not address what happens when we have 2-3 cloudy days in a row (That never happens in PR, does it?).

That is 10,000MW nominal which translates to about 2,500 effective MW.

For a sens of scale, here is what the existing coal/solar plant looks like. 

So I was thinking about how much space 10,000MW would occupy. Looking around I find that the AES and Humacao solar sites each occupy 6-7 acres per nominal megawatt. Panels will continue getting more efficient so let's say 5 acres per MW. 10,000MW will require 50,000 acres. That is about 78 square miles or 202 square kilometers.

That is a lot of land that can't be used for much else. Nothing will grow under the panels so we lose the carbon eating potential of plants, even if just weeds. Some of it can be built on roofs or over parking lots but even so we still lose a lot of land. Not just land but relatively flat land. You know, like you would use for agriculture. Flat land that we have precious little of

To picture just how much 80 square miles is, I put an 80sqm block on top of a map of PR. The yellow block is to scale and is 40 miles long by 2 miles wide. Of course, the panels will be distributed in smaller areas but the total cumulative area will be the same.

Two other problems with making us dependent on solar:

1) Resiliency - Puerto Rico experiences regular hurricanes and has since forever. There is no reason we should not expect another Maria in the future. Hurricanes and solar panels do not mix. Just take a look at the Humacao solar farm which was completely destroyed.

2) Cost - Solar is not cheap. At present AES sells coal powered electricity to PREPA for 9-12 cents/kwh. EcoElectrica sells LNG powered juice to PREPA for about the same price. 

PREPA pays 18c/kwh for solar and has locked into contracts for 20 years at this price. 

Detailed data on how much PREPA purchases and how much it pays from these and other plants is available at their site

Puerto Rico must have cheap, reliable, clean energy. Solar is not the way to get there. 

I will be happy to have AES or anyone else invest their own money in solar energy on the same basis as any other form of energy. No tax or regulatory sweeteners. Especially no sweetheart power purchase agreements. PREPA needs to buy solar on the same basis as they buy coal, gas, oil or other energy. They need to pay time based avoided cost. PREPA needs to purchase a mix of energy buying whatever is cheapest at any given minute.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Microgrid regulations

The PR Energy Commission last week issued their proposed regulations on microgrid development. I read it over the weekend and recommend everyone interested in energy do so. Don't get scared thinking it will be like most regulations with dense, unreadable, legalese. I think anyone, even someone who knows very little about energy beyond how to turn on a light switch, will be able to understand it. 

One of the things I learned is what I pioneer I am in PR energy development. I developed a microgrid back more than 30 years ago!

Without going into a lot of detail here, what it mainly does is allows individuals, companies, consumers, third parties, municipalities and pretty much anyone else to develop small scale power projects. These might serve a single plant or building or an area as large as a municipality. 
Most importantly, it recognizes the right of third parties to sell electricity at retail under certain conditions. (This stems from the Alcon case discussed previously here Microgrid operators can sell power to PREPA , to members (if a co-op), to themselves or to customers connected to the grid.

The goal, highly worthy in my view, is to get away from the entire island being dependent on a few distant central plants in Penuelas and Guayama and get power generation distributed closer to point of use. 

It tries to encourage the use of renewables, not limited to wind and solar, but permits all types of energy generation for microgrids. It specifically mentions cogeneration, or "Combined Heat and Power" (CHP) as it calls it. I think this, combined in some applications with batteries, is the best way to go. 

I really only have three comments, which I will be submitting, about the proposed regulation:

1) I think small scale (>10MW) packaged nuclear plants will become practical and available in the next 5-10 years. Nuclear is the ultimate renewable energy and should be included in the regulation. 

2) CHP generally involves using a gas turbine or diesel engine to generate electricity then recovering the waste heat and using it for steam, chilled water or some other purpose. This boosts the system efficiency from @40% for electric only to 60-80%. Combined cycle is a form of cogeneration that uses the waste heat from the gas turbine to power a secondary steam turbine generator. Eco-Electrica and AES Guayama are both combined cycle cogenerators. 

It is unclear in the regulation whether combined cycle will be permitted. I believe it should be permitted and the regulation should explicitly do so.

3) Microgrids can sell power only to those connected to the microgrid or to PREPA. I would like to see provisions for PREPA to wheel power between microgrids. A microgrid in Mayaguez may have excess capacity at certain times that could be used by another microgrid in Humacao. They should be able to inject the power into the PREPA grid in Mayaguez and sell it to the microgrid in Humacao. PREPA would receive a fee for use of their system for this transmission, of course. As I understand the current proposal, the Mayaguez plant would have to sell the excess to PREPA who would then sell it generally to their customers. 

I seem to recall that PURPA requires wheeling for "Qualified Facilities" but it has been many years and I may be misremembering it.

Read the whole thing here:

Comments can be submitted prior to Feb 4 to

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Got lights!

My lights came back last night about when a prepa crew routed around a bad xformer.

Still 20 or more houses without lights in my urbanization.

40% of puerto rico residents still witout light. Some since hurricane Irma. Since Maria in my casr. 110 days.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Roosevelt Roads powerhouse

Governor Rossello announced a plan for development of the former Roosevelt Roads. Sounds great to me but we've had other plans before that never happened. Maybe this time will be different, thought Charlie Brown as Lucy held the football. 

As part of the plan, Nuevo Dia reports:

Other development includes the generation of sustainable energy, an area of great need, even more after the experience of Hurricane Maria. The structure, explained Laboy, already exists, it is a matter of enabling it.

Initially, between one and five megawatts of energy could be generated.

I wonder what structure he is talking about? Unless he is talking about the PREPA 40MW gas turbine across the road from Roosevelt Roads, the only structure I can think of is the old powerhouse. This was built in about 1940 and has not run since about 1945. The machinery was still there in 1974 but was removed and sat for years in the weeds in Fajardo where Office Max used to be. 

The structure is interesting. It was designed to withstand simultaneous hits by 2 12" shells from a German Battleship. This was when it was thought the British royal family and govt would be evacuated to Roosey. 

Here's a recent picture showing the construction:

The top roof is not a facade, that is solid reinforced concrete. If anything gets through this, there is an inner roof, about 6-8' thick. You can see this from about the top of the slit windows to the top of the platform where the stairs end. Building walls are about 6-8' thick concrete. (feet, not inches) Lots and lots of heavy rebar throughout.

It would be interesting to see it as a power plant again. Whatever they do with it, they won't tear it down. I knew the engineer who built it and he was asked to tear it down by the Navy in the 70's. Basically, he told me, it can't be done short of nuclear weapons. He is the one who told the construction details.

PR Nuclear power

Some might not be aware that PR does have a nuclear plant. 

Sort of.

Long ago there were plans to build a reactor in the beach town of Rincon. The containment dome is still there. 

Looking for a picture just now, I see that it is now a museum. I'll have to visit and check it out. 

Lots more at this link:

PREPA also once bought a nuclear plant back in the 1970. For many years they were spending a significant amount of money each year to keep it in storage in France. (It has been years since I've heard of this, my memory is very hazy) The nuclear cafe site above does say this:

in 1968, PRWRA began to consider a more conventional nuclear plant. In May 1970, it ordered from Westinghouse a 583-MWe two-loop pressurized water reactor plant for a site at Islote. Practically nothing was accomplished on this project, which was finally cancelled in 1978, ending the Puerto Rican era of nuclear energy projects.

(PRWRA was Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority, the predecessor to PREPA)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Standby power and the grid

I was talking to my wife a week or two ago about how much standby/backup power Puerto Rico has. Many businesses, especially restaurants, have their own diesels, most in the 50-150KW range. Many homeowners have small generators in the 5KW range. Condo and office buildings, hospitals, manufacturing plants and others have generators up to a couple MW in size.

This is only partly due to the hurricane experience (last one before Maria was in 98) and more due to the unreliable power PREPA provides. 

I would not be surprised if the total backup capacity was in the 500-1000MW range.

Very little of it is grid connected. It is mostly on a transfer switch.Or, in the case of residential, wired in with extension cords as needed. 

I was thinking that it would be cool if somehow that capacity could be used instead of sitting idle. Kind of a pipe dream, interconnection and dispatch would be a nightmare.

Then I run across this:

NRG Energy and Cummins’ New Business: Backup Generators as Grid Assets

How aggregating backup power for demand response and other grid services could unlock a big new C&I distributed energy market.
NRG Energy and Cummins’ New Business: Backup Generators as Grid Assets
NRG Energy and Cummins’ New Business: Backup Generators as Grid Assets
The millions of backup generators installed at commercial and industrial sites across the country make up one of the largest sources of distributed energy. But most of it is fueled by diesel generators that are too dirty, noisy and inefficient to run during non-emergency times. 

 Still, a small but growing number of natural-gas-fired gensets in the market are clean enough to run outside of the strict parameters set for diesel in many U.S. jurisdictions, albeit with some big exceptions like California

Last week, NRG Energy and Cummins unveiled a partnership that aims to take advantage of this flexibility to offer backup generators to a whole new class of commercial-industrial customers. The press release calls it a “platform,” and it is backed up by substantial in-market software expertise from both companies.

The proposition is this: get a Cummins genset for use when the grid goes down, and shave 10 to 15 percent off your energy bills by allowing it to run as part of an aggregated fleet of a “preliminary estimated hundreds of megawatts capacity,” according to the companies’ press release. 
[Emph added-ED]

Pretty good idea, connecting all this capacity, distributed at the user, rather than the supplier, end of the grid. Even better, since Cummins/NRG pays for it, you get onsite standby power for free without even the hassle of managing it. 

"But", I hear you saying, "in PR only PREPA is allowed to sell electricity and isn't that what this is doing?" 

Fortunately, the Alcon decision has largely busted that monopoly if people what to take advantage of it. So, not only a great idea but legal. 

Now if they could just use it for cogeneration...

Friday, January 5, 2018

Weather and wind problems

One of the things we've found out from Maria is that solar and wind are not great in abnormal weather. See the Naguabo Windfarm for exhibit A

I ran across a story yesterday about weather/renewable problems in Vermont. Vermont is trying to go all "green" with solar and wind energy.

Vermont is also cold in the winter and some winters are colder than others. This is one of those colder winters and they are having trouble supplying enough energy for Vermonters.

Story is here:

Perhaps they should not have closed the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant?

The blog has a lot of other interesting posts. The proprietor, Meredith Angwin, is that ava raris a pro-nuke activist. She also has a background that gives her credibility.

Check out her blog at

China Syndrome story

I should probably clarify that the China Syndrome story below was not from me. I had mentioned the nuclear plant designer who told me the story of lube pump failure in the great Northeast blackout.

He was the one who told me that The China Syndrome was actually a pro-nuke movie.

This would have been in 83 or so.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The China Syndrome

In the early 80s there was a movie called "The China Syndrome" starring Jack Lemmon, Wilfrid Brimly and Hanoi Jane. I think it was supposed to be an anti-nuclear power movie but it boomeranged.

It is actually a very effective pitch for the safety of nuclear power plants.

A brief plot recap:

1) A corrupt California utility is building a nuclear power plant directly on top of an earthquake fault.

2) Jack Lemmon's character is some sort of project manager or quality inspector and finds that the contractor has been falsifying the pipe weld x-rays. The implication is that the contractor is also cutting corners on the welds themselves.

3) Lemmon goes to management and tries to blow the whistle and gets turned down. Too much money invested to stop now, he is told. He persists and is fired for his troubles.

4) The plant is powered up and there is excessive vibration of the piping. (This seems more like a shock absorber problem than a weld problem but it's a movie, OK?)

5) Lemmon hears about this, goes rogue, arms himself and invades the control room with the intention of shutting down the plant.

6) A SWAT team is called in but can't go into the control room for fear of damaging the controls.

7) A crack team of control engineers completely rewires the plant controls to move control out of the control room.

8) SWAT busts in with flash-bangs and lots of shooting, electrical sparks and so on. Very spectacular and Lemmon is killed.

9) in the meantime a pump vibrates so much that it falls off its mounting necessitating a total plant shut down. This is carried out safely with little more fuss, apparently, than switching off your car ignition.

Early in the movie we are told that "The China Syndrome" is what happens when the reactor goes out of control and melts right through the center of the earth "all the way to China."

So we have all of the above problems and they still shut the plant down with no problem?

That is one safe facility and design. It speaks a lot to the safety of nuclear. It should be shown in every high school every year and someone should explain to the kids what they are seeing. 

Great pro-nuke propaganda

Nuclear power for Puerto Rico

I've been a fan of nuclear power since childhood and especially since attending the Navy's nuclear power school in 1968. Safe, clean, and for those worried about CO2 emissions, there aren't any. No real Jones Act issue with bringing fuel, be it oil, gas or coal, from the US. Pretty robust when it comes to hurricanes. Most importantly, reliable baseload power. What's not to like?

There seems to be some interesting work being done with small, modular, reactors. Of course, there seems to have been some interesting work being done with small, modular, reactors for as long as I can remember. They always seem just over the horizon.

In the private sector, anyway.

The Navy has more experience than anyone with designing, building and operating nuke plants. Generally in fairly stressful environments. They've been building modular systems since the 50's. They are smaller than utility scale but I do not see why the concept could not be scaled up as an alternative to more or less custom designs for every utility plant.

As far as safety goes, nuclear has a pretty stellar track record.

YIMBY - I live about a mile from the Old Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. That would be my first choice for a location for a 2-400MW plant to supply power to the north and east coasts of PR.

Puerto Rico needs all options in our energy mix, including nuclear.

"Nearly 1,500 additional grid repair workers headed to Puerto Rico"

Here's some good news from Caribbean Business newspaper:

Nearly 1,500 additional grid repair workers headed to Puerto Rico

By on December 28, 2017

SAN JUAN – Eighteen member companies of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) industry trade group will send nearly 1,500 grid-restoration workers and support personnel to Puerto Rico in January to accelerate power restoration efforts across the island.

As part of this mutual assistance deployment, hundreds of trucks with tools and equipment will be loaded on ships this week and barged to Puerto Rico, and our goal is for the nearly 1,500 mutual assistance crews from the mainland to arrive on the island by January 12,” added Carlos Torres, the island’s power restoration coordinator.
With the new arrivals, the total number of power restoration workers on the island will increase to more than 5,500, the EEI said, including Prepa’s own crews, a contingent of crews from New York who are working as part of an intergovernmental agreement and crews mobilized under USACE contracts.

Crews will be coming from utilities in the following states:
North Carolina

Read the whole article, it is very good news for a change.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Podcast on Puerto Rico post Maria featuring AES

I found Green Tech Media's website/blog a few weeks ago and am finding it very interesting. Its focus is a bit more on solar and batteries than I would really like. They have their place but I think cogeneration may be a better solution for many reasons.

AES is a large US builder/operator of power plants around the world, including the 454MW coal plant in Guayama. Their corporate team did a very good set of recommendations to the PR Energy Commission that I had linked to in a previous post here.

In their Interchange podcast, they interviewed Chris Shelton, the chief technology officer at AES about the plan. Fascinating throughout.

The mp3 of the podcast is at the bottom of the article and can be streamed or downloaded.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Why electric?

Back in 82 I was building a new house and wanted a better water heater. I found a tankless heater made in France by Aquastar. This heater mounts on the wall and turns on only when water is flowing. I got the large size and it gave about 4gpm (2 showers plus a dishwasher) at about 120 degrees. It lasted 25 years.
It was a bit pricey but I loved it so much I got the dealership for Puerto Rico. That was an experience. I never was too successful. People here were completely unfamiliar with and dubious of gas water heaters even though they already used gas for cooking. I did a presentation to the gas dealers association. I figured they were a natural since it would double their gas sales. Nope. "Our customers don't know about it." 

Marey, a local Puerto Rican company has been making similar systems here since 1955. My son got me one so we could have hot water while we have no power. He has had one in his house for a while. We both have the smallest, "portable" model though we have them permanently mounted. Plenty of how water for his family of 4. 

Only $179.

They also have larger models that are suitable for commercial apps.

This brings me to a larger subject. Why do we have so many electrical appliances in PR? Cost of electricity is high, it makes no sense to pay 23c per KWH to make heat when we can burn cheaper propane directly. 

Propane cost is $16/20# tank. (Larger tanks are cheaper.) That equates to about 12.5 c/kwh or about half of electric. 

PREPA has a huge generation problem with not enough to keep the lights on in PR. A lot of that generation goes to water heaters,  stoves and clothes driers. 

We should be changing them all to propane. 

Its the patriotic thing to do.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Coal vs Solar

Sometimes only a picture will do the job:

This is a satellite view of the AES coal and solar facilities in Guayama Puerto Rico. Other than caption and outlines, it is unretouched.

The solar plant is rated at 20MW but that means 20MW for the few minutes per day when the sun is in the optimal position. The rest of the day it is less, especially on cloudy days. At night, of course, it is zero. Actual average output, calculated from the amount of energy sold by AES to PREPA over several years, is between 4 and 5MW. This power is non-dispatchable and somewhat random as well.

Batteries will eventually help smooth out the randomness and bring some degree of dispatchability. That will add to the usability but will not do anything to significantly increase the total power generated. 

The coal plant, on the other hand is rated at 454MW. That means it can run for extended periods of time, if needed at 454MW subject only to fuel availability. They keep 60-90 days supply on hand.

Eyeballing the two, it looks like the coal plant, with 100 times the capacity, occupies about the same amount of land as the solar plant.

Our very own Prince of Darkness has decreed that we will eventually have 25% of our total power. Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.

By way of comparison, this is what a 4MW, truck mountable, diesel generator looks like:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Map showing Puerto Rico generation and transmission resources

This map is extracted from the working group's damage assessment report linked earlier.

There are 1,775MW of theoretical capacity located north of the central cordillera/mountains counting the Daguao (Ceiba) and Yabucoa (Humacao) plants

It is theoretical since much of it is out of service for reasons not really related to the hurricane Maria.