Obama Picks Energy, EPA Chiefs

Issue 1 and Volume 113.

In mid-December, President-elect Barack Obama said he would nominate Steven Chu for energy secretary, Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator, Carol Browner as energy “czar” and Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Steven Chu tapped for energy secretary.
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Chu is a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004. He is also chair of the university’s physics department. Chu won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997.

Jackson is a Princeton University-educated chemical engineer with 16 years of experience working with the EPA in Washington. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine named Jackson head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2002. Jackson would be the EPA’s first African-American leader.

Browner was an administrator with the EPA from 1993 to 2001 and was head of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation before that. She worked as a legislative director in the office of then-Senator Al Gore.

Sutley is Los Angeles’s deputy mayor for energy and environment, nominated to the post by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Sutley was also an energy advisor to California Gov. Gray Davis, and was deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations within the California Environmental Protection Agency.—Jeff Postelwait

Canada Passes Wind Energy Milestone

The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) said Canada has become the 12th country in the world to surpass 2,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity. Wind supplies about 1 percent of Canada’s electricity demand, with 85 wind farms representing approximately 2,246 MW of generating capacity.

Ontario is the current provincial leader with installed wind energy capacity of 781 MW. Quebec follows at 531 MW, Alberta at 524 MW, Saskatchewan at 171 MW, Manitoba at 103 MW, Prince Edward Island at 72 MW and Nova Scotia at 61 MW.

Globally, other leaders in installed wind energy capacity include Germany at 23,300 MW, the U.S. at 20,413 MW, Spain at 15,900 MW, China at 9,000 MW and India at 8,757 MW.

Over the past decade, global wind energy capacity has continued to grow at an average cumulative rate of more than 32 percent, CanWEA said. Between now and 2020, close to $1US trillion in global investment is projected to bring global installed capacity to more than 500,000 MW.—Jeff Postelwait

Photovoltaic Costs to Fall in 2009

The cost of photovoltaic electricity is due to plummet in 2009, according to analysts at New Energy Finance. Its quarterly Silicon and Wafer Price Index shows average silicon contract prices falling by more than 30 percent in 2009, compared with 2008.

With thin-film PV module manufacturing costs approaching the $1 per watt mark, crystalline silicon-based PV will come under severe competition for larger projects, resulting in margins shrinking throughout the silicon value chain, the firm states.

The analysis shows an average perceived spot market price of solar-grade silicon during October and November of $332/kg. The weighted average price for polysilicon for delivery in 2009 under contracts signed in 2007 and 2008 was $113/kg, a reduction of 31 percent from 2008.

According to the firm’s new report, “Through Thick and Thin,” New Energy Finance forecasts that production of thin-film photovoltaic modules will more than quadruple to 1.9 GW in 2009.

Thin-film PV is less efficient at converting solar energy to electricity, with efficiencies of as much as 11 percent rather than the up to 18 percent displayed by commercial crystalline silicon technology. However, with manufacturing costs approaching $1/watt, it is an attractive option for larger space-constrained applications.

For a ground-mounted plant in a region with good insolation, this could translate into an unsubsidised generation cost of $0.17/kWh for crystalline silicon—competitive with daytime peak electricity prices in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, thin-film manufacturers can achieve unsubsidised costs of $0.13/kWh for the same large project by 2010.

According to New Energy Finance, the credit crunch will affect the ability of some solar project developers to find debt finance. This will slow the build-out of solar projects, intensifying downward pressure on prices and potentially shifting the market from value-based to cost-based pricing.—Jeff Postelwait

NERC Security Deadline Approaching

Just as you use the latest security updates to protect your personal computer from threats of viruses and attempts to steal valuable information, so power plants and the grids to which they are connected must make sure systems that allow plants to operate and interact with the grid are protected to the maximum extent possible from the threat of hackers and terrorists.

In April 2006, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) submitted cyber security compliance standards to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). These standards were approved along with the authority to enforce compliance. They address major security concerns posed by the interconnectivity of plants, operators and grids. Compliance with NERC Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) rules 2 through 9 (NERC CIP 2-9) will be mandatory for all entities responsible for the reliability of North America’s bulk electric systems.

The NERC CIP standards apply to virtually all aspects of power production, delivery and related service providers, including reliability coordinators, balancing authorities, interchange authorities, transmission service providers, transmission owners, transmission operators, generator owners, generator operators and load-serving entities. Utilities that do not meet audit requirements will face stiff FERC-imposed penalties for noncompliance when audits begin in 2010 for most utilities.

Many utilities remain in various stages of non-compliance or are behind the compliance schedule curve. The reasons range from concerns about loss of autonomy, fear of compromising the advantages that open networks provide in operating their assets, and—most often—the monetary costs of compliance. The problem is more wide-spread with deregulated generators than with regulated investor-owned utilities, electric cooperatives, municipal and other government operated power agencies.

Power Engineering spoke with Beau Woods, security consultant, with SecureWorks, a provider of cyber security services, about issues related to the NERC CIP rules.

PE: What is the schedule for compliance?

Woods: This is complicated. The schedule for compliance would depend on what type of responsible entity your organization is, which is determined by the class of equipment you own and operate. But it’s safe to say that all organizations will have to be compliant by July 2009 or January 2010. In this case, the NERC did something fairly smart. They set milestones throughout the compliance process and differentiated between merely being compliant and being able to prove compliance for the past 12 months. The term used is “auditable compliant.” They did this to give organizations a full cycle to use their program and to work out all of the bugs before being audited.

PE: Explain some of the technical details complicating compliance.

Woods: Take, for example, Standard CIP-007-01 R2 that requires organizations to enable only the ports and operating system-level services that are necessary for normal and emergency operation. Many vendors who produce the products used in SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, haven’t provided or can’t provide this documentation to the power companies. And it is difficult to determine these without potentially disrupting the normal operations. In the case of an emergency operation, this is especially worrying.

What if some critical software fails to function properly during an extreme circumstance because of some rarely used function that the power company is not aware of? Who is at fault? Who will the NERC blame for these types of incidents, the power company? The employee? Or the vendor? I don’t think anybody knows for sure, but nobody wants to be the one who finds out the hard way.

PE: There seems to be a significant degree of foot dragging with complying. Why?

Woods: NERC still needs to clarify some of the requirements put forth in the compliance standards. Nobody wants an organization to spend a large amount of money to try to become compliant and then be told they are going about it the wrong way. Neither the companies nor the regulators want to find themselves in that position. I think that once these clarifications have been made, we’ll see organizations pick up the pace. And it’s important to note that even if an organization isn’t implementing new hardware and procedures just yet, that doesn’t mean they’re not working on it. They’re trying to make sure they’ve gotten all the details straight before they jump into an implementation.

PE: Is the reluctance more common in some sectors of the power generation industry than in others?

Woods: I think that there’s a segment of the smaller- to medium-sized organizations who believe that if their contribution dropped off the grid that it would not significantly affect the capacity or ability of the nation to deliver power, thus they feel that they do not fall under these new regulations. Some of these smaller- to medium-sized organizations might also find these new regulations challenging due to the technical expertise, manpower and budget needed to tackle some of these requirements. I think there will be some stricter guidance on who is and isn’t covered by the regulations and unfortunately some of these small to medium-sized organizations will find that they will have to comply.

PE: Can you provide some detail as to the technical problems and issues posed by balancing the advantages open SCADA systems provide to asset owners and the need for security?

Woods: Many times security will come at the cost of ease and usability. So if security imposed on a system makes it less usable, the operator is more prone to error. For example, let’s say an engineer has to access a SCADA system from a substation. In the pre-CIP days maybe he could pull it up from the terminal in the field. But under CIP, he may have to connect via VPN to the Electronic Security Perimeter using two-factor authentication before being able to access the systems. That’s not such a big burden if it is a rare occurrence and if the engineer isn’t under any stress.

But in an emergency, there may be any number of issues he’s dealing with, from dropped connections to forgetting a recently changed password to getting locked out of a system. Maybe he finally gets to the screen he needs to use but has to cut some of his other procedures short which ensure the safety and security of the bulk power system. That could exacerbate an existing problem with the grid rather than make it better.—Steve Blankinship

Supersonic Emissions Control

A symbiosis of chemistry and physics might someday remove emissions from coal—including carbon dioxide (CO2)—more efficiently than is being done today while producing revenue streams for the pure concentrations of materials removed. The concept has evolved from an unusual fusion of chemistry and aerodynamics and the scientists/engineers behind the idea have enough credibility to merit a close look at their idea.

The group of physicists and engineers with backgrounds in aerospace science and aerodynamics has invented the enabling technology that causes extremely rapid reactions designed to match select pollutants with select reagents that their chemical engineer co-inventors have developed. The process removes virtually all pollutants and other materials from coal when burned. The inventors believe the process can also produce commercial grade end-products in large quantities, meaning the process can become a profit center instead of a cost center.

Products that can be captured in high concentrations include barium, vanadium, aluminum, uranium, selenium, potassium sulfate, potassium nitrate (used in fertilizers) and CO2. The process aims to remove coal combustion emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury at levels above 99 percent. Developers believe the process encourages burning cheaper, high sulfur coals such as Illinois Basin coal and Texas lignite, as well as waste coals, agricultural and animal wastes and municipal biomass wastes.

Key to the process is aerodynamic physics, which enables and complements the chemical reaction. The process injects a slipstream of steam at supersonic velocity into a relatively slow moving flue gas. Atomizing nozzles direct small liquid droplets of select reagents into a supersonic shock wave region. When the droplets contact the supersonic shock waves, they shatter into extremely small droplets and envelope whatever target compound-molecules in the flue gas they contact. After reforming into spherical shapes, they are then accelerated by the shock waves at high speed to an in-line subsonic nozzle forming an ejector pump that forces the emission-laden gas and the fine liquid droplets to pass through the subsonic nozzle.

Turbulent conditions within the subsonic free jet allow droplets containing the sub-micronic particulates and aerosols to grow rapidly. This is because those conditions create multiple collisions, impactions, nucleations, envelopment and further condensation. Such a condition of rapid drop in pressure and temperature resembles an “aerospace” reaction, which allows extremely close contact and mixing of the molecules with each other and promotes the reactions that form the desired liquid reaction product. The droplets quickly grow large enough to be easily separated from the effluent gas stream. Separation of the product-containing liquid from the remainder of the flue gas is performed by an aerodynamic coalescer in the system.

CEFCO—short for Clean Energy Fuels—was formed to further develop and commercialize the process.

“Current technologies for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and air quality control systems (AQCS) are dominated by conventional chemistry and thermodynamics,” said CEFCO chairman Don Degling. Current technologies require heat or energy input and the use of chemical reactants over time in one or more batch-like processes. And they often require using catalysts to make one or more chemical reactions produce specific results.

“Very often in large batch processes some chemicals produce side reactions that compromise the intended purpose,” said Degling. “That requires additional steps to isolate or eliminate undesirable results and neutralize side reactions.” He said the CEFCO process can remove any chemical compound in coal and produce it as a product in pure concentrations. And it can do it efficiently and cheaply. Parasitic load is about 10 percent with a very low drop in total system pressure.

While developers of the CEFCO process emphasize its ability to efficiently remove all materials in pure concentrations, CO2 is what generates most attention today. Degling said the same aerodynamic mechanism that removes other emissions is also used for CO2. “The only difference is a small number of target-selection parameters and the exact chemical reagents used,” he said. Conventional catalysts would not be needed. Furthermore, the space and footprint for the system would be a fraction of current conventional designs because all the multi-chambered combined reaction “dwell-times” will be designed to be less than five seconds in the travel of the flue gas from the electrostatic precipitator to the flue stack.

A process engineer’s independent evaluation led it to believe the CEFCO process could solve many problems that now exist with using coal cleanly. The process engineer plans to modularize the system design to treat flue gas emission streams from up to 200 MW. The modularization will allow combining units in multiple parallel tandems to retrofit existing plants or for new power plants of any size. Thus plants of 1,000 MW or 5,000 MW could be treated by such tandem combinations.

The next challenge is to combine several known technologies into a fully integrated system for total pollution management and carbon capture. A small-scale pilot test facility capable of processing 100 or 250 lbs/min of flue gas is now needed to demonstrate practical application.—Steve Blankinship

Business Briefs

Rather than engage in a potentially lengthy legal battle, Energy Future Holdings has signed a deal with the Sierra Club negotiated by Public Citizen to install maximum achievable control technology for mercury emissions on two new coal units at its Oak Grove site in Texas.

Emerson Process Management and Fluor Corp. will jointly develop and use processes to improve management and execution of capital projects. As a Fluor preferred automation and control supplier, Emerson will support risk mitigation efforts on large projects involving automation and control instrumentation and services.

An unexpected drop in U.S. electricity consumption could make power producers reduce growth projections and the amount of money they will spend upgrading existing facilities. Utilities had been expected to invest $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion by 2030 to modernize their electric systems and meet future needs according to an industry-funded study by the Brattle Group. If electricity demand is flat or declining, utilities must make significant adjustments to investment plans or risk of building too much capacity.

Tenaska Solar has made an equity investment in Soltage solar generating stations to expand the development and use of solar generated electricity. Soltage photovoltaic solar systems—called Soltage Powerstations—are installed on customer rooftops and other property.

Frost & Sullivan reports global economic turmoil is affecting the wind energy industry, with some companies reducing production forecasts for 2009 as the market shows signs of a slowdown. The report also states a slowdown will reduce turbine prices because of a drop in raw materials prices.

Honeywell’s Process Solutions business announced its Advanced Energy Solutions, a suite of process control, monitoring and optimization applications designed for industrial power generation facilities. The suite allows industrial power and cogeneration plants to balance electricity generation demands with operational efficiencies and regulatory constraints. The solution integrates with the Honeywell Experion Process Knowledge System, as well as other distributed control systems. Software applications available as part of the suite include Advanced Combustion Control, Plant Performance Optimizer, Master Pressure Control, Plant Performance Monitor and Tie-Line Control.

Construction & Contracts

The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity and GE Energy announced an agreement for power generation equipment and services valued at nearly $3 billion. GE Energy will provide heavy-duty frame 9E multi-fuel gas turbines capable of supplying 7,000 MW of electricity. The Government of Iraq plans to install the units at key sites around the country to provide support for the electricity grid.

Siemens Energy received orders from Florida Power & Light Co. to refurbish and upgrade the turbine-generators at its St. Lucie and Turkey Point nuclear power plants to increase power output. The contract is valued at about $250 million. Siemens was also awarded a contract worth about $90 million last year to upgrade FPL Energy’s Point Beach nuclear units in Wisconsin.

Siemens Energy was awarded a contract to supply four simple cycle gas turbine packages for Southern Power’s 720 MW Cleveland County generating plant in North Carolina. Siemens will supply four SGT6-PAC-5000F gas turbine packages, including service contracts. Each package includes a SGT6-5000F gas turbine, air-cooled generator, auxiliaries, the SPPA-T3000 control system and an option for the exhaust stack.

Fluor has received a contract for the engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning of Brazos Electric Power Cooperative’s 620 MW combined-cycle Jack County Generating Facility Unit 2 near Bridgeport, Texas. The project is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2011.

As part of its regional carbon sequestration partnerships program, DOE has awarded $61 million to fund the third phase of the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership aimed at determining if large quantities of CO2 can be safely and permanently stored underground.

Southern Company plans to build a plant in North Carolina to provide power to the company’s wholesale customers through long-term contracts with North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation and North Carolina Municipal Power Agency. The plant will consist of four Siemens F Class gas turbine units able to produce about 720 MW for summer peak. Commercial operation of all four units is expected in early 2012.

Personnel & Promtions

Richard Killion has been named president and COO of Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group. He succeeds Brandon Bethards, who was named president and CEO.

The American Wind Energy Association has named Denise Bode CEO, replacing Randall Swisher who retires after 19 years with AWEA. Bode was previously CEO of the American Clean Skies Foundation and served nine years on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates Oklahoma electric utilities.

Wind energy developer Northern Power Systems has named John Danner CEO. He was previously president and CEO of biotech technologies developer Codon Devices.

Mergers & Acquistions

California-based Wamar International Inc. has acquired controlling interest of Georgia-based Primesouth. Wamar’s Energy Division provides overhaul, repair and maintenance services for industrial gas turbines of all sizes, supplying turnkey solutions for gas turbine operated power plants and offering major overhaul and repair services for steam turbines and facilities. Primesouth has over 20 years experience providing third-party operations and maintenance services to power, ethanol, biodiesel and industrial facilities throughout the U.S. and internationally.

NVEnergy completed acquiging the 598 MW Bighorn Generating Facility located 35 miles south of Las Vegas, Nev. from Reliant Energy for $510 million.

Electricite de France, the largest single stockholder of Constellation Energy, proposed a 50 percent ownership interest in the company’s nuclear generation and operation business for $4.5 billion. EDF says it can receive necessary regulatory approvals in six to nine months if Constellation ends its proposed transaction with MidAmerican and reaches an agreement with EDF.