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Texas To Build $4.93B Wind-Power Project 250

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-just-hot-air dept.
Hugh Pickens points out a story in the NYTimes about Texas' $4.93 billion wind-power transmission project. One of the major goals of the project is to improve electrical throughput to the population centers. Current transmission lines are unable to handle all of the power generated by Texas' wind fields. State citizens will be paying slightly more to help cover the cost, though the project is expected to eventually lower the cost to consumers. Quoting: "The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running. 'The project will ease a bottleneck that has become a major obstacle to development of the wind-rich Texas Panhandle and other areas suitable for wind generation. The lack of transmission has been a fundamental issue in Texas, and it's becoming more and more of an issue elsewhere,' said Vanessa Kellogg, the Southwest regional development director for Horizon Wind Energy, which operates the Lone Star Wind Farm in West Texas and has more wind generation under development. 'This is a great step in the right direction.'"
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Texas To Build $4.93B Wind-Power Project

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  • The idea of putting solar panels in orbit, whose power could be beamed back to Earth, is an old staple of science fiction. Why haven't these come to fruition? One can't imagine the cost would be very great compared to the immense power you'd get in return. Since all the energy up there is free, less than total inefficient transmission shouldn't be too bothersome.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by imipak (254310)

      ...an old staple of science fiction. Why haven't these come to fruition?

      I think you just answered your own question.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because it's an old staple of science fiction. The answers in the question.

      We already have solar power beaming down to earth all the time. Why not just build a bunch of mirrors to focus it terrestrially if you want to use solar power? To my mind that sounds safer than having a 1.21 Jiggawatt death ray beaming down from the heavens in the hands of the government.

    • by chunk08 (1229574)

      ...less than total inefficient transmission shouldn't be too bothersome.

      My first impulse was to be a grammer nazi, but I refrained ;-).
      What "immense power?" You would need immense arrays to create "immense power." So big, in fact, that they would greatly interfere with the orbits of other satellites, including communications and spy satellites. No government is going to give up its spying capabilities to provide electrical power for the rest of the world. Besides, think about any poor bird/plane/helicopte

    • by ErikZ (55491) * on Sunday July 20, 2008 @07:51AM (#24261401)

      Because everyone freaks out about the "Death ray from space" aspect of it. And at power densities where it's not an issue, it's not really worth it.

    • Well, if we are going to SciFi power sources, then I perfer to hold out for fusion (hot or cold), or perhaps a device that sucks out all of the static electricity in the atmosphere and harnesses that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Manufacturing. If you want to manufacture the solar panels on the ground and lift them into orbit then you are probably never going to get more than a fraction of the energy you need to build the array out of the system. The only way to do it sensibly is to build the panels in orbit. This requires capture of near-Earth asteroids with the right mineral mixture and orbital factory infrastructure. Once you've got the basic infrastructure up there then it's self-sustaining, but the start-up costs are immens
    • by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:15AM (#24261537)

      42% of the USA's territory is desert. Why even consider a second sending solar panels to orbit when we have millions of unusable square miles right here. Just think of those area of Nevada desert which are covered with craters from atomic bomb tests, there's nothing there worth not being covered by solar panels. Then think about how much it would cost to send to space the same area of solar panels you'd could put down here, not to mention the lesser transmission loss, although on the other hand nights don't last as long in space and clouds are more sparse up there too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)

        "Then think about how much it would cost to send to space the same area of solar panels you'd could put down here, "

        Just the insane maintenance and upgrade costs would make putting the gear in space an idiotic choice. We also have enough junk up there without scattering tons of it deliberately.

        Land is cheap and abundant, terrestrial systems can be easily inspected/upgraded/maintained/recycled, and we would not be trapped into the horridly long development and lifecycles of space gear. When you want rapid im

      • You answered your own question, "nights don't last as long in space and clouds are more sparse up there too".

        Funny coincidence, I had just finished re-reading this book [amazon.com] when I saw this article. The Nevada desert you mention is in the dark about half of the time, exactly when people in the US need electricity for their lights. And what about Europe? The Far East? OK, use the Sahara and the deserts in Asia, but you'd still need a lot of power transmission and storage capacity.

        Remember, if we knew how to *stor

        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          Wow OK that's stupid. First of all, energy can be stored [wikipedia.org] to a certain extent. Mind you you're not exactly the first person to realise that solar energy isn't directly available at night. Secondly, you could put so many orders of magnitude more solar panels in Nevada that in space that it's not even funny. I mean seriously, you could probably get more power on a full moon night with those than with all the solar panels you could put up into space.

          Thirdly, there's less electricity consumed during night time,

      • by maeka (518272)

        First, the area of desert directly affected by the atomic bomb test is peanuts.

        Second, much of the American southwest desert is very fragile. Large stretches of constantly shaded ground will kill the native (scrubby as it may be) vegetation, either leading to dead soil (Sahara) or encroachment of non-native plants. Either of these situations will lead to the disruption of the ecosystem in an area much larger than that the panels themselves occupy.

        • by spineboy (22918)

          The whole desert floor doesn't have to be covered, so there can be space available between the collectors.

          Besides, the CO2 reduction, pollution savings would offset what little impact a 100 square mile patch would have. That's right, using roughly a 100 square mile of desert could supply Americas ENTIRE power requirements. Not too shabby, but a very, very large undertaking. Solar panels have been making some huge strides in efficiencies lately. The nasty compounds used in them are eventually "paid for"

          • by maeka (518272)

            100 square miles = 258,998,811 square meters.
            At the equator at noon at 100% efficiency a square meter = 1KW.
            The average hourly electric consumption of the United States is 447,558,561 KW Source [nationmaster.com] You will need enough panels to provide for peak load, not average load.

            So, no. Far far far more than 100 square miles of solar panels will be needed.

            • Thanks for the typo correction - it's actually a square 92 x 92 miles or around 8,400 square miles.

              Big, but doable. Estimated cost is around 400 billion dollars - we've probably spent that much in Iraq already. Take away the income from their oil, and that will do a better job of reducing the middle easts power.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by afidel (530433)
                Seriously, $400B to be completely energy independent would be the best deal of all time. The war in Iraq is estimated to have a final cost of well north of $1T, so if your source is right, for 40% of the cost of the war we could be energy independent. Of course by your numbers it looks like that would simply displace current electricity use, which is only about 40% of all US energy use, but for about the same $1T we could be truly energy independent.
        • by 4D6963 (933028)
          Good point (although on the other hand we're talking about a replacement for oil and coal power plants..). Then same idea except with wind mills (or whatever they're called these days).
      • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @01:37PM (#24264459) Journal
        Obviously, you are from the east coast. The desert supports a lot of life. That life requires shade from cactus as well as the sustainance from it (mostly water). With that said, I have to agree that we have plenty of space for adding solar. In particular, all of our roof tops esp. here in the west. We also have loads of wind and geo-thermal power. In the midwest, wind is awesome(which is why this article). And the east coast can do wind as well as more hydro, tidal, and wave.
    • I blame the lobbyist for the Big Orbital Solar Panels Industry. They just aren't injecting themselves into the pockets of politicians as well as other industries.
  • by sphealey (2855) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @07:35AM (#24261325)

    While I am all in favor of more wind power, here's something to keep in mind: this spring the Texas control area (the organization that manages power flows in the Texas region) had an incident where the temperature stayed warm into the evening and the weather conditions were such that the wind died across the entire state. Of course the wind turbine power went to zero across the entire state as well, driving the system into yellow (risk of blackout/system collapse) and close to red before they could get enough backup gas turbines on-line.

    As I said, wind is great but it needs to be backed up with hydro and probably nuclear to have a reliable system.

    sPh

    • by grizdog (1224414) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @07:45AM (#24261371) Homepage

      Or they could have radio controlled shutoff switches on more air conditioners. I have one on mine, and it's great. I pay less for my power, and it only gets shut off at a time like that - there is a contractual arrangement about how often it can be shut off, and it isn't often.

      There are a lot of ways that the program could be expanded, not least making it a bigger difference in the amount one pays for power - more people would sign up, the ones who didn't would pick up the cost.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:11AM (#24261507) Journal
        The cost of power fluctuates a lot from minute to minute, but the consumer rarely sees this. I would love to see the current cost of electricity transmitted with the power and consumer-grade adaptors that would cut off power when it went above a certain cost. For example, I could run my washing machine or dishwasher only when power is cheapest.
        • by LunaticTippy (872397) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:28AM (#24261627)
          I think most consumers would prefer to be isolated from energy price fluctuations. Just look at California and Texas to see what a deregulated energy market combined with smart energy traders can come up with.

          It would be a lot more work than people are accustomed to. You couldn't just put your clothes in the dryer and press start. You'd have to put in accepted price range, otherwise if the price spiked to $100/kwh you would spend a fortune on that load. That means sometimes your clothes would be wet hours and hours later.

          That said, there is a tiny minority, myself included, that would really enjoy having real-time pricing. I would love having power generation and storage at my house, buying low and selling high, only using high-demand applications at rock bottom prices, the whole thing controlled by computer and PLC.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Lost Engineer (459920)

            see what a deregulated energy market combined with smart energy traders can come up with.

            Enron. The smartest guys in the room.

        • by Saffaya (702234) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:30AM (#24261645)

          In france, you get a discount on power cost when operating between 10.30pm and 6am or so.
          All electrical based water heaters are set to draw power only during this time period (unless set on manual).

          • by polar red (215081)

            I don't think that's exclusive to France, we have about the same stuff in Belgium. You can even opt for a third method, where the waterheater and the electric heating(convector) are put on a circuit that is turned on and off remotely, with an even lower cost.

            • I don't think that's exclusive to France, we have about the same stuff in Belgium. You can even opt for a third method, where the waterheater and the electric heating(convector) are put on a circuit that is turned on and off remotely, with an even lower cost.

              Here in the "land of the free" we're much too paranoid to let the utilities / government have that much control of our laundry. You have to be able to wash those sheets or crank up the heat any time. If they controlled your washing machine now, think

        • by dbIII (701233)

          The cost of power fluctuates a lot from minute to minute

          Only in the incredibly artificial electricity market that made the Californian electricity system the total international laughing stock that it was a few years ago. The reality is that costs are spread over the decades that a plant runs for. The charges vary by up to the minute depending on what it is assumed the consumer will put up with - that is very different to the costs to run things.

        • by welsh git (705097)

          In the UK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_7 [wikipedia.org]

        • We have that now in Illinois.

          http://www.exeloncorp.com/ComedCare_Main/ComedCare/learn/RealTimePricingPrg/ [exeloncorp.com]

          It's pretty cool.

      • by ErikZ (55491) *

        Assuming you're in the US, what state are you from? I'm guessing CA.

        For those of us who would like to look into that program.

      • If you want one that's fine. I am willing to pay for power and I expect said power to be provided to me. If I want to keep my house at 72F that is my business, not that of the power company or government. Using punitive prices to coerce people into these mechanisms is nothing short of bullshit. People who sign up will already save money because their thermostat will change. Everyone should pay the same rate.

        That being said, it is bordering on criminal that we haven't switched over from coal to nuclear f

      • So if I put together your post with the parent of that post, I'm getting the impression the air conditioners would all shut off at the peak of a heat wave. That would be wild.
        • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Sunday July 20, 2008 @01:01PM (#24264135) Homepage

          I'm getting the impression the air conditioners would all shut off at the peak of a heat wave. That would be wild.

          No, the way it works in practice is that the system automatically shuts off, say 5% of the residential A/C units for 5 minutes, and then turns them back on and turns off a different 5%. Nobody should even notice that it has happened in their home. But when you're talking about hundreds of thousands (or millions) of houses, such minor individual adjustments add up to massive quantities of electricity being freed up right at the peak demand.

      • by russotto (537200)

        Or they could have radio controlled shutoff switches on more air conditioners. I have one on mine, and it's great. I pay less for my power, and it only gets shut off at a time like that

        The "time like that" being warm temperatures into the evening -- exactly when you want your air conditioner most.

        • by xaxa (988988)

          Or they could have radio controlled shutoff switches on more air conditioners. I have one on mine, and it's great. I pay less for my power, and it only gets shut off at a time like that

          The "time like that" being warm temperatures into the evening -- exactly when you want your air conditioner most.

          I'd rather have (for instance) the hospital, public lighting, railway and communications equipment working than air conditioning. I don't think having no air conditioning for one evening is a big deal. If it's a big deal for you, don't sign up for the discounted electricity.

          • by russotto (537200)

            I don't think having no air conditioning for one evening is a big deal. If it's a big deal for you, don't sign up for the discounted electricity.

            It IS a big deal for me, particularly when that evening is the hottest of the year. And it will become a big deal for others, once they go through their first or second heat wave with no A/C for several nights. I don't have a problem with these programs, except that I suspect green-minded politicians will want to force people to enter into them, especially after

            • by NMerriam (15122)

              it will become a big deal for others, once they go through their first or second heat wave with no A/C for several nights

              The only way that would happen is if there was a massive brownout in your area, which is precisely what your behavior will cause. The remote management systems exist precisely to prevent anyone's a/c from being shut off for hours at a time in the periods of peak demand.

    • by pvjr (184849) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @07:54AM (#24261409) Homepage

      While I am all in favor of more wind power, here's something to keep in mind: this spring the Texas control area (the organization that manages power flows in the Texas region) had an incident where the temperature stayed warm into the evening and the weather conditions were such that the wind died across the entire state. Of course the wind turbine power went to zero across the entire state as well, driving the system into yellow (risk of blackout/system collapse) and close to red before they could get enough backup gas turbines on-line.

      As I said, wind is great but it needs to be backed up with hydro and probably nuclear to have a reliable system.

      sPh

      That's probably where the transmission line truly manifested itself. I live in West Texas, and see no less than at least three wind ranches between my house and work.

      I've seen almost half an entire field of the generators shut down when the wind is blowing.

      Better transmission would avoid the risk of brownouts, because, believe me, there's enough power to be made out here:)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      Of course the wind turbine power went to zero across the entire state as well, driving the system into yellow (risk of blackout/system collapse) and close to red before they could get enough backup gas turbines on-line.

      As I said, wind is great but it needs to be backed up with hydro and probably nuclear to have a reliable system.

      A good gas turbine can be spun up to almost-full-power in about 2 minutes. If a sudden dip in available power is anticipated, they can also be placed on 'standby' to reduce the startup time to a matter of seconds.

      Sounds to me like the turbines are what were having problems here.

      Also, like others mentioned, remote-control kill switches could help reduce suerfluous loads.

    • by JavaManJim (946878) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:51AM (#24261779)

      I live in Dallas TX. On 07/06/2008 the Dallas Morning News had a great article on "Debate Flares Over Wind Power" by Elizabeth Souder. The text edition. The critical part is wind in Texas is always fickle. The incident referred to by the original poster occurred in February 2008. Lets look at the DMN chart. 3:15AM wind blows strong; lowest demand for the day, price per megawatt 41.96. Then during the hottest time of the day 3:15PM; wind generates the least amount for the day, price per megawatt 109.80.

      Below is quoted from the DMN article.

      WHERE THE POWER COMES FROM IN TEXAS

      1. WIND Wind turbines almost always go [online] first. While operating the turbines can be costly, the wind is free and operators bid low to ensure they can sell as much electricity as possible.

      2. NUCLEAR Nuclear plants are the second cheapest source of power and tend to operate constantly throughout the year.

      3. COAL Coals plants to third and also tend to operate constantly. Nuclear and coal plants are known as BASE LOAD GENERATORS.

      4. HYDRO/OTHER/DC ties. Texas has a tiny amount of hydro-generated power. Some of the state's power comes from other types of plants such as solar panels. And some power comes through so-called DC ties, or power lines that bring electricity from outside the ERCOT territory.

      5. NATURAL GAS The remaining supply is filled in by natural gas plants. That can drive up electricity prices because natural gas is costly. The newest, most efficient plants turn on first followed by older plants that are much more costly to operate. Some of these plants, called peaker plants only operate a few hours each year to fill in supply when demand surges.

      6. MARKET RATE. THE LAST PLANT TO TURN ON SETS THE PRICE FOR THE ENTIRE MARKET. SO EVEN IF A WIND OPERATOR BIDS LOW, THAT OPERATOR'S PRICE RISES THROUGHOUT THE DAY AS PLANTS WITH HIGHER PRICED BIDS TURN ON.

      Registration may be required.
      http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/industries/energy/stories/DN-wind_06bus.ART0.State.Edition1.4e033eb.html [dallasnews.com]

      Thanks,
      Jim

    • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @09:22AM (#24262009)
      As I've often said here - anybody pushing a single energy source to the exclusion of all else is either selling something or deluded. Those implementing this will hopefully be neither so you will have a mix of energy sources. Things like the gas turbines mentioned above are relatively cheap in terms of capital cost but fairly expensive to run all of the time. Two of the ones I've seen are actually retired fighter jet engines that can be run up to full capacity very quickly but you wouldn't want to run them all the time even on natural gas (mostly propane).

      Nuclear often comes up but the very long contruction lead time and very high capital cost renders new nuclear capacity irrelevant until the economy picks up. Large coal fired plants take almost as long.

      Wind in contrast can be handled in smaller, cheaper chunks which will not give you the economy of scale of large thermal plants but it will give you the electricity this decade.

      • by sphealey (2855)

        === Nuclear often comes up but the very long contruction lead time and very high capital cost renders new nuclear capacity irrelevant until the economy picks up. Large coal fired plants take almost as long. ===

        Actually South Texas Project, a wholesale generator in Texas, have initiated the process of building 2 additional nuclear units. I don't think they have filed all the documents with the NRC yet but when they do it will be the first submission for a new permit since 1980.

        sPh

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "Two of the ones I've seen are actually retired fighter jet engines that can be run up to full capacity very quickly but you wouldn't want to run them all the time even on natural gas (mostly propane)."

        Got more info on those? I'd heard of J79s being used that way (they are tough and plentiful) but I'm curious about how they do the power takeoff to the generator.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        renders new nuclear capacity irrelevant until the economy picks up.

        As long as "building an X" is "irrelevant until the economy pix up," the economy isn't going to pick up. Further, what would you define as a "picked up" economy, anyway? We're still below 6% unemployment, so even if we had jobs for everybody, it'd amount to something like a 1/20 change in GDP.

        Further, you want to *build* the plants when labor is *cheap*, because you can't sell the power until after it's built.

        Nuclear power might not be the

    • Bad backup choices as they both work best in a baseline capacity, generating some maximum sustainable amount of power.
      Burning stuff will probably always be the backup because then you have a reason to not use it a 100% of the time (fuel costs) and it is capable of relatively fast start up.
      The other back up process would be to have and store excess wind energy. Pressurized caverns, flywheels, capacitor banks, etc. whatever works,

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @07:41AM (#24261355) Homepage
    Sounds like a great initiative, but I can't help feeling there is some bizarre logic that says we need to be running all those air conditioners on a hot day. How much insulation could 4.3bn dollars buy? Maybe Texas is way, way hotter than Australia, and it already builds its homes as effectively as possible for thermal efficiency, but here in Oz, the situation is crazy. Building codes do not force proper levels of insulation, and even orientation with respect to the sun is frequently disregarded or misunderstood. The average Aussie home is ridiculously poorly insulated and as a result they boil in summer and freeze in winter. Solution? For many people, it's to rush out and buy a multi-thousand dollar reverse-cycle air conditioner (which are constantly being pushed on TV ads, etc) which costs a great deal to run. Already the government is planning to build more power stations to meet the *summer* time demand for A/C and the lack of progress on sustainable sources means that nuclear is back on the agenda.

    There really needs to be a big campaign to wise people up to the idiocy of A/C and to incentivise retrofitting of insulation and to dramatically improve building codes. Working on greater supply of clean energy is an excellent thing, but unless it's balanced by moves to reduce demand for power that for the most part is pissed away warming up the *exterior* of houses, then it's effort and money unwisely spent.
    • by ErikZ (55491) * on Sunday July 20, 2008 @08:15AM (#24261533)

      Insulation?

      Well, I wasn't able to come up with the number of "Houses" in Texas, but in 2006 they had a population of 23.5 Million people. So lets say there's 8M Houses. That would 612$ per house for insulation. Assuming that's the issue to begin with. But it's not.

      Texas has a history of being an energy exporter, mainly oil. If you read the article, you'll see that the problem isn't generating power to meet their needs. It's getting power to where it needs to go. That would include selling it to other states in the US that have been dragging their feet on allowing businesses to build their own wind farms.

      Texas may not be prime real estate when it comes to wind power generation, but they sure have a lot of it. Having the Government build up the infrastructure to those places will have the power companies leaping to put up wind farms there.

      Using Government power to help create business. Instead of taxing, regulating, and feeing them to death. There's a reason Texas tends to have the highest job growth in the US.

      • Also, having grown up near Houston - Texas is hot. I've not yet been to Australia, but summer in Texas regularly is 100-115 or so (~38-46C), with humidity, at least in the heavily populated parts of the state (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio) at 90-100%. That's MISERABLE. I lived in the tropics for almost 3 years and it was much more pleasant there than Texas in the dog days of summer.

        That being said -- there's a LOT that could be done architecturally (Dallas, looking at you) to reduce this. Tract housing has this tendency to hack down all the (shade)trees and built nigh-yardless McMansions. Plants are great at absorbing heat, and trees provide shade -- a well placed shadetree over your southwestern exposure can really help cool your house down.

        Basically I just want to weigh in -- AC is not an option in Texas; but that doesn't mean we can't reduce the energy draw from it.

    • At least, Texas in the summer is way way hotter than the parts of Australia where most people live. Most of the Australian population is between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Dividing Range. Most of the population of Texas is out of reach of coastal winds. Houston is a few degrees closer to the equator than Sydney, where I grew up, but Dallas is about the same latitude as Sydney and not any cooler... the distance from the coast and the lack of mountains to keep the continental heat at bay makes all the di

    • by GaryOlson (737642)

      ...some bizarre logic that says we need to be running all those air conditioners...How much insulation could 4.3bn dollars buy

      You are assuming the only relevant heat generation is from the exterior of the building. Our bodies generate both heat and humidity constantly. The A/C not only keeps the people cool but mitigates their normal biological output.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233)

      Building codes do not force proper levels of insulation

      There's some reason behind that - sometimes you want to lose heat. I live in a house with no insulation at all and use no heating and cooling. It works because the place was designed in the 1920s to lose heat as quickly as possible through the thin wooden walls so that it would not stay hot all night in summer. High ceilings use the air as the insulation and having the living area two metres above the ground uses shaded circulating air as insulation

      • by njh (24312)

        There's some reason behind that - sometimes you want to lose heat.

        Then open a vent and turn on a fan. Your suggestion is akin to 'people should run around in only their underwear all year because in hot weather they need to keep cool'. More insulation is always the first step in conserving energy.

        Winter is a bit of a pain but it is the subtropics.

        So you live in northern NSW/southern QLD and think your house scales to any climate? An uninsulated unheated weatherboard house is miserable in winter in Melbourne (been there, done that), and lethal in Colorado.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ricegf (1059658)

      Four years ago we bought an older 5500 sq ft ranch house in Texas. When I looked in the attic after my first electric bill, I found virtually no insulation (lots of wallboard visible, with clumps of fiberglass strewn about). How the previous owner paid for a/c and heat is beyond me.

      We bought recycled newspaper-based insulation from Home Depot, and laid it in 18-20" deep for about $800. This reduced summer cooling costs by at least $400. We helped a friend blow recycled clothing-based fiber insulation in

  • by ettlz (639203)

    The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.

    As we're talking about Texas here, can somebody convert that into a unit its governors will understand — i.e., number of electric chair activations?

    • Assuming the numbers I found for electric chairs is correct (2,000-2,220 volts, 7-12 amps), and I didn't botch my back of the envelope math here (quite likely, I've been up for about 24 hours, and drinking for the past 8): it's enough to handle somewhere between 681,818 and 1,285,714 chairs running nonstop. That should almost be enough to meet their demands.
  • Once you build a house made out of wood-sheet-rock and 1ft insulation with itti-bitty windows you expect the central AC to do the rest; right? We are indeed like a virus. Our modern needs require more and more consumption of resources. A family of 3 consumes 10 times the energy that the same family consumed in the 1920.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "A family of 3 consumes 10 times the energy that the same family consumed in the 1920."

      They also were much less comfortable, and were exposed to massive particulate pollution from their fireplaces and kerosene lanterns. Shotgun houses (far more common than nicer bungalows or craftsman houses with large porches) offered some ventilation, but were still horrible in humid climes.

  • Cape Wind (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @09:03AM (#24261855)
    This is a bit OT, but I thought I would bring it up any way.

    I am in the middle of reading Cape Wind, BBS, 2007 [amazon.com] which is about trying to put a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The location is perfect for a wind farm, and the need in NE for clean cheap power is high. But when all the backyards are owned by millionaires, it makes for an extreme NIMBY makeover.

    I am finding the book to be a fascinating but horrifying read as to the lengths people will go to subvert the political process to protect what they believe is their right to quietly enjoy a public owned location. A typical example was adding a last minute rider to an Iraq war finance bill specifically aimed at blocking this one project. I'm not pro-war, but even I found tactics like this to be underhanded.

    I have been getting interested in wind power from an engineering perspective, but reading this book has been a real eye opener as to how the political process is probably more important than the actual mechanics and cost/benefit/profit analysis. I'd recommend it to anyone as a good read, and while I don't understand the "anti" viewpoint all that well, this book gives some interesting lessons.

    BTW I linked to Aaazon, but screw them - I got my copy from my local library!

  • The lines can handle 18,500 megawatts of power, enough for 3.7 million homes on a hot day when air-conditioners are running.

    That's 5KW per home. If each (or many) of those homes also covered their roofs with solar panels, which protect the home from converting the Sun's rays into heat that must be cooled, and instead convert the rays into power to cool the house that doesn't need long distance transmission, those homes would need closer to 1-2KW max.

    A fat "wide area network" for power is better than one too

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by texas neuron (710330)
      Actually, solar PV panels would do little to reduce peak power demands. The peak power use of electricity extends beyond the sunlight hours IMHO, high temperature solar thermal, with its ability to store the heat energy through the peak power requirements has more potential.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Even if the peak use of electricity extends beyond the sunlight hours, the PV still does more than "little" to reduce the demands.

        For one, as I mentioned, the PV is a better insulator (reflector/absorber) of solar power that makes the heat that air conditioners must cool. That is the peak of the peak, with "double" (or something like it) the effect of just the extra shade, because the shade amount is partly used to power extra cooling. Also, since the standard time zones see the actual solar peak (solar noo

  • by strelitsa (724743) * on Sunday July 20, 2008 @10:08AM (#24262449) Journal

    1. Become T. Boone Pickens.

    2. Purchase controlling interest in the companies that build and service windmill generators.

    3. Persuade government to foot the bill for installing thousands of said expensive windmill generators in open areas of Texas.

    4. Snicker behind my hand as I realize that Texas gets every bit as many tornadoes as the so-called "Tornado Alley".

    5. ???

    6. PROFIT!

  • My Changed Tune (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hangtime (19526) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @10:08AM (#24262459) Homepage

    As a former resident of Texas and once a proponent of electric deregulation, I can say that the last five years have been an eye opener. While at the beginning many including myself talked about the possibilities from a theoretical standpoint, the actual execution of deregulation has been a disaster. The WSJ just did a piece on Texas deregulation this past week which you can find here.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121625744742160575.html?mod=googlenews_wsj [wsj.com]

    I do believe modernized transmission would go a long way to helping the state like the article talks about, but I also believe Texas should fully embrace the national power grid. Since Texas is not connected in any major way to any other state's grid, ERCOT runs the show and FERC rules need not apply. This gets the double whammy of double set of rules for those who would choose to do business in the state and disallows any load balancing from other grids.

    For a state that went from one of the cheapest electric rates to one of the most expensive (I live in NYC now and its only slightly cheaper then Texas), combine this with the folly that was California its a crushing blow against the idea of electricity deregulation. While the WSJ article talks about soaring natural gas prices (most of the state still gets its electricity from natural gas) and congested transmission as being culprits, I think you have to look at the volatility in pricing. Electricity is the most volatile commodity man has created. Unfortunately, no business, market, or participant structure can sustain 10,000s percent moves in intra-day pricing.

    As a libertarian leaning thinker I believe in the free economy and as little market regulation as possible, but I am also scientifically-minded individual meaning I will examine the evidence from both sides. Given what we have seen in the markets that have been deregulated, the data and evidence conclude that electric deregulation just does not work.

    • Fortunately I live in austin, which opted out of dereg power. As a result, we have nearly the cheapest power rates in the state. I think dallas is 50% higher because they opted for the "cheaper" dereg approach. Even with austin's low rates, the utility/city offers some of the best rebates on hi-eff A/C, insulation rebates, solar PV and some water conserving rebates. My personal experience is a 50% reduction or more by adding some solar panels and a hi-eff A/C (16 SEER instead of the old 12 SEER unit). Dereg

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      As a libertarian leaning thinker I believe in the free economy and as little market regulation as possible, but I am also scientifically-minded individual meaning I will examine the evidence from both sides. Given what we have seen in the markets that have been deregulated, the data and evidence conclude that electric deregulation just does not work.

      Oligopolies rarely reach equilibrium at the best price for consumers.
      So really, electric deregulation worked, just not the way you wanted.

      Welcome to the free market.

    • Assembly Bill 1890
      • regulate whom you can buy from (PX only)
      • regulate the price you can sell for (rate cap)
      • regulate new power generation, upgrades, and repairs (banned)

      If you were prohibited from purchasing "restrictive" contracts (read long-term contracts, like buying in bulk to save money), would you call a short-term contract, with a higher fluctuating price, your only option left... deregulation? If you were 'allowed' to sell for any price you want, as long as it doesn't exceed the price cap they di

  • T. Boone Pickens (Score:4, Informative)

    by JumboMessiah (316083) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @10:31AM (#24262639)

    T. Boone Pickens is the guy funding a lot of this. He's a retired oil tycoon (who now runs some hedge funds). Even if you can't agree with his past and his wealth, you can't disagree with the fact that this guy is stepping up and attempting to _do someting_ about the problem. And he's willing to use his wealth to try and make it happen. They are currently constructing the largest wind farm in the world in western Texas.

    Check it out for yourself [pickensplan.com] and make your own judgements...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bobwoodard (92257)

      Hmmm... someone who's investing huge amounts of money in windfarms is trying to convince us to get our electricity from windfarms?

      • Like i said, make your own judgements (due to his past). But he has ponied up the $58 million required to build the current farm under construction. And he also seems to not want to get into partisan squabbles over any of it (he only agreed to talk to McCain and Obama if they agree to meet together, not separately). So far his forums are very open, and he's taking his approach to both the media and washington.

        Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20% of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.

        That's a lot of money, but it's a one-time cost. And compared to the $700 billion we spend on foreign oil every year, it's a bargain.

        Profit or not profit, $700 billion (and rising), is flowing right out of the country. Now,
        o

    • Even if you can't agree with his past and his wealth, you can't disagree with the fact that this guy is stepping up and attempting to _do someting_ about the problem.

      Of course, you and Mr, Pickens define the problem differently - you define it as lack of energy and/or transmission capability.
       
      He defines it as a lack of cash.

  • As I understand it, you can't put big wind turbines, or big solar panels just anywhere. And you lose a lot of power if you try to pipe it very far.

    I am sure a few small regions can benefit, but can this really put a dent in US energy demands?

    • Current transmission losses are in the 7% range (averaged). Long haul lines [wikipedia.org] are possible [siemens.com], but it doesn't seem any have been built that are ultra high capacity. From my perspective, yea, we may not be able to reach the far fringe consumers (Seattle, NYC) without a higher than average loss rate, but it can be done (coastal production could help offset this, tidal, wind, etc).

      One of Picken's point is that this isn't the big bang solution. He says we need to get started somewhere and do something to 1) Just g

    • by russotto (537200)

      I am sure a few small regions can benefit, but can this really put a dent in US energy demands?

      Doesn't affect demand at all. But could it make up a significant fraction of supply? Sure... but not as much as fossil sources. The US is currently in a position where most of the good locations for wind generation are completely untapped. So for the next few years or decades, wind energy could make up an increasing percentage of US supply. But after you run out of good sites, you run into diminishing returns

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday July 20, 2008 @03:44PM (#24265505)

    Texan's desire to go off in their own direction might place an upper limit on the amount of wind (and other) resources it can harness.

    Texas has kept its power grid isolated from the rest of the United States. As a result, they have a smaller load over which to spread a given amount of wind generated power. Looking at this another way, wind power will be a larger share of their total generating capacity. Since wind is inherently a variable source of power, alternative sources will be needed, some of them on line and spinning, to fill in the capacity between wind gusts. Texans will have to finance this on their own, rather than taking advantage of the load and generation diversity an interconnected grid provides.

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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