Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Links

  • NY State governor Cuomo proposes that we should buy up coastal property damaged by Hurricane Sandy and return it to a natural state.  This is an interesting proposal.  On the one hand, I can see that this is a better idea than people rebuilding on land that will surely get riskier and riskier as the oceans rise.  On the other hand, it sets an interesting precedent: do we want to socialize all the losses of property owners who elect to live next to the ocean in an era when we pretty much know that the sea-level is going to rise and wipe out a lot of coastal property?
  • Things still not going well in Egypt.
  • Gregor McDonald starts to look at the whole robot/machine intelligence question and seems to be drawing similar conclusions to me.  The piece has some interesting color.
  • Ethanol production down in 2012.
  • Artificial islands for storing renewable energy?  The idea is to have a hollow center to the island and pump water out when there's excessive wind power, and then have it flow back in (powering turbines on the way) when the energy is needed later.  The basic idea of pumping water uphill as a storage mechanism is an old one - the Dinorwig power station in Wales was built in 1974 for example - but the island twist is new to me.  I haven't really thought about how far this idea scales - but that seems like a good future post.  How big a lake would we need to get a fully renewable US through the winter if we didn't trade renewable energy globally?


Unknown said...

To me the course Gov. Cuomo is suggesting is overdue. Yes, society pays when sea and storm inevitably claim the coastal property. That figure should be weighed against the amount society currently pays to socially subsidize the rebuilding of private property in places that flood, burn, and slide.

The country has a long history of socially subsidizing private property in natural ecolgies of disaster, not uncommonly, and often by design, to the benefit of the affluent (see Mike Davis, "The Case for Letting Malibu Burn" in Ecology of Fear). The federal, state, and private insurance disaster relief checks flow with the regular pulse of fires and hurricanes in places like Malibu Canyon and Dauphin Island, Georgia. As climate change picks up we may find that without such reforms the nation's property insurance system enters the same death spiral private health insurance is in today.

However, if history is any guide Gov. Cuomo's proposal for a terminal social subsidy, as opposed to the current model of renewing social subsidies, will not gain widespread support. Why would coastal real-estate interests in Virginia want to fiddle with the current arrangement of having Midwesterners help foot the bill to get the Core to re-dredge the beaches every seven to ten years? And talk about political risk. Symbolically, retreat from nature is not part of the American myth of identity. It will be tarred as another form of environmental austerity.



Michael R said...

The brilliance of the island (lagoon?) approach is that energy storage capacity scales up as the square of the construction costs, for any given design or site.

I don't think that's true for any other storage mechanism.

rjs said...

pumped hydrostorage has been around for a while...Cleveland Electric & Penn Electric put the Seneca Generators into operation circa 1970...

when i was involved in a citizen intervention here in ohio in the 80s, i proposed using lake ontario and lake huron, routed through lake simcoe and the already existent canals, to use the great lakes for that purpose, & submitted crude drawings to CEI (now first energy) to do it...ovbiously, my idea went nowhere...

sunbeam said...

Michael R, I'm not sure I understand what you are trying to say with that from a numbers standpoint. Could you explain what you mean? I have a guess, but could be wrong.

It also seems like you could find a bay or something and build a dam across the open area. Then pump your water out and in.

brett said...

Is it possible to both forbid rebuilding and also not buy up the coastal properties? Maybe only allow rebuilding with the understanding that there is no future disaster assistance.

Tad said...

Here is Tom Murphy's assessment of the pumped hydro picture.

Michael R said...


From a numbers standpoint, if you use the seabed as the bottom of your pumped storage, your construction costs are limited to the circumference of the pumped storage reservoir, times the cost of the cross-section of the retaining wall.

The stored energy, however, increases as the area of the reservoir, i.e., as the square of the circumference.

You get one hundred times more capacity for ten times greater cost, or, to put it another way, the unit cost of storage decreases 90%. At one hundred times the project cost, the unit cost of storage decreases by 99%. At some point the cost of conversion losses (roughly 10% round trip) swamp the capital costs, and you effectively get the whole project for "free".

If you read Tom Murphy's assessment linked above, he makes national-scale pumped storage look ridiculous on three points:

1. You run out of mountains/elevation.
2. You run out of water
3. You run out of concrete

However, if you put your pumped storage on the continental shelf, and use dredged seabed as the retaining wall material, none of his arguments apply. The energy costs of "pumping" seafloor to sea level to build retaining walls would be a tiny fraction of the routine energy flows pumping water in and out of the contained storage volume.

It may be an ecological horror, and engineering challenge, but the physics, maths, and economics all pencil out.

Mr. Sunshine said...

The hollow island idea seems to derive head, or difference in water levels before and below a turbine, from the depth of the hole. It would have to one helladeep hole in order to locate the turbine draft ( exhaust) low enough to maintain a useable head as the hole filled up.

Nick G said...

Storage with high capital costs (hydro or batteries) make absolutely no sense for seasonal storage, which might be used once or twice per year. It's only sensible for diurnal storage, which is used daily and therefore can be amortized over many cycles. No sensible engineer would consider this - that's why Tom Murphy's analysis is attacking a strawman.

Sensible planners, like the Germans, would:

1) use storage as a last resort, after maximizing interconnection and geographic averaging; Demand Side Management; supply diversity, etc. and

2) use very low capex storage, like "wind-gas". Casual observers will object that such conversions have low efficiency, but for a seasonal application, capex efficiency becomes far more important than conversion efficiency.