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Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Overview

Energy sustainability is the topic for this Chapter of the course. The discussion will start with an exploration of energy conversion methods such as coal, gas, or oil power plants; nuclear power plants; gas turbines; wind turbines; diesel engines; hydropower plants; biomass energy; and geothermal energy. The discussion will then shift to comparative metrics of non-conventional sources of energy. These will include wind energy; photovoltaics; solar collectors; biomass (e.g. ethanol, biodiesel, etc.); fuel cells (e.g. PAFC, PEM, DMFC, etc.); and sea energy.

 

Chapter Parts

 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 1 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 1 - Fundamentals of Electricity

Niagara powerlinesElectricity is more than just flipping the switch.  Every time we use an electrical appliance, or turn on the lights, we use a primary source of energy, usually one of the fossil fuels, to provide our electrical energy needs. Since none of these translations from one energy form to another is completely efficient, our final use costs us more than is immediately apparent.  

Since most of our electricity is generated through the combustion of fossil fuels, we are lighting our way out of the darkness by burning the condensed wealth of the past. Our understanding of the real costs of electricity and the energy science and engineering that delivers it, advances our understanding of energy sustainability.

Although we get most of our electricity from fossil fuels, the fastest growing alternatives are wind and solar. Our present average energy conversion efficiency is about 35% and new approaches to electricity generation such as combined cycle plants and cogeneration can yield significant gains. Leveraging advances in science and engineering, investment in infrastructure and increased consumer understanding will contain costs and conserve resources. 

We can shape of our energy future to one that is efficient, affordable, renewable, and carbon  neutral, if we have the wisdom, knowledge and will to do it. Our study of what goes on beyond the light switch is key to our sustainable energy future.

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Keywords

Suggested Reading

  1. Electricity. US Energy Information Administration, 2012
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
  3. Statistical Review of World Energy (2011). BP
 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 3 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 2 - Electricity Generation

gas turbineElectricity is a secondary power source, and its generation from primary sources creates environmental issues. The type and extent of these issues depends on the primary source and the technology used to generate the electricity. The generation of electricity using steam creates issues with wasted heat, and water use, and is not as efficient as some of the newer technologies integrating highly efficient combined cycle turbines and cogeneration. The use of gas turbines is more efficient and cost effective, however the dependence on a fossil fuel remains a climate change concern in the absence of carbon capture or sequestration. Many of the newer technologies, especially those that concentrate on the use of renewable resources and engineering gains to reduce fuel consumption, show promise. The advancement of alternative strategies to produce electricity, mainly wind and solar have shown increasing cost competitiveness while presenting an alternate, more sustainable, energy pathway.

There is hope in our energy future, driven by new technologies and the efficiency gains from advancement in science and engineering. Our present and growing electrical energy use need not be a prominent factor in compromising our environmental future. In the words of Bertolt Brecht, the twentieth century German writer, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” 

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Keywords

Suggested Reading

  1. Electricity in the US (2012). US Energy Information Admininstration, USDOE
  2. Electricity (2012). US Energy Information Admininstration, USDOE
  3. Closing and Decommissioning Nuclear Power Reactors (2012) Chapter 3, UNEP Year Book 2012.

 

(Image source: Siemens AG)

 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 3 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 3 - Electricity: Transmission, Distribution and Economics

 

One of the key challenges to understanding energy sustainbility is the transmission, distribution and economics of electricity. Exploring this system of how we get electricity to the users – into our homes and businesses – once it is generated at the power station, is a critical point of study. This system is called the Grid. Electricity is generated at the power station/plant, is then sent through transmission lines to substations, from there to distribution lines which ultimately deliver electricity to homes and businesses.

Unfortunately, one of the current limitations of electricity is that it cannot be easily stored, unlike gas or oil, and thus must be generated and delivered at the precise moment when it is needed. To reach consumers, electricity travels at the speed of light from the power plant through miles of transmission and distribution lines until it reaches its destination. Electricity travels through the path of least resistance, often through a material such as metal, in a manner similar to the way water moves downstream. Utilities have interconnected their transmission lines into what is called a grid, so that they may buy, sell and transfer power from each other and other power suppliers in order to ensure reliable service.

Delivering Electricity to End Users
A. Basic Structure of Electric Power System (NEXT)
B. Transformer Basics and Losses
C. Transmission Lines and Grid Operations
D. Environmental, Health and Safety Issues – T&D
E. System Losses Weigh Heavily on Electricity Systems in Developing Countries
F. A Revolution in the Electricity Sector?
G. Small-Scale Power: Distributed Generation

Summary: Smart-Grid: A Game-Changing Technology

Electricity Markets and the Future of Electricity

 

Keywords

  • the Grid
  • micro/mini grids
  • transmission and distribution (T&D)
  • step-up (sending) and step down (receiving) transformer
  • no-load (core) and load (winding) tranformer losses
  • power lines and transmission lines
  • High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC)
  • DC/AC inverters
  • transmission capacity
  • US Federal Reliability Oversight Committee
  • Energy Policy Act of 2005
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
  • North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)
  • Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC)
  • State Utility Commissions
  • Control Area Operators (CAOs)
  • regional transmission organizations (RTOs)
  • independent system operators (ISOs)
  • transmission networks
  • fried squirrel
  • system losses
  • smart grid
  • Distributed Generation (DG)
  • Distributed Energy Resources (DER)
  • energy storage for electricity
  • Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES)
  • Vehicle-to-grid
  • replacement reserves
  • spinning reserves
  • non-spinning reserves
  • regulation reserves
  • competition transition charge (CTC)

Suggested Reading

  1. EPRI Smart Grid Demonstration Initiative Three Year Update (2011) Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.
  2. 2011 State of the Technology Report (2011) Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.

 

(Adapted from the Energy Resources lecture materials of Jane Woodward, Consulting Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Karl Knapp, Lecturer of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University by Cheryl Chadwick/Gregory Möller)

 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 4 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 4 - Fossil Fuels: Coal

coal trainSince the industrial age, our global human society has been built with fossil fuels. We now understand that the risks of continued fossil fuel use may be far greater than imagined. The atmospheric impacts of the products of combustion are causing climate change. Coal is an abundant, energy dense resource that has been important in our energy generation, transportation, and industrial sectors. However, coal is also the fossil fuel with the greatest levels of contaminants and carbon dioxide release per unit of energy generated. Without carbon capture and enhanced pollution abatement, coals future as a dominant energy resource is in doubt. A change in the future of coal will have an impact on coal producing communities and the industrial base of coal.

 

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Keywords

  • Carbon density
  • SOx
  • NOx
  • Coal fired power plant
  • Coal ash
  • Mountaintop removal
  • Augering
  • Pit mining
  • Long wall mining
  • Room and pillar mining
  • Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle 
  • Carbon sequestration

Suggested Reading

  1. What is the role of coal in the United States? Energy in Brief. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  2. Annual Energy Review. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  3. Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011: Coal. BP Global.
  4. Coal. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  5. Coal. International Energy Association.
  6. World Coal Association.
  7. Survey of Energy Resources 2010. World Energy Council, 2010.

 

(Photo credit: Sam Despeaux and Carly Calhoun, 2011)

 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 5 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 5 - Fossil Fuels: Oil

oil pump rig in bwOil has been a key commodity in our human civilization for over 100 years, providing energy, jobs, materials, and adding to our quality of life. Pollution from oil in the production, distribution, and consumption arenas is significant, and the contribution of oil combustion to climate change is real. Proved pumpable reserves are limited, and exploitation of abundant tar sands and oil shale comes at significant environmental and economic costs. Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques for mature oil reserves, and processing oil sands and shales will be expensive, driving up the cost basis of petroleum products. The Reserves-To-Production Ratio, a useful industry metric comparing known "proved reserves" to world oil consumption rate, is currently at 46 years of supply. Oil consumption rates and global population growth are increasing. Peak oil is a reality of our future, and the resource cannot be sustained. It is a harsh reality of nature - that born today - the baby of "Drill, Baby, Drill" may outlive the petroleum era.

In 2009, The Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency, Dr. Fatih Birol said:
“The public and many governments appeared to be oblivious to the fact that the oil on which modern civilization depends is running out far faster than previously predicted, and that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years – at least a decade earlier than most governments had estimated.”

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Keywords

Suggested Reading

  1. Oil's tipping point has passed. James Murray and David King (2012) Nature. Vol 481. pp 434-435.
  2. Oil: Crude and Petroleum Products. Refining Crude Oil Where Our Oil Comes From Imports and Exports Offshore Oil and Gas Use of Oil Prices and Outlook Oil and the Environment U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Department of Energy.
  3. Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011 - Oil. BP
  4. Oil. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

 

 

 
Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability, Part 6 | Principles of Sustainability | University of Idaho

Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 6 - Fossil Fuels: Natural Gas

windfarm at sunset in oil crop fieldNatural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. Historically it has been under utilized in the energy and transportation sectors compared to coal and oil. Natural gas can be shipped as compressed gas in pipelines and tank trucks, and it can be shipped in ocean tankers as liquefied natural gas. Natural gas developments have a smaller environmental impact than coal or oil, but the impacts to the environment from water pollution near drilling operations, especially "fracking or hydraulic fracturing" processes, are of increasing concern as natural gas production increases to meet increasing demand. Methane, the parent compound in natural gas, is modeled to have a 20-fold greater greenhouse gas capacity than carbon dioxide, thus leakage in production, transport, and distribution is of concern.

Many advocate natural gas as a "transition" fossil fuel, replacing coal and oil in energy generation. Abundant supplies and cleaner operations with significantly greater efficiency for energy generation, as well as the compatibility of natural gas with the current energy generation and electricity utility infrastructure and cost basis, are some of the drivers for enhanced use of natural gas.

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Keywords

  • Wet natural gas
  • Dry natural gas
  • Associated natural gas
  • Unassociated natural gas
  • Liquified natural gas
  • Hydraulic fracturing; "fracking"

Suggested Reading

  1. Natural Gas Delivery and Storage Natural Gas Pipelines Liquefied Natural Gas Where Our Natural Gas Comes From Imports and Exports How Much Gas Is Left Use of Natural GasPrices Factors Affecting Natural Gas Prices Natural Gas & the Environment Customer Choice Programs U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Department of Energy.
  2. Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011 - Natural Gas. BP