How power-hungry cities drive projects like NYRI (electric grid)

Brendan Scott, Times Herald-Record
Goal: Move excess energy to coasts

The $1.6 billion megaproject known as New York Regional Interconnection didn’t arrive with the flip of a switch.

A decade-long push to open the nation’s energy grid to the free market gave birth to the proposed high-voltage power line. Lingering fear about the next big blackout nurtured it. A new wave of industry-friendly regulations has developers across the country scrambling to build electric transmission lines and turn inland power surpluses into fat stacks of cash.

The prize awaits anyone who can get excess power from places like Ohio, Colorado and Canada to the bright lights, humming air conditioners and glowing computer monitors of Los Angeles, Washington and the Big Apple.

It’s “the nirvana load,” as one energy policy expert explained.

NYRI is just one of many firms that has it in its sights. Similar power-line proposals are pending all along the East Coast. There’s one that would bring electricity from Ohio to New Jersey, another that would connect the suburbs of Pittsburgh to the suburbs of Washington, yet another that would link New Jersey and Long Island.

In New York, the payoff for such an endeavor is particularly clear. The large power plants in the state’s sparsely populated western tier generate nearly twice as much power as the region uses.
(7 Aug 2006)

A Power Grid for the Hydrogen Economy

Paul M. Grant, Chauncey Starr and Thomas J. Overbye, Scientific American
On the afternoon of August 14, 2003, electricity failed to arrive in New York City, plunging the eight million inhabitants of the Big Apple–along with 40 million other people throughout the northeastern U.S. and Ontario–into a tense night of darkness. After one power plant in Ohio had shut down, elevated power loads overheated high-voltage lines, which sagged into trees and short-circuited. Like toppling dominoes, the failures cascaded through the electrical grid, knocking 265 power plants offline and darkening 24,000 square kilometers.

That incident–and an even more extensive blackout that affected 56 million people in Italy and Switzerland a month later–called attention to pervasive problems with modern civilization’s vital equivalent of a biological circulatory system, its interconnected electrical networks. In North America the electrical grid has evolved in piecemeal fashion over the past 100 years. Today the more than $1-trillion infrastructure spans the continent with millions of kilometers of wire operating at up to 765,000 volts. Despite its importance, no single organization has control over the operation, maintenance or protection of the grid; the same is true in Europe. Dozens of utilities must cooperate even as they compete to generate and deliver, every second, exactly as much power as customers demand–and no more. The 2003 blackouts raised calls for greater government oversight and spurred the industry to move more quickly, through its Intelli-Grid Consortium and the Grid-Wise program of the U.S. Department of Energy, to create self-healing systems for the grid that may prevent some kinds of outages from cascading. But reliability is not the only challenge–and arguably not even the most important challenge–that the grid faces in the decades ahead.

A more fundamental limitation of the 20th-century grid is that it is poorly suited to handle two 21st-century trends: the relentless growth in demand for electrical energy and the coming transition from fossil-fueled power stations and vehicles to cleaner sources of electricity and transportation fuels. Utilities cannot simply pump more power through existing high-voltage lines by ramping up the voltages and currents. At about one million volts, the electric fields tear insulation off the wires, causing arcs and short circuits. And higher currents will heat the lines, which could then sag dangerously close to trees and structures.

It is not at all clear, moreover, how well today’s infrastructure could support the rapid adoption of hybrid vehicles that draw on electricity or hydrogen for part of their power. And because the power system must continuously match electricity consumption with generation, it cannot easily accept a large increase in the unpredictable and intermittent power produced from renewable wind, ocean and solar resources.
(29 July 2006)

Energy experts working on oil-shale projects

Dan Olsen, Craig Daily Press
Energy experts said oil shale can meet America’s future need for transportation fuels, but it’s going to take a new technology and a lot of time before it reaches automobile gas tanks.

That was the message given to 75 guests at the Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association dinner Thursday evening at The Center of Craig.

Tracy Boyd, a manager with Shell’s Unconventional Resource Energy (SURE) division, said that the largest countries in the world, including China and India will double their energy consumption by the year 2050.

As the world’s supply of “easy oil,” is depleted, the search for not-so-easy oil will become more critical, Boyd said.

He hopes that new technology being developed by Shell will lead the way to tap into oil shale reserves that are estimated to be three times larger than Saudi Arabia reserves.

According to estimates, 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil may be found in Northwest Colorado, eastern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming.

Shell is working closely with the Bureau of Land Management to get permits for exploration because 70 percent of those reserves are located on federally owned land.

The process still being developed to free the oil from the shale is a “down-hole heater,” technology, and it is a time consuming process.

The “in-situ conversion process,” or ICP, entails lowering heaters down a drill hole and heating the rock to a temperature between 650 and 700 degrees.

After a heating process that takes three to four years, the product brought to the surface is one-third gas and two-thirds light oil, which is easily refined into transportation fuels such as diesel, jet fuel and gasoline.

The secret to heating the shale and allowing the oil to be released, without effecting ground water supplies, involves a “freeze-wall” process that contains the heat to the area near the drill hole.

“A 15-foot-thick wall of ice will shield ground water from the ICP zone,” Boyd said. “That will isolate the shale on the inside, and protect the water on the outside.”

Groundwater will be removed from the ICP zone and stored, Boyd said. It will be replaced when the oil extraction is completed.

The freezing process takes two years before the heating process begins. That process is expected to take three to four years before oil can be extracted from the shale.

Although it is a time consuming process, the richest zones of oil shale may hold 25 gallons of oil per ton of shale, Boyd said.
(5 Aug 2006)
If there was any argument whether or not we are in desperate energetic times, I think this ends it. The proposal is to heat vast tracts of the earth while simultaneously freezing adjacent parts — for years — while pumping out and storing groundwater and later somehow returning it to the porous rock. I don’t think we need an extensive evaluation study to have a fair idea that this process would be extremely lucky to even break even on Energy Returned on Energy Invested, and that the greenhouse gas emmission implications are dire.

Russian Researchers Say Rains Boost Oil Reserves

A group of Russian scientists at the oil and gas research institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led by Azary Barenbaum, have come up with a new explanation of the nature of oil and gas formation. They argue that huge reserves of hydrocarbons may take only decades to be formed, not millions of years, as earlier believed. The new theory was published this month in the leading Russian scientific magazine Nauka I Zhizn (Science and Life).

Researchers have registered an increase in oil reserves in oil-rich provinces where deposits were explored and have been developed for many years and where oil consumption is comparatively high. Those oil-rich areas include the Russian province of Tatarstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Texas and Oklahoma in the U.S., and Mexico. Depletion of reserves is possible only in the oil and gas exploration areas where consumption levels are low, holds Professor Barenbaum. He insists that formation of oil and gas is not so geological as climatic by nature, related to the water cycle and circulation of carbon on our planet.

…This is not the first time the scientists have challenged the traditional theory of oil and gas formation, which says that oil and gas deposits are the remains of plant and animal life that died millions of years ago and were compressed by heat and pressure over millions of years.

Back in the 1950s Russian and Ukrainian geologists came up with a theory that formation of oil deposits requires the high pressures only found in the deep mantle and that the hydrocarbon contents in sediments do not exhibit sufficient organic material to supply the enormous amounts of petroleum found in supergiant oil fields.

According to their theory oil is not a fossil fuel at all, but was formed deep in the Earth’s crust from inorganic materials. Based on the theory, successful exploratory drilling has been undertaken in the Caspian Sea region, Western Siberia, and the Dneiper-Donets Basin.

The abyssal, abiotic theory of oil formation has received more attention in the West recently because of the work of retired Cornell astronomy professor Thomas Gold,
(8 Aug 2006)
Whatever the validity of theories such as these, they serve as fodder for the belief that we can continue our profligate use of fossil fuels. -BA

This theory seems profoundly unlikely, given that we have good scientific consensus that most of the oil formed in two periods of global warming, around 90 and 150 million years ago. If oil and gas are being formed at great quantities in the timeframe of decades, would we not be rapidly losing the carbon from the atmosphere. The article discredits itself by referring favourably to the drilling results based on the abiotic oil theory. See:

I’m also a bit unsure of how serious a news organisation Moscow News is, with factually dubious sounding articles in the archives such as: