Mar 13, 2012

As the World Slowly Turns to Alt Energy there is a Learning Curve

Thankfully we are finally entering a phase when a life without oil and gas is realizable. Yes Exxon is reluctant to agree with us on that point BUT major utilities are starting to wean themselves off oil and gas and considering integrating alternative energy into their primary power plants.

But serving large parts of a populace with alternative energy takes a while to figure out. Here are selections from a story on the Martin County Florida Concentrating Solar Power(CSP) facility and how it has not totally lived up to expectations yet.

From the Orlando Sentinel, "Florida's biggest solar-energy plant far from realizing it's potential" by Kevin Spear 3/11/12

"The mirror-covered behemoth that constitutes Florida's largest, and one of the nation's most ambitious, ventures into solar energy has been producing a small fraction of the power promised by its owner.

An Orlando Sentinel review of production data on file with state regulators reveals that, during its first year of operation, the Florida Power & Light Co. solar plant in Martin County has not come close to producing enough electricity to meet the demand of 11,000 homes — the output that FPL continues to claim for its one-of-a-kind facility.

Instead, it generated enough power last year for only 2,056 homes, according to the Sentinel's analysis of monthly reports filed by FPL with the Florida Public Service Commission.

Company officials said the lagging performance was caused by the disastrous spill of an industrial fluid used to conduct heat, outages at an interconnected power plant, and ongoing difficulties in responding to swings in production between sunny and cloudy skies.

"In doing all of your engineering, you go through all of your hypothesis, but when you're actually doing it for the first time, it does present some challenges," said Buck Martinez, FPL's senior director of project development. "The beauty of it is, it [recently] hit 68 and 69 megawatts on back-to-back days. I think we are getting a lot of the kinks out."

Designed to make 75 megawatts of electricity, the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center is markedly different from most solar plants.

Florida utilities, including FPL, generally operate systems that use vast assemblies of "photovoltaic" panels that produce electricity when exposed to sunlight. But the Martin plant has a unique "hybrid" design, with 190,000 mirrors erected on 500 acres in such a way that they concentrate the sun's rays to heat an industrial fluid to 740 degrees. That fluid is then harnessed to produce steam, which is then piped to an adjoining, older and much larger electric plant — powered by natural gas — to help spin its generator.

Mirror-based solar plants have been in use for decades; a sister company of FPL operates and co-owns a 310-megawatt system in California. But the Southwestern U.S., often cloudless, is considered ideal for mirror systems, while Florida's wetter weather is more challenging.
FPL, the state's largest utility, contends that feeding the solar plant's steam into the larger, existing electric plant next door reduced the solar plant's cost enough to justify its construction in a state where mirror systems are unproven.

But the piggybacking of the two plants has been difficult to manage, said Martinez, who characterized its operation so far as marred by "learning-curve" issues rather than any flaws in the technology......................

"I think we're actually getting over the hump on some of that," Martinez said. "We're cautiously optimistic. We think it's going to be great technology."

Critics of solar power say it's simply too expensive. But utilities, such those serving the Orlando and Jacksonville areas, contend that they must learn how to integrate solar power into their grids because natural gas and coal, which now fuel most power plants, could become costly because of market pressures or problematic because of new environmental regulations.

Solar proponents say the Martin plant's rough start was a hiccup.

"That is not a statement about where the industry is," said Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "Solar is booming and, ultimately, we need a combination of utility projects as well as solar panels on rooftops."

Here's the entire article for you

We feel the last sentence is the most important since it states the reality that slowly power production will move from solely oil and gas driven to be a hybrid of fossil fuels and alt energy and then hopefully one day in the next 20 years all alt energy

Conservastore is a large believer that the more alt energy is integrated into the energy  production grid the happier we will all be in our daily lives

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