The Ergosphere
Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Deconstructing HBO's "Chernobyl"

Thunderf00t does a bang-up job:

Edit:  Thunderf00t is a good storyteller but weak on the nuclear stuff.  Here are my notes, addressed as an open letter to him:

First, you missed a completely obvious way to debunk the "5 megaton" garbage.  It only took 10 megatons to completely erase the island of Elugelab in the Ivy Mike test.  5 MT would have scoured Pripyat off the ground and turned the entire Chernobyl power plant to vapor.  Instead, most of the reactor building was still standing!  That wasn't a megaton or even kiloton-level explosion; it was worth, at most, a few hundred pounds of TNT.

Second, you've got a whole lot of your concepts about nuclear fission pretty badly wrong.

The reason that low-enriched uranium can't make a bomb is because you literally cannot sustain a chain reaction in pure LEU, or even LEU oxide, no matter how much of it you have.  The detail of "cross sections" comes to bite you; a fission neutron straight from a nucleus is about as likely to be absorbed by a U-238 nucleus that it goes near (and make no further neutrons) as it is to be absorbed in passing by a U-235 nucleus.  With U-238 being vastly more abundant, fission neutrons can't replace themselves and the "reaction" has no "chain"; the chain gets broken almost immediately.

So, how did the Chicago crew create a chain reaction in natural uranium (just 0.711% U-235)?  They had a MODERATOR, in the form of a big pile of relatively pure graphite bricks.  The graphite, almost pure carbon, only rarely tends to absorb neutrons but does a fairly good job of slowing them down as the neutrons bounce around.  And as the neutrons slow down, a funny thing happens:  U-235 atoms are HUGELY more successful in catching slow ("thermal") neutrons than U-238 atoms are.  When you get things slowed down JUST enough that each fissioning atom leaves neutrons that wind up splitting exactly one more atom, the chain goes unbroken:  you have a self-sustaining "chain reaction".  But for this to work, the moderator has to be between the fuel elements and slow neutrons down before they can get sucked up by U-238 or escape entirely.

What does this have to do with a reactor meltdown?  As soon as the fuel melts and runs together, it loses the moderation because the moderator is now outside the fuel mass, not between bits of it.  Ergo, the chain is broken and the reaction stops.  (In reactors using water as a moderator, losing the water also shuts down the chain reaction.  Chernobyl used graphite.)

But that doesn't stop the heat.  The OTHER thing you neglected is that the fission reaction itself is not the only source of heat in a reactor!  About 6.5% of the energy actually comes from the radioactive decay of the fission products, the daughter nuclei created by the splitting atoms.  This heat does not stop when the chain reaction stops; you have to wait for the material to "cool" as the "hottest" fission products decay away.  The stuff that decays the fastest releases heat the fastest, and goes away fastest.  Within an hour the "afterheat" is down to 1.5%, 0.4% after a day and 0.2% after a week.

Maybe you want to re-record some of your narration on your video to get those details right.  Just sayin'.

PS:  No I was not drunk when I wrote this, just fat-fingered.  All typos spotted have been corrected.


Taiwan steel mishap confirms radiation hormesis

This paper should be shaking the world.  It should have turned our radiation-exposure standards upside-down.  It should have established that regular low-dose radiation exposure is our best prophylactic against both cancer and birth defects.  Yet nothing of the sort has happened.

Well, what happened?  FTP:
Abstract — The conventional approach for radiation protection is based on the ICRP’s linear, no threshold (LNT) model of radiation carcinogenesis, which implies that ionizing radiation is always harmful, no matter how small the dose.  But a different approach can be derived from the observed health effects of the serendipitous contamination of 1700 apartments in Taiwan with cobalt-60 (T½ = 5.3 y).  This experience indicates that chronic exposure of the whole body to low-dose-rate radiation, even accumulated to a high annual dose, may be beneficial to human health.

Approximately 10,000 people occupied these buildings and received an average radiation dose of 0.4 Sv, unknowingly, during a 9-20 year period.  They did not suffer a higher incidence of cancer mortality, as the LNT theory would predict.  On the contrary, the incidence of cancer deaths in this population was greatly reduced – to about 3 per cent of the incidence of spontaneous cancer death in the general Taiwan public.  In addition, the incidence of congenital malformations was also reduced – to about 7 per cent of the incidence in the general public.
The paper contains this graph of cancer mortality:

This paper should be shaking the world.  It should have turned our radiation-exposure standards upside-down.  It should have established that regular low-dose radiation exposure is our best prophylactic against both cancer and birth defects.

Nothing of the sort has happened.  Nothing.


Are the people in charge of our "health" evil, or just stupid?

Edit:  Backup paper link

Edit 2:  Contrary paper:

I find the contrary paper suspicious.  It's held behind a paywall, so the basis for the conclusions will not be examined by very many people.  This is exactly what a scientific fraud would do.

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More dangerous than Three Mile Island

Three Mile Island.  The name still elicits fear, forty years later.  Yet the whole accident had zero casualties; there were no deaths and no injuries.

The list of energy-related accidents with greater tolls is long.  Natural gas pipeline explosions have killed quite a few in just the USA alone.  Oil wiped out the center of Lac Megantic in 2013, killing 47.  And collisions between road vehicles and coal trains regularly kill and injure, mostly in ones and twos.

To this list of energy-related dangers we now must add... utility-scale batteries:
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's largest electric company installed massive batteries near neighborhoods with a large number of solar panels, hoping to capture some of the energy from the afternoon sun to use after dark.
Arizona Public Service has been an early adopter of battery storage technology seen as critical for the wider deployment of renewable energy and for a more resilient power grid.
But an April fire and explosion at a massive battery west of Phoenix that sent eight firefighters and a police officer to the hospital highlighted the challenges and risks that can arise as utilities prepare for the exponential growth of the technology.
Despite the very small number of units in service, this is not the first battery fire.  It won't be the last, either; current plans involve many more and much bigger installations.  Running up a list of casualties while being such a minor component of the electric system ought to have people asking questions, like...

"Are these things safe to have in my neighborhood?"
"Are these things safe to have anywhere?"

Anyone who dares to ask those questions, though, is bound to come under vicious attack from the proponents of "renewables".  Meanwhile, those same proponents spread fear of nuclear power, despite nukes being objectively much safer than even smallish utility-scale batteries.

Evil, or just crazy?  It's got to be one or the other.

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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Electric alcohol

The re-appearance of the ORNL direct electrocatalytic conversion of CO2 to ethanol and other products in news about ReactWell piqued my curiousity about this process.  The paper describes the yields in terms of "Faradaic efficiencies" which is an unfamiliar term, but appears to relate to Coulombic efficiencies by a direct conversion factor; one Faraday is a mole (6.023*1023) of electrons, while a Coulomb is an ampere-second.  Ergo, one Faraday is roughly 96485 Coulombs.

I'm interested in the mass yields and energy efficiency of the process, which requires converting from faradaic to regular physical units.  First comes the required charge transfer per reaction.  I calculate the stoichiometry as follows:

2 H3O+ + 2e-H2 + 2 H2O
CO2 + H2O + 2e-CO + 2 OH-
CO2 + 6 H2O + 8e-CH4 + 8 OH-
2 CO2 + 9 H2O + 12e-CH3CH2OH + 12 OH-

Given the Faradaic conversion efficiencies to various products as given in the paper, I come up with these net yields:

   F. yield, %
   g yield/mol CO2

Re-crunching this with an eye toward heat of combustion of the products:
   ΔHc, kJ/mol
   ΔHc, kJ/Faraday

Calculating total input energy naïvely, 96485 coulombs times 1.2 volts yields 115.8 kJ.  This is clearly nonsense.  Going back to the electrochemistry, the paper declares that the potential is given "vs. RHE", a reversible hydrogen electrode.  The oxygen evolution reaction is going to occur at a considerably higher potential than this.  The equilibrium potential of an oxygen electrode is +1.23 V vs. RHE, which sets a floor of 2.43 V on the cell voltage.  Using that, 96485 coulombs times 2.43 volts yields 234.4 kJ for a maximum electricity-to-fuel efficiency of 52.3%; only 37% goes toward reducing CO2 and just 30.6% to energy in ethanol.  15.3% goes to hydrogen.

ReactWell appears to be a bio-fuels company previously specializing in biocrude production.  This is a related business, as all the products of the ORNL process can be sold or used at a refinery.  Oxygen can supply anything that would be otherwise fed by air separation, H2 can go straight to hydroprocessing, the CH4 replaces natural gas for SMR or process heat, and the CO can be added to the input of the reverse water-gas shift reactor in the SMR system to make more hydrogen.  Maybe the efficiency is low, but when California has a low-carbon fuel standard and is paying Arizona to take its peak generation from PV, the efficiency is not such a huge factor.

The Engineer's take:
  1. This is nowhere near the world-killing advance I thought it was when I read the first reports in 2016.  The energy efficiency is just too low, and it doesn't include any overhead for CO2 capture or separating the ethanol from the aqueous medium.
  2. As a dump load for unreliable electric generation (especially wind and PV), this might be just the ticket.  So long as the catalyst is not degraded by voltage swings this process can replace expensive or difficult-to-site storage such as batteries and pumped hydro.  Enough capacity and negative wholesale electric prices would be a thing of the past.  Sure can't complain about that.

The Poet's take:

Making booze from cee oh two
Amuses me much.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Challenge to Owen Benjamin (updated 3/9/2019)

UPDATE 3/9/2019:  Not a peep.  Looks like he's not interested in discussing things, his mind is made up.

UPDATE 1/20/2019:  Not even a reply yet.  I mailed "".  If anyone knows that this is/is not the correct e-mail address or has gone into disuse, let me know.

Comedian Owen Benjamin has decided that the USA never put men on the moon.  (Why?  Well... he's a comedian, not an aerospace engineer.  There's a lot that's common knowledge in the field that someone so far from it just isn't going to know, and may have great difficulty understanding.)  So I have issued him this challenge (in the comments of the video, though said comment does not appear to be visible to the public) and am repeating it here:
I don't have time to watch and dissect 70 minutes of this video plus however long the previous one is (video is NOT a medium for conveying accurate factual content) but I will make you a deal:
  1. You contact me at the address on my blog (ergosphere dot blogspot dot com) and give me any five pieces of evidence that you like which you believe show that the moon landings were faked. 
  2. If I can explain that you misinterpreted things or that what you believe is evidence is outright wrong on at least four of them, you make a video about how the conspiracy theorists were misled by their own skepticism. I will help you write it and give you pointers to information. 
  3. I will publish the full exchange at The Ergosphere.
So.  Challenge issued.  I will keep you all up to date on the results.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Dear Dell Computer

Dear Dell Computer,

We used to have a good relationship.  I've purchased Dell laptops several times, as well as one well-loved monitor which met an ugly end in a moving accident.  My main machine  2 computers ago was a Dell laptop on which I installed some flavor of Linux I've long since forgotten.  It installed from an ISO I downloaded and ran like a dream for years until it experienced some age-related failure and refused to boot.  A local shop pronounced it unrecoverable, so I moved on and bought another.  That one (currently in use) runs Windows 7, which I steadfastly refuse to "upgrade" to anything else by Microsoft and have been too busy to try installing anything else on.  I just switched to a much bigger hard drive, but I really want to recover my data from my old Linux Dell and an even older Linux machine.  For this, I need Linux.

Need it.  Can't do without it.  Nothing else will do, full stop.

A while ago I bought a used Inspiron 5559 because Linux compatibility was a feature of that line; it was specifically advertised as an option.  I did nothing with it for quite a while because Windows 10 has such a cloying abortion of a user interface and a mass of "telemetry" (spyware) beneath it.  But when the time came that I HAD to get my hands dirty messing with computers I bought another hard drive for it too, figuring that now was the time to switch it over and finally get my old stuff back.

Immediately I started running into problems.  Ubuntu 12.04 is listed as a compatible operating system for my machine on the Dell web site.  Does that mean I can just download an ISO and go?  If only!  Everywhere I've turned I've been blocked, frustrated and stymied, and this frustration appears to be official Dell policy.

First thing, there are no ISOs on the Dell site.  I'd be happy to pull down a few different ones and take my chances until I find one that works for me, but Dell has chosen to completely foreclose that option.  Instead, everything must be done through the "OS Recovery Tool".  Well, fine.  I downloaded it on the Win 10 unit and ran it.

Or rather, tried to run it.  I picked "Install" but it didn't appear to do anything.  Searching through the cloying abortion of the Win 10 start menu I found something that looked likely, but when I ran it it created a "recovery drive" without asking me for any of the information it would require to do the install that I want.  This behavior was repeatable.  In frustration and anger I gave up for the evening.

Today I reformatted the flash drive, took it over to my Win 7 machine, and downloaded the recovery installer yet again.  The first time it ran, it took quite a few minutes before ultimately reporting a failure in some kind of unzip process.  (It won't even retry a failed operation?)  I decided to try again, and after an equally long delay it reported success... but it never gave me a Linux option on the choices of OS to install, just Win10 and "SupportAssist OS Recovery".  Well, maybe the recovery tool would let me install Ubuntu.  I took the flash drive back to the Win 10 machine, plugged it in, hit power, pressed F12...

and I got a boot menu on which "SupportAssist" was one of the options!

At this point I remembered that I hadn't swapped out the Win10 hard drive for a clean one, and I wanted to save that drive Just In Case, so I powered down and spent some busy minutes with a screwdriver.  New drive installed and machine buttoned up, I hit power and keyed F12 again.

SupportAssist was NOT on the list of options this time!  Neither was USB boot.  WTF?  Well, maybe Secure Boot was the problem (but why not last time?).  I disabled it and fired up again, which allowed me a USB boot option.  That died with  "Selected Boot Device Failed", behaving exactly the same on several attempts.  The USB drive that had just worked a few minutes before was not working any more.  Why?  What did the software do to itself to make it unbootable?  Stymied, frustrated and angry all over again, I went back to my Win 7 machine and used the tool to build the flash drive for the third time.

And that is where I am right now.  The thrice-built USB boot stick is still giving me "Selected Boot Device Failed"; this appears to be a hard, unrecoverable error.  I have tried using Disk Manager to wipe the stick and start over from scratch, but your tool appears to have locked it so that I can't remove the partition and try again, at least not under Win 7.  (I can't re-use the stick for much else, either; there's a 2 GB partition and the rest "unallocated".  That's malicious destruction of property.)

So here I am, Dell. What was a simple, fast process in late 2011 is an exercise in frustration and wasted time on the last day of 2018.  Instead of simply giving me standard stuff like ISOs and drivers and letting me be responsible for the results, you deliberately stand in the way of me doing with MY computer as I want and need to.   Thanks to you I have about $400 sunk into hardware that is useless in its current condition, including a brand-new USB flash drive that you have effectively stolen from me in any sense of getting full use out of it.

Dell, have you defrauded me?  You told me that the Inspiron 5559 could run Linux, and I bought it on that representation.  I've tried every way I can figure out to use YOUR tools to install YOUR approved version of Ubuntu on this machine, and I've come up empty.  Was this a fuckup, or did you deliberately lie to me?  What will you do to make it good?

Unless this situation turns around REAL fast, I am done with Dell computers.  It's not me, it's you.  Your control-freak behavior is somewhere between destructive and downright evil, and you need to get over it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

If power-to-gas (P2G) is the answer, what was the question?

Over at Green Car Congress, "Scottish Scientist" gushes about P2G:
Power to Gas (P2G) is best for (solar, wind etc.) farm-scale energy storage for most farms where there is no possibility of farm-scale pumped hydro.

P2G is excellent for mopping up all the surplus farm power because any energy which P2G can store is an efficiency gain compared to the 100% loss of all curtailed generation.

Grid managers should cease paying curtailment payments and spend the same money more wisely offering incentives to farm operators to install farm-scale energy storage.
In the comment below I had the temerity to ask
Simply not generating surpluses very much or often gets rid of most spilled power too, and also the capital and operating cost of generating it.  What's the goal here?
But mostly I wanted to go into the energetics in greater detail than I did there.

Present-day electrolyzers take around 43 kWh (154.8 MJ) of electricity to produce 1 kg of hydrogen.  This 1 kg of hydrogen has 141.88 MJ higher heating value and 119.96 MJ lower heating value.  Suppose this hydrogen is burned in a non-condensing context, such as a gas-turbine power plant or a kitchen stove.  Almost 1/4 of the input energy is lost between the electrolyzer inefficiencies and the latent heat of the lost water vapor.  Even if burned in a 60% efficient (LHV) CCGT, the net efficiency drops to about 45% before losses in pumping and storage are included.

What IS the goal of this exercise?  Suppose for a moment that it is to displace CO2 emissions.  How effective is P2G for this purpose?  Well, not very.  Replacing 1 kWh generated with OCGTs at 500 gCO2/kWh with 1 kWH generated with best-of-class CCGTs at 320 gCO2/kWh eliminates 180 grams of emissions.  Replacing 1 kWh generated with natural gas with 1 kWH generated by P2G hydrogen eliminates... (working the units)

1 kWh / 43 kWh/kg * 119.96 MJ/kg / 50 MJ/kg(CH4) * 2750 gCO2/kg(CH4) = 153.4 gCO2 eliminated per kWh put into P2G.  This will be roughly the same for any natural gas power plant, as it displaces fuel on a per-MJ LHV basis.

But that's not the end of it.  What's not usually talked about is the effect of "renewables" on the rest of the generating mix.  Due to the high ramp rates of wind and solar, the rest of the generation has to be highly flexible to compensate.  More efficient combined-cycle plants can't ramp quickly due to thermal constraints on the steam side, and they can often only turn their output down by 30% or so.  Given this (absent hydro), less-efficient open-cycle gas turbines are usually the only viable option.  This cuts the maximum thermal efficiency from as high as 62% down to around 40%.

This is a bait-and-switch of enormous size.  To get "renewable energy", you have to increase per-kWh emissions from the NG balancing generators on the order of 55% over what is achievable with CCGTs.  Renewables would require a capacity factor around 35-36% just to break even on emissions; less than that and emissions are WORSE!

America has definitely fallen for the bait-and-switch.  The job now is threefold:
  1. Get to a metric of emissions, period.  Where energy comes from is irrelevant; eliminate all portfolio standards and mandates, FITs, net metering, etc.
  2. Aim at fuel/carbon efficiency rather than RE generation.  RE which forces lower efficiency in the balancing generators can be worse than useless.
  3. Use appropriate market design and system architecture to get efficiency plus resiliency.
There are some options out there which can easily beat 153 gCO2 savings per kWh input.  The problem (if you can call it that) is that they are way, way outside the box of conventional thinking on energy matters.

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Energy Central just killed The Energy Collective

Management will no longer allow anyone who is not an "energy professional".

That's it for everything TEC was.  Gone.  Finito.  And it looks like the archives will never be back on-line either.  Fortunately, The Wayback Machine has a good snapshot of the site just before it went dark.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Quote without comment

"Our case is based on science, while the opposition is based on political philosophy. When a nation whose welfare is highly dependent on technology makes vital technological decisions on the basis of political philosophy rather than on the basis of science, it is in mortal danger."
Bernard L. Cohen

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Shredding misconceptions about electricity and motor fuel

And there are one hell of a lot of them out there; few things are so ubiquitous yet opaque to the layman.  Reposting some blog comments in case they are of more general interest:

Ominous Cowherd:
Using Pierre's numbers, 1 gallon of diesel equals 10kWh, so the overnight charge would be 7kWh equals about three quarts.
The EIA says a gallon of diesel is 137452 BTU, or just over 40 kWH(th).  Converted to work in your typical light-duty engine you might get 16 kWh out of it.  Your usual "convenience cord" is capable of 1440 W (120 VAC @ 12 A) so a 7-hour charge can yield as much as 10 kWh from a standard wall outlet.  PHEV batteries have widely varying capacities; the Prius+ has just 4.4 kWh, the Ford Energi models started out at 7.6 kWh and are going up to 9 kWh next year, and the Pacifica plug-in has 16 kWh.  These figures correspond to just over a quart, just under half a gallon and a gallon, respectively.

I used to drive a Passat TDI.  I drove the automatic like a stick and averaged 38 MPG city or highway.  Half a gallon of fuel would take me about 20 miles.  I drive a Fusion Energi now and that's about how far the battery power will take me (depending on speed, terrain and weather of course), so that seems like a pretty fair equivalence.
you spend 18 hours charging to get energy equivalent to roughly 1.2 gallons of diesel per day.
If you had a Chrysler Pacifica charging off a standard wall outlet for 18 hours a day, you'd get up to about 1.6 gallons-equivalent.  Vehicles with smaller batteries would reach full charge and have to stop; the Fusion reaches full in about 5 hours from your garden-variety wall outlet and about 90 minutes on a Level 2 charger.

1.6 gallons a day 250 days a year is 400 gallons-equivalent.  The EPA-rated fuel consumption for the Pacifica hybrid is  32 MPG, so for 15,000 miles/year the expected fuel consumption is about 470 gallons.  Replacing 400 of those gallons with electric power slashes the net fuel requirement by 85%.  My experience is consistent.  The standard drivetrain in my car is rated at 26 MPG, and I'm averaging just over 130 MPG per the dash display.
To compete with IC, you need to be able to drive hundreds of miles, with a heater blasting hot air, then fuel up in a few minutes and do it again. To get a 300 mile range, you need ten times that amount of energy, or more.
You don't need to compete with IC to replace most of your fuel.  Most trips are short trips, and engines are very inefficient when cold.  If you electrify most or all of the short trips and eliminate most of the cold starts, you've eliminated most of the fuel consumption with it.  If you delay the engine starts until the vehicle has left the city, you get rid of the pollution generated in the city.  The engine also warms up faster if run under load, improving the efficiency.
Our existing grid is generally pretty heavily loaded.
Back in 2004 it would have taken ~180 GW to replace all US gasoline and diesel with electricity.  Average electric consumption last year was 458 GW but nameplate generating capacity was 1074 GW.  Some of that is unreliable wind and PV and more is loaded-to-max nuclear and limited hydro, but finding 180 GW in that 616 GW difference wouldn't be all that hard.  Ironically, it would probably be hardest in California which has lots of vehicles but not much electric demand anymore after chasing out so much industry.

Another owner tries to kill The Energy Collective

It was announced some time ago that The Energy Collective was being taken over by the Power Industry Network (

Perhaps associated with this, the site had some major slowdowns and technical problems for a week or two.  Then all of a sudden it just went dark, with a message that maintenance was going on.  Now all blog entry links redirect to a page about re-hosting.  Those discussions appear to be toast; nobody will revisit them if they ever re-appear.  This follows the last transfer from the Drupal blog software, in which ham-fisted conversion destroyed most of the formatting (and thus legibility) of existing posts and comments.  Heaven only knows what will be left after this new crew gets done mangling it.

The new owners don't care about human factors like... readability.  Comment text is colored #8D8D8D (very light gray) on a white background.  How are you supposed to read that?  Do these clowns not know anyone who reads?

So far I've seen two new entries and one other comment from other TEC regulars.  We'll see how many of them bother to come back.  I'm betting it won't be many, as they've already found other things to do with their time.


Friday, May 25, 2018

When physics is on the line, face-palm edition

Via a correspondent who asked to remain anonymous and unquoted, I received some screenshots of panels from a brand-new comic called Alt*Hero.  Story authorship is "Vox Day", the pen-name of one Theodore Beale.  He claims to have a 150-ish IQ and refers to Aristotle regularly.

I'm passingly familiar with this guy; he comes up with clever expressions.  He used to get held up as an example of scientific pig-ignorance on scienceblogs, back when I read that site.  So what does he write into his comic?
A 90-kilogram object with an acceleration of 3,825 kilometers per hour strikes with the force of 10 tons
In short, physics bullshit.  It's bullshit from the units (acceleration is in units of distance/time²) through to the figures.  Per the story, the "Redshift" character can hit supersonic speeds from a standing start in just a few meters.  Figuring constant acceleration from 0 to 1000 m/s in 10 meters, the force required isn't "10 tons", it's 4.5 meganewtons (the weight of about 460 metric tons).  That's almost 2 orders of magnitude greater.  Impact into an immobile object would be orders of magnitude more.

Suppose you launched 90 kg to 1000 m/sec from a building.  A 460-ton shock would probably cave floors in and might even knock the building down.  That's physics.  More to the point, a skydiver in free-fall in the arrowhead configuration reaches terminal velocity at about 200 MPH.  There's no way a runner, however strong, could reach > 1 km/sec speeds by pushing against the ground (and at Mach 3 he'd broil himself from the air heated by his own shock front).  Another character flies, without using wings or any other aerodynamic method.  It is obvious that Physics As We Know It is not operating here (it's a comic book, Pure Fucking Magic is not just allowed but expected).

This begs the question:  why the pseudo-physics bullshit?  Does he not know any better?

Vox Day has long harped about scientific fraud and error, and per my correspondent even made up several new words purporting to help describe science accurately.  Ironically, this supposedly 150-IQ guy can't even hack first-semester physics.  (Does this extend to things like chemistry and biology?  Almost certainly the latter.)  He has some massive gaps in his abilities and understanding—worse, in subjects that people of much lesser IQ scores have mastered without undue difficulty.  That has to sting.  It looks like his enmity towards science and its practitioners comes down, not to principled differences, but a large dose of envy.  Face-palm time.

(As for the comic itself, it looks fun.  I may buy it, and that will make it one out of perhaps 5 I ever spent money on.  But seriously, if diversity box-checking in fiction is a turn-off, so's cringeworthy stuff like this.  Best just not to go there.)

Linkage where linkage is due:


Monday, March 19, 2018

Mail broken. Thanks for nothing, Yahoo.

Once more, good ol' Yahoo Mail has decided to screw things up totally.  Their new mail form does not work on desktop.  At ALL.  Here's a brief list of problems:
And to add insult to injury,
The "flat" UI style is considerably harder to use than the previous version, and heads should have rolled over that abortion alone.  But this?  If the vice president in charge isn't fired, the company is just not serious about running the service.

Oh, and Yahoo?  If you're reading this, just switch everyone back to the previous version.  You obviously have no idea when something is ready for prime time.

Edit:  Yahoo made the new version fail only with Pale Moon.  Apparently they tested with other browsers.  I was able to get in and switch back to the old version using a different browser.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Don't mess with the engineers when physics is on the line

This is an open letter to Brandon Schollenberger, also sent by e-mail.

I received a pointer to your essay.  No, lying is not OK.  Neither is spouting off in utter ignorance.

TL;DR  You're not right.  You're not even wrong.  You wrote a mish-mash of conceptual nonsense that is cringeworthy to every student who scraped out a passing grade in AP Physics, and quite a few who never made it that far.  I'd say take it down NOW, but... it's already too late for you; someone archived it 2 days ago.  The web never forgets.

At its core, you do not understand the difference between energy and power.  Gallons of gasoline are a measure of energy.  Horsepower are a measure of power.  You can burn 5 gallons of gasoline making 5 horsepower for 20 hours, or making 100 horsepower for 1 hour.  It's vastly different amounts of power, but the same amount of energy.

On to specifics.  You wrote:
To understand what the lie is, you need to know the purpose of a pumped-storage hydroelectric (PHS) power station. Like any power station, a PHS station produces electricity for consumers. It does so by converting the kinetic energy of flowing water into electricity. However, it has an additional purpose as indicated by the phrase "pumped storage."
Perhaps if you had looked up the Wikipedia article about pumped hydro storage sites, you would find that there are precisely 9 of them in the USA with a total nameplate capacity of 13,612 megawatts.  (This will go up by a few hundred MW as Ludington is upgraded with more advanced and efficient pump-turbines.)  This is not what they can store (equivalent to gallons of gasoline); it's their maximum instantaneous output (equivalent to engine horsepower).  Average US grid demand is on the order of 450,000 MW.  All the PHS plants in the USA, running flat-out, can serve roughly 1.5% of average US grid consumption.

Obviously, there's a lot more than 13,612 MW of total hydro capacity on the US grid (Jacobson lists 87,480 MW).  Just as obviously, the vast majority of it is NOT pumped hydro.  The only energy they can store is the energy delivered by the rainfall feeding into their reservoirs.  This is limited by many factors, including minimum river flows for ecological reasons.  One thing they can't do is reach down and pull water back out of their outflowing rivers to store energy again.

When more electricity is generated in the electrical grid than is necessary, it needs to be disposed off somehow. It can be burnt off, but a better solution is to find a way to store that electricity until it is needed. In a PHS, electricity is stored by using the extra electricity to pump water into a reservoir at a higher elevation. Later, that water can be released to produce electricity. It is basically a battery you can charge when you have extra power and discharge when you need more power.
You can't generate more power than the grid needs, not for a significant time or fraction.  The reasons why involve BSEE-level mathematics which you obviously don't have, but the point is that there are NO significant stores of energy in the grid proper except for the sheer mechanical inertia of its large synchronous rotating machines (both generators and motors).  If you pump in power over consumption, those machines speed up past their rated speeds; a power deficit causes an underspeed.  Too much of a deviation trips generating plants off the grid and causes a blackout.  Generation must match load to a very high degree instantanously, and even more closely over time.

PHS systems can function as both generators and loads, but... 1.5% of average grid consumption.  That's a handy ±1.5%, but it's still only 1.5%.

If a power station produces 100 GW every hour, no more, no less, would we say it is impossible for it to output 1,000 GW in a single hour? I would hope not. If the station's electricity wasn't needed for 10 hours, it might store up 1,000 GW.
Aside from impoundment-fed hydro stations (both pumped and otherwise), the only stores of energy in powerplants on the grid are:
  1. Coal stockpiles at coal-fired plants.
  2. Oil tanks at oil-fired and dual-fueled steam and gas-turbine plants.
  3. Uranium in the cores of nuclear power plants (by far the largest of all).
Nothing else stores significant energy.  A steam-turbine powerplant can cycle several million pounds of steam per hour from boiler to turbine to condenser and back to boiler.  There's nowhere in the plant to store millions or even thousands of pounds of steam, and the turbine can only accept it so fast.  The alternator which converts the turbine's output to electricity has its own instantaneous and sustained power limits, as do the transformers which put it out to the grid and the wires themselves.  It doesn't matter HOW many gallons-equivalent of gasoline you've got, you can only USE it as fast as the horsepower of your engine.

I will stop rubbing your face in your embarassment here.  I hope you have learned a lesson. 
Sunday, October 22, 2017

Time to flush the Jon

Over at Atomic Insights, the resident troll went on a tirade (since deleted).  I didn't think to save the whole thing, but since I went to the trouble to counter-troll him I figured I'd post it here.

All blockquoted material was posted under the name of Jon Hall.
And a reported $274,000 on twitter, to say nothing of the army of russian bots posting anti-clinton tweets by the hundreds of thousands.
Most of which were being blocked, no doubt.  Any time an anti-left meme or hashtag starts to trend, Twatter likes to remove it from view.

I'm amazed that Jonny here thinks that less than $500k overall could change the outcome of an election where Hillary raised and spent $1.2 billion.  It's like he attributes magical powers to Putin.  DEMONIC powers, perhaps.  Spooky action at a distance.
So “patriots” like EP would quote them by rote, like a package tray bobble doll.
Dude, I've never even had a Twatter account.  I last posted on Gab months ago.  I have no time to do the energy coverage I wanted to do.
So putin contributed to environmental groups, through shell companies, with economic motives. So that american natural gas would take a back seat to russian fuel in the global market.
Chesapeake Energy contributed to the Sierra Club to promote US natural gas over nuclear power, and you're okay with that?
So, whats that tell you about Tillerson, and the obvious collusion that many of trump’s lackeys and family members engaged in?
Compared to US foreign policy for sale on Hillary's watch, Lois Lerner's IRS blatantly tampering with the tax treatment of right-leaning groups, and the Obama/Holder/Lynch effort to persecute police officers for shooting Black perps no matter how well justified feeding a de-policing that has spiked murder rates in several major cities and already accounted for more additional fatalities than the entire history of lynching in the US?

I'm still holding my nose, but I've been able to get rid of the bunny suit and air pack.
You will turn a blind eye to a deranged, petty, and dangerous potus, who lies daily, and jeapordizes our world standing and national security. All to pursue an agenda that is entirely self serving.
You're 8 years too late recognizing that Ob... oh, wait, you're serious.

Ha ha.
This site DESERVES the likes of EP, and his racist hateful screed, that the lot of you are too cowardly to confront.
All you have to do to be racist these days is to notice who is doing all the shootings in Chicago (and everywhere else they've been shoved on Section 8 vouchers) instead of blaming it on rural redneck gunowners in Montana and Arkansas.  Can't mention the bleeding obvious.  It's unfair to the poor oppressed murdering gang-bangers and that spooky action at a distance means that Wrongthink anywhere is a threat to some modifier-preceded notion of "justice" everywhere.

And that's why this country is descending into civil war.  You just can't let anyone be.  Heaven help you when people realize that your attribution of evil to people on the right is projection rather than a mistake and end the problem... because nobody else will.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Most people are idiots. Case in point:

I bring you to this page at  Direct quote:
The 12 flywheels employed by electricity users and utilities store about 77 MW of energy.
If a presumptive energy blogger does not know the difference between MW and MWh, one should be removed directly from one's keyboard and publicly flogged.

I can find no putative author or contact address on this blog.  This is probably a good thing... for the author.  Nothing on that blog or attributed to that blogger is credible; the author is obviously incompetent in the specific subject matter. 
Saturday, September 02, 2017

Pathetic performance of tidal power station lauded as "world record"

In a "record month" at the MeyGen tidal power project in the Pentland Firth... I'll just quote them:

A tidal power station in the Pentland Firth between mainland Scotland and Orkney has broken the world record for electricity generation....
In an update on the progress of the MeyGen project, by Atlantis Resources, the company said it had generated 700 megawatt-hours of electricity in August, a world record amount.
For those who are not so good at doing arithmetic in their heads, August has 31 days.  31 days is 744 hours.  700 MWh divided by 744 hours is less than 1 megawatt average output.

The MeyGen project appears to be in phase 1A, with only 3 MW of turbines installed.  Dividing 941 kW average generation by 3 MW yields a 31.3% capacity factor.  There are wind farms which do considerably better than this.  Comparing this to an 1150 MW(e) nuclear plant operating at 90% capacity factor, it would take 2200 MeyGen-scale turbines to equal the nuclear plant.  That is a lot of turbines.

The projected cost of this is staggering.  In phase 1C:
We will build an additional 49 (73.5 MW) turbines at MeyGen at an estimated cost of £420m
This would be 55 total turbines.  If phase 1C has the same per-unit capacity and cost as the first 6 units, the total cost would be £471m for 82.5 MW of nameplate generation.  At 31.3% capacity factor, that is £18.3 per average watt.  Only the ultra-wealthy could afford this.  It makes the Hinckley EPRs look positively cheap.

And what about the environment?  Tidal power works by blocking water flows and generating power from the difference in hydraulic head.  It reduces the difference between low and high tide wherever it's used, reducing the size of the intertidal zone which is home to a great many forms of life.  What are the economic losses from this?

Some things are obvious mistakes.  Tidal power needs to be left to drift away on the tide.
Monday, June 05, 2017

New comment moderation policy at The Energy Collective

TEC editors decided to moderate (and often edit, without notice or attribution) all comments on the site.

This was done without making any announcement, and nobody responds to e-mails.

Discussion is open here.

Edit:  The editors are also censoring cites of their own, published policy posted in reply to people wondering out loud what happened.  They are evil.

Edit 2:  Here is Roger Arnold's comment where he wonders what's going on:
Nice article, and Willem’s comments and links are excellent.

This is mostly just a test. Elsewhere, I’m getting “your comment is being held for moderation”. Have I fallen from grace generally, or is it something peculiar to the article on which I tried to comment?
Here's what I wrote in reply:
It's not just you.  The site imposed a brand-new comment moderation policy without making any sort of announcement.

One of the effects I've seen is that nothing happens on weekends.

The staff do not respond to e-mails (I've mailed them enough lately) so if anyone wants to discuss these issues I invite you over to The Ergosphere.
They have published comments posted later than this one, but are censoring a pointer to their own new policy.  This is proof of a guilty conscience.  They know they're doing wrong.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Schooling an idiot

Some wag once wrote to the effect of "Never argue with an idiot; people may not be able to tell which is which."  On the other hand, if nobody bothers to school idiots publicly the public may begin to take their nonsense seriously.  And on that note....

Over at The Energy Collective a clown calling himself Joe Deely says that the exercise of analyzing California's daily load and generation curves to determine what can actually decarbonize its grid is a fantasy scenario.  This has some very strong suggestions that "political reality" is immutable, and physical reality is the fantasy.

With that in mind, let us take the example handed us:  the CAISO RE generation and net demand curves for May 19, 2017.  Solar, wind and hydro are not broken out separately but the latter two are a fairly small part of the peak and total generation for the day, and are obviously 10-15% of the minimum load at most.  Solar is the big kahuna in Commiefornia.

With that in mind, I first did a graphical analysis of the daily load curve.  I erased the grid lines below the load curve and filled the white space with green:

Per The Gimp's histogram function, 316923 pixels were green.  Given the delta of 48 to 915 on the X axis (hour 0-24) and 10 to 464 on the Y axis (32,000 MW to 0), a total consumption of 768,000 MWh would correspond to 393,618 pixels.  Given vagaries of the width of lines vs. their centers, this suggests that the consumption for the day was roughly 768000 * (316923 / 393618) = 618358 MWh.

Given the X width of 863 pixels and the variance from 172 (~20,000 MW) to 464 (0 MW) on the Y axis (Δ=292 px), the area of base load is 251,966 px or 491,677 MWh.  If the total minimum 24-hr demand was served by 24/7 carbon-free power such as nuclear, the total electric generation would be 79.5% carbon-free.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!  Nuclear is supposedly hard to ramp down, but that's the characteristic of light-water reactors, not electric output!  Nuclear-heated steam, being carbon-free, can be dumped to secondary uses or or waste heat without adding any pollutant emissions whatsoever.  So, let us suppose that 20% of peak nuclear power can be dumped and peak nuclear power is 25000 MW (with no carbon-emitting capacity being started until demand rises beyond that).  This yields a graph where 291,990 px of area are colored green out of a total of 316923 px of demand, or 92.1%.

California is supposedly striving for 50% or 60% "renewable" power by some year, but with nuclear base load it could already have reached 79.5% emission-free; with a bit of dumping it could have achieved 92.1% emission-free on the specified day.  Yes, "renewables" could have eaten into the remaining 7.9%, but would they actually have been important enough to tout?  Not really; the existing solar contribution of perhaps 12,000 MW is already twice what appears to be actually required.

If you "blew up" that day's RE contributions so the peak was roughly equal to the demand peak, how much demand would you have left?  After some fiddling with images, I was able to paste the expanded RE curve over the demand curve and color in the un-met demand areas in blue:

If I'm doing my pixel-counting correctly, 112148 pixels have zero green component (the green, gray and white will not); this comes to 28.5% of demand un-meetable by unreliable RE even on the record day.  Even assuming that the overnight RE generation is also scaled up by a substantial factor, this falls well short of the all-nuclear baseload scenario at just 20.5% of demand un-met by carbon-free sources.

Failing to plan to meet the evening and overnight demand with carbon-free generation is planning to fail.  It cannot be done with "renewables", period; physical reality says no.  It is physically possible to achieve this with nuclear power, whether the political reality allows it or not.

"Renewables" in California, as elsewhere, are greenwashing.  If the so-called "environmental" organizations (and eveyone else) actually cared about CO2 emissions, they would be pushing nuclear energy as hard as they could.  Anyone who is anti-nuclear is anti-environment.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I just gave up on Energy For Humanity

I went through their website.  (I had it on my personal blog list for a while.)  When I came across things that bothered me, I dug for contact information...


These people neither expect nor want feedback.  Not even on their site design (why the HELL wouldn't they put timestamps on their main-page items, so you can see what's new and what's not?).

If they refuse to interact with me, I will neither read nor recommend them.  Eff U, E4H.  If you really care for humanity, you'll pay attention to what humanity says back to you.  Especially about the things that make your site painful or painless to use.

Evolve or die.
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