Power Generation in Alberta: Changing the mix.

February 16, 2016
Solar Power plants in Spain

Solnova Solar Power Station, Spain/Abengoa Solar

Our new government here in the resource rich province of Alberta intends to diversify the energy sources used in the large scale generation of electricity. The primary reason is to attack the issue of climate change and associated global warming. While this is an admirable goal, it won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap.

The present energy mix is primarily coal with some natural gas. Hydro-electric contributes a small amount and wind is increasingly being used, but once again still contributes a small amount of the total energy requirements. Nuclear power is not in use in Alberta.

Coal
Alberta is rich in deposits of coal, so much so that it exports large amounts. Most of the coal found in Alberta is low in sulphur. Therefore it burns comparatively clean and doesn’t pollute to the same extent as other types of coal. The coal is found close to the plants so transportation cost is low and the mining technique is open-pit so extraction costs are low.

All newer coal-fired generating plants use what is referred to as “clean coal burning technology”. In this method the coal is pulverized into a dust before combustion which effectively increases the surface area of the fuel (coal). Combustion efficiency is increased so that close to 99% is burned making for much less pollution and green-house gases (GHG) leaving the stacks at the plants.

Coal in Alberta is the most cost-efficient fuel for the generation of electricity. The downside is that even with the cleaner technology it results in higher pollution and GHG release than other fuels.

Natural Gas
Alberta is rich in natural gas. We have an abundant supply, enough so that we export large amounts. A transportation infrastructure is in place already. Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning and most efficient fuels in the world. For example, converting a coal-fired plant to natural gas would immediately result in 50% less GHG being emitted and close to zero pollution from the combustion.

However, converting existing coal-fired plants to natural gas is difficult. In fact it will likely be necessary to build new plants and mothball or demolish the coal plants.

Hydro-Electric
Alberta doesn’t have many more suitable sites to construct dams and associated generating plants. This is not an option to replace coal in my opinion. Even if sites could be found public opinion is against daming rivers and flooding land.

Solar
The sun, our star, has great promise and seemingly unlimited power for the taking. Definitely worth exploring, but it too has several downsides.

Although Alberta is know for its sunny days, the sun doesn’t shine anywhere near as often as other climates such as southern California or Africa for example. It obviously doesn’t shine at night, so the plants don’t produce power during these times. Energy has to be used when it is produced, it is difficult to store energy using present technologies. This is a problem for the grid which must furnish power on an as needed basis. The other problem is the vast tracts of land needed for a large scale solar power generating plant. I don’t see any areas here that the general population would be willing to cover with the large number of solar panels needed to replace coal or natural gas generating plants.

Wind
Once again great promise and as long as the wind blows power is generated. Downsides include the large number of wind turbines required to produce the required amounts of power for Albertans. The wind doesn’t always blow, so again power generation would be intermitant. The wind turbines we see in southern Alberta and in many places in the United States require regular and frequent maintenance. Large tracts of land are also needed to erect these wind farms. Environmentalists and others protest the appearance of these machines and also the land use required. I see wind as a viable source of power for Alberta, but only as part of the overall power production.

Nuclear
This is actually one of the  cleanest methods of producing large amounts of electricity. The downside is two-fold, one is the disposal of radioactive waste and two safety or the consequences of an accident. The nuclear plants of today are extremely safe to operate, but the consequences of an accident can be catastrophic. Accidents have occurred. Three-Mile Island in the States was almost of an unthinkable magnitude. The inquiry found human error and outdated equipment were the contributers. This was also true for Chernobyl in Russia which did result in a large number of fatalities and the sterilization of many square miles of the country. The nuclear plants that failed in Japan weren’t protected adequately from earthquakes and tsunamis. Nuclear power for Alberta? I think not, Too many safer alternatives and the entire issue of nuclear is just too emotional. Even the word gets some people thinking of mutants and glowing in the dark.

In summary I believe that alternative sources of energy should  developed. It’s not a bad thing to diversify the sources and methods of providing electrical power to individual Albertans and industry in the province. New technologies will be needed to perfect these methods and an orderly transition will be needed to keep up with power demand in Alberta. There is also opportunity for Alberta to be involved in the development of many of these new technologies. However, Albertans must realize this won’t happen overnight.

Note: Constructive comments are always appreciated.

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February: More than romantic love.

February 1, 2016
DSC_0040

Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to winner of the Super Bowl. Photo: SB Davis, at Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, OH, Sept. 2015

February the month of romantic love. Sorry but in my opinion just another excuse for card companies, florists and chocolatiers to make money. For me February is a month closer to spring and golf season, not only that but it is the shortest month of the year. Hurry up March and spring.

Planet Earth takes 365 and one quarter of our days to make its transit around the sun. How do we reconcile that odd figure? Every fourth orbit around the sun earthlings make an accounting adjustment. The year 2016 is a Leap Year. Normally February has 28 days but in Leap Years (every fourth year) it has 29 days to facilitate this accounting adjustment.

Those who happen to have been born in a leap year on the 29th day of February get to celebrate a birthday only every four years. Nice way to deceive oneself I think.

The big sports event of February is the National Football League’s Super Bowl. This is a major event this month and this year is the 50th time the game has been played. Football makes this a great month, but then the season is over which is sad. The big games is usually played the first Sunday of the month.

The new Canadian flag was introduced in February 1965 which is another reason to celebrate. The red maple leaf gives us a rallying point and has become the symbol of Canada throughout the world.

Here are some other interesting observances for the month of February.

Month-long observances:
American Heart Month – United States
Black History Month- Canada and United States

International Days:
Lunar New Year – Traditional Chinese Calendar
Chinese New Year – Chinese Calendar

Odd or Unusual observances:
National Wear Red Day – Feb 5th United States
First Saturday – Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (I really like the idea of this one)

National, State or Provincial Holidays:
Second Monday – Family Day – British Columbia, Canada
Third Monday – Family Day – Alberta, Canada
(Note: Family Day is now celebrated in other provinces too)
Third Monday – President’s Day – United States
Last Friday – International Stand Up to Bullying Day

February Symbols:
– flower – violet
– birthstone – amethyst
– zodiac signs – Aquarius (until Feb 18th) and Pisces (Feb 19th on)

So enjoy February whatever your perspective.


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