Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The complexity of energy

The electricity markets are sufficiently complex that they have long been subject to intense regulation.  The reasons are twofold: 1) the infrastructure necessary to electrify a community is both very expensive and in the end, there only needs to be one of them.  The whole set of arguments about "natural monopolies" gave us regulated utilities.  2) Energy is a qualitatively different product than most on the market.  Once someone has invested in equipment that needs electrical power, not having it is often literally a matter of life and death (think: a surgical suite).  Therefore demand is not very elastic.

These two reasons just scream for regulations.  Deregulating the market for electricity has spawned such utter disasters as Enron.  Until we understand again that whatever benefits may accrue as a result of "free market" ideology, and that these ideas clearly do not apply to electrical generation and distribution, we are doomed to brazen manipulation by petty would-be white-collar thieves.  JP Morgan Chase might just be the sort of place that incubates such Predators.

JP Morgan Chase denies manipulating California's electricity market

By Dale Kasler  Aug. 4, 2012

Energy trader JP Morgan Chase & Co. denies charges that it manipulated California's electricity market for extra profit. The Wall Street giant calls itself the victim of strong-arm tactics by state officials – and is demanding that they return millions taken from the firm while the electricity investigation is still pending.

In a legal filing with federal officials Friday, the investment bank said claims that it gamed California's power market are nothing more than "feeble arguments."

The California Independent System Operator, a quasi-state agency that oversees wholesale electricity trading, has accused JPMorgan's trading division in Houston of pocketing $73 million in improper profits by manipulating a subtle flaw in the market structure.

The case is noteworthy because it's the first major allegation of market manipulation since the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, when companies like Enron Corp. extracted billions in extra profits from California through questionable trading tactics. more
Seven?—Good Lord Obama, that's pathetic.  70 would be pathetic.  Climate change has arrived.  The country is burning up.  Seven?

Obama Is Planning To Speed Up The Approval Of 7 New Solar And Wind Projects

Rob Wile | Aug. 7, 2012

The White House today announced it was expediting approval of seven renewable energy projects on federal lands in California, Nevada, Arizona and Wyoming that would produce nearly 5,000 megawatts — enough to power approximately 1.5 million homes.

The solar and wind projects have been developed by seven separate corporations, including BP, First Solar and Solar Reserve.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to expand domestic energy production and strengthen the economy, we are working to advance smart development of renewable energy on our public lands,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar." More

Here's the full White House Press release.
And the Germans are still hacking away at the sort of problems that come when you try to replace an existing infrastructure.  They are deeper into this thicket than anyone has gone before so anyone who is interested in a conversion to renewables should follow their attempts very carefully.  A good description of the problem from DW.

Stiff breeze batters German wind energy sector

A quarter of German electricity already comes from renewable energy sources. Far out front, the wind energy sector is growing faster than it has for years. However, business could be a lot better.

Politicians love it when they get the chance to present a successful investment project - Germany's transport minister Peter Ramsauer was able to talk about "pioneering work with worldwide relevance" when he visited an offshore energy plant in Cuxhaven on Germany's North Sea coast this week. A harbor and industrial area has been built there in which offshore wind turbines, along with all the necessary components, can be built and shipped. Wind energy on the high seas could become a winning export with which Germany could score points worldwide, said Ramsauer.

But there's actually not a lot of energy being generated right now off the German coast. There were just nine offshore wind turbines with a total output of 45 megawatts supplying the electricity grid in the first half of 2012. For Thorsten Herdan, director of the wind industry association VDMA Power Systems, that is below expectations: "It's highly unsatisfactory in comparison to federal government targets, and highly unsatisfactory in comparison to the industry's targets and investment efforts." That applies to everyone who invested in the industry, trusting in the government's Energy Industry Act and its timetable for the provision of a network to bring the electricity to land.

But there's still nothing much for the offshore wind turbines to plug into. And it's not yet clear who is legally liable when things go wrong. Who has to pay if the network isn't completed on time, or if a technical error occurs on the cables? The question of the financing of the network also seems to be still unresolved. Herdan says neither he nor the banks understand how a network operator with an annual turnover of one billion euros ($1.23 billion) could be expected to manage a borrowing requirement of 15 billion euros.

The lack of clarity is ending up costing the offshore investors. The manufacturers and suppliers have delivered what was ordered, says Herdan, and they'd been paid. "Whoever wants to see how things are, should go to Bremerhaven, then they will see everything just stored there - it's all been paid for and it should already be standing in the water. And we're talking about billions of euros."

The onshore wind industry also views the future with skepticism. The clear pattern of growth last year seems to have continued in the first half of 2012. An especially high number of tall wind turbines with large rotor-blades were installed in the states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate. Now, 22,664 wind turbines across the country provide a total output of more than 30 gigawatts. Around 25 percent more wind turbines were erected in the first half of 2012 than in the first half of 2011. With wind power forming the backbone of Germany's move to renewable energy, there'll soon be enough to replace nuclear power entirely, says Hermann Albers, President of the Federal Association for Wind Energy (BWE).

However, the wind will be blowing in a distinctly less favorable direction next year. Foreign markets, which are very important for German manufacturers, will be much tighter. Albers points out that construction of wind energy turbines in the US, for example, has nosedived. China also looks set to push its "gigantic surplus capacity" onto the global market in 2013. The outlook is bleak for German producers, who plan to tackle the situation with efficient and cost-effective technology. There are few options left if they don't want to find themselves in the same position as the majority of German solar panel manufacturers. They have already been forced to capitulate to China's superior power. more

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