Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Neighborhood Defenders Wrong Again

Neighborhood Defenders bring up aesthetics, the environment and property values as reasons to oppose things.  There are quite a few in my city (and likely yours, too). Sometimes, it seems like nothing must ever change or else we will incur their wrath.  I've been begging for bike lanes for 25 years, to no avail. Bike lanes must never take away on-street parking (mostly FREE PARKING) so they don't get built. Instead, we'll just keep making blood sacrifices of our children on the streets

Anyway, I digress. This is a blog post about electricity and pollution. But I have to digress a little bit longer first. 

Since 2019, I have been a director on the boards of both League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities and of Los Angeles County. Due to my science background, I was assigned the Natural Resources Portfolio.

I've been passionate about water and the environment since I took Field Biology in high school. So I also joined the LWVC Water Committee. I was a little bit too outspoken at the Water Committee meetings because I ended up being assigned to write nearly half the Overview of California Water articles, including the one on the Water-Energy Nexus.

This led the LWVC chair of Natural Resources to ask me to serve as her deputy in the area of Energy/Electricity.  Thus, I found myself the Energy Subcommittee team leader. I promptly ordered and read a bunch of books about energy and clean energy in particular. It's a fascinating topic. I never imagined that I would know the names and boundaries of the regional balancing authorities of The Grid, or that I would have opinions on their governance.  But, I do now.  ;-)

Back to electricity. 

There's been a spate of articles lately about the fate of a handful of power plants along the California coast that use ocean water for cooling. OTC (Once Through Cooling) plants have to suck in large volumes of ocean or river water, which can suck in small sea/aquatic life. That is totally no bueno.

At one time, we had quite a few of them. They sit on prime ocean-front land so their real value is often more due to real estate than power production. OTOH, they also have infrastructure, such as existing transmission lines, that would be difficult to assemble today. 

How a beachfront gas plant explains California’s energy problems lays out some of the issues. 

So I started researching the fate of the OTC plants that are no longer using ocean water for cooling. It turns out that I didn't have to look far. In 2013-2014, a similar power plant just a few miles to the north, the El Segundo Energy Center, was repowered* from Boiler-type OTC to a dry-cooled Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT). 

* Repowering means updating an older power plant with newer equipment that is more efficient and pollutes less. Switching from a gas boiler system to CCGT yields 50-70% more energy per amount of gas burned or per molecule of CO2 produced. They can be powered up in 20-30 minutes compared to many hours for older boiler plants.  

Newer Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) can be powered up in 2 minutes, meaning they can react quickly to things like the marine layer moving in and decreasing local roof-top solar power output. RICE are air-cooled, yielding substantial water savings of millions of gallons per day. 

You know how much I love data. I discovered the EPA Clean Air Markets Program Data Portal (aka Cap and Trade). I looked up the characteristics and 2021 data for five area power plants, including the repowered one in El Segundo and AES Redondo Beach. 

The comparison is stark! On every pollution metric, AES RB is much, much worse than ESEC--about 2-3.5x as much pollution per unit of power, over the course of a year, and it operates 4x as many hours.

I summed up the data from Jan 1, 2021 to Dec 31, 2021 to get an idea of how much power and pollution each plant puts out in a year.  

Each Facility/Power Plant has more than one generator. They turn on the amount they need to meet the anticipated electricity demand/load. No one wants to burn more fuel than they need to because that's just burning money.  

El Segundo has 2 generators, Redondo Beach has 3. Operating time is summed up over generators. If all 3 are running for one hour, that's 3 hours of operating time. 

Gross load is how much power they are making. 

Despite providing comparable amounts of power over the course of a year, the older AES RB plant puts out 2x the SO2 and CO2 and 3.5x the NOx than the AES plant. It also operates over more hours. (Click on the table to enlarge it.)

I made histograms for hours of the day that each plant ran.  Redondo Beach, which has the older boilers, has to run pretty much continuously to keep warm so that they can deliver electricity during the peak demand hours on hot summer evenings. Incredibly wasteful and polluting. 

El Segundo EC can ramp up and ramp down each day that it runs. Notice the vertical axes on AES RB are 2x higher. ESEC has 2 generators, running an average of 50 days a year, mainly during the late afternoon and evening hours. It shuts down at other hours because it can.  Saves money, saves CO2/SO2/NOx. It's just better all around. 

I made a scatterplot of power output by each hour of operation. Redondo Beach operates a lot of hours with low power output. (This is summed up over all generators. Sometimes, 2-3 generators are working at the same time.)

El Segundo rarely operates both generators at the same time. It also runs some warm up hours with little power output, but uses a lot less gas to do it at those times (if you look at the full data). 

Nameplate capacity is how much power a plant can generate, if it ran at full tilt. ESEC has a nameplate capacity of 560 MW with both generators operating. They ran one for part of 538 hours and the other for 626 hours.  There are 8760 hours/year. If it ran at full capacity the entire year, it would generate 4,905,600 MWh of energy. It generated 227,487 MWh in 2021, so it ran at .046 capacity factor in 2021. ESEC is an example of a "peaker" plant, that runs only when the grid demand is high.

AES RB is another peaker plant. Nameplate capacity is 496 MW so annual capacity is 4,344,960 MWh. It generated 251,192 MWh for .058 capacity factor. 

There are activists who want to block all fossil fuel investments. That's seductive because why would people spend money on something that they are going to idle most of the time? If we have it, we will use it. Right?

Induced demand has been shown to apply to car traffic. When you add a lane (like we did to the 405 freeway), then more people drive until the congestion is just as bad or even worse than before. If there is parking at a destination, people tend to drive. If there isn't, they tend to find another way to get there (e.g. transit for DTLA or bikes for the beach).

The converse is also true. When you make driving a hassle, people do it less. If people don't have cars, they make fewer trips. If they are thinking of driving somewhere, and that place doesn't have parking, they may forgo the trip rather than deal with the hassle. 

So, if you have a car, how often do you use it? The answer is ~5% of the time, about the same percentage of time as a peaker power plant!

Does induced demand work for natural gas power plants? Do operators have the self control to build new, highly efficient and clean ones, and then let them sit idle most of the time? ESEC spent $ rebuilding the power plant, but they run it profitably by only running it during the hours when power buyers are paying the highest prices. They also installed advanced emissions controls. Under cap and trade rules, they can sell emissions credits to other operators. 

AES Alamitos and Huntington Beach are much bigger plants and serve "baseload" instead of running only at peak demand times. AES proposed another peaker plant in Redondo Beach. The question becomes, do you think that AES will adhere to the plan they submitted? 

CAISO (California Independent System Operator) runs the CA Grid and has the authority to tell power plants when to operate, when to curtail/go offline. Do you think that CAISO, the Coastal Commission and the CPUC (CA Public Utilities Commission) would allow AES RB to deviate from their plan/permits? Would they all be in on the same conspiracy? I trust not, but I know that many of the voices that carried the day did not feel the same.

Here's something in a report from San Diego Gas & Electric. See how the generation capacity of gas power plants remains high, but the amount of electricity produced from them ramps down over time? That's due to California's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RE PS). Power producers are required to serve more Renewable Energy over time. Even if they are tempted to run their gas plants more to recoup their investment, they really can't. 

In the future, with high integration of renewable energy sources, all gas plants will operate as peaker plants. If they can't be nimble enough, they will be retired. It's the most rational and economic choice. It's also the only way they will meet California's RE PS which is the law of the land. 

However, if they don't make the investment in modern facilities that can ramp up and down in minutes, the old technology requires them to run many more hours than needed, burning more gas and generating more pollution along the way. 

These old plants are so, so bad. They aren't responsive enough to serve the needs of today's grid with high renewables content. They are wasteful of money and fuels.  They generate high amounts of pollution per unit of energy. They require water in a water-scarce region. The OTC plants are even worse because of their ocean water intakes. 

So why wasn't AES Redondo Beach repowered? AES tried. But there was so much opposition from Redondo Beach leaders, they gave up. RB Patch covered it pretty thoroughly and doesn't have a paywall. 
AES officials say the new plant will run more efficiently, have a smaller footprint and provide flexibility for the grid when energy from renewable resources isn't available. 
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that the plant will continue to decrease property values and blight the waterfront, despite a $300 million revitalization effort. Additionally, they point to AES' application and say a new plant will run more often than the current one, and thus produce five to 15 times more particulate pollution.
Anyway, for almost a decade, Redondans have suffered 2-3.5x more pollution than we would have if AES RB had been repowered to the same scale and technology as ESEC. We lived with more noise as the proposed upgrade would have been enclosed to contain sound and ran much fewer hours/days. We also  continued sucking marine life into the water intakes. 

All for what? To say we won? To say that we stopped AES? To cost AES money? 

It certainly didn't help the marine life or reduce CO2/SO2/NOx emissions. 

It didn't have to be this way. 

(I'll write about Grayson another day as it's past my bedtime.)

Monday, July 18, 2022

So your city has declared a climate emergency

 We are experiencing record heat in both North America and Europe, during a La Nina year (when the planet surface tends to be cooler than average).  The only way to stop this long-term runaway heating is to quit emitting so much CO2 and other planet-warming gases. Yet, our elected leaders, even in deep blue states, are not doing the necessary work.

I am so tired of fighting for substantive changes that I wrote about in Data Driven Climate Action. We know that 44% of LA County's GHG emissions comes from the transportation sector. If you add fossil fuel refining, it's over 50%. Over 2/3 of transportation emissions comes from private light-duty vehicles (cars, trucks, SUVs, minivans).  Much of those miles are "junk miles" in the sense that they are short trips that could be done without a car if the built environment were not so auto-centric. 

I have been a bicycling advocate since graduate school in the 1990s, when I was studying gas-phase chemical physics. We knew it was cars back then, and it's still true today. 

Global Atmospheric CO2 was 360 ppm (parts per million) when I volunteered for my first Boulder BikeWeek. 

CO2 was 367 ppm when I volunteered for my first El Segundo Bike to Work Day Challenge in 1998. 

CO2 was 369 ppm when I went to my first Beach Cities Bicycle Network Community Outreach meeting in 1999.  Community outreach took forever. My 21 year old daughter wasn't even conceived yet, which was why I had time to attend the meeting. 

CO2 was 392 ppm in 2011 when the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan was adopted. Cities pledged that they would add the bike lanes when they repaved or did work on any of the streets in the network. Over time, the network would be completed. A few cities did the bare minimum, striping in door zone bike lanes or stenciling sharrows when they repaved streets. Others, just ignored the plan. 

CO2 is 428 ppm in mid-2022.  Here are the existing bike lanes in the Beach Cities. Transportation planners are still expecting people to drive to the beach and ride along the Strand as recreation, not as every day transportation.

Here's the innovation in 2022. Those promised bike lanes will become a Local Travel Network, LTN, suitable for use by all sorts of low-carbon vehicles such as electric golf carts, eBikes, eScooters, motorized wheelchairs, skateboards, etc. They plan to start delivering this network in 2024. Notice how much less ambitious it is than the 2011 plan. It will not include anything other than sharrows and a few beg buttons at existing traffic signals. Unlike the 2011 plan, there will be no new traffic signals to allow cyclists to cross busy arterial streets. 

These purple lines are streets/roads where speed limits are 35 mph or less and are not truck routes. But notice how few of them cross the 405 Freeway or any of the high-traffic arterial roads/state highways. 

Not only are the legal crossings few and far between, necessitating long detours, but some of those purple streets are one-way. Going in the reverse direction will require an even longer detour. I can't make anything this ludicrous up. 

Consider the case of a student in North Redondo Beach who attends Mira Costa High School on an inter-district transfer. (The bus from North RB to RUHS in South RB is jammed and leaves kids stranded at the bus stop. To avoid this, some families beg for an inter-district transfer to the closer MCHS.)

If they had delivered on a bike lane along Artesia Blvd when they repaved it, students could take a direct route with a maximum grade of 5%. Not super pleasant, but doable if you had a protected bike lane.  Of course there is no bike lane of any kind because that would have removed free on-street parking.  Which is more important than our kids' lives and planetary health. 

Direct route: 1.6587 km, max 5% grade

Instead, students must take a roundabout way to an existing traffic light at Robinson/2nd St. 

Westbound detour: 2.2982 km, killer 15% grade short hill

But Robinson is a 1-way street going westbound, and so is Plant, the only other street connected to the east side of that traffic signal. To get home, our student has to take a different detour that crosses Artesia Blvd (CA 91) twice and Aviation at an angled intersection. 

2.874 km, wheelie territory 15+% grade sustained climb

If they had built the 2011 Bicycle Master Plan, with a new traffic signal at Voorhees, our student would have had a reversible direct route. There's a 13% grade climb for half a block. But it's doable with an eBike or a very low gear or if they dismount and walk that section. 

1.6991 km, max 13% grade

(I used in metric to make calculating grades easier. )

In what world do we expect people in an automobile to take a detour that adds 75% more length to their trip and steepens climbs from 5% to 15% grade? That's just abusive. 

It's late, so I won't dissect why kids are riding eBikes in all sorts of unsafe ways. Spoiler, it's because the streets are hostile and don't allow them to take more direct and safer routes. 

This LTN will not make any difference when completed. 

2024 will look a lot like 2022. Only CO2 will be higher still.  And we'll have more dead kids*. 

* "the crash may have been a result of misaligned crosswalks due to the single diagonal cut handicap ramp, rather than two separate ramps aligned with the crosswalk." 
I have written before about the danger of single diagonal curb cuts.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Utility Cycling

 I do a lot of utility cycling around my suburban LA area since I bought an eBike. It's so easy to stop and take photos when out on bikes, I document some of the delightful or ridiculous things I see along the way. If you follow me on Twitter, you see the photos. 

There are some bike snobs who insist that riding eBikes is cheating and we are not exercising. So I wrote a Twitter thread about a recent 9.2 mi loop covering 3 errands. 

I found some numbers in a 2013 LA Times Opinion 

Sure enough, bicycling 10 miles in an hour burns 484 calories, according to the chart. Walking three miles in an hour burns 353 calories. And driving 30 miles in an hour burns — wait for it — 170 calories!

That presumes a lighter person on a lighter bike. My 53# eBike, 9# U-lock, 2" wide tires, middle-aged weight, and groceries mean I'm burning over 500 calories/hour if not using e-assist. I turn on e-assist only when going up steep or long hills, to get started at traffic lights/stop signs, to hit green lights (which are timed for car speeds), or to keep up with traffic on fast/busy roads.

I'm also a bit obsessed with data so I bought a Kill-a-Watt device to track how many watts I use recharging my eBike battery. I typically use 9-10 watt-hours (Wh) per mile in utility riding. 

1 food calorie = 1 kilocalorie of energy = 0.0011622 kWh

I used 90 watt-hours = 77.44 kcal/food calories of electricity. 

If I had ridden a non-assist bike at 10 mph, I would have used at least 500 calories. Assuming 77.44 of those calories came from e-assist, the breakdown would be 15% motor, 85% myself. 

I did a little more searching for cycling speeds and calories burned. This website lets you plug in a weight and it calculates calories for a variety of cycling speeds. I put in 175# for myself, my gear, my heavier-than-usual eBike. Stationary cycling doesn't have wind resistance, which is why outdoor riding uses more calories at higher speeds. 

40 minutes of 15 mph riding on an eBike would be about 500 calories, same as the earlier estimate.  This is reassuring confirmation. I'm using my eBike to ride faster and further. Hills will not stop me! Numerous studies show that I am not alone.
The people who bought e-bikes increased their bicycle use from 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) to 9.2 kilometers (5.7 miles) on average per day; a 340% increase. The e-bike's share of all their transportation increased dramatically too; from 17% to 49%, where they e-biked instead of walking, taking public transit, and driving.

I take my eBike instead of my car for more of my errands. That's a win for me (exercise in a busy schedule), for my community (no wear tear and parking to provide) and for my region (no air pollution). 

I hope you try an eBike soon. If you have, drop a comment with your experiences.