My first assignment to Texas was as a young B&W Results Engineer. I was participating as one of the Results engineers to perform acceptance tests of a large (500 MW class) natural gas fueled boiler at the P.H. Robinson Plant near Houston. That was about 1968. After that involvement I watched with great interest as Texas built dozens of 500-750 MW natural gas and oil fueled plants all across Texas. Built by Foster-Wheeler, Combustion-Engineering and Babcock & Wilcox. Then came the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973 and Texas responded to this true energy crisis with an incredibly successful fuel change to power production changing from oil and gas to Texas and Wyoming coal. The huge build out of coal plants went from the late 1970’s till the mid 1980’s and I was impressed. I had the pleasure of working at many of the coal plants operated by various Texas Utility Companies and what impressed me most was the “Can Do” attitude of Texans. Then about 1978 I became very involved as a Field Engineer to help solve combustion and power generation challenges with ALCOA’s massive Rockdale, Texas Lignite Fueled Power Plant. Also in the mid 1980’s involvement with acceptance testing of the 450 MW Gibbons Creek Coal Plant near College Station.
Why am I writing this? It is because I am perplexed after watching for decades how Texans were so practical and innovative, they became enamored with Renewable Wind and Solar Power to a fault. I was not surprised that California had such foolish policies but found it odd that practical Texas would fall into the trap of too much dependence on unreliable, non dispatchable renewables.
In the 1970’s Texas rallied to successfully change from oil and gas fuel to coal. In 2021-2022 I see Texas rallying again to overcome the problem of over-dependence on renewables.
The Good Old Days of Coal Power and Aluminum Production in Rockdale
Here is how coal power in Texas helped to build some of the most productive aluminum manufacturing in North America. A major contributor to the local economy and manufacturer of critical metals for America at the same time providing over 1600 jobs. A story to document the relationship of reasonable cost energy and economic prosperity.
The following is from the Milam County Archives, 1974:
“On November 24, 1952, something strange happened in the small, agriculturally-oriented Central Texas town of Rockdale. A visitor, seemingly from a different world, changed the living habits of its people along with the general tempo and appearance of its community.
The courting days of the 1950’s has now, nearly 22 years later, turned into a love affair unmatched in many communities between industry and townspeople.
It began innocently enough. The Korean War was raging on and government needed aluminum to make airplanes. Aluminum Company of America needed a new facility to meet the demand. Rockdale, with its large lignite reserves, was the apple in Alcoa’s eye.
Thousands of acres of the “Cinderella fuel” nestled beneath the earth’s crust gave rise late in 1951 to the establishment of the aluminum industry in Milam County. Aluminum production demands electric power to break down ore, shipped in from South America, to form the lightweight, corrosion-free metal.
Demand for the metal by government and this abundance of the electrical energy- producing fuel triggered boom-like industrialization when Alcoa’s multi-million dollar Rockdale Works raced into production only 13 months after groundbreaking.
Tipping the giant vat to cast the first aluminum ingot were the plant’s first boss (now Alcoa board chairman and chief executive officer) John D. Harper and smelting division manager R. T. Whitzel of Pittsburgh corporate headquarters.
Today, Rockdale Works is Aluminum Company of America’s largest worldwide metal producer with eight potlines and the capacity for turning out 280,000 tons annually or 1.5 million pounds per 24-hour, continuous operation day.
The original four-potline plant was expanded by two more lines in 1956 and the Central Texas smelter became Alcoa’s largest in 1969 with the addition of the seventh and eighth lines. For the first time, Alcoa began producing more aluminum in Texas than in any other state. Rockdale Works and Point Comfort Operations down on the Gulf Coast have a joint capacity for making 455,000 tons annually.
Rockdale Works has one of the world’s biggest carbon electrode-making facilities and a diversified ingot plant which converts molten aluminum into extrusion, sheet and remelt ingot. The latter produces everything from a 50-pound to a 22,000-pound product.
A couple of fabricating facilities further enhanced the company’s local investment in the 1960’s. An atomized aluminum powder unit was built in 1966 and has been expanded twice. It’s now the biggest aluminum powder producer in the U. S. Then came a redraw rod facility in 1968 which spews out “raw material” for Alcoa’s electrical conductor-or wire-fabricating plants, primarily its nearby Marshall (Texas) Works. “
The Rockdale story is like many across the Developed World. Reasonable cost and abundant energy is used to fuel a manufacturing facility with the end result of not only manufacturing vital materials but also contributing to employment, funding the local tax base and infra-structure and more. Energy and Economic prosperity go hand in hand. Now, the four power generating units at Sandow Station are shut down. The Rockdale Plant is for sale and aluminum is no longer manufactured here. It was a great run from 1952 till about 2008 when the Chinese took over the aluminum smelting market.
Including the Sandow Plant which was adjacent to the ALCOA Rockdale Plant, there were five other robust, reliable coal plants shutdown. These are:
Sandow 1252 MW, Oklaunion 650 MW, Monticello 1,980 MW, J.T. Deely 932 MW, Big Brown 1,186 MW, TMPA Gibbons Creek 453 MW.
Perhaps the renewable wind and solar power capacity made some folks feel good when it was purchased and installed. I am sure it made the environmental extremists happy to see these coal plants gone. However, the people in the great state of Texas sure could have used the reliable electricity that could have been produced from these plants, had they not been prematurely shut down.
It personally saddens me to see the loss of the aluminum manufacturing in Rockdale which essentially was given up to Chinese aluminum smelting capacity. It saddens me also to see the unneccessary suffering of the people of Texas. The environmental extremists may be happy to have successfully hoodwinked the politicians on the evils of carbon. Perhaps now is the time to account for the costs in the loss of American jobs, economic prosperity, the powering of heat pumps, Refineries and Businesses and often overlooked, contributions to the local schools and government infrastructure & tax base.
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Strengthens China and China’s influence in the world
I was just reading in the morning wsj that another pipeline (in addition to Keystone) has been shut down between Canada and the US. This one operated by Enbridge was a new pipeline to replace a 67 year old existing pipeline with newer, safer construction.
This action is apparently by the Governor of Michigan. But, she has similar (D) views on the War on Carbon as Biden and the rest of the Democrat Party.
Biden’s Executive Order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement is anti-American, just as President Trump said it was. The assault on carbon based fuels in the year 2021 is moving fast to further disadvantage or cripple America’s manufacturing might. At the same time, much of the world manufacturing (and economic prosperity that could have fueled America’s economy) is shifting this prosperity to China and Russia. It doesn’t seem to matter to these US politicians that 88% of our total energy comes from conventional sources. By conventional I mean both Fossil and Nuclear energy. Yes, 88% of our energy. The current admistration wishes to crush fossil fuels and is doing little to support nuclear. America had just reached Energy Independence and in the name of “Green Religion”. (What else can you call it?) Biden (and all of the Democrat’s I can think of) wishes to self inflict severe economic harm to American and Canadian industries. What are Biden and the Democrats thinking?
Meanwhile, China is designing, manufacturing, lending and building coal power plants all over the Planet in the Developing Countries of the world. Why? They are seizing the opportunity to show how they can help lift people out of poverty better than the U.S.A. can. Quite honestly, the “Belt and Roads Initiative” is in fact, lifting many out of poverty. Heading into Communism isn’t such a great idea but when folks are living in squalor with no clean water to drink, no job and little electricity, being controlled by the CCP is far down their worry list.
Now, let’s just suppose two American companies like Babcock and Wilcox, a 154 year old magnificent US Manufacturer and General-Electric another world class manufacturer, want to build a new coal power plant in one of Africa’s countries. In my early days of working for B&W, I remember US Foreign Aid was done by exporting American manufactured power plants and more. Great American companies like B&W, Westinghouse, Combustion-Engineering, Foster-Wheeler, Riley Stoker and more. Great memories for me of the 1960’s, It seems the Chinese took notes on our successful policies and are now applying the U.S.A.’s 1960’s model of USAID to their best interests. China calls it the “Belt and Roads Initiative” (BRI). It was win-win in the 1960’s for the U.S.A.. American jobs were provided to design and manufacture the equipment and the Developing Countries were able to improve living conditions and their economy. France began it’s path to excellent nuclear power generation starting with President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative and the exporting of “Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor Nuclear Power Plants” Then, France went on to build their own.
So, China is now replacing America in the global arena of lifting poor countries out of poverty. Why? For now, read the absurd World Bank Policy on lending for new power plants:
The statement below in green font is from the “World Bank” web page:
Energy is at the heart of development. Energy makes possible the investments, innovations and new industries that are the engines of jobs, inclusive growth and shared prosperity for entire economies. Universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable and modern energy – Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 — is essential to reach other SDGs and is at the center of efforts to tackle climate change. The World Bank is committed to helping countries reach SDG7, which is central to delivering on the World Bank’s primary mandate: ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
Today, 789 million people live without electricity and hundreds of millions more live with insufficient or unreliable access to it. Nearly 3 billion people cook or heat their homes with polluting fuels like wood or other biomass, resulting in indoor and outdoor air pollution that cause widespread health impacts.
While the gaps are daunting, significant progress is being made in many areas. The global energy landscape is witnessing a major transformation and renewable energy is playing an increasingly vital role in helping countries develop modern, secure energy systems. Lower costs for clean energy are helping with this transition, while disruptive technologies like smart grids, smart meters and geospatial data systems have upturned energy planning.
New large-scale approaches that combine grid and off-grid electrification have also contributed to impressive gains in energy access in many countries. In others, mini-grids are showing promise in closing the access gap. At the same time, solar home systems are increasing in efficiency as they decrease in cost – making them affordable in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, which are regions that account for the most significant gaps in energy access.
China is building thousands of coal plants around the world. Yes, meanwhile, while Biden’s Administration, Democrat Governors and Congress wage their war on carbon, China is helping to lift many countries of the world out of Energy Poverty. “Power Engineering International” magazine has estimated that 2,500 new coal plants will be built in Africa over the next ten years. China already produces over 50% of the world’s steel. Much of that steel production will be used to produce boiler tubing, piping, structural steel and state of the art steam turbines and generators. Not up to US Standards for now, but they are going to get a lot of practice. Meanwhile, America struggles to keep our share of Global manufacturing capacity. China has surpassed our manufacturing capacity. The war on carbon harms poor people struggling to improve their living conditions, it harms American workers and the War on Carbon fuels the rise of China.
That is why I have always advocated Common Sense Energy Policies that include ALL FORMS OF POWER GENERATION are important. Including solar and wind when practical. Let us not forget the 88% that we depend on now.
I came across the ad below which was a paid ad, published April 21, 2015, Some things do not change very much regarding where we get our energy and how we use it. At the time, I was living in NC and I was very concerned about the anti energy, anti-nuclear policies of President Obama. Also, jobs in Stanly County, NC (about 30 miles east of Charlotte, NC)
Well after President Biden’s first week in office here we go again with canceling pipelines, fighting Hydraulic Fracturing and creating more Regulations that resist keeping America strong and energy independent.
The 2015 ad is copied below:
Notice the PIE Chart from the EIA in 2015 which represents the full year 2014. Compare that to the EIA Chart for energy sources in 2019 below:
Renewables increased from 9% to 11% over four years. The primary difference is in the makeup of the conventional energy, where natural gas replaced much of the coal use. This of course is due to the, currently low cost per million Btu’s of natural gas. That may change with President Biden’s continued war on carbon.
I thought I would share this for anyone who may be interested. Energy Independence and Economic Prosperity are related. Does anyone think President Biden and Congress will ever get it?
The November 2020 Presidential Election to put it politely did not end with the best interests of America as a priority. President Biden disingenuously said at the inauguration, that he wants to unite the country. Then he went to the Whitehouse to sign Executive Orders to Cancel the foundation of our economic growth during President Trump’s four years. He is in the highest office of the world and he has plans to use the power of that office to do as much harm as possible to America. I don’t know why the Democrat Party, Liberals & the Mainstream Media can be so hateful of America. But they are.
Their Goals seem to be to Dismantle America’s #1 Position in the world as a Beacon of freedom and to harm or kill the largest Economy on the planet. Biden’s first step to weaken the U.S.A. is to reduce Domestic Energy Production. Reasonable cost energy is a huge component of world manufacturing competitiveness. Abundant production of reasonable cost energy also creates and sustains “Jobs” too! To put it into in a four letter word Mr. Biden may understand.
I will be perfectly honest, I am concerned for the future of America. Here are some of the reasons why I am concerned.
Even before Biden took office, a Federal Court in the Washington D.C. Swamp struck down the “Affordable Clean Energy Rule”This was on President Donald Trump’s last full day in office, the federal court struck down his final effort to undo Obama’s legacy of the Liberals misguided war on carbon. This hands President-elect Joe Biden a clean slate to craft regulations for anti-American carbon rules. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the 2019 Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule. This was the Trump administration’s effort to lower power sector emissions and at the same time, keep our energy costs competitive with the world. This court action by itself is very harmful. Then, in Biden’s first day in office, he started the process of killing the Keystone Pipeline. A great start to dismantle our economy and is sure to bring a smile to the faces of V. Putin and Xi Jinping. Why? Washington, DC is a Swamp of misguided politicians, but many of these people have children and grandchildren just as I do. So, why are they so Hell Bent on ruining America? The anti-American Cancel Culture is now in power. God help us.
Here is my take on the relationship of energy and economic prosperity. Let’s start with a little history of the 100 years of progress following energy pioneers Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla. America entered and helped win two world Wars and in WWll America was declared by FDR to be the “Arsenal of Democracy” because of our talented citizen engineers to invent and manufacture. Following WWll, economic expansion of America was the Gold Standard for the world to take notice and copy. (China certainly took notice and copied our model of using energy and manufacturing to build an economy). We were very open and sharing with our technology for producing nearly every modern marvel from efficient aluminum and steel production to airplanes, vehicles and computer chips. The recorded economic and energy history show these American creative inventions, manufacturing and expansion have a paralleleconomic growth track that follows the use of abundant and reasonable cost energy. Energy and Economic Prosperity go together. America’s God given Treasure of coal plus Admiral Rickover and President Eisenhower’s gift to mankind of nuclear energy kept our economy powered and growing for decades. The graph below is from data by the EIA and the American Coal Council. Note the chart ends in 2010 when our GDP was about 13 Trillion dollars. Now the U.S. economy has grown 50% greater than it was in 2010.
Through this 40 year growth period of the American Economy, coal provided about 50% of America’s electricity production and nuclear from the 1980’s on, provided about 20% of America’s electricity. (Coal + Nuclear= about 70%)
Then about 2012 Hydraulic Fracturing and Directional Drilling revolutionized American natural gas and oil production. America progressed to becoming the #1 Producer of natural gas and oil. The downside of the abundant natural gas was, that it became more economical to use as a power generation fuel than inexpensive coal. Part of this was raw fuel cost differential and part of it was American inventiveness with highly efficient, advanced aeroderivative gas turbine power plants. The total plant efficiency of the best and most advanced gas turbine combines cycle plants is now over 60% under ideal test conditions. Dispatchable power generation with overall efficiencies of over 50% were attainable and getting better every year. The newest and best Ultra-Supercritical, clean coal plants can achieve about 42% thermal efficiency. Most of the existing coal fleet has a heat-rate of about 10,000 Btu./kWh or about 34% thermal efficiency. Fuel cost for a gas turbine combined cycle plant is about 90% of the production cost of electricity. A coal plant production cost is burdened with environmental flue gas cleanup equipment and reagents plus a much larger operations and maintenance staff. Thus, natural gas plants have the economic advantage over coal. The cheaper the fuel cost, the more reasonable the power production cost. Natural gas and coal are almost equal in cost/million Btu’s at about $2.00/million Btu. Thus, with less staff, higher efficiency and no flue gas cleanup costs, natural gas produced electricity is produced at significantly less cost than coal generated power for the same raw fuel heating value cost in $/million Btu. If natural gas prices escalate, so will electricity production cost. Perhaps an advantage for coal but not good for America’s competitiveness. The Biden policies of harming natural gas production through increased regulations and restricting pipelines is (or will be) if he continues, harmful to our country by causing natural gas prices to rise over time, which will increase electricity costs. The nuclear plants for the time being, continue to generate about 19% of America’s electric power.
We have come a long way and our air is the cleanest it has ever been. Check the EPA 50 year progress graph below:
All through this 50 year growth period of the American Economy, growing population and increased road miles of driving, coal provided about 50% of America’s electricity production and nuclear from the 1980’s on, provided about 20% of America’s electricity.
We have come a long way and our air is the cleanest it has ever been. Check the EPA 50 year progress graph above:
The abundance and reasonable cost of electricity does matter to the U.S.A.! Reasonable cost electricity is required to be competitive. I am sure the Liberals will take care of the power costs for lower income families by some form of welfare or subsidies. But, what about Industry? In my adopted state of SC about 1/3 of electricity is used for Industrial production. Especially steel and aluminum. If we are to keep some of these vital industries, we will need to keep electricity costs reasonable. I object to the politicians view (and some Electric Utility Exec’s too) that electricity costs can be increased with minimal harm to individual pocket books. Maybe so for individual home owners but, tell ALCOA or NUCOR that the electricity rates will double and see how that impacts their product competitiveness and new plant siting.
I see this as quite a legacy of success in clean power generation and economic prosperity. The power for our economy is fuels. The best simple illustration of where our fuels come from and how they are used is shown on the EIA/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sankey Diagram of energy flows. Here below are the energy flows for the year 2019:
I would point out (from the Sankey Diagram above) that America depended on about 37% Petroleum, 32% natural gas, 11.4% coal and 8.46 % nuclear. These fuels, I and most others involved in power generation, consider to be conventional and they total just about 89% of America’s energy. During the last couple years America achieved energy independence and I understand, November 2020 for the first time in decades, America did not need to import any oil or natural gas. President Biden’s stated intentions are to escalate the war on carbon. It is a war on America’s energy and with that, an assault on our economic prosperity. (spell that JOBS) The Sankey Diagram above showed about 89% of our energy is from conventional fuels. With all of the tax credits and subsidies of renewables, solar and wind are on the chart at 1.04% and 2.74% (Note, I took the liberty of rounding the numbers in Quadrillion Btu’s to percent because the total U.S.A. energy use is 100.2 Quadrillion Btu’s/year, thus pretty close to 100 for the % stated) The pie chart below from the EIA, shows 11% renewables. Of the 11% renewable energy, most of the power was produced by old hydroelectric dams, wood. Biomass and biofuels.
In America we have some of the cleanest air on the planet and we are at this point, the World’s largest Economy. Congratulations America! Well done. Thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of American engineers, business, technicians and tradesmen.
Does World Manufacturing Competitiveness matter? It does from my viewpoint. China has built more coal power generation in the last 20 years than it took America to build over the preceding 100 years. China took a page out of American history to power their industries with reasonable cost fuels and by the way, China uses about 7.4 times as much coal as America and more than the rest of the world all put together.
Notice how America has plateaued at about 100 Quadrillion Btu’s total energy each year since about the year 2000. Check the rise of China’s energy use to more than twice America’s and still growing. China produces over 50% of the world’s aluminum and steel. China is the world’s largest manufacturer. Yes, China has learned the relationship of reasonable cost energy and manufacturing might. Unlike President Trump, American Liberals in Congress and President Biden seem to be interested in supporting Russia’s gas and China’s manufacturing. More interested in Russia and China’s success than supporting America’s taxpaying, citizen workers, businesses and Industry.
Thank you, President Trump for four very good years in promoting energy policies and reducing Federal Regulations. Your policies were conducive to economic prosperity, keeping our country strong and employing millions of our citizens in good paying jobs. It is with sadness that I view the news of Biden-Harris as they begin policies that are certain to weaken America. We will miss Mr. Trump’s policies.
Thank you for your service to the country we both love. In my opinion, you saved America from a steady decline in quality of life, world competitiveness of our industries and productivity. You saved us from ridiculous Federal Regulations that were strangling American business and Industry. My 50 years of work experience is in energy and coal power generation. I am very much aware of the importance of your action to exit the Paris Climate Accord. There are so many issues that I along with 330 million other Americans should be thanking you.
Amongst the top threats to America, in my opinion, and apparently yours too, China and their growing aggressiveness in becoming the world’s number one manufacturer of primary metals, rare earth minerals, Pharmaceuticals and manufacturing of just about everything. This combined with their increasing military strength and Global “Belt and Roads Initiative” is worrisome. You, sir, are the first President to push back and resist China’s aggression. There is so much more I could write on my appreciation for your steadfast Faith in America and standing up to outrageous attacks by the News Media, rabid power mongering Democrats, a Federal “Swamp” workforce of over 2 million Federal workers and other anti-American coalitions. I say anti-American, the groups opposed to your policies are in my eyes, anti-American and the opposite of MAGA. Likely some funded from overseas but that will take time to come out.
I want to take a minute to say thank you. Regardless of the outcome of this election you deserve my gratitude. Thank you for not being a politician. Thank you for keeping GOD in the country both you and I love, and standing with Israel. Thank you for standing up for the unborn. Thank you for building back our military and standing with the police departments across this country. Thank you for nominating and standing behind three Supreme Court Justice’s that likely will be a large part of your legacy in MAGA. Thank you for bringing back our industries from foreign countries, for the American people. I believe from what I read that your net worth was greater when you entered office than what it is now. I believe you made extreme financial and time sacrifices to honestly, “Make America Great Again”. Thank you for standing strong, no matter what the media was reporting, and staring adversity in the face. Thank you for standing for America when the weight of the world was against you. Thank you for your service to this country. Thank you.
You have fulfilled every promise you have made to our country and for that I am thankful.
May GOD always bless you, your family, and the U.S.A 🇺🇸
If America Was the Arsenal of Democracy for the Allies in WWII, Then What to Think of The Rise of China?
I voted for and support President Trump for reelection in 2020 because, I see him as the first President in recent years to recognize and act on reversing the De-Industrialization of America. The graphic below shows the ranking of world manufacturers. This in itself is not troubling. However, as you read later in this document, the rise of China may not be done solely for Humanitarian purposes and to lift 1.5 billion chinese from poverty. The Chinese 100 year plan 1949-2049 serves the CCP First.
The Rise of China since 1950
In 1950, China was not a significant manufacturer of automobiles when compared to other nations. I took screen shots of a you tube video presented by USCB which showed the changing world manufacturing of automobiles from 1950-2020. This video is on you tube.
Then, by the year 2000, China progressed to rank #8 manufacturing just short of 2 million vehicles per year and more than the UK.
China is admitted to the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001 and China welcomes western Industry to setup manufacturing facilities in China. Yes, we gave much of our manufacturing expertise to China, but what they were not given, they took. The automobile production which is mostly for Chinese consumption, is an index of economic growth and increased demand for steel, aluminum, copper and other materials.
The astounding production year 2016 is shown below and still increasing. China is now building more than 2X the number of motor vehicles than we do in America.
Some may say, “so what?” They have 1.5 Billion people in China and they need a lot of cars. This is true. Yes, they do need a lot of cars, but let’s take a look at China’s Published Grand Strategy:
Well, the supply chain for building motor vehicles is much the same as for military equipment.
Remember recent history of America in WWII when FDR referred to us as the “Arsenal of Democracy” Steel, aluminum, copper, electronics, ships, planes, tanks, guns, etc.
I have seen these numbers, at least the percentages, in other articles and magazines. Fact:China produces over 50% of the World’s steel and Aluminum.
On aluminum, in 2016 I was preparing for a talk and copied the aluminum production from the Aluminum Institute web site. This talk text is included on this Blog in 2016. References for World Aluminum Production are on the web at: (https://alucycle.world-aluminium.org/public-access/) Today they have updated the site to show a Sankey Diagram of aluminum flows by country and including recycling. 2018 data, International Aluminum Institute diagram is copied immediately below:
The photo credit on the aluminum ingots on the dock is from the Wall Street Journal which wrote quite a bit about how China was taking over the world aluminum production in 2016. It began about 2002 from the chart above (no longer on the IAI website)
This was of particular interest to me because I did a great deal of work for ALCOA, all around the world, every year from 1977 to about 2012. I saw first hand how their business was shrinking from many plants all over the world and in 2006, about 125,000 employees, now drastically downsized. Thanks to China dumping of metal ingots on the world market.
Usually, I write about energy and electric power generation. That was my career for 50+ years. The observation I made during those years of world travel was that economic prosperity and energy use usually parallel each other. That is, it takes a lot of energy to create manufacturing jobs and to produce primary metals. China after entering the WTO then began building new power plants at an incredible pace. They built more coal fueled power generation capacity in twenty years than America did in the preceding 100 years. This is not an exaggeration. The coal consumption data as compiled by the EIA (U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration) is copied below. China uses about 5X America’s coal consumption for electric power generation.
China’s “Belt and Roads Initiative” is worldwide. It includes gaining control of ports and natural resources all over the world, including Africa and South America. I personally was involved with a meeting with a law firm in West Virginia in 2008 and China was attempting to purchase WVA metalurgical coal mine. As you will see below, they have secured a foothold in American Real-Estate in the Mariana Islands.
Not only does China consume a lot of coal for power generation, but they have exported their coal plants at extremely cheap prices to other countries of the world. This improves their manufacturing economy, employs millions of workers at home and expands their reach. It also works toward the economic harm of America (and all western countries) through unfair competition.
Some would say, so, China built a Casino on American soil in Saipan. So what? Also in the news if you dig deeply, is reference to China building military bases on manmade islands in the South China Sea and Pacific. Here are some satelite photos:
Energy and Economic Prosperity are inter-related. The World uses about 100 million barrels of oil per day. Much of this oil is transported to Asia through the Straits of Malacca.
So, if I get back to the matters of manufacturing, energy and economic prosperity, then a picture can be drawn of the rise of Chinese influence and control and the reduction of American influence and control. The economic piece of the aggression is ceding of the western Free World’s Manufacturing might to China. In doing so, it provides a revenue stream to fund their military buildup. One estimate of the projected military resources in 2025 is shown below. The red images of planes, missles, ships, submarines are China’s. The blue represent America’s.
In my opinion, the return of manufacturing to the U.S.A. is important. Remaining energy independent is important. Keeping America’s military strong to continue Ronald Reagan’s legacy of “Peace through Strength is important.
Additionally, protecting America’s Intellectual Property and securing the R&D of American Universities and Industry is important.
It is not only steel and aluminum that China has exceeded all other world manufacturers. It is also Pharmaceuticals as we learned during the recent Pandemic. It is also Rare earth minerals and electronics as used in modern electronic devices. Manufacturing by U.S.A. companies also funds R&D which is then owned by the inventing company. If manufacturing is lost in America much of the funding for higher education as well as R&D will be compromised.
All of these and more require a President to place America’s priorities FIRST. These are some of the reasons why I voted for President Trump and a Straight Republican Ballot.
Let me close by asking before you vote, please do research on the inter-relationships of the importance of being energy independent, economic prosperity, fair trade and improving K-12 as well as Trade and College education within our borders.
In the preceding posts, energy and it’s relationship to economic prosperity are discussed. The clear example of the use of energy and electricity to power economies of entire countries are discussed using the example of the U.S.A.’s economic prosperity from the advent of coal powered central station power plants 1882-2012. During this 130 year period, coal power was America’s #1 fuel for power generation. America’s power since 2012 has been generated with growing use of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing and at the same time, application of advanced pollution controls have been applied to our coal plants. These advancements have drastically reduced pollutants from America’s coal power generation. Both coal plant backend environmental emission controls and use of more emissions friendly natural gas have contributed to the drastic reductions in pollution.
America is also energy independent, thanks to President Trump’s policies to reduce regulations plus America’s treasure of enormous reserves of coal, oil and gas. Fracking and reduced Regulations together have unleashed our reserves of oil and gas. A geologist who specializes in oil exploration once told me, “Wherever there is coal, there is oil and natural gas.” This is true. Take a look at the history of coal, oil and gas production in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota and Texas as four examples. These four states have lots of coal and lots of oil and gas too!
China on the other hand, has built more coal fueled electric power generation plants in the last twenty years than America did in the preceding 100 years. One difference is, American Industry has been responsible and reduced emissions while China has been focused on becoming the largest manufacturer in the world with less emphasis on pollution. Here is a graph of growing economic prosperity, increased population, increased travel and yet ever improving air quality. This is from the EPA website which shows the great progress in cleaning our air over the last 50 years since the EPA was began in 1970.
Before the Pandemic in December 2019, America’s economy was thriving and manufacturing within our borders was increasing. Yes, President Trump’s policies of reducing regulations was working not only for increasing economic prosperity and jobs, but also resulting in continued clean air trends.
The EPA Chart of clean air trends clearly shows American Industry’s good and responsible progress in pollution reduction. That is not what you will see in the mainstream media. The illustration below attempts to compare the perception of “Dirty American Coal Plants” with reality.
I used the figure above in a recent presentation to our Hilton Head Rotary Club to discuss the “Importance of Reasonable Cost, Reliable Energy and Electricity to South Carolina”. In SC about one third of our electricity is used for the production of primary metals. Namely, steel and aluminum. The NUCOR Steel and Century Aluminum plants are amongst the state’s largest employers. The steel and aluminum is important for American manufacturing. Reasonable cost, clean energy is required for America’s steel and aluminum manufacturers to compete with China. In previous posts I have shown China’s rise in manufacturing since 2001 where they now produce over 50% of the entire world production of steel and aluminum. It is important that America keeps production of primary metals within our borders not only to provide jobs and a thriving economy but also for National Security. Yes, in America, we have proven that when we work together, we can have it all! Economic prosperity, Made in U.S.A. products and clean air and clean water too!
Another illustration I used in the recent Rotary presentation was a photo of aluminum ingots being exported from China and a graph of chinese aluminum production 2005-2016. This is an example of American manufacturers competing in the production of energy intensive primary metals.
During the years 1978-2012 I traveled the world working as a consultant to ALCOA. I saw as the expression goes, “Like a fly on the wall” the decline in ALCOA’s aluminum production as China dumped millions of tons of metal into world markets. Yes, they are over 50% of the world’s production capacity. Being competitive matters to every one of our 50 states, but here in SC (and every other U.S. State) it is particularly important to continue generating reasonable cost, reliable electric power. How does SC do that? It may surprise a lot of folks, but SC nuclear power generation is number 3 in America and provides over 55% of South Carolina’s electricity. In 2019 56.9% of SC’s electricity was generated by nuclear power. Of course, that helps both the clean air and reasonable cost generation factors.
Note that 93.5% of South Carolina’s electricity was produced by traditional, conventional power sources: Nuclear, Natural Gas and Coal. Yes, 93.5%. The reasonable cost power drives South Carolina’s manufacturing economy and provides thousands of jobs. A previous post discusses the “Green New Deal” and the potential harm to the American economy. Imagine the difficulty of attempting to compete with China in manufacturing if we changed to mostly solar and wind power produced at say $0.35/kWh? First of all, it cannot be done in the short term. Not until there are extreme advances in solar panel production and electric storage will reasonable cost electric generation from renewables be possible. Note in an earlier post this year on this Blog, I showed the example of Hawaii Electric which is attempting to become mostly renewable and have planned to shut down their most reliable and least cost source of electricity from their lone coal plant. So, what do they use in the interim? Oil, the most expensive fuel for power generation. No worries for manufacturing in Hawaii, their economy is driven by toursim, government facilities and agriculture. They can use the highest cost electricity in America with not too much pain. This would not bode well in a state with major manufacturing as SC has.
In conclusion, let me state, yes we can compete with the world and China in manufacturing as long as energy and electricity proces remain reasonable in cost. We have proven that not only can we generate relable 24/7 power generation but also do so with clean air and clean water.
Thoughts on The New Green Deal and (so-called) Renewable Energy
Energy and economic prosperity go together. In part 4 I posted some facts on the growth of American industry over the last 140 years since electricity became commercialized. China has managed to expand their primary metals and manufacturing production to exceed that of America’s in about 20 years. How? By central planning and using enormous amounts of electricity mostly generated by coal power, just as America did over the 130 years 1882-2012. Reasonable cost electricity is important to power manufacturing and especially primary metals such as steel, aluminum and copper. A large aluminum smelter or Steel Mill will use as much power as a medium sized city. Electric power and economic power are inter-related. Where there is abundant and reasonable cost electricity, so is vibrant manufacturing and of course, jobs. Conversely, where electricity costs are high and electricity supplies unreliable, industry does not thrive. The preceding part 4 was intended to show how China replicated America’s success in expanding electrical production to power manufacturing and their economy. This part focuses on the high cost of renewable power and why a “Balanced Portfolio of All Fuels is Important” All sources of energy are important, including: Natural gas, Coal, Nuclear, Biomass, Hydropower, wind, geothermal and solar.
So, what is “The Green New Deal”?
Most if not all of the Democrats in Congress have been pushing for legislation to change America from being dependent on fossil fuels to changing to renewable fuels and eliminating carbon-based fuels in the near future. Here is an excerpt from the Democrat Party Platform, I deliberately selected red font for a reason:
“To reach net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible, Democrats commit to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 through technology-neutral standards for clean energy and energy efficiency. We will dramatically expand solar and wind energy deployment through community-based and utility-scale systems, including in rural areas. Within five years, we will install 500 million solar panels, including eight million solar roofs and community solar energy systems, and 60,000 wind turbines, and turn American ingenuity into American jobs by leveraging federal policy to manufacture renewable energy solutions in America. Recognizing the urgent need to decarbonize the power sector, our technology-neutral approach is inclusive of all zero-carbon technologies, including hydroelectric power, geothermal, existing and advanced nuclear, and carbon capture and storage.”
The Democrat Platform excerpt copied above 1 ( and it has many more pages) and the Biden-Sanders agreement 2 basically lean toward eliminating Hydraulic Fracturing and conventional energy production by the U.S.A. America has become the world’s #1 energy producer during the past four years and we have surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia in oil and gas production. Does anyone remember the Solyndra debacle from the Obama years? An excellent review is provided by the CATO publication, “Solyndra: A Case Study in Green Energy, Cronyism and The Failure of Central Planning”
Recent legislation by the House of Representatives confirms the path toward the Green New Deal if Biden is elected President. The new legislation is, H.R.4447 – Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act also known as the “Green House Gases Bill” Donn Dears has written a summary of this in his Blog4 I share Mr. Dears concern for this anti-American energy legislation.
Non-Dispatchable renewable power causes problems with electric grid reliability as we have seen with recent California Blackouts 6 . In addition to forcing solar and wind power onto the California grid, the San Onofre nuclear plant was prematurely shut down and regulations for conventional power plants increased. Worse yet, the one remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon is scheduled to be shut down in 2025. So like Hawaii, California also has some foolish energy policies that are causing increased costs and reduced reliability. These two states are early indicators of what the “Green New Deal” could mean for the entire U.S.A. if Biden and Harris are elected and Democrats also control Congress.
Then there is the skepticism that solar can make a good difference with slowing down climate change. There are studies by some well respected organizations such as Carnegie University and Stanford 5 that solar panels will require huge amounts of Real Estate and can increase the surrounding ambient air temperature just from the solar collectors themselves. Just how much Real Estate you may ask? According to the 2015 study by Carnegie and Stanford, here is the quote in blue font from the Climate Central5 article:
“We see that ‘big solar’ is competing for space with natural areas,” she said. “We were surprised to find that solar energy development is a potential driver of the loss of California’s natural ecosystems and reductions in the integrity of our state and national park system.”
Finding ways to resolve conflicts between renewable energy development and ecosystem protection may be critical if the U.S. is to rely on more solar power to displace fossil energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Assuming that 500 gigawatts of solar power may be needed to meet a future climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, Hernandez’s team found that a region of California roughly equal to the land area of South Carolina may be needed to accommodate all the new solar power plant development.
There are caveats to that, however: Though a 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goal has been adopted in California, the Obama administration’s current goal for the U.S. is to cut emissions by up to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years. The study also does not account for increasing solar panel efficiency over time, something that is likely to reduce the amount of land needed to generate a megawatt of solar electricity.”
Yes, you read that right, an area the size of the state of South Carolina. Two points, one, I don’t think we will actually do this and two, the solar panels only provide electricity during periods of sunshine.
So, now lets move on to the real world experiment in Hawaii, which by the way, has the highest electricity costs of all 50 states.
My post on this blog in June 2020, showed the example of Hawaii which has pretty much accepted the “Green New Deal” and they are shutting down their most reliable and most reasonable production cost coal power plant at Barber’s Point 3 . Ironically, as Hawaii has regulated to eliminate fossil fuels, their power costs are the highest in the nation and most of the electric power generated comes from oil fuel. Why? Because Hawaii is an island and is not connected to the mainland electric grid. Thus, for reliability the power at night and when the sun is not shining, requires proven conventional forms of energy such as natural gas, coal or nuclear power. Because Hawaii does not have natural gas or nuclear and they are shutting down their one remaining coal plant, the choice for keeping the lights and air conditioners humming depends on oil fueled power plants. The most expensive of all the choices for fuel.
If you wish to check real time power generation for the island of Oahu here is the link: https://www.islandpulse.org In my opinion, because of Hawaii being an energy island and not connected to the grid, it is an excellent living laboratory to show what the “Green New Deal” could mean for America. They are graced with ample wind and sunshine, but depend on fossil fuels for much of their reliable power. Thus, the highest cost electricity7 in America.
For the rest of America, (not including Hawaii and California) a balanced portfolio of generation has helped keep energy costs reasonable and helped fuel our economy. America’s economy was doing very well until the Pandemic.
In the previous Part 4, the rise of China during the last twenty years is highlighted. China, by utilizing fossil fuels has greatly surpassed America’s use of coal. The high cost of electricity in Hawaii is discussed above. This may not be a problem for Hawaii because the power is used by government facilities, by hotels, restaurants, commercial and residential customers. But, the high cost electricity definitely rules out heavy manufacturing and primary metals production.
As a Patriotic American, I would like to see us mine, manufacture and produce most of the products needed for our lifestyles from within our borders. Including aluminum, copper and steel production. Doing so and remaining competitive in the world requires low cost electricity. I have mentioned this before, it takes about 5kWh of electricity to smelt one pound of aluminum metal. If the aluminum is selling for about $0.80/pound and if electricity was to cost at the wholesale rate, about $0.10/kWh then over 62% of the production cost of aluminum would be in electric power. Of course, this does not include the electricity and energy costs for mining the Bauxite, shipping, and for forging, rolling and forming aluminum sheet or bars. Reasonable Electricity costs are necessary to create competitive manufacturing costs.
National Security has to be considered too. International tensions and Wars have been fought over control of energy resources. Think back to before WWl when Winston Churchill converted the British Navy from coal to oil fuel. Then following WWll the Father of the American Nuclear Navy, Hyman Rickover saw the need for a better fuel for the US Navy. Now, America’s aircraft carriers and submarines are fueled by nuclear and can stay operational without refueling for decades. The American and world fleet of nuclear power plants owe their existence to Admiral Rickover and with some political help from President Eisenhower. So, for National Defense some major ships and submarines are powered by nuclear. However, helicopters, F-22’s, F-35’s, FA-18’s and Army tanks are fueled by Jet Fuel or Diesel. Keeping the abundant fuel supplies within our borders and secure is a part of our promoting Peace from a position of strength. Being against Fracking, against exploring and Drilling is a path that has a very distinct downside. In America we have found a balance of protecting the environment while still producing coal, oil and natural gas. Keeping the balance is important. Kindly scroll up to the EIA chart of energy used in the year 2019. Note that 89% of our energy is from conventional sources. Let’s not elect leaders that will cause harm and unnecessary risk to our country.
The foregoing are some of the reasons why I believe the “Green New Deal” is bad for America.
Another well researched document on why the Green New Deal will not work is authored by Mark P. Mills of the Manhatten Institute 8. Check his article for more details, link below.
Economic prosperity and energy use have gone hand in hand for most of history. This blog is about the importance of energy today so let’s just go back about 140 years or so. The first battery in the world was invented by Antonio Volta at the beginning of 19th century. In 1831, Michael Faraday devised a machine that generated electricity from rotary motion, but it took almost 50 years for the technology to reach a commercially viable stage. In 1878, Thomas Edison (U.S.A) developed the first stable and domestic light bulb which led to the first commercial power plant in 1882. Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla all had parts in developing and commercializing the generation of electricity in America. Edison’s Pearl Street Station, is in my understanding, the first central station power plant in the world. It was started up about 1881. It was Direct Current. Then in 1897 George Westinghouse and Nikolai Tesla completed the first major Alternating Current Power Station at Niagara Falls. Here are excerpts of a speech by Nikola Tesla:
Nikola Tesla’s Speech at Niagara Falls Opening Ceremony
“We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom. In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion. But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace. It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering” – Nikola Tesla’s speech at the opening ceremony of the hydroelectric power station, January 12, 1897.
The Industrial Revolution had already began but now in the 20th Century the Developed World had electricity to drive economic progress forward. Tesla, Westinghouse and Edison had started an incredible Century of Industrial growth made possible by harnessing energy.
When I worked for Carolina Power and Light the CEO at the time, was Sharon Harris, (he, Bill Lee of Duke Power and other Electric Utility Executives) used to give speeches and proudly show a chart of electricity and energy use correlated with economic growth. In previous chapters I have discussed the importance of heat engines. Most electricity in the world is generated from thermal power plants. Large hydro-electric plants like Niagara Falls, Grand Coulee Dam or the Three Gorges Dam in China are huge. However, there are limited sites for hydro-electric power on the planet and most of the electricity is generated from thermal power stations. Vaclav Smil has written a book on the history of “Energy and Civilization”. One of the graphs included is the one below which shows the primary energy used from the year 1800 to 2019. Quality of life and as the investor owned electric utilities coined the phrase in the 1950’s “Living Better Electrically” was indeed true. Industrial output as well as air conditioning, heating and cooking became much improved after electricity became readily available.
In America, our manufacturing output dominated the world in with America’s immense productive capacity. Especially during and following WWll when America became the “Arsenal of Democracy” and ramped up steel, aluminum and war materiel production to provide the U.S. Military as well as our Allies with ships, planes and arms. After the war, America turned to manufacturing for building infra-structure, cars, trucks, airplanes and home appliances. Living Better Electrically became a reality.
The manufacturing increases in the U.S.A. 1940-1960 were the envy of the world. These were driven by energy and in particular, coal energy. Here below is a graph from the EIA which I used in a presentation to an ASME meeting in 2015 to discuss the “Importance of Coal” The parallel growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and coal usage were very proportional.
America’s Major Fuels
Coal was the dominant fuel starting about the mid 19th Century until the last decade. Nuclear became important starting about 1960. Then natural gas became competitive and today is the dominant fuel for America’s electricity generation.
Admiral Hyman Rickover invented nuclear propulsion systems for the U.S. Navy at the end of WWll. Then about 1957 through President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” Initiative, Admiral Rickover was asked to work with the private sector to develop peaceful nuclear power plants. The first of these was Shippingport, near Pittsburgh, PA. Between 1960 and about 1980 over 100 nuclear power stations were built and commissioned in America. After the accident (No one was injured or killed) at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, no more nuclear units were purchased until about thirty years later with the Southern Company Vogel nuclear plant expansion. (Still under construction, expected to startup in 2022). The nuclear plants are important too. Although today there are just under 100 operating nuclear plants, nuclear energy provides about 20% of America’s electricity. Before the Shale Gas Revolution, nuclear plants provided the lowest cost electric power generation.
A Few Words on Solar and Wind Power
My purpose in starting this Blog is to provide information related to energy and economic prosperity with a focus on Heat-Engines that provide most of our (and all of the Developed World’s power) motive force for driving transportation, industrial production and electricity.
Excessive renewable power has been forced onto the Grid because of Laws and Regulations. My friend Donn Dears has an excellent Blog “Power for the U.S.A.” where he addresses regulations and more advanced discussions of why renewable power has caused so many problems. In fact, his book “The Looming Energy Crisis, Are Blackouts Inevitable” covers much on this topic. Suffice it to say, wind and solar power is being forced onto the Grid by Rigged Auctions. If you wish further information on this, I recommend visiting Donn Dears Blog and buying his book mentioned above. Here is a link to Mr. Dear’s Blog: https://ddears.com/2020/09/22/ferc-ruling-underscores-the-looming-energy-crisis/
In 2019 the fuels used to generate America’s electricity were:
38.4% of America’s electricity was generated from natural gas
17.5% Renewables of which about 40% was from old hydroelectric generators
The great abundance of our electricity generation comes from Heat-Engines, to be precise about 82%. Now let’s review the shale gas revolution and the part it played in keeping electricity generation costs reasonable to power the American economy.
THE SHALE GAS REVOLUTION, Thanks to Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)
It was about 2009-2012 that natural gas became much more abundant in the U.S.A. due to the disruptive technology of Hydraulic Fracturing combined with Directional Drilling. As America progressed into becoming the world’s largest natural gas producer, natural gas power plants started replacing coal power ( and sadly, some nuclear units) generation.
The economics of selecting the fuel to use is based on the production cost of electricity. The cost to produce electricity includes a number of components: Amongst these cost factors are, the cost of the fuel, Capital cost to build the plant, operational labor costs, maintenance costs and environmental reagents and chemicals.
Natural gas plants with a high efficiency are hard to beat for producing the lowest cost electricity as long as gas prices are below $3.00/million Btu’s and providing the gas is abundant and available with operating pipelines. In western PA, gas is an easy solution. In northern Alaska or Hawaii, there are few, if any gas lines. Therefore the fuel choices and equipment choices to produce the lowest cost electricity can vary drastically by states and even within each state.
The correlation of electricity consumption and GDP is very much influenced by industrial production. Producing primary metals of aluminum, copper and steel for example use enormous amounts of electricity. A so called Steel “Mini Mill” will use about 175,000 kW of electricity. An aluminum smelter, depending on the size, about 400,000 kW. It takes about 5 kWh of electricity to produce one pound of aluminum ingot from aluminum oxide. So as more industrial output is built, so does the electricity demand increase. Conversely, as America became de-Industrialized in the late 1990’s after NAFTA and later when China entered the World Trade Organization, then much electricity capacity that was used for primary metals production and manufacturing became available for commercial and residential use. This shift from industrial consumption to residential and commercial consumption helped keep America’s electricity prices reasonable.
Energy Fuels the Rise of China’s Manufacturing and Economic Strength 2001-2020
The reader will likely be well informed on the Industrial Revolution and growth of American manufacturing during the 20th Century. The growth of China’s Manufacturing and Economy between the year 2001 and 2020 is startling. Unfortunately, the growth of China’s manufacturing came at the expense and loss or transfer of much of America’s heavy industry. Especially energy intensive manufacturing of steel and aluminum. China currently produces about 50% or more, of the world’s steel and aluminum. So, let’s explore the growth of China’s aluminum industry and how the energy production paralled that rise.
Another chart below shows how China’s Electric Production 1980 through 2019:
China built hundreds of large coal plants and also completed the Three Gorges Dam which is the largest Hydro-Electric plant in the world. Much of this electricity production was utilized for primary metals production and manufacturing. The figure below shows the comparison of China’s manufacturing output compared to America’s.
The aluminum ingots on a dock in China ready for export to the world. Production of all primary metals is energy intensive. However, aluminum requires enormous amounts of electricity to produce ingot metal from aluminum oxide. If you correlate the coal electricity prodution increases with aluminum production one can see where a lot of the electricity was utilized.
In July 2016, I prepared a presentation to “The Delaware County Bar Association”. This is in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. My presentation was to show the linkage of energy, electricity, jobs and Real-Estate and how energy impacted the Pennsylvania economy in 2016. Having worked with ALCOA ( a PA based company) as a consultant/contractor from 1977-2012, I had a “Fly on the Wall” viewpoint of how China was over-producing and dumping aluminum metal ingots on the world markets. The full text of my presentation is included in this Blog if the reader is interested. See “Energy and Economic Prosperity, July 15, 2016”. It is one of the first entries to this WordPress site.
Perhaps a stretch on the correlation to PA Real-Estate transactions , but World Competitiveness of primary metals and energy costs are a little more direct. The next graph is Chinese aluminum production during the period that they were accepted into the WTO (World Trade Organization). It is pretty drastic and from my personal experiences, had been working as a consultant/contractor for ALCOA Worldwide Alumina. My first assignemnt with ALCOA was in 1977 at the Mobile, AL Refinery. Now shut down. I worked for ALCOA almost every year since then up to about 2012. The plant shutdowns in the U.S.A. were sickening to observe. ALCOA went from a workforce of about 125,000 in about 2003 to about half that in a decade. Meanwhile, China’s aluminum production ramped up sharply as China exceeded all of the rest of the world’s production capacity. The metal was agressively traded on the Free Markets of the London Metal Exchange and eventually achieving more than 50% of the worlds production. The story for steel production is similar.
SUMMARY and CLOSING
It was my intention for this section to illustrate how Energy and Economic Prosperity are inextricably linked. The two main comparisons in the foregoing were the rise of the U.S.A. and China. The U.S.A. rise in world status began about 1890, the approximate time that electricity was commercialized, until present. China had the advantage of copying the electric producing equipment and electrification model used by America. When China’s rise began it was as a result of agressive manufacturing, powered mostly from coal fueled thermal power generation plants. The proceeds of exported manufactured products then fueled their economy. This incredible rise took only about twenty years. America’s rise had taken about 100 years. China had the advantage of using American technology and expertise’ with very little Regulations on air and water quality to build their enormous capacity in power generation. This accellerated following the admission of China to the WTO. Following 2001, China rapidly expanded their electricity production capacity. Unfortunately for the U.S.A., the rise of China manufacturing was largely at the expense of American manufacturing capacity and jobs.
My point in this section is to simply show the relationship of energy and economic prosperity. I hope you find it interesting.
The U.S. Department of Energy, through the EIA (Energy Information Administration) keeps up with the energy used by America. The measurement used is the BTU or British Thermal Unit. One BTU is the amount of heat required to raise one pound of water (about a pint) one degree Fahrenheit. Thus heating a pound of water from 32 degrees F. to 212 degrees F. requires 180 BTU’s. So, why is it important to know how many Btu’s are utilized? The reason is that 90% of the energy used in America is used by Heat-Engines to provide the motive force for vehicles, airplanes, drive electric generators and power industry. America in 2019 used about 100.2 Quadrillion Btu’s. Here is how these units of heat energy were utilized:
Most folks don’t think about Heat-Engines and their importance to provide our everyday high quality of lives. The facts are that Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Thermal Power from Biomass together consume about 90% of our total energy. Did you ever consider that a Boeing 747 at cruise will consume about a gallon of jet fuel a second and burn about ten tons of jet fuel/hour of flight time. Everyday when you are driving you enjoy the convenience of your personal vehicle and see many large trucks delivering needed goods to local stores or shipping interstate. Electric vehicles are becomeing more common on the highway, but they too are using energy that originated (80+%) as either coal, natural gas or nuclear energy. An electric vehicle such as a Tesla uses stored electricity to power the vehicle. The electricity to charge the batteries (usually) comes from the American electric grid, most of which (about 80%) is provided by conventional energy of natural gas, nuclear and coal.
The intent of this chapter is to describe Heat-Engines. So lets first look at the example of a steam turbine commonly used in thermal power generation plants.
Each Btu is worth 778 foot pounds of mechanical Energy if converted from heat to work at 100% efficiency.
In essence, this is the process that takes place in all steam powered thermal power plants. Whether wood, coal, Biomass, natural gas or nuclear fueled. The heat is used to generate steam and then the steam is passed through a steam turbine to produce electricity. The figure below shows examples of heat engines that we depend on every day. Each of these converts heat energy from fossil fuels into motive force for either transportation or the generation of electricity.
Each of the examples above are heat engines. The auto and aircraft engines are internal combustion engines. The car uses a gasoline engine. The jet airliner uses a jet engine. The steam turbine (is really an external combustion engine) in the lower center has the top half of the shell removed to expose the turbine blading and rotor. The large reciprocating Diesel engine driven generator in the lower right is a drive engine for a ship and uses the Diesel cycle. Another version of a reciprocating internal combustion engine is the natural gas fueled, spark ignited gas engine. A natural gas reciprocating engine will look very similar to a Diesel or gasoline reciprocating engine. The steam turbine uses steam generated in a boiler, thus the combustion is external to the steam turbine and it would be considered an “External Combustion Engine”.
Modern Coal plants use the Rankine steam cycle to generate electricity.
The process of converting coal energy to electricity is shown below. In this example about 0.8 pound of coal is used to generate one kilowatt of electricity. One kilowatt hour of electricity is about the same as using ten 100 watt light bulbs or one toaster for an hour.
The illustration is greatly simplified. In order to achieve high efficiency a clean coal fueled power plant has lots of complicated equipment and the steam turbine is multiple stages of highly precise manufacture. A typical electric utility scale steam turbine is shown below. This is the prime mover to spin the rotor (magnet) of the generator.
A schematic of a modern coal plant which utilizes the Rankine steam cycle is shown below. This shows the water, steam, cooling water flows through the boiler, steam turbine-generator and condenser. The illustration does not include the enormous amount of equipment for fuel preparation and emissions control. Solid fuels require much more equipment to convert the heat to electricity than liquid or gaseous fuels.
Here below is a modern four unit, 2,400 MW coal power plant. In this example, the four boilers are the tallest structures and are about as tall as twenty story building. The stacks are about 300 ft tall. The plume of gases coming our of the stacks is water vapor. This is steam released as the exhaust flue gases are cleaned from sulfur using limestone slurry of water and powdered lime. Known in the industry as Flue Gas Desulfurization. So the white plumes are simply water vapor from the cleaned flue gases. Also within the plumes are the invisible gases of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen.
A 2,400 MW power plant when operating at full capacity (depending on the heating value of the coal fuel) will burn about 2,000,000 pounds per hour of coal. Supplied by 100 ton rail cars this is about 10 rail cars per hour of fuel. The raw coal supplied from the mines is pulverized to a fine powder slightly more coarse than face powder and is conveyed to the furnaces using fans to mix the powdered fuel with air. The coal is burned in suspension in the furnaces much like a huge gas flame. A schematic of a typical Utility scale Steam Generator (Boiler) is shown below.
This description is intended for High School students and to provide a brief overview of the various heat-engines that we depend on each day. Suffice it to say, a large coal power plant is a very complicated and very large complex of equipment. In essence a huge “Heat-Engine” that uses solid fuel, coal. The coal is burned in the furnace above reaching peak temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the products of combustion pass through the boiler the water entering is heated to steam at up to 1,150 degrees F. and the flue gases (Products of combustion) are cooled to about 300 degrees F. The flue gases are then treated with emissions equipment to remove the oxides of nitrogen, the sulfur and the solid ash particulates. The solid ash particles are referred to as being Flyash and today much of the flyash is recycled to use in high strength concrete. Much of the FGD scrubber slurry waste (calcium sulfate) is recycled into sheetrock for home building.
A modern, clean coal plant such as the above example may require a staff of about 160 full time employees. One of the reasons coal plants have difficulty competing with natural gas plants is the large number of personnel and the costs of fuel preparation, maintenance and cost of chemical reagents to remove the sulfur and oxides of nitrogen from the exhaust gases. A Gas Turbine Combined cycle plant of four units and also producing 620 MW will require a staff of about 25 employees. A four unit 2,400 MW of power will require a much smaller staff than a similar sized coal plant, about 40 full time employees.
The choice of the fuel and prime mover depends on the geography and availability of coal, natural gas or nuclear fuel. Alaska for example is most suitable for coal because there is not a network of gas pipelines. Also, the demand for power is less than would be justified to construct a large nuclear plant. Coal plants are also common and competitive in Developing Nations such as African and Asian countries.
Background on How Natural Gas Plants Using Aeroderivative Gas Turbine Drives Have Replaced Much of America’s Coal Electric Power Generation
Up till about the year 2010 about 50% of America’s electricity was generated from coal and about 20% from nuclear. Then came Hydraulic Fracturing and oil and gas production in the U.S.A. from locations that were not anticipated before, such as North Dakota and Pennsylvania. The U.S.A. after ten years or so of successful and highly productive Hydraulic Fracturing and directional drilling, the U.S.A. has become the world’s #1 oil and gas producing nation. What does this mean? It means economic prosperity for the U.S.A. but also it has been a disruptive economic force in electric power generation. Because about 75% of the production cost of electricity from a coal plant is fuel, the new low cost natural gas has made natural gas a less expensive fuel option for power generation. In addition, the Gas Turbine Combined Cycle Power Plants have become the most efficient “Heat-Engines” ever developed. A GTCC Power Plant has far less components than a similar sized coal plant, thus a much smaller staff and overall has lower operations & maintenance production cost. (GTCC=Gas Turbine Combined Cycle) Because of the small staff the main production cost for electricity from a GTCC plant is fuel. The natural gas fuel is about 90% of the production cost of electricity from a GTCC plant.
Further, not only lower fuel costs than coal, the GTCC plants are now approaching 65% Thermal Efficiency. More on thatin a later chapter on economics of power generation.
How Did Jet Airplane Engines Fit Into Electric Power Generation?
Jet aircraft engines have been used for air travel and military uses since the 1950’s. The jet engine is another form of internal combustion engine. For jet airplanes, the engine creates hot air and gases that are forced out the rear of the engine thus causing thrust, a force to propel the airplane forward. For planes designed to fly less than about 450 mph, such as Regional Air Transportation, a Turbo-Prop is more efficient than jet thrust alone. A derivation of the jet engine is to use the hot air and combustion products to force over a gas turbine rotor and turn a shaft which in turn drives a propellor. This is called a “Turbojet”. Many Regional commuter airliners use propellors driven by a turbojet engine. A turbo-prop engine is shown below.
Turbo-Prop Engine fueled by jet fuel. The jet engine provides hot gases to spin the turbine which creates shaft power to drive the propellor.
The jet engines and turbo prop engines have advanced in power and efficiency drastically since first use during WWll. The advancements have been applied to Gas Turbines used for power generation in stationary power plants. This gas turbine engines which are derived from the best aviation jet engines to power generation have been referred to as “Aeroderivative”. That is because the R&D that was invested in developing the most powerful and highly efficient jet engines has been adapted to electric power generation using natural gas fuels. The G-E “F Class” Series of “Gas Turbine as installed in many modern natural gas fueled power generation plants. A G-E Gas Turbine is shown below. Siemens, Mitsubishi, Rolls-Royce, Pratt-Whitney and a few other world manufacturers also design and manufacture large Utility Scale Gas Turbines.
As described earlier, the gas turbine drives a shaft which is connected to a generator to produce electricity. Here is a schematic of the gas turbine combined cycle plant exhausting heat to a steam generator that then provides steam to a steam turbine. This is called a Gas Turbine, Combined Cycle Power Plant. The combined cycle is using two cycles for power generation, the internal combustion (Brayton) cycle and the external combustion (Rankine) steam cycle. By combining the two cycles overall efficiencies have reached the highest of any other thermal power generatioin cycle or process at up to 65% efficient.
A modern 620 MW Gas Turbine, Combined Cycle Power Plant is shown below. This is the Duke Energy, Buck Plant located near Salisbury, NC.
South Carolina has generated about 28.6% of the electricity consumed from natural gas fuel. Most of that is through gas turbine combined cycle plants similar to the Duke Buck Plant in the photo above. FYI, North Carolina generated about 33% of that states electricity from natural gas.
Up to this point we have discussed the reciprocating gasoline engine, the Diesel, coal plants, jet engines and gas turbines. All of these are variations of “Heat-Engines” they convert heat energy into thrust or shaft horsepower that is a motive force for either propulsion of a vehicle, train, ship or plane or for turning a shaft that drives an electric generator. These engines consume a high percentage of the total energy utilized in America. Next covered is nuclear which has generated about 18-20% of America’s electric power for decades. A nuclear plant produces steam using the heat of nuclear fission. The steam is then passed through a steam turbine, much the same as in a coal plant described above. Here below is a schematic of a nuclear power plant using a pressurized water reactor,
Electricity generated from nuclear power also utilizes the steam turbine prime mover as a massive heat engine. Instead of using combustion to provide the heat to produce steam, a nuclear power plant utilizes nuclear fission within the reactor vessel. The primary coolant for the nuclear reaction is water under high pressure so that it will not boil. This loop of hot, pressurized water is circulated through the steam generator where the heat is transferred to the secondary cycle which provides the steam flow to drive the steam turbine. Another version of a “Heat-Engine”
Other Heat-Engines that We Depend on
You have heard of renewable power generation which includes Hydro-electric, solar, wind and biomass. Solar and wind usually generate power directly, although there are a couple of hybrid designs that utilize sunlight to boil water and produce steam. These will not be discussed here.
Biomass fuel such as waste wood or processed wood chips is used much like coal in a boiler furnace to produce steam to drive a turbine generator, Then there is Bio-Fuels such as Ethanol made from corn which is added to gasoline and burned in Internal Combustion engines of our cars and trucks.
Another form of Biomass fuel is Landfill Gas which is methane that is generated from decaying garbage in landfills. This gas is collected and piped to power boilers to generate steam and electricity.
Lastly, a small amount of electricity is generated in the U.S.A. by geothermal power. This is usually in the western U.S.A. in California and Nevada where hot rocks below the ground are used to generate steam which is then passed through a steam turbine generator.
The above serves as a primer to become familiar with the importance of heat engines in our everyday lives.