Sunday, November 08, 2009

Why Co Gen is not just distraction

Yesterday, I tweeted about an Insider Business story on Co Generation (Co Gen). Co Gen is where in a power generation process, you also harvest heat as stream or hot water. @Olga_Galacho and I had a bit a a dialogue about it. This is a topic where 140 character just isn't enough.

The conversation:

Me: #insidebusiness Looking at BlueGen co gen box. Still trying to think of ways to get cattle to shit in the one spot!

Me: @Olga_Galacho did you see #insidebusiness today. Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer.

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 did you see #insidebusiness today. Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 co gen is a distraction from the main game. it helps a little, but we should be putting our energies/money into pure renewables

Me: @Olga_Galacho I was looking at using methane, not petroleum gas. Co gen as part of a integrated distributed power grid

Me: @Olga_Galacho Always take systems apart. CoGen is abt combustion to generate power, while harvesting useful heat. Then question what to burn

Me: @Olga_Galacho the point is that the methane in cow shit was in the atmosphere a year ago, it's bioshere carbon, not fossil #carbonaudit

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 either way, you burn something, you produce GHG- all cogen does is partly filter the crap - still get crap, just less

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 cogen really just serves to justify continuing to validate ff sector - a stepping stone to avoid methinks

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you think co gen is to be avoided then you need to understand the carbon cycle. My view on Algae

Me: @Olga_Galacho correct to 2 tweets back 'the methane in cow shit' should bave read 'the carbon in methane in cow shit'

Expanding of my tweets (aka why 140 character is never enough)

In the Inside Business story they talked about burning petroleum gas. I'll agree with Olga here. It's just burning fossil fuel more efficiently. This isn't an affective global warming strategy.

But to use gas powered Co Gen to simple dismiss Co Gen misses the full implications of the technology, particularly in a distributed electricity grid context.

It really does come down to what you burn and where's it comes from.

What you burn? I would think you could burn methane with little modification in the BlueGen box. The Americans, British and Europeans have a tradition of heating using domestic furnaces. I've only seen this kind of heating used in a small number of schools in Australia. Co gen is one step up from this, generation high grade electricity from the combustion, before it is dispersed as low grade heat. The Austrians are using wood pallet powered co gen in some their apartment block sized heating systems. Clearly, wood pallet isn't a fossil fuel. Therefore, if the production is done correctly, it is a sustainable fuel.

Where's it from? I've said before that "Carbon accounting strike me as simplistic, quantitative (at the expense of qualitative) and proven to creative accounting. Very spinable". Accounting methane is an good example of where you need to be qualitative. Methane can come from any number of sources. For simplicity, I'm just going to use two in this accounting. Coal seam methane and cow shed methane.

Coal seam methane is clearly a fossil fuel, even if the Federal Govt. has included it in the Renewable Energy Target. *poke*

Cow shed methane is part of the ongoing carbon cycle. The carbon in methane came from the grass the cow eat. That grass photosynthesised that carbon out of the air over that last year. A year ago it was most likely in the atmosphere. Don't count this carbon!

Cattle methane has subtle complex. Remember we have far more cattle now than we did 250 years ago, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The reason we have so many cattle is that we used that wealth of energy from coal and oil to improve production and lifestyle, including increases in meat and milk consumption. Even the quantity of cattle methane is fossil fuel related.

I don't think it should be accounted in Carbon budgets. Why. Because the number of cattle is tied to fossil fuel, as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, the increased cost of meat and milks production will reduce the numbers of cattle. For example, in Australia, is means that the least viable farm lands with go back to scrub and forest. This both improves local rainfall and increases timber yield. What happens to total yields. How knows? Improved rainfall, changes in technology and practices, and more people involved in agriculture due to less fossil fuel; all effect yield in unforeseeable ways.

The carbon in cattle shit is part of the back ground 250ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. Part of the seasonal ebb and flow in the atmospheric carbon level.

Stop introducing fossil fuels into the biosphere and the carbon cycle will rebalance itself if we let it.

Harvesting an in balance local system means taking yield where ever one can. Be it vegetable, meat or fibre.

Going veg is a poor substitute for the hard job of going cold turkey on fossil fuels and living locally.

After I posted this post, the conversation re-continued on twitter. I've added some notes in italics.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 have to fess i didnt read the link...will do and revisit my tweets @gnoll Had story about co gen box & it's Aussie manufacturer

Me: Yesterday, @Olga_Galacho & I tweeted abt Co Generation (Co gen). One of us thinks it's a distraction, the other doesn't

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 You want to harvest cow shed methane? Like battery cows as opposed to free range cows? #Co-Generation

Me: @Olga_Galacho lol No. People harvest methane from dairies at milking time. Cattle shit any where. Imagine if toilet trained like cats!

Me: @Olga_Galacho by the way, they do have battery cattle, it's called feed lotting.

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 Cattle shit any where. Imagine if toilet trained like cats!

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 we cld train em to tweet too, so we learn what they think of this

Just great, feed lotting in the dark!

Me: @Olga_Galacho Feed lotting is not a sustainable practice. To much oil needed and don't like the practice from welfare point of view.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Im sticking to my guns...u cant right a wrong with another wrong ...#co generation doesnt impress me enough

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 dont be selective & forget to add ALL my tweets in this #co gen dialog with u to your blog :)

Done, too much cut & paste :P

Me: @Olga_Galacho Yer, will add the new tweets. Complete when I started writing. I still say co gen has place in an integrated local environment

Me: @Olga_Galacho "cant right a wrong with another wrong" What are the two wrong? Just see co gen as tech. Pick what you need for your situation

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Ok, we'll have to agree to disagree. When I get my blog started, I'll tell u why in more than 140 characters :)

Me: @Olga_Galacho Just a high tech pot belly stove. You choose where to put it and what to fuel it with.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Real problem is that we've become addicted to the vast amounts of energy that fossil fuel produces. Need to cut the habit!

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 wrong 1. methane. wrong 2. burning methane. & yes i know methane is more wicked than co2

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 it follows that if u encourage All #co-gen then u encourage greater harvesting of fossil fuels for combustion.

Missed this post in the stream. The key word in All. I'm talking about using biomass. Carbon that's already in the carbon cycle.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 including methane in RET was immoral

That depends on the methane's source, coal seam is a big no. Cow shed/Dariy methane is fine for RET.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Fine, ignore methane. Use wood pallet from forestry by cuts & coppicing. It's small scale, ideal for integrated local economy.

Me: @Olga_Galacho as long as the ash ends up back in the forest/wood lot, system is still sustainable. Sun light in > electricity out.

@Olga_Galacho nope - fewer cows, fewer felled trees. Like I said, dont feed a bad habit RT @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho Fine, ignore methane. Use wood pallet

Think we well end up with fewer cattle, as meat & milk become more of a luxury. Without fossil fuels, the landscape need to be work again for energy as well as food. See more tree felling, Ben Law style, not less in a post fossil fuel world.

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you drop fossil fuels then you're back to solar, wind, hyrdo, bio mass etc. Like we did before 1750AD, but with more tech.

Me: @Olga_Galacho For me its not weather a particular substance is good or bad. Its the system that produced it.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Now you're talkin my lingo RT @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho If you drop fossil fuels then you're back to solar, wind, hyrdo, bio mass

Me: @Olga_Galacho Coal seam methane = bad. Open grazed dairy = good. Remember that scale of these things will reduce greatly if no fossil fuels.

Me: @Olga_Galacho I think you'll find these co gen systems are efficient in the bio mass to energy stakes.

Think our main source of difference is our different professional backgrounds. Olga as the story telling Journo versus my take it apart and flog the useful bits Analyst/Programmer outlook.

Update, the second

@Olga_Galacho RT @gnoll110 Olga as the story telling Journo versus my take it apart and flog useful bits Analyst/Programmer outlook.

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Im going to take offence at being called a story teller ... where do you get off, Mr Analyst/Programmer

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 analyse this: Im not telling a story. Im telling the facts. Facts are too much energy time money being spent on distractions

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Cut the middle man (technology) out and go straight to main game (centralised & distributed renewables) then cows can fart away

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 I object to your last word on I challenge you to add my tweets from this evening

Me: @Olga_Galacho Story teller is good, it a skill I wish I had. Look at #4corners this week.

Me: @Olga_Galacho Facts are generally boring, pgs & pgs of boring. It taking all that facts & building story for the street that's media's job

Me: @Olga_Galacho If you read again, I said we use to much energy now, that's what 'scaling down' is all about.

I'm serous Olga, from my point of view, media's main job is collecting facts and sub stories, then analysing them and building new interesting holistic stories that the street can understand and be educated by. Given how tabloid media uses its story telling skill, I can understand why the term 'story telling' is one you don't want used. If you don't tell a story at all, then your article would be dry proses with lists of references to relevant books, papers and other sources. The stuff of scientific & industry journals. Something that would be read be others already interested in the topic, but not by the street.

Your holistic story (top down) and my reductionist pulling it apart (bottom up) are both of use here. I was just saying we started looking at this from different angles.

I apology for any hurt using the term 'story telling' may have caused, none was intended.

I do understand that we need to use far less energy to fit back into the Earth's 'annual solar energy budget'. That is why I said we need to harvest all renewable sources. It's a rather large turkey we need to go cold on.

Cattle methane is a renewable. They don't eat coal & petroleum. They eat grass that is partly carbon photosynthesised out of the air over the last year, generally. By definition this makes it a renewable too. I'm serous here too. I said it's all about analysing the cycles of nature, particularly energy and carbon. Nitrogen is an interesting cycle to follow too, but that's another story. To not include cattle methane as a bio mass renewable show this analysis of the carbon cycle wasn't done. You may think it too small scale to be useful, but it is still a renewable.

True, the main game for big cities is likely to be is centralised long distance renewables (note I use 'long distance' instead of 'distributed'). I think for towns, rural & remote, the future is many distributed small local energy sources.

Personally I think 'private wire' systems (local unconnected wire systems owned by local co-ops) are a good thing for rebuilding local economies. Exactly because they cut out the middlemen. I'm also sure big business will fight to keep them illegal and unviable using lobbyists, the law, red tape and all the games (near) monopolies play.

System leakage in moving food and power over distance when combined with the steeply increasing value of the energy being lost has implication. I think that ultimately this factor will halt to the growth and then shrink large cities in the long term.

Olga, I'm sticking to me gun here. I do think it's our difference professional outlooks that is the difference. I think you see it as a distraction because you're looking at the short term, big picture story of big fossil fuel using co gen as a stop gap, that in turns delays renewables take up. I see it as a useful bit of new tech in a small package that can harvest energy from environmental energy/carbon flows in well managed post fossil fuel farming & forestry. If me view of your objections to co gen is difference, please say.

Update, the third

@Olga_Galacho As a matter of FACT, I don't disagree with everything you write, truly I dont. 8) @gnoll110 @Olga_Galacho If you read again, I said ...

Me: @Olga_Galacho ok, tweets and extra comments added RT @Olga_Galacho: I object to your last word... I challenge you...

@Olga_Galacho the distributed energy generation u talk of is chicken shit. I dont want to take my eye off main game. RT @gnoll110

@Olga_Galacho @gnoll110 Repeating I don't disagree with all you say-just don't want to be distracted from, dare I say the dirty word, BASELOAD, renewables

Methane and wood pallet are both baseload renewables. Both can be stored and then burnt when the energy is needed. I understand Austrian companies routinely remote monitor and control apartment size co gen systems across Europe.

There are many battery systems that can be used for storing energy from wind and photo voltaic solar.

As you may have guessed, my favourite technology is the Molten salt thermal system. Like the idea of using for a material that's common and some times a problem.

It this point I'll remind people that there are Solar thermal systems that like methane and wood pallet, include storage/battery function in their design.

I don't think baseload wind and photo voltaic solar is a technical question. It's primaryly a political question.

While Renewable Energy Targets (RET) are low and can include fossil fuel sources like coal seam methane & petroleum gas, there is not reason to add batteries to grid connected wind and photo voltaic solar systems. Why add the expense of batteries while coal and petroleum gas can still be used. You only need to start adding batteried wind and photo voltaic solar when the peak output from these systems gets to a size that it matches total demand in the lowest demand periods. Until this happen there is no reason to 'time shift' energy using batteries.

The refinement of these battery technologies won't happen until governments raise their RET targets to a point where batteried systems must be used. I don't see that happening until a working global agreement on global warming is reached. China & India ain't ready to deal, so I see battery improvement research remaining in limbo with only token green wash money being spent.

Olga, I agree, these methane & wood pallet are generally not applicable in metro area. That's a problem for metro areas, not these systems. Because these systems use trees or grasses and animals to concentrate sunlight as bio mass, they have a natural head start on wind and photo voltaic solar. It remains to be seen if vested interests and economies of scale will produce an energy economy with one or two 'main games'. Pre 1750AD, the landscape was a mosaic of overlapping small systems. The mix determined by the geography, climate, biology and tech at that place and time. Both 'main game' & mosaic are possible, time will tell.