Thursday, April 19, 2012

From Sweden to the Green River

green riverSort of a silly article from the New York Times:

Internet companies often cloak themselves in an image of environmental awareness. But some companies that essentially live on the Internet are moving facilities to North Carolina, Virginia, northeastern Illinois and other regions whose main sources of energy are coal and nuclear power, the report said.

Virginia generates 36 percent of its electricity from nuclear, 35 percent from coal; North Carolina, 56 percent coal, 31 percent nuclear; and Illinois, 47 percent nuclear, 46 percent coal. So, where clean energy is concerned, internet companies are doing reasonably well given the world we live in.

And some want to improve their profile further:

Apple immediately disputed the report’s findings, saying that the company planned to build two huge renewable energy projects at its recently opened data center in North Carolina that would eventually offset much of the coal-fired and nuclear energy use.

To me, this sounds like the wrong way around – the infrastructure seems plausible as is. Who are Apple and Google and others trying to please, anyway?

In the language of the Greenpeace report, those sources constitute “dirty energy,” meaning nonrenewable.

Oh, them – well, there’s nothing wrong with Greenpeace issuing reports, though I’m sure some of the appeal of moving the data centers to these states is the lure of plentiful and inexpensive electricity – thanks in part to nuclear energy. Apple’s “huge renewable energy projects” will nullify those benefits. (I couldn’t find anything on what Apple has in mind here.)

I was struck by a detail in this PCWorld story that Facebook, in pursuit of renewable energy for its data center, went to Sweden to find it – the center is using solar arrays, which it could have done here as easily if it wanted to. Sweden is already fully covered on the clean energy scale: 46 percent hydro and 43 percent nuclear. Anyway: Good for Facebook and Sweden – since the baseload energy is still half nuclear and all clean. (I recognize that Facebook has an international profile – Google has one of its data centers in neighboring Finland – and just to keep the circle squared, Finland is mostly clean energy, too – 28 percent nuclear, 16 percent hydro and 13 percent coal.)

It’s a little disappointing that the Times decided to gin up one of Greenpeace’s hectoring reports – it’s doing it again today. Feh.

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One of the problems with building a power plant is that it needs water, so if you want to build such a plant in a barren part of the country, you have to locate near whatever source exists. In Utah, that’s the Green River, described as a “robust tributary of the Colorado River.”

The problem is that the Green River cannot guarantee enough water to operate a plant year-round and there has to be an alternative source when that happens.

A company called Blue Castle, which wants to build a nuclear facility on the Green River, has settled on a reservoir:

The news release added that Blue Castle would have to have contingency plans if, for some reason, less water is available. The company plans to solve that problem by building an onsite reservoir that would hold a 30-day supply of water.

Blue Castle's chief executive officer is Aaron Tilton, who sat on the legislature's utilities committee, where he was an outspoken proponent of nuclear energy. While he was still in office, Tilton formed a nuclear energy development company, a forerunner to Blue Castle.

Blue Castle has permission to use the Green River water when it can be used and Tilton makes the case for it.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Tilton acknowledged that "water is everything" in the West. But he also pointed out that the nuclear facility will use less than one percent of Utah's water allotment while increasing the state's electricity production by 50 percent.

Blue Castle has worked through issues diligently, as it should (and must), showing that its project will not harm fish and turning to the reservoir to cover drier spots (the river’s water has to give primacy to farming and drinking.) Environmentalists have kicked up a bit of a fuss, but Tilton seems fairly sure Blue Castle will prevail – as far as Utah is concerned, has prevailed.

There’s a lot more information in the story by David Hasemyer and it’s well worth reading for an exceptionally balanced view of the project. Whether Blue Castle can really get a facility built depends on a lot of factors – money not least among them – but so far, so good.

Correx: Made a better stab at the Finnish electricity mix. Still pretty good.

The Green River from the Deso Overlook. Not where the plant would go – but pretty none-the-less.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your figures for finnish energy mix are wrong. There is no geothermal here. Nuclear accounts perhaps 25%, but you should check this.