Monday, January 20, 2014

Brightsource and Bechtel Missed the Opportunity for Co-generation at Ivanpah Solar-Thermal Station

Brightsource Ivanpah Unit 1 Solar Receiving Tower under construction in 2012 - Click for larger image (

Brightsource and Bechtel Missed the Opportunity for Co-generation at Ivanpah Solar-Thermal Station

Less than two years ago, I wrote about the rush to industrialize the Mojave Desert with ever-larger solar thermal arrays. The most notable example was Brightsource Energy’s mega-solar plant in California’s Ivanpah Valley, near Primm, Nevada. Together, the three Brightsource units at Ivanpah obliterated 3,500 acres of fragile desert habitat, replacing it with 170,000 motorized, articulating mirrors and three massive receiving towers.

An Aermotor windmill pump provided off-grid water supply and thermal storage in the Mojave Desert one hundred years ago - Click for larger image ( September 24, 2012, Brightsource confirmed that it had synchronized their Unit 1 station with the existing electrical power grid. Although a photo on their website shows most, if not all of the Unit 1 mirrors in operation, no one other than the plants operators knows how many of the articulating mirrors pointed at the receiving tower during synchronization.

While testing prior to synchronization, operators focused many of the Unit 1 mirrors to either side of the receiving tower. Photos taken during the test procedures show an ominous “solar flux” to either side of the receiving tower. As additional heat for steam generation was required, operators quickly moved standby mirrors to focus directly on the receiving tower. Although it amounted to a “proof-of-concept” connection, in the months that have followed, Brightsource has yet to announce repetition of the synchronization process.

As sundown approaches in the desert, the Brightsource Ivanpah thermal solar generating plant will go offline - Click for larger image ( the Ivanpah project represents a quantum leap in solar thermal power generation, no one knows if it will work as planned. Will plant operators be able to point all 170,000 panels at the three receiving towers on any given day? Will the intensity of the reflected solar flux destroy the steam generators at the top of each tower? If Brightsource knows the answer to these questions, they are not talking. Their press releases featured platitudinous and self-congratulatory rhetoric about their first synchronization, but little else about testing protocols and procedures.

Maybe the Ivanpah mega-solar plant will succeed and maybe it will fail, but one mega-mistake is obvious. When Bechtel Corporation planned the facilities for Brightsource, they omitted any onsite thermal storage capability. If the plant ever works, it will produce power only when the sun is shining. When Unlike thermal solar power generation, wind turbines can provide energy whenever the wind blows, even at night - Click for larger image (, Brightsource said that they needed to get “several” plants working without onsite thermal storage prior adding that complexity to future projects. In other words, the technology is not yet ready to do it right.

As we know, the electrical grid is a complex and vulnerable infrastructure. Adding or subtracting too much power too quickly can cause cascading shutdowns of the adjacent grid. If Brightsource and Bechtel can simultaneously synchronize all three units with the grid, the lack of onsite thermal storage will limit electrical power production. If liquid-sodium thermal storage was present at Ivanpah, it could help balance and augment power generation at the site. With onsite thermal storage, co-generation could begin prior to sunrise and the mirrors could come online as The diesel engine on a diesel-electric locomotive can be turned on and off at will - Click for larger image ( thermal storage dissipated. That would allow for a smooth ramp up of power entering the electrical grid. Without co-generation from onsite thermal storage, operators must bring each unit slowly up to power. Once operators achieve that elusive synchronization with the electrical grid, they can then focus additional mirrors on the receiving towers. At some point during the day, one would hope that all 170,000 mirrors would focus on the towers.

In the late afternoon, operators would refocus more mirrors away from the receiving towers. By sunset, the towers would go dark, steam generation would cease and the process of disconnecting each of the three units from the power grid would commence. The following morning, each unit would go through the delicate process of reheating and synchronization with the grid. The situation almost guarantees that the massive plant will rarely achieve maximum power output and will spend much of its time ramping up and ramping back down.

The three solar thermal units at Ivanpah missed the opportunity to utilize passive solar panels as well as reflective mirrors to increase efficiency of the project - Click for larger image ( one has said what would happen if a desert thunderstorm were to move rapidly over the solar array. What effect would so rapid a withdrawal of power do to power generation and synchronization to the electrical grid? What effect would a downpour have on the superheated receiving towers? If storms were in the forecast, the plant would have to operate at lower power, in anticipation of possible weather related shutdowns.

Like an old-fashioned steam locomotive, contemporary steam generators are more efficient and last longer when they operate continuously. Unlike a diesel electric locomotive, which can be brought up to operating temperature quite quickly, the firebox of a steam locomotive is kept hot until it is taken out of operation for maintenance or repair. Restarting these ancient “steam generators” is a time consuming and delicate process. Likewise, daily thermal cycling of the superheated steam generators at Ivanpah guarantees premature wear and increased operating costs.

Although less thermally efficient than a diesel engine, the power system of a steam locomotive is kept hot until taken out of service for maintenance or repair - Click for larger image ( their haste to design and build the largest solar thermal energy station ever, Brightsource and Bechtel have made two potentially fatal errors. First was the aforementioned lack of onsite thermal storage and co-generation. Second was their use of single-sided mirrors for focusing sunlight on to the receiving towers. Had Bechtel taken a little more time in designing the systems, they could have designed the 170,000 articulating mirrors to flip over, thus exposing passive solar electrical panels affixed to their undersides.

If they had utilized this scheme, the majority of panels could start each day in passive solar mode, generating sufficient electrical energy to synchronize with the grid. Upon achieving synchronization, operators could begin flipping panels so that their mirrored sides would focus on a receiving tower. As sundown or a If the Brightsource Ivanpah solar thermal project had included passive solar panels as an alternative source of energy, ramping the project up and down on a daily basis would have been much easier - Click for larger image ( approached, operators could begin flipping panels from reflecting mode to passive reception mode, thus smoothing the ramping down of electrical generation and eventual disconnection from the grid.

The key to this plan is to switch quickly from solar reflecting mode to solar receiving mode. Before state and federal regulators approve construction of any additional solar thermal plants in our fragile desert environment, they should require both thermal storage and passive solar additions as part of any new plant construction.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Trend - Horsepower Mitigation Fees

In the 1930s, the Ford Model A Town Car boasted up to 40 horsepower - Click for larger image (

In 83 Years the Family Sedan Has Gone From 40 to 563 Horsepower

Where else but at the Detroit Auto Show would you hear such a gratuitous falsehood about the new crop of performance cars? Upon the release of the Lexus RC F Coupe, which boasts “more than” 450 horsepower, Toyota Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi said, “There’s a misconception that race cars are hard to drive. In fact, they’re easy in the right hands, because they’ve been purpose built for the skill level of their drivers”. So there you have it, the chief engineer at Toyota unabashedly admitting that Lexus is selling racecars for the street.

By the late 1930s, The Ford Flathead V-8 was the working man's dream machine, featuring 90 horsepower by 1938 - Click for larger image ( the same auto show General Motors 625 horsepower, Z06 Corvette made its debut. Last year, Shelby American, based in Las Vegas, Nevada announced a conversion plan for the production model Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500. With its stock 662 horsepower not considered sufficient by Shelby, they offer to raise its vector thrust to 1,100 horsepower. I could go on, but you get the idea. The horsepower race that started in the 1930s, with the widespread acceptance of V-8 engines goes on unabated.

Formula 1 racecars, which are the fastest driveable vehicles in the world, have a mere 750 horsepower. If such were the case, why would anyone need 1,200 horsepower in a sport coupe that will rarely see a legal speed limit above seventy miles per hour? The first answer is “look at me” ego gratification. The second answer is illegal street racing and demonstrations of power and speed.

I grew up in Southern California and got my first driver’s license in 1964. At that time, the car culture centered on power and speed. By 1970, perhaps epitomizing the muscle car era, the Oldsmobile 442 boasted 365 horsepower. By 1951, the Ford Flathead V-8 engine produced up to 110 horsepower - Click for larger image ( you could use it to cruise Van Nuys Boulevard, it had two main purposes, legal and illegal drag racing.

Today, you can watch any number of TV shows where builders will recreate or resurrect old muscle cars for the nostalgia market. Ironically, even the fastest of the restored muscle cars cannot hold a candle to the power and maneuverability of a current high-end production vehicle. For instance, The BMW M6 Coupe weighs almost two tons, features a twin-turbo V8 that cranks out 560 horsepower and goes from zero to sixty mph in four seconds flat. Goodbye Oldsmobile 442; you are left in the dust.

In the 1960s, Volkswagen went counter to the trend, featuring 40-45 horsepower - Click for larger image ( you drive in Los Angeles, where a disproportionate number of supercars find their homes, you know the trouble that they can cause. A quick trip down almost any LA freeway will expose you to the wrath and fury of the everyman supercar. Whether it is a Dodge Avenger with a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 or a 426 Horsepower Camaro SS, you can expect to be overtaken by someone “blowing out the carbon” from their supercar engine.

The original 1962 Volkswagen Beetle featured a four-cylinder engine producing 40 horsepower. The 612 horsepower 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in which actor Paul Walker recently died was a racecar by design. As such, it only tacitly met the legal requirements of for registration as a street vehicle. In 1966, the 427 Shelby Cobra Super Snake boasted 500 horsepower and a lightweight sportscar chassis. - Click for larger image ( could do zero to sixty in 3.8 seconds and zero to one hundred in under seven seconds.

About seven seconds after driver Roger Rodas put his foot down on the accelerator of the Rodas/Walker death vehicle, he hit a street reflector and went airborne at one hundred miles per hour. With no stability control to save them, both the driver and passenger faced near instant death in a fast and furious single car accident. The only thing we can be thankful for is that there was not a Volkswagen Beetle noodling up the street at that time.

Typically, drivers of supercars see themselves as fully capable of handling whatever happens on the freeways of California. They will tout safety features, such as bigger brakes and elaborate stability control features built into their cars. Horsepower, they say, helps get them out of trouble, not into it. For some that may be true. Other supercar drivers  are nothing more than a menace on our roadways. The problem is that even the most mild mannered Two CHP officers discuss the high-speed wreck of a 2002 Mustang GT into the center divider of Highway 118 near Topanga Canyon - Click for alternate image of the wreck - ( can become ticked off and turn into a road-raging maniac.

Since 1978, the U.S. has had a gas-guzzler tax for low efficiency vehicles. Depending on how poor the mileage actually is, the tax ranges from $1,000 to $7,700. Since no one in Congress or any state legislature is planning to limit the horsepower in street-legal vehicles, we need to take another tack. What we need is safety training and mitigation fees for high horsepower vehicles, similar to what the State of Missouri already assesses. Depending on the horsepower of any particular passenger car, I propose the following:

Family sedan: the turbocharged Rolls Royce Ghost pumps out 563 horsepower from its V-12 engine - Click for larger image ( at 400 horsepower, each new passenger vehicle owner should be required to take a one-day driver-training course, which would focus on performance car driving. They would also pay a $1,000 fee that would increase the number of highway patrol officers and vehicles on the road. A vehicle with 500 horsepower would require a two-day course and a $2,000 highway patrol mitigation fee. Likewise, a 600 horsepower vehicle would require a three-day course and a $3,000 fee. For each additional hundred horsepower, add a day to the driving course and $1,000 in fees.

In the case of the Shelby GT 1000, with 1,200 horsepower, we might top out with a five-day driver-training course and $6,000 in highway patrol mitigation fees. With the total cost of that supercar estimated at $210,000, it would be a small price to pay. Rather than putting a dangerous weapon in the hands of an unskilled driver, we would know that the driver had received sufficient training to handle the power available under foot. Then, if the driver misbehaves on the freeways, blowing an unsuspecting Volkswagen Beetle off the road, there would be a better chance that the highway patrol would catch and reprimand the errant supercar driver for his indiscretion.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Moab Rim RV Campark & Cabins Sold in 2014

The Moab Rim Campark & Cabins in spectacular Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (

Opportunity Knocked - The Moab Rim Campark & Cabins Sold in 2014

Forty-one years after my first visit in 1965, I returned to Moab, Utah in 2006. Although I had lived in Denver in the late eighties and had traveled extensively in the Four Corners region during the interim, Moab had been off my radar for all of that time. In 1965, my father and I visited the area, taking pictures and seeing the sights. Since my father retained most of the original slides, I had a hard time remembering our brief visit to Redrocks. All that I remembered about Moab was a huge pile of nuclear waste that threatened the Colorado Riverway and old Arches National Monument as it must have looked during Edward Abbey’s tenure there.

Site "E" at the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( 2006, I was living a full time RV lifestyle, moving north in the summer and south again each winter. After seeing sky-high property values in Durango and in the Phoenix area, I thought that Moab might still be a place to buy property. My plan was to visit Moab for the summer, staying as long into the fall as the weather would permit. I knew that the summers there were hot, but nothing like the heat island that enveloped Phoenix, Arizona each summer. I also knew that winter in Moab could be quite cold, although I was not sure when the cold weather actually started.

Before my move from Cedar City, Utah, I conducted a two-day scouting trip to Moab. Staying at the venerable Red Rock Lodge, I felt that the place was familiar. Although the rooms seemed clean and new, the polished concrete floor gave away how old the place actually was. The Red Stone Inn was indeed the same place my father and I had stayed during our 1965 visit. Built to help house the many workers and visitors during the 1950’s uranium boom, I wondered if a Geiger counter would start clicking if brought into my room.

A Jeep passes the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins on U.S. Highway 191, south of Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( in Moab, I used most of my time visiting and evaluating each of its many RV parks. Some parks would not rent to me by the month. Others were too expensive for my housing budget. Near the Colorado River, there were too many mosquitoes for my taste. One RV park was adjacent to a horse stable, with all of the attendant dust and odor. Finally, I narrowed my selection to one place. The owners seemed friendly and they were reasonable in the monthly rent that they charged. That place was the Moab Rim RV Campark & Cabins, south of town on U.S. Highway 191.

Every RV park has its compromises, including the Moab Rim. Indeed, there was some noise from the nearby highway and its substantial truck traffic. Although there was still some traffic noise at bedtime, as each night would wear on, the sound subsided until it did not bother my sleep. What made up for the traffic issue was the easygoing feel of the place. Owners Jim and Sue Farrell managed the place by day and went home each night. The owners expected their guests to know the unwritten rules that apply to every RV park. While they went home each night for a good night’s sleep, the Farrell’s trusted us to treat each other and their property with respect.

The snow covered La Sal Range, as viewed from the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( other big draw at the Moab Rim Campark was its setting. Behind the RV park and to the west was the spectacular Moab Rim, which rises untold hundreds of feet above the Moab Valley floor. To the northwest was an unobstructed view toward the City of Moab and the Colorado River beyond. To the north, was the famous Slickrock area, known for hiking, biking and challenging Jeep trails. To the northeast was the most spectacular sight of all. Standing high and proud was the La Sal Range, with peaks over 12,500 feet high. Even in June, a lingering snow pack looked white and even.

Sometimes we cannot choose our neighbors. Just across Canyon Rim Road, which abuts the southern end of the RV park was a construction yard that looked more like a junk yard to me. Derelict trucks and equipment were everywhere, even partially blocking my view of the La Sal Range. After considering that junky view, I decide that it was not enough to deter me from enjoying the other three hundred and fifty degrees of great sights that the Moab Rim Campark had to offer.

The owner's 1950 Chevy pickup truck parked at the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( late June 2006, I took up residence at Site E, located at the far end of the main row. Soon, I set up shop in my travel trailer and resumed my executive recruiting business. For internet access, I used an old 2-G wireless card from AT&T. During the day, everything was fine. I used my mobile telephone to call clients and candidate alike. The wireless card allowed me internet access, as well. Then, each weekday around three, the internet cut off and would not work until well into the evening. After consulting extensively with AT&T, we determined that Moab was far too busy a place for reliable mobile computing. Between the tourists, the locals and emergency responders, there was too little bandwidth in Moab to go around.

Jim & Sue Farrel are the owners of the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image ( changing my work hours to accommodate the wireless issues in Moab, I had time to enjoy myself outdoors each afternoon. I took up running at the local high school track several times each week. Other days, I would visit local points of interest. Retracing my steps from 1965, I visited Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River and many other spots. The supply of amazing natural wonders seemed inexhaustible to me. Now, eight years later, I realize that my 2006 thoughts were correct. Although I have visited Moab at least twice each year since 2006, I have not come close to seeing and doing everything that I would like to see in Moab.

In 2007, I started writing my blog. Looking back on the three hundred articles that I have posted since then, no less than sixty of them are about Moab and Grand County, Utah. Although I did not set out to write so much about Moab, my many visits to the Moab Rim Campark allowed me time to take pictures and At the Moab Rim Campark & Cabins, they can accommodate even the biggest of the big RV's - Click for larger image ( about the places and issues that make Moab unique.

(Author's Note - November 2014) I have the great pleasure to tell the world that the Moab Rim RV Campark & Cabins sold in late 2014. Jim and Sue Farrell, former owners of the RV park told me that new owners will now carry on the tradition of providing the best RV and tent camping in Moab, Utah. Best wishes to all.