The $870 million project was the result of a competitive tender process that will see electricity from the site sold to the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) for around 2.4 cents per kWh, a record at the time of the auction and a record for any completed solar project. It was built by the Indian firm Sterling & Wilson with nearly 3000 people working on site during the peak of activity.
Can this be right? These profit-driven folks can recover their $870 million by selling power at 2.4 cents/kWh? That’s more or less free (the average cost in the U.S. to consumers is about 13 cents/kWh, which of course includes distribution).
Most parts of the U.S. are not as sunny as the UAE, but some parts are. Could we build a monster plant like this in Arizona or Nevada and run the power back to the cloudy East Coast? A friend who used to run a mutual fund that invested in this area said, “It would be a no-brainer economically to run a DC high voltage line from wind farms in Oklahoma to New York City. You could shut down every fossil fuel power plant in New York. But the U.S. power grid is fragmented and the people who stand to benefit from that have enough politicians in their pockets to keep it fragmented. So you’ll never see that power line built.”
Vaguely related: This investor considers Jeff Immelt to be the most incompetent executive in recent American business history. “GE actually made windmills so they knew that the price was going to drop below that of coal-fired power plants,” he said. “Yet still, GE bought Alstom, which has been disastrous. Even if the market for fossil fuel plants had held up, GE was locking itself into French labor, which any rational businessperson would seek to avoid. It is fair to say that the folks at Alstom were a lot smarter than anyone at GE.”
For the rest of the world, where they aren’t as plagued by cronyism in power transmission as we are, will it be time to go nuts with electricity (cars, planes, heat pumps, etc.)?
Also, does this mean we don’t have to worry about about climate change and CO2? Who is going to bother burning fossil fuels for any reason if they can get electricity for 2.4 cents/kWh plus reasonable transmission fees? (Aviation? Just turn the electricity into hydrogen and then run your electric motors off a fuel cell!) We were terrified in the 1970s about burying ourselves in nuclear waste. Then it turned out that we couldn’t operate nuclear plants economically, so the amount of waste generated was much smaller than anticipated (we just burned natural gas and dumped out CO2 instead!).
Why let the amateurs at the power company generate and deliver power in exchange for a monthly subscription fee when you can go into the power generation business yourself?
A local friend (and MIT PhD in EECS!) put solar panels on his roof six years ago, responding to the massive government handouts on offer at the time (thanks, fellow Massachusetts taxpayers!). Roughly half of the panels have now failed, casualties of squirrels, UV light, etc.
Given the rising cost of labor (a bundle of wages and health care expenses), will it turn out that America’s big rooftop solar experiment was a colossal failure from a total lifecycle cost perspective?
Already it seems to me that single-family homes are unaffordable for a typical family because the cost and challenge of bringing contractors in to maintain all of the systems has been growing every year. Adding an electricity generation plant on the roof makes this problem worse.
Posted on Facebook under “Heard it might be a Boeing 737 MAX on way back from Ireland so decided to take a ship for safety.”:
Could this be the world’s most lavish museum devoted to engineering failure? The science turned out not to be settled, unfortunately. Folks in Belfast do like to point out “She was alright when she left here.”
The museum does disclose how badly the first voyage turned out for most people on board:
This was despite substantial government regulation:
Also despite the latest in wireless communication technology:
Yet the skill of management, engineers, and workers is celebrated:
Is it a bad thing when a country goes from being a world industrial leader to irrelevant compared to South Korea, China, and Japan? Barack Obama says “No problemo:”
Passengers were arbitrarily divided into only two genders:
Not every movie about the Titanic is an unimaginative derivative:
Then, as now, the migration industry was highly profitable for some…
A reminder to be humble…
… considering that the best humans could do lasted less than two weeks against Nature. From notes typed up by a shipyard office worker:
The building is a beautiful work of engineering in itself and includes a gratuitous Disney-style ride:
If you’re trying to save a few dollars, maybe a head-mounted display is a good idea. What if you don’t care about capital cost? Disney World has a lot of immersive simulators that don’t require any headgear for the park guests. They just project a virtual world on big curved screens.
What about for home use? Why not build a small room in a house with a curved screen that completely surrounds the player? Use whatever tricks they’re using at Disney to make the projection work, but with $100 LCD projectors instead of the super bright ones needed for the monster domes that hold hundreds of people simultaneously.
If you’ve got your head-mounted VR system on, you’re not going to be a great asset to the rest of the folks in an apartment or house. Why not declare that immersive gaming is an activity that happens in its own room? Maybe it costs $5,000 instead of $500 for the hardware, but people used to pay $5,000 for the then-new plasma TVs.
Readers: Would this be better or worse than the VR headsets?
“Boeing 737 Max: What went wrong?” (BBC) contains a plot showing the angle of attack data being fed to Boeing’s MCAS software. Less than one minute into the flight, the left sensor spikes to an absurd roughly 70-degree angle of attack. Given the weight of an airliner, the abruptness of the change was impossible due to inertia. But to have avoided killing everyone on board, the software would not have needed a “how fast is this changing?” capability. It would simply have needed a few extra characters in an IF statement. Had the systems engineers and programmers checked Wikipedia, for example, (or maybe even their own web site) they would have learned that “The critical or stalling angle of attack is typically around 15° – 20° for many airfoils.” Beyond 25 degrees, therefore, it is either sensor error or the plane is stalling/spinning and something more than a slow trim is going to be required.
So, even without checking the left and right AOA sensors against each other (what previous and conventional stick pusher designs have done), all of the problems on the Ethiopian flight could potentially have been avoided by changing
IF AOA > 15 THEN RUNAWAY_TRIM();
IF AOA > 15 AND AOA < 25 THEN RUNAWAY_TRIM();
About 10 characters of code, in other words. (See the Related links below for the rest of the flaws in the MCAS system design, which the above tweak would not have fixed.)
We fret about average humans being replaced by robots, but consider the Phoenix resident who sees that the outdoor thermometer is reading 452 degrees F on a June afternoon. Will the human say “Arizona does get hot in the summer so I’m not going to take my book outside for fear that it will burst into flames”? Or “I think I need to buy a new outdoor thermometer”?
my Citizens for a Planned Economy platform, drafted after both Obama and Romney, in a 2012 debate, promised government-directed industrial policies, included “five-year plan for transitioning to green technology for electricity generation”. (AOC has proposed doing this as part of a ten-year plan instead. That makes a lot more sense than back-to-back five-year plans!)
The Seattle Times article describes the delegation process by which an employee of Boeing can actually do a lot of the work that members of the public imagine FAA employees would be doing. Boeing is an “Organization Designation Authorization” holder (“ODA”). A Boeing employee puts on an FAA hat periodically and checks work done by fellow Boeing employees.
Putting government workers in the critical path for engineering improvements slows things down so much that safety ends up being compromised. And having people pay designated or delegated authorities cuts the cost to taxpayers. But I wonder if it is time to say that certification scrutiny should be done by an independent private engineering team, not by engineers employed by the manufacturer.
Bad Blood, the authoritative book on the rise and fall of Theranos, describes American- and British-born engineers and scientists being fired for saying “the goal is too ambitious” or quitting when realizing this. Who replaced them? According to the book, almost all immigrants from India, either folks who’d recently completed a degree in the U.S. or coming over on H-1B visas, all managed by Ramesh Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’s boyfriend.
During the “grand fraud” stage of Theranos, therefore, it was a primarily immigrant show except for the young impresaria.
The money to fuel the craziness of Theranos seems to have been all domestic. Walgreen’s kicked in $100 million(!) as an “innovation fee” and then loaned the company another $40 million, according to the book. The credulous yet imperial CEO Steve Burd (Wikipedia shows him hanging out with Barack Obama) drained huge amounts of Safeway shareholder cash to help Theranos. The idea in both cases was that Theranos devices were supposed to be placed in these retailers’ stores.
If the end result is a tech staff that is mostly Indian, I wonder if the Silicon Valley location makes sense. Why not have all of the engineers and scientists work from Bangalore or Delhi? Instead of 8 people sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Menlo Park, each of those 8 workers can enjoy his or her own comfortable house (rent for a 3BR apartment in the center of Bangalore is about $570/month (source), 1/10th the price of Menlo Park (source)). What’s the advantage of bringing H-1B slaves over to toil on a Silicon Valley plantation compared to running the tech farm in India?
(Another interesting aspect of the book is learning just how much room there is for human error in traditional medical lab tests, e.g., in the handling of reagents. Elizabeth Holmes was not wrong in thinking that a fully automated process could potentially be more reliable.)
One of the luxuries of being out at sea in the old days was seeing stars that would never be visible from light-polluted cities. Cruise ships don’t offer this, though, because they don’t want people stumbling and falling on the upper/outer decks.
The officers of Empress of the Seas talked about trying to darken the top deck for stargazing during a ferry trip (crew-only). It turned out to be impossible. “Every time we thought we’d turned off some lights with a breaker, an emergency system would come on and replace them. We ran around for about an hour trying to turn off individual switches, but gave up.”
In case any future cruise ship engineers happen to read this… how about a system where a top deck area can be darkened for 15 minutes? Passengers can walk up there for an event. Once they’re all comfortably established on the ubiquitous lounge chairs, the crew can kill the lights.