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Sachs’ WSJ Challenge

Filed under: — gavin @ 19 September 2006

Jeffery Sachs of the Columbia Earth Institute has an excellent commentary in Scientific American this month on the disconnect between the Wall Street Journal editorial board and their own reporters (and the rest of the world) when it comes to climate change. He challenges them to truly follow their interest in an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” by meeting with the “world’s leading climate scientists and to include in that meeting any climate-skeptic scientists that that the Journal editorial board would like to invite”.

RealClimate heartily endorses such an approach and, while we leave it to others to judge who the ‘world leading’ authorities are, we’d certaintly be willing to chip in if asked. To those who would decry this as a waste of time, we would point to The Economist who recently produced a very sensible special on global warming and proposed a number of economically viable ways to tackle it, despite having been reflexively denialist not that many years ago. If the Economist can rise to the challenge, maybe there is hope for the Wall Street Journal….

286 Responses to “Sachs’ WSJ Challenge”

  1. 201
    Tom Fiddaman says:

    Science 29 September 2006:
    Vol. 313. no. 5795, p. 1871
    DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5795.1871a

    News of the Week

    Royal Society Takes a Shot at ExxonMobil

    Eliot Marshall

    The world’s oldest scientific society has challenged the world’s richest corporation over what it sees as an attempt to confuse people about global warming. In a sharply worded letter made public last week, the 346-year-old Royal Society criticizes the oil giant ExxonMobil for giving money to “organizations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change” and for promoting an “inaccurate and misleading” view, to wit: that scientists do not agree about the influence of human activity on rising temperatures. ExxonMobil issued a rebuttal, and some climate-change skeptics attacked the Royal Society for trying to stifle debate.

  2. 202
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: #195

    For a country like the UK, you might get solar 8 hours a day. A high pressure system around at night, which could be perhaps 10% of the time, would mean that the vast majority of your installed capacity was offline.

    The system can cope with the fairly sudden loss of a few percent of capacity; but you are talking about up to 90%. It’s one thing to be able to *predict* that you are going to lose this, quite another to be able to do anything about it. It’s actually quite sad to see exactly the kind of language abuse that AGW-skeptics try (equating ‘intermittant’ with ‘unpredictable’, saying ‘It’s not unpredictable’).

    If you are talking about generating hydrogen to compensate, then you will need to install 5-10MW of intermittant sources for every 1MW of end use baseload. That is not a minor issue; it’s not just a matter of ‘a bit of work to be done’. It’s pretty fundamental and so far, I haven’t seen any attempt to seriously address the problem, just attempts to claim it dosen’t exist.

  3. 203
    SecularAnimist says:

    In #193 Andrew Dodds wrote: “PV is never going to get a look in, sorry”

    With all due respect, this comment seems to me representative of the ill-informed and glib dismissals of the potential of photovoltaics and wind turbines that is the other side of the coin from the equally glib dismissal of the dangers, risks and environmental problems of nuclear power that are all too often put forward by proponents of nuclear power.

    Ill-informed, say I? Here’s what I mean:

    A study published in March 2005 by The Energy Foundation found that “Residential and commercial rooftop space in the US could accommodate up to 710,000 Megawatts of solar electric power … for comparison, total electric-generating capacity in the US today is about 950,000 MW.” In other words, if the existing siting capacity for rooftop photovoltaics was fully exploited, it could produce nearly 75% of the USA’s current total electricity generated from all sources.

    The same study found that “the potential US market for grid-connected solar rooftop PV could reach 2,900 MW per year by 2010, assuming that the solar industry can achieve a breakthrough price of $2.00-$2.50 per installed watt. This would be enough new electricity, brought online in just one year, to power more than 500,000 average US homes […] representing an annual market of about $6.6 billion (equipment and installations).”

    A July 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Investors along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park are pouring money into solar nanotech startups […] Nanosys and Nanosolar in Palo Alto — along with Konarka in Lowell, Mass. — say their research will result in thin rolls of highly efficient light-collecting plastics spread across rooftops or built into building materials. These rolls, the companies say, will be able to provide energy for prices as low as the electricity currently provided by utilities, which averages $1 per watt.”

    One year later, in June 2006, Nanosolar announced that “it now has $100 million in funding to take its breakthrough photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity technology into volume production” and “it has started executing on its plan to build a volume cell production factory with a total annual cell output of 430MW once fully built out, or approximately 200 million cells per year, and an advanced panel assembly factory designed to produce more than one million solar panels per year.”

    Electric utility executives Dave Freeman and Jim Harding wrote in The Seattle Post Intelligencer on 8/10/2006, regarding Nanosolar’s technology:

    “Thin solar films can be used in building materials, including roofing materials and glass […] Inexpensive solar electric cells are, fundamentally, a ‘disruptive technology’ […] Much like cellular phones have changed the way people communicate, cheap solar cells change the way we produce and distribute electric energy […] the prospect of this technology creates a conundrum for the electric utility industry and Wall Street. Can – or should – any utility, or investor, count on the long-term viability of a coal, nuclear or gas investment? The answer is no.”

    And looking beyond the USA:

    Two billion households worldwide could realistically be powered by solar energy by 2025, according to a joint report launched today by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace. The report concludes that thanks to advances in technology, increasing competition and investment in production facilities, solar power has now become a serious contender in the electricity market; able to provide low-cost, clean, CO2 emission free energy.

    The report also concludes that the global photovoltaic (PV) industry could potentially create more than 2 million jobs by 2040 plus a cut in annual CO2 emissions of 350 million tonnes – equivalent to 140 coal power plants – by 2025, and become the energy of choice for consumers.


    In 2005 the total installed capacity of solar PV systems around the world passed the landmark figure of 5000MW (= 10 average size coal power plants). Global ship­ments of PV cells and modules have been growing at an average annual rate of more than 40% for the past few years.

    Electricity generation from photovoltaics and wind turbines is already growing rapidly worldwide and has tremendous potential. Please don’t dismiss it before studying it more closely.

  4. 204

    Secularanimist: there are any number of people promising cost reductions in solar energy. You seem to be making the assumption that the most optimistic predictions of solar cell tech developers will pan out, and that that other technologies are static. That’s a false assumption; there are a number of technologies on the drawing board for nuclear plants that if successful will lead to significant cost reductions, and are probably a lot less technically ambitious than solar cell tech.

    Secondly, the elephant in the room that nobody in the renewables business wants to acknowledge is the requirement for large scale energy storage if intermittant renewables are to make up a significant proportion of the grid. Despite furious research, they’re very expensive and inefficient. And without them, intermittant renewables can’t ever make up more than a small fraction of the grid.

    From an Australian context (a place that has no shortage of sunlight) I’ve looked at analyses by Australian green groups about senarios for CO2 emission reduction in Australia. None of them involve significant contributions from solar power, all the way through to 2050. Draw your own conclusions.

  5. 205 says:

    Re +204
    You seem to be not up to date on latest photovoltaics technologys.
    Also your personal individual conclusions are missleading.

    Just 1 exampel

    In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.

    This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.

    The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.

    The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers – in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.


    Production will start next month and the factory will run 24 hours a day, producing more than 1 000 panels a day to meet expected demand.



    We need to apply these techs asap and use synergetic effects such as the roof top solution to save our energy.

  6. 206

    Re #204 and “Secularanimist: there are any number of people promising cost reductions in solar energy. You seem to be making the assumption that the most optimistic predictions of solar cell tech developers will pan out, and that that other technologies are static. That’s a false assumption; there are a number of technologies on the drawing board for nuclear plants that if successful will lead to significant cost reductions, and are probably a lot less technically ambitious than solar cell tech.”

    Knowing the history of space flight helps you to examine these things. The original solar cells cost something like $500.00 per peak watt, in the 1960s. By 1970 that was $200.00 per peak watt, and by 1980 $15.00 per peak watt. Solar photovoltaic has steadily become cheaper for four decades. There’s no reason at all why the decreases in price should not continue. And when — not if, but when — they hit $2.00 per watt, they will be competitive. More PV capacity has been put in place around the world every year for the last several years.

    For nuclear — I’m sure a safe nuclear plant can, in theory, be built. But you’d still have dozens of places with rich nuclear fuel sitting around, and trucks or train cars loaded with the stuff going from place to place. How much would Al Qaeda pay for 40 pounds of “yellowcake?” I don’t want to find out!

  7. 207
    SecularAnimist says:

    Robert Merkel wrote in #204: “From an Australian context (a place that has no shortage of sunlight) I’ve looked at analyses by Australian green groups about senarios for CO2 emission reduction in Australia. None of them involve significant contributions from solar power, all the way through to 2050. Draw your own conclusions.”

    You might want to look up the Australia and New Zealand Solar Energy Society and the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

  8. 208 says:

    Follow up on Inhofe vs CNN

    Sen. James Inhofe Lashes Out At CNN, Grossly Distorts Global Warming Science
    Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has responded angrily to yesterday’s CNN segment debunking his diatribe against global warming science. His rebuttal is shockingly dishonest. Here’s a sample:

    [CNN’s Miles] O’Brien also claimed that the “Hockey Stick” temperature graph was supported by most climate scientists despite the fact that the National Academy of Sciences and many independent experts have made it clear that the Hockey Stick’s claim that the 1990’s was the hottest decade of the last 1000 years was unsupportable.

    Actually, that National Academy of Sciences just released a study supporting the so-called “Hockey Stick” study (by Mann et. al). Here’s an excerpt from the report:

    The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence…Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. [pg. 3-4]

  9. 209
    DeePG says:

    I would like to direct wind proponents to two reports published for BCTC in western Canada which provide technical information relating to the challenges of interconnecting wind farms to a large electricity grid. These reports can be found here:
    “Wind Farm Planning and Interconnection Criteria” and “Wind Farm Operational Impact”

    These reports may shed some light to some of the difficulties experienced with mass Wind Farm deployment. Realistically, we as a society are going to have to accept a certain mix of renewables and non-renewables (ie. Nuclear) in our power generation makeup if we are serious about attacking the AGW problem.

    There may be a time in the future when the technology and economics make 100% renewable energy feasible but that day is not here yet. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be striving for it though.

  10. 210
    SecularAnimist says:

    More recommended reading, a very brief but good summary of some of the main arguments against a large-scale expansion of nuclear power:

    Nuclear Energy: Still a Bad Idea
    by Jeremy Rifkin
    September 29, 2006
    The Los Angeles Times

  11. 211
    SecularAnimist says:

    DeePG wrote: “There may be a time in the future when the technology and economics make 100% renewable energy feasible but that day is not here yet. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be striving for it though.”

    100% renewable energy, even if we are only talking about 100% renewable electricity generation and not including combustion of liquid petrofuels for transport, would mean shutting down all the existing coal, natural gas, and uranium fueled power plants in the world, and no, that day is certainly not here yet. But that’s not really the question.

    The discussion that’s going on now is whether vast amounts of resources should be directed into a massive expansion of nuclear electricity generation, and, aside from concerns about the dangers and risks of nuclear power, whether that is a sensible and productive way of addressing the problem of anthropogenic global warming, particularly when compared with the results that could be obtained by directing a comparable amount of resources and effort into photovoltaic and wind turbine electricity generation.

    My own view is that a massive expansion of nuclear power would be — again, apart from the hazards of nuclear power — a tragically costly and ineffective way of addressing global warming.

    And in fact, given the rapid development of PV and wind technology, its already rapid growth worldwide, and the huge amount of private investment that it is attracting, I expect that the massive expansion of nuclear is simply not going to happen, although the nuclear industry may continue to have some success for a while in getting governments to subsidize it. It will be overtaken by PV and wind, and the nuclear expansion will be rendered obsolete before it even gets underway.

  12. 212
    John L. McCormick says:

    This thread has devolved into a circluar discussion with virtually no substantive, quantified points being made or offered. Its like watching two blindfolded tennis players doing their best to beat their opponent.

    At # 200, I suggested inviting the input from electrical engineers and professionals who know something about ancillary service and other obligations generating sources have to protecting the integrity of the grid. And, I mentioned the consequences of utility dereg and how that has shifted decision-making away from centralize planning and control (utility commissions) and towards the private sector and independent power producers.

    Anyone interested in discussing more than heresay and tokens?

  13. 213

    Barton Paul Levenson: if by yellowcake you mean U3O8, it is likely that its recent price rise to, if I recall correctly, US$1.40 per thermal barrel-of-oil-equivalent, i.e. US$140/kg, has put Al Qaeda more in mind of selling off some of the many thousands of pounds it must have than of acquiring more.

  14. 214
    Gar Lipow says:

    Some factual points:

    Storage of electricity is too expensive by a factor of ten or so to be currently feasible on a large scale. (Exceptions are pumped storage and compressed air – both depend on very rare geological formation. And pumped storage has major ecological problems – far worse than normal hydroelectric.) But thermal storage of high temperature heat costs about $40 per KWH of capacity. So thermal solar electric combined with storage of the heat in molten salts could provide truly dispatchable solar electricity – at a much lower cost than solar photovoltics – probably somewhere around 15 cents per KWh.

    Secondly intermittent sources like wind can can provide up to 20% of electricity without storage, without destabilizing the grid and without adding a great deal of grid management cost. While going beyond this would be expensive on a large scale – you could add few hours of electrical storage to 4 cents per kwh wind generators without increasing the cost beyond 6 cernts a kWh. And with a few hours storage instead of getting 20% of your energy from wind you can get half without destabilizing the grid. So that averages out to a truly renewable stable and reliable grid for 11 cents per kWh. Flow batteries mixed with wind generators in this context would serve as spinning reserve for the grid as a whole. Of course the cost would be lowered further because you can add small amounts of hydroelectric and geothermal which are both cheaper than the previously cited prices and fully dispatchable – suitable for base, peak or load following.

    Windy sites are fairly common; most people in the world live with 500 miles and certainly within a thousand of a windy site.

    Site suitable for solar thermal generation are less common. You need desert or near desert. But Extremely High Voltage DC lines can ship electricity up to 5,000 kilometers with todays technology with tolerable transmission losses. The United States has deserts in the middle of the country; we don’t have any place that is not within 5,000 kilometers of such a desert. Similarly Latin America has the Deserts of Mexico and Chile. Canada does not have deserts, but it has enough hydroelectic capability so serve the same purposes. Europe has the deserts of the Middle East, if the Middle East is willing. (London is less than 3,000 miles of Tripoli, Libya. (Of course that means the Middle East will remain a major energy source even after we get off oil. Anyone who wants world peace better work on getting the world to act peacefully; there is no magic technology that will take place of people learning to love one another.)

    Africa, China, and the Indian Subcontinents have their own deserts.

  15. 215
    DeePG says:

    Re: 212 For those interested, please read the links in 209 (especially the Wind Farm Operational Impacts) as they do shed light on the questions asked in 212. I too was frustrated with the circular discussion and that is why I posted the links.

    D.Gagne P.Eng (Electrical and Control Engineer)

  16. 216
    Total Issues says:

    Over 200 comments on one post indicates that this has strayed into a huge topic almost by accident. It is the right emphasis however � the reality and risks of global warming is no longer in question, the issue is what to do about it. Perhaps this blog should shift its emphasis, or spin off a subsidiary one?

    The issue with renewables is not their production costs: for wind power at the right sites these are below thermal power today, and the prospects for solar thermal power are very promising. The problem with renewables is not their cost, but the fact that they are intermittent – the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. Carbon-free chemical energy storage is needed, and the best candidate may be not hydrogen (too many problems) but ammonia, which is cheap to make, easy to transport and a good fuel for both gas turbines and internal combustion engines. More on this at the total issues blog. For baseload electrical power there is no reasonable carbon free alternative to nuclear power, and despite its problems I have to agree with James Lovelock (before he turned to despair): CO2 emissions have far greater risks than the small risks from nuclear waste.

  17. 217
    Jim Eaton says:

    Wow. The comments are all over the board.

    But I have a few things to add. For those folks in rainy climates who doubt solar power, let me tell you about Mediterranean climates. When I built my house 24 years ago here in Village Homes, Davis, California, I installed a water heating system on the roof. Sometime in April, I shut off the gas water heater and have ample super hot water provided by the sun until sometime in October when the first clouds appear. For the rest of the year, the roof system pre-heats the water on sunny days and the gas heater does the rest.

    Many neighbors have installed PV systems this year. For much of the year, their electric meters run backwards as they produce more energy than they consume. Most of California, as well as other western states, have such suitable climates where rooftop systems can capture solar energy.

    This, of course, does not make the energy providers happy (for us, PG&E) since our production of energy is their revenue loss. But it is a good for society.

    However, as a wilderness advocate, I do not support blanketing our deserts with PV plants. These are not wastelands — they are biologically important ecosystems. Let’s use our millions of rooftops first.

    To the issue of the intermittent energy production of solar and wind, there are some mitigations. One is pump storage, where at times where renewable energy sources exceed demand, water is pumped uphill into reservoirs with hydroelectric facilities. When demand is greater (or when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind fails to blow), the hydro plant provides the electricity. This already is used in California to meet peak demand, which usually occurs in the afternoon and early evening on hot days.

    Can renewables replace fossil fuels? Maybe not at current consumption levels. But perhaps it is time for folks to start discussing the roots of our problems — world population growth and increading energy demand. Reducing our numbers and decreasing our per capita energy use might give us a chance to survive this impending train wreck.

    Nuclear energy? Please. We have nowhere in the U.S. to store our existing waste, and should Yucca Mountain ever be approved, it instantly would fill with existing waste. Besides, creating much more radioactive material in our unstable world (which will become far more unstable as global warming and running out of oil adds to the stress) does not seem to be a wise choice. Although I must concede that the use of this nuclear material by terrorists or as “tactical” nuclear weapons could lead to reduction of world population — which would be a positive action.

  18. 218
    Eli Rabett says:

    The issue of base load is an interesting one. In the same sense that solar/wind is not suitable for baseload, nuclear is not suitable for peak demand situations (you don’t want to ramp a nuclear reactor up and down and up and down

  19. 219 says:

    Although I must concede that the use of this nuclear material by terrorists or as “tactical” nuclear weapons could lead to reduction of world population — which would be a positive action.

    Actually im quiet surprised about your last sentence after reading your comment. I know many people think the earth gets too crowded?

    But as hawking said we need to settle in space too. So there is a potential in the next 50-100 years that millions can life on moon and mars.
    Also birth control is importend, conflicts what ever kind of are unbalancing our social and political harmonys, and will slower processes of settleing into space — will slower process of evolving of our species — saveing our species.
    And the risc of terror has grown in the last century, because of war actions which created many new terror…

    When you refer from AGW factors and energy solution to human population, then don’t forget that the majority of emmisions is made by only a few humans from the industry nations.

    I apologize for posting again somewhat off topic, but why not implementing a small message board, a place for the basics and hot topics?

  20. 220
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 217

    Wow, you are over board!

    [Although I must concede that the use of this nuclear material by terrorists or as “tactical” nuclear weapons could lead to reduction of world population — which would be a positive action. ]

    How did that comment get past the moderators? Eaton, stiffle yourself.

  21. 221
    Jim Eaton says:

    I apologize. My feeble attempt at humor seems not to be appreciated.

  22. 222

    Like many who express concern over the safety of spent nuclear fuel storage, the wit “Jim Eaton” seems to feel no need to acknowledge that this safety has been complete in practice, in that no neighbour of any storage site — of which, of course, the US has many — anywhere in the world seems to have been harmed by it in the slightest degree, ever.

    This is a very different performance from that of other forms of spent fuel such as solid coal ash, carbon monoxide, and this forum’s main concern, carbon dioxide.

  23. 223
    Gar Lipow says:

    >However, as a wilderness advocate, I do not support blanketing our deserts with PV plants. These are not wastelands — they are biologically important ecosystems. Let’s use our millions of rooftops first.

    If you could use PV you are right that rooftops (and highway walls and roads and other human built surfaces) could supply all our electricity.

    The problem is that electicity storage is expensive. The only reasonably priced large scale storable carbon free electricity is solar thermal (rankine or steam engines powered by parabolic mirrors) with heat storage in molten salts. And because this can only use direct sunlight (unlike PV which works fine in cloudy weather) suitable land is limited to deserts.

    And you are right that using large amounts of desert for this is ecologically undesireable. But, if we did a fifty/fifty solar thermal, wind mix you could supply not only current but future demand with about 5% of desert land. When you compare this to damage to deserts done by coal and uranium mining, gas and oil drilling I think you will find this more ecologically desirable than the alternatives. And of course solar thermal and wind are not our only sources. We can get a small percent from existing hydroelectric and geothermal, which are fuly dispatchable and can be used to “shape” non-dispatchable sources to some extent.

    What about pumped storage as an alternative? Well, ignoring ecological consequences for a couple of sentences, pumped storage requires a mountain and a water source – not such a common combination. Existing pumped storage could provide a few percent of the dispatchable electricity a fully renewable supply system would require. It is unlikely there is undeveloped capability to add enough pumped storage to make much of a difference.

    One possiblity: convert all existing hydroelectric facilities into pumped storage. If energy was our only concern that would work. But dams are NOT just for electricity. Large dams are major water sources and major sources of flood control. Worried about peak oil? Try peak water (which in a sense is here anyway). Food production considerations alone mean we can’t afford to convert existing hydroelectricity into pumped storage. Nor are flood control considerations trivial.

    And that is before considering ecological effects. Dams are horrible ecologically. When you consider sheer damage to wildlife and river and stream water quality, (soil erosion, and so forth) there is a real question of whether regular hydropower is better or worse than nuclear power ecologically. Pumped storage is many times worse in this respect. Instead of storing water for a while then dumping it into a river, you store water, dump it into the river, then pump it back, killing more riverlife, causeing more erosion, removing more nutrients. And you do this again and again,doing five or seven or ten times the damage of normal dams. There are rivers in the united states that have two thirds of their volume pumped to storage reservoirs than released again on a daily basis. So if you care about agriculture or wildlife you don’t want to greatly increase use of conventional pumped storage.

    OK is there a less ecologically damaging way of doing pumped storage? Yes there is – at least on a small scale. The Japanese have built an experimental ocean based pumped storage facility. I haven’t been able to get figures on the economics. But ecologically I suspect it would also be undesirable on a large scale.

    On the small scale you find a cliff overlooking the ocean. Build a reservoir, pump the salt water up to it, and return it to the ocean via a pipe – running a turbine which generates around 75% of the electricity it took to pump it up the cliff in the first place. (A 25% round trip loss BTW is not bad at all for electricity storage.) The reservoir doubles as a salt water lake for boating and swimming.

    Now imagine doin this on a large scale. A problem with any large scale pumped storage expansion is land use. There is a practical limit to how high the head can be on a hydroelectic facility. That means that each kWh stored takes a lot of square footage. Pumped storage on a large enough scale to make solar thermal electric unneccesary would consume more land than solar thermal electric. And you are talking cliffs overlooking oceans. Much of that is valuable land economically. It is certainly valuable ecologically. (Also large scale pumping of salt water onto land? What if some of that leaks into the water table?) So unconventional pumped storage is not any more of a large scale solution than conventional.

    Rather than make this any longer, I’m going to make a second post on efficiency and nuclear power.

  24. 224

    Re #219
    How many people do you think that the Moon could support?

    How many people do you think Mars could support?

    It took ten tons of fossil fuels to get 3 people to the Moon, and they only lasted there for a few days. No one has ever been to Mars with its freezing temperatures remaining below -30 F/C, never mind the biennial global dust storms!

    We do not know if, far less where, there is a habital planet, but it is certainly more than two light years away since that is the distance of the nearest star.

    We don’t have to blow up the earth to make it uninhabitable. We only have to raise the dewpoint above 100 F everywhere and we will all die from drowning as our lungs fill up with dew!

    In other words, once the temperature in the tropics gets higher than 100F, then both the tropics and the sub tropics will be uninhabitable. Then all 6,000,000,000 of us will have to huddle in what is now taiga and tundra, and will then be a soggy muddy mess. You only have to look at photographs of the melting permafrost to see what it will be like :-(

    Cheers, Alastair.

  25. 225
    Gar Lipow says:

    I posted some hours ago a long comment on why solar thermal with molten salt storage was the best alternative in the medium term. (Hopefully it will show up before this one does.) One aspect I saved for this comment was nuclear. I’m not against reconsideration of nuclear power on principle. But it is NOT cheap, and so really needs to be compared to other alternatives.

    First point on nuclear energy. We do not, in fact, have a long term solution to disposal of nuclear waste. France has pretty much admittted this. It stores nuclear waste in short term facilities (short being many decades) on the grounds that eventually, perhaps hundreds of years in the future we will develop a solution. Two problems with this sort of reasoning. We don’t know when such a solution will occur, or if it will occur before the temporary facilities wear out. And we don’t know how expensive the solution will be – meaning we don’t know the real cost of nuclear power plants.

    However, if the only choices are continued carbon emissions or nuclear power then we have to at least evaluate nuclear power.

    Let’s take a closer look at the French example – since France is considered THE nuclear success story.. Nuclear power plants supply about 70% of French electricity, comparatively cheaply (at least on first glance). Further France sells surplus nuclear electricity to Italy, German (and I think some other EU nations as well) and laughs at their hypocrisy in dismantling or refusing to build their own nuclear plants.

    But France has its own hypocrisy. French nuclear electricity would not be so cheap if it could not supply power to other EU nations. Nuclear power plants take days (or at least a good fraction there of) to shutdown or bring back up. But power demand varies from a minimum to maximum. The mimimum (base load) tends to be responsible for about 40% of total kWh consumption ovwer the course of 24 hours. France is able to provide nuclear electricity at a higher level of output than this only by selling surpluses to other nations during off-peak demand. If Germany, Italy, et. al. stopped purchasing this surplus, making up the lost revenue would require almost doubling the cost of nuclear supplied electricty.

    In other words French Nuclear power plants are part of an international Grid. Current prices are cheap only because it limits itself to less than the base load of the total grid of which it is part.

    OK – so let us look at the mixed renewable and nuclear grid some people want to consider. We could have 20% variable renewable electricity, because a well managed grid can accomodate this degree of variable sources. We could have 40% nuclear. We could have perhaps another 10% of dispatchable renewable – combined biomass, geothermal, and hydro.

    We have 30% of electrical demand left. Either we meet it with fossil fuels or we add storage. In the later case we are back with the main problem we faced with renewables; we need storage to compensate for its variable nature.

    Because of this – I think you will find solar thermal with molten salt storage less expensive on a whole system basis than nuclear power. Production of raw power may be cheaper for nuclear – though I think not if you count all costs. But storage is cheaper for solar thermal. In a carbon neutral world, storage costs dominate production costs – regardless of whether nuclear power is in the mix or not.

    Another question is the question of efficiency. And yes we can use power a lot more efficiently than we do at present. Probably we can even cut demand in rich nations like the U.S. by 60% or so in absolute terms – even after population growth. But unless you want the poor nations to stay miserably poor (something they won’t put up with in any case) energy demand in nations like China, and Indonesia, and India is going to rise in absolute terms as population rises, probably in per capita term as well. And even after large cuts rich nations consumpion is not small. 40% of current U.S. consumption is not a small energy demand to meet. In short, there is no degree of optimisim about energy consumption that will justify ignoring the supply end of the situtation. You are not going to get away from the need for storage, regardless of whether you use nuclear power or not.

  26. 226

    Re #222 and “no neighbour of any storage site — of which, of course, the US has many — anywhere in the world seems to have been harmed by it in the slightest degree, ever.”

    An explosion in a nuclear waste site at Chelyabinsk, USSR contaminated an area the size of a small state in 1957. And right here at home, Hanford has been cited repeatedly over leaking barrels of n-waste.


  27. 227
    pete best says:

    Re #223 electricity storage is not expensive if you can store it by pumping water uphill but that also leaves lots of other questions unanwered but naybe potential energy is part of the answer. In times of renewable suplus convert it.

  28. 228 says:

    Re 224
    Sorry but your information is bascily flawed.


    – I talk about a timeframe of the next 50-100 years.
    – The technology is in construction to use other ways you refering to, to bring human into space. (e.g. space elevator.)
    – The moon and mars will have bases soon i guess will start in about 10-20 years. These bases will be constructed to support life — survive on its own. (e.g. Biosphere example, i know the TEST didnt run very well)
    – And do not forgett about the possibility of terraforming, which can take around 500 years, the mars has a potential?

    On the bottom line your assumption that with a heated earth all survive is not realistic. Extinction of our species is possible in such a scenario.

    Re Tim Eaton,
    sorry i still working on my english language knowledge, well at least now as you pointed this out i find it kinds funny — ironicly though :p


  29. 229
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 215

    D.Gagne P.Eng (Electrical and Control Engineer), thank you for the comment and the interesting link.

    Are you able to provide some insights on the fundamentals which limit the use of intermittant power sources (e.g., wind and solar) to an approximate 20 percent of input to the grid? Perhaps you could link us to discussions of power control areas and transmission congestion zones that, during extensive heat waves, struggle to keep the grid stable during peak demand approching the absolute limit of generating capacity — circumstances that trigger rolling brownouts or blackouts. During such events occuring later in the day, solar would be less available and wind capacity –might be– greatly diminished.

    Those are the technical discussions I hope we could join in the remaining days of this thread (30 day window). Then, knowledge might trump fantasies.

  30. 230
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    CSPAN2, The Other SciFi Channel

    And just in case you think the WSJ editorial board is 100% biased, check out the reasoned opining of their little brother in the money business, Investor’s Business Daily. IBD writes that Sen. Inhofe was able to get coverage of his one man climate skepticism symposium via CSPAN and the Drudge Report. Drudge is simply a link site right back to the U.S. Senate, while CSPAN2 is contractually obligated to carry the U.S. Senate live while in session, even when all there is to see is people milling around the front desk as classical music plays in the background.

  31. 231
    Gar Lipow says:

    Re 227:
    >Re #223 electricity storage is not expensive if you can store it by pumping water uphill but that also leaves lots of other questions unanwered but naybe potential energy is part of the answer. In times of renewable suplus convert it.

    You seemed to have ignore the whole point of post #23 – not rebutted it but ignored it. There are not that many places you can pump water uphill. So that means you don’t have a whole lot of pumped storage potential – and thus can’ store large amounts of electricicity inexpensively. Unconventional types of pumped storage are very expensive. Converting existing hydroelectricty into pumped storage would drastically reduce agricultural water supply and flood control. Salt water pumped storage uses expensive oceanview property.

    Also the ecological effects are nightmareish. Large scale pumped storage would destoy rivers. Large scale salt water pumped storage would flood coastal ecosystmes with salt water on a large scale.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but it looks to me like solar thermal with storage in molten salts is the least bad means of getting dispatchable carbon neutral electricty. Not a good means, but the least bad. Wind is great for non-dispatchable renewable electricity, One can argue about whether nuclear is sound or not, but it provides base load NOT dispatchable power. Solar thermal with thermal storage seems to be best dispatchable means with large scale potential – suitable for base, peak or load following as needed.

  32. 232
    pete best says:

    Re #231, I agree with your analysis Gar and once again it states that renewable power is not storable with the sort of gains required to stem AGW, however I did read an article in scientific america recently that stated that the USA requires a new electricity infrastructre and that renewables could be used make surpercritical hydrogen that would keep the superconducting cables superconductiong, this hydrogen can then be tapped by houses for use to power their cars etc as it is made constantly by renewable energy sources such as PV, solar, wind, wave etc.

    And this it would seem is the only real way of dealing with AGW, by literally redesigning some of the wests infrastructures so that they can cope and accommodate new non CO2 producing technologies.

  33. 233
    Gar Lipow says:

    >Those are the technical discussions I hope we could join in the remaining days of this thread (30 day window). Then, knowledge might trump fantasies.

    One point is that no-one (outside of vary biased advocates) suggests that problems with interconnections to intermittent sources can not be dealt with fairly inexpensively up 20% of grid capacity. I have an appointment so I’ll post some links later.

  34. 234
    Steve Reynolds says:

    231> There are not that many places you can pump water uphill. So that means you don’t have a whole lot of pumped storage potential…

    How about some calculations to check this? For your number of 30% of a nuke plant (600MW) requiring storage for say about 5 hours (20,000 sec.), that is .3 x 600 x 20,000 = 3,600,000 MJ. With an average head of 50m, each cubic meter has an energy (mgh) of 1000 x 9.8 x 50 = ~0.5 MJ.

    So we need about 7,200,000 cubic meters of water. A circular tank of 300m diameter and 100m height will hold that. Does anyone see an error in this calculation?

    As for location, most US (and Canadian) industry is within 500km of the Great Lakes. Why not locate this storage adjacent to (or even in) the lakes?

  35. 235
    Gar Lipow says:

    OK one study on intermittent power integration into grids:

    Julie Osborn et al., A Sensitivity Analysis of the Treatment of Wind Energy in the Aeo99 Version of NEMS, LBNL-44070 / TP-28529. Jan 2001. Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory -University of California; National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 12/Jun/2004

    Some other studies that came to similar conclusions:

    A study by the German Energy Agency (DENA) – “Planning for grid integration of wind energy in Germany onshore and offshore up to the year 2020” (2005) – concluded that:
    – Wind energy in Germany could triple its power production to 77 TWh in 2015, providing 14% of net electricity consumption, without any need to build additional reserve or balancing power stations. By 2015 there would be 26 GW of wind capacity installed on land and 10 GW offshore.
    – Only minor expansion of the grid would be required. An additional 850 km of extra high voltage lines would need to be built by 2015, and a further 400 km upgraded. This represents only about 5% of the existing network, and takes into account the expected expansion in offshore wind farms. The estimated investment cost of ~1.1 billion would increase the price of electricity for consumers by less than ~1 per household per annum.

    detailed technical report by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) – “Large scale integration of wind energy in the European power supply” (2005) – concluded that:
    – It is technically feasible for wind power to cover a significant share (up to 20%) of electricity demand in the large interconnected power systems of Europe whilst maintaining a high degree of system security, and at modest additional cost. Not an unbiased source, but the EWEA has extremely good technical imformation.

    A report by the International Energy Agency – “Variability of Wind Power and Other Renewables: Management Options and Strategies” (2005) came to a similar conclusion.

    There was also one done in the UK that suggested that even a 30% penetration by variable source would not be that expensive – though the sweet spot, the most renewable energy for the dollar remained at 20%.

    One thing you could consider. When it comes to the potential of renewable energy or the safety of nuclear energy there is not currently a consensus. Thus you cannot bring in an expert to “settle” the question. I think it would be very productive RC to bring some experts into the discussion, but it would need to be experts – plural. Because there are multiple legitimate viewpoints on this you really woud need to bring in representatives of multiple sides of the debates.

  36. 236
    Gar Lipow says:

    Re 232:

    >I agree with your analysis Gar and once again it states that renewable power is not storable with the sort of gains required to stem AGW,

    Except for solar thermal with molten salt storage. Solar thermal costs slightly over 11 cents per kWh^1.

    Storage in molten salts cost about $40 per thermal kWh equivalent^2.

    That would put the cost of solar thermal electricity with sufficient storage to make it the equivalent in reliability of coal plants about 15 cents per kWh. Again this cost is only achievable in deserts. But every major population center on earth has large deserts within feasabile DC line transmission distance – and using about 5% of desert land would pretty much fill world needs for dispatchable electricity.

    This is a lot cheaper than switching to hydrogen infrastructure (at least with current technology).

    Of course we could always hope for breathroughs in hydrogen technology, or in development of flow batteries, or various thermal regeneration techniques for electricity storage (zinc etc – where metal batteries produce electricity and then are regenerated or remanufactured via solar heat.) But failing such breakthroughs, solar thermal electricity with thermal storage is the least expensive source of dispatchable carbon neutral electricity we have available today in large quanities – both ecologically and economically.

    1)Otis Port, “Power From The Sunbaked Desert | Solar Generators May Be a Hot Source of Plentiful Electricity,”. Business Week 12/Sep 2005: SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, 14/Oct/2005

    2)National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), NREL: Concentrating Solar Power Research – Parabolic-Trough Thermal Energy Storage Technology. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 26/Mar/2005

  37. 237
    Hank Roberts says:

    Has anyone figured out how much these collectors would degrade if the sulfate injection route is taken? I hate to be cynical but I can sure see our government doing something to block solar energy and explaining it as the only reasonable way to reduce global warming.

  38. 238
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #234 “So we need about 7,200,000 cubic meters of water. A circular tank of 300m diameter and 100m height will hold that. Does anyone see an error in this calculation?”

    Not an error so much as a need to ground your estimate in reality – what kind of structure could hold that volume of water?

  39. 239
    David McMullen says:

    The Economist survey was indeed a strong endorsement of the prevailing view. However, it did make one point which suggested a lack of urgency. In the pieces entitled “Dismal Calculations” and “Where to Start” we are told that 550 ppm (a doubling) of CO2 is not too scary. It seems to me that we could meet that ceiling without too much pain even if we do very little to rein in emissions in the next two or three decades. Say in 2040 levels are 480 ppm (as in the IPCC’s IS92a “business as usual” scenario), emissions are 7 ppm (double present levels), the stabilizing annual emission target is 0.46 ppm (or 1 GtC) and 60 per cent of emissions stay in the atmosphere. In this case annual emission reductions of 5 per cent from 2041 would get us to our target in 2094. I do not think our descendents will have too much trouble with such reductions, if they consider it a worthwhile exercise. Am I missing something?

  40. 240

    Re 228 SaveGaia, you are wrong to say that I believe our survival on this planet is guaranteed. Quite the contrary. So long as everyone believes that our survival is guaranteed, and that there is no need to take action, then I fear we will continue down the slippery slope until the tipping point is reached, and our extinctionis then inevitable :-(

    The idea of terraforming is great but… Would it not be easier to terraform Earth so that it can support the current population, rather than try to attempt to do that to some hostile environment such as the Moon or Mars? The reason that Earth is suitable for life is because it is covered in water and it lies at a distance from the Sun that keeps that water liquid. Although the Moon passes that test, both the moon and Mars have too little gravity to retain oceans, even if we could transport enough water from the Earth to supply them.

    Perhaps we could direct a comet in the directon of Mars and so add water to its atmosphere that way. A similar trick with the Moon would be too dangerous, because the comet might miss the moon and hit the earth. But you still have the problem of moving 6 billion people from here to Mars. Besides Mars is much smaller than Earth. Where would they all stand?

    No! The answer is to stopping wrecking this planet before we start mucking about with other ones.

  41. 241
    yartrebo says:

    Re #237:

    5%/year over the whole world sustained for over half a century is an extremely tall order. Also, 550 ppm is going to have very severe effects. 385 ppm is bad enough as it is. Why don’t you try reading the rest of the information on this site.

  42. 242
    David McMullen says:

    Re #241

    A constant 5% is just one way of getting to the target. The pain of such a transition will depend on the technologies that are available. The pain would certainly be less than than making drastic cuts in the next few decades. Unless, of course, the economic and other damage of the added global warming is so severe that more pain now is worth it.

    So I think we can say that the issue of whether we should take drastic action in the next few decades hinges on our assessment of whether a doubling of CO2 concentrations from their pre-industrial level is too high.

  43. 243
    Hank Roberts says:

    Interesting perspective here (in draft, stumbled upon):

    A Perfect Moral Storm:
    Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Corruption
    Stephen M. Gardiner
    University of Washington
    “There’s a quiet clamor for hypocrisy and deception; and pragmatic politicians respond with …. schemes that seem to promise something for nothing. Please, spare us the truth.”

    “… we cannot get very far in discussing why climate change is a problem without invoking ethical considerations. If we do not think that our own actions are open to moral assessment, or that various interests (our own, those of our kin and country, those of distant people, future people, animals and nature) matter, then it is hard to see why climate change (or much else) poses a problem. But once we see this, then we appear to need some account of moral responsibility, morally important interests, and what to do about both. And this puts us squarely in the domain of ethics.

    “At a more practical level, ethical questions are fundamental to the main policy decisions that must be made, such as where to set a global ceiling for greenhouse gas emissions, and how to distribute the emissions allowed by such a ceiling. For example, where the global ceiling is set depends on how the interests of the current generation are weighed against those of future generations; and how emissions are distributed under the global gap depends in part on various beliefs about the appropriate role of energy consumption in peopleâ��s lives, the importance of historical responsibility for the problem, and the current needs and future aspirations of particular societies….

    “My thesis is this. The peculiar features of the climate change problem pose substantial obstacles to our ability to make the hard choices necessary to address it. Climate change is a perfect moral storm. One consequence of this is that, even if the difficult ethical questions could be answered, we might still find it difficult to act. For the storm makes us extremely vulnerable to moral corruption.

    “Let us say that a perfect storm is an event constituted by an unusual convergence of independently harmful factors where this convergence is likely to result in substantial, and possibly catastrophic, negative outcomes. …..

    — end of excerpt —

    Philosophy and ethics don’t feature for corporations or sociopaths, but individuals may feel the need to consider them. This is a good reminder of the difficulties in long term thinking and why that’s very likely to lead to immoral behavior instead of good foresight and appropriate action.

  44. 244
    pete best says:

    Re #239, Unfortunately I would suggest that 550 ppm equates to a lot of additional Co2 from non linear (type II or abrupt) climate change which will probably lead to around >700 ppm and higher temperatures all around. Indeed what is the risk of AGW people will ask?

    Well for one is the fundamental shift in the world hydrological cycle and another is the possible slow down of the North Atlantic Conveyor and another is the disappearance of the Amazon and the melting of the ice caps along with more pestilence and disease in a warmer world.

    550 ppm is not even possible to predict due to the non linear nature of nature

  45. 245
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    RE: 120, 139. Several days ago I mentioned that I would have further comments about the CBC Radio One program The Current that featured a 30 minute segment on geoengineering in which I was interviewed along with several others.

    I have summarized my response here to some of the concerns that came out of this program as well as some of the ones that have been brought out in recent media reports. A complete version of this response, including calculations for the sulfur and soot options described below is available on request from me as a pdf file.

    Frances Cairncross, a British economist was concerned that the U.S. would use its technology base to unilaterally attempt to recklessly and illegally geoengineer the climate within the next 5-10 years.

    While I cannot speak for the current administration or any future one, the likelihood of this is low because most of the technologies that could be used this quickly by their nature either use land or airspace in other countries and would therefore require some level of international cooperation.

    I said that while the U.S., China, Russia or the EU could go it alone on some of the geoengineering schemes, given the low level of expertise in this field today, it is more likely that an international effort would be undertaken in the coming decade and that the U.S. would not necessarily be the technology leader.

    I was asked by the producers to talk about how regional alteration of land albedo could be used in the Canadian Arctic to help refreeze the summer ice. I didn’t get to describe a theory of Atlantic hurricane mitigation in which a dust suppression project in the Sahel could limit the water vapor energy supplied to tropical waves that form Cape Verde storms.

    The producers also wanted me to talk about how a portfolio of geoengineering technologies could be simultaneously applied, maximizing benefits while limiting risk of harmful effects or failure.

    The remainder of the response is an analysis of how three such options could be used independently or in concert to achieve a stabilization of GHG forcing from 2000 to 2050.

    What I did is not an implementation plan, just an examination of how these strategies could be used and what must be considered if they are to be carried out.

    I want to make the point that these are not science fiction as these have been lumped together by the media with ideas that largely are, but large-scale engineering projects that can be undertaken within 5-10 years using existing technology. It is the modeling and understanding of impacts that is lacking, not the hardware or know-how.

    I examined three technologies, increasing the sulfur content of jet fuel to increase sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere, running jet engines with richer fuel to air ratios to generate soot in the stratosphere and direct injection of sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere using jet aircraft as the delivery means.

    The plastic reflective cover idea has been addressed at length elsewhere and is not discussed as much in the response. I did want to mention that a carbon nanotube film has been developed by the Univ. of Texas at Dallas and if such a material could be cost-effectively scaled up, it could replace the plastic film. This material is said to be superstrong and lightweight (90lbs/square mile). Since 80% of the cost of the plastic cover project is the plastic itself, that could greatly improve its economic viability.

    Both Crutzen and Wigley’s papers and media interviews left the impression that either balloons or 10,000-20,000 aircraft would be required to carry out the sulfate aerosol injection stragegy. Wigley even based his modeling on pulses as large as that of volcanic eruptions: 1-5million metric tons all at once.

    The same result can be achieved by increasing the sulfur content of jet fuel from the present 0.04% to between 0.6 and 0.9%. Since one of my assumptions is that only half the sulfur is actually converted to reflective aerosol, if the reality is that close to 100% is, then levels fairly close to the current fuel specification limit of 0.3% can be used to achieve the desired outcome, as the expected growth in use of jet fuel keeps pace with overall GHG emissions. By doing this, GHG forcing can be held at the 2000 level until 2050, giving more time for replacement technologies for energy use to be installed.

    Alternatively, jet engines can be run rich with 1.3% of the fuel converted to soot that then blocks sunlight and possibly warms the stratosphere enough to reduce stratospheric ozone depletion reactions. A level of up to 2.6% soot might be enough by itself to hold forcing constant in 2050 and like the sulfur content in jet fuel would have to be increased over time. A combination of the higher sulfur and soot might work better and allow the sulfur levels to be kept as low as possible if 0.3% cannot be exceeded.

    Finally, I looked at direct injection of sulfur dioxide gas from aircraft. This can be done with a fleet of around 220 planes each releasing 61lbs per minute while spending 6 hours in the stratosphere each day.

    I prioritized these strategies as follows: sulfur dioxide release using dedicated fleet, run engines rich, combination of rich fuel and high sulfur fuel and high sulfur fuel only.

    Comments are welcomed. My email address is I can supply the document in Word format also if required.

  46. 246
    Richard Ordway says:

    re. 198 “Are people at NWS, NOAA and DOC afraid that the public might claim they are being scaremongers if they suggest there may be a connection between Fall tornadoes and climate change or global warming?”

    This is very interesting. Thanks for posting it. However, remember that usually no one single event or season should be attributed to global warming…you need long term trends and records. The tornadoes could be attributed, for example, to a random weak El Nino interacting with a random increase in long-term drought conditions interacting with random oceanic current fluxuations…etc.

    This does not mean that that particular tornado season was not strongly influenced by global warming, but just that scientifically it is probably a little too early to say so without more long-term records being analyzed.

    I personally agree that it probably does have something to do with global warming, but that is really just my own opinion.

  47. 247

    “No! The answer is to stopping wrecking this planet before we start mucking about with other ones.”

    Amen! Our record here doesn’t bode well for what we want to do to Mars or the Moon. Let’s see if we can keep Earth habitable first.


  48. 248
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 246. It’s more like the boundary of hot and humid air colliding with cooler and drier air is shifting northward, for this time of year.

  49. 249

    I wrote,

    … spent nuclear fuel storage …
    no neighbour of any storage site — of which, of course, the US has many — anywhere in the world seems to have been harmed by it in the slightest degree, ever.

    BPL, you quote only the second part, then mention “n-waste” storage failures at Hanford and Chelyabinsk. It sounds as if you might have a pretty good point. But is there anything important you have failed to mention?

  50. 250
    Gar Lipow says:

    >… spent nuclear fuel storage …
    no neighbour of any storage site — of which, of course, the US has many — anywhere in the world seems to have been harmed by it in the slightest degree, ever.

    Umm, I live in Washington State. Tell the neighbors of Hanaford that no-one has been harmed by nuclear waste ever.