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Start here

Filed under: — group @ 22 May 2007 - (Slovenčina) (Polski)

We’ve often been asked to provide a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change, and so here is a first cut. Unlike our other postings, we’ll amend this as we discover or are pointed to new resources. Different people have different needs and so we will group resources according to the level people start at.

For complete beginners:

NCAR: Weather and climate basics
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: Global Warming basics
Wikipedia: Global Warming
NASA: Global Warming update
National Academy of Science: America’s Climate Choices (2011)
Encyclopedia of Earth: Climate Change Collection
Global Warming FAQ (Tom Rees)
Global Warming: Man or Myth? (Scott Mandia, SUNY Suffolk)
Oxford Begbrooke: Climate Basics

There is a new booklet on Climate Literacy from multiple agencies (NOAA, NSF, AAAS) available here (pdf).

The UK Govt. has a good site on The Science of Climate Change (added Sep 2010).

The portal for climate and climate change of the ZAMG (Zentralaanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, Vienna, Austria). (In German) (added Jan 2011)

Those with some knowledge:

The IPCC AR4 Frequently Asked Questions (here (pdf)) are an excellent start. These cover:

RealClimate: Start with our index

Informed, but in need of more detail:

Science: You can’t do better than the IPCC reports themselves (AR4 2007, TAR 2001).

History: Spencer Weart’s “Discovery of Global Warming” (AIP)

Art: Robert Rohde’s “Global Warming Art

Informed, but seeking serious discussion of common contrarian talking points:

All of the below links have indexed debunks of most of the common points of confusion:

Please feel free to suggest other suitable resources, particularly in different languages, and we’ll try to keep this list up to date.


293 Responses to “Start here”

  1. 101
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Thinking Blogger Award Comment by Sean O � 25 May 2007 @ 9:18 am
    Suggest the Contribs Google strings from that; it looks like it’s yet another “Search Engine Optimization”thing.
    The link shows up on some clueless “climate” sites and appears to be a Ponzi/pyramid linking idea.
    Technorati pans the whole idea of this kind of thing: http://technorati.com/weblog/2007/02/283.html

  2. 102
    Matt Voglewede says:

    The link to the IPCC AR4 FAQ is broken (part of the filename is missing). The correct link is:

    http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_Pub_FAQs.pdf

    No need to post this as a comment; correcting the original post would be fine.

  3. 103
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 86:

    “My wife’s family live in the philippines and I am trying to get them to australia in the next few years before the rush starts and immig policies are tightened even further.”

    Jared Diamond, in the book “Collapse”, has suggested that Australia’s long-term population carrying capacity is half of the continent’s real ability to support its current population. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the ongoing drought that has the government giving serious consideration to halving the area of land they will allow agriculture production upon due to lack of water.

    If Diamond’s is a fair assessemnt, then I’m not sure increasing population is an option.

  4. 104
    Pianoguy says:

    More re: 84: Lawrence Coleman is right. But there’s some loss, so some off-the-grid renewable energy users maximize their efficiency by running DC lights and appliances. Googling “dc light bulbs” will bring up several relevant sites.

  5. 105
    James says:

    Re #99: [Look at the billions that Japanese auto companies poured into internal combustion engine development, and the resulting gains in efficiency.]

    Consider, though, that all that money produced only marginal gains. Fuel economy today is what, maybe twice that of the Model T? (For comparable size cars: I believe today’s average fleet economy is less.) Certainly not an order of magnitude better. What’s more, they’re asymptotic. You’re up against basic thermodynamics: an internal combustion (indeed, any heat engine) can only be just so efficient.

    I suppose I’m a skeptic (in the general sense, not the AGW one). I keep thinking worst-case: suppose the world puts all its energy eggs into the solar cell basket, then in 20 years or so discovers that there really isn’t a pony in that pile of horse manure? Suppose solar, especially silicon-based solar, is fairly close to being as efficient as it can be; that there aren’t any dramatic cost reductions to be had; that all feasible energy storage systems do add large costs, and have significant losses. What then?

  6. 106
    Lance Drager says:

    Further to my recent query. This contrarian thinks that the
    language in the IPCC report:

    “Found on: http://www.ipcc.ch/about/app-a.pdf

    Quote located: Page 4, third paragraph, fifth sentence.

    Quote: “Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.”

    indicates that the science will be changed to match political opinions.

    He also doesn’t think anyone has measure the IR absorbtion
    of CO2.

    “the entire purpose of the article, the final argument made specifically, was that there has been no effort whatsoever to determine in a controlled laboratory environment the temperature impact of carbon dioxide as a variable in a gaseous mixture. And that’s a fact.”

    I’m beyond my expertise here and would appreciate comments.

  7. 107
    Akonitum says:

    Here’s a simple video clip explanation of exponential growth as a contributing factor to our global warming dilemma: Are Humans Smarter Than Yeast?.

  8. 108

    Re:98 James, what I was saying is it might not quite yet be feasible for those scales of efficiency to be delivered en-masse. But with intensive research to iron out all the bugs it can be a very viable source….electric motors are also very inefficient as well, a lot of incremental work can be made to make the windings less lossy, reduce friction which in turn reduces heat..etc..etc. Don’t forget that most motors or anything in particular have artificial obsolescence built in..bearings are designed to wear out..etc. I’m still regularly using a AEG (German) spin dryer which our family has had when I was born 41 years ago..still hasn’t missed a beat..you see before the capitalist doctrine had brainwashed us all. So even as you say a car generates 5Hp given a motor built to high quality and ultra low loss standards..who knows..the car mightn’t be such a slug after all. We were quite happy riding on the backs of 1 horsepower for thousands of years..haha!

  9. 109
    Timothy Chase says:

    Lance Drager (#105) wrote:

    Further to my recent query. This contrarian thinks that the
    language in the IPCC report:

    “Found on: http://www.ipcc.ch/about/app-a.pdf

    Quote located: Page 4, third paragraph, fifth sentence.

    Quote: “Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group or the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.”

    indicates that the science will be changed to match political opinions.

    It reminds me of a “General Acceptance” build in software development.

    Programmers always want to slip something in at the last minute. Some little improvement, something they forgot, or have suddenly decided absolutely has to be put in. But putting something in at the end simply slows down the release of the software and makes it more likely that it will contain grave errors – because these will be rushed changes.

    No doubt the same thing is true here: you have a very large organization with some pretty intense personalities (perfectionism, egos, etc), and everyone is going to want to change something at the last minute – which will only result in others wanting to change something more. Everyone in their own area of expertise wants things to be perfect. This is, afterall, going into the history books – for as long as there will be history books, whatever the outcome.

    Typos? consistency? Not that much of a problem. The most recent, cutting-edge results? There will always be the most recent, cutting-edge results – which will probably be scrutinized by peers for the next several months or years – prior to tossing someone an award or smacking them with a tomato.

    At some point, somebody has to say, “No more! Now be sure to get it into the next release.”

    Just about the only thing you can do – particularly with something this big.

    He also doesn’t think anyone has measure the IR absorbtion
    of CO2.

    We’ve got the spectra – on that and other gases. As for measuring the effects of a miles high column of CO2 on IR absorbtion and the effects on temperature, probably not directly – under laboratory conditions…. Most labs are a little too small for that sort of thing.

    On that point you can tell him that he is probably right – but be sure to let him know why afterwards.

  10. 110

    Re: Timothy Chase, It seems to me that only the variables that are understood have been including in those climate models. Items such as the release of tundric methane and the consequences that will bring. Also the structual make up of the ice sheets over Greenland, Antartica and the Artic are beginning to be more understood and are more like swiss cheese than anyone previously realised. I dont think you can say well if 14-16% of the artic ice cover is disappearing every 10 years then…um..it will be such and such year based in a linear interpolation. I feel the ice structure is far more fragmented and complex than they realise and i wouldn’t be surprised if very soon ice hundreds of thousands of years old from within the mass will soon be breaking up. the speeding up of glaciers seems to indicate that fact. Hope I’m wrong. The IPCC is just using the hard data it understands with 100% certainty. There is a heck of a lot that it does not understand fully.
    In a way I hope the great ocean conveyor does stop and the temerate latitudes do get plunged again into a snap ice-age..at least with all the extra ice reflecting the sunrays back into space it should theoretically cool us down again. What do you think?

  11. 111

    [[If you create a spreadsheet with a 3ppm increase per year as a base and increase this at some rate per year between 1-10% (not unrealistic given growth rates over the last 5 years) and also assume that we see a 3C increase in temperature per doubling of concentration per ppm then it looks to me like the increase ought to be between 3C by 2080 some (at a 3ppm per year + 1% increase in this rate per year) or something venus-like by the end of the century at a (3ppm + 10% increase per year).
    Can someone point me out to where my math is wrong?
    ]]

    The 3 K for doubling of CO2 refers to doubling the entire amount in the atmosphere, say from the preindustrial 280 ppmv to 560 ppmv. The amount of heating per single ppmv increase is very small.

  12. 112

    Re #94

    Thanks, John.

  13. 113

    [[I suppose I’m a skeptic (in the general sense, not the AGW one). I keep thinking worst-case: suppose the world puts all its energy eggs into the solar cell basket, then in 20 years or so discovers that there really isn’t a pony in that pile of horse manure?]]

    Suppose we invest in aviation, then find that heavier-than-air flight is impossible?

    We already know solar cells work. At worst, if we switched to all solar cells (not that anyone in his right mind is advocating that), energy would be more expensive and we’d have to depend on cars driven by hydrogen fuel cells or some such.

  14. 114

    [[He also doesn’t think anyone has measure the IR absorbtion
    of CO2.
    “the entire purpose of the article, the final argument made specifically, was that there has been no effort whatsoever to determine in a controlled laboratory environment the temperature impact of carbon dioxide as a variable in a gaseous mixture. And that’s a fact.”
    I’m beyond my expertise here and would appreciate comments.
    ]]

    I believe John Tyndall first measured the infrared-absorbing qualities of carbon dioxide in 1859. Since then we’ve advanced to the USAF HITRAN and HITEMP databases. The person doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Greenhouse gases must have been directly measured in tens of thousands of laboratory experiments by now.

  15. 115
    James says:

    Re #108: […it might not quite yet be feasible for those scales of efficiency to be delivered en-masse. But with intensive research to iron out all the bugs it can be a very viable source…]

    Well, there’s the problem. You’re assuming that the limitations are “bugs” that can be fixed; I think they’re more likely to be reflections of basic physics & economics. You seem to be expecting order of magnitude jumps in price/performance; I think improvements will be incremental, and asymptotic.

    […electric motors are also very inefficient as well…]

    Not so. IIRC typical efficiencies are well over 90%.

    [So even as you say a car generates 5Hp given a motor built to high quality and ultra low loss standards..who knows..the car mightn’t be such a slug after all.]

    (Sigh) I drive a Honda Insight. Honda pretty much pulled out all the stops in trying to make an efficient car – aluminium body, special low rolling resistance tires, aerodynamic shape giving it the lowest CD of any production car, etc. It still takes roughly 17 HP to go 65 mph on level ground (with no headwind). So to get the same performance from your 5 HP (which you are only going to get in bright sunlight, remember), you have to make your hypothetical solar car at least 3 times as efficient.

  16. 116
    James says:

    Re #113 [Suppose we invest in aviation, then find that heavier-than-air flight is impossible?]

    Suppose we find that heavier-than-air flight is possible, then immediately predict a future full of supersonic transports and skies full of commuters using personal helicopters to get to work?

    [We already know solar cells work.]

    Sure, within their limitations. What I’m arguing against is the view that solar cells are some sort of magic wand, so that all we need to do is iron out a few bugs in the spell to have them produce endless supplies of free power.

    [At worst, if we switched to all solar cells (not that anyone in his right mind is advocating that)…]

    Oh, ah? (Recalls numerous previous threads, but wisely decides to withhold further comment :-))

  17. 117

    Re: 99 Ike Solem, I totally agree with you. And it is by these means that we will untimately save our planet. By Govs taking the initiative and not waiting for every conceivable option to miraculaously drop at their feet which our PM John Howard is fond of doing..it’s his excuse for not take any action…he just keeps repeating We’ll see what every other country in the world does in regards to a certain action and then make a careful and thorough study of it’s pro’s and con’s, then present the more economically less damaging condenders before umteen committees and that’s still only the beginning of the process. By the time he’s finalised a plan of action the only way in and out of Canberra (our seat of gov) will be by rowboat. Gov have to take quick and bold initiatives like the German and UK gov of setting hard limits for CO2 emissions and stick by them. Govs have to put billions of dollars into research and production facilities NOW. I dont believe for a minute we have reached optimal efficiency for petrol engined vehicles or solar technology. The orbital engine was just one of many examples where a different rethink of the combustion process yielded huge gains of weight and efficiency. What universities as you said need desperatly is the funding to hire more scientists and an open patent system. This is a global problem and ideas and innovations should be shared globally and not be held up by selfish protective policies.

  18. 118
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re 98:

    Seriously, comments like this and the one in #20 about how […the bonnet and hood of your car can be made of sliver cells and that will supply more than enough power to it’s electric motor for even the most blaze speed freak…] make me more than a bit skeptical about renewable energy claims. So you buy a bunch of these hypothetical 100% efficient solar cells, and cover the surface of your car with them – what’s that give you? In full sun, maybe 5 horsepower?

    Don’t knock 5 horsepower. Check out these guys before concluding this is all a pipe dream.

    What matters with something like, say, solar powered transportation, isn’t the full-sun power, as if that’s all you’ve got to work with, so there. It’s how much power you need when, where and for how long. Travelling at a constant speed, on level terrain, takes a remarkably small amount of power. It’s the speeding up really, really fast that demands power in large amounts. Slowing down, by the way, can generate power back into the system through regenerative braking, which is already in use on many hybrid vehicles.

    Fortunately, it requires it for short periods of time. Zero to 60 MPH in 10 seconds (not quite a race car, but still pretty nice) is only 10 seconds worth of high power consumption. You need 50 horsepower to do that (electric motor horsepower is more efficient than gasoline motor horsepower)? Okay, 50 HP is 745 watts / horsepower * 50 horsepower = 37.2 kilowatts. 10 seconds @ 37.2 kilowatts = 103 watt-hours. 103 watt-hours @ 12 volts = 8.6 amp-hours. That’s, like, a motorcycle battery’s worth of energy. For a 1,500 watt array, like the UT SVT vehicle’s array, that’s about 4 minutes (no, really 1500 watts * 4 minutes = 100 watt-hours).

    This is where a lot of criticisms of solar (and wind) go wrong. The peak isn’t what determines the system, it’s the total. You want A/C? You don’t start with the inrush current, you start with the daily consumption. How many hours a day? How efficient is the unit? Then you size things like the inverters for the inrush current.

    Here’s a worked example: My A/C unit — about 3 tons for my house — has an inrush current in the range of 60 to 80 amperes at 240 volts, or 14.4 to 19.2 kilo-watts, and that lasts for about 3 seconds. That’s 16 watt-hours (19,200 watts * 3 seconds / 3600 seconds/hour = 16 watt-hours). 16 watt-hours on a 3KW residential PV system (15 200 watt panels taking up about 250 square feet of roof) is 20 seconds (19,200 watts * 3 seconds / 3000 watts = 19.2 seconds). That massively huge amount of power — nearly 20KW — is fully replaced after 20 seconds of array operation. Since it takes less than 3KW to operate the A/C, that PV array can operate it just fine during the daylight hours when needed most. Surplus power is stored for overnight in batteries, or net-metered to the grid during the day, and taken back at night.

    Far from unfeasible, solar is very feasible. And you get to keep the A/C unit.

  19. 119
    Steve Reynolds says:

    On the topic of access to climate information – from:
    http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2007/05/no-comments.html#comments

    The IPCC promises that

    All written expert, and government review comments will be made available to reviewers on request during the review process and will be retained in an open archive in a location determined by the IPCC Secretariat on completion of the Report for a period of at least five years.

    Does the following sound like the response of an organization that wants to share information?

    “Please note that I have the material only in print form. If it is impossible for you to visit the archives, I can provide a photocopy of up to 100 pages for research purposes only (not republication) for a fee of $34 plus 40 cents per page.”

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    This site is worth watching, though not for this “start here” list.
    It’s interesting as a resource,and seems to be well tied to good science references.

    http://firstpulseprojects.net/Strange-Weather-mt/
    a resource hub about climate change for artists, writers and activists

    It came up when I did a search: greenland glacial icequake timing location

    The site had the relevant info I wanted, illustrated (source: Arctic Impacts of Arctic Warming, Cambridge Press, 2004) — which would have been further down in the Google list somewhere else.

    Notably, it also has an amazing collection of links to art, writing, gallery shows, and other current work that the public is seeing in many places. Fascinating.

  21. 121
    Timothy Chase says:

    Lawrence Coleman (#100) wrote:

    Re: Timothy Chase, It seems to me that only the variables that are understood have been including in those climate models. Items such as the release of tundric methane and the consequences that will bring. Also the structual make up of the ice sheets over Greenland, Antartica and the Artic are beginning to be more understood and are more like swiss cheese than anyone previously realised.

    I completely agree.

    There are positive feedbacks which they obviously have not taken into account. So far we have been in what is essentially a linear regime, but things are changing. The ice quakes in Greenland demonstrate this, as does the reduced ability of the antarctic ocean to absorb carbon dioxide, or plants to do the same during periods of drought. Likewise, we know that the permafrost is melting in the near-polar regions, and we are seeing melts in the Antarctic interior which we weren’t expecting to see.

    The methane hydrates are what worry me the most – except possibly the loss of albedo if, due to the affects of climate change upon the world economy, we see a downturn in economic activity leading to reduced aerosols. At this point we do not know the extent to which aerosols have masked the effects of carbon dioxide upon the climate. In was only a few weeks ago that we were able to detect the largely invisible parts of clouds that extend for kilometers beyond their visible boundaries.

    Without the aerosols, we will see less nucleation and the diffuse extensions of the clouds which result, leading to a reduction of global dimming. However, aerosols can mask the effects of carbon dioxide only for so long anyway. When someone suggested earlier that we might want to increase the level of aerosols, Gavin pointed out that among other things, we would need to keep pumping in greater and greater levels of aerosols to counteract the effects of carbon dioxide as they are washed out by the rain shortly after they are released.

    In a way I hope the great ocean conveyor does stop and the temerate latitudes do get plunged again into a snap ice-age..at least with all the extra ice reflecting the sunrays back into space it should theoretically cool us down again. What do you think?

    Currently what is being projected (at most, and over the period of a century) is a 30% reduction in the gulf stream. This may change as we come to learn more about the feedbacks, but I do not know enough to suggest otherwise.

    What worries me more is that the temperatures tend to rise more in the polar regions, and this will tend to reduce the capacity of the ocean to absorb oxygen. In essence, the polar ocean acts as the lungs for the rest due to its lower temperatures and the thermohaline circulation. Raise the temperatures there and you will greatly reduce the capacity of the ocean to take on oxygen. I believe something in the neighborhood of ten or fifteen degrees would be quite significant. In the neighborhood of a fifty percent reduction – although this would take a fair amount of time, at least with respect to those parts of the ocean which are further from the thermohaline.

    As I understand it (due to my interest in prebiotic chemistry), it takes about a thousand years for much of the water to cycle through the ocean. But what is probably more significant in this regard would be the higher levels of algae during the cooler parts of the year. As they die off earlier and earlier, their organic decay will result in the hypoxic deadzones – as it is already. However, these will tend to become larger, more frequent and will tend to occur earlier each year. Then of course there is the increased acidity of the ocean which is destroying the coral. Together, the effects of climate change on the ocean will be the first part of a double wammy on our food supply. The second part will be the effects of more common and severe droughts upon agriculture.

  22. 122
    James says:

    Re #118: [What matters with something like, say, solar powered transportation, isn’t the full-sun power, as if that’s all you’ve got to work with, so there.]

    That was the claim as it was stated in the post I was commenting on: that you could cover your car with solar cells and thereby get enough power to satisfy the most extreme speed freak. Which, IMHO, is just another instance of solar cell as magic wand :-)

    [It’s how much power you need when, where and for how long.]

    Now think about that, and the logical problems of putting solar cells on cars. Even if technical improvements reduce the price considerably, solar cells still cost money. So you buy say 5 m^2 of cells: do you want to put them on your car, which may spend most of its time in the garage, or parked under shade trees, or on your house, in an optimal orientation so they produce as much power as possible?

    [Travelling at a constant speed, on level terrain, takes a remarkably small amount of power.]

    Not that small: about 17 HP for the Insight. (Which I determined by experiment.) As to the rest, I know it well, since I’ve been driving the Insight for nearly four years now. Though you left out one fairly obvious factor in your power requirements, which is climbing hills. 5 HP or so may drive a streamlined, lightweight solar racer at a respectable speed on the flat, but try climbing several thousand vertical feet of 6% grade with it.

  23. 123
    Jon says:

    404 on the IPCC AR4 Frequently Asked Questions link at the top.

  24. 124

    [[[At worst, if we switched to all solar cells (not that anyone in his right mind is advocating that)…]
    Oh, ah? (Recalls numerous previous threads, but wisely decides to withhold further comment )
    ]]

    If I said anywhere that we should switch to 100% photovoltaics as our power source, please quote me to that effect. I don’t believe I ever said any such thing.

  25. 125
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jon, the IPCC file name for their FAQ has changed, it’s accessible via this page (apparently meant to be used as their gateway) — says at the top
    “Please access the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the Technical Summary (TS), chapters and other material from the following table of links.”

    Some sites don’t encourage or support deep linking into their filesystem.

    The FAQ is the 4th one down, at the moment, in the list on their gateway page:

    http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html

  26. 126
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re #122:

    That was the claim as it was stated in the post I was commenting on: that you could cover your car with solar cells and thereby get enough power to satisfy the most extreme speed freak. Which, IMHO, is just another instance of solar cell as magic wand

    I took it as another example of hyperbole, like when I write about boiling the oceans.

    No amount of solar power is going to satisfy my needs for speed ;)

    I think part of why that comment was made is the OP doesn’t understand the physics behind PV. Certainly if a 3KW array can be put on a solar raycer, and these sliver cells are 15 times more efficient, some 45KW (naive math …) would be enough for quite a bit of performance.

    Solar is good for peak production — it produces power when people need it most, namely when the sun is shining. It can also be produced in a decentralized manner. Wind blows at night and day, and renewable carbon-based fuels can provide additional capacity, see my numerous posts on the subject of thermal depolymerization. Nuclear and hydro can easily round out the rest.

    If you look at something like the Tesla Roader, it should be very clear that “solar powered” cars can have very real performance. The solar array might not be ON the car, but that wouldn’t mean a Tesla Roadster that’s charged by solar power is any less “solar powered”. Or “wind powered”.

    Finally, I’m not sure how many people drive in areas where there are thousands of feet of 6% vertical grades. Most of my driving, and I live near the Texas Hill Country, is plus or minus a few hundred feet, and few of the grades I traverse are 6% for any length of time. People who live in those areas may well have to settle for liquid-fueled cars. Personally, I have a 365 gross horsepower V8 antique I intend to drive until I’m dead, or buy one with more chrome parts. If it runs on bio-gasoline, that’s fine with me.

    The bottom line is that the only thing keeping us from getting there is the dead weight of people telling us we can’t ever get there. We don’t all have to switch at once, so it’s not a matter of production capacity. We simply have to make different choices — reduce consumption through readily available energy savings, make renewable choices when the time comes for us as individuals, and support programs that are being developed today.

  27. 127

    Hello,

    Perhaps some information and resources relative to creating a Carbon Neutral Supply Chain would be useful for all the logistics and supply chain professionals who have in their power the ability to make a significant impact?

    In Search of the Carbon Neutral Supply Chain
    http://supplychainnetwork.com/?p=52

    Cheers

    Jeff
    http://supplychainnetwork.com/

  28. 128
    James says:

    Re #124: [If I said anywhere that we should switch to 100% photovoltaics as our power source, please quote me to that effect.]

    100% photovoltaics, no. 100% renewables with a big share being photovoltaics, see e.g. “A Bit of Philosophy”, comments #117 & 174. It’s the same “magic wand” attitude: technology X works (at least maybe sorta) in the right circumstances, therefore if the government would just dump a lot of R&D money into it, it would solve all our problems.

    (Oddly enough, the only field where I never see this attitude is nuclear, in which any perceived problem, no matter how slight and amenable to solution, is an immediate show-stopper.)

  29. 129
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Re: #126

    James, I’m sure Barton is more than capable of telling you that you’re over-reaching. I’ve re-read the two referenced posts and don’t see him saying anything that could be construed to mean what you’ve implied. Since you’ve made the same “magic wand” accusation in response to me, I am going to respond.

    I don’t know of anyone, Barton included, who is claiming that solar can do it all. If it had to, yes, solar could “do it all”, but it wouldn’t be as efficient as a mixture of technologies, for the same reason that coal, natural gas, hydro, geothermal and nuclear are all used today. For solar to “do it all”, there would be massive storage problems in need of being solved, and those storage problems can all be solved by relying less heavily on solar. The same, by the way, is true of wind. Wind can also “do it all”, and like solar, it has storage issues.

    What makes these technologies different from existing technologies is that there is no “throttle”. I can’t make the wind blow faster, or the sun shine brighter, just because the grid needs more power. The requirement that energy producers plan their power production for minutes and years in advance (every 15 minutes on the grid here, with maintenance scheduled a year or more in advance) is one that small producers of wind and solar power cannot presently meet.

    Things are slowly picking up in the renewable energy area. Businesses are finding that solar power makes sense, and some have reported that their monthly electric bill often consists of nothing more than the base customer charge.

  30. 130
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote:

    It’s the same “magic wand” attitude: technology X works (at least maybe sorta) in the right circumstances, therefore if the government would just dump a lot of R&D money into it, it would solve all our problems […] the only field where I never see this attitude is nuclear, in which any perceived problem, no matter how slight and amenable to solution, is an immediate show-stopper.

    The one field where I consistently see that attitude is nuclear. Nuclear proponents typically pronounce that nuclear is THE answer to global warming, and also that “no one can be serious about dealing with global warming unless they support a massive expansion of nuclear power”.

    I see these sweeping assertions repeated over and over and over by advocates of nuclear power — in spite of the fact that even a very large scale buildup of nuclear electrical generation (doubling or tripling current capacity) would accomplish at most a modest reduction in GHG emissions, and that reduction would be hugely expensive and take decades to realize.

    Also, essentially the entire agenda of nuclear proponents is to get “the government to dump a lot of money into it”, as indeed it must be, because unlike wind and solar the free market is completely uninterested in investing in nuclear power unless it is backed by huge government subsidies and the taxpayers insure all the risks — not just the risks of catastrophic accidents (via the Price-Anderson Act) but under current proposals, all of the economic risks of investing in new nuclear plants.

    Also, what I consistently hear from nuclear advocates is glib dismissal of all the very serious problems and risks of nuclear power as “slight” and “amenable to solution” — e.g. in regard to the actually intractable problems of the toxicity of the nuclear fuel cycle, the permanent sequestration of large amounts of high level nuclear waste, and the danger of facilitating nuclear weapons proliferation.

    So, oddly enough, what you describe is pretty much the exact opposite of my own experience of pro-nuclear advocacy.

    My own hope is that extremely low-cost distributed photovoltaics will quickly become a “disruptive technology” — widely used, tied together by a smart grid (Al Gore’s “Electranet”) — that will change the entire paradigm of electrical power generation similar to the way that the personal computer transformed data processing, or the cell phone transformed telecommunications. We will find there is considerably reduced need to build large centralized power plants of any kind, and what centralized power generation is needed will be supplied by wind turbines and large-scale solar installations in suitable locations. Power storage will be provided by batteries, flywheels, hydrogen, etc., which like solar and wind power generation itself will be both centralized and distributed (including in the battery packs of electric cars).

  31. 131
    Ike Solem says:

    SecularAnimist, your comments about low-cost PV and energy storage systems are very true. The solar resource is massive and largely untapped.

    James, on the other hand, is promoting disinformation when he says that “there really isn’t a pony in that pile of horse manure? Suppose solar, especially silicon-based solar, is fairly close to being as efficient as it can be?”

    Low-cost solar PV is nowhere near the current theoretical estimates of >50% efficient energy capture from the solar spectrum – and green plants do an even better job of capturing light energy with their antenna proteins.

    Horse manure? That kind of language reveals a certain agenda, don’t you think? I’d take a look at a few references and learn a little about the topic instead of relying on invective – for example, see Quantum Dots May Boost Photovoltaic Efficiency To 65%:

    There are huge gains to be made in solar power production, both in low-cost production strategies and in increasing efficiency. The only problem? Noone will want to buy coal or nuclear generated electricity if they can get clean power from sunlight instead.

    This is why governments need to step in and mandate the development of solar – once a carbon tax is applied, and the full costs of nuclear are included (waste disposal, plant construction, mothballing, etc.) it will be obvious that solar is the best low cost alternative – especially for the equatorial and subtropical regions of the world.

    (Maintaining existing nuclear plants is a good idea, but investing in new nuclear instead of solar generation is just ridiculous, for multiple reasons – high costs, waste disposal problems, and nuclear weapons proliferation)

  32. 132
    peter says:

    I am a global warming skeptic so please speak to me. How can the IPCC use temperature data with three significant figures? How can they be confident that the temperature at any point on the earth in 1000 A.D. was 32.1 degrees C rather than 32.2 degress C? If the data were reliable to two significant figures the profile would be a flat line with a possible step change of 1 degree C around 2000. Am I wrong?

    [Response:The correct unit is for the temperature anomaly i.e. a tenth of a degree to a degree say. If it was in absolute degrees the scale (Kelvin or Celcius) would make a big difference in precision – which it shouldn’t. Therefore there is only one significant figure in any of the instrumental or reconstucted hemispheric or global temperature records. – gavin]

  33. 133
    Hank Roberts says:

    I recall an early study — in the days of 300 baud acoustic coupler modems and bulletin boards — done by the telephone companies that forecast a steadily increasing flow of profit from long distance phone calls made to reach BBSs outside of people’s local calling areas. A VAX or something smaller, here or there with a dozen phone lines connected to it

    The phone companies really were looking forward to seeing more and more BBSs develop, and customers having to make more and more long distance telephone calls. Profit assured!

    I read about that, I recall, on a VT220 DEC terminal attached directly to the modem and phone line. I didn’t have my own computer yet, just ran as a remote terminal.

    I was seriously worried at the time about what it was going to cost me in long distance charges, as I was developing quite a fondness for this stuff. As long as it was available only from one big company that could charge by the minute, it looked like a big expense that could keep getting more expensive. Kind of like electricity.

    That was 1982, before the IBM-PC and PC-Talk. (PC-Talk and PC-File were the first shareware) http://www.asp-shareware.org/users/history-of-shareware.asp

    Distributed computer networking systems blew that hypothetical phone company long distance profit center away. Fido-net (1984) http://www.fidonet.org/inet92_Randy_Bush.txt

    I can see a smart grid and power sharing — Electranet — being very effective. Distributed systems are attractive; they also are very inspiring of local, individual, personal economies and ways of cutting one’s expenses.

    Worst case? Imagine there’s limited electricity available on your local cooperative system, and the system’s smart enough to track when each of the cooperators wants to schedule using the big gulp of it for the washing machine or the pump, and when they’re okay with the low-power LED lights and the gravity feed water. Load sharing, local.

  34. 134

    [[Re #124: [If I said anywhere that we should switch to 100% photovoltaics as our power source, please quote me to that effect.]
    100% photovoltaics, no. 100% renewables with a big share being photovoltaics, see e.g. “A Bit of Philosophy”, comments #117 & 174. It’s the same “magic wand” attitude: technology X works (at least maybe sorta) in the right circumstances, therefore if the government would just dump a lot of R&D money into it, it would solve all our problems.
    ]]

    When I say something incorrect, you can point it out. Smarmy comments about my “magic wand” attitude are neither necessary nor appreciated. And I stand by the point that the US can get all its energy needs from renewable resources. There is nothing intrinsically impossible about the proposition. We could get it all from coal, too, or from nuclear. There are no natural laws prohibiting any of the three. If anything comes close to a “magic wand” attitude, it is your attitude that nuclear must be in the mix or the effort will fail. That’s really like magical thinking, nuclear being the charm or mystical ingredient that makes it all work.

  35. 135
    pete best says:

    RE #134, When you say you can get it all from renewable sustainable sources, where exactly ?

    Wind – Ok (suffers from on demand problems as it is not always rainy)
    Solar – Ok (suffers from the latitude and demand problem)
    Ground heat Pumps – OK (a good idea in the USA)
    Geothermal – OK (a good idea in the USA)
    Energy efficient homes – OK (is this a workable idea in the USA ?)
    Landfill gas burning – OK (can generate some power)
    Nuclear – not renewable is it ?
    Burying carbon from coal – lets hope it works and soon but not sustaianble.

    Can we maintain a baseload on the national grid systems free from fossil fuels ?

  36. 136
    Rod B says:

    Gavin (132), I’m confused. I know the comparative temperatures are given in “anomalies” (which I take is differences or difference from the norm), but anomalies aren’t measured, are they? The measurements have to be made in absolutes (directly or indirectly), don’t they? The anomaly significant digits are 1, but that’s calculated, from absolute measurements of 3 significant digits. ??? What am I (and Peter) missing?

    [Response: You calculate local anomalies and average them to produce a hemispheric mean. This works because the distance over which monthly temperature anomalies are correlated is much further than the distance over which local absolute temperatures are – thus you need far fewer stations than you would to calculate the absolute hemispheric mean (on the order of 60 or so to get a good average). -gavin]

  37. 137
    Rod B says:

    Distributive power has its advantages, as Hank points out. One major deficiency (though not necessarily a show stopper) is the capability to reliably match/plan loads and sources. Without the central control it, like all decentralized complex peer-coupled systems, has the possibility of major disruptions and faults — not often, but disastrous when (if?). (btw, the current telecommunications infrastructure is getting to that point, also.) It’s probably manageable, but needs to be addressed — which, with the current fervor, I don’t see being done.

    The benefit of decentralization is decentralization; the downside is the loss of centralization….

  38. 138
    James says:

    Re #131: [James, on the other hand, is promoting disinformation when he says that “there really isn’t a pony in that pile of horse manure?]

    Disinformation? How so? I was putting forth a hypothesis, not making an assertion. I don’t know how efficient an affordable solar cell can be. You don’t either. No one does. The difference seems that you optimistic sorts want to plunge ahead on the assumption that you can make the technology do what you want, within the time that the world has left.

    [Low-cost solar PV is nowhere near the current theoretical estimates…]

    Yes, and theoretically hydrogen fusion will give us plenty of cheap, clean, carbon-free energy. Unfortunately, in practice nobody has made it work yet. Which is my point: you’re betting that you can turn a theoretical possibility into practical technology. Suppose you can’t? What’s your fallback plan?

    [Horse manure? That kind of language reveals a certain agenda, don’t you think?]

    (Sigh) No, it’s a reference to what I thought was a well-known joke about the definition of optimism: “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere”

    [The only problem? Noone will want to buy coal or nuclear generated electricity if they can get clean power from sunlight instead.]

    Why is that a problem? It looks like an opportunity to me: there’s an awful lot of money to be made by developing and selling cost-efficient solar cells, which is why a lot of R&D money is being invested in them. You seem to be espousing a variant of the 100 mpg carburetor conspiracy theory here.

  39. 139
    James says:

    Re #133: [Imagine there’s limited electricity available on your local cooperative system, and the system’s smart enough to track when each of the cooperators wants to schedule using the big gulp of it for the washing machine or the pump, and when they’re okay with the low-power LED lights and the gravity feed water. Load sharing, local.]

    I think you’re seeing only a small part of the system: sure, you could run your house this way, or indeed, add some batteries and go off the grid entirely. But how do you run industrial loads, such as the semiconductor fabrication plant that makes the processors that control your smart grid, this way?

  40. 140
    James says:

    Re #133: [And I stand by the point that the US can get all its energy needs from renewable resources.]

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, other people (who presumably have more expertise, and have studied the options in more detail) disagree.

    [There is nothing intrinsically impossible about the proposition. We could get it all from coal, too, or from nuclear. There are no natural laws prohibiting any of the three.]

    That’s not the issue, though. The problem is how to reduce CO2 emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. We can’t, obviously, do this by burning coal, which seems to leave a mix (by which I mean varying either component from 0 to 100%) of nuclear & renewables as the only option.

    [If anything comes close to a “magic wand” attitude, it is your attitude that nuclear must be in the mix or the effort will fail. That’s really like magical thinking, nuclear being the charm or mystical ingredient that makes it all work.]

    Nothing magical about it: it’s simply that nuclear works, right now. Show me another power source that does: that’s CO2-free; that can provide throttable power; that (unlike hydro or current geothermal) has available resources; that doesn’t require years of R&D and prototyping before going into production.

  41. 141
    Hank Roberts says:

    Nobody’s solved all the problems associated with _any_ energy production yet.

    Conservation and efficiency work.

    Intelligent distribution can help — if every building can store as well as use energy, imagine what a smart network could do by taking advantage.

    Any heat storage material (ice or other phase change) could be used to accept any cheap surplus energy without immediately using it in the living space, store it up as heat and cold in insulated space and work off it later. A deep insulated foundation perimeter could use just the mass of earth inside it for those purposes, at the cost of digging deeper trenches.

    Use over the network any available storage battery capacity (let the utility rent space in uncharged batteries if the homeowner has it to spare, moment by moment).

  42. 142
    Eli Rabett says:

    Yes, nuclear works right now, unfortunately pretty much only with pressurized water reactors, but they have become pretty reliable. Nuclear is excellent for base load, it sucks for peak load (you can’t ramp those guys up and down very fast). Renewables, otoh appear to be very good for peak load. Conclusions should be obvious, but for the oblivious out there, one energy source is not going to do the job.

  43. 143
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    Eli,
    You may be overestimating the viability of most renewables to effectively meet peak demand. To be an effective peaking source, renewables must be able to provide firm generation at peak times. If the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing during the peak, a utility has to have backup capacity installed; the lights can’t go out. The intermittency of most renewable sources means that for each wind turbine installed to meet peak demand, a natural gas turbine has to be installed for backup. Intermittent sources also can create system frequency and voltage problems, as they tend to ramp up or go offline rather unpredictably. Also, the time of highest power generation for, say, solar is not necessarily the time of peak demand (though it can be for some places).

    Now, if you can find a way to “firm” up intermittent generation (e.g. through batteries, pumped storage hydro, or hydrogen production), then renewables become much more viable for large-scale development without destabilizing the grid.

    As someone who has worked on renewable energy issues in a small island microgrid, I’ve seen an unfortunate tendency to ignore the shortcomings of intermittent sources when promoting renewables.

  44. 144
    Rod B says:

    Thanks, Gavin, but I must be dense — still not grasping something. My conjecture was that anamolies are calculated by measuring absolutes. The measurement of absolutes is the only raw data input…??? If so, how can the absolutes be measured in the past (indirect) to three significant digits??

  45. 145
    Hank Roberts says:

    The RC thread “A Bit of Philosophy” is closed: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/a-bit-of-philosophy/

    The discussion is mentioned, and also continuing, here: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/5/18/143432/144

  46. 146
    John Mashey says:

    143, Zeke:

    Your point is well-taken.

    However, one must be careful not to overgeneralize microgrid results to large grids that have intermittent sources with larger geographic dispersions to average out the peak and valleys better.

    Of course, I still wish for a breakthrough in energy-storage technology. We get great morning sun, but have big trees on neighbor’s property to SouthWest, exactly what you don’t want for PG&E summer pricing.

  47. 147
    ray ladbury says:

    WRT energy resources and climate change. I do not think it is a question of picking and choosing among energy resources. I don’t think we have that luxury. First, meeting climate change goals is not going to be cheap–and if it comes to a choice between putting bread on the table or mitigiting climate change, I know which way people will vote. The US, European and Asian economies all have to remain healthy to meet these challenges. Second, it does not matter how much we plead or threaten or cajole the developing world to do their part to address the threat. Poor countries will continue to develop and continue to use more energy because they have to. If we can show them a way to meet their energy needs with clean sources, I’m sure they would perfer that. If not, they’ll burn coal, or oil or wood or cattle dung.
    By all means, let’s meet as much of the increasing energy demand as we can with conservation and renewables. However, if climate change is the threat I think it is, we will not have the luxury of picking and choosing what energy resources we use.

  48. 148
    peter says:

    Thank you Gavin for your reply to 132. However, I do not follow your explanation. The IPCC variable may be temperature anomaly, or temperature change, but that is not a physical property. Temperature is a physical property that can be measured with precision and accuracy. The precision and accuracy of the temperature anomalies can only be as good as those of the measured temperatures being compared. Does the IPCC propose that recent temperature data accurate and precise to 0.1 deg C was acquired, used to develop an empirical relationship using tree rings and the empirical relationship used to extrapolate the temperature anomaly all the way back to 1000 A.D.? If so, how can we know that the measured temperatures are representative of global temperatures? And are the integrations of the tree rings (I suppose that is how it is done) as accurate and precise as the underlying temperature data?

    [Response: Actually the precision of a mean can be significantly higher than the precision of any individual measurement (error goes like 1/sqrt(n)), but yes, the instrumental record of hemispheric mean anomalies is good to about 0.1 deg C (getting worse as you go back in time due to coverage issues). No proxy or network of proxies is going to be as good as that of course. – gavin]

  49. 149
    FurryCatHerder says:

    Zeke,

    It’s very likely that the problems you experienced with renewable power in a small geographical area, and I’m assuming “small island” is describing the geographical area over which you were generating power, is that the probability of any one generating source — whether wind or solar — to be functional is closely related to the probability that all the others will also be functional. Sunset at the equator is a 1,000 MPH event — a 10 mile square island is going to see the sun go down all at once. It’s something everyone knows about and can plan for — it happens every day at sundown :) But with small power producers, if a large rain storm arrives, the same thing is going to happen as the entire 10 mile square area is covered in clouds.

    Over larger geographical areas, the problems with weather begin to even out. Those 80% sunny days and 80% windy days, when combined together can produce a fairly reliable base amount of power — somewhere close to 80% of the installed capacity. A ten mile square area, or however “small island” is defined for your experience, is not sufficiently large.

    As regards the other problems — voltage and frequency instability — I suspect they are also related to the size of the microgrid. In the States, at least, there already are significant producers of renewable power, and they are held to the same strict standards as all other producers. Significant amounts of wind power are already in operation, and more is coming this year. Wind is not only here, but in my utility area, it is cheaper to go with the wind folks (Green Mountain) than the natural gas folks (TXU Electric) for some of the plans.

  50. 150
    James says:

    Re 141: [Conservation and efficiency work.]

    Sure, and I’ve been doing them myself for years, and as a result spend maybe half as much on energy as my neighbors, without sacrificing anything in the way of my preferred lifestyle. The problem is that they don’t get you down to zero.

    […if every building can store as well as use energy…]

    That’s a big if. It ignores the fact that (AFAIK at least) every energy storage system costs money to build and install, and incurs significant energy losses in the storage & regeneration cycle. If people are claiming that nuclear’s too expensive, wouldn’t it be fair to add up these costs (using realistic estimates for technology that’s not quite working yet), and factor them into the comparison?

    Don’t forget recurrent costs, either. You mention battery storage. Batteries have a finite (and in my experience fairly short) service life, after which they need to be replaced. Lead-acid is probably the cheapest battery technology at present, so let’s think about that. How long does the lead-acid battery in your car last, and how much does it cost to replace? Multiply by the number of batteries needed to run your building.

    Then you might consider the environmental problems posed by large quantities of lead & sulfuric acid. What are the effects of a major fire in your battery-powered building? Might it spread a plume of toxic lead compounds for miles downwind?


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