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293 comments on this post.
  1. Paul Higgins:

    Next, in my view, is what society chooses to do about the risks created by climate change. To help inform that discussion the American Meteorological Society initiated the ClimatePolicy.org project (http://www.ClimatePolicy.org).

  2. Bill:

    Great idea…

    Because so much of what we think may happen is based upon what we think has happened
    perhaps a pointer to PAGES http://www.pages.unibe.ch/ might be helpful??

    …FWIW…

  3. Reasic:

    I happen to be partial to reasic.com. :P

    Shameful plug, I know, but I had to do it. The window was opened. Thanks for the link, btw, guys.

  4. pat n:

    I don’t see NOAA or NOAA’s NWS mentioned. Does anyone feel they have enough courage, moral obligation and know how to stand up to two generals and a Vice Admiral? – to see that they are held accountable for their wrong doing on global warming?

    http://twincities.indymedia.org/newswire/display/30421/index.php

  5. Rod B:

    At first glance it looks 100% biased/advocacy. I would have preferred all but one reference being that way to make it fair (though you certainly should not make it balanced.) But it looks pretty good and helpful; I’m looking forward to it. Good work (as usual).

    btw, while we all can sympathize with “pat n” (#3), I don’t think lynching belongs.

  6. Steve:

    One thing I’ve been looking for but haven’t found yet is a recommended list of peer-reviewed papers – i.e. for someone who isn’t afraid of the science, which papers would you recommend reading to get an overall picture of where the research is at?

  7. Tony:

    What I’ve been looking for is a site that actively debunks Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit site. I’ve noticed that climate scientists rarely link to him. On his site, he appears to make some very serious allegations about the integrity of the IPCC process, and is still engaged in fighting the hockey stick (and now, spaghetti) wars.

    Is there a definitive post somewhere that addresses his criticisms?

  8. S. Molnar:

    How about some climate first principles (pdf)?

  9. Tony:

    Hi, I don’t mean to turn this into yet another sceptic thread, but I’ve read in another site that there apparently are doubts about current models assuming that climate sensitivity is constant. (Do they indeed assume this?)

    Also, the individual asserts that control systems theory has not been properly addressed in the current models, and that some climate scientists who have properly accounted for this have doubts about the current models.

    I’m not a climate scientist, just an interested layperson, and I thought I’d seen all the sceptic arguments, but this is a new one for me. Would appreciate any reply. Thanks!

  10. Eco Author Chris Eldridge:

    Isn’t environmentalism the right thing to do regardless? On top of such a comprehensive listing of facts, I think we also need to broaden out the apeal.
    Basically, you really don’t even need to believe in global warming to want to live more efficiently, right? I mean, it’s the right thing to do for many other critical reasons. Apart from improving our health:

    Living more efficiently SAVES MONEY. Yeah, like you really need to twist my arm for that… To think how companies can save millions in just the efficient design of their office buildings. Economy cars can also save you like $16,000 in gas over the life of the car when figured at just $2.00 per gallon. Isn’t that worth it right there?

    It improves our national security. Oil could spike to $5.00 a gallon tomorrow if something happened in the Middle East or a hurricane hit Huston. If that happened, the economy and our security would be greatly weakened, Duh!

    Burning less fuel creates less smog, less air pollution, and less soil contamination. Go figure…

    Living more efficiently ultimately lowers our impact on wildlife and forest areas in the form of less acid rain, fewer catastrophic oil spills, and less strip mining.

    Finally, if we can become more energy self-sufficient on a very local level we become that much less vulnerable to region-wide disasters like Hurricanes or mass blackouts. In this regard, renewable energy, isn’t just good for the environment. It’s also the key to keeping the power on when everybody else is sitting in the dark.

    Overall, isn’t wastefulness and carelessness “morally” wrong? We have to expand our thinking to find solutions that address the broadest possible array of problems. Being able to work productively at home or in our own communities would, to me, be the most ‘cut-to-the-chase solution’ of them all as it would eliminate the need for a daily commute in the first place while giving us five more hours of free time during the week! It’s exactly what LA is trying to do to curb the extraordinary amount of traffic they have: create consolidated communities where people live, work, and have great recreational facilities nearby! Got to think that’s smart at some level, right?

  11. mankoff:

    EdGCM! http://edgcm.columbia.edu lets you run a climate model on your laptop.

  12. Hugh Curran:

    These links for “complete beginners” and the site for the IPCC reports are great, as are the Realclimate Index. Although I was aware of a couple of the websites I wasn’t aware of all of them and will post them to my on-line class on ecology. A lot of students will be clicking on those links in the next few months.

  13. Balta:

    A couple months ago I was looking for a really simple graph showing the ice core CO2 measurements with the modern day rise superimposed on it to show to a contrarian. An easy resource for any of the simple but powerful graphs that the science has produced (some of which simply don’t appear within the IPCC reports in a way that is presentable to the public) could be useful.

  14. Gareth:

    Re #12: Balta

    You need Global Warming Art.

  15. Hank Roberts:

    A list for nspiration and humor?
    example: http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/2007/04/socialism-in-matchbox.html
    (don’t miss the video there no matter what your politics)

  16. alex muller:

    Hey I was wondering what anyone thought of this article: http://thenewsroom.com/details/329988/Business?c_id=adm It’s kind of interesting and it makes you think about global warming from an economic standpoint. Do you think anyone in the United States government might be into this type of thing? How does stuff like this affect the energy crisis?

  17. E. Somanathan:

    One thing which is confusing in all the commentary is the shifting baseline for temperature increases. The AR4 Summaries for Policy Makers from Working Groups 1, 2, and 3 sometimes use 1960-1990, sometimes 1980-99, and sometimes “pre-industrial”. Is there a place where one can see what the levels for these baselines are, so that translation is possible?

  18. John Mashey:

    UK Met office, John Mitchell’s “Climate Change Myths” is a short one, but useful.

  19. Emile Arens:

    Since everyone stumbles on a *wealth* of websites, any commentary on other more dubiuous websites would also be a good starter. Just to avoid confusion. Perhaps under a header like like “Wat not to visit”? Make sure you provide some hints as to why these sites are not that good.

    I recall vividly the comments the bloggers make in their inline responses when someone copies information from these dubious sites.

    Thanks for all the good science blogs and comments. This is a great site! I am amazed you guys find time to maintain this site. Did you invent a parallel universe? :-)

  20. Lawrence Coleman:

    Great infomative site! Just heard of the huge chunk of the artic that recently broke off..bloody scary!! Hey guys..australia has invented new solar cell technology called ‘sliver’ cells – 15x more efficient than the current ones and flexible too. In production within 18 months -2 years. What this means is that the avearage family house can be producing 30Kw+ at the same price as a normal 2Kw solar system. and it uses 99% less silicon than conventional ones as well! There are ways to reverse global warming..all it takes is people to be aware of their options and to apply the blowtorch to their respective governments. Just take a minute to think of all the possibilities that this new technology promises. Flexible–so 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 to raise a sweat over. It’s time to stop talking about what we are going to do and get in there and damn well DO-IT!!!! I know I am!! Hope this has been an inspiration.

  21. Juola (Joe) A. Haga:

    Compend’s a good move, I think. Within the last few days I’ve read in news services of Dr. Mike Raupach ‘s and Dr. Pep Canadell’s report for the Aussie CSIRO Global Carbon Project that emissions have intensified and carbon-loading of the atmosphere has increased near or beyond IPCC worst-case scenarios. No Hank Roberts-style adept at net linkages, I google Steve Rintoul and other ocean-sniffers from time to time. Thank you for permitting me to gum crumbs from the high table.

  22. Dan:

    re: 5. Science links are not “advocacy”. That should be clear by now.

  23. Fergus Brown:

    A lot of the links are compiled here:
    http://fergusbrown.wordpress.com/2007/02/24/some-information-about-climate-change/
    The AR4 isn’t there yet, but the TAR is.
    Scepticism is also accounted for.
    Regards,

  24. danny bloom:

    One issue that has not been adequately addressed yet is the possible need to start planning and designing and building model polar cities and towns now, in the event that they are needed in the distant future, when building materials and transport fuel will be scarce. Anybody thinking about this yet?

  25. Dennis:

    Great post – thanks! One thing you could add to it and maintain over time would be a list of climate focused blogs. Many of us maintain links to other blogs with a climate change focus and this helps create community and spread awareness. Since you’ve got a good following and are well respected, maintaining a clearing house list of such blogs in this this post would be a great community service.

    Here’s a list of those I’m currently following via RSS. Many of these I list in my blog’s blogroll and some of them I am cross-linked with (and would be pleased to be cross-linked with all of them):

    http://climatedenial.org
    http://climateprogress.org
    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org
    http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com
    http://deconsumption.typepad.com
    http://www.globalissues.org
    http://globalisation-and-the-environment.blogspot.com
    http://fergusbrown.wordpress.com
    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com
    http://www.realclimate.org
    http://reasic.com

    Not all of these are single issue blogs but climate issues form a significant part of all of them.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis
    samadhisoft.com

  26. Mike Donald:

    I find sourcewatch a goodun for finding out the background of sceptics.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SourceWatch

  27. Andrew:

    This is one of those pages that will be useful for years to come. You guys to great work on the site, thanks.

  28. Ray Ladbury:

    Rod B., what would you suggest to make the suggestions “fair and balanced”? I personally don’t know of any “skeptical” websites that deal in actual science. I mean, would you suggest that a biology department offer a course on creationism just to be “fair and balanced”?
    I’m reminded of a scene from the play “Greater Tuna”, a very funny play that revolves around the only radio station in the town of Tuna, Texas. In one scene, the Station Manager is interviewing a “concerned citizen” who is advocating the removal of several books from the Library. One book that is subject to his wrath is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. When asked why, he replies incredulously, “Why, it only presents one side of the slavery issue.” There are some issues that only have one side, and the science of climate change is such an issue.
    There is still room for legitimate debate about how bad things are going to get, although I think the IPCC has mostly been quite conservative in their analysis. There’s lots of room for debate about how we handle the issue. I have yet to hear anyone present a coherent case for the so-called skeptic’s point of view on the science. Have you?

  29. Craig Allen:

    Re #20: Sliver cells solar panels:

    Lawrence, that is bloody amazing. I found a good blurb on it here. 5 to 7 years to recoup the cost of your solar panel instead of 20 as is the case with current solar voltaic products on offer! And they’ll be mass-produced and flooding the market within a couple years.

    That makes at least five new Australian kick-ass zero CO2 energy technologies that I know of that are all on the cusp of blitzing the energy market. Go Aussie!

    It would be good to have section in the new resources page that is devoted to solutions.

    Well done again RealClimate.

  30. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #20 —

    Very unlikely. I recently priced 175 watt Solarworld panels that have a module efficiency of 24%. Being 15 times more efficient is just impossible …

    One thing I’d like to see for the “Okay, so maybe you are right, but we’ll die without our fossil fuels!” crowd is links to alternate energy and energy savings. I know I’ve got to be the official ‘alternate energy’ poster child these days, but there are people who might “do something” if they thought they could have their cake and eat it too.

  31. LochDhu:

    A beginner’s page shouldn’t use anacronyms like IPCC, AR4 and TAR without saying what they mean like International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

  32. Anil Baysan:

    If you wanna see the latest MELTDOWN live via SATELLITE CAMERA on NORTH POLE ; visit http://www.globalwarmingcam.com and connect to SatCam weather satellite.
    You will not believe your eyes.

  33. Liz Kalaugher:

    Great list of resources, thanks. Here’s another one, which I guess could go under “Informed, but in need of more detail” – here at http://environmentalresearchweb.org we’re providing free updates on the latest research in climate change and other environmental change topics as well as on potential solutions such as renewable energy.

  34. Chris Squire:

    The Royal Society [UK] has: Climate change controversies: a simple guide at: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=6229 . New Scientist magazine has: Climate change: A guide for the perplexed at: http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/climate-change/dn11462 . Grist has How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic at: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics . I particulalry like dthe entry explaining about the Vinland ‘grapes’. It is anecdotes like this which impress the non-scientists and make them think that perhaps the sceptics are on to something after all.

  35. NU:

    Someone mentioned the EdGCM model you can download and run. Perhaps better for beginners is Ben Matthews’ Java climate module, which is interactive and lets you play around with various parameters in realtime.

    Also mentioned previously on this site is Kerry Emanuel’s Phaeton’s Reins, which is one of the best introductory essays on climate change I’ve read.

  36. Bill Morlan:

    #24 is spot on…if we’re going to change hearts and minds (and harvest the resulting political will) of those currently interested but uninformed, let’s converse in a common language devoid of untranslated alphabetitus.

  37. Michael Tobis:

    #6 seems peculiar: “One thing I’ve been looking for but haven’t found yet is a recommended list of peer-reviewed papers – i.e. for someone who isn’t afraid of the science, which papers would you recommend reading to get an overall picture of where the research is at?”

    This is hard to understand. The IPCC reports fulfill exactly this purpose. They review the literature and provide references to it. You may follow up on just about any relevant current scientific issue from there.

    Links to IPCC reports are provided in the current RealClimate article.

  38. mankoff:

    Grist mill for skeptics: http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

  39. stuart:

    mankoff, that link is already in the post as Coby Beck’s How to talk to Global Warming Skeptic

  40. Tim Jones:

    Regarding #5, “btw, while we all can sympathize with “pat n” (#3),
    I don’t think lynching belongs.”

    How can confronting malfeasance in appointed office be construed
    as a “lynching?”
    NOAA and NWS have set back awareness of AGHG climate
    change for decades. These retiring administrators should
    be brought before Congress to explain to the American People
    why and how they have compromised the welfare of the nation,
    putting politics and job security before informing the population
    of impending catastrophes due to climate change.

    Pat was fired from the NWS for his insistence that the agency
    broach global warming as an issue. The wrong person was fired.
    Pat is the whistle blower. There should be an explanation. In the
    end I suspect there will be – and Pat will be recognized as a hero
    of the movement.

    These two articles:
    “Study: Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions soar.
    http://newsletters.environmentalhealthnews.org/t/1344/175/1655/0/
    Warnings about global warming may not be dire enough,
    according to a climate study that describes a runaway-train
    acceleration of industrial carbon dioxide emissions.”

    “U.S. aims to stop G8’s tough push on global warming.
    http://newsletters.environmentalhealthnews.org/t/1344/175/1656/0/
    The United States is battling to stop next month’s Group
    of Eight summit in Germany from pushing for urgent talks
    on a new deal to fight global warming after the Kyoto
    Protocol lapses in 2012.”

    …make me fear for the planet – at least the current millennium.

    What exactly _does_ belong?

  41. Greg Simpson:

    australia has invented new solar cell technology called ‘sliver’ cells – 15x more efficient than the current ones and flexible too.

    Getting 15x the current 10% or more efficiency of silicon solar cells is, of course, impossible. This site claims 19% efficiency.

    I would guess the 15x number comes from using one fifteenth the silicon, although I can’t find that exact number anywhere.

  42. Thomas:

    Well all this is, fine and dandy, preaching to the choir material. But you would be surprised just how effective the contrarian (so-called skeptic) rhetoric is – as applied to real world events (actual debates by scientists, actual debates in person or on the web, with, or between laypeople). I think the members/creators of this website can attest to that.

    See end on page 78 of transcript, as a testament to the truth of this:
    http://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/TranscriptContainer/_GlobalWarming-edited%20version%20031407.pdf

    Also, many people I know, that are reasonable and intelligent, but not necessarily interested in the details of Global Warming were easily swayed by the Swindle Show (“The Great Global Warming Swindle”). Their comments were along the lines of: “very powerful” or “more controversial than I thought” or even “opened my eyes.” All that happened was a few of the usual suspects (the same handful of skeptics) were paraded about, more or less, they made they same tired old (or debunked) arguments, displayed a graph or few, and correlated environmental-ism, as an -ism, that is actual “junk science” that can hurt the impoverished world (like Africa, etc).

    I am a little confused and disheartened by the fact that – a few hands can be waved about, a few spurious arguments can be made, and one only needs say “it’s actually too complex a system and the debate over what is driving the Climate is still wide open to debate, at this time.” Why is the rhetoric of claiming it is more, or too, complex, and it is still wide open to debate – so effective?

  43. sal d:

    i don’t know much about NOAA’s history on global warming, but they have some good info nowadays.

    Global warming FAQ’s: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/globalwarming.html

    A Paleo Perspective on Global warming: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/globalwarming/home.html

  44. Rod B:

    Ray (28): Actually I said “fair” but explicitly said I was not looking for “balance”. I think it would be nice to have, say, one reference to the skeptical side (probably along with the links giving the opposite arguments), but balancing the two sides on RC would be silly.

    Actually, I do think an aspect of creationism (something along “intelligent design”, except the fundamentalists have co-opted that phrase — now I don’t know what to call it) should be taught, or at least mentioned — but probably in Physics, not Biology. Just like I think Fred Hoyle’s et al version of the “start” of the Universe ought to be mentioned along side the Big Bang theory. Just like I think meterology and climatics (neat new word?!) courses out to at least describe the skeptic side.

  45. tom:

    Are there any links to sites with a differnt viewpoint?

  46. Rod B:

    Tim, (40), call it what you may, but “confronting malfeasance ” is a lynching, albeit with a Committee instead of a rope. Your description of the situation with pat n, NOAA and NWS could be right on, and I do sympathize. I simply meant that the lynching (or confronting malfeasance, if you like) ought to be done with your Congressman or some such; it’s not RC’s job.

  47. David B. Benson:

    Some prefer books. I recommend recommending

    W.F. Ruddiman
    Earth’s Climate: Past and Future

    for the complete beginners…

  48. odiyya:

    A long overdue and much needed compendium. Thanks RealClimate!

  49. stuart:

    A beginner’s page shouldn’t use anacronyms like IPCC, AR4 and TAR without saying what they mean like International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    Those acronyms are not under the section ‘For complete beginners’, they are used in the section ‘Those with some knowledge’, which you would presume would be covered by any meaningful introduction to the topic (thats up to date).

  50. pat n:

    Good points Tim. Nearly everyone in here has known for years that climate change is happening in the Upper Midwest. NOAA NWS supervisors told the public, for many years, that global warming wasn’t happening or was not a problem. They were ordered to tell national media during the summer flood of 1993 not to bring up global warming while doing national interviews. Would we be better off if NWS did make global warming an issue in 1993 and afterwards? I think so.

  51. Nancy Rutman:

    The EPA has a decent starter page for beginners:
    http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

    These two sites document the effects of climate change:
    http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/
    http://www.canary-project.org/

  52. J.S. McIntyre:

    re 44

    “Just like I think Fred Hoyle’s et al version of the “start” of the Universe ought to be mentioned along side the Big Bang theory.”

    I think the only good reason to mention Hoyle’s name, aside from the fact he coined the term “Big Bang”, is that in his efforts to figure out the progression of the creation of elements in stars he stumbled across the proof that shot down the “steady state” theory and largely showed why the Big bang model was the more compelling argument. To Hoyle’s credit, he did not try to hide this discovery, nor did he try to ignore it.

    In fact, Hoyle offers us an excellent example of all that can be right with science, and why there is no such thing as “fair” in terms of the climate skeptics.

    He was honest.

    If you are interested, you can read an entertaining account of the story in Simon Singh’s “Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Big-Bang-Origin-Universe-P-S/dp/0007162219/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/102-7879121-2235324?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179964770&sr=1-2

    It is one of the more accessible books in terms of learning about the subject. The thing I enjoyed about it most was Singhn’s discussions on how science works and how it changes/evolves with new information, at one point using as an example how, at a certain time in history, something like a geocentric model of the universe had more validity from a scientific standpoint than a heliocentric model.

  53. pat n:

    Rob B, I posted my comment after Paul Higgins in #1 which was about

    what society chooses to do about the risks created by climate change.

    one way to wake up society to what’s happening is to go after those in government who need to be held accountable.

    My comment in #5 was written with #1. in mind.

  54. Nigel Williams:

    Interesting recent (May 2007) update on CO2 emissions..

    “…The strong global fossil-fuel emissions growth since 2000 was driven not only by long-term increases in population (P) and per-capita global GDP (g) but also by a cessation or reversal of earlier declining trends in the energy intensity of GDP (e) and the carbon intensity of energy ( f ). In particular, steady or slightly increasing recent trends in f occurred in both developed and developing regions. In this sense, no region is decarbonizing its energy supply.

    “…Continuous decreases in both e and f (and therefore in carbon intensity of GDP, h = ef ) are postulated in all IPCC emissions scenarios to 2100 (8), so that the predicted rate of global emissions growth is less than the economic growth rate. Without these postulated decreases, predicted emissions over the coming century would be up to several times greater than those from current emissions scenarios…This has meant that even the more fossil-fuel-intensive IPCC scenarios underestimated actual emissions growth during this period.

    Found at:
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0700609104v1

  55. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #45, “Are there any links to sites with a differnt viewpoint?”

    No, because the other viewpoint is wrong.

  56. Lawrence Coleman:

    re:30 The 15x came directly from the team which invented it. Not only that but it’s near optimal efficiency over an 100degree arc of sunlight.
    instead of the cell being totally flat as is the case now. it uses many thousands of small perpendicular slivers to collect the light 3 dimensionally dramatically inceasing it’s surface area.

  57. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re# 44: I disagree. The references provided should be pertinent to the science and all good attempts at making that science accessible to non scientists. The so-called skeptic side usually does not do that (actually almost never does).

    As BPL has often pointed there are a lot of similarities between the sates of understanding of climate and evolution.

    In either, there is no credible scientific “skeptic” side that explains reality better or even nearly as well. In fact, nothing comes close.

    There are areas of lower level of understanding, there are unknowns. The only scientifically ethical skeptic thing to do would be to present them, but not without placing them in context, i.e. how they relate to the general picture and the stuff that is well understood and well known. The few skeptics with scientific background who thread here spend seemingly endless hours picking on these very few points and attempt to demonstrate that they can invalidate almost everything else, and the RC contributors do a good job of addressing that.

    However, in the wide world, what we see is downright fraud (like in the Swindle), underhanded peer-review (Legates and the Soon-Baliunas fiasco), selective picking of facts given much more significance than they have, the list is endless.

    Then there are people like Pat or all the scientists reporting that they don’t dare to speak their minds on the subject for fear of retaliation. Meanwhile, the mind-conditioning machine of the so-called skeptics screams that contrarians scientists are being suppressed by the evil scientific community, who is out on a conspiracy to keep the billions in grants flowing (Hey Gavin, I hope you’re stacking those in your secret Swiss account).

    I wish there were more sites like RC and that they could be as vocal as the contrarians screamers. The last thing we need is RC giving them even more undeserved credibility.

    As for your comment on creationism and Physics, I’m not sure what to make of it. There are plenty of areas that examine that kind of questions (Philosophy) and it is irrelevant to the science itself. Anyone can make an argument for or against whatever version of creation by using Physics. In fact, it is a very good exercise to do one and then a contrary one. If done sincerely, they can come out equally valid. But in both cases, they are irrelevant to the science and will not contribute to improve the purely scientific understanding of reality.

  58. John Wegner:

    We need to start moving New York, Maimi, Houston and new Orleans immediately.

    At the very least, no new building permits should be issued.

  59. pat n:

    sal, the intro in FAQ from your link in #43 by NOAA says:

    One of the most hotly debated topics on Earth is the issue of climate change,

    NOAA should be telling people that the debate on global warming is over – and has been for some time.

    Besides, my comments were directly mainly on the National Weather Service (NWS) director and deputy director who are retiring next month (links below). NWS staff of about 5500 makes up nearly half of all employees under the NOAA umbrella. Problems on global warming are specific to NWS and headquarters administrators in NOAA. There are some NOAA people not in NWS and not in NOAA headquarters who have been trying to do decent work on global warming but they, like me, have met resistance from NOAA and NWS management. Unlike me, they succeeded in not getting fire for climate change research and discussion but are they happy about what they have not done since 2000?

  60. pat n:

    Links mentioned in previous comment.

    http://www.miamiherald.com/509/story/111876.html

    http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/story/114488.html

  61. Craig Allen:

    Re 20, 29, 30 & 41 – Sliver Photovoltaic cells:

    It interesting to compare the information you get from the scientists at the Australian National University who invented the technology, with that provided by Origin Energy – the company that is commerialising it.

    A powerpoint from the scientists is here.
    Origin Energy’s Sliver Cells website is here.

    The scientists estimate that it should be possible in ‘mature’ high volume production facility to use 1/10th to 1/30th the amount of silicon as required by conventioal PV. Origin Energy, says that their high purity silicon use in product from their pilot plant is 3 to 4 grams per watt compared to 10-14 g/W for conventional cells.

    Both the scientists are claiming that the efficiency per square meter of Sliver cells is %20 compared to 10% for conventional PV. On aper watt basis, this drops both the fabrication costs and the instillation costs.

    According to the scientists Sliver PV has the potential to cost US60c/watt in comparison to US$3/watt for conventional PV. This would make it very competative with all other electricity generation technologies – including coal. However, the manufacturer, Origin Energy, intends to initially sell the product at ‘competative market rates’, i.e. just a tad cheaper than competitor products.

    The scientists estimate that a rapid drop in PV electricity costs will occur as Sliver Cells and other PV technologies mature. This will intersect the current Daytime retail electricity price of around US12c/kWh in about 2014.

    Origin Energy says that once they get finance agreed for a full scale production facility, it will be at least 18 months before Sliver PV panels begin to hit the market.

    But they will sell them ‘competitively’ at market prices with an intent to slowly drop prices over time to keep just ahead of the market (in which demand is increasing by 30% per year). They currently have 35 employees employed in their prototype production facility and hope to have 50 people working on it by 2012. It’s high tech and production is highly automated, but realistically, unless there is a significant injection of funding, it doesn’t sound like production volumes will be high enough to have a significant impact on energy/CO2 production, in a economy-wide context, until the middle of next decade.

  62. Rod B:

    Fine, John (53), just keep them away from the midwest — don’t want to spoil the heighborhood!

  63. Timothy Chase:

    Thomas (#41) wrote:

    Well all this is, fine and dandy, preaching to the choir material. But you would be surprised just how effective the contrarian (so-called skeptic) rhetoric is – as applied to real world events (actual debates by scientists, actual debates in person or on the web, with, or between laypeople).

    It helps, especially if it is posted every now and again.

    This website gets a fair amount of traffic. Sure – most won’t go looking that hard, but they don’t have to come to this website to be affected by it. Especially if the people already here learn what they can and pass it on.

    However, whenever responding to a show or article, it is good if the focus isn’t simply on the science. That should be the primary focus – mostly in nutshell form.

    But I would also include news items. Things that are pretty undeniable – like the melting of the arctic icecap over the past forty years – which is undeniable – at least until the contrarians get good with PhotoShop Adobe. But then you should also expose the contrarians for what they are – honestly. (There are resources – but I don’t expect that to be the focus of this website – which should be almost exclusively on the science.) Likewise, it is important to point out the consequences of inaction and the things that can be done.

    Also, many people I know, that are reasonable and intelligent, but not necessarily interested in the details of Global Warming were easily swayed by the Swindle Show (“The Great Global Warming Swindle”). Their comments were along the lines of: “very powerful” or “more controversial than I thought” or even “opened my eyes.”

    It is called the “big lie.”

    If someone skilled in the art says something truly outrageous, people are often very likely to believe it. This has a long history, probably about as old as humanity iteslf. Creationists use it all the time. And yes, it is very effective. So are many informal fallacies – if neither the speaker nor the audience are all that concerned with the truth. Conspiracy theories. Etc. “Us vs. them,” which seems especially effective in many circles. When you aren’t concerned with the truth, you don’t have to qualify – and you can appeal to the worst in people.

    However, perhaps “The Great Global Warming Swindle” could play to our advantage.

    Libel laws can be extremely effective, particularly under British law. Not sure who would make the charges, though. But it would be very high profile. Dover helped undercut the creationists a fair amount, at least in the view of many papers.

    Incidently, I understand that the contrarian scientists who actually participated in the swindle were themselves rather unhappy with how charts and the like were doctored by the producers. Perhaps they could be persuaded to show up in court as well.

  64. Curt Schroeder:

    I believe that scientists themselves are inadvertantly partly responsible for the growth of contrarian viewpoints, especially among the public. It seems that much of scientific literature is moving away from one of the basic principles of preserving reliability in scientific writing, and that is that each scientific article contain a discussion on how the scientist looked for, but couldn’t find, evidence that contradicted the scientific conclusions that were reached. To call for more study is certainly part of the answer, however, a more robust discussion of the search for “contrarian” evidence, in each scientific article, would positively contribute to enhancing reliability in scientific publications.

  65. CraigM:

    I found these links good. Mostly for beginners.

    http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/

    http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/gw/causes.htm#solarcause

    ^^FAQ

    http://people.aapt.net.au/~johunter/greenhou/home.html

    ^^debunks the site ‘still waiting for greenhouse’

  66. Timothy Chase:

    Curt Schroeder (#64) wrote:

    To call for more study is certainly part of the answer, however, a more robust discussion of the search for “contrarian” evidence, in each scientific article, would positively contribute to enhancing reliability in scientific publications.

    I can agree with much of your setiment – but the above bit seems somewhat problematic. If the scientific article were discussing, say, the role of LINEs and SINEs in the evolution of evolvability and the contrarian views were either “intelligent design” or “young earth creationism (evolution vs. creationism), this would get rather silly – and lend creationism an air of respectability it most certainly does not deserve. Any time anyone mentions intelligent design in the peer reviewed papers, the Discovery Institute says, “See there! We told you there was a controversy!”

    At this point, the contrarian views to anthropogenic climate change are no longer a scientific phenomena, but a political phenomena driven by financial interests and ideology. The focus of science should be the phenomena. This is what should drive it and its focus, particularly in the technical papers.

    However, in more popular venues it still makes sense to keep knocking over the weeble-wobble.

  67. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re:61 Craig Allen,
    Thanks for getting more info than I was able to do. This will depend on whether respective govs are serious enough about Global warming issues. If they were they would fast track the production of sliver cell tech and put pressure on origin energy to replace it’s existing technology with sliver cell. Or if enough people as I said were aware of the huge potential of this new innovation they would put pressure directly onto Origin. The cost/Kw should on paper at least be considerably less than single plane PVs as you said putting in in the frontline of the CO2 war. Origin should put the planet before profit!!

  68. Riley D:

    Re: 67

    Lawrence, this issue is a little more complicated than this. Although sliver cells offer an ideal reduction in silicon (which is even more ideal in the current silicon shortage periods..) they require a more complicated manufacturing process with more high temperature steps leading to more chances of contamination etc.. Coupled with the difficult issue of putting thousands of little slivers into a module makes this the transition from lab to manufacuting plant a little difficult.

    Origin have had their pilot construction plant built for a couple of years, but the modules keep being delayed. (Another factor is it uses silicon grown in a different orientation to all other solar cells, making supply of cheap silicon an issue. As it gets bigger this of course will no longer be a problem.) I believe the current plan is to find an overseas partner with more experience in semiconductors and better supply of silicon (I dont think Australia has any plants producing high quality silicon, may be wrong there).

    And yes the modules are most definitely not 15x more efficient, unless the measure is energy produced compared to silicon used. The theoretical limit for single band-gap silicon isn’t going anywhere just yet…

  69. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Flexible–so 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 to raise a sweat over.]]

    I don’t think that will work, actually. Daytime illumination averages 240 watts per square meter over the entire globe, but even if you were getting the full 1370 w/m2 of the solar constant, and had ten square meters of car surface to work with, and had perfect efficiency, that would only be about 14 kilowatts. I don’t think that’s enough energy to accelerate a car significantly.

    Take a 1000-kg car that you want to accelerate to 60 meters per second in one minute (60 seconds). Kinetic energy at the top speed is (1/2 m v^2) 1,800,000 Joules. To get that much in 60 seconds is 30 kilowatts. And again, this assumes perfect mechanical efficiency.

    A very light solar car might be possible, but as a routine power source for cars I don’t think it will work.

  70. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[We need to start moving New York, Maimi, Houston and new Orleans immediately.
    At the very least, no new building permits should be issued.
    ]]

    You may well be right. But my guess would be that even if sea level starts rising rapidly, we won’t do anything about it until there is actually a foot of water in downtown Manhattan. Humans tend to react to crises rather than to anticipate them.

  71. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #68:

    More to the point, there are only so many watts per square meter available to be captured. With module efficiencies already in the 12 to 24 percent range (and that’s module efficiencies — cell efficiencies can be higher), dramatically huge increases are limited.

    Re #61:

    While current production volumes are inadequate to meet demand, power reduction from gains in personal and commercial efficiency and waste reduction are more than sufficient to greatly reduce fossil fuel consumption and the resultant CO2 emissions. Those areas can be tackled while waiting on renewable energy sources to be commercialized.

    There’s no reason we need to be lighting up cities so they can be seen from outer space, nor is there any reason we need to use 19th century technologies for general illumination, or 20th century conveniences whose sole purpose is making sure the TV turns on in less than a second, but which suck gigawatts from the grid 24 hours a day. Simple changes in AC adapter design could greatly reduce the power consumed by those little vampires. There are literally tens of gigawatts of demand that can be reduced in the States just by turning off “conveniences”, unplugging cell phone and other AC adapters, switching to compact flourescent lights, mandating out of existence lower efficiency A/C and refrigeration products, and treating light pollution the same way we treat raw sewerage dumped on our beaches.

    Free market capitalism is a great idea, but it leads to products that can be wasteful because the added cost of some minor power savings device makes the product’s initial price higher than a more efficient device. We need people to start thinking longer term, and including the lifetime power wasteage in their purchasing decisions. One watt of continuous base load over a one year period is 8,760 watt-hours, or about $1.30 where I live. Energy consumption labels should be on more products. A $50 do-dad with a $100 power consumption label might suddenly seem less inexpensive than a $100 do-dad with a $20 power consumption label.

  72. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re: 68 Riley D
    Good food for thought there. It’s amazing how fast progress can be if enough willpower and $$ are pumped into it. Just take the innovations during WW2. Unthinkable feats of engineering and innovation and invention were accomplished in extremely little time.
    b.t.w the worlds purest and best source of silicon is found in Tasmania, an island on the south eastern end of australia.

  73. Jim Eager:

    Re: #45, “Are there any links to sites with a differnt viewpoint?”

    To what end? While it definitely is important to “know thine enemy” (and climate change deniers very much ARE the enemy), the links to sites debunking their arguments point-by-point fulfill that function, without giving them credence that they simply do not deserve.

  74. Hank Roberts:

    But we digress.
    (‘sliver cell’ search in Google Scholar — they’ve been around quite a while, not news)

    I hope Contribs will — for the “Start Here” post — prune the Comments completely and often, keeping only what gets promoted to the top article. Else, well, we do go on and on and off track.

  75. James:

    Re #67: [If they were they would fast track the production of sliver cell tech and put pressure on origin energy to replace it’s existing technology with sliver cell.]

    Then what of the research into other photovoltaic technologies, as for instance organics? (Which IIRC are less efficient per unit area, but have the potential to be manufactured really cheaply?) It’s the old command economy problem again: government fiat locks all the research & development funding onto one track, and what happens? Either you miss out on a better alternative, or the better alternative gets developed anyway, and your R&D dollars have gone for nothing.

  76. V. Jobson:

    DeSmogBlog, on your “Other Opinions” list, focuses on the public relations techniques and tactics used by the contrarians. It discusses current news reports and keeps an eye on well-known contrarians and contrarian astro-turf groups such as Friends of Science (FoS) and Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NRSP).

  77. SecularAnimist:

    Regarding the discussion of “sliver cell” PV, WorldWatch Institute has a very encouraging update on the prospects for even more rapid growth of photovoltaic electrical generation capacity in the next few years, due to expanded polysilicon manufacturing capacity, China’s emergence as a major PV manufacturer/exporter, and the commercialization of new ultra-low cost thin film PV:

    Solar Power Set to Shine Brightly
    Worldwatch Institute
    May 22, 2007

    Excerpt:

    The solar industry is poised for a rapid decline in costs that will make it a mainstream power option in the next few years, according to a new assessment by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC, and the Prometheus Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Global production of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, which turn sunlight directly into electricity, has risen sixfold since 2000 and grew 41 percent in 2006 alone. Although grid-connected solar capacity still provides less than 1 percent of the world’s electricity, it increased nearly 50 percent in 2006, to 5,000 megawatts, propelled by booming markets in Germany and Japan. Spain is likely to join the big leagues in 2007, and the United States soon thereafter.

    This growth, while dramatic, has been constrained by a shortage of manufacturing capacity for purified polysilicon, the same material that goes into semiconductor chips. But the situation will be reversed in the next two years as more than a dozen companies in Europe, China, Japan, and the United States bring on unprecedented levels of production capacity. In 2006, for the first time, more than half the world’s polysilicon was used to produce solar PV cells. Combined with technology advances, the increase in polysilicon supply will bring costs down rapidly — by more than 40 percent in the next three years, according to Prometheus estimates.

    […]

    The biggest surprise in 2006 was the dramatic growth in PV production in China. Last year, China passed the United States, which first developed modern solar cell technology at Bell Labs in New Jersey in the 1950s, to become the world�s third largest producer of the cells�trailing only Germany and Japan.

    Chinaâ��s leading PV manufacturer, Suntech Power, climbed from the worldâ��s eighth largest producer in 2005 to fourth in 2006 […] China, with its growing need for energy, large work force, and strong industrial base, could drive dramatic reductions in PV prices in the next few years, helping to make solar competitive with conventional power even without subsidies.

    […]

    In the meantime, supply shortages have led manufacturers to find ways to use polysilicon more efficiently, and have accelerated the introduction of new technologies that do not rely on purified silicon and are inherently less expensive to manufacture. So-called thin film cells can be made from amorphous silicon and other low-cost materials, and companies developing these technologies have recently become the darlings of Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

    Although in the past, thin film cells have not been efficient enough to compete with conventional cells, today over a dozen companies — including Miasole, Nanosolar, and Ovonics — are competing to scale up production of low-cost solar modules that can be churned out like rolls of plastic.

  78. Serinde:

    Re 66 (Tim Chase)
    The problem with those dratted weeble wobbles is that they don’t fall down. Contrarians always fall back on their ‘science’ even when their arguments are, as you correctly point out, entirely political. That’s why RC is so important: by undercutting their ‘science’ it is possible to get them to finally admit their arguments are ideological. Then it’s a different ball game.

  79. Theo H:

    Thanks to the Realclimate team.

    I’m in the UK and looked at the UK Met Office site.

    The statement on the Myths page “While the arguments used might have been regarded as genuine areas of sceptical enquiry 20 years ago, further observed warming and advances in climate science render these out of touch.” from a senior British civil servant, who usually do things quietly and discretly, and usually in understatement is damning!

  80. Andrew Brock:

    Almost all recommendations are to web-sites. I saw only one about books. so here is another book that I think does an excellant job. It is ” the Rough Guide to Climate Change” by Robert Henson, published by Rough Guides in September 2006 and distributed by the Penguin Group. I found it in a bookshop in Dublin, but I dont know how widely it might be found in the US

  81. J.S. McIntyre:

    Re 70 and books.

    I’ll add Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” which, although it works more as a survey of the state of Global Warming in 2005-2006 and the reaction to it, remains a solid survey that covers some of the more hot-button talking points.

    For someone wanting to get a general sense of the state of the climate science and what it is telling us, it works very well.

  82. John Mashey:

    re: #70 Book
    Regardless of the extent to which the various hypotheses in Ruddiman’s “Plows, Plagues & Petroleum” get confirmed/disconfirmed, it’s one of my favorites for giving to people who are new to this because:
    – it has reasonable discussions of basics.
    – the writing is good, accessible to people with nontechnical backgrounds, and well-illustrates real scientific processes of building hypotheses, responding to critiques, and the general difficulties of extracting signals from complex, noisy time-varying data.
    – it offers a possible hypothesis (the Plague part) capable of explaining at least part of the CO2/temperature jiggles that have often been used as anti-AGW arguments. I prefer “Here’s a plausible mechanism that might help explain this” to “Temperatures jiggle all the time, and we can’t know why, so don’t worry.”
    – it is calmly written.

    I’ve given copies to a bunch of people, including high-schoolers, and it’s generally been well-liked.

  83. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    Curt Schroeder #64 and Timothy Chase #66

    In theory including a brief discussion of contrarian claims to disprove them in each article in the scientific literature sounds like a good idea. In practice it would be playing into the contrarians hands.

    I could easily see contrarians cherry picking quotes from the scientific papers to boast how much attention their claims were getting by scientists and saying that all this attention must mean their claims are valid.
    Adding these extra sections to papers would also divert time and resources from furthering climate science which is something contrarians want to do.

    Countering contrarians is something that should be done, but in the public sphere, like popular media and scientific outreach programs like RealClimate.

  84. Rod B:

    I should know this as an old EE and electronics buff, but it just never occurred to me (SLAP! SLAP!) How do the PV systems convert their DC output to AC? Some massive switching regulator of sorts (which strikes me as major power consuming)? Or is the AC transmission rectified to DC for distribution and use in the house (which would yield some really interesting benefits but cause major compatibility problems…)? How does that interface/connection work, anyway?? A short simple response will do nicely. Thanks.

    Sorry this is slightly off point, but there’s been a fair amount of interesting PV stuff on this thread.

  85. Lawrence Coleman:

    All you guys responses to the sliver cell PV can of worms I opened has been very illuminating..pardon the pun! Still once the cost of manufacture is down to comparable levels and reliable sources of polysilicon are found is is set to revolutionise how countries generate power. I was wondering if the reflective nature of huge numbers of solar arrays could benefit the greenhouse effect by directing more sunlight back out into space. With the ice sheets around the north pole shrinking by 14-16%/10 years maybe the mainstream use of solar cells could reflect back enough sunrays to buy us more time to concentrate on cutting emissions. Just a thought..what do you guys think???

  86. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re: John Wegner 58
    Had to smile about what you mentioned about relocating many cities such as new york. I totally agree with you as that is the logical thing to do…but….you know and i know that wont happen….city councils and governors will just keep building higher and higher walls to keep the water out. 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. The Phils will be very hard hit once the greenland ice cover starts breaking up big time.

  87. Lance Drager:

    Anyone care to comment on this contrarian approach?

  88. FurryCatHerder:

    In Re #84:

    The entire process is fairly convoluted, since PV output voltage isn’t constant. Converting DC to AC is fairly simple — think about RLC circuits, radios, music players, etc. The only difference is that for a PV system inverter, the frequency is fixed at 50 or 60 Hz and the power is much greater.

    If you’re curious about some products on the market, this URL will take you to some of the power components used in PV systems (I have no financial connection with that manufacturer).

  89. Ray Ladbury:

    #84 Rod B.
    Basically, they use an inverter (basically a rectifying scheme) to get AC and if necessary synch it with the grid. You can find some info here:

    http://www.pvresources.com/en/inverter.php

  90. Dan Browne:

    While I buy into the climate change theory, I must be missing something with how optimistic the worst case scenarios are.
    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?

  91. Timothy Chase:

    Lance Drager (#87) wrote:

    Anyone care to comment on this contrarian approach?

    Did you forget anything?

    Or is this a Zen contrarian approach?

    Come to think of it, Zen would be for not doing nothing, which for each individual would effortless because it would be doing without doing, since the individual empties himself so that the doing would be what acts through the the individual, when the individual does not act, and thereby true excellence is achieved.

    Incidently, Zen originated in Japan, and it appears that Japan is offering to let the world act through it:

    “We must create a new framework which moves beyond the Kyoto Protocol, in which the entire world will participate in emissions reduction,” Mr Abe said in a speech in Tokyo.

    He made it clear that his country wanted to take a leading role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

    *

    “Japan, as a country with advanced technologies, can make a significant contribution,” he said.

    Mr Abe said Japan would work with the World Bank and the United Nations, to find extra money to help fund assistance for poorer countries who find it difficult to improve energy efficiency, he said.

    Japan eyes 50% greenhouse gas cut
    Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6688279.stm

    Excellent, but Japan appears to be ambitious in its schedule.

  92. Sean O:

    I have nominated RealClimate for a Thinking Blogger award. I consider your site to be among the best for putting out high quality content on this topic. You can read about the nomination here which also includes a link to the originator of the award.

    http://globalwarming-factorfiction.com/2007/05/25/thinking-blogger-award/

  93. SecularAnimist:

    Rod B wrote in #84:

    I should know this as an old EE and electronics buff, but it just never occurred to me (SLAP! SLAP!) How do the PV systems convert their DC output to AC?

    PV systems use an inverter to convert the DC output from the PV panels to AC.

    The California-based company Real Goods has an online catalog of alternative energy (PV, wind, etc) equipment — take a look at their catalog page for inverters to learn more.

    Rooftop PV systems with utility intertie (for net metering) are a mainstream technology now. I understand that even Home Depot sells and installs them.

  94. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 69 Barton, that was a very useful comment and the sort of thing one comes to expect and respect at RC.

  95. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re: 84 Um..I’ll try to make the reply as concise as possible. It uses very little power to convert from DC to AC. A semiconductor crystal that ocillates at a very high freq in MHz is divided again and again by logic circuits until it is roughly the same as your country’s mains freq. In Australia it’s 50Hz. So no bulky transformer at all. Then passed through capacitors to smooth the waveform out and Bob’s your Uncle.

  96. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re:88 Sean O
    I just found the site recently and actually found it was populated by a diminishing demographic of society…intelligent and thinking people. Somebody should write a book including all the great insights and ideas found here. Real Climate is for people who give a shit and want to use what they learn here to help there household..town..state clean up their act. FANTASTIC SITE INDEED!!!

  97. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re:88 Sean O
    I just found the site recently and actually found it was populated by a diminishing demographic of society…intelligent and thinking people. Somebody should write a book including all the great insights and ideas found here. Real Climate is for people who give a shit and want to use what they learn here to help there household..town..state clean up their act. FANTASTIC SITE INDEED!!!

  98. James:

    Re #85: [I was wondering if the reflective nature of huge numbers of solar arrays could benefit the greenhouse effect by directing more sunlight back out into space.]

    You might want to think about that one a bit :-) There’s only so much energy in sunlight (about 700 W/m^2 in temperate latitudes, IIRC). If you want to convert that energy to power you can use, you can’t be reflecting it back out. The fact that current cells are a bit reflective simply reflects (my apologies) the fact that they aren’t very efficient: a perfect solar cell would be completely black.

    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?

  99. Ike Solem:

    Regarding solar research and development, a lot of the basic science has already been done, and what is needed is more engineering and applied material science work. This also applies to novel energy storage systems for intermittent sources like solar and wind – hydrogen conversion, for example.

    Funding is critical for this – you could have one scientist trying to characterize a few hundred materials for optimal solar production, or you could have a hundred scientists doing this – in which case it would proceed much faster.

    Look at the billions that Japanese auto companies poured into internal combustion engine development, and the resulting gains in efficiency. A similar strategy is needed for solar development. In such an effort, the basic research should be carried out at public universities so that basic patents are not restricted, but the engineering optimization is really a job for private industry – and both approaches need funding.

    A very good discussion of how to do this is available: Change the Rules, Change the Future: New energy rules could unleash an economic boom and help quash climate change
    By Timothy E. Wirth, Vinod Khosla and John D. Podesta
    22 May 2007

    A hefty carbon tax for all fossil fuels would lead to rapid changes in energy production, as the above article shows.

  100. caerbannog:

    Response to Tony (#7)

    I can provide a quick refutation of one of McIntyre’s main arguments against Mann. McIntyre claimed that he could generate “hockey-stick-shaped” leading PC’s from random noise using Mann’s data-centering convention. McIntyre used that argument to claim that Mann’s “hockey-stick” was not much more than an artifact fished out of random noise.

    It is true that one can generate “hockey-stick-shaped” leading PC’s from band-limited random noise (red noise) if Mann’s data-centering convention is used. However, there is a show-stopping flaw in McIntyre’s argument. McIntyre didn’t bother to look at the singular-value magnitudes associated with the leading PC’s. Had he done so, he would have seen that there was no equivalence between Mann’s “hockey-stick” (with a big singular-value magnitude) and McIntyer’s “noise hockey-sticks” (with *small* singular-value magnitudes).

    When you use the SVD to compute principal components (PC’s), the first thing you should do is look at the singular values before you proceed any further with the analysis. A PC with a small associated singular value is in no way equivalent to a PC with a large singular value (even if the PC’s have the same “shape”).

    McIntyre’s failure to consider the singular value magnitudes in his attack on Mann was an astonishing oversight. (Well, maybe not so astonishing for a global-warming denier).

  101. Hank Roberts:

    > 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

  102. Matt Voglewede:

    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.

  103. J.S. McIntyre:

    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.

  104. Pianoguy:

    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.

  105. James:

    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?

  106. Lance Drager:

    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.

  107. Akonitum:

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

  108. Lawrence Coleman:

    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!

  109. Timothy Chase:

    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.

  110. Lawrence Coleman:

    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?

  111. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[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.

  112. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #94

    Thanks, John.

  113. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[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.

  114. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[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.

  115. James:

    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.

  116. James:

    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 :-))

  117. Lawrence Coleman:

    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.

  118. FurryCatHerder:

    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.

  119. Steve Reynolds:

    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.”

  120. Hank Roberts:

    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.

  121. Timothy Chase:

    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.

  122. James:

    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.

  123. Jon:

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

  124. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[[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.

  125. Hank Roberts:

    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

  126. FurryCatHerder:

    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.

  127. Jeff Ashcroft:

    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/

  128. James:

    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.)

  129. FurryCatHerder:

    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.

  130. SecularAnimist:

    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).

  131. Ike Solem:

    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)

  132. peter:

    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]

  133. Hank Roberts:

    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.

  134. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[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.

  135. pete best:

    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 ?

  136. Rod B:

    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]

  137. Rod B:

    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….

  138. James:

    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.

  139. James:

    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?

  140. James:

    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.

  141. Hank Roberts:

    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).

  142. Eli Rabett:

    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.

  143. Zeke Hausfather:

    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.

  144. Rod B:

    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??

  145. Hank Roberts:

    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

  146. John Mashey:

    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.

  147. ray ladbury:

    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.

  148. peter:

    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]

  149. FurryCatHerder:

    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.

  150. James:

    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?

  151. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re: Ike Solem,
    you seem to be like me, you’re a realist but still desperatly holding on to your optimist badge..haha! Instead of people (and ther are millions)saying how things cannot work why don’t they invest their energies into thinking how things could just be make to work or even coming up with innovations and ideas of their own. I have always held botony as the gold standard as to how to make photovoltaics work. Sliver cell comes a huge step forward in making the PVarray 3D instead of 2.Many other refinements are in the pipeine when microscopic chip/solar cell fabrication processes are modernised and automated.
    This may throw the cat amongst the pigeons I’m afriad but I do support at least for the medium term the use of nuclear power as a clean/green (look at france) source of electricity until the CO2 concentrations have stabilised. In the meantime I still believe solar cell tech is our primary future. It’s so versatile! The vast majority of domestic house roofing is suitable for it. I’m installing a 2.4kw system on our new house in the next few months. Only costs $13,000(incl $10,000 of rebates). Feedback tarrifs should also be thought of by governments as a most reliable future investment. Why Nuclear?..coz we’ve got no time to mess about with windmills or hydro plants. France reprocesses it’s spent uranium fuel rods within france..and no it doesn’t produce or will not produce plutonim in the future coz the design of the reprocessing plant is that that plutonim is not one of the chemical steps.
    As I’ve said before te climate is still in control but it wont be for much longer as long as we stretch the envelope to breaking point. Thousands of global exaples of this strain is obvious and availiable for scrutiny for anyone who isn’t so blind that he cannot see.

  152. Barton Paul Levenson:

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

    At the moment? No, we can’t. Eventually? Yes, we can.

  153. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[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. ]]

    Solar thermal power plants and windmills are in production now. Biomass works now (take a look at Brazil some time). They don’t need new technology. You keep repeating the idea that renewables can’t work until they achieve some sort of technological breakthrough, like fusion is waiting for. It’s the Big Lie. Some renewables work already.

    No doubt if we make a big switch to renewables now we will still need fossil fuels to maintain even power distribution. I’m all right with that; we’ll still be reducing the amount of fossil fuels used. And that mix — renewables plus residual fossil fuels — will buy us the time we need to set up the national grid and substitute biomass burning for coal or oil or natural gas burning. We can do it without nuclear. You can argue that we shouldn’t do it without nuclear, or that we could do it better with nuclear, but your argument that we can’t do it without nuclear are just plain wrong.

  154. SecularAnimist:

    Lawrence Coleman wrote: “Why Nuclear?..coz we’ve got no time to mess about with windmills or hydro plants.”

    That’s a non sequitur. A given amount of wind turbine generation capacity can be deployed much more quickly than the same amount of nuclear capacity. Wind power generation capacity is growing at something like 25 to 30 percent a year globally, in contrast to nuclear which is barely growing at all.

    One of the drawbacks of nuclear as a “solution” to global warming is the very long lead time to get new nuclear power plants up and running, whereas wind power — even very large-scale wind turbine “farms” — can be deployed pretty quickly.

    If what you are looking for is to bring the largest amount of “emissions-free” electrical generation capacity online as quickly as possible, wind is the way to to do it, not nuclear. So it would be more appropriate to say “Why wind? Because we don’t have time to mess around with building nuclear power plants.”

  155. Lawrence Coleman:

    Re: James 140, Nuclear’s base load is extremely high, so who cares about peak load to answer Eli Rabett’s comment. Some problems about placement of nuclear power stations, must be near extremely reliable water sources, must be on geologically stable terrain, not in tornado belts or the usual path of hurricanes. Must be made by countries that can affard the high cost of manufacture and maintainence and politically stable. All countries or regions of countries that pass that test should go ahead ASAP. We have enough uranium in the ground for 1000’s years..no problem there and the waste can be reprocessed on site..the reprocessing plant draws energy naturally from the reactor. One more thing..must be made terrorist proof..might be tricky? Still I’m a great believer in the intelligent use of nuclear. It’s not all things to all countries but it’s easily the most effective means of non polluting power at present. David Suzuki is a great man but I can’t fathom his stance against nuclear; he espouses all other forms of fringe power generation..to get governments or corporations to pump huge amounts on money in fringe power (wind turbine etc.) is still not going to get us about maybe at the most more than 20-30% world power supply from renewables. The more energy variables the slower the uptake and logistics problems and everything gets very messy. Having 2 or mabe 3 main energy producing sources per global region which kick ass is to me the better option. For counries having seafront has anyone considered using the rise and fall motion of tides to power huge electric turbines? Like to know what people think about that one?.

  156. Ray Ladbury:

    Lawrence, see for example:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tidal_energy

    I think that what people need to understand is that it is not a matter of deciding on an energy source and pursuing that source exclusively. Energy demand in the coming century will likely outstrip the ability of any single solution to meet demand–unless civilization crashes and burns, in which case we’ll just burn whatever we can get our hands on in an effort to survive. We need a realistic assessment of how much we can expect global energy demand to increase and how much of a dent conservation can make in that total. We then need to cover the demand with the pieces of the energy jigsaw puzzle. If we can do it with renewables, I’m all for it.
    However, to say that we will rely on renewables and if they can’t cover demand in the third world “tant pis” is not a reasonable strategy. It is also not a reasonable strategy to say, as Oxfam has, that the rich must cover the cost. This might be the just solution, but it places a lot more faith in the wealthy than I possess. In the end, why should they keep the oceans from rising when it is simply cheaper to buy up all the high ground?

  157. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #150:

    James,

    Batteries deployed in solar power installations last considerably longer than a car battery. The very things that kill flooded cell batteries exist in abundance in your car — shock, vibration, wide variations in temperature, excessively high loads (check out that starter current some day). My Stingray batteries last about 2 years, my Pontiac batteries last about 4. Guess which car is more fun to drive?

    Solar arrays are fed to batteries by charge controllers which limit overcharging, they are in more environmentally stable locations, not subject to jarring movements (except in parts of California …), and have much lower peak loads and discharge rates.

    A PV installation is a flooded cell battery’s dream come true. A car is a flooded cell battery’s worst nightmare.

    To answer “cost”, for the prices I’m seeing — 105AH, 12V, AGM PbSO4 batteries — 10kWH of storage is approximate $1,300. Assuming a life expectancy of approximately 8 years (which seems to be supported by industry experience), that’s $13 / month. Beyond small amounts of battery storage, you’re starting to design a system that is completely off-the-grid. The system I’m having installed is grid-tied with 5kWH of battery capacity for when the power company is out and the sun isn’t shining. If the sun is shining, I should have power enough for my house and my two closest neighbors. Sadly, they won’t be able to benefit because IEEE and NEC regulations require my inverters to disconnect from the grid when the power goes out. Poor neighbors. Too bad, so sad. Shoulda bought solar!

    As for all the waste, flooded cell lead-acid batteries are 100% recyclable.

  158. Hank Roberts:

    > every building can store as well as use energy
    Even at low levels this can be improved.
    For the ‘start here’ thread I’m just suggesting we need not have yet another in the unending exchange between the “nukes now” and the “no nukes” partisans — but add pointers to successful ways of addressing the issue.

  159. Zeke Hausfather:

    John, FurryCatHerder
    A larger grid can do a lot to alleviate the problems of intermittent generation. That said, when you start talking about a potential intermittent renewable penetration of, say, over 30%, some of these problems start creeping up even in larger grids. Utilities have to have capacity in place to meet the worst case scenario, and while it is unlikely that all intermittent sources would not be generating over a large geographic area, its not impossible.

    If we are really serious about replacing the majority of current fossil fuel-based generation capacity with renewables over the next 40 years, “firming” up intermittent renewables will be critical.

  160. James:

    Re #153: [You keep repeating the idea that renewables can’t work until they achieve some sort of technological breakthrough, like fusion is waiting for. It’s the Big Lie. Some renewables work already.]

    The problem is that we’re defining the word “work” differently. You’re saying that a technology “works” if it produces some power under ideal conditions. That’s quite far from my definition, which is that the technology (or group of technologies) works if it can replace essentially all fossil-fuel sourced energy in a national grid.

    You’re assuming, or maybe hoping is a better word, that a mix of various renewable technologies will be able to do the latter. I’d rather bet on a certainty. We know that nuclear can run a national grid: we need look no further than France for a practical example. Why go on ignoring it?

  161. Rod B:

    I heartily agree with James’ (150) analysis, with one clarification/exception. For some more $$$ one can get lead acid or equivalent wet cell batteries that last a long time, provided they don’t shake, rattle and roll like car batteries. Telephone companies have backup batteries that have lasted decades with nary a hitch.

  162. Hank Roberts:

    You don’t need to imagine everyone installing lead-acid batteries.
    Plug your hybrid into a smarter interface; rent out its storage capacity.
    Insulate deeper foundations and use the thermal mass under the house to store heat or cold or both, whether direct from the environment or via electric power.
    The next time your city/utility plans to dig up the block, use the opportunity to dig deep enough to install a geothermal loop for the neighborhood. Meter the heat exchange.
    Route the condenser drip water from your refrigerator, instead of into the moldy pan under it, with a 1/4″ tube running down below the floor and outside, rather than just condensing the humidity and evaporating it into the house again, for summertime use.
    Got a 4′ attic and no attic vents, but an old chimney or plumbing vent you aren’t using? Put a computer box fan in there on a switch. You’ll be amazed how moving 30 cu. ft./minute of hot attic air reduces the evening temperature under the living space ceiling.

  163. James:

    Re #162: [Plug your hybrid into a smarter interface; rent out its storage capacity.]

    Humm… Priced a hybrid battery pack lately? About $2K for the tiny Insight one, $3K for the larger Prius, both of which have much smaller capacity than you’d need for a house. Then remember that the lifetime of these batteries depends on (among other factors) the number of charge/discharge cycles. Could get expensive :-)

    The rest are good ideas for saving energy in particular applications (just as I’ve avoided the need for A/C through good insulation and opening windows at night), but once again, they just don’t get you down to zero use. Even if we could get most of the houses in the country on to 100% renewable energy (which I think is technically feasible now, if a bit expensive), domestic electric use is only about 1/3 of the total. The problem is how to run industry.

  164. Lawrence Coleman:

    FurryCatHerders comment has got me re-evaualting my bank statements again. I was to have a solararray plus lead-acid batteries on the new house I’m building but the initial price kinda put me off. Not sure if queensland Australia recycles it’s lead-acid batteries? if so I’m all for it. Just got word that the price of electricy here is about to take a quantum leap in a skyward direction..ouch! 8 years life expectancy? is that still within 90% storage capacity?..you could probably get a good 10-11 years without noticing much drop-off. How many of us here live in small towns? I live in Beerwah Qld..may have heard of the late Steve Irwin ‘Croc hunter’. I’m trying to organise action groups here to switch to low wattage lighting etc. But still the misinformation peddled by bloody vested interest skeptics keeps haunting me. Conservation and local environmental issues must be kept on the front burner..but there seems to be more apathy creeping in..my perception. Has any of you had similar experiences and if so how do you keep our message fresh, hopeful and exiting?

  165. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[The problem is that we’re defining the word “work” differently. You’re saying that a technology “works” if it produces some power under ideal conditions.]]

    “Ideal conditions?” Wind power is generating large-scale power now. Biomass is fueling a hundred million cars in Brazil now. Again you’re misrepresenting renewables by implying they’re all laboratory curiosities. It’s not true.

  166. Nick Gotts:

    Re #156 [We need a realistic assessment of how much we can expect global energy demand to increase and how much of a dent conservation can make in that total.]

    The future trajectory of energy demand depends in large part on political and socio-cultural developments which we can affect – it’s not a given.

    [We then need to cover the demand with the pieces of the energy jigsaw puzzle. If we can do it with renewables, I’m all for it.
    However, to say that we will rely on renewables and if they can’t cover demand in the third world “tant pis” is not a reasonable strategy.]

    Agreed

    [It is also not a reasonable strategy to say, as Oxfam has, that the rich must cover the cost. This might be the just solution, but it places a lot more faith in the wealthy than I possess. In the end, why should they keep the oceans from rising when it is simply cheaper to buy up all the high ground?]

    At least three reasons, other than altruism:
    1) A lot of attractive coastline, where they like to go for vacations (or even live) will disappear. More broadly, so will a lot of natural beauty and sporting facilities (coral reefs, ski slopes…).
    3) Those with stakes in some economic sectors e.g. insurance, agriculture, tourism, could find themselves $Ms out of pocket with little warning.
    2) A world with billions of people suffering the consequences of climate change will be an unstable world, where even the rich will not be safe. For evidence that some of the rich (or at least, those charged with defending their interests) are concerned about this, see for example the Pentagon report available at http://www.climate.org/PDF/clim_change_scenario.pdf
    (yes, I know the climate change scenario in it is extreme, but the instability posited could follow just as easily from slower but sustained change).

  167. FurryCatHerder:

    In Re 164:

    I’m just a single cat herder. Single in that I’m just me, unmarried, and only have one (live) cat. I guess that makes me a multiple singularity ;)

    The most cost-effective solar solution for an individual, by far, is the biggest solar array you can park on your roof and inverters with sufficient capacity to produce electricity and peak wattage. Skip the batteries completely — you’ll save maintenance and the expense of charge controllers and the like. That assumes your utility will do something called “net-metering”, where the meter runs backwards when the sun and shining, and forwards when not.

    The only reason I have batteries and charge controllers in my proposal is because I want to have power when the utility is off-line. The original plan was for a 13kW natural gas powered backup generator. Choosing solar instead was an afterthought when I realized a solar powered backup system was going to be cheaper than the natural gas one. Prices were significantly higher the last time I’d looked. Now they are low enough that I wouldn’t live in a house that didn’t have enough solar power to keep the fridge, TV, radio and computers running.

  168. FurryCatHerder:

    In re #156:

    Ray writes:

    However, to say that we will rely on renewables and if they can’t cover demand in the third world “tant pis” is not a reasonable strategy.

    The documentaries (and including direct reports from people who’ve installed power in those countries) I’ve seen show more that renewable energy isn’t deployed properly in those Third World locales. The Great Global Warming Swindle, as I recall, showed some poor sop with a very, very small array, a single inverter, and I think a car battery, trying to run a medical clinic. That installation is an example of criminal neglect.

    I have a toy system in my back yard that probably puts out more. For fun I sometimes plug major appliances into it — yesterday I had the much of the entertainment center plugged into it. I’m planning a BBQ once summer gets here and will probably put some entertainment equipment and a fridge on it. This weekend I trimmed the hedges with it, and even posted here some. And this is a toy system — just some 15w panels I threw together, a small charge controller, some 33AH 12V batteries. I could put it in the trunk of my car, which is why it’s small — after reading so many skeptics here I decided I’ve got to take solar power on the road. I’ll probably even pack my little bar fridge so I can have cold drinks while I do my pitch, assuming I can find groups that will listen.

    The problem with renewables isn’t the renewables. As people have pointed out over and over and over again, there are already very large — utility scale — renewable power installations. The problem is the skeptics who flat out refuse to recognize those realities.

  169. Ray Ladbury:

    Nick,
    You are presuming that the wealthy care about things like natural beauty–a lot of them don’t. And if natural beauty is lost, well they’ll still own what is left.
    And if some sectors of the economy are likely to be hurting–they’ll simply not invest in those sectors. They may not pay much attention to the world around them and how it is changing–they have “people for that.” And as to the instability–well there are plenty men and plenty of guns to provide security. Now that we’ve privatized defense, defense is available to the highest bidder. Hell the wealthy even fare pretty well in Baghdad–lot of money to be made, and even the militias wouldn’t dare touch some of the big fish. The wealthy in Bogota and Mexico City continue to live quite well there, despite the occasional kidnapping.

    The philosophy that most of the world’s wealthy have developed is that it is cheaper to buy a car with better suspension than it is to fix all the potholes. That is not to say that there are not altruistic wealthy individuals–Warren Buffet comes to mind. However, the proposition that those with money and power will willingly relinquish both is not one I would bet money on. Likewise, the poor will do what they need to survive and put food in the mouths of their children–today–regardless of its effects for tomorrow, let alone 50 years from now.
    George Washington adopted as his philosophy the assumption that people act in accord with their perceived interests. You may be able to change the incentives somewhat. You may even be able to broaden peoples’ perceptions of what their interests are, but for the vast majority, you won’t get them to act altruistically. They have to see that there is something in it for them, and if they think that they could do better acting against the common good, many if not most will do so, especially if they see others profiting by doing so. Somehow, we have to make this a situation where everybody has something they hope to gain.

  170. Nick Gotts:

    Re #169 Ray, we’ve had the argument over altruism already (and the evidence is that you’re overly pessimistic), but it’s enlightened self-interest I was talking about here. You say a lot of the wealthy don’t care about natural beauty. True – but a lot of them do. And a lot like to ski or whatever. You say the wealthy will disinvest from risky sectors. Two of the biggest are insurance and agriculture. If there’s any substantial disinvestment from either, capitalism will be in big trouble – and this will be quite evident to the rich. Their first thought may well be “Hmm, I’d better get out of insurance”, but not far behind will be “What if everyone does that? That could threaten my investments in construction, chemicals, transportation and oil [to name but a few sectors], because reliable insurance won’t be available – I’d better get out of those too”. Take a look at what SwissRe and MunichRe, for example, have been saying in the last few years. All the really rich will also have big investments that depend on low-lying cities like New York and London continuing to function without serious interruption. Suppose the Thames Barrier fails? As for “Hell the wealthy even fare pretty well in Baghdad” – really? Would you live there, for any money? Even if you can buy armed guards, how do you know they’ll stay bought? Mercenaries are not, on the whole, notably trustworthy. I’m not saying those with wealth and power will willingly relinquish both. They won’t. What they may be willing to do is trade some of their privileges for increased security.

  171. Ray Ladbury:

    Hi cat herder, You know, having lived in Africa for a couple of years, I can say that the guy with the single-inverter solar array is lucky. Most of the clinics in our area had no electricity or even access to clean water–and people often had to walk 20-30 miles just to reach such a clinic. Even the hospital didn’t have reliable electrical power–it’d lose power about once or twice a month.
    Hell, I even had a hard time getting hand tools for passive solar projects.
    I’d imagine things have progressed somewhat, but probably not all that much.

  172. James:

    Re #165: [“Ideal conditions?” Wind power is generating large-scale power now.]

    Roughly 1% of the total in the US, if the number I got from a quick search is accurate. Which is fine, because if the wind happens not to be blowing, you can throttle up the fossil fuel, hydro, & nuclear plants that supply the other 99%. But as a thought experiment, let’s swap the numbers, and think about a system where 99% of the capacity is generated by wind. That’s a long way from being fine, since if the wind isn’t blowing hard enough, you don’t have enough power to meet demand.

    Think a bit about what it takes to run a dependable electric grid. Isn’t it obvious that it needs a base of reliable & controllable generation? Then you can also support some fraction of unreliable/uncontrollable generation such as wind & solar by throttling that base. (And if your unreliable generation is cheaper and/or greener, you’ll want to do this.)

    The power plants on an electric grid are operated according to many criteria, such as the cost of generation at each plant, load capacities of power lines, grid stability & reliability standards, etc. I used to work on power system planning & control software, so I know it’s not a simple problem to work out just what mixes are acceptable. You can’t add large amounts of any kind of generation, much less something as unreliable as wind or solar, just by waving your hands and saying “make it so”.

    [Biomass is fueling a hundred million cars in Brazil now.]

    Deforesting how much of the Amazon Basin (and the rest of Brazil) in the process? Now think about what would be needed to also run Brazil’s electric grid with biomass. What are the environmental consequences of this? How are they better than nuclear, where the worst case (as with Chernobyl) seems to be the creation of a new wildlife reserve?

    [Again you’re misrepresenting renewables by implying they’re all laboratory curiosities.]

    That’s not at all what I intended, so either my writing or your reading must be at fault. What I’ve been trying to say is that they fall in a range from lab curiousity (or sometimes not even that), to working in limited circumstances, but that there’s no practical experience of running a large fraction of a grid with them, and good reason to think that doing so would be far from simple, if it’s even possible. On the other hand, we know for sure that nuclear can run a grid, because it is doing it in France.

  173. SecularAnimist:

    James wrote: “You can’t add large amounts of any kind of generation, much less something as unreliable as wind or solar …”

    You keep repeating, in one way or another, that wind and solar are “unreliable”. That is not true. Intermittent does not equal “unreliable”.

    On the other hand, according to David Lochbaum, who holds a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee and worked for 20 years in the commercial nuclear power industry, and is now director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Since the first [US] commercial plant opened 40 years ago, reactor shutdowns of a year or longer have occurred a staggering 51 times at 41 different plants … Most of the shutdowns happened because safety margins at the plants were allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that reactor operations could not continue. Inadequate attention to safety by plant owners and operators, combined with poor oversight by the NRC, caused 36 of the 51 year-plus outages. There are 104 nuclear power reactors in the United States. Forty-one have experienced year-long outages. A 1-in-3 chance of incurring a year-plus outage was not part of the bargain when these plants were built and licensed. Since 1973, long-term safety-related shutdowns have occurred, on average, once per year.”

    And the nuclear industry in France has certainly not been without reliability problems. Last August, the Christian Science Monitor reported that “The extended heat wave in July aggravated drought conditions across much of Europe, lowering water levels in the lakes and rivers that many nuclear plants depend on to cool their reactors. As a result, utility companies in France, Spain, and Germany were forced to take some plants offline and reduce operations at others. Across Western Europe, nuclear plants also had to secure exemptions from regulations in order to discharge overheated water into the environment. Even with an exemption to environmental rules this summer, the French electric company, Electricité de France (EDF), normally an energy exporter, had to buy electricity on European spot market, a way to meet electricity demand.”

    This was a continuation of the same problem which occurred in the lethal European heatwave of 2003, as reported by The Guardian newspaper in the UK in August 2003: “Ecologists warned yesterday that the ecosystems in France’s rivers were at grave risk after the government’s decision to relax environmental regulations governing the operation of nuclear stations in an attempt to avert power cuts caused by the heatwave. Nuclear plants were granted permission late on Monday to pump their cooling water into nearby rivers at a higher temperature than usual to allow them to continue generating electricity, as temperatures across France continued to hit 40C (104F) for a second week … Demand for electricity has soared as the population turns up air conditioning and fridges, but nuclear power stations, which generate around 75% of France’s electricity, have been operating at a much reduced capacity and several reactors have stopped working entirely … In another attempt to conserve energy for the nation, France, which is Europe’s main electricity exporter, cut its power exports by more than half yesterday.”

  174. FurryCatHerder:

    In Re 172:

    James writes:

    That’s not at all what I intended, so either my writing or your reading must be at fault. What I’ve been trying to say is that they fall in a range from lab curiousity (or sometimes not even that), to working in limited circumstances, but that there’s no practical experience of running a large fraction of a grid with them, and good reason to think that doing so would be far from simple, if it’s even possible.

    I’m sorry, but that’s completely backwards — “unreliable” power sources become more reliable when combined. If the weather is sunny 80% of the time at my house, and 80% of the time at your house, and it’s not the same 80%, the weather is sunny 96% of the time at one of our homes, and only not sunny 4% of the time. If we start adding in the homes of all the other skeptics, pretty soon it’s sunny weather somewhere, all the time. It wouldn’t take too many more skeptics’ local weather conditions before we exceeded the reliability of the national grid.

    Probability works very well with distributed power production.

    What you seem to be doing, over and over, is confusing the probability of a single source, with the probabilty of multiple sources. We have the weather records to know where the weather is what it is, how often it is that way, and how much power can be generated from that weather.

    As for nuclear, nuclear has its own problems which can present challenges to the grid. And while it’s true that there are many reactors out there doing a fantastic job of churning out huge amounts of power, many of those reactors are now getting pretty old. Which raises another problem with centalized large-scale power production — what happens when a 1.2GW reactor goes off-line, or a cluster of 3 or 4 of them reach end-of-life, which they all do, sooner or later.

    The solution to power production problems with all sources of power — nuclear, fossil, hydro, geothermal, and renewables — is a careful understanding of all the risks. There’s nothing special about wind, solar, waste-stream biomass, or any other renewable source.

  175. Jim Eager:

    Re 171 Ray Ladbury: “having lived in Africa for a couple of years, I can say that the guy with the single-inverter solar array is lucky.”

    What I’d like to know is did Martin Durkin donate another PV panel or two or an inverter to the clinic, or did he just shoot and run?

  176. Curt Schroeder:

    Re: 66 Timothy Chase:

    I like to think that all scientists look for alternative explanations when conducting research. The problem is that most of that kind of thinking is not adequately reported in the scientific literature. It’s absence leaves gaps that non-scientists can exploit (for ideological purposes), as well as causing other scientists to unnecessarily explore dead ends (or maybe that’s a good thing). Increasing reliability in scientific literature is a worthy goal and I think scientists have dropped the ball on this and are paying the price, at least in some circles (like climate science). Discussion of efforts spent trying to disprove scientific conclusions in your own paper does not in any way legitimize opposing views as long as it is based on evidence. This is a practice that should be widespread among scientific disciplines, not just climate science. Discussions of alternative explanations must be based on facts. This tends to expose attempts of alternative explanations based on ideology for what they are. Reliability in scientific writing is an issue for scientists, not just the popular press.

  177. Lawrence Coleman:

    James: That was the main concern I have/had about nuclear, the reliablity of water sources, athough the modern types of reactor do indeed need considerably less water. Still to replace coal/oil and gas within the next 20 years Nuclear is a clear winner..if as I said only for ther medium term term. Readers might like to know that Australia has has just had it’s warmest autumn on record..hot on the heels (pardon the pun) of last year as well. How climate change appears to be affecting australia, is that the north is getting wetter and the latitudes south of capricorn are getting progressively drier and hotter. A number of major cities are runing out of water..dams 14-18% full and shrinking, namely Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. This has been a trend for at least the past 10 years. Also the El-nino which we have always relied upon is becomming so unreliable and unstable that farmers her dont have a clue what to do any more. In the past if the east coast of aussie was wetter than california on the other side of the pacific would be drier..now both sides are equally dry, you know all about the recent severe fires in LA. Australia is set for a fed gov change this year. The incumbant lib gov does not understand climate change and has wasted 10 precious years trying to deney it while alternative energy sources could have been promoted. When Labor wins hopefully this year, their plan is for Australia to go all out for solar..which I’m all for..and Geo-thermal..which they claim can replace completely our need for coal power stations. For those not clear about Geo-thermal energy..like i was till two days ago..it requires a hole to be dug about 3kms deep into the red hot volcanic rock and water to be sent down the hole..the resultant continued burst of superheated steam runs huge electric turbines, they say it’s 100% environmentally friendly..I presume they’re right? A robust and aggressive carbon trading scheme should also be incorporated to force factories to quickly address their emissions. What do you think about our opposition govs plans. To me is seems to make good sense.

  178. Ray Ladbury:

    Lawrence, Re: geothermal, you might want to look at the experience of your neighbors to the east on the North Island of N. Z. in Rotorua. It turns out that the geothermal resources they were sitting on were not nearly as large as they had thought, and once they started using it freely, the geysers stopped erupting and there went the tourist trade. They’ve backed way off. Now digging 3 km down may change things or it may not. The other issue they’ve found with geothermal is that the water 3 km down tends to be very caustic, so pipes have a tendency to fail–that’s the issue they’ve faced in California. Cheers.

  179. nicolas L.:

    re: 160, James

    Just a little precision about situation in France…
    We have about 80% of our electricity production coming from nuclear power plants here. Seems big like this, and actually it allows us to enjoy a certain energetic independance . But when nuclear power generation is compared to our overall energy consumption, it represents only about 17% of it… And frankly speaking, I don’t see this proportion grow much during the next decades, knowing we already have 58 nuclear power plants and that our national territory is afterall not that big :)…
    So, I would agree to say nuclear is a part of the solution… a part only. And that leaves a lot of space for renewable energies to develop.

  180. James:

    Re #173: [You keep repeating, in one way or another, that wind and solar are “unreliable”. That is not true. Intermittent does not equal “unreliable”.]

    I appreciate the point, but I think intermittent has its own problems as a descriptor. I don’t know a word that’s completely apt, and I don’t want to re-type the same couple of paragraphs of explanation every time the subject comes up. The point is that solar & wind work on nature’s schedule, and thus are not always available when & where we want them.

    [Since the first [US] commercial plant opened 40 years ago, reactor shutdowns of a year or longer have occurred a staggering 51 times at 41 different plants…]

    Well, that sounds terrible, but let’s do some math: 40 * 41 – 1640 plant-years. Say each shutdown was 2 years, that’s 102 plant-years, so 100 * (1 – 102 / 1640) = 93.8% availabilty. (That’s assuming that 41 is the total number of US nuclear plants, not just the number that had long shutdowns, so the actual number might be higher.)

    To put the numbers in perspective, how about doing similar availability statistics for other types of generation? I don’t have numbers to hand, but I don’t think it’s at all uncommon for fossil-fuel plants to be taken out of service for long periods of maintenance & refurbishment.

    Likewise, I’d bet that if you were to take all nuclear plant outages and plot them by date, you would find that the frequency was highest in the early years, and decreased with time. This just supports my arguments WRT depending on new & untried technologies: every new technology has its break-in period.

    The same principle applies to the problems WRT French nuclear plants in the heat wave. (Which would have applied equally to any heat engine based plant, be it fossil fuel, biomas, or solar thermal.) The cooling systems were designed using certain assumptions about temperature & system load, which experience proved were wrong. So you design better cooling systems.

  181. Rod B:

    FurryCatHerder (174), simple math with the simple understandable scenario first off says you have no power a minimum of 4% of the time — a long way from industry reliability/availability. This might be alleviated as one grows to more than the two simple sources. Secondly, your math works for 96% of the time only if each of the two sources are sized to provide the total load. You can’t cover your neighbor’s blackout unless your system is large enough to cover both your and his loads. Finally, all of this glosses over the management problem that James mentioned, viz. cutting sources in and out (partially or wholly) — not terrible with two sources but horrendous with multiple sources.

    Not that all of this might be possible, as you say. But it ain’t easy or well understood as James contends. No magic wands, please.

  182. James:

    Re #174: [If the weather is sunny 80% of the time at my house, and 80% of the time at your house, and it’s not the same 80%, the weather is sunny 96% of the time at one of our homes, and only not sunny 4% of the time.]

    That’s only true if the probability of sun at your house isn’t correlated to the probability of sun at my house. However, few satellite weather pictures should serve to demonstrate that this isn’t so. A major weather system will bring cloudy weather to a large part of the country, and it’s not at all uncommon to have several such systems covering most of the continent. Much the same is true of wind.

    Of course you can use weather records to predict the the actual probabilities fairly accurately, and thus obtain a good idea of how much “other” generation you’ll need to cover for when wind & solar aren’t available. But that raises another problem: say you invest in one of those “other” plants. You make money by selling power, so you want to run it as much as you can. Only if a large part of your operating cost is fuel, or if you’re working off a storable resource such as hydro, will you be willing to run part time.

    [The solution to power production problems with all sources of power — nuclear, fossil, hydro, geothermal, and renewables — is a careful understanding of all the risks.]

    On that we agree: I’m just trying to point out some of the risks that the more evangelical renewable energy advocates seem to be overlooking in their enthusiasm.

  183. James:

    Re #177: [For those not clear about Geo-thermal energy..like i was till two days ago..it requires a hole to be dug about 3kms deep into the red hot volcanic rock and water to be sent down the hole…]

    There are two kinds of geothermal. One relies on an existing resource such as a hot spring. These are pretty well developed – there’s one just up the road from my house – but are limited to places where there are hot springs & such. The other, as you describe, relies on drilling holes into hot, deep rocks. In principle these could be build anywhere, if you drill deep enough, but AFAIK they’re still experimental.

    In any case, both types are still heat engines, and require the same sort of cooling that nuclear & fossil fuel plants do.

  184. SecularAnimist:

    James wrote: “There are two kinds of geothermal.”

    There is a third kind of geothermal, which is the geothermal heat pump. It is essentially similar to a regular heat pump except the external heat exchanger unit is underground instead of above ground. Because temperatures even a few feet underground are generally cooler than the air during summer, and warmer than the air during winter, a geothermal heat pump is more efficient and effective than a regular heat pump, although it is more expensive to install because of the need for excavating a hole in the ground to install the heat exchange coils. But the last time I looked, prices for residential geothermal heat pump systems were roughly in the same range as a conventional HVAC system. So this is a technology that has a lot of potential for reducing the amount of energy used for heating and cooling buildings.

    Particularly in the USA where we are profligate wasters of energy, there is VAST potential for reducing our energy consumption through eliminating waste and improving efficiency, while maintaining our standard of living (ie. the services that we derive from energy), and that is by far the fastest, cheapest way to reduce GHG emissions.

    The US Department of Energy has a program to develop zero-net-energy houses, which draw electricity from the grid when needed, but by incorporating photovoltaics, and solar water and space heating, geothermal heat pumps, super insulation, etc, overall produce all the energy they need for electricity, heating and cooling on site. And the DOE is designing these houses in collaboration with Habitat For Humanity so that they will be inexpensive and easy to build, rather than luxury homes for the rich.

    All of the discussion about the relative merits of nuclear or solar or wind generated electricity, and various biofuels to replace gasoline, are addressing the supply side. We can make much more progress faster and cheaper by addressing the demand side. And I believe we will need to do this anyway, because I think that folks like Richard Heinberg and James Howard Kunstler who write about “peak oil” are probably correct when they say that there is no “alternative source of energy” nor any combination of “alternatives” that is going to provide the abundant supply of cheap energy that soon-to-be-depleted fossil fuels have provided over the last century or so. We — people in the USA especially, and in the developed world generally — are going to have to adapt to having less energy available to power our civilization.

  185. FurryCatHerder:

    James writes:

    That’s only true if the probability of sun at your house isn’t correlated to the probability of sun at my house. However, few satellite weather pictures should serve to demonstrate that this isn’t so. A major weather system will bring cloudy weather to a large part of the country, and it’s not at all uncommon to have several such systems covering most of the continent. Much the same is true of wind.

    Neither solar nor wind are so binary that cloudy skies and gentle breezes are going to result in zero power production.

    Values for insolation — 5 hours per day where I live — aren’t “we make power for 5 hours, and then we make nothing”, they are the number of hours, at full power production, that the entire day’s production would be equivalent to. That includes dawn and dusk when the first and last few watt-hours are being made, mid-day, clouds passing overhead, afternoon storms, and the entire mess. Even this image, which a nice low pressure system covering much of the midwest, eastern seaboard, and parts of southern Canada from the Maritines to the prairie provinces, is still good solar power weather.

    As for wind, weather systems are driven by differences in barometric pressure. Those differences are worked out by large masses of air moving from high pressure to low as … wind. The worst weather for wind is the big, fat high pressure system. Parked on your head. With crystal clear blue skies and little or no wind. Sooner or later that mass of air has to go somewhere, and even if it doesn’t get off your head, the guys down the road will have wind.

    Not sure if you know how to read this, but there’s a heck of a lot of wind on that map.

    As I said upthread, put solar and wind (and some biomass and …) on enough skeptic’s homes and pretty soon we’ve got a nice, reliable power supply. It just can’t be calm air and overcast everywhere, all at once.

  186. James:

    Re #184: [There is a third kind of geothermal, which is the geothermal heat pump.]

    What you describe is a ground source heat pump. I’ve seen it called geothermal sometimes, but that seems tantamount to false advertising. The difference is that you use the standard geothermal to generate power, while with ground-source you’re using power to run it, and increasing efficiency by having one side of your loop in a place that’s generally warmer or colder than ambient air.

    [We can make much more progress faster and cheaper by addressing the demand side.]

    Initially, yes, but it doesn’t get you all the way down to zero CO2. But as I’ve said before, I think looking for a single “magic bullet” solution will only guarantee failure. We need to do everything: encourage conservation and build renewables and build nuclear and do revegetation and look seriously at whatever else people can think of. We have to deal with reality, which means rejecting both the exaggerated claims of renewable energy fans and the hysterical doomsaying of the anti-nuclear lobby.

  187. James:

    Re #185: [Neither solar nor wind are so binary that cloudy skies and gentle breezes are going to result in zero power production.]

    Sure, but the criterion you need to meet isn’t avoiding zero power production, it’s providing sufficient power to meet demand. To do this (assuming it’s even possible, which is a question for metereologists, statisticians, and power systems engineers to answer) you’d have to significantly overbuild your system. Then when it’s both sunny and windier than average over a large part of the country, a lot of your solar panels & windmills would be sitting there doing nothing. That increases the total system cost and payback time for each individual installation, and makes investors more reluctant to put money into building them.

    In any case, I have a hard time seeing why it’s an either/or issue. There’s a lot of room to add more renewables to the grid – the numbers I see say it can accommodate about 30% of such intermittent generation without major problems – and that’s a long way from the 1% or so of today. So we diversify our investments (or hedge our bets, if you prefer that metaphor), instead of putting all our eggs in one basket.

  188. SecularAnimist:

    James wrote: “We have to deal with reality, which means rejecting both the exaggerated claims of renewable energy fans …”

    How about rejecting the exaggerated claims of the nuclear energy fans that nuclear power is “THE ANSWER” to global warming, that no solution to global warming is possible without a massive buildup of nuclear power, that supplies of cheap high quality uranium will last forever given such an expansion of nuclear power, that the problems of the extreme toxicity of the nuclear fuel cycle, the energy-intensive (and GHG-intensive) nature of uranium mining and refining, the permanent sequestration of huge amounts of high-level nuclear waste, vulnerability of nuclear power plants, fuel and waste transport to terrorist attacks, and risks of weapons proliferation have all been solved or that solutions are trivial or cheap.

    James notes that addressing the demand side through conservation and efficiency “doesn’t get you all the way down to zero CO2.” Of course nuclear power doesn’t get you anywhere near “zero CO2″, since the lifecycle of nuclear power plants from construction to decomissioning and the nuclear fuel cycle from mining to refining to transport to permanent sequestration of waste all produce substantial amounts of CO2, and since even a massive buildup of nuclear electricity generation would only modestly reduce the GHG emissions from electricity generation, which are only a fraction of total GHG emissions.

  189. Jim:

    Looks like the AR4 FAQ link has changed.

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

  190. peter:

    Thanks again Gavin for replying, this time to 148. I am still very skeptical of even instrumental data, which after averaging, is proposed to accurately and precisely represent hemispherical temperature change to 0.1 deg C. I am no statistics expert, but I don’t see how the average of three temperature measurements 30, 30 and 31 can stated as anything but 30. That aside, if you accept that proxy data cannot be accurate and precise to 0.1 deg C, does that not invalidate the hockey stick?

  191. Hank Roberts:

    The IPCC keeps a gateway page, with links that work for the FAQ reliably tho’ they change the actual filename for it:

    “Please access the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the Technical Summary (TS), chapters and other material from the following table of links….” http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html

  192. James:

    Re 188: [How about rejecting the exaggerated claims of the nuclear energy fans…]

    Sure, if you see any exaggerated claims, reject them. But when I see that your list starts with exaggeration and runs on to just plain wrong… Well, as with AGW denialists, when people keep on citing arguments that have repeatedly (and trivially) been shown to be wrong, their credibility level goes way down.

    Take as an example your claim that “…the lifecycle of nuclear power plants from construction to decomissioning and the nuclear fuel cycle from mining to refining to transport to permanent sequestration of waste all produce substantial amounts of CO2…”. To me this seems so blatantly wrong that I have trouble understanding how anyone could take it seriously.

    Exactly where is this CO2 supposed to be coming from? Construction of the power plant? You think maybe wind turbines grow from seeds? They take concrete for the footings, aluminium & steel for the towers and generators, maybe some composites for the rotor blades, copper for the wiring, and so on. All this has to be mined, refined, transported, and erected, just as do the materials going into a nuclear plant. I don’t know if anyone has done a comparison of the materials required to build X amount of generation of different kinds (I couldn’t find anything, but I’m not good at web searches), but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the totals are similar. It’s just that a 1 GW nuclear plant sits there in one big lump, while 1 GW of wind generation will be scattered over many miles of landscape. Buf for either one, the amount of CO2 generated by building & running the plant is going to be absolutely trivial when set against the CO2 that’d be generated by the fossil-fuel plants they’d displace.

    Is the CO2 coming from mining of uranium ore? Doesn’t have to: many mines run most of their equipment on electicity. Have your mine do the equivalent of a green power purchase from an existing nuclear plant, and that goes to zero. From transport? There are going to be just a few truckloads of fuel per plant. If you insist, we can add a few soybean fields and a biodiesel plant to run the transport :-) And so on for all the other potential CO2 sources, except perhaps the concrete used in construction.

  193. James:

    Re 188: OK, I did a little searching on the amount of raw material used in various forms of power plants. The article here

    http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/news/CEC/CEC_Nuclear_Workshop_PFP_8=051.pdf

    is a report to the California Energy Commission by Per F. Peterson of the Department of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley. (Which in itself is rather startling: Nuclear Engineering at Berkeley, of all places?) I’ll quote the most relevant part:

    “To review, nuclear power plants built in the 1970â��s used 40 metric tons of steel,
    and 190 cubic meters of concrete, for each megawatt of average capacity. For
    comparison, modern wind energy systems, with good wind conditions, take 460 metric
    tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt.
    Modern central-station coal plants take 98 metric tons of steel 160 and cubic
    meters of concrete�almost double the material needed to build nuclear power plants.
    This is due to the massive size of coal plant boilers and pollution control equipment.”

    So it appears that building a nuclear plant actually uses considerably less resources than building the same amount of either wind or coal generation. (And since we would be decommissioning coal plants as nuclear are built, the steel and other materials could be recycled…) The report also mentions that the Japanese can build a plant in 52 months, so there goes the claim of unacceptably long construction times.

  194. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[We have to deal with reality, which means rejecting both the exaggerated claims of renewable energy fans and the hysterical doomsaying of the anti-nuclear lobby.]]

    And the exaggerated claims of nuclear energy fans and the hysterical doomsaying of the anti-renewables lobby.

  195. Ike Solem:

    Re#193 – James, a far better Berkeley publication on the hidden costs of nuclear reactors is available at
    What History Can Teach Us about the Future Costs of U.S. Nuclear Power
    (may need a subscription, so here are some highlights)

    “In this article, we discuss the financial risks for new nuclear power to achieve its cost objectives, from a threedecade historical database of delivered costs from each of 99 individual U.S. nuclear reactors.”

    “One hundred and four nuclear reactors provided 19.3% of U.S. electricity generation in 2005, but no new reactors have been approved for construction by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) since 1978.”

    “From the start of commercial nuclear reactor construction in the mid-1960s through the 1980s, capital costs (dollars per kilowatt of capacity) for building nuclear reactors escalated dramatically.”

    “Even though the next generation of nuclear technology and public sharing of the risks of nuclear development and deployment will mitigate costs, the costs will remain prone to what we argue are likely surprises”

    Nuclear is a dead end technology, but solar technology is wide open. Rather than investing in schemes like new nuclear power stations or hypothetical ‘buried emissions’ coal-to-liquid conversion plants, we should be building solar panel manufacturing facilities and wind turbine facilities, and also investing in better energy storage technologies for these intermittent power sources (better batteries and hydrogen conversions systems, for example).

    In constrast to the escalating costs involved with nuclear and coal, solar manufacturing costs for existing technology are set to decline. See Photovoltaic costs to decline 40% by 2010, May 23 2007 . Furthermore, new solar technologies are set to double or triple the efficiency of existing solar panels. Obviously, solar, not nuclear, is the solution to carbon-emitting energy sources.

  196. Dick Veldkamp:

    Re #193 Energy for construction of power stations

    James, your figures for wind seem to be too pessimistic. See here for some actual numbers for a Vestas 3 MW turbine (= ca 1 MW effective power): http://www.vestas.com/vestas/global/en/Products/Wind_turbines/V90_3_0.htm
    We are talking 230 tons of steel for an 80 m high offshore turbine = 50% of the 460 you mention.

    Be that as it may, what you really should be looking at is CO2 emissions over a power station’s life. Wind turbines earn back the energy it took to produce them in 6-12 months, meaning that you have 19 years of CO2-free energy after that.

    With nuclear on the other hand, you’ll need a lot of energy to extract the ore – and this gets only worse as time goes by (naturally the richest ores are mined first). In my view nuclear is only a temporary option at best – especially if we really go for it, and double or tripe nuclear capacity.

  197. ray ladbury:

    Dick, there is sufficient Uranium left over from recycled Russian warheads that we would probably never need to mine any more if we used breeder technology. We should be buying this stuff up for security and foreign policy reasons in any case.
    I don’t think we are in a position to be beggars when it comes to the power sources we replace fossil fuels with. Nuclear is clearly not dead or there would not be as much interest from the market as we now see.

  198. James:

    Re 194: [… the hysterical doomsaying of the anti-renewables lobby.]

    Pointing out that the sun doesn’t shine at night, or that wind turbines don’t produce energy when the wind isn’t blowing counts as hysterical doomsaying? Analyses of the behavior of the electrical grid (made by power systems engineers), and the cost and performance of real-world technology, likewise?

    Come to that, where’s this anti-renewables lobby that’s supposedly doing the doomsaying? Has renewable energy become a religion, so that daring to think that it might not perform miracles counts as heresy?

  199. James:

    Re 195: [Nuclear is a dead end technology…]

    I don’t understand what you mean by this. Nuclear works: it’s supplying about 20% of US electricity now, and something like 75% for France.

    […but solar technology is wide open. Rather than investing in schemes like new nuclear power stations or hypothetical ‘buried emissions’ coal-to-liquid conversion plants, we should be building solar panel manufacturing facilities and wind turbine facilities…]

    Who’s “we”, here? Check your news, and you’ll discover that those things are being done now. But as I keep saying, they’re not magic. Like every technology, they have their limitations. Pretending those limits don’t exist is a recipe for failure.

    […and also investing in better energy storage technologies for these intermittent power sources (better batteries and hydrogen conversions systems, for example)]

    You think the world isn’t investing lots of money in trying to discover how to do these things? I’d be the first to stand up and cheer when/if they are, but they don’t exist now. and AGW isn’t going to wait.

  200. James:

    Re 196: [James, your figures for wind seem to be too pessimistic.]

    Not my figures – I’m just quoting a report. The point isn’t the exact numbers; it’s that similar amounts of material go into building both types of power plants, so that any claim that building a nuclear plant produces lots of CO2 this way is just plain wrong.

    […what you really should be looking at is CO2 emissions over a power station’s life.]

    Yes and no. You have two separate sources of CO2 here. There’s the CO2 produced by building a power plant, which is of the same order of magnitude for nuclear, wind, or coal. Then you have the CO2 produced by actually running the plant, which is effectively zero for both wind and nuclear, but very, very large for coal. Thus if you replace X MW of coal generation with either wind or nuclear, you get a large reduction in CO2 emitted.

    [With nuclear on the other hand, you’ll need a lot of energy to extract the ore…]

    Oh, please! Think about it: where does the fuel for the current generation of plants come from? Where are those highly energy intensive uranium mines & refineries now?

    Quite aside from the fact that (as Ray points out) there’s enough already-refined uranium & plutonium sitting around to fuel a lot of plants for a long time (and the fuel can be reprocessed), the energy cost of producing the fuel is very much less than what’s produced by the fuel. Which is true for any type of energy: if you didn’t get more energy from a fuel than it takes to obtain the fuel, why would you bother?

  201. Dick Veldkamp:

    Re #197 (Ray)

    Ray, I admit there is some merit in the argument that it is too late to be choosy about energy sources, but I myself am not convinced yet.

    It seems to me that nuclear (and “clean” coal, and some other things) are being pushed as a technofix that would render changing our lifestyle unnecessary – clearly a fata morgana.

    When do we get serious about energy conservation? Only the other week 5 more coal power stations were announced in the Netherlands “because energy demand keeps growing”. Yeah, right. Like it’s a natural phenomenon.

  202. Christoffer Torris Olsen:

    The IPCC FAQ link seems to be broken.

  203. Dick Veldkamp:

    #200 Nuclear CO2 free?

    I am just saying that the CO2 production while running a nuclear plant is NOT zero because of ore extraction, which takes considerable amounts of energy (admittedly the net result of the whole chain is positive at present).

    There’s other problems with nuclear too, but it is not my intention to repeat the whole discussion here.

    Taking fission material from missiles is an interesting thought, but you (or Ray) would have to produce some numbers to show that it is feasible, and that the amount available is relevant for energy production.

  204. Hank Roberts:

    >IPCC FAQ
    The IPCC isn’t friendly to links directly to the files — the files get renamed when they’re edited, and become “404 not found”

    IPCC says:
    “Please access the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the Technical Summary (TS), chapters and other material from the following table of links. Links to the Supplementary Material pages are also provided.

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

    The FAQ is the fourth one down from the top (as of this moment)

  205. ray ladbury:

    Dick,
    As I said above, if we took advantage of the nuclear material in the warheads decommissioned by the Soviets (as we should be for reasons of self preservation in any case), we would never have to turn over another spade to dig for nuclear fuel. I am all for increased conservation and for meeting as much of increased demand (because demand will increase regardless of how well we conserve) with renewables as possible. Whatever demand renewables cannot meet competitively will likely be met by coal (which will likely not be clean) or nuclear, and I don’t think we can afford to overlook the latter. I do believe that conservatives will look at our willingness to accept a role for nuclear power as a litmus test of our concern over climate change. They already dismiss concerns over nuclear power as overblown, and some of them are. Some of them are real, I readily concede–waste disposal and proliferation being the main ones. My concerns over these risks are, however, dwarfed by my concern over the effects of climate change, and so if I have to accept nuclear power as a solution, or even as a token political compormise, I am willing to do so.

  206. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #199:

    […but solar technology is wide open. Rather than investing in schemes like new nuclear power stations or hypothetical ‘buried emissions’ coal-to-liquid conversion plants, we should be building solar panel manufacturing facilities and wind turbine facilities…]

    Who’s “we”, here? Check your news, and you’ll discover that those things are being done now. But as I keep saying, they’re not magic. Like every technology, they have their limitations. Pretending those limits don’t exist is a recipe for failure.

    So far you’re the only person who doesn’t seem aware that solar has limitations that have been taken into consideration.

    Nationwide, the capacity factor for solar is 0.18, meaning for every megawatt of installed capacity, there are 180 kilowatts generated. I’d think that the people installing solar know that. Additionally, the average for cloud cover in this corner of the planet is about 28 percent, and again, I’d think the people who are installing solar are well aware of that. I can go on down the list of problems and limitations that solar has which are well known — average insolation for Central Texas, based on experience is approximately 5 hours, a little more or a little less, depending on where you are exactly. That factor has to be taken into consideration when sizing a system for a given production, so again, I think the people installing solar have to be aware of that fact.

    The biggest problems with solar aren’t at either the utility scale installation, or even the large residential grid intertie installation level. Values like insolation, site orientation, shading, etc are taken into consideration for large installations. The biggest problems with solar are with the “Keep your car battery charged with solar power!” or “Run your RV on solar!” level. Utterly unrealist insolation values, conversion inefficiency issues, failures to understand or consider power factor, stepped square wave (“modified sine wave”) inverters with horrible power output, etc. ad nauseum all creep in with smaller installations.

    In my experience, the people who scream the loudest about how horrible solar is are utilities. Solar is a disruptive technology — if it’s a bright sunny day, and I’ve got capacity to spare, I can undercut every other producer out there (save wind) because my incremental prices are very low. The expensive producers, which are coal and natural gas, have got to know that, and based on my personal experience, companies with a vested interest in selling coal and natural gas power will lie through their teeth about how lousey solar and wind power are.

  207. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Pointing out that the sun doesn’t shine at night, or that wind turbines don’t produce energy when the wind isn’t blowing counts as hysterical doomsaying? ]]

    No. Saying we have to have nuclear because renewables can never do it all by themselves counts as hysterical doomsaying.

    [[Analyses of the behavior of the electrical grid (made by power systems engineers), and the cost and performance of real-world technology, likewise?
    Come to that, where’s this anti-renewables lobby that’s supposedly doing the doomsaying?
    ]]

    Um, that would be you.

    [[ Has renewable energy become a religion, so that daring to think that it might not perform miracles counts as heresy? ]]

    Have straw man arguments replaced relevant ones?

  208. David B. Benson:

    Any thoughts regarding agrichar as an immediate, palative measure?

  209. Ike Solem:

    Re#208, I’ve heard it called biochar, but it seems like an approach that has very few drawbacks. Essentially, what it involves is heating biomass in the absence of oxygen, which creates a liquid/gaseous fuel stream (essentially, the Fischer-Tropsch process for biomass instead of for coal). Such fuels would be largely CO2-neutral as they were formed via photosynthesis – depending on the agricultural procedures used, though.

    The residual carbon (essentially charcoal) is then plowed into depleted agricultural soils, where it stays. From the global warming perspective, this means that you’re taking CO2 out of the air via photosynthesis and burying it as organic carbon in the soils. I think the net storage through the entire process is around 20% of the photosynthetically fixed CO2? Seems like a win-win strategy – but you’d still have to stop burning coal and oil if you wanted to stabilize atmospheric CO2.

  210. Ike Solem:

    RE the nuclear debate and why I called it a “dead-end technology”
    Global uranium reserves
    Quote: “If we would decide to replace all electricity generated by burning fossil fuel with electricity from nuclear power today, there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for between 3 and 4 years (O’Rourke, 2004; Storm van Leeuwen & Smith, 2004). Even if we were to double world usage of nuclear energy, the life span of uranium reserves would be just 25 years. Therefore any potential benefits to the climate are extremely temporary.”

    There is one nuclear reactor that we can rely on indefinitely for energy, however – the Sun, which is for our purposes inexhaustible. See solar energy resource.

  211. Timothy Chase:

    David B. Benson (#208) wrote:

    Any thoughts regarding agrichar as an immediate, palative measure?

    Well, at first glance, it might be thought of as an environment-friendly alternative to traditional charcoal, but it has the potential for semi-permanently sequestering carbon on an unprecedented scale while enhancing agricultural productivity, so in this way, I would regard it as a great deal more than just a temporary expediency. Nevertheless, it will probably pay to keep in mind that a majority of the increase in ghg emissions since the 1990s (from 1 to 3 percent, roughly) has been due to the use of solid fuels – such as charcoal.

    It looks like it is a great improvement over traditional charcoal, both in terms of its production methods (it is much cleaner) and its ability to use a wide variety of biomass in its production – and thus cut down on deforestation and degradation of the associated soils. Byproducts of its production include gases and biofuels which may help to supply energy needs. When used to enrich the soil rather than as fuel, agrichar quite significantly enhances agricultural productivity by acting as a scaffold for a bacterial ecology which greatly benefits plants – and it results in the sequestration of carbon for centuries.

    I think it may be a great benefit to much of the world – currently half of the world still relies upon charcoal. At least temporarily, this would be a far better solution. But in the long run, it can mean the large-scale, semi-permanent sequestration of carbon, and meeting global hunger needs.

    And in the interim?

    Agrichar can be used to fuel its own production, and what is left over can be used to enrich the soil, growing the crops which meet hunger needs while producing wastes that can be used in the creation of more agrichar.

    Anyway, for those who aren’t already familiar with it, you might want to see:

    Birth of a new wedge: agrichar (terra preta)
    by Kelpie Wilson
    Published on 3 May 2007
    http://www.energybulletin.net/29250.htm

    I also have a technical review – but I will have to look it up.

    *

    Personally, I find it exciting – and a source of hope. Rice-husks in a kiln. Who woulda thunk?

    Anyway, I am fairly sold on the stuff, but I will most certainly be interested in hearing from others, pro or con, however inconceivable the latter may be.

  212. Ray Ladbury:

    Ike, Nuclear power only makes sense if it is used with a breeder fuel cycle. That way, you are dealing with U238 vs. U235. The breeder cycle requires reprocessing of spent fuel as well–and that makes disposal easier. No solution makes sense if we adopt it stupidly.

  213. nicolas L.:

    re: 210

    I think your calculations are based only on the proved, measured and economically viable reserves at present time… But most geologists and mining industrials would tell you that making this calculation is pretty useless to estimate the effective time we have before exhausting a viable use of a certain mineral. You have to take account of 2 other parameters to make a valid estimation:
    _ The amount of mineral that has been discovered but is not economically workable with present technical knowledge and energy market price. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be workable in a few years (with new technics and/or higher market prices).
    _ The amount of mineral not discovered at present time. This can represent a huge part of the total amount of mineral.

    These are the updated estimates for reserves, according to “Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand”, a publication of OECD, NEA and IAEA:

    “Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand, also known as the Red Book, estimates the identified amount of conventional uranium resources which can be mined for less than USD 130/kg, just above the current spot price, to be about 4.7 million tonnes.

    Based on the 2004 nuclear electricity generation rate this amount is sufficient for 85 years. However, total world uranium resources which could be available at market price are much higher. Based on geological evidence and knowledge of uranium in phosphates, the study estimates that more than 35 million tonnes are available for exploitation. ”
    http://www.nea.fr/html/general/press/2006/2006-02.html

    In the beginning of 2k, the estimated available reserves were 14,4 million Tonnes, we’re now at 35 million. This means the known reserves of uranium have more than doubled during the last 5 years or so… Why? Because we keep discovering new uranium reserves, and we’re likely to discover more.
    Nuclear energy being a non-renewable one, it will leave to a dead end some day and that’s a point no one can contest. But estimation of world reserves is a much more difficult thing, and data shows we’re not near from the pick uranium (contrary to pick oil, wich will probably come in the next 10 or 20 years).
    I think the problem is for now not about the uranium reserves. The radioactive wates management and the risk of accident is for me more important. As I’ve said it before (somewhere in one of those numerous and very instructive posts we find here at RC :) ), my point of view is that nuclear energy has its flaws, and if the AGW was not a sword over our heads I’d say we don’t need it. But giving the situation that is we must get away from fossil fuels as fast as we can, nuclear generated power is a path we’ll hardly escape from…

  214. Ray Ladbury:

    All, while not directly relevant to climate, perhaps a few words on the difficulty of determining Uranium reserves. The intitial estimates of Uranium availability suggested that it was only available in a few locations–such as Poland, hence part of the concern among Manhattan Project scientists on the possession of these reserves by the Nazis. Subsequently, it was found that Uranium was much more widely available than thought. Why? Well, the initial estimates were based on cosmic abundance–and indeed, since all the Uranium in the Universe was made in the hearts of supernovae, you’d suspect there isn’t that much of it around. However, terrestrial elemental abundances don’t track cosmic abundances, in part because Earth is a differentiated body, with most of the iron in the core and most of the light, rock-forming elements at the surface. It turns out that Uranium, Thorium and other actinides preferentially associate with these rock-forming or lithophilic elements. Thus, Earth’s crust is enriched in actinides including thorium and uranium, but depleted in gold, platinum and other siderophilic (iron-loving) elements.
    The exact factor by which the crust is enriched is not known, but every estimate to date has been an underestimate.

  215. Dick Veldkamp:

    Re #210 Available uranium

    It’s not just the price that determines how much uranium is available. Below some threshold you can never recover the energy it took to extract and enrich the uranium – regardless of which level the energy price went up to.

  216. Nick Gotts:

    RE #212 [Nuclear power only makes sense if it is used with a breeder fuel cycle. That way, you are dealing with U238 vs. U235. The breeder cycle requires reprocessing of spent fuel as well–and that makes disposal easier.]

    The breeder cycle produces plutonium or U-233 – i.e. basic materials for nuclear weapons. If breeders are to make a serious contribution to future energy supplies, there’s going to be a lot more of this material around. If they are to contribute to energy supplies in many countries, either a lot of countries are going to be producing these materials, or most are going to have to agree to depend on other states’ continuing willingness to supply them. Secondly, once they bring breeders into the issue, nuclear power advocates have to drop the “proven technology” argument: although breeders have been built and operated, they have a patchy record of reliability, and no country has yet used them as a significant part of its electricity supply industry.

  217. FurryCatHerder:

    Dick, in #215 —

    To some extent that’s a very important point. However, there are energy sources that have different values and availabilities. Liquid fuels are very “portable” and have a high energy density. Using a high availabilty, low portability energy source to create liquid fuels would be a very workable long-term solution, I believe.

    How true that sort of analysis would be for uranium and thorium would have to be determined by market forces. A uranium mine running on locally produced renewable energy could be thought of as “concentrating” the renewable energy they are consuming into a much more “portable” form.

    One thing any kind of uranium shortage might point to is a need for running around Iraq and Iran and recovering as much “depleted uranium” as we can find. I’m sure the people who live around that stuff wouldn’t mind getting rid of it …

  218. James:

    Re #210: Your link “global uranium reserves” takes me to a site that has a big “Don’t Nuke” image at the top. Following a couple of the links in the sidebar is likewise revealing. For instance “WHO IS WISE? We’re small. We’re powerful. We’re anti-nuclear.” “WHO IS NIRS? In September 2000, WISE Amsterdam affiliated with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Washington D.C., USA. In the past we have often worked together in our struggle against nuclear energy.”

    Now maybe I’m being overly cynical here, but do you suppose these people might just possibly be a wee bit biased? Could you please explain to me why I should uncritically accept their statements?

    Be that as it may, let’s take their statement that if all electricity was generated by nuclear power “there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for between 3 and 4 years” as a working hypothesis, and see where that leads. Now we know that nuclear power currently supplies 20% of US electricity, so that means there’s only enough economically viable uranium to fuel the present reactors for at most 20 years, which would mean that there’s another crisis looming.

    Now we have a bunch of (presumably) greedy capitalists who want to make money by building nuclear reactors. They have enough money to hire engineers, geologists, and economists: how is that they all managed to miss this fact? Honestly, don’t you see the parallel to the sort of AGW denialist who claims to have found some flaw in the theories or models that has escaped all the climate scientists?

    All this is by the way, though. The plain fact, as others have mentioned, is that if you operate the right sort of plant, and process your spent fuel properly, you wind up with more nuclear fuel than you started with. Which in turn leads to a conclusion that may bother some people: nuclear power is a renewable resource :-)

  219. pat n:

    re: 46

    I simply meant that the lynching (or confronting malfeasance, if you like) ought to be done with your Congressman or some such; it’s not RC’s job.

    … Comment by Rod B

    Rod,

    I did some confronting by going to Al Gore in 2000, senators Paul Wellstone (2002), Norm Coleman (2003), Mark Dayton (2006), Amy Klobachar (2007) and others, even lawyers They said they couldn’t help – climate change was not their job either.

  220. Robert M. Blevins:

    Since May of 2006, Adventure Books of Seattle has been gathering comments from people worldwide on the subject of global warming. The book is titled ‘A Thousand Voices’ and is edited by Geoff Nelder of Great Britain. Mr Nelder is the author of several reference books on the weather and is a Post-Graduate Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. Interested participants simply fill in a webform (that asks NO personal questions) onsite and their comments are placed into the book.

    In between the comments are before-and-after pictures showing the damage caused by severe climate change. Both Greenpeace and the Office of Al Gore have expressed an interest in seeing the finished PDF file before publication.

    To learn more or to enter your article, opinion, or comment, just use the link shown below to see full details on the project.

  221. George Stroebel:

    If the CO2 level in the atmosphere increases from burning fossil fuels and can be measured, why don’t we know how much the oxegen level decreases for the same reason. In other words if fossil fuels had never been discovered and burned, would the oxegen levels be much higher now? Even dangerously high.If not, why not?

  222. David B. Benson:

    Here is a useful site for agrichar, aka biochar. I hope readers will pass the word about going carbon negative.

    http://www.shimbir.demon.co.uk/biocharrefs.htm

  223. Mark Jensen:

    Link on page is broken

    http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/Report/AR4WG1_FAQs.pdf

  224. Hank Roberts:

    >IPCC FAQ
    START HERE: http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html
    The FAQ is the fourth one down from the top (as of this moment)

  225. ray ladbury:

    George Stroebel, OK, think about this. What percentag of the atmosphere is O2–answer~19%. What percentage is CO2–answer 0.000382%. Any questions?

  226. pat n:

    Re: 46, 4

    Rob B,

    I think people should be held accountable for wrongdoing to others and the environment but neither lynching nor confronting malfeasance seem appropriate for what I said in #4.

    Another example:

    WASHINGTON (AP)� The Bush administration is drastically scaling back efforts to measure global warming from space, just as the president tries to convince the world the U.S. is ready to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gases.

    From the website at Climate Science Watch:

    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/npoess_report_key_points/

    There needs to be accountability for wrongdoing on these matters of great concern.

  227. Phillip Shaw:

    Re #226:

    I confess I’m not really surprised that the Bush administration is steering NASA away from climate science. After all, if they can no longer deny the facts, and they can’t spin the facts to fit their personal world view, the only thing left for them to do is to stop collecting facts. They are hoping that what we don’t know won’t hurt them. The truth really is inconvenient for the politicians of both parties who have failed in their duty to the Americans who elected them.

    There is an old saying that a Statesman looks to the needs of the next generation while a Politician looks no farther than the next election. I’m afraid we’ll be dealing with the consequences of political expediency for a long, long time to come. But every election, at every level, is an opportunity to replace today’s politicans with statesmen willing to tackle the tough problems ahead. It is up to us to get involved.

  228. SecularAnimist:

    What I have learned from nuclear proponents on this thread is that nuclear power is a “proven technology” for reliably and safely generating electricity, but that it “only makes sense” if we go to breeder reactors, which is an unproven technology for reliably and safely generating electricity.

  229. James:

    Re #228: If the “renewable energy can do it all” camp can invoke not-yet-developed technology, it seems only fair that the rest of us should too :-) But I think you misunderstand: it’s not that nuclear “only makes sense” with breeder reactors, it’s that the potential development of breeder reactors completely demolishes the “but there’s only enough uranium for XX years” line of argument.

    Of course that reasoning is faulty, anyway. The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it’s finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem. If in fact there were only enough for 20 years or so, that’d give the renewable people more time to develop their technology. After all, if renewables are cheaper and/or more dependable than nuclear, they should eventually displace it, no? And if a bunch of greedy capitalist nuclear plant investors go broke in the process, why do you care?

  230. pat n:

    Re 227. In government it is not only the politicians who have failed in their duty to the Americans but also the career civil servants, particularly those with NOAA’s National Weather Service, who spoke out in denial of climate change and global warming on and off the record for years to state and local government employees and media weather casters. The managers in the career agencies should be held accountable. During the 2000 election campaign a favorite saying of one of the parties was that those who were guilty of wrongdoing would be held accountable. I think its time for the US to practice what was preached.

  231. Rajesh Rawat:

    Climate change is a global problem and has to be addressed by all the countries. Using energy from fossil fuels, as done by developed countries since the industrial revolution is no longer an option for the developing countries such as India and China to sustain their fast economic growth. There is an urgent need to develop renewable energy that has much lower life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint than fossil fuels. To make this transition, the developed countries will have to support developing countries financially and technologically to make the switch to clean alternative energy sources.

    Jatropha is one such promising biofuel crop with a much bigger impact in reducing greenhouse gases and also helping poor. Jatropha seeds produce very good quality oil and have a much higher yield than other oil crops. Moreover, jatropha plantation doesn’t displace food crops as it can be grown in marginal lands under wide agro-climatic conditions. In addition to bio-diesel, jatropha produces biomass that can be used for generating methane for captive use for the farmers. Jatropha plantation is labor intensive process hence creating jobs for poor indigenous people who otherwise are forced to live in extreme poor conditions in city slums. Due to the lack of carbon taxation on fossil fuels, however, it is not economically viable for poor farmers to plant jatropha.

    You can volunteer to neutralize your carbon footprint by supporting jatropha plantation. This will empower farmers, at the bottom of the pyramid, to be a part of the solution in this global climate crisis, while lifting themselves out of poverty. For more information, visit http://www.plantjatropha.com.
    Rajesh
    http://www.plantjatropha.com

  232. Nick Gotts:

    Re #229 [If the “renewable energy can do it all” camp can invoke not-yet-developed technology, it seems only fair that the rest of us should too :-) But I think you misunderstand: it’s not that nuclear “only makes sense” with breeder reactors, it’s that the potential development of breeder reactors completely demolishes the “but there’s only enough uranium for XX years” line of argument.

    Of course that reasoning is faulty, anyway. The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it’s finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.]

    SecularAnimist was of course quoting Ray Ladbury with respect to nuclear only making sense with breeder reactors. I’d guess that the reason Ray says this (correct me if I’m wrong, Ray) is that without breeders the kind of rapid expansion of nuclear power needed to make a significant dent in GHG emission soon enough would (if feasible in other ways) send uranium prices through the roof – they have increased about 400% in the last five years just on the prospect of a nuclear power revival. But once you bring in breeders, you not only have the problem that this is unproven technology, so far as supplying any significant amount of power is concerned, you also multiply the potential political, security and proliferation problems. I largely agree with you about the “renewable energy can do it all” camp: there is no non-fossil-fuel energy supply technology that will provide a technical fix in time i.e. the next 20 years or so – we need to rely mainly on cutting energy demand (by energy efficiency and lifestyle changes) in rich countries, and carbon capture and storage for China and India (not because this is such a wonderful thing in itself, but because there’s no way those countries won’t use their large reserves of cheap coal, unless their economies collapse). Longer term, clearly, non-fossil fuel energy supply is the way to go, and we can sensibly argue about what part if any nuclear power should have in that.

    It’s worth noting that the AR4 WGIII Summary for Policy Makers
    (http://arch.rivm.nl/env/int/ipcc/docs/FAR/ApprovedSPM0405rev4b.pdf) says (p.18):
    “Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.”
    Hardly suggests nuclear power is going to save us over the next 20 years, does it?

  233. Dick Veldkamp:

    Nick, you sum it up nicely. Neither nuclear nor renewables can provide the technical fix soon. We need to cut down energy use – and do it fast.

    Unfortunately it seems that the G8 is going to lose another opportunity to finally do something meaningful.

  234. SecularAnimist:

    James wrote: “The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it’s finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.”

    James, consider the statement that Nick Gotts quoted from the AR4: “Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.”

    In light of that projection that nuclear power might increase its share of electricity production — which is only one source of CO2 emissions — from 16 percent to 18 percent in 23 years, please explain your own assertion that nuclear can be “deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.”

    Specifically, what do you envision as a realistic plan for expanding the user of nuclear power “soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem” ?

  235. Thomas Lee Elifritz:

    Neither nuclear nor renewables can provide the technical fix soon. We need to cut down energy use – and do it fast.

    That’s the ‘conservation of energy’ part of the solution, but we now know that alone is inadequate. What humanity needs is a Manhattan style space program, so that people can see first hand what is required for sustainable living. Clearly the ultimate solution intimately involves wind and solar, and for transportation, cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen :

    http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/stp/SOLAR/IRRADIANCE/irrad.html

    http://cosmic.lifeform.org/?p=302

  236. Ray Ladbury:

    #233, Dick, my question is how likely you think it is that we will be able to reduce energy consumption sufficiently to make a difference when:
    a) About 50% of humanity lives in poverty and is clamouring to get out
    b) The nations these people live in are on the brink of economic takeoff
    c) About 1/3 of the human population live in nations where energy is considered a limiting factor in growth
    d) The West seems in no way inclined to reduce its own consumption nor to help the developing world adopt other energy alternatives

    We are told that fossil fuels are not an option for India and China. They seem to disagree, and not without reason. India is just barely holding together as it is, while the Chinese leadership is fearful that if they do not maintian 8% economic growth, they will go the way of dynasties past. Somehow we have to make this about more than sacrifice, or we will never get people to make the sacrifices.

  237. James:

    Re #234: [Specifically, what do you envision as a realistic plan for expanding the user of nuclear power “soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem”?]

    Are you asking if I have a detailed plan? No, and I think detailed plans in that sense are a mistake. In fact, I’m not even attached to the idea of nuclear power as the ultimate solution – I’m really objecting to the people who would a) rule out nuclear power based on the usual bogus arguments, and b) argue that some yet-to-be-perfected “renewable” technology is the solution, without any apparent thought about its limitations.

    For a realistic plan, if you’d call it that, I’d simply do two things. First, increase the effective cost of fossil-fuel energy by shifting to carbon taxes instead of sales taxes & VAT (in a revenue neutral way), and keep escalating that cost over the years. Second, remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it’s on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work.

    But let me ask you a question, too: if not nuclear, then what? There was a report linked here a while back, written by renewable energy advocates, which stated that renewables plus conservation could realistically provide (IIRC) 40-60% of US energy demand in the next several decades. How do you propose to cover the rest? I see only three options: keep burning fossil fuels, expand nuclear power, or depend on a miracle happening.

  238. Dick Veldkamp:

    #236 Ray, my answer to your question, for what it’s worth.

    I think that it would be technically difficult but possible to avert the worst if the West took the lead now (to give just one example, in the Netherlands household energy consumption could be reduced by 80%, industrial consumption by 50% according to a study done here – just by applying existing technology). The West could help the rest of the world developing by providing energy efficient technology.

    Politically it seems all but impossible to avert a catastrophe, it’s a typical case of the tragedy of the commons (for the classical description see http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_tragedy_of_the_commons.html ). I am expecting the worst (>3 deg temperature rise, polar caps melting, … you name it).

    I am working in wind energy myself, and our output goes up by 20% each year. However as long as energy demand keeps growing, it is hopeless.

  239. SecularAnimist:

    James wrote: “remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it’s on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work.”

    First, what in the world do you mean by “artificial barriers”? After all, any regulatory requirements are by definition “artificial” since they are created by human beings. Are you suggesting that construction of nuclear power plants should be exempt from any regulation whatsoever? And why should nuclear power, which generates an endless stream of toxic waste, creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks, and increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, be on “the same footing” as wind turbines or photovoltaics, which have none of those drawbacks?

    Second, as to “letting the market work”, when it comes to nuclear power the market is already working. That’s why no nuclear power plants have been built in the US in decades — because the “free market” won’t touch it, because in market terms nuclear power is a proven failure. That’s why the entire campaign of the nuclear industry for a “revival” of nuclear power in the US centers around getting the federal government (i.e. the taxpayers) to overrule the workings of the “market” by providing massive subsidies and guarantees for the construction of new plants.

  240. David B. Benson:

    Earlier I posted a link to references regarding biochar. This offers many advantages, especially in the poorer countries. Perhaps it could also be a fossil fuel replacement?

  241. James:

    Re #239: [First, what in the world do you mean by “artificial barriers”?]

    For instance, endless legal challenges after regulatory requirements have been met, or quasi-legal confiscations/closings.

    [And why should nuclear power, which generates an endless stream of toxic waste…]

    It doesn’t. The amount of waste produced by a nuclear power plant is tiny in comparison to even the non-CO2 waste produced by fossil fuel plants. Moreover, it is in solid form, so it stays where you put it. Fossil fuel waste is largely gas or particulates, which disperse into the environment.

    […creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks…]

    This is verging into politics, which we can’t discuss here, but I must say that you’d have to work awfully hard to create a less attractive target for an attack than a nuclear plant. Let’s see: you have a target that’s inside a thick steel shell which is surrounded by several feet of concrete, and you’ve got armed guards around that. Then stop to consider that if your terrorists somehow manage to penetrate all that, the worst that they can do is to cause public hysteria…

    […and increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation…]

    Now this definitely is politics, but I’ll risk asking why you think building more nuclear plants in the US would increase this risk (or indeed, the terrorist risk) significantly, considering that there are currently around a hundred of them?

    […wind turbines or photovoltaics, which have none of those drawbacks?]

    Why do you think those don’t have environmental effects?

    [That’s why no nuclear power plants have been built in the US in decades — because the “free market” won’t touch it, because in market terms nuclear power is a proven failure.]

    If this is in fact the case, you shouldn’t be objecting to my suggestions, since the greedy capitalist investors either won’t build new nuclear plants, or will lose their money when they fail.

    But if nuclear power is a failure, how come those hundred or so plants are still running? Indeed, many of them have been bought from their original owners (mostly utilities that had only one or a few) by companies that specialize in running them?

    There are at least two reasons why no new plants have been built. First, there’ve been all those artifical barriers that increase the risk to investors. Second, nuclear power (and renewables too) have had to compete with fossil fuel power, which has artificially cheap because the operators get to just dump the majority of their waste (CO2) into the atmosphere, free of charge. Any subsidy that nuclear power gets is tiny in comparison.

  242. Dylan:

    Is there anyone on realclimate willing to post a decent analysis of the Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics article proposing a period of global cooling in the next 20 years (Jan 07)? The only thing I’ve found so far is a comment from Gavin stating it was “rubbish”, which is hardly the sort of analysis I expect from real climate.
    Thanks,
    Dylan

    [Response:Just for once, I recommend the WCR take on this – “if you torture the data long enough it will confess” – though they’re not sure about it – William]

  243. Nick Gotts:

    [Dick,]

    Ray, I guess you won’t mind me answering too

    [my question is how likely you think it is that we will be able to reduce energy consumption sufficiently to make a difference when:
    a) About 50% of humanity lives in poverty and is clamouring to get out]
    Some increase in energy use by the poor is a humanitarian necessity. Clearly, we should help poor countries minimise this with energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies which they can maintain themselves. We can also learn from them in many cases (e.g. many traditional methods of building are highly energy-efficient in both construction and use phases).

    [b) The nations these people live in are on the brink of economic takeoff]
    Actually, I have some doubts about this, but it’s not something I’d want to halt if it is happening.

    [c) About 1/3 of the human population live in nations where energy is considered a limiting factor in growth]
    I’d be interested in where this figure comes from – I’m not disputing it, I just don’t have any relevant information.

    [d) The West seems in no way inclined to reduce its own consumption nor to help the developing world adopt other energy alternatives]
    Here’s where the big change is required. Like Dick, if I were a disinterested observer placing a bet, I’d need pretty good odds to bet on such a change, but I don’t think it’s impossible, and I don’t see a viable alternative. George Monbiot’s “Heat” is relevant here, although it deals solely with the UK, it aims for a 90% GHG emission reduction by 2030, and explicitly addresses political feasibility. The major lifestyle changes he considers necessary are in transport – halting the expansion of air travel and shifting as much medium-distance ground transport as possible to coaches.

    [We are told that fossil fuels are not an option for India and China. They seem to disagree, and not without reason.]

    Hence my advocacy of carbon capture and storage.

    [India is just barely holding together as it is, while the Chinese leadership is fearful that if they do not maintian 8% economic growth, they will go the way of dynasties past.]

    I doubt what you say about India. There have been constant predictions that it will break up or become a dictatorship ever since independence. Clearly disruption of the monsoons due to climate change would be a huge problem – one can only hope this gets through to the Indian elite in time. China, lacking India’s democratic safety-valves, I expect to encounter serious upheavals, with unpredictable consequences.

    [Somehow we have to make this about more than sacrifice, or we will never get people to make the sacrifices.]
    I agree. But who are the “we” here? This issue has to be one on which large numbers of people become politically active – enough to generate a counter-pressure to the short-termism of politicians. I think the key change has to be one of people coming to feel that they have greater control over their own lives, and responsibilities towards others – and I think these are psychologically and culturally linked. The last few decades have seen huge increases in material consumption in rich countries, but these have been accompanied by longer working hours, poorer protection for employees, huge increases in inequality with resulting greater greater economic and social insecurity, and declines in social cohesion and in participation in politics and civil society. Happiness, so far as it can be measured, has generally declined, and does not correlate with wealth across countries – and I think all this means there is at least the potential for persuading people of a need to shift goal priorities. We need to establish a common social goal of ensuring a viable future, and this can only be done if individuals see each other primarily as potential partners and collaborators rather than competitors and threats. Alongside such socio-cultural change we also need political and economic changes. I’d guess most of us here could agree on some of them e.g. a serious carbon tax. I think much more fundamental changes are needed, primarily an end to the idea that “the market” is going to solve the problem – but I think that that (at least in the Anglosphere) will only be politically acknowledged some time after the dogma is abandoned in practice.

  244. Jeffrey Davis:

    re: 242

    I don’t know what the Chinese scientists expected to find when they went looking, but their research found that ~40% of climate change was due to CO2 increases. Were they expecting either 0% or 100%? To me, 40% seems like a lot to ascribe to one vector.

    As for an increase or a decrease in temps over the next 20 years, the underlying mechanisms always trump the descriptions. They don’t identify a mechanism.

  245. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Second, remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it’s on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work. ]]

    While we’re at it, let’s repeal the Price-Anderson Act, so nuclear is really on a level footing with other sources of energy. Do that, and I’d gladly let the market go to work.

  246. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[There was a report linked here a while back, written by renewable energy advocates, which stated that renewables plus conservation could realistically provide (IIRC) 40-60% of US energy demand in the next several decades. How do you propose to cover the rest? I see only three options: keep burning fossil fuels, expand nuclear power, or depend on a miracle happening. ]]

    Realistically, we’re going to keep on burning fossil fuels for the rest. Unless you think we should expand nuclear so that it provides 60-40% of future US energy demand? Let’s see, how many plants would that require? About ten thousand? Or am I being unrealistically low?

  247. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[[…creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks…]
    …you’d have to work awfully hard to create a less attractive target for an attack than a nuclear plant. Let’s see: you have a target that’s inside a thick steel shell which is surrounded by several feet of concrete, and you’ve got armed guards around that. Then stop to consider that if your terrorists somehow manage to penetrate all that, the worst that they can do is to cause public hysteria…
    ]]

    You’re saying if they had high-grade fissionable material, they could only use it to cause public hysteria? Is the phrase “nuclear bomb” one you’re familiar with? They’re not all that hard to build once you’ve got the fissionables. Then there are “dirty” bombs, which take even less engineering skill. Ten pounds of plutonium dust spread all over part of a city will result in quite a few cancers.

    But ignore that. Your assumption that terrorist attacks on nuclear targets would be directed at the plants is probably wrong. They would much more likely be directed at the transportation part of the cycle — i.e., hijacking trucks or railroad cars.

  248. James:

    Re #246: [Unless you think we should expand nuclear so that it provides 60-40% of future US energy demand? Let’s see, how many plants would that require? About ten thousand? Or am I being unrealistically low?]

    Unrealistically high, I think. The 100 or so (104, IIRC) nuclear plants currently operating in the US provide ~20% of current electricity consumption. Doesn’t take really complicated math to figure out that providing 40% would require an additional 100 plants, 60% would require 200, and so on. (Might take less, since some of the current 100 are older, smaller, and presumably less efficient.)

    As for future increases in demand, that’s where conservation & energy efficiency come into play. After all, it’s much easier to design so as not to use more, than it is to go back and change things that exist so as to use less.

    I do think, though, that your basic question is either shortsighted or deliberately misleading, because it applies equally well to any energy technology. How many solar cell factories would it take to supply 40-60% of future US energy demands, about ten thousand? How many wind turbines would it take, or geothermal plants, or generator-equipped hamster cages?

    There’s just no getting around the fact that reducing CO2 output will take a massive construction effort, no matter how it’s done.

  249. Dylan:

    Re: 242

    Yes I’d read that article. But given the research did appear in a peer-reviewed journal, and raises doubts about the IPCC conclusions, it is inevitably going to get more attention than would otherwise be justified, if nothing else than an attempt to prove that Al Gore is “lying” (as he has stated that no such research exists).

    On an unrelated note, does there exist a good resource on demonstrating the validity of computer modelling as a form of science, looking at

  250. Hank Roberts:

    Would you consider a link on ocean pH changes? I realize this is physical chemistry, not atmospheric physics, but it’s straightforward, changing with increasing CO2, and happening independent of all the other variables that clutter the climatology question. More CO2 in the atmosphere, more CO2 in the ocean, trouble at the base of the food chain.

    It’s the “even if warming could be prevented by smoke and mirrors, or doesn’t happen due to solar changes” reason for limiting CO2, fast.

    This isn’t bad; there may be more up to date sites:
    http://www.ipsl.jussieu.fr/~jomce/acidification/

  251. Rajesh Rawat:

    Reply #243
    To wean the world off of cheap fossil fuel energy, a true price must be charged by taxing the carbon emissions reflecting the cost of its cleanup. This will provide economic incentives to develop clean alternative energy technologies which currently are too expensive compared to highly subsidized fossil fuels. In addition, this will motivate coal-power industry to develop more efficient power plants and develop technologies for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Recent report from MIT on the ‘Future of Coal’ available from web.mit.edu/coal argues that more aggressive policy of the US government towards carbon emissions will lead to development of the CCS that will actually help increase the coal consumption. By 2050, the coal will be able to meet more than 50% of the world energy demands by keeping the carbon emissions at the present level.

    The key is to engage developing countries by providing both technological and economic incentives to switch to clean and more efficient energy. Revenues from carbon taxes should be able to pay for some of these efforts.

    As for poor, most of them live off grid and without electricity. They rely on burning biomass to meet their energy requirements. But most of the time it is inefficient and environmentally hazardous. They need to be empowered by providing technologies and economic incentives to develop and utilize bio-mass energy (bio-fuel crops, bio-diesel, cellulosic ethanol) in an environment-friendly manner.

    We can’t afford to wait and must act now with a sense of urgency to help save the planet.

    Rajesh
    http://www.plantjatropha.com

  252. Nick Gotts:

    Re #248 James, you’re forgetting to distinguish electricity demand from energy demand.

  253. Lawrence Coleman:

    221. Stroebel, Dont know if this really explains your question, but in the past, pre-industrial times or before, the bulk of the CO2 came from natually occurring burnoffs, volcanos, the waste products of domesticated animals, and wild animals and the natural rotting of vegetation on land (peatbogs, forests, grasslands) and by the oceans by seaweed and planckton etc. The ratio of CO2 and O2 was very constant for at least the last 1M years. Now everything that industrialised machinery and modern transportation does is pull copius quantities the O2 of the air and convert it to CO2 or CO or raw airborne carbon. O2 makes up only a very small percentage of our atmosphere, less than 10% if my memory is holding up. Nitrogen makes up the bulk but is largely inert and that leaves CO2. Many other catylising chemicals such as ozone , methane and CFC’s etc found in much smaller quantities but have major effects on the balance of the primany macro gases. So that is one reason why O2 is on the downward slope and CO2 on the upward. The main producer of O2 is of course your humble tree and sea grasses that pumps out heaps of O2 especially conifers and during it’s average lifetime sucks out of the air 1 tonne of CO2. From this you can realize just how many trees need to be planted to bring CO2 down–billions and billions on them! From this and the info from other readers I hope this answers your question.

  254. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Unrealistically high, I think. The 100 or so (104, IIRC) nuclear plants currently operating in the US provide ~20% of current electricity consumption. Doesn’t take really complicated math to figure out that providing 40% would require an additional 100 plants, 60% would require 200, and so on. (Might take less, since some of the current 100 are older, smaller, and presumably less efficient.)]]

    You’re right, although I could reclaim a little by noting that we were talking total energy consumption and not just electrical. My estimate was way too high.

    [[There’s just no getting around the fact that reducing CO2 output will take a massive construction effort, no matter how it’s done. ]]

    True. I’d just like to see it go to conservation (home/office/vehicle), solar, wind, geothermal, a new national grid, and biomass production of vehicle and industrial fuels.

  255. James:

    Re 247: [You’re saying if they had high-grade fissionable material, they could only use it to cause public hysteria? Is the phrase “nuclear bomb” one you’re familiar with? They’re not all that hard to build once you’ve got the fissionables.]

    The fuel used in a nuclear reactor isn’t high-grade material that could be used to build a bomb. Thus your terrorists would not only have to attack a nuclear reactor and get inside, they’d have to remove the fuel rods and transport them to a reprocessing plant to separate useful quantities of bomb-making material. Assuming they could pull off the attack and entry, what chance do you think they’d have of holding the reactor long enough to do the disassembly, then transporting the material for thousands of miles?

    [Then there are “dirty” bombs, which take even less engineering skill. Ten pounds of plutonium dust spread all over part of a city will result in quite a few cancers.]

    The taking & holding problem still applies, but now they have to somehow convert the fuel rods to a powder that can be dispersed, all the while holding the reactor against everything the US military can bring to bear.

    [But ignore that. Your assumption that terrorist attacks on nuclear targets would be directed at the plants is probably wrong. They would much more likely be directed at the transportation part of the cycle — i.e., hijacking trucks or railroad cars.]

    But here we unavoidably get into politics. Why would our “terrorists” need to do that, when they have their own nuclear reactors & weapons already? Pakistan has nuclear weapons, North Korea would if they could get the design right, Iran is building them… To me it seems unreasonable to dismiss a possible major CO2-reducing technology because of a fear that “terrorists” might get what they already have?

  256. James:

    Re 252: […you’re forgetting to distinguish electricity demand from energy demand.]

    No, I’m not forgetting that. It’s what I’ve been saying all along (though perhaps I’d assumed it was obvious, rather than stating it explicitly). There’s no one single “magic bullet” solution to AGW. It will take many different technologies (Pacala & Socolow’s stabilization wedges), of which nuclear power is but one.

    I think nuclear power could reasonably replace most fossil-fuel generation in the US (and the rest of the 1st world) within a couple of decades, thus taking a big chunk out of CO2 emissions. I’m not saying it could do everything, or even that it should if it could. We need to work on all the other possible wedges too. Depending on any single one to do the job just exposes us to a risk of catastrophic failure. Diversification & redundancy are the way to go.

  257. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[The fuel used in a nuclear reactor isn’t high-grade material that could be used to build a bomb.]]

    In order for the fuel not to run out quickly, you’d need to go to breeders, in which the fuel is high-grade material that could be used to build a bomb.

  258. Lawrence Coleman:

    James et-al, Nuclear has a part to play in the solution, that’s for sure, doesn’t take an einstein to see that..but! and here’s the big but..it takes a long time to argue about the feasibility of nuclear power plants amonst the existing power generating framework..incl clean coal tech (geosequestration etc), then to allocate funding..most countries would need to borrow offshore..nuclear aint cheap! Then there’s the overall time frame to get these power satation up and running and paying their way. We are talking realistically 15-20 years..not sure we have 12-20 years before we have lost control of climate? Lets concentrate for now on readily available sources of energy..lets push for solar in countries with good sunlight, hydro in countries swimming in water. Geo-sequestration where geologically possible, bio-mass etc. Lets keep the goal towards steadily adding nuclear when we already have cut CO2 production down to say 50%, so that nuclear can still deliver 20-30% of a countries energy demands..but lets have all these other clean sources up and running and makig a difference NOW!!! All this talk about nuclear?..yes it’s important but it’s still a long way off..lets really put our investment dollars,yen,yuan,euros into ready to go technology whilst never taking our eye of nuclear to put the icing on the cake so to speak. We haven’t got the time to keep arguing!!!

  259. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #257 and the dangers of breeders

    That’s not strictly true — the biggest issues with breeders and nuclear proliferation isn’t that they breed plutonium, it’s that breeders can be configured to breed more or less Pu239, relative to the other isotopes of Pu that are bred.

    It’s possible to make Pu unusuable for bomb purposes by mixing in Pu240 and Pu241, if there is an excess purity of Pu239 in the output from the reactor. It’s possible to perform chemical separation of U238 and Pu239, such as would be present in a breeder’s fuel elements, but separating isotopes of Pu from each other is much more complex and much more expensive, certainly well beyond the means of any but a large state. Indeed, all nuclear reactors “breed” Pu239 through neutron capture by U238 — the problem isn’t breeding, it’s reprocessing fuel.

  260. James:

    Re 258: [..it takes a long time to argue about the feasibility of nuclear power plants amonst the existing power generating framework..]

    No longer than it does to argue about the feasibility of wind, solar, conservation, etc, and to do the construction for them. (Though they do have the advantage that they can be done piecemeal, as it were.) The point you’re missing, I think, is that the sooner you start, the sooner you get something working. If we wait 15-20 years and only then start thinking about nuclear, that’s 15-20 years more before they start doing anything useful.

    [..most countries would need to borrow offshore..nuclear aint cheap!]

    Neither is solar, or wind, except when considered piecemeal. Add up the cost of all the solar panels or wind turbines needed to produce say 1 GWatt of power, and you’re in the same ballpark as nuclear.

    Also, in case this point didn’t get across before, I am not suggesting that most countries build nuclear plants, I’m suggesting that the US and a few other developed (or developing, in the case of China & India) countries do so.

    […lets really put our investment dollars,yen,yuan,euros into ready to go technology…]

    Looks like another point that I didn’t manage to get across. Those other technologies aren’t ready to go, in the sense that you can expect to fully power an electric grid with them. They can add some capacity, but because of their intermittent nature they can’t fully displace baseload generation. Hydro is close to maxxed out, geothermal is limited (with current technology, anyway). That leaves nuclear or fossil fuels.

  261. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #256:

    James,

    Nuclear is a far less diverse energy than several others that have been mentioned here. It produces thermal energy that is fairly local to the reactor, and electric energy that can be transmitted by wires.

    It does not produce anything comparable to natural gas or crude oil. It is imcompatible with developed areas. Most designs are incompatible with arid to semi-arid regions that otherwise don’t have any kind of water supply. It is incompatible with geologically active regions. It should not be encouraged in politically unstable or hostile regions. It is too expensive to deploy in undeveloped regions.

    If you can get past all those negatives, nuclear is great for producing bulk, base power.

    Other technologies that have been discussed here lack most of those problems —

    Solar: can be deployed anywhere that the sun shines, which is the entire planet, excepting areas north of the arctic circle, and south of the antarctic circle at various times of the year. Solar produces both thermal and electric energy, the same as nuclear.

    Wind: can be deployed anywhere that the wind is of sufficient power and constancy, which is also large parts of the planet, include near offshore regions. It produces electric power only (never heard of a wind power thermal energy system …)

    Biomass to liquids: produces high grade light crude oil suitable for refining into gasoline, aviation fuels, lubricants, and a most everything else that light sweet crude produces.

    Biomass to gas: produces gaseous fuels suitable for use as a replacement to natural gas, as well as feedstock for industrial processes.

    Biomass to solids: produces solid carbon fuels suitable for all but those industrial uses which require high quality carbon, such as steel production.

    None of those technologies are out of the economic reach of developing regions, none have proliferation problems, are subject to catestrophic failure due to a geological event, require massive amounts of water for cooling, cannot be deployed near developed areas, etc.

    Most of those technologies can be built in large scale factories, or constructed by people without the specialized skills required to construct a nuclear reactor. Back when Louisiana Power and Light (since bought out by Entergy, I believe) was building their nukes, I had friends who made a killing as nuclear certified welders. People like that don’t grow on trees. Neither do the machines that are required in wafer fabs or generator winding plants, but wafer fabs and generator winding plants can run 24/7 under the supervision of people who are much more plentiful than nuclear certified welders.

    Nuclear power is great stuff — I probably still have a letter I wrote Carter saying that we should build more nuclear power in the States. But nuclear power cannot “do it all”, even if we could build plenty of the stuff, because it is unsuitable and unfeasible for all but stable, “friendly”, developed, affluent nations that meet all the other requirements for stable locations on which to build and ready access to cooling water (for those designs which require it).

  262. FurryCatHerder:

    In Re #260:

    Looks like another point that I didn’t manage to get across. Those other technologies aren’t ready to go, in the sense that you can expect to fully power an electric grid with them. They can add some capacity, but because of their intermittent nature they can’t fully displace baseload generation. Hydro is close to maxxed out, geothermal is limited (with current technology, anyway). That leaves nuclear or fossil fuels.

    Watching you continue to say this is very frustrating.

    Those “other technologies” have been deployed — past tense, as in “already been deployed” — in utility scale sizes. They are being deployed in growing amounts because they do work, and they are cost-effective.

    Several times myself and others have linked to articles detailing alread-been-deployed installations of these technologies you keep saying aren’t ready. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’ve linked to articles showing the growth rates in wind and solar installed capacity.

    On top of that, you flat out refuse to acknowlege that “intermittent” applies to individual installations, or portions of installations, and not to grid-scale availability. If I have 10 1MW installations, and at least 8 of those 10 are always producing power, that’s not “intermittent” when taken as a whole. Even if it’s 7 or 6 or 5. Statistics, as I’ve said countless times now, work very well with wind and solar. Statistically, the wind will blow and the sun will shine. When that stops happening, we’ve got some pretty big problems besides not having electricity — it’ll get awfully cold really fast if the sun goes out tomorrow …

    Here’s another way in which nuclear “can’t do it all” — daily fluctuations in power. The difference between base and peak load, over a 24 hour period, as well as over a 12 month period, would put nuclear’s capacity utilization well below the sorts of levels required for nuclear to be as profitable as it is. Imagine idling 25% of base load capacity during the 6 months of the year when monthly generation was at or below 300 petawatt-hours per month. Trying to do that with nuclear means an automatic 12% reduction in utilization. Tell a plant operator “You have to have a 12% reduction in utilization” and they are going to f’ing freak.

    I’ve not been able to find daily power consumption charts in the limited time I have today (I’m harvesting peaches these days — and running the fridge that stores them prior to processing on solar power …), but daily demand fluctuation is similarly large, which means that nuclear is even more constrained as a source of power — one doesn’t just “turn up” a nuclear reactor when the 15 minute demand rises or falls, and dumping power from a nuke into the ground (you can’t put more power onto the grid than the existing demand — if demand drops, the generation can’t be put onto the grid, and the only place to send it is into the ground so it can be dissipated as heat), isn’t exactly my idea of how to use nuclear power. Solar and wind can be “turned off” much more easily that either fossil fuels or nuclear, and unlike fossil fuels and nuclear, it doesn’t cost anything to not put the power on the grid — keeping those steam turbines running “just in case” costs money. Last time I checked, I don’t pay for the wind to blow or sun to shine.

  263. James:

    Re #260: [Watching you continue to say this is very frustrating.]

    I imagine so, just as I imagine a certain pope must have gotten quite frustrated with that Galileo fellow. Doesn’t stop it from being true.

    […I know I’ve linked to articles showing the growth rates in wind and solar installed capacity.]

    Certainly. What you’re glossing over there is that it’s easy to have a high growth rate when you’re starting from a very small base.

    [On top of that, you flat out refuse to acknowlege that “intermittent” applies to individual installations, or portions of installations, and not to grid-scale availability.]

    Because it’s flat-out not so, because those installations are not independent. When the sun goes down, all your solar panels will stop generating electricity. Wind is likewise caused in part by weather systems that act over wide regions. There are IIRC something like 6000 individual turbines at the Altamont Pass: do you think the wind blows independently for each?

    [Here’s another way in which nuclear “can’t do it all” — daily fluctuations in power.]

    And once again, I’ve never claimed that nuclear can do it all. But for what I’m suggesting that it can do, replacing existing coal-fired generation, the response curves aren’t all that different. It takes time to ramp up a coal plant, too. There’s also quite a bit of inertia in the grid, and other generation such as hydro.

    [Tell a plant operator “You have to have a 12% reduction in utilization” and they are going to f’ing freak.]

    Sorry, but plant operators (at least the ones I’ve known) don’t freak all that easily :-) From the viewpoint of system control, there’d be little difference in system operation if all coal-fired plants were replaced with nuclear. Each individual plant has its own efficiency curve (by which I mean how much it costs each one to generate electricity, which is not nearly as simple as you might think): system control varies the outputs of each to generate at minimum cost while remaining within safe operating constraints. Fitting nuclear into that system is not a problem.

    […one doesn’t just “turn up” a nuclear reactor when the 15 minute demand rises or falls, and dumping power from a nuke into the ground (you can’t put more power onto the grid than the existing demand — if demand drops, the generation can’t be put onto the grid, and the only place to send it is into the ground so it can be dissipated as heat)…]

    You can “turn up” a nuclear reactor fairly easily. I don’t know the response time off the top of my head, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as slow as you seem to imagine. The plant is heating water to produce steam that drives turbines, and you have valving that controls how much steam gets to those turbines to generate power. (The only difference from a coal-fired plant is the source of heat.)

    Furthermore, you can put a certain amount of excess generation into the grid (or take a bit extra out to meet sudden demands). The system has inertia, both the real inertia of spinning generators and its electrical equivalent. Changes in energy demand, even something as small as turning on a light bulb, react against this inertia, not directly into generation, and so the generation can respond more slowly to changes because they’re smoothed out. (I know I don’t explain it well. Find a good book on power systems, if you really want to know.)

    I’m not a power systems engineer, but I worked in the field for a decade or so, and I never heard of “sending power into the ground” if too much is being generated. I expect something like opening a waste valve in a steam line would be a more likely response, but part of the art of designing & running a power grid is making sure things like this won’t happen.

    […and unlike fossil fuels and nuclear, it doesn’t cost anything to not put the power on the grid…]

    But it does cost: ask your investors. The cost is the loss of the money you didn’t get because you weren’t generating electricity. Indeed, this loss is greater than with fossil fuel or nuclear, because there you’re at least not paying the cost of fuel. With wind and solar, most of your operating cost is up-front capital.

  264. Lawrence Coleman:

    James/Furry cat herder…just goes to show how our tunnel vision over the last hundred (well actually only 50-60 years) has basically ignored taking all these other forms of energy seriously. Putting ALL our eggs into the fossil fuel basket. We should have exploited the other forms decades earlier. All that time we could have been improving the others efficiency to the point where there wouldn’t be this Oh shit! reaction today. As I said earlier..the WW2 years had the fastest roll-out of new technologies ever..simply because we had to! We have to now! We can’t wait for the likes of the Bush’s in the world to get the point. What I said was dont put nuclear on the back burner..but include it into a balanced energy production portfolio..by all means ramp up the productoin of nuclear power plants but at the same time invest just as much on greener techs that are working now..solar/wind etc. If we have learnt anything from out colossal blunder of the past..that is that we should never put all our eggs in the one basket!!

  265. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Re 258: [..it takes a long time to argue about the feasibility of nuclear power plants amonst the existing power generating framework..]
    No longer than it does to argue about the feasibility of wind, solar, conservation, etc, and to do the construction for them.
    ]]

    Wind and solar power facilities can be constructed and brought on line a lot faster than nuclear power plants. Especially wind.

  266. Lawrence Coleman:

    James, look I support your raptures over nuclear, but the time it takes for previously nuclear free countries to get their flegling nuclear industry up and running is way too lengthy. Ok so you say that a few countries should be given the right to provide power for the rest of the world..sounds great in theory..actually the theory is also full of holes..to get disparate countries to work together in the near future is just fiction–christian/muslim etc..The have’s and the have nots. Most world leaders are not mature enough to put the gloal situation before their own..they’re just not! America I strongly assume will demand that it gets it’s lions share of the power it generates. The poorer countries will still have to do with candles. You get the point. ‘Western’ Nuclear (which is what you probably mean) sounds very good on paper..but will be a nightmare to govern and contstrained by economic/religeous/logistical/ideological brick walls at every turn. Unless we get high quality world leaders with guts, equanimity and wisdom you can kiss that dream goodbye.

  267. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #263:

    Well, unlike that pope, I seem to grasp the difference between base and peak production :)

    Nukes and coal are very good, as I’ve repeatedly stated, at providing very large amounts of base production. They do it at incredibly low prices, on the orders of $20 to $40 per megawatt-hour. What they cannot respond to, and this is borne out by the way the power grid and power production is managed, is peak loads. It takes on the order of hours to days for both of those plant types — nukes and coal — to reach thermal equilibrium. You don’t just turn them up or down every couple of minutes, which is how the grid is managed. That “turning up” and “turning down” is handled by an entirely different class of plants that produce power at entirely different cost structures — as high as $400 to $600 per megawatt-hour.

    If you go back to the base load plant article, you’ll see that base load is not but 35 to 40 percent of peak load — so that’s what you can generate with nukes. That’s it — if you could generate more with nukes, capitalism would have found a way, based on the production prices I quoted, and those are fairly accurate figures.

    So, that’s the first problem with what you’re saying. It’s the difference between base (where nukes are great, and I’ve said that repeatedly) and peak (where nukes don’t work).

    The second problem, and you’ve not said this in a while now, so maybe you’ve learned something, is that wind and solar aren’t so unreliable that they cannot be added to the grid without a 1-for-1 backup with fossil fuels. Yes, of course, things like wind and solar have their issues, but then so does a gas turbine plant that’s being used to generate power for the next 30 minutes as everyone starts turning on their computers and lights at work. There are, however, solutions to these problems. Distributed wind and solar is one, and there are others I’m not at liberty to discuss. Distributing wind and solar works because if the wind isn’t blowing through Altamont Pass, its likely blowing somewhere else. And if that doesn’t happen, something else that’s well understood and exploitable somewhere else is happening. Obviously, various forms of storage are ways, and this is done on a small scale with people who go completely off the grid — they determine how many days they need to “ride out” a lack of wind or solar, and they keep that many days worth of kilowatt-hours sitting in batteries. Solar can be stored — I do it every day. I’m doing it right now, even ;) What this means is that the 60 to 65 percent of power that is peak load production is fair game for wind and solar. Which, based on how much is being installed, people seem to be out to do.

  268. James:

    Re #265: [Wind and solar power facilities can be constructed and brought on line a lot faster than nuclear power plants. Especially wind.]

    That depends. You can build 1 MWatt of solar or wind faster than you can build a 1 GWatt nuclear plant, but how long is it going to take to build 1000 of those 1 MWatt wind/solar plants.

    In any case, the best course of action isn’t to futz around debating either/or for the next couple of decades, it’s to start doing both, now.

  269. James:

    Re #266: This is all politics, which we don’t discuss here. But the one thing I think I can say within the limits is that we need to deal with the world as it is. You have the US and a few other countries producing the majority of CO2 emissions, so those are the countries that most need to put some alternative in place in order to stop.

    As for the countries that currently aren’t producing a lot of CO2, they have choices as well. They can, for instance, go on as they are. They can pursue other paths to prosperity that don’t include CO2-intensive energy sources, because they haven’t become dependent on them.

  270. James:

    Re #266: [t takes on the order of hours to days for both of those plant types — nukes and coal — to reach thermal equilibrium. You don’t just turn them up or down every couple of minutes, which is how the grid is managed.]

    Yes, you do – or can, at least. I used to write software that would present system control operators with various options & constraints for doing just that. Now it’s true that you generally don’t want to change your coal-fired plant’s output that fast, but that’s because the electricity it produces is cheaper, and you want to run everything at the lowest overall cost you can while staying within safe operating criteria.

    […if you could generate more with nukes, capitalism would have found a way…]

    Capitalism did find a way. That way was to use coal instead, since it avoided expensive litigation, and they got to dump their trash into the air for free :-)

    [So, that’s the first problem with what you’re saying. It’s the difference between base (where nukes are great, and I’ve said that repeatedly) and peak (where nukes don’t work).]

    Strange, I thought that was pretty much what I’ve been saying: replace the base load generation that’s currently provided by coal with nuclear, and add as much renewable of whatever sort as you can build and put on the grid without causing system stability problems.

    [Distributing wind and solar works because if the wind isn’t blowing through Altamont Pass, its likely blowing somewhere else.]

    A bit of study of west coast weather systems would be of benefit here. I think you’ll find that there’s actually quite a bit of correlation in winds, and of course that’s even more true of solar. I mean, when the sun goes down at your place, it goes down at your neighbors’, too, doesn’t it?

    But you aren’t completely wrong, just I think too optimistic in thinking you can run the grid with 60-65% of this sort of intermittent renewable generation. The numbers I’ve seen (from studies by engineers and such) say the number’s more like 30%. Which, when you stop to consider that the current amount is in the neighborhood of 1%, gives a lot of room for expansion before it starts becoming an issue. So why not start from both ends and work towards the middle, in the process learning just how far each can go?

    The important point is that we need to start replacing that coal-fired generation now.

  271. Hank Roberts:

    CDIAC has a FAQ page:

    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/faq.html

    Many of the questions frequently reposted here are addressed there.

    They number them and have a HTML page for each, simplifying pointers.

    If they’re going to keep the numbers consistent (I can only wish)
    this would be an excellent way to avoid retyping, and a good reference for bingo card users as well.

  272. Lawrence Coleman:

    Just saw a doco on tv yesterday about the state of solar power. They highlighted Germany as the country that’s done the most to push this technology. About 25-30% of power is derived from CO2 free sources..mainly solar. The energy commissioner says solar uptake (due in part to feedback tarrif) is still growing at a massive rate and will into the forseeable future..His plan is to make Germany fossil fuel independant by 2050..he says that they are easily exceeding their forcasts. The debate about solar’s viablity in sun-poor countries it seems has been answered..having lived in Germany for 2 years I can say with first hand experience that germany isn’t a very sunny place and yet solar seems to work fine. The cost of production is rapidly coming down as well. They have also developed a way for the solar cells to utilze the full spectrum of sunlight..not just the red band, greatly increasing efficiency..couple that with sliver cell tech which australia has invented and you’ve got a pretty rosy picture of the future. That’s the way I see our future..solar tech–taken up by most countries en-masse. Would you rather see ugly windmills defacing the look of the countryside..or virtually invisable quiet solar cells on most houses each doing their bit for their respective country’s power grid.

  273. Dylan:

    Not sure if this is the best place to ask…but why is it that the emissions scenarios from the 2007 IPCC AR4 report are still based on the 2000 SRES report? Significant research since 2000 has been done on the availability and economics of extracting and using fossil fuels in the next 50-100 years, and it strikes me that least the SRES’s “A1″ scenario can be more or less ruled out entirely, and a new one based on the assumption that fossil fuel production (even coal) will peak much sooner than previously anticipated is worth considering.

  274. Hank Roberts:

    Dylan, this may help. “A1″ is not a single scenario, it’s a large group sharing one kind of assumption.
    There are four such groups and forty scenarios total.
    http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/emission/005.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Report_on_Emissions_Scenarios

    I doubt we can rule out anything on the basis of the past five years’ experience, that might happen over the next 50-100.
    People don’t necessarily act wisely — look at all the good advice in the past 50 years that was ignored.

  275. Alastair McDonald:

    Re #273

    Dylan,

    The scenario is not a prediction of what will happen. That would be impossible to produce. So what is done is to have several scenarios, and hopefully one of them will be close to what really happens. Then the performance of the models can be compared against that one, but since we don’t know which will be correct, at present the models have to be run against them all the scenarios.

    You may be correct, that the A1 scenario can be ruled out, but who knows what will happen in the future. A Middle East war might breakout and shutdown most of the OPEC production. Then the A1 scenario might suddenly be found to be closer to the truth than any other.

  276. Chris Fostel:

    I couldn’t find a link to post to the article regarding the Martian warming stories.

    I propose a method to answer the question of solar heating impacting global arming without animosity or undo debate.

    Study the surface temperature of the Moon. Apollo 15 left behind instruments that gave very high fidelity surface temperature readings for nearly 15 years (1975-1990). Regrettably the instruments left behind by the Apollo program have ceased to function, but there must be other observatories where the lunar temperatures were monitored concurently with the Apollo instruments, and are still in use today. I’ve read a study demonstrating that the nighttime surface temperature of the Moon can provide an indicator of the extent of global warming on Earth; due to the increase in radiation from the Earth heating the surface of the Moon. Similarly the daytime temperature on the Moon would be a composite of the radiation striking the Moon from the Sun and Earth combined. Subtract the observed increase of the nighttime temperature from any observed increase in daytime temperatures and you should have the effect of solar heating. There may be second or third order effects, from other planets and cosmic radiation. I suspect they would result in temperature changes too small to measure. After establishing whether or not there is lunar warming that cannot be explained by terrestrial warming what is left is almost entirely a measure of solar warming. Luminosity alone is not a complete measure of solar energy impacting the Earth and the number of sunspots do not provide any insight into solar activity levels. The Moon is close enough to Earth to be impacted by nearly the same energy levels from the Sun. As yet, I haven’t seen any such studies.

    To answer a question posted by one of the bloggers. The Earth exists at an average temperature of roughly 525 degrees Kelvin (measured from absolute zero in degrees Fahrenheit). A 1% increase in solar heating could lead to a global temperature increase of roughly 5 degrees Fahrenheit, IF there were no other factors. That is a very big IF. There are of course MANY other factors. It is very unclear whether a 1% increase in solar heating would cause Earth’s temperature rise to be higher or lower then 5 F. And, as I point out above it has yet to be established whether there has been a significant change in solar heating.

    A secondary issue:

    Solar heating is due to many emissions from the Sun, the most obvious being visible light. The Sun irradiates the Earth with nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Different parts of the spectrum are either blocked, or absorbed by different portions of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface. In addition, all of the particles of the solar wind carry energy/heat away from the Sun. The Moon is outside of the Earth’s magnetosphere. It would experience different solar heating then the Earth because the Earth is shielded from the bulk of the solar wind by the magnetosphere. Unfortunately, very few in the media, political arena and a surprising number in the scientific community seem aware that the Earth’s magnetosphere is collapsing in response to a general decline in field strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. NASA has been tracking the decline since the beginning of the space age. The British Navy led the efforts previously due to magnetic anomalies affecting compass headings for the past 300-400 years. The declining field strength results in a higher fraction of the solar wind striking the upper atmosphere, and striking at lower latitudes then in the past 300 years. I haven’t seen the magnetic field strength decline effect reflected in global warming studies as yet.

  277. Robert Alson:

    Searching by Internet, I have seen with this initiative:

    http://withyouitspossible.awardspace.com/paginaExplicacioAng.html

    I have found it original, since the effort needs to us of all.
    Good luck.

  278. Ray Ladbury:

    Re 276. Chris Fostel, do you even have the foggiest notion what you are talking about. First, if Earth were at 525 Kelvins, we would not be exchanging these missives. Second: Do the math. The energy of solar particles reaching Earth is negligible. Not only is the fluence not that large, most never penetrate the geomagnetic field. Third: We’ve already measured solar irradiance. It hasn’t changed in 30-70 years. Fourth, the Martian climate models explian the warming on Mars quite well. Now go get educated.

  279. Hank Roberts:

    >279
    Again! link spam, I think. Possibly a bot?

  280. Dylan:

    Re: 275

    Of course the scenarios aren’t predictions, but to be useful in policymaking they have to at least be reasonably likely to occur. No-one is going to plan for a possible future that only has a .5% chance of eventuating. But the point of the scenarios is that they “business of usual” cases, where no explicit action is taken to mitigate emissions. My personal opinion is that the most likely scenario for the next 50-100 years is that the sheer economics of extracting and using fossil fuels will force us to burn considerably less of them, and switch to alternative energy sources naturally. I strongly doubt this path of action would allow us to keep CO2 levels under 450 ppm, but it might give us a better idea of just how much an explicit effort to do so will cost relative to a realistic “business as usual” scenario.

  281. Greg Simpson:

    Ray Ladbury, I think Chris Fostel was trying to use degrees Rankine but didn’t know the proper term. Not that I would encourage anyone to use them.

  282. Joan:

    Please send me this website in
    Spanish. I want to give it to my friends who only read Spanish.

    Thanks

    Joan

  283. Walter Kilis:

    http://globalwarminglife.com should be added – great resource for global warming news.

  284. David B. Benson:

    Re #282: Joan — See the top right corner for a link to a Spanish version.

  285. David B. Benson:

    The Shimbir Demon site has come up 404 (Page not found) for two days now. Here are two links regarding biochar sequestration which may be more stable:

    http://biopact.com/2007/04/biochar-soil-sequestration-and.html

    http://biopact.com/2007/06/research-confirms-biochar-in-soils.html

  286. David B. Benson:

    Re previous post — The following link is more thorough than the previous two:

    http://biopact.com/2007/06/carbon-negative-biofuels-and-biochar.html

    The two comments are also worth reading.

  287. Dylan:

    Re 286, has anyone considered whether changes in agricultural techniques such as this could result in significant changes to the Earth’s albedo? When I saw the phrase “dark earth”, I immediately thought that surely you’d want to be sure that any warming held in check by sequestering carbon wasn’t offset by a loss of albedo. In fact, it’s tempting to think that the quickest way we could keep the Earth’s temperature stable is look at what we can do to increase its average albedo (and note that quickest != easiest or cheapest).

  288. Chris Fostel:

    Correction and apology:

    In my previous post I said degrees Kelvin, when I meant degrees Rankin.

    Rankin measures temperature from absolute zero in Fahrenheit degrees; making zero about minus 460 degree F.

    Kelvin measures temperature from absolute zero in degrees centigrade (or Celsius); making zero about minus 273 Celsius.

    The Earthâ��s average temperature would be about 525 degrees RANKIN and 291 degrees Kelvin. With out proper global warming the Earth’s average temperature would be the same as the Moon, about minus 40 Fahrenheit, which is coincidentally also minus 40 Celsius.

    Sorry if the goof caused confusion. Dyslexia does not improve with age �.

    Note for the moderators:

    You could delete the entire response to the poster. It dilutes the theme of the first post, and uncorrected could cause confusion.

  289. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[With out proper global warming the Earth’s average temperature would be the same as the Moon, about minus 40 Fahrenheit, which is coincidentally also minus 40 Celsius.]]

    The Moon has a different bolometric Bond albedo — about 0.11 according to Bonnie Buratti and her colleagues, compared to 0.306 for Earth. For the Solar constant at Earth’s orbit (1367.6 w/m^2), I get a Lunar temperature of 271 K — -2 C, not -40. To get down to -40 (233 K), you’d need an albedo of 0.51, brighter than any major planet.

    The Earth’s equilibrium temperature, with its known albedo, would be 254 K (255 K if you use 0.3).

  290. David B. Benson:

    Re #287: Dylan — According to Wikipedia, crops have about twice the albedo of dark, wet soils. Actually, soils with added agrichar look about the same on the top. It’s only when one digs into the soil that the added cardon is apparent. A strong advantage to agrichar is that it is to the farmer’s advantage to add the agrichar as it greatly enhances growth as well as improving soil quality…

  291. David B. Benson:

    One more link about biochar sequestration:

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org

  292. Pat:

    I was looking at the “Climate and Weather” Macropedia entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and that seems to be a pretty good resource – though I haven’t yet seen what they have for climate change/global warming.

  293. Justin:

    You guys should bring these guys:
    http://www.verticalfarm.com/

    In on some GW conferences. They may have a multi-aspected may to combat the human elements of what is happening.