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A biased economic analysis of geoengineering

Filed under: — group @ 11 August 2009 - (Español)

Guest commentary by Alan Robock – Rutgers University

Bjorn Lomborg’s Climate Consensus Center just released an un-refereed report on geoengineering, An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming, by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. The “consensus” in the title of Lomborg’s center is based on a meeting of 50 economists last year. The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies. In this report, discussed below, they simply omit the costs of many of the potential negative aspects of producing a stratospheric cloud to block out sunlight or cloud brightening, and come to the conclusion that these strategies have a 25-5000 to 1 benefit/cost ratio. That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.

Geoengineering has come a long way since first discussed here three years ago. [Here I use the term “geoengineering” to refer to “solar radiation management” (SRM) and not to carbon capture and sequestration (called “air capture” in the report), a related topic with quite different issues.] In a New Scientist interview, John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, says geoengineering has to be examined as a possible response to global warming, but that we can make no such determination now. A two-day conference on geoengineering organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences was held in June, 2009, with an opening talk by the President, Ralph Cicerone. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has just issued a policy statement on geoengineering, which urges cautious consideration, more research, and appropriate restrictions. But all this attention comes with the message that we know little about the efficacy, costs, and problems associated with geoengineering suggestions, and that much more study is needed.

Bickel and Lane, however, do not hesitate to write a report that is rather biased in favor of geoengineering using SRM, by emphasizing the low cost and dismissing the many possible negative aspects. They use calculations with the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) economic model to make the paper seem scientific, but there are many inherent assumptions, and they up-front refuse to present their results in terms of ranges or error bars. Specific numbers in their conclusions make the results seem much more certain than they are. While they give lip service to possible negative consequences of geoengineering, they refuse to quantify them. Indeed, the purpose of new research is to do just that, but the tone of this report is to claim that cooling the planet will have overall benefits, which CAN be quantified. The conclusions and summary of the report imply much more certainty as to the net benefits of SRM than is really the case.

My main areas of agreement with this report are that global warming is an important, serious problem, that SRM with stratospheric aerosols or cloud brightening would not be expensive, and that we indeed need more research into geoengineering. The authors provide a balanced introduction to the issues of global warming and the possible types of geoengineering.

But Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. Even without global warming, reducing CO2 emissions is needed to do the best we can to save the ocean. The costs of this continuing damage to the planet, which geoengineering will do nothing to address, are ignored in the analysis in this report. And without mitigation, SRM would need to be continued for hundreds of years. If it were stopped, by the loss of interest or means by society, the resulting rapid warming would be much more dangerous than the gradual warming we are now experiencing.

Bickel and Lane do not even mention several potential negative effects of SRM, including getting rid of blue skies, huge reductions in solar power from systems using direct solar radiation, or ruining terrestrial optical astronomy. They imply that SRM technologies will work perfectly, and ignore unknown unknowns. Not one cloud has ever been artificially brightened by injection of sea salt aerosols, yet this report claims to be able to quantify the benefits and the costs to society of cloud brightening.

They also imply that stratospheric geoengineering can be tested at a small scale, but this is not true. Small injections of SO2 into the stratosphere would actually produce small radiative forcing, and we would not be able to separate the effects from weather noise. The small volcanic eruptions of the past year (1.5 Tg SO2 from Kasatochi in 2008 and 1 Tg SO2 from Sarychev in 2009, as compared to 7 Tg SO2 from El Chichón in 1982 and 20 Tg SO2 from Pinatubo in 1991) have produced stratospheric clouds that can be well-observed, but we cannot detect any climate impacts. Only a large-scale stratospheric injection could produce measurable impacts. This means that the path they propose would lead directly to geoengineering, even just to test it, and then it would be much harder to stop, what with commercial interests in continuing (e.g., Star Wars, which has not even ever worked).

Bickel and Lane also ignore several seminal papers on geoengineering that present much more advanced scientific results than the older papers they cite. In particular, they ignore Tilmes et al. (2008), Robock et al. (2008), Rasch et al. (2008), and Jones et al. (2009).

With respect to ozone, they dismiss concerns about ozone depletion and enhanced UV by citing Wigley (2006) and Crutzen (2006), but ignore the results of Tilmes et al. (2008), who showed that the effects would prolong the ozone hole for decades and that deployment of stratospheric aerosols in a couple decades would not be safe as claimed here. Bickel and Lane assert, completely incorrectly, “On its face, though, it does not appear that the ozone issue would be likely to invalidate the concept of stratospheric aerosols.”

With respect to an Arctic-only scheme, they suggest in several places that it would be possible to control Arctic climate based on the results of Caldeira and Wood (2008) who artificially reduce sunlight in a polar cap in their model (the “yarmulke method”), whereas Robock et al. (2008) showed with a more realistic model that explicitly treats the distribution and transport of stratospheric aerosols, that the aerosols could not be confined to just the Arctic, and such a deployment strategy would affect the summer Asian monsoon, reducing precipitation over China and India. And Robock et al. (2008) give examples from past volcanic eruptions that illustrate this effect, such as the pattern of precipitation reduction after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption (Trenberth and Dai, 2007):

With respect to cloud brightening, Bickel and Lane ignore the Jones et al. (2009) results that cloud brightening would mainly cool the oceans and not affect land temperature much, so that it is an imperfect method at best to counter global warming. Furthermore Jones et al. (2009) found that cloud brightening over the South Atlantic would produce severe drought over the Amazon, destroying the tropical forest.

They also ignore a huge class of ethical and world governance issues. Whose hand would be on the global thermostat? Who would trust military aircraft or a multi-national geoengineering company to have the interests of the people of the planet foremost?

They do not seem to realize that volcanic eruptions affect climate change because of sulfate aerosols produced from sulfur dioxide gas injections into the stratosphere, the same that is proposed for SRM, and not by larger ash particles that fall out quickly after and eruption and do not cause climate change.

They dismiss air capture (“air capture technologies do not appear as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or a cost perspective”) but ignore the important point that it would have few of the potential side effects of SRM. Air capture would just remove the cause of global warming in the first place, and the only side effects would be in the locations where the CO2 would be sequestered.

For some reason, they insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2, and then mix them in the paper. I cannot understand why they choose to make it so confusing.

The potential negative consequences of stratospheric SRM were clearly laid out by Robock (2008) and updated by Robock et al. (2009), which still lists 17 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. One of those important possible consequences, the threat to the water supply for agriculture and other human uses, has been emphasized in a recent Science article by Gabi Hegerl and Susan Solomon.

Robock et al. (2009) also lists some benefits from SRM, including increased plant productivity and an enhanced CO2 sink from vegetation that grows more when subject to diffuse radiation, as has been observed after every recent large volcanic eruption. But the quantification of these and other geoengineering benefits, as well as the negative aspects, awaits more research.

It may be that the benefits of geoengineering will outweigh the negative aspects, and that most of the problems can be dealt with, but the paper from Lomborg’s center ignores the real consensus among all responsible geoengineering researchers. The real consensus, as expressed at the National Academy conference and in the AMS statement, is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming, and that whether geoengineering can even be considered as an emergency measure in the future should climate change become too dangerous is not now known. Policymakers will only be able to make such decisions after they see results from an intensive research program. Lomborg’s report should have stopped at the need for a research program, and not issued its flawed and premature conclusions.


Jones, A., J. Haywood, and O. Boucher 2009: Climate impacts of geoengineering marine stratocumulus clouds, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D10106, doi:10.1029/2008JD011450.

Rasch, Philip J., Simone Tilmes, Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Chih-Chieh (Jack) Chen, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, and Rolando R. Garcia, 2008: An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A., 366, 4007-4037, doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0131.

Robock, Alan, 2008: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bull. Atomic Scientists, 64, No. 2, 14-18, 59, doi:10.2968/064002006. PDF file Roundtable discussion of paper

Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2008: Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and Arctic SO2 injections. J. Geophys. Res., 113, D16101, doi:10.1029/2008JD010050. PDF file

Robock, Alan, Allison B. Marquardt, Ben Kravitz, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2009: The benefits, risks, and costs of stratospheric geoengineering. Submitted to Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2009GL039209. PDF file

Tilmes, S., R. Müller, and R. Salawitch, 2008: The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes, Science, 320(5880), 1201-1204, doi:10.1126/science.1153966.

Trenberth, K. E., and A. Dai (2007), Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L15702, doi:10.1029/2007GL030524.

329 Responses to “A biased economic analysis of geoengineering”

  1. 151
    Hank Roberts says:

    April 10, 2009
    Advice 3449-E
    (Pacific Gas and Electric Company ID U39 E)

    Public Utilities Commission of the State of California

    Subject: Contract for Procurement of Renewable Energy Resources
    Resulting from PG&E’s Power Purchase Agreement with Solaren

    A. Purpose and Overview

    Pacific Gas and Electric Company (“PG&E”) seeks California Public Utilities
    Commission (“Commission” or “CPUC”) approval of a power purchase agreement
    (“PPA”) that PG&E has executed with Solaren Corporation (“Solaren”)….
    … for up to 200 megawatts (“MW”) of Renewables Portfolio Standard (“RPS”)-
    eligible energy from a new space solar power project (“Project”) with a ground receiving station in Fresno County, for a term of 15 years. If completed by 2016, the project would deliver an average of 850 gigawatt hours (“GWh”) for the first year of the term, and 1,700 GWh per year over the remaining term of the PPA, which would contribute significantly toward PG&E’s RPS goals after 2016….

  2. 152
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE biochar — pyrolysis of biomass. I’m not sure how that’s done. But I was wondering if it could be done on moringa trees, which grow like weeds in my area up to 30 or 40 feet within a few years. The “wood” in the trunks and branches is very soft & moist. Would that be an okay source for biochar?

    Also there is a problem of carrizo cane (bamboolike weeds) growing along the Rio Grande River — it’s an exotic invasive species, but Homeland Security finds it a problem in hiding drug smugglers and undocumented persons. They were planning to poison the whole of the river area with an herbicide, imazapyr, causing who knows how many health problems and harm to the ecosystem. Maybe that carrizo could be turned into biochar ??

  3. 153
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Martin Vermeer 22 August 2009 at 11:19 AM

    “…as a practical data point, your microwave oven does 70%”

    Actually, stimulated by your hypothesis I just measured the efficiency of my microwave oven and it comes out to about 60% when heating a half-gallon of water, about what I’d expect. Lousy, but efficiency does not really matter because solar energy is “free”, right? I’ve said so myself regarding domestic hot water systems. Except, in the space power transmission arena you’re talking about throwing away a sizable fraction of energy you’ve earned in the hardest and most expensive way possible, plus even worse you’ve got to get rid of that energy somehow.

    Let’s say you’ve got a space based system with a nice round 100MW input power to the transmission system. How do you get rid of (really optimistically based on non-existent efficiency) 30MW appearing in the form of waste heat? That is a non-trivial problem in a deployment environment where non-productive mass is punishingly expensive.

    Presumably if you could divide the transmission duty into a perfectly (so as not waste yet more energy in incoherent arrival at the receive antenna) phased and perfectly enormous array of smaller transmitters integrated w/antennas and passive thermal radiators on the backside of each such module the basic thermal problem could be handled, but you’re then introducing a whole new level of complexity to the system, and of course you’re still orbiting a lot of mass that is useless for the primary intended purpose. And, whoops, maybe the gain of a phased array of small antennas won’t do, meaning we’re stuck with a parabolic antenna with a single feed. So let’s instead build an enormous microwave combiner capable of doing a phase-coherent merge of many transmitter outputs with associated waveguides fabricated so as to present the phase-coherent output of the many transmitters in a phase-coherent way to the input of the combiner. And of course that combiner’s going to mean a reject load leading to even worse efficiency. Can anybody actually build and orbit such an arrangement? No, they can’t, not now and not in the immediately foreseeable future.

    So perhaps the plethora of phase coherent little transmitters idea just won’t pan out. That means we’re back to a smaller number of really large transmitters to do any useful amount of transmission, megawatts or many megawatts each, still with a combiner but at least imaginable in terms of mechanical complexity of the RF system. How to cool the transmitters? Passive radiators won’t do; the mass of a passive system for such an array of transmitters is beyond even our capacity for fantasy. So we’d need to pump something through a lighter structure, a lot of something through a large surface area. I’m not even going to bother trying to imagine the resulting arrangement, other than to say it will be neither low in mass nor remotely trouble free. Have you noticed how much time the ISS crew spend on keeping their cooling hardware running? How much power does the ISS dissipate?

    “As an “ad hominem” argument, these things have been documentedly studied for half a century now by reputedly pretty smart people (NASA); don’t you think they had to face the very same, rather obvious objections y’all come up with?”

    So they have, leading to a complete absence of any completed designs that can be fabricated let alone orbited. Meanwhile, scroll through this list of PV plants currently in operation:

    Notice how they all actually exist? Existence is a wonderful thing.

    “No, it isn’t easy; something worthwhile rarely is.”

    For every thing that is difficult and worthwhile there are many other things difficult and -not- worthwhile. Why spend a dollar on a watt obtained in space and sent to Earth when you can spend the same dollar on a terrestrial system yielding two watts? Because it’s more difficult to get half as much power from space for the same amount of money?

    Perhaps there’s some breakthrough on the horizon, and what’s more I suppose just as with many “alternative” systems there may well be contexts where limited deployment of space-based collection systems might overcome their disadvantages. Mostly what I see here is wishful thinking on the part of entrenched interests in the orbital technology arena.

    If we’re going to spend money on orbiting climate-related hardware, perhaps we’d better start with actually getting some remote sensing hardware dedicated to climate science lofted, finally. The last major effort in that department failed due to lack of chump-change amounts of money, hardly something that bodes well for fantasies about multi-kilometer dynamic structures of enormous complexity being wished into existence.

  4. 154
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Jim, I am a bit disappointed that you, instead of critiquing actual proposals for powersat solutions, are critiquing your own mental image of them, which falls some two orders of magnitude short.

    I can see where you’re coming from: when I first heard about Glaser’s proposal, my reaction — well aware of the extreme difficulty and cost of launching anything into space — was the same: they must be kidding. But then I actually looked into the matter.

    You are writing it, many are thinking it. I should thank you for providing the opportunity to address these misconceptions.

    About launch cost: we’re talking here not about the cost of launching complete powersats — or their parts — from Earth, but about the cost of establishing a space manufacturing facility, presumably using Lunar raw materials. Huge too, but a one-time investment shared by all powerstats together. Are you familiar with O’Neill’s ideas?

    About terrestrial solar: have I ever claimed otherwise? Have I been lax contributing good ideas to the discussion here? We need all the good ideas we can lay our hands on.

  5. 155
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pyrolysis is simply the chemical decomposition that results from heating (in a low oxygen environment). In Africa and much of the rest of the third world, it is the process used to make charcoal. Wood is piled in a large pit and set ablaze. Once you have a good fire going with lots of good coals, woodpile is buried under earth and smoulders for up to a couple of days (I think). The result is a high-carbon/energy, lightweight, low moisture content fuel that can be transported to markets. That’s the low-tech approach.

    However, there are lots of “greener” approaches, including, I believe, a solar pyrolysis system Dave Benson has posted about.

  6. 156
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Deployment of large systems in space is always a challenge. For a view of what is the current bleeding edge, see the following annimations of deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope sunshield:

    It’s about the size of a tennis court and of necessity, very lightweight. Concentrators could be quite lightweight as well, but radiation is a serious concern and possibly a life limiting factor. The main problem with these ideas of space generated power have always been:
    1)Lifting the heavy components into space–I don’t see our heavy-lift capability improving much any time soon

    2)Making the system either maintenance free or developing the ability to maintain it–Space systems have gotten quite a bit more reliable–to the point where failures tend to be random (Weibull shape~1) rather than age related (Weibull shape>>1). This suggests that further improvements require improved reliability of components and that runs into $$$. There has also been some progress in the idea of robotic maintenance, but this is also a long way off.

    In short, I wouldn’t look to the skies for salvation…ever.

  7. 157

    Wow. Thanks Hank. Again.

  8. 158
    Glenn Tamblyn says:

    GeoEngineering as an alternative to CO2 reduction is one of those no-brainer dumb ideas that a species takes just before it goes extinct. But GeoEngineering as a stop gap for us to simply survive while we try to get the CO2 Genie back in the bottle needs to be on the table. It may be decades before we need these types of extreme measures – as a prvious post said, chemotherapy. But if the choice is between chemotherapy and shuffling off this mortal coil, you try the chemotherapy. But we need to be laying the plans for it now.

    Plan A seems to be Copenhagen will be enough, we get an AGREEMENT for a TARGET to reduce CO2 by some by year X. And the Climate Sensitivity wont be too high, and the methane timebomb in the north wont explode, and all the other bad shit wont be too bad and we just scrape through. Personal view. Plan A is already a bust.

    And, since Plan Y is the End of Civilisation
    And Plan Z is the extinction of Homo Sapiens….

    We need a Plan B, C, D… K…R.. etc, just in case. Lots of fallback options.

    Since the End of Civilisation & the extinction of Homo Sapiens tend to be kind of permanent, discounting any idea on philosophical grounds seems like rather small world thinking.

    Remember. Mother Nature doesn’t do philosophy, morality, ethics, aesthetics. She is the Goddess of Numbers. Get the numbers right, you survive. Get them wrong, your dead. Nothing personal, its just numbers.

  9. 159
    Nick Gotts says:

    Martin Vermeer@153,

    O’Neill? Are you being serious? I recall reading The High Frontier when it came out, and being very impressed – I was young and romantic, this looked like a way to escape the terrestrial resource limitations I was already aware of. I thought I still had my copy, but I can’t find it. But from memory, it requires a launch capacity orders of magnitude beyond what is available now, a third of a century on, plus the ability to develop entire new industries, involving untried technologies, in an environment that is inherently hostile to human life (radiation, vacuum, low or no gravity, let alone all the more subtle factors affecting physiology and psychology). Even at the time, the potential pollution from blasting so many rockets through the atmosphere, and the unknown effects of beaming high-power microwaves back did give me pause. Tell me, at the best, what is your estimate for how soon an O’Neill type approach could contribute significantly to our energy needs, and at what cost? Has any serious work been done on this?

  10. 160
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Plan A seems to be Copenhagen will be enough, we get an AGREEMENT for a TARGET to reduce CO2 by some by year X.” – Glenn Tamblyn

    I don’t know anyone who thinks Copenhagen will be enough. If the politicians are serious, the diplomats are clever, and we’re lucky, it will: shift the path of greenhouse gas emission growth down significantly, slow the destruction of tropical forests, give a boost to the development and transfer of energy efficiency and low-carbon energy production technologies, foreground the need for demand reduction in rich countries, and show that worthwhile international agreements in this area are possible. All that will give us a few more years to come up with a further, tighter agreement – or more probably, a series of them – and a fundamental change in how the global economy works.

  11. 161

    141 Lynn Vincentnathan,

    When’–the guys at the Fox Valley EV Association (that converts ICE cars to EV)’ told you that ‘even if the electricity is from coal burning, the EV emissions are about two-thirds of an ICE car and easier to control at point-source’ they were parroting an often stated partial truth that I would characterize as fraud if they knew what they were talking about.

    The English language allows some amazingly easy deceit.

    The first part of their statement is correct, but they should make clear that they are talking about a typical ICE car. A well built hybrid such as the Prius, and probably the Ford Fusion, is also run on an ICE. And their statement is ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE for such cars. Those who would put large batteries in a Prius trunk are hucksters, in my not at all humble opinion about the matter. The effect of such conversions is to increase the CO2 if coal is the fuel of the incrementally responding generator system and to moderately decrease the CO2 if natural gas is the relevant fuel.

    And here Patrick 027 at 144, you are also repeating an often assumed fact that is not correct. There is a big difference between ‘the systems that are operating at the time’ and the EFFECT of charging a battery etc. If we are concerned with CO2 that results from a given action, we are interested in that EFFECT, not some ‘mix’ of operating systems that include systems that will run regardless of the load variations and the systems that will run when a new bunch of electric cars are plugged in. (Some call this a ‘marginal’ response but I think this gets easily misinterpreted. It parallels the idea of a ‘marginal income tax rate’ which refers to the rate charged on an increment of additional income above an existing yearly income.) But yes, as you note, it has a lot to do with the time when charging is done.

    A couple years back NRDC and EPRI did a study that briefly mentioned ‘marginal’ response, but went on to ignore that in their study. Fortunately their conclusions also ignored the ‘mix’ so it is possible to glean the facts discussed above about hybrids, coal etc. Our Argonne National Laboratories recently published a study where they mentioned ‘marginal response,’ but completely dropped this in their concluding chart and only offered data for various ‘mixes’. Even so, by including the Illinois mix which is about 70% coal they included a roughly confirming data point.

    Anyway, Lynn, thanks for mentioning Miastrada. It is a car, a power production system, and now includes an apparatus to almost eliminate the effect of gravity on vehicle rolling resistance. (I joke that it cancels gravity.) I would suggest that we think about first cutting the CO2 from transportation (about 40% of the present USA emissions from fossil fuels) with this set of solutions. And then get on to a system that doubles or triples the amount of electrical power we get from natural gas, thereby providing a viable option over coal.

    And then Martin Vermeer 145 etc and Hank Roberts 150 we can cancel plans to colonize the moon.

    I offer ‘down to earth solutions” that might even fit into the USA budget that Warren Buffet would approve of for the future when the recession is fixed.

  12. 162

    150 Hank Roberts,

    Idle chatter about fantasy land projects is ok, but when it gets to the point that my utility and my PUC are playing with Tinkerbell on my money, I have to get busy with some serious butt kicking.

  13. 163
    Hugh Laue says:

    Lynn 151, see my earlier comment here

    The low-tech carbonisation using mud mounds is very inefficient (low yield)and polluting in smoke (black carbon) that is problematic.

    Other more efficient technology is capital intensive but there is a promising technology developed here (South Africa) but needing further development.

    I am trying to sell the concept to the govt’s “working for water” programm where millions are being spent in bio-diversity and water resource protection (invasive and alien species removal). You can contact me at if you want.

  14. 164

    149 and 150

    Martin Vermeer, With link from Hank Roberts opened in front of me I am sitting here with my mouth hanging open in disbelief.

    I have to take back my assertion that there is no proposal about this.

  15. 165
    Hank Roberts says:

    > assertion

    Another plug for using reference librarians and search engines to improve our memories:

    “… there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.”

    “I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked.
    “I can’t remember things before they happen.”

    “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward,” the Queen remarked.

    “What sort of things do you remember best!” Alice ventured to ask.

    “Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied in a careless tone….


  16. 166
    Nick Gotts says:

    I’ve just followed Hank Roberts’ link, and am also very surprised. I will be still more surprised (but pleased) if this system is actually constructed in anything like the time suggested (by 2016), and operates reliably. What, if any, are the health and environmental implications of beaming that much RF energy through the atmosphere?

  17. 167
    llewelly says:


    Lomborg et al.’s proposal to inject sulfates into the atmosphere can be characterised as “chemotherapy for the planet”.

    Three points about chemotherapy:

    It’s a last resort.
    Frequently, it does not work.
    Frequently, it makes the patient worse.

    In modern times, oncologists are actually very good at predicting whether chemotherapy will improve a patient’s quality of life (or chances of survival, depending on the patient’s wishes). As a result, when recommended by an oncologist, it’s almost always better than the alternative, because it’s so well understood that oncologists know when to recommended it.
    Putting sulphate aerosols in the mesosphere (or stratosphere, where they likely won’t remain as long) is not well-understood, except for periods of less than about 5 years (which can be understood by comparison with volcanic events). No, chemotherapy is not a good analogy for aerosol injection.
    I know it’s off topic here, but for a more realistic view of chemotherapy, please read this .

  18. 168
    Hugh Laue says:

    Hank 150 Jim Bullis 163
    Disbelief is the word. It’s insane.
    And in these discussions on “economic viability” just what assumptions are being made? The old model is irrevocably broken so how can we even compare apples with apples? Cradle to grave? Social___n of costs? Assumed continual growth possible when we know we have reached the limits to growth? Mort__ing (to bypass spam filter) our children’s future?
    Is not the point of Gavin’s post that whether a project of whatever kind makes sense or not depends on the assumptions made? Surely we’ve got to get back to Schumacher’s “small is beautiful” thinking. The idea of “economies of scale” has had it’s day and only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. We’ve lost our moral compass (if we ever had one).
    Surely we don’t have to go through pages of economic analyses and various scenarios to intuitively know in our heart of hearts that this is just more of what’s got us into trouble in the first place.
    We should be talking about the necessary energy descent and how we can make the landing as soft as possible.
    We can start by making friends with our neighbours, perhaps.

  19. 169
    Hank Roberts says:

    A note from people who are paying attention to what’s happening in the USA, and who are well worth giving some of your limited attention, particularly if your interest is in geoengineering

    —excerpt follows—-
    Ocean acidification in Alaska
    By Anne-Marin Nisumaa

    New findings show increased ocean acidification in Alaska waters

    The same things that make Alaska’s marine waters among the most productive in the world may also make them the most vulnerable to ocean acidification. According to new findings by a University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist, Alaska’s oceans are becoming increasingly acidic, which could damage Alaska’s king crab and salmon fisheries.

    This spring, chemical oceanographer Jeremy Mathis returned from a cruise armed with seawater samples collected from the depths of the Gulf of Alaska. When he tested the samples’ acidity in his lab, the results were higher than expected. They show that ocean acidification is likely more severe and is happening more rapidly in Alaska than in tropical waters. The results also matched his recent findings in the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

    “It seems like everywhere we look in Alaska’s coastal oceans, we see signs of increased ocean acidification,” said Mathis.
    —–end excerpt—-

    Says who?

    About this blog

    This blog was started in July 2006 as a “one man” effort. As from 2008, it is a product of EPOCA, the European Project on Ocean Acidification. Its only ambition is to centralize information available on ocean acidification and its consequences on marine organisms and ecosystem. By no means it is meant to be comprehensive but I am trying to provide an unbiased view of the literature and media articles. The owner of this blog does not endorse all the information published.

    This blog is presently coordinated by:

    Jean-Pierre Gattuso, CNRS Senior Research Scientist
    CNRS-University of Paris VI, France
    Email: — at the main link —

    —- end excerpts—

    except, thanks to them (click their link)

    I find the US is beginning to make a similar effort to reach the blog-reading public:

    The U.S. Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry (OCB) Project has launched the OCB Ocean Acidification web site.
    31 July 2009

  20. 170

    164 Hank Roberts,

    I did not mean to really retract my assertion. I was being rhetorical.

    I should have said that there was no serious proposal on this.

    It could only see the light of day in California where we seem to have lost all capability to educate ourselves.

    Of course we might get Mel Brooks to make a movie. Lets call it “Space Balls Power Company.”

  21. 171
    David B. Benson says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan (151) — Yes biochar is the result of pyrolysis of any biomass, the drier the better. When wood is the biomass, the result is often called charcoal. As Ray poins out, it can be done very lo-tech, but there are several companies making more modern pyrolysis units, including one mounted on a 13 m (40 ft) trailer to move to the source of the biomass. These modern units capture the pyrolysis oils. These oils can be used for heating as is or else readily refined into transportation fuels.

    Your trees and the invasive species along the Rio Grande will both make fine sources of biomass for pyrolysis. Wood usually needs to be cut and sun dried for some time before turning into charcoal.

  22. 172
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #160, well, some of us are on 100% wind power, like myself, so we’d like to have affordable EVs available on the market, so we can drive on the wind (hopefully the bird-kill problem will be solved soon). I was very disappointed in the 90s when I found out the auto companies only leased their EVs to Californians (and I couldn’t buy one), and totally horrified when they crushed them to smitherines.

    If I weren’t so busy with work and other commitments, I think I’d like to do as the FVEVA guys did — convert my own ICE to a purely EV. It’s not that difficult, they told me… There’s not fancy regenerative braking or anything, but creating a 30 mile range EV out of an old ICE is not that hard (30 miles is about 20 miles more than I drive in a day). Step One: You either buy an ICE car that has a blown engine, or one with a good engine, then sell the engine.

    So in about 4 yrs when I retire, I may do just that, convert an ICE into an EV, since I don’t think EVs will ever come to the Rio Grande Valley, where I live.

  23. 173
    Steve Fish says:

    Jim Bullis #160. I think that your statements to Lynn Vincentnathan and Patrick 027 are either very confusing or untrue. If you wish to inspire confidence in your statements, I think you will have to explain how much CO2 emissions would be reduced, relative to more conventional low drag coefficient autos that are in service and proposed, by your low drag car idea when the mean and median US car trip is less than 26 mph, and 75% of trips are less than 36 mph. It seems that you should be advocating bullet trains for long distance travel and EVs for everything else for the best overall CO2 emissions mix now, and for the best preparation for future renewable energy solutions.


  24. 174
    Eli Rabett says:

    Hank Roberts points to Pacific Gas and Electric agreeing to take power from a satellite beamed downward. The point is that PG&E does not pay a cent until the power is delivered. In other words, except for the lawyer who drew up the papers, this is no cost to them.

    This sort of idiocy pervades power companies and would be harmless except for how it distorts other’s thinking about energy and climate change. Electrical coops have agreed to take power from all sorts of strange guys with propeller beanies.

    But please explain Andy Revkin to Eli

  25. 175

    Nick Gotts #158:

    Even at the time, the potential pollution from blasting so many rockets through the atmosphere, and the unknown effects of beaming high-power microwaves back did give me pause.

    Yes, valid issues. Some tests have been done on the microwave/ionosphere issue, but of course nothing on the scale needed.

    Note that this is an issue with any technology that brings huge energy streams into the Earth system. Not so long ago on this blog someone asked about the effect of large wind turbine deployments on atmospheric wind currents. This should be weighed against what is going on now, the cumulative switching of ever greater natural energy streams by the greenhouse effect. There are orders of magnitude difference here.

    My concern at the time was the effect on radio astronomy, and the effect on the night sky of a ring of permanently brightly-lit satellites. But that’s just me ;-)

    Tell me, at the best, what is your estimate for how soon an O’Neill type approach could contribute significantly to our energy needs, and at what cost?

    Too long, if we start now. But technology has developed in the meantime, and I suspect that the space manufacturing part could be done in a way that doesn’t put a lot of humans in space.

    Has any serious work been done on this?

    Not that I know of.

  26. 176

    Nick Gotts #165: I am also very suspicious about this. It’s a 200 MW plant, meaning (at photovoltaics efficiency) a SQUARE KILOMETER of solar cells. That’s one big satellite… curse those confidential appendices. My feeling is, this beast isn’t even launchable at current technologies.

    NASA could possibly pull this off — at Apollo-level funding. A private company? No way.

  27. 177
    Hugh Laue says:

    David B Benson 170 .
    “more modern pyrolysis units, including one mounted on a 13 m (40 ft) trailer to move to the source of the biomass”
    Is that the technology being touted by a Canadian company in BC? If so, it’s probably the technology that was invented in South Africa. Big cost is transport – getting the biomass to the carboniser, so mobile units do have potential but other infrastucture also needed – e.g. chippers and storage for drying. Miosture content needs to be less than 30% for the South African continous process to be self-sustaining once running. That is, to not need any additional energy input other than a small amount required to drive a circulating fan and a hydraulic ram (to push drums of bio-mass through the carboniser. Potential for exploiting the excess energy in the off-gases that are presently just burnt. Exceptionally high yields – >45% mass/mass based on pine with about 25% moisture. Very high quality charcoal. Presently made into briquettes for leisure market.

  28. 178
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yes, the PG&E thing has a lot of us in their area scratching our heads — point is you should know about this kind of thing, and it’s easy to find these things out — when discussing the subject.

    Our memory only works backward from the moment we last learned something relevant to the topic. Looking things up each time vastly improves what we know about.

    As to PG&E, and whatever else turns up on the public record, you always have to keep in mind that _some_ of this stuff is sock puppets.

    Example: Look up the Glomar Explorer — built under a cover story that it was going to be used to harvest manganese nodules from the deep ocean. That set off the international effort to deal with technology owned by a single nation that could take resources from outside the national boundaries, operating in places no other nation could reach. The USA has now, decades later, gotten interested in actually signing the resulting Law of the Sea Treaty — because the Russians have access to the Arctic basin now that it’s melting. But the Law of the Sea Treaty was an accidental consequence of the manganese nodule cover story, which was just made up to explain building the ship, and never intended to actually lead to anything of the sort.

    Build a huge solar array in space, something vastly larger than the panels on the ISS that the astronauts have struggled for almost a decade to bring up to full operating spec and only finally managed a year so ago??

    Well, what could they be thinking?

    What could you do with any of the different components that might get funded, ostensibly to create such a system? Like the launchers. Like the real estate. Like the huge ground antenna system. Like the solar panels. Like the transmitter meant to be orbited? Now, what _else_ could you do with any of those, if you didn’t care about the waste involved in throwing the rest away?

    Do read up on the Glomar Explorer, it’s easy enough to find nowadays.

    Then think again about geoengineering. What could they be thinking.
    No, what _else_ could they be thinking ….?

    Who knows — you saw the reports about asymmetric aurora confirming the idea of a global electrical flow? Remember Nikola Tesla wrote about that?

    All I’m saying here is — don’t get hung up on the facts you know.
    Look the subject up, go beyond assuming what Google shows you is all there is. Then think about it.

    Reality is what, when you quit believing in it, doesn’t go away (P.K. Dick)
    Also, reality doesn’t go away whether you imagine it, believe it, or not.

    Just — keep looking things up before proclaiming what you know, eh?
    We’ll move faster if we all keep looking _outside_ our own limited memories.

  29. 179
    Patrick 027 says:

    PS part of the logic for repacing some petroleum with solar power is monetary. I think there are actually monetary savings to be made now (even without a cap/tax/tariff/trade/credit/subsidy policy, or further progress in technology) if the fossil fuels replaced by solar power include a sufficient fraction of oil – even though this will result in a smaller decrease in CO2 emissions, it will still be a decrease, and thus better than doing nothing, and really does not get in the way of still bringing CO2 emissions down to zero eventually.

  30. 180
  31. 181

    173 Steve Fish,

    Conventional “low drag coefficient autos” have drag coefficients of .25 or more. The airship shape I advocate has a well established drag coefficient of .05. That is a big difference. Then we get another factor of two since my approach involves tandem seating which cuts the frontal area by about a half. This does not matter much under 26 mph.

    However, the number of miles traveled as a function of speed is a very different statistic from the speed of the “average trip.” Your average trip is also not a big energy using event, nor is it a big CO2 producer.

    I am more interested in the kind of travel that makes transportation a large part of man-made CO2 emissions in the USA; about 40% according to the EIA Annual Energy report. Automobiles and SUVs (light trucks) make up about 64% of this. The “urban driving cycle” has quite a few miles at higher speeds than 26 mph. The highway cycle is way faster.

    For those that drive under 26 mph, don’t worry.

    172 Lynn Vincentnathan,

    Electric power is fine under 26 mph.

    But being 100% on wind power is a bit mystifying. Do you have a wind turbine of your own? If so, you would do better for CO2 to sell the power to the grid than use it to charge an electric car, especially if it does not have regenerative braking.

    I hope you are not being tricked by the utility game of getting people to pay for wind machines on the pretense that they will be delivered only wind power. Analyze this by thinking about where the power will go if you do not use it in an electric car. Then consider how things will change if you buy an EV. No, the wind turbine will produce at its best regardless of what you do. Your EV will get power by action of the utility to fill that load in the cheapest possible way.

    When you realize that coal will be the most probable fuel used, it will then be clear that the EV has to be well designed to avoid making a real mess of things. Even with natural gas as the fuel, if the EV does not have regenerative braking, the net CO2 due to operation of that EV will be about the same as if an ICE was used to push the car.

  32. 182
    David B. Benson says:

    Hugh Laue (177) — The one I was thinking of is from a small company in Ontario. I’ve also seen adverts for skid mounted pyrolysis units from a company in Colorado; that should also work as a mobile by lifting the unit onto a large trailer.

    Rather related is an op-ed in today’s TNYT proposing vertical farms; 3 to 5 story buildings devoted entirely to farming. Doing that just to grow biomass for biochar might not be economic yet, but seriously decreases the land area required. I estimate over 50 tC/ha/yr and the advantage of a fixed pyrolysis unit on the ground floor.

  33. 183
    Patrick 027 says:

    Jim Bullis – I appreciate that a coal electric powered EV could emit CO2 than an ICE, but there may yet be an advantage if it is easier to replace fossil fuel usage in power plants than in mobile usage. (PS if a car gets better mpg because the engine itself is more efficient at converting fuel energy to mechanical energy, than great; however, increasing the efficiency by decreasing drag at a given speed (air and rolling resistance), that would reduce emissions whether it is an EV, PHEV, HEV, or ICE vehicle, and thus by itself would not make ICE better in comparison. I appreciate that, if an HEV uses an ICE to generate electric power which is sent to individual motors for each wheel to reduce transmission losses (if the mechanical to electrical to mechanical energy conversion is more efficient than the mechanical to mechanical … etc.), and also utilizes regenerative breaking, then it can’t be said that running the same car on grid electricity would increase efficiency, and might perhaps decrease fuel efficiency, depending on the ICE and the power plant considered, and the losses from conversion of electricity back to stored energy. However, there are also indirect energy uses to consider – there is the issue of electrical storage, but also the advantage of reduced maintenance costs with electric cars…)


    “I hope you are not being tricked by the utility game of getting people to pay for wind machines on the pretense that they will be delivered only wind power. ”

    This doesn’t make much sense. If you are being charged for wind power, then you are responsible for wind power – your price signal supports wind power; you are making it happen – it doesn’t matter whether your charge*voltage is from the wind turbines or not, the fact will be that you are paying for power from wind turbines and those wind turbines are producing power in the amount you use, or some fraction thereof depending on the rate you pay (or the other way around) if the payment system is set up right – Now, of course a utility could try to cheat a customer, but that could happen with anything – it’s not particular to the issue.

    If the utility uses a real time pricing system, then electrical prices will rise when demand goes up in proportion to capacity of controllable power sources plus the power supply of unstored wind and solar power, etc., and I appreciate that this sends a price signal to the market that encourages greater investment in power sources that more closely meet temporal patterns in demand or are available when unstored wind and solar, etc, tend not to be. If you are paying for a mix of energy that is x % wind and solar at all times, you would have to pay an extremely high price when the sum of wind and solar supplies is low to offset the effect of real time pricing so as to prevent investment in or encourage removal of non wind and non solar, etc, to meet energy needs at those times (although there would be a partial effect from paying a lower rate still above the rate for the average energy mix, and also, higher prices at those times are also a market signal for investment in energy storage as well as well as changing usage patterns for those things that can be changed easily – and these processes will reduce the costs necessary to get a given percentage of power from wind and solar at those times). However, you could pay for x % wind and solar in total, which might involve a high percentage of fossil fuels, nuclear, geothermal, hydroelectric, biofuel power during cloudy calm cold days and calm cold nights in winter, but perhaps a very high percentage – of solar on a clear summer midday (even when everyone’s air conditioner is running). For example, If I payed the cost for installing and running a solar power system and it’s associated transmission costs, etc, minus the costs of fossil fuel electricity that is replaced (which depends on the time of day solar power is used), plus the rate for the remaining portion of non-solar electricity that I used, I would be responsible for the supply of solar power, however distributed in time, in addition to my remaining responsibility for other power sources, reduced in proportion to their reduction.

    Bottom line: If someone uses a PHEV or EV and plug it in at certain times of the day, the person uses more of the energy available at those times (PS some might be during the day while at a job if the infrastructure is there to support it), but there is also a non-usage of oil. If the monetary savings are used to buy solar electricity during the day, etc, and wind, etc, then some other fossil fuels may be displaced. At first, the displacement may be largely natural gas, as the total fossil fuel usage is reduced mainly in the daytime, but as solar power increases to provide more and more of daytime power, then more natural gas, and biofuels, and less coal, might be used at night (the baseload power plant capacity would be reduced).

  34. 184

    183 Patrick 027

    I am working to understand your last sentence that makes a connection between natural gas saved in the daytime with the irrational (my characterization) market choices you say “might” happen at night.

    I am unaware of a “real time pricing system.” I think that pricing is set by Public Utility Commissions on fairly simple schedules which then leave actual operations to the Utility Companies which try to operate profitably. The Commissions impose political values which might or might not make sense.

    The rest of your discussion seems to not relate to the idea of “marginal response” or as I call it, ‘incremental response.’

    When you say, “When you are charged for wind power you are responsible for wind power,” I have to object to your logic. You are charged for power and that is that. If they tell you that you are paying specifically for wind power, that is only a marketing fantasy. I prove this logically by noting that the wind power, once the system is constructed, is produced regardless of what you do. (They do not put electrons in a pile with your name on it waiting for you to plug in a car.) I try to suggest that any action you take to help produce electricity is fine, but it is a separate action from how you buy power.

  35. 185


    Be aware that Jim Bullis is pushing a particular solution involving the products his company makes. He denigrates and argues against any other energy source or solution at all. His arguments seem to make sense until you analyze them closely. But he’s entirely agenda-driven.

  36. 186

    > Not that I know of.

    Qualifying that: depends on what you mean by “serious”. Surely you’ve noticed the writing going on about “space elevators” made from nanotubes. That’s yet another path for cheap access to space — if it can be made to work. “Serious”? You tell me.

  37. 187
    Nick Gotts says:

    Hank Fox@178,

    Your point about the Glomar Challenger is well taken. It did occur to me after writing #166 that this could be a cover for some space-based weapons system. What did you mean about the asymmetric aurora? Interesting in itself, but what’s the relevance here?

  38. 188
    Nick Gotts says:

    Martin Vermeer@186,

    I guess by “serious” in this context I mean using existing or near-term technology, with at least some attempt at calculating time and costs, and without the assumption that everything will go right (because it won’t). So space elevators – no.

  39. 189
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 185 Barton – Thanks

    Re 184 Jim Bullis:

    “I am working to understand your last sentence”

    In that part, I was considering what happens on the system-wide level as more solar and wind capacity are added, with the reasonable expectation that the temporal fluctuations of wind + solar will be dominated by solar supply variations (but wind can/will reduce the fluctuation overall).

    Right now, so far as I know, the greatest electrical energy demand occurs on hot summer days, though there may be a secondary peak demand at times during the winter, and this could change with a switch to electrical heat pumps and various efficiency measures that have seasonally-dependent effects, etc. (Anticipating secondary or primary peaks in demand on cold winter nights (electrical heat pumps) and winter mornings and especially evenings (lighting)).

    Because of the greater expense of electricity when there is peak demand, consumers are encouraged to make greater usage of baseload power at lower demand times, for example, by producing ice at night for daytime cooling. With increased reliance on solar power, such adaptations would become obsolete, but other adaptations would become useful.

    Solar power will initially benifit by generally replacing more expensive electricity from peak power plants run on natural gas. The effect on baseload coal power plants may be small, so the CO2 reduction will be less than what it could otherwise be. However, planning for a future where solar will provide a large fraction of daytime power, it could be better to keep peak plant capacity online, because eventually, on the more sunny days, there would be no peak plant output left to replace, so that baseload power would be replaced. Eventually fossil fuel baseload plant capacity would be reduced while peaking plants could get greater use at night than the daytime. Of course, rather than keeping current natural gas plant capacity, this could be replaced by CAES storage and solar/wind powered hydrogen fuel cell, variable hydroelectric and peaking geothermal, and biofuels (algae, native grasses and wildflowers, used coffee grounds and paper plates and napkins, banana peels, crop residues and spoiled/damaged crops, sewage, sawdust, etc.).

    Adding a tax on CO2 into the mix would make removal of coal power come sooner than otherwise, etc.

  40. 190
    Patrick 027 says:

    “For example, If I payed the cost for installing and running a solar power system and it’s associated transmission costs, etc, minus the costs of fossil fuel electricity that is replaced (which depends on the time of day solar power is used), plus the rate for the remaining portion of non-solar electricity that I used, I would be responsible for the supply of solar power, however distributed in time, in addition to my remaining responsibility for other power sources, reduced in proportion to their reduction.”

    Or maybe the math is a bit more complex…

    But what you (Jim Bullis) wrote: “noting that the wind power, once the system is constructed, is produced regardless of what you do. (They do not put electrons in a pile with your name on it waiting for you to plug in a car.)”

    Agreed in an intantaneous sense, but if more people are willing to pay for wind, then the utility has an incentive to supply more wind power, assuming they are not cheating, which is a general issue not specific to to whether one can have responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions via paying for electricity from a different supply. Consider the sentence that came right after that:

    “I try to suggest that any action you take to help produce electricity is fine, but it is a separate action from how you buy power.”

    So consider instead a situation where instead of paying extra for wind power through the utility, you pay extra directly for wind power. Maybe it is not the power you use, but you did it – you contributed to the effort to displace some other energy source with wind. Thus you have done something to reduce CO2 emissions assuming you did not just replace solar, etc. (Ultimately we do need policies to drive the overall swictch, not just isolated voluntary actions). If that is the same CO2 emitted for supplying the electrons you used, than you’ve basically offset your emissions. Yes, there is the complexity that if enough people do this, you can no longer benifit from the grid as a storage mechanism, so there is some adjustment to be made in how much you can claim to have offset your own emissions, but, if your isolated action reduced CO2 emissions by some amount, maybe it is not all of your emissions but the emissions of some other people as well – it is a gift to others to reduce their emissions that you can still claim as your own action and responsibility; if one wanted to forgo this charity, you would only have chosen to pay for as much wind power capacity such that the wind supply from that capacity would never exceed at any moment in time your own energy usage. Still, there is room for some averaging – your average daily and seasonal usage pattern is appropriate, because when many people do the same thing, their aggregate power usage per person will be such an average, not so sensitive to the spikes and dips of individual actions such as flipping a single light swictch or deciding to use the microwave at a different time of day; furthermore, your indirect energy usage such as through the goods and services you buy likewise should be considered to vary over time with the the usage of the industries involved, because, as with electrons, individual goods (less so for services, but the logic for personal use averaging for an average day, average season for the given weather conditions (not the average weather conditions over time, because those affect everyone at the same time – some averaging over space is allowed depending on transmission distances, etc.) would still apply) are not generally produced with your name on it – and even if they were, the same logic applies as for personal usage. And so on for your use at your job (minus that portion which is the responsibility of the consumers and stock holders/owners, etc, unless you are the owner, of course (it would be distributed according to how wages and profits are distributed, etc.).

  41. 191
    Hank Roberts says:

    > asymmetric aurora

    “… The asymmetry is interpreted in terms of inter-hemispheric currents related to seasons, which have been predicted5, 6 but hitherto had not been seen….”

    Add to that:

    “….Cummer … online August 23 in the journal Nature Geoscience.
    … caught a one-second view and magnetic field measurements
    …. visible electric discharges extending from the top of a storm to the edge of the ionosphere provides an important new window on processes in Earth’s global electrical circuit ….

    Just saying, adding a lot of sulfate to the large-scale geoengineering changes in the atmosphere already done (CO2, persistent organic and inorganic new chemicals), while we’re still finding out such astonishing things about massive global energy flows in the upper atmosphere, seems premature.

    And, hey, what if Tesla was right and a tiny fraction of those energy flows could indeed be tapped?

    Maybe all you’d need is a huge antenna array in space, and the current grid on the ground, and an electrical potential difference between them, and a conductor between them like a space elevator tether or even a laser ionization channel, and …. hmmmm ….

  42. 192

    144 Hank Roberts,

    Looking stuff up can be useful, as with uncovering the PGE proof of incompetence.

    However, flopping back and forth between low earth orbit and geosync for any dopey “powersat” con game needs some fundamental understanding of orbits which can come from reading a bunch of stuff, or listening to someone who actually has read it, used it for years in designing systems and still(mostly) remembers it, like myself and apparently Doug Bostrom.

    Simply put, low earth orbit systems require a constellation of many (20 to 100 up) to provide the same coverage as can be accomplished with 2 or 3 geosynch vehicles. The penalty for geosync is launch cost, along with vehicle size and complexity. Relative to the size of the vehicle a large area of solar cells is required, proportionately, just to keep the vehicle going. It is truly mind blowing nonsense to think of carrying enough solar cells to actually have enough power left to overcome transmission losses and still do anything meaningful. Fire up an LED light for $10 Billion? — that would be some proof of concept.

    187 Nick Gotts,
    Nope, a cover story has to have some semblence of credibility. When slightly knowledgeable people fall off their chairs laughing, that is not a sign of a good cover story.

  43. 193

    185Barton Paul Levenson says:
    25 August 2009 at 5:24 AM

    “Be aware that Jim Bullis is pushing a particular solution involving the products his company makes. He denigrates and argues against any other energy source or solution at all. His arguments seem to make sense until you analyze them closely. But he’s entirely agenda-driven.”

    Holy baloney Barton Paul Levinson, these are rough charges. Do I have a right to remain silent? Well, forget that — silence is not my style. I plead, one at a time:

    Miastrada Company has not made anything except some special parts in order to check out some manufacturing questions. It has gathered parts in preparation for building an experimental model car.

    There has not been a nickel of profit. Some money has been spent on patent filing fees (losses so far, that can be tax deductions)

    I presently have several solutions that could make major sense in reducing CO2 by a very large amount. These are:
    (1) a high efficiency vehicle that will enable fast, safe, and comfortable transportation as we have come to expect it. It would replace cars as we know them, so cost would be minimal. Overall a aerodynamic drag coefficient of about .07 looks reasonable to expect, based on extensive wind tunnel data that is well documented and available to all. (start at and look at the Freeman paper.) I found a way to use the well known airship in a road capable arrangement with wheels that do not cause much additional drag, which is the only new thing I claim.
    (2) a power generating concept using specifically these cars or others of similar efficiency in a distributed system that stops the present practice of throwing away heat from heat engines in power plants.
    (3) a gravity defeating hybrid wheel concept that makes trucks as efficient as trains by mostly eliminating rolling resistance of tires on roads. No, it does not cancel gravity; it just cuts Cr (rolling resistance coefficient) by about 90%

    Together, these things are my agenda GUILTY AS CHARGED. But by the way, if they were adopted on a large scale about half of the man made CO2 in the USA would be stopped.

    Since I think there are some real answers I am impatient with fools that get in the way. The problem is that getting people to adopt real solutions is monumentally difficult, even if they are well grounded in basic physics principles. The list of nonsensical proposals gobbling up cash is endless. All of these that are false hopes make it easy for people to do their business as usual without making a slightest attempt to even consider changing simple ways of doing things. (Like riding in tandem in a car instead of side by side.)

    So please lay out the “closely analyzed” facts that you assert that you know. I will try to be nice.

  44. 194

    185 Barton Paul Levenson,

    Wasn’t that a blanket condemnation? Where can I find the analysis you mentioned?

  45. 195

    I was not able to pull down the controversial report — An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming, by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. The file is corrupted.

  46. 196
    Mark says:

    Jim, 193, your post does nothing to counter the accusation. That you have made no profit doesn’t mean you are not panhandling now. In fact, it bolsters it.

    That you dismiss with no support anything against your ideas (which you are selling) and make up really weird and unsupported stuff like “electric cars are OK until 27mph” (WTF? Where did THAT come from???) also boslters BPL’s case and hammers yours.

    OR would you like to, you know, argue your case with supported statements instead of unsupported ones.

    Start with that 27mph thing.

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    John Burgeson said he can’t find the file.
    The link at the host site has been changed.

    See response 80 (for prior report of the problem)
    and response 85 (for how to find the file):

  48. 198

    That 27 mph was a bit of a leap. Ok. Simple answer for constant speeds: For a given drag coefficient and frontal area the power required due to aerodynamic drag goes up as velocity cubed. Force is Cd x A x rho x vel squared /2. rho is air mass density. Energy needed is force times distance. Power is rate of energy delivered so it ends up Power is Cd x A x rho x vel cubed /2. Cd for the latest Prius is said to be .25 and the frontal area is about 30 sq ft. I use 120 feet per sec (82 mph) for my basic planning so, this works out to 109 lb. at that speed, and it would be about 27 lb. at 41 mph.

    For the other big part of the problem, rolling resistance force is Crr x total vehicle weight so energy for a trip is distance times that force. Crr for rubber tires is .01 and weight is about 3000 lb. so that force works out to be about 30 lb. approximately at any speed, 26, 41 or 82 mph.

    At 82 mph drag forces are large but at 26 mph we are down to quite a small drag force that is mostly due to rolling resistance, so you achieve about the lowest energy use possible for a given trip by going this 26 mph speed.

    My premise is that using the least possible energy is the best course of action. Since that is accomplished by limiting speed, my concept will do nothing for those driving at that speed and nothing for the environment. Most folks want to drive a lot faster, so that is my main interest.

    Because the electric motor will be powered from coal it is still not a great thing, but since it is using a relatively small amount of energy, the importance of that fact is much diminished. If regenerative braking was not well implemented in the plug-in car, the environment might be a lot better off if the trip was made in a Prius; otherwise about the same. However, it does not make much sense to spend that much money to buy that more complicated machine when the actual amount of energy up for saving is so low.

    Where did I get the part about the Prius? See the coal fired CO2 result in the NRDC-EPI study of about two years ago. You can get it at my website.

    So do you suppose this addresses the analysis that BPL was thinking about? I think he was mostly just lecturing me for being critical. I can not understand why an agenda focused on cutting CO2 would be a problem for anyone at this Realclimate site.

    I think I described my motivations. You can call it panhandling if you like, but actually, I am not soliciting anything except discussion. Doesn’t panhandling mean begging for something like money?

    Maybe I am more looking to open people’s minds to new possibilities, and at the same time trying to counter alternate actions that will fail at cutting CO2 and wear out public interest in the subject.

  49. 199
    Patrick 027 says:

    Jim Bullis –

    For me, it’s not that I am against your solutions (though getting people in many countries to accept 30 mph speed limit seems implausable for long distance highway travel, at least as much as getting people to pay more for an EV/PHEV with regenerative breaking, etc., especially if for the EV there is some payback in reduced maintenance costs as well as other paybacks).

    It’s that your criticisms of some other idea(s) (such as what I discuss – I lean ‘your way’ with the space-based power solutions but I’m not studying that idea in detail so my opinion there shouldn’t count for a lot) seem a bit off the mark.

    Do you understand the point I made about how you can be responsible for reducing CO2 consumption by paying for wind power even if it is not the same electrons that you yourself use (or that were used at the specific hour of the day that a particular industry was producing the particular unit of __ which you purchased, etc.)? And also the economic point, that savings from a switch a way from petroleum could help boost solar power and put us on the right track (or closer to it) even if the direct petroleum usage is replaced in large part by coal electricity in the short term (and of course, relying on individuals to use the savings in that way will not take us as far as we need – I support policies to get us there, of course)?

  50. 200

    199 Patrick 027

    We really missed the right number on speed. I am promoting only fast cars where basic design speed is 82 MPH. I look for yet faster speeds made possible by a highly efficient aerodynamic configuration.

    I was talking about 27 MPH or something like that as a crossover point below which aerodynamics did not matter very much. For people who make mostly short trips this might be a reasonable choice given the whole issue of accomplishing the most for the money.

    As to criticizing things that are damaging distractions, that seems necessary if we are trying to do more than talk about global warming solutions.

    As to buying wind power; I think I understand what you are saying but continue to disagree. Yes, I tend to get a little annoyed with the wind thing, having lived through the history of wind power from the past. Yes, scaling up might make a valid difference, but the real numbers continue to suggest that this is another government subsidy goldrush. I particularly object to draining public money supply for poorly considered ventures when there seem to be some other things that need to be done.

    So “buying wind power” seems to me to be simply financing of wind projects. What you own in return for your invested money is a right to receive something of value which is electricity. If you feel good about financing wind power, great. How will the wind generators be used?; to generate power whenever it can be done. Since fuel cost is zero, there will be no holding back when the wind blows. This will go on no matter what you do about using electricity. If they tell you that you are using wind power, they are deceiving you; they are of course happy that you invested and even happier that you are willing to accept so little for your investment.

    Now, when you plug in an EV there will be an added load. Various adjustments will be made to handle this, starting with some field adjustments in the generator followed with increasing fuel flow where it can be done, and then bringing on a peaking generator system. Maybe that is all that will happen the first night. However, the second night they will be expecting your load so there will be a little more coal fired power on line in anticipation, so not so much of the more expensive natural gas will be required. But more certain than anything, they simply will not be able to fill the load with added wind power; that is already fully utilized at whatever level the wind allows. Your EV decision should be a separate decision based on what happens if you plug one in; not some power company financing chicanery. Is this too harsh to call this a con game?