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An open letter to Steve Levitt

Filed under: — raypierre @ 29 October 2009

Dear Mr. Levitt,

The problem of global warming is so big that solving it will require creative thinking from many disciplines. Economists have much to contribute to this effort, particularly with regard to the question of how various means of putting a price on carbon emissions may alter human behavior. Some of the lines of thinking in your first book, Freakonomics, could well have had a bearing on this issue, if brought to bear on the carbon emissions problem. I have very much enjoyed and benefited from the growing collaborations between Geosciences and the Economics department here at the University of Chicago, and had hoped someday to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance. It is more in disappointment than anger that I am writing to you now.

I am addressing this to you rather than your journalist-coauthor because one has become all too accustomed to tendentious screeds from media personalities (think Glenn Beck) with a reckless disregard for the truth. However, if it has come to pass that we can’t expect the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor (and Clark Medalist to boot) at a top-rated department of a respected university to think clearly and honestly with numbers, we are indeed in a sad way.

By now there have been many detailed dissections of everything that is wrong with the treatment of climate in Superfreakonomics , but what has been lost amidst all that extensive discussion is how really simple it would have been to get this stuff right. The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them. The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking needed to see if what they were saying (or what you thought they were saying) in fact made any sense. If you were stupid, it wouldn’t be so bad to have messed up such elementary reasoning, but I don’t by any means think you are stupid. That makes the failure to do the thinking all the more disappointing. I will take Nathan Myhrvold’s claim about solar cells, which you quoted prominently in your book, as an example.

As quoted by you, Mr. Myhrvold claimed, in effect, that it was pointless to try to solve global warming by building solar cells, because they are black and absorb all the solar energy that hits them, but convert only some 12% to electricity while radiating the rest as heat, warming the planet. Now, maybe you were dazzled by Mr Myhrvold’s brilliance, but don’t we try to teach our students to think for themselves? Let’s go through the arithmetic step by step and see how it comes out. It’s not hard.

Let’s do the thought experiment of building a solar array to generate the entire world’s present electricity consumption, and see what the extra absorption of sunlight by the array does to climate. First we need to find the electricity consumption. Just do a Google search on “World electricity consumption” and here you are:


Now, that’s the total electric energy consumed during the year, and you can turn that into the rate of energy consumption (measured in Watts, just like the world was one big light bulb) by dividing kilowatt hours by the number of hours in a year, and multiplying by 1000 to convert kilowatts into watts. The answer is two trillion Watts, in round numbers. How much area of solar cells do you need to generate this? On average, about 200 Watts falls on each square meter of Earth’s surface, but you might preferentially put your cells in sunnier, clearer places, so let’s call it 250 Watts per square meter. With a 15% efficiency, which is middling for present technology the area you need is

2 trillion Watts/(.15 X 250. Watts per square meter)

or 53,333 square kilometers. That’s a square 231 kilometers on a side, or about the size of a single cell of a typical general circulation model grid box. If we put it on the globe, it looks like this:


So already you should be beginning to suspect that this is a pretty trivial part of the Earth’s surface, and maybe unlikely to have much of an effect on the overall absorbed sunlight. In fact, it’s only 0.01% of the Earth’s surface. The numbers I used to do this calculation can all be found in Wikipedia, or even in a good paperbound World Almanac.

But we should go further, and look at the actual amount of extra solar energy absorbed. As many reviewers of Superfreakonomics have noted, solar cells aren’t actually black, but that’s not the main issue. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume they absorb all the sunlight that falls on them. In my business, we call that “zero albedo” (i.e. zero reflectivity). As many commentators also noted, the albedo of real solar cells is no lower than materials like roofs that they are often placed on, so that solar cells don’t necessarily increase absorbed solar energy at all. Let’s ignore that, though. After all, you might want to put your solar cells in the desert, and you might try to cool the planet by painting your roof white. The albedo of desert sand can also be found easily by doing a Google search on “Albedo Sahara Desert,” for example. Here’s what you get:


So, let’s say that sand has a 50% albedo. That means that each square meter of black solar cell absorbs an extra 125 Watts that otherwise would have been reflected by the sand (i.e. 50% of the 250 Watts per square meter of sunlight). Multiplying by the area of solar cell, we get 6.66 trillion Watts.

That 6.66 trillion Watts is the “waste heat” that is a byproduct of generating electricity by using solar cells. All means of generating electricity involve waste heat, and fossil fuels are not an exception. A typical coal-fired power plant only is around 33% efficient, so you would need to release 6 trillion Watts of heat to burn the coal to make our 2 trillion Watts of electricity. That makes the waste heat of solar cells vs. coal basically a wash, and we could stop right there, but let’s continue our exercise in thinking with numbers anyway.

Wherever it comes from, waste heat is not usually taken into account in global climate calculations for the simple reason that it is utterly trivial in comparison to the heat trapped by the carbon dioxide that is released when you burn fossil fuels to supply energy. For example, that 6 trillion Watts of waste heat from coal burning would amount to only 0.012 Watts per square meter of the Earth’s surface. Without even thinking very hard, you can realize that this is a tiny number compared to the heat-trapping effect of CO2. As a general point of reference, the extra heat trapped by CO2 at the point where you’ve burned enough coal to double the atmospheric CO2 concentration is about 4 Watts per square meter of the Earth’s surface — over 300 times the effect of the waste heat.

The “4 Watts per square meter” statistic gives us an easy point of reference because it is available from any number of easily accessible sources, such as the IPCC Technical Summary or David Archer’s basic textbook that came out of our “Global Warming for Poets” core course. Another simple way to grasp the insignificance of the waste heat effect is to turn it into a temperature change using the standard climate sensitivity of 1 degree C of warming for each 2 Watts per square meter of heat added to the energy budget of the planet (this sensitivity factor also being readily available from sources like the ones I just pointed out). That gives us a warming of 0.006 degrees C for the waste heat from coal burning, and much less for the incremental heat from switching to solar cells. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize that this is a trivial number compared to the magnitude of warming expected from a doubling of CO2.

With just a little more calculation, it’s possible to do a more precise and informative comparison. For coal-fired generation,each kilowatt-hour produced results in emissions of about a quarter kilogram of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. For our 16.83 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity produced each year, we then would emit 4.2 trillion kilograms of carbon, i.e. 4.2 gigatonnes each year. Unlike energy, carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, and builds up year after year. It is only slowly removed by absorption into the ocean, over hundreds to thousands of years. After a hundred years, 420 gigatonnes will have been emitted, and if half that remains in the atmosphere (remember, rough estimates suffice to make the point here) the atmospheric stock of CO2 carbon will increase by 210 gigatonnes, or 30% of the pre-industrial atmospheric stock of about 700 gigatonnes of carbon. To get the heat trapped by CO2 from that amount of increase, we need to reach all the way back into middle-school math and use the awesome tool of logarithms; the number is

(4 Watts per square meter) X log2(1.3)

or 1.5 Watts per square meter. In other words, by the time a hundred years have passed, the heat trapped each year from the CO2 emitted by using coal instead of solar energy to produce electricity is 125 times the effect of the fossil fuel waste heat. And remember that the incremental waste heat from switching to solar cells is even smaller than the fossil fuel waste heat. What’s more, because each passing year sees more CO2 accumulate in the atmosphere, the heat trapping by CO2 continues to go up, while the effect of the waste heat from the fossil fuels or solar cells needed to produce a given amount of electricity stays fixed. Another way of putting it is that the climate effect from the waste heat produced by any kind of power plant is a one-off thing that you incur when you build the plant, whereas the warming effect of the CO2 produced by fossil fuel plants continues to accumulate year after year. The warming effect of the CO2 is a legacy that will continue for many centuries after the coal has run out and the ruins of the power plant are moldering away.

Note that you don’t actually have to wait a hundred years to see the benefit of switching to solar cells. The same arithmetic shows that even at the end of the very first year of operation, the CO2 emissions prevented by the solar array would have trapped 0.017 Watts per square meter if released into the atmosphere. So, at the end of the first year you already come out ahead even if you neglect the waste heat that would have been emitted by burning fossil fuels instead.

So, the bottom line here is that the heat-trapping effect of CO2 is the 800-pound gorilla in climate change. In comparison, waste heat is a trivial contribution to global warming whether the waste heat comes from solar cells or from fossil fuels. Moreover, the incremental waste heat from switching from coal to solar is an even more trivial number, even if you allow for some improvement in the efficiency of coal-fired power plants and ignore any possible improvements in the efficiency of solar cells. So: trivial,trivial trivial. Simple, isn’t it?

By the way, the issue of whether waste heat is an important factor in global warming is one of the questions most commonly asked by students who are first learning about energy budgets and climate change. So, there are no shortage of places where you can learn about this sort of thing. For example, a simple Google search on the words “Global Warming Waste Heat” turns up several pages of accurate references explaining the issue in elementary terms for beginners. Including this article from Wikipedia:


A more substantive (though in the end almost equally trivial) issue is the carbon emitted in the course of manufacturing solar cells, but that is not the matter at hand here. The point here is that really simple arithmetic, which you could not be bothered to do, would have been enough to tell you that the claim that the blackness of solar cells makes solar energy pointless is complete and utter nonsense. I don’t think you would have accepted such laziness and sloppiness in a term paper from one of your students, so why do you accept it from yourself? What does the failure to do such basic thinking with numbers say about the extent to which anything you write can be trusted? How do you think it reflects on the profession of economics when a member of that profession — somebody who that profession seems to esteem highly — publicly and noisily shows that he cannot be bothered to do simple arithmetic and elementary background reading? Not even for a subject of such paramount importance as global warming.

And it’s not as if the “black solar cell” gaffe was the only bit of academic malpractice in your book: among other things, the presentation of aerosol geoengineering as a harmless and cheap quick fix for global warming ignored a great deal of accessible and readily available material on the severe risks involved, as Gavin noted in his recent post. The fault here is not that you dared to advocate geoengineering as a solution. There is a broad spectrum of opinion among scientists about the amount of aerosol geoengineering research that is justified, but very few scientists think of it as anything but a desperate last-ditch attempt, or at best a strategy to be used in extreme moderation as part of a basket of strategies dominated by emissions reductions. You owed it to your readers to present a fair picture of the consequences of geoengineering, but chose not to do so.

May I suggest that if you should happen to need some friendly help next time you take on the topic of climate change, or would like to have a chat about why aerosol geoengineering might not be a cure-all, or just need a critical but informed opponent to bounce ideas off of, you don’t have to go very far. For example…


But given the way Superfreakonomics mangled Ken Caldeira’s rather nuanced views on geoengineering, let’s keep it off the record, eh?

Your colleague,

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago

807 Responses to “An open letter to Steve Levitt”

  1. 751

    750 Ike Solem,

    I continue efforts to point out pitfalls for the world running on electric cars. Just as a simple correction, it is not true that electric cars use less energy than internal combustion powered cars. Proof: Check either the plug-in Fisker or the plug-in Hummer. see for example


    (Both use the same 260 hp engine for operation when the batteries run dry.) Then compare with the Prius. End Proof. Expect that when the public discovers they can have huge cars just by using plugs they will demand such with great enthusiasm. GM for one is moving hard in this direction. The plug-in Yukon is getting ready.

    The other area is that of the so called “smart” grid. Think about mine-mouth coal fired power plants and how they might work with the same efficient grid thought to be in the works to bring wind to where it is needed. Every other central power plant will be hooked to this grid so it will perpetuate that whole system of heat wasting power plants, place where the heat can not possibly be used.

  2. 752
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Jim Bullis – “Joe Romm is on record with his insistence that an electric motor is more efficient than an internal combustion engine, and I am on record with insistence that the two kinds of efficiency can not be compared, and in fact, the heat engine making the electricity has to be included in any efficiency claim for a plug-in car.”


    But Hank Robert’s point above might somewhat counteract your point about the more efficient internal combustion engines (or turbines or whatever mechanical heat engines that vehicles might use) becoming available.


    A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030
    Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi
    Scientific American, November 2009

    “The agency [EIA] projects that in 2030 the world will require 16.9 TW of power,”…”with about 2.8 TW in the U.S. The mix of sources is similar to today’s,”…”If, however, the planet were powered entirely by WWS [solar, wind, wave, hydro, tidal, geothermal]”…”an intriguing savings would occur. Global power demand would be only 11.5 TW, and U.S. demand would be 1.8 TW. That decline occurs because, in most cases, electrification is a more efficient way to use energy. For example, only 17 to 20 percent of the energy in gasoline is used to move a vehicle (the rest is wasted as heat), whereas 75 to 86 percent of the electricity delivered to an electric vehicle goes into motion.”

    PS at the beginning of that paragraph: “Today the maximum power consumed world-wide at any given moment is about 12.5 trillion watts” – 12 TW is about the average global power consumed, so this would imply the global average capacity factor doesn’t fluctuate much. However, U.S. consumption is actually over 3 TW in fuel equivalent, not less, so even with a similar energy mix as today (unless there are regional variations in that trend), the above projection suggests an increase in efficiency. OR, it might be that the authors are given figures wherein hydroelectric and tidal, wind and wave, and photovoltaic power are given just as electric power (?). I’ll have to look more closely to figure that out.

    One source of reduction that is not mentioned is a reduction in energy use by the energy sector. Renewable power sources such as wind, hydro, solar, wave, geothermal, … but not biofuels, don’t use ‘fuel’ but do use energy in production, operation and maintenance, and disposal/recycling of the infrastructure; however, this tends to be small so that energy pay back times are short for power plants/installations. It must not be forgotten that, direct fuel usage aside (and power consumption by power plants (pertaining to the power generation process in a narrow sense at least, maybe not including other power usage such as lighting and heating/cooling for the workers??), which is the difference between net and gross generation), there is energy used to produce, maintain, and dispose/recycle the infrastructure, as well as to process and transport fuels. Thus the actual ‘lifecycle efficiency’ of a fossil fuel power plant might be somewhat lower than the net generation efficiency relative to the fuel combusted in the power plant. From what I’ve been reading, this might be particularly important in petroleum fuel uses; in the U.S., petroleum refining is actually the largest energy user of industrial sectors (granted some of that may include ‘use of energy’ that is not actually use of energy but use of material feedstock); the petroleum industry’s energy consumption includes coal and natural gas, I think. I wonder if this is included in the lifecycle comparisons of gasoline/diesel/etc to corn ethanol, etc. – I’m guessing it is included, but interesting to consider.

    So take typical fuel to distributed electricity conversion efficiency, ~ 30 % (took a little off for transmission/distribution losses, but I’m not being exact). Muliply that by the 75 to 86 % figure; we get:

    22.5 % to 25.8 % efficient conversion of fuel to vehicle motion using plug-in vehicles

    which is a bit more than

    17 % to 20 % efficient conversion of gasoline to vehicle motion for internal combustion engines.

    Now, if petroleum extraction to gas pump energy use is greater than the weighted average (depending on timing of plug-in consumption) of the energy use in supplying coal, natural gas, uranium, etc, to power plants, then the difference will be even greater. I don’t know offhand if it would be great enough to reduce CO2 output if coal is used to power the car instead of petroleum – maybe not. HOWEVER, one can shift the energy mix in favor of solar, wind, etc.

    And to be complete, the lifecycle of the power plant infrastructure itself must be considered, and also of the vehicle. How much energy is used in producing, maintaning, and disposing/recycling different types of vehicles?

    Aside from that, the efficiency of the internal combustion engine or battery input to electric motor output is not the same as the efficiency of energy input to car motion, because there is loss of energy in mechanical transmission. This can be reduced with electric motors by …

  3. 753
    Hank Roberts says:

    No, Jim, I’m not suggesting anything beyond that it’s always worth checking beliefs by looking them up; I gave one counterexample to one statement.

    I have no agenda here except encouraging people to look up and check sources for claims made. You, or others, can probably check your calculations against published information, always a good exercise.

  4. 754
    Hank Roberts says:

    A reminder — look back at Raypierre’s numbers, posted at the beginning.

    The rest is trivial compared to stopping the increase in CO2 and reversing it.
    There aren’t any good arguments for burning carbon, period.

  5. 755
    Patrick 027 says:

    … by having a motor for each wheel.

    I don’t actually know where the greatest efficiency improvements do occur in hybrid vehicles – they get on the order of twice the mpg of average cars, so there’s something nice there, but how much of that is better engine efficiency, how much is better transmission, reduced rolling resistance, reduced air drag, regenerative breaking and zero idling? If the engine in a hybrid-electric car were placed in a compatable non-electric car, how would it perform?

    If the externalities were corrected with imposed price signals, we could focus on economic optimization; even so, it would still be of interest and part of the analysis to consider the energetics of lifecycles, but economics is important, and so the question – which has the least expensive lifecycle – fuel efficient hybrid cars (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), plug-in electrics (I’m not sure but I’ll go with PEVs), plug-in fuel cell cars (I’ll go with PFEVs)?

    The economics will vary depending on location, since the large waste heat from fuel combustion and/or the smaller waste heat from fuel cells will be of greater value at higher latitudes, etc. – and this also applies to other aspects of energy usage. Besides that:


    1. still need fuel but need less of it.


    1. need only as much fuel as is used in electric power plants, which may be a rather low fraction in the future.

    2. But PEVs need electric batteries.

    3. Although PEVs might be very low-maintanence

    4. and also run quietly, although the quiet can be a problem for pedestrian safety, especially blind pedestrians, although one could imagine cars that send signals to canes or ear-pieces that vision-impaired people could use…, the alternative is to have a car that can emit a ‘car’ sound, although that negates the benifit of the quiet, although the sound could be activated by signals from crosswalks…

    PHEVs are a compromise between PEVs and HEVs in that:

    1. enough fuel is only needed for trips that exceed battery capacity and/or stops that are shorter than charging times, thus fuel usage is lower than in an HEV

    2. the battery need not be sized for the longest trips, saving on the costs and spatial and weight requirements of batteries (although there is the added weight and space of the engine, not just the fuel tank)

    3. if the maintenance needs are linearly propotional to the amount that each component is used, it’s possible that maintenance costs will also be less than for an HEV, though it’s possible this is not so much the case because there is still the complexity of having the engine and it’s components.

    4. the vehicle might run quietly for shorter trips, although this may be less benificial as short trips might involve the majority of pedestrian interactions ?


    1. less fuel than PHEVs because of the higher efficiency of fuel cells

    2. but you need fuel cells.

    There can be concavity in production possibilities curves (PPCs) owing to mass market advantage / increasing returns, and perhaps for PPCs over time, the economics of producing enough goods/services to make R&D/learning curve costs worthwhile.

    However, there are more general tendencies for convex PPCs. For example, for a given solar power plant technology and manufacturing efficiency, etc, the marginal price will increase with increasing power supply because the cheapest spaces (rooftops without competing uses/purposes) and best lands (greatest quality/quantity of solar resource closest to populations or planned HVDC lines, etc, and least environmental costs) will tend to be utilized first, and these installations will produce power more economically than additional installations. Also, additional installations will have to compete with scarce material resources that have been made scarcer by the first installations (recycling can reduce the lifecycle material costs, perhaps even to the point where extremely low grade ores, sewage and landfills, seawater, maybe common igneous rocks, etc, can become material resources for some elements, etc, as long as the elements can stay in use for long enough time periods; however, it obviously cannot increase the total amount available at any one time, except up to the limit of eliminating waste).

    And so on for wind power, wave, hydroelectric, geothermal, biofuels, CCS power plants, sequestration independent of power plants (carbonate minerals or dissolved carbonate, biochar), energy efficiency, energy conservation, adaptation of energy usage patterns to better fit the supply, fuel cell materials (although new technologies might replace platinum for H fuel cells; I have read of a bacterial fuel cell run on biofuel), batteries (Li scarcity), etc.

    And so, the most economical approach may involve a combination of much of the above, with various types of PV materials in use, CPV, CSP, passive solar designs, energy efficiency and conservation, wind, wave, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, some biofuels (preferably those from agriculture, food processing and use, and forestry wastes and byproducts, then maybe algae, then cellulosic and sugar cane, etc…), CCS and sequestration, etc, in a time-evolving mix.

    Thus, there might be a mixture of PHEVs, PEVs, and PFEVs.

    Biofuels (and natural gas in the interim) might (I haven’t done a study; this is an opinion based on my impression of the big picture) be of greater value to winter night energy use rather than vehicle use (they can be used in cogeneration facilities either way, and outside of vehicles, heat wouldn’t be wasted over travel time (though to be fair, heat can be stored in thermal masses in the vehicle – how would this compare to electric energy storage?), and the amount of biofuels we use might be limited to a relatively small amount by economics and lifecycle energetics; thus it might be the case that transportation should have a reduced reliance on fuels in general, and while that is not a necessary consequence of plug-in vehicle usage, plug-ins give us that opportunity.

    (While solar energy can be stored in CAES and via fuel production for wintertime as well as night usage, additional energy conversions reduce the efficiency (but CAES can avoid the inverter losses and costs, so the comparison must be between CAES and inverters), so if there is an economical, low externality intensity resource of biofuels, it’s concievable that those biofuels will be the first choice (after compensating wind seasonality, long-distance transmission, available hydroelectric seasonality, etc., and preferential improvement of energy efficiency for cloudy/winter/night conditions) for seasonal energy stockpiling/load-matching.

    Besides complementary regular seasonality and diurnal fluctuations of wind and solar supplies, note that for short term and interannual variations, hydroelectric energy and wind may tend to be more availble in conditions where solar enerty is less abundant, and solar energy might be more available in droughts and dry sunny heat waves, when in addition to reduce hydroelectric and wind availability, there may be greater demand for air conditioning and desalination and pumping of water.)

  6. 756
    Patrick 027 says:

    And while ICE efficiency can increase, stationary power plant efficiency can increase, perhaps to higher levels. (Whatever happened to MHD generation?).

  7. 757
    Steve says:

    Well, I learned a few things from following Hank’s links.

    None of the efficiencies are do to increases in technology, though, which was my point. They are investments in technology 40+ years old, but the rising cost of energy (coupled with rising stigma against CO2 emissions) is now making them appear worthwhile.

  8. 758
    Patrick 027 says:

    Jim Bullis –

    “Check either the plug-in Fisker or the plug-in Hummer. see for example”…”(Both use the same 260 hp engine for operation when the batteries run dry.) Then compare with the Prius. End Proof. Expect that when the public discovers they can have huge cars just by using plugs they will demand such with great enthusiasm. GM for one is moving hard in this direction. The plug-in Yukon is getting ready.”

    1. Compare a plug-in Prius to another Prius.

    2. A plug-in Hummer or SUV might be very efficient for carpooling/transporting cargo.

    3. Yes, there is a rebound effect when efficiency is increased economically, which reduces the reduction in energy consumption. However, this shouldn’t tend to completely negate the intended effect, and the effect would be preserved better by an emissions tax/cap, so long as the energy mix includes emitting sources.

    4. If you expect people will go for bigger PEV/PHEVs over smaller PEV/PHEVs that look similar to conventional cars, what hope could you have for your prefered designs? It is inconsistent to argue for your proposed pathway to efficiency and yet be so pessimistic about what will happen if plug-in techology gains a large market share.

  9. 759

    753 Hank Roberts,

    Thanks Hank, you have been a good one with the reality checks. That is important to me.

  10. 760

    752 Patrick 027

    The reality is that the Prius engine as measured by Argonne National Laboratories has demonstrated variously, 36% to 38% efficiency, noting of course that this efficiency is partly due to the way the engine is loaded which is a result of the hybrid arrangement. This should make a big difference in your conclusions, and it should change the way we think about internal combustion engines. Diesel engines accomplish 35% in readily available small engines, and the data curves are published that show this efficiency. They could probably do better if loads were handled like those on the Prius engine, but that is a guess. The problem with the diesel engines is NOx compounds which occur due to the higher combustion temperatures, which of course are part of the reason for the higher diesel efficiencies. If we can get a catalytic converter to fix this, as per the Blue Tec stuff from Mercedes and other things from Argonne, there is a lot of reason to hope for good things from diesel. Even dropping the temperatures down a little could make a big difference, but this kind of tinkering can get very sophisticated. To verify my 38% efficiency number for the Prius engines, see page 9 of

    to see the only real data point on the Prius engine that squeeked through the otherwise obfuscating information that seems heavily biased toward promoting the plug-in.

  11. 761
    mike roddy says:

    Good brainy stuff today, especially from two of my faves, Hank and Ike.

    I second the link to the new Scientific American renewable energy plan. Discussing the practical details of this proposed transformation should be a new RC topic. It’ll be a nice relief from talking about Levitt’s piece of crap. The SA piece is conservative, and actually undervalues already engineered cost reductions in thin film and thermal storage.

    Regarding the comment about the plug in Yukon, it’s not going to have much of a market. Battery range will make it impractical. Consider it a sop to a few hillbillies in Texas who’ve gotta have their big rigs for a while longer. They are dinosaurs who are going to be left behind anyway.

  12. 762
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim Bullis,
    OK, if we need to take into account the electric generation inefficiency for electric cars (only fair), do we not also have to take into account the inefficiency of converting coal–the most likely future fossil replacement for oil–into a suitable fuel for transport (e.g. LNG, etc.)

  13. 763


    What is your beef with the Smart Grid this time? Because I’ve spent 2 years of my life dedicated to the belief that the Smart Grid is the only way to move AWAY from REQUIRING massive base load power plants.

    Giant thermal plants are not going to play well in an era when base load can respond instantly to changes in available power that’s much cheaper to produce than coal power. Smart Grid technologies in demand response alone — devices that can be signaled by the Smart Grid to turn on or off based on available power and energy cost signals — are already reshaping the load curve. As renewables are added to the Smart Grid, their outputs can be used in lieu of peaking plants, further displacing base generation.

    Right now, generators are load-following. What myself and others who’ve been working on this “Smart Grid” thing have been doing is making it so that loads are generator-following. It’s been proven to work (see the GridWise work from PNNL and ComfortChoice and its tests in the Northeast), and it’s OLD technology compared to what’s in the pipeline. That one shift alone is going to kill coal. Just that one conceptual shift — teaching a load how to follow a variable energy source. Other changes in the works — teaching electric meters to follow energy sources — can make it so that cheap renewable energy flows to specific customers, and not just to everyone connected to the grid. Utilities already discount power to some customers who’ve installed demand-responsive major appliances and the market penetration for demand-responsive appliances is microscopic compared to the overall market size.

    Having an electric car whose charging behavior interacts with the grid, rather than an electric car whose charging controls the throttle of the generating plants is a big deal. One watt of “smart load” can immediately displace one watt of “spinning reserve”, and it can do it without a single molecule of CO2 being emitted.

    The ability to re-shape the load curve and have supply and demand interact is going to kill coal and I’m not going to be the least bit sad when it dies.

  14. 764

    761 Mike Roddy,

    Not so fast about Yukons etc. I hope you are right about range, but government funding is being thrown at the battery problem so this might not be a limit.

    In my neighborhood the line to pick up kids at an elementary school is about two blocks long, and an actual car in the line is an unusual thing. This is not Texas. In Texas there might be a few folks who actually need big vehicles. We might ask Furry at #763 about that.

  15. 765
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Jim Bullis 760 –

    “The reality is that the Prius engine as measured by Argonne National Laboratories has demonstrated variously, 36% to 38% efficiency, noting of course that this efficiency is partly due to the way the engine is loaded which is a result of the hybrid arrangement.” …


    But what is the efficiency of the conversion of engine output to vehicle motion?

    Well, I guess I could look up drag areas and gasoline energy densities and try to estimate it for myself…

  16. 766

    763 Furry C. H.

    My concern about the “smart” grid is that it will simply perpetuate our system of large central power plants, most of which are coal powered. By the way, it is really more about long distance transmission than it is about “smart.” The “smart” is a sop thrown to trick us into thinking a lot of digital technology is going to transform power distribution into something efficient. The load management of “smart” is likely to impact overall power use by a very small amount. I recently read something from power comanies talking about how people will adjust their thermostats when there is a shortage of electricity. Huh? Do people really heat houses with electricity in any significant way? And anyway, getting people to undergo discomfort is not an easy task. Oh, maybe they were talking about the refrigerator thermostat or the air conditioner thermostat. The air conditioner thermostat is potentially a big impact adjustment, but when people want to be cool they already make a serious value judgment as to how much they will have to pay for electricity. And then in California, the problem with peak loads on hot days resulted in California paying to build peaking natural gas generators. That is what is used to follow the load. These are relatively small and well placed, but quite inefficient.

    I remain unconvinced about the smart grid. My real complaint with the smart grid is that the cost of renewables on a large scale is such that there will not actually be such renewables put in place. And the smart grid will help set up coal systems so that most will not particularly care. (Warren Buffet has not called me to talk about this yet, but he seems to see the coal future as a near certainty.)

    I will skip talking about distributed power generation, where the existing grid would be adequate. A little brain power would be ok. Then some digital stuff would be useful.

  17. 767

    765 Patrick 027

    The losses from the output of the coal powered electric generator to car wheels are 7% for line losses, (maybe 5% on smart grids – – big deal) then we have rectifiers — 90% to 95% depending on cost, batteries lose a few percent in and out — so about 90% would be a generous overall estimate, then there are power conversion units that make battery output useful for driving motors, and the motors probably get 90% overall.

    For the Prius, mechanical linking from engine shaft to tires is probably close to 90%. (Simple gears do well, hypoid gears not so well but ok, but overall the link is not bad. That is why the synergy drive of the Prius is so important – – the mechanical link works much of the time, but the electric path helps to make the engine loading optimum without dragging down the overall efficiency too much. This is where there is some real “smart” going on.)

  18. 768
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Steve says: 17 November 2009 at 1:04 AM …
    > None of the efficiencies are do to increases
    > in technology

    Higher thermodynamic efficiency requires handling hotter heat sources; that’s advanced metallurgy right there.

  19. 769

    765 Patrick 027

    I misread your words, where you actually mentioned conversion to vehicle motion, and even noted the drag effects. Wow, what a lost opportunity.

    Of course, the comparison of electric motor system versus the mobile engine systems can stop at the wheel, but the real problem is how drag causes any vehicle system to guzzle energy.

    Rolling resistance of tires is big and the drag force therefrom is constant (roughly) at any speed. Prius came out with tires that cut that by 30% to 40% compared to standard radials. The only other way to deal with this is by cutting weight.

    But aero drag is way bigger for highway operation and no production car has aero drag coefficient less than .25 today. (Aptera claims .15 as Cd for their imminent production. Wow, and it is even believable based on Morelli test data. 1982) That is why the Miastrada drag coefficient expectation at .07 (based on USS Akron test data.) could make a massive difference. A factor of four improvement in drag coefficient times another factor of 2 for making people ride in tandem means that this effect is nearly eliminated(in engineering way of thinking). And the drag force is proportional to velocity squared, so things get out of hand very fast at high speed, but can nearly disappear at town speeds.

    Look at the EIA chart that shows how much of CO2 from humans in the USA to see that a reduction of this magnitude on CO2 from transportation can be far more important than any likely benefit from a smart grid. And conversion to electric plug-in operation can be expected to have an outcome that might actually increases CO2 and at best have a pitifully small benefit. See the NRDC-EPRI study (Linked at, and look at how the coal fired electric does for CO2.

  20. 770

    re 758 Patrick 027 item 4 and #763 Furry Friend,

    Cutting automotive CO2 with the plug-in car is like curing an alcoholic that consumes a quart of whiskey every day by giving him a pint of pure alcohol labeled medicine every day.

    My approach is like cutting that alcoholic down two shots of whiskey per day. Maybe this strategy is poor for an alcoholic, but in the analogy it seems like a way to make real progress on CO2 reduction.

    Maybe my #769 would have made this clear, where I tried to point out that the propelling machinery and its fuel, wherever it is burned, does not matter much compared to the effect of simply cutting down on the drag forces. The opportunity to make huge cuts in the drag forces exists, and that could actually matter to the campaign on global warming.

    Al Gore compared his recent list of choices to “silver buckshot” instead of a silver bullet, and continued to assert that there is no silver bullet. I judge his list of choices as more like “birdseed buckshot.” My approach I characterize as 50 mm steel tipped rifle bullets that would have been a lot better use to the Lone Ranger than even silver bullets. (Sorry for the immodesty.)

    A challenge to all the well meaning folk with answers is to try and beat the CO2 quantity savings that can be accomplished by fairly simple rethinking of the automobile.

    And to get back to freakonomics, what is with those so called smart ex-Microsoft guys up in Seattle and friends with their garden hose and SO2? If we could get them and maybe even some Silicon valley whizzes to read up on the Second Law of Thermo, maybe something real would emerge. (Most electrical engineers, myself included, went their entire careers without any concern for power plant efficiency. Those easy days have to be left behind.)

  21. 771

    Look at:

    and click on “report” to get the EPRI/NRDC study directly. Then go to Fig 5-1 to see how things actually work out, even when the authors are trying desperately to reach the opposite conclusion.

  22. 772

    For a hint about actual planning look at pages 18 and 26 of the following to see GM planning of about a year ago:

    Here you can see the Yukon in the line-up. Also note that they like to ignore that the fuel that is coal.

  23. 773
    Hank Roberts says:

    Murteza, there’s a strange website behind your name; be careful what you click on, folks.
    > bait ….
    Barry Brooks’s site has much discussion on topic about that.

  24. 774
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Jim Bullis – “I misread your words, where you actually mentioned conversion to vehicle motion, and even noted the drag effects. Wow, what a lost opportunity.”…

    Yes, I agree reducing drag is great. To be clear, though, in the context of my usage of the term to which you refer, I would simply have used drag area (cross section area * drag coefficient) and rolling resistance (if I could find that information) to estimate what kinetic energy is actually used to move the car some distance at some speed, and then use the data of fuel and electricity usage to figure out efficiencies.

    PS a potential point of confusion – does rolling resistance include transmission losses or is it only in the wheels, wheel-road contact, and axle-bearing contact?

    “Cutting automotive CO2 with the plug-in car is like curing an alcoholic that consumes a quart of whiskey every day by giving him a pint of pure alcohol labeled medicine every day.”

    “My approach is like cutting that alcoholic down two shots of whiskey per day. Maybe this strategy is poor for an alcoholic, but in the analogy it seems like a way to make real progress on CO2 reduction.”

    Here’s the problem I see in your approach: You have been pessmistic about changes in grid electricity suppy; aside from that, you have been pessimistic that any shift to plug-in technology could be accompanied by a return to ‘reasonable’ air drag and rolling resistances or a further reduction.

    Yet, you are hopeful that people will more often than not ride single file in vehicles.

    To me this seems a bit like a parent aquiescing to a child’s refusal to eat carrots yet remaining hopeful the child will enjoy beets.

    But good point about the AC to DC conversion. What would be nice is if a shadow DC grid (not just on the level of HVDC high voltage) could parallel the AC grid. Actually, this might be doable for rooftop solar power – maybe the air conditioner and some other things could run on either AC or DC.

  25. 775
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 767 Jim Bullis – thanks for that info.

  26. 776

    775 Patrick 027

    I got a little confused by your wording, but I think I answer the point below:

    Could a shift to plug-in technology help motivate lower air drag or lower rolling resistance? Answer: I think not since there is no strong motivation for people to give up the things they like since by just plugging them in they solve their fuel cost problems. Once that becomes a way of life, the political will to change it will be further reduced.

    I should say that the same problem limits prospects for my car approach since people will not see the need for adapting to such a new way of riding in such a new kind car.

    I may need to move on to trucks where there is more of a fuel problem, and not such an easy way to convert to plug-in operation.

    Not only does the global warming campaign seem to have insufficient horsepower to motivate real change, it is cut to its knees by the news from Al Gore that we have enough solutions at hand to solve global warming several times over. His birdseed (my opinion) shotgun shell approach makes it sound like nothing really difficult is necessary. In his view, we just have to make a choice of getting a few things done that other people will do for us, and all it takes is money.

    In case comments are about done, thanks to our hosts for making the comments here possible.

  27. 777
    David B. Benson says:

    Patrick 027 (775) — Some apps already can run on either DC or AC:

  28. 778
    Hank Roberts says:

    Well, if people can leave a battery pack at home during the daytime, distributed solar is looking better and better really fast — and screwing up the 10-year plans for big plants and big improvements in long distance transmission:
    Solar’s rapid evolution makes energy planners rethink the grid
    —excerpt follows—-

    … solar panel prices have plummeted so much as to make viable the prospect of generating gigawatts of electricity from rooftops and photovoltaic farms built near cities.

    ‘This has pretty significant implications in terms of transmission planning,’ Ryan Pletka, Black & Veatch’s renewable energy project manager, told me last week. ‘What we thought would happen in a five-year time frame has happened in one year.’

    That’s prompted Pletka to radically revise the potential for so-called distributed generation—solar systems that can plug into the existing grid without the construction of new transmission lines—to contribute to California’s need for 60,000 gigawatt hours of renewable electricity by 2020.

    When Black & Veatch did its initial analysis last year, it predicted that photovoltaic solar could contribute 2,000 megawatt hours, given the high cost of conventional solar modules and the fact that a next-generation technology, thin-film solar, had yet to make a big commercial breakthrough.

    Pletka’s new number is a bit of a shocker: Distributed generation could potentially provide up to 40,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, or two-thirds of projected demand.

    ‘Certainly some of the new transmission lines will be needed but not as many as before.'”

  29. 779
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 777 – okay


    “Could a shift to plug-in technology help motivate lower air drag or lower rolling resistance? Answer: I think not since there is no strong motivation for people to give up the things they like since by just plugging them in they solve their fuel cost problems. Once that becomes a way of life, the political will to change it will be further reduced.”

    So the solution is some combination of allowing increasing demand and decreasing supply of fuel and possibly an emissions tax, etc, drive up fuel costs to motivate efficiency.

    Or look at increasing prices in other things (food, health care, etc.) that pull demand away from inefficient energy consumption.

    “I should say that the same problem limits prospects for my car approach since people will not see the need for adapting to such a new way of riding in such a new kind car.”

    Yes, and also, introducing that motivation may just tend to drive the switch to plug-ins instead. But that isn’t so much of a problem if the same motivating emissions taxes are applied to electric generation.

    [about Al Gore] …”His birdseed (my opinion) shotgun shell approach makes it sound like nothing really difficult is necessary.”

    If it sounds that way, it’s either advertising, optimism, or a convenient truth. Because he is a part of the “Solar Grand Plan”/” A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030″ crowd (as am I).

    “In case comments are about done, thanks to our hosts for making the comments here possible.”

    Yes. Although that list of references for energy resources and costs studies that I was going to post at some point is going to take a bit longer, so …

  30. 780
    Steve / Cambridge says:

    Why don’t you permit additional comments on “What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?”

    For anybody with any modeling experience, this “explanation” looks questionable — or downright embarrassing.

  31. 781
  32. 782
    Jim Galasyn says:

    I wonder what Steve would say about this:

    World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists

    The 6C rise now being anticipated is in stark contrast to the 2C rise at which all international climate policy, including that of Britain and the EU, hopes to stabilise the warming – two degrees being seen as the threshold of climate change which is dangerous for society and the natural world.

    The study by Professor Le Quéré and her team, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, envisages a far higher figure. “We’re at the top end of the IPCC scenario,” she said.

  33. 783
    Jim Galasyn says:

    So embarrassing:

    Superfreakonomics authors abandon climate science

    The authors of SuperFreakonomics simultaneously insist they accept the science — “Like those who are criticizing us, we believe that rising global temperatures are a man-made phenomenon” — while at the same time labeling global warming a “religion”. And we’ve seen one award-winning journalist explain “Freakonomics Guys Flunk Science of Climate Change.” But now, as this stunning Charlie Rose video shows, we have the clearest demonstration that both Levitt and Dubner don’t accept and don’t understand the science. …

    Later during the interview Dubner attempted to justify the book’s claim that “carbon dioxide is not the right villain,” arguing that it was the decrease in sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that has caused global warming, rather than the accumulation of carbon dioxide.

  34. 784
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve/Cambridge–because the lag of CO2 behind temperature in some ice core records is a settled issue. It is precisely what is expected when the initiator of the warming is a change in insolation due to a change in Earth’s orbit. The fact that you don’t understand it doesn’t change the physics.

  35. 785
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    Another misleading (incompetent) news release muddying the waters.

    “ScienceDaily (Nov. 18, 2009) — A new study indicates that major chemicals most often cited as leading causes of climate change, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are outclassed in their warming potential by compounds receiving less attention.”

    Well, they do conclude with “Although current concentrations of some of these trace gases have been found to be substantially small compared to carbon dioxide, their concentration is on the rise,” the study notes. “With the current rate of increase, they will be important contributors in the future, according to some models.”

  36. 786
    Hank Roberts says:

    How much sulfate is too much? If we were to geoengineer with sulfate injection, and have to keep increasing it to hold off a sudden warming, is this a potential catastrophe (in the mathematical sense)? Or are the volumes involved nowhere near the amount that risks a climate flip?

    Sulfur dioxide initiates global climate change in four ways
    Purchase the full-text article

    Peter L. Ward,
    Teton Tectonics, P.O. Box 4875, Jackson, WY, USA

    Available online 11 February 2009.

    Global climate change, prior to the 20th century, appears to have been initiated primarily by major changes in volcanic activity. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the most voluminous chemically active gas emitted by volcanoes and is readily oxidized to sulfuric acid normally within weeks. But trace amounts of SO2 exert significant influence on climate. …. Large volumes of SO2 erupted frequently appear to overdrive the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere resulting in very rapid warming….

  37. 787

    774 Patrick 027

    I missed your question about rolling resistance.

    It is a little bit sloppy the way it is handled, not unusual for the auto world. In general, rolling resistance is mostly from tires. Bearings are very good, so the only thing left is gears. Simple gears are very efficient, hypoid gears as the main one in your differential are fairly poor. (Most electric arrangements keep this hypoid gear.) Years ago the automatic transmissions were great energy sinks, and while this has improved with present designs, especially with lock-up devices that stop slippage.

    Crr for tires varies not too much with speed, and it is really hard to find actual measured data for this. Approximately it is .01 for most radial tires. The original Prius tires dropped this to about .065 which is really a big deal for the city driving mileage. At high speed it becomes relatively insignificant compared to aero drag forces. They pay a lot of attention to this with truck tires, but even there real data is slim and elusive. Weight is the only real thing you can change in design of rubber tired vehicles.

    Since Crr is nearly constant, it means that for a given travel distance it makes no difference how fast you go; the same work is required. For aero drag the velocity squared term has a big force impact at high speed and not much at low.

  38. 788
    Ike Solem says:

    For examples of why the Milton Friedman school of economic fundamentalism (that Leavitt and Dubner represent) won’t help with climate change, see this 2007 press release:

    “By burning fossil fuel and clearing forests human beings have significantly altered the global carbon cycle,” says Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, one of the report’s lead authors. A result has been the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but so far this has been partially offset by carbon uptake by the oceans and by plants and soils on land.

    As these sinks fill up with fossil carbon they become saturated with respect to the atmosphere. Biomass fertilization is a nice concept, but the reality is that drought and deforestation and warming are likely to lead to a decrease in planetary biomass, not an increase – just look at the record so far. Leavitt and Dubner seem to be insisting that the natural ecosystems will behave according to their market theories – but what do Leavitt and Dubner have to say about externalities?

    Here’s a blurb from their blog…

    “Markets work best when externalities are internalized: i.e., you pay for the hassle you inflict on others.”

    So, if you take away someone’s food and water, you can just pay them with dollar bills, and they can eat and drink the bills? No, in order to get food and water in exchange for money, you need social cohesion and a mutual agreement on the value of money. Without social cohesion, you don’t have bills, you have newsprint. If there is not enough food and water, some people will have to die prematurely, and they might think that war is a better option – what would they have to lose?

    Now, consider that global warming projections suggest a fall-off in agricultural productivity due to droughts, heat waves and water scarcity. The scale of the falloff depends on the extent of global warming and of pre-adaptive measures (like constructing robust efficient drip irrigation systems). At the same time there is a projected increase in demand for food of a similar scale – and if the world needs 30% more food, while agriculture produces 30% less food, and with fisheries and forests also in decline…

    It doesn’t take a whole lot of analysis to see the problem there, does it? I suppose the L&D team would argue that since food scarcity drives up prices, it boosts the GDP and thus improves the economy. Global warming is good for you!

    Not only is global warming good for you, it can be mitigated by “cleaning up” dirty fuels like coal and tar.

    The real goal of such claims? Distraction and delay and the dropping of legally binding renewable energy & fossil emissions targets in favor of “aspirational and political statements and goals.”

    What this means in practice is that the coal and tar sands lobby has gotten just what it wanted – they can now proceed with DOE-supported coal gasification and tar sand hydrogenation schemes for the production of synthetic gasoline and diesel fuels, without having to face any legal challenges whatsoever – all while hiding behind the cover of “clean energy carbon capture and sequestration” and cap-and-trade fluff.

    Their only limitation is the high cost of such strategies, which were very attractive at $140 a barrel (when Warren Buffet bought into Conoco tar sands), but that’s less of a factor with the oil price boosted back up to $80 a barrel (thanks largely to the $700 billion bank bailout, which went to corner futures markets and rescue the oil price in the face of record low demand, hence the second economic bubble and the lack of renewable energy jobs or investment arising from that bailout).

    Outrageous misuse of taxpayer funds? Wildly deceptive propaganda efforts to hide this from the public? Greenwashed cover for business-as-usual? It’s beginning to look that way. Rather than denying that climate change is real, the coal & tar industries are following in Chevron’s footsteps and painting themselves in clean energy colors. “Cleanwashing” the dirtiest fossil fuel industries – how audacious. Right up there with forging letters to Congress on other people’s stationary.

    If you wanted to stablize atmospheric gas levels at even current levels, you’d have to take two major steps.

    1) Replace fossil fuel combustion with renewable energy sources.

    2) Halt deforestation and desertification and instead start large reforestation/wetland restoration programs.

    The economic and ecological benefits of that approach are obvious to everyone but the handful of economists who advise the U.S. administration on energy matters, and their paymasters in the fossil fuel & financial lobbies – the ones who finance the energy think tanks and university economics departments.

  39. 789
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 788 Ike Solem

    “Now, consider that global warming projections suggest a fall-off in agricultural productivity due to droughts, heat waves and water scarcity.”

    “So, if you take away someone’s food and water, you can just pay them with dollar bills, and they can eat and drink the bills? No, in order to get food and water in exchange for money, you need social cohesion and a mutual agreement on the value of money. Without social cohesion, you don’t have bills, you have newsprint. If there is not enough food and water, some people will have to die prematurely, and they might think that war is a better option – what would they have to lose?”

    This isn’t an argument against internalization of externalities; it is points in support of an argument that the externality price (emissions tax) should be relatively high. Perhaps it should include the destruction of war; it certainly should include the destruction of climate-change’s contribution to famine, including (but not limited to) the full standard of living lost by those who die, plus the loss of death to others, plus the intrinsic value placed on a person’s life.

    If the price of the externality gets higher, the ideal market response is to produce less of that externality. Pricing an externality and internalizing it is a double edged sword: 1. potential for compensation of public losses; 2. better overall market performance involving a reduction in public costs incured by disincentivising the activity (while still allowing it if, when, and where the benifits are greater than the costs).

    “At the same time there is a projected increase in demand for food of a similar scale – and if the world needs 30% more food, while agriculture produces 30% less food, and with fisheries and forests also in decline…”

    If not for inequities**, the result might be avoidance of starvation via vegetarianism/veganism. But this would still be a public cost because the public has to give up something.

    “The scale of the falloff depends on the extent of global warming and of pre-adaptive measures (like constructing robust efficient drip irrigation systems).”

    Yes. Funds from an externality tax would most obviously be appropriate to incentivise or pay for such measures.

    Note that the properly formulated externality value has to assume either the optimal combination of

    proactive adaptation (infrastructure investments, ecological investments, various R&D, population growth reduction),

    sequestration and/or neutralization (+ cost of side effect externalities, thus a disincentive to the sulphate injection option, for example),

    amelioration and adaptation (migration (costs include compensation to refugees and/or recieving countries), extra effort to protect ecosystems stragecally optimized to save what can more easily be saved (general trend being a focus on high latitude/elevation ends of current ranges) and/or is more valuable (I’m not just talking about immediate material benifits) – or the cost of replacing ecosystem services (pollination, natural flood and … pest/disease control (?)),

    and proactive and reactive compensation for otherwise unavoided/unmitigated losses,

    …or something optimized to an extent that one could expect society to achieve – but noting that some errors in that process are the fault of other problems that should be fixed in other ways (anthropogenic climate-change wars will not generally be sole fault of climate-change emissions activity).

    “It doesn’t take a whole lot of analysis to see the problem there, does it? I suppose the L&D team would argue that since food scarcity drives up prices, it boosts the GDP and thus improves the economy. Global warming is good for you!”

    I don’t know what they would argue, but if food prices go up, except wherein a hard limit is reached (marginal externality price goes to infinity?), the same quantity of food could be had if enough resources, perhaps pulled by greater money supplied by externality tax funds or the return on investment of such, are put toward that goal. For example, more desalination. But this takes resources away from something, and the general tendency is a net cost, which ideally would be filled by externality tax revenue, which comes from a tax that has the effect of reducing public costs by directing economic activity away from the negative externality-producing activities.

    “What this means in practice is that the coal and tar sands lobby has gotten just what it wanted – they can now proceed with DOE-supported coal gasification and tar sand hydrogenation schemes for the production of synthetic gasoline and diesel fuels, without having to face any legal challenges whatsoever – all while hiding behind the cover of “clean energy carbon capture and sequestration” and cap-and-trade fluff.”

    If the taxes/caps were sufficient and appropriate, the emitting options couldn’t hide from that. These are points in support of making caps/taxes policy better, not against the general concept.

  40. 790
    CM says:

    Heads up: If you haven’t checked out Ray P.’s online draft of Principles of Planetary Climate online, or if you haven’t done so in a while, it looks like now would be a really good time to do so. Hint hint.

  41. 791

    Patrick 027 and Ike Solem,

    Consider the unexpected outcomes: 1) Electric cars will exist in substantial numbers in 2030 (see Fig 15 of IEA exerpt at 2) There will remain a substantial amount of coal fired electric power in that same 2030 time. And therefore it can be concluded that coal will power the electric cars because there is a correspondence between coal and electric cars. The implication is that if you cut out the electric cars you would eliminate the remaining coal power.

    Now look at Figure 5-1 of the NRDC funded EPRI study at
    where it shows that if a hybrid made into a plug-in runs on coal then the CO2 would increase about 20% over what the basic hybrid could do.

    Now consider that the energy needed to make the coal sands oil is about 20% to 25% extra compared to regular foreign oil. This is mostly natural gas energy so it is fairly decent in heat versus CO2.

    Surprise!!!!! When we throw rocks at oil sands projects, we should hold back an equal number to throw at electric cars.

  42. 792
    Hank Roberts says:

    Throw rocks at people to discourage them from buying electric cars, punishing people for buying something real, in favor of a hypothetical alternative you might sell?

    Instead throw roses at the people who are working to end the use of coal to supply their electricity.
    (one of many examples of local action to work to eliminate coal as a source of electricity by not buying from those generators)

    Or by doing this — an idea Ike just mentioned above:

    “… The difference between Gainesville and Germany was that Germany had a national feed-in tariff. Under this system, energy consumers can become renewable energy producers by installing solar panels on their roof or a wind turbine in their backyard and selling their energy to the local utility. These customers-turned-producers receive above-market prices for their energy, often for up to twenty years. With the feed-in tariff, Germany boosted its renewable energy production from 1 percent of its total output in 1995 to 12 percent in 2005. By 2007 renewables supplied 14 percent of Germany’s electricity. Denmark and Spain also have successful feed-in tariff programs.

    So this past March, Gainesville rolled out its own feed-in tariff. GRU now pays twice the retail cost for every kilowatt of solar power-generated electricity. The extra cost means a small increase in electrical bills for all utility consumers, less than a dollar per month per household. …”

  43. 793
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 787 Jim Bullis – thanks for your comments on rolling resistance. How would I apply a Crr value – where does it go in the equation?

  44. 794

    793 Patrick 027

    Rolling resistance drag force equals Crr times weight of the whole vehicle. It does not make any difference how many wheels you have.

    Aerodynamic drag force equals Cd times rho/2 times velocity squared. Depending on the units used, rho is .0028 slugs per cubic ft. (Note, the value of rho I give is for old guys with old books. I like Rouse and Howe, John Wiley 1953) (I took the Fluids course from Prof. Howe, and no, basic fluid dynamics has not changed much since 1960.)

    For steady speed and flat roads that is all there is to it.

    The drag forces are additive. Energy is force times distance and power equals force times velocity. Depending on the quality of the regenerative energy system, acceleration takes energy but gives it back in braking; hills require more energy going up but give it back going down. (Nowhere have I found any data on actual regenerative system performance.)

  45. 795

    792 Hank Roberts,

    Roses are for people who work for solutions that will reduce CO2. Rocks are for people chasing a fad; really big rocks are for the promoters of wrong solutions that should know better.

    When you actually look at the references I offered in #791, perhaps you will see how I conclude that electric car operation is a mis-guided effort.

    Actions to cut the use of energy such as insulation improvements seem worth the effort. So are efforts to preserve forests. Hybrid vehicles are probably the best answer going at this time. It is doubtful, but I might someday sell a car or make a nickel at trying, and the outcome if my approach were to be adopted on a large scale, would be an effect of very significant magnituede for not much cost.

    Working to find better answers gets roses also.

    But the problem is this: A costly, public funded program that will put many electric cars on the road seems almost certain to end in making things worse compared to what can be done now with hybrid technology. And that public program is also chasing an uncertain technology. Not only will we be out a lot of money for something that could result in nothing or worse, we will both delay action that could help and worse, establish a public disdain for real actions that might become available. Yup,rocks not roses for electric cars.

  46. 796
    Patrick 027 says:

    CM – thanks!

    Re Jim Bullis – “resistance drag force equals Crr times weight of the whole vehicle” – Okay, that makes sense. Thanks. (I still disagree with a significant part of your overall point, but won’t bother with that matter again.)

  47. 797

    796 Patrick 027

    Jeff Immelt, CEO GE; Eric Schmidt, CEO Google; and John Doerr, partner Kleiner Perkins (Fisker); for starters are on the President’s Council of Economic Recovery. They are pleased that your opinion is the prevailing view in the country.

    Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and I will be pleased to haul coal and burn it in our power plants to make a little electricity. Immelt and I will be pleased to take a tidy profit from our national monopoly on wind turbines while we set up to pass the electricity around to John Doerr’s cars (dressed up by Fisker) on smart grid equipment that we build. Eric Schmidt will sell us smart Google-meters so we know when to sweat to save electricity. (Disclosure: I have some stocks in my IRA.) So it goes.

    My efforts at stopping this train are limited to waving a red flag. (Red was used as a signal to “flag the train” and has nothing to do with politics.) No Superman stuff for me.

  48. 798
    Patrick 027 says:

    Well, would you (Jim Bullis) support a tax on emissions?

  49. 799

    798 Patrick 027

    Yup. Though it would depend on how it was written. I tend to prefer a simple tax rather than a “cap and trade” deal which I think is really just a tax when all is said and done.

    My support of something is different from what I anticipate happening — and I read from the fact that we have not been able to repeal the oil depletion allowance that the political reality does not show support for any significant form of tax of whatever name.

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    hf says:


    You guys show more inertia than the Justice Dept….ignore the dead end demonstrations of pettiness, the shrill calls for a pre-adolescent interpretation of right, wronged, and fair, and stick to the evidentiary trail.

    The hack defense is in hand, and there is much work to be done. Slog on gentlemen!