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Unforced variations: Apr 2011

Filed under: — group @ 1 April 2011

This months open thread. There are some Items of potential interest::

or whatever you like.

525 Responses to “Unforced variations: Apr 2011”

  1. 501
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    This Nature article on the Agulhas system is quoted by Richard Black as showing that “This could mean that current IPCC model predictions for the next century are wrong and there will be no cooling in the North Atlantic to partially offset the effects of global climate change over North America and Europe,” – he’s quoting a Dr. Lisa M Beal, one of the authors. This will no doubt be seized upon by certain quarters, but I would like to know if the paper supports this conclusion. Please can anyone add anything to this?

  2. 502
    Walter Pearce says:

    David Benson@500 — Regarding intermittent wind power, my recollection is that, in the U.S., it’s peak power — not baseline — that utilities are bidding on to add to the grid. If you want actual data, I can dig up my sources.

  3. 503
    Susan Anderson says:

    377 Edward Greisch
    Sorry I missed your request; don’t always keep up and I’m not a scientist. Think it was decided against the states; SecularAnimist had an useful comment:

    NYTimes, 4/18/11: “The case about global warming scheduled to be argued on Tuesday before the Supreme Court is a blockbuster. “Eight states — from California to New York, plus New York City — sued six corporations responsible for one-fourth of the American electric power industry’s emissions of carbon dioxide. ….”

  4. 504
    David B. Benson says:

    Walter Pearce @502 — The wind farm operators have to generate whenever there is wind to make ends meet, at least here in the Pacific Northwest. Same appears to happen in Europe according to this IEA Wind Power Study

    To match peak loads requires reliable dispatchable generators such as hydro or natgas; wind cannot be counted upon except as displacing the use of other generators.

  5. 505
    Ron R says:

    Walter Pearce — @ 3:14 PM

    About that human element. That’s often the weak link isn’t it? And
    given the pathetic track record over the years of major corporations
    to (repeatedly) cover-up and otherwise refuse to level with their
    customers about the risks of their products (e.g. the Brookhaven
    nuclear lab leaks, Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant leaks, Monsanto
    PCB pollution in Anniston Alabama, PG&E pollution in Hinkley,
    California, the many Pharmaceutical cover-ups etc. etc.) nuclear power
    is just too potentially hazardous to leave to blind trust. It’s simply
    not human nature to be honest when there is a valued special interest
    at stake, even if that puts the lives of others at risk. History has
    proven that time and time again. Fukushima itself is a prime example.
    It took a month for authorities there to release the information that
    large doses of radiation had spewed from the plant. Why? According to
    Seiji Shiroya, a commissioner of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission,
    “Some foreigners fled the country even when there appeared to be
    little risk. If we immediately decided to label the situation as Level
    7, we could have triggered a panicked reaction”, not to mention that
    it would have been horrible public relations for the industry! So the
    decision was made to keep quiet – and expose people unnecessarily.'s_Global_Pollution_Legacy

    And remember that even before Fukushima there was already 200 “near
    misses” to meltdowns in the US.

    If we were talking about a tendency for, say, hammocks to break under
    a certain load that would be one thing. NPPs are a different kettle of
    fish altogether aren’t they?

    I propose that the new logo for NPPs be not the noble atom that we so
    often see but sawdust wrapped in newspapers.

    About this costs of nuclear debate thing, this is the kind of argument
    that just never seems to die. Like the debate over AGW it just goes on
    and on, back and forth and … and frankly, I find the discussion
    terribly boring. I really want to get off the subject. I don’t need
    the last word.

  6. 506
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    Regarding tornadoes, I’ve been trying (without success) to find out if there is a theoretical limit to wind speed. This implies that atmospheric moisture content and surface temperature are critical factors in tornado formation. This being so, what wind speeds are your American nuclear reactors designed to withstand?

  7. 507
    Didactylos says:

    David Miller: You haven’t looked at the source I have provided, since it clearly compares levelised costs between different energy sources and different countries.

    I am insulted that you have protracted this discussion so long without once actually bothering to look honestly at any figures.

    As I said before, you have made up your mind and are impervious to facts. And you keep repeating yourself, without actually saying anything useful.

    So, goodbye. Back to your fantasy world. Enjoy it.

  8. 508
    Didactylos says:

    SecularAnimist: “And now [wind] is competitive with coal and natural gas”

    Exactly! (In most regions at least)

    You suggest talking about revolutionary renewables coming out of the lab. I suggest we don’t, because just as we don’t yet know enough about fusion or IV generation reactors, we don’t know how new wind and solar technologies will cost or perform. Speculation is fun, but ultimately futile. You will note that I have carefully avoided mention of Hyperion.

    I do hope, however, that all these technologies get the funding they need to be trialled properly, and given every possible opportunity to shine.

  9. 509
    SecularAnimist says:

    David B. Benson wrote: “To match peak loads requires reliable dispatchable generators”

    Not necessarily.

    Peak demand often occurs during the day — especially sunny days when air conditioners are cranked up — which happens to coincide with peak electricity generation from solar power.

    If you look at the major utilities that are installing commercial-scale solar power, they are doing so precisely for that reason: peak solar generation reliably matches peak demand and reduces their need to build other generating capacity that is less cost-effective for meeting peak demand.

    More generally, I reject the basic notion that we have to build new generation capacity to fit the limitations of an aging grid that was “designed” for 19th century energy technologies. That makes no more sense than designing computers to fit the limitations of 1970s data networks based on dial-up modems and dedicated, point-to-point lines.

    The reality is that cheap, powerful, distributed generation and storage technologies are out there, and they are going to get better and better, faster and faster. People are going to want them, for many reasons, and people are going to buy them and install them. And the grid is going to have to evolve to deal with that. Just as computer networks evolved into today’s Internet.

    And of course the grid has to evolve anyway — the one we’ve got is in very bad shape and can barely do what it was designed to do, let alone handle massively distributed generators of all kinds and sizes.

  10. 510

    And in “power storage and smart grid technology news,” we have this:

    Beacon Power Receives Department of Energy Approval to Proceed on Second Flywheel Plant
    Company Also Positions to Raise Capital as Needed
    TYNGSBORO, Mass., Apr 28, 2011 (GlobeNewswire via COMTEX) —

    Beacon Power Corporation (Nasdaq:BCON), a leading provider of fast-response energy storage systems and services to support a more stable, reliable and efficient electricity grid, today announced that it has received approval from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the terms of its Smart Grid Stimulus Grant program to proceed to the second of three phases of funding for construction of the Company’s next 20-megawatt (MW) flywheel energy storage plant, to be located in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania.

    Their first plant is nearing formal commissioning, though I think it’s aleady producing revenue. Good news for Beacon–it’s even stabilized their share prices, which had been slowly but steadily falling up the 8th or so.

  11. 511
    Meow says:

    There’s a new paper on an unexpected connection between surface winds and eddies that transport “tiny sea creatures, chemicals, and heat from hydrothermal vents over large distances.” . Does this paper have some relevance to large-scale ocean heat transport?

  12. 512
    David B. Benson says:

    SecularAnimist @509 — If it is cloudy then the power company cranks up the natgas generators to meet demand. Reliability means solar has to have backup as well.

  13. 513
    David Miller says:

    David Benson (512)

    I think the implication is pretty clear – if it’s cloudy less power is required for air conditioning. No, it’s not perfect. Yes, it is useful.

    Also, the output vs clouds issue depends on the type of solar. For PV on a house it’s pretty direct. For a CSP it’s much less so.

  14. 514
    Adam R. says:

    Why are comments closed on the Spencer paper thread?

    [Response: See the note at the bottom of the article.]

  15. 515
    David B. Benson says:

    David Miller @513 — I don’t doubt it is useful in some sense; it at least emits less CO2 than just using natgas all the time. The point (which should be obvious but many fail to see it until told) is that intermittent generation cannot be counted upon except in a statistical sense; when it fails to provide enough generation then dispatchable reserves have to exist to generate when (wind, solar, take your pick) does not met the demand, peak or no.

    That means that every installation has to be checked for feasiblity as well as meeting whatever political goals are to be accomplished. Some so-called renewable projects make no sense at all. For example, recently a large wind farm near here switched from using hydro as backup to using mostly natgas as backup. The former was senseless in that it didn’t even help to keep more water in the reservoirs while the latter at least means that some modest amount of CO2 is not being emitted.

  16. 516
    Edward Greisch says:

    Ron R., David Miller, Nick Gotts, etc: Your questions have already been answered. See previous comments. Go to college and get degrees in nuclear engineering. Or Read book: “ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY”
    purchase from:
    English version 100 Euros.

    Or an easier book: “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007

  17. 517
    SecularAnimist says:

    David B. Benson wrote: “… intermittent generation cannot be counted upon …”

    I really, really wish that folks would read the multiple studies in Europe and the USA which show that a diversified regional portfolio of renewable energy sources, managed through a smart grid, can provide 24×7 electricity that is at least as reliable as coal or nuclear — instead of endlessly repeating these ill-informed generalities.

    I observe that overzealous nuclear advocates consistently do two things:

    First, they wave away the very real, very serious problems of nuclear power as though they don’t exist or are trivial (while serious nuclear propononents like the folks at MIT acknowledge that these problems represent major obstacles to any expansion of nuclear power).

    Second, they exaggerate (or just plain make up) problems with renewable energy sources that are in fact relatively easy to address and/or have already been addressed and portray them as insurmountable obstacles to large-scale expansion of renewable generation.

    So, storing energy from wind and solar becomes an insurmountable obstacle — even though we already have multiple methods of storing energy including chemical (batteries, hydrogen), kinetic (compressed air, pumped hydro, flywheels) and thermal (CSP with molten salt storage) at hand, and even though renewables can meet most of our demand even without storage.

    And storing nuclear waste becomes a trivial problem that has “already been solved” — even though it hasn’t.

  18. 518
    Brian Dodge says:

    Why does everyone assume that because we (probably most of us) have the LUXURY of electricity (100 amps at 220 volts in my case) available 24/7 that it is a NECESSITY?

  19. 519
    Edward Greisch says:

    Why Older Nuclear Power Plants Remain ‘Cash Cows’ Despite Fukushima
    New York Times
    The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main trade organization, ranks current nuclear plants as the cheapest source of US electricity, with operating, maintenance and fuel costs of just over 2 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009, compared to 5 cents …
    See all stories on this topic:

  20. 520
    Charlie H says:

    Unless things have changed radically since I left the power industry, most electric bills include a “fuel surcharge.” This has the effect of making low-capital-cost gas turbines far more economically attractive than nuclear power plants.

    At the moment, gas is cheap… so producers build gas plants. If, in the future, gas becomes expensive, still not a problem! Pass the higher costs along to the consumer.

    So, for a utility company standing in 2011, cheap gas rules. Why invest $10B in a nuclear plant that takes perhaps 10 years to come on-line, even if power production costs will be $.02 in the distant future, if you can build a plant, produce cheap electricity today and pass any higher costs along to the consumer tomorrow?

    I’d like to see things go differently, for sure. But industry has to be incentivized, somehow, to do something different. And the economics of nuclear vs gas make nuclear a very steep hill to climb.

    In fact, I’d rather not incent industry at all. The combination of solar panels and a $10K battery practically makes a homeowner independent. Why not invest our tax money – The People’s tax money – in improving the economic lot of The People? A new home is $30K and includes such “necessities” as granite countertops. Why? Why not build homes that are self-sufficient and improve the homeowner’s cash flow?

  21. 521
    David B. Benson says:

    SecularAnimist @517 — Since intermittent generators cannot be counted upon, there is indeed backup, at least in the developed world. I found this IEA Wind Power Study
    quite educational.

    Your storage options are all rather expensive:

    I don’t know of any so-called nuclear advocates who minimize the various problems. I simply try to determine the LCOE of alternatives; just now natgas is probably the least cost. There is nothing that says that the least cost alternative has to be adopted; after all the USA has a highly expensive method of human transport.

    Brian Dodge @518 — Everybody in the world wants reliable on-demand electric power. In developed countries, the costs of rolling blackouts are studied by economists. The results indicate that reliable power is considerably less of a burden on the economy than the alternative.

    Charlie H @519 — That method of billing depends upon what the state utility commission requires; my bill contains no such surcharge although my power is derived from coal of 26% of it and natgas for 21% of it.

    When the hydro resource could not quite fullfill all demands and class 3 power emergencies started happening, the region’s utilities began acquiring combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs). Just now the major additions going in are wind turbines, firmed by combinations of the existing hydro, natgas and coal generators.

    There are those around here who live completely off-grid. They all have gasoline or diesel powered backup generators.

    I agree that not many new NPPs are going to be built in the USA for the next five years or so, but lots is being added elsewhere in the world, as I have mentioned in several prior comments.

  22. 522
    Ron R. says:


    Edward Greisch at 10:27 PM

    Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. I did a little research. Please. No thanks. They’re kind of like those “grassroots” groups that always spring up around voting time but then turn out to be industry front groups. “Citizens for this or that” I’m not interested in what astroturf front groups have to say.

    Hill & Knowlton, a PR firm hired by the Nuclear Energy Institute to promote nuclear power is behind the so-called “clean and safe” spin. ENF shares people with the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), another nuke front group. People such as environmental turncoat Patrick Moore and Berol Robinson.

    Quote: “CASEnergy was launched on April 24, 2006.[1] On its website, the PR firm Hill & Knowlton boasted that the group is “a national grassroots organization that advocates the benefits of nuclear energy. The CASEnergy Coalition is a Hill & Knowlton campaign run out of the Washington, DC office.”[2]” Sound like grassroots to you?

    According to the Columbia Journalism Review CASEnergy “has an $8 million account with the nuclear industry”. Columbia Journalism Review, “False Fronts – Why to Look Behind the Label”, Editorial, May / June, 2006. A quote from the article: “Life is complicated. So are front people for industry causes — or any cause, in a world of increasingly sophisticated p.r. We have no position on nuclear power. We just find it maddening that Hill & Knowlton … should have such an easy time working the press”. Note: as the article is no longer archived you can read it here starting on page 14.

    According to ENF’s website Moore is “Honorary Chair of EFN CANADA” and also wrote the preface for that book you mention by EFN founder Bruno Comby.

    A Moore quote: “In every interview I do the reporter already knows that I’m cochair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and that I work for the nuclear industry.” Sourcewatch though shows that he rarely lets on, or the MSM doesn’t report, that he works for these industries (he’s also big into logging, mining and, some say, will support just about any other major anti-environmental industry out there that will send him a check).

    He’s also doesn’t think people are to blame for global warming. “It [global warming] has a much better correlation with changes in solar activity than CO2 levels”

    Neither ENF nor nuclear power in general has much support in the environmental community. For example in Australia:
    Compare that to this:

  23. 523
    John E. Pearson says:

    Ron R:

    You forgot to mention “environmentalist turncoats” Stewart Brand and James Lovelock along with their fellow traveling co-conspirators: Hans Bethe, Richard Rhodes, Burton Richter, James Hansen, …


  24. 524
    Ron R. says:

    John E. Pearson @ 30 Apr 2011 at 8:52 PM

    You misunderstand John. I’m not saying that Moore, or anyone else calling him or herself an environmentalist, is a turncoat just for supporting nuclear power (although obviously I believe that it’s wrong). People can have sincerely differing opinions on a particular topic and still care about the environment. I’m saying he is considered one for having turned his back on almost every environmental value he used to stand for. As I said, he’s now pro-logging, mining, chemical industry, nuclear and biotech foods. And these industries regularly use him and pay him for their propaganda purposes. He now also regularly badmouths environmentalists. He has helped destructive industries cleanse their image through greenwashing.

    While anyone who wants to is free to do so, people should know that they have environmentalists many long hard battles to thank for everything from their air being cleaner to breath, their water safer to drink and their food healthier to eat to the national parks they may visit when they want to get way from the crowds and back to nature. Moore claims to be an environmentalist, kind of like Lomborg, and perhaps there is some window dressing there for PR’s sake but really he’s an industry spokeman.

    “So what do you do if your brand is turning toxic? You hire the Canadian public relations consultant Patrick Moore. Moore runs a company based in Vancouver called Greenspirit Strategies, which has developed “sustainability messaging” for logging, mining, lead-smelting, nuclear, biotech, fish-farming and plastics companies. He is a clever rhetorician, skilled at turning an argument round. He is seen by some environmentalists as the most brazen of the spin doctors they face.

    He has described clear-cut logging as “making clearings where new trees can grow in the sun”. He has suggested that sea lice (which spread from farmed salmon to wild fish, often with devastating effects) are “good for wild salmon”, as the fish can eat the larvae. He has justified gold-mining operations that have caused devastating spills of sodium cyanide by arguing that “cyanide is present in the environment and naturally available in many plant species”. But his greatest asset to the companies he represents is this: Patrick Moore was one of the founders and leaders of Greenpeace.

  25. 525
    Ron R. says:

    Don’t you think it odd that a supposedly environmental organization like “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy” would have Moore as their “Honorary Chair of EFN Canada” when he says things like the following (unless, of course, they are just an industry front group using him for PR reasons):

    “We do not have any scientific proof that we are the cause of the global warming that has occurred in the last 200 years…The alarmism is driving us through scare tactics to adopt energy policies that are going to create a huge amount of energy poverty among the poor people. It’s not good for people and its not good for the environment…In a warmer world we can produce more food.”

    Moore was asked who is promoting man-made climate fears what are their motives?

    Moore: “A powerful convergent of interests. Scientists seeking grant money, media seeking headlines, universities seeking huge grants from major institutions, foundations, environmental groups, politicians wanting to make it look like they are saving future generations. And all of these people have converged on this issue”

    Moore says scientific dissent is growing: “There are many thousands of scientists’ who reject man-made global warming fears…It’s all based on computer models and predictions. We do not actually have a crystal ball, it is a mythical object.”