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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. 401
    Ron R. says:

    kevin mckinney — @ 6:49 PM

    Thanks Kevin. I like wind power etc. Obviously. I like birds and wildlife too. One hopes our projects will have as small a negative effect of the environment as possible. But technologically I think the fix wouldn’t be too difficult.

    There’s always bumps on the road to change.

  2. 402
    Edward Greisch says:

    393 kevin mckinney: My table of isotopes gives the following half lives:

    isotope half life comment
    137Cs, 33 years bad
    134Cs, 3.5 hours too radioactive to be of concern
    It decays before it builds up
    131I, 8 days too radioactive to be of concern
    140Ba, 12.8 days too radioactive to be of concern
    95Zr, 65 days
    95Nb, 90 hours ->95Mo stable
    103Ru, 39.8 days
    106Ru, 1 year
    141Ce, 32.5 days
    144Ce, 290 days
    125Sb 2.7 years 125Sb->125Te stable

    The worst one is cesium137 because its half life is comparable to a human lifetime. The rest have decayed by now. They are too radioactive to be of concern. But cesium isn’t in the list of minerals that animals need. The only one that is a mineral needed by animals is iodine. Your turn: Figure out all of the decay chains to make sure you know the stable end product and whether or not there are any radioactive intermediates. Example: 125Sb->125Te + Beta, stable.

    395 adelady: If you are in Australia, I believe you. I live in Illinois now, but I grew up in western New York state where sunny days are very rare. The cloud layer averages 11000 feet thick over my home town.

    David B. Benson: Thanks for the standard efficiency for pumped hydro.

  3. 403
    CM says:

    Ray #398,

    > other than Sr-90 or iodine … tend to pass through us

    Cesium, too. Gets taken for potassium, distributed around soft tissues, only gradually excreted, passed up through the food chain in the meat of grazing animals. Scandinavians were dumping lots mutton and reindeer meat for a long time after Chernobyl (reindeer like lichens, lichens like Cs).

  4. 404
    Ron R. says:

    “Iodine-129 (129I; half-life 15.7 million years) is a product of cosmic ray spallation on various isotopes of xenon in the atmosphere, in cosmic ray muon interaction with tellurium-130, and also uranium and plutonium fission, both in subsurface rocks and nuclear reactors. Artificial nuclear processes, in particular nuclear fuel reprocessing and atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, have now swamped the natural signal for this isotope. Nevertheless, it now serves as a groundwater tracer as indicator of nuclear waste dispersion into the natural environment. In a similar fashion, 129I was used in rainwater studies to track fission products following the Chernobyl disaster…. it is highly biophilic, and occurs in multiple ionic forms (commonly, I− and IO3−) which have different chemical behaviors. This makes it fairly easy for 129I to enter the biosphere as it becomes incorporated into vegetation, soil, milk, animal tissue, etc.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_iodine#Iodine-129_as_a_long-lived_marker_for_nuclear_fission_contamination

  5. 405
    ccpo says:

    “Wind power is simply too unreliable and too expensive to replace a significant portion of fossil fuels in the long run.”

    Only if you don’t understand distributed systems and make the invalid assumption the goal is to replace current use levels. If, instead, one assumes massively distributed systems, then solar and wind both perform just fine since the source is then essentially constant. If one also understands all the other issues we face in terms of resource constraints, environmental issues, climate change, etc., then one also understands we must ultimately use a fraction of the resources we do today, thus must replace a much smaller percentage than we are using today.

    When your cost comparisons include all costs (decommissioning, deconstruction, true environmental impacts), then you can talk about comparing costs. Not until. How much more expensive is nuclear when you add in decommissioning (at least equal to building), nuclear accidents, illness and deaths from exposure, subsidies, long-term storage of waste, Hiroshima, etc, e.g.?

  6. 406
    ccpo says:

    “If we went 100% renewable, what happens when it is dark and there is no wind?”

    We don’t glow in the dark?

    Please go read all you can find on nuclear power at http://www.theoildrum.com/

  7. 407
    SecularAnimist says:

    “Wind power is simply too unreliable and too expensive to replace a significant portion of fossil fuels in the long run.”

    That’s a talking point that is wholly unsupported by facts.

    The US Department of Energy conservatively projects that wind power can supply 20 percent of US electricity demand by 2030.

    A March 2010 study by the US National Renewable Energy Lab found that “the maximum potential to generate wind power in the United States is more than three times greater than previously estimated”.

    A February 2011 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that wind power is already competitive with coal in some regions, with the per-megawatt price of wind turbines dropping 19 percent since 2007.

    Worldwide, 68 gigawatts of new wind generation capacity was installed in 2010, an all-time record.

  8. 408
    Edward Greisch says:

    405 ccpo: “the invalid assumption the goal is to replace current use levels.”
    Just try and sell that to the public. I double dare you. Wait! NO don’t! We already have enough trouble with people trying to sell that idea. Or go ahead if you are feeling suicidal.

  9. 409
    Didactylos says:

    “Wind power is simply too unreliable”

    Nonsense. As others have observed, wind can fill a very large fraction of the electricity demand in most areas. 100%, in some cases.

    To those still waffling about radionuclides: please remember that as with everything else, the dose makes the poison. Until you start talking in terms of Sv/yr, I will know that you are making it up as you go. Bananas are radioactive, after all — but you don’t see anyone living in fear of fruit, do you?

    ccpo said: “Only if you [...] make the invalid assumption the goal is to replace current use levels”

    And that’s a very good point. Current use levels are going to increase. Significantly. Because we will have to rely on renewables for heating, transportation, manufacture, and all the other current big consumers of fossil fuels. So, total demand is guaranteed to increase even in the face of efficiency measures.

  10. 410
    Didactylos says:

    ccpo: Levelised costs for nuclear power include decommissioning and long-term waste management costs. Nuclear power companies in the US also have to pay into a fund to cover potential civil liabilities in the case of an accident.

    So, when you add in all the “costs” you dreamed up, nuclear power costs exactly the same, because you really aren’t the first person to think of end-of-life expenses.

    The only one not usually covered in levelised calculations are subsidies. But these aren’t included for other energy sources either. You will have to consider subsidies separately.

    What irritates me is that I have said all this before. Please don’t be a denier-goldfish.

    Hiroshima? Really?

  11. 411
    Rod B says:

    [edit--completely OT]

  12. 412
    Ray Ladbury says:

    At this stage it is simply silly to prejudge what the next energy economy will look like. Way too much depends on unresolved technological issues. If energy storage and conversion become easier, then renewables will likely win. If the issues of idiot-proofing, waste recycling/storage/abatement and proliferation are resolved, but storage remains an issue, nukes probably demand the least changes to our current infrastructure. We simply cannot say whether either of these will happen. We have a helluva long way to go before we have any idea what things will look like. That’s one reason why the denialist’s delaying tactics aren’t just stupid, but criminal.

  13. 413
    Brian Dodge says:

    I just saw a PBS show on innovations to combat global warming (NOVA; Episode- Power Surge). One scene was in a museum in China dedicated to alternate energy; they have one of the solar panels from the installation that Carter put on the White House, and Reagan removed. The visitors would come up, read the exhibit description, then start laughing.

    According to Bjorn Lomborg-
    In 2009, China invested $34 billion, twice as much as the US, in green tech.
    They produce half the worlds solar cells.
    In 2009, it put up about a third of the world’s new wind turbines.
    China leads the world in the production of solar heaters, which provide four times more energy in China than wind turbines. and earn $6 billion from exports.

    No wonder they’re laughing.

  14. 414
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 410 Didactylos – subsidies – When I look at Lifecycle costs (and emissions, landuse, etc.) (PS not that I’m well versed in those; I’ve looked at a few abstracts/summaries and browsed some), I tend to assume that the monetary costs listed are the actual monetary costs, and subsidies would reduce the costs realized to private agents from there. Subsidies in R&D already done thus far are a done deal and immaterial to the economics of future choices (except in lessons learned about subsidies).

  15. 415
    Edward Greisch says:

    407 SecularAnimist: Your USDOE web site title is “20% Wind Energy by 2030″. I agree that 20% wind energy is possible. It just isn’t enough. We need 100% non-CO2 producing electricity generation.

    409 Didactylos: “wind can fill a very large fraction of the electricity demand in most areas. 100%, in some cases” True, in some cases. For installation on Kodiak Island, Alaska, wind is the way to go. For Australia and Arizona, solar is great. There are places where high temperature geothermal works well. But there are other places where wind, solar and geothermal don’t work. The point is that it is best to let the engineers do the engineering. Each case is different, but our goal remains the same: to stop GW.

    I think ccpo was trying to say that everybody should use a lot less electricity. I agree with you that usage of electricity can only go up, or you have a very angry public.

    RC: See http://climateprogress.org/2011/04/20/supreme-court-dismiss-global-warming-lawsuit
    I think that is the one Susan Anderson was talking about. So now we must concentrate our efforts on congress and the president to make sure the EPA gets to do its job. RealClimate’s job is to inform everybody of the latest climate science, but it is very difficult to submit a friend of court brief every time there is a new research result. Neither the judges nor the politicians understand the terrifying seriousness of the situation. There is debate at climateprogress.org over whether the court should pressure the politicians to act.

  16. 416
    Nick Gotts says:

    Levelised costs for nuclear power include decommissioning and long-term waste management costs. – Didactylos

    Erm, they include nuclear industry estimates for such costs. Given the nuclear industry’s long record of absurd underestimates of construction costs, not to mention outright lies, no-one should take these figures seriously for a moment.

  17. 417
    Snapple says:

    That Marc Morano is claiming that some Catholics are claiming that Easter is being hijacked by global warming. Then he links to an article that cites an astroturf Catholic organization called “Real Catholic TV” that is really a front for denialists.

    Morano linked to this:

    http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/21/earth-day-instead-of-easter/

    The Vatican, not fake denialist “religious” organizations cooked up by denialists, decide the position of the Catholic Church.

    Morano is using a fake organization to attack the Vatican position that climate change is happening and that man is causing it.

    This is a typical Bolshevik anti-religious tactic–creating a fake opposition to undermine the legitimate leaders.

    The TV program makes a lot of claims that I can’t verify. The information was allegedly sent in by an anonymous person in a parish.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8ZAHQscmtw

    He attacks the Bishops and suggests that the Catholic Church be abandoned because it is not really Catholic.

    He says not to give any money to the Church if they talk about Earth Day.

    Some posters claim that churches are anti-science, but you should notice that the Catholic Church is being attacked by Marc Morano and this fake “Catholic” organization which claims that global warming is a scam.

  18. 418
    Snapple says:

    That hack Marc Morano is beneath contempt, and he should know that the Vatican knows how to fight anti-religious propaganda.

    If you listen to that so-called “Real Catholic TV,” they tell people not to give to the Catholic Church if the priest discusses climate change. They claim that climate change is really about promoting abortion; however, the Catholic Church says there is climate change and is opposed to abortion.

    The “real Catholic TV” even has a “shadow priest” instead of an actual priest. Check this fake priest (a cartoon shadow) out. Probably they used a cartoon because no real priest would say these things.

    http://www.realcatholictv.com/

    Marc Morano is undermining legitimate scientific and religious authority. This is what communists do. They undermine, subvert, and persecute legitmate authority and infiltrate their own operatives and ideology.

    The Vatican has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and they just had a conference on the melting of glaciers on April 2-6.

    Dr. Mann has attended a Vatican-sponsored workshop, in the past.

    Cucinelli is a Catholic, yet he attacks climate science and scientists who are recognized by the Vatican as experts in their fields. I think this is because his dad is a lobbyist for the gas industry.
    Cuccinelli has hijacked the Attorney General position in order to persecute Dr. Mann under the color of law.

    The great Russian scientist Roald Sagdeev is a member of the Pontifical Academy.

    Years ago, the KGB smeared our Pentagon scientists by climing that they made AIDS. Dr. Sagdeev denounced this lie right in Izvestia on behalf of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Russia’s great scientists (except some very old ones) are not generally stooges—that’s why Kommersant has to quote Andrei Illarionov, an economist. Illarionov worked for Putin and Gazprom before he popped up as the Cato Institute’s expert on climate change.

    More recently, Dr. Sagdeev was one of the members of the American Academy of Sciences who denounced the attack on climate science. He moved to Maryland, but he is still a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences as well as the American Academy of Sciences, and the Pontifical Academy.

    Marc Morano uses the communist technique of inciting the mob with his shrill propaganda.

    MANY of the people/organizations who wrote those petetions to the EPA (Cuccinelli was only one) cited propaganda from the Kremlin-friendly business daily Kommersant. That paper is owned by a Gazprom operative, Alisher Usmanov. Still, Kommersant could only quote Andri Illarionov, a Gazprom/Putin operative.

    In all of Russia, that’s all Kommersant could get.

    Usmanov used to run a so-called “Peace Committee.” Usually such people are affiliated with the state security.

    He has his newspaper and his billions because he supports the Kremlin.

    All those people and organizations who petitioned the EPA are spouting the propaganda of Alisher Usmanov, a very disreputable Gazprom thug who reportedly handles sensitive foreign operations.

  19. 419
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “At this stage it is simply silly to prejudge what the next energy economy will look like.”

    Google is prejudging what the next energy economy will look like by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy and smart grid technologies — not only into R&D but into actual deployment of today’s powerful, mature wind and solar technologies, from which they expect to profit in the short term, not decades from now.

    And other high-tech companies and venture capitalists all over the world are doing likewise.

    Are they “silly”? I don’t think so.

  20. 420
    Edward Greisch says:

    Politics on RealClimate: RC must do politics because politics is the only road to mitigation. Sorry. Scientists should run for political office. RC people, from Jim Hansen on down, should run for the US senate. I am trying to figure out how to run for the US house. Political power, and lots of it, is required to shut down the coal industry or to do anything else that reduces GW.

  21. 421

    I just noticed, while over at Nature, that they have just launched Nature Climate Change (Vol 1, Issue 1, April, 2011).

    At $112 the subscription is a bit pricy, but I’m considering it.

  22. 422

    420, Edward Greisch,

    Interesting. I was recently musing over running myself (if I could afford to quit my job), not necessarily with the intention of winning, but rather simply elevating the debate in the public eye, and making sure that it’s argued by someone who understands it rather than someone who is parroting points they don’t truly understand.

    I think there’d be huge value in that — running purely with the intent of making it more of a public, high-profile political issue, getting the truth out there, and making any denial-politicians (or even those ignoring the issue) suffer embarrassment for their own misunderstandings or ill-founded positions.

    I don’t believe any such candidate would win, because of the current public climate (i.e. a general “wait-and-see” apathy, IMO), but it would serve an important purpose in moving people from that attitude towards a more concerned, and educated, position.

    On the other hand, actually winning would be a great sign of public awareness and involvement, and would take the debate to the next level (i.e. it would make Republican denial McCarthy-style show hearings a lot harder to execute).

    One could probably get the signatures, and some funding, just from those who are engaged in the issue. All it would take is some organizational skills, energy, and the one thing I currently lack — time to do it.

  23. 423
    Didactylos says:

    Nick Gotts, as I understand it, decommissioning costs are based on past experience with decommissioning. Levelised costs are not typically calculated using rose-tinted guesses – but there are varying estimates out there. Find some you trust.

    And for construction costs, please don’t confuse major overruns on major new designs with costs for off-the-shelf builds. It’s the economy of scale – build lots, it’s cheaper.

    A strategy that works equally well for wind, solar and nuclear.

  24. 424
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist, Yes, and Warren Buffett is investing in tar sands, while T. Boone Pickens is investing in wind and buying up as much ground water as possible. Your point? At the present time it is unclear just how smart our smart grid will be. It is unclear how energy will be stored to meet demand in down times. It is unclear how the \smart grid\ will level out surges and troughs.

    It is also unclear how you idiot-proof a nuclear reactor, how you deal with nuclear waste and whether you can make a reactor that is truly proof against terrorism and proliferation.

    There is a difference between investing in technology and prejudging winners in the energy game. At present, most people are so deep in denial, we may do nothing at all and simply run our civilization into the ground fueled by high-octane petroleum.

  25. 425
    fcs says:

    @ Edwin Greisch… I agree, scientists and RC people SHOULD run for the US Senate. We need to people who understand how this whole thing works and not just the “public popular marketers” we vote into office..

  26. 426
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury — I guess my point is that I don’t really understand what “don’t prejudge what the next energy economy will look like” means.

    My point is that next energy economy will “look like” the result of the choices, decisions and investments that we make now, today. It’s not something that will just happen according to mysterious and inscrutable causes and conditions while we stand by and watch.

    What should the next energy economy look like?

    What do you want the next energy economy to look like?

    What can you do to make that happen?

  27. 427
    JiminMpls says:

    #423 Off the shelf builds? Like the Toshiba AP1000/1100/1200? Modular, mass produced plants that will make nuclear power more affordable than ever?

    It was all propaganda and lies to bilk US taxpayers out of tens of billions in subsidies. The AP 1000/1100/1200 will cost 6-9 times more than Toshiba claimed.

    You really need to stop drinking the koolaid didact and educate yourself. You are exactly like the climate denilist zombies. Just parroting the same old fossilist/nuclearist propaganda and lies.

  28. 428

    All these prevailing low-energy or ‘sustainable-energy’ options suffer from the blind spots wherein issues of resource co-dependence, mean time before failure etc hide waiting to pounce.

    These alternative energy sources and systems are only of genuine utility to mankind if they provide a future at least as long as the history of oil, and preferably of several millennia.

    Every one of these alternatives relies on manufacturing methods and materials that are at the upper limits of our technical abilities, and which rely on resources such as rare earths which are difficult and expensive to extract, and which are controlled by only a few nations who may or may not be inclined to export such materials when push comes to shove.

    The resin and carbon fibre of wind turbine blades, the microchips in the controllers, the steel in the hold-down bolts of the towers; the lithium in the EVs batteries, the titanium in the body shell. All very cute and nice for the shareholders (briefly), but impossible for a soon-to-be-simpler world to maintain let alone create.

    Mean-time-to-failure of wind turbines is perhaps 20 years if they are properly maintained, less if the oil in the gearboxes is not regularly replaced. What is the point in promoting a new energy system that will die before we do, and leave us with nothing to fill the gap? Why bother?

    We are going to get a sustainable, low energy future whether we ‘plan’ for it or not! We have a pretty good idea ‘what things will look like’.

    The immediate benefits of more energetic climate on wind or wave generation, for example, will have to be balanced against the need for increased robustness in the mechanisms to cope with higher loadings.

    As things stand future generations will have absolutely NOTHING to show for our ignorant consumption of the worlds best energy and mineral resources. In 100 years time (Heck! Possibly 100 days time!) the mineral energy era will be all but over. The odd sputtering fire, the rare heat engine coughing away to remind us of what we have done.

    The least we can do is use the time and resources we have available to us today to come up with genuinely sustainable and smart ways to extract energy from the environment and convert it to useful forms to power a future civilisation. We have to ensure that our great grandchildren will say of us “Hey, these people in the year 2011 saw this coming, and gave us this really wonderful energy conversion system. Thanks guys!”

  29. 429
    Didactylos says:

    JiminMpls: I’m sorry that you can’t see beyond the borders of the United States. Since, in the case of the US, it’s pretty much a story of How Not To Do It.

    For costs to come down, you have to actually build lots of reactors. It’s not enough to talk about it, or have a few doomed plans on the go. Economies of scale only work with actual scale.

    Ask France.

    And don’t be so parochial.

    Despite all this, I still don’t have a clue where you got your “6-9 times more” figure. If you want to make claims, please source them. If you don’t, and they aren’t credible, then I’ll just conclude you made them up or took them out of context.

  30. 430
    Didactylos says:

    Nigel Williams: big rant.

    Are you offering an answer, or are you just sticking with “we’re all doomed!”?

    You ask “Why bother?”

    And that’s an easy question, because humanity, for all its faults, has always striven, always aspired, always looked forward. Yes, we may screw it up. But we’re going to try anyway.

    As for wind power – we had that long before we had electricity. I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon.

  31. 431
    Nick Gotts says:

    “major overruns on major new designs with costs for off-the-shelf builds. It’s the economy of scale – build lots, it’s cheaper.” – Didactylos

    But “off-the-shelf builds” are pure vapourware: every nuclear enthusiast has their own pet type of reactor – “4th generation”, thorium-fuelled, fast breeder… which will (supposedly) solve the fuelling, safety and proliferation problems of previous designs, but we have no “off-the-shelf builds” for any of them.

    WRT decommissioning costs – and even more so, long-term storage costs – I certainly wouldn’t trust any estimates from nuclear industry or enthusiast sources: they have every incentive to under-estimate costs, and a long record of doing so.

  32. 432
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular Animist,
    The minimum requirement for the next energy economy is that it cannot depend on petroleum and natural gas, for the simple reason that petroleum and natural gas are running out. This means it could be coal, oil shale, tar sands, nukes or renewables, and if you want to move into fantasy land, fusion.

    The fact that the fossil fuel options lead to climatic disaster does not preclude the possibility that we’ll be stupid enough to choose them. This has the advantage that we’ll probably bring an end to human civilization before we have to develop yet a third energy infrastructure, but I don’t take much comfort from that. [note: this is sarcasm]

    Nukes pose some very difficult problems, but all of those problems are at least in principle technically solvable. A nuclear option would be capable of producing a lot of power for a long time. It is still finite, though, and eventually, we would need to develop another energy infrastructure–while facing opposition from an interested class that is even more entrenched than our fossil fuel interests.

    Likewise, the problems of renewables may be technically solvable at least in principle. A system based on renewables is in principle sustainable–although it can be badly managed and degrade over time. This would of course be the most desirable outcome.

    Note that one of the biggest problems with any of these solutions is that they don’t touch what to do about transport. Right now we simply have no solution on the horizon that can resolve this problem.

    The problem is that we do not know which set of technical issues will be resolved first. And we have no societal infrastructure in place that can undertake resolution of such long-term problems. Industry is dedicated mainly to short-term profit and we have “starved the beast” of government that it doesn’t even know whether it will survive to next year.

    So, there is always the option of doing nothing–in effect letting civilization crumble due to the loss of our energy infrastructure. And while some claim this would resolve the problem of climate change, I am not so optimistic. I merely picture 9 billion people burning whatever they can lay their hands on in an inefficient last gasp. This seems to be the option we are choosing.

  33. 433
    Ron R. says:

    Nigel Williams — 22 Apr 2011 @ 8:03 PM said:

    These alternative energy sources and systems are only of genuine utility to mankind if they provide a future at least as long as the history of oil, and preferably of several millennia.

    Hopefully the sun will keep shining and the wind will keep blowing for a long tome to come.

    Every one of these alternatives relies on manufacturing methods and materials that are at the upper limits of our technical abilities, and which rely on resources such as rare earths which are difficult and expensive to extract, and which are controlled by only a few nations who may or may not be inclined to export such materials when push comes to shove.

    True. China has 97% of the rare earths necessary to make magnets etc. However a recent survey by the USGS found 13 million metric tons in the US.

    Rare Earth Elements Not So Rare in US
    http://www.solarnovus.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1721:rare-earth-elements-not-so-rare-in-us&catid=52:applications-tech-research&Itemid=247

    And there are alternatives coming along. I’m not a big fan of unfixed nano materials, especially in personal items such as food (to make them taste better) or socks to keep them from smelling). That use of nano, which GWB decided did not need regulating or labeling because we don’t need to know about them in our environment even though they readily cross the blood/brain barrier is an absolute scandal. However nano in fixed applications where they wont leak out (hopefully) has promise, in this case as a replacement for rare earths.

    New Nano Material Could Replace Rare Earth Minerals In Solar Cells and OLEDs
    http://inhabitat.com/new-nano-material-could-replace-rare-earth-minerals-in-solar-cells-and-oleds/

    A rare-earth alternative
    http://www.raremetalblog.com/2011/03/a-rare-earth-alternative.html

    From the article “Such fears may be misplaced, however. Various researchers are working to develop new materials that require much smaller quantities of rare–earth materials, and for some applications, such as wind turbines and electric vehicle motors, alternatives already exist.”

    Finally, there is recycling of rare earth materials that can and should be done.

    New Push to Recycle Rare Earth Minerals
    http://blog.cleantechies.com/2011/03/14/new-push-to-recycle-rare-earth-minerals/

    The resin and carbon fibre of wind turbine blades, the microchips in the controllers, the steel in the hold-down bolts of the towers; the lithium in the EVs batteries, the titanium in the body shell. All very cute and nice for the shareholders (briefly), but impossible for a soon-to-be-simpler world to maintain let alone create.

    Excellent point, which is a good argument for recycling. We have so much already sitting in landfills that has been accumulating for decades especially in old appliances, computers etc. Instead we have been just tossing junk in big holes in the ground year after year Idiocracy style. Earth’s finite resources on a one-way trip to the dump. It’s crazy. Solar water heaters though are made of materials that we have in abundance in landfills. And they don’t use rare earths. If every home had just one of those the savings in energy left in the earth (for a future rainy day or not used at all) would be large.

    Mean-time-to-failure of wind turbines is perhaps 20 years if they are properly maintained, less if the oil in the gearboxes is not regularly replaced. What is the point in promoting a new energy system that will die before we do, and leave us with nothing to fill the gap? Why bother?

    You’ll be hard pressed to find anything that lasts forever and doesn’t have a lifespan. But you’re right that we need to work on greatly extending that life (yet also make it able to degrade once put back in the ground).

    The immediate benefits of more energetic climate on wind or wave generation, for example, will have to be balanced against the need for increased robustness in the mechanisms to cope with higher loadings.

    That’s if you rely on large scale centralized operations. Smaller scale home-based does not need to continually get larger.

    Besides this there are a lot of other alternatives that we should also be moving on. For example:

    Quote: “One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses”
    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/07/08/urine-power.html

    Lastly, we need to seriously recognize that the earth is finite. Julian Simon’s belief that we can go on growingf for the next seven billion years, though admired by Libertarians (like of like their other major hero Ayn Rand (was insane. We are already consuming way more then the earth can sustain. Our population is way more than the earth can sustain. That’s been stated in study after study, but we, as a whole keep ignoring that. It’s looking more and more like an Easter Island future for us if we don’t wake up.

  34. 434
    Septic Matthew says:

    The March 2011 number of The Annals of Applied Statistics is now out in its published version. That is the number that has McShane and Wyner’s analysis of proxies for reconstructing past temperature records, and the debate, including (Gavin) Schmidt, Mann and Rutherford’s critique and McShane and Wyner’s rejoinder.

  35. 435
    Septic Matthew says:

    432, Ray Ladbury: Note that one of the biggest problems with any of these solutions is that they don’t touch what to do about transport. Right now we simply have no solution on the horizon that can resolve this problem.

    I think it depends on the “horizon”. Catalytic creation of syngas from CO2 and H2 from H2O powered by electricity from solar, or by solar directly, have been demonstrated. From those, fuel for transportation can be made, and has been made. The only unknowns are the rate and cost of scaling up manufacturing.

    We also have biofuels, and the exact limits on those, as well as costs of scaling up the production, are not known.

  36. 436
    Septic Matthew says:

    432, Ray Ladbury: This seems to be the option we are choosing.

    Why the fascination with the idea that nothing is being done? Production of solar, wind, and biofuels is increasing in all the industrialized countries and in many “emerging” countries.

  37. 437
    Ron R. says:

    Ray Ladbury — @ 7:50 AM

    Note that one of the biggest problems with any of these solutions is that they don’t touch what to do about transport. Right now we simply have no solution on the horizon that can resolve this problem. The problem is that we do not know which set of technical issues will be resolved first.

    It could be that alternatives can power transport as well electric car style. Still we should solve fixed location energy issues first. Those are the easiest to solve. If every structure using dirty energy right now were outfitted with clean that would take most of the pressure off time-wise and pollution-wise and we could work toward solving the transport issue. Do what we can first.

  38. 438
    Septic Matthew says:

    392, Edward Greisch: [CONCENTRATE] on killing the coal industry.

    Yes. The time is right — for numerous reasons, including that in the US coal use is declining as alternatives (see Secular Animist’s links) are improving and expanding their penetration.

  39. 439
    Rod B says:

    Editor (411), you’re both correct and proper. Sorry.

  40. 440
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 428 Nigel Williams – adding to the point of recycling, more energy (and presumably land, etc) is required to get materials from lower grade ores, but if the service life of those materials could be far longer than the products they are in, we could still continue to accumulate more material from lower grade ores economically.

    Also, some ores are not very much enriched relative to average crustal abundances or some common rock types; this is especially true of Al.

    (PS interestingly, a more immediate constraint for some rarer elements is the finite demand for other elements, as those rarer elements are mainly or exclusively obtained as byproducts from the processing of ores of other elements.)

    You don’t need REEs for wind; they help but you can make-do without. (Using vertical axis turbines would allow placing the generator at ground level; alternatively wind turbines could directly mechanically pump/compress fluid for energy storage with electricity generation coming after that.)

    CIGS and CdTe solar cells require rare elements, but small amounts are used per unit area, and so there is still significant potential for these PV devices. Meanwhile we still have Si, with potentially more efficient ways to use it (light-trapping so that thinner layers can be used, which would allow use of lower-grade material). There are quite a few other potential PV materials without big supply constraints. (See “Materials Availability Expands the Opportunity for Large-Scale Photovoltaics Deployment” – Cyrus Wadia, A. Paul Alivisatos, Daniel M. Kammen) Other materials in PV and solar power in general (glass, mirror – I don’t know a lot about that point) could be of concern (depending on type of glass), although there could be (thin) plastic substitutes in some cases, etc… (which might have a high EROEI from the petroleum, or biofuel input???)

  41. 441
    Adam R. says:

    The technological arguments against renewables remind me of arguments against steam power by conservative Royal Navy admirals of the early 19th century. They presume no advancements in efficiency and reliability.

  42. 442
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Septic Matthew asks, “Why the fascination with the idea that nothing is being done?”

    Ah! An easy question. I believe it has to do with the fact that we aren’t doing JACK to solve any of these profits. It’s “business as usual” and “record profits” and slashing R&D in industry and basic research by government. In short, the solution we seem to have developed is to hand out recipes for seed corn.

    Do you guys have any idea how hard it will be to REPLACE an energy infrastructure? It took 60 years to put the last one in place, and that didn’t involve tearing one infrastructure down and replacing it with another WITHOUT disruption! Meanwhile, most people doen even acknowledge any of the problems civilization is facing.

  43. 443
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Ron R., Anyone familiar with Earth’s history could tell you that the planet’s crust is enriched in rare earths (as well as actinides). Rare earths are “lithophilic”–that is, they tend to dissolve in melts rich in rock-forming elements–Si, Li, Na…. As such more of the rare earths and actinides stayed at the surface. I’ve got a mineral cabinet full of rare earth minerals (as well as radioactives) from all over the world.

    Unfortunately, the same process caused us to lose most of the gold and especially platinum, palladium and iridium–which are all siderophiles and dissolve in molten iron, most of which is now found at Earth’s core.

  44. 444
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Every one of these alternatives relies on manufacturing methods and materials that are at the upper limits of our technical abilities… The resin[1] and carbon fibre[2] of wind turbine blades…”
    “Mean-time-to-failure of wind turbines is perhaps 20 years if they are properly maintained[3], less if the oil in the gearboxes[4] is not regularly replaced…” Nigel Williams — 22 Apr 2011 @ 8:03 PM

    AAARRRGGGH Recaptcha says response was incorrect. Reposting with new recaptcha says duplicate comment. Which bit of the software is right? They could both be wrong &;>)

    1. “In 1933, Henry Ford replaced a small portion of the rear of one of his automobiles with soy-based phenolic plastic. To display the strength of the material, he took a sledgehammer to the rear panel. The soy-based plastic demonstrated excellent strength and flexibility.” http://www.compositesworld.com/columns/harvest-season-ahead-for-soy-resins
    2. “Rayon is a manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber.” ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayon
    “Rayon, in either fiber or fabric form, is one of the most common precursors for carbon fiber.”http://www.afma.org/f-tutor/hi-performance.htm
    “Lyocell fibers are successfully carbonized under conditions identical to those for manufacturing rayon-based carbon fibers. The two kinds of carbon fibers are compared by SEM and a Weibull statistical analysis.” http://trj.sagepub.com/content/72/5/405.abstract
    3. Less than 3.5% down time due to failure, including gearboxes, in German wind turbines (assuming a 25% duty cycle; less than 3% if the duty cycle is 30%) Reliability-Growth Analysis of Wind Turbines from Fleet Field Data, Spinato et al. Nuclear power plants are offline for ~105 of the time due to scheduled outages and failures. Gears (and other moving parts) do wear out – but -
    4. Gearless wind turbines – http://ing.dk/artikel/110879-gearloese-moeller-fra-siemens-bliver-solgt-for-foerste-gang.

    What constitutes “appropriate technology” is very much dependent on your resources. If neodymium is relatively inexpensive, PM rotors may make economic sense; if not, one can use an iron rotor and a field coil. A concentrating solar thermal power plant, even with molten salt storage, may work better with computers, nanostructured absorbers, and other advantages of modern technology, but it doesn’t require tech any more sophisticated than 1800′s steam engines.

    I came across an interesting google books reprint of “The Independent” volume 93, published March 9, 1918. It discusses the technology of acid treating corn stover to convert the cellulose to fermentable sugars for the production of ethanol for motor fuel. “The process is perfectly practicable but has yet to be proved profitable. The rapidly approaching exhaustion of our oil fields which the war has accelerated leads us to see what we can get to take the place of gasoline. One of the most promising of the suggested substitutes is alcohol.

  45. 445
    Didactylos says:

    Nick Gotts: since the estimates of costs that I rely on don’t come from industry sources, I don’t think you are looking very hard for answers. I think you are looking for easy excuses.

    The thing about excuses is they are very easy to find. Not so easy to believe, though.

    For all new reactor designs, the first few are most expensive. This is just a result of a new design. So far, nobody has shown me that they are talking about eventual costs, rather than new design costs.

    In fact, nobody has chosen to talk about actual costs at all, instead preferring to shout “It’s too expensive!”

    If it’s too expensive, why are so many being built? Do you think these companies plan on making a massive loss?

    And just so that we are perfectly clear: the capital costs of building a reactor are very large. This is indisputable. But too large? That’s just posturing. If I hear “But it’s really expensive” one more time, I think I will scream. They are big numbers. Deal with it.

  46. 446
    Edward Greisch says:

    424 Ray Ladbury “It is also unclear how you idiot-proof a nuclear reactor”
    Simple: Go to 4th Generation. Gen 4 is truly idiot proof.

    “how you deal with nuclear waste”: There is so little “waste” for Gen 4 that you will need it to treat your prostate cancer.

    “whether you can make a reactor that is truly proof against terrorism”: That’s easy: Gen 2 already is. Explaining it would take a whole page. Simply: The containment building is 1 meter thick of 25000 pound concrete with so much re-rod it may as well be solid steel. Inside that, the vessel is 5 inches thick stainless steel. Etc. It takes a robot to get the fuel rods out. You need an 18 wheeler to carry them + the lead shielding. 18 wheelers don’t make fast getaways. Try to think like a terrorist. The terrorist is the one with the impossible job.

    “proliferation.” Power plants make Pu240 not Pu239. Bombs need Pu239. Very few nations have the technology to make plutonium bombs. The proliferation happened when Israel got spent fuel from Numec Inc in Apollo, PA. Israel used it to fuel a short-cycle breeder to make Pu239. Numec was recycling spent fuel. Numec paid a $930,000 fine. Recycling must be done in a GOGO [Government Owned Government Operated] plant because spent fuel is just too valuable to trust a capitalist with it.

    “There is a difference between investing in technology and prejudging winners in the energy game. ” Yes, I know. That is why I keep saying: “Let the electric generating company engineers do the engineering.”

    “Do you guys have any idea how hard it will be to REPLACE an energy infrastructure?” Yes I do. That is why I say nuclear is easier than renewables. You can keep everything as was except the heat source. The new heat source is a module you drop in to replace the coal fire. You should be able to do it while the coal is still burning. There is a short down time for the switchover.

    Transportation: Overhead “third rail” electricity? Cars on railroad tracks for long trips? There is a way to do it.

    Rare metals, etc: We can use alnico magnets if we have to, They just make the alternator bigger, like in the old days. Same for fiberglass: Aluminum or steel would suffice.

  47. 447
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Edward Greisch,
    On terror-proofing things.

    The Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Mongol hordes. It failed. Do you know why? The Mongols bribed a guard. As with idiot-proofing, the human element is the weak element.

    And Gen4 and waste–suffice to say I’ll believe it when I see it. At the very least these reactors would require a reprocessing infrastructure that does not at present exist, and which no one, at present, is building.

  48. 448
    Joe Cushley says:

    “Try to think like a terrorist. The terrorist is the one with the impossible job.”

    Fly a large plane into it at high speed. Drop a large conventional bomb on it. There, thought like a terrorist. Now tell me either of those things are impossible or that they wouldn’t inflict a lot of damage, and cause huge repercussions within the country where the installation was sited.

    [Response: This is going too far OT. No more on terrorist thought patterns please. - gavin]

  49. 449
    Ron R. says:

    Democrats and Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Global Warming, Study Finds

    The gap between Democrats and Republicans who believe global warming is happening increased 30 percent between 2001 and 2010 — a “depressing” trend that’s essentially keeping meaningful national energy policies from being considered, argues sociologist Aaron M. McCright.

    “Instead of a public debate about different policies to deal with global warming, a significant percentage of the American public is still debating the science,” said McCright, MSU associate professor and primary investigator on the study. “As a result, we’re failing to significantly address one of the most serious problems of our time.”

    ….

    McCright said the process has been magnified over the past decade by the emergence of media outlets where citizens can seek out news and ideas that reinforce their values and beliefs. He said citizens at either end of the political spectrum can get daily information — albeit very different information — on global warming that further strengthens their opposing beliefs about what is real.

    “Unfortunately, this is not a recipe for promoting a civil, science-based discussion on this very serious environmental problem,” McCright said. “Like with the national discussion on health care, we don’t even agree on what the basic facts are.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110419111425.htm

    You ever feel like just giving up? So much s**t going down meanwhile the nuts cheer.

  50. 450
    Septic Matthew says:

    442, Ray Ladbury: Ah! An easy question. I believe it has to do with the fact that we aren’t doing JACK to solve any of these profits. It’s “business as usual” and “record profits” and slashing R&D in industry and basic research by government. In short, the solution we seem to have developed is to hand out recipes for seed corn.

    Ah. Well.

    I would recommend that you follow Secular Animist’s hot links.

    I have expressed one “idea” several times. If the present rates of expansion are sustained, and there is no known reason why they can’t be over this duration, world output of solar, wind, and biofuel energy will each double 5 times in the next 5 – 10 years.

    We’ll have to meet in 2020 and compare notes. Even BPL doesn’t believe that civilization will have for sure ended by that time.


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