RealClimate logo

Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

Unforced Variations: Feb 2013

Filed under: — group @ 4 February 2013

This month’s open thread on climate science…

421 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Feb 2013”

  1. 51
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paraquat wrote: “The USA has done almost nothing with renewable energy. Well, except for many electric power companies now putting photos of windmills on the envelopes when they mail a bill to you.”

    “Windmills” are antique machines once used to grind grain.

    Those “photos on the envelopes” are of wind turbines, which are modern, high-tech machines used to generate electricity.

    As for “almost nothing”, according to the American Wind Energy Association:

    The US wind energy industry had its strongest year ever in 2012 … installing a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of electric generating capacity, leveraging $25 billion in private investment, and achieving over 60,000 MW of cumulative wind capacity … enough clean, affordable, American wind power to power the equivalent of almost 15 million homes, or the number in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined … wind energy for the first time became the number one source of new US electric generating capacity … 2012 was a strong year for all renewables, as together they accounted for over 55 percent of all new U.S. generating capacity.

  2. 52
    Dan H. says:

    While a decade ago, wind energy was “almost nothing,” electricity generated from wind has accounted for ~3% of the total (2011), and has been rising at greater than 30% annually.

  3. 53
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Dan H. says …

    Please show your work. Don’t ask us to trust you.

  4. 54
    Dan H. says:

    Sorry Hank, I assumed you and everyone else here could add. In 2011, wind generated 120,177 thousand Megawatthours compared to 4,100,656 for all energy sources, a net contribution of 2.9%. The next part is a little trickier, and using slightly higher math: In 2001, wind only generated 6,737, which results in a cumulative annual increase of 34%, decreasing to 30% averaged over the past three years.

  5. 55
    Edward Greisch says:

    Dan H.: Wind power still took ZERO fossil fueled power plants off line.

  6. 56
    MarkB says:

    Following from #52 (Dan H), net generation of electricity fell 2007-2011 about 1.5%, dropping about 56,000 thousand Mwh. Yet real GDP in 2011 was close to 1% higher than 2007. This suggests some progress with energy efficiency. Coal fell about 13%, losing 283,000 thousand Mwh of generation. Wind energy generation more than tripled, increasing about 85,000. Natural gas increased about 127,000. Essentially, coal has fallen hard, and natural gas, wind, and energy efficiency have taken up the slack.

    Looking at the latest 10-month total for 2012, the trend appears to continue in impressive fashion. Net generation is off another 46,000 from last year’s pace (about a 1% drop), while U.S. GDP has increased in 2012 by about 2%. Coal is off a further 226,000, the biggest drop yet, while natural gas and wind are up 214,000 and 17,000 respectively. Natural gas had a much better year than wind in 2012 compared to the more balanced increases of 2007-2011, but both are on the incline as coal and overall generation falls. Solar is actually doing quite well from a growth perspective, more than doubling in 2012, but its contribution is still only 2,000 higher.

    While energy efficiency and wind power success are welcome signs, how much the climate is benefiting from U.S. changes depends on how much better/worse natural gas is vs coal. I’d like to see a summary on the state of science on that issue.

    Obviously, how quickly China curbs its coal addiction is critical.

    From the perspective of the President’s energy goals, which includes more energy efficiency, more renewable energy more natural gas replacing coal, and less oil consumption (also down in recent years), he certainly appears to be meeting them.

  7. 57
    PAber says:

    As for the wind power comparisons with other energy sources we should always remember two things. First, do not be overwhelmed by the CAPACITY – look at actual production. According to the report on renewable energy ( worldwide production was 459.9TWh in 2011. The global windpower installed capacity was 238GW. Short math 459.9TWh/365/24 gives the average power of about 52GW, i.e. about 22% of the capacity. The use of capacity measures are rather misleading when one discusses the role of wind compared to nuclear, coal, oil or gas or even hydro power. Second, this power output figure is an average – so there were times when too much reliance on wind power would leave whole regions without enough power. Apples to apples…

  8. 58
    Charlie H says:

    Slate has just published an article by Raymond T. Pierrehumbert on oil abundance:

    I hope it’s not too far out of bounds to mention it here.

  9. 59
    Dan H. says:

    While plants may not have been taken offline, they were less utilized. Electricity from coal production fell 9%, and from petroleum 75% (possibly idled?). Only generation from natural gas increased – by 55%. Not only was there a reduction in CO2 production, but also a decrease in soot and other byproducts.

    Exactly. That is why I posted production numbers, and not capacity. I am not sure of the exact figure, but electricity generation from wind runs at between 20 and 25% of capacity.

  10. 60
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “Wind power still took ZERO fossil fueled power plants off line”

    According to the US Energy Information Administration:

    Plant owners and operators report to EIA that they expect to retire almost 27 gigawatts (GW) of capacity from 175 coal-fired generators between 2012 and 2016. In 2011, there were 1,387 coal-fired generators in the United States, totaling almost 318 GW. The 27 GW of retiring capacity amounts to 8.5% of total 2011 coal-fired capacity.

    The coal-fired capacity expected to be retired over the next five years is more than four times greater than retirements performed during the preceding five-year period (6.5 GW). Moreover, based on EIA data, the approximate 9 GW of coal-fired capacity retirements expected to occur in 2012 will likely be the largest one-year amount in the nation’s history. The record is, however, expected to be short-lived as almost 10 GW of coal-fired capacity are expected to retire in 2015.

    That’s rather more than “ZERO” fossil fueled power plants going off line, Edward.

    And given the rapidly plummeting cost of wind power, and its continuing rapid growth (to become “the number one source of new US electric generating capacity” in 2012, as noted above), it seems unreasonable to assert that wind power is not at least a contributing cause of the unprecedented, and growing, number of coal-fired power plants being retired.

  11. 61
    Paraquat says:

    Comment by SecularAnimist:

    That’s rather more than “ZERO” fossil fueled power plants going off line, Edward. And given the rapidly plummeting cost of wind power, and its continuing rapid growth (to become “the number one source of new US electric generating capacity” in 2012, as noted above), it seems unreasonable to assert that wind power is not at least a contributing cause of the unprecedented, and growing, number of coal-fired power plants being retired.

    I think that Edward has it right. Wind’s contribution to the power mix has been either nothing or next to nothing. As he pointed out, wind enthusiasts love to quote the “installed capacity” rather than what was actually generated. But even when you look at what was actually generated (in the above-mentioned examples, about 22% of installed capacity) the coal power plants don’t go offline just because the wind is blowing for a few hours. It takes at least a few hours to shut down any fossil fuel power plant, and equally at least a few hours for startup. But wind speeds can change considerably in just a few hours. going from calm to very windy back to calm in that time.

    The only type of power plant that works well with wind are hydro power plants, because starting and stopping can be accomplished in minutes. Denmark arguably has the only really useful wind power program, because the Danes can tap the excess hydro capacity of Norway (they share the grid). Unfortunately, the amount of excess hydro capacity available in the world (to serve as a backup for wind) is very limited.

    Yes, there has been a decrease in coal burning in the USA because of the available of (at the moment) very cheap natural gas due to the rapidly increasing fracking operations. The gas is so cheap that it’s being dumped on the market at below-cost prices. As long as it stays that cheap, the electric power companies will be glad to use it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it will stay that cheap, but more worrying is the environmental cost of fracking. Aside from the now well-known problem of water pollution, a greater problem is the increase in methane leaking from the ground in areas that have been fracked. Since methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, natural gas obtained from fracking might well cause MORE global warming than burning coal. I admit that statement is not certain – I don’t think that anybody has been able to quantify how much methane has been leaking due to fracking, but if it’s over 3% of what’s being produced than yes, it will be worse than burning coal.

    Yes, wind power will score a rapid increase in use until all the low-hanging fruit of good windy sites (or where hydro power backup) are taken. There are only a few sites that are reliably windy most of the time (Alaska’s Aleutian Islands comes to mind). I wish I could be more optimistic about wind, but my conclusion is that it’s less likely than solar to make any significant contribution to the energy mix (and solar has some serious limitations which I’ll discuss in another post at some future time – but I do like solar).

    I confess that I used the term “windmill” rather than “wind tower” on purpose, rather cynically, because I think that the current generation of wind farms are going to be about as useful against AGW as those old Dutch windmills used to grind grain. So I apologize if that offended anyone. However, I wish everyone would be willing to look unbiasedly at the hard truths about wind, solar, geothermal, and all the other “alternatives” – they are not panaceas (I wish they were) and periodically we all need a reality check. Unfortunately, many people get too emotional about their favorite technology. And doubly unfortunately, AGW (which I don’t doubt is real) won’t be wished away by such enthusiasm.


  12. 62
    Douglas says:

    It’s very important to take into account the growth rate of wind power, not just the current capacity.

    Stuart Staniford covers this here with some simplification — but the main point is still on target:

    “Over the last ten years of data (all from BP by the way), the average growth rate in primary energy consumption is 2.7%. Meanwhile, the wind energy grew at 25% and the solar energy grew at 44%. And this makes all the difference! Those are incredibly high growth rates and mean that the awe-inspiring power of exponential growth is on our side.”

  13. 63
    Douglas says:

    And to the point about not enough windy sites available:

  14. 64
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paraquat, with all due respect, your comment offers many opinions, but few facts.

    You wrote “Denmark arguably has the only really useful wind power program”. Yet, you don’t actually bother to “argue” for that statement at all, you just make it.

    Perhaps you’d like to explain why wind power in Spain, for example, is not “really useful” — even though wind power produced more electricity than any other source in Spain for the last three months, including 6 terawatt-hours in January, an amount achieved only once before, by combined-cycle gas generators in 2010.

    You wrote “wind power will score a rapid increase in use until all the low-hanging fruit of good windy sites … are taken”.

    Well, that would be great, given that the commercially harvestable wind energy resources of just four midwestern states could generate more electricity than the entire country uses — and that’s just a fraction of the USA’s on-shore wind energy resources, not to mention the vast off-shore wind energy resources, which we’ve hardly begun to develop.

  15. 65
    SecularAnimist says:

    And one more thing:

    Paraquat wrote: “But wind speeds can change considerably in just a few hours. going from calm to very windy back to calm in that time.”

    I really wish that people who make statements like this would take a little time to read up on the actual management of large utility-scale wind turbine farms.

    Do you think that the people who design, build and operate these multi-million dollar installations are unaware of the variations in wind speeds? Do you think that it never occurred to them to study and analyze the wind patterns at their sites and take into account the mostly predictable, and sometimes unpredictable, variations in harvestable wind energy at those sites? Do you think that they have not developed the technology and management practices to deal with it? Have you looked into those questions at all?

    Or is that comment really on the level of a climate change “skeptic” who lectures climate scientists about “solar variation” as though it’s something they never heard of and were too stupid to think about?

  16. 66
    MARodger says:

    Paraquat @61.
    You say “I wish everyone would be willing to look unbiasedly at the hard truths about wind, solar, geothermal, and all the other “alternatives.
    Are you sure you have done this yourself?
    All I read is you telling us that wind is variable (like every other electricity generator is to some extent or other) and that you have problems (either yourself or with others) when negotiating ‘load factors’.

    For myself, I have been for some time now hotly engaged with denialist NIMBYs over a wind power scheme local to me which will cut UK CO2 emissions by 2.5 million tons. (You may be relieved this is after adjusting for load factor.)
    Do you think I am wasting my time with my pro-wind farm campaigning?

  17. 67
    Don Williams says:

    1) Does anyone have an opinion or comment re this article recently posted at
    “Global Warming Less Extreme than Feared?”

    I am not a scientist nor am I deeply knowledgable about climate research so I had trouble evaluating the article.

    2) Also, this may be a stupid question but is the increased rainfall we have seen on the USA East Coast over the past decade –from hurricanes – a feedback loop that lessens the effect of global warming – or is it merely a transfer of heat? It seems to me that moving several million? tons of water 900 miles would consume energy but my head hurts when I try to remember thermodynamics classes from several decades ago.

  18. 68
    Russell says:

    Congratulations are due Matt Ridley on being voted a seat in the upper House of Parliament to replace the late Earl Ferrers on the Conservative side.

    His patronage of Earth Art as Vicount Ridley may have done more to promote his candidacy than his post-Economist career as a climate skeptic, thogh some few Tory grandees doubtless voted for him on the Anybody But Monckton ticket.

    It should be fun to watch him argue with Rees!

  19. 69
    David B. Benson says:

    Don Williams @67 — 1) Cum grano salis. 2) Just heat transfer; Terra only cools by radiating infared into space.

  20. 70
    Thomas says:

    USA wind buildout in 2012 was impressive, however that was a response to the then impending demise of the production tax credit. We did get a one year extension as part of the fiscal cliff deal, and for 2013, a windfarm only need begin construction, rather than have to be operational to qualify so there is some hope of restarting the project pipeline which was virtually emptied out by the expiration in 2012. So some new wind will be built. But don’t expect to see anything close to the 2012 buildout for years.

  21. 71
    Chris Colose says:

    Don Williams (#67)

    I’d advise being careful about drawing much from that article (and, in general, the disproportionate blog reaction).

    Giving a credible answer to the question of climate sensitivity has been a several-decade long effort and has involved quite a lot of work at the interface of paleoclimate/geology, modeling, and the continued “marriage” of modeling with observational (e.g., radiation budget, 20th century instrumental record, volcanoes, etc) and paleo-environmental evidence. Furthermore, there is hierarchy in complexity of the methods used to diagnose the problem, ranging from simple forcing-temperature change estimates (some of Hansen’s work using the Last Glacial Maximum), or by probing parametric and structural uncertainty with the use of statistical methods to “weight” intermediate-complexity models by various metrics in their simulation of climatology or past climates.

    All of these methods have problems, but in many cases, the assumptions going into them are largely independent; thus, the agreement amongst various methods increases confidence that we understand the sensitivity of Earth’s surface temperature to radiative forcing.

    One of the most robust consequences of these results is the ability to confidently rule out climate sensitivities that are extremely low (less than ~1.5 C for a doubling of CO2), and none of the more recent arguments seriously challenge this. There has been disagreement on to what extent we can rule out very high values (say, greater than 5 C), which actually emerge as low-probability but plausible scenarios in a number of studies, although often result from unphysical assumptions used before “climate information” even comes into the picture. Thus, the central value of 3 C or so remains a great place to start.

    Unfortunately, we have absolutely no perfect past “proxy climate” for a future doubling of CO2, and information degrades as you move back in time to “warmer climates” like the Pliocene that actually have more similar boundary conditions to the future, but which actually have much different climates. The only way to unambiguously rule out high climate sensitivities as we move to a world that might triple or quadruple CO2 (to Cretaceous-like levels) is to make some assumptions regarding simplicity of the forced response, much of which comes from our intuition gathered from the Holocene and the ability to explain the broad transition from the Last Glacial Maximum to the present-day climate. But the full extent to which the climate is capable of hysteresis or branching into different states on a bifurcation diagram is not known, and actually (at least some) GCMs are capable of bifurcating into new sensitivity-regimes at various stages upon successive doublings of CO2.

  22. 72
    Tim Jones says:

    Do you perchance know the usual date for the first sighting of the year for the Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly at latitude of about 30º N?

    Here’s a photo of one of the GPH on a warm February 3rd afternoon in Austin, Texas. The honeysuckle vine is alive with nectaring snouts, gray hairstreaks, pipevine swllowtails, sulfurs and bees,

    Thanks for your help.
    Tim Jones
    Austin, Texas

  23. 73
    Speedy says:

    Is any one else having trouble accessing ? I’ve only gotten 403 Forbidden errors for a month or so.

  24. 74
    MARodger says:

    Don Williams @67.
    Concerning your first point.
    The text you link to is press release that first appeared in October 2012 written in Norwegian. Leck’s opeing comments are wrong. It is not “truly sensational.” It is truly bizarre and the press release has been addressed at length elsewhere – eg:- at SkepticalScience and CarbonBrief.

    What is perhaps strange is that this press release reports yet unpublished research from researchers who only six months before had been published on this very subject when they reported results that were outwardly not dissimilar (1.1°C to 4.3°C with 95% confidence in March 2012, 1.2°C to 2.9°C. with 90% confidence in October) but which in March did not account for negative anthopogenic forcings that must significantly increase the resulting sensitivity value. The October press release makes no mention of the March 2012 paper or of negative forcings but states they accounted for “all the factors contributing to human-induced climate forcings since 1750.” This suggests they did account for them.
    As I said, it is truly bizarre.

  25. 75
    Fred Magyar says:

    Don @67,

    I’m not a climate scientist either but whenever I see a juxtaposition and a near perfect match between what policy makers say is their goal, namely keeping global temperature rise under 2C, followed by a statement that researchers have arrived at an estimate that temperature will probably only reach 1.9C, my skepto meter starts flashing all kinds of red lights and buzzes loudly. Having said that, I’ll wait to see what the real climate scientists have to say.

  26. 76
    Chris Dudley says:

    It is not too hard to find support for SA’s statement in #64. The onshore wind generation potential in the US is nine times larger than our current consumption of electricity from all sources.

    Just picking the low hanging fruit would produce a glut.

  27. 77
    Dan H. says:


    The East Coast hurricanes are the result of global circulation patterns, namely ENSO and the AMO. This pattern has occurred in the past, resulting in storm strikes in the 1950s, and 1890s. The question about heat transfer is harder to answer, as the amount of energy contained in such a storm moving to such high latitudes could have a significant global cooling effect. I admit that I am with you with regards to the actual thermo calculations.

  28. 78
    SecularAnimist says:

    More on the potential for renewable energy to “shut down” fossil-fueled electricity generation, from Australia:

    A new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance has concluded that electricity from unsubsidised renewable energy is already cheaper than electricity from new-build coal and gas-fired power stations in Australia … new wind farms could supply electricity at a cost of $80/MWh – compared with $143/MWh for new build coal, and $116/MWh for new build gas-fired generation.

    These figures include the cost of carbon emissions, but BNEF said even without a carbon price, wind energy remained 14 per cent cheaper than new coal and 18 per cent cheaper than new gas …

    BNEF’s analysts also conclude that by 2020, large-scale solar PV will also be cheaper than coal and gas, when carbon prices are factored in.

    In fact, it could be sooner than that, as we reported yesterday, companies such as Ratch Australia, which owns coal, gas and wind projects, said the cost of new build solar PV was already around $120-$150/MWh and falling. So much so that it is considering replacing its aging coal-fired Collinsville power station with solar PV. The solar thermal industry predicts their technologies to fall to $120/MWh by 2020 at the latest.

  29. 79
    Chris G says:

    New(?) topic: Of the effects of a changing climate, have there been comparisons made between impacts to humans regarding timeline and severity? For example, there are rising sea levels, ocean acidification, agricultural impacts (food security), and direct livability of areas getting exceptionally hot. Under various scenarios of progressive CO2 loading, there are plenty of individual estimates of most of these (barring agriculture that I know of), but I have not found much in the way of comparing one to the other. For instance, we might be able to predict that a given CO2 progression leads to a range of expectations for sea level rise, and the same progression would lead to a shift in climate zones compatible with industrial agriculture, and likewise, we can expect changes in the ocean food web resulting from ocean acidification. IDK, but it may be that under such a comparison, a scenario that leads to 2 meters of sea level rise also pushes 50% of land currently under crop production outside of the climate conditions necessary for high yields. If that is the case, then the loss of land through inundation would become little more than salt in the wound, from a global perspective.

    I’m thinking such a comparison might help focus how to make the argument that an ounce of mitigation would be worth a pound of adaptation.

    Personally, I think there is going to be a huge collision between a rising population, and a degradation of agricultural yields, and I think that will impact human civilization far more than, say, species loss, regardless of how tragic that loss is.

  30. 80
  31. 81
    Chris Dudley says:

    Adding to Chris’ comment (#71),

    It appears that sensitivity is sensitive to the climate state as well. In fig. 30 of Storms of my Grandchildren, sensitivity is stronger both close to the snowball earth climate regime and the several doublings of carbon dioxide climate regime. We sit is a region of fairly low sensitivity in our current state.

  32. 82
    BrianFos says:

    To Don@67: The press article states: “When researchers instead calculate a probability interval of what will occur, including observations and data up to 2010, they determine with 90% probability that global warming from a doubling of CO2 concentration would lie between 1.2°C and 2.9°C.”

    Although the press article makes hay out of “just 1.9°C” warming with a doubling of CO2, the range of probability goes up to 2.9°C whereas a rise of only 2.0°C is considered by the IPCC to have probable catastrophic consequences for mankind and most other species. You must also keep in mind that these results are based on their particular model which has yet to be evaluated through repeated independent analysis and tested through observations of their model’s predictions. Nearly any scientist can make a model, run it through thousands of iterations for statistical analysis and still get it wrong. Note that their result is just a probability (90%) in which there is also a probability (10%) that they are wrong and the warming will exceed their estimate. The few who establish a track record of getting it right, like the folks at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and others, are the ones to pay attention to the most. As in all science, yes, the Norwegian folks could be correct, only time will tell and you have to look at the whole picture rather than just what the reporter slants in his/her story.

    To give you a real world example of good models being wrong, as I understand it, the melting of the arctic sea ice currently falls below the 95% confidence intervals of the combined models to date.

  33. 83

    On “the potential for renewable energy to “shut down” fossil-fueled electricity generation,” it’s my observation that those denying it usually rely on the assumption that ‘each watt of renewable energy must be backed with one watt of reliable base load energy.’

    However, it’s only an assumption–and one that flies in the face of multiple cases in which a growing proportion of the grid belongs to renewables–most particularly those in which more renewable capacity is being added than other types.

    Which we’ve been seeing.

  34. 84
    Yvan Dutil says:

    I am searching a reference on the thermal inertia of the Earth. If possible, I would like to have “pure version” not the convolution with the CO2 growth curve.

    I guess I could use the heat transfer rate to the ocean as a proxy and the mass of the ocean itself as a heat capacity, but I would like to know if something more formal exist in the scientific literature.

  35. 85
    perwis says:

    Gavin, I guess we are many eagerly waiting for the post on “On Sensitivity Part III” even more now that the septic blogosphere and some journalists have gone crazy with wishful thinking based on a unpublished paper, a blog post by a climate scientist and some over-interpreted recent papers.

    Until then I recommend people to head over to SkS to read Dana Nuccitelli on these issues:

  36. 86
    Mark Shapiro says:

    Chris G @ 79:

    You ask a critical question about timeline and severity of impacts. The next part of the question is: How do humans respond to these costs?

    What are the failure modes of our economies, polities, and societies?

    (With thanks to engineers everywhere and others who think long and hard about failure modes.)

  37. 87
    DP says:

    I read somewhere that the leaked IPCC report stated that the cooling effects of sulphate aerosols has been overstated by 40%. What is bthe background to this?

  38. 88
    David Goldstein says:

    Don’t usually go to WUWT- just gets me outraged and/or sad. BUt went over today to read comments about UAH’s (Roy Spencer) report that January 2012 was ’2nd warmest in 35 years (after 2010)’ . We shall ignore the fact that this likely makes it the 2nd warmest January in hundreds of years! As I suspected, many of the commenters were actually attacking the methodology of the study- because it found so much warming! The comic relief arrived when a commenter cautioned his fellow WUWTers: ‘Now, now…let’s not make over-the-top unsubstantiated claims like the Alarmist Warmists”. My goodness, they do not realize that when the current surface temp warming plateau runs its course and the temps ramp up in earnest that the WUWTers will break out in full blown civil war as some in their ranks (the less irrational among them) begin to defect. It will not be pretty.

  39. 89
    Russell says:

    Congratulaions are due Matt Ridley, late of The Economist on his election to Britain’s upper house. One hopes his tenure will translate into his proving more reasonable than Lord Lawson , let alone Monckton.

  40. 90
    Turboblocke says:

    You should compare the load factor of wind with conventional plant: the UK energy statistics show that the load factor of all conventional(including nuclear!!!) plant in 2011 was 42.6.

    Humm and you can’t blame the wind not blowing for that can you?

    See Figure 5.10 here

  41. 91
    john byatt says:

    #81 Chris.

    Are you only speaking of relative to CS for snowball earth?

  42. 92
    Paraquat says:

    I see that my “low-hanging fruit” comment is being widely misinterpreted, but perhaps it’s my fault, since I didn’t explain it thoroughly. Basically, the low-hanging fruit are places where either 1)The wind blows reliably most of the time, or 2)There is sufficient backup in the form of locally-generated hydro-power.

    What many wind advocates fail to grasp when they say things like “the state of Texas has enough wind to supply electricity to the entire USA” is that you can’t take the average wind speed of the entire state and pretend that it’s blowing 24/7 for the entire year. There are times when the entire state is windless, while at other times it’s blowing fiercely.

    With wind power, every watt you generate has to be backed up somehow, unless you’re willing to live with brownouts and blackouts. When wind power is a tiny percentage of the total power on the grid, that backup is easily supplied by the excess capacity of the (mostly) fossil fuel plants that are online. But then you aren’t really saving anything (in terms of CO2 emissions) if you can’t take the fossil fuel plants offline. You CAN save something if you’re backing up with hydro-power – THAT is your low-hanging fruit.

    I see that SecularAnimist has some info on solar in Australia. Actually, I’m more positive about solar than I am for wind. In some parts of the world, the sun shines very reliably. That includes the part of the world where I live. I have solar panels installed, they work but there are issues. I can get reliable power on most days for about six hours. Outside of that time frame, I have to fall back on batteries or grid power. The batteries are a weak spot – they can keep the lights on at night, but in no way could power my wife’s electric oven, for example. And the batteries have a limited life expectancy – every few years you’ve got to get new ones and send the old ones to a recycling plant (which most likely uses fossil fuel power to melt them down to extract the lead). I couldn’t say what the EROEI is, but this is not a cheap source of power. Solar hot water, on the other hand, is very cost-effective. The really big advantage that solar has over wind is that I can have my own little generating plant on the roof – I have no room to put up a wind tower, and if I did I suspect it would be noisy (it’s nice that solar is silent). Having my own personal system gives me some peace of mind in case the grid goes down. One thing I do worry about is theft – I’ve taken every precaution to make those panels practically welded to the roof, but there is no such thing as theft-proof.

  43. 93
    Chris G says:

    On wind energy, I just came across this.
    “Geophysical limits to global wind power”
    “…It is likely that wind power growth will be limited by economic or environmental factors, not global geophysical limits.”

  44. 94
    Thomas says:

    paraquat, there was a study a few months back (I don’t have a ref), looking at a virtually wholly renewable grid for Germany. They did assume some hydro to balance it out and in rare instances a small amount of fossil backup (some newer gas turbine can ramp on quickly enough). They optimized the mix of wind and PV, and overbuilt by maybe 50%. They found over 99% of the time they could meet demand, i.e. if you use some combustion to cover the rare gaps, it won’t take much fuel.

    I’ve heard of one guy trying to use some PV panels he bought for $65/watt to electrically supplement his hot water heater -bypassing the need for an inverter and inspections etc. Its startling to me that panel prices are getting cheep enough to consider using them for solar thermal via resistance heating.

  45. 95
    Hank Roberts says:

    > panel prices are getting cheep enough to consider
    > using them for solar thermal via resistance heating.

    I heard from an energy consultant in my neighborhood that businesses that have long used thermal hot water and needed to replace or repair are now finding it’s cheaper to replace those with solar PV running directly to electrical resistance heating. No pipes, no valves, no leaks, no antifreeze. Impressive change.

  46. 96
    MARodger says:

    David Goldstein @88

    The Jan 2013 UAH global temp was equal 7th for all months over the satellite record, with 3 months in 1998 and 3 in 2010 being hotter (including Jan 2010). It is by far the hottest month on the UAH record outside an El Nino. This has put Dr Spencer PhD into a bit of a spin, having to explain why grudginglyfor now I’m accepting the results as real.
    The Jan 2013 RSS figure is also showing a dramatic rise but not to such an outstanding level as UAH (RSS Jan 2013 is 26th hottest). The GISS & NCDC figures in a few days are going to be interesting to see.

  47. 97
    Fred Magyar says:

    Thomas@ 94, and Hank@ 95, we recently had a discussion about this over at TOD and the economics seem to have turned in favor of PV vs direct passive thermal. Personally, I still remain skeptical because I’m pretty sure that I can put together an inexpensive passive solar thermal hot water system just about anywhere in the world with some simple hand tools and parts found at the local recycling center. It may not be pretty when I’m done and it sure wouldn’t be up to code in the US but it would make hot water. Only in the industrialized western countries do you find passive solar systems costing thousands of dollars…

  48. 98
    Alastair McDonald says:


    I have just tried your link and it works fine for me. I think your problem will be solved if you clear your cache.

    From your link I opened this: which is a chart of the temperature anomaly since 1880. It shows that since 1994 global temperatures have dropped by about 0.05 K, but what is more interesting is that since 1997 they have risen by 0.1K and since 1999 they have risen by 0.15K. So the argument that global warming has stopped is really just based on cherry picking the dates.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  49. 99

    re: Pierrehumbert’s OpEd in Slate.

    I don’t think it could be off-topic here because he is a contributor to RC, and proper accounting of fossil fuels is critical to estimating future CO2 levels.

  50. 100
    Chris Dudley says:

    John (#91),

    Yes. You can also look at this paper:

Switch to our mobile site