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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. 151
    Chris Dudley says:

    Jim (#133),

    You may not we aware that the thread started by noting that the US has made dramatic cuts in emissions. The US thus has safe harbor regarding the onset of dangerous climate change. It is taking action to avoid the damage from dangerous climate change.

    It sounds as though you want to encourage the US to increase emissions.

  2. 152
    SecularAnimist says:

    Killian wrote: “… solar concentrators. I do generally agree they may be better than PV, but I’ve not seen an analysis on this in a long time. Doesn’t matter in the end: neither is actually sustainable as currently practiced …”

    With all due respect, you keep repeating this claim that neither photovoltaics nor concentrating solar thermal power plants are “sustainable as currently practiced” but you have yet to offer any substantive support for that assertion.

    Indeed, your comments indicate little knowledge of what “current practice” actually is in those technologies. For example, here you express the opinion that you “generally agree” that solar concentrators “may be better” (better how?) than photovoltaics — and then acknowledge that you have “not seen an analysis on this in a long time”.

    Perhaps the information that underlies your opinions needs updating. And I’d suggest also that your use of the term “sustainable” needs clarification.

  3. 153
    Hank Roberts says:

    > ozajh
    asks if there might be a
    > … difference between the effects of rain and the
    > equivalent amount of snow on Permafrost.

    Yes.
    https://www.google.com/search?q=permafrost+rain+snow
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=permafrost+rain+snow

  4. 154
    ozajh says:

    Hank (#153),

    Thanks. Looks like Putkonen and Roe’s research (the first reference Google scholar presented) confirms my idle thinking, and their paper makes reference at the end to amplification effects.

    That doesn’t actually make me feel better, since I can’t help wondering whether we’re going to see a massive increase in annual rainfall over the Northern Hemisphere’s Permafrost region due to the loss of the Sea Ice.

  5. 155
    Killian says:

    152 SA,

    Let’s take the simplest first. I used to spend a lot of time reading (daily, for years) what I consider to easily be the best energy site on the internet. There, many discussions about PV and CS were had, but it has literally been years since I read them so did not want to state categorically that one or the other had inherent advantages, though my memory is of believing CS is overall better. A couple quick bits that indicate why this might be: Mirrors are much easier to make and are more sustainable than PV. SC is overall a simpler technology. Etc. The biggest downside to CS is it is harder to do in a massively distributed system where I am of the opinion a massively distributed energy system is preferable to one made up of large companies, or what have you, running the energy grid. The big bugaboo is the sustainability/toxicity issues with current PV.

    Here’s a current article on toxicity and PV: http://business.financialpost.com/2013/02/11/solar-panel-makers-grapple-with-hazardous-waste-problem/?__lsa=ab2e-67bc

    Please note: if any part of the process of making PV is toxic, and that toxic material cannot be *ultimately* brought back into the system in a way that is not toxic, or put into a use where the toxicity is somehow sequestered, it violates principles of sustainability and ultimately should be abandoned.

    Indeed, your comments indicate little knowledge of what “current practice” actually is in those technologies.

    I know at least some solar has toxicity issues. But, all I actually have to know is whether the principles of sustainable systems are being violated. Sometimes that requires specific knowledge, but it quite often does not. So long as the general info out there is reliable, it’s really not much of an issue. Example: Why is nuclear power unsustainable? Two simple facts: uses too much water/artificially warms water causing imbalances in system where the water is released and, even more simply, the waste cannot be disposed of safely nor be used for some other purpose which will safely sequester its dangers.

    Unsustainable.

    I’m not a nuclear engineer nor a scientist, nor do I need to be to speak accurately and with awareness on that particular issue. Same holds true for solar. What do I need to know? Some PV panels involve an issue with toxic materials, and it is unlikely that full cradle-grave accounting for either can be considered sustainable. If such an accounting exists, I have never seen it. Do you know of one? If not, then the best we can do is guestimate from what we do know. And, to claim it *is* sustainable without such a study would be the same as the errors we have made with so many technologies that have helped destroy our ecosphere. In fact, the only rational thing to do is to assume it is not until it is proven that it is.

    Is the making of even the cells themselves sustainable? Highly doubtful. Please notice I do not say they are not, but given how the materials are generated… uh, very unlikely.

    Good enough for you? If not, go search theoildrum.com for discussions of PV and CS.

    If you wanted a more useful conversation you might simply offer clarifications where you thought needed and ask me to restate if necessary. Please do note there are plenty of you to get into the specifics of technology. Really, need I do that? But there are virtually none here stressing sustainability in any way that reflects what the concept actually means.

    I think that is where your concern should lie, and I suggest that your questioning of me implies your definition of sustainability is likely quite different from mine, and, thus, from my perspective, insufficient. If it were sufficient, you would raise different issues… and start with the nature of sustainable systems rather than the accuracy of my info – which, again, you seem to believe you can correct. Feel free to do so.

    Given I’ve stated what I think the base criteria is for a definition of sustainability is, what’s the problem? I’m far from being inconsistent.

  6. 156
    Dave Peters says:

    MARoger @ 123

    Thanks so much for responding to my mentioning Mann & Park (1999).

    You are SO correct. I struggled to comprehend the methods used in that paper some weeks back, and mentioned it partly due to the rather uncanny anticipation of a “lull” in the upward march of global temperatures. The fuzz in my language reflected more my own lagging mental digestion of the circumstance, that they wrote before there was any hint of such a lull, other than drawing the analogue to the middle decades of the last century. If my wording implies they predicted a lull, I should state they made no such prediction.

    So, in a six paragraph concluding “discussion,” the whole of which was devoted to precisely that analogy, Mann & Park identify (flag) “the coincidence of significant ENSO variations with the irregularities (i.e, “breaks” at 1920, 1940 and 1975) in the upward trend of average temperatures,” as deserving of attention. They then propose a “hypothetical scenario to frame further investigation.” Where I remarked that they “implicitly anticipated” another inflection into a lull phase, it is rather that their hypothesized, speculative, “flywheel” mechanism EXPLICITLY entails both multi-decadal phases of surface stasis, followed by secular warming. Both, importantly, are possibly propelled by accumulating forcing.

    I have been away from climate literature for better than a decade. For all I know, the science may well have conquered the mystery of the mid-decades “hiatus” of the past century. A minor reason for raising the M/P speculation, was that a knowing comment might speed me to said solution.

    The major reason is the contemplation of the political dimension to “flywheeled” warming. The gerrymandering behind the current Congress won’t come up for review on the calendar until 2020, and palm trees will likely be growing in Alaska before Wyoming will no longer be able to cancel California in the US Senate. For thirty six years I have thought this problem unapproached by any other, yet the marginal penalty (cost) for combusting, in the world’s premier practitioner of atmospheric carbonation, is still zero. (Another, on your speculation, to follow.)

  7. 157
    Edward Greisch says:

    155 Killian: SecularAnimist is part of a group that always says the same things about renewables and alternatives. Renewables still have the same problem: Intermittency. For concentrated solar heat, they claim they can store heat in molten salt. See:
    http://www.nrel.gov/csp/troughnet/pdfs/2007/martin_andasol_pictures_storage.pdf
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/12/06/tcase7/

    The problem is, they will never finish the computation. The molten salt is 60% sodium nitrate [NaNO3] and 40% potassium nitrate [KNO3]. 28,500 tons of this mixture are required for 7 hours for a plant that makes 49.9 MWe peak (20 MWe average). They never bother to figure out how much molten salt is required to provide electricity to the whole world for a week, and whether there is that much “salt” available.

    Nor will they figure out how much it would cost to connect the whole world to a superconducting grid. I suspect that either they cannot or they know that renewables are ruled out by such calculations. I challenge them to take some city [not mine] off the grid via renewables to prove it. They never do. See: http://tpdx.org/ and http://www.thedirt.org/tpdx

    Portland, Oregon is trying to do the experiment. Their board of directors quit, one by one. No wonder. Once you understand it, you don’t want to be in that group.

  8. 158
    Dave Peters says:

    Lawrence (#’s 139 & 140)

    Our recent New England snow, while nearly setting the record, did not linger, or so it was stated by one meteorologist, who called it “fast moving.”

    Several weeks back, perhaps to the solstice, Australia made the news here, owing to the need of your weather service, to inaugurate the use of an altogether new color for depicting temperatures attained in your most heated regions. Any details to that?

    As to the extremes in some territories being taken to a wholly new territory, the spring before last,our Northern Rockies snow melt overflowed the Missouri River, and caused authorities to open relief dams on the lower Mississippi (to protect New Orleans from flooding), which had not been necessary for several decades. The following summer (’12), they were blasting obstacles on that river bottom, so that barges could navigate historically low water levels. They may still be at it.

    I had always thought, that OUR jet stream might be far more readily incited to getting it’s britches in a twist, than yours, owing to the fact that we are so much more provocatively altering our Pole. Apparently, not.

    You may be amused to learn that whilst we have grown a major new metropolis on NASA infrared night images (our Williston Basin oil boom wells are flaring a lot of associated natural gas), Australia has outdone us by growing a whole handful of new fake cities–your wildfires.

    Lastly, you ought take some considerable pride in having a government capable of registering the interests of the unborn, when pitted against the living and the established holders of capital, even if temporarily, should your tax fall as you predict. Twenty years ago, we elected an astute student who had learned at the immediate feet of the Olympian figure who perhaps more than any other soul, lifted the curtain upon the modern era of climate science (oceanographer Roger Revelle), to our Vice Presidency. Mr. Gore’s efforts to impose a tax went nearly nowhere, and we appear to be further from that crucial accomplishment now, or to some facsimile, than we were then.

  9. 159
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Killian,
    There are two problems with your sourcing. First, while The Oildrum is an excellent source, any single source is going to introduce bias. Second, you are talking about a field that is extremely fluid and changing rapidly in ways that are complex and not given to a simple trend analysis. The issues wrt toxicity in PV manufacture are no worse than any other semiconductor fab. The issues are heightened by scale, but they can be ameliorated.

    Nukes, likewise. The waste issue could largely be resolved, along with concerns about the finitude of fissionable material, were it not for fears of proliferation. Also, new reactor designs have much lower water demand. Of course, that still doesn’t get us to sustainability.

    “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”–Mark Twain

  10. 160
    Chris Dudley says:

    Killian (#155),

    I read the article and it sounds as though the US industry is handling waste correctly. I calculated once that the energy needed to transport coal to a power plant is 200 times that needed to transport materials involved in deploying rooftop silicon PV for the same power produced, and the US is pretty involved in thin film solar which uses even less materials than silicon. The addition to the carbon footprint thus seems exaggerated.

    On the difference between concentrated solar(CS) and photovoltaics (PV), for generation, CS has had some advantages over PV in desert locations with little cloud cover. Clouds interrupt CS completely. PV is better on the East Coast, for example. In the past, CS has been the best choice for hot water in any location owing to much higher efficiency in that application overwhelming cloudiness problems even with the extra water tanks that entailed. Now, however, with the falling price of PV, there are reports of PV being used for dedicated water heating as well (leaving out the inverter). The falling price of PV has also been enticing some large new desert installations as well where CS had a cost advantage previously. http://www.renewablegreenenergypower.com/solar-energy-facts-concentrated-solar-power-csp-vs-photovoltaic-pv-panels/

    An advantage of CS is that short term storage of the collected heat can be quite efficient and generation delayed by hours to days. This requires extra facilities just as PV would need batteries or pumped hydro for storage, but the cost has been lower. A switch to more electric transportation should provide a supply of used batteries that are no longer transportation grade but can provide vast low cost stationary power storage. Thus, the CS advantage on storage may diminish over the next 15 to 20 years.

  11. 161
    Chris Dudley says:

    Killian (#150),

    First Solar has had it’s guarantee claims substantiated by testing at NREL. They also have recycling as part of their business model. Like silicon based PV, their supply chain does not face resource limitations.

    You may have a slight defect in your thinking about renewables. You are asking about centuries and some critical resource running out. But, once we make the switch, we don’t keep on consuming new resources. We recycle. Based on demographics, and the much higher efficiency of energy use with renewables compared to fossil fuels the question is are resources sufficient to maintain the current world primary energy consumption which would result in a per capita doubling of energy services. No need to look at resources centuries out, just look at the feasibility of a thirty year transition period. The system in place then is the resource. And, it gets cheaper and cheaper going forward since the energy used for refining materials is not needed when recycling.

  12. 162

    And, back in Keystone country:

    http://news.yahoo.com/huge-climate-change-rally-targets-keystone-xl-pipeline-200500820.html

    I wish I were free to make the trip, fossil-fueled though it would (still) necessarily be.

  13. 163
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “Nor will they figure out how much it would cost to connect the whole world to a superconducting grid.”

    That’s because there’s no necessity to do any such thing.

  14. 164
    SecularAnimist says:

    Killian wrote: “all I actually have to know is whether the principles of sustainable systems are being violated. Sometimes that requires specific knowledge, but it quite often does not”

    It is beyond me how you can “know” whether a specific technology “violates the principles of sustainable systems” without “specific knowledge” of that technology.

    It makes a difference whether specific material feedstocks are abundant or rare (silicon is the second-most abundant element in the Earth’s crust), and whether or not they can be recycled (see here and here).

    Moreover, there is always the risk with “principles” of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    We are facing a short-term, urgent, fast-moving threat to our civilization, and indeed to the entire Earth’s biosphere, and we need a VERY quick fix — which means using the technology (because it is a technical problem) that we (fortunately) have at hand, NOW. Within years, not decades.

    If, at some level, that technology encounters “sustainability” limits over the course of centuries, we can deal with that then.

  15. 165
    Cleber says:

    On the permafrost issue, some new and disturbing finds by Cory, Kling et al

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/02/05/1214104110

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130211162116.htm

  16. 166
    Fred Magyar says:

    Comment by Edward Greisch @155

    “They never bother to figure out how much molten salt is required to provide electricity to the whole world for a week, and whether there is that much “salt” available.”

    Now there’s a salty strawman if ever there was one…

    “Nor will they figure out how much it would cost to connect the whole world to a superconducting grid.”

    And that one is a super cool strawman!

    “Renewables still have the same problem: Intermittency.”

    Perhaps that could actually be considered a feature and not a bug. Where is it written that evrything has to be on, 24/7, everywhere? Why not provide back up only for certain critical systems. Different expectations, different paradigm. Turn off all those neon signs and go enjoy some moonlit walks on the beach. In case you are interested, I have some extremely low wattage, sea turtle safe, orange hued LED flashlights, that I could lend you… My home buit solar generator can keep charging them for at least another 30 years or so.

    To be clear, I have never heard of any serious proponents for renewables say that it is possible to substitute for 100% of the energy needs of our current civilization but to me that’s a fault of our civilization, not the fault of any of our available technologies for harvesting and using renewable energy.

    Cheers!

  17. 167
    Edward Greisch says:

    163 SecularAnimist: If you can’t store a whole week’s worth of energy, you need room temperature superconductors. Either or. You can do neither. Therefore, renewables are out. Renewables are too intermittent, even in the desert to power industrial civilization 24/7/365. Again SecularAnimist strikes out but won’t admit it. Again:

    BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED
    Reference: bravenewclimate.com/2011/10/29/gws-sg-es/
    
Geographical wind smoothing, supergrids and energy storage
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/11/13/energy-storage-dt/#more-5281
    ssis.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/RE.html
RENEWABLE ENERGY – CANNOT SUSTAIN AN ENERGY-INTENSIVE SOCIETY. 
    bravenewclimate.com/2011/07/03/lacklustre-colorado-solar/
Be sure to read the linked papers. In the Arizona desert, solar has dropouts in mid day for no apparent reason.
    Wind: There are rare places where wind works locally, but to power, for example, all of Europe, all of Europe and all of Asia has to be linked into one very expensive grid. You need the nameplate power times 4 spread over 12 time zones to get reliable power. The line losses are huge unless you have a superconducting grid, and superconductors now available require liquid nitrogen cooling.
    bravenewclimate.com/2012/02/27/100-renewable-electricity-for-australia-response-to-lang/
    
Nuclear is the only non-CO2 making electricity source that actually works in all weather everywhere.
    BATTERIES ARE NOT INCLUDED in renewable systems.
    
See: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner –
    
”GVEA s Fairbanks battery bank keeps lights on”
    http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/12739242/article-GVEA-s-Fairbanks-battery-bank-keeps-lights-on?
    Fairbanks, AK spent $35 million in 2003 for a battery backup that can keep the power on in Fairbanks for 7 or 15 minutes, depending on how bad the blackout is. That is enough time to start up their diesel backup. Diesel fuel is fossil fuel.
    To go with renewables only, you need a whole week’s worth of battery power for the whole world. How much does that cost? Hint: You run out of the things you need to make batteries very quickly. BraveNewClimate addressed that question for 2 kinds of batteries.
    Energy Storage Discussion Thread
bravenewclimate.com/2011/11/13/energy-storage-dt/

  18. 168
    Edward Greisch says:

    People who so strongly favor renewable energy inevitably call for fossil fuel “backup” power because renewables give you power about 20% of the time each. Renewables are just a cover-up for continuing to burn fossil fuel. The “renewables” campaign could be financed by the Koch brothers, just like the Tea Party is.
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/11/1573061/study-confirms-tea-party-was-created-by-big-tobacco-and-pollutocrat-kochs/

  19. 169
    Hank Roberts says:

    aside:
    > Fred Magyar … turtle safe LEDs
    I use those; I’d appreciate a pointer if you build’em or have a source.
    Disposable email, good for a week or two:
    fputskhd7q@snkmail.com

  20. 170
    Chris Dudley says:

    Edward (#157),

    You are not thinking very clearly. Molten salt need only be the heat transfer fluid. Your heat reservoir could be mostly solid if you want a big one.

    And, the current grid is mostly non-superconducting. It will become more superconducting if it saves money. That has little to do with the form of generation.

  21. 171
    BC Nurse Prof says:

    Isn’t it possible to use wind and solar power to pump water back uphill to reservoirs where it can be stored and used when necessary? When the wind stops and it’s night, there will still be water to use. Renewables are intermittent, but can’t you take out the slack in the system by storing the energy in the potential of water behind a dam?

  22. 172
    David B. Benson says:

    Could we refrain from comments regarding energy, automobiles and trains here? Stick to climatology, please. There are ample other sites for those other, associated topics. One is
    http://bravenewclimate.proboards.com/index.cgi
    which has commenters from various countries around the world; looks somewhat more cosmopolitan than the corresponding commentary here.

    [The reCAPTCHA oracle agrees, suggesting formsDon suitable.]

  23. 173
    flxible says:

    “RENEWABLE ENERGY – CANNOT SUSTAIN AN ENERGY-INTENSIVE SOCIETY”

    So which variable do we fiddle first?

    The problem with y’all arguing about sustainability, is you constantly ignore the critical variables: the size of the population and humanities focus on continuing exponential growth. Nukes or any other substitute power are not a panacea – there is no “quick fix”, particularly in SA’s time frame, if there were China would be all over it – certainly nukes won’t happen in years, currently not even in decades.

    How is the US doing on recycling? And how’s Detroit getting on with the ‘permaculture’ Killian? Growing banana trees in the parks?

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    OK, I wanna be the first to post a reference to
    Science Magazine’s publication of “… a convincing refutation of Darwin’s hypothesis”

    Watch for it to grow legs and start reproducing …

    (No, not his _big_ hypothesis, a much smaller hypothesis)

  25. 175
    Killian says:

    159 Ray Ladbury said: Killian,There are two problems with your sourcing. First, while The Oildrum is an excellent source, any single source is going to introduce bias.

    Describing The Oil Drum as a single source is nonsensical.

    The issues wrt toxicity in PV manufacture are no worse than any other semiconductor fab.

    Irrelevant point. Sustainable is sustainable. noting another industry is also unsustainable gets us nowhere.

    Nukes… that still doesn’t get us to sustainability.

    Then why are you discussing them further? Until they are, they are irrelevant.

    160 Chris Dudley said, I read the article and it sounds as though the US industry is handling waste correctly.

    Does that mean sustainably? No? Then irrelevant.

    The addition to the carbon footprint thus seems exaggerated.

    The footprint needs to go in reverse, so…

    A switch to more electric transportation should provide a supply of used batteries

    Sadly, know of no sustainable battery, either. Well, probably untrue. Land batteries might be.

    Chris Dudley said, First Solar has had it’s guarantee claims substantiated by testing at NREL.

    What guarantee claims, and what have they to do with determining sustainability?

    They also have recycling as part of their business model. Like silicon based PV, their supply chain does not face resource limitations.

    1. Not buying it. 2. Got links? Quite a claim, and definitely worth checking. BUT, it’s not just resource chain. Every aspect of production, delivery, maintenance and replacement has to be sustainable. They figured out how to make sustainable factories and transport, e.g.?

    You may have a slight defect in your thinking about renewables. You are asking about centuries and some critical resource running out. But, once we make the switch, we don’t keep on consuming new resources. We recycle…

    No need to look at resources centuries out, just look at the feasibility of a thirty year transition period. The system in place then is the resource.

    Yeah… no. Even extremely recyclable resources such as steel will wear out with time. They are not endlessly recyclable. If you know of a list of resources that are endlessly recyclable, please provide a source. But, some truly renewable resources, such as water, still face rate of use limits. In all discussions of sustainability and resource limits it is vital to consider the above with reference to Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. It only takes the loss of one critical element to bring a system crashing down. That is, every element in a system/machine/whatever has to be sustainable. There is no such thing as kind of sustainable: It’s a threshold.

    164 SA (unfortunately) saidKillian wrote: “all I actually have to know is whether the principles of sustainable systems are being violated. Sometimes that requires specific knowledge, but it quite often does not”

    It is beyond me how you can “know” whether a specific technology “violates the principles of sustainable systems” without “specific knowledge” of that technology.

    Except I covered that with several quite clear examples and what I believe to have been a clear explanation of the logic. Borrowing from Liebig’s Minimum, one need not be an expert about a given system so long as one knows that a given element in that system is unsustainable. That is, quite literally, all you need to know. Until that element is made sustainably, that system is unsustainable.

    It makes a difference whether specific material feedstocks are abundant…

    Actually, all that matters is whether they are sustainable. Humankind has existed for a minimum of 100,000 years in our present form, and likely closer to 200,000. You want to talk about sustainability, you have to think in those time frames. Assuming we wisely use resources in the future, continued R&D seems a good use of some, relatively limited, non-renewable resources to create/discover ways to make more of what we have sustainable and perhaps go harvest additional materials extra-terrestrially, but these actions should not be what we rely on. Get to sustainability first, then you have a much better sense of what you have left to pursue tech with.

    Moreover, there is always the risk with “principles” of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    Does not apply. > > > We are facing a short-term, urgent, fast-moving threat to our civilization, and indeed to the entire Earth’s biosphere, and we need a VERY quick fix — which means using the technology (because it is a technical problem) that we (fortunately) have at hand, NOW. Within years, not decades.

    And, so, I’ve spoken about leveraging before. Permaculturists would term this entire discussion one of “Appropriate Technology.” Unfortunately, some here are reacting as I’ve said “you can never use technology A, B and C,” despite the fact I have commented repeatedly on leveraging and appropriate technology. So, there is no enemy of the good in this discussion. Unsustainable = problem; sustainable = solution.

    The true danger lies in believing good enough is good enough. It’s not. An unsustainable future likely equals collapse, if not extinction. Why risk it when sustainability is so simple? This is all the more true if the time frames are as short as you say they are, no? The only choice is rapid de-carbonization into sustainability. (And even that may not save us if certain natural systems are already past tipping points.) There is not time, imo, to play at preserving unsustainable systems. There is only time to get to sustainability. Then you can go back and play with continued R&D.

    If, at some level, that technology encounters “sustainability” limits over the course of centuries, we can deal with that then.

    I know of no technology that has no resource limits somewhere in it’s chain. Feel free to link to a list of them if you know of any. Heck, even with solar, is every piece of every panel, every ore operation, every transport system, every installation process and materials sustainable? I don’t even need to look it up: No.

    Fred Magyar said, To be clear, I have never heard of any serious proponents for renewables say that it is possible to substitute for 100% of the energy needs of our current civilization

    Bingo. This is the single greatest flaw in all discussions of renewables. And the flaws are obvious. As currently made, I know of no sustainable “renewable.” There are lo-tech versions, typically DIY that may be, but I’ve not looked into the sustainability, e.g., of auto generators, which can be used to make a very serviceable 1kW wind generator.

    The idea we can support current consumption with current renewables is laughable. I do not mean to be rude, it is truly absurd. A quick survey of simple issues demonstrates this. For example, if the US were to maintain it’s current energy consumption and, indeed, the entire planet went renewable as is, what happens eventually? All those other nations want to live like we do. There is no aspect of living on this planet that is renewable with 9 billion people living like Americans. It’s been estimated it would take on the order of 5 planets to allow that. This simple thought experiment alone tells you American life styles must change drastically, moving back toward the global average.

    Is this not obvious?

    The only thing that makes current civilization tenable is a massive reduction in consumption. This is about more than whether a given tech is sustainable. Nothing is sustainable given never-ending growth. When these conversations start turning to discussions of true sustainable design we will be getting somewhere.

  26. 176
    SecularAnimist says:

    Edward Greisch wrote: “People who so strongly favor renewable energy inevitably call for fossil fuel ‘backup’ power because renewables give you power about 20% of the time each.”

    I realize this comment will probably be moderated out for mentioning the “N word”, [edit - yup]

  27. 177
    SecularAnimist says:

    Fred Magyar wrote: “I have never heard of any serious proponents for renewables say that it is possible to substitute for 100% of the energy needs of our current civilization”

    Keep in mind that according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more than half of the USA’s estimated 97.3 Quads of energy “use” in 2011 was wasted. Less than 42 Quads was actually used as “energy services” — over 55 Quads were “rejected energy”. Wasted.

    It has been estimated that just the waste heat energy that is vented from industrial smokestacks could, if captured for use in co-generation power plants, produce as much electricity as all the nuclear power plants in America.

    And there are, in fact, multiple “serious” plans that have been set forth for producing 100 percent of our energy needs from renewables.

  28. 178
    Fred Magyar says:

    Hank Roberts @169,

    I sent you an email it contains some links so check your spam folder

    Fred

  29. 179
    sidd says:

    Second Mr.Benson’s request to stick to the science. Here is some science for West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) aficionados.

    http://www.waisworkshop.org/pastmeetings/agenda_2012.html

    I note several juicy bits. Dutrieux et al. speak of 100m/yr melt under Pine Island Glacier(PIG). New basal topo data on Byrd Glacier. St. Laurent et al. estimate 1GW/mile (of coastline) heat input from ocean. Schroeder et al. describe subglacial water under Thwaites. Siegfried et al. write of tidal pumping of warm ocean water into and melt water out of subglacial cavities with tidal flexure of ice shelf and sheet.Walker (Ryan) et al. put math to the model for tidal flexure. Walker (C .C.) et al. suggest that Amery might do something dramatic soon (I thought this was the WAIS, not the EAIS …)

    Love to see the presentations, I have written some of the authors, but leads would be welcome.

    sidd

  30. 180
    Fred Magyar says:

    @SecularAnimist,

    “And there are, in fact, multiple “serious” plans that have been set forth for producing 100 percent of our energy needs from renewables.”

    Indeed there have! I’m one of those who happens to think we not only can but will produce 100% of our ‘NEEDS’ from renewable sources. However that is not necessarily the same as saying our current ‘WANTS’ are sustainable.

    As the late great George Carlin might have said, “Difference” >;-)

    Cheers!

    Fred

  31. 181
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Killian — 12 Feb 2013 @ 6:18 PM

    Although your posts are way too long and tend toward simplistic black and white tracts, I find much of what you say to be reasonable, but I immediately become suspicious when someone says something really dumb. Take for example- “Even extremely recyclable resources such as steel will wear out with time.” Steel primarily consists of iron and carbon, and both are elements and cannot wear out. If this is your standard for violation of sustainable systems, then I can’t trust anything else you say about much more complicated topics.

    Steve

  32. 182
    Chris Dudley says:

    Killian (#175),

    I thought I might have detected a Rifken Entropy Freak. That stuff is entertaining in a Gene Wolfe novel, but it is full of misconceptions when swallowed as you have done.

  33. 183
    Killian says:

    SA, “If” is not a sustainable concept. What you are talking about is what Joseph Tainter calls diminishing returns on complexity, which he sees as the primary driver of failed societies. The expectation that you can add complexity to solve problems created by complexity does not hold historically. Again, a simple thought experiment: Additional tech and complexity means additional resources which equals greater degradation of the ecosystem which equals… collapse.

    Really, folks, this stuff is not hard to understand. The key problem as I see it (and notice nobody has bothered to counter my conception of sustainable, which is the first order question) is the old adage that it is very difficult to get a person to understand something when their paycheck depends on them not understanding it. You can replace paycheck with any number of other things, such as lifestyle.

    Very few people posting here, and there are some obviously very intelligent people here, have accepted that sustainability and its definition are non-negotiable. The vast majority reach for the easiest way out, and that is invariably tech/efficiency-driven. In fact, most examples of “sustainable” theses or thoses are pretty much examples of efficiency, not sustainability.

    The ecosystem services of this planet being allowed to recover, and even enhanced by using nature’s own system of design to enhance productivity, very much depends on not further degrading it; more than that, rebuilding it. Since continued growth does, as so ably and simply pointed by Dr. Bartlett, continue to degrade it, further growth is out.

    Do any of you who have watched his presentation have any doubt we are *less* than a minute from 12:00? (The fact we are in overshoot proves this, or we’d have one full doubling of population left to us. 14 billion, anyone?)

    It should be self-evident that increased efficiency cannot and will never overcome growth. We would not have gone from using less than a planet’s worth of resources a couple hundred years ago to using 1.5 planets if efficiency could overcome growth. This is self-evident.

    Climate stability depends on very quickly getting the carbon budget into the negative and below 300 ppm. With perhaps 9 billion people (though given the fact we are now eating/wasting more grain than we grow, and weather-related impacts on food production becoming the norm, may indicate we will not get anywhere near 9 billion.)

    Here’s the thing: We can build buildings that use less than ten percent of the energy now used. Why not do that instead of asking R&D to create magic?

    We can grow food in such a way that *builds soil*, thus maintaining or even increasing productivity as well as building resilience to things such as droughts and floods. Why not do that instead of letting “seed” companies destroy the ecology with GMO’s?

    We can regrow forests *and* make them more resilient, thus reducing atmospheric GHG’s, improving and even directing the water cycle while rebuilding flora and fauna numbers, potentially rebuilding and increasing (over time) biodiversity, and providing sustainable building/fuel materials. Why not do that instead of continuing to destroy the land and waters to get to ever-increasing numbers of resources?

    Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple. – B. Mollison

    Every decision we make at this point in history is ultimately an environmental one. Every decision is ultimately a climatic decision. This is important for us to understand and assimilate into our daily way of thinking and acting.

  34. 184
    Hank Roberts says:

    Killian — you’re preaching to the choir.
    But the devil is in the pews down below, as they say.

    You wrote “We can build buildings that use less
    than ten percent of the energy now used”
    but you don’t know they’ll last forever, or be cheap to maintain or recycle, yet.

    Those are costs too.

    It’s been 30-plus years since the first round of highly energy-efficient buildings were built Do you remember any of those? Some are still standing.
    We Need To Do It Different This Time

  35. 185
    wili says:

    I like discussions of energy and what not as much as the next guy (I’d mostly side with Killian on this one), but I would like to get back to the article that cleber linked to at #165 on permafrost’s sensitivity to sunlight.

    “Surface exposure to sunlight stimulates CO2 release from permafrost soil carbon in the Arctic”

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/02/05/1214104110

    ABSTRACT:

    “Recent climate change has increased arctic soil temperatures and thawed large areas of permafrost, allowing for microbial respiration of previously frozen C. Furthermore, soil destabilization from melting ice has caused an increase in thermokarst failures that expose buried C and release dissolved organic C (DOC) to surface waters. Once exposed, the fate of this C is unknown but will depend on its reactivity to sunlight and microbial attack, and the light available at the surface.

    In this study we manipulated water released from areas of thermokarst activity to show that newly exposed DOC is >40% more susceptible to microbial conversion to CO2 when exposed to UV light than when kept dark. When integrated over the water column of receiving rivers, this susceptibility translates to the light-stimulated bacterial activity being on average from 11% to 40% of the total areal activity in turbid versus DOC-colored rivers, respectively.

    The range of DOC lability to microbes seems to depend on prior light exposure, implying that sunlight may act as an amplification factor in the conversion of frozen C stores to C gases in the atmosphere.”

    I would love to hear what people think the implications of these findings are. The article is also being discussed at other sites, such as ClimateProgress:

    “Melting ‘Permafrost’ Releases Climate-Warming CO2 Even Faster Than We Thought”

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/12/1575941/melting-permafrost-releases-climate-warming-co2-even-faster-than-we-thought/

    “Kling and his colleagues studied places in Arctic Alaska where permafrost is melting and is causing the overlying land surface to collapse, forming erosional holes and landslides and exposing long-buried soils to sunlight.

    They found that sunlight increases bacterial conversion of exposed soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas by at least 40 percent compared to carbon that remains in the dark. The team, led by Rose Cory of the University of North Carolina, reported its findings in an article to be published online Feb. 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “Until now, we didn’t really know how reactive this ancient permafrost carbon would be — whether it would be converted into heat-trapping gases quickly or not,” said Kling, a professor in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. EEB graduate student Jason Dobkowski is a co-author of the paper.

    “What we can say now is that regardless of how fast the thawing of the Arctic permafrost occurs, the conversion of this soil carbon to carbon dioxide and its release into the atmosphere will be faster than we previously thought,” Kling said.

    “That means permafrost carbon is potentially a huge factor that will help determine how fast the Earth warms.””

    (ReCaptcha oracle: dsndopi livres)

  36. 186
    Hank Roberts says:

    See also

    “The longer the building is around the more energy it consumes. Durable buildings need to be ultra energy efficient in order to be sustainable. Durability and energy efficiency are the cornerstones of sustainability.

    “One of the lessons of durability learned through failure is that as energy efficiency is increased durability is typically compromised. How can this be?

    “Arrhenius established the relationship of temperature on material durability over a century ago. The temperature relationship is very insightful: every 10 degree Kelvin rise in temperature decreases the service life of a material by half. It is important to note that the relationship is exponential….”

  37. 187
    Killian says:

    181 Steve Fish says: Comment by Killian: your posts… tend toward simplistic black and white tracts

    Simplistic: You are confusing simple and simplistic. See “Too long.”

    I immediately become suspicious when someone says something really dumb. Take for example- “Even extremely recyclable resources such as steel will wear out with time.” Steel primarily consists of iron and carbon, and both are elements and cannot wear out.

    Do “impurities” and “volume losses” work for you?

    If this is your standard for violation of sustainable systems, then I can’t trust anything else you say about much more complicated topics.

    Logical fallacy.

    You could have said, “Except for volume losses and impurities, steel is pretty much endlessly recyclable,” to which I could have replied, “Yes, I know; that’s why I used steel as the example. Still, given a meaningfully finite amount of carbon and iron, we’d still have a problem. We still *do* have a problem because of full life cycle accounting: Even if something is fully recyclable, you still need the means to do so. Lots of reasons why that might not end up being the case.”

    182 Chris Dudley says: Killian (#175), I thought I might have detected a Rifken Entropy Freak.

    You thought wrong. (What is a Rifken Entropy Freak?) I design abundant systems, not designed-to-die systems. I’ve always thought the issue of entropy to be a largely irrelevant, mostly intellectual discussion except for Big Bang time scales. Ah, but the mirror argues against that!

  38. 188
    Killian says:

    Rebuttal: What I say and share here is not science or climate-related or whatever… When you think that, go look at the following link. Everything I say here is based in natural sciences and in creating sustainability via mitigation and adaptation to climate changes.

    The mindset, constructs and perspective through which you assess climate science, particularly with regard to mitigation and adaptation is vitally important.

    Here is some of the “science” of sustainability and climate management: http://permaculturenews.org/2012/06/28/hope-for-a-new-era-before-after-examples-of-permaculture-earth-restoration-solving-our-problems-from-the-ground-up/#beforeafter

  39. 189
    MARodger says:

    A new web-page at NSIDC appeared last week, “Greenland Ice Sheet Today”, which will provide up-to-date maps & charts of Daily Ice Melt and Cumulative Melt Days for the year as well as scientific analysis & commentary. If future years prove as dramatic on Greenland as 2012 did, the web-page will be receiving a lot of visitors.

  40. 190
    Chris Dudley says:

    Killian (#187),

    Your volume loss argument is what makes you a Rifkin Entropy Freak. It is specious. Our dumps are more concentrated in iron than the ores we get it from. That lost volume you worry about is merely a convenient storehouse.

    Also, you completely ignore substitution. We’re about to open a new big copper mine. But it is doubtful it will be much exploited. Large quantities of copper may be made redundant over the next few decades. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/the-smarter-grid/superconductors-enter-commercial-utility-service

    Similarly, lonsdaleite may turn out to be a convenient replacement for steel in many structural applications. Surely you don’t claim we are about to run out of carbon?

    Even if tellurium weren’t the most common element with an atomic number greater than 40, you’d have to claim that we are going to run out of sand before saying there is any constraint on exploiting solar power because there are multiple approaches to PV and indeed CSP can use a whole range of materials as well. First Solar just happens to provide a convenient window on the current situation because it works closely with NREL and its books are pretty open. NanoSolar makes stronger claims and Chinese silicon based producers do as well, but independent testing is not always available. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/11/1569051/yes-we-can-get-there/

    So, there is a defect in your thinking about renewables. In fact, the risk is on the other side, as I pointed out earlier. Renewables may open up new pathways to exploit depletables and let us completely wreck the climate.

  41. 191
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Killian, we are talking about nukes and natural gas and other energy options because we need to survive on a planet with 10 billion people on it until we get to sustainability. Perhaps you would care to explain how your sustainable systems allow us to care for an aging population with a decreasing workforce over the next 150 years or so as population reduces to sustainable levels.

  42. 192
    Fred Magyar says:

    Chris Dudley@ 190,

    “Our dumps are more concentrated in iron than the ores we get it from. That lost volume you worry about is merely a convenient storehouse.”

    How ironic! (pun not intended) >;-)

    “Using rust and water to store solar energy as hydrogen November 11, 2012 How can solar energy be stored so that it can be available any time, day or night, when the sun shining or not? EPFL scientists are developing a technology that can transform light energy into a clean fuel that has a neutral carbon footprint: hydrogen. The basic ingredients of the recipe are water and metal oxides, such as iron oxide, better known as rust.”

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-rust-solar-energy-hydrogen.html#jCp

  43. 193
    SecularAnimist says:

    Killian wrote: “What you are talking about is what Joseph Tainter calls diminishing returns on complexity, which he sees as the primary driver of failed societies.”

    What I am talking about is replacing coal-fired power plants with solar panels and wind turbines in order to reduce global GHG emissions by at least 50 percent within 10 years, as a first step towards eliminating all GHG emissions within 20 years.

    What you are talking about is buzzwords and generalities.

    Killian wrote: “We can build buildings that use less than ten percent of the energy now used … We can grow food in such a way that *builds soil* … We can regrow forests *and* make them more resilient”

    Yes, we can, should and must do all of those things.

    Why you seem to believe that we can only do those things “instead of” generating electricity from renewable energy, is beyond me.

  44. 194
    Hank Roberts says:

    Someone up there asked how to find out about the First Solar guarantee and NREL tests

    Someone also said “so long as one knows that a given element in that system is unsustainable. That is, quite literally, all you need to know.”
    That absolutism leads to this sort of confused thinking

  45. 195
    Hank Roberts says:

    JCH, is this where you get that notion about cooling?

  46. 196
    Hank Roberts says:

    slipsies, the JCH comment was meant for Stoat.
    Threw it through the wrong window. Sorry.

  47. 197
    Chris Dudley says:

    Fred (#192),

    Yes, there are a number of interesting photo-catalytic reactions being studied. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/01/researchers-d-1.html

  48. 198
    wili says:

    “we need to survive on a planet with 10 billion people”

    But none of those people “need” to have cars, fly in planes, eat (much) meat or dairy, consume at US rates…

    Reducing total energy use radically, as nations do when they are faced with existential threats (England reduced domestic petrol use by 95% during WWII), will make the day that we can rely solely on renewables come much sooner.

    The first thing we have to give up on (or redefine drastically) is economic growth. Like everything else, the economy cannot grow forever. It is far past time to get over the insane idea that the economy can grow forever.

    Give up that illusion, embrace humane de-growth, especially in energy and resource use, and many seemingly intractable problems become more manageable.

    Wind capacity is doubling globally about every three years. If we can _shrink_ global energy use at a similar or faster rate, and with some help from other renewables, we could reach fully renewable energy production in a decade or so. Various crucial functions, though, will have to shift from gasoline to electric or other fuel sources.

    (Of course, all of this should have and could have been transitioned decades ago.)

    And of course, back to the first point–accelerating women’s rights, educations and access to safe birth control can do a lot to getting us faster to the day that birth rates dip below death rates.

    That was fun, but is there anyone left on this thread who want to discuss climate science? What are the implications of permafrost being more sensitive to sunlight than was previously thought? Is it no big deal? Major shift in how we think things are going to unfold? Just one more little indication that things are getting worse faster than most of the models have been predicting?

  49. 199
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Wili,
    I am not so sure that humans do not need planes–after all, they will have missiles, and without familiarity with far off lands, it will be that much easier to obliterate them. Transport of goods is also essential–some areas will not be able to produce enough food to feed their populations.

    And a point about decreasing population–that in itself is a huge challenge. At any time we have had decreasing populations the result has been bad–e.g. the rise of feudalism in the middle ages, the collapse of civilizations in Africa due to colonialism and slavery.

    This is not going to be an easy nut to crack.

  50. 200
    Killian says:

    190 Chris Dudley says: Killian (#187),

    Your volume loss argument is… specious. Our dumps are more concentrated in iron than the ores we get it from. blah, blah, blah…

    Your stream of assumptions is tiresome.

    So, there is a defect in your thinking about renewables.

    Incorrect. Re-read. The defect is yours, and is obvious.

    Still waiting for proof, or even evidence, thin film is renewable.

    And, for the record, I currently sell and lease solar pv, so you acting as if I am a great enemy of solar is a bit much. Or should I pretend solar has no issues, is completely sustainable, so we’re all saved, hallelujah?

    Criminy…


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