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Forced responses: Oct 2019

Filed under: — group @ 1 October 2019

Bi-monthly open thread on climate solutions. Please try to be civil. Remember, climate science questions can be discussed on the Unforced Variations thread.

544 Responses to “Forced responses: Oct 2019”

  1. 201
    Al Bundy says:

    Nigel: scientists have been saying for years: temperature rise of between 4-6 degrees if we go on burning fossil fuels, sea level rise of 1 metre this century, more storms etcetera. Its kind of hard to see how this is complicated sciency language people can’t understand.

    AB: Well, 4 degrees is a piddly amount in most folks’ minds. I mean, scientists ARE speaking the audience’s language, Fahrenheit, right? Oh, so they lost their audience by speaking French? Seriously, if you want to convey your DREAD would you use C or F? Bigger numbers sound SCARIER, and SCARIER is what you are conveying, eh?

    When you don’t know a value it is scientifically reasonable to stub it out and note that that bit isn’t reflected in the total. But it is batshit insane to stub out ice melt when conveying information about future sea level rise to sound-biters who will never see the asterisk. “X to Y feet, with Y meaning ___.” See? That elevates Y above X in the readers’ minds while providing a link to their emoting via the description of or video of destruction. SCARIER.

    It’s easy to dis a robot-like scientist as money-grubbing for grants. Who liked science class anyway, eh? (Well, me, which proves their point) But when all those white coats start acting like scared as heck humans the dis don’t work no more.

    Get yourselves arrested white-coaters. Join Jane.

  2. 202
    Al Bundy says:

    Ray Ladbury: If climate scientists fail uniformly when it comes to communicating the science, then why, pray, are you here?

    AB: I’m not the audience. I’m the choir. Yep, this site meets my needs just fine.

    Ray: Perhaps the problem is not with the scientists, but rather with the fact that our species is, by and large, pretty damned stupid and lazy. There is a cure for that. It’s called science, but that takes work, so we’re probably f*cked.

    AB: Yeah, blame the universe for not being what you would prefer. When reality bites, adjust. Talk like an Egyptian.

  3. 203
    Al Bundy says:

    E-P: What you don’t understand is

    AB: Welcome back. Please stop making assertions about my understanding, especially when you should know that said assertions are wrong. You’re showing folks that other stuff you assert might not be both true and well-researched.

    Bio/Synfuel hybrid cars (and to a lesser extent EVs) can feed the grid when needed. Smart appliances can choose to run themselves when rates are lowest. Industries and businesses can use the weather forecast so as to adjust systems to take advantage of free or nearly free excess production while avoiding expensive hours. Thermal solar can function as its own battery. Batteries are getting better. Pumped storage of various types is doable (the giant rock piston idea is cool, eh?). Current CH4 power plants operate just fine on bio/syngas.

    That said, I have no issues with nuclear. A nice chunk of base load is a fantastic wedge, especially if it’s something like a molten salt thorium. Fortunately the word “thorium” hasn’t been toxified by the radiophobes.

    E-P: Then you’ve got everything that is NOT electric.

    AB: Dude, you honored me by responding to one of my old posts as your first order of business! Here you are showing a deficiency in your thought processes, something you should fix. You’ve got to get your circuits to cross link much more.

    What am I talking about? Well, you and everyone else here knows about my bio/synfuel engine. That I’ve been crowing about 60+% efficiency (hopefully).

    Connecting with your own mind is an amazingly powerful skill.

    New Yorker via Mal Adapted: A recent poll shows that nearly half of millennials and Gen Z-ers would prefer to live in a socialist country.

    AB: Perhaps the GOPpers’ strategy of equating Social Democracy with Socialist, coupled with the Swedish volleyball team has influenced some minds.

  4. 204

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote @197:

    That’s why God made pumped hydro and wide-area smart grids.

    Wide-area smart grids:  SHOW ME ONE.

    Pumped hydro:  I happen to be familiar with one such installation, at Ludington in Michigan.  When its upgrade is completed its 6 pump-turbines will be rated at a total of 2172 MW(e) (up from 1872) with a slight increase in efficiency.  Ludington PHS uses an upper reservoir which covers 1.3 square miles and holds roughly 100 million cubic meters of water.  Ludington uses Lake Michigan as its lower reservoir.

    Energy stored is equal to mgΔh.  100 billion kg of water times 111 m hydraulic head times 9.8 m/s² is 1.088e14 J, about 30 GWh.  Post-upgrade, Ludington will be able to generate its peak 2172 MW for somewhat less than 15 hours before running a full reservoir empty.

    Rod Adams has documented a 2-week long near-total wind outage for the entire Bonneville Power Administration coverage area.  From 1/16/2014 to 1/29/2014 there was negligible wind generation over the states of Washington, Oregon, and parts of Idaho and Montana.  Call it 320 hours.

    To make Ludington operate at power for 320 hours would require making its reservoir at least 21.4 times as big, but that would only cover for 2172 MW of generation.  The combined capacity of Cook, Palisades, Fermi 2, the Midland Cogeneration Venture and the 4 coal plants at Monroe is 9163 MW, 4.2 times as much.  Covering for them all for 320 hours would require roughly 117 square miles of reservoir, plus embankments.

    Where are you going to find an extra 116 square miles, close by a really major lake and with a solid elevation difference, that nobody’s using already?  Short answer, it ain’t gonna happen.  You can forget doing this where you don’t already have a ready-made lower reservoir AND lots of water.  I can think of exactly one place outside the Great Lakes in the lower 48 states where you might be able to pull off even one Ludington-equivalent, and that’s the Great Salt Lake.  Lots of elevation difference, plenty of water that nobody’s really using, and they had to engineer extra evaporation to deal with high water levels.  Anywhere else, you can forget it.

    Note, that just covers electric power.  Total primary energy demand is roughly 10x as much, so you may wind up having to serve as much as 8x the current electric demand (no pun intended).  Long story short, you cannot do this with pumped hydro.  It does not and cannot scale.

  5. 205
    Al Bundy says:

    E-P: Nonsense. The Smith-Putnam wind turbine was rated at 1 megawatt and was commissioned in 1941 (a full year before Chicago Pile 1). It was built out of aluminum using standard aircraft methods…

    …It was shorted for repair materials due to the war effort and eventually threw a blade, but even after the war it was not repaired and recommissioned. Not economic. Wind wouldn’t be economic today either without tax credits, RECs and outright mandates.

    AB: Contradict much? Or are you just agreeing with me? Are you saying that the Smith-Putnam turbine was as economically viable as today’s versions? (So I was wrong to say the transition to viability is “now”) And to quibble about accounting – you know that wars and all sorts of things warp the numbers. I’ll counter in kind: Fossil power plants wouldn’t be economic today either without being given a pass on atmospheric tipping fees.

    Seriously, whether the equal price point was last year or next year is besides the point. Death trumps the almighty dollar.

    Of course, your focus is on nuclear, but today’s radiophobia and fossil-dominated market might make things too cloudy to realistically compare options for the future. zebra’s “build a smart grid and let buyers and sellers play” sounds grand. We’re building new houses before the utilities are upgraded.


    E-P: Even if that steel is not usable for consumer products, why do you think it could not be recycled into new nuclear reactors?

    AB: Excellent question! I don’t know much about metallurgy and embrittlement and how various isotopes do what they do. My initial guess is that less stable nuclei would best be avoided when constructing something that’s gonna get zapped again. You done any research on this?

  6. 206
    Al Bundy says:

    Cathy Jones: My guess is that Greta educated her parents about the subject of AGW.

    AB: Good guess. She got them to go vegetarian and stop flying, even though her mom needs to travel (singer? musician? classical?).

    [original comment deleted]

    E-P: If you are going to set something up that requires a fat pipe out of a place currently served by skinny pipes or none at all, you should be the one paying to put it in. A “common carrier” required to take everyone’s power would have to charge everyone for a pipe that benefits just that one generator: socialized costs, privatized profits.

    AB: Hmm. Pipes attract customers, so first adopters (in a geographic sense) can be more like the first person to buy a house in a subdivision. Pipes can have different rates. We’re talking about a NEW smart grid with NEW smart rules. So take your objections and solve them. Make it a game. See if you can come up with a fatal flaw that you’re too unintelligent to solve.

    E-P on CF&D: What then? What changes? Nothing.

    AB: Really? So Joe isn’t going to buy the truck that gets better mileage? IIRC the efficiency of vehicle selection tracks pretty well with gasoline prices. CF&D is about changing durable good choices. When you know that gasoline is expensive and will definitely get more expensive? When you know that ultra-inefficient vehicles will be worth scrap when trade-in time rolls around? Gas price at the point of sale drives the market now, and a rising CF&D adds in that “I can get kicked harder and harder or I can get cha-chinged more and more” question.

    nigelj: If you don’t care about peoples opinions of you, why do you

    AB: Wanting to not care, trying to not care, resolving to not care.

    And if you exercised this morning you can sincerely claim, “Now I’m exercising every day”. Affirming vs attaining.

    E-P: Even if it’s true that you can generate X many TWh per annum for some representative annum, it does not mean that you can get it anywhere close to where or WHEN you need it. Shifting power in space or time is an expensive and often very lossy proposition

    AB: There’s the rub. When I think of the FutureGrid we need to build I see its core being superconducting, or at least extremely fat and efficient, with trunks running from place to place so that problem meteorological conditions are handled. I not up on the current state of transmission research. Have you looked into the subject recently?

    E-P: Even a $100/ton CO2 tax adds only about $1/gallon to the price of gasoline and $0.20/therm of natural gas.

    AB: So a tax of $25/ton that rises by $25/ton every year won’t work? You forget that people are relative. If prices are going up, people aren’t happy buying the product. And remember, we’re primarily concerned about durable goods. Drive “good behaviour” in their selection and those Autobahn romps won’t do as much damage.

  7. 207
    zebra says:

    #188 Engineer-poet,

    It’s obvious that you don’t realize how crazy you sound, and you probably will not “hear” this but:

    I say: “If people have a choice, and they want stability and reliability, they will pick nuclear over wind and solar as their supplier”.

    Your response: “But…but…but…zebra, you fool, don’t your realize that wind and solar are unstable and unreliable???

    You complain that you don’t have time to do your project, but you do have time to spew out these incoherent, long-winded rants that have no connection to what your interlocutor is saying? Your internet troll category is… pull the string on the back of the doll, and a preset string of words/memes comes out at random.

    And with regard to the string of basic circuit-theory terms that you use to impress people… I’m not impressed, because I used to teach the course sometimes when the EE’s were busy. As I’ve pointed out to you in the past, and even David Benson, who is a (relatively sane) nuclear advocate, has supported, you are obviously not current on what we can do these days. I say that as someone who is not really current himself in any detail, but it is obvious that you are technologically stuck somewhere in the 1960-1970’s.

    Anyway, these days I have been trying to give people a chance to engage in a rational discussion on various topics, but you are one more example of how poorly that is going.

  8. 208
    nigelj says:

    Engineer-Poet @193 @ 195

    “As you noted, there isn’t even a carbon tax. If one was imposed, …… It would probably not change the power mix (in Germany) as that’s mandated by policy”

    Of course it wouldn’t change the mix but we are not talking about applying a carbon tax and dividend to a country which already mandates electricity generation with policy. And saying ‘probably’ is rather unconvincing anyway. So despite all your rhetoric you don’t show that a carbon tax and dividend would not lead to more renewable electricity generation, and all you deliver is a strawman.

    Carbon tax and dividend is not of course ideal. Its a political compromise. But it would push people to at least consider things like electric cars. Some would spend the dividend on petrol but its unlikely to be all, according to some serious economic research and modelling.

    “Also nuclear power would only solve electricity generation”

    “There you are quite wrong. ”

    Ok so you find one example of small modular reactors for district heating, and they do make sense. Rather interesting in fact.

    But you miss the real implied point: How is nuclear power going to create low carbon cement, deal with the problem of coking coal in steel manufacture, agricultural emissions, boost the uptake of electric cars, just a few examples? Nuclear power just cant, so clearly we need something that prices carbon like a carbon tax that would push corporations and individuals towards solving these carbon footprint problems. There are other alternative methods like subsidies and more specific government regulations, but relying on those alone become very complicated, and the net just won’t capture everything.

    So I will ask you again if not a carbon tax and dividend, what?

    The renewables issue will sort itself out, and if storage doesn’t fall far enough in price, there may indeed end up being more nuclear power in the mix. Doesn’t bother me. A carbon tax would incentivise all these options all other things being equal. I see no problem with hybrid systems that combine some mix of nuclear power, wind, hydro, geothermal and solar. Humans seek pure, singular ideal solutions because they are simpler I suppose, but life seldom works out like that and it doesn’t necessarily matter as long as the job gets done.

    “The thing about decarbonization is that “renewables” policies are proven failures;”

    We are doing fine with wind, plus geothermal plus hydro. Never had instability issues. We simply don’t need nuclear power, but others might.

    What you nuclear people need to do is to push for research that gets to the bottom of issues with low level radioactive fallout, as was discussed previously. Thanks for your and DBP’s references on this that argue its harmless, and with some evidence, but I have read other references with equally compelling evidence it is not harmless. This suggests we have not got to the bottom of the issue. But you would need to have to be braze enough to face the fact low level radiation might not be harmless. Perhaps this is why the nuclear advocates are not funding research on the issue…

  9. 209
    Adam Lea says:

    One of the main issues with renewables is not the intermittency (of which there are solutions), but the fact that it is a dilute energy source. If you wanted to provide the UK with enough energy to meet demand from wind/solar, you would need to cover an area the size of Wales at least with wind turbines and/or PV. The same would be true of other countries with Western levels of energy demand, they would need country sized renewable facilities. Where do you put these, bearing in mind they have to be installed in locations that will be acceptable to the majority?

  10. 210
    Killian says:

    Technology will not save us from climate change – but imagining new forms of society will

    Oh, reeeeally? Who’d’a thunk it?

    Citizen action on climate change has reached a new intensity: school children by the thousands regularly skip school to protest and Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience recently caused widespread disruption in cities around the world. Challenge and disruption is important in prompting change. But it’s also key that we consider – and show – how a zero carbon future could work in practice. This is where the field of social innovation – the development of new ideas that meet social needs – is coming of age.

    All nice, but just beginnings. Shouting about change, demanding change from GOV’T, misses the point; it shows a fundamental lack of awareness of what “regenerative” is.

    like Freiburg in Germany, which has gone further than anywhere in designing new lifestyles into its physical structures, for example by banning and restricting cars, and building renewable energy into the city’s fabric.

    Yup… but where’s the recognition that the concept of large cities is itself unsustainable?

    Social innovation has a central role to play in mobilising society as a partner in this work.

    For the next decade, this is where energy now needs to be directed. Change must be accelerated, not just in the organisation of our physical systems, but also in the way in which we live and relate to each other.


    Regenerative Governance

  11. 211
    nigelj says:

    Al Bundy @200 @201

    “The communications issue is not about whether scientists convey the science but how well they convey the fact that they’re crapping their pants. …Dudes, the appropriate thing to do is scream, “FIRE!”……It’s easy to dis a robot-like scientist as money-grubbing for grants. Who liked science class anyway, eh?…. But when all those white coats start acting like scared as heck humans the dis don’t work no more.”

    I do get your point. Spock like scientists quoting equations is not going to motivate all that much action. However the risk is that if scientists start screaming fire, time to panic or whatever, you will have the denialists crying “look at those scientists screaming fire,those chicken little, scared little children scientists, blubbing tears.” The usual button pressing drivel but people are easily manipulated by this, and so we are back to square one. And nobody likes being humiliated.

    I suspect this is the reason scientists are a bit reticent. Once bitten twice shy.

    If you are right (and you obviously could be right) the screaming of fire card can probably only be played once, and the timing needs to be exactly right.

  12. 212
    nigelj says:

    Adam Lea @209, I’ve seen calculations on how much land area solar power would need to completely power civilisation, and on a number of websites by electrical engineers and other experts, and they all come up with similar numbers that its less than 1% of land area. I find it hard to see this being much of a problem, especially as many of these panels would go on roofs and waste land. Of course it’s very unlikely anyone would rely just on solar power.

    Wind power takes up a lot of land area, but only as a wind farm. In reality cattle can graze between the pylons, or crops can be grown, so if you just consider the area of the pylons, the land area taken up is much smaller. Anyway most new wind generation in the UK is going offshore. No doubt the fish will be complaining.

  13. 213
    David B. Benson says:

    nigelj @208 — low level radiation is a non-issue. No matter what nonsense you have read which states otherwise. The products of combustion, on the other hand, are bad for lungs and produce asthma. Ask any ER physician.

  14. 214
    David B. Benson says:

    Adam Lea @209 — The intermittency is often resolved by running natural gas and even diesel generators. Examples include the ERCOT Texas grid and the South Australia grid.

  15. 215
    Brian Dodge says:

    “you would need to cover an area the size of Wales at least with wind turbines and/or PVArea of Wales is ~21k km^2” OK then.

    “In the (territorial + EEZ) waters around Britain & Northern Ireland, there’s roughly 40 000 km2 of seabed shallower than 25 m, with a wind power density of 579 W/m2 (that’s per square metre in the vertical plane: the area that the turbine blades sweep through). So, for the depths of 0-25 m, scaling the Kentish Flats figure accordingly, the mean potential electricity density is:

    2.5 MWe/km2 x 579/713 = 2 MWe/km2

    40 000 km2 x 2 MWe/km2 = 80 GWe at 0-25m depths”

    “China’s 2,090km-long Jinping-Sunan transmission link, an 800kV ultra high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission line, is the world’s second longest power transmission line. The 7.2GW transmission link is owned by State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and was put into operation in December 2012.” The distance from the Shetlands to London is about 1000 km
    [I forgot to save the links – google ’em]

  16. 216

    #209, Adam Lea–

    If you wanted to provide the UK with enough energy to meet demand from wind/solar, you would need to cover an area the size of Wales at least with wind turbines and/or PV.

    I seriously doubt that estimate, as I’m pretty sure I’ve seen considerably lower numbers previously.

    But, frankly, I don’t have time just now to bird-dog the source given. (But thanks for citing, Adam! Much appreciated nonetheless.)

    So I’m going to stipulate that assertion, without prejudice to future inquiry, and just say that that has a lot to do with why the UK leads the world in the deployment of offshore wind. (You could plop quite a few “Waleses” down in the commercial exploitation zone waters of the UK.)

    As to solar, there are quite a few alternatives to greenfield sites, including floating (increasingly popular, including in India), rooftop, agricultural, and brownfield siting scenarios. It’s also increasingly popular (I believe) to combine wind and solar farms, often now with storage as well.

  17. 217
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Al Bundy@202,
    I’m sorry, but I really can’t get what you are asking scientists to do–over and above the difficult job they already do of trying to tease out the details of the climate of the entire fricking planet. Do we need to go out and take all the denialists by the hand and say, “There, there?” Are we to all go out and get ourselves arrested–and if so, how does the science get done? Are we to dumb down the science to the point where someone with a room-temperature IQ can understand it?

    I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue here. The problem is not that the denialati don’t understand what the scientists are saying. It’s that they refuse to believe them unless they are telling them what they want to hear. That isn’t a problem for climate scientists, but rather for psychologists or politicians who can decide to ignore the crazy conspiracy theorists.

    Climate scientists already have a difficult job to do. Science is the way it is for a reason. Don’t expect the practitioners of science to change the scientific method just so they can bring along the D and F students.

  18. 218
    Ric Merritt says:

    I guess n*cl**r is on topic and not forbidden in this comment thread…

    I have a question that I asked once in an appropriate forum, but the replies contained all vitriol and no information: now that we have most of a century of experience with reactors and weapons, where is all that human-gathered and often transformed radioactive material today?

    I am NOT asking your opinion on where to go from here, what SHOULD be done with material, whether useful or waste, whether we should be pursuing nuclear power or hiding under our pillows from it, etc etc etc. Just what we’ve mined and processed, and what has happened to it so far.

    I know I can find a near-infinite number of relevant web pages: that’s the problem! I’d like a summary from people who are actually knowledgeable, not some skewed and incomplete views found in the first 4 search results. Maybe such a person would have a breakdown by element and isotope, and also by disposition, i.e. what is sitting in weapons, what is in active use, what is sitting in barrels, what has decayed into harmlessness, what has dribbled into the ocean, and so forth.

    Seems to me that’s about the first thing anyone would want to know when contemplating policy on nuclear products. For other energy- and climate-related topics, we try to give summaries in a similar spirit all the time. The changing mix of energy sources, the various contributions to atmospheric makeup, and the like. I can’t remember ever seeing anything like that for nuclear products. Is the field so secret and obscure that no one knows? (That would be highly relevant meta-information, wouldn’t it.)

  19. 219
    nigelj says:

    Something interesting on the soil sequestration of carbon: Researchers have found deep soil holds potential to off-set greenhouse gas emissions and improve production for farmers. Dr Mike Beare and his colleagues at Plant and Food Research have been studying how soils differ in their potential to store carbon, and the risk for carbon loss. Beare said many of New Zealand’s long-term pasture top soils are approaching saturation and don’t have the potential to store carbon near the surface.

    Many continuous pasture soils in New Zealand are stratified, with carbon levels declining rapidly with depth. “Where there is much greater potential to store additional carbon is below the surface soil,” Beare said….

    (The proposal is for) Farmers re-seed pastures every 10-to-15 years, to improve the pastures’ production. During this pasture renewal, Beare said farmers could create a deeper topsoil. Full-inversion tillage buries the carbon-rich top soil below 15cm and brings up the sub-soil material that is under-saturated in carbon. Mike Beare says turning up deep soil when renewing crops could capture carbon and improve production.

    Mike Beare says turning up deep soil when renewing crops could capture carbon and improve production The new highly productive grass is then sown and as it grows it builds carbon on the new surface, with the buried carbon decomposing slowly underneath. “The net effect will be that we’ll actually accumulate more total carbon in the whole soil profile.” Beare said researchers had done modelling work which showed the practice has potential and could be applied across reasonably large land areas, although not on all soils…..

    (Of course this is industrial scale technology based farming, so might not suit the environmental purists)

  20. 220
    nigelj says:

    “It’s not too late to do the right thing: Moral motivations for climate change action”

    This is possibly nothing hugely new, but its interesting, its open access, and has a lot of links to interesting related research.

  21. 221
    nigelj says:

    Something else new on soils and carbon etc: “Greenhouse mitigation strategies for agronomic and grazing lands of the US Southern Great Plains.”

  22. 222
    Al Bundy says:

    E-P: Wide-area smart grids: SHOW ME ONE.

    AB: How? Time travel???? “We should develop and build” in no way claims “We already built”

  23. 223
    sidd says:


    Holy shit.

    [Response: Indeed. Deleted.]

    My killfile which wisely blinded me to the original of the comment above quoted by Mr. Bundy. I had difficulty believing that such a comment was permitted, so i searched it out and verified that indeed it had been.

    Moderation on this forum is slipping badly. If the moderators have no time to read comment submission more carefully before approval, perhaps disable comments entirely ?


  24. 224
    nigelj says:

    Killian @210, could you please describe regenerative governance in detail in your own words. The graphic in your link is hard to follow, and much too sketchily simplistic (excuse the pun).

    Having things within walking distance is a good rule but will need exceptions. Any heavy industry is noisy etc even if of very limited scale, and so you want it well away from living areas.

  25. 225

    Al Bundy spews @203:

    E-P: What you don’t understand is

    AB: Welcome back.

    Those are not my words from #151 on; that’s back at freaking #102.  You can’t even be bothered to fully quote, let alone link (for context) what you claim to be replying to.  Note that I link EVERY comment I reply to.

    Please stop making assertions about my understanding, especially when you should know that said assertions are wrong.

    When you have provably misled in “quoting” me, you have no standing to argue about mis-assertions.

    And then you go into the fallacy of composition again:

    Bio/Synfuel hybrid cars (and to a lesser extent EVs) can feed the grid when needed.

    None of those can feed the grid unless specifically designed to do so, as NO hybrids and ALMOST NO EVs are.  Synfuels are supposed to be used by conventional vehicles that aren’t even electric; WTF makes you think THEY could back-feed the grid?

    Smart appliances can choose to run themselves when rates are lowest.

    Lowest when?  Tonight?  This week?  This decade?  How long are you willing to wait to wash your dishes and clean and dry your clothes?  Power your car?  Heat your house?  Cook your food?

    Industries and businesses can use the weather forecast so as to adjust systems to take advantage of free or nearly free excess production while avoiding expensive hours.

    When the wind decides to take a 2-week vacation in winter when the Sun is off-duty, are there ANY inexpensive hours?  Do you just close the doors and furlough everyone until the “renewables” (unreliables) decide to come back to work?

    Thermal solar can function as its own battery.

    Thermal storage is essentially useless beyond single-digit hours.  It takes the noon-time sun and time-shifts it to the evening demand peak.  Nobody’s using it to run even overnight, let alone through a few cloudy days; even with the massive subsidies solar gets, it still costs too much.

    Batteries are getting better.

    But haven’t passed single-digit hours yet.

    Pumped storage of various types is doable (the giant rock piston idea is cool, eh?)..

    It’s a small (less than 4x) multiplier on the same volume of water.  I’m going to have to start a Patreon so people can pay me to run the numbers on things like this and make it worth my while.  tl;dr Hydraulic lifts under columns of rock are going to cost a lot more per kWh than pumped water.

    Current CH4 power plants operate just fine on bio/syngas

    And you can burn Chanel #5 to run a steam engine.  The problem is that even if you could afford to, there just isn’t enough in the world to accomplish much.

    You are obviously one of the mass of innumerate ideologues who cannot follow simple facts through to conclusions.  Hint:  bioGAS comes from bioMASS.  Had you a clue, you would realize that, even way back when the population and per-capita energy consumption were but a fraction of today’s numbers, the land simply did not grow enough biomass to supply our needs; cutting trees for firewood nearly deforested England before they turned to coal.  Yet you think biogas is going to replace natural gas?

    Well, you and everyone else here knows about my bio/synfuel engine. That I’ve been crowing about 60+% efficiency (hopefully).

    Everyone but you thinks you’re a crank.  You can’t even run elementary numbers about available biomass energy vs. demand; it’s unbelievable that you could have a clue about thermodynamics or heat loss or flow losses.  I believe Achates when they claim 53% efficiency; I don’t believe you.

    Fortunately the word “thorium” hasn’t been toxified by the radiophobes.

    Not to be Debbie Downer, but having toxified “half life” all they have to do is mention “14 billion years”.

  26. 226
    Ignorant Guy says:

    #223 sidd
    Moderators! While you are at it you can take a closer look on comment #164 for some more ‘holy shit’.

  27. 227

    Al Bundy wrote @205:

    Contradict much? Or are you just agreeing with me? Are you saying that the Smith-Putnam turbine was as economically viable as today’s versions?

    I’m saying that utility-scale wind power was a thing in 1941, long before there were fiber-composite airfoils.  Further, it was believed at the time that wind power might be economic.  Obviously there were no Renewable Portfolio Standards.

    Wind power failed then for the same reason that it requires subsidies and mandates today.  It is a fuel-saver, not a dispatchable generator; it can’t substitute for any of the other generation on the grid because it can literally go away almost in an instant (such as shutdown from overspeed) for causes which affect many or all wind farms in an given area.  Its cost of energy may be low, but the cost of energy it avoids (Levelized Avoided Cost of Energy, LACE) can be well below its cost.  Much of this is the externalized cost of other generators “balancing” the unreliables without compensation.

    The success stories for wind all involve jobs which are not time-critical.  Milling grain and draining Holland’s polders didn’t require to-the-second matching of generation and load.  I have identified candidate loads which might tolerate the on-again, off-again nature of wind and PV, but they have no market.  Yet.

    Excellent question! I don’t know much about metallurgy and embrittlement and how various isotopes do what they do. My initial guess is that less stable nuclei would best be avoided when constructing something that’s gonna get zapped again. You done any research on this?

    Embrittlement is caused by neutrons knocking atoms out of their crystal lattices, which makes the crystals less able to deform plastically when overstressed.  It can be dealt with in situ by annealing the reactor vessels.  IIRC Rosatom has a process where they wrap the unloaded RPV in insulation and run heaters along it, then let it cool at a controlled rate.  This allows the atoms to slip back into a low-energy configuration and makes the steel ductile again.  Combined with surface treatments such as cavitation peening (which hardens and compresses the surface layer, making it resistant to stress corrosion and cracking), the RPV could possibly be made better than new.

    On the one hand, we have ways to make even our current reactor fleet like new again, even better than new.  On the other hand, we have government policies which are forcing nuclear plants to close all over the USA and Europe.  This is going on in the middle of an alleged climate crisis when scientists are telling us that we MUST slash GHG emissions as rapidly as possible… but are those same scientists united in telling us that our nuclear fleet MUST be maintained and expanded?  There are a few voices like James Hansen saying this, but they have no traction in the policy sphere.

    We have to change this, and FAST.

  28. 228

    Al Bundy wrote @206:

    We’re talking about a NEW smart grid with NEW smart rules. So take your objections and solve them. Make it a game. See if you can come up with a fatal flaw that you’re too unintelligent to solve.

    I note that YOU do not have solutions to these problems, but you expect ME to come up with some… after I’ve concluded that, in Shellenberger’s words, “the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural.”  (I used to be more optimistic back in the days of The Oil Drum, but the weight of accumulated evidence to the contrary wised me up.)

    I can think of USES for heaps of “renewable energy”.  Anchor floating wind turbines out where the trade winds blow, power electric CO2 capture systems, run CO2 down pipes deep into the water, convert to CO2 clathrate, bag the clathrate, seal and sink it to the ocean floor to await future use.  The intermittency of the power doesn’t matter then, and neither does the distance from consumers as the “consumer” is a CO2 capture plant that is part of the floating wind turbine system.  But this isn’t YOUR smart grid… that you aren’t smart enough to bring into existence so you demand that I do it for you.  Irony.

    So Joe isn’t going to buy the truck that gets better mileage? IIRC the efficiency of vehicle selection tracks pretty well with gasoline prices. CF&D is about changing durable good choices.

    A gallon of gasoline burns to make about 20 pounds of CO2; 110 gallons or so burns to make a metric ton.  A $100/ton CO2 tax would boost gasoline prices from about $2.50/gallon to roughly $3.40.  We’ve seen gasoline prices over $4.00/gallon fairly recently, so this isn’t going to make people change much.  That goes double if they’re getting $100 or $150 a month in dividends.

    If Joe Country is driving his 1-ton duallie 1500 miles a month at 15 MPG, he’d be paying about $90/month extra at the fuel pump… but he’d be getting much if not most of that back in his dividend check.  Is he going to downsize his truck and lose face with his friends if he can afford not to?  Not a chance.  The tax neither compels him nor gives him a real alternative to petroleum, and the problem is PETROLEUM.

    This is why I think any real plan needs to push specific goals, such as fuel-consumption limits for new light-duty vehicles.  Start at 1 gallon for the first 30 miles under the WLTP, with the distance figure going steadily upwards.  Joe Country wants a new truck, but as of this year it has to go 30 miles on a gallon of liquid fuel.  He can downsize his truck, BUT he’s got a choice:  the same size truck that’s a plug-in hybrid.  It costs more, but it saves him a pile at the pump.  So he gets a bigger loan and pays it off by putting a lot of his dividend check into paying off the battery system for the new, same-size truck.  His new engine is 25% more efficient, bringing him to 18.75 MPG… and the other 11.25 miles of the first 30 are electric and powered by charging up every night.  His 50 miles a day used to burn 3.33 gallons, now they burn about 2.1:  a cut of more than 1/3.  And as chargers proliferate, he charges between trips during the day and cuts his consumption even more.

    By the time Joe is ready for his next truck, the limit is 1 gallon in 50 miles.  His desired truck gets 25 MPG after the battery is exhausted, but the battery can power the first 25 miles.  Driving 50 miles a day, Joe has cut down to 1 gallon/day… and sometimes zero when he is able to charge at stops.

    This is how you slash fossil fuel demand without sacrificing lifestyle.

  29. 229
    Nemesis says:

    There has always been lots of blather about how “good” an “healthy” the modern, capitalist system is compared to ancient societies, especially when it comes to lifespan- think again:

    ” Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

    You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: ‘Something’s just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.’

    This cartoon reflects a very common view of ancient lifespans, but it is based on a myth…”

    Anyway, there are various myths (propaganda) about how “good” and “healthy” the modern, capitalist system ostensibly is- until no more soon.

  30. 230
    Brian Dodge says:

    Regarding storage of nuclear waste. Map of high level stuff

    The Congressional map and Nuclear Regulatory Commission map have discrepancies which the underlying Forbes article discusses. One huge problem is that their are many different physical components from Uranium mine tailings to spent nuclear fuel to research stuff to contaminated cleaning rags. Fermilab has a warehouse of equipment and “stuff” which has been made radioactive by exposure to high energy protons or downstream particles, all neatly tagged and catalogged, from radiation class 0(exposed but no detectable radiation) to class 9 (you can read a newspaper by it; just kidding, but if it’s 9, a short term exposure within feet can be dangerous). Sometimes Spent Nuclear Fuel, SNF, is referred to as “waste”, and sometimes not, depending on the agency and rule. I believe that most of the “stuff” is SNF in storage pools at nuclear reactors; new SNF fresh from the reactor is physically hot, and is stored under water to dissipate heat and absorb the radiation as the short lived actinides decay. After 5 years or so, it no longer needs water cooling, and is frequently moved to weatherproof metal containers outdoors. Technically, there is paperwork somewhere in the government files that tracks all of this; probably, there is no central repository where all the info is readily available; there may be a central data store (or several) for DOD/CIA/NSA which is(are) hidden for security purposes, but the “stuff” they keep track of is mission oriented – the security risk of mine tailings is low. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that how much/how hot/where/what form the SNF from Harris Nuclear Plant in NC is classified. As an aside, google maps tags the Duke Power coal fired Roxborough Steam plant as “nuclear” – Duke may have offsite storage for spent fuel?
    See also

  31. 231
    David B. Benson says:

    Ric Merritt @218 — what would you do with such an extensive list? Radioactive materials have many and manifold uses. Not the least is simply to provide heat for power to deep space probes:

  32. 232
    Ric Merritt says:

    David Benson, I have some curiosity about the “extensive list”, which I wonder if anyone has tried to make. I’m really more interested in knowledgeable summary, an activity done by people with expertise, and depth of knowledge about the items on the list.

    Any slightly concerned citizen sees all kinds of advocacy about what should be done with nuclear materials, and whether we should be extracting and processing large amounts of them in the future. How could such a citizen have much of an opinion about the future without an overview of what we’ve done so far? I miss that overview. And if the answer is mostly that we’ve left it lying around in various places where it needs a lot of care, an obvious obligation of anyone advocating lots of nuclear power is to explain how that will get better.

    I have the impression that the vast bulk of nuclear material mined and processed so far is in that kind of state, with very little laid to rest where it can’t cause harm. But I can’t put any numbers on that, even ballpark figures.

    Think of all the summaries we see, on this website and in carefully considered reports with earnest executive summaries, of how much CO2 we’ve added to the atmosphere, the sources and sinks, history and projections, on and on.

    I just never run across anything remotely comparable for nuclear materials. I don’t think an appreciable percentage has been lofted out of the Solar System. So where is it all? As an amateur citizen, I have near zero idea. If you want to convince me we need lots of nukes, the least you can do is tell me what happens to the stuff. If you want to convince me we should stay away from nukes, don’t just grouse about some particular cache of dirty dangerous stuff, let me know what percentage of the whole that is. If that’s not public, at least that’s valuable meta-information.

  33. 233

    The continuing progress of comparative economic advantage for RE, per BNEF:

    This is a three-stage process. In phase one, new solar and wind get cheaper than new coal and gas plants on a cost-of-energy basis. In phase two, renewables reach parity with power prices. In phase three, they become even cheaper than running existing thermal plants.

    Our analysis shows that phase one has now been reached for two-thirds of the global population. Phase two started with California, China and parts of Europe. We expect phase three to be reached on a global scale by 2030. As this all plays out, thermal power plants will increasingly be relegated to a balancing role, looking for opportunities to generate when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

    Related content:

    Coal is under severe economic pressure across the EU. Based on Carbon Tracker modelling, we estimate 84% of lignite and 76% of hard coal generators are currently operating at a loss and could lose €3.54 bn and €3.03 bn, respectively, in 2019.

    Owing to relentless competition from ever lower-cost wind and solar, and gas, these losses could be sustained for the foreseeable future. Without being heavily subsidised, we foresee – and therefore urge policymakers and investors to plan for – no hard coal or lignite power generation by 2030.

  34. 234
    Deb O'Dell says:

    Sorry for the self promotion. Research about methods and emissions of CO2 over agricultural management practices, published in 2 parts in the journal of Agrosystems, Geosciences & Environment
    Part 1 published in June 2019, title: Nutrient Source and Tillage Effects on Maize: I. Micrometeorological Methods for Measuring Carbon Dioxide Emissions
    Can be accessed at:
    Abstract: There is a need to understand the potential benefits of using the biotechnology waste by-product from manufacturing as a fertilizer replacement in agriculture, by quantifying the economic value for the farmer and measuring the environmental impact. Measuring CO2 emissions can be used to assess environmental impact, including three widely used micrometeorological methodologies: (i) the Bowen Ratio Energy Balance (BREB), (ii) aerodynamic flux-gradient theory, and (iii) eddy covariance (EC). As a first step in quantifying benefits of applying biotechnology waste in agriculture, a detailed examination of these three methods was conducted to understand their effectiveness in quantifying CO2 emissions for this specific circumstance. The study measured micrometeorological properties over a field planted to maize (Zea mays L. var. indentata), one plot treated with biotechnology waste applied as a nutrient amendment, and one plot treated with a typical farmer fertilizer practice. Carbon dioxide flux measurements took place over 1 yr, using both BREB and EC systems. The aerodynamic method was used to gap-fill BREB system measurements, and those flux estimates were compared with estimates produced separately by the aerodynamic and EC methods. All methods found greater emissions over the biotechnology waste application. The aerodynamic method CO2 flux estimates were considerably greater than both the EC and a combined BREB-aerodynamic approach. During the day, the EC and BREB methods agree. At night, the aerodynamic approach detects and accounts for buildup of CO2 at the surface during stable periods. The BREB systems combined with aerodynamic approaches provide alternate methods to EC in examining micrometeorological properties near the surface.

    Part 2 published Monday, title: Nutrient Source and Tillage Effects on Maize: II. Yield, Soil Carbon, and Carbon Dioxide Emissions
    Can be accessed at:
    Abstract: Reuse of industrial biotechnology by-products has become an important component of circular bio-economies whereby nutrient-rich wastes are returned to agricultural land to improve soil fertility and crop productivity. Heat-inactivated spent microbial biomass (SMB) from the production of 1,3-propanediol is an industrial fermentation by-product with nutrients that could replace or supplement conventional fertilizers. Our objectives were to determine if SMB utilization as a soil amendment in agriculture could generate environmental benefits while meeting farmer yield expectations and assess the impact of SMB application on CO2 emissions. This study examined the replacement of typical farmer fertilizer practices with the application of SMB. In addition to yellow dent maize (Zea mays L. var. indentata) grain yield and aboveground biomass, soil organic carbon (SOC) was measured. The eddy covariance (EC) micrometeorological method was used to measure CO2 flux. Overall maize yields were positively correlated with increasing application rates of SMB. After two SMB applications, SOC increased by 45% on the SMB plot as compared with an increase of 11% on the farmer practice plot. The SMB-treated plot also emitted more CO2 (794 g CO2 m−2 yr−1) compared with the farmer practice treatment (274 g CO2 m−2 yr−1). Results from this study provide information on the efficacy of waste product nutrient cycling in the soil–plant ecosystem that could improve productivity and sustainability.

  35. 235

    E-P 225: When the wind decides to take a 2-week vacation in winter when the Sun is off-duty, are there ANY inexpensive hours?

    BPL: If we have to burn natural gas 2 weeks out of 52 and run solar and wind the rest of the time, I can live with that.

  36. 236

    E-P 227: Wind power failed then for the same reason that it requires subsidies and mandates today.

    BPL: It’s cheaper than fossil fuels now even without subsidies. You take away all the subsidies for fossil fuels and nukes (including the Price-Anderson Act) and I’ll take away all the subsidies for wind and solar. Deal?

  37. 237
    Adam Lea says:

    216: The source I linked too does (unlike many sources) use numbers based on current renewable energy generating capability and UK energy consumption per person, so for the source to be wrong, the numbers going into the calculations have to be wrong. Are they?

    To quote from the book (Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, David MacKay):

    “1. To make a difference, renewable facilities have to be country-sized. For any renewable facility to make a contribution comparable to our current consumption, it has to be country-sized. To get a big contribution from wind, we used wind farms with the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from solar photovoltaics, we required half the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from waves, we imagined wave farms covering 500 km of coastline. To make energy crops with a big contribution, we took 75% of the whole country. Renewable facilities have to be country-sized because all renewables are so diffuse. Table 18.10 summarizes most of the powers-per-unit-area that we encountered in Part I. To sustain Britain’s lifestyle on its renewables alone would be very difficult. A renewable-based energy solution will necessarily be large and intrusive.

    2.It’s not going to be easy to make a plan that adds up using renewables alone. If we are serious about getting off fossil fuels, Brits are going to have to learn to start saying “yes” to something. Indeed to several somethings.”

    “UK average energy consumption is 125 kWh per day per person. I took this number from the UNDP Human Development Report, 2007.

    Chapter B (p263) explains how to estimate the power per unit area of a wind farm in the UK. If the typical windspeed is 6 m/s (13 miles per hour, or 22 km/h), the power per unit area of wind farm is about 2 W/m2.

    This figure of 6 m/s is probably an over-estimate for many locations in Britain. For example, figure 4.1 shows daily average windspeeds in Cambridge during 2006. The daily average speed reached 6 m/s on only about 30 days of the year – see figure 4.6 for a histogram. But some spots do have windspeeds above 6 m/s – for example, the summit of Cairngorm in Scotland (figure 4.2).

    Plugging in the British population density: 250 people per square kilometre, or 4000 square metres per person, we find that wind power could generate

    2 W/m2 ×4000 m2/person = 8000 W per person,

    if wind turbines were packed across the whole country, and assuming 2 W/m2 is the correct power per unit area. Converting to our favourite power units, that’s 200 kWh/d per person.

    Let’s be realistic. What fraction of the country can we really imagine covering with windmills? Maybe 10%? Then we conclude: if we covered the windiest 10% of the country with windmills (delivering 2 W/m2), we would be able to generate 20 kWh/d per person, which is half of the power used by driving an average fossil-fuel car 50 km per day.

    Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s evidently not as huge as our huge consumption. We’ll come to offshore wind later.

    I should emphasize how generous an assumption I’m making. Let’s compare this estimate of British wind potential with current installed wind power worldwide. The windmills that would be required to provide the UK with 20 kWh/d per person amount to 50 times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; 7 times all the wind farms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world.

    This conclusion – that the maximum contribution of onshore wind, albeit “huge,” is much less than our consumption – is important, so let’s check the key figure, the assumed power per unit area of wind farm (2 W/m2), against a real UK wind farm.

    The Whitelee wind farm being built near Glasgow in Scotland has 140 turbines with a combined peak capacity of 322 MW in an area of 55 km2. That’s 6 W/m2, peak. The average power produced is smaller because the turbines don’t run at peak output all the time. The ratio of the average power to the peak power is called the “load factor” or “capacity factor,” and it varies from site to site, and with the choice of hardware plopped on the site; a typical factor for a good site with modern turbines is 30%. If we assume Whitelee has a load factor of 33% then the average power production per unit land area is 2 W/m2 – exactly the same as the power density we assumed above.”

    “The power of raw sunshine at midday on a cloudless day is 1000W per square metre. That’s 1000 W per m2 of area oriented towards the sun, not per m2 of land area. To get the power per m2 of land area in Britain, we must make several corrections. We need to compensate for the tilt between the sun and the land, which reduces the intensity of midday sun to about 60% of its value at the equator. We also lose out because it is not midday all the time. On a cloud-free day in March or September, the ratio of the average intensity to the midday intensity is about 32%. Finally, we lose power ecause of cloud cover. In a typical UK location the sun shines during just 34% of daylight hours.

    The combined effect of these three factors and the additional complication of the wobble of the seasons is that the average raw power of sunshine per square metre of south-facing roof in Britain is roughly 110 W/m2, and the average raw power of sunshine per square metre of flat ground is roughly 100 W/m2.

    The simplest solar power technology is a panel making hot water. Let’s imagine we cover all south-facing roofs with solar thermal panels – that would be about 10 m2 of panels per person – and let’s assume these are 50%-efficient at turning the sunlight’s 110 W/m2 into hot water (figure 6.3).


    50% × 10 m2 × 110 W/m2

    we find solar heating could deliver

    13 kWh per day per person.

    I colour this production box white in figure 6.4 to indicate that it describes production of low-grade energy – hot water is not as valuable as the high grade electrical energy that wind turbines produce. Heat can’t be exported to the electricity grid. If you don’t need it, then it’s wasted. We should bear in mind that much of this captured heat would not be in the right place. In cities, where many people live, residential accommodation has less roof area per person than the national average. Furthermore, this power would be delivered non-uniformly through the year.

    Solar photovoltaic

    Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into electricity. Typical solar panels have an efficiency of about 10%; expensive ones perform at 20%. (Fundamental physical laws limit the efficiency of photovoltaic systems to at best 60% with perfect concentrating mirrors or lenses, and 45% without concentration. A mass-produced device with efficiency greater than 30% would be quite remarkable.) The average power delivered by south-facing 20%-efficient photovoltaic panels in Britain would be

    20%× 110 W/m2 = 22 W/m2.

    Figure 6.5 shows data to back up this number. Let’s give every person 10 m2 of expensive (20%-efficient) solar panels and cover all south-facing roofs. These will deliver

    5 kWh per day per person.

    Fantasy time: solar farming

    If a breakthrough of solar technology occurs and the cost of photovoltaics came down enough that we could deploy panels all over the countryside, what is the maximum conceivable production? Well, if we covered 5% of the UK with 10%-efficient panels, we’d have

    10% × 100 W/m2 × 200 m2 per person
    ≈ 50 kWh/day/person.

    I assumed only 10%-efficient panels, by the way, because I imagine that solar panels would be mass-produced on such a scale only if they were very cheap, and it’s the lower-efficiency panels that will get cheap first. The power density (the power per unit area) of such a solar farm would be 10% × 100 W/m2 = 10 W/m2.

    This power density is twice that of the Bavaria Solarpark (figure 6.7).

    Could this flood of solar panels co-exist with the army of windmills we imagined in Chapter 4? Yes, no problem: windmills cast little shadow, and ground-level solar panels have negligible effect on the wind. How audacious is this plan? The solar power capacity required to deliver this 50 kWh per day per person in the UK is more than 100 times all the photovoltaics in the whole world.”

  38. 238
    nigelj says:

    Adam Lea @237

    Regarding the cut and paste from Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, David MacKay.

    Now this guy has some credentials, and I’m not saying he’s completely wrong, because renewables do use a lot of area, but this study is just so hugely biased and is almost like a giant strawman. The most chartitable explanation is hes trying to make a point but its certainly not a balanced view.

    For example nobody is suggesting we cover the whole countryside with wind farms. Most new wind farms in the UK are going offshore, so the area problem is effectively solved. I don’t understand why you don’t understand this.The costs of offshore wind farms have plumetted in the last few years. So the argument about land area is a red herring argument, a non issue. The real issue is whether the world has enough mineral resources to build so many wind towers (or solar farms). This is a frigging complicated issue, but studies by Jacobson suggest it has.

    Let’s also look at reality rather than theory and arm chair scepticism. Denmark gets approx. 40% of its electricity from a combination of land based and offshore windfarms and they seem to be doing ok. The countryside has not been obliterated with wind farms or solar farms and they get enough electricity.

    The challenge is wind intermittency, but there are strategies that can deal with this such as having a surplus of generating capacity, or alternatively storage, or both. And remember the wind is always blowing somewhere in most countries. Smaller countries have bigger wind intermittency problem obviously, because sometimes the whole country is covered by an anticyclone so you just get light breezes at best. This is going to require a lot of storage or gas backup, or maybe nuclear power would be appropriate to close the gap or as a fundamental power source. Or there could be cross border arrangements.

    There’s much more to it of course, but I just think its a biased study.

  39. 239
    zebra says:

    #237 Adam Lea,

    I took a quick look at the book but I’m afraid I may have missed something, which is… what’s the question being answered?

    We know that in many parts of the US, people have installed solar panels on their houses, meeting their net domestic electricity needs, charging their electric cars, and selling surplus electricity.

    It seems the author is using this “per person” metric in a very confusing way.

    As I’ve pointed out in this thread without refutation, if you set up a true free market situation in electricity generation (generation, not distribution), the market will sort out who uses what source for their particular load.

    So, it is not useful to conflate charging one’s phone or laptop or even EV with running an aluminium smelter. Optimizing efficiency in terms of net utility v net CO2 production requires looking at a much higher resolution than just dividing by the number of people in a country.

  40. 240

    Adam Lea, #237–

    The source I linked too does (unlike many sources) use numbers based on current renewable energy generating capability…

    Er, no, I don’t think it does, Adam. The book came out in 2009, and the material you present appears not to have been updated since. Ten years is a very, very long time in the world of renewable energy. Consider what Wikipedia has to say on the subject of UK wind energy.

    For starters, generation in 2009 vs. 2018:

    2009: 6,901 GWH
    2018: 57, 100 GWH

    That 57 TWH generation translates, if my arithmetic may be trusted, to a mean output of about 100 W per capita. Cross-checking that with the statistic (same source) that the 57 TW also represented 18% of total electricity use, it would seem (simplistically) that supplying all of the UK’s electricity should take about 5.5 times the current fleet. I wasn’t able to find info on the area occupied by the current wind fleet, but I don’t think it amounts to 4,000 km2. (Wales is 20,740 km².)

    The growth in tower and turbine size has had major effects not just on wind power economics, but also power density.

    Or consider solar PV.

    2009: 23,185 MW global capacity
    2018: 480,300 MW global capacity

    That’s an increase of about 20 times, which puts an interesting spin on McKay’s statement that “…The solar power capacity required to deliver this 50 kWh per day per person in the UK is more than 100 times all the photovoltaics in the whole world.”

    Somehow, “The solar power capacity required to deliver this 50 kWh per day per person in the UK is more than 5 times all the photovoltaics in the whole world” just doesn’t seem so forbidding.

    It’s also worth mentioning, perhaps, that the 10% efficiency figure that McKay uses is a bit dated as well.

    “Most solar panels are between 15% and 20% efficient…”

  41. 241
  42. 242
    Al Bundy says:

    Ray Ladbury: Don’t expect the practitioners of science to change the scientific method just so they can bring along the D and F students.

    AB: I am not asking scientists to change anything about how they do their job. I’m asking scientists to talk to morons in a language morons understand. It is an error to bring one’s job’s post-graduate language and habits into the social sphere when the folks in said social sphere who one is trying to influence are D students.

    In any case, I am heartened that many scientists are starting to realize the obvious. This is fast becoming a moot topic. Nigel spoke of perfect timing of a single shot. Well, the USA’s 2020 election sure looks like the bullseye to hit.

    E-P: Everyone but you thinks you’re a crank. You can’t even run elementary numbers about available biomass energy vs. demand; it’s unbelievable that you could have a clue about thermodynamics or heat loss or flow losses. I believe Achates when they claim 53% efficiency; I don’t believe you.

    AB: Actually, I offered to show folks part of my work. Other’s have taken a peek and nobody who saw it felt the way you do. Interestingly, you said you’re not qualified to judge and so declined the offer. Perhaps if you’re going to spout insults you should educate yourself about the topic first?

    FYI, sustainable fuels will come from multiple sources. Today, slash and whatnot is burned in place either deliberately or accidentally. My forestry system harvests much of that wasted energy. Today, waste is landfilled with a half-hearted attempt to recycle a bit, sewage is wasted, excess electrons are wasted. That energy can be turned into fuel. You know the whole “air travel is going to be impossible” thing? Uh, when 60+% efficient (contra-rotating?) propeller aircraft become available jets will fade and air travel will grow, since prop planes are about the most efficient way to convey people long distances.

    Nuke-2-synfuel is a grand opportunity. No need to put the nuke anywhere near people. Seriously, to narrowed down the possible bio/synfuel energy sources to exclude your favorite thing, nuclear?!? You not intelligent enough to link the two?

    By the way, methanol might not be the best molecule for fuel. It tends to form formaldehyde and acids that cause extra wear on current engines. I don’t know if better alloys will solve the issue.

    And please. I don’t understand math?? I got an 800 on the math SAT. How’d you do, brainiac?

    E-P: Wind power failed then for the same reason that it requires subsidies and mandates today. It is a fuel-saver, not a dispatchable generator; it can’t substitute for any of the other generation on the grid

    AB: So it would be impossible to use excess wind to create synfuel and then burn said fuel when it’s needed? We MUST go dark when wind and solar fail for a week because synfuel will always be impossible and it is also impossible to transport electrons from one local grid to another?

    I find it interesting that you insist on comparing FUTURE nukes to EXISTING everything else (preferably from the 1940s). Come on, E-P. Lets interact more productively, eh?

  43. 243
    Al Bundy says:

    By the way, my engine’s design is resistant to methanol erosion. Not by design, but by a lucky factoid. The problematic species are limited to a region where the metal used is probably resistant and definitely non-critical (said species do burn; the issue with current engines is erosion of the top lip of the cylinder wall and my engine segregates in-process combustion from even the top of the cylinder wall; good design solves problems even when one isn’t aware of the problem).

    And to let folks know, I’m working with the University of Michigan to validate and improve my design. E-P, of course, will respond with how he is doing vital work. Where are you applying your massive brain, E-P?

  44. 244
    Al Bundy says:

    BPL: It’s cheaper than fossil fuels now even without subsidies.

    AB: E-P’s talking about the cost of maintaining grid stability; you’re talking KWH to KWH cost. It’s like watching an English speaker arguing with a Mandarin speaker.

    (And I salute your recent quips. Informative and humorous to boot!)

  45. 245
    Al Bundy says:

    E-P: I believe Achates when they claim 53% efficiency

    AB: Uh, Achates does NOT achieve 53% efficiency. They claim 53% thermal efficiency, which excludes friction and other losses. Yep, they get 53% in the game but that’s kind of irrelevant, eh? I’m going for 60-67% past the goal posts. Seriously, they use a miserable sub-20:1 compression ratio AND their expansion ratio is no larger than their compression ratio (moronic, eh?)! And they rely on a single cylinder to do 100% of the compression and expansion, which eliminates the possibility of low-friction and low thermal loss operation!! Yep, they’ve got 1940’s tech down pat.

    And I’m withdrawing my offer to show you my work. I don’t trust you.

  46. 246
    Al Bundy says:

    Another factoid for E-P: as long as total friction and thermal losses do not increase an engine’s efficiency and emissions both significantly improve based on the number of strokes a parcel of air exists within said engine. Achates does 2 strokes. My engine does 10 strokes. If you were smart enough you’d be able to use the above statement to reverse-engineer a significant part of my design.

  47. 247
    Al Bundy says:


    You claimed that I unfairly or erroneously semi/misquoted you but for some reason you included ZERO evidence for your claim. This is so ludicrous that I didn’t bother doing your work for you. I’m very careful to be beyond fair. My sole counter-care is to not waste bandwidth (well, and to add humor). So please, E-P, show us all how I abused your statements. Given your by-definition-superior Aryan mind this should be child’s play for you.

  48. 248
    Al Bundy says:

    If folks want to see a semi-reasonable attempt at a modern engine take a look at They’ve got explanations and a video so even ____ might possibly understand their concepts. Amazingly, they went from napkin drawing to working prototype in NINE MONTHS!!!

  49. 249
    nigelj says:

    Al Bundy @242 says “I am not asking scientists to change anything about how they do their job. I’m asking scientists to talk to morons in a language morons understand. ”

    This statement is perilously close to being an oxymoron! Sorry couldn’t resist it. But AB has a good point here about langauge style. I remembered this article below which could be along the lines of what AB is getting at.

    It has some good suggestions on how to communicate climate science more effectively, and the article itself is in moron friendly language. It’s not suggesting scientists scream “move you fools the cataclysm is coming”, but it makes some constructive suggestions.

    It’s as applicable to the media as scientists. I have no huge criticism of how scientists communicate, and they are up against some closed minds, but it’s always possible to get better cut through, and even small improvements could swing the debate.

  50. 250
    Al Bundy says:

    Thanks for the link to the Guardian’s communication article, Nigel. Climate change and GOPpers have helped bring social sciences to focus. Turning cash into rage, pressure, and votes via the use of lies, fear, bigotry, and distortions is unbelievably powerful. Once one turns opponents into Dangerous Others one’s followers will generally turn off their critical thinking, will not care about truth because US v Them becomes the sole focus. Remember when Orwell’s “1984” was could-never-happen fiction?

    And I forgot to mention the potential use of artificial leaves for sustainable fuel generation. They’re nowhere near efficient enough yet so for now they’re more hype than solution.