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Hit the brakes hard

Filed under: — group @ 29 April 2009 - (Español)

There is a climate splash in Nature this week, including a cover showing a tera-tonne weight, presumably meant to be made of carbon (could it be graphite?), dangling by a thread over the planet, and containing two new articles (Allen et al and Meinshausen et al), a “News & Views” piece written by two of us, and a couple commentaries urging us to “prepare to adapt to at least 4° C” and to think about what the worst case scenario (at 1000 ppm CO2) might look like.

At the heart of it are the two papers which calculate the odds of exceeding a predefined threshold of 2°C as a function of CO2 emissions. Both find that the most directly relevant quantity is the total amount of CO2 ultimately released, rather than a target atmospheric CO2 concentration or emission rate. This is an extremely useful result, giving us a clear statement of how our policy goals should be framed. We have a total emission quota; if we keep going now, we will have to cut back more quickly later.

There is uncertainty in the climate sensitivity of the Earth and in the response of the carbon cycle, and the papers are extremely useful in the way that they propagate these uncertainties to the probabilities of different amounts of warming. Just looking at the median model results, many people conclude that a moderately optimistic but not terribly aggressive scenario such as IPCC B1 would avoid 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial. But when you take into account the uncertainty, you find that there is a disturbingly high likelihood (roughly even odds) that it won’t.

Schmidt and Archer N and V figureBoth papers come to the same broad conclusion, summarized in our figure, that unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”. Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?). But chugging through the math, we find the papers to be broadly consistent. Both papers conclude that humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground.

We feel compelled to note that even a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier.

Also, there are dangers to CO2 emission other than the peak, such as the long tail of the CO2 perturbation which will dominate the ultimate sea level response, and the acidification of the ocean. A building may be safe from earthquakes but if it is susceptible to fires it is still considered unsafe.

The sorts of emission cuts that are required are technologically feasible, if we were to build wind farms instead of coal plants, an integrated regional or global electrical power grid, and undertake a crash program in energy efficiency. But getting everybody to agree to this is the discouraging part. The commentary by Parry et al advises us to prepare to adapt to climate changes of at least 4°C, even though they recognize that it may not be possible to buy our way out of most of the damage (to natural systems, for example, including the irreversible loss of many plant and animal species). Anyway, how does one “adapt” to a train wreck? There is also the fairness issue, in that the beneficiaries of fossil energy (rich countries today) are not the ones who pay the costs (less-rich countries decades from now). We wonder why we were not advised to prepare to adapt to crash curtailing CO2 emissions, which sounds to us considerably less frightening.

p.s. For our German-speaking readers: Stefan’s commentary on the KlimaLounge blog.

604 Responses to “Hit the brakes hard”

  1. 451
    James says:

    J.S. McIntyre Says (3 May 2009 at 4:21 PM)

    “But the real question is: Do we need planes? If the argument is we need planes because they save time, then the answer is yes.”

    But the question is, do airplanes actually save time? Not on short to medium distance flights, when compared to good rail service. For example, I worked in Lausanne, Switzerland for a while, and occasionally had to travel to Zurich. By air, it’s a 45-minute flight from Geneva to Zurich, but add time for travel to & from the airport, boarding, taxiing, & deplaning, and a couple hours in security lines, and I’d spend 4 hours or more. Or conversely, I can hop on a train and be in Zurich in 2:17, travelling in far greater comfort. If I happened to want to go to Paris, I could catch a TGV and do it in 4 hours – about the same actual time that a plane trip would take. See

    All those trains, BTW, run on electricity, as does most of the Lausanne bus system.

  2. 452

    #420 Mark

    Wind based power for the Province of Ontario, per todays report, varied from 8% to 43% of “capability” which means peak capacity.


    to understand something real about power production.

  3. 453
    James says:

    MikeN Says (3 May 2009 at 6:15 PM):

    “>Do we need planes?

    And people think I’m making stuff up about a loss of comfort.”

    Err… And exactly when was the last time you took a commercial flight? Even pre-911, “comfort” was not even remotely to be counted in the list of words I might use to describe the experience. And that’s travelling 1st or business class. Economy? The best I can say is that they don’t actually include waterboarding as part of the ticket price.

    If I had a practical option of travel by rail or ocean liner, you’d never catch me on a commercial flight again.

  4. 454

    Headline of April 20, on Autopia of Wired Magazine,

    Schwarzenegger Praises Green Hummer

  5. 455

    Previous headline Wired Magazine, Autopia

    Hybrid Hummer Promises 100 Miles per Gallon

  6. 456
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #446 Steve Reynolds:

    “Except for the issue you are overlooking – cost. Kind of important in the real world…”

    As I promised, like a parrot I’m going to point out yet again that electrical demand is highly inelastic against cost. I don’t have to speculate about that, I only have refer to a real world example.

    In Wyoming residential rates are around $0.06/kWh. In Hawaii, $0.26 (and on a shorter recent sample quite a bit more; $0.40/kWh only a few months ago, the price swinging wildly with the oh-so-inexpensive hydrocarbon market).

    Hawaii residents enjoy all the benefits of electricity as do people living in Wyoming. The Hawaiians find the means to pay for their electricity and at the same time find money to eat, drive automobiles, purchase televisions and variously behave as typical consumers.

    Perhaps even more significantly, while you’ll find less waste overall of electricity in Hawaii, lots of electricity there is still wasted pointlessly in all the same ways we find where electricity costs less.

    In the real world we find that with the highest costs by a long margin in the entire United States, residents of Hawaii have not approached the limit of what folks will pay for electricity. More, the price of electricity in Hawaii does not noticeably distort the economy there at the residential level or even for light industrial purposes. In fact, the high price of electricity in Hawaii apparently still leaves demand sufficiently inelastic that waste is tolerated.

    So next time we express vague fears about the high price of improved energy supply methods, let’s include an explanation of how places such as Hawaii that are not hypothetical somehow are exceptional in their inelastic electrical demand. How about including some real world facts to accompany the fretting?

  7. 457

    Fisker’s analysis proving “100 MPG”:

    A fully-charged Karma burns no fuel for the first 50 miles. Venture further and the gasoline engine turns a generator to charge the lithium ion battery. Once the 50-mile electric range has been exceeded, the car operates as a normal hybrid vehicle. This balance of electric and gas range makes it entirely possible that Karma drivers who charge their car overnight and commute less than 50 miles a day will achieve an average fuel economy of —100 mpg — (2.4L/100km) per year.

    I added the —- for emphasis.

  8. 458
    Phil Scadden says:

    Just a mea culpa. All the talk about wind potential had sent me back to my sources. I discovered that I had put in the 1st economic tranche (wind power available at 8.5c/kWh) instead of total. Total is 83kWh/p/d. A much rosier position for NZ.

  9. 459

    Indiana’s Bright Automotive is set to turn Rocky Mountain Institute’s lightweight, hyper-efficient vehicle concept into reality.

    Today, the start-up vehicle company, which launched out of RMI last year, is unveiling the IDEA–a 100 mpg equivalent plug-in hybrid concept vehicle–in Washington DC. By 2012, Bright expects to begin producing 50,000 IDEAs a year, thereby creating over 5,000 jobs by 2013.

    To achieve such groundbreaking fuel efficiency, Bright Automotive is maximizing platform efficiency–incorporating lightweight materials, advanced aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tires to use less combined energy.

    On a full charge, the IDEA will operate in all-electric mode for the first 30 miles before switching to hybrid mode for a full range of 400 miles. For a typical drive of 50 miles, the vehicle consumes ½ gallon of gasoline – equivalent to 100 mpg fuel efficiency.

  10. 460

    Quoting Andy Grove, retired CEO Intel, to demonstrate disinterest in CO2 emissions; where he is discussing his plan to develop batteries. Get the choice of vehicles:

    “To simplify the retrofitting task, we would limit the scope of the program to six to ten Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge models, selected on the basis of two criteria: low fuel efficiency and large numbers of vehicles on the road. Most of these vehicles would be SUVs, pick-ups, and vans.

    Further, we propose targeting fleets of automobiles owned by corporations or government entities. That way, many retrofits could be performed at just a few locations. Fleet owners may also be motivated by a desire to support corporate or governmental green initiatives.”

  11. 461
    MikeN says:

    >A solar-wind future will create CHEAPER electricity, not MORE EXPENSIVE electricity.

    Great. Then there is no need for any renewable energy mandates or subsidies, as wind and solar will be cheaper, right? Noone would buy from a more expensive coal-powered plant?

  12. 462

    Jim Norvell 11. and steve 41.

    “Where do you plan on putting those wind farms? A quick SWAG puts the land area of wind farms to replace the current coal facilities at something like 50,000 square miles.”

    That comes to 223.6 miles x 223.6 miles, which might not seem so daunting when it’s spread all over the country. Believe it or not, wind has a low land footprint because turbines are well spread out, allowing them to coexist with agriculture or nature. If an area had adequate sunshine AND wind, it’s even conceivable that solar panels could fill in between windmills, although this would cancel what I just said about empty space.

    Wind’s lowest carbon footprint and land footprint.

    “Wind power’s ecological footprint is so small — a million times smaller than ethanol’s — that if all the cars driven in the United States were battery-electric, they could be fueled by wind turbines whose total land footprint, not counting spacing in between, takes up less than 1.2 square miles, Stanford University environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson found.”

    “To fuel the same number of battery-electric vehicles with cellulose ethanol would require an amount of land equivalent to eight Californias – literally a million times more land and equivalent to the amount of land harvested in the U.S. in 2003.”

    Solar thermal (CSP) could power the whole country, it is said, using an area roughly 100 x 100 miles or 10,000 sq miles. If that’s divided by the 6 southwest states that are suitable, it comes to 1666 sq. miles, or about 40 miles x 40 miles average per state. But you are only talking about replacing coal, so divide by two for the 50% of power that coal generates.
    5,000 sq miles/6 = 833 sq miles per state.
    That would be about 28.8 miles x 28.8 miles per southwest state. That’s about 0.5% of our southwest desert areas and about 1% of suitable land, according to the authors of the Solar Grand Plan that Scientific American published.

    NREL says California alone has 661 GW potential for CSP, just considering land with no more than 1% slope, and avoiding environmentally sensitive areas. Up to 3% slope is seen as good enough. Compare 661 GW CSP potential with California’s present total generating capacity of 58 GW, from all types of energy sources.

    Why CSP should not try to be Coal
    dispatchable power verses base load. Better than baseload, as Joe Romm has said.

    In ten years, probably the minimum time frame for building a nuclear reactor, it and coal with CCS will produce power at twice the price of solar and wind energy. Wind is already cheap, and both PV and CSP solar will be in the low to mid single digit cents/kWh by then.
    New nuclear and CCS coal are estimated to be 12-17 cents and maybe more.

    Continue research on new nuclear like thorium and on CCS, but the big money should be spent on solar and wind that can be deployed much quicker.

    from the SciAm’s Solar Grand Plan article
    commenting on the estimated $420 billion in subsidies to build 69% solar grid by 2050.

    “Subsidies would be gradually deployed from 2011 to 2020. With a standard 30-year payoff interval, the subsidies would end from 2041 to 2050. The HVDC transmission companies would not have to be subsidized, because they would finance construction of lines and converter stations just as they now finance AC lines, earning revenues by delivering electricity.”

    “Although $420 billion is substantial, the annual expense would be less than the current U.S. Farm Price Support program. It is also less than the tax subsidies that have been levied to build the country’s high-speed telecommunications infrastructure over the past 35 years. And it frees the U.S. from policy and budget issues driven by international energy conflicts.”

    That’s only about $10 billion a year, far less than we now pay in oil industry subsidies.
    Global Warming Solutions for Governments

    “Behind fossil fuels’ global dominance lies the shocking fact that governments still subsidize them with tax-breaks and price supports, some dating back to World War I. The total global give-away to fossil fuels comes to more than $210 billion a year.”

    “In 2006, Earth Track estimated that the US oil and gas industry received $39 billion in federal energy subsidies, and the coal industry a further $8 billion.”

    “Ask Sen. Feinstein or the enviromentalists who object to solar in the outbacks of California”

    I agree, they are being shortsighted. The effects on the desert ecosystem from runaway global warming would make solar plants’ environmental effects look pretty mild in comparison. Of course, care should be taken to minimize impact from solar.

    We do need to build HVDC transmission lines, not only to deliver power from solar and wind but to beef up the grid and make it more efficient.

    Wilmot McCutchen
    “Renewables — Solar and wind are presently only a tiny fraction of power supply. They are intermittent, so they are unreliable for baseload power over 20%, and connecting them to the existing grid is an unsolved problem.”

    Wind energy grew by 8.3 Gw in the U.S. last year. Using 30% capacity factor for wind, that is the equivalent of building
    2 1/2 half nuclear plants of average 1 GW size, in one year. At the rate of 8.3 GW/year, we would have 100 GW wind by 2020. But that growth could increase greatly, so this might be conservative.

    Solar thermal (CSP) with heat storage is not intermittent energy. It’s steady dispatchable power even at night. Plants with 6 hour heat storage are now being built and 12 hours storage is feasable. The NREL says CSP with 6 hours storage has 40% capacity factor and that 70% capacity factor is possible with more storage. And the storage pays for itself because of having more valuable dispatchable power.
    They can be built in 3-5 years including planning.
    The NREL expects the first handful of plants to be expensive and for costs to fall rapidly after that.

    Has anyone else read the article linked at NREL about an alternative heat storage system using alumina pebbles with CO2 as heat transfer medium? It’s claim is that CSP plants could operate at much higher and more efficient temperatures and without the high melting point of molten salt. The result is a bigger heat differential, making the CSP plants much more efficient.

    In the U.S. people keep arguing that intermittency and grid connection are obstacles to wind and solar. Why is it that other countries have much higher percentages of renewable energy? Denmark has 20% of capacity from wind. Spain has 12% and is building lots of solar. We’re arguing about intermittency with 1% or so.

    182. Edward Greisch

    France also has vast nuclear waste stockpiles. They also have had serious human error issues and leaks. If nuclear energy doesn’t lead to nuclear weapons then why are we so concerned about Iran? Now imagine the whole world going that way. Somehow the wrong isotope of plutonium hasn’t stopped the concerns there.
    What about the threat from dirty bombs?
    Yes, coal also spews radioactive materials. How does that make either one any better?

    “Nuclear is the cheapest and safest way to get electricity.”

    Not even close to true. The only time it is emissions free is when you actually place the fuel rods in the reactor. Everything leading up to that is carbon intensive. Wind is the cleanest form of energy. Nuclear is way down the list, though it has much less CO2 emissions than fossil fuels.

    The mining and milling of uranium leaves a radioactive mess, I can just imagine sifting through billions of gallons of coal ash to get the uranium out of it. That sounds like a real clean process. Some claim we can get uranium from sea water. What I’ve read is that we would have to filter 40,000 cubic miles of seawater/year to supply 100 reactors.

    “Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates total giveaways to nuclear power at half a trillion dollars compared to 1/10th that amount for renewable technologies”

    “Nuclear power got another $13 billion of federal support in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. An additional $20.5 billion in federal nuclear l..n guarantees were approved at the end of 2007, making U.S. taxpayers the co-signers on l…s for new reactors and uranium enrichment projects, half of which are predicted to default. Ratepayers and taxpayers have already paid over $11 billion on the fatally flawed Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dumpsite, with another $80 billion to go.”

    Nuclear advocates often point to France as an example of how great nuclear is.

    “France’s decision to reprocess reactor fuel has contaminated the seas as far as the Artic Circle and may have led to leukemia clusters near the reprocessing plant. Its decision to try breeder reactors was an expensive failure. Its plutonium fuel program has not reduced its surplus stockpile of plutonium which is calculated at greater than 80 metric tons sitting in tens of thousands of vulnerable containers and with no disposal option. France has no radioactive waste repository.”

    “In the summer of 2008, France experienced a cascade of accidents at its nuclear facilities. While leaks and spills, including uranium that contaminated groundwater, caused a ban on drinking and bathing and local vintners to change the labels on their bottles, Areva downplayed the gravity of the releases. But the black summer of radioactive leaks and spills shed doubt on the nuclear industry’s – and in particular Areva’s – ability to uphold fundamental safety standards according to an article in the International Herald Tribune.”

    “A new video – Everything you always wanted to know about nuclear power…but were afraid to ask – found on the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility Web site, debunks various nuclear myths including the notion that France “recycles” its radioactive waste. ”
    view here:

    Doug 193. Thanks for putting the reality of massive global nuclear development in perspective.

    ” It’s likely we’ll find many places where reactor-based nuclear power generation is simply not feasible to deploy. Those places are going to require some other solutions”

    I would put that the other way around.

    We’ll find places where solar and wind are not feasible. Those places may require nuclear solutions.

    185. Co2isnotevil

    No CO2 is not evil. The indiscriminate spewing of it into the atmosphere and trying to convince the public that it’s ok is evil. As is the propaganda that has fooled you into believing the denier claims that CO2 has no effect on climate.

    The costs from fossil fuels are real and we already pay for them. But the companies that are directly responsible pay nothing. That will change. The atmosphere should not be a free dumping ground.

    240. El

    “Denmark is another great example of this problem. They export most of their wind energy because it’s so variable.”

    They trade it for base load power from Germany. That is a storage and distribution and grid balancing problem, not a reason to give up on wind energy. They are a small country with what must be a simpler grid with less sources of energy in the mix, so I’m not sure you can draw parallels with the U.S.

    259 Jim Bullis
    “No one seems willing to answer why the big California desert CSP plant was shut down, even though it had already been built”

    Projects have been put on hold because of the credit squeeze, but I have not heard of any CSP plants being shut down. If it was Solar One as you suggested in later comment, that is a pilot plant, not a commercial plant. It’s in Nevada I think.

    “To be specific, plug-in cars that use power from coal are generally worse for CO2 emissions than like sized hybrids.”

    The cars and renewables will be, and are being developed in parallel. And coal only generates 50% of grid power now, not all of it.

    I agree that we can make better and more efficient use of NG as you say in 270. The CSP pilot plants in the Mojave that were built in the late 80s have worked well with primitive heat storage, and for the last decade have worked well with co-firing of NG. See the NREL report.

    A study by the Western Governors Association projected electric prices from CSP to fall below 10 cents/kWh when there are 4 GW installed. Since there are already over 3 GW okayed or being built, that shouldn’t take long, maybe 4 years. They further projected prices to fall to 4-8 cents when the industry gets up to scale. This is in line with what the NREL says. And the NREL says lower construction costs will come quickly, as experience is gained in the first few plants, and economy of scale is reached. The study also said there was suitable land for 330 GW of CSP near existing power lines.

    from NREL

    “A comparison of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) revealed that the LCOE of
    $148 per MWh for the first CSP plants installed in 2009 is competitive with the simple
    cycle combustion turbine at an LCOE of $168 per MWh, assuming that the temporary
    30 percent Investment Tax Credit is extended. The LCOE for the CSP plant is higher
    than the $104 per MWh LCOE of the combined cycle combustion turbine plant.”

    “As shown in Table ES-2, CSP
    plants installed in 2015 are projected to exhibit a delivered LCOE of $115/MWh,2
    compared with $168/MWh for the simple cycle combustion turbine and $104/MWh for
    combined cycle plants. At a natural gas price of about $8 per MMBtu, the LCOE of CSP
    and the combined cycle plants at 40 percent capacity factor are equal.”

    Delivered Levelized Energy Cost and Economic Impacts for CSP
    and Gas Technologies in 2015 ($2005)

    Delivered Energy Cost
    Simple Cycle* $187/MWh
    Combined Cycle* $119/MWh
    CSP with 6 Hours Storage** $115/MWh

    *The 2015 MPR natural gas price of $8.00 per MMBtu escalating at 2.5 percent annually was
    **CSP assumes permanent 10 percent ITC.

    “Investment in CSP power plants delivers greater return to California in both economic activity and employment than corresponding investment in
    natural gas equipment:
    – Each dollar spent on CSP contributes approximately $1.40 to California’s Gross State Product; each dollar spent on natural gas plants contributes about $0.90 – $1.00 to Gross State Product.”

    In #302, you say that coal as the cheap alternative will end up fueling plug ins. What about when carbon is taxed or capped and traded?

    James 277

    You don’t need to worry about loss of heat in CSP heat storage. Molten salt holds about 99% of it’s heat for 24 hours. Storing energy as heat is also 20-100 times cheaper than storing electricity in batteries, according to Joseph Romm at Climate Progress.

    Energy sources that need no fuel ever will never ever have the following costs.

    Prospecting, mining, storing, transporting, refining, burning, cleaning up the mess from, fighting wars over, wild price fluctuations, huge military costs for protection, blowing the tops off thousands of mountains or billion gallon coal fly ash sludge spills, or oil spills or nuclear accidents or radioactive waste storage problems, or running out of fuel resources.

    What’s not to like?

    MikeN 304
    If you’re worried about mitigation cramping your lifestyle, consider that “lifestyle” will become a quaint notion from a bygone era without mitigation.

    Brian Dodge 320

    You are talking about a PV plant being closed, not CSP. And it’s old news based on very old prices for PV power, very old and low efficiencies for PV, and in an pretty cheap energy market if 8 cents/kWh was too high.

    331 Douglas Wise

    regarding IFR nuclear
    “it would seem irresponsible not to encourage the very rapid construction of a full scale demonstration reactor with its associated reprocessing facility so that the claims could either be validated or dismissed.”

    I’m one of those not crazy about nuclear, as you can see from my comments, but have no problem with pilot plants being built with new technology if what you say is true. That will still take time before commercialization though.

    “California, for example, experienced a heat wave that caused wind power to drop to an average of 4% capacity for 7 days.”

    Yes, and last week Spain had strong winds, which allowed wind energy to briefly supply 40% of Spain’s power. It’s normally 12%.

    And you are not considering the true costs of fossil fuels when you compare them with wind etc. How about the cost of two wars in two decades for starters?

  13. 463
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Doug Bostrom: “As I promised, like a parrot I’m going to point out yet again that electrical demand is highly inelastic against cost. I don’t have to speculate about that, I only have refer to a real world example.”

    Cherry picking a location where people are willing to pay a high cost to live is pretty unscientific. How about citing a peer reviewed publication on how elastic electrical demand is?

    But even if demand is somewhat inelastic (at least among wealthy people), how would that justify making foolish choices about capacity to store energy?

  14. 464
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #461 MikeN:

    Are you familiar with the concept of “external costs”?

    For us laymen, failure to account for “external costs” analogizes to arranging your sewer pipe to end in your neighbor’s yard, thus ignoring the real cost of flushing the toilet. For you, it’s cheaper. For your neighbors, they get to pay for your benefit. Coal-fired plants are another example, only the effluent is spewed in a finer dispersal pattern, making cleanup more difficult.

    “Mandate” is another term for “regulation”, only the “mandate” word is often used to connote some sort of unreasonable imposition. If we’re part of the developed world, we’re mandated to not allow our excrement to flow into our neighbor’s yards, thus not passing the full costs of our bowel movements over the fence while dodging our own responsibilities. Does that sound like a reasonable thing to you? If so, why do you apparently find the idea of full accounting and equitable distribution of coal generation costs to be unreasonable?

  15. 465
    dhogaza says:

    Great. Then there is no need for any renewable energy mandates or subsidies, as wind and solar will be cheaper, right? Noone would buy from a more expensive coal-powered plant?

    As long as fossil fuel is subsidized by the government, alternatives will need to be.

    The other thing to look at is total cost, and of course fossil fuels fuel AGW. The fact that these costs aren’t captured should not be ignored by you …

  16. 466
    Mark says:

    re 461, just like there’s no need for oil subsidies (tax breaks too!) or nuclear subsidy (like not having to get them to pay insurance!). Still, without them, the lobby firms have said that there will be no new power stations since there is not enough profit to make it worthwhile.

    How about we halve the subsidy for oil/gas/coal/nuke and give that money instead to kick-start the renewables. And in five years, NO subsidy for oil/coal/gas/nukes and in 10 years no subsidy for renewables either.

    PS Stop saying half the issue: you’re always whinging on about how we’re only hearing “half the story” but you persist in giving half the truth. And half-truths can be worse than lies.

  17. 467
    Mark says:

    Jim, #460, so we’re all going to have to follow Intel CEO’s idea for how to proceed?

    Sheesh. We don’t even follow the 30 scientists that reviewed the IPCC report, to say nothing of the hundreds of scientists who wrote the papers that report was a synthesis of.

    Why do you insist that we are occasional sheeple?

  18. 468
    Mark says:

    Jim, when you say “Wind based power for the Province of Ontario, per todays report, varied from 8% to 43% of “capability” which means peak capacity.”

    How long did it stay at 8%? How long did it stay at 43%? Out of each installed 1000MW capacity, how many did they get out?

    Your quote lacks any context and that you spend so many more words than “averaged 40% capacity” indicates deception on your part.

  19. 469
    Mark says:

    re #449 “If such are natural gas peaking plants, great, it is just an added cost.”

    Uh, if they already have natural gas peaking plants, how can it be an added cost? They are already there, they are already used.

  20. 470
    Mark says:

    re 446: “Except for the issue you are overlooking – cost. Kind of important in the real world…”

    However, this is not necessarily a problem as you are implying by using it in a counter to FCH’s point.

    As others have said, there is a large inelasticity of demand for power where cost is the only factor. There is a large elasticity of demand for power where it is unavailable.

    So the first says that there is no problem paying for expensive electricity, EVEN IF THERE IS. The second says that payment for electricity may well go down even if the price per unit goes up, IF IT DOES SO.

    But nowhere do you say that the price will go up and remain higher than it would if we’d not moved to renewables.

    You seem to be forgetting that price of fossil fuels is not constant and that’s a big problem in the real world…

  21. 471
    Mark says:

    re #442. I note a lot of “probably”‘s and so on in there.

    Yet you act as if they are diamond hard truths when it comes to arguing about wind turbines.

    How many elk will die if global warming means that there’s no longer the right amount of rainfall in Yellowstone? Do you think that people in the US will accept being thrown out of “their own homes” to let some darned filthy animals in there because some “econazis” say that they need elk. Not enough to count, I reckon, because enough WILL think that way. So not using wind power will kill the elk.

  22. 472

    MikeN — I’d certainly be willing to let renewables compete against coal if the cost of coal to the environment were factored in.

  23. 473
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    We have to quickly implement power generation facilities appropriate for every region on earth, for some nuclear may be the best option, for others, wind, geothermal, hydro, photo voltaics..etc. In actuality every country will probably have a combination of several of these methods or they can pay a surcharge to neighbouring countries that have suplus to sell. It seems that a cap and trade system is the politicians favourite way of generating the funds needs to roll these schemes out; Not that Prof Jim Hansen would agree but he doesn’t think like a politician or have the pressures of politicians or huge vested interest groups breathing down his neck. If we are going to get this arbitary 80% reduction by 2050 then an agressive kick-ass cap and trade with no loopholes for corporate lawyers and/or accountants to wriggle through is essential. As long as these vested interest groups (you all know who they are) get compensated fairly they should comply without too much hostility. And tough federal stances with environmentally unfriendly occupations (eg. coal mining) and their associated unions to implement a phase out plan for the industry. Sure 10s of thousands of people will need to be retrianed in other be it! Saving the planet does have the occasional inconvenience attached.

  24. 474

    Great. Then there is no need for any renewable energy mandates or subsidies, as wind and solar will be cheaper, right? Noone would buy from a more expensive coal-powered plant?

    MAJOR non sequitor.

    Utilities must, under present law in most areas, purchase power from the lowest cost provider. That typically means coal and natural gas (and hydro and nuclear where available) because economies of scale keep those types of generation cheap while renewables are kept high due to the lack thereof.

    So, the market is already severely distorted in favor of non-renewable energy.

  25. 475
    dhogaza says:

    How many elk will die if global warming means that there’s no longer the right amount of rainfall in Yellowstone?

    False dichotomy. Demanding that ecosystem impacts be considered when siting wind farms does not lead to there being no wind farms. We can both build wind farms and site them intelligently.

  26. 476
    Mark says:

    Steve, #463 , that’s what Doug did.

    If you say “there are no black swans” then I show you ONE black swan, your statement is proven false. There’s no need to prove that this swan is a mutant, the mere fact of its existence is enough.

    You state that if prices go up for electricity, people won’t use the power they need to. Well, Hawaii is one “black swan” for you.

    Either explain why Hawaii bucks the trend or accept it.

  27. 477
    MikeN says:

    >Either explain why Hawaii bucks the trend or accept it.

    So if the price of power to drop in Hawaii, is it your contention that people would use as much power as they do now?

  28. 478
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #463 Steve Reynolds:

    That was a pretty incoherent and unserious response. Surely you can do better.

    If we’re going to stick with outmoded generation techniques and avoid capitalizing better methods more suitable for changing conditions, we need to have a solid justification for why we would choose to be anachronistic.

    One justification for anachronism is fear of increased cost for delivered electrical power.

    In the face of a concrete example of inelastic electrical demand, your rebuttal includes no explanation for why Hawaii should be an exception to expected economic behavior of a general population other than some rather ignorant implications about how you believe the Hawaiian demographic is constituted.

    As it happens, Hawaii falls squarely in the middle of the U.S. in terms of per capita income.

    Care to try again?


  29. 479
    MikeN says:

    Bart, Doug,
    You both speak of environmental costs of coal, currently not being paid. What that means is that in fact electricity will get more expensive. Renewables will not be cheaper to produce than coal, and perhaps also nuclear and natural gas.

  30. 480
    Hank Roberts says:

    James, now you’re making progress (Google results may differ even with the same search, so perhaps the 2006 paper I recommended to you wasn’t on p1 for you).

    For our hypothetical naive kid who has no idea how to do this: Here’s how to handle that problem of more than one page of results:

    Look down at the bottom of the results.
    Where it says “Search within results” put in more keywords.

  31. 481
    Matt says:

    Re 428


    Thank you. That explanation does make your position a little clearer. I can see what you’re saying about the stacks on page 109- it’s made me realise just how difficult it is to make these comparisons. Though I still think you’re missing the point both about that image and the book as a whole.

    But to answer your question: no, I never thought from reading the book that Britain needs 125 KWh/person of clean electricity. Mackay makes it very clear, as I said in my initial comment, that the 125 KWh/person represents total energy- not electricity- consumption of an average present-day Briton. Fossil fuel conversion losses are part of that present-day total consumption figure, so I think it’s very reasonable to leave them on there- in fact it would be misleading if they weren’t. The problem, as you say, is that a hypothetical future ‘green powered’ Britain wouldn’t require that extra conversion energy. Furthermore, the first of the green, right hand stacks I imagine is full of uncertainties because it’s all hypothetical- to date, nobody has tried to roll out renewables on that scale. In Mackay’s defence, most (if not all) of his estimates seem to be well referenced, and as I said, he welcomes any corrections.

    For what it’s worth, he’s also very clear about the limitations of the kWh unit and problems with energy equivalence/interchangeability- see p27.

    I agree that the figure on page 109 is one of the most striking and important images in the book, but I don’t think most people will draw the conclusion from it that you seem to expect them to. This what I took away from it:

    1. Britain’s total present energy consumption is way too big. We need to reduce the left hand stack. As you say, getting off fossil fuels and electrifying all energy use will have the addes benefit of reducing fossil fuel conversion losses, shrinking the red stack further.

    2. We’d only have to reduce our consumption a bit, and renewables could theoretically just about meet our current energy requirements. Maybe shrink it a lot, and it would be more practically achievable (if you’re right, maybe much more achievable than he suggests elsewhere in that chapter. If so, that’s great.)

    3. Even so there would still need to be a massive deployment of renewables, potentially involving substantial cost, spoiling of pretty rural views, habitat loss in Severn estuary etc etc

    4. People don’t want a massive deployment of renewables, for the above reasons and more.

    The whole point of the diagram is ‘4’. The two stacks on the right side of the diagram look daunting (maybe they’re a bit less daunting if you’re correct) but they are clearly labelled as representing the situation after the public consultation. People don’t don’t want a massive expansion of renewables- for that matter, they don’t want a massive expansion of nuclear either (and the desert solar idea is untested on a large scale and would be incredibly difficult politically, regardless of the numbers). People don’t understand the extent of our current dependence on fossil fuels or the scale of the challenge in getting off them. Maybe they’re starting to get a little worried about AGW and/or future energy supply, but maybe they think unplugging mobile phone chargers and putting a small windmill on their rooftop is going to suffice. I think the book makes these important issues clear in a lively and engaging manner. If more people read it, some political momentum might build up to get something useful done, and that’s when your concerns will become more relevant.

  32. 482

    The reason Hawaii is the exception is because Hawaii isn’t some other state. Hawaii is no more “exceptional” than New York.

    When power rose where I live, people DID look for ways to reduce power. The same is true for gasoline prices. The price in California, relative to Texas, has no bearing on what people in TEXAS do. It’s the change in price, relative to where one IS.

    The same thing happens with a variety of other commodities — when cigarette prices rise in Texas, people in North Texas who can drive up to Cherokee Country do and bring back cheaper cigarettes. People in New York aren’t driving all the way to Oklahoma to buy their smokes any more than people in Hawaii are running extension cords to my back yard. Not that it would do any good — it’s cloudy and I’m keeping all my electricity to myself. Get your own solar panels, why don’t you.

    (reCaptcha sez: “lifelong stressed”. As a matter of fact, I am)

  33. 483
    Rod B says:

    Doug (456), but, depending somewhat on the type of system used (both commercial and residential) for the two biggest sinks – heat and cooling, the average total electric usage in Hawaii, with little heating or air conditioning required, has to be much less than in Wyoming; in that event the difference in rates would not be felt as much in the pocketbook/budget.

  34. 484
    Rod B says:

    Richard M__ (462), what tax subsidies went to build the high-speed telecommunications infrastructure?

  35. 485

    Re #67
    I realize that Anne van der Bom had no intention of widening the discussion, her link to “subsidies in Denmark” showed a remarkable efficiency in power generation compared to standard practice here in the USA. This goes to the point about the “smart grid” that we are currently expanding.

    Denmark has a system of distric heating where heat to residences is produced on a district basis, where heat goes in steam pipes to housholds. The special thing about this is that they also produce electric power in cogeneration with that heat. Theoretically, this can achieve 100% system efficiency assuming similarity of effectiveness in heat capture and usage.

    If we were to use natural gas to produce electricity with cogeneration of heat we could displace that same amount of electricity from coal fired plants, but only a third as much energy would be allocated for that electricity. To the extent this can be arranged, the CO2 reduction for that electric energy would be 84%. That could be worth thinking about, especially if it could be done at low cost.

  36. 486
    Mark says:

    RodB, get your fingers out of your ears sometime and you’ll have heard of the tax breaks given to telcos to pay to run out high speed fibre.

    Not being a USian I never bothered to note down the links to the Bills in senate for it.

    There is also the huge tax break of using private land to personal profit: easement.

  37. 487
    Mark says:

    “Hawaii, with little heating or air conditioning required, has to be much less than in Wyoming; in that event the difference in rates would not be felt as much in the pocketbook/budget.”

    It does?


    There are a lot of tourists there. Tourists who want cool buildings, don’t pay the electric, etc.

    How many tourists per head of population does Wyoming get?

    PS With that assumption and 50p you’ll get yourself a mars bar…

  38. 488
    Mark says:

    MikeN, you’re beyond hope.

    I bet you’re still sore at the loss of slavery which meant that goods became more expensive because they had to pay their workers a living wage rather than keep slaves…

  39. 489

    #387 Steve Reynolds

    There are several ways to interpret your argument here. To me it looks like a non sequitur. Climate science provides the basis for an economic argument to be established. It does not need to provide the economic values and analysis to which you refer, that is for those few on this planet that actually do understand the economy.

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say?

    It follows, in the aggregate view, that increased CO2 will be costly, CO2 reduction strategies have benefits. If we do a cost benefit analysis over time it is fairly easy to see the benefits of CO2 reduction strategies.

  40. 490
    Anne van der Bom says:

    3 May 2009 at 3:14 PM

    It sounds unrealistic to me that you will store heat generated in summer all the way till winter. Could you give us some more detail of how this works?

    See here

    Or google for “seasonal thermal storage” for lots more information.

  41. 491
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #479 MikeN:

    Yes, that’s correct– we have to pay our way regardless of the source, we don’t get to foist off our mess without paying or get some kind of clean, free ride.

    Back-of-the-envelope figures show that an $0.05/kWh rate increase for U.S. residential customers would produce something like $5,000,000,000/year to help clean up our mess without touching industrial rates. Not enough to completely capitalize a permanent fix in one year, but not chump change either and over the course of a few years a hell of a lot of money. That’s a large increase when we’re starting at about $0.10/kWh, but on the other hand we can see that triple that amount is tolerated without complete elimination of waste, a telling fact. As we we’re finally becoming aware, we’re paying a fantasy rate when we purchase electricity as cheaply as we do now and as a consequence we’re substantially oblivious of our consumption habits.

    My main point here is that monstrous, existential threats to our way of life from increases in the cost of electricity seem to be imaginary. Secondarily, it strikes me that we’re leaving a lot of money on the table when it comes to modernizing our plant.

    Can we stomach being grownups about this? That’s an open question.

    As far as cost comparisons between coal and renewables go, I’d say the jury has not even retired concerning what the real cost of coal is if we do full accounting. Sequestration schemes all appear to be costly in dollars and to entail a pretty large hit on the overall efficiency of coal generation. I’m not contradicting you on that, just saying that I don’t think we can make that prediction right now.

    #483 Rod B:

    A good point. Hawaii’s residential consumption is a little over 500kWh/month compared to a bit over 900 for the U.S. as a whole. A simplistic view of this is that the average U.S. consumer would see their bill triple if they paid what residents in Hawaii do, diverting something like $2,400 of annual household budget. More likely we’d see the final consumption figure fall in the middle as sources of waste are identified and eliminated according to any given household’s proclivity and ability to waste money.

    That being said, as I mentioned we could with a much smaller rate adjustment create a huge, ongoing capital fund for plant improvements. Some needless consumption would be eliminated as a result, though doubtful as much as we might think when we observe how tolerant we are of waste even where rates are extreme. We can also see that it does not appear such a rate increase would send us back into the stone age or drastically affect our enjoyment of living.

    So let’s not allow ourselves to be driven into panic over the idea of paying a bit more for residential power. It’s bloody cheap now and could easily stand some increases.

  42. 492

    That being said, as I mentioned we could with a much smaller rate adjustment create a huge, ongoing capital fund for plant improvements. Some needless consumption would be eliminated as a result, though doubtful as much as we might think when we observe how tolerant we are of waste even where rates are extreme. We can also see that it does not appear such a rate increase would send us back into the stone age or drastically affect our enjoyment of living.

    There is already capital running around looking for renewable projects. Having more would be great, but there is no need for a “rate increase”.

    The problem is that if Big Dirty Coal Generation can sell a MWH for even $0.01 less than Clean Solar Producers, the utility MUST buy from BDCG even if the utility knows that in 1 year the rise in the price of coal makes that a lousy decision. Future costs be damned — all that matters is who is selling cheaper today and that will always favor the status quo even if it is worse decision overall.

  43. 493
    Anne van der Bom says:

    4 May 2009 at 2:04 PM

    I agree that the figure on page 109 is one of the most striking and important images in the book, but I don’t think most people will draw the conclusion from it that you seem to expect them to.

    In this regard I am more of a pessimist (fueled by the coverage on The Register). How many people will read the book as thoroughly as you and at the same time understand what the numbers mean?

    We can agree that the task is daunting, but what I often remember people of is that it is not a trip to the moon. If you do not have a material that can withstand the temperatures of the return in the atmosphere, then your astronauts will die and your entire plan falls to shambles, no matter how sophisticated your lunar lander might be.

    This is not so with combating climate change. The dangers of detailed projections is to postpone the start until all foreseeable issues have been analysed and dealt with. The hardest problems get the most attention. Why make it hard on ourselves? A tonne of CO2 is a tonne of CO2, it doesn’t matter how hard it is to prevent its emission. Let’s start with the easy stuff. If we have no storage solution, but the grid can cope with the variability of, say, 20% wind, fine, then lets get started and not wait until there is a storage solution.

    In forming your own opinion about how much renewables can contribute, this nice interactive map of British renewables might help. It shows there is currently 3 GW of wind in operation, 10 GW under construction and 8 GW planned. Combined that can deliver ~2.5 kWh/d.

  44. 494
    David B. Benson says:

    Another take on this thread’s subject, with several quotations from Reto Knutti, “Climate Change: Halving Carbon Dioxide Emissions By 2050 Could Stabilize Global Warming”:

  45. 495
    Steve Reynolds says:

    John P. Reisman: “It follows, in the aggregate view, that increased CO2 will be costly, CO2 reduction strategies have benefits. If we do a cost benefit analysis over time it is fairly easy to see the benefits of CO2 reduction strategies.”

    I am not arguing that the above is untrue, but even the IPCC has not claimed to have shown it to be true (see the SPM).

    To illustrate my point about values: assume the only effect of AGW is the extinction of polar bears, but GHG reduction is still very costly. It is a value judgment of whether the benefit is worth the cost.

  46. 496
    Steve Reynolds says:

    FurryCatHerder Says: “The price in California, relative to Texas, has no bearing on what people in TEXAS do. It’s the change in price, relative to where one IS.”

    That is only true if you are not able to (or have other important reasons not to) move. Many people (including me) have left California at least partly because of the high cost of living there.

  47. 497
    David B. Benson says:

    Steve Reynolds (495) — Ocean acidification affects the base of the food chain. Worth the (unknown) risk?

  48. 498

    #495 Steve Reynolds

    It is important to know that the IPCC is in Switzerland, probably the most conservative nation on the planet. You simply won’t see them going beyond the science even though it may be reasonable to make certain assumptions.

    However, from a point of reasonability, it is simple to see the effects will be costly. Add the facts in trend: The oceans are acidifying, The climate has already shifted 4 degrees of latitude in the past 30 years; the Arctic will likely be virtually ice free during the summer melt within the decade, all the uncertainty ranges are positive and none of them are negative, CO2 is plant food, but what does that mean when the oxygen levels are dropping, the Hoover dam is supposed to shut down in 2023 due to no water (latitudinal shift), the Yangtze in China is getting very low, etc. etc. You don’t need to be psychic to see where this is going.

    What I would like you to consider is not merely the science but basic human reasoning and sensibility. We, the people, don’t need to wait for all the north pole is ice free. We of sound mind can see the writing on the wall and the reality that from an economic standpoint not acting will cost much more than acting on this issue. It makes sense.

  49. 499

    That is only true if you are not able to (or have other important reasons not to) move. Many people (including me) have left California at least partly because of the high cost of living there.

    Right, but people in California who stayed (and there is a joke in Austin about people from California wanting to know how life in Austin is — “Sorry, but we’re all full up. Try another state.”) aren’t using more or less electricity just because Texas has lower electric rates (we don’t — ours are pretty high. I paid $0.204 / KWH last month) or Hawaii has higher electric rates. As was shown, electric power consumption is lower in Hawaii (500 KWH / month, as I recall — see upthread) compared to the national average (900 KWH / month, again, from fuzzy memory upthread).

    People though gasoline demand was fairly inelastic until the prices peaked last year. Since then several OPEC states have discovered that perhaps people aren’t nearly as addicted to their product as they’d thought (see here.)

  50. 500
    Rod B says:

    Mark (486), well, I was in the industry about 25 years and had not heard of such tax breaks. Though it’s after my time and I don’t know either way about local loop fiber installs – though the feds subsidizing Verizon and the now AT&T is beyond my wildest imagination. It normally goes the other way (long before income tax time); have you looked at your bill lately (though I’m not that versed on the Brits)? Here, if they itemized each franchise or service tax it would take up the whole bill page.

    There were subsidizes to support minority enterprises in the 90s or so. And there are billions allocated for high-speed facilities in Obama’s current cookie jar called the stimulus package. Are you sure you’re not thinking of almost any other country? (Though they mostly are the telephone company so giving themselves a non-tax break seems silly, I guess.)

    Utilities would be shocked to learn that their easements are “huge tax breaks”.