23 April, 2016
20 April, 2016
‘But wouldn’t it be useful to move to alternative energy anyway?’ #9 My perspective on climate change
Posted: 13 Apr 2016 01:58 PM PDT
The quotation in the title of this essay comes from something I noted down in 2010. It was part of a comment somewhere, and it carried the implication that even if you didn’t think AGW was a real problem there were good reasons to go down the alternative energy path. Why was alternative energy a good thing? Well, it was said to be ‘free’, would continue forever, and didn’t require the use of fossil fuels, which were not sustainable even if they weren’t bad for the planet.
I had a particular interest in solar energy, because the Australian Research Grants Committee (ARGC) had pushed considerable funding into a group at the University of New South Wales who were improving the efficiency of solar panels. I had used solar heating panels in the early 1980s to warm a swimming pool, and they were quite effective at that task. But these new solar cells were something else again, able to capture 40 per cent of the sun’s energy, which could then turned into electricity. I needed some ‘priorities’ to persuade government that the ARGC and later the Australian Research Council (ARC) should have more money, and solar energy was one of them.
I’m sure I added at the time that Australia was one of the countries that could benefit most from solar power, given the abundance of sunlight everywhere, especially in the inland areas. That was an argument that had some weight at the time. Most readers will know that the efficiency of the panels has improved since then, and that their price has also come down. Doesn’t that mean that the future is really going to be one of solar energy?
My answer is — at least at the moment — maybe, perhaps in the long run, but not in the foreseeable future. The two problems with solar power are storing it for later use, and garnering enough of it to make an appreciable difference to the needs of the electricity grid for constant and reliable electricity. If the whole world were to be powered by solar energy (assuming some kind of superior storage for evenings and cloudy days) you would need 500,000 square km of land devoted simply to the panels — an area the size of Spain. And you’d need more to provide the interconnections. Until these two problems are solved, solar energy will only be a small part of national grid systems.
In 2014, thirty years after solar cells had become practicable, the sources of electricity for the eastern Australian grid were: coal 73 per cent, natural gas 13 per cent, hydro 7 per cent, wind 4 per cent, rooftop solar 2 per cent and biomass 1 per cent). The rooftop solar panels wouldn’t be there at all were it not for substantial and continuing subsidies for their installation, and they are not suitable for every dwelling. In any case, the commercial and industrial uses of electricity outweigh those of domestic origin.
You will read from time to time how there are provinces in Germany that get 50 per cent of their power from alternative sources, and that on one day South Australia, which has little coal, managed to get an equivalent fraction of its power from alternative sources (wind and solar). In my judgment these results come from seeing what is happening through rose-tinted spectacles. In 2014 the whole alternative sector contributed just 30 per cent of Germany’s electricity needs, and 11 per cent of total energy needs. What is more, solar energy collection has probably reached a peak in Germany, whose power needs are greatest in winter, when the availability of solar power is at its lowest. In South Australia, the nearest supply of electricity from outside the State is Victoria, and there the source is the brown-coal power stations east of Melbourne. Brown coal is indeed the dirtiest of coals; it is used in Germany, too, because that is the chief coal available there.
It is not coincidental that after Denmark (which tries to rely on wind), Germany has the highest electricity prices in Europe, and that South Australia has the highest electricity prices in Australia. The aim of the subsidies to alternative energy is first to improve the efficiency of solar and wind as contributors to the grid, and eventually to make them competitive with fossil-fuel generation, so that coal will no longer be used to generate electricity. Why would we want to do that? Well, that is the AGW orthodoxy: if coal-fired power stations are closed, then there will be fewer greenhouse gas emissions and the planet will be saved. The earlier essays in this series suggest that the AGW scare has little validity, that coal is a useful and relatively cheap source of electricity, while burning it increases the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which all plants depend on for their food.
The ACT Government has spent a lot of money and effort on trying to make the national capital ‘carbon free’, at least in its use of electricity. To study what is being done there is to be embarrassed at the empty showmanship of what is nothing more than a political initiative, whose aim is to convince Canberra voters that they are doing something really worthwhile with their high electricity prices. In fact, all the ACT Government is doing is to increase the number of solar and wind-powered sources to a point where their total output would be something equivalent to the total electricity demand within the the national capital. But anyone who flicks a switch within Canberra will find that her power is still coming from the grid, at the ratio set out above, with coal leading the way at 73 per cent.
While I have some leaning toward solar power, and would be perfectly happy for much more public funding of solar R&D (without subsidies for roof-top installation), I have virtually none for wind turbines, unless you are a long way away from the grid and there is some useful wind much of the time. Both solar and wind are intermittent, which means that something else has to be available as a back-up all the time. Electricity grids are there to provide just the right amount of electricity all the time as needs change. In winter where I live there is a sudden surge in demand for power around 5 pm, when it gets dark and a couple of hundred thousand households go into evening-meal mode. Grid operators know this, and are ready for it. In most Western grids, the back-up is a gas turbine, which can start producing power almost at once. The gas, of course, is a fossil fuel, a form of methane, which AGW scary people like to point to as the real devil. The need for back-up means that it would simply be impossible, with current knowledge, to have any large system solely powered by wind and solar. And the higher the proportion of alternative energy in the grid, the greater the need for greater back-up. It is a real, and at present quite unsolvable, problem.
Wind turbines have almost everything going against them. They are expensive, the CO2 already generated in making them is enormous, they require rare earth minerals which are in short supply, they kill birds, some people living near them hate the sounds they make, and no one would want one across the road. Their value in the grid is always grossly overstated by those who operate them or want to put them in. You will hear that a particular turbine installation will power 45,000 households. And it would, if it ran all the time at optimum speed. The real value is usually a quarter to a fifth of that stated. In my judgment, they are a waste of time, energy and money, and should be dismantled.
I could say all the above without reference to the positive value of carbon dioxide and the weakness of the AGW scare case. The world is not short of coal, natural gas or oil. But once governments start down a particular road, with goals, regulations and subsidies, it is very difficult for them to stop and change course. So many promises and quasi-promises have been made; so many companies have started up on the expectation that these conditions will continue forever; so many public servants have been employed to regulate the system; and so on. And of course such a large proportion of the electorate has been persuaded that all this is not only good for the planet, but effective and efficient as well.
It is none of those things.
Next: But aren’t 97 per cent of climate scientists sure that humans are causing global warming?
Further reading: There is a lot of useful stuff on the Internet, usually by engineers. You will also find lots of pro-alterntive-energy stuff, usually by people who want to sell you something, or industrial associations with the same intent. It is another of those matters that really hasn’t changed in the last few years, save that governments everywhere seem to be backing away from more subsidies. I have written a lot myself, which you can consult by going to the magnifying glass icon on the top right 0f the screen’s home page, and typing in ‘solar’ or ‘wind turbines’, or whatever you wish.
08 March, 2016
increased by 8 per cent to $57 billion, and this is expected to rise to about $105 billion by 2030.
This prompted him to comment: "We need to establish the milestones that will enable agriculture
to double in size over the next 15 years.” He noted, however, that one of the biggest threats to
future growth is the lack of human capital.
“If we don’t attract the best people we’re going to struggle to realise our potential and, to do that,
we must make a shift from a drought mentality. Of course there are people who suffer terribly as a
result of drought and our hearts go out to them. The reality is that the vast majority of professional
farmers are engaged in highly productive, innovative agriculture and making good returns.
“People look at New Zealand and think how lucky they are to have such a benign climate, but one
thing the White Paper didn’t mention is that regarding prime agricultural land, Australia has the
equivalent of three New Zealands. We need to rebrand the industry to reflect that.”
Talbot believes these highly-productive areas should be given priority.“People have concerns about backing winners, but it’s not about supporting one area or another,it’s about thinking of ourselves as an agricultural nation and focusing on the most productive land first.
"At the moment, we’re treating agriculture as if the needs are the same across the country and
they’re clearly not. We’re very fortunate that Australia covers every climatic zone so we can grow
every kind of produce, but the different regions need to be managed in different ways.”
Talbot would like to see a deeper national conversation about Australian agriculture.
“For a long time we’ve been considered the poor cousin of other economic sectors, but that’s no
longer the case. Agriculture has the greatest uplift regarding generating wealth for the country and
I quite openly say we have some of the most productive farmers in the world.
"Now we need to listen to what the next generation of farmers wants and be ready to provide the
education and support they need.”
03 March, 2016
25 February, 2016
SUCCESS & MONEY..........
Growing up is a weird notion to wrap your mind around. As you go through life, your perspectives on almost everything will change. How you define success will change as well. Things that you thought were important at the age of 35 will be useless when you're 65. You may not realize it now, but everything will shift.
At age 4 success is not peeing in your pants.
At age 12 success is having friends.
At age 16 success is having a drivers license.
At age 20 success is having sex.
At age 35 success is having money.
At age 50 success is having money.
At age 60 success is having sex.
At age 70 success is having a drivers license.
At age 75 success is having friends.
At age 80 success is not peeing in your pants.
It all comes full circle, whether you like it or not.
Share this hilarious truth about life with others.
May you always have
Love to Share,
Health to Spare, and
Friends who Care.....
23 February, 2016
Posted: 17 Feb 2016 11:38 AM PST
The apparently simple question like the one in the title of this essay is in fact almost impossible to answer unless it is specified further. Even then, it has been argued that that it implies a quantity — average global temperature — that is both mathematically and thermodynamically impossible to calculate. Interested readers should go to the link to explore further, but a short-cut is that it is as sensible as referring to the ‘average exchange rate’ of all currencies in the world today, or the average of all the telephone numbers in the telephone directory.
Perhaps a prior question is: what is the optimum temperature for human beings and human societies? The assumption underlying the notion of ‘catastrophic’ anthropogenic global warming, after all, is that we are moving away from some kind of optimum towards something dangerous. What is that optimum? It can’t be the period before the Industrial revolution, because that was icily unpleasant, as Judith Curry and others have pointed out. Given the contribution that more carbon dioxide makes to the lives of plants, and therefore animals, I can’t see why another degree or so would be other than beneficial.
But, as I have said before, if one wants to talk about the global warming or ‘climate change’ issue, there is no help for it: one has to use the data that we have. And they are not much help, either, because another prior question is: ‘Warming or not — from when to when?’. Over the last half-million years? The graph looks like this.
The present is to the right. On this ice-core evidence (Antarctic) previous interglacials were warmer. You don’t like that — too long ago? What about the time since our own interglacial began? The graph looks like this.
Yes, more ice cores, from one place. Alas, that’s all we really have. You’ll notice that the modern period is of much the same warmth as some earlier periods, but not as much as that of the Holocene Optimum. So are we warming? On the evidence of that graph, we seem to go through warm and cold periods, and maybe the long-term trend is a cooling one. Don’t like that? Let’s get to our own present and recent past. Here’s a graph I used a little time ago. It doesn’t go quite to the present.
My grandparents, whom I remember quite well, were born in the 1880s, so this whole period is relevant to me. What I take from this graph is more warm and cool phases, though of shorter duration that in the previous graph. There were rising warmth periods, of about the same duration and trend, from 1910 to 1940, and from about 1975 to 2000. There were cooling periods from 1880 to 1910, and from 1940 to 1975. There has been a relatively flat period from 2000 to the present, though this graph only shows the first part of it.
What are we to make of all this? Let’s leave carbon dioxide out of it for a moment. The three graphs show that the planet goes through phases of warming and cooling. There are long phases, medium phases and short phases. We seem to be in a short cooling or static phase at the moment, compared to earlier periods. This period will get cooler or warmer in due course. There are many candidate explanations for why all this happens and has happened, and we can leave them out for the the moment, too.
But what seems almost indisputable to me is that there hasn’t been some kind of special ‘right’ climate for humans. Our species has had to cope with more and less warmth, as we do at the moment. We haven’t had to deal with a really cold period since the 17th and early 18th centuries, but we will be much better prepared for the next one. If we go into a new warming phase, we’ll cope with that too. Eight years ago, in my ‘Cool Look’ address to the Australian Planning Institute, I said I was prepared to accept the IPCC’s estimated average increase in temperature over the 20th century of 0.60 plus or minus 0.20C. I still am. Is it a problem? Not on the evidence of the graphs.
Is it unprecedented? That was the next issue — the orthodox position is that the warming of our period is unprecedented in human history (and must therefore be our fault). I repeat here a little of what I wrote then.
By 10,000 years ago the first small permanent settlements began to appear, as people assembled and domesticated animals, learned how to plant crops, and abandoned being hunter-gatherers. There were then, according to some estimates, about a million of our ancestors. It seems to me to be no coincidence at all that global temperatures had begun to level out. The evidence for these temperatures is based on Greenland and Antarctic ice-core data, and I need to say at once that what happened in Greenland or the
On the face of it, there is nothing especially unprecedented about the 20th century temperature rise, given its ‘agreed’ size. Shifts up and down of that magnitude and more seem to have occurred in the past, and will presumably occur in the future. Climate change is not new, and occurs for reasons that can have nothing to do with us. Orbital changes, sunspots, volcanic eruptions and meteorites have effects on the earth’s climate, and these causes are external to us. We simply have to put up with the changes and adapt what we do to them. Whatever warming that is happening now, and whatever contribution we humans are making to it, have to be seen in that context.
Eight years have passed, a great deal more research has been done, and the science is still not at all settled. I’ll stick to what I wrote then.
Next: Are we causing the warming?
Further reading: I wrote an essay on what had happened since 2008 six years later, and you can see that here. The website has lots of pieces about warming and measurement, because it remains a central intellectual interest for me. My basic position is that what we have as data is just awful, and no basis for making public policy. But elected governments, responding to insistent cries of approaching doom from the Greens and their sympathisers, desperately search for data, any data, that would allow them to make good policy. I don’t believe such data exist, and that governments should do nothing. Alas, that is not a position that governments like at all — they will be accused of indolence or worse. So we have to discuss the data we have. Hence this essay, and others like it.
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