Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Renewable-Energy Sticker Shock

These days, everyone seems to have big plans for major changes in the U.S. energy sector. Barack Obama wants to "put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars - cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon - on the road by 2015." John McCain says he will "commit $2 billion annually to advancing clean-technologies." And just last week, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service identified 197 million acres of federal lands in 12 Western states that it proposed to lease for geothermal development.

Most of today's energy plans are premised on the notion that government has to do something to meet our energy challenges - and that something generally involves promoting green or renewable energy through substantial subsidies, at substantial cost to consumers and taxpayers. Absent is any consideration of the true cost and practicality of the plans, or any alternative means - like the marketplace - by which our energy goals might be achieved.

This certainly holds true in Texas, which generates more electricity from wind than any other state. The Lone Star State's renewable-energy mandates - combined with the federal government's generous tax credit for wind-energy production - have helped Texas become the nation's leading installer of wind-energy capacity. You won't find much opposition here to wind energy's rapid expansion, because so much money is pouring into the state. It's all fun and games - until Texas consumers pay the long-term price for everyone else's short-term gain.

And pay they will. In my just published study, Texas Wind Energy: Past, Present, and Future (PDF here), we estimate that forcing even modest levels of wind-energy generation on Texans will cost ratepayers and taxpayers up to $4 billion a year, and at least $60 billion through 2025. Apply these numbers on a national scale with the idea of replacing coal or natural gas - or both - with wind, and the numbers become staggering.

But cost isn't the only challenge that confronts wind energy's expansion. Its intermittent nature, the lack of large-scale electricity storage, and the limitations on electric transmission also limit the role wind can play in powering our future.

The greatest impediment to wind's large-scale contribution to our energy supply is its intermittent nature. The wind must blow in order for wind turbines to produce power - peak capacity comes when the wind blows at about 31 miles per hour. But because those conditions are rare, wind turbines typically produce only around 30 percent of their installed capacity over time. As in many other places, the wind in Texas blows least when we need it the most. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) relies on a mere 8.7 percent of wind power's installed capacity when determining available power during peak summer hours.

The reason that intermittency is an issue for wind is because electricity cannot currently be stored on a commercial scale. Without adequate wind-power storage - to save the power of evening breezes for use during midday doldrums - wind-generating units must be backed up by units that generate electricity from conventional sources. In Texas's case, that means natural gas, a fuel source with extreme price volatility. Thus, wind energy is currently an inherently less valuable resource than fuel sources requiring no backup. Although efforts to develop large-scale storage are underway, such technology is probably decades away.

Even if the technology existed to deliver wind-generated electricity when needed, Texas and most other places lack the infrastructure to transmit it from the areas most suitable for wind-energy generation to the areas most in need of the power. Of course, infrastructure can be built for the right price. For Texas consumers, that price should top $17 billion by 2025.

So much for wind energy being free, as some would claim. The wind itself may be free, but getting it from the prairie to your power tools is anything but. Combine the transmission costs with production costs, subsidies, tax breaks, economic disruptions, and grid management costs, and you find yourself facing that $60-billion price tag.

Wind, like every other energy resource, has its pros and cons, and there is no doubt that wind power should be part of the nation's energy options. We need a variety of fuel sources, plus concerted efforts at conservation and efficiency, in order to meet our energy needs. But the marketplace - rather than government mandates and subsidies - is the means by which all of this should be determined. Otherwise, higher electricity prices for U.S. consumers will be here to stay.


Stranger Than Fiction

Earlier this year, I wrote an eco-satirical column under the pseudonym Ethan Greenhart, in which I (or rather, Ethan) called upon Greens everywhere to pray for an economic downturn. The column argued that nothing would benefit our human-ravaged planet more than a "big, beautiful, stock-crashing, Wall Street-burning, consumer-baiting, home-evicting, bank-busting recession."

We need something to stop humans "raping the planet," I said, tongue pressed ferociously against my cheek, and "the recession might just be the chemical castration for the job." A recession could be the "antibody Gaia so desperately needs to deal with her human itch," since it would force people to buy less and live more humbly.

The column said recession would be a just punishment for the "lunatics" of humankind, before the arrival of the "final big disease" - that glorious moment when a rampant sickness will "reduce the human population to sustainable levels" and "end industrialism . . . just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism."

I was going too far, right? Yes, there are super-aloof Gaia worshippers who, caring little for the living standards of their fellow men, argue that a recession would be a good thing - and, sure, they deserve a few satirical darts tossed their way. But surely no right-minded Green (assuming such a thing exists) would celebrate the depletion of mankind by a "preferably painless but speedily contagious disease"?

You'd be amazed. Not 24 hours after the column was published, "Ethan" received an e-mail (my alter ego came with his own inbox) from Valerie Stevens, chairperson of the U.K.-based Optimum Population Trust. The OPT is an influential green-leaning outfit that campaigns for strict controls on population growth. Ms. Stevens, believing - remarkably - that Ethan Greenhart is a real person, wrote: "What a marvellous piece of writing. I feel exactly the same as you!"

Consider what this means. The head of one of Britain's most vocal Green lobby groups feels "exactly" that people who work in shops are comparable to "concentration camp guards"; that humankind is a "poisonous bacteria in Gaia's bloodstream"; that "consumerism makes us mentally ill"; that the consumer society has "turned us into savages . . . well, not us, obviously, but certainly them"; and that a disease should come and decimate "the plague that is mankind." All of these statements were contained in the pretend eco-rant that OPT chair Valerie Stevens described as a "marvellous piece of writing" with which she agrees "exactly."

The OPT has numerous Green bigwigs on its advisory board, including Jonathon Porritt, who was director of Friends of the Earth from 1984 to 1990 and is currently an adviser to Prince Charles, the insufferably eco-minded heir to the British throne. Ms Stevens' enthusiastic agreement with Ethan Greenhart unwittingly revealed the backward, misanthropic thinking that rattles in the attics of Britain's posh Green elite.

It also revealed something else: the environmental movement is now so pompous, hysterical, bloated, and disconnected that it is almost beyond satire. My weekly Ethan Greenhart columns, published in my online magazine, spiked, have now been turned into a book: Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas. In the course of writing it, I discovered that satirizing Greens is forever an uphill struggle, as one's campaign to mock environmentalism continually threatens to be derailed by the latest ridiculous utterance from the Greens themselves.

Ethan Greenhart has argued that climate-change denial should be recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a "mental disorder" and that there should be "eco-lobotomies" for persistent deniers. Well, this is only a more extreme version of a leading British Green's demand for "international criminal tribunals" to try those who "preach the gospel of denial." Yet it turns out that many Greens are already discussing the "psychological processes" that contribute to climate change denial, with The Ecologist, an influential British magazine, arguing that "angrily denying the problem [of climate change] outright" is a form of "psychotic denial." Perhaps eco-lobotomies aren't so far off now.

Ethan Greenhart has claimed to have set up something called Bottlefeeders Anonymous, for those moms who have strayed from The Ethical Path by bottlefeeding rather than breastfeeding their offspring. "Bottlefeeding is a form of child abuse," he declares, since it involves "stuffing your child's gut with powder produced in a factory by a really big and probably quite evil conglomerate." Lo and behold, it turns out that eco-minded "militant lactivists" really do look upon bottlefeeding as abusive. Green columnist George Monbiot believes that feeding your child formula is "tantamount to child abuse."

Ethan has even celebrated suicide as a sensible solution to human overcrowding on Gaia's "pretty face." Here he was inspired by cranky Green groups like the Church of Euthanasia. Yet this outlook ain't so cranky anymore. Shortly before Can I Recycle My Granny? was to hit the shelves - in which Ethan maintains that "non-existence is the most perfectly ethical way of being" - a book by David Benatar (a professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town, no less) appeared under the title Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

Horace said the purpose of satire is to "laugh men out of their follies." Yet such is the depth of contemporary Green folly that even mockery can be mistaken for another sensible idea or contribution to the "Green cause." Of course (and I would say this, wouldn't I?) my book is still full of cutting-edge satire - "richly comic," hails The Independent. But you had better buy it quick before its maddest, zaniest send-ups of the environmentalist movement become the latest Green orthodoxy.


China Grows ever Greener as CO2 Concentrations Grow Ever Higher

You never hear the good news about increased CO2 emissions. Scientific research has shown that China is growing ever Greener as global CO2 concentrations grow ever higher.

(H/T Agmates)

Pesky! Alaska's Glaciers Are Growing

Alaska's glaciers grew this year, after shrinking for most of the last 200 years. The reason? Global temperatures dropped over the past 18 months. The global mean annual temperature has been declining recently because the solar wind thrown out by the sun has retreated to its smallest extent in at least 50 years. This temperature downturn was not predicted by the global computer models, but had been predicted by the sunspot index since 2000.

The solar wind normally protects the earth from 90 percent of the high-energy cosmic rays that flash constantly through the universe. Henrik Svensmark at the Danish Space Research Institute has demonstrated that when more cosmic rays hit the earth, they create more of the low, wet clouds that deflect heat back into outer space. Thus the earth's recent cooling.

Unusually large amounts of Alaskan snow last winter were followed by unusually chilly temperatures there this summer. "In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years," says Bruce Molnia of the U.S. Geological Survey, and author of The Glaciers of Alaska. "It's been a long time on most glaciers where they've actually had positive mass balance (added thickness)."

Overall, Molnia figures Alaska had lost 10-12,000 square kilometers of ice since 1800, the depths of the Little Ice Age. That's enough ice to cover the state of Connecticut. Climate alarmists claim all the glaciers might disappear soon, but they haven't looked at the long-term evidence of the 1,500-year Dansgaard-Oeschger climate cycles. During the Little Ice Age-1400 to 1850-Muir Glacier filled the whole of Glacier Bay. Since then, the glacier has retreated 57 miles. But the Little Ice Age was preceded by the Medieval Warming, the cold Dark Ages, a Roman Warming, and a whole series of moderate warmings and coolings that extend back at least 1 million years based on the evidence of the microfossils in the world's seabed sediments.

The real question is whether today's warming is different than the previous Dansgaard-Osechger warming cycles. I think that the difference, if any, is slight. Most of our Modern Warming occurred before 1940 and virtually all of our human-emitted CO2 came after that date. The temperatures in 1998-the recent peak-were only 0.2 degree C higher than in 1940. After the temperature drop of the past 18 months, the temperatures are now cooler than in 1940.

The 1,500-year cycles usually start with a sudden shift of 1-2 degrees-in temperate zones-and double that in Alaska. Then temperatures erratically rise and fall with the sun's total irradiance changes, often in 11-year cycles. At the end of the warming, comes another Little Ice Age; or, every 100,000 years, a Big Ice Age that will drop temperatures about 15 degree C. That's when insulation will truly become the most important invention in history.

The sunspots are now predicting a 30-year cooling of the earth. That would thicken the Alaskan glaciers somewhat, but probably wouldn't refill Glacier Bay with ice. That'll have to wait for the next icy age.

The sunspot index has a 59 percent correlation with our temperatures (with a roughly ten-year lag). CO2 has only an "accidental" 22 percent correlation with our temperatures, which should be grounds for dismissing CO2 as a major climate player.

All this is radically different from the 5-degree C warming predicted by the computer models. However, the scientific rule says: if actual observations tell you something that's the opposite of your theory, change your theory.


Another Dissenter: Meteorologist Justin Loew

It is the topic that won't stay off the headlines and it could get more interesting depending on who gets elected U.S. President next Tuesday. One aspect that I have mentioned before is the shifting terminology. I get a little skeptical when the headlines seem to be changing without a shift in the science behind the headlines. For almost 20 years, the problem was "global warming", and if you want to be even more accurate you would call it "anthropogenic global warming" (AGW). I have tried to spread this terminology to mainstream media sources but they continue to use the less accurate "global warming" and the misleading term "climate change".

As you know, I am all for conservation and alternative energy. I practice what I preach. However, I do get skeptical of the motivation of some of the scientists and media outlets when they use "climate change" instead of AGW. After all, the problem, as we are told, is human caused climate change, not "climate change" in general. I guess on the most basic level "climate change" will always force humans and life on this planet to adjust and cope, but that is not what has been in the headlines for nearly 20 years. The drill has been "global warming"= "climate change"=AGW=the end of the world. Call me skeptical, but I think the headlines have shifted dramatically over the last year (to "climate change") in response to the fact that the earth hasn't warmed one degree since 1998. In fact, the average global temperature has gone down slightly. I suppose it might start to sound silly saying "global warming" when the globe hasn't warmed for 10 years. If the AGW theorists are confident in the global climate model predictions of environmental armageddon, then they should not be afraid to continue using the term "global warming" or more accurately AGW.

Here is one of the "climate change" headlines and it has an interesting twist. Researchers have found that some forests have done well during the warm-up over the last century. There is also word of some other gasses that will come under regulation. NF3 is more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2 and is used in electronics manufacturing. Levels have grown in recent years and might continue to do so in the near future.

The talk about environmental destruction because of AGW invariably leads to talk about how to stop it and the main plan of attack is to restrict the use of fossil fuels. Here is an article predicting a path to eliminate fossil fuels by 2090. I have got news for these prognosticators - the world only has enough oil to last about another 30 years - using it at current rates. Of course, coal could last for much longer, but there is a possibility we could use coal without releasing the evil CO2. These three articles (1, 2, and 3) show some promise in converting or storing CO2 produced by energy plants or heavy manufacturing industries. Besides these factors there is also technological progress to consider.

This prediction is based on linear advancement in technology (at best). What is more likely is that by the 2020s we will have significantly more powerful technology to develop energy sources we cannot even dream about today. I can't even imagine what it will be like in 2090. So I am basically throwing this forecast out. It isn't a realistic path for the future. Besides, there are much greater problems facing humanity than global warming. Which brings me to one caveat about future predictions. I suppose there is a slight chance we could enter a new "dark age" dominated by tyranny and less progress and that would certainly change future energy predictions.



Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd won office promising to be a climate change warrior but his chief weapon -- a carbon trade scheme to slash emissions -- is falling victim to shifting politics and world financial tumult. A former diplomat, Rudd made ratification of the Kyoto climate pact -- opposed by the former conservative government for more than a decade -- his first act after winning November elections tinged green by the seeming onrush of climate shift. "The Rudd government was elected partly on its promises to take strong action, not just symbolic and token gestures, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and in particular to build renewable energy," says carbon trade and environment academic Mark Diesendorf from the University of New South Wales.

Even before winning, Rudd commissioned respected climate economist Ross Garnaut to design an emissions scheme to rival in breadth the world's biggest regime already operating in Europe. Successive surveys showed Australians overwhelmingly wanted a government to fight global warming after climate scientists said the country was experiencing a pace of climate change unmatched elsewhere, bringing droughts, storms and agricultural hardship.

Now, after a sharp economic slowdown, bloodletting on world financial markets and unemployment lifting off a three-decade nadir, the government seems to have dropped its sights in line with Australians fast-shifting concern to their jobs.....

Rudd says the problem of global warming "doesn't disappear because of the global financial crisis", but appears to have softened his zeal, promising Garnaut only to take account of recommendations a year in the drafting.

Garnaut certainly sensed the shift, recommending a two-track approach towards Rudd's 2050 target of a 60 percent cut in 2000-level emissions, focusing on a "practical" interim cut of 10 percent by 2020 while also laying out more ambitious options. That offers Rudd the attractive post-crisis option of a scheme that will not bring too much upheaval, for business or the public, but allow him to have delivered on a key election promise in the possible environment of a global recession. "The government is hardly likely to have a stronger cap than Garnaut. Sadly the government has already rejected some of his best suggestions, like no free permits," says Diesendorf.

Quiggin says an artificially low fixed carbon price may go some way to mollifying big polluters, who unsurprisingly favour no scheme or a limited one, but warns it will drive international investment out of Australia's protected market and into the more lucrative $40 billion carbon trade in Europe.

Renewable energy firms want higher prices to make solar, wind and wave power more competitive, while coal-fired electricity generators and other emission intensive industries want adjustment costs as low as possible. When the prevailing carbon price in the European Union is around 22 euros, or $27, per tonne, insiders in Canberra are tipping a two-year price under A$10 a tonne, or just $6.70, with some saying it could even be as low as A$8.

"To have a serious target you need a price which is of the order of A$30 a tonne, while the other, and they go together, is you essentially need to close down brown coal power stations, replacing them with low-emission technologies," he says.

And that is Rudd's conundrum. While his public appeal is tied to recognition of climate change and helping Aborigines, he promised business to govern as an economic conservative. In Canberra, that means looking after coal and resource interests. Australia is the world's fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter on a per head basis and relies on ageing coal-fired power stations for 80 percent of its energy needs. It is also the world's biggest thermal coal exporter.

An Auspoll survey last week for the independent Climate Institute showed public backing for Rudd's management of climate change had slumped from a pre-Kyoto ratification high of 43 percent to just 28 percent. But a recent Lowy Institute poll showed voters did not back climate action if it costs jobs or income.



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


1 comment:

ytba said...

nice video on the greening of China.

Also, have you seen the latest on the heat wave striking the North Eastern USA?

"In New Brunswick, where 1.5 inches fell, it was the first measurable snowfall in October in 36 years and only the fifth in October since record-keeping began in 1894, state climatologist David Robinson said."

hmmmm, must be "global warming" then, eh?