Friday, April 30, 2010

An "Alternative" energy source?

It's just a more efficient fuel cell -- i.e. it converts gas into electricity directly -- an old idea. And at $800,000 each it's so far from economic viability as to be laughable. And you've still got to pump the gas from somewhere

Over the past several years, there’s been no shortage of talk about alternative energy, and its potential to change the world. The problem is that most of it is just that — talk. But tonight, a report that aired on 60 Minutes showed one alternative that is not only real, it’s already being tested by companies such as Google and eBay. You simply have to watch this.

Bloom Energy are producing tiny fuel cell boxes they call “Bloom Boxes.” Two of these can apparently power a U.S. home (and only one for homes in countries that use less power). So how small are they? Look at the picture above, each device isn’t much bigger than a standard brick. Of course, they need to be surrounded by a larger unit that takes in an energy source (such as natural gas). But still, these units look to be about the size of a refrigerator and can easily fit outside of a home, providing it with clean, cheap energy.

Currently, these boxes cost some $700,000-$800,000, but eventually, founder K.R. Sridhar envisions one in every home — and he thinks he can get the cost below $3,000 for a unit to make that happen. And he’s talking a 5 to 10 year timeframe for this.

Naturally, there are plenty who are skeptical of something like this ever working. There have been no shortage of fuel cell ideas over the years, but none get their own segment on 60 Minutes showing working units. And none get to highlight the fact that they’re already installed at companies like Google, eBay, FedEx and others. In fact, four of these Bloom Boxes have apparently been powering a Google datacenter for the past 18 months. eBay says their five boxes have saved them over $100,000 in electricity costs over the past nine months.

Bloom Energy also has former Secretary of State Colin Powell on its board of directors, and he talked up the Bloom Boxes on 60 minutes tonight also. And the company has something in the neighborhood of $400 million in funding from the likes of Kleiner Perkins and others. Kleiner’s John Doerr is also featured heavily in the 60 Minutes segment, talking about why he thinks this company can change the world perhaps even in a more profound way that another company he backed, Google, has. Bloom Energy was Kleiner’s first green tech investment.


Green or Not So Green?

By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”

Ecologist Kenneth Watt made that statement on the inaugural Earth Day in 1970. The “peak oil” warning has been going on long before that, but here we are ten years after Watt’s deadline and we’re globally consuming 85 million barrels of oil per day with increasing amounts of proven reserves each year.

Three decades ago, proven oil reserves were 645 billion barrels; five years ago it was 1.28 trillion and in 2009 it was 1.34 trillion. Yet the push to transition to renewable, allegedly cleaner sources of energy has never been stronger. The question to ask is: why?

A large part of the answer, and the justification for subsidies, tax credits and mandates for renewables, is that they will help cool our planet’s fever. Setting aside the debate of whether our planet is in need of any remedy, the truth is what the government selects as green energy isn’t as green they promote. Robert Bryce, author of the new book, Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, explains:
Unfortunately, solar and wind technologies require huge amounts of land to deliver relatively small amounts of energy, disrupting natural habitats. Even an aging natural gas well producing 60,000 cubic feet per day generates more than 20 times the watts per square meter of a wind turbine. A nuclear power plant cranks out about 56 watts per square meter, eight times as much as is derived from solar photovoltaic installations.

The real estate that wind and solar energy demand led the Nature Conservancy to issue a report last year critical of “energy sprawl,” including tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry electricity from wind and solar installations to distant cities.

Nor does wind energy substantially reduce CO2 emissions. Since the wind doesn’t always blow, utilities must use gas- or coal-fired generators to offset wind’s unreliability. The result is minimal — or no — carbon dioxide reduction.”

But it’s actually worse than that. The intermittency of wind forces coal and gas-fired plants to operate inefficiently and actually increase emissions. This has proven to be the case in Colorado and Texas, two states that have adopted a renewable portfolio standard, which mandates that wind be included in the state’s electricity supply. A new study from the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States finds that:
Coal-fired power plants are designed to run most efficiently at stable rates and are not well-suited to accommodate the load variability imposed by the integration with wind generation. Cycling causes coal-fired power plants to operate less efficiently, and reduces the effectiveness of their environmental control equipment, which together drive up emissions.

Paradoxically, using wind energy in such a way that it forces utilities to cycle their coal generation often results in greater SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions than would have occurred if less wind energy were generated and coal generation was not cycled.”

Politicians can’t account for these unintended consequences that occur when trying to plan our nation’s energy future. And that’s reason enough not to do so.


German scientists suggest per-person carbon emission quotas

Everyone on globe allowed 5 tons of carbon per year...just 1/4 of avg. per-person emissions of a US citizen

German scientists called Tuesday for the world to accept per-person quotas for carbon dioxide emissions to kick-start a global trading scheme where poor nations will benefit.

The Potsdam Institute for Research on Climate Effects said everyone on the globe should be allowed 5 tons of carbon per year. That is just one quarter of the average per-person emissions for a US citizen, but still far above emissions in poor nations.

The government-funded institute said the current arrangement, in which some nations have made voluntary commitments to cut emissions, would not work. The institute says the world needs an effective way to hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber [Schellnhuber is an oily character who has ooozed his way up the tree of German officialdom. His statements are just claims on praise], director of the Potsdam Institute said voluntary cuts agreed last year at the Copenhagen climate summit would still allow the global climate to become more than 3 degrees warmer by end of this century.

A scheme with worldwide per-person quotas would allow poor nations to sell part of their quotas to rich nations.

Nations such as the United States have very high per-person emissions partly because of high fuel use by industry and government services.


Natural, Man-Made and Imagined Disasters

Excerpt from an article by sea-level expert NILS-AXEL MÖRNER

We have to learn to live with natural disasters; earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, tsunamis, cyclones, floods, draughts, blizzards, wildfires, etc. They are all parts of terrestrial system and we cannot change them, but we can prepare for them in terms of warning systems, evacuation plans, aid organization, etc. We may also avoid habitation at spots that cannot be protected.

This seems less feasible, however, as humans, through history, have shown to chose even the most dangerous places for their living (like slopes of active volcanoes, fault zones, foots and slopes of active slides, tops of active coastal cliff erosion, repeatedly flooded areas, etc.). Sometimes we are able to make precautional work like coastal protection, dikes against flooding, bypasses for possible mudflows and other efforts to try to diminish the effects of a potential catastrophe. We also have to make careful risk assessments. This implies temporal and spatial cover of past events.....

Many disaster threats are just imagined, however. We are today living in a world where it unfortunately has become customary to obtain awareness by threaten us with disasters that are imagined. Some of those are of pseudo-scientific type. Others are products of inadequate computerization and modelling, not founded in facts and observations. Some may have political and economical grounds.

The idea of a “Global Warming” that will lead to disastrous effects in the near future is primarily a man-made issue. Climate has always gone up and down for a variety of reasons. In Mid-Holocene time some 8000-4000 BP, climate was significantly warmer. This was a fact over several millennia and may, hence, be called a long-wavelength effect.

We have also experienced short-wavelength episodes, not least in the Late Holocene. Those periods had a duration in the order of 50 years or so and were significantly warmer and drier than today. In Northern Europe and Canada, they are seen as thin black layers in the peat bogs recording short intervals when the peat stopped growing and started to decompose.

In the last 600 years we have had a number of “Little Ice Ages” with significantly colder conditions than today. Those events coincide with Solar Minima. The next Solar Minima is due at around 2040- 2050.

In the 20th century, we experienced warmer conditions around 1930-1940, colder conditions at around 1940-1970 and warmer conditions again in 1980-1998. In the last decade, the warming seems to have ceased.

Similarly, the threat of an ongoing sea level rise, soon to flood low-lying coasts and islands with disastrous effects, seems unfounded in observational facts. Our group have spent several years of painstaking work in the Maldives. We found no traces of any ongoing rise, rather a strong stability over the last 30 years. The same is true for the islands of Tuvalu and Vanuatu in the Pacific, both claimed to be in the process of becoming flooded.

Therefore, my personal believe is that all the talk of an approaching climatic disaster, including a catastrophic sea level rise, is an example of an imagined disaster. This means that we diverge our interest and efforts from real threats; natural as well as man-made. And this, in itself is a disaster.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has recently claimed (August 2009) that the natural disasters have increased drastically in the last 40 years as a function of Global Warming. This is certainly not the case; just another imagined disaster threat (in good timing for the December 2009 international climate meeting in Copenhagen).

Disaster Advances, our International Journal for Researches in Disasters and Related Fields, undoubtedly has a great mission to fulfill in the field of natural, man-made and imagined disasters; that is to drive and enlightening us in the understanding of disastrous events, in the discrimination of real and imagined threats, in the assessment of risks and in the preparation of effective warning systems and precautional handling. It is a privilege to serve in striving to fulfill those goals.


Nails in the Global Warming Coffin

Comment from Professor Philip Stott in Britain

I have to confess that I have become increasingly wearied and bored by the fatuous lack of reality exhibited on this topic by many UK politicians. It is so glaringly obvious that, since the debacle in Copenhagen, ‘global warming’ is dying as a major political trope that I find it less and less exercising as an issue. Indeed, I do not want to waste too much energy in flogging a fundamentally dead corpse.

This last week, however, the nails in the global warming coffin have been driven in so thick and so fast that I thought it might be worth bringing attention once again to what is happening around the world - “You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Global Warming is as dead as a door-nail,” although I suspect that the Global Warming Ghost will hang around moaning and wailing for quite a while yet.

Germany Gets Cold Feet

First, in that paragon of so-called Green virtues, Germany, Spiegel Online reports that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, ‘Abandons Aim of Binding Climate Agreement’:

“Frustrated by the climate change conference in December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is quietly moving away from her goal of a binding agreement on limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius. She has also sent out signals at the EU level that she no longer supports the idea of Europe going it alone.”

Spiegel goes on to comment: “... now it’s time for realpolitik. Merkel and Röttgen [have] had to admit that countries like China and India will not submit to a mandatory target that others have contrived.” Precisely so.

The Emissions Billycan Waltzes Off Indefinitely

Meanwhile, ‘Down Under’, The Sydney Morning Herald reports: ‘Emissions put on back burner’:
“A Senate vote on the trading scheme legislation, which was due next month, has now been dropped by the government for the May and June sittings of Parliament. A government source said yesterday the fate of the Senate vote on the legislation beyond June was unclear.

The source said the decision to park the legislation indefinitely reflected the political reality that the opposition, under leader Tony Abbott, and the Greens had vowed to reject the scheme in the Senate.

Unless the Coalition or the Greens change their positions the government will now have to wait until July 1 next year for the Senate to change over after this year's federal election to negotiate with a potentially less hostile Parliament - unless a double-dissolution election is called.

The government will now concentrate on passing other matters in the Senate including its national health reform package and the national broadband network. ‘Obviously there are a lot of pressures in the Senate, so the government has to prioritise the reforms that are most likely to be passed,’ the source said.”

Indeed. Most wise. “Good On Yer, Mate!”

Different Priorities In US Too

Then, in the US, as The New York Times reports:
“The Senate climate bill sits on the brink of collapse today after the lead Republican ally threatened to abandon negotiations because of a White House push to simultaneously overhaul the nation's immigration policies.”

Moreover, President Obama has far more pressing worries and priorities as ‘US Republicans block debate of finance rules reform’ - Mr Obama has made reining in Wall Street a cornerstone of his Presidency.

Quite so.

Finally, Elusive Pay-Offs And Not Such A Green-Blue

Further, somewhat unsurprisingly given all of the above, the monies so happily and so readily promised to help developing nations to fight ‘global warming’ are proving remarkably elusive. Only the most politically- and economically-naive of souls could have expected otherwise.

Lastly, even in our ever-Utopian UK, ‘global warming’ has, thank goodness, hardly featured in the election to date, being confined to brief comments hidden in the deepest inner recesses of a few newspapers, although it is worth stating that the energy policies of the newly-resurgent Liberal Democrats would probably do for Britain as a serious economic power.

By contrast, as The Times points out this morning about the Conservatives:
“Despite Mr Cameron’s slogan of ‘vote blue go green’, a recent survey found that only 22 per cent of Conservative candidates in winnable seats strongly supported Britain’s target of generating 15 per cent of Britain’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, recently warned that the policy of tough targets to cut carbon emissions, supported by Mr Cameron, was ‘destined to collapse’.”

Just so.

Indeed, the complete collapse of the Great Global Warming Grand Narrative continues apace.

It will surely be fascinating to observe precisely the moment when UK politicians begin to stop mouthing pious platitudes about the political significance of ‘global warming’.


Australian PM commits $2.4bn to 'non-feasible' carbon emissions storage

AUSTRALIA'S focus for slowing climate change - the planned storage of power-station carbon dioxide emissions - has been dismissed by a US study as "profoundly non-feasible".

The Rudd and Bligh governments have made carbon capture and storage (CCS) - under which planet-warming emissions from power stations would be removed and stored underground permanently - their biggest single direct investment in new technologies to fight global warming.

The Rudd government is spending $2.4 billion on CCS projects and is putting $100 million a year into the Global CCS Institute it created last year. The Bligh government is spending $102.5 million on the ZeroGen CCS project near Rockhampton and other CCS projects.

Michael Economides and Christine Ehlig-Economides, in a study published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, found that for one commercial-scale coal-fired power station, the underground storage area for the removed CO2 emissions would have to be "enormous, the size of a small US state".

"The findings clearly suggest (geological CO2 sequestration) is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others," they wrote.

"(Storing CO2 in a closed system) will require from five to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions."

Michael Economides, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Houston University, said official figures showed the Sleipner reservoir - which is offshore Norway and often held up as an example of carbon storage - injected only a third of the CO2 that one modestly sized power plant would produce.

"Also, our information is that the CO2 injected at Sleipner is a lot less than 1 million tons per year and is closer to 1 million per three years. The whole thing is preposterous," he told The Courier-Mail by email.

Scientists say annual global carbon emissions - mainly from using coal, oil and gas - must peak about 2015 then fall away quickly to give a decent chance of keeping average temperature and sea-level rises manageable for most countries.

In Adelaide this month, University College London professor of chemical engineering and director of UCL's Centre for CO2 Technology, Stefaan Simons, called on Australian policymakers to rethink their pursuit of CCS.

In a lecture event co-sponsored by oil and gas firm Santos, Prof Simons said shifting the world's electricity reliance to coal and gas plants equipped with CCS may take so long that devastating levels of climate change would be locked in.

"(CCS) is potentially a dangerous diversion - soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better and more readily applied to achieving a low carbon future.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether ... we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source. We could replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources," Prof Simons said.

The Global CCS Institute said it was considering the US study findings.

A spokesman for the Queensland Government said it didn't know if any of its CCS research partners would be looking at the US findings.

State energy minister Stephen Robertson last week said Queensland had taken the next step to establishing "safe, long-term underground storage of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power stations".

He released a tender for proponents to explore land in central and southwest Queensland that may be suitable for underground storage of CO2.

Mr Robertson said Queensland and Australia would continue to rely on coal as a major source of power generation.



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