Sunday, January 17, 2016

Are high CO2 levels preventing a new ice age?

That is what the article abstracted below finds from their modelling.  You can read here the amusing gyrations the authors and other Warmists go through in order to claim that we should still worry about global warming. But it follows that if we DID cut CO2 levels drastically that would bring on an ice age.  How does the precautionary principle handle that?

What their modelling told them was that we just missed the beginning of a new ice age a couple of hundred years ago  -- which is plausible.  The current intergalcial is already rather long compared to previous interglacials.  And they attribute that near miss to levels of CO2 that were unusually high at that time.  But note: The levels at that stage were NATURAL.  The near miss was before there was any significant industrial civilization.  So the claim that CO2 levels in recent times can be naturally high must rattle a few cages.  Perhaps your SUV is NOT responsible for the present high levels of CO2!

But how good are their models?  They claim to have backcast fairly well but that is a slender reed to lean on. A lot of nicely backcasting models have made a real hash of predicting our present temperature.

The big faults I see in their models are that they accept two conventional views:  That the climate sensitivity to CO2 is substantial and that the long term Holocene atmospheric CO2 level was 280ppm.  And model outcomes are of course very sensitive to the parameters used.  So if either of those assumptions is wrong, all the model outcomes are wrong too.

And skeptics do of course challenge the first assumption -- so if we are right, Schellnhuber & co are wrong.  But let's be charitable and give the repulsive Schellnhuber his preferred sensitivity figure.

Papal adviser Schellnhuber

That brings us to the second assumption -- which is probably wrong too.  Measuring the deep past through ice cores is a very shaky enterprise, which almost certainly takes insufficient  account of compression effects.  The apparently stable CO2 level of 280ppm could in fact be entirely an artifact of compression at the deeper levels of the ice cores.  Dr Zbigniew Jaworowski's criticisms of the assumed reliability of ice core measurements are of course well known.  And he studied them for over 30 years.

So in the end I think this study is a fairly improbable bit of speculation.  Fun though!

Critical insolation–CO2 relation for diagnosing past and future glacial inception

A. Ganopolski, R. Winkelmann & H. J. Schellnhuber

The past rapid growth of Northern Hemisphere continental ice sheets, which terminated warm and stable climate periods, is generally attributed to reduced summer insolation in boreal latitudes1, 2, 3. Yet such summer insolation is near to its minimum at present4, and there are no signs of a new ice age5. This challenges our understanding of the mechanisms driving glacial cycles and our ability to predict the next glacial inception6. Here we propose a critical functional relationship between boreal summer insolation and global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, which explains the beginning of the past eight glacial cycles and might anticipate future periods of glacial inception. Using an ensemble of simulations generated by an Earth system model of intermediate complexity constrained by palaeoclimatic data, we suggest that glacial inception was narrowly missed before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The missed inception can be accounted for by the combined effect of relatively high late-Holocene CO2 concentrations and the low orbital eccentricity of the Earth7. Additionally, our analysis suggests that even in the absence of human perturbations no substantial build-up of ice sheets would occur within the next several thousand years and that the current interglacial would probably last for another 50,000 years. However, moderate anthropogenic cumulative CO2 emissions of 1,000 to 1,500 gigatonnes of carbon will postpone the next glacial inception by at least 100,000 years8, 9. Our simulations demonstrate that under natural conditions alone the Earth system would be expected to remain in the present delicately balanced interglacial climate state, steering clear of both large-scale glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere and its complete deglaciation, for an unusually long time.

Nature 529, 200–203 (14 January 2016) doi:10.1038/nature16494

A crime justified by climate change? Activists caught in legal showdown

Do Green/Left beliefs justify you in doing anything you like?

A jury in Washington state is hearing evidence on whether the threat of climate change is a justifiable defense for criminal acts, the first time such a defense has been allowed in an American court.

On Thursday, in a tiny municipal courtroom amid the strip malls and ranch houses of this suburban community north of Seattle, defense attorneys for five climate activists will call the final witnesses in their "Hail Mary pass" that has set up a historic legal showdown.

The five activists – Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew, Elizabeth Spoerri and Abigail Brockway – face misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and obstructing a train for a September 2014 protest. The group erected an 18ft metal tripod over railway tracks in Everett, Washington, in order to block train shipments of crude oil and coal.

The defendants – who have been dubbed the "Delta Five" by their supporters – admit they knowingly broke the law in stopping the train. Their unique legal argument, known as a "necessity defense", is that their actions were a moral imperative because not breaking the law would result in catastrophic harm to the planet.

Though the necessity defense was used successfully by climate change activists in England in 2008, it has yet to be allowed and tested in a trial in the United States.

That changed last Thursday when Snohomish County judge Anthony E Howard reversed his own ruling to permit the activists’ lawyers to present the necessity defense after hearing oral arguments from MJ McCallum and Evelyn Chuang.

Arguing for the necessity defense was a "Hail Mary pass", said McCallum, and one that, improbably, met its mark.

Whether the jury is allowed to consider that evidence in their deliberations remains uncertain. After the defense testimony concludes on Thursday, the judge will determine how to instruct the jury. It’s then that he will decide whether he’s heard a strong enough case to allow the six-member jury to take the threat of climate change into account in rendering their verdict.

Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, sheriff’s deputies pushed through the narrow corridor, escorting handcuffed men in variations on the Pacific north-west uniform of jeans, flannel, and rain gear, past the crowd of supporters, journalists, and documentary film-makers jockeying for seats inside.

Inside the courtroom, the counsel table in Judge Howard’s six-sided courtroom was excessively crowded with five defendants, four defense attorneys, and prosecutor Adam Sturdivant, who was pushed to the far left end with little space to rest his yellow legal pad and copies of the 2016 Washington Court Rules and Courtroom Handbook on Washington Evidence.

It’s an apt metaphor for the trial itself, in which the everyday machinery of the municipal criminal justice system has been shoved aside for loftier arguments about justice and democracy.

Having opened the door to testimony from climate scientists, Judge Howard also appeared inclined to allow expansive testimony from the defendants. He has permitted each defendant to testify to their personal history as activists, mapping their development from idealistic voters to frustrated believers in the necessity of civil disobedience.

"It felt like projects were being rubber-stamped no matter what we did," Brockway said of her years spent writing letters to officials and testifying at hearings on environmental issues. "Before I switched to direct action, I felt I worked within the system as much as I could."

That the defendants exhausted all the legal means of political persuasion available to US citizens in order to achieve their goals is a key factor of the necessity defense, McCallum explained. The defendants must show that they reasonably believed their actions were necessary, that the harm they sought to prevent was greater than the harm of breaking the law, that they didn’t create the laws they broke, and that they had no reasonable legal alternative.

By eliciting testimony that the activists had no reasonable legal alternative to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change, the defense team is building a depressing but compelling argument against the efficacy of American democracy and government.

"The reality of climate urgency will force judges and juries to rethink what is ‘reasonable’, because the process of law is so slow," said Mary Wood, a professor of environmental law at the University of Oregon. "As scientists urge immediate action to slash carbon emissions, many drawn-out political and legal processes that may have been ‘reasonable’ to pursue two decades ago now extend beyond the short window of time left available to act."

In the face of these lofty arguments, the prosecutor was stuck on the defensive. In the cross examination, Sturdivant (who declined to speak with the Guardian) asked Gammon whether there was any scientific evidence that illegal protest was more effective than legal protest and asked Brockway whether her arrest had succeeded in drawing a response from Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee. Both Gammon and Brockway answered no.

As for Millar, who testified at length to the threat of trains carrying crude oil that are "too long, too heavy, and going too fast", Sturdivant had no questions at all.

Tim DeChristopher, a 34-year-old climate activist and the closest thing the Snohomish County south district court has had to a celebrity this week, views this trial as "the culmination of seven years of his life". When DeChristopher enters into a conversation, other activists drift in his direction, just to listen to what he is saying.

Standing outside the court room during a lunch recess, DeChristopher recalls reading about the successful necessity defense in England. In 2008, a jury acquitted six Greenpeace protesters who argued their occupation and damage to a Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent was justified by the threat of climate change.

Inspired by that case, DeChristopher decided to test his own luck. In December 2008, he infiltrated a Bureau of Land Management auction, bidding on and winning the right to drill on land with no intention of following through with the $1.8m payment. But a judge refused to allow DeChristopher to mount a necessity defense. He was found guilty of defrauding the government in 2011 and eventually served 21 months in jail.

In 2013, DeChristopher helped organize another protest designed to test the necessity defense – this time with two activists using their lobster boat to block the delivery of coal to a New England power plant. The judge in the case decided to allow the defense, but at the last minute, the prosecutor decided to drop the charges, stating that he agreed with the defendants and could not argue against the urgency of climate change.

DeChristopher says that the Delta Five train protest was designed to bring about a trial such as this one, and he hopes the third time is the charm. He compares the climate movement’s legal strategy to the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements.

"The legal structure was not designed to address the rights of those people," he says, until it was forced to change through acts of civil disobedience. "I believe we’re in the same situation. Our legal system was not designed to protect the rights of future generations."


EPA violated federal law with covert propaganda

As the EPA was considering the “Waters of the U.S.” regulation, the agency engaged in a pattern of advocacy that encouraged the public to lobby on it, violating prohibitions passed by Congress. This is the conclusion from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in an opinion dated December 14, 2015.

The GAO was asked whether these activities violated the prohibitions on propaganda that exist in federal law. The GAO concluded that in at least one instance, the answer is yes. That instance involved the use of Thunderclap by the EPA to push its narrative on the regulation.  As noted in the opinion, “Here, because EPA created a Thunderclap message that did not identify EPA as the author to those who would read it when Thunderclap shared the message across social media accounts, we consider whether the EPA’s use of Thunderclap constituted covert propaganda.”

Apparently the EPA was so desperate to move public opinion in favor of its controversial regulation that it hid its identity in order to make it look like these communications were not organized from the top down, but were rather an organic grass roots uprising.

The opinion states further, “EPA constructed a message to be shared by others that refers to the EPA in the third person and advocates support of the Agency’s activities.” These messages apparently reached 1.8 million users.

The EPA certainly knew what it was doing, after all, it was the communications director for the Office of Water that engaged in many of these activities. The EPA’s activities encouraged the public to engage in lobbying activities. As noted by the opinion, “When EPA hyperlinked to the NRDC and Surfrider Foundation webpages using an official communication channel belonging to the EPA and visually encouraged its readers to visit these external websites, EPA associated itself with the messages conveyed by these self-described action groups.”

In general, an attempt by a federal agency to convince the public to engage in lobbying is an activity that is prohibited by law. Thus, the conclusion from the GAO stating, “We conclude that EPA violated the anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts for FY2015 when it obligated and expended funds in connection with establishing the hyperlinks to the webpages of environmental action groups.”

Additionally, because the EPA violated the appropriations laws, a violation of the Antideficiency Act occurred as well. As noted by the opinion, “Because EPA obligated and expended appropriated funds in violation of specific prohibitions, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A), as the agency’s appropriations were not available for these prohibited purposes.”

Such violations of the Antideficiency Act require a report which is provided to the President, Congress, and the Comptroller General. It remains to be seen whether the EPA will file this report and come clean on its activities in this area.

In order to further inform the public regarding the EPA’s activities in this area, Americans for Limited Government Foundation has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the EPA. The request seeks copies of communications between the EPA’s Office of Water and the NRDC and Surfrider Foundation. Based on previous FOIA work from our office we know that the EPA does frequently coordinate with outside environmental groups and has a very chummy relationship with many of them. We will provide an update on this issue in the future, and will work to bring more of these situations to light so that the public can know how their government is attempting to shape the debate, both before them and before Congress, on environmental issues.


Britain's great green rubbish farce: Hundreds of thousands of tons of recycling is burned or buried after being carefully sorted by homeowners

Hundreds of thousands of tons of recycling carefully sorted by homeowners is just being burned or dumped in a landfill.

The amount of waste which was buried in the ground or incinerated after being painstakingly divided between bins has nearly doubled over the past three years.

Figures have revealed that last year some councils rejected up to one in five recycling bins on the grounds that they had not been properly sorted.

Officials claim that despite the best efforts of the public, the recycling is ‘contaminated’ with unwanted items – and insist it is cheaper to bury the rubbish rather than filter them out.

A whole lorry’s worth of contents can be turned around at the gates of a re-processing plant because it contains scraps of food waste, plastic or fabric.

The figures, which were revealed by a Freedom of Information request carried out for the Daily Mail, show thousands of hours spent laboriously sorting rubbish into numerous bins are wasted every year.

In 2012 some 184,000 metric tons of recycling were thrown away. However last year that figure hit 338,000 – an increase of 84 per cent.

The local authorities with the worst records for rejected recycling are the London boroughs of Newham, and Hammersmith and Fulham.

The two councils see 20 bins of recycled waste rejected for every 100 that get accepted.

Outside the capital Manchester City Council has the poorest record – turning away 18 bins for every 100 that are recycled.

Yesterday Peter Box, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, issued a defiant statement, saying: ‘If recycling becomes contaminated then it has to be sent to landfill. Allowing councils to identify and work with people who misunderstand or make mistakes when sorting their rubbish is important.

‘As a last resort, councils also need effective, proportionate powers to take action against households or businesses which persistently or wilfully damage the local environment.’

Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Most people are happy to do their bit for the environment and separate their waste for recycling, but if councils are simply burying it all in landfill anyway then taxpayers will ask exactly what the point is. The frequency of bin collections has been on the decline as councils have asked residents to do more, but there hasn’t been a concomitant cut in council tax.

‘Waste collection is one of the most important and visible services that councils provide so they must do more to ensure that taxpayers get value for money.’

Critics believe that recycling systems with too many bins leave many residents confused about which items are meant to go in each different bin, creating what has become known as ‘green fatigue’.

Newham Council currently requires residents to put paper, cardboard, tins, cans and plastic bottles into a recycling bin.

And in Hammersmith and Fulham, a single ‘smart sack’ is handed out for recycling paper, glass, metal and plastic as well as cardboard.

However Manchester City Council forces time-pressed homeowners to organise their recycling into three different bins – separating food and garden waste from discarded paper and plastic.

Yesterday a Newham Council spokesman said: ‘We are working to improve the quality of the recycling we collect and reduce the amount lost because of contamination.

‘We have an extensive and ongoing resident awareness campaign involving door knocking, leafleting, and information in council publications and online. We work with schools to create an understanding of why it is important to recycle and doing it properly.’

Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Manchester City Council did not respond to a request for comment.


Obama announces moratorium on new federal coal leases

The Obama administration on Friday ordered a moratorium on new leases for coal mined from federal lands as part of a sweeping review of the government’s management of vast amounts of taxpayer-owned coal throughout the West.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the temporary halt, saying it was time for a re-examination of the decades-old coal-leasing program, from health and environmental impacts to whether U.S. citizens are getting a fair return for the hundreds of millions of tons of government-owned coal that are mined and sold each year.

“It is abundantly clear that times are different in the energy sector now than they were 30 years ago, and we must undertake a review and that’s what we need to do as  responsible stewards of the nation’s assets,” Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. “That was a time, 30 years ago, when our nation had very different priorities and needs. The result was a federal coal program designed to get as much coal out of the ground as possible, and in many ways that’s the program that we’ve been operating ever since.”

The announcement, initially reported late Thursday, comes three days after President Obama hinted of coming reforms to federal energy policy in his State of the Union address.

The decision was cheered by environmentalists but denounced by industry groups and politicians from Western states, where federal coal leases provide thousands of jobs as well as revenue for state and local government coffers. Obama administration officials have been debating such a change for years, saying current practices contribute to a glaring contradiction in U.S. energy policy, which simultaneously promotes the sale of federally owned coal even as it seeks to limit greenhouse-gas pollution from coal burning.

Interior Department officials said the review would take the form of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which allows a broader look at all aspects of federal coal leasing across regions and can incorporate environmental and health impacts as well as financial ones. The last review on this scale occurred in the 1980s.

U.S. officials say the moves will not immediately affect production or jobs, as current federal leases produce enough coal to supply the country’s needs for 20 years.  Jewell said exceptions to the new-lease moratorium could be granted to ensure adequate production of metallurgical coal used in steel production, or to allow small modifications to existing leases.

“We’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs,” Jewell said. “We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies.”

Peabody Energy spokeswoman Kelley Wright said in an email that the decision will not deliver a serious blow to the company, but was still misguided.

“Thanks to Peabody’s investments over time, we have more than 20 years of production through our superior Powder River Basin coal reserve position, representing long-term security of supply and a competitive strength,” she said. “Nonetheless, the Administration’s actions represent poor policy and a flawed way to accomplish carbon goals. The way to a lower-carbon future is through technology, not by attempting to deprive Americans of the low cost reliable electricity that coal represents.”

Hundreds of millions of tons of federally owned coal are mined by private companies each year under laws requiring the federal government to seek maximum benefit for resources on public lands. Environmental groups and some independent analysts have long argued that taxpayers are under-compensated for coal extracted from vast mines on federally owned land across the West, and that prices do not reflect societal costs from pollution from coal-burning.

In his speech on Tuesday, Obama argued for decreasing reliance on fossil fuels as part of the larger effort to fight the causes of climate change. He said the administration would “push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.” The administration has supported policies that have led to rapid growth of solar and wind energy, which are now cost-competitive with coal and other fossil fuels in some parts of the country. Nationally, more people now work in the solar industry than in coal mines.

But several business associations immediately attacked the move, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce decried as a “foolish crusade.”

“Another day, another front on the war on coal from this administration,” said Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. “At this point, it is obvious that the President and his administration won’t be satisfied until coal is completely eradicated from our energy mix.”

A number of key Congressional Republicans also criticized the decision, saying it would weaken the economy and harm workers in coal states.

“We should be putting our nation on the path of continued energy strength, not undermining our energy security,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. “Unfortunately the president’s bid to solidify his legacy with the extreme left will come at the expense of America’s energy needs and will make the lives of people more expensive and more uncomfortable.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed to fight the administration’s plans to keep more of the nation’s coal underground. “Coal on federal land belongs to all Americans, but the president is denying people access to their own abundant, low-cost energy source.”

But environmental groups and a number of independent analysts said the reforms were long overdue, and would benefit Americans in the long run.

“This is a major shift that helps modernize the federal coal program,” said Jayni Hein, policy director at the Institute for Policy Integrity. “This planning process will disclose the environmental and social impacts of coal leasing, which are extensive.”

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in an interview that the decision represented a fundamental shift in how the federal government had begun to operate, by curbing the supply of fossil fuels available for burning rather than just working to reduce overall demand. He noted that when Obama rejected the cross-border permit application to build the Keystone XL pipeline late last year, the president specifically said that part of his reasoning stemmed from the fact that governments have got to keep some of the world’s remaining fossil fuels locked in the ground.

“If Keystone was the kickoff, then this was a 50-yard downfield pass that helps us score a touchdown,” Brune said. “For years we’ve been arguing we need to combine action on our tailpipes and smokestacks with a supply-side strategy to keep dirty fuels in the ground, and in the last few months we’ve made tremendous progress.”

Mining companies currently pay a 12.5 percent royalty rate for coal taken from surface mines, compared to an 18.75 percent royalty for oil and gas from offshore drilling. Coal companies say the actual rates paid to the government are much higher because of bonuses and other fees paid through lease agreements.

Most of the coal mined from federal lands is used in U.S. electricity generation, though some is sold overseas. Government-owned coal harvested in the Powder River basin–the country’s biggest coal-producing region, straddling Wyoming and Montana–accounts for about 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study last year by the Center for American Progress and the Wilderness Society.

“The federal coal program is frozen in time in the 1980s,” said David Hayes, a former Interior Department deputy secretary and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “The current rules, which were written when you could still smoke on airplanes and dump sewage in the ocean, neither deliver a fair return to taxpayers nor account for the pollution costs that result from coal mining.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who ordered the first Government Accountability Office report on the program in the early 1980s, which led to the resignation of then-Interior Secretary James Watt, said it took multiple factors to finally get the administration to overhaul the leasing system.

“It’s been on autopilot for decades, and we’ve finally been able to find the combination of taxpayers getting shortchanged with impacts on climate to finally break through to have a set of solutions be put in place,” he said in an interview.


Capacity Factors And Coffee Shops: A Beginner's Guide To Understanding The Challenges Facing Wind Farms

Geoff Russell, a rational Australian Greenie, uses the numbers to show at length below what an absurdity wind farms are.  He shows that there is no way they can be the mainstay of an electricity supply.  He favours nukes as a carbon-free power supply

It's still `all about the baseload', writes Geoff Russell, in this simple guide to understanding the limitations of energy sources like wind farms.

Renewable-only advocates claim that we can build a reliable, clean electricity system using mostly unreliable sources; like wind and solar power. And of course we can; the theory is simple, just build enough of them.

Coffee shops operate rather like our current electricity system; there are a few permanent staff who are analogous to what are called baseload power stations. Additional staff are hired to cover the busy period(s) and correspond typically to gas fired generators.

The renewable alternative is like running a coffee shop with a crew of footloose narcoleptics who arrive if and when they feel like it and who can nod off with little notice. Would this work? Of course; just hire enough of them.

Any criticisms of renewable plans is typically subjected to execution by slogan: That's soooo last millennium; baseload is a myth!

I've used something like this coffee shop analogy elsewhere, but it doesn't capture other critical features of electricity sources . let's begin with the capacity factor.

Capacity factor

When someone talks about a "100 megawatt" wind farm, this refers to its maximum power output when the wind is blowing hard. Energy is power multiplied by time, so if it's windy for 24 hours you'll get 24 x 100 = 2400 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electrical energy. But actual output over the course of a year is obviously only a percentage of the maximum possible and that percentage is measured and called the capacity factor; typically about 33 percent for wind.

A rooftop solar system is also labelled according to its maximum output and also has a capacity factor. averaging 14 percent in Australia but only 9 or 10 percent in the UK or Germany.

Nuclear plants also have capacity factors because they usually need to be taken off line every year or two for refuelling. Typical percentages are 90 in the US and 96 in South Korea.

You can't compare electricity sources without understanding capacity factors. Since the capacity factor of a nuclear plant is about 90 percent and that of rooftop solar is about 14 percent and because 90/14 = 6.429, then you'd need to install 9,000 megawatts worth of solar panels to match the amount of electricity you'd get from a 1400 megawatt South Korean APR1400 nuclear reactor over a year (6.429 x 1400 = 9,000).

Which is more than double the 4041 megawatts installed in Australia between 2007 and the end of 2014.

Matching supply and demand

But 9,000 megawatts of solar panels is still very different to 1,400 megawatts of nuclear, even if both produce the same amount of electricity annually. With 9,000 megawatts of PV panels, you don't control the output and on any day it will range from nothing at night through to 9,000 megawatts if it's hot, cloudless and the right time of day.

In contrast, 1,400 megawatts of nuclear power can be adjusted to match demand; turn it down, turn it up.

Below is a picture of the output of some German nuclear plants. Note that the output of one plant, KKI 1 (Isar), is pretty constant. That plant began operation in 1979, which is about the vintage of the seemingly immortal but obviously false anti-nuclear claim that nuclear plants can't follow load; see Margaret Beavis's recent NM article for a 2015 misstatement.

Brokdorf, on the other hand, is a little newer and has been operating since 1986 and has no trouble ramping up and down. Not only can most nuclear plants load-follow (this is the technical term), it's increasingly necessary in Germany because of the growth of wind and solar; it's a thankless task but somebody has to do it!

Now you understand why it's silly to do what non-technical journalists like Bernard Keane have done, and compare costs per kilowatt of solar with those of nuclear without understanding the capacity factor; let alone grid costs or load-following.

But the capacity factor is also important for another deeper reason and it will take us back to that coffee shop.

First, imagine a small city with a constant electrical demand of 1,000 megawatts and a wind farm supplying, on average, 333 megawatts. Assume the rest is supplied by gas. Given the capacity factor of wind, we can infer that the peak output of that wind farm is about 1,000 megawatts.

What happens to excess electricity?

Now consider what happens if you triple the size of your wind farm.  Since you now have (a maximum of) 3,000 megawatts of wind power, you'll be averaging 0.33 x 3,000 x 24 megawatt-hours (of energy) per day; which is 100 percent of demand; excellent.

But what happens when it's really windy? The output is then triple the demand; so, without storage, that electricity gets dumped.

Dumping electricity on your neighbours isn't a nice thing to do if they don't need it at the time.

Wind farms, like any low capacity factor unreliable electricity source, are fine when they are a small contributor to a large grid, but not so fine when their surges are large relative to the demand on the grid; then they become a veritable bull in a china shop.

How does this look in coffee shop terms? If you run your coffee shop with a large bunch of narcoleptic staff, then some of the time they'll all be awake and rearing to go, but there'll be few customers and your staff will be twiddling their thumbs at best and getting in each others way at worst.

But perhaps the analogy is broken? Instead of a single wind farm, we could have multiple farms spread over a huge area and interconnected so that the wind must surely even out; never blowing hard (nor totally calm) at all sites. Certainly this sounds plausible. but what actually happens?

John Morgan looked at the Australian data on wind power in an article a couple of months ago on

In the 12 months to September 2015, Australia had 3,753 megawatts of wind power across the National Electricity Market (which excludes WA which isn't connected) and the daily average output ranged from 2.7 percent (101 megawatts for 24 hours) to 86 percent (3,227 megawatts for 24 hours).

This isn't so different from what would happen with a single 3,753 megawatt wind farm. So despite expectations, there were times when it was pretty windy almost everywhere and other times, including runs of multiple days, when it was pretty damn still almost everywhere.

The overall capacity factor was measured at 29 percent. So despite expectations, many wind farms, even in a big country like Australia, aren't that much different to one very big one. And you really do have to worry about being becalmed.

I argued in my last New Matilda article that wasting battery capacity papering over the deficiencies of wind and solar will reduce our ability to solve our clean transportation problems.

Copper plates and real networks

Clearly if many wind farms are intended to even out supply, then they need to be interconnected.

A study commonly cited in Australia supporting the feasibility of a 100 percent renewable system is that of Elliston, Diesendorf and MacGill.

One assumption of that study was that electricity can flow freely from where-ever it is generated to where-ever it is needed.

This is called the "copper plate" assumption; it assumes the continent is just one massive copper plate conducting electricity everywhere at high speed.

But real interconnectors have to be built, and how much connectivity do low capacity factor sources need? A European study found that the grid capacity to transfer electricity under a 100 percent renewable scenario needs to be ramped up by between 5.7 and 11.5 times; depending on the quality of service required.

The "flow freely" assumption occupied just one sentence of the Australian study but conceals a wealth of problems and complexity. The EU goal is that member countries provide interconnection capacity equal to just 10 percent of installed capacity. by 2020.

The need for extra national interconnections is mirrored internally within the larger countries by the need for extra internal interconnections. In Germany this is being implemented under the Power Grid Expansion Act (EnLAG) involving 3,800 kilometers of new extra-high voltage lines.

These lines aren't being built without protest. The path of least resistance will be wildlife habitat; to avoid concerns both real and imagined over reducing property prices and health risks.

To extend the coffee shop analogy to cover distributed wind farms, we move from a single shop to a WindyBucks Chain of shops spread over the country.

The European study implies that making this work will require not just extra staff but a fleet of lightening fast taxis to shunt the staff around from shop to shop. This is so that when we have too many baristas in Cairns, we can shunt them down to cover for those having a kip in Hobart.

Again, the theory is simple; just add another layer of duct tape until it holds together.

Markets, profits and planning

There's one not so obvious way in which the coffee shop analogy breaks down. Coffee shop staff get paid by the hour, not by the number of coffees they make; but users of electricity pay for what they use, not for what is generated.

Does anybody want to pay 10 times the going rate for a coffee just because there happen to be 10 grinning baristas twiddling their thumbs behind the Espresso machine?

If not, then consider what happens to electricity prices during our imagined tripling of wind capacity. Remember, we started by assuming wind provided about 30 percent of electrical energy, so when we triple the number of farms and the wind is blowing pretty strongly everywhere, they'll be generating about triple what we want.

In a free electricity market where suppliers bid for electricity, the price will dive. So while it's very profitable to build a wind farm when total wind energy is less than the capacity factor, it soon becomes very unprofitable because nobody wants your product; you also create a mess that somebody has to clean up by building extra grid magic to handle power surges.

Why didn't people see this coming a decade ago? Probably somebody did, but they were "Sooo last millennium"!

This article has tried to explain as non-technically as possible some of the problems that arise as penetration rates of intermittent electricity sources rise. I've used wind as a concrete example, but the same problems occur with any low capacity factor sources.

It may help people understand why Germany is burning half of her forestry output for electricity to provide some level of baseload power amid the renewable chaos. She could be, and should be, maximally expanding forests to draw down carbon, but instead, her logging and fuel crop industries are booming.

But the German use of baseload biomass to paper over renewable deficiencies isn't just a love of lumberjacks and hatred for wildlife - when AEMO (Australian Electricity Market Operator) reported in 2013 on the feasibility of 100 percent renewable electricity, both her scenarios were "Sooo Last Millenium" and postulated a baseload system underneath the wind and solar components; either biomass (Log, Slash, Truck and Burn) like the Germans, or geothermal (ironically driven by heat from radioactive decay within the earth).

Technical readers should consult John Morgan's articles a and b in addition to the various papers and studies he mentions.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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