Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Hurrah! Trump scrapping NASA climate research division in crackdown on ‘politicized science’
The crooks are going
Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by Nasa as part of a crackdown on “politicized science”, his senior adviser on issues relating to the space agency has said.
Nasa’s Earth science division is set to be stripped of funding in favor of exploration of deep space, with the president-elect having set a goal during the campaign to explore the entire solar system by the end of the century. This would mean the elimination of Nasa’s world-renowned research into temperature, ice, clouds and other climate phenomena.
Nasa’s network of satellites provide a wealth of information on climate change, with the Earth science division’s budget set to grow to $2bn next year. By comparison, space exploration has been scaled back somewhat, with a proposed budget of $2.8bn in 2017.
Bob Walker, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said there was no need for Nasa to do what he has previously described as “politically correct environmental monitoring”. “We see Nasa in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission.
“My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing Nasa programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”
Heavy reliance on other countries for "green" Britain's electricity supply
More than two kilometres down a dark, dank tunnel deep inside a Norwegian mountain, the air is thick with dust and the smell of explosives. A pair of red laser beams pierce the blackness, providing guide marks for a drilling machine to bore a computer-programmed pattern of 30 holes into the rock.
“Once the drilling starts it gets really noisy,” Nigel Williams says. “They go four metres into granite. Think of the power needed to do that. They are massive machines.” The resulting holes will be packed with explosives and then detonated. Three such blasts extend the tunnel by ten metres each day.
It forms a crucial part of National Grid’s key project: to build the world’s longest subsea power cable. Like a giant extension lead, the £1.4 billion, 450-mile North Sea Link interconnector will plug Britain into the Norwegian grid, enabling it to import 1.4 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 750,000 homes. From Blyth in Northumberland, the cable will stretch across the North Sea before winding its way through 60 miles of fjords until the seabed comes to an abrupt halt on the far side of this mountain, 50 miles northeast of Stavanger. The cable will run through the tunnel, now close to completion, and then cross a lake to Kvilldal, home to Norway’s biggest hydroelectric power plant, where it will connect with the grid.
While Britain is facing increasing challenges keeping the lights on as old coal and nuclear plants close and intermittent wind and solar take their place, plants such as Kvilldal mean that Norway’s grid is practically overflowing with cheap and reliable green power.
“From a UK perspective, wind and volatility has picked up and has become a real headache,” Mr Williams, National Grid’s project director for North Sea Link, says. “These interconnectors can provide flexible services to support changes in output very quickly.”
Britain has 4GW of interconnectors, but the government has backed the development of up to a further 9GW. Ofgem, the regulator, offers financial support through a new “cap and floor” system to guarantee domestic developers such as National Grid, which is building the link jointly with Statnett, its Norwegian counterpart, a minimum return.
Critics have questioned whether foreign power imports can be relied upon in a crisis. Even Norway’s usually plentiful hydropower supplies, which mean that its wholesale power prices typically are only half of British levels, can run short and push up prices in a dry year. Thor Anders Nummedal, project director for Statnett, says that any water shortages would hit only in the spring, after the UK’s winter demand peak. In fact, he says, the interconnector will allow Norway to import wind power from Britain when there is surplus. “Then we don’t have to use water and we can store it and use it later,” he says. “Imports from the UK will enable us to avoid price shocks.”
Ensuring that the interconnector is reliable also means going to great lengths to protect it from the kind of damage suffered by one of the UK’s existing interconnectors, which was severed by a ship’s anchor last year. The cable will be laid in 80-mile stretches, reeled off the back of a ship at more than six miles a day. Once each stretch is on the seabed, a robotic machine the size of a tank will crawl along its length at a rate of two metres a minute, blasting water down beneath it with the force of 500 patio jet washers and creating a trench into which the cable can fall.
Work at sea is due to begin from Britain in 2018 and Norway in 2020 — provided that the cable is made in time. Development of new interconnectors and offshore wind farms around Europe mean that there is fierce demand for the specialist cables. About five inches, or 13cm, in diameter, they consist of a copper core wrapped in paper and soaked with oil, then coated in lead, tape, steel and plastic to insulate and protect it. Delays to cable supply, meaning that it cannot be laid in calmer summer weather, represent the biggest risk to the project’s schedule and could increase the cost up to more like £1.8 billion, according to Mr Williams.
If all goes to schedule, the link should start operating in December 2021, in time to make good on Mr Nummedal’s light-hearted promise to “turn on the power and light up the Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square”.
That’s assuming that the cable works to begin with. “Only when you plug in and you turn the voltage up at the converter ends, only then will you test the cable,” Mr Williams says. If there is a fault, most likely at the join between two sections, a remotely operated vehicle will be sent down to sever it and pull the ends up to the surface to be linked afresh. Nobody wants that to happen.
“Do it once, do it well,” Mr Williams says. “You never want to see that cable again.”
Progressing by making connections
Interconnectors represent a small but rapidly growing part of National Grid’s business (Emily Gosden writes). The utility giant already co-owns Britain’s existing subsea power cables linked to France and the Netherlands, but there are more in the pipeline. As well as the new North Sea Link to Norway, it is building the Nemo link to Belgium, is preparing to build an interconnector to Denmark and a second to France.
“It’s our growth area,” Jon Butterworth, head of National Grid’s non-regulated business, says. “We are actively looking at more interconnectors.” Indeed, the company has early plans for a link crossing part of the northern Atlantic to Iceland and is understood to be considering second links to the Netherlands and Norway.
The projects offer the potential for higher returns than the Grid’s core domestic power and gas networks. It could earn up to 8 per cent for the North Sea Link, compared with about 4.5 per cent on most of its regulated business, using Ofgem’s post-tax real project return figures.
However, the expansion has fuelled concerns about a potential conflict of interest between National Grid’s role as system operator, advising the government on keeping the lights on, and its commercial interest in developing interconnectors.
Global warming not happening in China
How often have we heard that extreme weather is a sign of global warming?
In one of the most comprehensive studies on trends in local severe weather patterns to date, an international team of researchers found that the frequency of hail storms, thunderstorms and high wind events has decreased by nearly 50 percent on average throughout China since 1960.
The team analyzed data from the most robust meteorological database known, the Chinese National Meteorology Information Center, a network of 983 weather observatories stationed throughout China's 3.7 million square miles. Meteorologists have been collecting surface weather data through the network since 1951 or earlier, which provided the researchers an unprecedented look at local severe weather occurrences.
"Most of the data published on trends in severe weather has been incomplete or collected for a limited short period," said Fuqing Zhang, professor of meteorology and atmospheric science and director, Center for Advanced Data Assimilation and Predictability Techniques, Penn State. "The record we used is, to the best of our knowledge, the largest, both in time scale and area of land covered."
The team, who report their findings today (Feb. 17) in Scientific Reports, found that the strength of the East Asian Summer Monsoon decreased at a rate strongly correlated to that of severe weather throughout the same time period. The monsoon is an annually recurring, long-term weather phenomenon that brings warm, moist air from the south to China in the summer, and cooler air from the north to China in the winter. A monsoon's strength is measured by calculating the average meridian wind speed in this area.
"We believe that changes in monsoon intensity are affecting severe weather in the area because of the strong correlation we found, but we cannot say the monsoon is the exclusive cause," said Zhang. "A monsoon is one of the major drivers of severe weather because it affects the three necessary 'ingredients' for severe weather, which are wind shear, instability and triggering."
Wind shear is the difference between the wind speed and direction at different altitudes. Because a monsoon brings southerly winds into China, a weaker summer monsoon would decrease the overall low tropospheric wind shear. The weaker monsoons would also bring less warm, moist air from the south—one of the most common sources of instability in the atmosphere. A common triggering mechanism for severe convective weather is lifting by the front, a high temperature gradient across the monsoon, and this would also be reduced in a weaker summer monsoon.
Some studies suggest that climate change may be one of the reasons that the Asian Summer Monsoon weakened. One factor in monsoon formation is the difference between the temperature above land and the temperature above adjacent ocean or sea. A warming climate would affect the difference between these two and, as a result, simulations show that this could continue decreasing the monsoon's strength. However, the team noted that other major changes in the area—such as an increase in industrialization and air pollution in China in the 1980s—might have played a significant role in the region's atmospheric changes and could affect the severe weather.
While a decrease in severe weather might sound beneficial, it may not always be a good thing.
"There are many natural cycles that rely on severe weather and the precipitation it brings," said Qinghong Zhang, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, Peking University, lead author of the study, who conducted this research while on sabbatical at Penn State. "A decrease in storms could potentially lead to an increase in droughts. Also, some theorize that while the frequency of severe weather decreases, their intensity could potentially increase. We cannot say if this is true yet, but it is something we will analyze in the future."
This was the first study in its level of detail because of the amount of data collected by the Chinese National Meteorology Information Center. The study also showed that occurrences of hail remained relatively steady from 1961 through the 1980s before plummeting.
"The frequency of thunderstorms and high winds decreased gradually over the time period we studied, but not hail," said Qinghong Zhang. "This is something we don't fully understand at this point but plan to investigate more."
Global warming: Be fair to both sides
The public is vastly misinformed on the global warming/climate change issue, because of the utter one-sidedness of the media's coverage. I know doom and gloom sells, but whipping up hysteria with headlines about rising seas, melting glaciers and climbing temperatures is irresponsible and dangerous. 1970s headlines threatened a new ice age, 1980s headlines warned us of population growth that would lead to global starvation, and now we are told we'll burn to death because of carbon-dioxide emissions.
To present the debate fairly, first the two protagonists must be identified. They are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control and the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Control. The IPCC is a branch of the United Nations. It is not a scientific panel. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, its former chairman, explains: "We are an intergovernmental body, and we do what the governments of the world want us to do. If the governments decide we should do things differently and come up with a vastly different set of products, we would be at their beck and call." Another U.N. climate official, Ottmar Edenhofer, stated that the goal of environmental policy is to "redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy."
The NIPCC is a group of nongovernment scientists. According to its website, the NIPCC "seeks to objectively analyze and interpret data and facts without conforming to any specific agenda." The NIPCC is funded by special interests specifically to counter the claims coming from the IPCC. I am not insinuating that either one of these groups is right or wrong, but rather that the media should inform the public of the players.
Second, presenting the debate in an antagonistic manner ignores the fact that there is common ground and scientific agreement between some of the players on the two sides. Both state that the climate has always changed and always will. They agree that there was a "pause" in global warming from 1998 to 2015. It is also agreed that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the accumulation of which warms the lower atmosphere. And there's consensus that the Industrial Revolution produced a new source of carbon-dioxide emissions. They also agree that a temperature increase of about 0.7 degrees centigrade may (my emphasis) have occurred in the 20th century.
The ongoing debate is fueled by science issues. The most contentious is exactly how much the industrial (read human) carbon-dioxide emissions contribute or will contribute to warming. There is also debate as to whether humans have caused any dangerous warming for the past 50 or so years. And finally there is considerable doubt as to whether the various computer models used by the IPCC can accurately predict the climate 100 years from today.
Use these suggestions as a basis for fair and honest coverage. This is a political debate and should be presented as such. If you have an opinion about global warming, remain flexible, because the science is most certainly not settled.
Australia: Coal proves its worth while the Left tilts at windmills
[Former Leftist leader] Kevin Rudd breezed into the Sky News studio in Canberra last week to decry the lack of “deep, strong, committed national leadership” since the electorate’s foolish decision to turf him out of office.
It was “nuts” to remove the carbon tax, he said. “Where we are now can be summed up in three words: dumb, dumb, dumb.”
Australia’s energy market could be dumber still if Labor wins office and pursues its vanity target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. The plight of South Australia, the canary in the turbine blades, demonstrates what happens when an economy becomes hostage to unreliable sources of power.
Yet Rudd was unapologetic. Coal? Don’t get him started. “The message for coal, long-term globally, is down and out,” he informed us. We need “a heavy mix of renewables”, which was why he was proud that the government had introduced the renewable energy target.
In the real world, the one outside Rudd’s brain, the RET is nothing to be proud of. It is one of the most expensive public policy disasters of the century, market intervention on a massive scale with unfair and unintended consequences that will haunt Australians for decades.
Rudd, determined to tackle the era’s “greatest moral challenge”, upped the target by more than 450 per cent in an uncosted promise before the 2007 election.
It was crazy, as the Productivity Commission politely tried to tell him in a 2008 submission. The target would not increase abatement but would impose extra costs and lead to higher electricity prices, the commission warned.
It would favour existing technologies — namely wind and solar — while holding back new ideas that might ultimately be more successful.
Rudd, of course, knew better. Not for the last time, he ignored the Productivity Commission and pushed ahead with his renewable target of 45,000GWh by 2020, of which 41,000GWh would come from large-scale wind and solar.
If the policy was designed to punish Australian consumers, it was a roaring success. Household electricity bills increased by 92 per cent under the Rudd-Gillard governments, six times the level of inflation.
Rudd went further, spending $4.15 billion on dubious clean energy boondoggles. He put $1.6bn into solar technologies, delivered $465 million to establish the research institute Renewables Australia, gave $480m to the National Solar Schools Program to give schools “a head start in tackling climate change and conserving our precious water supplies”. Easy come, easy go; the money tree seemed ripe for picking.
The cost of meeting Rudd’s windmill and solar fetish has been extraordinary. Wind-generated power is roughly three-times more expensive than traditional energy, and large-scale solar even pricier.
It has taken cross-subsidies of $22bn to keep renewables viable, according to a 2014 review for the federal government. The economy-wide cost was put at $29bn.
It amounts to industry welfare on steroids. Corporations that jumped on the clean energy gravy train have benefited from assistance on a far greater scale than that we once lavished on the car industry.
Wind farm operators work in splendid isolation from the risk and uncertainty that trouble ordinary businesses. Their share price is not driven by supply and demand for electricity, but by the funny-money world of large-scale generation certificates.
When the LGC spot price shot up from $52 in July 2015 to $86, the value of Infigen’s stock quadrupled.
Coal energy producers, on the other hand, saw their fortunes decline. The Alinta power station closed at Port Augusta in May last year, ground down by operating losses of about $100m.
The result of Labor’s ill-considered RET policy should shame the social justice party into silence. Shareholders in the likes of Infigen have grown rich by squeezing coal operators out of business with all that entails: the loss of 440 jobs at Port Augusta, for example, and the threat the closure presents to jobs in other South Australian industries.
They have grown rich through a scheme that has made the electricity grid more unstable and reduced the reliability of supply.
They have grown rich through a scheme that has more than doubled the cost of running an airconditioner, a detail that probably won’t trouble Infigen’s executives on the 22nd floor of their five-star energy-rated Pitt Street, Sydney, headquarters but would make life uncomfortable for a pensioner surviving on $437 a week in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
On paper, the case for abolishing the RET is strong. Deloitte’s estimates the reduction in electricity prices would add $28.8bn to GDP by 2030 and create 50,000 jobs.
The politics of liberalising the energy market would be punishing, however, and all but impossible to negotiate through the Senate.
The status quo — a 23.5 per cent renewable target by 2020 — will require doubling the capacity of wind and solar and will further erode the viability of coal plants. The doubling of energy future prices that followed the announcement of the closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood power station is a sign of things to come.
Rudd’s claim that coal is “down and out” will come as news to the Japanese government, which is planning up to 47 coal-fired, high-energy, low-emissions plants burning high-quality Australian black coal.
It would be viable in Australia, too, if energy providers enjoyed a free market. With gas prices high, ultra-supercritical coal generation would fill the demand for base-load power.
Yet the uncertainty of Labor’s greener-than-thou policies — not just a 50 per cent RET but a price on carbon, too — could yet make the end of coal a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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.
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Posted by JR at 1:32 AM