Thursday, November 30, 2017

Why solar and wind won’t make much difference to carbon dioxide emissions

The Simple Physics of Energy Use

We all like the convenience of electrical energy. It lights our home and offices, and drives motors that are needed in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that keep us comfortable no matter what the temperature is outside. It’s essential for refrigeration that secures our food supply. In short, it makes modern life with all its comfort and conveniences possible.

However, most electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, leading to carbon dioxide emissions that could be responsible for climate change. In many circles there is a comforting belief that renewables such as solar and wind can replace fossil fuel electrical generation and leave us free to live as we do without carbon dioxide emissions. Fundamental physics and engineering considerations show that this is not so.

Power needs fluctuate with time of the day and, to a lesser extent, day of the week. In most places, peaks occur in the evening when people come home, start cooking, and turn on lights and entertainment systems. In Arizona in summer, the peaks are even more extreme due to the air conditioners all cutting in. There are also morning peaks, as people get up and turn on lights and hair dryers. Commercial and industrial use generally doesn’t change much throughout the day. The electrical utilities call this a baseload.

The wicked capitalist-monopoly electric utilities have spoiled us; we’ve gotten used to the idea that we can turn on the lights at night and run an electrical appliance at any time we want. Since electrical energy cannot be stored in sufficient quantities, the utilities are always continuously matching supply and demand. Power generation systems that take a long time to ramp up or down, like nuclear or coal, are left running continuously and used to meet baseload demand. Fast response turbines using natural gas are typically used to match peaks.

Solar and wind present two problems. One is low power density; massive areas have to be devoted to power generation. The other, more serious problem is intermittency. If we only wanted to run electrical appliances when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, fine, but don’t expect to use solar to turn on your light at night! So solar and wind cannot manage on their own; it’s always solar or wind AND something else. It’s hard to make it all work. They need either extensive storage or to be used in combination with gas turbines.

Batteries are also not a solution. In principle, I could run my house in Arizona on solar energy because almost every day is sunny. However, I would need a battery as big as the one in the Tesla S, about eight times the size of the Powerwall marketed for homes, and it would have to be replaced every three years. As Elon Musk said “Batteries suck.”

On a large scale, the only practical solution is pumped hydroelectric, where water is pumped uphill when there’s sunshine or wind and runs downhill to generate electricity when the wind stops blowing or the sun doesn’t shine. In many places, the extended sunny days are in the summer, the windy periods are in March and October, but the electrical energy is needed in the winter. In such cases, very large reservoirs are needed, comparable to the 250-square-mile lakes like Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Very few places meet these conditions.

So in practice, solar and wind have to be combined with gas turbines to deal with the drop in electricity generated when the sun goes down or the wind dies away. If the solar or wind displaces coal it results in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. However if solar or wind displaces nuclear that cannot be ramped up and down, more carbon dioxide is emitted because gas turbines have to be used when the sun isn’t shining and the wind stops blowing. Displacing the highly efficient combined cycle natural gas power plants, on average, results in no change in emissions. The gains from not running the fossil fuel plant when the renewable is available are offset by the losses from running the less efficient gas turbine on its own when the renewable is not available.

One can easily verify this claim by looking to Germany, which has been in the forefront of adopting solar and wind in their Energiewende or energy transition. There is now as much solar and wind generating capacity in Germany as coal and natural gas. Has the increased reliance on renewables made any difference in Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions? Evidence suggests it hasn’t changed very much.

The careful reader may note that the French emit less carbon dioxide per person than the Germans and attribute it to the fact that the Germans are busy churning out BMWs and Bosch appliances, while the French lounge around on extended lunch breaks. However, the reality is more prosaic. The French baseload is almost completely nuclear with negligible carbon dioxide emissions.

If one really wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions the best thing to do is substitute nuclear power for coal. However, that path is not available in the United States, where nuclear is a four letter word. Instead, we have achieved significant reductions in baseload carbon dioxide emissions over the last decade by substituting high-efficiency combined cycle natural gas for coal burning plants, a change made possible by the low cost of natural gas from fracking. The carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of electrical energy generated is approximately three to four times lower than in the corresponding coal-fired power plant, resulting from the higher thermal efficiency (50-60%) of combined cycle natural gas, compared to coal (30-35%) and the greater amount of energy from natural gas for a given quantity of carbon dioxide emitted.

To make a real difference one has to make a serious impact on the baseload. Intermittent renewables can’t do this, which is why they won’t significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions.


Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat

Global carbon-dioxide emissions have stopped rising. Coal use in China may have peaked. The price of wind turbines and solar panels is plummeting, putting renewable energy within the reach of meager budgets in the developing world.

And yet as climate diplomats gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I would like to point their attention to a different, perhaps gloomier statistic: the world’s carbon intensity of energy.

The term refers to a measure of the amount of CO2 spewed into the air for each unit of energy consumed. It offers some bad news: It has not budged since that chilly autumn day in Kyoto 20 years ago. Even among the highly industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the carbon intensity of energy has declined by a paltry 4 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.

This statistic, alone, puts a big question mark over the strategies deployed around the world to replace fossil energy. In a nutshell: Perhaps renewables are not the answer.

Over the past 10 years, governments and private investors have collectively spent $2 trillion on infrastructure to draw electricity from the wind and the sun, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Environmental Progress, a nonprofit that advocates nuclear power as an essential tool in the battle against climate change, says that exceeds the total cost of all nuclear plants built to date or under construction, adjusted for inflation.

Capacity from renewable sources has grown by leaps and bounds, outpacing growth from all other sources — including coal, natural gas and nuclear power — in recent years. Solar and wind capacity installed in 2015 was more than 10 times what the International Energy Agency had forecast a decade before.

Still, except for very limited exceptions, all this wind and sun has not brought about much decarbonization. Indeed, it has not added much clean power to the grid.

Environmental Progress performed an analysis of the evolution of the carbon intensity of energy in 68 countries since 1965. It found no correlation between the additions of solar and wind power and the carbon intensity of energy: Despite additions of renewable capacity, carbon intensity remained flat.

Some countries have bucked the trend. Denmark has sharply cut its carbon intensity with vast installations of wind turbines. And yet Germany’s experience seems to be more typical. The country went all out in deploying wind and solar energy over the past 10 years, but the decline in carbon intensity was minuscule, from 212 to 203 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

The renewables-or-bust crowd on the periphery of the meeting in Bonn might argue that the sun and wind owe their poor track record at decarbonization in countries like Germany to the fact that nuclear power was being phased out at the same time that they came online.

It is true that Germans would have made more progress in the battle against climate change had they kept their nuclear reactors running and shut plants burning lignite instead. Still, there are other reasons behind renewables’ poor track record in decarbonizing electricity.

Nuclear power faces hurdles beyond popular mistrust. Notably, reactors require a lot of capital up front. But renewables have a hard time producing power at a nuclear scale.

For instance, the Diablo Canyon reactor that California plans to close produces 14 times as much power as the Topaz solar farm, which requires 500 times as much land, according to Environmental Progress. The Wind Catcher farm in Oklahoma occupies 2,400 times as much land as Diablo Canyon but produces half as much energy.

The most worrisome aspect about the all-out push for a future powered by renewables has to do with cost: The price of turbines and solar panels may be falling, but the cost of integrating these intermittent sources of energy — on when the wind blows and the sun shines; off when they don’t — is not. This alone will sharply curtail the climate benefits of renewable power.

Integrating renewable sources requires vast investments in electricity transmission — to move power from intermittently windy and sunny places to places where power is consumed. It requires maintaining a backstop of idle plants that burn fossil fuel, for the times when there is no wind or sun to be had. It requires investing in power-storage systems at a large scale.

These costs will ultimately be reflected in power prices. One concern is that by raising the retail cost of electricity they will discourage electrification, encouraging consumers to rely on alternative energy sources like gas — and pushing CO2 emissions up.

Another concern is that they will drive wholesale energy prices down too far. Because they produce the most energy when the sun is up and the wind is blowing, renewable generators can flood the grid at critical times of the day, slashing the price of power. This not only threatens the solvency of nuclear reactors, which cannot shut down on a dime and must therefore pay for the grid to accept their power, but also reduces the return on additional investment in renewables.

A study by Lion Hirth of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin found that the value of wind power falls from 110 percent of the average power price to 50 to 80 percent as the penetration of wind rises from zero to 30 percent of total consumption. “Competitive large-scale renewables deployment will be more difficult to accomplish than many anticipate,” he concluded.

The diplomats in Bonn may be tempted to wave away these concerns. Thomas Bruckner of the University of Leipzig argues that in the case of Germany, expanding renewables to supply 80 percent of power by 2050 is “not a significant burden.” Heavy German investment in renewable energy technologies over the last decade succeeded in bringing prices down, he contends; it will be much cheaper to go the rest of the way.

Perhaps. But there is some evidence that among investors, at least, the excitement may be waning. After half a decade of sustained increases, investment in solar and wind energy has been fairly flat since 2010, at around $250 billion per year. While that is a lot of money, it is nowhere near enough.

“We will need twice as much investment over a sustained period of time to get anywhere close to achieving 2 degrees,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in the Americas, referring to the objective of the world’s climate diplomats: keep the average world temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above its average in the late 19th century.

I would suggest that the challenge is not just to raise more money. Building a zero-carbon energy system requires broader thinking about the technological mix.


NOAA Lets Politics Corrupt Its Science

Larry Bell

Objective science once conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was coopted by the Obama administration to push anti-fossil energy policies under the guise of CO2 influences on climate change and ocean acidification. Just as they got caught by a whistleblower fudging ocean temperature records in advance of 2015 U.N. Paris Climate talks, they also actively played politics to garner media alarm attributing CO2 emissions to invalidated claims of impacts upon aquatic ecosystems.

As I previously reported in my Feb. 13 Newsmax column titled "Whistleblower Links NOAA Study to Climate Treaty Agendas," former NOAA scientist Jim Bates charged that his boss Thomas Karl had "adjusted" sea surface temperature measurements between 1998 and 2012 in order to make recent global temperature changes appear to warm more than twice as much as the original records showed.

Karl then rushed to publish his scientifically unverified report in time "to influence national and international deliberations on climate policy." The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported, "His [Bates’] vehement objections to the publication of the faulty data were overridden by his NOAA superiors in what he describes as a 'blatant attempt to intensify the impact' of what became known as the Pausebuster Paper."

In July, 2014, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee subpoenaed NOAA for the suspicious research records. NOAA has subsequently stonewalled demands for Karl’s corroborating research evidence and related internal communications . . . even from Congress.

As Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, explained, "It was inconvenient for this administration that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get politically correct results they want, and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made."

Internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by website publisher and attorney Steven Milloy reveal NOAA media campaigns to politicize unsubstantiated CO2-caused ocean ecosystem impacts along with its "evil twin" climate influences.

A communication from NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Director Libby Jewett lauds a previous "great job" by staff member Madelyn Applebaum in writing "two widely-praised and referenced op-eds." She notes that the first one on space weather was quickly bumped up to Obama White House Science Director John Holdren.

The second article addressing ocean acidification (OA) which was developed "literally overnight" was also immediately approved by Holdren. It appeared in an Oct. 15, 2015 New York Times article titled "Our Deadened, Carbon-Soaked Seas."

Although written by Applebaum, the co-authorship was attributed to NOAA’s Chief Scientist Richard Spinrod and his U.K. counterpart Ian Boyd.

Jewett wrote that Boyd was "very interested in doing another op-ed on ocean acidification, and our team hopes that Madelyn can be assigned to develop it." She continued, "Ideally, the op-ed could appear in the fall prior to the second ocean conference at which Secretary Kerry and ocean acidification will be prominent. We want visibility for NOAA’s pioneering global leadership to be prominent too!"

Whereas later emails show that The New York Times initially rejected the proposed op-ed for its U.S. print edition, NOAA staff achieved success getting it placed in the newspaper’s The New York Times International print edition and its online Again attributed to co-authorship by Spinrod and Boyd, it was ominously titled, "In a High CO2 World, Dangerous Waters Ahead."

Research ecologist Shallin Busch at NOAA’s Fisheries Service insisted that the op-ed exaggerated the ocean acidification problem. Writing to Madelyn Applebaum she said " . . . the study of the biological impacts of OA is so young that we don’t have any data sets that show a direct effect of OA on population health or trajectory."

Busch later suggested in another e-mail, "It might be good to mention that some species will be harmed by ocean acidification, some will benefit, and some won’t respond at all!"

A Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution study that I reported in my April 10, 2012 column, "Is Your SUV Killing Ocean Coral Reefs?" agrees with this observation. Their findings concluded that the world’s marine biota are "more resistant to ocean acidification than suggested by pessimistic predictions identifying ocean acidification as a major threat to marine biodiversity."

Higher seawater carbonation levels and temperatures actually have positive effects upon many marine species. Included are shell-building "calcifers" which are observed to grow faster over natural volcanic CO2 vents.

Most of the significantly negative responses occurred at atmospheric concentrations exceeding 2,000 parts per million (ppm). This is five times higher than the current 400 ppm today, and about three times higher than even the alarmist U.N.’s IPCC predicts will occur by end of this century.

No one should doubt that the health of ocean ecosystems must be of vital concern. For exactly this same reason we must be able to place trust in a non-political NOAA to get both its facts and messaging straight.


Ireland faces €600m fine for missing EU energy targets

Ireland’s failure to tackle climate change was laid bare yesterday in a report that showed greenhouse gas emissions had risen by 7 per cent since 2015 despite policies aimed at reducing them.

The country is likely to face multimillion-euro fines for failing to meet EU 2020 targets or will have to spend similar amounts buying credits from member states who overachieve on their targets.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that comprehensive action must be taken after its latest report showed that Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5 per cent last year on top of a similar rise in 2015. The increases, caused by the growing economy, have undone all the progress made since 2009.


Australia's Barrier reef not as fragile as once thought

It has inbuilt recovery from damage mechanisms

About 100 coral reefs within the Great Barrier Reef have been identified as having particular resilience that may help corals recover from bleaching and other threats.

The hardy "robust source reefs" – about 112 in number or about 3 per cent of total coverage – were found to be in cooler, outer reefs.

Their location helped shield them from the recent back-to-back annual bleaching that had devastated corals, the Australian and British researchers found.

Their proximity to stronger ocean currents than inland reefs also meant their annual spawning events could disperse coral larvae over a large region, fostering recovery after bleaching or cyclones.

A third characteristic was a relative absence of crown-of-thorns starfish, lowering their susceptibility to that threat.

Peter Mumby, one of the authors of the reef paper appearing on Wednesday in PLOS Biology, said a single coral spawning event from the robust sites could "almost reach half the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef".

"These sites are important ecologically, providing some of the backbone of the reef," said Professor Mumby, who is based at the University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences.

"We are trying to uncover the natural life-support system of the reef, so we can then support it," he said, adding: "The reef is much better connected than we thought."

The importance of supporting natural recovery processes would likely increase in the future "as climate change reduces the average size of coral populations and the need for recolonisation becomes more frequent," the paper said.

But with most of the robust sites clustered off Mackay in the central-south region of the Great Barrier Reef, any relative resilience might be of little benefit to more distant regions, such as the northern end.




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