Friday, November 06, 2020

This Election Isn’t About the Next Four Years, It’s About the Next Four Millennia

Bill McKibben, below, is a nutcase. Only a nutcase would think he can prophecy 4,000 years into the future

All American elections determine the character of the country for the next four years. And they have a lot to say about what the world will feel like too – that’s what it means to be a superpower.

But this election may determine the flavor of the next four millennia – maybe the next 40.

That’s because time is the one thing we can’t recover, and time is the one thing we’ve just about run out of in the climate fight. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2018 report made it clear that we had until 2030 to make fundamental transformations in our energy system – which they defined as cutting by half the amount of carbon that we pour into the atmosphere.

If we don’t solve it soon, we will not solve it because we will move past tipping points from which we have no retreat.Read that sentence again. Because it carries deep political implications. Very few of the problems that government deals with are time limited in quite the same fashion. Issues like housing or education or healthcare last throughout our lifetimes, and we take bites out of them when we can, hopefully moving two steps forward for every one we retreat.

But climate change isn’t like that. If we don’t solve it soon, we will not solve it because we will move past tipping points from which we have no retreat. Some we’ve passed already: the news that Greenland is now in an irreversible process of melt should remind us that the biggest things on our planet can shift in the course of a very few human years.

Reliable Electricity? Bah Humbug!

In a refreshingly honest article in the Boston Review, David McDermott Hughes confirms something that we energy evangelists have been saying for some time: Environmentalists do not simply want people to transition to “green energy,” they want humanity put on energy rationing, for the good of the planet. Now, apparently, they’ve also decided that we need to add intermittent fasting to our energy diet because, gosh darnit, electricity in developed countries like the United States is just too darn reliable for our own good! It needs to go out once in a while, or, well, the planet is doomed.

According to Hughes, “For those seriously concerned about climate change, the inverse—the demand for electrical continuity—may be the real problem.” Yes, you read that right, the desire to have electricity available 24/7 is the cause of our global climate catastrophe, and we need to learn to live with intermittent energy like the happy campers of Zimbabwe and Puerto Rico which “provide models for what we might call pause-full electricity.”

And who is first on the new electricity diet? Why, you are, you single-family home-dwelling environmental heretic. Hughes explains that “…each household demanding continuous electricity marginally exacerbates the climate crisis. Perhaps, then, it is critical that we not store energy for these houses. At least, we should not do so in a way that hobbles the transition away from fossil fuels. We ought to consider waiting a few years for storage—enduring much more than six hours of downtime every year—for the sake of transitioning more rapidly away from fossil fuels.”

Surely you can handle a “few years” of intermittent blackouts and brownouts, right, suburbanites?

This energy-rationing agenda has been hidden, heretofore, by a huge raft of bogus promises that would make the switch to renewables easy. Batteries, we were told, will adapt so fast that we can go ahead and just build out wind and solar power, while letting conventional power plants wither and die, and everybody will have their cake and eat it too! Unfortunately, the reality of battery storage limitations is just too obvious to people who see, day in and day out, the reality of batteries: they aren’t getting that much stronger over time. As Mark Mills, of the Manhattan Institute points out (and do read the whole thing!):

About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent of one pound of hydrocarbons.

At least 100 pounds of materials are mined, moved and processed for every pound of battery fabricated.

Storing the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil, which weighs 300 pounds, requires 20,000 pounds of Tesla batteries ($200,000 worth).

Carrying the energy equivalent of the aviation fuel used by an aircraft flying to Asia would require $60 million worth of Tesla-type batteries weighing five times more than that aircraft.

And even Hughes now admits that, well, making batteries is environmentally destructive, and environmentalists don’t want you doing that, even if you can. After all, batteries are just not woke:

Lithium-ion batteries are moving into position to overcome that constraint, but they create problems of their own. Like most form of mining, lithium extraction produces toxins—imposed, on this case, on indigenous down-winders in Chile. Also like mining, the lithium trade concentrates power and wealth in the hands of few, corporations. Sometimes called “bottlenecking,” this process converts a resource too plentiful for profit—like sunlight—into a scarce and lucrative commodity. Not even environmental savior Elon Musk is safe from abuse, because, it seems, Tesla “seems on track to gain a controlling share of any smart grid connected to electric vehicles; its Powerwall battery is out-competing less toxic technologies, and it could eventually dovetail with software known as “demand response.”

Oh My God. You mean, Elon Musk is a – gasp – businessman? Perish forbid!

The moral of this story is, when the “green” energy, “green economy,” “green new deal” types tell you that all they really want is for you to have “greener” energy, what they mean is that they want you to have less. Less quantity, less reliability, less affordability, and less consumer flexibility. And you can take that to the ballot box.

Is the Grand Old Duke leading the charge to Zero Carbon?

Although the nursery song is much older, the Grand Old Duke of York usually refers to Frederick, the titular commander of the British army during the Napoleonic wars. Despite some good innovations, such as founding Sandhurst, his grasp of strategy and financial control was fragile. Eliminating carbon emissions is certainly a good idea but the leadership is a bit wobbly on how that can be achieved and the costs. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is chaired by Lord Deben who, in his ministerial days, was famous for rarely, if ever, reading his briefs and for reassuring the public, during the mad cow disease era, by feeding beef-burgers to his children. But the CCC is only advisory.

As previously discussed, current forecasts by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) show an alarming shortfall in UK electricity generation capacity by 2050 if zero carbon is to be achieved. The CCC estimate the costs to be £50bn. p.a. by 2050 (1% of GDP). BEIS and HM Treasury reckon on £70bn. p.a. or £1 trillion overall, although the latter’s calculations are not due to be released until later this year. The BEIS is also due to publish its long-delayed energy White Paper this autumn. In the absence of any numbers from government, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), in their October submission to the Treasury Select Committee Inquiry, put their estimate around four times higher, i.e. £4 trillion.

The Grand Old Duke would have been proud of CCC’s response to the request from the GWPF (President: Nigel Lawson) for their annual figures leading up to 2050: “We do not hold the information you have requested. The purpose of the net zero report was to establish when the UK should reduce emissions to net zero, which we recommended be legislated for 2050. The focus of our scenario analysis was therefore on whether achieving net zero emissions was feasible in 2050, and what the additional costs would be in that year.” In other words, CCC recommended marching up the hill with no idea how to get there.

That is a remarkable admission given their 304 page, May 2019, Technical Report which provided analyses across nine headings: Power and Hydrogen, Buildings, Industry, Surface Transport, Aviation and Shipping, Net-Agriculture and LULUCF, Waste, F-gas emissions and Greenhouse gas removals. Unfortunately, CCC provided no executive summary so it is unclear how the figures add up. LULUCF, as any fule kno, stands for “land use, land use change and forestry” and F-gas is not that emitted by cows and humans but “fluorinated gases” emissions from refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pumps due to refrigerant leakage.

The Guardian was not impressed by the progress one year on from the government’s net zero commitment: “John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: ‘If the government wants businesses, local authorities and households to make the appropriate investments over the next decade, they will need confidence that Britain really is committed to decarbonising the economy. But the practical measures taken by the government over the past 12 months add up to a tiny fraction of what is needed to keep us on course to meet that commitment.’”

Alongside the Technical Report, CCC published a 277 page Advice Report with an exceptionally long (27 page) executive summary which consists mostly of political exhortations. Being responsible for 1% of greenhouse gases apparently puts the UK in the global driving seat. 1% is also stated, with little visible support, as the cost of moving up from the previous 80% elimination target which was itself going to cost an extra 1% of GDP. So far as the power sector capital investment is concerned, “our scenarios imply an extra investment requirement of around 1% in 2050” (p.29). It is hard to take a report seriously where, whatever the question, the answer is always 1%.

The UK, in partnership with Italy, chairs the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow next November. As part of the run up to that, in case you had not noticed “This year, we’ve launched a Year of Climate Action”. The energy White Paper and the Treasury commentary may be part of that Action. Add to that the Treasury Select Committee has been holding an Inquiry into “Decarbonisation and Green Finance” since March and their report can be expected within the next couple of months or so. The technicalities of green finance reporting will annoy quite a few company secretaries but otherwise concern few voters.

On the other hand, the effects of net zero carbon on consumer prices, as distinct from production costs, are another matter. Ofgem may be encouraged to keep prices high so that the Government can use the margin elsewhere and consumers are motivated to use less electricity. Conversely, Ofgem might be encouraged to push energy prices down to popularise the net zero target. In 2014 the BEIS predecessor ministry published “Estimated impacts of energy and climate change policies on energy prices and bills”. In 2018, BEIS promised to update it but have yet to do so. This needs discussion.

Chapter 7 of the Advice Report makes a valiant effort to assess the costs of zero carbon. The clarity of presentation is not helped by mixing costs and benefits together as “resource costs”. Carbon capture and storage is pretty much an unknown at this point and the assumptions are crucial for the reliance the report makes on hydrogen as a key part of the solution. The cost analysis is unconvincing.

Land use is also an interesting part of this conundrum: humans breathe oxygen and exhale co2 whereas plants, notably peatland, do the reverse. The CCC recommends more use of the land to remove carbon whereas the government’s planning White Paper seems to want to concrete it all over with new housing.

The Advice Report concluded that a net zero carbon 2050 “is only possible if clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay. Current policy is insufficient for even the existing targets.” In other words, it is only possible if the government makes it happen. As the Grand Old Duke explained to Wellington, “you are only going to win Waterloo, my boy, if Napoleon loses”.

One of the world’s largest batteries to store renewable energy is set to be built in Victoria, Australia

This is just a boondoggle. It is the size of a small power station, but, unlike a small power station, it will not be able to run indefinitely. At a claimed 300 MW/450 MWh it will discharge at full pelt only for 90 minutes. And that will decay by about 5% every year. In dollars per MWH it has to be hugely expensive

The Victorian government on Thursday announced the 300 megawatt Tesla lithium-ion battery would be installed near the Moorabool Terminal Station, just outside Geelong, and would be ready by the 2021-22 summer.

Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said it would be the largest lithium-ion battery in the southern hemisphere.

She said an independent analysis had showed the battery would deliver more than $2 in benefits to Victorian households and businesses for every $1 invested.

She said consumers would pay for the use of the battery through their power bills, but the reduction in wholesale energy prices delivered by the battery would mean Victorians paid less for power.

The battery will help reduce wholesale prices by storing renewable energy at a time when the weather makes it plentiful and at its cheapest and then discharging it into the grid when power is needed the most, such as on a 40C day.

The state government said the battery would also reserve a portion of its capacity to increase the power flow through the Victoria-New South Wales Interconnector by up to 250 megawatts to help reduce the chances of unscheduled power outages in peak summer months.

Global renewable energy company Neoen will pay for the construction of the battery and for its ongoing operation and maintenance.

Construction of the battery was expected to create more than 85 jobs, the state government said.

Ms D’Ambrosio announced on Thursday she had directed the Australian Energy Market Operator to sign a contract with Neoen to deliver the new Tesla battery.

“What we want to proof against is that lack of reliability when we’re in the middle of summer, when businesses need that power to keep running and Victorians need that power at home when they crank up their air conditioners to keep cool and to keep healthy,” she said.

AusNet Services executive general manager of regulation and external affairs, Alistair Parker, said it was a “terrific idea”. AusNet will be responsible for connecting the battery into the electricity transmission network that they own and operate.

“The particularly smart feature of this battery is the way it enables more capacity around the network day in, day out,” he said.

Ms D’Ambrosio said the service was an 11-year contract worth $84 million, and the Victorian battery would be double the size of the one already installed at Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia.




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