Monday, September 19, 2022

This should be the absolute peak of hurricane season—but it’s dead quiet out there

To state the obvious: This has been an unorthodox Atlantic hurricane season.

Everyone from the US agency devoted to studying weather, oceans, and the atmosphere—the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration—to the most highly regarded hurricane professionals predicted a season with above-normal to well above-normal activity.

For example, NOAA’s outlook for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, predicted a 65 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season. The primary factor behind these predictions was an expectation that La Niña would persist in the Pacific Ocean, leading to atmospheric conditions in the tropical Atlantic more favorable to storm formation and intensification. La Niña has persisted, but the storms still have not come in bunches.

All quiet

To date the Atlantic has had five named storms, which is not all that far off "normal" activity, as measured by climatological averages from 1991 to 2020. Normally, by now, the Atlantic would have recorded eight tropical storms and hurricanes that were given names by the National Hurricane Center.

The disparity is more significant when we look at a metric for the duration and intensity of storms, known as Accumulated Cyclone Energy. By this more telling measurement, the 2022 season has a value of 29.6, which is less than half of the normal value through Saturday, 60.3.

Perhaps what is most striking about this season is that we are now at the absolute peak of hurricane season, and there is simply nothing happening. Although the Atlantic season begins on June 1, it starts slowly, with maybe a storm here or there in June, and often a quiet July before the deep tropics get rolling in August. Typically about half of all activity occurs in the 14 weeks prior to September 10, and then in a mad, headlong rush the vast majority of the remaining storms spin up before the end of October.

While it is still entirely possible that the Atlantic basin—which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea—produces a madcap finish, we're just not seeing any signs of it right now. There are no active systems at the moment, and the National Hurricane Center is tracking just one tropical wave that will move off the African coast into the Atlantic Ocean in the coming days. It has a relatively low chance of development, and none of the global models anticipate much from the system. Our best global models show about a 20 to 30 percent chance of a tropical depression developing anywhere in the Atlantic during the next 10 days.

This is the exact opposite of what we normally see this time of year, when the tropics are typically lit up like a Christmas tree. The reason for this is because September offers a window where the Atlantic is still warm from the summertime months, and we typically see some of the lowest wind-shear values in storm-forming regions.


Renewables will save us a billion trillion pounds! Yeah, right

As readers here know, I keep a close eye on the cost of renewables, and have published papers on both offshoreand onshorewind, showing that the financial accounts of operators in both sectors show no sign of significant cost reductions. It’s not just me either: my findings closely match those of the energy economist, Professor Gordon Hughes, the energy analyst Kathryn Porter, and an important paperin the peer reviewed literature.

So the idea that renewables are going to save us lots of money is, at first sight, pretty implausible. I decided to take a look at the underlying paper, which comes from the Martin School, at Oxford University.

The methodology is, in essence, extremely crude: it involves extrapolating historic cost trends out along an expected curve (Wright’s law, apparently), while jazzing it up a little with what they call a stochastic methodology, which seems to just generate an uncertainty window. The latter details are, for the purposes of this post, largely irrelevant, however – it’s all gazing at tea-leaves in my opinion. What interested me was that they were generating predictions of future cost reductions from historic falling cost trends. As already noted, lots of people find no such cost reductions in windfarm accounts (and in fact, I have some limited data on solar, which tells a similar story).

Where are the Oxford Martin team getting this data from? Buried deep in the supplementary information to the paper, I learned that it came from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). I have been trying to get to the bottom of IRENA’s claims of cost reductions for some time, and recently worked out what I think is the underlying reason.

It’s all to do with the way currency is handled. IRENA’s work is all demoninated in USD (and as a result, so is the Oxford Martin paper). But the problem of using a single currency is that the final cost figures will be affected by any currency fluctuations. And boy, have there been some big currency fluctuations in the last ten years. In particular, against the dollar, sterling has depreciated by 30%, the Euro by 25%, the Yen by nearly half, and the Brazilian Real by two thirds. When reporting in USD the costs of operators in any of these places, any reduction of less than these values represents an underlying increase in costs. Take the UK for example. According to IRENA, onshore wind costs fell from 0.086c/kWh in 2010 to 0.071c/kWh in 2019

But during that time, the exchange rate went from roughly 1.60 to 1.28, so in Sterling terms the equivalent figures are 5.3p and 5.5p – a small increase! This is exactly the situation I reported for UK onshore windfarms in my paper at the start of this year (Their absolute figures are much lower than mine though, presumably because they are using different assumptions to me).

This is clearly going to completely undermine IRENA’s overall figures for renewables cost trends. The UK, the Eurozone, Japan and Brazil between them have a very significant proportion of the world’s renewables. The only major centre for renewables that doesn’t seem to have suffered a depreciating exchange rate against the dollar is China, for which, interestingly, IRENA doesn’t detect much of a reduction in wind costs and for which the solar trend seems to have bottomed out

It didn’t have to be like this, of course. IRENA could have created some sort of an index (1990 = 100, or something) which would eliminate the currency effect. But they didn’t, and now the Oxford Martin School guys have picked it up without understanding it, and have extrapolated what is, in essence a foreign exchange fluctuation out to 2050 and have concluded that renewables will save the world.

Experts, eh?


Pakistan’s floods and the climate attribution con

Climate alarmism and journalistic bias have reached new heights of misleading hype on the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan which is reported to have received more than three times its annual rainfall in August.

The question is, of course, if human-induced climate change has had anything to do with making the floods more dramatic that could reasonably have been expected in the absence of human influences, i.e, as a result of a natural disaster that have been hitting the Indian subcontinent for centuries.

The answer (as given in the small print) by climate scientists at the world weather attribution project is ‘no’ – although it is quite obvious that they, the BBC and much of the news media, don’t like this answer. As a result, they go all around the scientific and journalistic houses to give the contrary impression. When the case they want to make cannot be made they claim that the picture is “complex.” How can scientists think that this sort of thing is acceptable?

The BBC report says that “global warming is likely to have played a role in then devastating floods that hist Pakistan, say scientists.” On the face of it “likely” might, or might not, mean a better than 50% chance, but in this case it doesn’t. Far from it.

Consider the revealing statement by Friederike Otto of Imperial College London, one of the World Weather Attribution team,

Our evidence suggests that climate change played an important role in the event, although our analysis doesn’t allow us to quantify how big the role was.”

So now we have “important role,” added to “likely!” Are you being nudged in the right direction yet? Then we have the admission they don’t know how big this “important role” is? And it gets even stupider.

The world weather attribution website analysis has as its main conclusion the rather unsurprising conclusion that the flooding occurred as a direct consequence of the extreme monsoon rainfall. Then it long-windedly goes on to explain why climate models are no good when it comes to analysing the event or its connection to climate change, concluding that the existence of natural variability means it is actually

infeasible to quantify the overall role of human-induced climate change.”

Well, you don’t say. But wait, there’s more confusion.

What we saw in Pakistan is exactly what climate projections have been predicting for years.”

But then they admit the event is well within the range of historical natural variability pointing out that 2022 was the wettest years since err…1961! And let’s not forget that only a few years ago climate scientists claimed that “our analysis found that the summer monsoon rainfall is decreasing over central South Asia – from south of Pakistan through central India to Bangladesh.”

So the real story is, “There is no solid evidence climate change had anything to do with Pakistan’s flooding” — in sharp contrast to the BBC’s headline of “Climate Change: Pakistani Floods ‘likely’ made worse by flooding.”

How can the scientific community, and those interested in the subtleties and realities of climate communication justify being so misleading? How can journalists stand to distort scientific ambiguity using faux certainty to support a climate narrative abandoning any sense of journalistic rigour?


Potemkin emission controls in Australia

They are not nearly as tough as they seem. Loopholes mean that lots of big polluters will skate

Labor may fail to hit its 2030 climate target because flaws in the Albanese government’s proposed safeguard mechanism have created a “large hole” in its emissions reduction policy, the firm which modelled the target has warned, with half of all major polluters gaining a financial benefit from the scheme.

The operators of 215 large ­industrial facilities – contributing 28 per cent of Australia’s emissions – are weighing up Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen’s overhaul of the mechanism, which anchors Labor’s 2030 pledge to cut emissions by 43 per cent and is due to kick in from July 2023.

Carbon and electricity adviser RepuTex, which initially modelled the 2030 target, said a government plan to provide free carbon credits to high emitting companies – without requiring them to represent pollution cuts – could see Labor fail to hit its flagship climate change policy goal by the end of this decade.

According to RepuTex, companies would not be required to demonstrate any emissions reductions and would instead receive credits simply for being better than average. The credits would be used by the government to provide a financial subsidy to “cleaner” facilities.

“The plan to provide free credits to facilities where their emissions are below an ‘industry average’ could lead to other undesirable outcomes, with half of Australia’s 215 largest emitting facilities in line to receive a financial windfall – instead of being required to reduce their emissions,” RepuTex said.

The modelling firm said the financial benefit would seek to make ‘cleaner’ products and processes cheaper, but in reality it would be spread across the board. It would mean half of Australia’s giant LNG export industry – which makes up 10 of Australia’s top 20 highest-emitting facilities – would be given free credits and would not be penalised for emissions increases.

“By definition, half of all LNG facilities perform better than an industry average, even though they are among the country’s largest-emitting facilities,” RepuTex managing director Hugh Grossman said.

“These facilities would not be accountable for their emissions. Instead they would receive free credits, which could be banked, or sold to realise a windfall gain. While this aims to reward ‘cleaner’ processes, in practice, half of all fossil fuel producers could simply receive a financial benefit, instead of any emissions constraint.”

Amid an intensifying debate over the long-term use of oil and gas in Australia’s energy mix, the move could lock in fossil fuel production by creating a new ­subsidy. Current definitions suggest nearly 80 per cent of covered emissions and over half or 118 of all safeguard facilities could be classified as emissions-intensive and trade-exposed industries, with exemptions potentially undermining climate change goals.

Mr Bowen, who is expected to finalise the government’s plan within four to six months, said high-emitting companies, many with their own net zero by 2050 targets, must get on board to drive emissions 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Australia’s $4.5bn carbon market is also under the spotlight, with former chief scientist Ian Chubb leading a review probing integrity issues after whistleblower Andrew Macintosh described the scheme as a rort.

The review of Australian Carbon Credit Units follows allegations from Mr Macintosh, the former chairman of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, that a majority of carbon credits issued by the Clean Energy Regulator were flawed.

“Integrity of crediting is key to any emissions market,” Mr Grossman said. “If credits used by industry do not represent one tonne of emissions abatement, and that credit is used to offset emissions – as is the case here – then we would not see any real emissions reductions. Emissions reductions would occur in accounting terms only.”

The Morrison government made a major change to the carbon offsets market in March, allowing owners of land-based schemes to sell ACCUs on the open market rather than at lower prices to the Commonwealth. As a result the price of ACCUs crashed by more than a third, given market fears of an oversupply of the carbon units over the next few years. Prices have recovered by about a quarter and are trading at $30 per tonne.

The Minerals Council of Australia has warned the Albanese government against adopting a “one size fits all” safeguard mechanism amid concerns that exporters could be left behind by international competitors. Whitehaven Coal chief executive Paul Flynn has warned that Labor’s plan to drive down emissions in the industrial sector was a “carbon levy by stealth”.




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