3/18/2015

Only Advisers


Through the magic of Twitter, I was having yesterday an interesting conversation with a Greenpeace member in New Zealand. However, the magic of Twitter is limited to 140 character bites so here I am trying to give a little bit more depth to the interaction.

Off the bat my Kiwi friend dismissed any arguments from scientists that are not on the "approved scientists list" or rather that are in the "forbidden list" for whatever reason. 

One such case is Richard A. Muller. The reason for "banning" him is that he is purportedly paid by the Koch brothers.

I wonder if being paid by a government agency makes a scientist automatically more credible... 

Well, I've just read his book, Energy for Future Presidents and his conclusions hardly match those of an official "denier." In particular, in this book he categorically concludes that: 

1. Global warming is real. 
2. Global warming is caused almost exclusively by CO2 in the atmosphere. 

Were the Koch brother's censors asleep at the wheel?

So, maybe the reason he is considered a heretic in the green fringe is another one.

Yes, if you continue reading his book, you'll notice that he is a believer in nuclear energy (just like James Hansen, James Lovelock and many other scientists) and is not a particularly vocal promoter of "renewables" or, God forbid, electric vehicles. 

So maybe that is the problem with Muller. Is it that to be considered a "credible scientist" you have to accept both that global warming is real, plus preach that renewables are the one and only solution?

I don't know.

Then my Kiwi friend also dismissed off the bat Alex Epstein because "he is not a climate scientist." So, in other words, for somebody to have an opinion in the climate discourse he has to be vetted by the IPCC or at least by Rep. Raul Grijalva? 

Hmmm... here we part ways. I see it differently: scientists should be advisers but under no circumstances should they lead "climate action."

Why? Because "climate action" is not fully, or even primarily a scientific endeavor. No, "climate action" would be a scientific, economic, political, engineering, psychological, etc., issue.

Scientists' views tend to be narrow and thus they cannot fully appreciate the implications and complexities of significantly reducing our fossil fuel consumption.

Lots of common sense, engineering, R&D, political wrangling, psychology (say, for "curing" irrational nuclear fear), compromises, money, entrepreneurs, etc., would be needed to actually begin reducing our CO2 emissions in a gradual way that doesn't kill the patient in our haste to save it. 

Also, "nothing is all good or all bad" and as Alex Epstein (who is not, repeat,  a "climate scientist") states: fossil fuels do much more good than harm. We don't need to be scientists to appreciate this. Or do we? 

So, in summary, climate science might (or might not) be settled but "climate action" would require all sectors of society to be involved and participating. To state that we should blindly follow "scientific consensus" is at the very least irresponsible and at the worst could be altogether dangerous. 

So no, we won't stop making questions or demanding answers in the climate discourse. 

Thank you.







3/12/2015

Renewable Manifesto



At this moment, this is a humble project Mark Cojuangco and I are beginning since we are concerned with the chaotic way in which renewable energy expenditures are being made in some countries. We are worried that this undisciplined approach may propagate, unchecked, to the rest of the world and do more harm than good.

In particular, we could see important increases in electricity prices, reductions in investment / maintenance of our current reliable generators / electrical grids, and negative environmental impacts. Plus, all of these consequences may be for little, if any, reductions is CO2 emissions. 

Thus, we thought about creating a "Renewable Manifesto." This is the first draft. Feel free to contribute to it / criticize it on Twitter.



Renewable Manifesto

1. We are not opposed in principle to renewables.* Every technology should be allowed to compete on its merits in the global energy markets. Governments should not select winners / losers from their ivory towers. 
2. Renewables are already quite mature technologies, so no overt / covert subsidies should be assigned to their manufacture / installation. 
3. Renewables shouldn't be granted priority access to the grid by default, and if they require it, a just compensatory fee should be agreed upon with the conventional grid operators. 
4. Market prices should be paid for their energy output; no premiums here. 
5. If at any particular moment (say, at off-peak hours) there is no market for their electricity, then their output should be curtailed. "Dumping" into the electrical grid won't be allowed.
6. Renewables won't have a "free pass" concerning environmental impacts. Just like any other industrial power source, Renewable projects should be fully environmentally vetted.
7. Renewable companies should give reassurances that they will take care of the decommissioning costs of their wind / solar farms. 

 Again, we are not against renewables, but we definitely believe at this stage of the game they have to stand on their own two feet and make economic sense without further government help.

Thank you.


* By "renewables" we mean mainly Solar PV and Wind Turbines. Hydro has been and will continue to be a massive, reliable energy source. On the other hand, we should be very wary of "biomass." A full disclosure of what is being considered here, and its environmental effects, should be demanded. 





  

3/11/2015

Bending Over Backwards


If CO2 emissions are warming the planet, then humanity's scorecard in this respect should be: total fossil fuels consumption.

Is our total consumption of fossil fuels dropping?

No. Actually it is increasing. What is more, every year, fossil fuels are farther ahead, in absolute terms, vs. all other energy sources combined.

You might say: this is not possible! By listening to the media you probably believe the hype that solar and wind are taking the energy markets by storm.  Well, they aren't.

Here we have data from the 2014 International Energy Agency report:


One of the problems in energy reporting is that there is a lot of hype / PR / lobbying from the renewable energy camp and they bend over backwards in painful positions to try convince the world they are conquering it.

For example, they say: "Germany produced 50% of its electricity with solar!"

Yes, but what is not mentioned is that this percentage was achieved in a particular instant and, if you actually consider the full year, coal and nuclear far, far outproduced solar. See graph below. 



They also "forget" to mention that electricity is only a fraction of Germany's total energy consumption and thus, overall, oil continues to be the #1 energy source in that country.

Or, they may say something like: "during the month of October more renewable capacity was installed in the USA than of any other energy source."

Yes, first they say nothing of the other months and second, in renewables "installed capacity" can be very deceiving. Why? Because the capacity factors of solar and wind are quite low. Solar is usually below 20% and wind is usually below 30%.

Another thing we need to ask is: what is being lumped into the "renewable" category to inflate its numbers. Let's review it carefully. More often than not you may find wood there.


So instead of burning long dead trees (coal) we are chopping down currently living trees. Is this progress? I don't know. 

More inconvenient questions need to be asked, such as:

Do renewables actually reduce CO2 emissions in the real world (not only in the lab)? And if so, do they provide the most bang for the buck in this pursuit?

Do renewables allow us to retire for good fossil fuel generating capacity?



In summary, beware of persons bending themselves backward to try to deceive the public. Maybe they are just overeager, but for me it almost seems dishonest. 

Thank you.







3/09/2015

Moon Landing Hoax


First let me state, off the bat, that I have no doubt the moon landings happened.  I mean, it was easier to put a man on the moon than, say, produce an iPhone (and that is why the iPhone came to be almost 40 years later).  Do we doubt the iPhone exists? I don't think so.

However, the reason I mention "the moon landing hoax" is to underline the difference between this discussion and Global Warming.

"The moon landing hoax" is purely an intellectual exercise. It doesn't matter if one side (or the other one) is right, you don't have to hurry to defend your pocket. It will cost you nothing whether it is one or the other.

On the other hand, in the Global Warming discourse things are very different and a lot is at stake.

If the alarmists win and end up directing energy policy, YOU personally could be ruined and thus your family will suffer the consequences. 

Why?

First, let's also state this off the bat: we cannot now replace fossil fuels wholesale. 

Thus, if governments buy into the idea of dramatically cutting our fossil fuels use what would happen would be a catastrophic economic depression.

Companies would go bankrupt left and right, millions (maybe billions) would lose their jobs and prices of energy (and thus of almost everything else) would skyrocket. 

In short, the Earth would not be able to sustain 7 billion persons today without abundant fossil fuels. 

And one more time, off the bat let's say this: renewables will not dominate the energy markets. They require too much "material," they are intermittent and unreliable. They will continue to be niche players. Yes, nuclear conceivably could eventually take over, but "eventually" doesn't mean "soon."

So, bottom line, if there is a fringe that believes the moon landings were a hoax, let them alone, they hurt nobody. On the other hand the fringe that wants us to dramatically reduce our fossil fuel use in the short term could destroy the world's economy, create chaos, violence, suffering, hunger and death. 

Whether we believe, or not, in climate change, it is in our own best interests to decidedly push back against those alarmists. Today, they seem to be winning the mind games. If they win, we all lose.

Thus, we cannot, allow them to win. If we need to be blunter and more aggressive, so it be.

Thank you.


 




3/06/2015

Losing My Religion


I used to be the greatest believer ever in solar power.

I hand made my first solar panel (not the one in the picture) close to 40 years ago by buying the individual cells at Radio Shack (obviously, eons before it went bankrupt) and carefully assembling them with surplus material. Those panels were made to last forever!



Also, I have to confess, I feared nuclear energy more than the devil.

Today, I still consider solar PV an almost magical energy source: without a single moving part, you are producing electricity directly from sunlight. However, due to its important limitations (mainly intermittency, unreliability and low energy density), solar will not take over the energy market. It will remain a niche player and that is OK. We don't need to go crazy with solar.

On the other hand, today I'm a full nuclear convert and firmly believe it will eventually supply more than 50% of humanity's total primary energy. The only real question is the time frame. 100 years? 150 years?

After stating the above, it is probably no surprise to guess that I was also a climate alarmist. Yes, I was. Today I understand that until nuclear takes over (fission and/or fusion) we need fossil fuels as much as the oxygen we breath and the food we eat.

Yes, yes, fossil fuels have negative side effects but in general, their contribution to humanity's well being is overwhelmingly positive and thus we will not suddenly stop using them. No, the process will be gradual, very gradual. 

Why the changes in my thinking?  It can be summarized by: 1 Corinthians 13:11.

So, bottom line, I lost my religion. Now, I lobby full time for reason.

Thank you.








3/02/2015

Hit The Wall at 120 KPH


When Craig Barrett was the CEO of Intel, he said something like: "we will not reduce our speed, if it comes to it we will hit the wall at 120 kph."

I'm not sure how much fossil fuel use increases the average temperature of the Earth, but it is probably safe to state that "we will not reduce our speed."

Fossil fuels dominate, by far, the energy market and the reason is mainly one: they are very good. 
Fossil fuels are cheap, abundant, dense, versatile, reliable, constant, and the global infrastructure has been made mostly for them.

There is no way we will stop using them by 2050, or 2080, or...

What is more, in absolute terms, fossil fuels have been growing faster than all the alternatives combined. So even though we hear lots of PR stating that the world is going solar (or wind), in absolute terms, FF have never been farther ahead. Never.

Worse, every time more solar or wind capacity is added to a grid, it essentially "locks-in" for the long term a pairing fossil fuel power plant. So ironically, renewables might actually be having the opposite effect of what some people intend.

So, bottom line, we are driving at 120 kph and accelerating.

The wall, I believe, will not be global warming but fossil fuel scarcity. But hey, we are having the time of our lives so, who cares?

Keep on trucking!