Pointless Arguments

The AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) discourse is getting more and more pointless by the day. The two camps are more entrenched than ever and the continuous heavy information bombardment serves no purpose.

By "the two camps" we mean, on the one side the warmists (together with the alarmists) and on the other the skeptics (together with the "deniers").

The first camp showers the second with models, anecdotes, all the latest weather news (no matter what happens, they insist it is caused by AGW), etc.

The second camp fights back with more comprehensive historical climate trends and satellite data. Interestingly, the warmists seem to be "satellite deniers."

The end result is that nobody moves an inch and thus all the efforts are wasted.

For the warmists, AGW has become a religion of sorts and the skeptics... well, are skeptics.

Can we all agree that there has to be a better way forward?

Here is a proposal: stop arguing about AGW for good and better focus on the "solutions."

Yes, the skeptics will defend that there is no problem to solve to begin with, but what if we tell them we have an affordable energy source that is dense, reliable, produces almost no pollution and can be located close to current electricity transmission lines?

And what if we tell the warmists the same as above PLUS underline that the mentioned source of energy ADDITIONALLY produces almost no CO2 emissions.

Right, that energy source is nuclear power. What is more exciting is that even better designs are already in the pipeline. 

Today, nuclear is the #2 low CO2 energy source in the planet (second only to hydro), but nuclear has more growth potential. 

Note of caution for the warmists: don't even try to pitch renewables as the "solution." The push back from the skeptics will be even harder than the push back against the concept of AGW, so this is definitively not the way forward.

Why aren't skeptics enthusiastic about renewables? Well, because they are skeptics. They don't take things at face value, they do the math and thus they know renewables are too weak (in other words, their energy density is too low), require loads of "material," are intermittent and unreliable and thus need a pairing fossil fuel power plant or storage. In other words, for a person with the right level of skepticism, they just don't make financial or even environmental sense.

Bottom line: let's stop our pointless arguments and join forces to aggressively ramp up the "solution" to AGW: nuclear power.


Feel free to join the conversation in Twitter.


Stick to the Knitting

Yes, scientists are in their area of expertise when they study the climate, make models about it and volunteer projections for its behavior in future decades. All this is fine and it is the way it should be. Scientists (climate scientists in particular) should be listened to regarding their area of expertise.

On the other hand, under no circumstances should scientists define the energy policy of a country, let alone that of the whole planet. Scientists should only be advisors. No president or leader of a global organization like the UN should delegate their responsibility to a body of scientists.

Doing this could imply economic catastrophe for little, if any environmental improvement.

Today, Germany is the poster boy of environmentalists and it is precisely an example of what a country should not do. 

After 100 billion euros or so of investment in "renewable" energy (mainly wind and solar) they still have CO2 emissions well north of 400 grams per kWh, coal is by far their #1 electricity source and nuclear is their main low CO2 energy source. 

However, the "collateral damage" of renewables in Germany has been a greatly increased price of electricity for the residential consumer.*

Any half competent engineer would have told them that wind and solar cannot replace nuclear power plants. Why? Because they are not even in the same category. Nuclear is constant and reliable. Renewables are "whim" energy.

Setting energy policy obviously requires taking into consideration many factors: economic, political, even psychological, but where the rubber meets the road, in other words, in the production of energy itself, no group is better qualified to advise than engineers with the right experience.

Ballpark, the advice from engineers concerning reduction in the carbon intensity of an economy would almost certainly include the following:

1. Efficiency in energy consumption.
2. More efficient coal plants.
3. Replace as much coal as possible by natural gas.
4. Massive nuclear buildup.
5. Harness untapped hydro resources.
6. Deployment of a "smart grid."

You may notice renewables are not even in the list above. Why? Because although renewables are "feasible," they are not the best use of economic / material resources in the quest to reduce the carbon intensity of an economy. This is an engineering fact in most circumstances.

So, at the end of the day and ironically, it is not so much the "climate deniers" that are blocking effective action to reduce our GHG emissions, rather it is the "engineering deniers" that are pushing governments to misplace investments in "solutions" that may delay for decades significant reductions in emissions.

Bottom line, scientists should stick to the knitting. In other words, they pinpoint the problem that needs to be solved, but it is the engineers that will solve it.

Thank you.

* http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/high-costs-and-errors-of-german-transition-to-renewable-energy-a-920288.html


I Want the Job!

Dear Greenpeace: we've heard the news Kumi Naidoo is leaving the organization and here I present my humble input respecting the selection of your next leader.

I believe Greenpeace needs a transformational leader because, in my opinion, you are almost becoming irrelevant in the energy / climate discourse.

What should that leader bring to the equation?


Greenpeace has become too ideological and thus more and more disconnected from reality.

Today, by far, the low CO2 energy sources in the world's energy market are hydro and nuclear. By far. 

Nothing else comes even close to them, thus the new Greenpeace should remove the "ban" on nuclear energy. 

Also, we need to think hard if natural gas should be embraced. For the same kWh produced, natural gas emits half the CO2 of coal fired power plants. Half! This is not a rounding error but a game changer. Nuclear cannot move as fast as natural gas, so we should fully support (for the moment) the aggressive ramping up of natural gas power plants and consequently of natural gas production itself. 

Additionally, coal does not only emit CO2, but pollutants harmful to health such as mercury, sulphur, sooth, etc., so natural gas is a win - win proposition. 

Your "heroics" and clowning were probably appropriate during your beginnings but now you need to grow up. The Nazca thing really harmed your reputation. These kind of things cannot continue to be condoned by Greenpeace's leadership. Yes, the Nazca thing went over the top, but climbing buildings and interfering with ocean oil rig operations is not correct either. 

Today Greenpeace is a mature organization and it should behave accordingly.

Oil companies are not the enemy, if anything, they are the servants of humanity. Oil companies for the most part don't even consume the oil they extract. The reason for their drilling are the demands from billions of customers. When we go to a gasoline station, we all EXPECT to be served the petrol our cars need. Imagine if they ran out of petrol? We'll have riots in our hands. Likewise, when we climb into a plane we EXPECT it to have enough fuel to reach our destination. So no, we cannot curtail production before we curtail demand. The onus is on the users, not on the producers.

If the mission of Greenpeace is "...to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future" then, in my opinion, these should be your priorities:

1. Embrace natural gas production (it generates half the CO2 of coal, see above).
2. Embrace nuclear energy (the most scaleable of the low CO2 energy sources).
3. Embrace efficiency (the lowest of the low hanging fruits).
4. Promote the education of girls worldwide (so they decide when and how many children they will have).
5. Support the adequate vetting of GMOs, but don't preemptively oppose them.
6. Don't go crazy with renewables. They'll have their place in our global energy diet but they will not become the main course. 
7. Try to lead by example. Your leadership should make a clear effort to reduce their CO2 emissions. It looks hypocritical for them to travel by plane all over the world (that's what video conferencing equipment is for).
8. Grow up.

I hope you find this input valuable in the selection of your new leader and setting your future direction.

Thank you very much.


Baseload Solar

Most of the solar PV installed capacity in the world is grid connected and is not baseload. In other words, when it produces power, other power plants have to be modulated, idled, stopped and then when later in the day solar power begins to drop, those same power plants need to ramp-up production again. This creates inefficiencies, "hidden" costs and additional CO2 emissions. 

The above obviously means that solar PV does not replace any conventional (usually fossil fuel) electrical generating capacity.

So, the question is: can solar PV become a baseload power supplier?

The answer is yes (sort of). Let's make the numbers.

The first disclaimer is that we are going to make some simplifications. Things in real life are obviously more complex, but bear with us.

The project is to install a 1 GW baseload solar PV power plant.

Here are the numbers:

Constant required output: 1 GW.

Annual capacity factor for solar PV (in a specific location this could be higher or lower, we are using a number close to the global average): 15%.

Requred solar PV installed capacity = 1 GW / 0.15 = 6.67 GW.

If supplied with 250 W solar panels, this is the number of panels required: 
     (6.67 x one billion / 250) = 26,666,667 panels. Let's round this off to 27 million panels.

The energy that needs to be stored (in batteries) is: 1 GW x 24 hours = 24 GWh.

To illustrate, we'll use car batteries* (weighting 28.4 kgs and capable of storing 1.25 kWh each).
Number of batteries required to store 24 GWh = 24 x 1 million / 1.25 kWh = 19.2 million. Let's consider 20 million batteries. The total weight of these batteries would be: 20 million x 28.4 kgs = 568,000 metric tons. 
As a reference in 2014 almost 90 million motor vehicles were produced globally so the 20 million batteries required for this project would represent ~22% of the total new vehicle lead-acid battery manufacture.

Or, if we want a more modern battery, we could use Tesla's Powerwall battery. Of these we would require: 24 GWh / 7 kWh = 3,428,571 of them. Let's round it off to 3.5 million. (At a cost of $3,000, without installation, it would represent $10.5 billion USD). Sure, in bulk the costs could be lower. 

Additionally 1,000 industrial inverters with a capacity of 1 MW each would be needed to convert the DC energy of the batteries to the AC energy required by the utility customers.

So, in summary for a 1 GW baseload solar PV power plant we would require:

   27 million (250 W) solar panels.
   20 (140) million lead-acid car batteries (or 3.5 [24.5] million Powerwall batteries). 
   1,000 one MW industrial inverters

So far so good, but now, let's see how reality intrudes with our carefully tailored plans.

In real life the annual capacity factor (15% in this exercise) is not the daily capacity factor. Some days we may have a 30% C.F. and at other days we may have 3%. So with the installation described above, during a 30% day we would need to disconnect the solar panels and waste half of the energy they could have produced. ON the other hand, in a 3% day, we would completely deplete the batteries and create a blackout on the area served.

To somewhat insulate us from those daily variations the "solution" would be to increase the storage capacity from one day to, say, seven days. Thus we would need ~140 million lead-acid car batteries (or 24.5 million Powerwall ones). The more robust battery numbers are indicated in red above.

Even then, the solar PV plant will not become a baseload supplier as there are considerable annual variations in the duration of the day and cloud cover, but let's leave things here not to complicate them further. On the other hand, the amount of solar panels and inverters can stay at the original numbers calculated. 

Just to get an idea of the magnitudes of material we are talking about, this is one of the largest batteries in the world. It is located at Presidio, Texas and it can store 32 MWh. So, 750 of these batteries would be needed for one day of storage and 5,250 for one week of storage.

We are talking of enormous amounts of material resources and area (additional to the solar farm itself).

Obviously, all this material produces GHG during its manufacture, transportation, installation and final disposal.

The USA produced 4,114,475 GWh of electricity during 2014**. Thus the above mentioned PP would produce 8,760 / 4,114,475 = 0.21% of the US electrical requirements. To produce by these means say, 10% of US 2014 requirements, the following amounts of material would be needed:

    1.27 billion solar panels.
    6.6 billion lead-acid batteries (7 day storage)
    47,000 one MW industrial inverters

Let's remember that every so many years the batteries, panels and inverters would need to be replaced, thus they would require a very healthy (in other words, massive) mining industry in perpetuity. 

Does it even make sense to go solar?

Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter.

Thank you.

* Energy for Future Presidents, Richard A. Muller

** http://www.iea.org/statistics/relatedsurveys/monthlyelectricitysurvey/

Additional engineering considerations:
1. Would we cycle the storage batteries from 0 to 100% and thus probably reduce their useful life or be more conservative and thus need more batteries?
2. Yes, for one day storage we don't need the full 24 GWh since some solar power would go directly to the grid without having first to be stored but it wouldn't be advisable to reduce storage or it would leave us almost no spare capacity.
3. Days in winter can be much shorter and cloudier than those in summer, thus seven days of storage might not be enough for yearlong reliable power output. 
4. For simplification, we are not considering the inefficiencies in the batteries or inverters. 


Less Hype, More Reality

If Global Warming really exists and if it is caused mainly by our civilization's GHG emissions, then we need to tame the hype and focus on things that would actually reduce CO2 emissions without bankrupting the economy and converting most of us into paupers.

Short term, this is what would probably give us the most bang for the buck:

1. Go crazy with natural gas. Yes, between now and 2040, the EIA estimates that electricity production from natural gas will grow by 88%. That is a healthy number, but if we are in a hurry to reduce CO2 emissions, then we should go "crazy" with natural gas so it may a) replace more current coal generation and b) prevent some new coal plants from going on line to begin with. Let's remember that per kWh produced, natural gas emits ~half the CO2 as coal. This is not a footnote, this is a game changer.

2. Improve efficiency standards and implement efficiency projects all over the world. Efficiency tends to be the least painful energy (and thus CO2) reduction path. Here we are talking of insulation, air conditioners with higher SEER ratings, LED / CFL illumination, lighter cars, improvements in the internal combustion engine, hybrids, what have you. 

Longer term, we have to consider*:

1. Nuclear energy. Today, nuclear is already the #2 low CO2 electricity source in the world. Although hydro is still king, its projected growth is smaller and thus eventually nuclear will take the top spot. However, if we are in a hurry to reduce CO2, then we should also go "crazy" with nuclear and increase its growth well above the 90% projected by the EIA.

2. Empower women via education and other means to be "the masters of their own fate." Yes, women all over the world should be able to decide when and how many children they will have. See "the Girl Effect" below.


Finally, a note on "renewable" or "sustainable" energy (solar and wind): ironically the subsidies for sustainable energy are not sustainable and the moment they are removed theses industries will survive only in their "natural" market which is small and thus largely irrelevant respecting curtailment of our global CO2 emissions. 

In summary, "climate action" would require "going crazy" with natural gas and nuclear power while at the same time pursuing efficiency and supporting education for women globally. Let's tame the hype and focus more on reality.

Thank you.

* Yes, some may argue in favor of CCS or geo-engineering but these approaches are today very green (as it were).