Category Archives: Climate Politics

A Three Question Climate Change Knowledge Test

Climate change is a scientific discussion that has been hijacked by political considerations.  Many people have strong opinions about climate change and too many of those opinions are based on political rather than scientific reality.   Politics are here, there and everywhere.  And the UN, a strangely political place, is the recognized world expert.  Need I say more.

With that in mind I have developed a simple 3 question test.  If you already know all the answers, congratulations!

Question 1. —  What is Climate Sensitivity and how does it impact the global climate debate?

Most people have never heard of Climate Sensitivity.  Some will be well aware of the idea, but not know the name.  Others are simply unaware of the arguments.  A general knowledge of how climate sensitivity is used by the global warming doom crowd is important.

Carbon dioxide is a weak greenhouse gas.  Water vapor and methane are strong greenhouse gases.   As carbon dioxide changes in the atmosphere, it is predicted to make changes in other climate variables.   IF the model assumes a high climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide then small changes in carbon dioxide cause big changes in climate.  Low sensitivity produces much less change.   Many UN modelers assume a fairly high carbon dioxide sensitivity.  This high sensitivity leads to “tipping points” and gloom and doom.

Climate models are run by computers. These computers use carbon dioxide as a key input variable.  They then predict temperature years and centuries into the future.   UN approved climate models do not agree with each other.   Models can vary by as much as 5 degrees C by the year 2100.

As time goes by computers get faster, more information becomes available and the models are adjusted.  Predictions made just 10 years ago have proven to be wildly high.  Either the climate sensitivity was too high or … they have failed to properly consider natural climate variation.

Question 2. — What is natural climate variation?

If you don’t get this one right, you’re really not paying attention to the science.

We live in an ice age time.  We have been in an ice age for the last 2.5 million years.  For the last 11,000 years we have been in the Holocene, an oddly steady period of climate history.  Climate during the Holocene has been warm and stable.  Ice cores go back about 700,000 years.  The Holocene is the only climate period during that time that has stayed warm for 11,000 years.   The norm is colder.  Much colder.

Here is a copy of a Vostok Antarctic Ice Corps showing climate variations at the drill site.

This chart starts in the present time and then goes back 400,000 years.  Another widely used chart displays the last 50,000 years of the chart beginning at the oldest with the newest dates at the right:

It’s easy to see the Holocene.  20,000 years ago New York City was covered in ice…and 130,000 years the world was warmer than it is right now.   This wildly changing climate is called natural climate variation.

Now lets look at the last 10,000 years using a Greenland Ice Core:

This chart ends with year 2009.  Man has only been able to influence climate for perhaps 200 years.  Any variations seen before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (the blue on the chart) must, by definition, be something that man did not cause.  Three times in the last 10,000 years it has been more than a degree warmer than it is right now.

What change is natural and what is man caused?  This is one very difficult science problem.

Question 3 — How is electricity stored?

This is a bit of a trick question.  Generally, electricity is not stored.   Power generation is an on demand business.  You turn on the light switch, the utility provides the electricity and the lights go on.  The utility grid has a bit of excess capacity running all the time so that it can maintain a stable grid.

A small amount of electricity is stored in batteries, but batteries are expensive and have manufacturing and disposal problems.  Batteries are not now a viable option.  People are working hard to solve this problem.   But in science, wishing doesn’t make it so.  When the solution is found…we can consider it, but for right now we have to look at what is available today, not what might be there in 10 or 20 years.

Electricity is not stored, any electricity provided must be immediately used by the grid.  Electrical demand varies throughout the day and the electric utility has to vary production to meet that demand.  Demand usually peaks just before sunrise and again in the early evening.  Wind and solar are only available when mother nature feels like it.  Germany, the largest solar power market in the world is so far North that solar provides almost no power in the winter.   Munich, which is in Southern Germany, has the same latitude as International Falls, Minnesota.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases statistics every month on power generation in the USA.  Here is the data for a 12 month rolling average including October 2015.

Coal   Natural Gas    Nuclear    Hydro     Solar     Renewable (inc. wind)

35%         32%              19%           6%           0.6%                          7%

Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal but does create some carbon dioxide when burned.  Hydro and Nuclear are clean (from a carbon dioxide perspective)   All four are unpopular with environmentalists for various reasons and they represent about 92% of all power production.

Wind is the most difficult to predict alternative fuel, and it’s the least reliable.   Places with lots of wind relative to other sources of power have odd things happen from time to time.  When the wind really blows, Germany gets so much power from wind that they have to pay neighboring countries to take the energy.  A US utility made news a few months ago when it gave away electricity during peak wind production.  A  cheap reliable battery network would fix this problem.  Unfortunately none exists right now.

Whenever I encounter a global warming true believer I ask them the same simple question.   What is your opinion on Nuclear Power?  Coal represents 35% of total load now and most environmentalists want that at zero.   Where is that capacity going to come from?   There is only one currently available source that can bridge the gap to a better world with wind, solar and cheap batteries and that choice is Nuclear.

Which of course begs the question.   What do you fear more, Nuclear Power or global warming?  I myself am skeptical about the science that touts global disaster, but they could be right.  On the chance that they might be at least partly right…. I support more Nuclear Energy.  How about You?

 

Old Predictions Make Prejudiced Scientists

On Monday, the Alaska Dispatch News reprinted a Washington Post story by Chris Mooney titled Renowned climate scientist projects rapid rise in sea level, more intense storms The article discusses a research study Dr. James Hansen and 16 of his associates are about to release.  That study predicts gloom and doom even if the UN is successful in controlling climate change. The study has yet to be peer reviewed but is given priority by the Washington Post because as the article states:

It’s an alarming picture of where the planet could be headed — and hard to ignore, given Hansen’s reputation.

Why is it hard to ignore?  Why is gloom and doom by Dr. Hansen news?  Dr. Hansen has been predicting gloom and doom since the 1980’s.  He has been predicting rapid temperature rises and sea level mass destruction since 1982.  His 1988 projections in front of Congress were wrong.  This graph from a Skeptical Science article defending Hansen shows three Hansen predictions.  Scenario A predicted changes with carbon dioxide near current levels: https://i0.wp.com/www.skepticalscience.com/pics/Hansen_1988.gif According to Dr. Hansen, we should be quite a bit warmer.  And I would argue that the black line drawn by Skeptical Science is a bit too aggressive.  Most temperature models show a rapid rise from the 1992 cooling following the  Mt. Pinatubo eruption, to the great El Nino of 1998.  Worldwide temperatures since 1998 have been largely unchanged.  The  Skeptical Science graph makes it look like there is a persistent uptrend that really stopped in 1998.

Climate research sites  UAH, and East Anglia University both show this.   As Skeptical Science said in the article, Dr. Hansen’s models had a too high climate sensitivity. English translation…his predictions were wrong.

Dr. Hansen is not alone, most early models at the IPCC were wildly high  in their predictions.  Climate models have had to be modified to reflect the lack of warming since 1998.   IPCC reports have been toning down the immediate impacts of carbon dioxide (and methane too), using natural climate variation as the reason.

They still think they are right, but natural climate variation appears to be masking the predicted results and their predictions  might take a long time to materialize.  Virtually every temperature based prediction made by the IPCC in the 2007 Climate Change Report was wrong.  The IPCC has now modified their positions to reflect this reality.   Not Dr. Hansen. Back in June of 1988, Dr Hansen is quoted in a New York Times article as saying the following to Congress:

that it was 99% certain that  the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a build up of carbon dioxide and other artificial gasses in the atmosphere.

And in 2007 he had not changed his view one iota as these quotes courtesy of the Steve Goreham website demonstrate:

“…99 percent confiden t that the world really was getting warmer and that there was a high degree of probability that it was due to human-made greenhouse gases.”     —Dr. James Hansen on his 1988 Senate testimony, PBS Frontline, Apr. 24, 2007

Two years later he said:

“The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades.”     —Dr. James Hansen, The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009

“The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine.”     —Dr. James Hansen, The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009

“Burning all the fossil fuels will destroy the planet we know, Creation, the planet of stable climate in which civilization developed.”     —Dr. James Hansen, letter to Barack and Michelle Obama, Dec. 29, 2008

Back in 1988, we knew much less than we do now and Dr. Hansen was 99% sure he was right.  How could anyone be that sure then or now?   Even the UN is only 90% sure that most warming seen since 1950 is man caused.  Some could be natural climate variation.  This is one extraordinarily difficult science discussion.  A rational person should have more doubt.

Now, Dr. Hansen believes even a modest rise in temperature of less than a degree C will be catastrophic.  I have doubts.  Dr. Hansen is so prejudiced in his view, I doubt he can produce a document that does not display his almost religious zeal on the subject.

Interestingly, the Washington Post decided to use Michael Mann as their independent scientist to discuss this controversial paper presented by Dr. Hansen. Mann would not have been my first choice.

Back in 1998, Dr. Mann produced a paper predicting rapid climate change.  It was the rage of the Climate Community for years. Al Gore used the Hockey Stick Graph as it was called in his film.  In 2005 the study was successfully challenged by Canadian mathematicians.  Dr. Mann has been at the center of a climate fire storm for some 10 years now.

Hansen and Mann share a common problem.  Both made wild predictions in the distant past and must either defend them or admit mistakes.  Neither has been willing to admit errors, and errors were made. Some times I don’t understand journalistic choices.  I cannot think of any duo more shrouded in controversy in Climate Science than Dr. Hansen and Dr. Mann.

All this begs a question – Why did Mr. Mooney give Dr. Hansen such stature and why did he use Dr. Mann as a source confirming the story?

Common Temperature Mistakes

Any discussion of climate change begins and ends with a discussion of temperature.  A Bloomberg article titled Holding Back Climate Change Isn’t as Hard as You Think is a typical example.  Apparently the International Energy Agency has looked at recent trends in energy use and is encouraged.  The third paragraph states the following:

Pledges already put forward for the Paris conference, including by the U.S., European Union and China, could hold temperature increases to 2.6 degrees Celsius. That’s significantly less of an overshoot than the 3.6-degree long-term gain in the IEA’s main scenario issued in November. The United Nations is trying to hold the increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

The article goes on to say that countries all over the world are becoming more energy efficient and are replacing coal fired power production with natural gas.

The article is a refreshing change from the gloom and doom normally spouted…but it makes the exact same group of mistakes most articles on climate make.

Mistake 1

Climate is not a static system.  Global temperatures changes wildly and in unpredictable ways.   The UN climate experts continue to make specific predictions even as they admit that background natural climate variation makes specific temperature prediction difficult.    This UK’s East Anglia University temperature chart illustrates the point:

http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/documents/421974/487107/gtc_feb2015.gif/1abb0fcd-aecc-4cc3-ac4c-b6ea634379ea?t=1424695677621

UN experts insist that the change between 1910 and 1940 was natural climate variation, and that the change between 1976 and 1998 was mostly man caused.   Change since 1998 has been less than predicted by the UN.  The most recent UN Synopses Report blames natural climate variation for the lack of predicted change since 1998.

How can anyone guarantee any specific temperature in such a dynamic system?

Mistake 2

Climate experts do not make specific climate recommendations.  They make predictions using probabilities from computer models.   These models are not precise.  They routinely have a range of values as figure 3.2 from the 2007 UN report demonstrates.

https://www.ipcc.ch/graphics/syr/fig3-2.jpg

Working from left to right, the chart begins with a graph of the midpoint temperature change predicted by 2100 for four of the six different scenarios considered in the report.  Next to the graph is a bar chart with the six scenarios considered by the report (labeled B1 to A1F1).  Next to that are worldwide temperature graphics of three scenarios.

Let’s zoom in on the middle part of the image, the bar chart. The shaded area of the bar chart graphically demonstrates the range of values different computer models provide for the same scenario.  The bar charts are constructed to include 90% of the computer models run in the study.  One in ten computer models falls outside the bar graph.

News reports routinely report a single number.  There is no single number.

Mistake 3

The UN is not trying to keep temperatures to a 2 degrees C rise, they are trying to keep the rise from current levels to less than a degree.   The article simply quotes the UN stated goal incorrectly.   The UN stated goal is to keep temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolution began as the Little Ice Age was ending.  It was a particularly cool period of recent history.

The UN chose to start their calculating at this opportune time and nobody seems to care that the premier world climate agency is cherry picking data.  The UN has often stated that most warming before 1950 was natural climate variation. Why add more than 1 degree C of natural climate variation to the total?  It seems an odd convolution of the arithmetic.

Why the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made such a prediction is anybodies guess.  In a world where a volcanic eruption can cause a 2 degree C shift in a single year,  the IPCC’s goal of 2 degrees C since the Industrial Revolution has always been unrealistic and unattainable.

Mistake 4

Accurately calculating the correct historical temperature is very difficult.  Satellite data only exists for 35 years.  Data on the Oceans is spotty and new with the best data beginning in the 1990’s.  We have only a single data point for all of Antarctica.

Direct data in any form is only 200 years old and the best data has been gathered since the 1990’s.  As predictions go back in time the data gets more and more approximate.  We have general ideas about what the climate was like 10,000 years ago (similar to today), 20,000 years ago (much colder than today — think ice sheets in New York City) or 130,000 years ago when we think it was quite a bit warmer than it is right now.  That information is much less precise than the mass of data being produced every day in the 21st century.

The approximate nature of old data makes small changes over short periods of time difficult to calculate or predict.

Data over 200 years old is indirect data using tree rings, soil bores and ice cores and other indirect and anecdotal evidence.  This indirect data is both regional and has a small sample size which means it is difficult to make precise predictions about the climate of just a few thousand years ago.

Ice cores provide long term data for a single specific location in the coldest place on earth.   Trying to predict climate in New York City some 500,000 years ago based on a the temperature in a single ice core in Antarctica is much less accurate than reading a thermometer.

Regional climate varies wildly and is not a good proxy for worldwide climate.  Most anecdotal evidence is made up of proxies for regional climates.  Small changes to the world climate ecosystem in years gone by will almost certainly be missed.  It is difficult to tell how important today variations are, given the poor historical data sets.  Maybe the climate we are seeing is extraordinary, maybe it’s all happened before?

And the data interpretation keeps changing!

Just a few days ago NOAA announced that they had found errors in recent temperature calculations that help explain the less warm than predicted climate these last 15 years.  Other climate groups are less sure, choosing to take a wait an see attitude. Perhaps they remember other climate missteps (Climate-gate or the Mann Hockey Stick Graph).

Just about every article using temperature data ignores the limitations the science faces.  Specific numbers are used in a world full of approximations and guesses.

And so it goes

USA isn’t Number 1 in Carbon Emissions

This morning I decided to look up some recent carbon dioxide production statistics.  I performed a Google search and selected the Natural Resources Defense Council website, which came up first on the search (and you wondered how Google made money).  The site was chock full of climate propaganda and half truths.  I selected the following question from their website:

Q:  What country is the largest source of global warming pollution?

A:  The United States. Though Americans make up just 4 percent of the world’s population, we produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning — by far the largest share of any country. In fact, the United States emits more carbon dioxide than China, India and Japan, combined. Clearly America ought to take a leadership role in solving the problem. And as the world’s top developer of new technologies, we are well positioned to do so — we already have the know-how.

Al Gore used similar data in his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. 

Both Al and the Environmental lobby are wrong.  Big Surprise!  They must be using ancient data.  The data used by Mr. Gore  in his 2006 released film has a 1999 copyright date.  Data takes time to compile.  I’d guess the actual data was probably produced using data form the mid 1990’s.   2014 data is now available .

I wish the Natural Resource Defense Council had spent a bit more on content  editing and a bit less on online advertising.

The Statistica website has  data from 2014.  Their data shows the USA is second place with 14.7% of total manmade carbon dioxide production.  China leads and has led the country chart since 2006.  Their 2014 share was 23.4%, a number that has been steadily rising for over 20 years.  India, another rapid grower sits in third position with 5.7%, followed by Russia (4.9%), Brazil (4.7.%), Japan(3.6%), Indonesia (2.31%), Germany (2.23%) and Korea (1.71%).

Why did Al Gore use old statistics in 2006 when he made his film and why does the USA’s largest environmental lobby still use 20 year old data today?   Because it works as a fundraising tool.  Potential givers want  to feel important. China (and India too) have the ability to overwhelm the mathematics.  Why give.  We in the USA are powerless to impact the autocracy that is China.

I’d argue the data doesn’t begin to tell the full story.   Population density, location and GDP all must also be considered.  China and the USA are about the same size, but China has 4 times as many people and produces less than 50% of the goods the USA produces.  All those people with middle class desires.  Urbanization will lead to additional carbon production.  Throw in GDP differences and China looks more and more like the Elephant in the room nobody talks about

China is a bit closer to the equator than the USA, which means they need to use less energy to keep warm.   The USA has been reducing  their carbon footprint steadily since about 2000.  China continues to grow theirs at nearly 8% per year.

India is another rapid grower and that has the potential to be a perplexing problem for the climate control crowd.   India is about 1/3 the size of the USA and produces a bit more than 1/3 of the USA’s total carbon dioxide.   Their population is still growing rapidly which means that their carbon production will grow rapidly unless they can use much less on a per capita basis.   Their current per capita use is rising from a very low level which means that India has a long runway of increased carbon production in front of them.

China’s impact is huge.  India’s is growing rapidly.  The USA’s potential climate impact (if you trust the UN scientists) has been declining for most of the 21st century.  Who knows what will happen next.  Any notion that we in the USA can change the world with rather modest  changes at home seems a bit fanciful.

Perhaps the guys at the UN are wrong.  Their temperature predictions for the first 15 years of the 21st century have been awful.  The world has been colder than predicted.  Yes surface data shows 2014 as being a warm year.  Satellite data disagrees; and both land based and satellite data are lower than UN predictions made just a few years ago.  Perhaps increased carbon dioxide won’t be as damaging as advertised.

China’s growth rate is slowing and they are building a bunch of new Nuclear Power Plants which should slow their emissions growth rate in the 2020’s.   Maybe the elephant in the room will move more carefully a few years from now.

Time will tell.

Pollution — The Big Lie that Lives on Forever

Air pollution and carbon dioxide have been linked together since the global warming debate began some 25 years ago.  It’s the big lie in the climate game that won’t go away.  Al Gore’s film video cover art is a perfect example of the faux reality we all live with.  Pollutants from factories and carbon dioxide pollution are shown and one and the same.

Carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless, which is why it acts as a greenhouse gas.  Since it is colorless and odorless it makes a boring picture.  The material coming from the smokestack is either water vapor or visible pollution.  Chemicals in air pollution can cause cancer, and can make air unsafe to breathe for people at risk.  Carbon dioxide is beneficial.  Greenhouses add carbon dioxide to their microclimate to make plants grow faster.

Traditional air pollution is neither colorless nor odorless.  Newspaper articles regularly feature a polluting factory photo while discussing carbon dioxide issues.  It’s the big lie that wont go away.

There really is a big difference between air pollution and carbon dioxide. When I visited Shanghai, my eyes watered and I had a sore throat my entire stay. Beijing has air pollution many time worse than Shanghai.  Particulate matter floating around  Beijing’s air causes immediate health problems for its residents.  People are warned not to leave their homes on bad days.  The health risk is immediate and real.  Ironically, visible air pollution shields the surface of the Earth from the Sun, reflecting the Suns energy back to space.  Air pollution makes the world cooler, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, helping to keep the world warm.

We as a society need to distinguish between traditional air pollution and carbon dioxide.  Air pollution is an immediate health problem; carbon dioxide makes the world a bit warmer than it otherwise would be and is necessary for life on Earth.

Global warming is presumed to be bad.  If the Earth warms fast enough, and then stays warm for a really long time, there will be many environmental consequences.  Some will be good, many will be bad.  People living near the ocean will get wet.  A little warming is not to be feared, the warming we have seen in modern times has been on balance, good for mankind.   250 years ago the world was a degree C cooler than it is today.   Were we to have that climate today, we’d have difficulty feeding the worlds population.

Imagine what the world would be like if it were say….10 degrees C cooler, as it was just 17,000 years ago.

Climate scientists presume that the warming we have right now is just right for society.  The world is not too hot, it’s not too cold, it’s just right.   The tree bears would be proud.

If we did everything just right, exactly as the scientists at the UN want us to, would the world stay just right?  No.  The ecosystem is too dynamic.  It changes all by itself all the time.   The world warmed 10 degrees all by itself some 15000 years ago.  It could start cooling next week or a century from now or a thousand years  form now.  Most of the time in the last 2.5 million years, the world has been has been cold, 5 to 10 degrees colder than it is today.  We live in the Holocene, an 11,000 year long warm spell.   There is no guarantee it will last, no matter what we do.

That said.  We should try to be good stewards of our planet.  But nobody knows how warm we’ll be 500 years from now.  NOBODY!

Global warming theory has been simplified.  The dumbed down version  goes something like this.  Man produced carbon dioxide (and methane and other greenhouse gases) is changing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide is a weak greenhouse gas, so it only warms the planet a little.  This warming is enough to cause an increase in water vapor.  Water vapor is an effective greenhouse gas and that warms the planet more rapidly which causes even more water vaper (the proverbial tipping point) and then we have rapid warming.

Should increased water vapor cause an increase in clouds, the impact would be mitigated as clouds near the surface cool the environment.  Interestingly, the world has been warmer than it is today in the recent past (120,000 years ago) and we did not spiral out of control then.  Maybe the earth won’t warm as much as predicted.

The worlds ecosystem is extraordinarily complicated with many many variables (solar cycles, variations in the earth’s orbit, the solar winds, positions of the continents, volcanic eruptions, changes in circulation of oceans).  These variable have been linked to past ice ages.   The Earth’s climate may appear stable, but it isn’t.  Wild variations are a part of climate history.  Natural variation exasperates an already difficult science problem.  It is extraordinarily difficult to ascertain a specific cause and effect for any individual variable.  Wild ass guessing is a job requirement in climate science.

Both carbon dioxide and water vapor are building blocks of life.   If they go away bad things happen.   During ice age cold cycles, carbon dioxide levels get very low. They were scarily low at the end of the last ice age cycle some 20,000 years ago.  Low carbon dioxide levels slow plant growth.  Clearly too much is better than too little.

Carbon dioxide has been declared a pollutant by some because it has been presumed to be the deciding factor in climate change.   Any honest debate about climate change must begin with the notion that carbon dioxide is one of many many variables.

Still in doubt.   Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the beginning of the industrial revolution as this graph demonstrates:

http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/figures/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-ppm/csi013_fig04_co2_concentration.png/image_original

Temperatures have been  more erratic.  The correlation is less than perfect.  Temperature has done next to nothing since 1998 as carbon dioxide has been steadily rising. During the period from 1940 to 1978, temperature went down while carbon dioxide rose. Don’t take my word for it, compare the chart above with the chart below courtesy of East Anglia University:

gtc graph

Still doubtful,  lets take a really long view and look at data from an Antarctic ice core with both temperature and carbon dioxide plotted. The chart that follows is the Vostok Ice Core  with carbon dioxide and temperature plotted together:

https://i2.wp.com/www.climatedata.info/resources/Proxies/Ice-Cores/05-Vostok-temperature-and-CO2.gif

Carbon dioxide and temperature share a similar shape, but can go in opposite directions for thousands of years before following each other again. About 400,000 years ago carbon dioxide and termperature were out of sync for about 10,000 years. More often than not, carbon dioxide appears to be a following rather that a leading indicator. Temperature peaks first, begins down and then carbon dioxide follows it down.

The data does look a bit different in the most recent past.  Carbon dioxide is going up faster than temperature which is probably the result of recent activities by man.

Carbon dioxide is regarded as a pollutant because it is assumed to be a leading cause of catastrophic warming a few hundred years from now.  There might be a more than a bit of guessing behind that assertion.   The impact carbon dioxide plays is difficult to quantify.  Past efforts have a poor track record with many missteps.  The science is less clear than most people think.

One thing is  certain….carbon dioxide is a specific and different science experiment than is air pollution.  Sometimes the two come from the same source, like a volcano or a coal fired power plant, but the data leads in different directions.  One is a clear immediate health risk,  the other probably will contribute to a warmer world.  Exactly how much carbon dioxide contributes to warming is a very difficult mathematical problem.

Today the New York Times ran an article with global warming in the title, and a discussion of health issues including Asthma in the text of the article.   The article was about air pollution.  The title was a poor editorial choice.  The Times was mixing normal air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions together as if the subjects were one and the same.

Some carbon dioxide is good, too much, probably not so good.  When does it stop being beneficial and start being a problem?  Do we have too much now?  Would the world be OK if we let carbon dioxide get 100 or 200 ppm higher than it is today.  The last 100 ppm seemed mostly beneficial?  How much is too much?

Most pollutants in the world are just bad.   No amount of Smog is beneficial.  Maybe we need a new name for whatever carbon dioxide is because air pollution is the wrong label.   An essential ingredient for life has been labeled as if it were a poison.

Ooops — A Power Failure just after sunset

While I don’t really believe in signs, I must admit, the last week I spent in Honolulu provided the encouragement I needed to give Kailua-Kona a try.   Honolulu was encouraging me to find someplace else to be.  It had been a great 4 week stay full of Saimin, Portuguese Sausage, papaya and walks on Kailua Beach.

It all started when the good folks at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply decided to replace a water main in front of my Hawaii residence location.  This 8 to 10 month long process was spectacularly noisy.  Hours were spent listening to a saw cut strips in asphalt.

A few days later, on Monday January, 12th,  I went for a drive to a favorite beach of mine near Kaena Point.  I got caught in an 90 minute traffic mess because the city closed one lane of the Farrington Highway.  90 minutes to go a bit over a mile.

Later that evening, shortly after sunset, on a windless night, the power system got stressed by the anticipated evening peak. The utility issued a series of rolling blackouts to prevent total system failure. People watching the National Championship Football game were not pleased.

Hawaiian Electric (HE) has not constructed a new peaking power plant since 1991.  The most recent plant of significant size (a 130 megawatt plant) was built by a private firm in 1992.  That’s a long time without significant power additions.  Plants get old, technology changes, new loads get added.   The traffic mess that is Kapolei did not exist in 1992.   No wonder the grid is stressed.

Hawaii needs 4 old plants to operate properly for the city to stay lit at night.  Three oil fired plants owned by the utility and one owned by a private firm, AES.

AES constructed it’s plant in 1992, some 22+ years ago…and it’s…are you ready for this… coal fired with coal imported from Indonesia!  This 130 megawatt plant  burns an odd assortment of waste in addition to the coal.  Old tires and waste motor oil provide fuel for the plant. The plant uses an old technology to clean the coal exhaust. On the plus side, it does get rid of lots of hard to handle waste, on an island that has little surplus land.

In 2010, the utility began the process of converting existing oil plants to algae based biodiesel.   And in 2014, they included biomass as a future feedstock in the coal plant contract.   I worry that converting existing peaking plants might put the grid at risk, should the new technology not work as well as advertised.

It’s never a good idea to be first to market using a new technology.  It’s generally a good idea to go second or even third.  Our optimistic nature produces rosy scenarios that are nearly impossible to meet in the real world.  We fail to anticipate problems. Many expensive mistakes are made as we learn.  Remember the Boeing 787 airplane, chock full of new technology.  It turned out OK because Boeing had the resources and time to make it work. The project was years late and billions over budget.

I remember something called the Healy Clean Coal Plant that was constructed in Healy, Alaska.

This new technology plant was supposed to burn waste coal cleanly.   The 300 million dollar plant was  completed in 1998.  It sits idle today…the victim of frequent plant failures, poor quality control during the test phase and a plethora of legal difficulties.

Hawaii politicians seem to be OK with the notion that evening power failures are part of the price Hawaii must pay for Hawaii’s clean energy policies.  I don’t get it.   It’s going to get worse.

Hawaiian Electric is not spending money to meet the peak demand and is spending money to stabilize the grid so that it can take more solar energy during the day.  Too much solar in remote locations has destabilized the grid, causing voltage surges.  This has forced the utility to limit new installations.

Generous subsidies have created a thriving solar business.  When the utility limits these installations, the utility has a significant PR problem.   Hawaiian Electric’s (HE) approach is to figure out ways to take more power during the day….and announce in advance when power failures are going to show up in the evening.

Spending money to expand the dirty old oil system is unpopular. Three main power plants provide the majority of Honolulu’s oil fired power.  The largest is the Kahe Oil Plant on Oahu’s west shore.  Between 1963 and 1981 this plant was expanded 5 times from 81 Megawatts of Power to the 661 Megawatts it has today.  Facilities at this plant are over 30 years old, with many facilities over 40 years of age.

The most recent major expansion of the Hawaiian Electric Oil system was completed when the Kalaeola Cogen plant was finished in 1991.  This “newer” Cogen plant  added almost 300 megawatts of power between 1989 and 1991.  The newest power generator in the system is 23 years old.

The third major oil fired plant, the Waiau Oil Plant provides a bit over 200 Megawatts.    I can remember driving by this plant in 1960.  Some equipment dates back to 1950, most of the generation was constructed in the 196o’s.

As HE approached the rolling blackout days, several HE oil plants were having difficulties and the coal plant was struggling too.  Peak capacity was severely limited as the utility struggled to get the failed units back on line.  No new peaking plants in over 20 years in a system that must exist without assistance from other operators.  Sometimes being on an island is a bitch.

HE has been pretending, literally for years, that their peaking problem does not exist.  It is only going to get worse as local politics trumps basic utility operations.   Algae based biodiesel might work, but it will probably be years late and billions over budget.

Goodbye Honolulu, hello Kona and all that geothermal power.

 

Hawaiian Electric gets Mainlandized

Hawaiian Electric Company has been Oahu’s power company for as long as I can remember and I can remember Hawaii in July of 1960.  Back then, Hawaii was going to stop using oil to generate electricity as soon as the population could justify a Nuclear Power Plant.

Nuclear long ago lost its luster and now the magic bullet has become clean energy.   Hawaiian Electric has been supporting all sorts of green alternates and has been saying whatever the local politicians wanted to hear.  Political realities have trumped economic realities and the Hawaii public has been paying for it all with higher rates.

Late last year Hawaiian Electric agreed to be purchased by NextEra Energy.  I’d suspect NextEra saw what I noticed….a company that ignores the real world in favor of the political.   NextEra says they like green energy, but they want all the subsidies eliminated.  Locals are  questioning whether the NextEra execs are being truly honest.  The local papers are full of it.

Solar power without adequate storage is not a viable solution for Hawaii’s energy problems for all the reasons I stated in my last post.   Hawaii has an after sunset peak that must be met with oil based generation. Dirty nasty oil.  Solar provides power when it isn’t needed and cannot provide it when needed…until better batteries are developed.

Hawaii has been following the German model.  Two complete energy systems, one renewable and one that uses fossil fuels operate side by side.  Germany has enough solar and wind to meet their peak when it is all working….but it never is all working at once.

Wind and solar power cannot be relied upon, day in and day out.  Utilities base load with other more reliable generation.  Whenever the wind blows in Germany, they get more power than is needed.  The utility is required by law to take it, which creates an energy imbalance. German Utilities sells the surplus to  neighboring utilities, something Hawaii will not be able to do.  The price of power at the German border moves around wildly.

In January of 2013, and again in 2014, the utilities bought power from the wind providers and could not find willing buyers.  They actually had to pay their neighbors to take the surplus power.  Utilities are slowly and steadily destroying their balance sheets as they are forced to buy high and sell low.

Too much solar power creates a similar problem for Hawaiian Electric.  The utility is forced to limit the number of rooftop solar installations…and the locals don’t understand why.  Too much power entering the system at unplanned places stresses the utility grid and provides no relief for peak demand.

Because the utility takes power when it isn’t needed and gives it back on peak, it is essentially buying high and selling low.

The utility is forced to maintain the old system and counts on it at peak, but there is less total generation using the grid.  Peak demand continues to rise, which forces additional investment from the utility. Costs go up but the revenue base fails to keep up as off peak demand actually goes down.  Throw in generous state tax credits for solar installations and you have a recipe for economic disaster if you are a power provider.

The new system doesn’t provide any peak assistance and yet it is heavily subsidized by everyone in Hawaii.  And since the utility and the State have not been particularly forthcoming about the negatives associated with green energy, the public doesn’t understand.   Unreasonable expectations are everywhere.

It looks like NextEra is going to try to finesse this problem by sounding positive on green energy but really being less positive than Hawaiian Electric has been.   Neither utility’s position is particularly truthful, but NextEra’s approach understands the economics of power generation.

I wonder though.  Island politics are tricky.  Perhaps Hawaiian Electric was right to stick their head in the sand and pretend the problems didn’t exist.  Hawaii’s politicians might simply shoot the messenger.  Time will tell.