Tag Archives: solar power

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?

 

Fact Checking Mr. Obama on Energy

I must confess I did not see Mr. Obama’s State of the Union Address.  I expected the speech to be a non event.   The next day I was surprised when the business news channels (CNBC and Bloomberg) discussed his energy policy that included a more favorable view of Natural Gas.  Natural Gas was finally getting it’s due.  That was a change.

I then read an article by Politico, and another in USA Today .  The Politico article talked about energy policy and the USA Today article discussed the statistical gymnastics included in the speech.  I then read the entire speech transcript.

I was not impressed.  I’m a numbers guy.  Too few numbers and too many human interest stories.  I like a good human interest story as much as the next guy, they make great movies.  I wonder why a speech on the status of the USA today needs to be so personal. And as USA Today pointed out, the numbers have been selectively chosen.

Mr. Obama did advocate Natural Gas as a preferred fuel in both electricity production and as a motor fuel.   He’s about 5 years late to the party, but better late than never; a welcome change.   The remainder of the speech was not surprising.

The piece on solar was….well… you decide:

we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced

OK, I guess?   Becoming?  The USA is not now and never has been a leader in solar.  Germany is the world leader, and China is coming on fast and will likely pass Germany in 2015.  Germany has 35 gigawatts of solar installed right now.  China has over 20 gigawatts now and an additional 14 gigawatts should begin production in 2014.  Italy is third with about 18 gigawatts connected.

The USA, Spain and Japan duke it out for the remaining positions in the top 5.  The USA is currently in the 4th spot with a little bit less than 8 gigawatts connected.  We are adding solar fast enough to maintain our #4 spot on the list, but we will not catch Italy this decade.

Solar, even in Germany plays only a very small part in the carbon emissions game.  Germany gets less than 6% of it’s electricity from Solar power!    Statistically, solar will be a non issue on the global carbon front for years and years to come.  Mr. Obama’s emphasis on solar when talking global climate change is….well….misplaced.

A bit further in the speech he says the following:

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

True.  We have done better.   The recession reduced demand, vehicles became more efficient and natural gas displaced coal in power generation.  But it’s old news.  2013 reversed the trend as this graph prepared by the US Energy Information Administration demonstrates:

https://i0.wp.com/205.254.135.7/environment/images/2013_emissions.png

Yep, the EIA is expecting an increase in carbon related emissions in 2013 and 2014.  Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama said the following:

But we have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.

Maybe, maybe not.   Recent studies indicate that long periods of very low rainfall are normal in California.  Twice during the medieval warming period, California had droughts that literally lasted hundreds of years.  And the same study showed periods of spectacular flooding in between the years of droughts.

Perhaps California is witness to normal climate variation.  Recent studies indicate that the last 150 years might be the oddity, not the norm?   20 year droughts in Southern California appear to be relatively regular and surprisingly common.   Maybe what we see in California today is simply Nature being Nature.

I wonder what would happen if a politician simply told the truth?   Unemployment, I suspect.  But come on, Mr. Obama, your last election is behind you.  Suppose, just suppose, that we heard the honest truth about global climate change.   It would look something like this.

The world is warmer than it used to be and it is likely that man is at least partially responsible.   So far, climate change has not been particularly problematic.  If the scientists at the UN are correct, then we must make immediate changes in the ways we use and produce energy or the world will get lots warmer. That warming will probably have dire consequences.

The biggest carbon dioxide producer in the world is China.  In the year 2000, China was a small player.  Today, China produces more carbon dioxide than the USA and all of Western Europe combined.  If China does not slow down their ever increasing rate of carbon dioxide production, and if the UN’s IPCC Scientists are correct, the world is going to get lots warmer.

Actions taken in the USA or in Europe will be of little consequence.  China’s impact is so large it overwhelms everything else.  China’s rate of increase has been greater than 8% per year since 2000.   At that rate they will double their production again between now and 2023.  They are already 30% of the worldwide total.

So far at least, the UN has been horribly wrong in their predictions.   Climate variability is difficult to predict.    The simple fact that the IPCC has been wildly high in their predictions does not prove that they are wrong, it simply accentuates how difficult the problem is.   Yes, global warming stopped some 15 years ago, but it could begin again soon.  We must continue to study the issue with an open mind, and work to minimize our impact on the climate.

Nahhh…to0 boring….it would never work in politics.

Free Electricity in Hawaii

I’ve spent the last few blogs trashing electric vehicles in Hawaii.   I’ve been too harsh.  I now think I’d consider an electric vehicle if I lived in Honolulu.

What prompted this change of heart?  A trip to Panda Express in Kapolei.  Yep, Panda Express.  There it was, mounted on the sidewalk, near the front door,  where the handicap parking usually resides,  my mind changer…..a  free electric car charging station.

Call me stupid…. it hadn’t occurred to me when I was doing the math on electric car costs that the state would give electricity away.  They are here, there, everywhere.  Free electricity dispensers.  Hawaii is giving away energy ….and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Yes, you heard right, the state with the highest electric rates in the country is giving the stuff away as a way to encourage electric car use.  Both the feds and Hawaii pay you to buy an electric car, and Hawaii pays your fuel costs too.   Wow.

I could park my car there at Panda express on my way home from work, wander around the area getting exercise, maybe pick up some grinds….and eventually go home after scoring a few dollars worth of free fuel.  Suppose I worked at Schwab (or somewhere else that provides free energy) in downtown Honolulu, I could score free energy all day while I was at work.  If I played it just right I’d never pay for fuel again.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid to give away energy especially in a state that uses oil to make electricity….but Governments do stupid things all the time, so I might as well cash in.

Suppose, just suppose, I’d combined my electric car with a huge solar project at my home (last year before the 35% solar credit ran out).   People who can afford the first costs (it’s still expensive with a $10,000 subsidy) did just that.  The installation makes much more electricity than the house can use….and the excess is sent onto the electric grid.   The Solar customer then uses utility power in the evening and gets credit for the surplus provided earlier in the day.

The Utility is on the hook.  Hawaiian Electric gets power when it doesn’t need it and gets to give it back when it’s difficult for the utility to provide the power.  Who pays for the excess deliver-ability….everybody else.  And if this electric car thing takes off, peaking load will get worse as people plug their cars in when they get home from work, during the evening peak.

Hawaii politics in action…and the Electric Utility is right in there promoting the projects.   All the while the peak gets harder to meet and there are no new peaking plants being constructed, on a island….can you say blackout.

Gallery

Solar Power at Logan Airport

I haven’t posted in a while because I have been traveling.   I’m a big fan of travel.   I like the exposure to new places.   I’ve been bouncing around New England (with a side trip to Ohio).  Some areas  looked similar … Continue reading

Renewable Energy — A Location Story

It’s easy to tell when the Salzburg to Munich train crosses into Germany.  There is no visible border crossing, but suddenly solar panels are everywhere.  Germany has been subsidizing the solar power industry for years…and it is the largest Solar power market in the world.  Austria has been less generous, so the solar panels show up at the border.

This experience underlines an interesting problem, Green Energy and geography don’t always work well together.  Would you expect to find solar panels in Minnesota or southern Canada?  All of Bavaria (southern Germany) has a latitude that is higher than Minneapolis.  Munich, were it moved due west to Minnesota, would lie just a bit south of International Falls.  Solar Power, International Falls, well.. uh…OK?   Northern Germany has the same latitude as Southern Alaska.

Roofs all over Germany are covered in Solar power panels.  The efficiency of those units must be terrible.  I can’t imagine climbing up onto the roof on a cold winter day to remove the snow so the solar panels can see the sun.  Munich has only 8 hours and 21 minutes of daylight on December 21st, and the sun angle is 18.5 degrees above the horizon, the sun angle to the panels must be terrible.

A wind farm has been constructed along I-65, north of Indianapolis, an area that is considered marginal for wind generation.  All of the Southeastern USA is considered unacceptable for wind power generation.   When I think about wind power in the USA, I see very long transmission lines everywhere.  Good wind generation locations are, for the most part in remote locations…like the middle of Lake Michigan or the mountains of Wyoming.

Let’s look at some USA Energy department maps.

We in the USA put wind farms at places that are acceptable politically and not too bad scientifically.   The result is relatively inefficient wind farms.

Whenever politics and science get mixed together we should all be prepared for strange results. Solar panels at latitude 48.1333 (Munich) and wind farms along I-65 in central Indiana (it’s not on the map because it was built after 2009) are just two of my favorite examples.