Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Climate Change & Renewables - 7:Wind

On June 16, 2013, a bright sunny Sunday, with good winds, lots of water flowing through dams, between 2 PM and 3 PM, "Italy 's electricity output was entirely covered with renewable sources (hydro, wind and solar)." Source:
http://www.fondazioneuniverde.it/fuoco/a-giugno-in-italia-il-picco-delle-rinnovabili/ (in Google web translation). 
Italy is currently going through a recession and electricity demand is declining around 3% annually, but traditional power generation is declining at over 14% annually while wind is growing at a rapid rate.

On May 25, 2012, a sunny Saturday, Germany's solar power installations provided 22GW per hour of electricity - 50% of Germany's midday electricity demand.  It was the first time Germany's solar facilities had generated over 20 GW of electricity.  From Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/26/us-climate-germany-solar-idUSBRE84P0FI20120526
In 2013 Spain became the first country where wind was the dominant supplier of electricity.  It provided 20.9% of Spain's electricity demand, followed by nuclear at 20.8%.  Nuclear generated more electricity but the nuclear power plants themselves used enough that the net electricity delivered to consumers was less than that of wind.  Source: European Wind Energy Association at:

Italy's, and Germany's breakthrough days were exceptional but that they happened at all is indicative of what is possible and the direction many countries are taking.  Italy is number 10 in the world in renewable electricity production, Germany is number 7.

All countries around the world are adding renewable energy sufficiently fast that by the time any data is published it is immediately out of date.  Renewables in many instances have reached parity with fossil fuels in terms of installation cost. 

The dominant renewable energy is still hydro-electric with a world wide generation of 3500 Tera Watt-Hrs in 2011. This represents only 2.4% annual growth over 12 years.  There is no growth in developed countries.  All the growth is coming from developing countries of which China accounts for about half the total worldwide growth.  Once every river and creek is dammed, we will not see growth from hydro-electric world-wide. (The next few charts are from information available from the US Energy Information Agency at:
http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=44&pid=44&aid=2 )
(Click on charts to enlarge)

Wind energy (450 TW-Hrs in 2011) has recently become cheaper and is growing phenomenally fast - 25% compound annual growth rate over the 12 years from 2000-2011.  If wind generation is able to keep up that pace it will overtake hydroelectric around 2024.
In the US, Wind Power installation pretty much depends on a set of tax credits which have to be renewed every few years.  The result is that wind power installation virtually halts once the tax credit disappears.  The tax credit is renewed periodically since the economics of wind power cuts across party lines with Republicans from Texas and the Midwest joining with Democrats from California and the North-East because of an installed base of wind generators in those states.  This tax credit may soon no longer be necessary.  One world-wide renewable energy supplier claims that Wind is now competitive in Europe and the US without subsidies, assuming only 25% wind capacity factor

According to the American Wind Energy Association (obviously a biased source) wind power if maximally installed, could meet more than 40 percent of California's current electricity needs.  The water consumption savings from wind projects in California total more than 2.8 billion gallons of water per year compared to the cooling needs of thermo-electric plants like coal, nuclear, and gas.    Wind power generation currently installed in California will avoid over 7,840,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the equivalent of taking nearly 1,400,000 cars off the road.  C.f.:

The US Dept. of Energy estimates that "The combined potential of land-based and off-shore wind is about 140 quads – or about 10 times U.S. electricity consumption today."

This is a lot of energy, but no one wants to live near a wind farm (too noisy) so a more realistic estimate should be much less.  The "Wind Vision" of the DoE (draft report) is that wind power will grow from 4% of US needs now to 10% in 2020, 30% in 2030, and 35% in 2050 at which time it will be the single largest electricity generator in the US.  The DoE expects further cost reductions in wind energy production.

Peak wind generation has met as much as 60% of demand in some regions of the US recently.  The sun only shines half the time, but the wind blows day and night somewhere in the US and if there are enough wind generators spread around it can all balance out to a relatively constant flow of electricity.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Climate Change & Renewables - 6:Pause Cause

(Click on graphic images to enlarge)

Why has there been an apparent pause in the increase in average temperatures since 1998?  Several reasons - some of which are covered in the NYT article here:
Two key points from that article are that choosing 1998 as a starting point is misleading because 1998 saw a big spike in global temperatures from 1997.  With all the natural variability it would be unlikely to see such a big temperature spike as occurred in 1997-1998 followed by further big increases.  Starting measuring from just a few years earlier shows the temperature trend is up. 

You can see an earlier pause in the global temperature rise due to "Global Dimming" during 1950-1970 (see below) in the following video.  A 26 second long video animation of the temperature changes year-by-year from 1889 to 2013 is here (opens in new window):

There is a decade long oscillation between "El Nino" and "La Nina" weather patterns.  From the above NYT article: "In this chain of events, a strong El Niño causes a shift in a longer cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which favors more frequent and intense El Niños during its “warm” or “positive” phase. The oscillation has been “negative” or “cool” since the historic El Niño of 1998."

Fishermen on Nearly Dried-Up El Negro River in Brazil Blamed on El Nino
The main point of the NYT article is that La Nina and El Nino conditions affect the entire globe, not just California, causing droughts in parts of the world at the same time they cause flooding in other parts.  They also cause changes in temperature. A "La Nina" may have put a temporary pause in the upward trend.  An "El Nino" seems to be forming now and if it is a strong one, CA will replace its drought with flooding, and the pause in global warming will end.  Of more concern than the pause in increase ought to be that the options seem to be "warmer or not warmer" when they would be "warmer or cooler" if there were no warming trend.

Another factor is "Global Dimming" which occurs because aerosols in the air from volcanic activity, burning coal, slash-and-burn agriculture, etc. act like an umbrella to block the sun and cool the earth.  The post WW-II economic boom resulted in a steady increase in these emissions resulting in a cooling effect from 1940 to 1970.  The peak (measured in sulfur emissions) was in 1970.  The effects of these emissions were acid rain and other very obvious harmful effects on agriculture, material, and people so action was taken very quickly to eliminate aerosols.  As a result, soot and sulfur emissions have declined dramatically since then.  Aerosol optical thickness is slowly declining with the exception of temporary peaks right after volcanic eruptions.  Aerosols and soot wash out of the atmosphere in weeks or months so if we stop putting more in, it goes away very quickly.  CO2 however stays in the atmosphere quite a while.  Methane, CH4, doesn't last as long but it reacts in air to form CO2 and H2O both of which act as greenhouse gas emissions so its effect outlives its own life.  See a NASA article here:

Atmospheric Sulfur from 1900 to 2000
From the above NASA report: "climate scientists estimate aerosols may have offset global warming by as much as 50 percent by reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface"
Aerosol Optical Thickness - Peaks Show Volcanic Activity
Wikipedia article here:

In economics, an externality "is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit" (from Wikipedia on "Externality").  The effects of pollution and greenhouse gas warming are externalities borne by those who may contribute not at all to it.  

A carbon tax at the pump was proposed recently but looks unlikely to pass as it is opposed by the environmentalists and the governor.

One purpose of a carbon tax is to tax the externality with the hope that people will devise a way to eliminate its effect on those who don't want it and didn't cause it or benefit from it. Eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel extraction companies was agreed at the G20 meeting in 2009 and would do a lot to acheive this. In effect, a subsidy is a tax on everyone to, in this case, add further to global warming.  Eliminating it would cause an increase in the cost of coal and oil and hopefully bring the true costs of fossil fuel to be seen as more expensive than renewable production.  A panel of distinguished economists all seem to agree on that as seen here:

Personally, I would have greatly preferred that the proceeds from the CA carbon tax be used to convert existing power plants to renewable-based power generation.  Instead, it will go to funding all the little pet projects of the legislators to appease their main campaign contributors.  Still, making pollution and greenhouse gas emissions more expensive will drive a flight to renewables.  The power cos. have been treating the air we breath and the climate we live in as if it were a free resource they could dump into without cost.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Climate Change & Renewable Energy - 5: Anti-CC

Addressing the Anti-Climate Change position in general and specifically what has been brought up in local discussion groups.  

I think the main argument against climate change is that the solutions proposed are too drastic.  To some extent that is true, if by solution you mean the extreme positions of "abandon cars completely", "become a vegetarian" (I actually read that), and other extreme positions by people who have no knowledge of the numbers involved.  Most people are not just innumerate, they are actually terrified of numbers and data and will just make up stuff based solely on their own internal convictions.  Avg. Joe/Jane climate alarmist is no different.  These people probably do more harm to the climate change position by proposing unrealistic solutions then if they were on the other side.  The only real changes that would make a difference are to stop burning coal, and use far more fuel efficient transportation.  Fortunately, as I pointed out earlier, this is now not an unrealistic scenario and is happening quickly in certain parts of the world - see:

I have read a lot of scientific articles by scientists arguing against climate change.  The format is always the same.  Some discussion about some fine points that no non-specialist in that sub-field has any knowledge of, followed by the conclusion that since the science leaves unanswered questions we should do nothing, followed by thanks to a major oil or coal co. for funding for the research.

One web site that puts a lot of work into refuting the claims against climate change is here:
Another anti-climate change debunking site (via Wayne Amacher) quoting scientists is :

"Unanswered questions" is in the nature of science.  Every answer leads to more questions.  There are unanswered questions about gravity but that doesn't mean that we can't use Newton's laws of gravity to make meaningful calculations.  We don't know much about dark matter or dark energy which comprise 90% of the energy-matter in the universe, yet the physics taught in college and high school enables us to build the advanced tools of modern society. 

Yes, computer models have bugs, imperfections, and are subject to revision.  Still, we can design bridges that stay up, communication satellites that stay where we put them, and make predictions based on computer models that imperfectly model stresses on bridges, cars, and computers we haven't yet built.  Without all these computer models, current society would not work.  

The computer models for climate change have generally proven correct, but with variance.  Complex dynamics have a lot of room for variance.  But, we have ice core samples containing air of the period going back 800,000 years.  There is more indirect evidence of atmospheric composition going back to the Permian Extinction 252 Million years ago ("the Great Dying") when 90% of all species went extinct.  This was apparently due to catastrophic climate change due to sudden vast increases in greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere from volcanic action, or from spontaneous coal fires, or from methane gas emanating out of the sea floor.  C.f.,

The other argument is that there is a giant conspiracy or group think that freezes out climate change dissenters by denying them funding, tenure, and publication.  Yes, that is undeniably true.  Also, if you deny evolution, or claim that Newton's laws don't work on large scale objects, or that the earth is flat, you will not obtain funding, not get tenure, and not get published, (except at a few fundamentalist Christian colleges).  Because the weight of evidence is overwhelming for all these, including climate change.  That is the importance of the National Climate Assessment 2014.  It provides 800+ pages of data, charts, tables, and citations putting the climate change denial arguments to rest.  After you've read that, climate change deniers may change their mind.  See 

Specifically: one reader sent a link from Forbes on climate change skepticism.  It is typical of a lot of climate change skepticism.  It is a conversation (meaning no hard data or links to research or quotes) with a distinguished researcher, Dr. Fred Singer, who points out that computer models may not be 100% accurate all the time, that some phenomena are due to natural causes and quoting two distinguished researchers as saying there are unanswered questions.

The Forbes article is here:
Dr. Fred Singer's Wikipedia entry is here:

FWIW, Dr. Singer has also argued *against* a connection between passive smoking and lung cancer, UV-B rays and skin cancer, and CFCs and stratospheric ozone loss.

This Forbes' article is a perfect example of popular media denying climate change.  It has no data, cites general truths without assigning weights to the importance of different effects, no links to verify anything stated, and no counter arguments from the other side.  It is published in a magazine owned by a very rich climate change denier.

Also sent in was a link to an opinion piece.  In a companion piece Mr. Krauthammer argues for fewer CO2 emissions by using nuclear plants:   

Someone else mentioned an article from the Cato society noting a German professor withdrew from a climate change-denying group because he was pressured by colleagues to do so.  As would any bio professor who joined an anti-evolution club or physicist who joined a flat-earth society.  Perhaps the researcher was naive or just likes to be on the unpopular side of arguments.  None of his colleagues apparently wanted to be on the unscientific side just to be argumentative.  Very likely his research institution didn't want to endanger its prestige by being even remotely associated with the anti-climate change pseudo-science.  Why is this a surprise?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Climate Change & Renewable Energy - 4:Science

The scientific research into global warming goes back quite a few years.  A key paper on the working of CO2 in the atmosphere (referred to then as carbonic acid) is by Svante Arrhenius (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1906) in April, 1896.  It is here (click on figures below to enlarge):

It is quite readable, give it a look. It references research by Joseph Fourier published in 1827 (done in 1824) establishing the existence of the Greenhouse effect, Pouillet in 1838, Roentgen (recipient of first Nobel prize in Physics in 1901) and Angstrom (Rumford medal in 1872 - died before the Noble prize was endowed).  The heat-trapping abilities of greenhouse gases were corroborated by Irish scientist John Tyndall with experiments beginning in 1859.
From page 798 of the NCA 2014
The ideas were pretty much what was then, and is now, accepted as scientifically proven phenomenon - atmospheric CO2 produces a greenhouse effect on the earth.  Without it, Earth would be much colder as all the heat would radiate out into space.  Atmospheric CO2, besides being necessary for plant life, is also necessary to keep the planet comfortably warm.  No one disputes this.  The dispute, such as it is, is over the climate effects of this.

Here is how it works.  CO2 absorbs and emits infra-red radiation which is an electromagnetic radiation like light, microwaves, radio waves, and X-rays.  Heat is transmitted from the earth as infra-red radiation (invisible to humans).  The CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs some of this heat energy and then shortly after emits it in a random direction.  Some infra-red radiation (heat) is radiated to earth and some is radiated into space.  Without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, all the heat generated on earth would radiate into space and the earth would be colder.  The heat originally comes from a variety of sources including the Sun, volcanic activity, burning of fossil fuels, forest fires, etc.  The problem comes when too much CO2 (and other greenhouse gases like methane - CH4, and H2O) gets into the atmosphere.  Then the greenhouse effect traps more heat.  Plants absorb CO2 but only up to a point.  If there are fewer plants or more CO2 emitted, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases.  This is not disputed.

I mentioned H2O.  Water vapor is also necessary for life but it also acts like a greenhouse gas.  Oxygen, O2, and Nitrogen, N2, are the main gases in our atmosphere but they do not absorb or emit energy in the infra-red region (no dipole moment).  We live on a knife edge of not-too-much/not-too-little of many things including H2O and CO2.  Warmer oceans evaporate more water further adding to the greenhouse effect so it becomes self-reinforcing.  None of this is at all controversial.  No scientist disputes that CO2, methane (CH4) and H2O (water vapor) absorb and emit in the infra-red region of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has significantly increased.  Disputation revolves around measuring the *effects* of that increase in CO2 and other gases.
From Page 23 of the National Climate Assessment 2014
For more on the chemistry, c.f., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

To test any scientific hypothesis we look for what it can predict and see if that happens.  The more that can be predicted and then verified as happening, the stronger the support for the theory.  There are quite a few predictions global warming has made which have become true.  One obvious thought is that if there is more CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) radiating *more* heat back to earth, then the atmosphere above the CO2 layer should get *less* heat.  In fact, that is the case, the troposphere closer to earth has measurably warmed while the stratosphere above it has cooled down.  If global warming were due to changes in solar radiation it would have affected all parts of the earth and its atmosphere. 

Another obvious test of the hypothesis is that if the lower atmosphere is warming, a warmer surface on oceans and lakes should evaporate more water and the warmer air should be able to hold more water.  This could result in either more frequent rains or heavier rains of the same frequency.  Computer models of the 1980's predicted heavier rains, not more of them.  This is what is happening.  Weather is very complex and air can retain its moisture for a while but when conditions are right for rain, it comes down in much greater quantities.  
From page 36 of the National Climate Assessment 2014
In fact the vapor pressure of air (amount of water it can hold) rises *exponentially* with temperature.  A 10 degree Celsius change from 20 deg. Celsius (68 F) to 30 deg. Celsius(86 F) causes water vapor pressure to *double*.  From 30 C to 40 C (86-104 F) it *doubles* again.  This is an experiment that can be done in any lab and is not disputed. 
Above graph from:

This shows up in the world (including the US) as more frequent heavy rains - see http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather#tab1-images - and more flooding.  

From page 260 - NCA 2014
At the same time you get more flooding, the obvious effect of a warmer climate is that it should dry out more quickly as well so you will get more droughts.  This is also the case. 
Temperature and rainfall from 1919 to 2012
 "Tree ring data suggests that the drought over the last decade in the western U.S. represents the driest conditions in 800 years." page 38 of the National Climate Change Assessment pdf form available here (also a very slick web version):

NY Times items here:

The American Institute of Physics (AIP.org) has a very good article on the evolution of the science of climate change here: http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm  

I very highly recommend that AIP article for more depth.  Climate change was not initially understood very well and there were many mistakes made along the way.  It is fascinating to see the fits and starts with which the scientific understanding matured.

- Michael Goldman

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Climate Change & Renewables - 3: Deniers

So why do so many Americans not accept climate change science?  The extent of the denial seems unique to the US.

1. Sociology professor Aaron McCright argues that conservatives, backed by energy producers, started mobilizing earlier here than in other countries and simply by publishing a lot of articles have sown doubt in those who try to be open minded.  He cites a study of the US news media as one which presents Climate Change data as controversial while other countries' media present it as scientific information.

See the article with research links here:

2. Writer Jamie Horgan notes that 2/3 of Chinese consider climate change and environmental degradation as real and serious, nearly double that of Americans.  He attributes this to the undeniable and highly visible pollution that Chinese face which is far easier to grasp than the scientific data with least-squares trend lines, correlation coefficients, and 95% confidence intervals that Americans are presented with.  In addition, he blames some in the environmental movement itself for trying to arouse the average American by emphasizing the "worst case scenario" - painting a threat of destruction drawn from Hollywood disaster movies.  When those turn out to not be the case, it discredits the entire concept.  He then comes down on the side of shale gas, GMOs, and nuclear energy.

See the brief article with research links here:

3.  Sociology professor Kari Norgaard argues that Americans are well informed about global warming but feel helpless in the face of political gridlock.  Far more important than conservative arguments denying climate change is the feeling - pervasive throughout advanced countries but strongest in the US - that it isn't anything an individual can do something about.  Political alienation is pervasive in the US with the feeling that energy cos. control the govt. so the individual is helpless and who wants to think about something you can't do anything about.  Paradoxically, it seems the more people know about climate change, the greater the apathy.  Also paradoxically, it appears that the greater a country's greenhouse gas emissions, the greater the feeling of helplessness.  People look at how they live and can't figure out what they could realistically do differently to cut emissions.

Her paper examining this and other explanations for apathy is here:

Her short summary with links is here:

4.  Dr. Algernon Austin (sociology - Economic Policy Institute) notes that 80% of the Hispanic and African-American communities accept global warming (vs 60% of whites) and a majority attribute it to human activity (vs 41% of whites).  He argues that these groups face the reality of pollution and environmental degradation more directly since their regions (FL and the Southwest) and neighborhoods are where it is most visible.  They take it seriously and 84% want the Federal govt. to do something about it.

See the brief article with research links here:

5.  Michael Breen (former US Army officer) states that the US military is very concerned with climate change because of the destabilizing effects it has in dangerous areas. For example, "in 2010, floods in nuclear-armed Pakistan put 20 percent of the country underwater, affecting more than 20 million people. The disaster stopped an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in its tracks"  This is supported by recent analyses by independent research agencies and the US Defense Dept. threat assessment "In March, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the agency’s main public document describing the current doctrine of the United States military, drew a direct link between the effects of global warming — like rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns — and terrorism."

NYT articles with links  here:

6.  Greenpeace's Executive Director Annie Leonard argues that in fact more and more disparate groups are seeing the threat locally working against such things as fracking and 2/3 (including a majority of Republicans) favor restrictions on power plant emissions.  She notes a growing grass-roots movement.  

Her brief summary article with links is here:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Climate Change & Renewables - 2.Seas Rise

One visible effect of climate change is rising sea levels.  This is partly due to the melting of glaciers and partly due to the expansion of water as it warms above 4 degrees Celsius.  

1.  Miami has been hit with more frequent flooding.  The NY Times article here:

has pictures showing the effect of rising sea levels.  More and more frequently, local side streets become streams or ponds as water comes up through the storm drains.  Miami is built on limestone which is relatively porous so the sea just seeps up through the ground coming out of gutters even on a sunny, clear day.  A seawall would make no difference at all.  The mayor of Miami says climate change is a reality he faces in running the city and they need to spend a lot more money making the public drainage system more robust.  I don't know how you would do that.  Sounds like asking for bigger sponges to save the Titanic.  I was chatting with a friend who said Florida gets frequent sink holes when the limestone just collapses.  By 2050, local scientists expect even major highways to start collapsing.  From the article, "County governments estimate that the damages could rise to billions or even trillions of dollars."

Former gov. Jeb Bush refused any comment as did Marco Rubio and the current governor.  Bush and Rubio earlier promoted legislation that would have addressed carbon emissions but both are Republicans and while Bush and Rubio are relatively progressive within the context of the GOP, any hint of admitting to man-made climate change would kill their chances of a presidential nomination according to a FL state professor of Political Science, quoted in the article.

2.  Rising waters around the world are covering low lying islands that have been home to indigenous peoples for centuries.  The NY Times article here:

The article has a lot of very good photographs showing the effects on various places of rising sea levels.  Kiribati is a chain of 33 islands in the Pacific home to about 100,000 people.  It looks to be on track to be all under water by the end of the century as the waters rise at an accelerating rate.  The modest rise of 8-10 inches since 1880 is expected to accelerate to about 3 feet by 2100.  Fiji is also losing land but is not in as dire a position and has offered to accept Kiribati refugees.

Further down the article, we see a chain of 350 islands off of Panama, home to the Kuna native people for thousands of years.  The rising seas are expected to cover all of them in another 20-30 years.

3.  In the same NYT article, there are some winners in all this.  Greenland is seeing the amount of arable land grow, and hopes to gain access to minerals and diamonds that have been covered by glaciers for thousands of years.  They hope for independence from Denmark.  The heavy glacial ice was pushing Greenland down.  As it melts, the land is rising from the sea. From the article "In 2012, satellite observations revealed an“extreme melt event” in which ice melted at or near the surface of 98.6 percent of the ice sheet. The summer melt season has been lengthening as well."

4.  The rise of sea levels is not uniform around the world.  The East Coast of the US is experiencing higher than average rises.  This is causing even mild storms to cause major damage to Boston, NYC, and other ports on the coast.  A USGS report noted: 

"Rates of sea level rise are increasing three-to-four times faster along portions of the U.S. Atlantic Coast than globally, ... Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to north of Boston, Mass. -- coined a "hotspot" by scientists -- has increased 2 - 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 – 1.0 millimeter per year.   

"...rates of sea level rise in this area are expected to continue increasing.   ...the sea-level rise hotspot is consistent with the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation. Models show this change in circulation may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity and density in the subpolar north Atlantic."  Quoted from: