# On meeting 80% of the world’s energy supply by renewables

The lead statement to the IPCC press release announcing their renewables report stated “Close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling policies a new report shows.” I believe that the only way this could happen is if there were multiple miracles but don’t take my word for it.  Do you your own analysis.

The following is an outline of a methodology that you can use to calculate not only energy projections but also CO2 projections.  It is similar to the initial steps used in the work of Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Jr. documented in The Climate Fix: What scientists and politicians won’t tell you about global warming.   The general steps in any CO2 and energy analysis include the following:

1.     For each energy source (e.g., coal-firing or nuclear energy) find the total energy used in a baseline year.

2.     Convert the energy to common units and determine the total

3.     Calculate baseline CO2 emissions and determine the total

4.     Project future total energy use based on your assumptions

5.     Project future sector energy and fuel use based on your assumptions

This example will use New York State data because there is an excellent and readily available source of data for the State.  The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) energy analysis program is available as Patterns and Trends – New York State Energy Profiles: 1995-2009 and the tables in the document are linked to downloadable spreadsheets that list all the data.  In order to apply this elsewhere you have to collect data for the region of your interest.

The calculations are straightforward for the calculating the baselines in the first three steps using these data.  In the example spreadsheet,  seven data tables from the NYSERDA document are included as tabs.  There are two calculations that use that data to determine baseline CO2 and energy use.  It is necessary to separate fuel used for electric generation from the total and the CO2 emissions need to be calculated. For coal and natural gas Table 2-4b provides the primary consumption of energy for electric generation (TBtu) and Table 2-3 provides the total consumption of energy by fuel types so the fuel use can be separated.  For distillate and residual oil use Table 2-4b and Table 2-2b are used for this calculation.  The CO2 calculation simply multiplies an emission factor, in this case EIA factors listed in tab EIA CO2 EF, by the energy used.  The final calculation assumes that the average of the last five years of data is an appropriate baseline to use for this analysis.

The New York State baseline energy use and CO2 emissions are listed in the Energy Use tab.   In order to project energy use and emissions for the future it is necessary to project how society will use energy in the future and that analysis is considerably more complicated and filled with assumptions.  Because my background deals with emissions and energy use and not economic and technological innovation I will proceed with this example using an analysis referenced in comments on the interim report for the New York Climate Action Plan by environmental organizations and many others.  They referenced “Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future without Coal and Nuclear Power in the United States” prepared by Synapse Energy  stating that it “shows that we can achieve 80% reductions by 2050 by increasing our reliance on energy efficiency and renewables, retiring all coal plants, retiring aged nuclear plants in the northeast and not building any new nuclear plants”.  The analysis is transparent so you can see what energy mix and assumptions were necessary to meet the goal.

In Step 4 it is necessary to estimate the total projected energy use in your projection year which is assumed to be 2050.  The Synapse report predicts a total decrease in total energy use of 7% by 2050 in the North East United States.  While at first glance that does not seem like much keep in mind that they also projected economic growth such that in the absence of the aggressive energy conservation and efficiency policies they proposed, growth would cause generation in the Northeast to grow by 52% over the study period.

In the fifth step, changes to the individual sectors are applied to make the total energy use match the projected total.  The following Synapse assumptions listed below were used to estimate the 2050 energy mix.  They are numbered to correspond with the spreadsheet and the spreadsheet calculation is described in brackets:

1.     The region retires all of its coal-fired generating capacity. {The spreadsheet eliminates all New York coal.}

2.     Natural gas becomes a larger percentage of the electricity fuel mix. However total 2050 energy use from gas is 110 TBtu lower in the Projected 2050 Scenario than in the Reference Case. {The spreadsheet reduces natural gas energy use to match the total energy projected for 2050.}

3.     The Synapse report does not directly address distillate oil so it is assumed that distillate oil is replaced by electric generation.  {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that 95% of distillate oil use can be replaced by electric generation.}

4.     The Synapse report does not directly address residual oil so it is assumed that residual oil is replaced by electric generation.  {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that 95% of residual oil use can be replaced by electric generation.}

5.     The Synapse report does not directly address hydro so it is assumed to stay the same.

6.     Synapse assumes 17,000 MW of nuclear capacity (72%) is retired, and nuclear generation is reduced by 140 TWh (72%). {The spreadsheet reduces the New York baseline energy from nuclear by 72%.  Also note that they did not eliminate nuclear energy in their analysis.}

7.     Electricity imports fell to roughly zero in 2050.  {I did not make this assumption for New York because the state imports more than the region as a whole and, in my opinion, I do not see imports from Hydro Quebec going away.  Imports are assumed to stay the same.}

8.     There are 1,400 MW of biomass capacity providing 7%.  Waste gases are utilized effectively, with landfill, wastewater treatment, and farm digester gases providing 2% of the region’s electricity. (This energy is included in the Biomass total. {The spreadsheet assumes that NY biofuels and Other electric generation will be 7% of the total energy generated in 2050 and proportional to the baseline breakdown. Also note that the “Other” sector uses the NYSERDA assumption: “According to U.S. EPA’s Emission Inventory program protocols and the methodologies prescribed in the eGRID2007 Technical Support Document, the carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of biogenic fuels (e.g. wood, landfill gas, and the biomass component of MSW) are not included in estimates of GHG emissions. For the electric generation sector, the inclusion of carbon dioxide emissions from biogenic fuel combustion would increase the total Electric Sector GHG emissions by approximately 5%.”}

9.     There are 14,000 of solar PV capacity, providing 6% of generation. {The spreadsheet assumes that NY solar PV will be 6% of the projected total energy needed after energy efficiency programs were put in place.}

10.  There are over 25,000 MW of onshore wind capacity and 16,000 MW of offshore wind from Virginia to Maine. Wind energy is 31% of the energy mix in 2050.  {The spreadsheet assumes that wind energy made up 31% of the projected total energy needed after energy efficiency programs were put in place.}

11.  The Synapse report does not directly address kerosene so it is assumed that kerosene is replaced by electric generation.  {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that 95% of kerosene use can be replaced by electric generation.}

12.  The Synapse report does not directly address LPG so it is assumed that LPG is replaced by electric generation.  {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that 95% of LPG use can be replaced by electric generation.}

13.  The Synapse report does not directly address motor vehicle gasoline (car gas) so it is arbitrarily assumed that motor vehicle energy use is reduced by 25% either by battery powered vehicles or mass transit.  {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that car gas is reduced by 25%.}

14.  The Synapse report does not directly address aviation fuel so it is arbitrarily assumed that aviation fuel energy use is reduced by 33%. {The spreadsheet arbitrarily assumes that aviation fuel is reduced by 33%.}

15.  In the Synapse Transition Scenario, energy efficiency reduces energy demand from 2010, allowing total generation in the Northeast to fall 7% by 2050.  {I assumed that the baseline total NY energy use was reduced by 7% not just electric generation.}

The results of this scenario indicate that only 37% of the total energy comes from wind and solar PV.  To refine this further the energy use assumptions have to be revised.   I leave it the reader to try to develop a scenario that meets the IPCC/Greenpeace “80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling policies” scenario.

It does appear that reaching even higher levels of renewable use are a stretch because the assumptions in this initial analysis are on the edge of miracles:

• Distillate oil, residual oil, kerosene, and LPG fill niche requirements that may or may not be easily replaced by carbon free generation.
• For many regions the 6% solar PV is a stretch.
• The likelihood that the public will accept 31% of the energy mix from wind due to cost, aesthetics, and direct health and welfare impacts is unlikely.
• The 25% reduction in gasoline for automotive use is arbitrary but changing that significantly requires a lot less automotive use.
• I can see no way to reduce aviation fuel use even 33% absent simply not flying.
Biosketch: Roger is a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees) and has worked in the air quality field for over 35 years.  Originally he worked for consultants doing air quality modeling work for EPA and then went to work with an electric utility. Before retirement from a de-regulated electric generating company his time was spent about equally doing regulatory analysis of air quality regulations and initiatives and doing day to day compliance work for cap and trade programs. Now he is the Director of the Environmental Energy Alliance of New York which supports the electric companies of New York State by addressing regulatory and industry policy issues that are most effectively approached on a statewide basis. This analysis does not reflect the position of any of his employers either present or past nor do they reflect the position of Environmental Energy Alliance of New York member companies.

### 150 responses to “On meeting 80% of the world’s energy supply by renewables”

1. Now, re-do assuming none of the miracles occur. That will still be an under-estimate of emissions.

Which is a good thing. CO2 is a valuable resource, and even doubling it (almost impossible) would have a negligible climate impact.

2. Renewables could generate a large fraction of our energy, if government officials would hold the nuclear industry responsible for extracting ALL of the energy instead of taking the most easy, most profitable energy and dumping the waste products underground (Yucca Mountains, etc.) or in barrels for the next generation to dispose.

Radioactive waste is in fact a concentrated source of energy, and the reactors that generate the waste should be required to find a way to encapsulate the waste and use it as an energy source to drive steam turbines, etc.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Emeritus Professor
Nuclear & Space Studies

3. kim

Here’s a plausible scenario for 80% by 2050: A Carrington Event with a subsequent pandemic of evolving enterobacteria.
============

• Many readers will be unaware that the “Carrington Event” falsified the most basic assumption of AGW: “Earth’s Heat Source Is Stable”

In fact, “It Is Violently Unstable”: insulators that surround the biosphere and the solar core moderate its impulsive anger.

These references will help anyone who seriously wants to understand Earth’s unstable heat source:

1. Stuart Clark, “The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began” (Princeton University Press, 2007) 217 pages

2. O Manuel, “Neutron Repulsion”, The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011): http://arxiv.org/pdf/1102.1499v1

4. Ode to ole Al:

5. Oliver K. Manuel,
Engineers like efficient solutions so it has always pained me that LWRs and BWRs only consume ~0.6% of the Actinides present in the fuel.

Kirk Sorenson is pushing so called “Gen IV” reactors that have many advantages in term of cost, scalability, low pressure operation, proliferation resistance, thermodynamic efficiency and safety. Besides all this they consume more than 95% of the Actinides in the fuel. The small amount of waste that remains is mostly stable elements plus some isotopes that decay to safe levels within 500 years. No more need for “Geologic Storage” in places like Yucca mountain.

These reactors can consume the waste produced by our 50 year old fission technologies and convert them into electricity and useful isotopes.

I realise you know all this so this comment is aimed at those who don’t.

• You complain that they only consume ~6% of the actinides.

My complaint is that they were allowed to discard concentrated sources of energy as waste – radioactive waste that must contain the remaining 94% of the actinide elements [mostly Th (Z = 90), U (Z = 92) and Pu (Z = 94)].

If they can safely encapsulate the waste, as claimed before discarding it under Yucca Mountains or anyplace else out of sight, then they should be required to USE IT to generate more energy under the watchful eye of technicians familiar with the inherent dangers of radioactivity.

• Actually 99.4% of the Actinides end up as “Waste” because we don’t use wet reprocessing in the USA (PUREX etc.).

Why go to the trouble of encapsulating this “Waste” when it can used as fuel by Gen IV reactors? Just store it in dry casks until the IFRs and LFTRs are on line.

• Do Gen IV reactors generate radioactive waste?

If so, how do they propose to handle it?

The public does not want any more unrealistic, “pie-in-the-sky” technology that leaves difficult problems for the next generation to solve.

6. tempterrain

Just in case you think that everyone who accepts the consensus position on AGW is some sort of Luddite intent on wrecking the world economy and thereby western civilisation, I’d just like to point out that some of us, and that includes people like James Hansen, do accept that the only possible solution to the climate crisis is to switch to nuclear power as quickly as possible.

After the recent events in Japan its not an easy argument to make, but I just cannot see a viable alternative. Its no use saying that nuclear power is unsafe. The challenge is to make it safe.

• Liquid Fluoride Thorium Ractors is the future. If we don’t get up to speed asap on those we will be importing them from China, along with everything else.

• leave coal for thorium and FLUORIDE? Yikes! Some green future indeed!

• Tempterrain

You are right. Any short to medium term energy strategy ought to have included nuclear in the mix as renewables are currently so expensive and unreliable. The trouble is that there has been a great dreal of prevarication over the last ten years or so, as a generation of politicians opposed to nuclear have held office (in the UK)

Consequently your ‘quickly as possible’ is not quick enough to stop the lights going out (in the UK at least) nor will it help in making energy affordable to private individuals and businesses here. The Uk has just announced they will build 8 new nuclear rectors-by 2025. That actually means 2030-if ever.

tonyb

• hunter

Yes. It is the one less than repulsive thing about Hansen.
But did you notice how, as soon as he started voicing that bit of rational thinking, he started having a smaller and smaller role in the public square?

• ferd berple

We’ve been using coal for 150 years and the standard of living of people on the planet, including lifespans, has never been better.

• ferd berple

In Saskatchewan Canada, Hansen’s “death trains” run 24 hours a day, bringing wealth and prosperity to millions in an otherwise inhospitable climate.

The real death trains carried people, not coal.

• As you point out, James Hansen is on record as favoring a rapid expansion of NPP capacity. Ditto for James Lovelock (Gaia hypothesis).

I have to disagree with you on the NPP safety issue. All large scale electric power generation involves risks. Nuclear power is arguably already the safest technology currently available, in spite of Chernobyl.

I could bore your pants off with statistics (deaths/TWh) but think about a couple of alternatives. We all love Hydro in spite of the fact that a single accident killed almost 200,000 people:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

Coal mining has killed even more people yet coal is still the dominant fuel used to generate electricity.

7. Will never happen. I downloaded the hourly wind data from our energy opperator http://www.ieso.com. My analysis is here OntarioWindPerformance.wordpress.com. Half the time wind output is less than 7% name plate in the summer. 40% of the time they produce nothing at all in the summer.

I haven’t been able to get solar data as the IESO doesn’t yet break that out. But what I have learned is people who are getting into the FIT programs with solar panels, spending some \$60,000 or more, produce only about one month worth of a their own home’s demand. This means these people are bearly making \$2,000 per year, not enough to pay for the interest in their loans.

Thus these people could potentially all go bankrupt in the next 2 to 3 years.

It’s not possible for the world to get 80% of our power from renewables. Ontario already gets 21% from hydro, the aim was to get 15% from wind. Except at the pathetic output they have, we would need to build 40,000 of them. That’s one every 100 meters from Windsor to Montreal. 8 hours of driving and passing a wind turbine every 100 meters. Right. And the cost? At \$3 million each that’s \$120 BILLION!

It is not just the cost to build them, maintenance costs on windmills promise to be pretty dire too. You have moving parts, gear boxes, variable speeds, and outside weather, all of which are a potent combination for wear and tear.

I’m surprised that maintenance costs are so rarely brought up. These windmills have a 20 year payoff only if they spin faithfully for the entire time. Replacing the gear box every 5 years could mean that they never pay for themselves.

• Which is why there are a growing number of dead turbines in Hawaii, California, Texas and Florida. No one can afford to fix them.

• Mingy

JR

I am a professional financial analyst and I also own a farm in Ontario. When the FIT program was announced, based on the extremely high returns advertised (9%+) on the government website, I figured I’d look into it – after all, even if it didn’t make any economic sense for the province, I figured I might be able to get some of my huge tax bill back.
I did an entirely objective analysis of the expected return on investment. The only item I had to guess at was Maintenance and Insurance, which I assumed to be \$100 per year on a \$60,000 10kW solar installation. On a non-taxed, un-levaraged (no loan) basis, it works out to 2.4% over a 20 year life. Assuming leverage, the return is slightly negative.
I triple checked my analysis and had it verified by several friend who are also highly financially literate. How could my number be so different from the government? It turns out the government’s calculation of return included ‘return of investment’ (the money spent on the system) as return on investment (profit). This borders on fraudulent: if you sold an investment on that basis you’d go to jail.
So, I shared my analysis with journalists and even sent a copy to the oppostition parties (I’m a well know guy, not some flake).

Nothing happened. Nobody was willing to run the story.

So, thousands of farmers are going to be taken in by a fraudulent scheme cooked up by their own government.

• Can you send that to me so I can post it on my blog h1ripoff.blogspot.com? My email is there.

• Mingy

I’ll try do it tonight from home so I can ‘annonimize’.

My employer would not appreciate me being public on this

• Tom Scharf

Somebody better get busy building a battery the size of Greenland so we have power when the sun goes down and the wind isn’t blowing. Another of the inconvenient problems that need to be dealt with.

I saw one solution that was interesting. Use excess energy to pump water up to a storage facility (lake) and then use hydro power for the “battery”. Expensive, inefficient, but at least doesn’t depend on a battery technology miracle TBD.

The greens will make more progress if they do real engineering analysis that forces them to choose the lesser of two evils, and get out of utopia land.

The Nuclear-Hydro sacred cows need to be slain if they want to be taken more seriously.

The only real answer appears to be a serious ramp up of nuclear power, and a I do give Hansen great credit for taking this position. Bill Gates is a supporter.

AGW true believer + engineer = nuclear power.

It’s both a litmus test and a serious eco political wedge issue.

8. M. carey

RE penetration isn’t possible in 40 years? I wouldn’t say that. I would it’s say unlikely, but I would like to see it happen.

• Bruce

Wind turbines won’t last very long. 20 years if you are lucky. Gearboxes 5.

“The typical design lifetime of a utility wind turbine is 20 years, but the gearboxes, which convert the rotor blades rotational speed of between 5 and 22 rpm to the generator-required rotational speed of around 1,000 to 1,600 rpm, commonly fail within an operational period of 5 years, and have to be replaced. That 20 year lifetime goal is itself a reduction from an earlier 30 year lifetime design goal.”

If we tired to build 3.8 million of them starting now, the ones build this year would have to be replaced twice and the gearboxes 8 times.

http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/wind-turbine-gearbox-technologies/

9. Faustino

OT, but news on CA that the UK Information Commissioner has comprehensively trashed UEA’s arguments for refusing a request for certain CRUTEM data, and advised them that if they do not provide the data promptly they may be considered to be in contempt of court.

http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/27/ico-orders-uea-to-produce-crutem-station-data/#more-13981

10. Gerald Quindry

Pielke’s book does a good job of pointing out the falacy of magic, silver bullet solutions to energy supply. The silver bullet solutions seem to ignore the math of increasing population and the decreasing value of conservation measures after the low hanging fruit has been harvested. But I’m not sure if “innovation” as defined by Pielke is anything more that a different, ill-defined, silver bullet. My tongue-in-cheek comment to those proposing such magical solutions is that I guess their idea is OK, even if they can only provide inexpensive, clean energy to less than 1/6 of the world’s current population. I mean it’s OK as long as I get to pick who gets to stay and who has to go… elsewhere?

11. Renewables supplying 80% of our energy needs? Complete nonsense, unless we repeal the laws of thermodynamics and basic economics.

I am very weary of the IPCC’s pontificating academic pinheads with no practical knowledge explaining how the government will make everything better, if only the “right” policies are followed. The government’s track record for picking the “right” technology is replete with unintended consequences that inevitably follow when self-serving bureaucrats attempt to control the economy. Innovation and the marketplace are the best mechanisms to sort this out.

• BLouis79

Agree. The “right” policies permit the market to find the most efficient solutions. Governments are great at wasting large sums of money on the loudest talkers.

• John Kannarr

Actually, the money goes to those who are most politically connected, and the usual rent-seekers.

• Tom Scharf

The IPCC mentality and solution’s remind me of the old Soviet Union. The end result will also be just like old Soviet refrigerators, whose only failing would be that they didn’t keep food cold.

• ferd berple

80% is completely practical with the “right policies”. Sun Tzu was able to teach the Kings concubines to march when everyone laughed and said it was impossible. What he did was to give the head concubine the job of getting the other concubines to march. And when she failed he cut of her head. The other concubines started marching.

A similar approach would work with renewables. All you need to do is get rid of the people not using renewables. Once you are rid of enough of them, the rest will fall into line. Many leaders throughout history have used this technique.

• David L. Hagen

fred berple

When climate alarmists advocate global government imposing “solutions” involving universal “taxation”, that raises serious warning flags. The solutions proposed cause an even greater skepticism than the supposed “scientific consensus” on which those “solutions” are based.

We have been warned about such proposals:

The second beast . . .forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

How one acts on these warnings will impact their future!

12. Recent figures released by both the UK National Grid and the German national electricity distribution agency show that wind and solar, even at peak performance, cannot provide reliable and stable supply. Over a single week in the last winter, the supply exceeded demand by over fifty percent for three days out of seven here in Germany – but fell to less than 10% for the balance of the week and the solar input was completely 0 at night when demand reached it’s peak.

Greenpeace and the Green Party in Germany have successfully mobilised their foot soldiers and run a scare campaign following Fukushima in which Greenpeace has once again run the scare that there are “thousands of tons” of high level radioactive waste stored in former salt mines. THis was accompanied by stolen film footage of some low level waste containers that had been badly stored – labelled by the Greenpeace commentator as “spent fuel.” It seems to have escaped the notice of the gullible that none of Germany’s reactors are built on major earthquake faults or where they could be hit by a tsunami …

What tends to get forgotten by our politicians in swallowing the nonsense of Greenpeace claims for renewable energy is that the majority of their members/activistas/followers also have fairies living in their “Mother Gaia” window boxes, think marijuana is safer to smoke than tobacco and honestly believe that “all industry and commerce is an evil rape of the Mother Gaia.”

Most people probably also do not realise that Greenpeace is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise run and directed by billionaire investors whose ultimate aim is to control economic development to their advantage. Most of this is a matter of public record for those who seek it – but the majority never bother.

As for the IPCC – just look at who runs and directs it. Number One interest; bring down the western economies so the nations they represent can do as they like.

• Curious, has the German Government explained how they plan on building 800,000 wind turbines by 2020? The ones needed to replace the nuke plants?

• With the agenda so obvious, why do so many parties to the IPCC stay silent?

I’m sorry to be draconian in comparison but it reminds me of the rise of Hitler, where many good Germans watched and privately were repulsed but thought he was taking care of a greater evil, say communists. For some reason the oil and gas industry has taken on this level of “evil” and any sham required to attack it is acceptable in polite PC society. It’s ironic that the green movement itself increases the profits of the oil and gas industry through excess regulations and added pass through costs.

As for Dr. Curry, again she points to the obvious but remains inside the IPCC bubble even if she catches grief from the inner core who are more dedicated to the agw cause and all it represents in reality. That she supported Obama, contributed money doesn’t allude me but at some point logic must trump natural political inclinations. You claim to be science first and ignore what the IPCC activist agenda is and was from inception. The perceptions about “certainty” of agw claims was and is a gross political distortion to a point that they should be denounced not reprimanded or doubted.

Dr. Curry should cross the river, those being called “holocaust deniers” are essentially the correct group both on science and ethics. She should get off the fence as playing the role of go between groups isn’t justice. Those who have been
party to the IPCC agenda effort need to confess as they are the current politcal majority in their leadership role.

13. guest

“The likelihood that the public will accept 31% of the energy mix from wind due to cost, aesthetics, and direct health and welfare impacts is unlikely.

The 25% reduction in gasoline for automotive use is arbitrary but changing that significantly requires a lot less automotive use.”

ohh. aesthetics… really? thats your argument? and which direct health and welfare impacts again from offshore wind?

And why not set significantly less automotive use as a goal? build high speed rail, go by bike! Why so reactionary?

• Roger Caiazza

For the New York example 31% from wind requires wind turbines everywhere both on-shore and off-shore. In particular, it would take 24,300 Vestas V82 1.65 MW turbines. The best on-shore place in New York for wind energy is in the Adirondacks and for lack of a better description that you cannot build in a “forever wild” state park I used aesthetics. I agree that there are no health and welfare impacts to off-shore wind but you still need so many that there will be on-shore impacts.

As to significantly less automotive use as a goal I think you are very optimistic thinking that is viable. I hope that high speed rail can be used where cost-effective but really don’t think that there are many places where it is viable. I am all for making bicycle use more attractive but there are barriers there as well, speaking from a location that averages ten feet of snow a year. The thing to keep in mind is that at one time the United States had a good system of trains and trolleys but when people had the opportunity to use the more convenient automobile most of that infrastructure disappeared. Setting up fast, reliable public transit today would be very expensive and still would not be able to overcome the convenience of jumping into a car and going wherever and whenever necessary.

• harrywr2

The systems of trains and trolleys worked when population density was on the order of 8 residences per acre.

At 8 residences per acre one needs sewage pipes and a sewage treatment plant and you still end up dumping effluent into rivers and streams.

At 4 homes per acre recycling ‘raw sewage’ can be done in ‘backyard septic systems’.

So turn the clock back to the 1950’s with a large increase in population due to the baby boom and do the more ‘environmentally sound’ thing based on the ‘available science’ of the day and the relative cost of land.

We built 10’s of millions of homes at 4 homes per acres so we could avoid building massive human sewage plants and dumping the effluent in the river.

Automobiles were a solution to the ‘horse manure’ problem and homes on 1/4 lots were a solution to the ‘human waste’ problem.

Unfortunately at 4 homes per acre corners stores within walking distance and public transportation within walking distance aren’t viable.

Merchant’s soon discovered that if they wanted to attract the customers from the 1/4 acre lot subdivisions then they needed large parking lots because the 1/4 lot subdivisions had very poor public transportation options.

In order to accommodate all these customers who would be arriving by car the merchants put stores on the outskirts of town as they could acquire enough land to have suitably sized parking lots and abandoned the stores in the center of town.

So here we are 60 years later… if we want to make public transpotration viable we would have to destroy all the housing stock and all the stores on the outskirts of towns built between 1950 and 1980 and replace it with housing stock with sufficiently high density(8 homes per acre or more) to make public transport viable. Anything less is just a ‘feel good’ band aid applied to a gunshot wound.

So then we are into the ‘cure is worse then a disease’. In order to ‘save the planet from climate change’ we need to bull doze 30 million homes making 100 million people homeless.

I seriously doubt those 100 million people are going to go peacefully, They are going to need more then some ‘climate models’ to be convinced that they should voluntarily abandon their homes.

• Peter317

We get the same arguments here in the UK about reducing car use.
The fact is, the amount of passenger-miles accounted for by public transport (trains and buses etc combined) comprises a single-figure percentage of the total in the UK, and I imagine even less in the US.
Doubling the number of public transport vehicles (trains and buses) and increasing the size of the infrastructure to suit, would be at huge expense, and would barely make a dent in the amount of car use.
And you would very quickly run up against diminishing returns; for example, having a large enough infrastructure to move huge numbers of people during commuting peak periods would leave most of that infrastructure essentially idle during off-peak times, with drivers still needing to be paid etc – not to mention laying on enough vehicles and routes to cater for people being able to travel where they want to at the times they want to would need a lot of built-in redundancy.
And bike use can only really replace cars for short-distance journeys, which, by definition, do not comprise a large chunk of total car mileage.

• guest

this whole blog is basically about finding reasons not to do anything, right?

• Edim

“The hardest work of all is to do nothing.”

• Peter317

Why don’t you ask what we can do to make pigs fly?

• Roger Caiazza

I think my point and many others who frequent here is that we don’t want the “cure” to be worse than the disease. Many of us accept that renewables, energy efficiency, energy conservation should be promoted. However, if you go overboard (and in my opinion the suggestion that 80% renewables is possible if only for the right enabling policies is going overboard), then the costs, direct impacts and unintended consequences will be worse than the effects of global warming.

• Edim

And if there is no disease at all, any cure will be worse than the “disease”.

“To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.”
Hippocrates

• Jim Owen

guest –
this whole blog is basically about finding reasons not to do anything, right?

No, this whole blog is basically about finding ways to do it right. Something the IPCC and it’s supporters don’t care about.

• harrywr2

guest | June 28, 2011 at 2:04 am | Reply
which direct health and welfare impacts again from offshore wind?

The price tag…only the rich will be able to afford heat and air conditioning. Heat stroke and exposure are well documented illnesses.

14. Labmunkey

Obviously the end goal would be 100% renewables, it’s a highly laudable aim. Is it likely any time soon given current technology? no.

I think we’re taking a decidedly short-term view to this situation. Technology is not yet at the stage where large scale reliance on renewables makes any kind of sense (from a practical or financial point of view). I’d like to offer a counter suggestion:

Make energy as cheap as humanly possible (without adding further stress/damage to the environment- i’m not talking 100 extra coal stations per country here- we’re clearly talking nuclear) and use that as a way to drive forward technological advances.

Cheap energy makes everything easier. I’d be willing to bet that significantly cheaper energy would help technological advances and research more than legislating our way towards renewables.

Play the long game i reckon- hard for most politicians (past 4 years that is), but seems to make sense to my addled mind.

• simon abingdon

Wouldn’t want to be on a life-support machine if we were ever on 100% renewables.

• Labmunkey

There’s obviously a definition that needs to be made here- i’m not saying that using 100% current-gen renewables would work (or be advisable!), i was inferring that future-tech renewables would be more, well, reliable.

• Guest

sometimes i don’t know what to say. cheap energy to drive technology? wtf? of course only expensive energy drives technology. why do you think people in europe use much less energy? because the prices are higher and it makes sense to buy energy saving fridges, cars and so on. the market will then react and build more and better low energy -tech.

the amount of stupidity in this forum ist really amazing.

• Labmunkey

Uh-huh.
I think you’re misunderstanding my point- or i explained poorly.

I’m talking from a research and buisness perspective here. Significantly lower energy costs allows much more money for research and development which will net more gains in the middle to longer term than purely legislating short-term will.

• Labmunkey

It would seem i’m really not doing a good job here of explaining myself.

I am not suggesting that less energy be used- and i’m fully aware that technological advances revolve around increasing amounts of available energy. My comment was on reducing the cost of that energy to increase the availability of that energy for use.

I.e. make the large scale use of energy non-prohibitive financially.

• Programmer

>> of course only expensive energy drives technology.
I don’t want to assume, but does your comment implies you value low energy usage above all else? As a required step to any worthwhile energy-related goal? As the highest goal in itself?
The history of all technological advance is the ever more effective application of greater amounts of energy.
Regarding stupidity in this forum, it seems to me you brought most of it with you.

• Labmunkey

ah, my reply is out of order- see above.

• Peter317

Where do you get your information from?
And what makes you think that energy efficiency has changed significantly from what it was when energy was still cheap?
And what makes you think it’s possible to significantly increase energy efficiency where it counts, when we’re already not too far away from the theoretical physical maximums.
And, even if you’re correct about Europeans using less energy, why do you think that is? Less heavy industry? Shorter travel distances? Less air conditioners (aka more people dying from the heat)?
Or do you really think that energy-saving fridges and light bulbs make the difference?

• randomengineer

because the prices are higher and it makes sense to buy energy saving fridges, cars and so on. the market will then react and build more and better low energy -tech.

This is called “technology creationism” where the market states a wish and we engineers conjure it up from thin air. As a group we’re too dumb to know what to make until the market demands it, at which point we act.

Refrigeration was known in the early 1900’s but even in the 1930’s was affordable only to business and the very rich. Start in 1931; you now have 80 years since then for the development of the lower energy models the european market demands. The advances to get to this stage included better insulation, lighter linings, as close to frictionless pumps as can be mass produced, years of experience with regfrigerants, tighter machine tolerances in construction, etc. To get to the modern fridge the ‘market demands’ was a long road of complete reinvention of even the tools and machinery used to make them. Current electrical prices make it easier to choose a more energy efficient model, but this model can only exist due to generations of improvement from the early concept stage. In other words — lucky for you, today just so happens to be the era in which you can even “demand” such a device.

This speaks to the topic of this post — it will take many generations of constant improvement of what we think of re renewables to get to a point where these are reliable and useful and contribute a significant fraction of energy. Up to 80% is laughable idiocy unless there’s a massive program to utilise currently known and scalable tech such as natural gas, nuclear (which is on it’s 4th generation now) and spaceborne solar (about to be the first generation.)

And frankly Scarlet it doesn’t matter what the market demands.

• Tom Scharf

I don’t think this is entirely true.

While I sympathize with your position (being an engineer myself), market forces do drive engineering innovation. More resources and engineering focused on a problem will create faster innovation. The atom was very likely split much sooner because of the scale and focus of the effort.

However you are right that assuming a technology miracle will occur is pretty poor public policy. The cost and efficiency of wind, solar, and battery technology can be trended and some reasonable assumptions can be made about future progress.

You can imagine a technology miracle happening that would allow us to harness the power of the sun, which would give us almost endless amount of CO2 free energy…we could start a Manhattan scale project to discover this…that would be so great! Sarcasm aside, it would be a completely different ballgame if nuclear energy was discovered after the CAGW alarm.

Obviously highly unrealistic assumptions were made with the 80% number, and you are right that it is laughable as presented. The core issue here is how that number makes it to a press releases, and this only further discredits the IPCC and their supporters.

The IPCC does not appear to be an organization that has the capability to implement internal changes to restore credibility.

• Peter317

Yes, we could have nuclear fusion sorted by then, we could have completely new technology, but then again we might not.
Based upon what we now know, and can reasonably forecast, it’s dangerously misleading to suggest that an 80% improvement over the next 40 years is in any way feasible.

• The Oil Drum had a technical article on fusion a while back. There are a number of fundemental reasons why it will never happen.

• randomengineer

The cost and efficiency of wind, solar, and battery technology can be trended and some reasonable assumptions can be made about future progress.

I am reminded here of the argument from greens and even republicans re sending money to 3rd world hellholes that hate us where it concerns oil. Electrics and hybrids are the future, right?

Maybe not. To make the super efficient motor assemblies in enough quantity to make a difference, we need to get a great deal of neodynium, which is in Bolivia (they hate us), Africa (in places noted for genocide; apparently they don’t even like themselves), and China.

Same amount of money leaves the door. Just choose where it goes and the associated problems that will arise. When that 80% renewable target is being addressed the western world will have to deal with ONEC (org of neodynium exporting countries.) Same dance.

Unless the end to end chain is fully considered, this 80% stuff is even worse than silly; it’s bordering on criminally dumb.

which of course is why I say nuclear and spaceborne solar.

15. Bob Koss

Since animal dung, trees, and other forms of biomass are considered renewables, 80% by 2050 can be achieved by following the scenario laid out here.

• Gene

Since animal dung, trees, and other forms of biomass are considered renewables

That was one of the aspects of the scenario that struck me…if I recall correctly, around 10 percent of the renewables total was from these types of dirty renewables. Prior to increasing your share of renewables, these existing ones need to be upgraded to some energy source (renewable or not) that poses less of an immediate danger to life and the environment.

16. BLouis79

OK. So we use a worst-case scenario for projecting temperature rises associated with CO2 level increases…and we use a best-case scenario for projecting fairytale energy efficiencies and energy usage if we can make a magical decision.

All the while the believers in the theory of radiative thermal equilibrium can categorically say that nothing that happens on earth can change the temperature of earth in equilibrium with the sun without changing either solar output or albedo.

Now how much could we cool the earth if we painted all the roads and roofs white?

• hunter

BLouis79,
That is the standard pattern of large parts of the AGW community:
Anything to do with CO2 causing a problem is embraced at represented value, no matter how dubious or sketchy.
Anything pointing out trivial, moderate or even beneficial outcomes is dismissed out of hand.
Any AGW demanded policy is to be pushed full force, no matter the negative outcomes.
Any questioning of AGW claims is condemned as if the doubter is a vicious nazi thug, anti-science or literally genetically incapable of understanding the sublime nature of AGW .

17. Girma

The goal of society has always been to improve the human condition and for one generation to leave a better world for the next. Crippling the engines of progress, particularly in the production of affordable energy, will lead not to paradise on Earth, but to poverty and squalor.

http://bit.ly/kxXrpc

• hunter

Girma,
Exactly. This adds a certain bitter irony to the AGW cant of ‘inter-generational justice’.

18. tempterrain

There is the question of whether nuclear power should be classed as a renewable source.

If you count all the possible sources, for both fission and possible future fusion reactors, there is enough to last just about for ever.

• hunter

tempterrain,
If the move were to be towards nuclear power, it would be no problem to be on the same side of that issue as you.
Windmills are not only unreliable, expensive, and destructive of landscapes. They are horribly expensive to operate and already cause problems everywhere they are in widespread use.
What can be done to get many of the most influential members of the AGW community to leave wind and solar behind and to go nuke?
Very few skeptics would hesitate to back nuclear.

• tempterrain

So why are so so against James Hansen?
http://bigthink.com/ideas/17891

He’s often portrayed as a tree hugging greenie. However, he too is pro nuclear. It doesn’t follow that a recognition of the very real problem of AGW means the destruction of modern day industrial society.

• Tom Scharf

The better question is why don’t the AGW faithful follow Hansen’s energy policy?

I respect his energy position, his alarmism based on computer modeling do not strike me as convincing though, hence the push back.

I find anti-nuclear and pro-CAGW as a position that is fundamentally flawed, and have a problem taking these people seriously.

• hunter

Hansen is a putz because he set himself above the rules government employees have to follow and got rich doing.
Hansen is a putz because he sells books based on apocalyptic claptrap.
Hansen is a putz because he supported a book calling for global terrorism that would result in xenocide.
That he gets it right on nukes does not offset the damage he has done.
a more interesting question might be to ask why so few AGW believers havve supported his call for nukes?

19. hunter

It is fascinating to me that suddenly power companies are no longer to be regulated to provide steady 60 cycle power.
Is this possibly the biggest subsidy yet of windmills, infamous for providing unsteady and unreliable power?
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/24/ap/tech/main20074275.shtml

• Edim
• Pooh, Dixie

Interesting comment here on what happens if generators get out of sync:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/25/it-hertz-when-you-do-that-power-grid-to-stop-regulating-60-hz-frequency/#comment-688838

“Induction motors burn out on under-frequency and at about 57 hertz the big steam turbines (both fossil and nuclear) begin spitting out their blades (they’re typically protected by automatic tripping at 57.5 hertz).”

According to this, the generator turbines are “protected”. How about the rest of us? A modest proposal: the individuals running this “experiment” are to be personally liable (tort and criminal) for all resulting damages and injuries.

The citizens of this country are not lab rats.

• Keeping the frequency very close to 60 Hz (or 50 Hz) is a technical necessity, because many turbines, generators and large engines would otherwise have vibrations that would destroy them. What the news tells is no a change of this fact. Although the frequency cannot vary much, it can remain slightly low or slightly high for extended periods and that makes the clocks go slow or fast. With present practices the power companies take extra measures to compensate a period of low frequency by another of high frequency bringing the clocks back to time.

When most clocks are not anymore based on the frequency of the grid, this compensation starts to be more a nuisance that worthwhile. Thus the new practice would keep the frequency as close to the nominal as before, but the cumulative balance of low and high frequency periods would not be maintained anymore. The power companies would rather concentrate on staying close to the nominal frequency irrespectively of the past deviations.

20. Edim

That’s only US. You will still have 60 Hz.

• randomengineer

The relevant concept here is design of the equipment to work at a given frequency. Same problem happens if you have an 80 Hz grid where the equipment is designed to work at that frequency.

• Edim

Frequency is not going to change, it remains at 60 Hz. It will be regulated by load, just like everywhere else.

• David L. Hagen

Edim
Frequency is rarely “regulated by load” (aka “load control”), though power companies wish they could.
The danger of formally removing a frequency standard is that it will lead to wind companies etc. imposing supply fluctuations without being penalized for their impacts and higher risk.

• Mark F

One comment stated that frequency variations won’t exceed those which are
commonplace now, but that the small corrections needed to keep electric clocks accurate will be eliminated. Unless phase-independent areas, each with independent AC/DC/AC conversion (e.g.) are defined, all areas must be phase-tracking within whatever limits are needed to avoid generators being ripped off their moorings and other problems. But synchronous clocks will suffer. Candidly, I wondered if it wasn’t April 1 “somewhere”.

21. Robert

It’s amusing, if not surprising, that despite the hue and cry when the IPCC highlighted a study co-authored by an employee of Greenpeace, no one here cares or has even mentioned that the author is a paid lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry. It just underscores how ironically misapplied the term “skeptic” is to deniers.

• Edim

Fossil fuel industry is in the AGW bandwagon.

• Peter317

Robert, a few questions:

1) Point out where this author is wrong
2) point out where the IPCC study is right
4) What’s the policy impact of the IPCC study

• Robert

“1) Point out where this author is wrong
2) point out where the IPCC study is right”

You illustrate my point. Your default position is that the person you like is right and the person you don’t is wrong. That’s the opposite of skepticism.

• Peter317

Well go on then, answer the questions.

And it’s got nothing to do with liking or not liking the person, and everything to do with the fact that this is a subject which us engineering types actually know something about.

• David L. Hagen

Three cheers for engineers!!!

• Robert

I suppose the difference is that one is writing for the worlds largest climate organisation that the worlds governments will defer to and will make policy using its information, whilst the other isn’t.
This was all pointed out in the biosketch.

However your general point is one worth making, that those with a vested interest should declare that interest

tonyb

• Joshua

You know, I’ve been thinking of going on a rant about the political un-correctness of the exclusive use of the word “skeptics” to refer to those who doubt and/or deny the science underlying theories of anthropogenic climate change.

I think the best terms to refer to the combatants are “skeptical convinced/believers” and “skeptical unconvinced/deniers.”

• hunter

Joshua,

• Roger Caiazza

We tried to be upfront about my background. While I absolutely have a vested interest in the fossil fuel industry, what I presented is a methodology that is independent of my background. You can put in any assumptions that you want. I used the projections in the example analysis from an organization that “provides research, testimony, reports and regulatory support to consumer advocates, environmental organizations, regulatory commissions, state energy offices, and others.” If you can support their approach please let us all know how. Absent nuclear generation I don’t see how it is possible for New York to meet the 80% reduction of CO2 by 2050 goal of its Climate Action Plan and I do not have a vested interest in nuclear generation.

• Gene

Yes, the fact that it took a month after posting this for Roger’s background to come out is just…oh, wait. Nevermind.

• randomengineer

The author clearly states affilation. The author isn’t trying to foist his study as the official pronouncement of the IPCC.

Other than that, your point would have been mere sour grapes rather than utter silliness.

22. Mark

One of the ways to get to 100% is noted here-
“A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables
Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels. Here’s how”

By Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi

The little detail of grid stability is not covered, but what the heck you can manage your home, server farm, water treatment plant, etc. etc. without a reliable source of electical energy.

• mkelly

Not allowed to build dams so water is out. In fact we are ridding ourselves of dams.

• Bruce

“Using just the two primary sources, wind and solar, some quick calculations put the enormity of any replacement program into perspective:
The cost of large commercial wind turbines varies from \$1 to \$2 million per MW of nameplate capacity. Turbines 2 MW in size cost roughly \$2.8 million installed. Ballpark figures for a 5 MW wind farm would expect to cost in the region of \$9.7-14 (€7-10) million, whether from a signal large turbine or a constellation of smaller units. The figure represents the total project cost and includes the feasibility studies, EIS and planning application, civil and electrical engineering works, grid connection costs. Let’s call it \$10 million per 5 MW installed. Calculating the total cost for world wind power:

4,000,000 * \$10,000,000 = \$40 Trillion

The solar component calls for the use of industrial scale concentrating solar plants, the most cost efficient form of solar power. Abengoa Solar, a company currently constructing solar thermal plants, put the cost of a 300 MW plant at 1.2 billion euros in 2007. In 2009, the Arizona state government announced a 200 MW plant for 1 billion US dollars so let’s split the difference and estimate \$1.56 billion per plant. Calculating the total cost for world solar power:

90,000 * \$1,560,000,000 = \$140 Trillion

So, for 84% of the needed capacity the initial purchase and installation cost is 12 times the total yearly GDP of the USA.”

http://www.thegwpf.org/best-of-blogs/2611-the-cost-of-running-the-world-on-renewable-power.html

• David L. Hagen

Bruce
The solution is to make solar cheaper than fossil power, with sufficient storage to make it more reliable. Now there is a goal that is feasible if we collective focus on it rather than perpetuate the massive misdirection of funds due to the “cold war.”

More importantly, the world is using about 88 million barrels of fuel (oil equivalent)/day or 3.2 billion/year. At \$95/bbl that’s costing \$3 trillion/year. Over 33 years such BAU would cost \$100 trillion!

Now how do we refocus action on what is costing us all massive costs now?

• Bruce

Natural Gas is much cheaper.

Wind Turbines die after 10-20 years. Gear boxes after 5. We don’t know how long large solar installations will last.

Fantasizing is great. But why do anything massive until it is cheaper.

Solar thermal plants won’t get much cheaper. 1.5 billion for 70,000 homes in what is the best location nearest the largest city in a desert.

http://www.abengoasolar.com/corp/web/en/our_projects/solana/index.html

You can get 1000MW of NG power for 1 billion. Solar get you 250MW for 1.5 billion.

And that solar plant would be a waste of money if most of the USA.

23. With another direct link of the IPCC to the eco-extreme when will the participants (scientists) admit the process was tainted from the start as Dr. Lindzen point our long ago??

http://americanthinker.com/2007/02/the_ipcc_should_leave_science.html

Another point buried in agw hype;

Lindzen then addressed the media’s frequent misleading references to the participants as the “world’s leading climate scientists.” He explained that the best science students generally moved into physics, math, and computer science — not climate science.

The IPCC results are no surprise both in blundering as well as poor science at the core. The media (with a very similar agenda culture) has taken the balloon as far as it can go.

24. Apparently, the IPCC Report is about 1,000 pages long. I haven’t read it, and probably no-one else here has read it completely, but even if I had, I wouldn’t be qualified to judge all its conclusions. In essence, then, I believe we will be to some extent arguing in a vacuum until we have enough outside expert opinion on the Report itself to give us some perspective. My guess is that 80% renewables by 2050 is too optimistic, but that a large step in that direction may be achievable if pursued vigorously.

I’ll mention a few impressions I have.

First, if natural gas drilling problems can be resolved (environmental health damage, fugitive methane emissions), substituting natural gas for most coal and oil over the next 40 years could probably reduce CO2 emissions by about 30%. This would also imply substituting electricity for internal combustion in most vehicles, which would also be a step forward. While natural gas isn’t “renewable”, it is often lumped together with renewables in various alternative energy standards because of its ability to partially substitute hydrogen for carbon to generate energy.

Increased energy efficiency, and to a lesser extent conservation, should contribute at least a few extra percentage points. This includes the electric vehicle concept I mentioned, as well major changes in building construction to approach the goal of a “zero energy building” concept that has already been the subject of demonstration projects (but again, by 2050, not currently).

Nuclear should be included, but is unlikely to add more than another few percentage points unless some of the new designs mentioned above prove very practical on a large scale.

Expansion of geothermal, tidal or wave energy, and biomass energy (avoiding threats to food crop agriculture) can contribute a small amount.

Wind energy expansion can contribute significantly, but in my view, it too is limited by many of the considerations described above. In the long run, however, I believe that solar rather than wind energy will be the greater contributor to a renewable energy future. For this purpose, I don’t think that photovoltaics should be considered the exclusive technology of choice, and perhaps not even the principal one. Rather, heat storage technologies such as the Andasol concept strike me as a better long term prospect. I would be very interested in expert opinion on this subject – over the next 40 years, how well can this concept be developed and scaled up to supply a substantial portion of energy needs?

The above may not add up to 80%, but with 40 years to work on it, it might come closer than some of the more pessimistic estimates assume. My perception is that the latter are based primarily on current technology, and probably underestimate what will be possible by 2050.

None of this will be possible without what the Report called “the right enabling policies”. It is here, rather than in the realm of technology, that I tend to be more pessimistic.

• Fred

I’ve read the IPCC report and the summary for policymakers which is a reasonably good synthesis.

The full report is technically pretty good and comprehensive but seems to take the best case scenario and in that it is hopelessly optimistic.

The WWF report is much better, in as much because they are using emotion it is easier to see how they intend we should move to renewables-it is full of ‘enabling policies.’.

I’m a fan of renewables but also realise their severe limitations as regards efficiency and cost.

Our best hope is probably ocean derived energy as the power possibilities are so great and most of the G20 have shorelines-so those most in need of alternative energy can access it. (always accepting that some cities are a long way from the coast)

tonyb

• Peter317

Fred, any car company which advertised, “up to 80% less fuel consumption”, they would be up for fraud – no question.
To put some perspective on things, let’s take just solar energy.
I don’t know the exact figure for average surface insolation, but let’s use a ballpark figure of 300w/m2. A back of envelope calculation says that to provide the world’s electricity from this would require around 30 billion square metres, or 30,000 square kilometres of solar cells or reflectors – and that’s assuming 100% conversion efficiency, which can never be approached in practice.

• Peter – Accepting your figure, 30,000 square kilometers – a 173 x 173 kilometer area distributed over the nations of the globe – doesn’t strike me as wildly impractical if the world decides over the next 40 years that substituting renewables for fossil fuels is necessary. It would certainly require a willingness to change, but that is a sociopolitical issue rather than a technological one.

I wasn’t suggesting solar as the source of 100 percent of the world’s electricity, but I think it could contribute a significant fraction. These are all somewhat simplistic estimates, in any case. There are multiple technological limitations, as you point out, not to mention political obstacles. On the other hand, average insolation is probably irrelevant, because Andasol-type stations would presumably be sited in locations receiving more than average solar radiation.

I’d like to see this concept explored further. Can solar power be harnessed large scale offshore?

• Peter317

You don’t think that’s wildly impractical in terms of space, cost, materials, time etc?

• Distributed over the globe during the next 40 years? No, I wouldn’t think it’s impractical if we are committed to substituting solar power for a significant fraction of fossil fuel energy, but I would be interested in the opinion of experts in this particular area.

• Peter317

Be my guest

• hunter

Fred,
Please find epxerts to show how to do this.
Not one credible inforemd source has shown how we get to 80% renewable in 40 years unless it involves depopulating the world or impoverishing the world to pre-industrial levels, or both depop and impoverishment.
the best book I have found to summarize this is one fo Hansen’s favorites,
“Time’s Up!”
http://www.farnish.plus.com/amatterofscale/timesup.htm
It is a well written call to commit xenocide in the name of environmentalism.
I hope you enjoy it.

• Alexander Harvey

Fred,

I suspect many countries would welcome the possibility of growing their energy consumption by a factor of 5, so for them substitution would not be the issue. If you take an energy impoverised country and invest in a lot of low/zero carbon generation you can use energy growth to hit the target.

To my thinking a big part of the issue is how to begin to raise the underdeveloped world to at least developing world standards by 2050 whilst limiting the growth in carbon emissions. I very much doubt that reduction in absolute values should be contemplated only percentage values and sufficient low carbon growth can address that.

I don’t have any figures but there are places that currently have zero or only flashlight battery supplied electricity in the under developed world in both underdeveloped and developing countries.

Alex

• David L. Hagen

Peter317
Such proposals are being seriously made. e.g. see: Energy from the desert: very large scale photovoltaic systems

There is serious effort underway to begin such desert solar energy. See
Desertec

So the concept is not wildly implausable. It’s more an issue of getting the costs down to where they are commercially competitive.
(As an engineer, I believe there are more efficient less expensive ways, and that it can be done.)

• People including engineers and scientists have very different views on what is realistic and plausible and what is not. The overall potential of solar energy is huge, but all those grandiose projects are still far from realizability. How fast and to what extent the costs can be reduced cannot be foreseen with specifiable level of reliability.

People have invented all kind of rules to help extrapolation of past trends, but there’s never certainty that the rules remain valid beyond the past history, where they have been observed. For example so called “learning curves” are supposed to tell, how costs will decline with increasing production volumes, but it’s impossible to separate even in history the cause and the consequence. It’s equally plausible to think that the volumes are growing, because costs have been reduced due to external factors, as to think that the experience gained through larger volumes has reduced costs. It’s almost certain that both effects are present, but no way of determining their shares. Therefore we have no way of extrapolating reliably, what will happen in future and, how spending money in subsidies of implementation will influence future costs.

People favoring renewable energy have long history of overoptimism. Reducing the costs has turned out to be much more difficult than foreseen by them. It’s also true that many others have been too pessimistic on the potential of some forms of renewable energy, while some other forms have not reached any better results than thought by the pessimists.

The problem in formulating support policies for renewable energy is in choosing the right horse. Extensive implementation of immature solutions is not of much help. It may even hinder progress, when R&D of a technology with little actual potential takes resources from more useful research in other and ultimately more valuable technologies.

• Roger Caiazza

Pekka,

Any thoughts on how choose the right horse? I have heard it suggested to offer prizes for a technology that meets certain criteria but am at a loss for other options.

• My main idea is that keeping as many options open as possible may be the most important thing.

• Can solar power be harnessed large scale offshore?

I asked this question earlier. The IPCC Report does address this in the section on Thermal Energy Conversion. This entails exploiting the heating of ocean surface layers by sunlight. The heat is used to evaporate a fluid (water, ammonia, propane, etc.), which can drive a turbine, and then be restored to starting temperature by exposure to seawater from cooler ocean depths. Obviously, the potential amount of energy that can be derived is enormous, but perhaps so are the obstacles to practical scale up.

• David L. Hagen

Fred
The primary constraints are high cost from low efficiency and intermittent supply.
Dept. of Energy’s Analysis Says Wind and Solar Not Competitive

For OTEC see: Navy Taps Oceans for Power

• Mark

Morning David,

Out here in CA we have been on the path of adding RE sources for electrical generation for awhile (our current legislative mandate is for 33%RE by 2020- the old requirement was 20% by 2010). The folks at the California Energy Commission (CEC), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Grid Operator (CASIO) have all be dealing with how to determine costs and the limitations of the current economic models that where developed back when all sources of electrical power were dispatchable. The folks at Southern California Edison are making a few suggestions on how to look at costs when the source of the power is not dispatchable as noted below-

CEC Comparative Cost of Generation Model—Analysis of Results and Recommended Model Changes- May 16, 2011

http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011_energypolicy/documents/2011-05-16_workshop/presentations/Southern_California_Edison_2011-05-03.pdf

with a follow up comment dated June, 1, 2011.

Our state recently passed a law to formally look into the need/requirement for energy storage to address the intermittency of RE and how to allocate the costs of adding in energy storage into folks bills. The formal public comments on the CEC meeting held on Aril 28th are located here http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011_energypolicy/documents/2011-04-28_workshop/comments/ and the presentation documents are located here- http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011_energypolicy/documents/2011-04-28_workshop/presentations/

Out here in CA our public agencies and legislatures do not want to experience the repercussions of not having a secure supply of electrical energy again- we recalled a governor, Gray Davis, after his efforts in addressing a supply issue were not looked upon favorably.

• David L. Hagen

Thanks Mark for the links. Sympathize with that situation.
The challenge in California is still trying to implement expensive designs. Designing solar thermal power to be directly cheaper than fossil fuel will make a big difference in implementation.

The proven rapid expansion in production of airplanes, ships and tanks during WWII shows what can be done with there is an existential threat. e.g. in the US from
2,141 planes/year in 1939 to 96,318 the first half of 1944.

Anthropogenic global warming does not show such a threat. The impending decline of light oil is such a threat. We are entering “interesting” times.

• Mark

David,

We are hitting some diminishing returns (as it relates to CO2 reductions and the cost to reduce them further) in the electrical power area as we already switched out of coal a few years back to natural gas. There is no question that CA has been at the forefront of reducing the CO2 load per kwh over the years. What is worrying some folks at CASIO is that we have to be very careful moving forward as in a couple of scenarios’ we could actually have the same fuel burn when we get to 2020 as we have in 2010- the devil is in the details as the saying goes.

In case your interested here are the references-

A recent meeting held on 23 NOV 2010 sponsored by the California Energy Commission (CEC) http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011_energypolicy/documents/#11232010 entitled ” Joint Committee Workshop on Electricity Infrastructure Need Assessment” discussed infrastructure needs to meet the 33%RES, enacted via an administrative law requirement by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by 2020 in CA. The California Energy Storage Association stressed the need for energy storage to address the intermittent nature of most forms of renewable energy (wind and solar) in a public comment http://www.energy.ca.gov/2011_energypolicy/documents/2010-11-23_workshop/comments/California_Energy_Storage_Association_TN-59287.pdf The CESA comment had a particularly insightful comment on page 4-

“Finally, the timing for including energy storage as a fundamental component of California’s
electricity infrastructure has never been greater. At the November 30, 2010 CPUC LTPP

workshop, CAISO presented their findings related to full RPS Implementation, and found that the

33% in state RPS scenario resulted in a small INCREASE in MMBTU of fuel burn in California.

According to Mark Rothleder, Director of Market Analysis and Development CAISO, “The primary

reasons for this are a result of two things:

1) increased regulation and load following requirements resulting in resources with

flexibility being committed online more in the 33% reference case over other cases and

2) lower level net imports from outside of CA in the 33% reference case. This result may

change for depending on the ultimate source of flexibility.” (BOLD, underline added by Mark).

Personally, I am a bit immune to the added costs that someone is going to have to pay for the additional RE for the electical market that will be brought on line over the next decade- as I put a 6.12 kw PV system on our roof back in 2006 and I have a time of use net meter with PG&E. As an FYI the AVERAGE cost for a kwh of energy from PG&E (Northern, CA) is close to \$.19. The marginal cost is a bit over \$.40 a kwh for folks that use above 200% of the residential baseline amounts. Most of our commercial users of electrical energy will be required to take time of use rate schedules. How the CPUC works out the specific rate detail is a bit of a mystery to me, but needless to say the allocation of costs will have to picked up by someone.

And I concur with your assessment that it is in the transportation sector that things are going to get very interesting.

• David L. Hagen

Thanks Mark
Per

the AVERAGE cost for a kwh of energy from PG&E (Northern, CA) is close to \$.19. The marginal cost is a bit over \$.40 a kwh for folks that use above 200% of the residential baseline amounts.

I see no existential reason to shift off of \$0.07/kWh of coal fired electricity here in Indiana.
To help the 2 billion living on \$2/day and 1 billion on \$1/day, I am focusing on how to go from fuel shortages to abundant fuel to pull costs back down off \$5/gal back to <\$2/gal.

• O’Reilly? You have to be kind of morbidly bored to find watching damnfools throw away their money, and their means of replacing it, “interesting”.

>:(

• David L. Hagen

Mark
For the impact of oil shortages on power supplies see Pakistan’s current electricity crisis:
Electricity shortfall reaches 4,760 megawatt

ISLAMABAD, June 18 (APP): The electricity shortfall reached 4,760 megawatt while the country is generating 13,240 megawatt of electricity and the current demand is 18,000 megawatt.According to Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO), the reason behind the current shortfall is the reduction in the production of electricity the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) due to the shortage of oil and gas supply,private news channel reported.As the electricity demand goes up in Lahore, an increase has also occurred in the unscheduled load shedding. The city is facing a load shedding of 10 to 12 hours a day.

The scheduled electricity load shedding in Karachi is 10 hours but the power has been suspended for 14 hours a day in the city. The Karachiits are also facing an acute water shortage due to the absence of electricity.The daily power outage increased up to 16 hours a day in rural areas of the country.

Power companies typically like at least 15% preferably 18% excess capacity to meet peaks. In Pakistan they have a 26% SHORTFALL.
Note the direct impact on reducing GDP in proportion to fuel shortages.

No sign of “global warming” causing this.

• Mark

David,

Thanks for link on Karachi’s problems. Yes, please- fuel costs back down to \$2.00 a gallon. I just paid \$3.99 for a gallon of diesel.

• manacker

Fred Moolten

You write that “substituting renewables for fossil fuels would require a willingness to change, but that is a sociopolitical issue rather than a technological one”

I think it is primarily an economic one, Fred.

Currently available “renewables” (wind/solar) are much more expensive to install and have much lower on-line factor than either fossil fuel or nuclear plants. They require standby (gas-fired) plants for the 70+% of the time when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

I can walk you through the economics if you are interested, but the only way renewables could theoretically compete is with massive tax-payer funded subsidies. I do not believe that the taxpayers of this world are ready to make this massive investment once push comes to shove.

Then there is the embarrassing “return on investment” calculation. None of the proposed shifts to renewable energy will have a perceptible impact on our global temperature by 2100, as even the IPCC figures show. I can walk you through these calculations as well, Fred, if you do not believe what I have written.

Max

• I have read through most of a a version that was distributed for commenting as I was one of the reviewers. I have also had a look at the final version, but read only some parts of it. I agree with Tony that most of the report is quite good. In particular the SPM is not too bad and the chapters describing the state of various technologies are also mainly good. There are, however, serious problems in some of the chapters.

Issues related to bioenergy are so controversial that providing a balanced view on that appears to be impossible. Various national interests are strong, and issues related to land use very complex. Furthermore the dynamics of CO2-reduction is also complex, and use of bioenergy may even increase the CO2 release for tens of years before the balance turns to reduction in comparison with fossil fuels.

The parts that I find most problematic are, however those related to the estimation of the overall potential, economics and policies. The WWF -study is just one among many, but the problems with these chapters are much more generic.

I have written here before that I don’t think that IPCC should include this fields of research, development, and policy analyses in it’s scope. For those parts of this study, which are best, the study is not really unique, but similar information has been available elsewhere. Even those parts are rather descriptions of state of technology than compilations of scientific research. The problematic parts appear to be hopelessly influenced by conflicts of interests of individuals and organizations as well as by national interests of various countries. It’s just impossible for IPCC to produce an objective assessment on these areas. Therefore it shouldn’t even try, as doing that is detrimental to IPCC’s stature, and some other type of organization would be more appropriate for that task.

• Alexander Harvey

Fred,

You might be interested in watching this presentation:

http://raeng.tv/default.aspx?item=47

It covers some of the challenges of actually implementing the 80% by 2050 goal. It is quite long (84 minutes) ranges from the very general to the quite specific. The crucial aspect is that it describes a plan that is in the process of implementation with the intention of realising the goal. As it stands it is I think the only such plan so it is the only available case study. This takes it out of the realm of considering all possible options to the realm of specified coordinated action with milestones.

I think it does need listening to carefully as some points covered with no more than a sentence have implications that are somewhere between breath-taking and eye-watering.

It isn’t an overview of power generation so it is best not watched in the hope that it will discuss a pet preference for a particular technology. It deals much more with the implementation of a 80%/2050 package under a particular policy regime.

Alex

• Thanks, Alex. I’ll have the time to watch it later today.

25. RiHo08

Yesterday we traveled up the East shores of Lake Huron, from Sarnia (Ontario Canada) to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, a distance of over 250 miles of shoreline. There are many large and small wind farms. There are new solar arrays on farms. What was remarkable was the high variability in wind turbine function. Within any one wind farm, there were turbines not working at all, some very slowly turning, and others with a steady, presumably generating electricity, pace. There were entire wind farms where none of the turbines were turning at all. My observance of weeds, shrubs and trees told me there was no wind. The sky was overcast. Lake Huron waters were calm. This is but one day in the life of the wind turbine/solar array industry. The only steady source of electrical power is Bruce Nuclear near Tiverton Ontario. By what stretch of the imagination can an electrical grid be maintained that is dependent upon the vagarities of the local weather?

• Did you notice the number of farm/residential solar arrasys that are horizontal? There are hundreds of them. Those are the ones that cannot be hooked up because the utility doesn’t have the proper infrastructure for them. These people are going to have to wait at least 18 months to two years to get hooked up, all the while paying for those panels. What a mess this government has created.

When the Conservatives get in in Oct, the Green Energy Act and the FIT program will be history, a very sad and infamous history for Ontario.

If only the people who will get screwed by their jump into the “too-good-to-be-true” pool could go and sue the Liberal Party of Ontario.

26. Here’s another point that is missed by the romantic-eco-nutcases who want us to use wind. The claim is when the wind isn’t blowing in one location, it is in another to compensate. Here’s what that means.

Build 500MW of wind output at location A. But when the wind doesn’t blow at A you need to build an additional 500MW of wind at location B. This means that the number of wind turbines needed would have to be at least doubled, if not tripled.

What amazes me the most is government officials bending to the shrill of Greenpeace. Are government people that stupid? Of, course, what a dumb question!

• RiHo08

Within the SAME wind farm, there were wind turbines operating and others not. The wind within the wind farm is highly variable. Output from a wind turbine is proportional to the speed of the wind. So, those wind turbines functioning, they do not have the same output. The electrical grid has to adjust moment by moment as the wind turbine is adjusting moment by moment to the force of the wind. Build 10,000 wind turbines and they all will have slightly different outputs. Does any of this make sense? Wind turbines work best for those situations where you are not dependent upon them: ie, don’t run your refrigerator from wind energy.

• Peter317

Output is actually proportional to the cube of the wind speed.

About the least stupid thing you can do with a wind turbine is to use its output to pump water into a reservoir, from which hydroelectric power can be generated.

• The main problem with wind is getting it into phase with the rest of the system. There’s been some reporting of people’s circuit breakers being tripped around wind turbines, stray voltage showing up on near by farms. I’m sure in the background those in charge of keeping the system running must be pulling their hair out.

The worse of this for Ontario is we don’t even need the power from wind. Since 2005 our consumption has dropped some 20%, hence we have excess capacity. When the wind blows we send it all to the US, often either paying them to take it, our giving it for free. Otherwise if we can’t dump it to the US, wind producers are cut off the grid, but still get paid AS IF THEY DID PRODUCE!

• Tom Scharf

Even regional wind supplies will likely be dominated by regional weather. It seems likely any wind based system must be backed up by a source capable of providing 100% of the regional grid power when a protracted weather anomaly occurs. Expensive.

I’d like to see a study on how much down time there would be at given over-capacities of wind power, I assume this has been done. Hopefully not by Greenpeace.

The grid simply cannot go down on a regular basis in a heavily industrialized society. Are we trying to implement India’s power grid?

• harrywr2

The claim is when the wind isn’t blowing in one location, it is in another to compensate.

The windmills in Texas have the same seasonal fluctuation as the windmills in the Pacific Northwest. For two years in a row we’ve seen the price of power on the grid interconnect between the Pacific Northwest and California drop to zero.

The wind blows quite nicely in the spring when no one is heating or air conditioning…from Seattle to Texas and I assume everywhere in between.

It’s not the ‘daily’ variation that’s the problem…storing a few GW hours of power isn’t that big of a challenge. Storing GW months of power is a massive challenge. I.E. If we installed a pumped storage system between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and varied the water depth by 5 meters(pretending all the various critters that live on lakes edge wouldn’t mind) we would get 30 GW months of storage.

For reference on seasonal variation.
Bonnevile Power Wind Presentation-
http://www.bpa.gov/corporate/WindPower/docs/WIF_SC_Presentation_6-11.pdf

• Bruce

Thats would be amusing.

“I have a waterfront cabin!”
“No I don’t.
“Yes I DO!
“Oh oh. No I don’t.

27. Bruce

I believe the main report suggests 3.8 million 5MW wind turbines as part of the final solution.

They cost around 10 million each +/- 5 million.

38 trillion dollars

Greenpeace is insane.

• Bruce

140 Trillion for the PV.

• Oh, and how about the production? It would have to follow a growth curve, which would have a doubling period. This means in the last double period we would have to produce half of that. So if the growth rate was 20%, double period of about 3 years, we would have to build 2 million in the last 3 years. Obviously those at Greenpeace do not understand the concept of growth mathematics.

28. Why is it collective government decision to mandate an industry conclusion beyond a certain logical point?

It’s one thing to ignore massive so2 production and waste but it’s another thing to invent co2 vices that are unproven, the essence of agw mitigation and green fantasy at the moment.

• Pooh, Dixie

The EPA has targeted SO2 for further reduction. Strange, since SO2 is a precursor of cloud condensation nuclei, a cooling aerosol.

One could almost think that SO2 reduction is part of a scheme to increase temperatures, leading to more stringent control over CO2 and the energy supply.

But I couldn’t possibly comment on that.

29. BLouis79

The IPCC renewables report contains the usual IPCC bias – present the foregone conclusion using a lot of data and ignore the serious analysis, which involves thinking about serious pros and cons and real world energy usage.

Bioenergy must be a serious non-starter when agricultural experts think the world will be running out of food in 20 years. So the world can’t really afford to use more land for energy unless it wants to use less for food. Maybe we just need to cut down more unproductive trees – Greenpeace would love that. See http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2010/s3253782.htm

Non-biomass renewables can’t seriously deliver energy for peak evening demand when people want to cook dinner. Is it time to train the western world in solar cooking?

Where is the CO2 blanket research? I figure about 3.4m thick of 100% CO2 at 1 atmospheric pressure is an atmosphere’s worth. According to AGW science, we should be able to get another 15 deg of warming with that.

• BLouis79 writes “Bioenergy must be a serious non-starter when agricultural experts think the world will be running out of food in 20 years.”

To mount my usual hobby-horse, you are neglecting cellulose ethanol. Initially it is hoped to produce some 16 billion gallons per year, without affecting the amount of food that is produced. Production is hoped to start in 2012. With the same amount of biomass produced, it is hoped to produce as much cellulose ethanol as the USA is now producing from corn, by 2020.

30. Edim

Regarding renewables and bioenergy, one thing that might work are energy crops and direct biomass firing in boilers to produce el. energy. If I am not wrong, yield per hectare is around 200 GJ/year and more, depending on climate, the crop and agriculture. There is suitable energy crop for almost every climate.

200 GJ/ha.year = 20.000 kJ/m2.year = ~0.6 W/m2.

This is fuel input energy/power.
Electical output would be ~40% of that.

These numbers are very approximate, i would have to look up to give more accurate numbers.

So, one km2 could yield ~600 kW (~240 kWel), 100 km2 ~60 MW (~24 MWel) and 10.000 km2 (10×100 km) ~0.6 GW (~0.24 GWel).

With CHP, there would also be a lot of thermal energy for heating and industrial purposes.

31. Alex Heyworth

Anyone out there who believes that 80% of energy needs from renewables is achievable by 2050 will, I assume, also be ready to believe that I have a whole squadron of Berkshire Whites fueled and ready for take off.

32. Joe Lalonde

Judith,

Currently, no one harnesses energy that is at the individual level that is organized to work together.
This is why current green technology is heavily subsidized rather than looking into the technology. Micro mechanics.
Density for torque is the optimum effect to generate the greatest amount of electricity.

33. Mark

A recent post at Nature is worth a read as it on this topic- http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7353/full/474541a.html

I fully suport the statement made by B Venter in the comments of the post.