An energy model for the future, from the 12th century

by Judith Curry

So, are you wondering what we can learn about energy policy from the 12th century?

Steve Crane has an interesting post at entitled An energy Model for the Future, From the 12th Century.  Excerpts:

Throughout the Middle Ages, the abbey in Bury St. Edmunds had monopoly rights to the use of the local river as a power source. And, indeed, the abbey operated the only water mills for miles around. The village farmers had no choice but to bring their grain there and to pay whatever was asked to have it ground.

One can imagine the grumbling that must have prevailed among the local folk. But, year after year, decade after decade, nothing changed. Finally, as the 12 century waned, a small farmer and low-level churchman called Dean Herbert broke ranks and decided to build a windmill on his property, saving himself both the grinding tariff and the carting costs.

Perhaps he was a bit naïve in failing to realize that his windmill represented a direct challenge to the very heart of feudal authority. In any case, the monastery’s boss, Abbot Samson, once informed, lost no time in charging off to Herbert’s farm to straighten him out on that very point. 

Herbert, standing on the dirt track that led to the mill on what I imagine to have been a gray, blustery day, with the crude windmill creaking at his back and his simple cloak whipping around him, made a reply that rings down through the centuries; a reply that, to me anyway, is as inspiring today as it must have been chilling to the aggrieved abbot.

Herbert said: “I have this right on my free fief; the benefit of the wind ought not to be denied to any man.”

Although his words had enough impact at the time to be recorded in the monastery’s journal, they didn’t save the mill. Herbert tore it down rather than suffer his abbot’s wrath. But only a few years later, hundreds of windmills dotted the English countryside, and the dark ages began their slow, painful ascent into the light of the Renaissance and the modern era.

The fact is that wind isn’t as good a power source as flowing water. It was adequate, barely, for grinding grain; but wind is catch-as-catch-can. Water is steadier, more reliable—especially if there’s a millpond upstream to assure a steady supply.

So before history can repeat itself and wind power (or solar power) can once again challenge the established order, whether it be an authoritarian regime in the developing world or a regulated utility in a Western democracy, it needs to be made dispatchable—available on demand. It needs storage.

Cheap large-scale energy storage tied to intermittent renewable generation (industry jargon for wind and solar power) offers two benefits, one relatively benign and the other deeply disruptive:

First, the combination of renewable generation and storage can displace fossil fuel-based generation—taming the unpredictability of renewables puts them on the same footing functionally as, say, a coal plant.

Second, the renewables-plus-storage combination reduces or eliminates the need for a central power grid. Power generation can be distributed and local. The grid reflects the economies of scale and logistics required to generate electricity from fossil fuels; and leading inevitably, like Abbot Samson’s water wheel, to monopolistic authority.

But, no one has to deliver the sun or wind to your town or to your campus or business park. Storage changes the balance. It’s the key to turning energy from a centrally controlled resource into a distributed asset available to anyone … provided, always provided, that the economics make sense.

We take for granted now the impact that distributed communications have had via mobile phones. Electrical energy has that same democratizing power. And energy storage, at the right price and scale, has the potential to put that power once again in the hands of this century’s Dean Herberts.

JC comments: Once the relevant technologies are established, and it may be decades before inexpensive energy storage technologies are available, it will be very interesting to see how the dynamics of this plays out.  The distributed approach may make the most sense in developing countries that want to rapidly expand their power supply (especially where either solar or wind is abundant).  In a country like the U.S., with a sophisticated power grid there might be some appeal if grid power gets too expensive and among both greens and libertarians.  Your thoughts?

302 responses to “An energy model for the future, from the 12th century

  1. And the economics have to be right. Any endeavor that requires government assistance (grants or artificially increasing costs of competitors) is a net drag on the overall economy. Or it used to be thought so…with modern economists (vide Krugman) one never knows.

      • Chief Hydrologist

        Transportation networks – roads, rail, ports, airports – facilitate trade and reduce costs. So they are rational if not always optimally efficient investments. Renewable energy increases costs of energy across the economy and is justified on grounds other than a strict return on investment. It is not the same thing at all.

        Subsidies on food production are much more insidious – leading to waste on immense scales. Butter mountains, rice overflowing from storehouses, meat decaying in freezers. Massive monuments to waste built while trade and development are stymied.

        Ultimately the solution to energy supplies is technological – new technologies that succeed in the market because they provide what people want and are prepared to pay for. There is no rational reason for government to get involved other than by encouraging basic research through universities, prizes and tax breaks for private firms. We may all speculate on which technologies will succeed – leaving the market as the final arbiter. I think there is room for many approaches – e.g. – except the tax or cap approaches that have failed and will continue to fail.

        Short term carbon mitigation seems a different problem entirely – a more sensible approach is to pick the low hanging fruit first. The best and brightest have suggested reduction in black carbon, tropospheric ozone, methane, sulphates and nitrous oxides. I did a post recently on soil carbon. About 100 GtC can be sequestered usefully in agricultural soils while reducing costs and increasing productivity. That’s about 10 years emissions.

        Social development – economic growth, education, health, safe water and sanitation act to reduce population pressures. Conservation and restoration of ecosystems has multiple benefits. As far as costs are concerned – western governments actually providing what they have committed to as aid would be a good start. Facilitating free trade would do much more.

    • Economic models (Krugman) are about as unreliable as climate models, as both attempt to model extremely complex environments. Russ Roberts at has some interesting podcasts and frequently comments on how much economists think they know and how little they really know. He is an economist and a follower of Hayak.

      • Judith should get back to the future- 12th century windmills were unable to compete with that cutting edge 13th century monastic power source ,a squirrel cage filled with Lollards caught by the Inquisition.

        Alas, the plague soon reduced the surplus Lollard population, leaving progressive abbots with no choice but to fill the cages with novices caught annotating manuscript margins thus providing a canonical precedent for solving the energy crisis of today.

        The number of climate blog commenters who might better be employed running auxillary squirrel cages to drive windmills on calm days has grown so Malthusian that General Electric need but round them up to bring AGW to a halt.

    • Krugman has the advantage of having been spot on about essentially everything for the last 5 or 6 years. If you follow his blog at NYT you can lean a lot.

      • “The big fear has been of sharply rising premiums as insurers are required to cover people with preexisting conditions. And the biggest test case was always going to be California.

        Well, the preliminary numbers for CA are in — and they’re looking very good, with costs coming in below expectations. At this point, it looks as if this thing is indeed going to work.”

        ““The rates submitted to Covered California for the 2014 individual market,” the state said in a press release, “ranged from two percent above to 29 percent below the 2013 average premium for small employer plans in California’s most populous regions.””

      • Jim2

        Krugman’s position on Obamacare has consistently been that covering tens of millions of more people is better than not, so OC is the best we could get past congressional wingnuts. He has always espoused a single-payer system – essentially medicare for all, and of course he is right on that too.
        Check out his predictions on the effects of too little stimulus, too much austerity, no increase in inflation, the problems of the Euro, on and on.

      • So Krugman has always been spot on … yet warns of the dangers of too little “stimulus”.

        So seems Krugman hasn’t yet worked out that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that hence governments cannot stimulate economies, merely redirect money and resources from some projects to others.

      • Most of the things Krugman says are so pie in the sky and speculative that no one can really know if he was right or wrong. Was he right that the bailout to giant banks should have been bigger? (ok, he may not have said this but his usual solution is spend more)

        That the stimulus should have been 2-3 times the size it was?

        IMO, Krugman is a complete fool. In time we will see, but so many that have been wrong in the past like Holdren and Ehrlich never seem to get called on it in the MSM. They seem to be teflon catastrophists.

      • These are exactly the kinds of responses I expected. I won’t waste our time by trying to defend Krugman against nonsensical distortion. If you are really interested in these issues and want to understand what his positions are and why a large segment of economists acknowledge the success of his analyses, you can find that all well laid out at his blog.

      • Hi Mr Flood
        ” you can find that all well laid out at his blog.”
        Anywhere else at all?

      • ghl;
        Good question. I haven’t felt it necessary to build an external case for him myself, but your point is well taken. I’ll work on it.

      • Sure he has, so long as you are wearing the right colored glasses.

      • ghl,
        Actually, the Wikipedia piece on Krugman is informative and fair. In addition, the wall street journal just ranked him first in a list of those having the most influence on the thinking of business people ( for 2013. Also check Wikipedia’s comments on the debates between Krugman and Niall Ferguson in the latter’s article there.

  2. This statement is totally upside-down:
    “So before history can repeat itself and wind power (or solar power) can once again challenge the established order, whether it be an authoritarian regime in the developing world or a regulated utility in a Western democracy, it needs to be made dispatchable—available on demand. It needs storage.”

    It is the establishment pushing solar and wind on the populace. The abbot is once again forcing the populace into a scheme not welcomed by it.

  3. “Once the relevant technologies are established”

    A physicist, a chemist and an economist are stranded on an island, with nothing to eat. A can of soup washes ashore. The physicist says, “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says, “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says, “Let’s assume that we have a can-opener…”

    • A chemist would never say to heat the can first before it had been opened.

      • John Carpenter

        Heh, anyone with even a scintilla of intelligence would never consider that option.

      • If I had a scintilla I’d oxidize that little sucker.

      • michael hart

        In the version I heard, the chemist rusted the can open with sea water.

    • joke
      A thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, esp. a story with a funny punchline.

      For those of you apparently unfamiliar with the concept.

  4. And gee, can’t we get away from historical revisionism anywhere?

    “But only a few years later, hundreds of windmills dotted the English countryside, and the dark ages began their slow, painful ascent into the light of the Renaissance and the modern era.”

    I’m sorry, but the Rennaiscance was not a product of isolated windmills built in defiance of the horrible Catholic Church. The Rennaisance was the product of the universities, conceived of and founded by the Church. And of the classical knowledge preserved by the Church by arduous work in monasteries over centuries while the libertarian paradise of unrestricted pursuit of happiness (aka the Dark Ages) raged around them.

    • +132

    • David Springer


    • Vishal Mangalwadi shows how monks in monasteries led the technological revolution before the scientific revolution. Then strong Christians established 56 of 58 branches of science.
      See: The Book that Made Your World

      Coal is the cheapest source of stored solar energy.

      Thermal energy is cheaper to store than electricity.
      Solar thermal power with high temperature thermal storage holds promise to become cost effective.
      Synthesizing fuel from solar thermal energy promises to make sustainable renewable fuel.

      • And guess where the western concept of separation of church and state comes from?

        Hint: It ain’t Thomas Jefferson.

    • In addition to revisionist history, throw in an utter lack of understanding of electrical generation and transmission.

      The transmission grid is not about economies of scale, at least once you get past the actual source of generation. It was constructed in bits and pieces over time. And claims that small scale generation and storage will eliminate the need for the grid are far closer to scifi than reality.

      I construct and manage wireless phone sites on utility infrastructure. The NIMBYism that occurs over increasing the height of a utility pole 10 – 40 ft and installing 3 panel antenna at the top is almost mind blowing. And these same people then complain about their phone coverage. Do you really think jurisdictions are going to allow wind mills in neighborhoods? Distributed generation has been talked about for a long time in the utility industry. Yet we are not seeing it happen. Consider gas turbines. The technology there has advanced to the point that mini turbines are a real possibility and the infrastructure to support them is basically in place (gas lines).

      Then there is the issue of grid stability. Managing a transmission and distribution grid is not a simple matter. Supply has to match load exactly. Adding large numbers of small generation sources creates huge problems. So called smart grid technology offers a possible solution, yet it is also running into resistence from customers.

      I won’t bother getting into how far away from effective energy capture and storage technologies we are. (As the 2nd largest operator of wind generation in the country, we looked into pumped storage and determined it did not pencil out.)

      I am not arguing that we should forget about ever seeing a distributed generation network and storage technologies that make renewables more reliable. Just that they are unlikely to be ready anytime soon (i.e. within the next 20 years).

  5. …continuing with the Jim comments…
    I raised this on a previous thread. I think having home storage batteries, like domestic car batteries, is a solution to intermittency that can become affordable. Even with current battery costs, it may only double the power cost over the lifetime of the battery to have home storage of a scale that maintains several days of power at any given time. This also insures against power-grid disruptions. Then the power grid can be largely wind and solar, and via computerized ‘smart’ grids, energy is downloaded to the homes when cheaply available evening out the load-demand issue too on hot days for example.

    • David Springer


      Please just stop.

    • The levelized capital cost and operating O&M of gas turbines is by far the lowest of any bulk power source. Add in high-pressure electrolytic H2 generation and you have proven technological economically feasible backup for wind and solar now.

      • Fixed O&M (excluding fuel), not operating O&M.

      • Our wind turbines produce at about 29% availability. Meaning you would have to have gas generation capacity equal to your wind generation and run it 71% of the time. Why build and operate duplicate generation capacity if you only limit 29% of emmissions. (From what I understand it is less savings that that, as the gas turbines have to idle even when not on the grid.

    • Home power storage is a possible future. People already can use their electric cars as a backup source, so this just cuts out the intermediate step by providing a battery with the house, probably included in the prices as they will last decades.

      • Latimer Alder

        Where can I see one working? How do you know they will last for decades?

        Come back when you have good answers to both those questions.

        I’m nor holding my breath.

      • Yes, great idea – then people can recharge their car batteries during the day when they’re out at work … erm …

      • Latimer

        I either want to see someone struggling up their driveway with a battery to charge it in the house or seeing the cables strewn all over the pavementi if charged in situ.

        I am also intrigued by a battery that will last decades.

      • David Springer

        Monkeys flying out of my butt are a possible future too.

      • So you have car batteries that only give your car a relatively small range so you need to charge them constantly and you are going to run your entire house off your car? Not likely.
        I guess with warning of a hurricane if you charged the car fully, then you could run a few lights and refrigerator for a day.

      • Also the possibility they will explode, start fires, cause heavy metal pollution in your home. Must think of the bad along with the good. Not just puppies and rainbows.

      • Tonyb

        NaS batteries last 15 years. Environmentally destructive once it expires, let alone allowing one anywhere near a car crash. but hey, better than than that demon Co2.

      • Michael Palmer

        Some relatives of mine had something like that going almost a century ago, on their farm near the Baltic Sea shore in Germany – a little windmill that charged their own private battery. As utility power became more reliable, they abandoned it. Would be the same today – only attractive if “green” policies further inflate cost and undermine reliability of utility power.

      • Several questions came up. So many doubters. I mean several batteries like electric car batteries but for the house. They can last decades or thousands of charge cycles per battery (you would alternate them and charge one per day, for example). They don’t have to be in the house, maybe mounted on the garage ceiling, or under the driveway out front. I am making this up as I go along, by the way, so it is not completely serious, but no downside yet except battery prices, which need to drop a bit for ordinary homes to have them.

  6. Any endeavor that requires government assistance (grants or artificially increasing costs of competitors) is a net drag on the overall economy.

    Yes, indeed. Interstate highway system? Just imagine how much better off we’d be if “the government” hadn’t meddled there. Railroads? World Wide Web? All “net drags” on the economy – no doubt.

    I remember looking at some documents with a Korean diplomat – related to international finance (maybe from the World Bank? – can’t quite remember).

    The document discussed rice subsidies in Korea – chastising the Korean government for “picking winners” and propping up inefficient market mechanisms. The Koreans were being told they shouldn’t support domestic rice production and just go with what the “market decides.” You see, the argument was, that government assistance would be a “net drag” to the economy.

    Applying such a general rule to Korea? Really? To the economy that exploded concurrent with massive government “assistance” – with the effect of dramatically increasing the living standards of its citizens? Not to mention the ignorance of the importance of domestic production rice as a cultural marker for Koreans.

    ’tis quite fascinating to me how so many “skeptics” take generic, ideologically-driven and rigid formulations and apply them w/o any consideration of context.

    Looks like “skepticism” to me – not skepticism.

    • David Springer

      Where would we be without government interstate highway?

      I don’t know. You could write alternative history books with plots that go in many directions. Maybe some kid who would have invented free energy or a cure for cancer was never born because his grandfather died building an interstate highway. So we could have free energy and no cancer today without interstate highways. I’d take the trade. With free energy we could all have those flying cars we were promised 50 years ago and not need roads only landing pads.

      So add flying cars to the list of things possibly lost due to the stupid interstate highway system. Man we could instead have built a base on the moon and have a colony on Mars and interstellar trade with the Vulcan empire now and we don’t all because of the interstate highway system.

      Serously, Joshua Brooks, I think I’ve reminded you before that going back in time and changing something then speculating about how history would be different is called a “fantasy”, right? If not then please take it to heart and of course, as always, write that down.

      • Hey,

        I love alternative history. Of course I find it in the science fiction section of the book store.

        PS – I recommend Eric Flint’s series called the Ring of Fire. And harry Turtledove is also top notch.

    • HaHa, Joshua, you should consider joining Saturday Night Live. Your comments are hilarious!

    • As a long-time libertarian, who has studied the history of many market systems in post-plague Western Europe, I’d say this (all my opinion and my own formulation from what I’ve studied): it’s very hard to make the right decisions, especially when nobody else has explored the ground you’re covering. A distributed free-enterprise system, with a relatively free market in capital, allows the trial-and-error decision making to take place at the level of small economic players, while the government does little more than maintain a level playing field.

      Of course, the decision to maintain a level playing field is, itself, one of those “trial” decisions, one that England tried out in the 18’th and 19’th centuries, as a follow-on to a similar earlier program WRT commerce raiding against their Spanish enemies. Of course, the playing field wasn’t all that level, and the markets weren’t all that free, except by comparison to everybody else. (Remind you of anything?)

      In Germany, things were different. There was a profusion of tiny, mostly “absolutist” principalities. They had strong incentives to make “right” decisions, because their ability to compete in the constant military ferment was highly dependent on robust industry, to create gunpowder weapons and wealth which were the most important pillars of military effectiveness at that time.

      The German states had the example of England (Great Britain) to use as a model, and by copying the techniques of the most successful private industrialists under government supervision, they managed to achieve some semblance of the English success. That success varied among the principalities, with Prussia (IIRC) coming out the winner.

      Two points here: Germany had “free enterprise”, to some extent, it was simply based more on the “freedom” of various absolute rulers to copy and modify the English success story. It also had competition, but at the military level among (small) states, rather than the economic level among purely mercantile competitors within one state (England).

      It also didn’t do nearly as well, and part of the reason it did as well (non-poorly) as it did was (IMO) that it had the example of English industrialists to follow.

      And the rest of Europe pretty much trailed behind (AFAIK, with many caveats).

      The One actual real-world rational behind the libertarian (and fellow-traveler) insistence on free markets is that the risk is distributed among a number of smaller players trying different strategies, rather than a single monolithic state whose mistakes (when/if they happen) can bring the whole nation crashing down.

      This certainly doesn’t preclude a state successfully making the right decisions, it just means that the risk to all that state’s citizens victims is much higher when state-level decision-making takes place.

      • Well put, AK. You highlighted one aspect very well. You point also involves the “economic intelligence” gleaned by that larger number of smaller players. They know what is needed in their respective realms. No matter how intrusive the government gets with its census and spying, it will never know and react as quickly to market conditions like the smaller players will. It’s hard to understand why the academic geniuses typically don’t get this concept. Maybe it’s too simple, or maybe it does not carve out a big enough piece of the pie for them.

      • +1000 AK fer yer insightful comment re keepin’ yr ear ter the
        ground. It gets lonely up there in that cloud tower and the
        rarified atmosphere seems ter affect yer thinkin’ somewise.

    • You’re a tool…

  7. The cost savings of renewable energy will have to be low enough to justify the capital costs.

    A problem arises because the capital costs are some function of the unpredictability of the sun and wind sources.

    The reason that the capital costs are so high is that the sun and wind are highly unpredictable.

    • Not quite right- its because the energy density of wind and sunlight is so incredibly low so you have build lots of plants. Hypothetically if there was a technology which fluctuated from 2* nuclear to 20*nuclear energy density with less absolute capital costs that’s not a disaster- capital costs would be dead low just have waste a lot of energy.

  8. The message of Herbert I think goes more to the beliefs of the Founders that underlie the Declaration of Independence and drafting of the Constitution than. The fascism of the Left may be to the right of communism but it is way to the left of a free people exercising their God-given right to life, liberty and property as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution.

  9. Judith Curry,

    I love a good fight although the best does not always win. The winner may have a little something on the side that tips the scales their way. Subsidies have allowed wind and solar have their coming out party prematurely. As Boeing and the car companies all realize, the electrical storage problem remains, remains mired in the mid-19th Century for technology, and is THE issue with making renewables affordable. This reminds me of the “cold fusion” story. All dressed up and no where to go.

    Thinking of the here and now rather than flights of fancy, use gas fired power plants, modern technology coal fired power plants, invest in modular nuclear power plants research as for example Thorium reactors, and continue on the quest for power storage solutions.

    I am reminded that Voyager 1 is powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators and seems to be working for 37 + years without the radiation from the use of isotopes destroying the electronics. Hmm, a message from the edge of the heliopause. Is anybody listening?

    • We’d have a lot smarter voters if we grounded the use of mechanical equipment for a year and instead, sent every public school teacher and student to the farms to bring in the crops.

      • We’d have a lot smarter voters if we grounded the use of mechanical equipment for a year and instead, sent every public school teacher and student to the farms to bring in the crops

        Wow! Shocker!

        I actually kind of agree with that. Amazing. (Although I must say that I’m struck by the elitism).

        Maria Montessori felt that the appropriate educational environment for adolescents was a farm – referred to as “Erdkinder:” Activity on the farm would be academic activities interspersed with learning the business of running a farm, caring for the animals, tending the crops, etc.

        “”My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that verification from that secondary school to the university, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher [one], by means of their own activity, through their own effort or will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual.”

        and Einstein:

        “Precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not – or at least not in the main – through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture.”

        Of course, it isn’t only teachers and students who would be edumacated by a year working on a farm. Engineers would benefit also, as would virtually anyone from any other walk of life.

        I’ve worked on a farm (although not for a full year).

        How ’bouts you, Wags?

      • Nope, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn. And, I was a paperboy.

      • Touche :)

      • Steven Mosher


        What a great idea for a TV show. Let’s take pop stars, put them on a farm, make them shovel cow poo and learn self suffieciency! we will call it… Invincible Youth!

      • They tried that in China and Cambodia. Didn’t work out too well.

      • Josh,

        You send an engineer to a farm along with the rest and the first thing they will do is come up with machines to do the work in place of people. But then that’s already been done. I believe they called it the Industrial Revolution.

    • David Springer

      RTGs are the most expensive way to generate electricity ever invented.

      What’s your point in mentioning them?

      No one is surprised Voyager I and II RTGs are still working. The only surprise is the radioactive decay rate appears to have detectably changed and they’re not producing exactly what was predicted 40 years ago when they were manufactured.

      There is a quite a bit of discussion on what could possibly explain it. Radioactive decay is supposed to be as constant as the speed of light in vacuum. There are also some radioisotopes on the earth where the closely monitored decay rate varies ever so minutely with the seasons. There should be no variation there either. It takes new physics to explain it if not instrumentation error which no one can explain how that’s possible either because it’s independent instruments of differing construction, different radioisotopes, and multiple locations. Voyager RTGs are just one more example.

      • Dave, did you see my question about Joule? Copied and pasted here:

        A refinery can produce 1.5 million gallons per day of diesel. How many acres would it take for a Joule plant to do that? Of course, the same petroleum refinery produces jet fuel, gasoline, and other products at the same time.

      • David Springer

        About 36,000 acres to produce 1.5 million gallons/diesel per day.

        The Texas panhandle, an ideal location which isn’t being used for anything but grazing cattle and windmills, is 32,000 square miles or enough for five hundred separate parcels of 36,000 acres.

        I have a question for you. Why can’t you do the simple arithmetic that I just did for you?

      • David Springer

        A followup question. How long can a refinery keep selling diesel at $4.00/gallon when it can be produced for $1/gallon in gen-3 bioreactors?

        My guess would be only for as long as it took to build out the cheaper production capacity. An undertaking that size might occupy a couple decades. If you were 20 years old and were saving for retirement I wouldn’t invest in petroleum refinery stock if you get my drift.

      • The potential problem with West Texas is that the water situation. I’m guessing that 1.5 million gallons of diesel will require a lot of water.

        WRT to math, as a chemist I have mastered simple math. I was wondering if you had considered the question and was simply highlighting it.

        “The Ogallala Aquifer suffered its second-worst drop since at least 2000 in a large swath of the Texas Panhandle, new measurements show.

        The closely watched figures, published this week by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District, cover a 16-county area stretching from south of Lubbock to Amarillo. The Ogallala wells measured by the district experienced an average drop of 1.87 feet from 2012 to 2013. That makes it one of the five or 10 worst drops in the district’s more than 60-year history, said Bill Mullican, a hydrogeologist with the district.”

      • If this works out, New York state would be a great place to put a plant. They could burn all that garbage and have a huge source of concentrated CO2. I didn’t watch the hour long video, but did cruise the web a bit. I can’t find the cost of ethanol or diesel made in the demo plant. Do you have a link, Dave?

      • Since the algae need darkness, the tubes could be coiled in stacks. The diameter could be such that the circulation causes the proper frequency and duty cycle for the optimal operation of the plant. There isn’t any reason the plant has to be flat.

      • David Springer

        Yes there is a reason the collectors have to be flat. No wind loading. Minimal structural support. Easy to protect from extreme weather events. I guess you should have watched the video after all.

        Costs are projected for operation of 1000-acre plant which is under construction in Hobbs, NM. Fluor Corporation is prime constractor building the plant. Actually Hobbs is 5,000 acre. Peer reviewed paper published in Photosynthesis Research has details of cost analysis. Audi is providing major funding for it.

      • David Springer

        Joule bioreactors are closed systems. Very little water is required. Texas has a problem with potable water. Joule uses salt water so even if it needed vast quanties of water we could just siphon it out of the Gulf of Mexico.

        You should really watch the video but I guess when you can waste my time answering questions why bother, huh?

      • I will fit in some time to watch the video, Dave. This does sound interesting. I can see how ethanol production could work for them, and diesel would work also if the price projections hold. It is hard to see how this could supply all the fuel we need, but they should be able to make a lot of money selling diesel at current market prices, so might be a great business.

        I do like the fact they don’t get direct government subsidies. For the ethanol part, they do rely on the EPA’s ethanol mandate. I am guessing refiners would come up with superior oxygenation additives if their hands weren’t tied by the government.

      • Another way to consider the scale issue with Joule is to consider the area needed to fuel our entire gasoline fleet (converting it to diesel) plus diesel fleet by their microbial diesel. If we assume they meet their target of 15,000 gal per acre per year, it would take an area the size of 90% of South Carolina.

        Just sayin’ … ;-)

      • tc,

        The state of Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi (and considerably larger than SC.

        Want to take a stab at where it ranks overall in size?


    • RiHoo8,

      I am reminded that Voyager 1 is powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators and seems to be working for 37 + years without the radiation from the use of isotopes destroying the electronics. Hmm, a message from the edge of the heliopause. Is anybody listening?

      I get your message. A few others do too. But it is amazing how people’s minds are so closed to what nuclear energy can provide us.

      Regarding the 37 years without problems, I wonder how many people realise that the US Virginia Class submarines are fueled for life. They are never refueled. We could do the same with land based plants too, but for the opposition from the anti-nukes.

      It’s also worth recognising that the nuclear subs have few issues with the nuclear propulsion systems. As Rod Adams says:

      What [opponents of nuclear power] fail to understand is that it is an incredibly simple way to boil water once the engineers have done their magic.

      My advantage in this discussion is that I once spent some intense years learning to operate small, flexible nuclear reactors and training others to operate them. I can bear testimony to the fact that they can be extremely simple and robust power sources that need very little support from external infrastructure.

      If people look at a gas plant and see a low cost capital investment, they are only looking at a small portion of the overall cost because someone else had to invest the capital into the fuel delivery system that moves the vapor from the deposit to the plant. Methane does not carry much energy per unit volume, so it is not easy to move from place to place.

      In contrast, the submarines on which I used to deploy could be loaded with 14 years worth of fuel (1970s vintage technology). These days, we load subs with a lifetime fuel supply – Virginia class boats deliver with a core rated for 33 years worth of operations and no provisions for refueling.

      I also spent a few years designing a really simple nuclear heat engine that can compete on a capital cost basis with combustion gas turbines because it uses exactly the same kinds of turbines and compressors as those systems do. The projected fuel cost is about 1/3 that of even the “cheap” gas currently available in North America. There are no emissions, and there is no need for pipelines or fracking.

      • David Springer

        Even more amazing is that the nuclear power plants that have been in submarines for over 50 years haven’t morphed into portable nukes for small communities. The bastards! LOL

      • Some small nuclear reactors will be installed in the US, but they are pressurized water, not some with newer, and probably safer, concepts. The power is 180 MW and the fuel lasts only 4 years. Compare that with the Toshiba 4S with plans for a 10 MW and a 50MW, but the fuel, for the 10 MW version, lasts 30 years. Also, it uses liquid sodium as the coolant, so no high pressure to contain, and is buried almost 100 feet underground, making it much more difficult to use as a dirty bomb.

        “Near the banks of the Clinch River in eastern Tennessee, a team of engineers will begin a dig this month that they hope will lead to a new energy future.

        They’ll be drilling core samples, documenting geologic, hydrologic, and seismic conditions—the initial step in plans to site the world’s first commercial small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) here. (See related quiz: “What Do You Know About Nuclear Power?”)”

      • Atomkraft, nein frakka.

  10. The Left has for years made a cottage industry out hiding the decline. MBH98/99/08 (aka, the ‘hockey stick’ graph) is a proven scientific fraud. This is not a complicated matter that only a few can understand: there is no proxy for honesty — you either got it or you don’t!

  11. David Springer

    JC comments: Once If the relevant technologies are established, and it may be decades forever before inexpensive energy storage technologies are available

    Fixed that for ya!

    Inexpensive storage technology is not an engineering problem. It’s a discovery problem. Discoveries cannot be scheduled, costed, projected, or relied upon in any way. I’d be quite willing to argue that storage technology is moribund. No light at the end of that tunnel. What you see is what you get. Wind is so inefficient already because of prohibitive capital and operating costs of complex turbines that must be built with aircraft grade materials and maintained with nearly as much rigor that a storage technology with 100% efficiency, which of course doesn’t exist and nothing comes even close to that, will still make wind power a dicey proposition.

    Wind power is generally 100% utilized as of now because there’s little enough of it that demand always exceeds supply. There’s no benefit to storage of wind power when demand always exceeds supply.

    The problem is that the wind doesn’t blow all the time so nameplate capacity (perfect wind) is far above actual production. Storage won’t help that. Storage doesn’t make the wind blow it only serves buffer production when there is no demand and that isn’t the case today.

    • David Springer

      A better lesson from the 12th century is using draft animals. Fuel stored in silos. Not synthetic biology but same principles. The new oxen are highly modified photosynthetic bacteria that eat CO2 and piss gasoline. The gasoline then powers the ubiquitous iron horse of the 20th century that replaced the draft horse of previous centuries.

    • David

      I like history but I am not sure the past can teach us any useful lessons in how to generate the amount of power needed for a developed economy with tens of millions of inhabitants

      • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

        The lesson that can be learned from the longer time frame of history…i.e. the evolution of life on Earth, is that decentralized immediate power via the sun is always the most efficient, with adequate storage for dark hours of course. Once artificial photosynthesis is fully developed, the move toward decentralization will be unstoppable. Many confuse artificial photosynthesis with basic solar power, except those working around the world to perfect this most promising technology. It will be as important for human civilization as the discovery of fire.

      • R gates

        I think we were in general agreement Of the desirability of decentralised small scale power units. At present the sun can not deliver enough power to meet more than a fraction of our needs. We get 1700 hours of sun per year which rapidly tails off in the winter so solar is not exactly practical here is it?
        Perhaps it will be in 20 years time but in the meantime what do we use to provide the power needed if the lights are not to go out in the next couple of years due to our over reliance on the capabilities of renewables


      • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist


        There is more than enough sunlight even at your high latitude to power all of Britain’s needs with the coming revolution in artificial photosynthesis. This will be a revolution, not an evolution from simple solar power systems. Your son, the new physics graduate should get involved in this industry now, (and congrats on that by the way) for his children and your grandchildren will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, as every house and every factory in Britain will have its own source of cheap, abundant power. This is not a pipedream Tony…have faith in the power of human ingenuity. See:

      • R gates

        Thank you for your kind words. I am afraid I suggested that this field was one ripe for investigation several years ago but it was not of the slightest interest to him at the time. I think he is now working on superconductors for his phd so that may indirectly feed back to this field.

        The present state of solar play is an application some 10 miles away to industrialise 50 acres of farm land with thousands of solar panels.

        It will produce small amountS of f energy that will dwindle to virtually nothing during our grey winters. That is the current real world situation

        I am not against renewables tha can deliver quantifiable amounts of cheap energy when needed.

        When will the technology you talk of come on stream?

        We need proper power stations now if the lights are not to go out. Our govt has relied to much on the promises of the renewables industry and we will be in trouble if our cold winters continue.

      • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

        Hard to say exactly how soon for artificial photosynthesis to be meaningful commercially. Revolutions are like exactly like dragon king events– regime changes are very hard to predict. The current pace of research is intense and commercially viable AP is far closer than fusion, and will be far more likely to be viable on the decentralized small scale market. I have no doubt that my grandchildren will live in homes powered by AP, and the, notion of being attached by wires to a centralized coal powered or even nuclear power station will seems as odd as a local Abbott telling me I can’t grind my own grain seems to us. U

      • R Gates

        So its jam tomorrow rather than the bread we need today?

        In the meantime then what do we use as grown up power sources to power the needs of a large developed economy whose Govt have sought to rely on 12th century technology?

      • David Springer

        R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist | June 30, 2013 at 2:08 am |

        “Hard to say exactly how soon for artificial photosynthesis to be meaningful commercially.”

        No, really?

    • You could dig a deep hole and hang a heavy weight in it. If your hole was about a Km deep, you’d get around 2.5 KWHr/ton of weight. Of course there would be some expenses: the hole would either have to be completely sealed at the bottom, or have pumping facilities for leaking ground water. And you’d need some sort of efficient generator. Using cheap pig-iron as the weight (density roughly 8 g/cm^3), a 100-ton weight with a cross section of 2m^2 would be about 6 meters (20 feet) long and could store enough for a day’s power at 10 KW.

      But bio-fuel is a better way of storing energy, especially from sunlight. Or perhaps hydrogen, if the technology can become mature in time. Bio-reactors could be made small enough to be put outside somebody’s house, with a typical lifetime of 10-20 years (IMO).

      • AK,

        Solar power researchers have proposed that before.

        They trouble is they didn’t check with any engineers. They haven’t a clue.

      • David Springer

        The cost of digging the hole would be in the millions of dollars, at least, and in exchange you don’t get a power source just a battery that can hold a few dollars worth of electricity. Have you lost your mind?

      • And how do they hold the pile of rubble together that they think of as a solid cylinder of rock?

      • And how do they hold the pile of rubble together that they think of as a solid cylinder of rock?

        People have been doing that (wells) for thousands of years. It’s not a big deal.

        The cost of digging the hole would be in the millions of dollars, at least, and in exchange you don’t get a power source just a battery that can hold a few dollars worth of electricity. Have you lost your mind?

        I doubt it would actually cost that much, given economies of scale. And even so changes in technology could change the costs. But I thought the goal was distributed energy storage. So as to minimize the dependence on centralization. Cost doesn’t really seem to be a factor in most of the ideas for distributed energy. Centralized systems would be much cheaper. Whether it’s PV, or wind farms, or nuclear.

        Same goes for energy storage. Make that hole 10 times bigger in diameter, and the weight 10 times longer. Now you’ve got enough storage for a thousand homes for several days. You could fit a thousand of them into a square Km, enough for a hundred thousand homes for 20-30 days. As for costs, from Smart (2012):

        Recent costs for underground construction and reinforcement (“mining, tailings disposal, and lining”) of roadway tunnels have fallen as low as $1.50/cubic foot for the 11.5 km Flam-Gudvangden tunnel in Norway in 2002.

        At this cost, the single home version mentioned above would be under $20,000. Still very high, but economies of scale and clever use of existing technology could easily bring that down by an order of magnitude.

        The larger holes would come to about $20 million each, but again with economies of scale and better technology, it could reasonably be expected to come down to perhaps $2 million (in today’s dollars).

        And before somebody mentions earthquakes, it turns out that underground structures are relatively safe from earthquakes compared to the surface.

        So am I seriously proposing this solution? Not really. But it seems workable to me. Just maybe not as cheap as other options, which, however, would require some sort of “breakthrough”.

        I wasn’t going to mention technology, but it occurred to me that most readers would probably be thinking in terms of our current methods. A better approach for small holes that don’t need to be completely collapse-proof would be to use soil and other rubble from the hole, packing it together into bricks for lining the hole. Instead of portland or other cement, use high-temp thermosetting epoxy, which would substantially reduce brittleness, and produce bricks with much greater tensile strength as well. This eliminates the need to ship more than a (relatively) small amount of cement to the site, and the machines used for creating the bricks could be small and portable. For a round hole 2 meters in diameter, such bricks would have to be perhaps 10cm thick, they could all be cast into the same shape, with sufficient precision that only tiny amounts of epoxy cement would be needed to glue them together into a very strong construction.

        Smart (2012) Underground Automated Highway Systems (UAHS) for High-Density Cities Post 2030 Acceleration Studies Foundation publication, not peer reviewed AFAIK

      • AK, You haven’t a clue what you are talking about, but that doesn’t stop you, does it?

      • @Peter Lang…

        I just scanned through your solar “realities” paper, and it’s clearly you who don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I’ve seen cost analyses like that before, and they almost always turn out to be laughable by hindsight.

        What sort of “engineer” is it that can’t look beyond off-the-shelf technology for things 5-10 years down the road? Much less 20-30 years? I wonder what you’d have said about cell-phone technology in 1992?

  12. “Second, the renewables-plus-storage combination reduces or eliminates the need for a central power grid.”

    Surely large storage facilities would be more cost effective than lots of small local ones. Also a wider grid is surely needed to balance out wind and solar intermittency in different local areas.

  13. Matthew R Marler

    from the 12th century

    Think of the insights to be gained from anecdotes related to other fields of inquiry: medicine, navigation, metallurgy, geography, etc. The possibilities are awesome.

  14. Matthew R Marler

    Here is a glimpse of part of the present:

    Right now, California (excepting Los Angeles and Sacramento) is consuming 38,000 MW of power, and renewables are contributing about 2,000 MW. Later today, consumption will peak at about 45,000 MW, but renewables will not contribute much more than 2,100 MW.

    Roof-mounted solar is not included in these figures: roof-mounted solar generation “shows up” as reduced demand on the power links that are included in these power flows.

    So a little under 5% of electricity consumption is being met by renewables in CA today. I have seen days where a little over 6% of demand was met by renewables – – generally cool, sunny days. These are “illustrative” figures not “representative” figures. Generally, wind and solar are out of phase, with more power from wind at night, more power from solar in daytime. Peak consumption occurs when neither wind nor solar is near its peak generation. In a manner of speaking, California is starving the rest of its industry in order to speed up a transition to an “all renewable” electricity supply. That page refreshes every 2 minutes or so. Check back when consumption peaks at about 6 pm.

    Iowa and Texas get higher fractions of total electrical demand met by wind power than illustrated here.

  15. Judith

    We got rid of these technologies for a reason, they were inefficient and better things came along which helped to power a growing population

    Here is the 900 year old eling tide mill on the south coast of Britain

    I like the idea of using tidal power but a glance at the milling times would reveal the intermittency of power. Combine it with waves and the window for power generation becomes greater especially if you have such resources on opposite sides of the country to catch the tidal difference between the east and west coast.

    The trouble with ‘unreliables’ is the lack of certainty of generation and whilst tide/waves may contribute a useful but still small amount of energy in the future, that is decades down the road. The technology for devices that can withstand our rough seas lags many years behind wind mills, itself a dead end technology unless we are prepared to smother our landscapes with them.

    A developed economy needs proper energy sources not the revamped rejects from a previous era when power needs were small and population even smaller


  16. R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

    Great article and great reminder of the financial and hence political power structures that are challenged by the very paradigm of decentralized, inexpensive, and abundant power. The nuclear industry hates this idea, the coal industry hates this idea, the natural gas industry hates it, the oil industry hates it, and the centralized utilities hate it. All this tells you what a great idea and powerful paradigm it must be. All those groups are threatened by the coming age of artificial photosynthesis, and they will have to rethink their own paradigms and many will go the way of many other obsolete industries- but of course not without a fight.

    • The idea of “decentralized, inexpensive, and abundant power” … nuclear/coal/etc industries “hate it” …

      I think you overstate the case. It isn’t inexpensive or abundant now or in the reasonably foreseeable future. There really isn’t that much to hate.

      And in case you get the wrong impression – I love the idea. I have both solar and geothermal power installed at home, but I would be hard pressed to prove that it actually saved me any money.

      I think the whole renewables (unreliables?) dream is baloney. Especially in the large urbs. Put a physically small high-output cheap energy supply near a city – coal gas or nuclear for example – and only an idiot would try to supply themselves with solar or wind. Supplies of coal, gas, uranium and thorium will last for centuries no matter what reasonable assumptions you make. Forcing everyone into expensive unreliables in this century is criminally insane.

    • R Gates, so you are a conspiracy theorist, yes?

      • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

        Nope. No conspiracy required. It is quite natural for corporations to want to protect as much of their control of the markets as they can. They do do this through economic and political hardball. If I have the power through threat, coercion, or force of “law” to prevent you from grinding your own grain, “by god” I will.

    • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist said: ”and many will go the way of many other obsolete industries- but of course not without a fight”

      wishful thinking, is that what you dream, before going to bed?.

    • Gates,

      Perhaps Springer has it right after all. Where do you get the idea that the nuclear industry hates decentralized, inexpensive power? I spent ten years in that industry, my dad spent 40 and I have a younger brother who is still in it (currently managing the build of two new plants). I hate to break your bubble, but they don’t spend one second thinking about it. Why? Because it doesn’t exist. It might one day, but the proponents of nuclear are thinking about today.

  17. Another point. What we need with new energy resources are horses for courses.

    Britain being an island with nowhere more than 70 miles from the sea might develop some worthwhile energy from the ocean . Switzerland will not.

    Spain with its sunny climate might find solar cost effective.
    Britain with only 1700 hours of sun a year and little of that in winter when energy is most needed will not


  18. As long as we are dreaming why not wish for a personal energy generator, a la Back to the future II. A generator that takes garbage in and put energy out. A mirror image of our current state of the GCMs

    • Matthew R Marler

      DEEBEE: A generator that takes garbage in and put energy out.

      Those exist. If they are made cheap enough, every municipality, feed lot and food processing plant will want one. A few hobbyists power their cars with garbage.

  19. We already have a range of energy storage technologies available at the right price. Gasoline, diesel, natural gas and others and can be dispersed to every town, home and vehicle in the developed world without wasting money to create an entirely new system of infrastructure.

  20. Nowadays most people live in extremely dense mega-cities. No room for renewables (wind and solar) which require vast areas of land.
    And there are a LOT of people (unlike in the 12th C ).
    So, regardless of the non-existent energy storage solution, **distributed** renewable energy is not a solution to the enormous energy requirements of modern society. Not at all.

    The total lack of practical, engineering understanding of the “green” dreamers is really remarkable.

  21. This is a really dumb analogy to energy production, which is already full of options and alternatives; generally uncompetitive.

    This is a better analogy to the way the railroads, with a huge inherent energy efficiency advantage over trucks, can’t compete with trucks in a number of markets, because the railroads are huge monopolies, like the Church, and insist on inflated freight rates just because they have a monopoly.

  22. For some reason people tend to think that the grid is a nuisance and that distributed generation would take over in a foreseeable future. I’m not convinced at all. The grid based system has many essential advantages and may well keep on developing fast enough to remain the preferred solution far to the future.

    Reaching the required flexibility and reliability of supply without the grid and without excessively high cost is far from a trivial task.

    • David Springer

      Yup. The grid makes many things possible. Things like Texas-based Enron gaming the system to bankrupt California’s electric suppliers. That was so sweet. No wait, I meant to say it was so evil. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket.

      • Easy there Springer. Those bastards at Enron cost me $125,000 in my company 401k account. I personally think several of them deserve to share a small cell with a 300 lb convicted sex offender. Jeff Skillings, I’d like you to meet Tiny. Pay no attention to the stories about his last cell mate now having to have a 1 gallon Mason jar screwed into his anal cavity.

  23. This post is nonsense.

    First, the combination of renewable generation and storage can displace fossil fuel-based generation—taming the unpredictability of renewables puts them on the same footing functionally as, say, a coal plant.

    True in theory, but technically impossible and totally uneconomic – by orders of magnitude.

    Second, the renewables-plus-storage combination reduces or eliminates the need for a central power grid. Power generation can be distributed and local. The grid reflects the economies of scale and logistics required to generate electricity from fossil fuels; and leading inevitably, like Abbot Samson’s water wheel, to monopolistic authority.

    Complete nonsense. Generator and storage systems must supply power reliably to the many and varied energy demands that bounce from zero to maximum all the time. There is no possibility in the foreseeable future (probably never) any power source could be cheaper without a large interconnected grid. It’s absolute nonsense, and shows the author has not a clue. Every energy storage system would have to be able to deliver the power to meet the maximum demand of that site for the maximum duration the site could demand. That would require the total amount of storage would be thousands or millions of times greater than if there is a grid to share and distribute the loads.

    This nonsense has been put to bed so many times it’s amazing it is still being stated. If it was feasible we wouldn’t be building grids now. Every factory and business and home would have their own fossil fuel generator with storage being provided by the fuel tanks

    Judith, I hope you may follow me through some numbers where I’ll do some rough order of magnitude quantities and costs to show how unrealistic these ideas are (posts to follow).

    • +79

    • This comment: provides a simple, ball park, cost comparison of the cost of wind plus pumped hydro energy storage versus nuclear

      Nuclear = $4,800 per average kW delivered
      Wind with pumped hydro energy storage = $132,000 per average kW delivered.
      Wind with pumped hydro energy storage is about 30 times more costly than nuclear to provide reliable dispatchable power.
      [Of course there is much more to the electricity system than this simple analysis; we’ll get to that below, this is just the first step in providing some concepts across].

      This post provides a limit analysis of the cost to supply the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) with electricity to meet the demand using either nuclear only or solar PV and energy storage only. Two types of energy storage are considered: pumped hydro and Sodium-Sulphur batteries.

      Putting the numbers in perspective

      The installed generating capacity of solar panels (4,000,000 MW) needed to meet the
      NEM’s demand, if only one day of energy storage is available, is equal to the world’s
      total electricity generating capacity (4,000,000 MW).

      The capital cost of solar PV, with 1-day of energy storage, is $20,000 billion, or 20
      times Australia’s GDP.

      The capital cost of the least-cost solar option is $2,800 billion. That is 2.8 times
      Australia’s GDP.

      With 1 day of energy storage the reservoirs would inundate 260 km2
      With 90 days of energy storage the reservoirs would inundate 24,000 km2
      The pumps would need to pump 2.3 Sydney harbour volumes of water up 150 m in 6
      hours, and release it to generate power to meet demand during 18 hours each day.


      The capital cost of solar power would be 25 times more than nuclear power to provide
      the NEM’s demand.

      The minimum power output, not the peak or average, is the main factor governing
      solar power’s economic viability.

      The least cost solar option would emit 20 times more CO2 (over the full life cycle)
      and use at least 400 times more land area compared with nuclear.

      In the next comment I’ll compare the costs of systems with a mix of generator technologies.

      • In this post I compared the cost of five scenarios to supply Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) with the power to meet the 2010 demand profile. Four scenarios are mixes of wind, solar thermal with energy storage, solar PV, hydro, pumped hydro and gas turbines running on biofuel (scenarios 1 and 2) or natural gas (scenarios 3 and 4). The fifth scenario is nuclear, hydro, pumped hydro and natural gas.

        The scenarios are compared on the basis of CO2 emissions intensity (see figure 5) of the entire system, capital cost, cost of electricity and CO2 abatement cost (see figure 6). The cost of the transmission system for these scenarios that would be additional to the existing transmissions system is shown in Figure 7.


        A mix of electricity generating technologies with a large component of nuclear power is the least cost way to supply low emissions electricity to reliably meet the demand for Australia’s National Electricity Market.

        The nuclear scenario costed here, with 73% of electricity generated by nuclear, is estimated at ¼ to 1/3 the capital cost,1/3 to1/2 the cost of electricity and about 1/3 the CO2 abatement cost of the renewable energy scenarios.

        CO2 emissions from the nuclear scenario would be about 1/3 of emissions from a renewable energy system that has sufficient natural gas generation to provide a reliable power supply.

      • David Springer

        Yup. Hydro-electric isn’t cheap even when nature transports water uphill for free. People just don’t seem to understand very basic economic realities. Nuclear is one of the less expensive ways to generate electricity and it’s still twice the cost of natural gas and on a par with hydro-electric.

        For the United States it’s moot because the US doesn’t have a problem generating electricity. The US has a problem paying $100/bbl for oil to countries that hate the west and fund terrorism.

      • Interesting that the least cost option is 73% nuclear. Not far off the situation in France, probably the only country in the world that comes close.

        Governments and utility companies act to maintain high levels of electricity consumption.

        Many utilities charge lower rates for usage above a certain amount, the opposite of what is needed to encourage greater frugality.

        In addition the widespread practise of imposing a standing charge also serves to discourage people from economising and is socially divisive as the poor effectively pay a higher price per unit of electricity than the better off.

        This is an area where effective government could play a role by reversing the practise of charging a lower rate above a certain consumption level and by outlawing standing charges.

        If people’s electricity bills more clearly reflected actual usage then people would be more motivated to buy more efficient electric goods, and make some effort to economise.

        As things stand there is little incentive to economise since one would not see the full benefit as even if I reduce my electricity consumption to zero, the standing charge would remain.

      • David Springer

        J Martin | June 30, 2013 at 1:48 am |

        Governments and utility companies act to maintain high levels of electricity consumption.

        Many utilities charge lower rates for usage above a certain amount, the opposite of what is needed to encourage greater frugality.

        I’m calling bullshiit on that claim of lower rates for greater usage. Link?

      • David,
        I call on you to do your own research, it is well known that industrial users pay less.

      • David Springer

        Hey Bob, dropped by for your daily lesson in humility?

        Electric rates are generally by sector not consumption with an exception for residential rates where rate is either constant or increases with consumption.

        I thought we were talking about residential/commercial sectors not industrial/transportation sectors. The latter are by far the higher use and substantially lower in price but that’s mostly because the two sectors are not comparing apples to apples. Industrial/transportation gets power delivered as three-phase in kilovolts. There’s substantially less overhead for the electric company in everything from metering to transmission lines. Moreover industrial customers are usually interruptable customers in that when demand exceeds supply they’re cut off first. They get a rate break for being interruptable.

        As for residential/commercial the commercial customers just as often get screwed because they don’t vote. Most commercial services are higher priced than residential for that exact reason. I thought that was common knowledge. Making you even more wrong is that residential rates are often tiered with increasing rates for increasing consumption which is diametrically opposed to “encouraging consumption”. For instance:

        Baseline is 50%-70% (varies by season) of average residential consumption. Rates below are expressed for usage in percentage of baseline.

        Up to baseline: $0.13/kWh

        101%-130% $0.15 per kWh
        131%-200% $0.30 per kWh
        201%-300% $0.34 per kWh
        >300% $0.34 per kWh

        Now you know. I really wish you’d fact check yourself to save me the trouble and you the embarrassment of constant correction.

      • DS. It is certainly in the small print on the back of my bill. I personally don’t get up to that level, but I imagine larger households would. Finding a full list of tariffs on utility companies websites is difficult if not impossible, they don’t like to make these things transparent to the user. They will give you automated quotes, after you’ve told them who your current supplier is and where you live, etc., but to find a full tariff list seems impossible.

        I had a look on the utility company’s website but could not find a straight up list of tariffs. I think I will ring them and ask where I find a list of the tariffs on their website that I see listed on my paper bill.

        If they give me a link I will post it for your edification. Giving not just businesses but also householders lower tariffs for greater use is a practise that has always been done for as long as I remember in the UK.

      • intrepid_wanders

        While David Springer is very correct for California (and most of the green world), there is an odd “economies of scale” being used with UK renewables:

        J Martin, it appears that only if you go from a high rate with “sustainable energy” from tier 1 to tier 2 you get a huge break to be just above “clear and simple”.

      • On a different company’s website than my supplier ( I can find no tariff details on my suppliers website) ” Any kWh’s you used above that ceiling will be charged at ‘Discounted Energy’.”

        But when you click on the ‘view our tariff table’ button, it only gives you the standard rates and doesn’t say what the discount is.

        There have been a lot of complaints to the energy watchdog and in the press about the lack of transparency in energy pricing. And I believe the watchdog has asked / ordered an improvement in the situation. Judging by the difficulty I have had in finding my energy tariffs on a web page it would seem they have some distance to go.

        I am amazed I cannot see a table of tariffs anywhere on the UK energy websites I have looked at so far.

        I think in a country as small as the UK there is no justification for so many competing utilities companies. Whilst overall my politics lean increasingly to the right as I get older, my view on energy is left wing and that the UK should re-nationalise the energy companies that interface with the public.

        Allowing domestic customers to pay less above a certain usage may be unique to the UK and is certainly a most peculiar practise. I am surprised that it hasn’t been outlawed in this day and age, especially given the rhetoric coming from the 3 main political parties.

      • One thing I did discover in trying and failing to find my energy tariffs on my suppliers website was “We generate more renewable electricity than anyone else in the UK and Ireland.”

        That makes me think that perhaps I should consider switching to a different supplier. Something I haven’t looked at doing in many years.

      • Peter Lang

        J martin,

        Are you aware that the renewable energy you are buying from you supplier is avoiding about half as much CO2 emissions as claimed by the utilities and government departments?

      • J Martin

        I use EDF and always buy the longest fixed deal I can, around 3 or 4 years. To date over that term it has never failed to save money as prices have escalated so sharply. Whether that will happen in the future is difficult to gauge but the govt expects prices to double over 2012 rates by 2018

        Green power is invariably more expensive but will make you feel virtuous . If you don’t like what windmills and solar farms do to our landscape and which don’t work in the winter when most needed there is an obvious answer and that is to stop supporting them , but that is your call


      • Peter Lang


        So you buy your electricity from EDF, do you? Have you seen this site:

        As I write this, you are buying some of the 2 GW of power France is exporting to UK (it is also exporting 2 GW to each of Belgium and German and 1.1 GW to each of Italy and Spain, and lesser amounts to other countries). That’s pretty persuasive evidence (for those who don’t already know) that France’s high proportion of nuclear generation gives France about the cheapest electricity in Europe.

        And France’s CO2 emissions intensity from electricity generation is the lowest – about 20% of emissions intensity of electricity generation in Germany and Denmark, the leaders in implementing renewable energy. Right now, France’s emissions intensity of electricity generation is: 40 g/kWh (at midday in France); from midnight to 9 am it was about 16 g/kWh!.

        For comparison Germany and Denmark average about 600 g/kWh. What a joke, eh?

        But the question is, why don’t the ‘Progressives’, who think they are so much smarter than everyone else, understand any of this?

      • David Springer | June 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
        For the United States it’s moot because the US doesn’t have a problem generating electricity. The US has a problem paying $100/bbl for oil to countries that hate the west and fund terrorism.

        The US is the biggest funder.. It has to be, it requires wars and insurrections to continue being the leading arms seller, why do you have so much military presence in so many countries? Which brings this back to why the US is buying in oil:

        This is a bit out of date, but latest available on the site:

        Global arms production continued to increase in 2007. The combined arms sales of the SIPRI Top 100 arms-producing companies reached $347 billion, an increase of 11 per cent in nominal terms and 5 per cent in real terms over 2006. Since 2002 the value of the Top 100 arms sales has increased by 37 per cent in real terms.

        Forty-four US companies accounted for 61 per cent of the Top 100’s arms sales in 2007, while 32 West European companies accounted for 31 per cent of the sales. Russia, Japan, Israel and India accounted for most of the rest.”

      • Dave,

        Residential customers also get served by 3-phase, along with 2-phase and single phase. Depends on how many customers are served.

        As for how rates are structured, that’s not my area of expertise, but I believe it can vary significantly from state to state. And the formula’s are changing. We just had the UTC approve new rates under a new format. It took 6 months rather than the usual 11 – 12 months. And introduced new methods for determining rates tied to capital expenditures for infrastructure and not consumption.

      • Myrrh,

        One reason the US has 61% of the arms market is due to it producing the best products.

        Look at the bright side. The EU and Japan get skimp on defense spending because they can rely on the US if push comes to shove. As for us being in the Middle East, that’s as much, if not more so, for the sake of our allies. I believe US oil imports from the region account only 11% of the total oil imported. We would have no problem replacing that. In fact it is predicted that in less than a decade we will become a net exporter of oil.

        It is the rest of the industrialized world that would be hard hit if ME oil stopped flowing. And as we now operate in a global economy, European and Asian problems would ripple out, eventually impacting our economy.

      • timg56 | July 3, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
        One reason the US has 61% of the arms market is due to it producing the best products.

        Hmm, isn’t it rather that this has developed in furthering the US’s imperialist forays into countries for the benefit of its industrial military complex?

        Look at the bright side. The EU and Japan get skimp on defense spending because they can rely on the US if push comes to shove. As for us being in the Middle East, that’s as much, if not more so, for the sake of our allies. I believe US oil imports from the region account only 11% of the total oil imported. We would have no problem replacing that. In fact it is predicted that in less than a decade we will become a net exporter of oil.

        The US went into ME oil to establish its petrodollar, it didn’t need its oil then nor now. These countries buy huge amounts of up to date military equipment that is way beyond anything they need for defence..

        Count the number of bases the US has built over the last century, and take a look at the size the one built in Kosovo..

        The US through its ‘secret’ military arm of the CIA has instigated bloody discord as a matter of policy in countries around the world for the benefit of its industrial military masters, that is together with the use of above board military personnel to fight in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan for these same masters.

        Get real here – the only reason the US is in Iraq is because the oil reserves there are massive, and they played Saddam for the fool he was to get an excuse to invade. Here, this is why you are in Afghanistan:

        And, quite frankly, this is pathetic:



        The construction a massive oil pipeline through Afghanistan will now begin, after the final agreement was signed today. The U.S. government gas been planning the pipeline since the 1980s, but a regime change was needed before construction could begin.

        None of the declared objectives of the American-led conquest of Afghanistan were achieved. The military campaign in Afghanistan did not capture or defeat Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda was not found or destroyed, and no peace has been established to date. The one success of the American-led Afghan war was to clear the route for the American-led oil and gas pipe-line through the country.

        Despite the failures of the previous war, the U.S. government is now planning a new crusade against Iraq, the world’s second greatest source of oil.

        [ BBC News, “Central Asia pipeline deal signed”, 27 December 2002. ]

        The US created al Qaeda – to give half the story, that it was for the oil, as a ‘maybe’ is bad enough, that is well known and documented, and it seems to me is on par with the endless discussions about carbon dioxide “sensitivity” an “adaptations to change”, there is no carbon dioxide problem, it was a scam from the beginning and the sooner we deal with that as a reality the better just as the sooner the better we deal with the reality that our bloody countries are supporting the mass murder of millions so their rich can get even richer.

        Quite frankly, I’m sick of “herosim and sacrifice” meme trotted out by military personel as they destroy the infrastructure of countries that were never capable of retaliating, reducing them to abject misery and making them the guinea pigs for their ever new toys of destruction – depleted uranium cluster bombing and drone attacks as if playing some video game.. themselves medals for the deformed children they’ve created..

      • Myrrh,

        so you were one of the respondents to lewandowsky s survey.

      • Hey, where’s Bart R, defender of all things American?

    • Peter, spot on. Pumped hydro is 99+% of grid storage, and is used for time shifting dispatchable generation to handle peak loads which the grid cannot average. Still small compared to the necessary peak load standby capacity. Small scale (less than about 4 MW) storage in electromechanical systems (rotating dynamic compensators) or statcomms (power electronics with batteries or capacitors) is used for grid stabilization (voltage and frequency) at the distribution level. All wishes for distributed off grid electricity are idle dreams. Anyone with a house, farm, or hospital emergency backup system already knows it cannot power all loads, and is only there to muddle through until the grid can be reconnected.

    • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist


      You are working on a old paradigm based on old assumptions. Your love of fission and centralized nuke plants comes out in every post, but unfortunately seems to blind you to fast developing alternatives.

  24. Paul Vaughan

    Thermal wind, convection currents …

    Temperature DIFFERENTIALS govern flow.

    Illuminating, timely lesson from Canadian teenager Ann Makosinski:

    A hollow flashlight powered by the heat from a user’s hand […] has been picked for the finals of the Google Science Fair.
    While researching different forms of alternative energy a few years ago, she learned about devices called Peltier tiles that produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other.
    Makosinski tested the flashlights and found that both were brighter when the air temperature was 5 C than when it was 10 C, due to the bigger difference between body temperature and the air temperature.

    “Everyone’s commenting things like “it wont work well if you’re outside and it’s freezing. But guys the one thing i think you’re not getting is that it works better in the cold.. the greater the temperature difference the stronger the light. So because she was in her house when filming this the temperature difference wouldnt be the same as if she was outside and walking around.”treblemak3rs

    With her simple (exactly what makes it brilliant) lesson, Ann helps shine bright light on dark agents of climate ignorance &/or deception.


    Temperature differentials govern large scale flow.
    Temperature, mass, & velocity are coupled.

    1. Dickey, J.O.; Marcus, S.L.; & Chin, T.M. (2007). Thermal wind forcing & atmospheric angular momentum: Origin of the Earth’s delayed response to ENSO. Geophysical Research Letters 34, 7.

    2. Dickey, J.O.; & Keppenne, C.L. (1997). Interannual length-of-day variations and the ENSO phenomenon: insights via singular spectral analysis.

    3. Dickey, J.O.; Marcus, S.L.; & de Viron, O. (2003). Coherent interannual & decadal variations in the atmosphere-ocean system. Geophysical Research Letters 30(11), 1573.

  25. One obvious way of storing wind energy is to turn it into electricity and use the electricity to pump water to a higher level in a dam. Trouble is this substitutes the uncertainty of having enough water for the uncertanty of having enough wind.Only if the water supply is assured is this a good, if expensive solution.

    Battery technowledgy has been trying for decades to provide a solution. OK for your laptops, but megawatts? Storing energy as high pressure hydrogen has its risks but is certainly feasible and attractive for mobile use because hydrogen is such a light fuel. So is wind energy worth the expense of converting it to another form? Do the sums.

    • Alexander Biggs,

      You may find this interesting regarding the cost of pumped hydro and of battery storage to store sufficient energy from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind to meet the demand of the Australian National Electricity Market:

      It also shows the area required for pumped hydro reservoirs and number of Sydney harbour volumes of water you would have to pump up 150 m and store each night and release each day.

      It also compares the cost of a system with batteries located at the generators versus pumped hydro in centralised storage. The higher cost of the batteries far exceeds the savings in the reduced transmission capacity required.

      • Thanks, Peter.. I wonder why your paper did not get nore publicity before the Lake George scheme was proposed. My own view is that coal is cheapest closely followed by nuclear.Risks of the latter can be managed.

      • I agree, coal is cheapest in Australia and.given the public opposition to nuclear in Australia and the financial risks that would cause for investors, gas is the next cheapest. But Australia has a looming natural gas supply shortage on the eastern side because public opposition to developing coal seam gas and fracking means we are likely to be desperately short of supplies for the domestic market for a decade or so. [We’ve already committed most of what is likely to be available to China, Korea, Japan]. Gas prices are likely to double in the eastern states over the next few years. But nuclear is not politically acceptable in Australia and to be come acceptable would need two things to occur, IMO,

        1. The cost of nuclear power and the financial risk for investors to reduce considerably; and

        2. strong bipartisan support from the major political parties and leadership from some eco-NGOs.

        No sign of the second happening in the foreseeable future.

        Regarding cost reduction, I see the new small modular plants as the big hope for significant cost reductions; e.g.:

    • David Springer

      Start adding up the inefficiency of the electrical pump to push water uphill and the ineffiency of converting it back to electricity when you need it, frictional losses in the pipe on the round trip, and then the cost of capital for all of it. Wind power isn’t attractively priced when consumed straight out of the turbine to say nothing of making it more than twice as expensive by storage schemes. The bottom line is that if it isn’t competitive shipped straight into a grid without being stored it is far less competitive when storage overhead is added in.

  26. I fully agree with Peter Lang. Steve Crane ought to spend some time off-grid, preferably running a workshop or a kiln, to fully appreciate the Mediaeval experience.

  27. Doug Badgero

    Economic large scale energy storage would be a game changer. It would change a lot more than just the practicality of solar and wind.

    • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

      Localized energy generation and storage far more so.

      • R Gates,

        This is not a new concept. And from a technology standpoint we could already be doing it with gas turbines. Want to explain why we haven’t seen it deployed?

  28. My thoughts?
    They keep coming back to Tasmania.
    25-30 years ago (sorry, don’t have an exact figure), the electricity authority (Gov run) was called “Hydro-electric” – because at the time ALL the electrical generation for the grid came from hydro sources.
    They wanted to build a new dam with generating capacity to keep up with demand. They proposed the Franklin River. It was prevented by the GREENS. They said it would be cheaper and better to string a cable across from Victoria and buy fossil-fuel (brown coal) powered electricity from Victoria.

    Move forward, and now the greens are demanding more wind and solar PV, requiring such storage as the main post indicates. NOW the very people who opposed the building of a hydro-electric facility are demanding that we should build such facilities and shut down the power plants that they previously said were better and cheaper.

    Go figure…

  29. Interesting analogy,With complex problems however sometimes simple solutions have the best outcomes eg the broad street pump handle.

    If we do revert to historical solutions,some have increased outcomes such as increased energy efficiency in production,and increased durability.

  30. Dr. Harold Punnett

    The technology already exists. It is made by Gildemeister of Germany and is called the CellCube. American Vanadium Corporation is the sales agent in N.A. and elsewhere. American Vanadium Corporation (AVC on the TSX) will have the largest deposit of Vanadium in the U.S. operational in about 2 years. It is surprising that so many people don’t know about this technology yet. German made. 2 years in the field all over the world with no failures. Scaleable and simple to install.

    • David Springer

      Spec sheet? Levelized cost per kW/h of storage? Number of installed systems and duration of operation?

      All I found in a quick search is 50 systems installed worldwide and no other pertinent info.

      It’s an old battery technology dating back to the 1950’s with a few key advantages that give them a leg up on lead-acid where energy density isn’t a critical requirement.

      • “Old”? Hardly. However, it has taken some years to perfect. Leasing arrangements from the company mean it is part of an affordable operations budget rather than capital. MTA (NY) and Con Edison working on validating as we speak. There is no other technology out there (and likely won’t be for many years) that can provide efficient energy storage. 20 year battery life at which point the Vanadium electrolyte is still as good as new and can be transferred to a new battery. Off the shelf components all monitored from Germany and easily repaired. Very low tech in terms of its components. Brilliant system actually.

      • David Springer

        Predictably you didn’t answer my questions or provide any of the information I requested. Who do you think you’re fooling?

    • Dr. Harold Punnett,

      Thank you. Do you have information for:

      Actual capital and O&M costs of installed systems that have been proven for a decade at least?

      Cost for say 20 GW power and 2 TWh storage capacity?

      Levelised Cost of Electricity supplied over the life of the system ($/MWh)

      Material quantities required for that amount of storage?

      Volumes of mining, material processing, smelting, manufacturing, fabrication, waste disposal and transport between all stages?

      Amount of toxic materials released to the environment for that amount of storage?

      • Answer to cost questions: about 10 to 100 times the cost of pumped hydro, and viable on very small scale only:

      • I could fine it for you. Give me a week or so for your questions to be adequately answered. However, on the mining front I have more information. It is a very unusual deposit. The material is already basically crushed and only requires a heap leach technique to produce high grade electrolyte. It will be the cheapest production of Vanadium in the world by far. The mine will produce 700 MW hours of electrolyte per year which is enough for the likely demand in N.A. for some years. I’m not sure what you mean by toxicity. It is simply an electron transfer between different valence states of vanadium electrolyte. There is no discharge, nothing used up so to speak. The Vanadium never runs out. I’m not saying this will take care of all energy storage needs but it will be a dramatic entry to solve the problems of energy storage with large solar and wind farms and can help to make the national grid far more efficient without large infrastructure upgrades. It will also have other uses in the mining industry and really any mission critical situation (data server farms etc).

      • Dr. Harold Punnett,,

        I am not asking for word answers. i am seeking numbers if a format that is comparable with other technologies: e.g. $/kW, $/kWh energy storage capacity, $/MWh of electricity supply, etc in a way that is directly comparable with the figures on the Electricity Supply Association web site I provided in the previous link. I am also seeking the quantities per kWh life cycle analysis in accordance with international standards such as the EU Environmental Product Declaration:

        By the way, I know the numbers (roughly). My reason for asking the questions is to encourage you (and others) to do the appropriatgely directed homework so you find out and understand for yourself. If you do you will understand that the products you are proposing are not viable either technically or economically by orders of magnitude. Even pumped hydro – which is technically viable in countries that have suitable large topographic relief, but still hugely expensive, and is not economically viable for storing intermittent renewable energy – is one to two orders of magnitude cheaper than what you are advocating.

      • Dr. Harold Punnett

        For some reason your more recent comment had no link for a reply. I stated that I would be happy to provide your answers if you give me a bit more time. However, the best “real world” answer is that Gildemeister has sold 50 million dollars worth of CellCubes in year 1 and is on track to sell over 100 million worth this year. So I suggest that you “reset” your inclination to dismiss this as inefficient by an order of magnitude. Hard headed business decision are being made now and the CellCube is genuinely the first truly marketable product that does what it says.

      • Dr. Harold Punnett,

        The tree structure is limited to three levles, so you have to post replies at the parent at the second level.

        The number sold is irrelevant. There are milliions of AA cells sold. So what? You need to give the answers in the units that are used for comparison. then you will understand the massage I am trying to get across to you. Or you could just look at the three charts in the link I’ve given you three times so far, its not too hard to click on it:

        Look at the ‘per cycle costs’ and the ‘Capital Costs’ ($ per kw and $ per kWh energy storage capacity).

      • David Springer

        Punnet, first you say CellCubes are leased not sold then in the next breath you say they sold $50M worth of them last FY and will sell $100M next FY.

        And you can’t frickin’ give us a simple figure for levelized cost per kW/h which should be a piece of cake if the systems are leased instead of purchased. I smell a rat.

      • Dr. Harold Punnett

        Leased in N.A. The previous sales were elsewhere and were purchases. Different sales models is all. I will get your other information next week. No rats.

  31. “We take for granted now the impact that distributed communications have had via mobile phones. Electrical energy has that same democratizing power. And energy storage, at the right price and scale, has the potential to put that power once again in the hands of this century’s Dean Herberts.”

    Mobile phones came from a deregulation telephone industry.
    Problem is our govt is regulating rabbits:

    It’s not technology is governing which is Catholic variety or nanny state variety.

    But you could make say 100 meter high tower out of recycled plastic and put some container which can hold water at the the top of it.
    That will store power.
    The only problem is one has existing supply of cheap energy, which makes too many idiots lives too easy- and they want to destroy it [because they are idiots].

  32. Storage is easy – take a leaf from what the abbey did in 12th century: they had a mill pond. It you have wind surplus run a pump to fill the pond. When the wind dies down, use the pond water to run your generator. This of course will require a source of water, use additional equipment, and enlarge the surface area needed for windmills. But, hey, who cares, we are talking government subsidies, not profit or loss or being competitive.

    • Arno Arrak,

      Pumped hydro is enormously expensive and much more expensive if used for storing energy from intermittent renewable energy supplies as distinct from reliable baseload supplies when power is cheap (midnight to 6 am) for release during the day, regularly almost every day of the year. See my comments up thread.

      Energy storage technology cost comparisons here:

    • David Springer

      That’s nice but for every horsepower provided by water wheels there were a thousand horsepower being provided by draft animals.

      You people just make up history as you go along.

      Draft animals were by far the most widely used and versatile sources of power prior to the steam engine. Write that down.

      • Teams of horses were used by the petroleum industry in the US into the 1920s. They pulled rigs around.

      • maksimovich

        In the early part of the 20th century,there was fairly equal parity between electric cars,internal combustion and the Stanley steamer.The later needed access to water,which was mostly available from Horse troughs.The response to the FMD outbreak was to remove the troughs initiating the demise of the Steamers ie an animal virus removed a technology.

    • Sorry Arno but it isn’t that simple.

  33. The corollary to storage technology is pendible need, like grinding grain.

    • You are correct. And unfortunately most electricity consumption is not (with smart grid dispatching potentially time shifting that which is at the point of consumption level).

      • Yeah, I know. But ‘pendible’ is subjective, and it seems easier for the powers who be to adjust the peoples’ demand than it is to provide a reliable grid and constant supply.

        Honestly, what is easier to control, the narrative, or the wind?

  34. Why the Green People are treated as Feudalist; as if they are owning fossil fuel, to charge royalty for it for CO2 emission?

  35. Julian Flood

    |Let me play with the monastery/free wind metaphor a little.

    Abbot Samson was a monopoly supplier of grinding power: he owned the water mill, he said what the price should be and he suppressed competition by simply forbidding it. Even hand-powered grindstones were forbidden and he had a courtyard paved with the grindstones his enforcers had confiscated from transgressors. The monastery grew rich while the poor ate expensive bread.

    In the UK we are forced by law to pay for the power produced by windfarms: the subsidy for these is collected through the utility company’s bill, opaque, unquantified, and if you don’t pay your bill they’ll cut off your supply. The State acts as a monopoly supplier which has the power to force acceptance of its product. It outsources the actually generation to those with the land and the capital to fill their boots with government money while those without are graciously allowed to pay over the odds to heat and light their homes. The Prime Minister’s father-in-law is paid a thousand UK pounds per day for his wind farms.

    A gas-fired power station produces electricity which is between two and three times cheaper than wind.

    So, cheaper alternatives available the use of which is forbidden by law. An elite that rakes in the money. A peasantry which has to pay artificially high prices.

    We don’t seem to have come very far in 900 years.


    • It is also cheaper to tip your waste into the river, but it is forbidden by law

      • iolwot

        That is a very interesting comment

        Do you equate burning fuel to keep warm, travel, grow food and sustain an economy where people can have a better lifestyle than our ancestors is equivalent to throwing our waste in the river?,

      • Points terJF I’d say lolwot
        Serfs hate walls.

      • David Springer

        It doesn’t need to be forbidden by law. Think “Shiita inna mah river ah breaka you face”.

      • lolwot,

        don’t forget to mention tobacco companies.

  36. This thread is an excellent example of mad scientists coming up with ideas, and ‘reinventing the wheel’, doing no research beforehand, not getting any engineering input, and not a clue about costs, economics, financial viability, etc.

    Those interested in some of the cost and financial implications that need to be considered are covered in this post:

    Don’t miss the reviewers comments; you’ll get a lot out of them

  37. the combination of renewable generation and storage can displace fossil fuel-based generation—taming the unpredictability of renewables puts them on the same footing functionally as, say, a coal plant

    Just 10 (?) times more expensive.

    the renewables-plus-storage combination reduces or eliminates the need for a central power grid. Power generation can be distributed and local.

    Eliminates a central power grid, yes. But, unless the generation and storage comes right down to the individual household level, there would still be local power grids.
    So the question becomes – how much of the power grid could be eliminated ?

  38. Distributed generation and storage are possible, if we ignore costs and the huge burden on environment from the production of all the materials the distributed system would require.

    We could use batteries, except that we don’t know sufficient resources for the materials. Many batteries are also based on highly toxic materials, and processing the huge amounts required would add health effects on top of other environmental concerns.

    Yes, there are technically possible solutions, but switching to them would be foolish.

    Technologies develop, nobody can tell, what’s possible, and also wise, 50 years from the present. Right now we should, however, not spend our resources in foolishness just because people like the idea if distributed systems or think that “small is beautiful”.

    By all means search for new and better solutions, but don’t enforce the excessive costs on those who try to remain rational. We have all too much of that in many European countries.

    • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist


      Storage of energy in artificial photosynthesis is easy, cheap, and reliable. Best of all, the more local you keep it the better!

      • Really?

        Let’s wait that the process has some practical significance. It may be a long wait.

        There’s no shortage of overly optimistic and totally false claims in the literature.

      • Chief Hydrologist

        ‘Record droughts in the U.S. have sparked new interest in using this
        potentially renewable resource to power the nation’s transportation.
        But creating what is, in effect, a bionic leaf poses formidable challenges.’

        I am not convinced they are exaggerating Pekka.

      • RG,

        I have a copy of the journal this article was in on my desk. The Executive Editor is an alumni of the school I received my graduate degrees from and was the uest speaker at our alumni dinner this past March. (Heather’s presentation was the best I’ve seen, for all the years I’ve attended.)

        The key sentence in the article is in the 4th paragraph. Specifically the phrase “… if realized …”. Right now they are still working on the science part. The technology and the manufacturing are decades out.

        I’d also note that the article talks about being able to produce at useable scales. Nothing about distributed generation.

      • Peter Lang

        I really enjoy reading your comments. They are loaded with interesting information. And based on your knowledge and real world experience in the energy industry.

        Please keep it coming. People are gaiing lknowledge and information whether or not they acknowledge it.

    • Here is a link for folks who think battery storage is a viable concept, at least so far as for home use.

      A 20 ft shipping container filled with batteries will power the average household for 2 to 2 1/2 days. Now, try getting it through your neighborhood CCR’s. We’ll skip over the part about how one would recharge the container.

      • 50 kWh could run a house for 2.5 days, and a Tesla has 53 kWh. It seems it can be done in less space. This would also be two Nissan Leaf batteries, or three Chevy Volt batteries, from what I found.

      • Peter Lang

        timg56, the OPB article you linked here says:

        That’s not a lot of power when considering how much energy a wind farm can generate. About 800 batteries would be needed to back up the entire Nine Canyon Wind Project, Steigers said.

        “We don’t need that many for it to make a difference,” Steigers said. “What we’re trying to do is address short-term changes in the production.”

        Key point: The battery storage is for smoothing short term changes in production. Battery storage technology is nowhere near viable for making intermittent renewable energy generators, such as wind or solar power, dispatchable. Even 800 batteries would not go close to making the wind farm a reliable, dispatchable generator. It would be insufficient storage by orders of magnitude.

        The wishers and thinkers would do well to attempt to do some back of the envelope calculations and challenge their beliefs before making their frequent confident but wrong assertions about energy storage.

      • Peter,

        I understand that. I thought the article was a good reference for those people who think battery storage is a viable option. It provides an idea of the scale required just to help with smoothing, which as we both know is a far smaller issue than full capacity storage for later dispatch.


        I know next to nothing about a Tesla car. I do know that Powin has been involved in energy storage for at least ten years and as the link shows, have developed a system being tested by PNW Laboratories. What are you going to believe, your guess that a Tesla can provide the same amount of electrical power in a third or less the space or your eyes, which show you the size needed?

        If you are correct, why aren’t they using Tesla’s? Probably cheaper than the Powin unit. (And since PNWL is a federal lab, they should be able to negotiate a discount on the price, considering the stimulus money the feds are providing.)

      • Peter,

        This one’s for you.

        There is no good reason for the US not to be building small modular reactors. They are far more likely of being capable of providing the distributed generation system R Gates says is our future than anything currently available or likely to be available over the next 2 – 3 decades.

      • I doubt if Tesla batteries are cheaper. The car is $100k. The point is that the size doesn’t have to be an obstacle. It is not ready pricewise today, but at some point it could be especially with motivation.

      • Peter Lang


        I understand that. I thought the article was a good reference for those people who think battery storage is a viable option.

        I agree. Its an excellent, relevant and topical article. Thanks for posting it.

        I don’t think there is any misunderstanding but to clarify, just in case there is, I didn’t mean to imply you didn’t understand the point I added in my comment. I know you do. I was using your comment as a base to provide some additional info.

      • David Springer


        re; the us should be building small modular nuclear reactors

        The US has been building small modular nuclear reactors since the 1950’s when the first nuclear powered submarine was launched. It puts small modular nuclear reactors into surface vessels now too.

        There’s a reason the same reactors aren’t being used to power small cities. The reason is they’re too expensive.

      • David,

        As a former submarine sailor, whose dad design control systems for the USS Seawolf and USS Bainbridge, it is easy to see you step outside your depth almost every time you comment on nuclear power.

        One of the modular designs under consideration is in fact derived from a US ship design. There are reasons why this route wasn’t employed earlier. None of them have to do with cost.

      • Peter Lang


        There is no good reason for the US not to be building small modular reactors. They are far more likely of being capable of providing the distributed generation system R Gates says is our future than anything currently available or likely to be available over the next 2 – 3 decades.

        I agree. And they would be a much better fit for Australia than the large units being built in Asia, USA, Europe, Russia, UAE.

        Continuing the discussion from my comment about visualising how much storage would be required to run New Your City for three days, we’d need 10 tonnes of nuclear fuel. (We’d need about 100 tonnes nuclear fuel to supply 5 GW average power for a year; 10,000 tonnes would run New York City for 100 years)

        Contrast this with the area of reservoirs required if pumped hydro energy storage was used: Assuming two reservoirs with vertical separation of 100 m and 10 m active storage depth in each, we’d need with 300 square kilometres of reservoirs to power NYC for 3 days. However, that is insufficient to provide a reliable, dispatchable power supply. I expect about 20 times that, i.e. 6,000 square kilometres of pumped hydro energy storage would be required to provide NYC with a reliable power supply if the storage was to be charged by power from intermittent renewable energy technologies like wind and dollar.

        In short, regarding energy storage, contrast 6,000 square kilometres of reservoirs or 10,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel to power NYC for 100 years..

        Everyway you look at it, nuclear makes a lot of sense!

      • Peter Lang


        There’s a reason the same reactors aren’t being used to power small cities. The reason is they’re too expensive.

        True. They are too expensive (as are all other low emissions alternatives). And the reason is because of 50 years of anti-nuclear scaremongering which has caused widespread nuclear paranoia which in turn has caused politicians to implement draconian regulations and licensing requirements for civilian nuclear power. It costs $1 billion and takes 10 years to get a design though licensing and huge costs to change the design, such as to upgrades to a new model. That is an enormous impediment to progress. It is irrational given that nuclear power is the safest way to generate electricity.

        The US Navy says the cost of their small nuclear power plants for submarines and aircraft carriers is about $1200/kW Yet, the mPower (small modular power plants which has just begun its 10 year licensing program) which is a development of the 50 year old nuclear submarine engines, is expected to cost about $5000/kW in 2020 (in 2012 US$) The difference is due to the regulatory constraints and the small number that will be built at that price until production ramps up and the cost comes down. At a 10% cost reduction per doubling of capacity the cost of electricity reduces to the same as new cola plants in Australia by the time 2.5 GW are in operation world wide and to half the cost of new coal when 200 GW are in operation world wide. That is compared with cheap Australian coal.

        So, what we need to do is to stop blocking the development of nuclear. Instead advocate for the removal of the impediments.

  39. Downsizing the federal footprint on the country — actually, the neck of the country — everything comes together as the states deal with these issues locally. Some will be happy to go nuclear and sell excess energy to their neighbors… like France. California would be free to tax 110% of the wages of those in the free enterprise sector or 120% if that is what it takes to make pass a budget…until they go bankrupt and their bones are picked by realists.

  40. Pingback: Getting Energy From The Energy Store | Watts Up With That?

  41. I have been following the German Energiewende and their solar and wind electricity generation capacities. Right now, there is 33 GW of solar capacity in Germany that can supply 50% of consumption on a sunny day at noon. There is over 30 GW of wind generation that can do almost the same on a very windy day.

    However, wind supplies only around 10% of annual electricity consumption and solar 5% in Germany.

    In order to raise the share of wind and sun from 15 % to 30 %, capacities must be doubled. Which means that both wind and sun can each supply all the electricity demand on a sunny/windy day and all other forms of production must be shut off and restarted on a short notice.

    Shutting turbines down on a windy day or disconnecting solar panels on a sunny day is of course a solution….except their owners are guaranteed a subsidy for 20 years.

    Anyway, the point is that without cheap storage there is no way that wind and solar can replace fossil fuels. Global industrial scale pumped-hydro storage is 104-127 GW (depending on source) which could just handle Germany with 50% of their electricity coming from solar and wind.

    • Jarmo,

      In order to raise the share of wind and sun from 15 % to 30 %, capacities must be doubled.

      To get double the energy you’d have to much more than double the generating capacity:

    • “Anyway, the point is that without cheap storage there is no way that wind and solar can replace fossil fuels. ”

      Fortunately pumped storage is cheap.

      • No, its not!

      • Pumped storage is not cheap and building it requires differencies in elevation + existing water reserve.

        Furthermore, pumped storage in Germany is currently unprofitable because of renewables wind and solar:

        “Existing facilities are increasingly unprofitable. German weekly Die Zeit recently reported that Vattenfall may shut down the country’s oldest pumped-storage facility, with a capacity of 120 megawatts, and the firms behind a new proposal in the Black Forest currently see no profitability. In addition to the fast growth of solar, the article points out that forecasting has improved greatly, allowing coal plants to react more flexibly – thereby reducing the need for pumped storage.”

        Seems to me that coal -as long as it’s cheap – is the ideal partner to renewables. Gas too.

      • Perhaps in your dreams.

        We operate the second largest wind generation in the country and operate in an area that is well suited for water storage and has a federal agency (BPA) well experienced with managing flows and water storage.

        We passed on pumped storage because the numbers didn’t work. (And so you are not confused, by that I don’t mean we determined it was too cheap.)

      • Peter Lang


        Thank you. It is invaluable to have people who actually know what they are talking about commenting on such matters. Most people commenting on these subjects have high confidence and zero competence in the subject they pontificate on. Worse still, they cannot work out what and who to take notice of, and are not prepared to read the authoritative information. They read what supports their beliefs, such as solar and wind industry making up complete nonsense about how pumped hydro, CAES, and batteries are viable now or will be in the very near future. It is nonsense. The costs for storage, sufficient to allow wind and solar to be dispatchable and supply a significant proportion of our electricity, are too high by an order of magnitude or more. We’ve been working on this for over a hundred years. It strains credulity to believe there will be any sudden breakthrough leading to nirvana for renewable energy.

        If the ‘Progressives’ want to cut global GHG emissions they need to advocate removal of the impediments that are blocking the progress and cost reductions that could be achieved with nuclear power.

  42. Storage is only part of the problem if the intention is make wind and solar dispatchable power and replace fossil fuels entirely. Even if you are lucky and manage to make it through a few poor generating days using storage, you have now exhausted that reserve. Without a follow on period of considerable length when wind and solar are operating at high production the storage takes a long time to recharge. At least it does unless you have so overbuilt the capacity of the generating system that you end up throwing away huge quantities of energy when times are good.

    I’m cross-posting this from WUWT.

    • You have conventional power plants ready to be started up for those rare occasions. Nuclear, gas, even coal.

      It’s not a problem running coal plants once in a while.

      • Have you considered that some one has to pay for the standby plants? Have you considered that much of the cost of the plants is fixed cost – i.e you have to pay whether they generate power or not?

      • Yes that’s just a necessary additional cost

      • So, paying five times the cost of electricity for no benefit doesn’t concern you?

        Renewables @ 3 x conventional cost + much higher transmission cost + full fixed cost of back up generators).

        For no benefit in GHG emissions reductions or health and safety compared with nuclear.

        This just shows how nuts the anti-nuke, pro renewables proponents are:

      • I am pointing out how renewables could work, but in practice I am happy to go with nuclear in the UK. I don’t know how feasible nuclear worldwide would be though.

      • David Springer

        Yeah right. And employees of those coal plants can just come to work on the days when the coal plant needs to operate. And the coal plant can provide health insurance and other benefits only for the hours they actually work. And banks who loan money for the construction of the power plants can only charge interest on the loan for the times when the plant is actually in operation.

        You’re ignorance beggars belief, loltwat.

      • David Springer

        It’s worse than I thought. Turns out that cycling coal plants causes significant damage to the plant. I should have known that as it’s pretty much a rule for all mechanical devices designed to run at constant speeds and temperatures that wear & tear is much greater during startup and shutdown. Metals expand & contract as temperature changes which causes stress and eventual failure. Bearings are designed to operate with little wear at speed when the contact energy is distributed across the entire bearing.

        Just as bad is fuel delivery. You can’t just ring up a conductor in West Virginia and ask for a hundred boxcars full of coal on a whim. Fuel delivery needs to be scheduled as far in advance as possible. And hauling off coal ash has the same problem with random times and amounts.

        loltwat should change his cowardly anonymous handle to dumbass dingbat.

      • Cycling a nuke is absurd, too, adding to the control mechanism costs and dangers. It seems that windmills most effective use is to drive power dispatchers nuts.

      • Peter Lang and David Springer each get +1.

        Why have storage at all if you are going to still maintain sufficient fossil plants for those cases when the storage is depleted? The only way that even sounds reasonable is if economics are totally ignored. Even then you are going to recharge the storage by using the fossil fuel plants and have an extra level of conversion losses.

      • The benefit is greatly reduced CO2 emissions.

        With sufficient generation and storage it will be very rare you have to switch on the backup. Sometimes entire years could fly by without the need.

      • lolwot,

        The benefit is greatly reduced CO2 emissions.

        If CO2 emissions abatement is your primary concern (as distinct from cot of electricity and reliability of supply), then you should be comparing options on the basis of their CO2 abatement cost, in $/tonne CO2 abated.

        If you do that you fin d that nuclear is by far the least cost option. An electricity grid powered b y mostly nuclear power (like France) with some pumped hydro and some gas for peaking, abates more CO2 than a mostly renewable energy powered grid, and does so ant about 1/3 the abatement cost. The electricity is about 1/3 the cost. Could I urge you to look Figures 5, 6 and 7 (compare the options on the basis of CO2 emisisons intensity from the entire grid, capital cost, cost of electricity, CO2 abatement cost and cost of additional transmission system:

        If you are genuinely interested in this subject you might read the paper. If you want more on the renewables component and on the transmissions cost estimates for renewables refer to the preceding paper here:

        You can also download a spreadsheet and change inputs to do your own sensitivity analyses:

      • lolwot,

        Stop. You don’t have a clue about what you are talking about.

        First, does 70 – 80% of the time qualify as rare to you? If you are getting 29% availability from wind you are doing well.

        Second, you can’t simply push a buttom and instantly start up a coal or nuclear plant. You can do so with gas turbines, at least with the type used as peaking units, but even then you can’t instantaniously sync them to the grid. The reality is that at least a portion of your backup has to run 100% of the time.

      • Peter Lang


        Yes. And each shut down and restart costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  43. One of the several unfortunate things about CAGW is the derived emphasis on solutions to wrong problems. Renewable wind and solar make electricity, with all the economic and intermittency issues noted upthread. But electricity generation is not the core energy problem unless one is erroneously focused only on CO2, in which case the simple answer in many places is CCGT– as is happening in the US for economic reasons. Peak natural gas and coal production do not arise for several decades (see a previous post), giving plenty of time to improve on the eventually inevitable nuclear designs if one doesn’t like the present ‘best’ iterations.

    The big ‘immenent’ problem is liquid transportation fuels. At least there, CAGW motivated conservation initiatives move in the needed conservation direction, although not nearly far enough or fast enough to prevent some pretty severe disruptions about a decade from now. Again, see previous posts. Current IMF working paper projections (2012) are for $200/bbl crude and absolute shortages (supply < demand) of over 1mbbl/day by 2020.
    See Benes et. al., The Future of Oil: Geology versus Technology, IMF WP/12/109 available at

  44. At the end of the anecdote about Dean Herbert is this:

    “The fact is that wind isn’t as good a power source as flowing water. It was adequate, barely, for grinding grain; but wind is catch-as-catch-can. Water is steadier, more reliable—especially if there’s a millpond upstream to assure a steady supply.”

    And the author then goes into his thing about storage.

    Wow. My mind went in a completely different direction. If water is so much better and reliable, why in the world are we doing the windmill thing in the first place?

    Oh, there are ocean tide ideas out there, all over the place. Just Google “ocean energy” sometime.

    But the ocean tides are also intermittent, which is why I always thought that was a stupid approach. (Pardon me, but “stupid” is the right word, for the exact reasons discussed in this guest post – you STILL have to store energy for when the tides aren’t running in or out.)

    I have read that at a given velocity water has 200 times the force as wind.

    Do you see where I am going here?

    Windmills operate on the principle of an average wind speed of about 12 mph (19 kph). Ocean currents often run at a steady velocity of about 2-3 mph about (3-5 kph), and up to about 4 mph (6 kph) in some ocean currents. Such as the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida. (One of the operative terms there is “steady.” As in NO STORAGE REQUIRED.)

    Now, 3 mph is not 12 mph. But at the same time, that 200 times factor for water vs wind – that is a big thing. A very big factor – in both the ways of understanding the word “factor.”

    Another thing about ocean currents: The surrounding water very quickly entrains any slowed down water that exits a turbine, so that only a few hundred feet downstream the velocity is essentially the same as it was before. What does that mean? Another turbine can be put a few hundred feet downstream so that MORE energy can be captured. With the possibility of a bank of turbines across the Gulf Stream’s ~80 mile width at that point, and then downstream an other bank, and then an other bank – the potential amount of steady electricity produced boggles the mind.

    The technology now used to bring offshore windfarms’ electrical power onto land should be completely adequate for ocean current turbines, too.

    Florida may not be able to provide elecricity enough for the entire USA, but it should be able to put a LOT of electricity into the grid.

    There are a handful of people who have looked into this. I don’t know why it hasn’t taken off.

    If water and wind are both in the discussion, I simply don’t know why ocean currents is not on the table in a big way.

    Why the discussion here goes to storage instead of water, I don’t understand that, either.

    • Steve

      I wrote about this way upthread in as much horses for courses dictate that in the UK we should use ocean power. That includes waves-which are liquid wind-tidal-which is highly predictable and we have a thermohaline that could be useful and the ability to readily erect barrages for storage/reuse in the place we have lots of space-the ocean-not on land where space is at a premium and people don’t want the development.

      It is as you say, obvious, unfortunately we have gone down the windmill road rather than the water road. There are many politicians or their families over here who are benefitting from the subsidy for wind, but that would surely have nothing to do with it

    • Take energy out of the gulf stream. Yes, lets hasten the arrival of the next glaciation.

  45. The article states, “Solar, in particular, is cheap and scalable. Storage is still expensive. It has to be half or a third of today’s cost to truly enable the disruption that seems tantalizingly close.”

    That first sentence is total garbage, totally untrue. The guy is trying to slip a fast on in on us.

    Solar is not cheap. Go out and get an estimate on putting in solar panels. Not just on the panels themselves, which ARE cheap enough. But all the controls needed, too. As one guy said, “What happens if your house catches on fire and your solar panels are pumping elecricity onto the grid – and the firemen come and spray water all over your roof? Are the firemen protected from electrocution? Controls have to include all those eventualities, and that makes them steep, not cheap.

    Now, go figure out the payback time for all that. Then ask how long the expected life of the panels is.

    It ain’t cheap, folks. Almost everyone decides against it – even though almost ALL of them would choose solar, if it wasn’t so damned expensive.

    There is a reason why people are not lining up at the solar panel stores. And the reason is PRICE.

    Don’t give me that “Solar is cheap” b.s. If it was cheap everyone would have solar panels on their roofs.

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  47. What about compressed air storage, which can be as widely distributed as needed, using a number of smaller generating stations, as well as monolithic power stations. No need for hills or mountains.

    From Wikepedia; “As of 1896, the Paris system had 2.2 MW of generation distributed at 550 kPa in 50 km of air pipes for motors in light and heavy industry”
    “Adiabatic storage retains the heat produced by compression and returns it to the air when the air is expanded to generate power. This is a subject of ongoing study, with no utility scale plants as of 2010, but a German project ADELE is planned to enter development in 2013.[3] The theoretical efficiency of adiabatic storage approaches 100% with perfect insulation, but in practice round trip efficiency is expected to be 70%.”
    “Thus if 1.0 m3 of ambient air is very slowly compressed into a 5 L bottle at 20 MPa (200 bar), the potential energy stored is 530 kJ. ~ theoretical energy densities are from roughly 70 kJ/kg at the motor shaft for a plain steel bottle to 180 kJ/kg for an advanced fiber-wound one, whereas practical achievable energy densities for the same containers would be from 40 to 100 kJ/kg.”

  48. Pingback: energy storage

  49. gregschiller

    I live in Southern Minnesota. Windmill Country. At night the sky is lit from horizon to horizon with red blinking lights.

    Windmills have transformed our rural landscape into a cityscape.

  50. The localism thing. I wonder why we have electricity grids in the first place?

    Oh I know, so if anything happens to local production, or at times of unusual demand beyond the capability of the local power source, or for maintenance, or generates a surplus, electricity can be routed from/to elsewhere and if a neighbourhood develops it can do so without the need to build new generation capacity.

    The reason that the UK suffers the annual Summer ritual of water shortages is not a shortage of water, but a reliance on local water sources. There is plenty of water on the island of Britain, it is just that much of it is in the wrong place or flows untapped into the sea because… there is no water grid.

    If wind powered, and indeed water powered, corn grinding was so marvellous, why was it replaced by steam engines, then electric motors?

    Why was local milling replaced by centralised industrial scale mills?

    What we learn from history, is that the ingenuity of Man develops ways of doing things more efficiently. Called ”progress”.

    • True, true we only need so much Sun tea. The hypocrisy of the Leftists is amazing as they pontificate on what’s good for humanity as they swoon over an aged liquor that was distilled over peat.

    • Even the famous windmills that moved water outside the dikes have been replaced and only serve as monuments to history.

    • R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

      Centralized power is not necessarily equal to more efficient. Generated power as close to the point of use can be better.

      • “Generated power as close to the point of use can be better.”

        And at this point in time the only practical means of doing this is with gas power generators.

        We have a fairly high concentration of gas generator ownership in the PNW (west of the mountains). That is due to us also having a lot of trees. We get a big winter storm come through, as we did Jan/2012, and it can take more than a week to get all of our customers service restored. Folks who live outside urban areas learn to by a generator. Ever consider why they don’t just run one all the time and drop off the grid?

  51. michael hart

    “…and the dark ages began their slow, painful ascent into the light of the Renaissance and the modern era.”

    Rest assured, a journey in the opposite direction will be just as painful. Yet we still have people who wish to limit both the choices of individuals, and the abilities of corporations to supply the preferences of those individuals.

    And it is still done in pursuit of a ‘greater good’ if not a ‘greater god’. it was ever thus.

  52. How trustworthy is an organization that claims to be organized for the “benefit of humanity,” anyway?

    ~Norman Rogers, “American Geophysical Union (following AMS) Scraps Science, Now Faith Based”

  53. John Carpenter

    What? No one here is talking about Power4Patriots? You can have all the free energy you need for only a $27 investment! Get started today!

    • Just gimme a hand powered flashlight, and a hand grister. Don’t fergit the arm-powered hammer and the body swung scythe.

      • John Carpenter

        From what I can tell, all you need to know is how to use a screwdriver. Hee hee, funny that’s the tool illustrated… works on so may levels.

  54. Pierre Gosslin just put up monthly production data for the 12 KW solar system he installed about a year ago. Even if Germany maintains its generous feed in tariff(FIT) he figures it will take 10 years or more to break even.

  55. R. Gates aka Skeptical Warmist

    The traditional photovoltaic system, even with more efficient cells is not the best way to harness energy from the distant fusion reactor of the sun. Wind energy is great for small scale low intense needs, but large wind farms are just plain ugly, and putting them to a grid system not the most efficient use and also not the best way to harness the energy delivered to Earth from our free and safe distant fusion reactor that has zero maintenance costs. Fossil fuels have their obvious environmental issues, and also allow for the energy system to be controlled by a few rich modern Capitalist Abbotts.

    Artificial photosynthesis is one obvious way forward, and when fully developed will maximize the energy output for every square meter that sunlight strikes, delivering hundreds of times more energy per square meter than any photovoltaic could ever do. Also, everyone can then have cheap, reliable, localized energy. It will do for energy what the printing press did for the written word. Ironically, Abbotts also contolled the early written word as well. Unfortunately, people still confuse AP with photovoltaic solar power, but that will change:

    • michael hart

      “..delivering hundreds of times more energy per square meter than any photovoltaic could ever do.”

      Sorry, no it can’t. Not unless the PV panel is capturing a lot less than 1% or you have found a way to circumvent the first law of thermodynamics, or it is April 1st.

  56. Weather is reality. Climate is hindsight.

    The AGW hypothesis is that government-funded schoolteachers can predict future climate using models based on increases in human-produced CO2. The AGW numerologists’ GCMs are simple toy models of the world that can never be verified and will say anything the fabricator want them to say.

    AGW is more like numerology than science. Underlying the AGW true believers’ faith is their peculiar and unfortunately not unusual understanding of reality that the world to be doomed if we do not listen to them and do what they tell us to do.

  57. I don’t think most people here understand what function an electric interconnection grid has. Consider a situation where you have a peak demand of 100 kw. To provide 24/7/365 power to this load will require three 100kw sources of power. One is supplying the load, one is on standby in case of failure of the on-line unit and one is out of service for maintenance. Without three units you WILL have outages.

    Interconnection grids were developed to reduce this cost. For example, the Texas grid is called “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas “ The name says it all – Reliability. The grid allows you to have a small number of power sources on standby and a small number down for maintenance.

    • Sing a song of SABRE.

    • Sam,

      Perhaps you should meet lolwot and R Gates. One thinks you only occassional need to run a thermal plant to back up wind and the other thinks the transmission grid is a dinosaur on the brink of extinction.

  58. Energy storage is a wonderful idea… If only we could do it….

    Meanwhile, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on windmills that don’t work without storage (and don’t work very well even with it), is sheer madness.
    Why do the greens hurry and push the cart (windmills) before the horse ?
    The climate induced hysteria drives people mad.

  59. Berényi Péter

    Wind power is both expensive and environmentally damaging at industrial scale. It has no future whatsoever, neither with adequate storage, nor without.

    Solar power, on the other hand, looks promising, but not before another technological breakthrough. One should never generate electricity directly in the first place, because that can’t be stored efficiently & cheaply, no matter how smart we get. It is physics that gets into the way.

    On the other hand, with the advent of molecular nanotechnology we may be able to develop micron sized factories with a uniform design, accurate down to the molecular level, capable to convert readily available raw materials to some high energy density, non-flammable, non-toxic chemical using short wave solar photons captured by molecular antennas, with no harmful emissions whatsoever. Like sugar, to be made of atmospheric carbon dioxide & water, releasing molecular oxygen and nothing else.

    The other component needed to make the system complete is an equally micron sized and equally accurate factory acting as a fuel cell, consuming sugar & atmospheric oxygen and producing electricity on demand while releasing carbon dioxide & water to the environment.

    The two kinds of factories are supposed to be interspersed as a thin layer on a surface exposed to solar radiation, with a layer of storage modules below and a fractal-like local grid connected to each fuel cell to collect electricity and transmit it to an output interface.

    That’s it.

    To make it cheap & practical, we need self replicating modules, of course, built of the same raw materials (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen), possibly with the addition of some trace elements. The layer should also be made self cleaning and mechanically stable & durable (with self repairing capacity), so one could put surfaces like rooftops, roads and parking lots to dual use.

    Even in that case one would need the grid to provide sufficient power to downtown, industrial & (sub)polar areas along with backup power provided by umpteenth generation nuclear plants, with built in safety and no long half life isotopes in waste.

    One may also want to have a way to collect sugar directly from the storage layer (by a tube system of fractal geometry), to be used in mobile applications like cars or cellphones.

    That’s a reasonable power system design, sustainable for hundreds of million years. It still needs some R+D to get there, but there is nothing against the laws of physics in this solution, therefore it is entirely feasible in the long run.

  60. Chief Hydrologist

    There are hundreds of years of energy resources in ad hoc storage across the US. Technology to utilize this reserve has been in development for 50 years. The General Atomics project involves stock standard Brayton cycle gas turbines with a travelling wave nuclear fuel cycle and silicon carbide cladding. The incremental developments in other words are in the fuel cycle and materials science.

    ‘Delivering safe, economical and virtually unlimited electrical power for centuries to come – that’s the promise of EM2. Technology leader General Atomics is developing the first compact fast reactor to harness the
    enormous energy potential in depleted fuel: The U.S. stockpile alone holds the energy equivalent of 9 trillion barrels of oil – more than 40 Saudi Arabias.
    That makes EM2 a game-changer.’

    Compact enough to be delivered to site on a truck. Operating at high temperature (850 degrees C) it will be capable of providing process heat for any number of purposes including production of hydrogen.

    Perhaps as important as anything is the solution of the legacy problem of high level nuclear waste. The greatly increased fuel utilization hugely reduces the ultimate volume of waste which remains problematic for hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands of years.

    GA is spending $1.8 billion commercializing a proven concept.

  61. This looks like the energy model for the future, from Jo Nova’s site:

    “The map shows new coal fired plants that are already approved for construction as of Nov 2012. (World Resources Institute Report). (Thanks to TonyfromOz)
    Coal looks set to become the planet’s primary fuel

    Demand for coal is growing and it’s share in world energy production is higher than anytime in the last 40 years:

    Global demand for coal is expected to grow to 8.9 billion tons by 2016 from 7.9 billion tons this year, with the bulk of new demand — about 700 million tons — coming from China, according to a Peabody Energy study. China is expected to add 240 gigawatts, the equivalent of adding about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years. During that period, India will add an additional 70 gigawatts through more than 46 plants.

    “If you poke your head outside of the U.S., coal-fired plants are being built left and right,” said William L. Burns, an energy analyst with Johnson Rice in New Orleans. “Coal is still the cheapest fuel source.”

    In all, coal use is expected to increase 50 percent by 2035, said Milton Catelin, chief executive of the World Coal Association in London.

    “Last year, coal represented 30 percent of world energy, and that’s the highest share it has had since 1969,” he said.

    Within a year or two, coal will surpass oil as the planet’s primary fuel, Mr. Catelin predicted.”

    • And here I was thinking I wouldn’t get to find out where on the denier-to-alarmist continuum reality would lie before I passed on the great beyond.

      • Peter Lang


        I’d suggest it is you that is the denier if you don’t recognise the most authoritative bodies are projecting massive increase in coal consumption world wide and that it will remain perhaps THE major source of energy this century (certainly if the foolish ‘Progrewssive’ continue to block the only viable alternative).

        Are you one of the foolish ‘Progressives’?

        Are you a denier or the bleeding obvious/

      • tc,

        I am having trouble understanding your point. What does the fact of coal usage continuing to increase world wide have to do with some denier to alrmist continuum?

      • Timg56,
        I just a hyperbolic implication that if the world does continue to increase coal use that we might hit high enough CO2 levels that I might get to see how big the climate sensitivity really is before I die.

    • jim,

      this is why I say one doesn’t need to argue physics. Simple arithmatic tells us everything we need to know about CO2 emissions.

  62. Jim2,

    Demand for coal is growing and it’s share in world energy production is higher than anytime in the last 40 years:

    Yes. And that will continue for as long as the ‘Progressives’ continue to block progress, and oppose cost reductions, with the only viable alternative to coal – nuclear power!

  63. Peter Lang

    Yesterday, Australia’s wind farms stopped generating when most needed. this is a common occurrence. Yesterday, the total output of all the wind farms dropped from producing 35% to 5% of their nameplate capacity. By the time demand peaked, wind farm output was just 5% – i.e. next to useless. See the chart here:

    Some times the wind farms produce near no electricity for up to a week at a time. [The wind farms are spread over an area 1200 km by 800 km.]

    • Peter Lang bingo!
      1200km x 800km fer 5% ter 35% output.
      A BC Haku modelling kim (

      I rest me case.
      Them intermittant wind farms
      are a waste of space.

      • Peter Lang


        Here is week of virtually no output (from 14 May 2010):

        Sometimes all the wind turbines combined (over an area 1q200 km east-west by 800 km north-south) were drawing more power from the grid than they were generating. That is, they were generating negative power. That happened on 65 separate 5-minute intervals over that 6-day period.

      • Beth

        We get our coldest winter in the winter when a high pressure system sits over us and we can get many days or weeks of completely still air sometimes accompanied by cloud.

        In these circumstances windmills and solar don’t work when most needed. Solar in particular present huge problems as the light levels are too low in the winter for them to operate effectively, let alone when there is cloud and er…it’s nighttime.

      • Beth

        First winter should be weather.

      • Peter and Tony we shall be dealing with these er … blips …
        in the re -knew -able narrative in the next episode of the
        Serf Under-ground Journal

        Say, who woulda’ thought it’d go into three edishuns? Lol.

      • Beth

        Perhaps instead of ‘renewables’ which sounds friendly green and efficient , we should term then ‘unreliables.’ it has a nice Anachronistic ring to it and more closely links it with the redundant technology of the past, especially windmills, sorry wind farms.

        we are fortunate to have an exclusive historic fragment of text that enables us to carry out a peer reviewed comparison between the past and today:

        It reads as follows;

        ‘Excuse me squire them unreliables don’t seem to be working again.’

        ‘Less of that serf, if they were good enough for king John they are good enough for the likes of you. By the way, where are those glow worms the estate kindly provided to light your hovel?’

        ‘We ate them sir, we were so hungry when the unreliables failed again, which meant we couldn’t grind the corn.’

        Thank goodness we have progressed so far these last 700 years

  64. Tony,
    ‘We ate them., sir, we re so hungry when the, ahemm …
    unreliables failed again, which meant we couldn’t grind
    the corn.’
    Classic line that and yer’ve coined a phrase, ‘the unreliables.’


    “Detailed DescriptionThe nickel-iron battery (NiFe battery) or “edison cell” is a storage battery having a nickel oxide-hydroxide cathode and an iron anode, with an electrolyte of potassium hydroxide (lye can be used as a substitute).

    The active materials are held in nickel-plated steel tubes or perforated pockets.

    It is a very robust battery which is tolerant of abuse, (overcharge, overdischarge, and short-circuiting) and can have very long life even if so treated.

    It is often used in backup situations where it can be continuously charged and can last for more than 20 years.

    Nickel-iron batteries have ~50 year lifetimes, compared to a few-year lifetime of lead acid batteries. They are environmentally more benign, and lend themselves to local recycling and fabrication. They can have higher discharge rates and faster charge times than lead-acid batteries depending on mechanical design of the electrodes etc, so they lend themselves not only to off-grid power, but also to power electronics applications such as welding and heavy workshop power. In China a company by the name of changhong batteries makes a version of them for use in automotive starter batteries. Their energy density is half that of lead-acid batteries, but their long lifetime and deep discharge ability makes them highly relevant to the GVCS, including to electric farming equipment as the next generation of LifeTrac infrastructure.

    The Edison Battery was developed and promoted primarily by Thomas A Edison.”

  66. Peter Lang

    Willis Eschenbach posted a comment on WUWT a few days ago where he estimated the amount of storage required to power a city with 1/10 New York City’s average power demand for 3 days: . He and other readers then provided various ways to envisage that amount of storage.

    I calculated the area required for the top and bottom reservoirs for pumped hydro energy storage if that was the technology used to power NYC for 3 days at average demand. 330 km2 would be required. :

    But 3 days would not go even close to providing reliable dispatchable power supply for NYC if intermittent renewable energy technologies were used to recharge the storage. I’d expect you’d need in the order of 10 to 20 times that amount of storage to provide security of supply over the long term.

    I estimated the capital cost for 3 days of energy storage for NYC at about $200 billion

    • For storage batteries at $500/kWh I get $180 billion which is close to your reservoir cost. Remember these are reusable and may last a decade or two even with current technology, so you can spread the cost over the lifetime. Back-up could be other fuels, stored biomass, etc.

      • Peter Lang

        Jim D,

        The pumped hydro systems last 100 years. So you need to increase your battery cost by a factor of 10 to be equivalent. And multiply that by a factor of 20 to have sufficient storage to allow wind with battery storage to provide a reliable, dispatchable power supply to NYC through all seasons.

        So the cost for the batteries to provide equivalent reliability of supply is $36,000 billion, not $180 billion.

      • Peter Lang

        Correction to my previous comment:

        So the cost for the batteries to provide a reliable power supply for New York City’s 5 GW average power demand would be around $36,000 billion ($180 billion x 10 battery replacements x 60 days / 3 days storage). Add the cost of the wind farms and transmission.

      • Batteries occupy less area and can be spread around more easily than a reservoir, but sure, reservoirs are good too if you have space for one.

      • Peter Lang

        Jim D,

        You mentioned the cost. I responded. Why do you now divert from the cost. The cost is prohibitive. Batteries are orders of magnitude too expensive. They are not viable. If you are seriously interested in advocating for viable solutions you’d stop advocating for batteries.

        Pumped hydro is also not viable. The topographic relief that would be required does not exist.

        If you are now concerned about the area, then nuclear requires far less area. 10,000 tonnes of nuclear fuel would power NYC for 100 years !!


    Tornados are very energetic. But of course, they are far too unpredictable and uncontrollable to actually make use of that energy. Right?

    Peter Thiel, billionaire founder of PayPal and early Facebook funder, says wrong. Thiel’s foundation, through its Breakout Labs fund, awarded US $300 000 to a company called AVEtec, based in Canada, to work on designs and prototypes for an “atmospheric vortex engine.” The AVE involves a circular chamber into which warm air is introduced at tangential angles, creating a rising vortex controlled by colder air above the chamber (mini-prototype pictured). Turbines at the base will spin thanks to the artificial tornado, generating energy. According to AVEtec, a 200-meter wide version of this could generate 200 megawatts of energy at a cost of only $0.03 per kilowatt-hour, below even the cheapest forms of power we have now.

    But back to batteries: Author: Patrick J. Kelly

    “Unfortunately, somebody applied aeronautic calculations to the flight of bumblebees and discovered that according to aeronautics, bumblebees couldn’t possibly fly as their wings could not generate enough lift to get them off the ground. This was a problem, as it was perfectly possible to watch bees flying in a very competent manner. So, the “laws” of aeronautics said that bees can’t fly, but bees actually do fly.
    Does that mean that the laws of aeronautics were no use? Certainly not – those “laws” had been used for years and proved their worth by producing excellent aircraft. What it did show was that the “laws” of aeronautics did not yet cover every case and needed to be extended to cover the way that bees fly, which is through lift generated by turbulent airflow.
    “It is very important to realise that what are described as scientific “laws” are just the best working theories at the present time and it is virtually certain that those “laws” will have to be upgraded and extended as further scientific observations are made and further facts discovered.”

    “I apologise if this presentation seems very elementary, but the intention is to make each description as simple as possible so that everybody can understand it, including people whose native language is not English. If you are not familiar with the basic principles of electronics, then please read the simple step-by-step electronics tutorial in Chapter 12 which is intended to help complete beginners in the subject.
    “At this point in time – the early years of the twenty-first century – we have reached the point where we need to realise that some of the “laws” of science do not cover every case, and while they have been very useful in the past, they do need to be extended to cover some cases which have been left out until now.”

    “…There is actually nothing “empty” about space. So why can’t we see anything there? Well, you can’t actually see energy. All right then, why can’t you measure the energy there? Well, two reasons actually, firstly, we have never managed to design an instrument which can measure this energy, and secondly, the energy is changing direction incredibly rapidly, billions and billions and billions of times each second.
    “There is so much energy there, that particles of matter just pop into existence and then pop back out again. Half of these particles have a positive charge and half of them have a negative charge, and as they are evenly spread out in three-dimensional space, the overall average voltage is zero. So, if the voltage is zero, what use is that as a source of energy? The answer to that is “none” if you leave it in it’s natural state. However, it is possible to change the random nature of this energy and convert it into a source of unlimited, everlasting power which can be used for all of the things we use mains electricity for today – powering motors, lights, heaters, fans, pumps, … you name it, the power is there for the taking.”So, how do you alter the natural state of the energy in our environment? Actually, quite easily. All that is needed is a positive charge and a negative charge, reasonably near each other. A battery will do the trick, as will a generator, as will an aerial and earth, as will an electrostatic device like a Wimshurst machine. When you generate a Plus and a Minus, the quantum foam is affected. Now, instead of entirely random plus and minus charged particles appearing everywhere, the Plus which you created gets surrounded by a sphere of minus charge particles popping into existence all around it. Also, the Minus which you created, gets surrounded by a spherical-shaped cloud of plus-charge particles popping into existence all around it. The technical term for this situation is “broken symmetry” which is just a fancy way of saying that the charge distribution of the quantum foam is no longer evenly distributed or “symmetrical”. In passing, the fancy technical name for your Plus and Minus near each other, is a “dipole” which is just a techno-babble way of saying “two poles: a plus and a minus” – isn’t jargon wonderful?
    “So, just to get it straight in your mind, when you make a battery, the chemical action inside the battery creates a Plus terminal and a Minus terminal. Those poles actually distort the universe around your battery, and causes vast streams of energy to radiate out in every direction from each pole of the battery. Why doesn’t the battery run down? Because the energy is flowing from the environment and not from the battery. If you were taught basic physics or electrical theory, you will probably have been told that the battery used to power any circuit, supplies a stream of electrons which flows around the circuit. Sorry Chief – it just ain’t like that at all. What really happens is that the battery forms a “dipole” which nudges the local environment into an unbalanced state which pours out energy in every direction, and some of that energy from the environment flows around the circuit attached to the battery. The energy does not come from the battery.
    “Well then, why does the battery run down, if no energy is being drawn from it to power the circuit? Ah, that is the really silly thing that we do. We create a closed-loop circuit (because that’s what we have always done) where the current flows around the circuit, reaches the other battery terminal and immediately destroys the battery’s “dipole”. Everything stops dead in it’s tracks. The environment becomes symmetrical again, the massive amount of readily available free-energy just disappears and you are back to where you started from. But, do not despair, our trusty battery immediately creates the Plus and Minus terminals again and the process starts all over again. This happens so rapidly that we don’t see the breaks in the operation of the circuit and it is the continual recreation of the dipole which causes the battery to run down and lose it’s power. Let me say it again, the battery does not supply the current that powers the circuit, it never has and it never will – the current flows into the circuit from the surrounding environment.
    “What we really need, is a method of pulling off the power flowing in from the environment, without continually destroying the dipole which pushes the environment into supplying the power. That is the tricky bit, but it has been done. If you can do that, then you tap into an unlimited stream of inexhaustible energy, with no need to provide any input energy to keep the flow of energy going. In passing, if you want to check out the details of all of this, Lee and Yang were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957 for this theory which was proved by experiment in that same year. This eBook includes circuits and devices which manage to tap this energy successfully.” :

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