Week in review – energy, water and food edition

by Judith Curry

A few things that caught my eye this past week.


MIT Scientists Have Invented a #Solar Cell as Light as a Soap Bubble [link]

New study finds fully automating self-driving cars could actually be worse for carbon emissions  [link]

How the US just undermined India’s local solar energy program [link]

The California natural gas leak was equivalent to the emissions of over half a million cars [link]

The case for South Australia taking nuclear waste [link] …

First Tesla Powerwall systems installed in Germany [link]

“Cleaning up China’s Ports: Shenzhen Explores Fuel Switching and Onshore Power” [link]

Creating Fuel from Seawater  [link]

Fungi from goats’ guts could lead to better biofuels  [link]…

Cleaner, safer nuclear power in the race to replace fossil fuels [link]

Microgrids protect small towns from power outages, high energy costs [link]

Bill Gates is optimistic about our energy future, so long as we wisely invest more in R&D. [link] …

Africa is dark because it is poor – annual Gates letter zooms in on energy poverty:  [link] …

A small island in the Indian Ocean offers big lessons on clean power  [link]

Analysis of enabling renewable energy innovation via market alternatives rather than net metering regulation.  Technological advances spur need for deregulated electricity market  [link]

Opening our federal lands to #energy production would generate $3.9 trillion in tax revenue over the next 37 years [link]

The best energy-debate I’ve seen in a long time by protagonists @ShellenbergerMD @KenCaldeira [link]

Clean Power Plan: Congress backs court challenge to Obama’s climate plan [link]


World’s large river deltas continue to degrade from human activity [link]

New York City’s nuclear power plant leaking radioactive flow’ into Hudson River [link]

India’s govt wants to make hydro even MORE easy to build: [link]

A lot of great ideas on how to get plastics out of the #ocean, but what will it really take?  [link]


Excellent article on salmon recovery [link]

Food Security: Improving Soil Health in Africa  [link]

What boosts uptake of clean #cookstoves? Review of behaviour change approaches & techniques [link]

Looming Ethiopia famine highlights vulnerability to climate change [link]

93 responses to “Week in review – energy, water and food edition

  1. Humanity has not realized the PROMISE in the past paragraph of Aston’s Nobel Lecture on 12 December 1922 out of fear of the WARNING Aston added immediately after the promise.

    • The last paragraph of Aston’s Nobel Lecture:

      “Should the research worker of the future discover some means of releasing this energy in a form which could be employed, the human race will have at its command powers beyond the dreams of scientific fiction; but
      the remote possibility must always be considered that the energy once liberated will be completely uncontrollable and by its intense violence detonate all neighbouring substances. In this event the whole of the hydrogen on the earth might be transformed at once and the success of the experiment published at large to the universe as a new star”

      • Didn’t Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller have a discussion just before the Trinity test on the likelihood of the atmosphere combusting?

  2. As always, energy breakthrough hype. This time the MIT superthin superlight solar cell. Read the link and think. Amazing power at 6w/gram! Amazing thinness and lightness at 3.6 grams/m2!
    Well, that is a total of (6/3.6) ~1.7w/m2. Utterly useless because hopelessly ineffcient. Garden variety inexpensive polysilicon is about 150w/meter squared, nearly a hundredfold better. Polysci panels run 14-16% conversion efficiency depending on details like cost. So to a first order approximation, what the PR DID NOT say that this MIT breakthrough is also an amazingly useless ~0.15% efficient. Konarko went belly up after spending $120 million to develop low cost flexible solar cells with 6% efficiency.

  3. And we hvw another grossly misleading hyperventillating piece of green anti-nuclear nomsense in the Ecoswarm link concerning a radioactive leak at NYC nuclear station Indian River. Greenies demanding plant be closed, hundreds of thousands threatened, etc. What really happened is covered elsewhere. A sump pump failed, and in consequence some radioactive water which should have been pumped into a filtration unit overflowed into a drain and reached the water table. There never was a leak, let alone an ongoing leak as Ecoswarm implies.Total release was far below maximum federal permissable levels. By time this minor spill reaches the Hudson, there will be no detectible radiactivity owing to dilution. Incident was immediately reported to NRC. A molehill spun by pure misrepresentation into an alarming antinuclear mountain.

    • David L. Hagen

      Ristvan Agree on deception.
      However, caution on “no detectible radioactivity” in light of the amazing developments in mass spectrometry. Thermo Scientific’s “Jet Interface” XR extended resolution ICP-MS is now able to detect at least 1 atto gram (10^-18 g)!
      Zheng, J., 2015. Evaluation of a new sector-field ICP-MS with Jet Interface for ultra-trace determination of Pu isotopes: from femtogram to attogram levels. Journal of Nuclear and Radiochemical Sciences, 15(1), pp.7-13.

      • David, I ammon awe of your analytic knowledge. In this particular case, the main offender was tritium from neutron irradiated water, not Pu. No fuel cladding breaches involved. Was quoting press report of NRC reaction.

      • David,

        I don’t know if you saw this article on oil in the Telegraph.

        You guys precting peak oil and problems with oil supply in the near future might have the last laugh after all.

        The article says US shale oil production will continue to rock, but production from the rest of the world will fall rapidly, setting up a supply crunch by the end of the decade.

        Personally, I don’t get into making predictions about oil price or when peak oil will occur. I believe it’s pretty much a fool’s errand, as there are way too many unknowns in a highly complex system to do so.

        And I take anything that the IEA and EIA say with a large grain of salt. Having followed their track record for the past few decades, their predictions are no better than the peak oilers. But they are paid to make predictions, so are obligated to do so, regardless of how bad they have been at it.

        The current crash in oil prices is sowing the seeds of a powerful rebound and a potential supply crunch by the end of the decade, but the prize may go to the US shale industry rather Opec, the world’s energy watchdog has predicted.

        America’s shale oil producers and Canada’s oil sands will come roaring back from late 2017 onwards once the current brutal purge is over, a cycle it described as the “rise, fall and rise again” of the fracking industry.

        “Anybody who believes the US revolution has stalled should think again. We have been very surprised at how resilient it is,” said Neil Atkinson, head of oil markets at the International Energy Agency….

        Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said this alone will not be enough to avert the risk of a strategic oil crisis later in the decade, given the exhaustion of existing wells and the dangerously low levels of spare capacity in the world.

        “Even if there were zero growth in demand, we would have to produce 3m b/d just to stand still,” he said, speaking at the IHS CERAWeek summit of energy leaders in Texas.

        Mr Birol said investment in oil exploration and production across the world has been cut to the bone, falling 24pc last year and an estimated 17pc this year. This is a drop from $520bn to $320bn a year, far below the minimum levels needed to keep up with future demand.


      • GS, peak oil production (even only for the US) is a subject you need to dig much more deeply into. TRR, that sort of thing. One factual conundrum suffices.
        The worlds largest and most prolific conventional oil field (definition API > 10, reservoir porosity > 6%, permeability > 10 darcies) is Ghawar in Saudi Arabia. After reworking the southern most Harradh section for secondary water flood (7million barrels of seawater/day), the remaining TRR in 2010 was 65Bbbl.
        The entire tight (shale) oil TRRmof all five US formations is 15-18Bbbl after revising the Monterey for the inconvenient fact that none is ‘horizontal’. Geophysical details in essay Reserve Reservations. Facts.

      • ristvan said:

        The entire tight (shale) oil TRRmof all five US formations is 15-18Bbbl after revising the Monterey….

        Was 15-18 billion barrels in the EIA’s AEO2012.

        Of course that’s ancient hisory now, and the EIA certainly isn’t singing that tune any more.

        With the benefit of hindsight, one can only look back with amusement and wonderment on the EIA’s estimates for TRR from shale oil back in 2012. They weren’t even in the ballpark.

        TRR from the Bakken and Eagle Ford is now estimated by industry sources to be at least twice what the 2012 estimate was, and from the Avalon/Bone Springs and Spraberry (Delaware and Midland Basins) perhaps 50 times the 2012 estimate.

        That’s why the EIA and IEA, and peak oilers’, predictions have proven to be all but worthless in the past.


      • Here’s the tune the EIA is singing in its AEO2015, which serves as a warning as to how difficult it is to predict things like oil production, TRR and oil price.

        It goes to show just how drastically things can change in just three short years in the oil and gas industry. And this is just the United States. Imagine how complex it gets when one expands the area of interest to the entire world!

        Of course the peak oilers, being the true believers they are, will ignore all of this complexity and cling to their belief that they’ve got it all figured out.

        Having been burned so many times in the past with its wrong predictions, the EIA in AEO2015 abandoned the practice of making specific predictions, and now only speaks in terms of “cases,” similar to the scenario methodology that military analysts use:

        The path of projected crude oil production varies significantly across the cases, with total U.S. crude oil production reaching high points of 10.6 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in the Reference case (in 2020), 13.0 million bbl/d in the High Oil Price case (in 2026), 16.6 million bbl/d in the High Oil and Gas Resource case (in 2039), and 10.0 million bbl/d in the Low Oil Price case (in 2020).

        In the High Oil and Gas Resource case, tight oil production grows in response to assumed higher estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) and technology improvements, closer well spacing, and development of new tight oil formations or additional layers within known tight oil formations. Total crude oil production reaches 16.6 million bbl/d in 2037 in the High Oil and Gas Resource case.

        In the High Oil Price case, higher oil prices improve the economics of production from new wells in tight formations as well as from other domestic production sources, leading to a more rapid increase in production volumes than in the Reference case.



      • GS, cite your recent sources. Unfortunately for you, the graph you cite is the faulty estimate including Monterey I already eebunked and EIS sunsequently disavowed. Wrong!

      • ristvan,

        I realize that you have imbibed of the peak oil Kool Aid, which has greatly diminished your judgment and cognitve abilities.

        In addition, you exhibit the same arrogance and high handedness of the peak oil faithful when you demand, “cite your recent sources.”

        This, I must say, is a rather strange demand coming from someone like yourself, who never seems to find it necessary to cite his own sources.

        Nevertheless, the first graph I cited is from the EIA’s AEO2012.

        Here’s the link where it can be found:


        The second graph is from the EIA’s AEO2015, with a link immediately above the graph above.

        The graph below is from a Forbes article.


        It shows how drastically the production situation from the three main oil shale plays has changed since the time when AEO2012 was written.


      • As to more recent sources for TRR from the main shale oil plays, the following is from “Midland Basin’s Spraberry/Wolfcamp: Most Active Play in the World and Accelerating Growth.”

        It was a presentation made at the Hart Energy 2014 DUG Permian Basin Conference.

        Unfortunatley it is proprietary information, so I cannot furnish a link.

        Just eyeballing it, it gives the following estimated TRRs:

        • Bakken Shale: 10 billion barrels
        • Eagle Ford Shale: 30 billion barrels
        • Spraberry/Wolfcamp Shale: 75 billion barrels
        • Avalon/Bone Springs Shale: not shown

        The well performance in the Avalon/Bone Springs Shale has been on par with that of the Spraberry/Wolfcamp, and having a massive shale column and covering an enormous geographical area like the Spraberry/Wolfcamp, could very well approach the TRR of the Spraberry/Wolfcamp Shale.


  4. How the US just undermined India’s local solar energy program [link]

    This from the government that subsidized Solyndra.

  5. RE: “The best energy-debate I’ve seen in a long time by protagonists @ShellenbergerMD @KenCaldeira”

    I’m not so sure about how enlightening the debate is.

    What it boils down to is a sectarian debate between four schisms of an overarching secular stealth religion; the religion of CAGW.

    What we see is the same sort of hegemony over the national discourse that Lawrence Goodwyn says the finance sector achieved following the election of 1896. William Jennings Bryan was such an intellectual lightweight, such a simpleton that he went to his grave unaware of how he had been played by the bankers and what he had given away:

    But the power of the hegemony achieved in 1896 was perhaps most clearly illustrated through the banishment of the one clear issue that animated Populism throughout its history — the greenback critique of American finance capitalism. The “money question” passed out of American politics essentially through self-censorship….

    [T]he idea of substantial democratic influence over the structure of the nation’s financial system, a principle that had been the operative political objective of the greenbackers, quietly passed out of American political dialogue. It has remained there ever since….

    When the long Republican reign came to an end in 1932, the alternatives envisioned by the Democrats of the New Deal unconsciously reflected the shrunken vistas that remained culturally permissible. Aspirations for financial reform on a scale imagined by greenbackers had expired, even among those who thought of themselves as reformers.

    The ultimate cutural victory being not merely to win an argument but to remove the subject from the agenda of future contention, the consolidation of values that so successfully submerged the “financial question” beyond the purview of succeeding generations was self-sustaining and largely invisible.

    — LAWRENCE GOODWYN, The Populist Moment

  6. Goat gut biofuels. Undoubtedly this will be a fruitful exploration with a lot of microbiological potential. Cellulosic ethanol has so far been a flop. Cellulosic ethanol extends/complements gasoline, it doesn’t help with diesel and jet fuels. And there simply isn’t enough ‘scrap’ biomass to make a big dent globally. For example, Abengoa’s now bankrupt (part of the recent Abengoa Biofuels bankruptcy filing), heavily subsidized Abengoa Cellulosic ethanol $250 million plant used corn stover as feedstock. That stover is better plowed in to enrich soil organic content and moisture retention capability. Abengoa simply hastens soil degradation. Bush’s ‘switchgrass’ policy was largely a chimera converting rangeland to biofuel cropland without asking what the displaced cattle were going to eat.
    Biofuels on the margin, sure. Maybe the goat gut microbiaal flora make a contribution. But whole thing is on the margin of petroleum consumption, not at its core volumes.

  7. RE: Cleaner, safer nuclear power in the race to replace fossil fuels.
    It’s good to see molten salt reactors getting some real love.

    • Molten salts are not the only 4G possibilities. Essay Going Nuclear has some others. But they are attractive if issues like nucleotide ‘poisoning’ and corrosion can be solved. Those are engineering, not scientific, issues. Highly recommendnthe MIT spinout Transatomic Power white paper on unresolved engineering details, and their proposed but not yet proven solutions.

    • China is deploying a HTG-PM reactor (bocce balls in helium) that is passive safe and if the coolant leaks it rises to the top of the atmosphere.

      Priced at $1.5 /W nameplate (just like wind) it generates real power for the nameplate price of renewable (virtual) energy.

      • Can’t trust their food, but you can trust this?

      • Can’t trust their food

        If you are eating the bocce balls from a Chinese reactor you should seek professional help of several kinds.

        The “oh-noes nukes is terrible” whining just gets irritating after a while.

        If it is passive safe, complaining about the workmanship is just whining.

        If an HTG reactor fails you take out the balls and give them to friends you don’t like, to play bocce. When the reactor is fixed you trace down the balls by the radioactivity and take them back and put them in the reactor.

        It isn’t science, it is engineering.

      • The point is the Chinese are known for cutting corners ( gutter grease for cooking, 40-year old refrozen meat, adulterated milk, etc). The temptation to cut corners on nuclear will be there.

    • If some of the small scale fusion projects continue their development at their present rate, Thorium may be redundant by the time it is commercially viable.

  8. There are more than 40,000 dams 20 feet or higher on the Mississippi River system. My God.

    Some land in the Yellow River Delta is sinking 10 inches per year.

    There are defintely threats to the global coastal areas. We might want to look at other human activities beyond CO2.

    • Curious George

      Let’s forbid all human activities.

    • The Miss basin includes most of the contiguous USA. Many of those dams are for small recreation lakes, plus there are many for water supply or flood control, plus some for navigation or hydropower. These are all beneficial uses.

      Of course the delta would prefer a lot of floods but one cannot have it both ways. Think of it as using the water 40,000 ways, or not. Which is the better policy? I vote for the dams. In fact we could use more, especially for flood control (even without those mythical CAGW floods).

  9. After spending more than a decade plus millions of dollars developing multiple better cookstoves for people living on <$2/day, researchers who provided these stoves come back a year later to find the indigenous people are out back cooking using their open cooking pits fired with dry dung. Or still women carrying their infants on their backs in the hut with its acrid smoke. The whiz-bang cookstove is used rarely and almost brand new.

    Recently, one of the English charities actually went back to see how people were doing with their new cookstoves.

    How's that NGOs?

    Someone in the NGO forgot to ask the people for whom the cookstove was developed, what they wanted.

    When you ask such a question, indigenous people say they want electricity; i.e., the kind that will charge the cellphone, power the water pump, run a refrigerator, and, by the way, an electric hotplate to cook the lentils and a tea pot to boil water. No use asking people to boil their contaminated water when the choice is between using biofuel for hot water or biofuel for cooking the beans.

    It is really amazing the responses one gets when asking people what they want when you and your agency don't have an agenda.

    The Green Agenda is an unpleasant thing to behold outside of Paris and places like that.

  10. David L. Hagen

    Need fuel at $20/bbl
    The “92% efficiency” is careless / misleading referring ONLY to the stoichiometric removal of CO2 from sea water, NOT energy efficiency.

    An innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2.

    The real problem is:

    initial studies predict that jet fuel from seawater would cost in the range of $3 to $6 per gallon to produce.

    – See Fueling the Fleet, Navy Looks to the Seas
    Yes it is possible, but NO that is NOT cost effective.
    We need technology cheap enough to sell fuel to the Saudis – and provide inexpensive sustainable fuel sufficient for 3 billion in dire poverty to rise up and support their families.
    i.e. at ~$20/bbl or $0.50/gallon to produce!
    See Gail Tverberg

    2. The only theoretical solution would be to create a huge supply of renewable energy that would work in today’s devices. It would need to be cheap to produce and be available in the immediate future. Electricity would need to be produced for no more than four cents per kWh, and liquid fuels would need to be produced for less than $20 per barrel of oil equivalent. The low cost would need to be the result of very sparing use of resources, rather than the result of government subsidies.

    • I would imagine $3-$6 is actually very economical for a floating airport that’s 3,000 miles from a gas station. Or a road that a tanker truck can use.
      And aren’t you a peak oiler? Since when do you guys think $3/gallon fuel is unrealistic on the high side?

      • David L. Hagen

        jeffnsails850 Is your argument so logically/scientifically weak that you descend to denigration? Do you reject the well established petroleum production facts that oil wells produce and then decline? Study Jean Laherrere’s evidence.
        If you are among the 3 billion in poverty with an average daily income of less than $2.50/day, how much fuel will you buy at $6/gallon? They already spend > 60% of income just for basic calories!
        Why are we forcing taxpayers to pay $6/gallon to protect Saudi Arabia enforce and propogate Wahhabist Jihadism?
        I reaffirm:

        We need technology cheap enough to sell fuel to the Saudis – and provide inexpensive sustainable fuel sufficient for 3 billion in dire poverty to rise up and support their families.
        i.e. at ~$20/bbl or $0.50/gallon to produce!

  11. David L. Hagen

    The Physics of Energy and the Economy by Gail Tverberg

    The Seneca Cliff pattern is so-named because long ago, Lucius Seneca wrote:
    “It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.

    The Standard Wrong Belief about the Physics of Energy and the Economy
    There is a standard wrong belief about the physics of energy and the economy; it is the belief we can somehow train the economy to get along without much energy.

    In this wrong view, the only physics that is truly relevant is the thermodynamics of oil fields and other types of energy deposits. All of these fields deplete if exploited over time. Furthermore, we know that there are a finite number of these fields. Thus, based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the amount of free energy we will have available in the future will tend to be less than today. This tendency will especially be true after the date when “peak oil” production is reached.

    According to this wrong view of energy and the economy, all we need to do is design an economy that uses less energy. We can supposedly do this by increasing efficiency, and by changing the nature of the economy to use a greater proportion of services. If we also add renewables (even if they are expensive) the economy should be able to get along fine with very much less energy.

    Instead we need abundant cheap energy.

    • Starving the economy of energy is like starving people of food and about as wise.

    • David L. Hagen,

      You quote Gail Tverberg as saying:

      According to this wrong view of energy and the economy, all we need to do is design an economy that uses less energy. We can supposedly do this by increasing efficiency, and by changing the nature of the economy to use a greater proportion of services. If we also add renewables (even if they are expensive) the economy should be able to get along fine with very much less energy.

      You might want to give a listen to

      The best energy-debate I’ve seen in a long time by protagonists @ShellenbergerMD @KenCaldeira [link]

      Two of the panelists, Mark Jacobson (left) and Dale Bryk (center-left) proselytize what Tverberg calls the “wrong view of energy and the economy.”

      Personally, I believe it would be possible to “train” some type of economy to “get along without much energy.” But it wouldn’t be a capitalist economy, based on a utility or price theory of value. It would be an economy based on a normative theory of value.

      But switching to an economy based on a normative theory of value raises the question: “Whose norms? Whose values?” The norms of the dictatorship of the scientist kings?

  12. Bill Gates believes in miracles and so do I.

    For his miracle, someone some time will invent a cheap fuel to power the people who currently in darkness. Alas, until that time,>billion people will continue to live in darkness and with disease; a life brief, and brutal.

    My miracle is the decline and fall of the Green Agenda, an agenda that prohibits fossil fuel from generating electricity for the people in the here-and-now.

    • RiH, Gates’ dream will truly take a sainthood worthy miracle. Cause all of known chemistry and physics says cannot happen, and still be cheap. Technically, there are some ways today. None even close to fossil fuels in cost. Nor simple enough to be widely deployed in most of Africa and southeast Asia. Nor without food impact on billions already calory deficient. Abengoa Biofuels just filed for $10 billion bankruptcy in the US. Not Africa.

      As for disrupting the warmunist ‘religion’, no miracle is required at all (although one woild never hurt). Mother Nature is on our side, although with respect to messaging (sound bites) and politics (voting) we can sure help her along.

    • Bill Gates talked to Fareed Zakaria today about their large capital venture scheme aimed at reducing emissions. Main areas were storage methods for wind and solar energy, liquid gasoline produced from solar energy, and new 4th generation nuclear. Several billionaires are in on this including Branson. He says they know there will be both winners and losers, but they have the money to spare for this.

      • Jim D, glad private money is pouring into 4G nuclear. Needed, as our government (our=US) has been remiss. Liquid gasoline from solar is a nonstarted on energy density grounds. Essays Salvation by Swamp and Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels provide a foundation. Gate’s statement just proves that hope springs eternal. On grid scale storage, contributed a guest post here last year that covers the present waterfront.
        Personally doubt that billionaire dollars will ever create the storage miracle that billions of past government dollars hasn’t. Reasons lie in the inherent nature of electricity (Maxwell’s oh so subtle equations), faradic storage electrochemistry, and nonfaradic electricity storage mechanisms like capacitance and inertia. After hundreds of years (dating to Alessandro Volta’s chemical pile, the Layden jar, and the flywheel), this is mature science if not yet technology.

      • That’s the kind of no-can-do attitude that people thankfully ignored to get us to the Moon.

      • People that got us to the moon were practical engineers who calculated stuff (then by hand with slipsticks) like lift to weight payload. Now, they took advantage of preexisting sciency mostly only stuff like semiconductors and rudimentary computers. Engineered the useful heck out them. But Nasa invent new basic science stuff, not very much. My father was program director of Atlas under LeMay. I lived that stuff (non secret only) for two decades, and stood with him the night we landed on the moon using technology he had helped develop as ICBMs.

      • Then you will understand that they don’t offer this money because it is easy, but because it is hard, and the rest of that JFK sentence works too “…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”

      • Curious George

        Maybe they offer this money because they want to look good. Is it all a charitable deduction?

      • Sure, if saving the earth makes them look good, I’m sure they’ll take the compliment. They take this stuff seriously, and put their money where their mouth is. It is out of concern rather than “looking good”.

      • Jim D, I often wonder why many who post here are so negative. This can’t be done, that can’t be done, no it’s impractical, no it costs too much, etc. I suspect the hesitancy stems mostly from a fear of anything new and a desire to protect the status quo, both suggesting an underlying insecurity. But I could be wrong.

      • Max10K,
        Perhaps that negativeness you perceive is merely practical people knowing the demanded path is not the correct path. When the group I worked with was called into solve a business problem, invariably the problem was defined in terms of an expected solution. We were forced to reverse engineer the solution presented to discover the actual problem and need. That is a common problem throughout engineering: Problems presented in the form of solutions. Most often the solutions were theoretically doable but far from optimal financially and operationally. We typically provided a product at much lower than expected price and with greater functionality. (word of warning – solving a 10 million dollar problem with a 10 thousand dollar system is interpreted afterwards as solving a 10 thousand dollar problem.)

        We can see that in the case of Climate Change. The issue of concern is general and regional changes to climate. Examples are available of changes to climate metrics in various regions of the globe. Some are obviously human base as in the case of land use changes. Some obviously be natural. Some is theorized to be caused by an increase in atmospheric CO2 from humans burning fuels consisting of or containing carbon.

        The solution that is presented is to force humanity to drastically decrease the use of fuels containing carbon. Reverse engineering this solution, we can see that the expectation is some regions of the world will experience some negative consequence from climate change. Unfortunately, this solution is a one factor solution. It is specifically designed to reduce the possibility of warming on a global scale. It does not deal with real current regional problems and does not provide resources to deal with future events beyond theoretically reducing a small scale warming.

        The correct solution would be to examine individual regions for possibilities to improve their hardiness for handling problems. After all, over half the land area of the planet will see an improvement in climate conditions from warming. Most of this, of course, should be handled a regional level. The key leverage in this is establishing inexpensive mass energy availability in poorer regions – yes, read that as fossil fuels for the present. That provides a greater bang for your buck than CO2 reduction schemes.

        So, not so negative. Great things are possible but not without changing the present path.

      • Gary, thank you for your reply. We see things differently.

        You see forcing people to reduce fossil fuel usage. I see encouraging people to reduce fossil fuel usage by using it more efficiently and relying more on alternative sources.

        You see climate change as a regional problem. I see it as a global problem. Regions aren’t independent of each other when it comes too climate change.

        You see climate change improving the climates of one-half the world. I see that as a willingness to gamble dangerously on the basis of unfounded speculation.

        You are an engineer. Society is indebted to engineers. I don’t know where we would be today if not for all the work engineers have done to improve the quality of life. Please don’t be offended if I believe engineers are better at dealing with the “here and now” than addressing the future.

      • Gates is looking for government matching funds so take what he says with a grain of salt. I.E. Anyone who wants to feed at the government trough has to include the politically acceptable phrases in every statement.

        You don’t get to be president of the United States without paying homage to Iowa…and you don’t get to feed at the government trough without extolling the virtues of energy from Iowa corn.

    • David L. Hagen

      Separate issue. Gates has already invested $1 billion into two nuclear power programs with reasonable potential on sound engineering/physics bases. He plans to invest another $1 billion. That is separate from believing in a “miracle”. (For a real miracle see Jesus raising Lazarus.)

      • David L. Hagen

        “Separate issue. Gates has already invested $1 billion into two nuclear power programs with reasonable potential on sound engineering/physics bases. He plans to invest another $1 billion.”

        Maybe, since he has already researched and invested his own dollars, he realizes that it will take a miracle for cheap power in the future.

        In the mean time, the current 2 billion who live in darkness and disease would appreciate more coal powered electricity now and less “hopes for the future” of miracle break-throughs in the discussion.

      • David L. Hagen

        RiH008 Strongly agree on the importance of using available the highly economic coal fired power now to raise development. Bjorn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus agree. See Alex Epstein, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
        Obama/UNFCCC’s “green” policies are immoral by seriously harming the poor now.

      • More developing countries want to do like China, burn a lot of coal, cause widespread respiratory misery, and then try to correct the problem (NOT).

    • David L. Hagen

      ristvan – “Without a vision the people perish”. If you believe it can’t happen, you are right. Several non-pressurized nuclear fission, solar thermal, and LENR (Bright Energy, E-Cat), possibly one or two fusion tech. each have potential. I don’t believe you have yet exhausted all chemistry, physics, & engineering options, just conventional “knowledge”.

      • DH, I dunno. But I do know based on decades of betting millions (of other peoples money) that one does have to parse the odds.

  13. Looming Ethiopia famine highlights vulnerability to climate change [quotes]
    “Food aid will run out for over 10 million Ethiopians by May, according to aid agencies, which fear a repeat of the horrendous famines of the 1970s and 80s….
    Chronic drought has sapped vast tracts of the north, central and eastern highlands, hitting crops and livestock as rain patterns have shifted.”

    The 1970s and 80s, and the recent apparently 60 year extreme drought starting in 2011, were La Nina driven, as with the Sahel. A smaller part of the country in the northeast has the inverse rainfall signal and has El Nino driven drought.
    Rainfall deficits in the Spring of 2015 in Ethiopia, and also the Sahel, were dominated by a strongly positive North Atlantic Oscillation, while both regions had a normal late summer rainy season, during strong El Nino conditions.
    Meanwhile Ethiopia has published their El Niño floods contingency plan which plans for some 100,000 people to be affected. These conflicting reports are causing local distrust of International weather and climate agencies.

  14. “A small island in the Indian Ocean offers big lessons on clean power.”
    While I am hopeful of the future of renewables, this article was depressing. The only success anecdote was of a woman weaving until midnight using a single incandescent bulb. Incandescent? You’d think the million dollar donors would have at least thrown in a CFL or some other energy-efficient bulb. Her electricity was from a small hydropower unit. How exactly does an ancient technology teach us big new lessons about anything?
    While they “remain hopeful” of transforming 100% of the island to renewables by 2025, nowhere in the article is there any evidence that this is going to occur. Seemingly, the only working system is that small hydropower unit, that outsiders need to maintain. It provides electricity (one bulb?) for 300 homes. There are 650,000 residents of the island. The micro-wind project is broken and locals can’t fix it. PV? No details . Biogas is mentioned as a resource, but no details are mentioned.
    While poverty and the cost of a transmission grid to the small, isolated villages restrict a normal power grid, I fail to see that their Iconic Island Project using renewables is anything but an Iconic Failure of Wishful Thinking and unfulfilled governmental promises. Maybe that is the Big Lesson? I hope not.

    • Is hope you will give a source wishful thinking?

      • Hi Max,
        I’d like to try to answer, but can’t figure out your question. Could you rephrase it? Thanks.

      • Does the island have a name? What’s the source of your information about the island?

      • Um, I dare say it’s a reference to Sumba, which is the only island talked about in Judith’s link above: “A small island in the Indian Ocean offers big lessons on clean power.”.

        Are you okay, citizen?

      • Oh no, that’s embarrassing. I didn’t read the article. Now I have. Hasn’t anyone told those islanders that renewables don’t work?

      • Having lived with the solar panels and the single light at night, I can vouch for the fact that those renewables worked…until I had to renew the panels and batteries.

        Then I got on the grid, powered by the best Permian Black from the inexhaustible Sydney-Gunnedah Basin. What splendor.

        Glad you are now okay, citizen. For a while there I thought you were tending to “blab incessantly about whatever comes to mind”. (Mind you, you’re free to do that.)

      • I didn’t read the article

        All we need to know about max.

  15. David L. Hagen

    Water: Cooperation or war?
    Can Egypt and Ethiopia share the Nile River?

    In 1929, the British government, representing Egypt, signed an agreement with the independent government of Ethiopia guaranteeing an annual flow of 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water to Egypt . . .
    Ethiopians recently woke up to the fact that vast quantities of water leave their land without benefit to themselves. Accordingly, they initiated a network of dams, culminating with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

    As presently planned, the lake behind this dam would hold 74.5 bcm, plus 5 bcm would be lost through seepage and 5 bcm lost to evaporation. Four auxiliary upstream dams to reduce silting will retain another 200 bcm. Noting that 86 percent of Egypt’s water originates in Ethiopia, Egyptian specialists not unreasonably conclude that the allotted 55.5 bcm would not be forthcoming. Nader Noureddin, a professor of soil and water sciences at Cairo University, sees the dams placing “the lives of 90 million Egyptians at risk.”

  16. On the case for South Australia storing nuclear waste for 100 years, how about packing it up and shooting it off to the sun?

    • “On the case for South Australia storing nuclear waste for 100 years, how about packing it up and shooting it off to the sun?”

      No way…


      • Your link says, “According to Wikipedia, there are 63 operating reactors in the US, so it would cost about $1.6 billion/year to dispose of the nuclear waste generated.”

        How does that compare to –e.g., the article about storing nuclear waste in South Australia? To wit: “How about $5 billion a year over 30 years and $2 billion a year for the following 40 years? They are the figures mentioned in the “tentative findings” issued this week by South Australia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission headed by former governor Kevin Scarce.”

  17. While I love the idea of a young Bill Gates – hungry, horny, angry – beavering away in a garage or basement on new energy sources, it’s hard to cop the Dear Leader schtick of an old Bill Gates.

    I’m sure more good than harm will finally come out of his Foundation. I’m not just talking about the billions it tips into MacDonald’s, Coke and Big Oil. Or the clever way humanitarian money can be made to come back through investments in Gates or Buffett-related ventures. Good luck to them for using the tax laws and system to get richer while doing some good here and there.

    But whenever I hear about “access” for the poor, I am so tempted to ask why Bill doesn’t encourage loading up the world’s ageing computers with light and free Linux systems. (I’m in the pay of Big Linux, and am earning another hefty NIL for this sly promo of an OS which costs me a hefty NIL.)

    Also, a pipeline gives better “access” to oil than a railroad. Yet I suspect Warren wouldn’t approve of that kind of access, being so devoted to railroads ‘n all.

    I still admire Gates and Buffett. It’s just that, despite cheesy annual letters from Dear Leader and Madam Dear Leader, these people are what they were, and need to be watched.

    Bill’s hysterical blather – tempered with sunny optimism like an old Windows welcome screen – about climate and population cannot help a soul. We can get all that self-loathing and pseudo-science from a Leo DiCaprio acceptance speech.

    Be the hard man again, Bill. Make something new just because it works and because everyone will want it. You know the drill by now, surely.

  18. From this link:

    “Cleaner, safer nuclear power in the race to replace fossil fuels [link]”

    “And regarding fusion, the long-promised solution to the world’s energy demands, Holt says it’s been promised for decades but there’s no sign of a breakthrough yet.”

    Au contraire:


    from 2012. They are now at the stage of testing with Boron and Hydrogen (aneutronic) with Beryllium electrodes.


    These guys are a year or two off starting design for a commercial reactor. If they were properly funded it could probably be done faster. Anyone interested to know more I highly recommend this presentation in 2014 from Eric Lerner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3uJNi1QVJU

    That’s just this one project I happen to think is quite close. The Polywell design is supposed to be in a fairly mature stage of development but it’s development is secret so we don’t know for sure. What’s absurd is the lack of funding small scale fusion projects get, yet the pay off is so large….

  19. Yet another study which totally fails to capture the key point of automation+car sharing: that the actual distances traveled in this scenario are 50% to 100% greater than with individually owned and operated cars.
    An automated car which is used by one family or individual has many of the benefits cited in the study; an automated car used by many individuals does not.
    Equally, the notion of congestion reduction, etc all is predicated on maximum penetration of automation. The cars on the road today are already over 11 years of age in the US; the notion that adding $50K to $100K of electronics and sensing equipment to $20K to $50K+ vehicles will somehow transform on the road car populations to a significant degree is, frankly, insultingly stupid.
    If the 80 year old grannies driving 20 mph can already slow traffic handled by adaptable human drivers, I can only imagine what that same granny without an automated car will do to a train of automated pod cars.
    Lastly, the notion of traffic flow is equally suspect. The advent of car sharing in San Francisco has resulted in epic bad traffic where ride share drivers make all manner of stops for pickup/dropoff/waiting for passenger to get a thumb out, illegal and legal turns, and poor navigation choices.

    • http://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/china-nuclear-power.aspx

      The HTR-200 (the 200 MW version of their high temperature gas reactor) is slated to cost $1500 per kW. That is real power for the name plate price of fake power (renewable).

      New York is getting 26% production from their wind turbines. An HTR-200 capacity factor is virtually 100%.

      As a side note: virtually everything in your home consumes power not energy. A 1200 W microwave takes 1400 W (12 Amps @ 120 V). To heat a meal for 3 minutes takes 3 minutes at 1400 Watts of power, not 252 kJ (kilojoules) delivered when the power company gets around to it.

      • PA — Again, you are just incorrect in your strawman context of Renewable Energy. The correct context is integrated resource planning using engineering economics (as taught in every major engineering school).

        Depending on the load shape, the generation & purchased power flexibility on the grid — solar and off-shore wind (for example) could certainly be more cost effective than a simple cycle combustion turbine unit burning oil to meet a peaking load requirement.

        But I’ve tried to explain this so many times in a civil manner.

      • My point was that nuclear power sources in a 2020 time frame will be available that flat outcompete renewable energy by a factor of 2 or 3.based on raw cost per kWh..That China appears plan on using experience, production volume, and economies of scale to drive construction prices of nuclear into the dirt if the HTR-200 (one of 7+ variants of 4 different nuclear technologies they are developing) is any indication. And the HTR-200 will have low operating costs.

        There was no straw or man in that argument.

        What you call a “strawman” is a difference of opinion.

        The sole criteria for addition of resources to the grid is:
        1. Does it make power cheaper.
        2. Does it make power more reliable.

        Now there are some reliability advantages according to you, PE, etc. from having a mixed energy portfolio.

        The subsidies and mandates are causing renewable power to displace nuclear. No matter how you dance, dance, dance, that increases the use of combustion sources.

        If renewable energy was significant cheaper than other sources and could be used as “fill in” power that was ignored/shutdown/diverted when not needed it would be a valuable grid resource. Existing renewable energy should be used because it is a sunk cost and the economics of scrapping installed renewable energy that is under 20 years old don’t make sense. To the extent that existing renewable energy displaces combustion sources it is beneficial.

        The massive almost 1/2 trillion dollar Smartgrid upgrade is pretty much solely to support renewables and resolve the balancing, non-dispatchability, transmission-lines-to-nowhere, etc. problems they bring with them. Therefore the bulk of the cost should be distributed across the renewable energy base according to GAAP. It is a huge renewable energy subsidy.

        I don’t have a problem with renewable energy being installed without subsidy or mandate. Any source that is economically justified at its true fully-loaded cost will get installed. If it takes massive subsidies and mandates to get renewable energy installed it shouldn’t be installed. Not now, not ever, NEVER.

      • PA — Again as an example, in integrated system planning using engineering economics:

        No one would never build a nuclear power plant to meet peak load requirements. The typical generation type decision to meet this specific load requirement would probably be between (1) a combustion turbine; or (2) off shore wind or solar.

        There are so many basic engineering planning principles that you and others just continue to ignore or mis-apply (like what I’ve tried to say on metrics like ELCC, SAIDI, integrated load following, etc.).

        Like many people (including President Obama) — I’m for everyone in the pool (including nuclear, super-critical coal, biomass gasification with biochar, other Renewables). As I’ve also said a gazillion times, decisions should be made by engineers, not politicians.

  20. Obama Administration efforts to develop Nuclear. Click on World Nuclear Website (below link) — then go to Index near bottom of page and click on “Energy Policy Act of 2005” — then scroll to “Federal loan guarantees for new plants”:


    A final note on the DOE’s guaranteed loan program: Three technologies — nuclear, solar, and automotive have been approximately equal in funding (one third each).

  21. Key quote from Forbes: “Building on the Obama Administration’s recent Nuclear Summit at the White House, . . . ”


  22. While so many commenters here at CE want to make many issues into liberal versus conservative — this article on renewable energy again proves it just isn’t that simple:


  23. The Supreme Court handed a defeat to those in favor of mercury and arsenic emanating from coal plants.