Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. These days I'm retired, and I can't by law give you advice. While I do make mistakes, I try hard to do my analysis thoroughly, and to make sure my data are correct (old habits die hard!) Also, don't ask me why I called it "Volewica". It's too late, now.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Autonomous street lights

This is the way of the future: a street lamp powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine, with a battery to store power for when there's been neither sun nor wind, which is still 20% cheaper than a street lamp connected to the grid.

I particularly like the nifty little turbine and can imagine a strip of them sited on the ridge of my roof.

The key point to take away though is that this is the future: the costs of wind, solar and batteries are going to keep on falling and ultimately no fossil fuel will be competitive.  Especially if a carbon tax becomes a widespread reality.

US east coast blizzard

I've seen several comments on climate threads saying that the recent east coast blizzards in the US prove that the world isn't warming, and that there is no such thing as climate change.

This is a bit like saying that because your belly is full, there is no such thing as hunger elsewhere in the world.  Strangely enough, the east coast of the US is NOT the world.  Or it's like saying that because you are in an air-conditioned office, where it's cool, but it's 40 C outside, that it's not very hot, really, is it?  Are ppl so stupid that they can only accept global warming when it's hot?  How about the facts?

In any case, it is precisely the warming, especially in the seas,  which has contributed to the blizzards as this excellent piece demonstrates.  In the chart below, note how the sea next to the land is anomalously cold, whereas further out it is extraordinarily warm for the season.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

China using much less coal

China is the world's largest user of coal and also (not coincidentally) the largest emitter  of CO2.  Her use of coal fell for the first time in decades in 2014.

Demand for coal in China grew by 10 percent annually over the decade to 2011, but that halved to between 4 percent and 6 percent annually in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, according to the most recent government figures, demand actually declined by 2.1 percent.
This is no small thing for global coal markets, and the implications are enormous.
The latest data is consistent, however, with IEEFA’s prediction last fall that China’s demand for coal will permanently peak by 2016 —if not earlier—and will gradually decline thereafter.
Digging a littler further into the most recent trove of economic data from Beijing helps explain what’s happening.
China’s overall GDP growth in 2014 is expected to come in about the same 7.3 percent growth reported for the first nine months of the year. But China’s electricity demand, as seen in the newest numbers, grew by only 3.9 percent year-over-year through November. What these two figures demonstrate in tandem is that the combined impact of energy-efficiency initiatives and structural economic changes toward less electricity-intensive industry sectors has reduced the ratio of electricity-demand growth to GDP from above 1.0x over the past 13 years to 0.53x in 2014.
Of equal importance is that China’s domestic coal production declined by 2.1 percent in the year to November compared to 2013, while coal imports were down by 9 percent, meaning that coal consumption dropped roughly 2.3 percent. This contrasts with an electricity-production growth rate of 3.9 percent year over year, reflecting a rapid loss of market share for coal in 2014 against all other sources of electricity generation across China – wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, biomass and natural gas.
The rise of renewables in China is significant. IEEFA forecasts that in 2014 alone China will install 22 gigawatts of hydropower electricity capacity, 18 gigawatts of wind-powered capacity, 13 gigawatts of solar, 5 to 7 gigawatts of nuclear, and 4 to 6 gigawatts of gas-fired capacity. Combined with 22 gigawatts of net new coal-fired capacity, IEEFA sees China’s total electricity capacity installs totaling 90 gigawatts in 2014 (a more than 6 percent year-over-year increase in total capacity growth).
The result is that coal-fired average utilization rates have declined from an estimated 60 percent in 2011 to about 56 percent in 2014. Given this excess capacity, new installations of coal power are expected to slow rapidly, and China could well see net annual coal-fired power capacity reductions from 2016 onwards.

[Read more here]

Given China's importance to global carbon emissions, these developments suggest that global emissions may peak this year or next.  It's true that transport also produces emissions and that is rising strongly in China.  So I'm not sure.  But China is pushing EVs with large ($8000+ ) subsidies, and in any case, as the percentage of renewables in total electricity generating rises exponentially,  the rapid decline in emissions from electricity will offset the rise in emissions from transport before EVs become widespread.

My calculations suggest global emissions will peak in 2018 or 2019, fall slowly at first and then start an accelerated decline as coal-fired power stations and petrol- and diesel-driven vehicles are replaced by clean energy.  More of those forecasts in a later post.  Just to give your a foretaste: wind plus solar as a percentage of total global electricity generating, currently 3.6%,  is doubling every 3 years, driven by ever cheaper renewables.

First they ignore you

Mahatma Gandhi

Ubiquitous solar

I have a dream about solar panels everywhere: over car parks, on top of shopping centre roofs, over garages, on house roofs, all feeding 100% clean power into the grid and eliminating the need for coal.

And it's happening -- in India.  And not because of subsidies or incentives but simply because solar panels are now so cheap they pay for themselves in 3 years.  Remember, though there is a tiny (0.5%) annual drop in output as panels age, basically they will last at least 25 years.  So there will be 22 years of completely free electricity.   The Indian power gap will likely be filled by solar, not coal.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I'm with stupid

Queensland man arrested for wearing a t-shirt with "I'm with stupid" written on it.  So much for Queensland's freedom of speech.

The twitter response has been to mock the premier of Qld:

Amazing how fond the right is of free markets, but not of freedom

Are there hats

EV sales surging

During 2013 EV (electric vehicle) sales rose 66% from 123,567 to 205,642.  (I'll give you the 2014 figures as soon as I have them)

Of course, this is a tiny percentage of global vehicle sales.  In 2013 87 million cars and commercial vehicles were produced, so EV sales are just 0.02% of total fossil-fuelled vehicle sales.  But battery costs are plummeting.  As charging stations spread, and range is increased, sales are likely to continue to grow rapidly.  If this rate of growth is maintained, EV sales will be up 12-fold in 5 years.  0.02% will turn into 2.8% and 5 years after that 1/3 of all vehicle sales will be EVs.

Pic shows GM's Volt, a plug-in hybrid, i.e., it has a hybrid petrol-electric engine but its batteries can be recharged from the electric mains.  Initially, I expect the plug-in hybrids will outsell pure electrics until range anxiety is overcome and charge stations become ubiquitous.  Meanwhile the Volt has an electric range of 60kms, enough for most ppl's daily commute.

EVs are where solar was 10 years ago.

US solar booms

US solar energy capacity up 5-fold since 2010, and 100% in the last year alone.

This chart (slightly out of date--2011--, costs are now lower and installed capacity higher) suggests that 100% of US electricity needs could be met from solar by 2025.  That's just 10 years away.  Of course, that ignores wind and hydro power.  Note double log scale, because costs are falling exponentially and installations rising ditto.  I'm not sure I understand Alliance Bernstein's "grid parity"  As far as I can make out solar is already at grid parity in the US.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Other Death Cult

Another classic Broelman

The Narrative

A guest blog post from Adam Phillips

I want to try to put into words what I and people like me think it is that fuels the disdain that we feel about what's going on.

This is not about whose political philosophy is right, and it's not about some nice abstractions about the power of the state, the value of fostering a climate of individual responsibility, about resolving the deficit, about an active government, or a not-active government, or about gun rights.

What animates us so much...and gives us so much animus...is that in open sight, conservative politicians are joining with the wealthiest people and businesses on the planet to create a permanent plutocracy. A government ruled by business and whose principles are dictated solely by the desires of the wealthy... a government to whom business is not accountable, and, actually, which is accountable to business. They are not interested in the middle class and have no concern at all about its inexorable and continued atrophy, and no concern about the widening gap between the uber-wealthy and the poor, about the rate of unemployment, about racism and injustice, about the availability of health care for all Americans. None of this matters to them.

To enlist the enthusiastic support of the very groups they plan to victimize, they have to create an enemy for those groups to focus on--since it won't do for them to be seen as the actual enemy--and a cause or two for them to foam at the mouth over.

And so they've mined the latent fear and hostility of those groups and chosen to represent as the main threats to the well-being of our country a loosely-defined set of enemies of America: 1.Terrorists and foreigners, especially Muslims, and definitely immigrants. 2. Communists. Especially the ones in Cuba.  3. Secular humanists and all those who don't love Jesus, including a. liberals...that is, those in politics who think it is the government's responsibility to give voice and justice to the downtrodden and to keep wealth from overreaching; b. Women who want to have a say in their own reproductive and contraceptive decisions; c. those of alternative sexual orientation or gender configuration; d. non-Christians and non-fundamentalist Christians 4. Feminists; 5. Opponents of war; 6. "Environmental wackos." 7. Anyone who wants accountability and oversight regarding big business. 8. Government itself (the irony there just has to slay you, no?) 8. Opponents of total gun freedom.

And they engineer into being a reactionary "party" to generate a sense of Cause and a sense of Family, and to fan the flames of resentment lower-middle class Americans feel over what big business and government are already doing to them, teaching them that the problem is not wealth, but rather the elitist socialist wastefulness of liberal government. And that "party" becomes the most powerful faction of the Republican party, the faction before whom all more moderate Republicans must kneel.  This is not about vigorous discussion of the stronger ideas and right courses of action. This is about eliminating the idea of Nation that inspired our founders and replacing it with one in which the already-privileged become the only ones who matter.

With such a scattered and scary group of enemies, big business and government can then quietly strengthen their hegemony and decrease the average citizen's ability to do anything about it, or even find anything about it, its ultimate aim being that of silencing any other voice and serving no interests but its own.

It's a stroke of perverse genius that the Kochs and the Waltons and their ilk have managed to engineer rabid support from the very groups they intend to screw!

And yet nobody's scared about this. Nobody's out of their fucking mind with panic about this. Nah. It's the deficit. The Islamic wackos. The faggots. The immigrants. The terrorists.

What some of us feel is that there's a story to be read out there. There's a narrative. And it's not getting read, because there's active interest in it NOT being read.

I've tried to set down a raw version of it.

THIS is what bothers me about the state of our nation. Not whether or not Jeb Bush or Governor Goodhair runs for President.

Climate change: how do we know?

A piece from NASA, giving the arguments why global warming is real.

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct  measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO<sub>2</sub> has increased  since the Industrial Revolution.  (Source: [[LINK||http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/icecore/||NOAA]])

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Denmark kicking fossil fuels addiction

From RobertScribbler 

Back in 1971, on the eve of the world’s first global oil shocks, the European country of Denmark generated more than 80 percent of its electricity from crude. As the 70s progressed and the nation staggered under rising energy costs and failure to obtain supplies from this limited, exploited, and monopolized fuel source, Denmark began to embark on a campaign for energy independence that was then unprecedented. A campaign to rid itself of a destructive dependence on economically volatile, climatologically destructive, and easily manipulated fossil fuels.

At the time, Denmark began to turn back to its traditional use of wind — but as a direct source of electricity itself. The country, situated on a peninsula between the North and Baltic Seas is awash in breezes and the ever shifting flows of conflicting air masses. The idea, for Denmark, was to harness this energy as a means to break its dependence on foreign oil and, ultimately, remove fossil fuel use entirely.

At first, the going was slow. Wind energy facility construction moved gradually from test sites to small farms, to the first large utility scale ventures in the late 1980s. At this point, the nascent Vestas as well as the established Siemens had become primary producers of wind turbines on the global market. Steady growth through the year 2000 resulted in Denmark providing slightly more than 10 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources — with wind providing the bulk of this portion.

At this point, economies of scale began to kick in as wind power adoption in Denmark began to expand exponentially. Vestas and Siemens grew concordantly from niche energy players to primary contributors for a rapidly growing global electricity market. By the end of 2014, Denmark supplied more than 39 percent of its energy from wind alone.

The amount of oil used for electricity generation in Denmark now? Less than 3 percent. A staggering success that many, especially those supporting fossil fuel interests, never believed possible.

Read more here

 More and more wind power is being installed, in a classic exponentially rising curve.

It's all happening.  Thank you, Denmark.

Germany: solar power costs fall 25%

From this piece in PlanetSave:

Prices for German solar power storage systems have reportedly fallen 25% since the spring. The data come from the German Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar).

Also according to BSW-Solar, approximately 15,000 German households now use battery storage combined with solar power, and that number has been growing faster and faster as the costs have come down. As an example of that, KfW, Germany’s development bank, approved 32% more funding applications for home storage in the third quarter of this year than in the second. Needless to say, I think word is getting around that this is a smart move for many now that storage costs have fallen.

Solar costs and the costs of storing sun power to use later are going to continue to slide fast. At a 20% per annum compound rate of decline, they'll fall 60% in 4 years. This will be devastating for coal.  The coal price has already more than halved over the last 4 years; it is now lower than it was during the GFC.  Note also that every year-end for the last 5 years (in the northern hemisphere winter) the coal price has had a seasonal rebound.  Not this year.  That augurs very ill for coal prices during 2015.  And the explosion of solar (and to a lesser extent wind) is a key ingredient in this collapse.  Of course, China's slower growth is a factor, but that turn to slower growth is itself driven by the extreme air pollution in China.  As solar and wind prices collapse, no new coal-fired power stations will be built, and old ones will be pensioned off.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Batteries are the new peaker plants

Image courtesy of AES Energy Storage

Every electrical grid needs 'peaker plants' for 'grid buffering', because demand fluctuates from second to second, and supply can also fluctuate.  As the percentage of solar and wind in the power generation fleet increases, peaking power has become more important.  But gigantic battery packs are now for the first time competitive with gas-fired peaker plants.  And battery costs are declining by 15 to 20% per year, so they're going to get even cheaper over the next few years: a 15% per annum decline cumulates to a 50% decline over 4 years.

This article from Engineering.com talks about a new battery 'peaker plant' in California:

California’s goal is to produce at least 33% of its electricity from renewable sources, and while there’s plenty of sunshine and wind, their production fluctuates throughout the day, sometimes producing more than needed and other times falling short. Regardless of what’s creating the baseload electricity, peaker plants are needed to provide quick demand response. When Southern California Edison (SCE) sent out a request for bids on a 100 megawatt peaker plant, they received over 1800 responses. The winner turned out to be AES, an energy company that builds power plants of nearly every flavor: coal, diesel, gas, oil, wind, etc. What might be surprising is that the chosen technology isn’t any of those - it’s the world’s largest battery.
Most peakers burn natural gas to fire turbine generators. But gas-fired plants have disadvantages: they’re expensive to build, they depend on a fossil fuel whose price is in constant flux, and they take several minutes to come online. After weighing the costs and benefits, SCE decided that battery storage is the most reliable and cost-effective solution, so they awarded AES Energy Storage a 20 year contract to install and operate grid-connected 100 MW “peaker plant” battery bank. Neither AES nor SCE will release the financial terms of the contract.

Pros and Cons

The cost of a grid-level battery storage unit is roughly comparable to that of a gas peaker plant (depending on size), but with no moving parts, the battery bank needs less maintenance. It also requires no fuel, making its long-term cost of operation more stable and predictable. In fact, it’s almost certain that the cost of gas will increase while the cost of batteries will decrease. A battery bank can respond to power demand almost instantly - less than a millisecond as opposed to several minutes. Where a gas turbine is strictly an energy generator, a battery bank can also store surplus energy. Finally, a battery bank is scalable; more units can be added as needed.
There are drawbacks to batteries, however. First and foremost, they don’t generate “new” energy, they simply store energy that came from other sources such as solar and wind. As such, they’re limited to the amount of energy that’s stored, where a gas peaker plant can generate power indefinitely. Considering the fact that many peaker plants only operate for a few hours per day, this isn’t a big problem. Batteries have a limited lifespan, especially when operated at a large depth of discharge. AES uses efficient, long-life batteries from a variety of sources. Their storage units are technology-independent, so when better batteries become available, they’re easy to incorporate. And although batteries take energy and materials to produce, most are recyclable. (And let’s remember that it takes energy to drill for, transport, and refine natural gas.)

Peakers and Beyond

Rechargeable battery technology continues to improve as consumers demand longer life, reduced cost, and quicker charging for computers, phones, and electric vehicles. Advancements in one area, such as batteries for consumer electronics, affects others. For example, Tesla Motors uses the same Li-ion batteries that are typically found in laptop computers. Variations of Li-ion technology are found in grid-level storage units as well. As these industries feed off of one another, costs will plummet and quality will improve. That’s good news for everyone … except the fossil fuel industry.

Australia: 3rd hottest year ever.

Bushfires in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
Bushfires in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. 2014 was Australia’s third hottest year on record. Photograph: Brad Newman/Newspix/REX/Brad Newman/Newspix/REX

Australia experienced its third warmest year on record in 2014 with six major heat waves scorching the country, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Last year was 0.91C warmer than the long-term average, which is set between 1961 and 1990, the BoM said. This made 2014 Australia’s third warmest year since records began in 1910, behind 2013 and 2005.
With the World Meteorological Organization expected to confirm that 2014 was the globe’s hottest year on record, the data from Australia adds to the evidence that the world’s warming trend has not ‘paused.’
According to the BoM, seven of Australia’s 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. The 10-year average temperature from 2005 to 2014 was 0.55C above the long-term average – the highest on record.
Last year was characterised by “frequent periods of abnormally warm weather throughout the year”, the bureau said.
[read more here]

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 Hottest Year Ever ...

... according to  Japan's Meteorological Agency.

2014 Hottest Year on Record

NOAA's calculation won't be released for another 2 weeks but they're more than likely to come to the same conclusion.

Read RobertScribbler's piece about last year's heat and extreme weather here.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I'll ride with you

This is an article from the Brisbane Times:

Rachael Jacobs' simple offer to walk with a Muslim woman as they got off a Brisbane train on Monday sparked a social media campaign under the hashtag #illridewithyou.
Overwhelmed by interest in her gesture, Ms Jacobs has agreed to share her story with Fairfax Media rather than be interviewed, in the hope the focus can then remain on the victims of the Sydney siege and their families.

As news of the siege unfolded, I scrolled through updates on my phone, searching for the latest information. My brother works in the city of Sydney. My husband's office is a government building near Martin Place. I knew all were safe and sound, but I wanted to know more.
At this point I saw a woman on the train start to fiddle with her headscarf.
Like most people she had been looking at her phone, then slowly started to unpin her scarf.
Tears sprang to my eyes and I was struck by feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness. It was in this mindset that I punched the first status update into my phone, hoping my friends would take a moment to think about the victims of the siege who were not in the cafe.
I spent the rest of the journey staring – rudely – at the back of her uncovered head. I wanted to talk to her, but had no idea what to say. Anything that came to mind seemed tokenistic and patronising. She might not even be Muslim or she could have just been warm! Besides, I was in the "quiet carriage" where even conversation is banned.
By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.
It's hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.
But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment.
My second status was written as a heartbreaking postscript to my first. While the woman appeared to appreciate my gesture, we had both left defeated and deflated. What good is one small action against an avalanche of ignorance?
Hours later, social media showed me good people can create their own avalanche of kindness.
My posts were written on my private Facebook page to a private audience, never intended for public eyes. A friend of mine made his own decision to share it publicly, and I'm deeply humbled by his action. Perhaps the story was then shared widely because it represented what so many people felt in their heart. But while I'm warmed by the sheer volume of media interest, I am not the story here, and my actions were not extraordinary or heroic.
We are all in shock at the tragedy that has unfolded, and out of respect for the victims' families, I'm reluctant to take any media focus.
I've made the decision to decline interviews for a few reasons. I have spent some time in the public eye due to my recent experiences as a candidate in federal and local elections. I would be mortified if anyone thought I was using this tragedy for political gain.
It will be tempting to search for answers in politics or beliefs, sheltering in the irrational fear that more madness is to come.
But #illridewithyou reminds us that we can overcome fear and ignorance with a pledge to treat each other with respect. It's a reminder that decent Australians don't hold an entire group of people responsible for the actions of one man.
Some claim the movement is patronising, forcing misplaced support upon those who need space, rather than spotlight. They may have a point. But there's no doubting its good intentions. And perhaps we need it more for ourselves as a reminder that there are reasoned and tolerant people that walk among us, publicly disempowering the trolls.
I am, however, the daughter of Indian migrants, and having lived all of my 37 years in Australia, I feel I've seen the best and the worst this country has to offer. I'd rather deliver a message to racists, bigots and anyone who dares to derive a message of hate from this tragedy – it is you who are unwelcome here. Your values have no place in civilised society, and if you spread intolerance, there's an avalanche of kindness ready to take you down.

[Read more here]
It seemed to me that the #Illridewithyou Twitter campaign was a fine thing: compassionate, kind, wise, sensible.  Something worth supporting.

Not to the Right.  Miranda Devine produced this toxic spray.  What I, in my innocence took a simple human kindness, she saw as a plot by "leftists" to downplay "Islamic terrorism".

The meaningless, narcissistic, one-sided nature of this “near silent encounter” perfectly symbolises the leftist ­approach to Islamist terrorism.
Denial, deflection, projection. They see themselves as morally superior to the rest of Australia, which they imagine as a sea of ignorant rednecks. In their eyes the threat is not terrorism but Islamophobia.
They prefer to downplay the terrorist threat and excuse the perpetrators. In their view the self-styled Iranian-born sheik and alleged rapist Man Haron Monis was a humanitarian, motivated by concern for children dying in the Middle East. (Or, a “peace activist”, as his lawyers describe him when he was charged with sending vile letters to the families of dead Aussie soldiers).
Where does Rachael Jacobs say all this?  Nowhere.  Why is it wrong to be compassionate to Muslims?  Why does that imply that you support terrorism?

"Liberal" MP, George Christensen said this in a Twitter post:

#weridetogether & #illridewithyou - typical lefty campaigns that creates false victims. Focus on real #sydneysiege victims: Tori & Katrina.

There is much to admire in the philosophy of conservatism.  Yet at heart the Right is, alas, essentially nasty and mean-spirited.  Compassion is suspect.  Pity for the underdog misplaced.  Generosity is fake.  And everything anyone from the Left does is part of some tin-foil conspiracy.

Friday, January 2, 2015


Because solar and wind power is intermittent, the ability to store power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing for times when the opposite is true is still vital.  The distributed nature of the grid helps--the sun may be shining in one place but not another; the wind may blow strongly in one district but be weak in others; and the sun may shine when wind is absent and vice versa.   But still, the electrical grid (unlike the gas grid which has substantial integral storage), currently provides limited effective storage.

One tends to think of batteries as the obvious storage devices, with the batteries being recharged when power is produced and discharged when it is needed..  But there is an alternative.  Natural gas, or strictly speaking, synthetic natural gas in other words, artificially produced methane/butane.  Surplus electricity can be converted into natural gas which is then burned to heat homes or fire electricity generators.  Via the Sabatier reaction, hydrogen, generated by the electrolysis of water, is combined with carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressures to produce methane.

From the Wikipedia article:

The Sabatier reaction or Sabatier process was discovered by the French chemist Paul Sabatier in the 1910s. It involves the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide at elevated temperatures (optimally 300–400 °C) and pressures in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane and water. Optionally, ruthenium on alumina (aluminium oxide) makes a more efficient catalyst. It is described by the following exothermic reaction:
CO2 + 4 H2 → CH4 + 2 H2O + energy
∆H = −165.0 kJ/mol
(some initial energy/heat is required to start the reaction)

The article says that most countries have 1 to 2 years' worth of gas storage,  but other pieces I have read say 1 to 2 months, not years, and the calculations I did for the US came out at about 1.4 months.  Either way, that is more than enough to fill gaps in wind and solar electricity production.  The beauty of it is that in many countries, gas peaking plants are already being used to keep the grid stable when demand peaks or renewable power temporarily declines.  In future, these gas peaking plants could be fired with methane produced via renewable electricity.  There is a gas grid with extensive gas storage facilities which can be quickly adjusted to use synthetic natural gas along with natural gas to heat homes and generate electricity.   The infrastructure already exists: national and international gas grids, gas storage, gas peaking power stations, vehicles which run on LPG (producible from SNG), gas-fired  building- and water-heating.

As the cost of solar power falls, we are going to see more and more 'natural gas' and LPG produced from renewable power.  Even without that, batteries are in any case falling in cost, and will become ubiquitous in electrical grids.   The need for storage will not stop the renewables revolution.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

An old speech by Al Gore

Old, but even more relevant now than it was 6 years ago.  Things have got worse since then.

With this one, watch the video, because of all the interesting slides and video clips.  There's a particularly interesting and alarming section that shows methane clathrates melting and bubbling to the surface.  Methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

The best of centuries

An excellent speech by Nicholas Stern.  There's a video and for those who hate videos, like me, a transcript of the speech.

We are at a remarkable moment in time. We face over the next two decades two fundamental transformations that will determine whether the next 100 years is the best of centuries or the worst of centuries.
0:27Let me illustrate with an example. I first visited Beijing 25 years ago to teach at the People's University of China. China was getting serious about market economics and about university education, so they decided to call in the foreign experts. Like most other people, I moved around Beijing by bicycle. Apart from dodging the occasional vehicle, it was a safe and easy way to get around. Cycling in Beijing now is a completely different prospect. The roads are jammed by cars and trucks. The air is dangerously polluted from the burning of coal and diesel. When I was there last in the spring, there was an advisory for people of my age — over 65 — to stay indoors and not move much.
1:19How did this come about? It came from the way in which Beijing has grown as a city. It's doubled over those 25 years, more than doubled, from 10 million to 20 million. It's become a sprawling urban areadependent on dirty fuel, dirty energy, particularly coal. China burns half the world's coal each year, and that's why, it is a key reason why, it is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. At the same time, we have to recognize that in that period China has grown remarkably. It has become the world's second largest economy. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. That's really important.But at the same time, the people of China are asking the question: What's the value of this growth if our cities are unlivable? They've analyzed, diagnosed that this is an unsustainable path of growth and development. China's planning to scale back coal. It's looking to build its cities in different ways.
2:28Now, the growth of China is part of a dramatic change, fundamental change, in the structure of the world economy. Just 25 years ago, the developing countries, the poorer countries of the world, were, notwithstanding being the vast majority of the people, they accounted for only about a third of the world's output. Now it's more than half; 25 years from now, it will probably be two thirds from the countries that we saw 25 years ago as developing. That's a remarkable change. It means that most countries around the world, rich or poor, are going to be facing the two fundamental transformations that I want to talk about and highlight.
3:09Now, the first of these transformations is the basic structural change of the economies and societies that I've already begun to illustrate through the description of Beijing. Fifty percent now in urban areas. That's going to go to 70 percent in 2050. Over the next two decades, we'll see the demand for energy rise by 40 percent, and the growth in the economy and in the population is putting increasing pressure on our land,on our water and on our forests.
3:43This is profound structural change. If we manage it in a negligent or a shortsighted way, we will create waste, pollution, congestion, destruction of land and forests. If we think of those three areas that I have illustrated with my numbers — cities, energy, land — if we manage all that badly, then the outlook for the lives and livelihoods of the people around the world would be poor and damaged. And more than that,the emissions of greenhouse gases would rise, with immense risks to our climate. Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already higher than they've been for millions of years. If we go on increasing those concentrations, we risk temperatures over the next century or so that we have not seen on this planet for tens of millions of years. We've been around as Homo sapiens — that's a rather generous definition, sapiens — for perhaps a quarter of a million years, a quarter of a million. We risk temperatures we haven't seen for tens of millions of years over a century. That would transform the relationship between human beings and the planet. It would lead to changing deserts, changing rivers, changing patterns of hurricanes, changing sea levels, hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people who would have to move, and if we've learned anything from history, that means severe and extended conflict.
And we couldn't just turn it off. You can't make a peace treaty with the planet. You can't negotiate with the laws of physics. You're in there. You're stuck. Those are the stakes we're playing for, and that's why we have to make this second transformation, the climate transformation, and move to a low-carbon economy. Now, the first of these transformations is going to happen anyway. We have to decide whether to do it well or badly, the economic, or structural, transformation. But the second of the transformations,the climate transformations, we have to decide to do. Those two transformations face us in the next two decades. The next two decades are decisive for what we have to do. Now, the more I've thought about this, the two transformations coming together, the more I've come to realize that this is an enormous opportunity. It's an opportunity which we can use or it's an opportunity which we can lose. And let me explain through those three key areas that I've identified: cities, energy and land. And let me start with cities. I've already described the problems of Beijing: pollution, congestion, waste and so on. Surely we recognize that in many of our cities around the world.

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