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. But I can't by law give you advice, and I do make mistakes. Remember: the unexpected sometimes happens. Oddly enough, the expected does too, but all too often it takes longer than you thought it would, or on the other hand happens more quickly than you expected. The Goddess of Markets punishes (eventually) greed, folly, laziness and arrogance. No matter how many years you've served Her. Take care. Be humble. And don't blame me.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Adjusting the historical climate record

One of the favourite claims by the denialists is that the temperature record has been adjusted up in recent times and reduced in the past, to give the effect of rising temperatures over the last 6 or 7 decades, and that without these adjustments the records would show that global temperatures have not actually risen.

In fact, the long term rise in the un-adjusted record is greater than the rise in the adjusted record.  In the chart below, from Carbon Brief, the blue line is calculated using the "raw" (un-adjusted) data, the red line is the adjusted data.

Most of the adjustment upwards prior to 1940 is due to adjustments to the sea temperature anomaly. If you just look at the temperature anomaly of land alone, it has risen faster since the 1880s than the un-adjusted data, though not by much, and has been practically identical since the 1960s.

The article in Carbon Brief by Zeke Hausfather is long but instructive.  It's worth reading.

One final point.

It’s also worth noting that adjustments to temperature records are not decided by one single group of scientists. Rather, multiple different research teams have independently created their own land and ocean temperature records. 
While much of the underlying raw data is the same, each takes a somewhat different approach to adjustments and how to deal with areas of the earth with missing data. The resulting global temperature records from five different groups, along with the raw data, are shown in the figure below.

The raw data are easily available.  The denialists are welcome to do their own calculations.  Strangely enough they don't want to.

(All charts and quotes from Carbon Brief: Explainer: How data adjustments affect global temperature records)

Sunday, July 23, 2017


The site of the Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill three years after the disaster. (Source)

Coal isn't just the worst fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions, it also dumps nitrogen oxides,  sulphur oxides, mercury, fly ash and other particulates into the atmosphere.   Air pollution kills 3 million people a year.   An Airbus A380 carries between 500 and 600 people.  So the equivalent of 15 A380s crashing every single day are killed by air pollution.  Why isn't there an outcry?

What I hadn't thought about until I read this article (Every coal waste dump site is a disaster waiting to happen) is that even after the coal is burnt, we then have to dispose of the residue--the ash.  And that is toxic and environmentally disastrous too.

Truly, the sooner we can dispense with coal the better.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hinkley Point: Worse and Worse

Under an agreement between the Government and EDF Energy, ironed out in 2013, Hinkley is guaranteed to earn £92.50 for every megawatt-hour (MWh) of energy produced through a combination of wholesale market prices and a levy on consumer energy bills. 
At the time Government said this would require top-up payments totaling £6bn via energy bills to meet the "strike price", but falling market prices have widened the forecast gap every year since then. 
Two years ago the cost was estimated at £13bn before it spiralled to over £30bn under fresh analysis from the public spending watchdog last year. 
The latest forecasts have revealed that EDF’s bid to build the first new nuclear plant in a generation could cost energy bill payers £50bn over the life of the project, well above the £6bn bill estimated in 2013. 
[Read more here]

Nuclear is the only generating technology with a inverse or negative learning curve.  With every other technology, as installations rise, costs fall.  As you can see in the chart below, as cumulative nuclear installations have risen, so have costs (measured in constant 2004 dollars).  This is the opposite of what is happening with wind, solar, batteries and concentrated solar power (CSP), which are all falling precipitously in cost.  For example, in Germany solar has fallen from 40 Euro cents per kWh  in 2009-2011 to 5.9 cents/kWh now.

If I thought nuclear power would stop global warming, I would grit my teeth and support it.  But for the same cost we can get 2 or 3 or 4 times as much electricity from renewables, and we can get it more quickly.  The world could get to 50% renewables in 10 years, if we wanted to.  With nuclear, we might not even have started construction in 10 years.  Which is why, I suspect, hard and soft denialists are such enthusiastic supporters of nuclear.  Because it requires continued reliance on fossil fuels.


See also:

How much does nuclear cost

Nuclear melt down

Nuclear Power

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How much land?

Monument Valley, Utah (Source)

I've mentioned this before (I think) but it's worth repeating.  How much land would be needed for solar panels to provide all the electricity needed to power the whole of the USA?  Elon Musk:

“If you wanted to power the entire U.S. with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah. You only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States.” 
 “The batteries you need to store the energy, to make sure you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square mile. That’s it.” 
“People talk about fusion and all that, but the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. It’s really reliable. It comes up every day. If it doesn’t, we’ve got bigger problems” 
Elon said a blend of many power sources would be needed at first. “We’ll need to be a combination of utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, combined with wind, geothermal, hydro, probably some nuclear for a while, in order to transition to a sustainable situation,” Musk explained. 
[Read more here]

Of course, we won't be building a single giant solar farm on these lines.  There will be many large solar farms but there'll also be rooftop solar.  The 10,000 square miles needed would be spread across many places, large and small.  Obviously Musk favours solar as the solution to our renewable energy needs,  but that's not a workable solution for high latitudes, where wind is a much more reliable source of electricity in winter, and even then you will need seasonal storage.  And a mix of wind and solar produces a more stable combined output than either individually.  But his point is well made.  In sunny desert places we need very little space to produce enough electricity, and even less space to make it dispatchable.

Australia Idiocy

The idiot holding a piece of coal is Barnaby Joyce, Oz's deputy Prime Minister, leader of the National Party which is part of the ruling coalition.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

A New Tony Seba speech

Tony Seba calls it "God Parity" when solar plus storage falls below the cost of transmission.

This is the latest Tony Seba speech. It's long but eminently watchable.

He makes the usual point with the two pictures of the same New York street in 1900 (with just one car, the rest horses) and 1913 (all cars except for one horse-drawn carriage); of how AT&T (the inventor of the mobile phone!) hired McKinsey and Co in 1985 to forecast total mobile phone demand by the year 2000, and were 120 tmies out; and how Kodak (the inventor of the digital camera !) went from record profits in 2000 to bankruptcy in 2012 as conventional camera sales collapsed.

He pointed out that technological adoption rates (for successful technologies) are ALWAYS S-curves,  starting slowly then accelerating, and only peaking out when they approach 100% market share. Over the last couple of decades,  the S-curves have become steeper: new technologies are being adopted faster.

Lithium ion batteries fell in cost by 14% per annum from 1995 to 2010.  From 2010 to 2014 the rate of decline accelerated to 16% per annum.  From 2010 to 2016 it accelerated again to 20% per annum [which implies that in the last couple of years it has been higher than 20%, which we know is true]  For Con Ed (a US utility) 1/3rd of generating assets are used for just 6 hours a year.  So even if batteries are too expensive to be used for 3 or 4 or 5 hours of time-shifting power output, they are already cost competitive for these brief periods of peaking power.  By 2020 or so (3 years away!) it will cost the average American consumer just $1 a day to store 24 hours of electricity demand.  But disruptions starts earlier.  The most profitable part of utility sales is the supply in the afternoon-evening peak which is just 6 hours. Already tropical islands are switching to 100% solar+batteries because it is cheaper than diesel.

ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, i.e., petrol/diesel cars convert just 17-21% of the energy stored in the petrol/diesel into motion; electric cars convert 90-95%.  Plus electrons are much cheaper to transmit than atoms.  He gives the example of a Jeep Liberty which would cost $15,000 for 5 years of "gas" (i.e., petrol) vs $1565 if it were electric.  Petrol cars have 2000+ moving parts (transmission, driveshaft, clutch, valves, differential , pistons, gears, carburettors, crankshafts ....) EVs 20.  Reflecting this, Tesla has offered an infinite mile warranty.  Biggest cost of maintenance is tyres. In 2013 he drew the battery cost curve which projected an SUV at $35-$40K in 2017-18, $29K by end 2019, and $22K by end 2022 for cars with over 200 miles range.  People said he was mad.  But we have the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model 3 and soon the new Nissan Leaf.

Lidar (needed for autonomous vehicles) cost $70,000 in 2012, $1,000 in 2014, $250 in 2016.  $90 Lidar on the way. World’s first 1 teraflops computer cost $46 million in 2000 and covered 150 square metres.  2016, a 2.3 teraflops computer by Invidia cost $59, and is about the size of a laptop.  Invidia expects a 1000 times improvement by 2025.  All these forces together will lead to transport as a service: autonomous cars which you will only use when you need them (the average car is used for only 4% of the time—the rest of the time, it’s parked) Per mile, costs of transport will drop 10 fold.  The (ICE) used car market will collapse. ICE car companies will have to compete with zero-value used cars and transport as a service which will be 10 times cheaper.  By 2030, the car fleet will be 80% smaller.  Oil demand will peak in 2020, and will be 30% lower by 2030.

A newly-built Danish school gets 50% of its electricity from solarpanels—in its walls.  Copenhagen is 55 degrees N, 3 degrees south of Juneau in Alaska, and 5 degrees north of Vancouver.  If they can do it, 90% of the world can.  Installed solar capacity has doubled every 2 years since 2000 (a 40% per annum growth rate)  Solar provides 1.5% of total world electricity, but it is just 6 doublings—12 years—away from providing 100% of world electricity.  By the end of this year, solar will be at or below grid parity in 80% of the world.   The falling cost of rooftop solar will soon fall below the cost of transmission, never mind generation.  Generation will be distributed, like an internet of energy.

When I watch Tony Seba, I am optimistic about us—mankind—doing enough to stop runaway global warming.  Solar is just getting cheaper every year, and if it continues growing at anything like the rate it is now, we will cut CO2 emissions by 30% over the next 15 years.  Electric cars will dominate the market in 15 or 20 years, and that will lead to a further cut in emissions from transport by 30% plus (remember a big chunk of oil demand is for stuff like tarmac or as feedstocks for plastics).  If we can also cut the emissions of iron and steel, cement production, and air transport we will be able to reduce emissions by 70% over the next 20 years.  This is far better than the IEA (International Energy Agency)’s  projections which assume emissions will keep on rising for decades.  Of course, you then have to deal with dimwits like Australia’s “Liberal” party, which now wishes to subsidise a coal-fired power station, which no utility will build (because it’s so much more expensive than renewables.)  But I hope intelligence will win.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Telsa to build world's largest battery bank in South Australia


In this post, I talked about Elon Musk's amazing offer to build a battery bank in South Australia which would "solve SA's power woes".  Well, after a competitive tender, Tesla has announced that it will, in co-operation with the French alternative energy company Neoen, build the world's biggest battery bank in South Australia.  It's maximum output will be 100 MW, which is 3 times larger than any other battery bank, and it will store 129 MWh of electricity, which is 1.6 times the Aliso Canyon battery bank in California.

Musk said that a failure to deliver the project on time would cost the group $50 million, which suggests that this is roughly the cost, since Musk is sticking by his promise to build it in 100 days or it would be free.  It would provide 1/15th of South Australia's electricity demand for 80 minutes.  This doesn't sound like a lot, but it's not meant to provide power overnight, say, or for the afternoon peak.  It'll work a bit differently:

The hourly averages of wind power generation can be predicted with almost complete accuracy 24 hours out (and even a week out is a good indication)  - and the more wind you have the more accurate. Solar is even more predictable. What's difficult is the 5 to 15 minute prediction. Will we have 190 MW or 177 MW in exactly 15 minutes time? That is the trick. 
And that's exactly what a big battery allows you to plan for. What you do is smooth the gaps between generation and load. If that gap starts to grow toward 100 MW (the size of your battery) and you don't have anything else ready to go, THEN you start your diesel (gas) generator. And you turn it off as soon as a cheaper source comes [back] online.  [Hat tip to RobertAussie]

The battery bank will be used to prevent the kind of cascading failures that occurred last (southern hemisphere) summer in South Australia.  When a big generator or a power line goes down, it causes voltage and frequency on the grid to "jerk".  This can cause other generators or grid lines to "trip", which cause further failures potentially leading to a system-wide collapse.  Unlike other forms of storage (CSP, pumped hydro) or gas peaker plants, batteries can respond virtually instantaneously to fluctuations in the frequency or the voltage of the grid.  This makes a blackout like those which occurred last summer much less likely.

It's not big enough though to solve the problem of time-shifting.  Demand peaks in the late afternoon, when the sun is already past the meridian, and continues into the night when there is no sun.  And although wind supply is forecastable, it's not fixed.   To reach 100% renewables, SA will likely require 5 hours of storage, plus an additional interconnector via Broken Hill to the east coast NSW grid.  It seems very likely that South Australia will build a CSP plant near Port Augusta in the state's north (lots of sunshine there).  The Federal government has already agreed to to tip in $110 million to help fund it at a low interest rate as part of a deal to get the support of Nick Xenophon in the Senate.  And you may be sure that if this battery bank works as expected, there will be others: after all, at this cost, one hour's storage would be just $750 million.  But it is a beginning.  It emphasises yet again that at some point a 100% renewable electricity supply is feasible, and as the cost of renewables plunges, also inevitable.

Read more here:

Tesla to build world's biggest lithium ion battery in South Australia

Elon Musk's big battery brings reality crashing into a post-truth world

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

World EV sales % reaches new record

EV (and PHEV) car sales as per cent of total global new car sales reached 1.7% in May.  Notice that the slope of the line is increasing--the switch to EVs is accelerating.

US EV/PHEV sales have levelled off.  I expect it's a case of reculer pour mieux sauter, as the market waits for the release of the US$35,000 Tesla 3 and the new extended range Nissan Leaf.

(Source of basic data Insideevs, OICA, and St Louis Fed; my seasonal adjustments and estimates; EV= electric vehicle; PHEV= plug-in hybrid electric vehicle)


by Tom Toles of the Washington Post

Monday, July 3, 2017

Record heat


Record heat in the US south-west:

It's So Hot in Arizona, Meteorologists Need New Weather Map Colors

Just like they had to in Australia in the southern hemisphere summer.

Record heat in Iran and Europe:

Scorching 129 Degree (F) Temps Hit Iran; Severe June European Heatwave Attributed to Climate Change; Satellite Data Confirms Rapid Global Warming

The heatwaves in Europe have been made more intense by climate change:

'Very strong' climate change signal in record June heat

After the last great El Niño in 1998, global temperatures dropped 0.2 degrees C in 1999.  The post El Niño decline so far this year has been 0.17 degrees (January to May 2017 vs same period 2016) and June's data will likely reduce this still fall further.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Carbon crunch

We can emit just 600 gigatonnes more of CO2 if we are to prevent dangerous global warming.  Logically, the longer we dither about cutting emissions the more rapidly emissions must be cut to avoid exceeding that limit.  This chart shows that very nicely.


The article this graph comes from lists six areas where we can accelerate the transition to a carbon free economy:

Renewables should make up at least 30% of total global electricity generation in 2020, up from 23.7% in 2015. They also propose that no new coal-fired power plants be built anywhere in the world after 2020 and all existing coal plants begin being retired.
[This goal is doable: the percentage of  renewables in generation globally is rising by 1% a year, and renewables are getting cheaper every year, so this will likely accelerate]
Countries should commit $300bn annually to help cities and states fully decarbonise buildings and infrastructure by 2050, with cities upgrading at least 3% of their building stock to zero- or near-zero emissions structures each year.
[This probably won't happen fast enough without a carbon tax]
Electric vehicles should make up at least 15% of new car sales globally, up from around 1% today. They also suggest a doubling of mass-transit utilisation in cities, a 20% increase in fuel efficiencies for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation per kilometre travelled.
[This goal is likely to be easily exceeded: EVs will be as cheap as ICEs within 5 years--I predict EVs will be 45% plus of  total car sales by 2025]
Enact policies that reduce deforestation and encourage more forest growth. They suggest cutting global deforestation to near zero by 2030 and focusing on agriculture practices that can sequester CO2 in soils.
[Also doable: global pressure on Brazil, Borneo, Australia etc will achieve results]
Heavy industries should plan to cut emissions in half by 2050.  [Cement and iron and steel production, intrinsic to our advanced civilisation, together emit 10-12% of global CO2 emissions.  We'll need CCS (Carbon capture and storage) for them]
Mobilise at least $1tn a year for climate mitigation and adaptation, mostly in the form of private investments, but with some government efforts to help set up “green bonds”. [Read more here]
There are two powerful drivers which will force policy shifts.  The first is that global warming isn't going away, as the recent heatwaves in Europe and the US demonstrate.  Only people in the pay of oil and coal continue to deny that it's happening right now.  The pressure on politicians will only ratchet up.  The second is that renewables have got so cheap and continue to get cheaper so that giving up carbon fuels will actually cut costs and increase living standards.

Despite Trump and the Right's demented obsession with fossil fuels I believe emissions have already peaked or will soon do so, and mankind will  achieve the emissions reduction shown in  blue line in the chart above.

(See also Clean Disruption and Doublings)



At several Trump golf courses there are framed covers from Time magazine.  Only, it turns out they're fake.  This is The New Yorker's John Mavroudis' take on them.