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, August 31, 2017

Who's a good boy, then?

I can't read the signature on this cartoon, so I can't credit the cartoonist. If you know who it is, please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

US renewables now equal to nuclear


In the six months to June, total renewables (including hydro) produced 20% of the US's electricity, only a whisker behind the contribution from nuclear.  This is partly due to a rebound from hydro with the ending of the drought in the West--hydro was up 16% year on year.  But wind was up 15.6%, and large-scale solar rose 55%, though solar still makes up just 1.3% of total generation.  Total electricity production was down 1.6%.

Renewables (excluding hydro) are growing by 16% per annum.  At this growth rate renewables will equal the amount of electricity currently generated from coal power stations within 6 years.  Meanwhile, the output of electricity from coal will continue to fall, because coal and nuclear are the most expensive generation sources.  Gas on the other hand is a lot cheaper, and can also be easily scaled up or down to fit in with variable demand as well as variable supply.   And at that point non-hydro renewables will probably be the largest source of electricity, providing 30% of the USA's electricity supply.  A couple of years after that, more than 50% of the US's electricity will be coming from renewables of all sources.

Something to look forward to.

Read more here and here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wind costs to halve again over next 12 years

Source of underlying data: Lazard

Wind costs have halved over the last 8 years, and are down 95% over the last 30.  So you might be forgiven for wondering just how much further this decline can go.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the US Dept of Energy, in a report says that the cost of wind will halve again over the next 12 years:

With science driving wind-technology innovations, the unsubsidized cost of wind energy could drop to 50% of current levels, equivalent to $23 per megawatt-hour, by 2030, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 
“Our research indicates that, if the United States continues to invest in wind research and development, wind energy can achieve costs competitive with the fuel-only cost of natural gas-fired electricity generation in less than 15 years,” said NREL engineer Katherine Dykes, lead author of the report. 
Next-generation wind technology—enabled by government-funded scientific advancement and industry-led technology innovation—will comprise a collection of intelligent and novel features characterized as “System Management of Atmospheric Resource through Technology,” or SMART strategies. SMART wind power plants will be designed and operated to achieve enhanced power production, more efficient material use, lower operation and maintenance and servicing costs, lower risks for investors, extended plant life, and an array of grid control and reliability features.  
The realization of the SMART wind power plant is projected to result in an unsubsidized cost of energy of $23 per megawatt-hour and below—a reduction of 50% or more from current cost levels. Under this scenario, wind energy deployments in the United States could increase to more than 200 gigawatts by 2030 and 500 gigawatts by 2050, supplying respectively 20% and 47% of U.S. electricity with wind. In addition, investment in SMART wind power technology research and innovation could support as much as $150 billion in cumulative electric sector cost savings from 2017 to 2050.

[Read more here]

 The costs of wind are falling more slowly than the costs of solar, but they're still declining.  NREL's forecast is that they will go on falling by 6% per annum, which is lower than it's been over the last decade (9% per annum)  but they key point is that wind is already cheaper than coal.  According to Lazard, natural gas costs about the same as (unsubsidised) wind.  And gas is still very handy for filling gaps in supply or surges in demand because unlike coal or nuclear, you can quickly scale it up or down.  Yet, as costs from wind decline further, even natural gas will become too costly next to its renewable competitors.

Green concrete


To make cement, you "cook" limestone (CaCO3) or dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2 ) , which drives off the CO2.  So cement production is a contributor to carbon emissions, and ultimately we will need to find new ways to make cement and concrete.

An Ozzie firm has plans to produce "green concrete", which doesn't use cement, but instead actually uses CO2 instead of emitting it.

An Australian pilot project capturing carbon emissions and storing them in building materials aims to have a full-scale production plant by 2020. 
Mineral Carbonation International, an Australian company developing carbon-utilisation technology will officially launch its technology and research program at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources on Friday. 
The launch will include a demonstration of the hour-long process bonding CO2 - stored in large cylinders at one end of the warehouse - with crushed serpentinite from the nearby Orica Kooragang Island operation, permanently converting it into solid carbonates. 
“This mimics but greatly speeds up the natural weathering by rainfall which produces common types of rocks over millions of years,” MCI said. “These carbonates and silica by-products have the potential to be used in building products such as concrete and plasterboard to create green construction materials.”

[read more here]

I talked about converting CO2 to stone here, which is a similar idea, except that in the case of green concrete, they have a product they can sell.  Given just how much CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere if we are to avoid 3 degrees C of warming, this process by itself isn't going to make a huge difference.  But consider: if concrete production can go from contributing CO2 to the atmosphere even just to zero emissions, let alone negative emissions, that will be a huge step forward.  And obviously (as always) a carbon tax would help.

You might also like:

Extracting CO2 from the atmosphere

Monday, August 28, 2017

Terrorist kills 53,000!

Imagine for a moment that you saw this headline.  You would be outraged and frightened  You would demand that something be done.  And you would be sure that something would be done (even if it didn't really help.)  But what if we're not talking about terrorism, but air pollution?


This is the thesis of this intriguing piece by the prolific and insightful Zachary Shahan of CleanTechnica.  As he points out, 7 million a year around the world die prematurely from the effects of air pollution, 200,000 die in the USA, of which 53,000 die from air pollution caused by vehicles.

So why do we care so much about the deaths from a terrorist attack, and yet just shrug our shoulders with all these deaths from toxic air?

I think it's because we regard air pollution as something unavoidable.  It's been with us ever since industrialisation began.  Jane Austen mentions some of her characters living in the cleaner air of the West End of London.  The prevailing wind is westerly; the smoke from the factories and chimneys would blow towards the East End, where the poor lived.  If something just is, and you feel your power to change it is limited, you just put up with it.  Especially if what is needed is collective action.   Sometimes, then, change only happens because of an outcry because things have got intolerable.  China is a good example of that.  Some part of her embrace of renewables is due to her horrendous air pollution.

But everyone might also feel, that however regrettable the deaths caused by air pollution are, they are the price we pay for all the other benefits of our civilisation. We shrug.  We need electricity, we need cars.  Life's a bitch.  Sigh. Yet you might start to feel differently once you realise you can produce electricity without pollution, you can have transport without pollution.  You can have clean air.  It's no longer an unattainable goal.  We don't have to live with air pollution.  The technologies exist to eliminate it completely.  It's doable.

Let's do it.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The front cover of The Economist has this entertaining graphic (kudos to the artist):

The Economist has called the death of the internal combustion engine (ICE), in this article.

“HUMAN inventiveness…has still not found a mechanical process to replace horses as the propulsion for vehicles,” lamented Le Petit Journal, a French newspaper, in December 1893. Its answer was to organise the Paris-Rouen race for horseless carriages, held the following July. The 102 entrants included vehicles powered by steam, petrol, electricity, compressed air and hydraulics. Only 21 qualified for the 126km (78-mile) race, which attracted huge crowds. The clear winner was the internal combustion engine. 

But its days are numbered. Rapid gains in battery technology favour electric motors instead. In Paris in 1894 not a single electric car made it to the starting line, partly because they needed battery-replacement stations every 30km or so. Today’s electric cars, powered by lithium-ion batteries, can do much better. The Chevy Bolt has a range of 383km; Tesla fans recently drove a Model S more than 1,000km on a single charge. UBS, a bank, reckons the “total cost of ownership” of an electric car will reach parity with a petrol one next year—albeit at a loss to its manufacturer. It optimistically predicts electric vehicles will make up 14% of global car sales by 2025, up from 1% today. Others have more modest forecasts, but are hurriedly revising them upwards as batteries get cheaper and better—the cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130-200 today. Regulations are tightening, too. Last month Britain joined a lengthening list of electric-only countries, saying that all new cars must be zero-emission by 2050.

[Read more here and here]

Battery costs are plunging and energy density is rising.


Over the last year everybody has been frantically upgrading their forecasts.  Here's my forecast: they will upgrade them again, and again, and again, over the next couple of years.  We are at the "tipping point", the point where the "S" technology adoption curves flip up.  Notice how low Exxon-Mobil's forecasts are.  Cognitive dissonance, anyone?


Thursday, August 24, 2017

It's not about the statue, it's about the base

A cartoon from Jonathan Schmock

Concentrated solar power sails through the eclipse

Obviously, during a solar eclipse, the amount of electricity produced by a solar panel declines.  But concentrated solar power (CSP) stores the energy of the sun in tanks of molten salts, which means that a solar eclipse shouldn't impact power output at all.

And so it was. The chart below from Solar Reserve's twitter feed, shows sunlight compared with electricity generation, with the moment of the solar eclipse marked with a little crescent.  Note how stable the output is, even though there was what was prolly a cloud passing over at 9 am and the eclipse at 10.30.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


China cancels 170 GW of coal

China is key to reducing global emissions.  It emits about 30% of the world's CO2.  In effect, the rest of us can make all heroic efforts we can, but if China is still growing its consumption of carbon fuels, we won't cut emissions fast enough to avoid 3 degrees C warming, let alone 1.5.

Coal is also key.  Burning coal is the single largest source of  CO2 emissions globally.  So news from China that it is cancelling 150 GW (gigawatts) of new coal capacity is excellent.  Late last year and early this year, China cancelled 137 GW of new and under-construction coal power stations, taking total cancellations up to 287 GW. Current coal generation capacity is 900 GW, so the equivalent of 30% of current coal capacity has been cancelled.

Coal demand has already fallen in China, down 1.3% in 2014, 3.7% in 2015 and 4.7% in 2016.  Since coal is being partly replaced by gas, which produces half the CO2 that coal does when it is burned, while oil demand is rising as China's car fleet rapidly expands, total emissions haven't fallen.  The rising percentage of EVs and PHEVs in new car sales will at some point cause oil demand to decline, but gas demand is likely to keep on rising, perhaps for another decade, until more CSP plants are built and grid batteries become a lot cheaper.

We're on the right road, and our speed down it is accelerating, but we are still  a long way from the end.

Read more here:

China Halts Construction On 150 Gigawatts Of New Coal Power Plants
Renewables Boom as China Halts or Eliminates Another 170 Gigawatts of Coal Power Plants

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse conspiracy

The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing. 
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math. 
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself. 
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.” 
That is, of course, unless we wear glasses that are on a list issued by these very same scientists. Meanwhile, corporations like Amazon are profiting from the sale of these eclipse glasses. Is anyone asking how many of these astronomers also, conveniently, belong to Amazon Prime? 
Let’s follow the money a little further. Hotels along the “path of totality”—a region drawn up by Obama-era NASA scientists—have been sold out for months. Some of those hotels are owned and operated by large multinational corporations. Where else do these hotels have locations? You guessed it: Washington, D.C. 
In fact the entire politico-scientifico-corporate power structure is aligned behind the eclipse. This includes the mainstream media. How many news stories have you read about how the eclipse won’t happen? 
Meanwhile the newspaper owner Jeff Bezos is out there buying all of Seattle with the revenue from these “eclipse glasses.” 
You’d think there would be a balanced look at even considering the idea that the eclipse isn’t going to happen. It’s like no one is even thinking to question this. Where are their voices? Why does Google give so few results that say the eclipse is fake? I would start by looking at Mark Zuckerberg and Charles “Chuck” Schumer. 
I am not saying the eclipse isn’t going to happen. I’m just saying there are two sides to every story.

[From The Atlantic]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

World headed for second warmest year

July 2107 was the hottest July ever recorded, even though there is no El Niño.  This increases the risk that 2017 as a whole will be the second hottest year ever measured.  Even though there is no El Niño.  Denialists wasted a lot of time and effort reiterating that global temperatures hadn't risen for 17 years, when they weren't complaining that the data had been "made up". (Notice the contradiction there?  You can't simultaneously say that temperatures aren't rising and that the data series you are basing that assertion on is fake).  When temperatures did then jump, the denialists' excuse was El Niño.  What will their excuses/explanations be at the end of this year?

This is a race, people.  A race between rising temperatures and our worldwide struggle to slash CO2 emissions before it's too late.  As I said here and here and here, we have started down the road towards a zero carbon economy.  But, oh! progress is so slow.


It's not the sun

Climate denialists' favourite "explanation" for global warming (when they're not claiming that the temperature data are made up) is that the sun has got warmer.

Here's a nice piece from Carbon Brief by Zeke Hausfather (who worked with Robert Muller at Berkeley Earth)   This is the chart from that piece comparing solar irradiance and global temperatures.  As Hausfather points out, solar irradiance has declined since the 1970s, while global temperatures have risen.  Just looking at the chart, I would say there is some sort of cyclical relationship with the 11-year sunspot cycle roughly corresponding with a similar (but more random) temperature cycle, which fluctuates around a rising trend.  It's the trend that matters.  And the irradiance trend is gently down, which the temperature trend is strongly up.


See also: Is it the sun?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Barnaby's chickens come home to roost.

Barnaby Joyce is the deputy Prime Minister, leader of the National (country) Party, one of the two parties in the ruling right-wing coalition government of Australia.  He has fallen foul of section 44 of the constitution, which forbids any member of the House or the Senate from being a dual citizen.  Turns out he's a New Zealand citizen as well as an Ozzie citizen.  The birds are kiwis, a flightless bird from NZ, which is also what Ozzies call their cousins from across the Tasman Sea.

The cartoon is from Broelman, who I thought had given up cartooning but I see is still on Twitter.

Trump's golf game

By the very clever Cathy Wilcox.

Trump Vision

From the excellent Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe

Ozzie renewables costs have halved in 5 years

I constantly encounter people who deny that renewables are the cheapest source of new power.  "We will have to live in caves", they moan.  "It means 'lights out'," they grumble.  "Our civilisation will never be able to survive with 100% renewables", they shout.

So it's nice to get the facts from an electricity company's chief executive:

Source: Origin Energy Presentation to shareholders and analysts.
Note (1): Origin and publicly released 3rd party data

The chart comes from Origin Energy's results presentation two days ago.  It shows bundled PPA (power purchase agreements) for wind and solar PV.

The average cost in 2012 was A$132.50/MWh.  This year the average is A$67.5.   They've halved in just 5 years.  Halved.

Origin Energy is, like AGL, a large generator and retailer ("gentailer") of electricity.   AGL estimates the costs of new brown coal power stations at $100/MWh,  and new black coal power stations at $110/MWh, and stated that its cost of existing production from its fleet of black- and brown-coal power stations at A$37/MWh.  Origin stated that "renewables are the lowest cost new-build generation today".  Which is pretty much what AGL has been saying too.

There is a key follow-through:  if renewables costs halve again in the next 5 years or 6 or 7 years (and they most probably will), this means renewables will then be cheaper than existing coal power stations never mind new ones. It's worse than that, though, for coal power stations.  Once you have built a wind or solar farm you might as well use it as much as possible, since they have (close to) zero marginal costs (no fuel and minimal maintenance.) Which means that quite often old coal power stations will be competing at the margin with electricity which is virtually free.  But coal power stations can't ramp supply up or down in response to movements in supply and demand or in wholesale prices.  They can't just stop operating for a couple of hours or so while renewable electricity is free and they're losing money.  And that is a recipe for financial disaster in the longer-term.  

Inevitably, the plunge in the costs of renewables and the simultaneous rise in their penetration into the grid will accelerate the closure of superannuated coal-fired power stations.  Probably much faster than most analysts now expect.  This local dynamic surely reflects the global picture too.

What about the famous "variability" of renewables?  I've talked a lot about how little storage is actually needed to provide stability to the grid, especially if supply comes from different technologies (wind, solar, CSP, hydro, biomass) spread over different geographies, here and here and here.   South Australia's decision to build a CSP plant at Port Augusta, as well as its decision to build the world's largest battery bank shows what's likely to be replicated elsewhere in Australia as well as overseas.

The Port Augusta CSP plant has a PPA of A$75/MWh, materially below the cost of new coal.   Another three CSP plants (with a total cost of under A$2 billion) would by themselves take South Australia's renewables to 100% of total supply and would provide enough storage (36% of demand for 8 hours) to do it without compromising reliability even if all the rest came from wind and solar, and even if SA lost the interconnectors with Victoria.

 Again, what is happening here in Oz is symptomatic of what is happening globally: rapidly falling renewables prices; dirt cheap CSP; mega battery banks; inevitable closure of coal power stations; and a rapid greening of the grid.

The moral remains: yes we can.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Make it look like an accident

It's time for some humour.

Daniel Craig is to play 007 again (yay!)

Frankly, there is much to be said for a Constitutional Monarchy.

Ozone pollution tied to cardiovascular disease

I must confess, I used not to worry too much about air pollution, I suppose because I live in a relatively unpolluted part of the world, in the countryside.  Recently, however, I've been getting chronic bronchitis, and so I started doing research on what might cause it.  One of the possibilities is air pollution.  When we moved here 8 years ago, the road outside our house was a lot less busy than it is now.  Now, in our front yard, we can smell diesel fumes.  The reality of air pollution has become personal.

Here's Wikipedia on low level (near the surface of the earth) ozone:

Low level ozone (or tropospheric ozone) is an atmospheric pollutant. It is not emitted directly by car engines or by industrial operations, but formed by the reaction of sunlight on air containing hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides that react to form ozone directly at the source of the pollution or many kilometers down wind. 
Ozone reacts directly with some hydrocarbons such as aldehydes and thus begins their removal from the air, but the products are themselves key components of smog. Ozone photolysis by UV light leads to production of the hydroxyl radical HO• and this plays a part in the removal of hydrocarbons from the air, but is also the first step in the creation of components of smog such as peroxyacyl nitrates, which can be powerful eye irritants. 

[Read more here]

It turns out that tropospheric ozone is a powerful greenhouse gas too, but fortunately, unlike CO2, it's relatively short-lived.

Although ozone was present at ground level before the Industrial Revolution, peak concentrations are now far higher than the pre-industrial levels, and even background concentrations well away from sources of pollution are substantially higher. Ozone acts as a greenhouse gas, absorbing some of the infrared energy emitted by the earth. 
Quantifying the greenhouse gas potency of ozone is difficult because it is not present in uniform concentrations across the globe. However, the most widely accepted scientific assessments relating to climate change (e.g. the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report) suggest that the radiative forcing of tropospheric ozone is about 25% that of carbon dioxide. 
The annual global warming potential of tropospheric ozone is between 918–1022 tons carbon dioxide equivalent/tons tropospheric ozone. This means on a per-molecule basis, ozone in the troposphere has a radiative forcing effect roughly 1,000 times as strong as carbon dioxide. However, tropospheric ozone is a short-lived greenhouse gas, which decays in the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide. This means that over a 20-year span, the global warming potential of tropospheric ozone is much less, roughly 62 to 69 tons carbon dioxide equivalent / ton tropospheric ozone. 
Because of its short-lived nature, tropospheric ozone does not have strong global effects, but has very strong radiative forcing effects on regional scales. In fact, there are regions of the world where tropospheric ozone has a radiative forcing up to 150% of carbon dioxide.

[Read more here]

Now comes the research that ozone significantly increases the risk of cardio-vascular disease.
Ozone air pollution has now been directly tied to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which expands the list of health effects known to be caused by ozone exposure, and also lowers the threshold at which ozone is known to be dangerous (by a fair amount). 
To explain, it’s been known for quite some time that exposure to ozone is associated with reduced lung function — and everything that goes along with that — but the new work now shows that high blood pressure (and the risk of experiencing a heart attack and/or a stroke) are associated with it as well. 
These effects were found with ozone exposure lower than that which affects respiratory health, and lower than current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards.

[Read more here]

Burning fossil fuels isn't just causing global warming.  It's also causing pollution which is killing us.  More on that in my next post.

Monday, August 14, 2017

South Australia to get 150 MW CSP plant


There's a sort of Heisenberg uncertainty principle at work in renewable energy: you can get (reasonable) certainty about output, but not price, if you go with fossil fuel generation, or you can get certainty about price but output is variable, if you go with renewables.  Except for concentrated solar power (CSP), where you can get both.

It produces stable output at a fixed price.  In fact CSP is better than "baseload" because it produces dispatchable power, power on demand as it were, because of its molten salt storage, which is an integral part of the process.  This is why I have found it so interesting and intriguing: it provides the "gap filler" ("firming") which will allow us to go to 100% renewables.  And CSP produces no toxic effluent, uses no water, can produce power 24/7 or as required, and is surprisingly cheap.  Also, CSP uses the infra red (heat) rays from the sun as well as visible light, whereas solar PV just uses visible light.

I've talked about CSP often, but you might find these particular posts helpful:

CSP gets dirt cheap
CSP on steroids
Baseload solar at 6c per kWh
Yes we can
Solar Towers

And RenewEconomy has a nice piece on the Port Augusta CSP plant here.

The South Australian government has contracted with Solar Reserve, builder of the pioneering Crescent Dunes CSP plant in Nevada, to provide the electricity needed by all state government operations in the state.  The plant will have a capacity of 150 MW (with output of 135MW )which is the largest in the world, and will have 1100 MWh (or 8 hours) of storage.  Electricity demand in South Australia is (rough average) 1.5 GWh per hour.  So this plant can provide 9% of South Australia's demand and more than 100% of the state government's demand.

It will deliver electricity at A$75/MWh (US$56/MWh).  This is even cheaper than SolarReserve's Likana solar energy project at Antofagasta (Chile), a triple CSP plant which is contracted to supply the Chilean grid at US$64/MWh.  It's cheaper than new coal (A$100/MWh for brown coal and A$110/MWh for black coal) and not much more expensive than existing coal (A$37/MWh) which is cheap because the aging power stations are fully depreciated.

But coal power stations cannot scale output up and down like a CSP power station can.  So during daylight, power could come from solar PV, currently A$60 to A$65 per MWh, then at night it could come from the stored power in the molten salt reservoirs of the CSP plant.  This ability to dispatch power when needed is far more useful than the fixed output of a coal or nuclear power station.  And all those old, and therefore cheap, coal power stations will have to close down over the next 10 to 15 years, because it will be far too costly to upgrade them. even ignoring a carbon tax.  And compared to new coal power stations at A$100 plus, a combination of wind, solar and CSP will be half the cost, with perfect energy security.

If this doesn't silence the conservative naysayers I don't know what will.  Nothing, probably.  Their passion for coal is so bizarrely dotty that there is no explaining how they reach their opinions. But make no mistake: this signals the death knell of coal.  Queensland will want a CSP plant too.  And Victoria.  And NSW.  And the success of this plant and all the others SolarReserve is building around the world will encourage other places with lots of heat and sun to build their own.  At this price it would be a no-brainer not to.  Who will want or need "baseload" now?

Carbon capture and storage


One keeps on encountering coal enthusiasts who believe that coal power stations can be made green by carbon capture and storage (CCS).  Well, of course, technically, they can.  But it would be very costly.

This article (Carbon Capture Is Expensive Because Physics) gives an excellent synopsis of the processes involved.  First you have to capture the CO2 from the flues of power stations.  Then you have to compress or liquefy the CO2 and transport it away for storage.  Then it has to be stored.  Each of these steps is expensive.  In fact, CCS would add (in the US) $168 to $196 per MWh to the cost of electricity generated by coal.  Lazard calculates the cost of new coal in the USA at $60 to $143 per MWh.  So adding CCS to a coal-fired power station would at least double the cost of electricity from coal.  And there is no guarantee that the CO2, once pumped deep underground, stays there.

OK, so what about this?

On the roof of a waste incinerator outside Zurich, the Swiss firm Climeworks has built the world’s first commercial plant to suck CO2 directly from the air. 
Climeworks says that its direct air capture (DAC) process – a form of negative emissions often considered too expensive to be taken seriously – costs $600 per tonne of CO2 today. This is partly covered by selling the CO2 to a nearby fruit and vegetable grower for use in its greenhouse. 
Climeworks hopes to get this down to $100/tCO2 by 2025 or 2030. It aims to be capturing 1% of global CO2 emissions each year by 2025.

[Read more here.  I mentioned another company which also hopes to extract CO2 from the air here]

Remember that right now, global temps are rising by a little under 0.2 degrees C per decade.  If there is no acceleration in this rate, the world will be 1.6 degrees warmer by 2100, and global temperatures will have risen by a cumulative 2.8 degrees since pre-industrial times.  This would be disastrous for our civilisation.  Catastrophic.  In order to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees C by 2100,  we will have to have negative emissions, i.e., we will have to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.   If we could site direct air plants near basaltic rock formations we could convert CO2 to rock, which at least eliminates the leakage problem.  It's technically feasible.

The trouble is that this seems very pie-in-the-sky, without a high carbon tax to make it economically worthwhile.  The costs of CCS give you some idea of what rate a carbon tax should be set at:  at least $120 per tonne of CO2.  And you can imagine the politics of that: the denialists and coal and oil interests would have a field day.  They object strongly to even $20 per tonne.

Far better never to emit the CO2 in the first place.  But it is probably already too late for that.

At my most pessimistic, I wonder whether mankind is wise enough collectively to take the steps necessary to stop emitting CO2 and then to start withdrawing it from the atmosphere.  It sometimes seems to me that we are, as a species, astonishingly stupid.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

AGL rubbishes conservative push for coal

AGL Energy has continued to rubbish suggestions from members of the Coalition, as well as the Murdoch media and the ABC, that Australia should invest in new baseload generation, particularly in coal plants. 
“We just don’t see the development of a new coal-fired power plant as economically rational, even before carbon costs,” AGL Energy CEO Andy Vesey told analysts and journalists at a briefing on Thursday, to mark the release of its annual profit results. 
And nor would the company consider extending the life of existing coal-fired generators, such as the Liddell plant in the NSW Hunter Valley, which is scheduled to close in 2022. 
AGL made a point in its presentation that the most economic option to replace the 2000MW Liddell would not be coal, or baseload gas, but a mix of energy from wind and solar, and various load shaping and firming capacity from other sources.

[read more here]

AGL is the largest electricity generator and retailer ("gentailer") in Australia.  The company reiterated that it sees wind as the cheapest power source in Australia, with solar not far behind, even when you add the cost of storage ("firming").  And of course, the costs of wind and solar continue to decline.  A coal generator begun now would face competition from wind and solar which will be 50 or 60% cheaper in 7 years time when it is completed.  Note that these costings do not include the impact of any tax on carbon, which would only make the cost disparity worse.


Meanwhile Frank Calabria, the CEO of Origin Energy, a competitor to AGL said:

“Renewables are now the lowest cost new generation and with the rapid increase in renewable supply not just by Origin but the broader market, we expect to see this start to put downwards pressure on prices for customers.” 
Both Calabria and fellow utility chief, AGL Energy’s Andy Vesey, were keen to re-assert their belief that an increased supply of cheap renewable energy generation was the most crucial ingredient for lowering the cost of electricity.

[Read more here]

Out of the horses' mouths.  Renewables are cheaper.  The way to reduce electricity costs is to have more of them.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Elon says Model 3 sales could exceed 700,000

Tesla Model 3 (Source)

Elon Musk previously guided demand for Model 3, Tesla’s new mass market electric vehicle, to reach roughly 500,000 vehicles per year. 
Following the launch of the new electric car last month, Musk is now more confident of the demand for the vehicle and he sees it potentially reaching an annual rate of “more than 700,000 units.”

[read more here.  Reminder: Tesla does no advertising.]

By comparison, total EV and PHEV sales in the US are currently running at about 16,000 a month, seasonally adjusted.  So if 100% of Tesla's model 3 sales were made in the USA it would raise EV/PHEV sales four fold, from 1.3% of all car sales to 5.2%.  Elon's 700,000 forecast is probably for global sales.  Seasonally adjusted, global sales are running at 90,000 a month (1.6% of world car sales).  This implies a 64% increase in global EV/PHEV sales just from Tesla, taking the EV sales percentage globally to 2.6%.  But GM's Bolt sales are doing well, Nissan is launching a new longer-range Leaf next month, and China has aggressive EV/PHEV targets, just for starters.  The percentage of EVs/PHEVs is going to rise very rapidly.  By the end of 2019, EV/PHEV sales should have reached 10% of total car sales in the US.

We are at the flexion point for EV/PHEV sales, and in the past when the technology S-curve flexes upwards, the shift to the new technology is very fast.  Think how quickly Kodak went from the world's largest and most famous camera company to bankruptcy.

Will Tesla achieve that kind of exponential growth in production?  Perhaps not.  But even if the targets slip 6 months, EV and PHEV sales are going to explode over the next 5 and 10 years.  And oil demand is going to plunge.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trump rally

By Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle

Republicans on Climate Change

Even in the UK, solar makes a big contribution

Forgive me, Brits, but the UK isn't known for its sunny climate.  Not, say, like California or Arizona or Australia.  So it's even more heartening than usual to see what a large contribution solar is making to the UK's switch to renewables.

From PV Magazine:

UK’s solar fleet helps reduce power demand to lowest level in eight years. Data from energy analysts EnAppSys reveals that average [net] half-hour power demand in July was just 26.2 GW, the lowest point since the last recession, as more distributed solar energy eased grid peaks. 
Improved energy efficiency in consumer electronic goods, and a marked reduction in energy-intensive heavy industry have certainly been factors in helping Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland, so not the U.K. as a whole) register its lowest quarterly power demand for eight years, but the role of distributed solar power embedded into the system cannot be overlooked – that is the conclusion of the latest Q2 2017 GB Electricity Market Summary Report by EnAppSys. 
According to the data, average [net] half-hourly power demand in July was 26. 2 GW, and average half-hourly gross demand was 29.2 GW – the former the lowest monthly total since 2009, the latter a record low. With 3 GW half-hourly average of embedded generation, the impact of solar’s rise has been stark, the data showed.

[Read more here]

Of course, there won't be much solar in winter.  But winter is also the time of gales and storms, which means that wind generates a lot more.  Even so, the UK and other northerly nations without hydro will most likely need some seasonal storage, where the energy from surplus electricity is stored as gas, either directly as hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water or by converting the hydrogen to methane via the Sabatier process.

Trickle-down economics is a nightmare


The Washington Post talks about the economic retreat of Kansas:

The Republican gospel of cutting taxes and government services to the bone doesn’t lead to economic growth; it leads to crisis and decline. Just ask the people of Kansas, who finally have seen the light. 
The states are supposed to be laboratories for testing government policy. For five years, Kansas’s Republican governor, Sam Brownback, conducted the nation’s most radical exercise in trickle-down economics — a “real-live experiment,” he called it. He and the GOP-controlled legislature slashed the state’s already-low tax rates, eliminated state income tax for most owner-operated businesses and sharply reduced vital government services. These measures were supposed to deliver “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” Brownback said. 
It ended up being a shot of poison. Growth rates lagged behind those in neighboring states and the nation as a whole. Deficits mounted to unsustainable levels. Services withered. Brownback had set in motion a vicious cycle, not a virtuous one.

[There's more: read it here]

You might also find this post interesting: Lessons from history

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

South Australia already 57% renewables

The official South Australian state target is 50% renewables by 2025.  Well, it's already 50% wind, with another 7.5% from rooftop solar. Since South Australians are adding rooftop solar at record rates,  plus there are several large-scale projects due to come on line over the next year or so: 109 MW Hornsdale wind; 220 MW Bungala solar; 212 MW Lincoln Gap wind, the renewables percentage is likely to hit 65% be the end of 2018.  There are numerous other projects close to financial close, so 80% renewables by 2020/21 seems very plausible.

[Read more here: RenewEconomy--South Australia already at 57% wind and solar in 2016/17]


This is in fact quite a big deal.  Two north German laender (states), Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,  have reached 100% renewables, but they are well connected to the rest of Germany as well as by HVDC lines to Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  Surplus electricity can easily be sold outside their regions, and if the wind stops blowing, they can buy electricity in.

South Australia on the other hand is almost an "island grid".  There are two interconnectors to the Victorian grid, but one is small and connects with western Victoria where the grid is already inadequate.  If demand on the interconnector gets too high, the switches trip and the interconnector is shut down.  The grid operators in SA have to be careful not to rely too much on being able to sell surplus power to Victoria or to buy when there is a deficit in South Australia.  (The reason for this inadequacy is that the state electricity grids used to be entirely separate, as they were run by public enterprises owned separately by each state.)

So South Australia has the highest renewables penetration of any large-scale "island grid" anywhere.  (Hawaii has a population less than half South Australia's, and until recently has been using diesel to provide electricity.)  How SA copes with being an island grid will provide lessons for the rest of us, because if they can do it, so can we.  They are building the world's largest battery bank, and there are strong rumours of a 110 MW CSP plant by SolarReserve in the state's north.

Note that this rapid roll out of renewables in South Australia has happened and is happening despite the hostility of the Commonwealth government and the Murdoch press.  SA has been ruled by the Labor Party, but there is a state election next year which the so-called "liberal" Party might win, in which case the rise of renewables in SA will come to a screeching halt.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Solar and wind taking over!

Solar and wind had the most new capacity of all generation types installed world wide in 2016.

Source: The Conversation

Note: that's capacity not output.  Applying reasonable capacity factors, we get these percentages of new output:

Coal's contribution to electricity supply is now the largest of all, even with a capacity factor of just 60% (most new coal plants are being built in India and China and their capacity factors are much lower than the theoretical limit of 90% because of burgeoning renewables supply.) Capacity factors in solar are creeping up, but you can't get away from the fact that the sun doesn't shine for half the day, and is low in the sky for a quarter.  Wind capacity factors are also lifting, with new turbines able to turn even at low speeds.

To stop global warming, we need to cease deployment of new coal power, and start retiring existing coal power stations. Gas is an OK gap-filler temporarily, until storage costs fall low enough.

However, the roll out of wind and solar is likely to be exponential rather than linear.  Wind and solar now contribute 5.5% of world electricity demand.  10 years ago they together provided 1% of total world  electricity demand.  Solar capacity has been doubling every 2 years since at least 2000 (a 40% per annum growth rate), wind every three (26% p.a. growth rate.)

Global electricity demand is growing by 3% p.a., and that ignores the roll-out of EVs.  In the US, EVs will add 1/3rd to electricity demand, in Europe less, because Europeans drive less than Americans.  China and India would be less than that now because of low car ownership, but that will rise over the next 25 to 30 years.  So let's assume that EVs add 33% to electricity demand over 20 years.  That's an additional 1.5% p.a., so world electricity demand will grow by 4.5% p.a.

Wind and solar are already cheaper than coal, and are getting even cheaper every year.  Assume solar continues to grow by 40% per annum, and wind by a more relaxed 16% per annum, because increasingly, utilities will prefer solar over wind.   On these assumptions, wind and solar would supply (very back of envelope calcs) 68% of total global electricity demand by 2028.  (Most of the rest will come from hydro, nuclear, etc.)

Note chart is using a log scale.  What the exponential model shows is that the ground gained by renewables is very slow in early years, but accelerates every year.  Over the next decade, the rise is huge, from 5.5% of total electricity to 55%.  In passing, I point out that my rough calcs suggest that incremental growth in renewables will exceed incremental growth in total global electricity demand in 2020.  That's when emissions will really start to fall.  That's just 3 years away.  So, optimism, anyone?

So what can you do?

By Fritz Ahlefeldt (Source)

In my last post, I was extremely depressed about the likelihood that mankind would slash carbon emissions in time to save our civilisation.

Of course, coal and oil producers would love us to give up the fight, as would denialists of all stripes.  Because in fact we still can, if we all put our minds to it, avoid the potential catastrophic futures which might happen if we don't act.

What do we (collectively) need to do?

We must switch all electricity generation from fossil fuels to generation methods which produce no CO2: wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, biomass, geothermal.  This is key.  In principle we can run almost all our other activities using electricity, and if that electricity is carbon-free we would have de-carbonised the whole economy.  Right now, though, there are some industrial processes which will be hard to make carbon-free.  For example, manufacturing iron and steel and cement produces CO2 as part of the process.  So we'll need to find ways of making iron and steel and cement which do not emit CO2, or find ways to store the CO2 as rock or deep underground.  This is called carbon capture and storage (CCS) and is much more expensive than not emitting the CO2 in the first place.

In addition, we need to electrify our transport--we need to switch the whole car fleet to electric vehicles (EVs).  We need electric lorries (trucks) and aircraft and ships powered by bio-diesel or batteries.

Finally, we need to stop clearing and burning forests and bushland.

If we do these three things, we will cut emissions by 70 or 80%. That's a huge step forward on the road to zero emissions.  But we need to do this as soon as possible.  Not by 2050 or 2100 but in 20 years.  Every country should have a target of replacing 5% of electricity generation  each year with carbon-free generation.  That would mean that within 20 years we would reach zero emissions for electricity.  And every country should have a target of increasing the percentage of EVs in total car and truck sales by 5% a year.  In 20 years 100% of car and lorry sales would be electric.  At that point 50% of the total fleet would be electric, and by 10 years after that 100% would be carbon-free.

Here's what you can do personally to move the world to zero emissions:

  1. Buy your electricity from a 100% green supplier.  If enough of us do that we will force dinosaur utilities to install more green generation.
  2. If you have the roof space, fit solar panels.  6 kW should be enough to supply your electricity needs on average over the course of a year in most places on the planet.  In most places this will save you money.  The panels will pay for themselves in 5 to 7 years, which means that for the next 20 years thereafter, your electricity is free.  You don't need a battery to do this, but where the feed-in tariff is very low (Australia, for example), a battery behind the meter will save you more money on top of the savings from installing solar.  If you wait 3 or 4 years, though, batteries will be 50% cheaper.
  3. Consider buying an electric car or a plug-in hybrid with a decent electric range.  The Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3, and the new long-range Nissan Leaf all cost the same as the average car.  In 5 years, they will be cheaper still, but after that the absolute price declines will slow.  If you're in a place where there are government incentives to buy electric, these will probably be removed by then, so the net after-subsidy costs may not fall that much.
  4. Nag your local council to buy clean electricity for all its uses: street lights, traffic lights, municipal sports centres and swimming pools, old age homes, schools, etc.  Remember, renewables are as cheap as or cheaper than fossil fuels.  Your municipality might even save money.
  5. Contradict the lie that renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels whenever you can, wherever you can.  They are not.  Point out that wind is getting cheaper by 5-10% a year (thanks to new turbine designs), solar by 15-20% a year (thanks to efficiency improvements and economies of scale)  and batteries by 25% plus a year.  Point out that the battery in your phone used to cost $800 25 years ago and now costs $25.
  6. Vote for political parties which are serious about doing something about climate change.  Some are downright hostile to the idea of global warming and the use of renewables, even though they are cheaper.  Many more pay lip service to the goal of zero emissions, but don't actually implement effective policies.  Give us virtue but not  yet.  Global warming is the greatest crisis facing our civilisation.  Its negative effects are already visible.  This should be your first criterion when you choose which party to vote for.
  7. Push for the removal of subsidies to fossil fuels, which total billions of dollar globally.  It's demented to pay fossil fuel producers to ruin our planet.
  8. Push for a carbon tax starting at $20 per tonne of emissions, rising by $5 each year, with the proceeds of the tax being returned to all citizens by way of a quarterly cheque. That makes a carbon tax politically palatable.  British Columbia's carbon tax worked spectacularly well.  And push to tax imports from countries which do not have a similar tax or carbon reduction scheme.
  9. Pass on the posts I make here to all your friends.  Keep them informed and determined.

We can do it, if we truly want to.   It's up to us.  There's not going to be some magical wand-waving fairy who saves us.  It's our world, and it's the only one we have.  Start pushing, today.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Get Rid of the Senate

From Tom Toles, cartoonist at the Washington Post


Totten Glacier (Source)

Sometimes I am quite optimistic that we will stop global warming getting any worse.  The costs of renewables are plunging, there is a ferment of new ideas and technology in batteries, and li-ion battery costs are plummeting, and EVs are about to take off in a big way.

Then there are times when I get deeply depressed about it.  This piece by the erudite and informative "RobertScribbler" (Robert Marston Fanney) starts with this:

Looking back to a period of time called the Pliocene climate epoch of 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago, we find that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were somewhat lower than they are at present — ranging from 390 to 400 parts per million. We also find that global temperatures were between 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s ranges, that glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland were significantly reduced, and that sea levels were about 25 meters (82 feet) higher than they are today. 
Given that atmospheric CO2 levels during 2017 will average around 407 parts per million, given that these levels are above those when sea levels were considerably higher than today, and given that these levels of heat trapping gasses are rapidly rising due to continued fossil fuel burning, both the present level of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and our understanding of past climates should give us substantial cause for concern. 
This past week, even more fuel was thrown onto the fire as a paleoclimate-based model study led by Nick Golledge has found that under 400 parts per million CO2 heat forcing during the Pliocene, substantial portions of Antarctica melted over a rather brief period of decades and centuries.

Well, that's depressing enough, right?  Sea levels 25 metres/82 feet higher than they are now.  Goodbye Holland, Denmark, Belgium, London, New York, Miami, Melbourne, Bangladesh .....  And it's likely to happen much faster than we think.

Even more interesting and depressing were some of his comments in reply to readers' questions:

 Carbon hitting the atmosphere has an almost immediate effect equal to about 1/3 potential warming in about a decade timescale. At 492 CO2e constant we are at approx 1.16 C immediate, 2.3 C by 2100, and 4.6 C over the very long term in the higher sensitivity range. This tracking is pretty accurate to present warming rates. Lower sensitivity yields 1.05 C immediate, 2.1 C by 2100 and 4.2 C long term. It’s worth noting that present warming rates include the longer term effect of approximately 350 ppm CO2 and approx 400 ppm CO2e (which would push present warming higher) and aerosol negative feedback which knocks off the effect of about 30 to 50 ppm CO2e (which keeps present warming cooler). In any case, we’re in the ballpark at 1 to 1.2 C above 1880s values. 
Avoiding 2 C is predicated, in my view, on a substantial portion of CH4 falling out after considerable reduction in fossil fuel use. Given the size of the global gas infrastructure, this is certainly possible with rapid cuts to those systems coincident with other emissions cuts as well. For example, you could lose about 30 to 40 ppm CO2e from methane falling out. But it looks like getting to 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050 still puts us on a path for 3 C by 2100 and 6 C over the very long term. We’d have to be far more aggressive with emissions cuts and subsequent atmospheric carbon sequestration to have a shot hitting below 2 C warming this Century. And it’s worth noting that atmospheric carbon capture is likely to be limited to around 1-2 billion tons of carbon drawn down per year as a practical constraint. So we want to make sure Earth System feedbacks do not exceed that range. 
In other words, the most pressing and urgent thing we need to do is halt carbon emissions into the atmosphere as swiftly as possible. The next most pressing and urgent matter is trying to gear the human system to draw down carbon. Cuts to zero fossil fuel emissions as fast as possible need to take precedence, however, as that deals with the 11 billion tons per year of carbon that is now hitting the atmosphere. An emission whose vast size would be impossible to deal with using atmospheric capture alone. 
It will be tough to avoid 2 C warming by the end of this Century if we do not rapidly cut fossil fuel burning as the [Guardian] article suggests. The 492 CO2e number concerns me quite a bit because it implies 2.1 to 2.3 C warming by the end of this Century. If we get to zero fossil fuel burning by 2040, that still implies about 520 CO2e which perhaps drops back to 480 or 490 as methane falls out. That’s still very close to the mark. It looks to me like we have to both perform that rapid cut and look at atmospheric carbon capture by various means. In any case, these very high CO2e levels are highly unsafe, in my view. 
Passing 2 C probably implies about 800 million to 1 billion tons per year of carbon feedback from the Earth System by end Century. That’s about 7-9 percent of the present human emission. 
I think in this range we hit a bit of a warming speed bump as glaciers start going down more rapidly and seas begin to really rise. As a result, you’re probably looking at a number of decades and possibly Centuries of very severe storm impacts and very unstable and difficult to predict weather. The ice sheets dumping into the oceans and harming AMOC and other ocean circulation patterns will also tend to disrupt regional and global weather. So it’s here that you get into a period of rapid ocean stratification and extraordinarily bad weather conditions. 
I know I’ve said that we are on a path to 4 C under typical warming scenarios, but I think we also need to hold out what happens if ice sheet response becomes quite large. 
3 C: Traditional agriculture is going to be taking very hard hits even leading up to 3 C. Post 3 C probably does represent an decline threshold. Adaptation will require very extensive indoor vertical farming on the order of requiring national policy initiatives to support their build-out. Carbon feedbacks do become a bit more of a problem as you start pushing at stores that were laid down more than 5 million years ago. The sea ice and salt water incursion scenarios are in the ballpark. 
4 C: You’re probably well past major thresholds for a number of glacier systems. 50 meters of long term sea level rise is probably locked in at this point, although you don’t get all that SLR all at once. Cities at 118 F — well, we have cities out west that are predicted to hit 116 this week. So that’s not too far fetched at all.Wet bulb at 35 C becomes pretty common in a number of regions during hot periods at this threshold. Agricultural collapse pressure is very high. A number of regions including Europe, the U.S. West, China, large parts of Africa, India and many more are all likely to be well outside of growing temperature ranges at this time. Loss of 500 billion tons of carbon from the Arctic at 4 C over 500 years is probably possible at this time. Total annual carbon feedback is probably edging into a range of 1.5 billion tons per year from the Earth System.

[Read more here]

Meanwhile the Right continues to lie about global warming, their useful idiots continue to mouth these lies and argue incoherently that the world isn't warming, politicians (mostly) continue to pretend that they are acting to cut emissions, and ordinary ppl continue to vote for these liars.  Global CO2 emissions need to fall by 5% per annum.  They've stopped rising, probably, but they're certainly not falling anywhere near fast enough.  Deeply depressing.

Because I'm by nature an optimist, and because I believe we--all of us--have our destiny in our hands, in my next post I'll have some suggestions for what you can do to stop this disaster from happening.