Zero emissions

David Roberts has a recent post that I’ve only just noticed called why zero is a better climate target than 2 degrees. The zero refers to net global emissions, not to temperature. The argument is essentially that

zero is a much more compelling and evocative goal than the longer-standing and better-established climate goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees or less.

David Roberts is, of course, quite correct that if we want to stabilise temperatures we’ll have to aim to get emissions to zero. If this could be accepted and focused on, it may well be more effective than having some kind of warming target. On the other hand, when we get to zero emissions, and how we get there, are relevant. Getting to zero emissions slowly by, for example, 2100 will be very different to doing so raidly and getting there by the middle of the century.

mitigation-pathwaysAlso, we can relate a warming target to an emission target. For example, as the figure on the right shows, if we were to start reducing emissions now, we would need to get to zero emissions by around 2080 if we want a 66% chance of limiting warming to 2oC. If we continue increasing our emissions for the next 5 years, it would then need to get to zero by around 2060. So, it would seem to me that even if we thought that having a zero emissions target would be more compelling than a warming target, we can’t ignore that there is a relationship between emissions and warming.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the issue isn’t really what sort of target we should be aiming for, it’s whether or not we’re really doing anything to actually achieve the target, however it’s described. Despite the strong rhetoric from the Paris meeting, we really don’t yet seem to be taking emission reductions particularly seriously. My view is probably similar to the view expressed at the end of the abstract of this paper (H/T Stoat)

These debates are moot, however, as the decisions that need to be taken now to limit warming to 1.5 or 2 °C are very similar. We need to agree how to start, not where to end mitigation.

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74 Responses to Zero emissions

  1. Total anthropogenic CO2 emissions (including land use) are already over 40 GtCO2/year (2014). Then there are other ghg emissions…

  2. I hadn’t realised that CO2 emissions, including land use, was already over 40GtCO2/year, but I was aware that all emissions was more than 40GtCO2/year.

  3. “These debates are moot, however, as the decisions that need to be taken now to limit warming to 1.5 or 2 °C are very similar. We need to agree how to start, not where to end mitigation.”

    maybe “we” need to agree that the need to agree is no way to start. California has started its way. Germany has started its way, The UK has started it’s way. British columbia has started it’s way. The notion that there is one way, or even the necessity of having “us” agree how to start,
    probably needs to examined.Folks can just start. In due course it will be clear which ways work.
    the more ways of starting tried, the better. I got rid of my gas guzzler.

  4. Harry Twinotter says:

    I agree, better a solid target than an abstract one. I haven’t looked at all the COP21 stuff yet, but I got the feeling that the treaty left the how (ie how much CO2 emissions need to be reduced) up to individual countries

    The problem I have with the temperature target is it requires doing something, then waiting an uncertain amount of time to see if what you did had the desired effect. Considering how variable the global mean temperature is, the waiting might include more 15 year hiatuses and things like that.

  5. Steven,

    maybe “we” need to agree that the need to agree is no way to start.

    In a sense, I agree. We certainly don’t all need to start in exactly the same way. Also, we don’t all need to have the same solution. On the other hand, getting to zero emissions does mean that we do all need to start.

    Harry,
    I agree that a temperature target could be problematic if we have another “hiatus” at which point people could start arguing that we can slow down our emission reductions. A zero emissions target wouldn’t necessarily suffer from that. On the other hand, I can see all these targets/limits having weaknesses that could be exploited by those who’d rather we didn’t do anything.

  6. Canman says:

    Here’s a good post and thread for you people. I don’t see how anyone can dispute commenter EnlightenedLiberal’s case that the solution is nuclear power:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/12/14/but-waitsolar-energy-isnt-consequence-free/#more-26402

  7. Canman,
    I can’t find the comment you mean. I don’t have any argument against nuclear being part of the solution, but the whole solution?

  8. This post by Ken Caldeira is also pretty balanced.

  9. Canman says:

    I mean the comments by EnlightenmentLiberal (EnlightenedLiberal is typo). Just about every one of them is making the case for nuclear, but if you want a specific one, I recommend #52 where he expresses his contempt for Mark Jacobson, the crackpot with all the 100% renewable with no nuclear studies.

  10. I think we’re still a long way from the majority of people linking actual events—like the current flooding in the North of England—to climate change. So while I agree it’s vital we (as communities) start mitigating as soon as possible, we are still at the stage of communicating AGW and warning of the dangers of business as usual to the population in general.

    To most people, given the option of investment in low carbon energy and efficiencies such as home insulation, or a reduction in their energy bill; the latter wins hands down. This short-termism underlines politics and general life. So. while it’s excellent we’re agreeing targets, much more needs to be spent on education. Watching or reading the mainstream news, it’s like COP21, energy debates and zero emissions are taking place in a bubble divorced from the realities of everyday living.

  11. BBD says:

    ATTP

    That article in the BONS is by Peter Bradford, who is on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists (though a lawyer by training and a bureaucrat by profession). His views are not exactly balanced.

  12. jacksmith4tx says:

    I live in N. Texas and in 2012 I installed a 6.7 KW solar array which has generated about 40 MW of clean electricity while offsetting 27.6 tons of CO2. In addition I have put in excess of 5 MW of surplus electricity on to the grid while creating a $620 credit on my Green Mountain Energy bill. Of the electricity I have used all of it was wind generated saving an additional 11 tons of CO2. My car is a 2013 used Volt which has used less than 5 gal. of gas since I bought it. The Volt’s battery also powers a 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter which serves as a backup power supply for my house when the grid goes down. I recycle all my solid waste and compost the organic stuff in my garden, If it wasn’t for my wood burning fireplace insert (EPA rated at 78% efficient) I would have the same carbon footprint of the average Nigerian. If anyone says it can’t be done I stand as proof it can.
    Happy New Year to all!
    Jack Smith

  13. BBD says:

    If anyone says it can’t be done I stand as proof it can.

    And you are to be commended for it. However, retrofitting the population of eg. Greater Manchester to live as you do will be tricky.

  14. jacksmith4tx says:

    BBD,
    I like to think I’m living 10 years into the future waiting for the rest of the world to catch up :). But to seriously alter our trajectory I think we have to think of ways to limit the size of the world’s population to something less than 5 billion long term. It’s hard to see our modern civilization extending much more than 2-3 hundred years given the rate we consume natural resources.

  15. Willard says:

    > I don’t see how anyone can dispute commenter EnlightenedLiberal’s case that the solution is nuclear power […]

    You need to expand your vision. For starters, this strawman:

    Contrary to popular myth, nuclear waste cannot kill everyone on the planet.

    Then this gem:

    As for disposal, there are spots on the ocean floor that we know have been untouched for millions of years.[…] Literally just put it there. No human will ever be harmed, ever.

    The “just” provides a nice touch to this incredibilist claim. Just put it there, where we’ve never been before. What could go wrong?

    Then the fall smells like something you would raise concern about if it was used for anything else than nukes, Canman:

    Ocean acidification is a real thing, and depending on what source you trust, within 50 years we might be looking at severe ocean extinctions as the ph of the ocean drops. The ph of the ocean has already dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 during the human industrial age, and it’s expected to drop below 8.0 within 50 years.

    It’s not even clear this comment makes a “case.”

  16. BBD,

    That article in the BONS is by Peter Bradford, who is on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists (though a lawyer by training and a bureaucrat by profession). His views are not exactly balanced.

    I thought the article made some valid points, but – as WMC pointed out on Twitter – this may have a bit of a give-away

    Climate change, so urgent and so seemingly intractable, has become the last refuge of nuclear charlatans throughout the Western world.

    On the other hand, given how some of the pro-nuclear people behave, it did strike a bit of a chord with me. Of course, there are probably equivalents on the pro-everything-but-nuclear side too.

    Also, were you implying something about UCS?

  17. BBD says:

    On the other hand, given how some of the pro-nuclear people behave, it did strike a bit of a chord with me.

    Anyone arguing for removing a low-carbon generating technology from the table at this stage is placing ideology ahead of decarbonisation. Nobody should do that, and if they do, they should be challenged. This applies with equal force to both sides.

    Also, were you implying something about UCS?

    As I understand it, a resolutely anti-nuclear stance.

  18. Anyone arguing for removing a low-carbon generating technology from the table at this stage is placing ideology ahead of decarbonisation. Nobody should do that, and if they do, they should be challenged. This applies with equal force to both sides.

    I agree. I neither like seeing renewable activists demonising nuclear, nor nuclear activists demonising renewables.

    I don’t know if the UCS are resolutely anti-nuclear. This seems to be their stance – safety first.

  19. BBD says:

    You might also be interested in the RationalWiki entry for UCS.

  20. BBD,
    That first link seems to be pointing out that some of the anti-nuclear scientists are members of UCS, rather than UCS itself being a prominent anti-nuclear organisation. I’m not sure what to make of the second one. Mark Lynas has his own questionable associations 🙂

  21. BBD says:

    ATTP

    So many people find the UCS position on nuclear to be antipathetic and unbalanced that it is documented as such on the Internet and James Hansen referred to the UCS as the ‘Union of Concerned Lobbyists’ in Storms of My Grandchildren (see p 203 – 4).

  22. Andrew dodds says:

    Willard –

    From a geological POV, there are places in the oceans where a buried cask would end up either subducted or buried in an an accretionary wedge over multi million year timescales. And if you dropped it fast enough it would be buried.

    Not my preferred choice by any means, as a pro-nuke peep I’d prefer to see all the actinides undergo fission and all the products reused, but deep sea dumping of radioactive casks in remote areas would not bother me. I’d be interested in a rational argument as to why I should worry.

  23. BBD,
    Okay, I’m not that familiar with them. I had kind of liked the idea of a group of concerned scientists, but – I guess – any formal group will likely have some kind of ideological bias.

  24. Andrew dodds says:

    And I’d add to BBDs position – a reasonable zero carbon world economy, fully developed for everyone, will require electric generation in the region of 10 times total world capacity today.

    Which implies that we need all the zero carbon generation we can get. There is no competition. Every option can expand for decades.

  25. > I’d be interested in a rational argument as to why I should worry.

    The onus is on those who claim that “No human will ever be harmed, ever” by doing something we never really did on the needed scale, and where we never went before. The appeal to ignorance is just too strong with that one, Andrew.

    ***

    That document does not seem to be contra-Nukes, BBD:

    This report assesses the risks posed by nuclear power and proposes ways to minimize them. In particular, it considers (1) the risk of reactor accidents and how to improve government oversight of reactor safety; (2) the threat of sabotage and terrorist attacks on reactors and associated facilities, and how to improve security; (3) the potential for expanded nuclear power facilities to allow nations and terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons more easily, and what the United States can do to minimize those possibilities; and (4) how best to deal with the radioactive
    waste from U.S. power plants. This report also examines new designs for reactors and other nuclear power facilities, and considers to what extent these plants would entail fewer risks than today’s designs.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-in-a-warming-world.pdf

    For me, AGW is mostly a security and a public health issue.

  26. MikeH says:

    @BBD

    the Rational Wiki references for UCS do not support their claim. The entry was probably written by the same unhinged individual who “expresses his contempt for Mark Jacobson, the crackpot with all the 100% renewable with no nuclear studies.” 🙂

    They do campaign for “no new nuclear weapons” but this appears to be their position on nuclear power.

    “..limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require deploying other low- or no-carbon energy solutions, including nuclear power, which today supplies approximately 20 percent of U.S. electricity.

    Like renewables, nuclear power has very low lifecycle carbon emissions. It also faces substantial economic challenges, and carries significant human health and environmental risks. The Union of Concerned Scientists strongly supports policies and measures to strengthen the safety and security of nuclear power. We also favor a price on carbon, which would make nuclear power more cost-competitive with fossil fuels.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/nuclear-power-and-global-warming#.VoBd2fl96Hs

  27. Andrew dodds says:

    Appeal to ignorance?

    We know deep sea sedimentation rates. We know deep sea circulation rates. We can derive stupid-worst-case cask leak rates (hint: you can dissolve the lot as a thought experiment). Doesn’t matter.

    In the real world, this stuff is almost all immobile and the rest diluted ordered of magnitude past safe limits.

    You may be personally incredulous. And with access to a PC rather than tablet I could go into more depth, but we are not ignorant about what would happen. As in geologist ‘we’.

    Oh, and the general case is ‘fewer people will die overall’, not ‘zero harm’.

  28. Joseph says:

    the potential for expanded nuclear power facilities to allow nations and terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons more easily,

    I do think the proliferation concerns are valid. If we expanded to all nations we would need some sort of controls to control how the technology was used. I think that concern by itself might prevent it from becoming the majority of all new electricity generation anytime soon.

  29. BBD says:

    Willard

    It’s interesting that Hansen felt it necessary to write as he did.

    I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes in terms of pro- and anti-nuclear lobbying in the US but I am prepared to risk an appeal to (appropriate) authority in this case.

  30. > Appeal to ignorance?

    Yes, as in “lack of evidence to the contrary,” Andrew. Your “I’d be interested in a rational argument as to why I should worry” is pretty close to a textbook example of it.

    ***

    > You may be personally incredulous.

    I’m actually more incredulous about the way that solution is being sold than the solution itself. What I’m more than incredulous is any claim that it will be cheap and easy to implement.

    ***

    > Oh, and the general case is ‘fewer people will die overall’, not ‘zero harm’.

    Fewer people will die from what than what?

  31. Thread has been hijacked from the original post topic. Fair dinkum.

    But on the original topic, we’ve been down this (David Roberts’) road before. I.e. Should we be targeting an emissions rate? An atmospheric concentration? A temperature? Something else? And why? Efficacy? Stickiness? Simplicity? etc.

    And unless I am mistaken, the scientific assessment (as opposed to messaging types like David Victor or Bill McKibben) is that we should be looking at a cumulative emissions budget. Of about 1 trillion tonnes of carbon (or ~ a remaining 1 trillion tonnes of CO2).

    The zero emissions is implicitly inevitable in this framing (“here are your three wishes, spend them wisely, after that you have none to spend “). It is a simple number. I believe Deutsche Bank has a counter (in Times Square?) counting up the emissions like the iconic US national debt clock. (Technically, I think the CO2 or carbon counter should be counting backwards to zero. Unlike fiat currency and debt, there are some physical limits. But maybe that’s just me.)

    But most important, it reflects the actual physics of the system. As ATTP notes, the path we take to zero matters. It will do us little good to get to zero in 2080 if we’ve already squandered our trillionth tonne by 2050. (absent phenomenal carbon dioxide removal (CDR) schemes.). The outcome for any zero emission realization is path dependent. Whereas ultimately achieving limiting our cumulative emissions to less than our trillion tonne budget is largely path independent – many roads can lead to Rome.

    More specifically, as Hans Joachim Schellnhuber describes it, it is a dilemma of “vicious integrals” – it is the area under the curve that matters (trillion tonnes), not where the emissions curve crosses the y-intercept (zero emissions).

    That’s all for now. I am going to dig up Myles “trillion tonne” Allen’s “SAFE” methodology/proposal that essentially forces a rising (physical) cost on future emissions (e.g. a commensurate % of CDR) such that the trillionth tonne of (net) cumulative emissions is never breached. Just to throw that cat in amidst the pigeons when I find it.)

    (And “net” emissions is another reason why “zero emissions” is a slipperier target than Roberts makes it out to be.)

  32. jacksmith4tx says:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists was created to oppose nuclear weapons proliferation, not nuclear power plants.
    If the powers that be want to expand nuclear power generation they could if they really wanted to. The current US 2015 budget included 348 billion to update and expand the US nuclear weapon systems so it’s more a lack of will than finding the money to do it.

    “Over the next 10 years, CBO estimates, DoD’s costs would total $227 billion, which is about $6 billion (or 3 percent) more than the 10-year estimate published in 2013, and DOE’s would total $121 billion, which is about $13 billion (or 9 percent) less than CBO’s 2013 estimate.”
    https://www.cbo.gov/publication/49870

  33. izen says:

    @-Andrew dodds
    ” – a reasonable zero carbon world economy, fully developed for everyone, will require electric generation in the region of 10 times total world capacity today.”

    This.
    Invoking technological efficiencies and changes in patterns of usage it may be possible to fully develop a world economy for everyone with ‘only’ a doubling of present world electrical generating capacity.

    But the inescapable inequality in the distribution of energy use remains. Most of the global population have relatively equal access to education, clean water and basic healthcare. Low infant mortality, literacy and the rule of law are increasing equitably spread across the majority of the global population. By comparison energy use is extremely skewed towards a small minority.

    If this disproportionate differential in energy use is assumed to remain unchanged, with the majority remaining in relative energy poverty, then the challenge is only how to de-carbonise our present energy generation systems to reach zero emissions.
    If the inequality of energy use is expected, or planned to be reduced, then the challenge is MUCH larger.

    It is one reason why some regard RCP8.5 as unrealistically optimistic about future emissions.

  34. If the inequality of energy use is expected, or planned to be reduced, then the challenge is MUCH larger.

    It is one reason why some regard RCP8.5 as unrealistically optimistic about future emissions.

    Indeed. If total energy use per year increases, and if the dominant energy source remains fossil fuels, then emissions will almost certainly increase unless we can find a way to capture and store the emissions.

  35. Bernard J. says:

    RustNeverSleeps.

    There’s a similar counter online. It’s sobering to see.

    This is the counter that we need to stop:

    http://trillionthtonne.org/

    If one watches it for a minute or so, and considers the magnitude of the challenge, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that so far we’ve just stumbled out of the blocks and are staggering around in a daze, not even sure which is the way to the finish line.

  36. > If the inequality of energy use is expected, or planned to be reduced, then the challenge is MUCH larger.

    In a debate between Scott Denning and Roy Spencer, Denning asked Roy what will happen if India and China industrialize their economy with coal, and if that’s a problem:

    Of course, Roy answers that it will take time before warming kicks in, we just don’t know which technology will be available by 2050, and that it’s better to burn CO2 “like gangbusters” now to make sure we’ll get to that technological solution than to kill the poor.

    The first part of the answer is relevant here because Roy omits that once CO2’s in the atmosphere, it stays there for a while. Unless of course we can access the technology nobody knows about, and which he argues we may need to increase our chances to find by burning CO2 like gangbusters.

    Those who’d be interested in their bet about sensitivity should tune in a bit before.

  37. izen says:

    Those that have an absolutist ideological opposition to the development, acquisition and proliferation of nuclear weapons often have a strong resistance to any civil power generation by nuclear means. This is rooted in the observation that civil generation has been a necessary component of any weapons program. As shown in the past by Israel, Pakistan, S Africa, N Korea and at present by Iran.

    For the nuclear pacifists the existential risk of nuclear weapons trumps the benefits of a Carbon free energy source.

    There are two strong arguments against civil nuclear energy generation. Chernobyl and Fukushima.
    But there are also two historical examples of the safe and successful application of nuclear power at the large and small scale.
    1)To largely decarbonise the electrical generation in an advanced nation – France.
    2)To supply small communities with independent power, a form of ‘local’ generation that has been adopted on submarines and aircraft carriers for some decades.

    Both approaches are economically disadvantaged compared with burning local coal or LNG.

  38. I can think of at least another strong argument against nuclear, izen. Nuclear may imply more regulations, more public infrastructures, more subsidized R&D, and bigger states overall. From great power comes great responsibility.

    If we could have portable and safe solutions by rerouting fossil fuel subsidies, I’m in.

  39. izen says:

    @-“Nuclear may imply more regulations, more public infrastructures, more subsidized R&D, and bigger states overall.”

    That is a strong argument against… if you are a Randian or Rousseauian romantic Utopian who thinks less civilisation is better.

    One of the more depressing views of Christmas yet to come this holiday season was Cassandra’s vision of the future human population reduced to subsistence farmers with their children looking in ignorance at the stars.
    http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/acli-fi-story-solstice-night-in.html

  40. > That is a strong argument against… if you are a Randian or Rousseauian romantic Utopian who thinks less civilisation is better.

    My “strong argument against” was merely rhetorical, izen. It’s still an important implication, one that might escape Breakthrough Boys and lukewarm libertarians alike.

    Once this implication is out, I just don’t see how not to get on an infinite path of resistance. Tree huggers and freedom fighters of the world, united at long last.

  41. BBD says:

    Yup, all that gubmint regerlation that goes with a significant expansion of nuclear isn’t going to sit well with the freedom brigade.

  42. I almost forgot the grid. Nukes only work on grids. Think of all the gridless poors.

    There’s no easy way out. We can’t please everyone as easily as we can displease everyone.

  43. izen says:

    I am dubious about the hypothesis that a large state, public infrastructure and centraly subsidized R&D lead to the curtailment of individual freedom.

    It is unnecessary to look for historical examples, there are sufficient current instances of Nations, States and self-declared Caliphates using the direct threat and use of physical violence to constrain individual freedom. DAESH is a prime example of the sort of tyranical authority that removes personal liberty. Failed states with multiple sources of authority (Yemen, Somalia) pass few regulations, but are not a libertarian Oasis. Death squads are clearly at work in Russia, its satellites and Turkey. But none of these are Nations that would be considered good custodians of nuclear power.

    The Nations with a good history of safe use of the ‘Great Power’ of nuclear technology are those with a high level of general education and a relatively flat wealth distribution. France Scandinavia perhaps. Those would seem to be the model examples of the safe utilisation of nuclear power, but would not be on most people’s list as exercising violent constraint on individual freedom.

    In my more cynical moments I might suspect that the conflation of communal governance deciding on regulation of infrastructure with physical violence used to deny individual liberty has more to do with the defence of profit than the protection of liberty.

    @-“Nukes only work on grids. Think of all the gridless poors.”
    They work on subs and aircraft carriers. A local supply is quite feasible. But ridiculously expensive and you would not want to use it in an ‘unregulated’ environment.
    Coal is restricted to grids because transport costs mean you have to burn it in one place, preferably next to the source.

  44. BBD says:

    izen

    I am dubious about the hypothesis that a large state, public infrastructure and centraly subsidized R&D lead to the curtailment of individual freedom.

    So am I, but we aren’t right wing ideologues.

  45. Joshua says:

    Izen –

    I am dubious about the hypothesis that a large state, public infrastructure and centraly subsidized R&D lead to the curtailment of individual freedom.

    BBD –

    So am I, but we aren’t right wing ideologues.

    Me –

    So are right-wing ideologues, depending on the issue; for example they support large state, public infrastructure and centrally subsidized R and D for fossil fuels and nuclear sources of energy.

  46. > Coal is restricted to grids because transport costs mean you have to burn it in one place, preferably next to the source.

    Cue to Matt:

    Some greens argue that rural parts of Africa may be able to eschew giant power grids and leapfrog into off-grid solar-powered electricity, a bit like Kenya has with mobile banking. But that costs more and it won’t power factories. The continent needs both, and those who advocate no support for coal are effectively saying that the adoption of renewable energy is more important than alleviating African poverty.

    http://rationaloptimist.com/blog/electricity-for-africa.aspx

    Our King of Coal is effectively saying: pump all the oil of Africa, and leave them coal. Or perhaps he’s saying that he’s willing to give the poor African babies a discount on his family’s Blagdon Estate’s production. Or that he’s willing to give African governments the Northern Rock recipe for success.

    It’s amazing what one can make otters effectively say.

  47. anoilman says:

    Regarding Nuclear…

    For folks who don’t live in a northern climate, I recommend doing a simple simple exercise. Work out the emissions for solar panels.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions_of_energy_sources

    Then remember that solar insolation drops by 80% in Winter.
    http://pv.nrcan.gc.ca/

    That means using solar in, say, Canada we need 5X as many panels for the winter.

    Solar PV goes from 41(gCO2eq/kWh), to 205 (gCO2eq/kWh). As I move north of the Canada US border, that number increases steadily. Edmonton would require roughly 20% more panels. If I also wanted heat in Canada, such as household geothermal that number doubles again.

    Now compare that to coal, 820 (gCO2eq/kWh), Natural Gas 490 (gCO2eq/kWh), and finally Nuclear with 12 (gCO2eq/kWh).

    An off grid home in Edmonton which is fully solar powered would have higher emissions than natural gas.

    Now consider that solar installed at home for me will run me $0.20 per kwh, complete. So, even if I could place all the required panels (I can’t) solar would run me, oh, $1.00 per kwh to use here.

    Nuclear is cheaper and cleaner compared to solar. With it being so clean its actually possible to have negative emissions by pumping spare capacity into sequestration.
    http://carbonengineering.com/

    To be fair… that monster amount of solar in Canada would mean free electricity in summer, so I guess we could dump spare capacity into sequestration. Sequestration however is still currently very expensive, and unproven.

  48. izen says:

    @-“…rural parts of Africa may be able to eschew giant power grids and leapfrog into off-grid solar-powered electricity,… But that costs more and it won’t power factories. The continent needs both, and those who advocate no support for coal are effectively saying that the adoption of renewable energy is more important than alleviating African poverty.”

    The assumption/assertion here is that alleviating African poverty NEEDS both factories with high energy consumption AND that they are supplied from a Grid, in its rural parts.

    The historical record of Nations that have moved the majority of the population out of rural poverty does not support building power hungry factories in rural areas as a necessary or sufficient component in poverty reduction.
    Female education, water infrastructure and stable governance seem to be key.

    Without the rule of law, either by informed consent or an oppressive militia, any large scale grid would become a free source of scrap metal for any enterprising bandits in the area. And an easy target for terrorist insurgency.

  49. The largest recent movement of rural poor out of poverty has been in China. Between 1990 and 2005, China’s progress accounted for more than three-quarters of global poverty reduction and is the reason why the world reached the UN millennium development goal of halving extreme poverty.

    The foundations for China’s remarkable poverty reduction were actually laid in the economic reforms of the 1980s. One account of this period states:

    One of the most remarkable phenomena in Chinese economic history was the rapid rise of rural entrepreneurship in the 1980s. In the 1980s, small and impoverished rural entrepreneurs started businesses easily, operated their stalls in urban areas with freedom, accessed bank credits, and had growing confidence in the security of their assets. There was also financial liberalization and even some privatization.

    Another aspect of China of the 1980s is worth mentioning. Private entrepreneurship was developing most vibrantly in the poorest and the most agricultural regions of the country. Yes, the entrepreneurship of the 1980s was exclusively a rural phenomenon, but keep in mind that China in the 1980s was a predominantly rural society, with 80 percent of the population living in the rural areas. Thus, private entrepreneurship had a huge impact on the largest segment and the poorest of the population.

    This perspective—that private entrepreneurship played a vital role in China’s initial takeoff—is quite different from the established wisdom on this issue. Although the agricultural success is widely believed to have been the result of private-sector development, such as the household contract responsibility system, the consensus among academics is that township and village governments spearheaded China’s massive rural industrialization. This is the famous township and village enterprise (TVE) phenomenon. However, the vast majority of TVEs were actually private in nature.

    Free enterprise and massive rural industrialization. The article quoted is not the one I was actually looking for, but it reaches much the same conclusion as others I’ve read on the reasons for Chinese economic growth and poverty reduction.

    Li tu bu li xiang jin chang bu jin cheng. (Leave the land but not the village; enter the factory but not the city.) — A popular Chinese saying about rural industrialization in the 1980s.

  50. Joshua says:

    izen –

    ==> “Female education, water infrastructure and stable governance seem to be key.

    Sorry, not true. I used to think that, but I’ve learned from reading websites in the “skept-o-sphere” that based on the law of “Correlation equals Causation” the only relevant factor in raising standards of living is energy from fossil fuels.

  51. anoilman says:

    Lots of energy and machinery are required to raise the poor out of poverty. Here’s Hans Rosling and his talk on the magic washing machine;

    This specific issue is pretty obvious if any of you ever watch the BBC series of living in various times;
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tudor_Monastery_Farm
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_Farm
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwardian_Farm

    I highly recommend these shows primarily because they get into the nitty gritty of what life was like back then. They show in painful detail just how labor intensive everything was. A washing machine will free up one member of your family for other labor or even generating income. The whole time I was watching them, I was admiring the energy being used, and ingenuity required.

    Now look in your household, you have 4 big energy consumers, Washer, Dryer, Oven, and furnace. All of which are major conveniences which free up your time to do other things, and likely a major component of your carbon footprint.

  52. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    anoilman,

    What if you include an small wind turbine with battery backup? Or even large scale wind with pump storage hydro. Add in a smart grid which gives you real time cost of electricity in $ (and even CO2/kwh) then you can choose when to use energy. You could even sell the stored electricity in you battery backup or electric car back to the grid when prices are high.

    I’m not against nuclear power as long as all externalities/risks are included in the cost.

  53. Andrew dodds says:

    HH –

    That’s kind of a Gish Gallop approach. ‘Here’s a list of 23 technologies ranging from inadequate to vaporware, prove that they won’t all work’.

    Fundamentally, unless you can describe to me with numbers how I get through a couple of weeks in winter with essentially no renewable generation, a situation that is highly likely to happen, then I’ll remain sceptical.

  54. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    Andrew,

    Fair point. However, unless someone is willing to give it a try we will be stuck with fossil fuels and climate change.

  55. Awesome thread, so far.

    Why do you think a couple of weeks in winter with essentially no renewable generation is likely, Andrew?

  56. Gingerbaker says:

    “when we get to zero emissions, and how we get there, are relevant….”

    I would suggest that the simplest, most egalitarian, most democratic, and most humane way to get there is to eschew the politically-unpopular regulation of fossil fuels and simply make green energy so inexpensive and ubiquitous that fossil fuels become irrelevant.

    But there is a critically important social justice motivation to ensure lowest possible green energy costs – hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions of people world-wide – who simply will not be able to afford to heat or cool their homes at current electricity prices. (The middle class, let alone the poor, can not afford to heat their homes even today with baseboard electric heat.)

    The best way to make green energy as inexpensive as possible is to build the new infrastructure we need at wholesale pricing as opposed to retail pricing (such as we see with rooftop PV), and to share the costs and benefits of our new energy system equally. Wholesale pricing and egalitarian cost sharing means the energy revolution should be a public commons project – co-operative infrastructure projects from the local to national level through competitive bid process.

    We can continue to sit back and let laissez-faire economics drive the for-profit corporatization of renewable energy, or, we can ensure abundant, low-cost green electricity for all of us as a basic human right.

  57. Andrew dodds says:

    Willard

    A winter blocking high in the UK means light to zero winds at a time of minimal isolation. For a couple of weeks, sometimes.

    http://www.ecn.ac.uk/what-we-do/education/tutorials-weather-climate/anticyclones-and-depressions/anticyclones/blocking-highs

    So.. Very little generation, very cold temperatures. I don’t mean to be nasty but.. It has to be solved.

  58. anoilman says:

    Hyperactive Hydrologist, Dodds, Willard,

    I’m an engineer and I never assume the best using only flimsy limited information. For that you need a pseudo skeptic or some cluck. I look at the breadth of information, and then I assume that its not a matter of ‘if’ something will go wrong, but rather ‘when’, and ‘how often’. With renewables these issues are all knowns.

    Here’s a peer reviewed study to that effect; (There are inaccurate assumptions in this, like the cost power lines, and the assumption that nearby areas won’t have the same issues with renewables.)
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378775312014759

    I deliberately stayed away from other energy mixes to keep my example simple. But they all have similar issues. Wind works fine if its averaged over a huge area. However… power lines are expensive and inefficient. Storage is also (currently) expensive. We haven’t even gotten into their carbon footprints either.

    In short… ‘freezing to death less often’ doesn’t sound like a very viable option to me.

    Back to my example… Power derived from renewables in inhospitable climates is more than a challenge. If it was windy and sunny everywhere, this wouldn’t be an issue. If power lines were free and efficient, this also wouldn’t be an issue. (We’d all build power lines to a desert, and be done with it.)

    For anyone who is curious, we have strong intermittent wind where I live, but its not consistent. We can go weeks between heavy winds.
    http://calgaryherald.com/entertainment/celebrity/that-awkward-moment-when-you-have-to-explain-a-chinook-to-leo-dicaprio

    Frankly, I think we’ll have our hands full just dealing with the fricken Ice storms when they happen. Guessing that we might have power to real with it would just be the icing on the cake…

  59. anoilman says:

    Gingerbaker says: “I would suggest that the simplest, most egalitarian, most democratic, and most humane way to get there is to eschew the politically-unpopular regulation of fossil fuels and simply make green energy so inexpensive and ubiquitous that fossil fuels become irrelevant.”

    The issue in many areas is that ‘green energy’ isn’t.

    Rooftop Solar PV is as bad as natural gas in some places.

  60. BBD says:

    Simples! We build 130 Dinorwigs-equivalent of pumped hydro in our beautiful and unspoiled highland wilderness, then we can back up the proposed 33GW national wind fleet (average output 10GW) for five days. Of course this is far, far less than the national UK electricity demand in winter (about 1000GWh/day), but it’s a start. Nothing to be done about UK solar during the winter though – it’s just not that much use at ~50N latitude. So nuclear or imports from far away. Or much more wind and many, many more hollowed-out mountains.

    What Andrew said: it has to be solved and the problems are immense to the point of daunting.

  61. izen says:

    @-Gingerbaker
    “Wholesale pricing and egalitarian cost sharing means the energy revolution should be a public commons project… We can continue to sit back and let laissez-faire economics drive the for-profit corporatization of renewable energy, or, we can ensure abundant, low-cost green electricity for all of us as a basic human right.”

    Whenever someone suggests that a problem could be solved by a radical change in the economic or political operation of society I look for a historical example showing that this is both possible and effective.

    Perhaps you could save me the trouble of searching and point to a successful working example of the sort of public commons project that avoids the laissez-faire economics drive towards for-profit corporatization ?

    Getting to zero emissions will mean finding an alternative to fossil fuels for residential and commercial space heating. Along with transport that is the really sticky area where alternatives to fossil fuels are inadequate, not just too expensive.

  62. numerobis says:

    “Rooftop Solar PV is as bad as natural gas in some places.”

    A 100% rooftop solar PV system is as bad as natural gas. But that’s the same inane argument that I was needling EnlightenmentLiberal about on the pharyngula thread. The pro-nuke argument seems to always descend to its most ardent proponents fighting the strawman of a 100% solar or 100% wind solution.

    Back in the real world where we have a mix of production, a solar panel or a windmill in Alberta replaces coal with every joule it generates.

  63. numerobis says:

    In the long run we need a full replacement for fossils. In the short run we have lots we can do now.

  64. Thanks, Andrew. As a Canadian, let’s just say I can’t afford to be in your predicament. Even if it was almost 20C on Christmas Eve!

    You’re on a roll, Oilman. Keep your engineer hat on.

  65. anoilman says:

    numerobis: Ah No.

    In order for 20% solar for 2 months to be viable, it would need to be f*cking windy for those two months. Mean while back to reality… its not.

    This is no straw man, please do the math. Even better tell me what mix it needs, and present your findings. Since there are no numbers to back what you’re saying, you won’t present anything and this is case closed for you.

    I highly recommend you read the series on renewables from the SOD;
    http://scienceofdoom.com/

    Most people who are promoting solar are doing so based on results from places like California where its warm and sunny. i.e. Not Canada. Not the UK.

    I say go nuclear as its cheaper and cleaner. And for the record dude. I hate nuclear. (A few people on this forum showed me the numbers…)

  66. Two weeks before Three-Mile Island the movie China Syndrome was released. Box-office serendipity for the film makers – disaster for nuclear power in the U.S.A.

    At the same time Republican Jon Anderson was running for President as an independent. Anderson proposed a 50-cent/gallon federal tax on gasoline (average price/gal. in the US was 90 cents at the time). Anderson’s campaign did not prevent Ronald Reagan from becoming President, his tax was never seriously considered, and smaller increases failed in congress.

    Instead the USA in the ensuing decades preserved the flow of oil through military means. We would be far closer to a solution in the US (and the world) had events 35 years ago been different. Now we have a nation that abhors all tax increases and a generation of citizens that often conflates the risks of nuclear power generation with nuclear weapons.

    A lot of lost time.

  67. Gingerbaker says:

    izen:

    “Perhaps you could save me the trouble of searching and point to a successful working example of the sort of public commons project that avoids the laissez-faire economics drive towards for-profit corporatization ? “

    Seriously? OK:

    the Social Security system. The Medicare system, which has 3% overhead as opposed to for-profit insurance companies at ~ 30%. Your local Fire Station. Your local police Department. The U.S. Interstate system. Rural electrification. Public Schools vs private schools. Non profit hospitals. Every public function of the U.S. government, which would cost more if privatized.

    How about the electric utility system itself – which was, until just recently, still about 50% non profit – the highest non profit sector of the economy.

    There are examples of local associations and municipal, regional co-ops who buy PV or wind collectively at discount off of retail, and share costs and enjoy electricity at reduced costs. If a homeowner can enjoy free electricity after paying off his investment costs (at full retail, mind you), so can a nation and for far less money per watt.

    Look at India. They want to move to renewable wind and solar. The first thing they are doing is planning and implementing the construction of a new national grid to move large amounts of green juice around the country. They are already ahead of the U.S. as far as this goes.

    There simply is no conversation in the U.S. about the benefits and cost-savings of a national renewable utility system.But all we hear about is the ‘freedom’ of homeowners paying full retail prices to power their own homes and no one else’s.

    Watch China. They have a strong centralized government, and a commitment to renewable energy. If they accomplish what they promise – and it looks like they may be successful – they will build more renewable infrastructure in one year than we have in twenty-five. THAT is the way to get this done in time, and at the lowest cost.

    Big-scale projects. Energy farms sited where insolation and wind conditions are ideal. Economy of scale. Economy of planning. Use of government lands. Costs shared equally by all. Debt handled by the only financial entity which can actually print money. There are enormous benefits to using the power of government to solve national challenges. Be nice to put them to use to ensure the infrastructure we need will be built on time and the electricity will be available to all at the lowest possible price.

  68. Gingerbaker says:

    “Getting to zero emissions will mean finding an alternative to fossil fuels for residential and commercial space heating. Along with transport that is the really sticky area where alternatives to fossil fuels are inadequate, not just too expensive.”

    Heating our buildings is easily accomplished with electricity. But unless every building is retrofitted with a geothermal heat-extraction system, nobody will be able to afford to heat their home at current electricity rates. This is an enormous problem that is not going to go away. This is why I don’t think a carbon tax is especially helpful – it will make fossil fuels more expensive, but ensures that green juice will only be as cheap as it needs to be in order to look good in comparison to the raised price of FF’s. Instead, we should be ensuring that green juice is absolutely as inexpensive as possible.

    And why shouldn’t it be? Sun, tide, and wind are free. They are in inexhaustible supply. Once we build the systems to harvest them, and have paid off those debts – why should we pay for them at all? Won’t we all own the system that harvests them?

  69. Canman says:

    From the aforementioned Mark Jacobson’s study to power the entire US with wind, water and solar:

    http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf

    On page 2098, his table has residential rooftop solar at 3.98% and commercial/government at 3.24%. I can’t imagine he left much rooftop space uncovered. Solar PV plant comes in at 30.73% and CSP at 7.3%! That’s a lot of space to take over!

  70. BBD says:

    Gingerbaker

    Once we build the systems to harvest them, and have paid off those debts – why should we pay for them at all? Won’t we all own the system that harvests them?

    It will be a vast machine, and there will be maintenance costs. So my guess is, should we ever get to the desirable position you describe, there will still be monthly bills 😉

  71. izen says:

    @-Gingerbaker
    “Watch China. They have a strong centralized government, and a commitment to renewable energy.”

    Good example, a large state with central planning and a need to construct large public infrastructure.

    @-“Big-scale projects. Energy farms sited where insolation and wind conditions are ideal.”

    Yes, by all means optimise the efficiency of generation with renewables. It all helps. As others here have pointed out, not enough.

    @-“Debt handled by the only financial entity which can actually print money. There are enormous benefits to using the power of government to solve national challenges. Be nice to put them to use to ensure the infrastructure we need will be built on time and the electricity will be available to all at the lowest possible price.”

    Might be nice, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works. Part of the Chinese drive to replace coal is a massive expansion of nuclear, doubling in the next decade and increasing by an order of ten by 2100. But that is not financed just by the State. They are involving corporations (state managed but with a foot in the laissez-faire global economics) in developing designs that they can export for profit. At present they are having to pay France and Westinghouse for the design of reactor they are building. Even China cannot seem to bring itself to pay for nuclear from its own resources.

    They are also getting pushback from Chinese tree-huggers who have opposed a number of government plans.

    I am less convinced by your other examples. Some are public services and infrastructure that EVERY advanced society has found it has to provide in some form. Police, fire, emergency medical care. water and power all need close regulation at least.

    But as your medicaid example indicates, even when there is a clear financial advantage in a state system, there can be strong opposition. Look at the flack Christie has got for increasing an ‘entitlement’ program in NJ. The ‘libertarian’ freedom-warriors often seem to imply that if it can be done cheaper by government, then it is something government should NOT be doing. After all only those things that make a profit, or enable a profit to be made are acceptable activities. (grin)

    @-“How about the electric utility system itself – which was, until just recently, still about 50% non profit ”

    Energy suppliers are a poor example. If they are a local non-profit organisation they remove one layer of corporatization from the supply chain. But very few have control of the fuel supply, or manufacture the producing technology. And the trend globally as well as in the US is for such state or cooperative systems to be sold off to the private sector.
    The Grid, the physical distribution system is another public infrastructure like roads.

    I have no data to back it up, US energy suppliers seem to outnumber energy generators and I would suspect that for every non-profit there is a neo-enron looking to maximise the gain between generator and consumer.

    I don’t see the US adopting the China approach anytime soon. That really would unite the tree-huggers and freedom-warriors!

  72. anoilman says:

    Canman: I have my doubts about your interests here. You are a shill if ever I met one. Heck a few years ago you tossed up a video to dismiss solar. In general your mode of operation is to parrot any convenient conservative talking point, to the exclusion of known reality. You’re a global warming denier to boot.

    Marc Jacobson has a solution for the US…
    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/june/50states-renewable-energy-060815.html

    The reality is that zero emissions depends on where you live. There is no one size fits all solution.

    If I lived in Hawaii I’d be all over solar. My parents are.

  73. BBD says:

    The reality is that zero emissions depends on where you live. There is no one size fits all solution.

    Everything on the table, and all hands to the pumps.

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