Climate clippings 27

Solar power could crash Germany’s grid

Harnessing the sun’s energy could save the planet from climate change, an approach that Germany has readily adopted. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm for solar panels could overload the country’s ageing electricity grid.

Installed capacity is such that a huge surge can occur when the sun comes out. What’s needed, they say, is an electricity grid that can equalise inputs from the wind of the north to solar in the south.

(Please note the article dates from October 2010.)

Germany’s rapid transition to renewable energy

Now they tell us that’s exactly what will happen according to this recent Climate Progress post. But it is the scale of their emissions reduction ambition that is eye-catching:

In September 2010, the conservative government under Chancellor Merkel released its Energy Concept, which outlines the government’s plan to reduce carbon emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 (and 80% by 2050) in part by increasing the national share of renewable electricity to more than 35% in 2020 and to 80% by 2050. Within four decades, one of the world’s leading economies will be powered almost entirely by wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal power.

Britain not to be beaten

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock during the last few days you’ll know that Britain claims their transition will be even faster.

They are aiming at 50% reductions by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Germany, it must be said, starts with decommissioning their nukes, currently about 30% of their power supply. Against that the 1990 starting point sees Germany with the rust bucket highly polluting industries of the East, which subsequently collapsed, thus setting a high starting point. Still I suspect Germany edges out the Brits for effort.

Both appear to be depending on CCS to some extent.

A million electric cars by 2020

That’s what Germany is aiming at. More here.

Merkel’s government wants to have a million e-cars on Germany roads by 2020 and six million by 2030. Currently of more than 42 million cars in Germany, only around 3000 are electric, so a sea-change needs to take place over the next decade. (Emphasis added)

Along with the necessary infrastructure and tax incentives, they are investing big-time in R&D:

The German government has pledged to double sustainable mobility research to nearly NZ$2.8 billion

On top of government support, it is known that German car makers will be investing more than NZ$45 billion in the next three to four years into the sustainable mobility sector, and as well as cleaner cars the e-car market could create 30,000 new jobs by 2020.

What’s Malcolm Turnbull up to?

He’s thinking, that’s what, and has perhaps forgotten he’s a politician. Telling the truth is not what politicians are meant to do. Unless he’s deliberately trying to destabilise Abbott. Oh noes!

‘Direct action’ could cost $18 billion each year if we are to achieve an 80% cut by 2050, he says. That’s at a carbon price of only $15 a tonne.

After his outbreak of honesty on Lateline, he’s now trying to dig his way out of trouble on his blog.

See also here.

I have some sympathy for the bloke. He’s been misquoted in the press and is trying to set the record straight. I think what he’s saying is this:

    “Direct action” is designed only to achieve the limited target of a 5% reduction by 2020, mainly by buying offsets from farmers and landholders. At that point you consider what you do next in the light of whether AGW has been shown to be a load of cobblers, or whether the rest of the world is doing anything serious about mitigation. If the rest of the world is being slack, we would be better putting our effort into adaptation, because what we do on mitigation ourselves will make little difference.

    If we decide that 80% by 2050 is necessary after all then other methods will have to be considered, because the direct action method if used to get to 2020 is going to be too expensive thereafter. He’s hinting that we’ll need an ETS at that point.

    Turnbull is also explaining to us that his support for the Coalition direct action policy has an acceptable rationale which he can support with integrity.

    He’s also saying that an ETS, once established, would be hard to get rid of. This is noteworthy because the Coalition says they will rescind Labor’s policy if the win the next election.

Almost certainly they lie.

Climate-change policy will become a poisoned chalice for a decade if the government’s plans to put a price on carbon fail

So says Greg Combet.

”If we let this chance pass us by, climate-change policy will become the poisoned chalice of Australian politics for the next decade,” he said.

”The consequences … would be profound for all Australians, especially for those businesses that are now so reluctant to take responsibility for their actions and refuse to see beyond next year’s prospectus.”

Mr Combet said Australia would lose international credibility, the domestic economy would be hurt and the transformation to a low-carbon economy ”may begin in 10 to 15 years rather than next year”.

Leigh Ewbank at The Drum disagrees. The problem won’t go away, he says, and the US are showing how the issue can be attacked without a price on carbon.

In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama announced a national goal to produce 80 per cent of the nation’s electricity from “clean” sources by 2035 (this includes gas and nuclear power).

If you read the detail, that includes spending considerable amounts of money they don’t have and classifying gas as ‘clean’. It also involves nukes, which I understand are now in doubt after Fukushima. They also have a relatively powerful EPA that can regulate CO2 as a designated pollutant.

I think Combet has a point. If we don’t act now on a price on carbon it will become a poisoned chalice for Labor. On the other side we’ll have to wait for a leader who will ignore the troglodytes within.

Go Malcolm!

79 thoughts on “Climate clippings 27”

  1. Jumpy,
    This is exacltly why the renewables industry will struggle in Australia.
    From householder to big industry, the governments change the rules in the short time frame, nobody can plant more than 6 to twelve months ahead.

  2. Laura Tingle in the Weekend AFR saw Turnbull’s contribution on Lateline as a lapse in discipline and the result “devastating”. She says he gave a “wonderfully unflattering critique of the party policy.”

    She reckons Turnbull is playing a longer game than Abbott. Turnbull is assuming the Government will run full term, whereas Abbott is busting his gut to get an election immediately.

    She thinks his little stunt did neither of them any favours.

  3. Followers of BraveNewClimate will be aware that Barry Brooks has done a post on Renewables and efficiency cannot fix the energy and climate crises part 1 and part 2.

    He thinks the world will need about 75% nukes. The Germans are obviously planning a different future.

  4. Jumpnmcar @ 3, that article on the front page of the Oz is IMHO largely vexatious. They admit:

    There are no allegations of wrongdoing against these companies in their latest incarnation.

    It’s part of their campaign to make the Gillard Government look incompetent.

  5. Brain
    I don’t care if its the state or fed at fault, but the idea of getting solar is becoming less and less attractive( by the day) to the average home owner.
    I was very interested ( for my own reasons) but less so now.

    “””The audit by Fair Trading focused on installations in Port Macquarie, uncovering 29 per cent had potentially life-threatening electrical defaults and 64 per cent were in breach of the Home Building Act.”””

    You ,of all people , should be screaming about the incompetence.
    They are ruining one of the best answers to problem.

  6. jumpnmcar, I’m not an engineer and because of that and limited time I tend not to concentrate on implementation issues.

    They are ruining one of the best answers to problem.

    There has been plenty of information on this blog which would question this statement.

    As to faults with installations, this looks like a state government issue. The front page headline was “TVs, batts, solar: Julia Gillard’s dollar dazzle” which was designed to put all the blame on the Gillard government and link the TV set-top box thing, where I understand there have been 38,000 installations without complaint, to pink batts.

    You might also be surprised to know that the incidence of problems in the pink batts program was less than had been the case in the industry prior to the program. It’s just that four people died in people’s ceilings on a government funded program, which effectively rules out any rational or dispassionate assessment of the program, which did have its very evident problems.

    The Oz is both cynical and venal. They are inappropriately a partisan political actor.

  7. @ Brian

    “You might also be surprised to know that the incidence of problems in the pink batts program was less that had been the case in the industry prior to the program. It’s just that four people died in people’s ceilings on a government funded program”

    More than 4 people died from insulation installed in the previous two years? The two years preceeding the govt’s give away?

    How many died?

  8. OTB, the information was in a post that Robert Merkel did at the time, from memory.

    It’s not claimed that more people died. These statistics are measured in percentages or so many per thousand (or per 100,000) installations pa. Deaths in the building industry are quite common and don’t make headlines. Again, from memory, more than one a week.

  9. @ Brian

    “Again, from memory, more than one a week.”

    More than 1 person every week died from either installing insulation or from the installed insulation.

    So in the two years previous to the govt’s give away over 104 people died from insulation related incidents?

    Got a link to this as I would love to read it?

  10. Deaths in the building industry are quite common and don’t make headlines. Again, from memory, more than one a week.

    What I said was “in the building industry”. Got it?

  11. @ Brian

    You are moving the goal posts.

    “You might also be surprised to know that the incidence of problems in the pink batts program was less that had been the case in the industry prior to the program. It’s just that four people died in people’s ceilings on a government funded program”

    You did not mention the whole building industry when you made this claim.

    You were talking about the insulation industry. ie. “Pink batts”

    So four people died in the two years of the program.

    So from your statement , more than four must have died in the same time-frame preceeding the govts give-away.

  12. @ Brian it is very simple.

    You claimed that the incidents in the insulation industry were worse before the govt’s pink batt program.

    In the insulation industry 4 died in the pink batt program.
    In the insulation industry how many died in the same time frame previous to the pink batt program?

    You made the claim brian,

    “the incidence of problems in the pink batts program was less that had been the case in the industry prior to the program”

  13. OTB: For a detailed analysis of the CSIRO report on the pink bats fire issues read here. The analysis indicates that the probability of a fire per installation were much higher during the Howard years than during the government’s insulation program. The Age was the only major newspaper I know of that reported this at the time. The rest seemed to be happy to rabbit on about the number of fires and how it was all the government’s fault.
    Haven’t seen any stats on the deaths but is statistically you would need a lot of data to be sure that the risk of death was actually higher even though I can recall no mention of deaths during the Howard years.
    I have had a number of safety and operating management roles in the mining industry. Two key points. OH&S is definitely a state issue, not federal. Secondly, the behaviour of some of the installation companies was appalling by modern standards.

  14. Brian: As you well know I think it would be tremendous if the carbon tax (&CPRS) died a quiet death and was never resurrected. The much much higher than necessary price increases, complexity and the general ineffectiveness of the carbon price approach have made it easy for the Abbott’s of the world convinced voters that we can’t afford to do anything substantial about climate action.
    Labor’s obsession with great big schemes based on putting a price on carbon have meant that very little real climate action has been achieved since Labor came to power.
    See for example here
    It would be a lot smarter to use artificial price increases as the last resort instead of the only answer Combet is willing to talk about.

  15. Thanks, John D@ 19.

    OTB, I told you that I was working from memory and that I recall a post by Robert Merkel.

    I have no immediate need to look up the exact numbers. You need to be prepared to do a bit of work in searching yourself for the information you want rather than expecting others to do it for you.

    Gotta go now.

  16. John D @ 20, if I were the benevolent dictator of Australia I’d be introducing an ETS later in the program, timed to mesh in with a broader international trading system, if it comes to be.

    But the real world we live in is a democracy of sorts and one where bipartisanship seems virtually impossible.

    A virtue of introducing a price on carbon as an introduction to an ETS is that it will be hard for Abbott to reverse, as is his stated intention.

    The real significance of what the Brits and the Germans are doing is in a multi-prong approach and two rare examples of countries that appear to be taking the climate change challenge seriously. That can’t be said of Australian political parties outside the Greens. The Greens will try to get something that is transformative, but the major parties are only dipping their toes in the water in different ways.

  17. onthebus, my blog has an analysis of fire rates in the home insulation industry, building on a blog post by Possum, and it’s clear that under any kind of assumption you care to make about the rate at which the program scaled up and down, the rate of fires plummeted after the program was introduced.

    Deaths are not comparable because there are so few, but with 4 deaths after the program was introduced, it’s unlikely you would be able to show a statistically significant increase unless there were 0 deaths before, due to the greater size of the program. You might be able to make the claim but you’d be pushing your luck. There is no information on deaths before the scheme started, as far as I know, and no-one who thinks it was a disaster seems interested in hunting any down. I wonder why that is?

    But given the fire risk plummeted, my guess is that the death risk probably did too.

  18. @ Brian
    “I have no immediate need to look up the exact numbers. You need to be prepared to do a bit of work in searching yourself”

    you make the claim you back it up, you know how it works mate.

  19. If you look at the numbers, the problems with PV in northern Europe look insurmountable. Which is why Monbiot and others have long been saying it’s a waste of money.

    Germany has about 18 GWe nameplate capacity of installed PV. Capacity factor is about 12%. In electricity generated, that is about equivalent to 1.46 * EPR nuclear power stations at 90% capacity factor.

    According to the IEA Monthly Electricity Statistics report, non-hydro, non-biomass renewables generated about 6.7% of German electricity in 2010. Back of envelope stuff suggests that 18 GWe capacity generates about 3% of Germany’s electricity. Peak output at the best time of day on the best days is probably around 14-15 GWe and at the best time on the worst days in mid winter no more than 0.5 GWe – effectively nothing.

    Consider scaling PV deployment up to meet say 10% of German electricity demand. At the best time on the best days, you would have to throttle back just about every other generator on the grid to essentially nothing. For fossil fuel generators, there will be some carbon cost incurred whose magnitude is dependent on the type – eg coal, OCGT etc – because they run most efficiently at constant temperature. There will also be a monetary cost because those other generators must run a lower capacity factor and ultimately somebody has to pay. In winter something else needs to substitute for PV because it is all but useless on many days.

    If you want to scale PV up even further, things look even worse. On the best days at the best time, electricity would have be stored (charging EVs is a possibility but that is a fair way off or maybe electrolysis to produce hydrogen, also a fair way off) or spilled. In the latter case, this can only increase the already very high per kWh cost. And what to do about winter?

    These problems exist regardless of how clever a grid might become. Continental scale interconnects may help, but that too is a long way off if indeed they ever happen on a scale that would count. Hint: nations value energy independence.

    The UK Climate Change Committee’s Renewables Report and it’s supporting reports commissioned from consultancies see little role for PV in the UK. It is a vastly better group of documents than the German Energy Concept report, including things like actual interconnects with Norway, Netherlands and Ireland required to make each scenario hang together. The scenarios also call for new nuclear.

    One final reality check. In 2010, Germany derived a higher percentage of it’s electricity from combustible fuels than the OECD average (Source IEA Monthly Energy Statistics). Perhaps a reflection partly on limited hydro but also a wake up call. Unlike neocons, climate hawks as Joe Romm likes to put it, cannot make their own reality.

  20. @ Sg,

    “There is no information on deaths before the scheme started, as far as I know, and no-one who thinks it was a disaster seems interested in hunting any down. I wonder why that is?”

    i am sure if the answer was favourable to the govt it would have been hunting down the answers and publishing them.

    I wonder why they haven’t?

    Assumptions are great aren’t they when we can all do it?

    “But given the fire risk plummeted, my guess is that the death risk probably did too.”

    More guesses.

  21. Ootz,
    In answer to your questions from Climate Clippings 26.

    I posted the response on CC 26, and was going to copy and paste it to here. The response is awaiting moderation, so I’ll have to wait until it gets up there , I didn’t keep a copy. Then I’ll transfer it here.

  22. Thanks John, at least you are credible by answering questions as well as asking them.

    Some freewheeling character here is wasting everyones time by asking questions only and never answering questions adressed to him like here
    and here

    OTB, have you got facts (as in contrast to opinions from the contemporary Volkischer Beobachter) to substantiate your claim re the “Pink Batts fiasko”?
    Common you can do it, [phrase deleted -Ed].

  23. Scusimi Brian, nell’interesse della moderazione, con la parola w@nk che faccio il refere ad una finestra al Korea di Nord e non ad un atto della soddisfazione di auto. O debba che è autobus?

  24. quokka, I’m pretty sure the storage problem is not particularly technologically challenging, just a matter of political will. e.g. if we can build oil rigs we can build a system for storing potential energy that uses the depth of the sea and gravity. Hydrogen/oxygen separation and either combustion or use in a battery is also pretty well established as a technology.

    I don’t think PV will ever be the sole source of anyone’s power but no-one’s suggesting it should be. The single biggest lesson of the oil century is that we shouldn’t be concentrating our energy supplies in one source.

    Also energy independence is irrelevant. If as you say, nations value energy independence, we would never have ended up in the oil economy we have. Currently very few nations have achieved that, and most never will.

  25. @sg

    quokka, I’m pretty sure the storage problem is not particularly technologically challenging, just a matter of political will.

    Is this supposed to be reassuring? If storage other than pumped hydro was economically viable it would already be in use. It would be an ideal match for baseload generators – excess generation at night could be stored for next day use and less generation capacity need be built and operated. Why has this not happened and why is it not happening? It’s got very little to do with political will and an awful lot to do with it being too expensive and not a little too expensive, but a lot too expensive. And this is just for overnight. When you are talking days or weeks of storage to compensate for the abysmal performance of PV in winter in northern Europe, it is sheer fantasy and is never going to happen.

    Physical reality always bats last and will in every case beat “political will”. For storage, you basically have three options – heat stuff like molten salts up and store as thermal energy, store it in chemical bonds in batteries or electrolysis of hydrogen , or pump water to a higher elevation and store as potential energy. All of these require lots of materials, which cost substantial amounts of money and have measurable environmental impacts. This can never change – that is just the nature of things – which will forever place some floor under the cost of storage. Exactly what that cost may be reduced to is unclear at this time but most assuredly will forever exist. Currently it’s pumped hydro or nothing and could stay that way for a long time – quite long enough for a safe climate to become just a memory.

    The CCCs Renewable Energy Report only considers hydrogen production from excess wind as viable in addition to pumped hydro and even then the contribution is small.

    What you are requiring is little other than faith.

  26. @Ootz
    “OTB, have you got facts (as in contrast to opinions from the contemporary Volkischer Beobachter) to substantiate your claim re the “Pink Batts fiasko”?”

    If you read the thread, maybe if you try really hard you will comprehend, that I did not make the claim.
    Brian did.

  27. What a mess of things governments have been making, here and in Germany, with their silly “direct action” ideas of choosing a low carbon technology and then paying people large, fixed subsidies to install it.

    That is the shape of the future too, if governments continue to pursue direct action rather than carbon pricing. For government, “picking winners” nearly always means picking losers.

    What a huge waste of money and goodwill.

  28. quokka, it’s not viable now because of the privileged position of hydrocarbons, which store energy. Building storage facilities in a hydrocarbon economy is not viable even if they cost no more than building new baseload facilities.

    But people do know how to build dams, and how to do electrolysis. Once the price of hydrocarbons goes up, then storage problems will be solved very quickly.

    Unless you have some storage-free alternative to hydrocarbons?

  29. In relation to Brians post on Germany’s solar power and load following I have been doing a bit of research into the ES 5000 Energy Server fuel cell.
    It’s still a bit expensive and takes around an hour to warm up but there are new designs which will fire up much quicker. Price is $800,000 for 100kw unit. Efficiency is at least as good as a CCGT with lower emissions. I haven’t yet found out how much fuel it uses to keep hot but here are some of the links if anyone else is interested.
    And this one is An Investigation into the Bloom Box Fuel Cell.
    I eventually found the startup time from Wikipedia
    The company’s web site.

  30. Assuming it scales up, Salient, that would imply an installed cost of $8bn GW just for the fuel cell and to cover something like Hazelwood, closer to $12bn and Loy Yang about $17.6bn. Ouch!

    It’s also not clear what the anticipated working life of the cell would be.

  31. Yes “ouch” but they seem to be selling a few, 5 to Fedex as well as Caltech, Google, Ebay to name a few. If you can afford the price of the unit, it produces electricity below the grid price with lower emissions.
    It can also run on lots of different fuels.
    This is a young technology which has found a market while showing a lot of promise for getting costs down in the near future.

  32. @Salient Green,

    According to the specs, it produces 350 gram CO2/kWh. I’m not sure, I see much point to it.

  33. Brian@8 said:

    You might also be surprised to know that the incidence of problems in the pink batts program {HIP: “pink batts” was/is LNP/Murdochratic spin — some batts were foil, and this is a proprietary name} was less than had been the case in the industry prior to the program. It’s just that four people died in people’s ceilings on a government funded program,

    OTB — it’s clear Brian was speaking of problems — specifically fires, not deaths, and the deaths in the program were not related to fires but poor working practice hence the reference to the industry. Your remarks against Brian above were misconceived.

  34. quokka, Walmart and Staples are another 2 companies willing to buy it in spite of your opinion. The SOFC is the most promising of the fuel cell technologies with tubular design for fast startup, flexible fuel, potential for CO2 reforming and efficiency gains to 70% by pressurisation and hybridising with Gas Turbine.
    These fuel cells could soon be powering aircraft, trains and heavy transport let alone stationary applications.

  35. @31, Ootz — I don’t parlez vous Italiano, but I got the gist of your post, and “soddisfazione” sounds especially painful…

  36. Brian @22: Are you proposing a Labor style ETS/CPRS which works by being a defacto tax or a coalition style ETS/MRET which uses offset credit trading to minimize price increases by avoiding the need to add the defacto tax to the price? Not very benevolent if you go the Labor way. If you are talking a $30/tonne carbon price and per capita emissions around 26 tonnes CO2/yr the associated price increases total $2.14/day per capita. This daily price increase is the same as it would be if a $80/tonne carbon tax was levied on power generation emissions only. (=increase in electricity price by about 8 cents/kWh.)
    Not sure what $30/tonne would achieve since current MRET credit prices suggest you would need $40/tonne to drive investment in renewables.
    The John D dictatorship would be either more benign and/or more effective because my approach depends on methods that don’t involve defacto taxes while still taking advantage of market forces. For a nett per capita price increase of $2.14/day I could replace coal fired power with a mix of gas and renewables while at least halving the average fuel consumption of new cars. (Vote John D)

  37. @ Fran

    ” it’s clear Brian was speaking of problems — specifically fires, not deaths”

    No it is not. He did not mention fires at all.

    I think deaths is as big a problem as you can get don’t you?

  38. @ Doug
    “Several detailed statistical analysis deaths”

    The analysis mentions fires only and no deaths.

    The analysis ignores foil-insulated homes?

  39. Ootz, I’ve deleted a phrase of your comment @ 30 so as to avoid offence.

    OTB, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    OTB @ 24, it’s not smart to be rude to your host.

    Ootz I’ve deleted a longish comment as we don’t want to discuss comments policy on threads.

  40. OTB Fran @ 43 was right. The substantive part of @8 was

    You might also be surprised to know that the incidence of problems in the pink batts program was less than had been the case in the industry prior to the program.

    After a 2-min Google search, I think the post I recalled this one by Mark, which arose out of one by Robert and linked to a Possum post. The bottom line was:

    some actual numbers suggesting that far from the insulation program being the cause of a dramatic increase in hell, fire and brimstone breaking out in the nations ceilings, it actually reduced the rate of installation caused fires. Yes, you read that right.

    Possum, as linked by John D, has updated with a recent post based on a CSIRO report. He finds:

    The number of fires per 100,000 installs that occurred within 12 months of installation was 47.3 before the Home Insulation Program and 13.9 during the Home Insulation Program

    The Home Insulation Program reduced the short term fire rate by approximately 70% compared to what was happening before it.

    The Home Insulation Program was over 3 times safer than the industry it replaced in terms of the numbers of fire experienced within 12 months of getting insulation installed.

    As sg suggests the number of deaths was so low that it would be hard to draw valid statistical conclusions.

    My overall concern in the context of this post was about the role of media, specifically The Australian, in misleading the population rather than objective reporting.

  41. The Climate Commission’s first report The Critical Decade by Will Steffen is to be released today. Apart from taking “a blowtorch to the Opposition’s direct action policy” it stresses the need for urgent action:

    Professor Steffen says the decisions made between now and 2020 will determine the level of severity of global warming.

    “We’ve got to make some very important policy decisions,” he said.

    “We have to make some very important investment decisions this decade if we’re to take advantage of this fleeting last opportunity to get this situation under control.”

  42. Brian @49
    Sincere apologies for the offending remark @30 to you, onthebus and anyone else I have caused pain with my indulgence.

    As to the deleted longish comment. No need for it as you have put much more succinctly in that one short line.

    Except, I’d like to restate that you have my deepest respect for your integrity, intellect and effort that you have committed to these Climate Clippings, such that they allow a platform for a depth of discussion and debate sadly lacking in the mainstream. The resulting insights thereof I savour everyday (thanks everyone!) and I shall have to learn to ignore the odd distraction.

  43. John D @ 46, if I were benevolent dictator I would certainly consult and gain advice from an army of experts. But I would definitely ban new coal capacity and would probably go down this track with you:

    For a nett per capita price increase of $2.14/day I could replace coal fired power with a mix of gas and renewables while at least halving the average fuel consumption of new cars.

    I’m thinking, however, that it may not be prudent to try to stand outside an international ETS, should one develop. Moreover, market-based instruments may be useful in squeezing the last GHG emissions out of the domestic system.

    But I’m not an engineering type and we live in a different world, so by and large I’m happy to leave the heavy-duty thinking on these matters to others better qualified.

  44. OOtz @ 52, thanks. I’ve changed “saviour” to “savour” in the last sentence!

    Amongst it all there is actually an intelligent conversation in the thread based on the post. With I&U @ 35, I fear the Germans are picking winners in quite a dramatic fashion and may well be wasting bucket loads of money. It will be interesting to see how they bat themselves out of trouble.

    I’d be expecting a change at the next German election with perhaps a return to an SPD-Green alliance. That’s not till 2013, however, and may not make much difference.

  45. Brian @22 and JohnD @46

    Unfortunately, as per Brian @51, the window of opportunities is closing rapidly. Thus, my vote will go for the intervention that allows a speedy implementation with regular review and adjustment stages built in. That’s why the European dummy run, in my opinion, was extremely smart. It provided industry and public with time to adjust and allowed for major tweaking, because no intervention on that scale can get it right from the scratch.

  46. onthebus, if you were so sure that there have been more deaths under the “pink batts” program, can you tell us how many occurred before the program started? After all, if you’re so sure that the program is killing more people than before, you must know what was happening before, right?

    The liberals and the commentariat seem very concerned about the heightened dangers under the program, but from what I can see they have never bothered to find out what was happening before. It’s as if they were sure they could make political hay without bothering to check their facts…

  47. I&U @35: You say:

    That is the shape of the future too, if governments continue to pursue direct action rather than carbon pricing. For government, “picking winners” nearly always means picking losers.

    Sounds like the good old “private good public bad” mantra that assumes that private never makes spectacular stuff-ups.
    I remember well the truly spectacular stuff-ups that BHP made during the nineties that cost billions and killed at least one person. Problem in these case was not enough due diligence before the projects were started and a “groupthink” that makes it hard to stop a big project once commitments are made. The groupthink problem wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the people working on a project would expect to lose their job if the project folded. In BHP’s case they dealt with the problem by sacking the Chairman, Managing director and the senior executives directly involved and instituting elaborate check procedures including reviews by people who worked for completely separate parts of the company. (You really need a devil advocate whose job is secure to help protect from stuff-ups.)
    If you do a very preliminary due diligence on housetop solar PV two thing of the more obvious problems were that:
    1. There was no mechanism for controlling the rate of the take-up if the tariff was high enough to be attractive. As a result the take-up was so enthusiastic that the program was killed and BOF is trying to dishonor the contracts.)
    2. There was no competitive tendering to set the subsidies and the price paid for solar PV power. (As a result the initial price was higher than necessary and there was no reduction in contract price over time even though the capital cost of solar PV roughly halved over the period of the program.)
    Funny thing. If you do your due diligence on the use of the carbon tax drive investment in clean electricity, two of the many problems with the carbon tax are a lack of control of the rate of take-up and no mechanism for competitive tendering. The carbon tax is all set to make exactly the same mistakes as those made in the solar PV program!
    Other funny thing is that Labor has done all this work on the carbon price without doing any homework on more case specific approaches – classic symptoms the groupthink disease.
    I don’t think there is anything magic about direct or indirect approaches. The important thing is that the due diligence is done properly and both alternatives are considered.

  48. What John D says. Some of this stuff sounds like a Tea Party meeting. Governments “pick winners” all the time. The Medicare Schedule is a bunch of “winners”. Historically the only two electricity generation technologies to make any meaningful reduction to emissions worldwide are hydro and nuclear. Combined they are still ten times more effective than everything else put together. Both have required government to “pick winners” – perhaps not for emissions reduction, but that is not the point. They have been economically viable and successful.

    The Snowy Mountains Scheme was government “picking a winner”. The largest engineering project ever in Australia and from all accounts very well executed and cited more than once internationally as an example of civil engineering excellence.

    So, for what it’s worth here is my back of the envelope winner:

    Australia has about 30 GWe of coal fired generation capacity producing about 75% of our electricity and probably 85% or more of emissions from electricity generation.

    A carbon tax at $30 per tonne and per capita emissions of 26 tonnes would raise say $15.6 billion annually. What can you get for this? At least 3 GWe of nuclear capacity at $5000 per kW if you base cost on the Finnish EPR project with it’s very large cost overruns and first of a kind costs. So 10 years of carbon tax looks like some sort of upper bound on costs to remove 85% of emissions in the electricity sector. Time frame – maybe by 2030 – 2035 if we got on with it.

    Actually, this looks unreasonably pricey and eight years or less of carbon tax might well be sufficient, which leaves rather a lot left over for other things like compensating those who should be compensated.

    Then of course further capacity will be needed to meet increased demand.

    Structure it how you like – perhaps a government owned corporation to kick start it and eventual privitization, if that is what floats your boat, but can anybody do it cheaper and more importantly would just a price signal to the market do it cheaper or as reliably?

  49. One thing I would do is to pick losers by legislating to outlaw the building of new capacity in coal-fired power generation.

    In all truth that is probably unnecessary, because I understand banks will not lend on such ventures, regarding them as too risky over the life of the project.

  50. Further to 51 above The Critical Decade report can be downloaded here. Greg Hunt has refused interviews on the 7.30 Reort and on RN’s breakfast this morning. We’ve has responses from Minchin, Abetz, Jensen, Barnaby Joyce, Abbott himself and probably a few others.

    Sophie Mirabella was one of the more ridiculous:

    This report wants to go even further than the Greens say publicly. This report will shut down Australia as a modern, industrialised economy.

    Hunt has apparently issued a statement saying that the Coalition accepted the science of the report, that the world was warming and that humans were causing it. I suspect he is on strike and complaining to his leader that he can’t be expected to go out front when everyone else is talking about his portfolio responsibility in chaotic terms.

    Abbott is claiming that the report supports his ‘direct action’ approach by supporting sequestration of carbon in soils. In fact it doesn’t. It supports enriching carbon-depleted soils, but points out that such carbon is still part of the active carbon cycle.

    I’m working on a separate post on the report, which has much to commend it, IMO.

  51. @ Quokka
    “A carbon tax at $30 per tonne and per capita emissions of 26 tonnes would raise say $15.6 billion annually. What can you get for this?”

    What would you get for $500 a tonne?

    The greens seem to like numbers like this..

    “Victorian Greens MP Greg Barber won’t rule out even $500 a tonne when asked by Tim Wilson of the Institute of Public Affairs”

  52. which has much to commend it,

    Only in a perverse, fucked up Australian politics view of the world. Any sane reading of it would say that it has very much to be very depressed about, from its conception, its contents and its reception.

  53. @OnTheBus,

    seeing as you couldn’t be arsed to show the basic netiquette of linking to the article from which you quoted, I shall provide the relevant link to Bolta’s Blogorhea so people can see that, yet again, all Bolt has to offer is a transcript wherein a Greens MP is patiently refusing to join in the gotcha-game that the talkback host is playing.

    It wasn’t a serious question, it was just an attempt to derail the debate from the points that Barber was making, and as such it didn’t deserve the dignity of an answer.

  54. John D @57,

    I think that your comment about “groupthink” is a valid one. That, to me, is one of the reasons that diversity and decentralisation are so important: so as to minimise (albeit not eliminate) the risk that groupthink leads everyone to pick the same, wrong solution and ignore better solutions.

    In outlining the various problems we have seen with government programs, you are making my point for me. Of course, government could and should do better, but that really begs the question. The fact is that government “direct action” schemes for carbon abatement have generally been shambolic.

    Your criticism of a carbon tax is also valid. That is one of the reasons why the government is proposing an ETS, not a carbon tax (except as a transitional measure). An ETS is very like the “tendering process” that you argue for, with a fixed volume requirement and a competitive market setting the price.

    It is not often that we agree on so much.

  55. Quokka @58,

    Fair enough. If the Finns can build and operate nuclear for $5000/kW, let them come over here and build it. As you imply, a $30/tonne carbon price should just about make it profitable.

    Why is Australian government – and taxpayer – involvement required?

  56. @Incurious and Unread

    Fair enough. If the Finns can build and operate nuclear for $5000/kW, let them come over here and build it. As you imply, a $30/tonne carbon price should just about make it profitable.

    It’s not really the Finns, it’s Areva. Actually I’d be quite interested in what the Asians might be able to offer. And in particular the Chinese in a few years. China is building the indigenous CPR1000 for around $1600/kW and build time of 52 months, and the Westinghouse AP1000 for maybe $2000/kW with similar or better build time. The Chinese have IPR for the latter and are also working on developing the design further for larger reactors. The APR1000 is Generation III+, substantially safer, and is the most modular of any current design requiring the least materials suggesting that it is probably more amenable to cost reductions and reduced build times as the supply chain is developed. Watch for China to move towards offering AP1000 or a derivative in the export market maybe in partnership with Westinghouse and others.

    I only mentioned the Finnish EPR because it is widely touted as wildly expensive by anti-nuke types. It’s pretty much worst case and still is much cheaper than eg off shore wind. I could have mentioned the UAE where the Sth Koreans are building over 5 GWe of capacity at mostly fixed price of about $3,800/kW in a first of a kind project with no existing nuclear infrastructure at all.

    Australia has a lot of uranium and there could well be potential to cut a favourable deal with supplier countries.

    Why is Australian government – and taxpayer – involvement required?

    Why discuss a carbon tax or ETS, why bother with intervention for CO2 mitigation at all? Lets just let the (somewhat) free market sort it all out. Oh wait …..

  57. well onthebus, since you couldn’t be bothered finding any numbers about pre-HIP deaths, I’ve analyzed the relative risks on my blog. Basically, if you want to claim that the “pink batts” program led to an increase in worker deaths, you need to prove that there were zero deaths in this industry for 14 years before the installation program started.

    There’s your target. Go dig up the data and prove it.

  58. sg, from recall one of the deaths was a 16 year old trainee with learning difficulties, sent into a roof space on a 40 degree day, who died of heat exhaustion.

    I really struggle to see how Peter Garrett wears any culpability whatsoever for that. Though I’m sure the relevant state based safety organisation was involved.

    quokka, I think you’ve made a (small) mistake – the best value reactors being built in China are AECL’s CANDU 6 model. Contract signed Nov 96, in service Jan 03.

    1.4 GW, 90% capacity, total cost CDN$1.2bn.

    And they reckon they can do better than that next time.

  59. @wilful

    quokka, I think you’ve made a (small) mistake – the best value reactors being built in China are AECL’s CANDU 6 model. Contract signed Nov 96, in service Jan 03.

    1.4 GW, 90% capacity, total cost CDN$1.2bn.

    And they reckon they can do better than that next time.

    Thanks for that. CANDUs may be interesting too because they are not picky about fuel and can run on unenriched natural uranium with a possible prospect of domestic fuel fabrication.

    A departing comment about public/private ideological wars – if Martians were to arrive and offer us deliverance from CO2, then that would be fine too, so long as we get on with it.

  60. Wilful,

    If the Chinese can build nuclear capacity for under $1000/kW, good luck to them. Obviously they can now stop building new coal-fired capacity (typical cost around $1500/kW, plus the ongoing cost of coal) and the planet is as good as saved.

    Whoever would have thought it would be so easy!

    Who needs the Martians, when we have the Chinese?

  61. well the canadians can take most of the credit. But yes, that is the claim made for these two units by the manufacturers.

  62. I&U @64: Choosing to go with ETS without serious consideration of alternatives was a prime example of “picking winners”. Worse still it makes the assumption that there is one magic bullet even though it is obvious that carbon prices would have to be very high before action on some emission sources (such as steel making) would make economic sense. Even worse is that the due diligence hasn’t been done.

    If we want to reduce power related emissions in an effective manner it makes sense to get an understanding of the complexities of the power industry before deciding that the answer is to simply put a price on carbon.

  63. John D,

    Have you not read the Garnaut papers (the early ones and the latest)? Or the analysis and modelling that went into the CPRS design? There was plenty of analysis of alternatives, due diligence etc etc.

    It is not even true that the ETS is being treated as a “magic bullet”. There are several complementary policies that are being, or have been developed: MRET, “flagship” funding, energy efficiency standards, infrastructure development etc.

    Your strawman bears no relation to reality.

  64. I&U: I have only read a limited amount of the Garnaut papers. So surprise me and direct me to the section that actually does the sums comparing alternatives for driving investment in clean electricity as well as going through a systematic checklist.
    Keep in mind that due diligence as I understand it has to be more than a collection of economic theories.

  65. For anyone who is interested: John Baez (a mathematician known for his work on spin foams and n-category theory in modern physics) has started the Azimuth Project with the aim being to collect accurate information on climate science. Some of the pages are fairly mathy/technical, but many are fairly approachable with lots of links to other sources of accurate information. Possibly a good resource for anyone who is technically minded and wants to know more detail than is often presented in research press releases but less than trawling through a full-blown research paper.

    From their front page:

    The Azimuth Project is an international collaboration to create a focal point for scientists and engineers interested in saving the planet. Our goal is to make clearly presented, accurate information on the relevant issues easy to find, and to help people work together on our common problems.

    A good example is the page on ice melt and sea level rise which he recently published on his blog. Nice simple introduction with links to the relevant papers in JGR etc.

  66. Here’s another one for the junk science thread. For those that are interested in seeing just how much crap analysis someone with a PhD in meteorology can put out, Roy Spencer’s dirty mathematical laundry has been well and truly aired over here by Arthur Smith.

    Roy Spencer has basically come out with a brilliant own-goal. Spencer has recently published a book (The Great Global Warming Blunder, published in 2010 IIRC). It’s largely based on his analysis of a simple model in which he treats the Earth’s surface as a well-mixed ocean with feedback effects, and a forcing term which he bases on the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. He integrates this model numerically, gets an ok correlation to measured global average temperatures, and uses this result to claim a low climate sensitivity where most climate variation is internal (i.e. driven by forcings like the PDO).

    Unfortunately for Spencer, his model boils down to a very simple exponential decay from an initial temperature anomaly to some mean temperature (i.e. this isn’t a system that requires a computer to model). The only ‘dynamics’ which his model encompasses is (a) an initial transient, whose size is determined by the starting anomaly size, and (b) a small forcing from the PDO data which gives him some nice wiggles in his output.

    What Spencer essentially does to obtain his fits is to fudge the starting conditions at 1880 to make the model fit the measured temperatures in the 20th century. Unfortunately for him using other start dates give ridiculous results. To match 20th century temperatures with a starting year of 1800, you’d have to have a starting temperature anomaly of -20 to -25 degrees. What’s worse, if you start in 993, you need a starting temperature of minus six trillion degrees. I wouldn’t want to try claiming that this model represents anything like physical reality.

    Doesn’t stop Spencer from saying:

    I find it difficult to believe that I am the first researcher to figure out what I describe in this book. Either I am smarter than the rest of the world’s climate scientists–which seems unlikely–or there are other scientists who also have evidence that global warming could be mostly natural, but have been hiding it. That is a serious charge, I know, but it is a conclusion that is difficult for me to avoid. (p. xxvii)

    Gotta cram in the conspiracy while you can I suppose.

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