Climate clippings 59

Tokelau leads the world!

I’ve been looking for some positive stories for Christmas. What can be more positive than Tokelau going almost completely to renewables?

I guess it helps if you’ve got only 1,500 people and three cars.

Harnessing desert sun power

We’ve posted before on Desertec, the plan to generate solar power in North Africa and pipe it to Europe, to supply up to 15% of its energy by 2050. They expect to see the first solar electricity flowing from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014.

This report tells us that Morrocco itself “wants to produce 42% of its electricity from renewable sources – solar, wind and hydro-electric – by 2020.” That’s got to be good.

There are critics, however:

Valentin Hollain of Eurosolar, a German non-profit organisation that promotes renewable energy, queries the entire concept of Desertec.

He argues that big corporations are using large-scale projects like Desertec and Medgrid to retain their position into the next generation, and that a mix of renewable power supplied locally can meet demand while keeping prices down for consumers.

UK carbon-cutting targets exceeded

Well, they will be, according to a report they took to Durban. According to the Carbon Plan:

Between 1990 and 2010, emissions fell by 25.2%, and the 34% carbon-cutting target for 2022 is likely to be exceeded.


the report made clear that the carbon cuts of the past two decades were much easier to achieve than those needed in the next 20 years. These will require investments of hundreds of billions of pounds and the transformation of the UK’s energy, transport and industrial sectors.

I’ve had a very quick look. A 50% cut in emissions by 2027 is impressive, as is zero emissions from land transport vehicles by 2041.

Frankincense on the way out

The bad news is that frankincense production is in decline. The numbers of the Boswellia tree, which produces the fragrant resin, are in decline in the Horn of Africa due to fire, grazing and insect attack. Production may be halved over the next 15 years, but long term it’s “doomed” if current trends continue.

The report didn’t mention climate change, but it wouldn’t be helping.

Climate change may bring major ecosystem shifts

According to a NASA computer modelling study:

By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type – such as forest, grassland or tundra – toward another.

The modelling was based on the IPCC AR4 projections of 2-4C temperature rise by 2100. They were looking at ecosystems at the level of biomes as illustrated in this map.

The greatest changes are expected in high latitudes and at higher altitudes, as illustrated below:

Ecological sensitivity

The original paper is downloadable from here.

US rolls out tough rules on coal plant pollution

From Reuters:

The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled the first-ever standards to slash mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, a move aimed at protecting public health that critics say will kill jobs as plants shut down.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson revealed the rules, which have been about 20 years in the making, at a Washington, D.C. children’s hospital. Mercury can harm the nervous systems of developing fetuses and infants and can enter the food stream through contaminated fish.

“By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health,” said Jackson, whose agency hopes to start enforcing the rules over the next several years.

The power companies are claiming that jobs will be lost and some coal-fired plants will close. The Republicans will try to overturn the rule.

Dick van Steenis has been going on about this issue, and open cut coal mines and other industrial faclities, for years. You can find him at George Monbiot’s place, at Late Night Live and at Lock the Gate. Go here for the transcript of a talk he gave in NSW this year.

Think small

Giles Parkinson posts about a report Think Small: The Australian Decentralised Energy Roadmap:

A new report by the University of Technology’s Institute of Sustainable Futures released today throws up a serious challenge to the network operators who plan to spend $45 billion on network upgrades in the current five year period, and will likely do the same in the next.

The report, Think Small: The Australian Decentralised Energy Roadmap, says one third of this expenditure – $15 billion in the current period – could be avoided if Australia adopted decentralised energy technologies, such as efficient use of energy, peak load management and distributed generation, which means generating plants of 30MW or below, such as small wind farms, biomass plants, solar farms, rooftop PV, small hydro, fuel cells, cogeneration and trigeneration. The study, completed in collaboration with the CSIRO and four other universities, says these are the quickest and cheapest options to reducing emissions and meeting peak demand.

The report is downloadable here.

It’s time for a smarter grid

Parkinson again reorting on a study by Professor John Bell, of the Queensland University of Technology, and Warwick Johnston, a leading solar analyst with Sunwiz.

Using Queensland network operator Energex as an example, and its forecast peak demand growth of 1.25GW over the five years to 2014/15, the study analysed the existing approach of spending $2.6 billion augmenting the grid, or investing a comparable amount in either 25GWh of storage, or 1.25GW of solar PV and 10GWh of storage.

The study concluded that a combination of battery and solar PV produced a far better outcome, because of the ability to generate revenue from the energy produced, and the use of battery storage to resell energy.

They say that the integration of distributed PV and battery storage into the existing energy system has the potential to be cost effective now. Moreover:

Interestingly, this is a theme picked up by the Australian Energy Market Operator in the latest update of its National Transmission Network Development Plan (NTNDP) that has been released on Wednesday. The AEMO has been pushing its NEMLink proposal, which is designed to reinforce the backbone of the National Electricity Market, and transform it into a truly national market (except WA) rather than a series of interconnected regional markets.

However, under the strict guidelines of the current regulatory framework, AEMO says that it cannot justify the investment, even though its studies conclude that on a broader economic perspective (such as the increased build out of renewables and other generation, avoided losses etc), it would deliver a net benefit of $3.5 billion.

You’ll need to read the article as to why. It seems previously held assumptions are now being questioned.

81 thoughts on “Climate clippings 59”

  1. Pardon my ignorance, but does all that ‘Think Small, Smarter Grid’ mean that household solar pv is good idea? Should the govt be increasing its financial support or not?

  2. Thanks. The US mercury decision is certainly good news for their health – you have to wonder why it took 22 years. Someone asked me how Australia compared to this sort of slow-burn regulation and I couldn’t find anything online. Love to hear about any info on coal-fired regulations we have here and how it “stacks” up to the US.

    Also, it currently looks like Morocco is currently expanding its coal-fired capacity by another 700MW. Hopefully it’s just an aberration its solar goals. Good news is that UK’s ‘programme of cuts under the [solar] feed-in tariff were “legally flawed”’.

  3. It’s great that Tokelau is going renewable. It has, reportedly, 1500 people and three cars. To put this into some perspective though, Pennant Hills High School has about 1500 students, but a lot more cars. Maybe Tokelau could challenge Pennant Hills HS to match its efforts? I don’t imagine coconut oil could be raised in Pennant Hills, but maybe they could recycle their used vege oil? I suspect most families at Pennant Hills would be richer than most families in Tokelau, and Pennant Hills isn’t nearly so threatened by climate change. Maybe we should suggest it?

  4. The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled the first-ever standards to slash mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, a move aimed at protecting public health that critics say will kill jobs as plants shut down.

    I’m not against the environment but why don’t these Greenies concentrate on real pollution instead of threatening our jarbs with their gaia-obsessed desire to have us all live in caves while they sip coal-free chardonnay? {/sarcasm}

  5. What a model Tokelau is for the rest of the world!

    – the islands are completely subsidised by NZ
    – subsistence agriculture and internet domains are about the limit of anything that could be termed industry.
    – 5x their GDP ($1.5M) spent on a power station (that’s 5x the annual purchasing power of every man woman and child on the island)
    – a $7.5M solar plant for 1500 pacific islanders in a tropical climate

    How do you think that’ll scale to a decent population with real industry in a temperate climate? (Clue.. not very well).

    And yes Fran.. I’m sure the parents at Penno high could do without those cars if they didn’t have to get to work in the morning, and everything was 5min walk or a quick tinny ride away.

  6. Duncan said:

    And yes Fran.. I’m sure the parents at Penno high could do without those cars if they didn’t have to get to work in the morning, and everything was 5min walk or a quick tinny ride away.

    I was actually thinking of the students’ cars rather than those of the parents. I’m advised that it’s not uncommon to see students there securing their BMW 5 series or Saab Turbos now that their parents have got someting better.

    FTR, Pennant Hills is on a train line and actually has a pretty good bus service. If you live in Cherrybrook, you might need to use your bike.

  7. Fran,

    I’m quite aware of exactly where Pennant Hills High is, and what its public transport links are like.. I wouldn’t quite call it ‘on’ a train line (> 1km), but I certainly don’t believe any student absolutely needs a car to get to any school, anywhere in Oz.

    I suspect you are taking the anecdotes of many expensive cars owned by students too seriously.

    My point stands that it’s a pretty weak comparison to life on Tokelau.

  8. Oh, and Fran, you wrote:

    ” I suspect most families at Pennant Hills would be richer than most families in Tokelau”

    Yes indeed.

    You might find, however, that most families in Pennant Hills support themselves, and do not rely on foreign aid for their living expenses.

  9. Brian,

    regarding “it’s time for a smarter grid”, did you find the original study on-line? I had a look but with no success.

  10. Duncan said that

    My point stands that it’s a pretty weak comparison to life on Tokelau.

    My comment was largely tongue-in-cheek — of course the communities of Tokelau and Pennant Hills HS have little in common, apart from their number. Your reference to getting about in a tinny after doing away with their cars, did invite the response.

    As to what kinds of cars the students have, the anecdote rings true. Certainly, just down the road in Epping, and up at Cheltenham Girls, there’s very little parked on school grounds in the student areas more than five years old or not imported.

    You might find, however, that most families in Pennant Hills support themselves, and do not rely on foreign aid for their living expenses.

    It’s not clear why this is relevant, even if true. I was talking about the capacity of the people associated with Pennant Hills HS to fund a zero-emissions facility. I daresay they could rather more easily than could the folks from Tokelau. Given that the people of Tokelau are threatened by processes that have profited (amongst others) the people of Pennant Hills one could make the claim that this would be the least they could do.

    Out of interest, is it your claim that the rights of human beings to live in dignity and safety ought to be a function of wealth/income? Does accepting aid diminish one’s humanity relative to others?

  11. Fran/Duncan – any country can afford to go almost 100% renewables if they can find someone else to pay for it. Tokelau is only paying for about 10% of the cost of the plant. Hope they’re building it on high ground 🙂

  12. Out of interest, is it your claim that the rights of human beings to live in dignity and safety ought to be a function of wealth/income? Does accepting aid diminish one’s humanity relative to others?

    What a specious conclusion.

    If anything, my ‘claim’ is that Tokelau has no right to sponge off the first world to implemented a solar power grid, then lecture that same world on how evil they are by not following their lead.

    If they want dignity and safety from some perceived threat, they need to emigrate.

  13. I&U @ 9, I did do a search for the original study on the smarter grid, but like you without success. You’d think if they were that smart…

  14. @ 13 duncan, apart from your reply pretty much confirming Fran’s conclusion about you, I would add that a lack of tuna is causing the Tokalauans some difficulty. Now who do you think caused that problem for them?

  15. Fran and 16..

    so I guess that gives me the right to go and live in dignity on a nice beach somewhere where there is no chance of employment, live in a humpy, get the gov’t to pay for my solar panels then lecture the rest of the country about its power generation methods.

  16. @18, you’re not conducting yourself honorably. This place is their home and their home is being threatened by the actions of people unknowing and some, like you, uncaring.

    The assistance being given to Takalau is the tip of the iceberg fo what will be required in the near future.

  17. Duncan said:

    so I guess that gives me the right to go and live in dignity on a nice beach somewhere where there is no chance of employment, live in a humpy, get the gov’t to pay for my solar panels then lecture the rest of the country about its power generation methods.

    Sounds good to me. All you have to do is persuade someone with the cas that you’re entitled to give it a go. Good luck.

    More seriously, if the Tokelauans are using their aid in this way (and presumably not being supplied at great expense with diesel) I’d say that was an excellent use of aid. I daresay that if they all moved to NZ and implemented your plan, their per-capita ‘aid’ bill would be higher.

  18. Brian @15, if this helps
    “”The D-CODE Model is a free, publicly available electricity cost comparison and
    electricity system planning model developed by the Institute for Sustainable Futures as
    part of Project 4 of the Intelligent Grid Research Program.”””

    Page 70 from the “think small ” download.

  19. @19
    “This place is their home and their home is being threatened by the actions of people unknowing and some, like you, uncaring.”


    We’re talking about them spending $7.5M of other people’s money on an electricity generation plant in some vain attempt to stymie a 2mm/year sea level rise.

  20. @17, I mostly agree with very tough regulations on windfarms bacause we can’t afford to have public resistance against them. We also need to encourage the things to go offshore where they can be matched with wave and tidal energy generators.

  21. @ 21, you really need to read your comment before you post it. I am not aware of any electricity generating plant designed to ‘stymie’ sea level rise.

  22. @22 fair enough if it also applies to other projects. More interestingly it might encourage sharing the revenue with neighbours as mentioned elsewhere recently. But I’m waiting to hear that the 2km veto is part of a broader policy to protect neighbourhood amenity from annoying projects generally and not just an anti wind initiative.

  23. @24, Paul, we can only hope that the 2km veto works both ways in that once the wind farm is established, there can be no complaints by those moving within the 2km.

  24. paul @ 24 – I think you’re right – what we’ll see is the money that currently goes to one landowner will instead be spread amongst those who are geographically closest to the wind turbines. Given that people close by are affected to some extent, and the neighbour’s house may actually be a lot closer than the landowner’s I think it would be fairer. A 2km radius in a farm setting is not a great distance…..

  25. Brian: The interesting thing about the mercury rules was that a potential outcome is that some coal fired plants will shut down because they can’t meet the regs and/or the cost of compliance will make them uncompetive with gas or clean power sources that don’t have the mercury problem.
    For some odd reason, the gas fired and renewable industries think the new regs are fine.
    I see this as part of a pattern where things like tighter air quality standards and reluctance of banks to lend to coal fired power projects indirectly result in reduced green house emissions.

  26. I kinda wish I hadn’t mentioned Tokelau. Normally it wouldn’t make the cut as a news item of major significance. Now I’ve just noticed the last paragraph:

    The only trouble is the tiny state must find $900,000 as its share of the $7.5m project. “That is why we are hoping that the green climate fund is established in the next few days. It is very urgent,” he said.

    Debbieanne @ 1, solar PV is certainly mentioned in that ‘Think Small, Smarter Grid’ stuff, but I don’t think that makes it a good idea as such. I’d prefer someone with more technical knowledge to answer your question. I think the general view is that until cheaper storage is available it is expensive and doesn’t mean much in the overall.

    I&U, following jumpy’s lead @ 21, I found the Intelligent Grid Research Program site. You may find something there amongst the publications.

  27. Salient Green & POfA: My main concern with the veto is whether the vetoers will have to have a good reason for their veto.

    For example, the claim that ‘low-frequency noise will also be taken into account’ smacks of the loony claims made by several wind farm opponents. Low frequency noise that you can’t hear and that no one has managed to measure yet belongs in the same category as the claims that I heard in the news last year about getting cancer from the ‘electromagnetic radiation’ supposedly emitted by wind turbines.

    Let’s have policy based on reason, not hysteria.

  28. So. Tokelau. It’s not as simple as one might think. I remember going to a workshop in Samoa in 2003 on population, migration and adaptation in the Pacific. Tokelau is still in the same political position now as then. They are remote, a territory of NZ but the UN want them to introduce self-determinism (Self governance with free association with NZ). There have been two votes, the last failing by 16 people to get 2/3 majority. They get direct aid from NZ and there is a multi-million dollar trust fund set up. The internal economy is small, and Wikipedia is a better source on that than the official government website.

    The islands are vulnerable. At this meeting in 2003, the anthropologist Tony Hooper asked me about climate science “what good are fucking computer models when the wave height is above tree level?” That comment has become my guiding principle for understanding effective research into practical adaptation.

    They are in cyclone territory and max to about 2m above sea level. In 2003, we heard about an earlier event that over-topped coconut trees and people were saved because they sheltered in the concrete church on one of the islands. There was a similar event in 2005. These cyclones strip areas of soil affecting subsistence agriculture. The largest source of protein is fish. The tuna population is declining – I suspect due to the letting of licences in other Pacific territories.

    The population is around 1400. Duncan was complaining at their sponging. NZ’s direct aid budget to Tokelau last year was $17.25 million. If we took what NZ pays as a whole just for health, education and infrastructure for its general population, this comes out to about $13,000 per New Zealander. NZ’s direct aid budget to Tokelau comes out to about $12,300 per Tokelauan. There are a couple of hundred Tokelauans in NZ “sponging” off their education system and health services, so there’s a double up there, but I also only took three parts (the largest) of the NZ budget to get the expenditure per head. So, in these terms, the aid budget does not look exorbitant.

    The Tokelauans exercise their sovereignty through a treaty with NZ. They have a long-term plan to become more self reliant. There are natural assets in their territory that would have to be legally managed if they depopulated (e.g., tuna, sea floor minerals, marine ecosystems). None of these are trivial legal matters. Nor in those terms do they look overly expensive for New Zealand, given its footprint in the Pacific.

    Any energy infrastructure will have to survive cyclones. How long the islands have under sea level rise is anybody’s guess – they will last through the life of what’s being installed, though.

    And Tokelau lecturing the rest of the world? I read their press statement to Durban.

    It spoke about what they were doing (with external funding) but didn’t read like a lecture or cast nasturtiums at the rest of the world – they described what they were doing within their capacity. I keep getting the same message from people in the developing world. They want to do what they can but cannot pay for it all. It’s humble, it’s dignified and characterised by a lack of spite.

    So Dunc, you can have your opinions, but the facts seem to back up a quite different story.

  29. Re: Windfarm rules …

    I strongly agree with Jess that the wink at those making unfounded claims about harm from low-frequency noise ought not to be entertained. I also don’t agree that the set-offs are needed. While there may be specific engineering, operational, technical or ecological reasons for preferring one location over another the health/nuisance thing really is bogus.

    That all said, if the process for approval is kept simple, made immune to vexatious challenge and the set-offs are only 2km the net consequences for feasibility are unlikely to be significant and the trade-off may well be the best thing in the longer run.

  30. Debbieanne @ 1
    Small PV arrays at the household level may have a role in the new grid but as Brian hints, unless they are combined with either energy storage or active VAR control; or preferably both, they will bring the network down if the penetration exceeds about 15%.
    People have really to get over this “benign solar”bullshit. PV is simply another energy source and it is subject to the laws of physics and there is no way those fecken hippies can exist on PV alone – without either a massive energy storage or some form of backup generation.
    Expect more from me in the New Year..

  31. Tokelau is complicated as Roger says, and a lot of his @33 I agree with.

    But in terms of what Duncan has been arguing, I can as one who spent 7 years in the South Pacific working inter alia on climate change policy (not the greatest reason, but not the smallest either, for my cynicism about the politics of climate change), confidently assert that the over-ridingly most important driver at government level for interest in climate issues among the island nations, is the potential that they offer for extracting greater aid – blood money, in effect – from their donors.

    AOSIS was formed at a time when the donors were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the miniscule outcomes from their aid programs, and increasingly aware that there were higher priorities – really poor countries, with actual starvation – than what are in developing world terms actually quite rich countries. Noone starves in the Pacific. Many senior government figures in the South Pacific at that time were quite open, at least in private, in making clear doubts about likely impacts of climate change on their countries, and what their real motivation was: getting the aid donors back.

    It is a bit unfair singling out Tokelau for this sort of criticism, as it is far too small to be a real player at AOSIS level. It is the outstandingly hypocritical likes of Nauru, who having pissed their own major natural resource away on baubles, now lead the rhetorical charge against others allegedly raping the planet, that get up my nose. But as Brian @ 31 notes, the prospect of profiting from international climate-related funding is clearly in Tokelau’s mind as well.

    The real problem for the likes of Tokelau of course is that for reasons of distance and low population – exacerbated by continuing large out-migration, disproportionately of the best and brightest – they are simply not viable communities, at least with the sort of lifestyles that have been enabled by massive per capita aid flows. In that they are comparable to many remote indigenous communities in Australia, albeit without the huge social problems the latter have developed (and indigenous policy makers in Australia might do worse than reflect on the reasons why, but that is a digression). Climate change is far down their list of priorities (as Roger’s quote re cyclones illustrates).

    The other point I would emphasise about the Pacific is that low and well-tested tech is almost always massively preferable on remote islands. I would be very surprised if solar pv were anything like as reliable an energy source as diesel generation, even leaving aside the when the sun don’t shine (which can be a surprising amount of the time) problem. So far as I know a direct hit by a cyclone with waves two metres higher than any structure has not been part of the routine testing procedure in the solar industry. I am actually more cynical about New Zealand’s motivation in this – getting rid of the ongoing diesel subsidy burden, with capital costs of solar replacement partly covered by UN funds, and reliability of electricity supply barely a consideration? – as I am of Tokelau’s.

  32. Huggybunny @ 36 – there are hippies around who do live just on solar PV with storage. But it requires some lifestyle changes 🙂 The fridge is probably the only thing which can’t go for extended periods without power, but I’d imagine a small very efficient one would use very little energy.

    I work from home in Adelaide and given that blackouts are not that uncommon in summer I had a look at the cost of an add-on battery system for a solar PV system. I just wanted enough to be able to run a computer and internet link for say 5-6 hours. It was prohibitively expensive. Much cheaper to have a laptop with a few spare batteries on standby with a 3G link.

  33. Chris,
    Yes, the ‘fridge < 1 kWh/day if you get a 12 or 24 VDc version; no reason why 240 Vac versions should not be close to this.
    Problem is of course that there will be periods where the insolation will not yield any-thing like this, these periods could go for 3 weeks or more at a time (it's called winter).
    The only system that I know of that could provide 100% renewables was a PV/Wind set-up in a really good wind location this represented < 0.25% of the systems I surveyed. (After the survey was closed a major storm blew the turbine off the hill). Micro hydro will do better until either the floods wash the bypass pipes down the creek or you get a major drought.
    This self sufficiency caper is not easy, unless you remain connected to the grid – but then why should the power companies provide you with a backup service for essentially no money ?

  34. Huggy – I think it depends on your location. You could do it in Canberra for example. You simply don’t get 3 weeks of cloudy weather and in winter a fridge outdoors would need hardly any power at all 🙂

  35. Huggy: At the moment it is air conditioning peak demand that determines grid and generation capacity requirements. By coincidence solar PV is performing at its best on those stinking hot days of peak air con demand.
    We can afford to install quite a bit more solar before the engineering difficulties start adding enormously to cosrs.

  36. JohnD
    Wish you were right but I think the co-incidence with peak demand is not good.
    The peak domestic load in summer comes on at 6:00 PM and lasts until about 9:30 PM – or did last time I checked.
    Ordinary PV does not help much here. However load shifting PV will.


  37. Recently published in Science: a new type of solar panel with a quantum efficiency of greater than 100 %.

    From the editorial section:

    Conventional solar cells create a charge carrier each time a photon of light at or above a certain energy threshold is absorbed. Any energy embedded in short-wavelength photons that exceeds the threshold is largely wasted. Semonin et al. (p. 1530) now demonstrate a nanoparticulate lead selenide solar cell that channels
    a fraction of the excess energy into current.

  38. Huggy @43: The peaks I am talking about are the extremes for very hot days. How do they differ from average summer (or winter) days?
    In the case of air conditioning it may make sense to store cold or heat rather than electricity.
    It takes about 1.12 kWh to raise 1000 litres water by one deg C using a heating element.

  39. JohnD.
    The intrinsic energy efficiency of an electro-chemical energy storage system such as a battery can be close to 100%.
    The Carnot efficiency of thermal storage for power generation is seldom better than 50%.
    The best way to store thermal energy is to store electrical energy and then use it in a heat pump, to extract energy from the ground. That way you can get 3 times (at least) the bang for your buck.

  40. Huggy – sure, but that design is recapturing heat which would otherwise be lost. Isn’t any small increase in efficiency a good thing?

  41. I suggest that instead of spending $x prudently now, we instead spend a figure much larger than $x (increasing exponentially over time) cleaning up extreme weather events.

    If you like my position, I suggest we get together and call ourselves something boldly preposterous, like “Climate realists”, and seek patonage in the Oz and large donations from coal. When we completyl bankrupt our foremrrly wealthy societies we can chide others for, I dunno, not deregulating something enough. We’ll sort that later.

    Who’s inski?

  42. Huggy @47: For cooling I was talking about using a heat pump while the sun shines to cool a tank of water or some other form of thermal inertia. I appreciate that there are inefficiencies in cooling water to a temperature below the desired room temperature but it is really a question of what costs less. In dry inland areas thermal inertia on its own can be used to take advantage of the difference between day and night temperatures.
    For heating you could avoid solar PV altogether and use solar hot water heating.
    Lefty E: There is a long established party in Aus that seems to have already adopted your proposal.

  43. Jess,
    It’s not simple, if the heat is too far gone in terms of entropy then it may be actually counter productive to try to capture it.
    To store energy you need some material with a high specific heat – water is good. But then you need to get it out again. For a system operating at room temperature the theoretical Carnot efficiency is likely to be < 25%. You need a really high temperature differential to get any-where near unity.

    Combined cycle systems that run on CSM are really good from an efficiency perspective – with ultra low CO2 emissions as well.
    Populist Greens are trying to stop it instead of taking on the extraction methods, demonstrates that they are not serious.

  44. Huggy: I’m not sure you’ve quite got that right. As I understand it, the quantum efficiency is the ratio of the number of charge carriers collected by a photovoltaic cell to the number of photons of a given energy shining on the solar cell. So a QE of > 100% just means that the cell is producing more electrons for a given wavelength of light than we might otherwise expect.

    The process they’re looking at is for photons with energies greater than twice the band gap energy of your semiconductor in the cell producing more than one electron-hole pair per photon adsorption.

    The issue is finding a material where this multiple exciton generation can occur with the energies that we have in sunlight – reading the paper it seems to be a combination of physiochemical and geometrical factors had to be overcome. It seems like the lead-selenide dots described by the authors have hit this sweet spot to get multiple electrons per photon from sunlight.

    So the paper could represent a more efficient substrate & a step towards having more efficient solar panels.

  45. HuggyBunny – in terms of storing “cool” in the context of moving the peak demand in summer I don’t think you would attempt to convert the cool back to electricity again. In fact I think you could get almost as high efficiency. For example, take a well insulated house on a very hot day (or series of hot days) – you could start the aircon systems automatically earlier in the day when people are not home yet to start cooling the house down. Ideally you’d have some thermal mass which you could directly cool, but its not necessary. In exchange for using power earlier, you would not need to run the aircon system at as high a level later on because the house has already been significantly cooled down. This would help move the peak demand.

    During hot Adelaide summer periods when it doesn’t cool down naturally at night I run an evap system all night long. I have a lot of thermal mass inside the house and the evap system cools the thermal mass down significantly. In the morning I seal up the house which is sufficiently well insulated that the thermal mass will normally keep the inside air temperature low enough that I don’t need to start the a/c system until the following evening.

    Similarly you could have fridges/freezers overcool during periods of low demand and have them run less or not at all during peak demand.

  46. JohnD and Jess,
    Yep you are both right or should I say I agree.
    JohnD your use of the house thermal mass is really clever, the closer it is connected to the earth the better, hence the “geothermal” systems of heating and cooling.
    I get quantum efficiency but it is not the same as thermodynamic efficiency.
    The problem with citing quantum efficiency is that it brings on the perpetual motion freaks 🙂

  47. @ 48, prevention is better than the cure i.e. don’t waste energy in the first place… unless there is a commercial incentive to do so of course which, btw, there basically is at the moment : the heart of conspicuous consumption is the freedom to waste energy!

  48. Lefty @49. Considering the origins and specific aims of the ‘wentworth group’ vis a vis The Murray/Darling your suggestion has merit. Whether an ‘extreme weather events’ ginger group would be a go-er, I’m unsure but my guess is that Australia deserves something along similar lines to the WG and that the insurance companies would be first cab off the rank for possible (seed) funding. But for their tacit support you’d need to be offering more than ‘a chiding’ when the next cyclone yasi or 100 year flood arrives. Any takers?

  49. Keithy: As Huggy points out, by merely existing we ‘waste’ heat. It can’t really be helped, unless you’ve found a means of tricking the second law of thermodynamics…

  50. Jumpy: Good to have someone pushing something other than solar. I have this emotional attraction to proposals for using kite power to generate electricity and take advantage of high altitude winds. The same principles might be used to extract power from ocean currents.
    If you Google “kite power” you will get over 5 million hits to sift through.

  51. Keithy said:

    the heart of conspicuous consumption is the freedom to waste energy!

    I’m sure I know what Keithy acutally intended by ‘waste’ in this context but I just love the pairing with Jess’s remark:

    As Huggy points out, by merely existing we ‘waste’ heat

    I waste therefore I am …

    Perhaps I shouldn’t overthink it.

  52. More details on the new US EPA mercury rules Looks like it will only effect a limited number of old coal fired plants:

    There are still dozens of coal plants in the U.S. that don’t meet the pollution standards in the original 1970 Clean Air Act, much less the 1990 amendments. These old, filthy jalopies from the early 20th century, mostly along the eastern seaboard and scattered around the Midwest, are responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of the air pollution generated by the electricity sector in America, including most of the mercury. They have been environmentalists’ bête noire for over 30 years now.
    Second, mercury rules get directly at these plants in a way no other rules have. There’s no trading system for mercury like there is for SO2 (the Bush administration tried to set one up, but the court struck it down). There are no short-cuts either. Every plant that’s out of compliance has to install the “maximum available control technology.” There is some flexibility — more than industry admits — but there’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be an expensive rule. It’s going to kick off a huge wave of coal-plant retirements and investments in pollution-control technology. That is, despite what conservatives say, a good thing, since the public-health benefits will be far greater than the costs. Every country on earth is modernizing its electric fleet. Even China’s ahead of us. These crappy old plants are an embarrassment and good riddance to them.

    Not as big an impact as I thought @30.

  53. Keithy @63 “…… what is CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION all about?”

    It is the quasi-religeous behaviour people partake in societies prone to eating their future. The cleric equivalent ‘consumer engineers’ legitimise such behaviour, as “the way to break the vicious deadlock of a low standard of living is to spend freely, and even waste creatively.”

    However, the Cornucopian representatives on here would condemn me for above comments as from the “we all have to go and live in caves” brigade. The fact is, there are definitely not enough caves to go around for 7 billion!

  54. ‘.. In a country of cars, malls have provided a place for the pleasures of pedestrianism..’

    The freedom to waste energy is simply going to become “uneconomic”!!

  55. “The freedom to waste energy is simply going to become “uneconomic”!!”

    A very elegant statement Keithy and I wish we could let it stand but it’s going to get worse than that.

  56. Thanks to fusion reactions in the sun, nuclear reactions in the earth, the spin of the earth etc. there is plenty of energy available to waste as we please. The challenge is to find sustainable ways of doing this that don’t stuff the environment, reduce our capacity to produce food or run up against limits on the availability of key materials required to take advantage of this energy.
    Our environment may actually be better off if we “wasted” energy now to drive the transition to a low emissions future.

  57. Well, John: that would be counted as ‘not wasted energy at all’ then it would seem, would it not?

  58. The next edition of Climate clippings is almost ready, not quite. Rather than burst a boiler, I think I’ll hold it over to the first days of next year. Blogging traffic is so slow right now that we are hardly attracting any spam!

    The item above Climate change may bring major ecosystem shifts is one of the more important, but attracted no comment. The original report is downloadable here. Guest blogger Rolf Schuttenhelm has a post at Climate Progress.

  59. Brian: Many ecologies are robust in the sense that they cover wide areas and conditions. In these cases boundaries may move but there will remain a core area that stays within the ecological range. This is probably true for the dominant dry area ecologies of Aus. There is a fair degree of consistency here both north south and east west.
    Others will be relatively robust because there is room for them to move and the key species can move fast enough to keep up with change. Tough luck of course if we are talking about a SW WA ecology that has to move to somewhere cooler and wetter than the new regime.
    A similar comment could be made about species. All you can really say is that the odds are that rabbits, foxes and cockroaches are unlikely to be driven to extinction by 2100.
    What I find hard to work out is just how much of all of this is going to effect human survival/quality of life and whether it is going to convert anyone to the climate action cause.

  60. …. how much of all of this is going to effect human survival/quality of life and whether it is going to convert anyone to the climate action cause.

    “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.”
    Albert Einstein

    The audacity to interfere substantially with the integrity of a highly complex but balanced and resilient all embracing life-support system surely has consequences to bear.

  61. John D @ 71, that seems rather flippant. I think you underestimate how fragmented our landscape is and how few corridors exist to allow for what is essentially the migration of entire biomes. I also think you underestimate the diversity and complexity of arid ecosystems.

    If resilience to climate change were the only issue maybe we could afford to be more optimistic, but climate change combined with the following is what we need to consider: landscape fragmentation, grazing, fences, agricultural and forestry monocultures, mining, roads, salinity, over-abundance of exotic plants and animals, exotic pathogens, erosion, extinction debt (re: bird and insect pollinators), altered fire behaviour due to some of the above, etc etc etc.

  62. Forgot to mention altered riparian systems …floodwater harvesting stems the flow of not just water, but also the biota that might be carried in flood water, so larger flood events are required for this to occur.

  63. Ootz: I am a bit puzzled about your alleged Albert Einstein quote above given that the link you said that:

    The authors of the FAO analysis concluded that the proportion of global food production attributable to animal pollination ranges from 5% in industrialized nations to 8% in the developing world. …………..
    In conclusion, I suggest that what’s at stake here is not something so melodramatic as Einstein’s fictitious and dire warning about the collapse of Homo sapiens. I think bee advocates do their cause a disservice when they stoke the flames of hyperbole and sensationalism. Much better to pose the question as a quality of life issue. To the extent that we value a diverse food supply with minimized trauma to the environments where it is produced, we will place a high value indeed on honey bees and other pollinators.

    The other point that I would make here is that the European honey bee would be a prime example of a species that is very robust with respect to climate action. They thrive in places that are covered in snow in the winter, warm humid places such as Brisbane and very dry, hot places like Newman in the Pilbara. In addition they are fairly mobile and probably moved themselves over long distances to reach the wild hives I saw at Newman. They may be vulnerable at the moment to disease but climate change? No.
    Bee advocates aren’t the only ones who do their cause a disservice by linking their cause to questionable statements (or statements based on things like complicated simulations that are difficult to explain.
    I am not sure why your link labelled “consequences to bear” ended up linking to “The 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering” but someone might be interested in commenting on the list announced in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: are:

    Making solar energy affordable: How do you convert and store the power of sunshine at a cost competitive with fossil fuels?
    Providing energy from fusion: How do you sustain a controlled fusion reaction for commercial power generation?
    Developing carbon sequestration methods: How do you capture the carbon dioxide produced from fossil-fuel burning, and confine that excess carbon underground?
    Managing the nitrogen cycle: How do you develop countermeasures for fertilizer use, internal combustion and other activities that contribute to pollution?
    Providing access to clean water: How do you address the short supply of water for personal use and irrigation in many areas of the world?
    Restoring and improving urban infrastructure: How do you renew aging infrastructure while bringing cities into better ecological balance?
    Advancing health informatics: How do you identify the specific factors behind wellness and illness, and follow through on the promise of personalized medicine?
    Engineering better medicines: How do you find new treatments for age-old scourges as well as newly emerging diseases?
    Reverse-engineering the brain: How do you unlock the secrets of brain function, to heal human diseases and advance the field of artificial intelligence?
    Preventing nuclear terror: How do you head off threats from agents who are bent upon bringing ruin to industrial society?
    Securing cyberspace: How do you protect the global information infrastructure from identity theft, viruses and other threats without bogging down the flow of data?
    Enhancing virtual reality: How do you use computer technology to create imaginative environments for education and entertainment?


  64. FB: I have spent quite a bit of time living in the Pilbara and working in Whyalla. What struck me when I was walking around Whyalla was the similarity of much of the vegetation. This is hardly surprising since they are both places that get ice on the windscreen during winter and both often go above 40 deg C in summer. (And both places with similar geology.) It is a bit hard to say to what extent species differences reflect adaption to different conditions or simply different responses in place that are a long way from each other.
    I have no argument with the idea that climate change and human activity in general is having a detrimental effect on some species and some environments. However, if this is to be used to argue the case for climate action we need to separate out localized effects and things that we are confident will really have widespread, disastrous effects.
    For example, in your list you mentioned mining. As far as the iron ore and coal industries are concerned the short term impact is quite localized and the long term impact after rehabilitation is even smaller. Have look on Google earth at central Qld and the Pilbara. The areas currently affected are quite small.

  65. It’s just a matter of fact, regardless of whether you are using it to argue the case for climate action. Even if climate change were not occurring all of those things combined are having an extremely detrimental effect on ecosystem resilience. It is widespread and it will be disastrous and I see little point in separating out localised effects, what do you even mean by that? We can’t separate it out – how can you even talk about ecology by separating it out – ecology is about interactions.

    Because the Pilbara and Whyalla resemble each other (in your eyes) we have nothing to worry about in arid australia….? hmmm.

    In regards to my reference to mining, I refer to all of the impacts associated with mining, including ground water extraction, road and pipeline infrastructure, placement of over-burden, tailings dams etc. And yeah, I know Australia is a big place and relatively speaking mines ARE very small…. jeepers, I don’t need google earth to figure that out. I am talking about the combined impact of all of the mines amd all of the things i mentioned compromising ecosystems in different ways, that together create a problem for ecological restoration right now. I’m not talking about a kind of return to nature here, I’m talking about maintaining ecosystem function in a mosaic of mixed uses and the often unnoticed impacts of those uses.

  66. FB: Human intervention has decreased in the last 200 years over large swathes of Aus. Funny thing is that this reduced intervention is considered by some to have worked against some species and reduced bio-diversity.
    The ecological changes discussed in the post and the associated links were all about major impacts. It is what I am trying to discuss here.

  67. Apologies John, I thought it was the season for puzzles and reflection. After all you were mentioning human survival and quality of life and there is doubtless no easy answer to these.

    In respond to your “They (bees) may be vulnerable at the moment to disease but climate change? No.” Relevant researchhas found

    Widespread mortality in the Apis mellifera honey bee worldwide aptly demonstrates the fragility of this species, whose survival relies on an increasingly hostile environment. The reasons given to explain this phenomenon include pesticide use, new diseases, stress and a combination of these factors. As a result, climate change will shift the balance between the honey bee, its plant environment and its diseases. The honey bee has shown a great capacity to colonise widely diverse environments and its genetic variability should enable it to adapt to such climate change. However, the fear is that climate-induced stress will in future compound the various factors already endangering the species in certain regions of the world.
    If humans modify the honey bee’s environment, they also have a duty to take conservation measures to prevent the loss of this rich genetic diversity of bees.

    It is worthwhile to remember too, while bees are an important agricultural and economic species, they are equally, as a keystone species, of fundamental importance to ecosystem integrity and loss thereof could result in cascading ecosystem failure.

    Further, Recent research into the current rate of species loss has drawn two main conclusions. First, although we’re clearly in dangerous territory in terms of extinction rates, we still have enough time to reverse course, nevertheless doing so will be a very difficult task. The second conclusion is that if were to continue on our present course, we could head towards a mass extinction event within a timeframe of just a few centuries. Therefore, it is imperative that we steer away from our mass extinction course immediately. In that context it is worthwhile to remember that (non anthropogenetic) climate change has contributed to the previous mass extinction events.

    As to the noble engineering wish list, I am at a loss at how in the current state of affairs it will genuinely bring ‘human survival/quality of live’ to humanity across the globe. It appears more like tail chasing and/or not thought through attempts to improve on natures 3.8 billion year old experiment on evolution of life. No disrespect to engineers in general, but how, for example, is a new non polluting and cheap energy getting us out of the mess the present form brought us in with the unsustainable population explosion and ‘economic activities’ it enabled, without changing the driving mentality behind it? And I doubt wether enhanced virtual reality will change any of this, when we don’t seem to be able to grasp the stark ‘unenhanced’ reality. When is enough enough in engineering terms. I am genuinely asking, where would you draw the line, where are the limits?

  68. Ootz: I read your link on bees and climate change with interest. My interpretation is that climate change will do some damage but the European honey bee (among others) will survive and adapt. In terms of plants requiring animal assisted pollination plants with specialized pollination relationships will be the ones at risk. Problem is – there is no guarantee that some of the species that are at high risk may be critical to an ecology.
    New Scientist had this interesting article suggesting that whales and other large sea life may have a critical role on the fertility of the sea:

    …the productivity of the oceans depends on the rate at which essential nutrients are delivered to the sunlit layer or are recycled within it.

    Until very recently, our understanding of this process was driven largely by studies of physics and chemistry. Winds blowing iron-rich dust from the land, rivers pouring into the sea and the upwelling of deep water were seen as the key processes supplying nutrients to surface waters.

    Animals were rarely viewed as players in this process. However, it is now becoming apparent that animals, particularly large ones, play a very important role in delivering and recycling nutrients.

    They do so in at least three ways. The first is simply by mixing up ocean waters, which can return some nutrients to the waters above the thermocline (Geophysical Research Letters, vol 37, p L11602). Whenever animals move through the water rather than merely drift with it, some of the water moves along with their bodies – a phenomenon known as “induced drift”. Swimming animals also generate turbulence as they cut through the water, redistributing nutrients as they go. This wake turbulence effect may be negligible for small animals, but there is no doubt that dense aggregations of larger animals moving through the thermocline would have a significant local effect.

    Every day, vast numbers of marine animals, from microscopic zooplankton to large fish, do move through the thermocline. Most remain in deep water during the day and visit the surface at night. These vertical migrations can involve movements of thousands of metres, and are probably the largest concerted movement of animals on the planet. In addition, air-breathing animals such as whales and seals often dive below the thermocline.

    Astonishingly, the movements of animals may be one of the main forces mixing the oceans and redistributing nutrients. According to recent calculations, this force is similar in magnitude to winds and tides (Nature, vol 460, p 624). What’s more, these calculations are based on estimates of the current density and abundance of swimming animals. Since animals, particularly larger animals, were far more abundant in the past, their effect would have been much greater.

    The second way in which animals can boost ocean productivity is by nutrient scavenging – feeding at depth and bringing nutrients back to the sunlit zone. Sperm whales, for instance, feed on squid and fish at great depths, and defecate at the surface. Models suggest that this recycling of deep material may well be significant for essential elements such as iron…..

    What is clear is that without species such as sperm whales and humpbacks, surface nutrient levels would be significantly lower in some areas. What’s more, by greatly reducing the numbers of air-breathing animals that feed at depth, it is possible that we have unwittingly altered the balance between nutrient return and removal….

    The third way in which animals may boost ocean productivity is by recycling nutrients within the sunlit zone. Take the Southern Ocean. It lacks iron because little dust blows off Antarctica, so any mechanism that keeps this element in the surface layer and allows it to be recycled helps to maintain productivity.

    The huge populations of krill in these waters are effectively a buoyant reservoir of iron. They incorporate iron into their tissues and, because they are strong swimmers and live for up to seven years, they can keep iron in the upper layer for a long time. A quarter of all the iron in the top 200 metres of water may be found within the bodies of krill.

    Traditional thinking was that large fish eaters reduced the population of smaller sea animals. However, it now looks as though the converse is true.

    Whales probably play only a small role in fertilising the oceans today, but we know from the records of catches by whaling ships that there used to be millions of great whales in the waters around Antarctica in summer. Back then, it is likely that they had a much greater effect. Significantly, there is evidence that when there were more whales, there was also more krill. This may have been the result of a positive feedback cycle. The more whales there were, the more “fertiliser” they would have produced. That would have allowed more phytoplankton to grow, providing more food for krill and thus for whales. As the krill population grew, the total amount of iron stored in these buoyant reservoirs would have increased. And as the whale population grew, the ecosystem would have become ever more productive.

    If this picture is correct, the past abundance of life depended on a juggling act that kept lots of iron circulating in the sunlit zone. When we killed the whales, the “balls” fell. As a result, the ocean is no longer able to support the same amount of life.

  69. George Monbiot: The tabloids’ forecast of Siberian weather has been forgotten. Unlike their treatment of the Met Office barbecue summer

    “Brrr-ace yourselves! Britain to shiver in -20C in WEEKS as councils stockpile extra grit”. So the Mail on Sunday warned us in October. Blizzards, snowdrifts, locusts with the faces of men and the teeth of lions: we would become, it cheerfully assured us, prey to every nightmare nature could devise.

    Last week the story flipped. “December has sprung! Spring blooms arrive early and autumn blossom lingers… so what happened to our winter?” I scoured the text but could find no mention that the Mail had forecast the polar opposite. {…}

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