Climate clippings 60: 2011 review edition

The year in review

For me the year began with the post Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now, wherein we were reminded that the time for significant action on climate change was now and that postponing such action would make things quite a lot harder.

This message was reinforced by the Climate Commission’s report The Critical Decade with the following message:

“This decade is critical. Unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life.” “Without strong and rapid action there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine our society’s prosperity, health, stability and way of life.

The urgency of action was reinforced with this graph:

Emissions reduction trajectories

This was followed by the Gillard Government’s Clean Energy Future (CEF) package, where we took the first tentative step towards significant climate mitigation.

In November the IEA World energy Outlook 2011 advised us that:

If internationally co-ordinated action is not taken by 2017, we project that … all new infrastructure from then … would need to be zero-carbon, unless emitting infrastructure is retired before the end of its economic lifetime to make headroom for new investment.

for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions. (Emphasis added)

At the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Durban in December, the countries of world decided to act in concert, but probably not until 2020.

The bottom line here is that however positively some construe the final outcomes of Durban we fluffed the opportunity of peaking world emissions by mid 2010s, and in doing so have made the task of dealing with climate change a whole lot more difficult. And dramatically lessened our chances of avoiding dangerous warming.

So it’s three out of ten from me at best and “must try harder”, definitely no koala stamp.

Some reviews of 2011

Gwynne Dyer includes climate change with the Arab spring and the euro crisis as the three big stories of 2011. He is scathing about the Durban conference:

It is not the first time that short-term self-interest has triumphed over the long-term common interest, but it may be the worst time. By 2020 it will probably be impossible to prevent the rise in average global temperature from exceeding 2°C, which is generally agreed to be the point of no return. After that, we will probably find ourselves in a new world of runaway warming. We know it, and yet we do nothing.

Neil Wagner at Huffington Post has a short review article with some “Year in Review” links at the bottom, including this one on Climate, Energy and Sustainability in 2011.

John Vidal at The Guardian describes 2011 as “another ecologically tumultuous year”. He does summarise some good news towards the end, including, as he sees it, the Durban conference.

Not everyone agrees about Durban, but this article (via Climate Spectator) gives six clear reasons why Durban was important, and contemplates what failure would have meant. It also makes the point that the level of ambition will be revisited in the light of the next IPCC report from 2013.

Jo Romm at Climate Progress picks Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security as the story of the year. Here’s a better image of the 33 commodity index graph.


According to Bloomberg renewable energy surpassed fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments:

Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data.

We saw items like this in the MSM suggesting renewables were approaching cost competitiveness with fossil fuel power generation. As jumpy linked in the last thread, the solar industry is shaking out, but such is inevitable.

Climate Progress lists its Top 10 Clean Energy Stories of 2011 almost half of them about solar.

One might say that in 2011 renewables and solar in particular came of age.

Missed opportunities in Oz

Richard Dennis at environment360 explains to the world how he thinks we missed the boat with our “carbon tax”. It ignores the science, doesn’t go nearly far enough in reducing the nation’s CO2 emissions, and will not transform the way we produce and consume energy, he says.

I thought Fergus Green provided a more closely argued case. He goes through the numbers and concludes that we have opted for a “slightly less dirty energy future” package, which scarcely reduces emissions at all.

We need a change in mindset, he says. We need to start with the science. If we do we’ll conclude that:

Australia must dramatically expand the scope of its emissions reduction efforts so that they align with a fair share of the scientifically informed global carbon budget.

He says a carbon market should be a “support mechanism that multiplies the effect of a whole range of other measures.”

A message from Curt Stager

I’ll end with a quote from Curt Stager’s book Deep Future: the next 100,000 years of life on earth:

In this new Age of Humans, our thoughts and desires have become powerful environmental forces in their own rights, and how we think and act can be as important to millions of other human (and other species) as to ourselves. The better we know and respect each other as people, the more we’re likely to learn from one another, the more likely we are to understand each other’s needs and goals, and the more likely we are to cooperate effectively for our mutual benefit. Greenhouse pollution problems will not be solved piecemeal, and there is also no way to avoid making a collective choice one way or the other. We’ll either decide to solve them as a self-aware global community or we’ll decide to suffer through them together as a disjointed mob of individuals. (Emphasis added)

Fergus Green above called for a change in the government’s mindset. Christine Milne came away from Durban with a worrying story about how Australia was perceived at the conference:

“They’re saying ‘Australia has done the right thing domestically. Why are they here in Durban not supporting higher action, not actually being on the right side in the negotiations?'”

It’s more than possible we are still stuck with a Quarry Vision. To be fair, go here and watch the video clip of what Greg Combet had to say under harassment from Chris Uhlmann. But remember, he does represent a coal mining electorate and Martin Ferguson is Minister for Resources.

If 2011 is a guide, the best we can look forward to is competent following, not leadership in the international context.

78 thoughts on “Climate clippings 60: 2011 review edition”

  1. This seems a good time to say thanks for the work on producing Climate clippings – it is one of my must reads every week.

  2. The bad news is that the Mauna Loa CO2 level rose by 1.61 to 390.22 ppm for the 12 months to Nov 11. The slightly better news is that this is lower than the 2.048 ppm average for the last 10 yrs. However, it is a bit early at this stage to be sure that this is part of a long term slow down. It is worth noting that the 10 yr average @ 2000 was only 1.55 ppm.

    At the moment there is some cause for optimism. For example, last year investment in clean power exceeded investment in fossil fuel power for the first time:

    Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar- and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.

    Some of this is being driven by government action but some is being driven by banks and power companies that don’t want to be exposed to investments in dirty electricity that may be shut down as governments and customers become more serious about climate change in the future. Not a good strategy to assume that a Tony Abbott will be in power for the life of a power station.

    In addition, extreme weather events build up a public impression that climate change could affect people’s lives in the near future rather than many years into the future. Real scientists may cringe a little but droughts and floods are things that people can understand. Scientists might want to say that

    The statistics of the extremes are inherently noisy. Teasing out long-term changes in the relationships linking the extremes and the averages merits concerted and sustained scientific attention, but will remain a multi-year aspiration. Scientists — let alone non-experts — will be debating any findings for some time to come. (The most likely place to be convincing earliest may prove to be the statistics for heat waves and cold snaps.)

  3. GregA @2, thanks for that absolutely awesome article by Naomi Klein and I am only 1/3 through.

  4. John D
    Those figures in the graph are for GW peak.
    convert them to energy (GWh) and you have to multiply by the annual capacity factor. For PV this is about 12%. Thus on an annual energy basis the contribution from PV is a few percent – bugger all.

  5. Huggy: It would be good if power sources were compared on a cost per MWhr/yr basis but you still have location factor and time of day to complicate things.
    The important message is about growing investment.

  6. Doug @ 1, thanks.

    John D @ 4, I’ve re-inserted your links and fiddled a bit with formatting. Hope it’s all good now.

    From Melanie Klein:

    For example, among the segment of the US population that displays the strongest “hierarchical” views, only 11 percent rate climate change as a “high risk,” compared with 69 percent of the segment displaying the strongest “egalitarian” views. Yale law professor Dan Kahan, the lead author on this study, attributes this tight correlation between “worldview” and acceptance of climate science to “cultural cognition.” This refers to the process by which all of us—regardless of political leanings—filter new information in ways designed to protect our “preferred vision of the good society.”

    The ideological polarisation she portrays in the US is quite disturbing. It’s probably true here too.

  7. Brian: thanks for your posts this year – and your fortitude in dealing with us unruly children in the comments box! 🙂

    John: you might like this op-ed from George Monbiot – real scientists might cringe at the links between global warming and the weather, but the tabloids aren’t above using that argument in the opposite direction to push their cause.

  8. JohnD,
    I agree, now we need dispersed energy storage and we can retire all those base load plants and much of the transmission system.
    One part of the solution:
    “PHEVs as Dynamically Configurable
    Dispersed Energy Storage” : Google it, the URL is too long


  9. Yes … thanks greatly Brian for this series. It’s an excellent regular topic, and I’m grateful that you make time to get this done.

  10. Thanks, folks. Meeting the weekly deadline does cause grief at times.

    Jess @ 9, the comments threads have caused pain at times, but nevertheless we all profit from the information, knowledge, wisdom and links contributed by various commenters.

    On bad weather, Jeff Masters at Climate Progress has has just posted his list of the top 10 weather events of 2011. There are lots of photos and links.

    In terms of billions of dollars, our floods rated second after the terms. In terms of “impact to society and meteorological significance” they rate third behind East Africa famine and the Thailand floods.

  11. Real scientists don’t cringe at links between climate change and extreme weather events, they just treat them very cautiously. A few climate clippings ago we had a link to a post by Tamino, I think, which made some nice points about predicting extreme events in an upward trending temperature series.

    The problem is that we need a long series to get sufficient statistical power. Even if global warming were happening faster than predicted, we wouldn’t be able to find strong proof of its association with extreme events until we were already half boiling. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t related, or that good climate science doesn’t predict the trend.

  12. Huggy: PHEV may be part of the future as a by-product of reducing transport emissions. However, as the links I followed suggest this approach may be a lot more complicated than simply going for lower cost static batteries dedicated to resolving power supply issues. What is the state of play here?

  13. John D @ 7, excellent point! Location Factor and Time of Day could simply be used to explain the numbers!

    The tools of measurement are important and I agree that MWHrs/y would be a very handy set of statistics to have at your disposal,… and no doubt it is for those in the biz.!

    You need to see a problem from different angles… so, I second the motion ~$^&’///,<

  14. I’d like to add my thanks also for your efforts getting out this very informative blog. Although hardly a highlight I think that the Draft Energy White Paper that Martin Ferguson sneaked out under the radar in December rated a mention in a survey of significant climate change related events . If the Clean Energy future legislation is a tiny step forward this Draft White paper looks like a big step backwards.

  15. Doug E, you’re probably right about the Draft Energy White Paper.

    Robert M’s post is here.

    The document itself can be accessed here.

    Go here for Giles Parkinson at Climate Spectator.

  16. Yes, its quite unacceptable to delay until 2020. I suggest we dont accept it.

    Instead, we should make it known that our political and economic systems are now officially “on trial”. If they cannot deal with this most critical of issues, they are simply no use to us, and must be deeply reformed.

    Thats what at stake.

  17. JohnD
    The state of play with distributed energy storage is that trials are about to begin – right here in Queensland as a matter of fact.
    My modelling suggests that about 12 kWh of energy storage in every home in Oz would totally transform the electricity supply network.
    Firstly it will double the existing network capacity and defer about $20Billion of expenditure on wires over the next 10years. Secondly it will eliminate the voltage rise problem caused by PV.
    Thirdly it will provide at least 80 GWhrs of energy storage for the network. Which is a lot, considering that the generation capacity is about 40 GW.
    Fourthly it will be used to “soak up” and load shift intermittent renewables.
    Fifthly it will act to stabilise the distribution network.
    And more………………..


  18. GregA@2 and Salient Green@5, The Klein article is a brilliant stand-out that should be read as widely as possible. Not only are Klein’s arguments brilliant, her ability to unite so many ideas into a coherent position is superb. She also writes beautifully. Many thanks for the link!

    Cheers, Darren

  19. Thanks, Brian, for your wonderful work throughout the year. I read your work avidly.

    Thanks also to GregA @ 2 for the link to the marvellous Naomi Klein article linking climate change denialism and the workings of capitalism.

  20. Hi Brian,

    I agree with you in preferring the Fergus Green article to the Richard Denniss one. Though both make great points, I like Green’s specific proposals and furnishing of detailed references. He also conveys the important message that a carbon price is no climate silver bullet – even were it to be significantly strengthened in ways Green suggests.

    The Denniss article, which appears to have been poorly edited, nevertheless makes strong points regarding policy discussions swamping public discussion of climate change itself, addresses the misconception that carbon compensation is just a “money-go-round”, and highlights the crucial point recently advanced by Guy Pearse – that the booming coal industry will dwarf any emissions savings we might otherwise make.

    All good, informative stuff!

  21. I understand also that the name ‘WARREN BUFFET’ is attached to the large-battery-in-CHINA mentioned above.


    *** Hallelujah is all I can say!! ***

  22. John D @29

    The world’s largest battery array can keep 12,000 homes going – at rural China electricity consumption levels – for one whole hour, and this is impressive?

    Nearest I can find without wasting a lot more time googling than it warrants is that Zhangbei, the home of this giant achievement, has a population of well over 700,000. Hebei province in which it is situated has 63 million. Go figure how much impact this battery has on total energy needs locally, especially this month when the average night time temperature in Zhangbei is – 18.5C.

    I mean, seriously, some people here need to get their heads around what actually are the world’s energy needs, not just expostulate triumphantly when an infinitesimal fraction of those needs in a single, small, out of the way place is very temporarily met, by the world’s largest piece of the technology concerned. Especially when even that wouldn’t have happened without an enormous subsidy from the government owned State Grid Corporation of China.

    Frankly what this actually shows is just how inadequate this technology currently is for anything like real world uses.

  23. Thanks again, folks.

    Andrew Freedman at Washington Post blog picks out his top climate change stories for 2011. It seems that Congress prevented the NOAA from setting up a national climate service, even though it would cost no more money.

    It seems that the House is now effectively anti-science.

    Wozza @ 31:

    The world’s largest battery array can keep 12,000 homes going – at rural China electricity consumption levels – for one whole hour, and this is impressive?

    I haven’t looked at in detail yet, but on the face of it, yes, it is.

    We have to walk before we can run.

  24. The carbon tax has the advantages of providing a mechanism for protecting low income earners from the cost of climate action as well as providing funds for climate action projects. It will also put the lie to the anti carbon tax campaign and give people a feel for how little they would be affected if the tax were lifted to a level that was high enough to actually achieve something.
    Politically, it allows the government to claim that it has actually delivered on something that was promised at the the 2007 election. Abbott can rabbit on about Juliar as much as he likes but others will see it as an ALP promise delivered.
    However, the tax as it stands is not going to have much effect. The government could off course, increase the tax to a point where it will actually achieve something.
    It might be smarter to get on with the “complementary action” required to deal with emissions that are best attacked by something other than putting a price on carbon. Even smarter if “complementary action” is defined in a way that deals with important things like power and transport emissions.

  25. Wozza @ 31
    You are suffering from what I call the Kodak syndrome, you are totally unable to see (or are unaware of) the latest developments in energy provision.
    Kodak totally failed to foresee the rate of development of digital technology and consequently are in deep poo.
    The cost of energy storage at the consumer level is set to decline rapidly over the next few years. This will have a transformative efect on the LV distribution network.

    Oh well, we need people such as yourself to keep us on our toes I guess.

  26. Huggy, I’m impressed with a battery array that can keep 12,000 homes going in rural China or anywhere for an hour. I’m wondering, though, whether Wozza read your comment @ 23:

    My modelling suggests that about 12 kWh of energy storage in every home in Oz would totally transform the electricity supply network.

    The Chinese mega-battery may be impressive, but it may also be irrelevant to the mainstream domestic electricity system.

  27. Wozza @31: Looking at a recent quarterly bill the John D house consumes about 9.3 kWh of on demand power per day. At that rate the 36 MW battery would have kept nearly 4000 houses going FOR A FULL DAY. For 12000 houses the average consumption for one hour works out at 3 kWh. All this suggests that the estimate would conservative for Australian houses.
    The installation was made up of a large number of batteries so there is scope for development of low cost energy storage for applications where weight is not important.

  28. Brian: You are right to push the importance of taking a “budget” approach to setting emission targets. (Emissions over a period of time instead of rate of emissions by a particular time.
    In Australia both sides of politics have the same rate target by 2020 with no plan for how this target is going to be achieved. Both sides seem to be assuming that it is OK to wait for a few more years and then have a big rush at the end to meet the target. (Or more likely, suddenly decide the target is impossible because the other party didn’t do enough when they were in power.)
    If the target had been expressed as emissions for the 10 yrs to 2020 instead there would have been a much stronger case for doing something now.

  29. Brian Ok here is what 12 kWh of energy storage in each of 8 million homes in Oz would do:
    The Maximum demand for each home would never exceed 2 kW – this will immediatly double the capacity of the LV network and reduce the losses on the transmission network.
    Provide about 40 GW (yes GW) of peaking generation (Actually limited by the LV network itself)
    Provide at least 80 GWH of deferrable demand
    Provide at least 80 GWh of useable energy storage
    Remove the need for peaking generation entirely
    Reduce the network losses by about 10%
    Provide load shifting and storage for say 20 GW of wind and solar (>50% of present genertion capacity
    Enable us to completely retire at least 12 GW of coal fired generation
    Not Irrelevant.

  30. Wozza/JohnD – there is no way that your average rural house in china consumes 3kW/h. I’d guess the 1 hour is based on US or Australia household consumption rates. IIRC the average household in Australia uses around 20-25kWh / day, about twice what JohnD uses….

  31. Chris@42
    In many rural areas of the world the per household electricity consumption can be as low as zero. Where it is connected it is not unusual for the energy consumption to be no more than 2 kWh/day.
    There is no refrigeration, there are no appliances, only a small flourescent lamp or two and possibly a radio.
    In parts of Africa it is impossible to reticulate electricity as the wires are immediatly stolen, usually at the point of agun.

  32. Huggybunny – I’d agree with your estimates of electricity usage in rural areas of poor countries.

    btw if I had 12kWh of battery potential I probably would not draw any power from the grid during summer and only intermittently during winter. Unless there have been significant improvements in the last few years I’d guess its just not affordable at the moment for residential users.

  33. Huggy @41: An interesting set of figures. For your 8 million households the Aus power generation would average about 75 kWh.
    I keep babbling on about how the peak power problems associated with air conditioning could be overcome by heat storage rather than power storage. Heat storage would take up a lot less room if it is stored using a material that melts at the desired temperature. An article in New Scientist on appropriate pcm’s (phase change materials) prompted me to google “pcm for domestic cooling Australia”. The result was 1.3 million hits including this one from this pcm supplier (PCB) which showed calculations of power cost and consumption savings for a commercial air conditioning application using one of their commercially available products. (They had 10 products of which at least two melted in the range needed for room air cooling.)
    Not sure of the price but it sounds as though there are already materials out there that can be used and that research into practical pcm’s is surging.

  34. @44 Chris, for 12kwh you would need 24kwh of battery storage as lead acid should not be drawn down more than 50% and that would cost around $6000 at individual battery prices.

  35. JohnD @ 47 – you can even get PCM built into plasterboard these days. The idea is that it is a cheapish way of increasing the thermal mass of new houses so people can cool the house down at night and use the walls as a heat sink during the day.

    SG @ 48 – yes, at those prices it doesn’t really make financial sense for me to install. I gain reliability of power supply as I can ride out most power failures, but all the cost savings are go to the electricity companies.

  36. Energy storage in the home:
    If we assume a daily energy use of 24 kWh we need an average power of 1 kW to satisfy that.
    Unfortunately the use of energy comes in lumps of power. As much as 10 kW peak ( for a very short time).
    To cope with this the utilities have an identity called After Diversity Maximum Demand (once was called Maximum After Diversity Demand, but that acronym is no longer in fashion). In essence the ADMD allows for load diversity (different customers drawing power at different times and different magnitudes – essentially).
    What this means (without energy storage) is that the utilities have to provide wires and transformers etc that can cope with at least 3 times the average power. Introduce energy storage into the hypothetical 24 kWh/day example and the ADMD falls to just 1 kW from 3 kW.

    In essence it means that by installing 8 kWh of energy storage we have doubled the network capacity (at least) and completely removed the need for peaking power for that installation as the peaking power comes from the internal energy storage system.
    A local storage system actually requires very little energy storage to completely flatten the load for the utility – about 8 kWh will suffice for 24 kWh/day.
    Occasionally the system now suffers from a loss of diversity incident and the results can be catastrophic. The most famous being in the UK where some soapy character died and ever-one in the UK rushed out to make a cup of tea (with the electric jug) to dampen the sobbing. The result was a very large blackout.

  37. Huggy: As mentioned @47 you could use thermal inertia to store part of the kWh you are talking about. If you use water to store energy, one kWh about 170 litres of water operating over a 5 deg range would be required. If you use the pcm suggested by PCP for air conditioning duty (melting point 17 deg C) you would need about 15 litres. The material suggested is a hydrated calcium chloride/bromide mix so it shouldn’t be incredibly expensive.
    How much would it cost to provide 8 kWh per household battery storage using current technology?

  38. Huggy @ 52, I thought power demand surges in the UK were associated with things like the end of big football matches when everyone makes a cup of tea.

  39. JohnD
    Phase change is a good way to store thermal energy not so sure about it for electrical – Carnot and all that.
    Actually Brian I suspect that many of those short term blackouts (re-closer controlled) are down to a loss of diversity.

  40. Good discussion on distributed energy networks and thermal energy, thanks Huggy and John D.

    Came across some figures of estimated cost to upgrade power distribution network to cope with predicted load within current central distribution framework, it exceeded the NBN price tag (can’t find the link again). To argue for the continuation and extending status quo based with essentially 19th century technology in its core (long range AC distribution networks – Westinghouse) is plain stupid. Imagine the internet run by steam!

    While I welcome new developments in power generation and distribution, I lament the absolute disinterest to reduce power consumption. For example, to follow-on on the energy storage theme, in terms of heating and cooling dwellings our contemporary architecture is still stuck in the dark ages. Since heating and cooling of our built environment is such a big deal, why has passive heating and cooling not been taken up much more widely.
    For the moment however, neither architects nor developers are flocking to still largely misunderstood technology, preferring to stick with established solutions for heating and cooling.

    “If they have to gamble on economising energy consumption over the next 50 years, but compromise their chances of getting the project because the technology is more expensive, then it doesn’t seem to them to be a most fundamental [need],” said Lyesse Laloui, head of the Laboratory of Soil Mechanics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) host for a meeting of world specialists in “energy geostructures”, in the article Heat from the ground, it’s there for the taking.

    I can assure you, from personal experience with my very comfortable Doomstead, passive heating/ cooling works extremely well and did not contribute substantially to the building cost. If anything it made the house more attractive and liveable in many ways. However, it risen eyebrows from start to the end of the building process. ‘Saving’ is still a anathema it seems, go and figure.

  41. David Macrae @ 51, come on, you have to do better than that. Did you read the comments thread? There are plenty who have pointed out the errors in Monbiot’s argument.

    For one thing he says: “Matt Bruenig presents a devastating challenge to those who call themselves libertarians, and explains why they have no choice but to deny climate change and other environmental problems. Bruenig explains what is now the core argument used by conservatives and libertarians…..”

    See what he’s done there? In one sentence it’s libertarians, in the next an entirely different category of Monbiot’s enemies is simply swallowed into the criticism, no explanation.

    For another, it is a logical error to suggest that if a libertarian points out that climate science has its shonky elements, this must be a subterfuge to hide an argument based on other grounds. Why do you think libertarians as a category are less capable of scientific judgments than Larvatus Prodeans?

    Look at any libertarian website discussing climate change science, and the arguments are overwhelmingly science-based. Perhaps of course Monbiot finds the science-based arguments increasingly difficult to answer (who could blame him?) and needs to find another way out.

    For thirds, as one comment on the Guardian thread puts it, “I look forward to part 2: Why is environmentalism associated with socialism?”. Can it be that Green arguments based on market failure and the common good are very convenient for those who have a preconceived hate for the market, and a fondness for common action (as long, of course, as they lead it)?

    Using Monbiot’s and your argument, one might conclude that climate change policy should be opposed because it will lead to Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin. Nonsense of course, but if anything less of a logical leap than Monbiot’s.

  42. Ootz: One of the advantages of thermal storage used for cooling is cooled during the cooler pats of the day when the energy required per unit cooling is lowest. It can be even better for heating since solar hot water systems can be used to do all the heating.
    I am all in favour of designing houses to suit the location so that the need for heating/cooling is minimized and the heating/cooling that is done is efficient. Also in favor of “mechanical houses” that control temperature by automatically opening and shutting insulated louvers etc. to manipulate internal temperature and maximize air conditioning efficiency when it is on. (And reduce house sizes by allowing more efficient use to be made of internal volume – think beds that move out of the way during the day etc.)
    I have an open mind about extracting heat/cool from the ground. As your link points out there are potential issues with ground movement.
    I am also a bit uncertain about heat transfer rates limiting what can be achieved.

  43. Huggy: I wasn’t suggesting using phase change to generate electricity. However, if you use it to move air conditioning and refrigeration to off peak power you will have taken a lot of pressure off the grid and made solar PV/wind a lot easier to manage. My understanding is that it is air conditioning that is driving all the proposed investment in the grid.

  44. Wozza @ 60, I didn’t read the whole Monbiot comments thread, but I’d make a couple of points.

    Just as Matt Bruenig characterised Monbiot’s original article as “a bit sloppy” there is a question now as to whether Monbiot is being a bit sloppy about Bruenig’s article. I don’t see where Bruenig says that libertarians “have no choice” but to deny climate change. In fact I think he is saying that they do have a choice and have chosen in a manner that you wouldn’t expect, given their philosphy (see his comment on Haakon’s comment).

    Also if you follow the link in Bruenig’s article, he identifies three big conservative philosophical frameworks, one of which is “procedural justice”. It seems he’s talking about ‘procedural justice’ libertarians (not all libertarians), which he sees as a subset of conservatism.

    Perhaps also of interest, Quiggin on libertarians and delusionism.

  45. Ootz @ 59 – I agree that there could be a lot more done wrt energy efficient houses – I live in Adelaide in a house that has no heating. A couple of difficulties though.

    – You need good solar access which you don’t have the way they are currently dividing up land into tiny blocks and also allowing two storey houses. They need to strengthen solar access rights – eg require much bigger setbacks for two storey houses from the fence on the southern side.

    – Most of the big developers have a clientele that don’t care that much about energy efficiency when they build. Talking to quite a few builders they said most clients ask them how little insulation they can put into save a bit of money in the short term rather than how much they can put in to save money long term.

    I think the only way we’re going to see long term change is to keep ratcheting up the minimum building requirements so people are forced to build more environmentally friendly houses. And all significant modifications to houses should have to comply with the minimum standards. For example, you have builders building houses with good orientation with lots of winter sun into living areas to attain the current fairly low minimum energy efficiency ratings, and then after handover the owner goes and gets a pergola installed which blocks most of the winter sun!

    The proposed mandatory energy efficiency ratings for rental properties and houses for sale will help a bit too I think…

  46. JohnD
    You are so right. I have to say the thrmal design of the new homes in Queensland is appalling:
    Dark grey roof FFS ! Thus increasing the thermal load on the roof by
    1 kW/m2
    Eaves too short.
    Poor orientation – must face the street !
    Etc Etc,
    Better than Saudi however.

    I once reviewed house design over there, with a view to fitting PV powered air conditioning to rooftops.
    10-20 kW air con.
    No insulation at all!
    Flat roof covered in black gravel
    Two story eaveless design.
    I reccomended that they fix the house design first.
    Visted a 1200 year old house in the ME that had double walls, mud brick construction, large eaves and was so connected to the ground that it was really cool inside. No power connected at all.
    Our building designs and methods are totally hopeless.

  47. Visted a 1200 year old house in the ME that had double walls, mud brick construction, large eaves and was so connected to the ground that it was really cool inside. No power connected at all.

    Yes, the cheap availability of a/c systems has allowed us to become quite lazy in how we design houses.

  48. Huggy/Ootz: Visited a computer controlled house at Bribie Island a while ago that had been set up by a retired electrical engineer who wanted to use technology to make the house as environmental as possible. Cant remember all the details but do remember the house was computer controlled. It had things like motor driven louvers that would adjust depending on how outside and inside temperatures, windows that closed when it started raining and a design that was appropriate to the life of a retired engineer on Bribie Island.

  49. “Natural air conditioning”
    I rather lke the so called ‘geo thermal” air conditioning systems.
    For Queensland you drill a few holes (say 60m deep) in your backyard and pump air down a central tube; the air comes back up coolish.
    We can build homes out of straw bales or straw composite walls – this is not some hippie fantasy.,
    Don’t hold your breath>

  50. Further to @47: Managed to get some more data on the use of pcm’s to store heat/cold from Australian manufacturer PCB. Panels containing a pcm with a melting point of 17 deg C cost less than $170kWh heat/cold stored. Product cost depends on the salt mix required to to achieve specific melting points. For example, panels containing a PCM melting at 25 deg cost less than $125/kWh stored.
    There are a limited number of melting points for which a narrow melting range and long life can be achieved using low cost materials. The supplier said:

    A PC20 for example – we have tried this for more than 3 years and no luck. We did have a PC7 but this contained highly toxic chemicals and was not commercially viable because of the high cost. Yes you are right – you need an exact mix to achieve a narrow melting point.

    (The number in the product ID is the melting point. PCB successfully produces products with melting points of 4 and 10 deg C using mixtures of potassium and ammonia chlorides and bi-carbonates.)

  51. Crickey Huggy, a 1200 year old house in the ME that had double walls, mud brick construction, large eaves and was so connected to the ground that it was really cool inside. A museum piece surely, WHO wants to go BACK and live in a CAVE!

    The Arabs also do nifty courtyards including plants and water feature, that kind of do the trick of geothermal airconditioning tunnels.

    The Swiss have for reasons of energy saving and emission reduction, been promoting heat pump heating since 1937. Depending on the surrounding conditions, a modern heap pump can produce 3 to 6 parts of useful heat from 1 part of drive energy. Today approximately 130,000 heat pumps are in use in Switzerland.

  52. Perhaps I should have said .. the Arabs used to do nifty courtyards.

    Huggy I just found they do heatpumps using your old favourite NH3 an …. waste heat from a nearby computer centre.

    John D, re the computer controlled mechanical house. These things are great if you love running around with oil can and rag and fiddling with the controls in your retirement. I have become a firm believer of Less is More applies in Architecture too. I positioned the carport on the lee side of the house and all rooms, via walkways, basically like a giant syphon, connect together. Most of the time the hand operated louvers and sliders on the lee side, to create the Venturi effect, suffice though. Each room has a small bank of louvers for climate control and doors stay open most of the time any way, thus creates a lovely draft through the whole house. You could close the doors, if you used breeze bricks or internal vents. Air conditioning – makes me think of Legionnaires disease!

  53. Ootz: The bearings on conveyors are never maintained even though they will run for thousands of hours before failing. The point I am making is that stuff that may only operate for a few minutes/day should not take a lot of effort to keep running.
    The house I live in in Brisbane runs from uncomfortably cold to uncomfortably hot over a year. Being able to reconfigure the house to deal with weather changes seems attractive to someone who detests air conditioning. A house designed to do this needs a lot more adjustable stuff than we have to do this. Some of this might be easily done manually but it would be desirable for daily changes (to give air flow at the right times of the day) and protection from storms to be done automatically.

  54. John, as you may gathered, I am passionate about housing. The stark conclusion given by Brian (CC61@16)

    So we’ve already overshot. Sorry!

    gives the underlying rational for my angle on ‘housing’.

    From a global perspective, while we are still growing substantially in population we also have unprecedented numbers of people on the move, refugees or people displaced by war and natural or man made disasters, such as Fukushima. Regionally, Australians may have come to terms to accommodate whole Nations from around the Pacific Rim as well as there will be pressure for substantial more numbers of Immigration or UNHCR quotas on Refugees. It is not just the new housing stock that needs to be ‘rethought’. As you experience yourself, many Australian dwellings are not very comfortable unless you burn a lot of energy. Retrofitting the McMansion to accommodate for todays personal and economic needs is already an emerging trend. The challenge facing us sooner or later will force us to fundamentally rethink housing. Huggy already mentioned a few issues, like Town Planning, needs to be sorted. There are many aspects integral to housing which involves energy and resources that need to be addressed, not just to establish sustainable housing but communities too. In many ways this represents another one of those peaks – peakhouse. And as such, I do appreciate your Engineer’s computer controlled mechanical house, marvellous really. However, with housing we don’t have to necessarily reinvent the wheel to become a 2000 Watt Society. The humble mud brick may experience a renaissance in it’s appropriate place, mainly driven by the emerging constraints including financial. Sometimes ‘old’ technology is adequate even fashionable, look at the emergence of ‘Steampunk’. For one thing is sure – housing needs to be smarter, more liveable and not just an investment or status symbol.

    It is telling that here in our rural region, a new trade service is on offer. A bloke that just services electric garage doors. However, my favourite Dietician tells me, one of the biggest changes that affect general health and specific diseases, such as diabetes, is rapid diminishing incidental exercise. You know, like getting up to open or close a window, gate or door and using stairs. Further reasons why ‘Less is More’ in Architecture.

    BTW. My first professional career involved installation, repair, maintain, trouble shoot etc equipment ranging from PLCs to PCs, sophisticated manufacturing and information equipment/processes, climate controlled propagation sheds as well as electric trains. In fact in 76′ yours truly was working on conveyors carrying iron-oxide at Saldanha Bay, RSA – I have a good appreciation of technology; presently attending Gadget Anonymous meetings. 🙂

  55. Thanks Huggy for the link. Interesting, while I can see large scale PCM application in commercial or large estate scale applications, I would not be at all be surprised if the Yak herders go back to their more conventional clothing after the trial, for various reasons.

    John D, there are simple and very effective design solutions to your “…. it would be desirable for daily changes (to give air flow at the right times of the day) and protection from storms to be done automatically.” Clever design can achieve most that we now achieve now with expending energy. Check out passive house design, even the QLD Govmnt is promoting it
    Further, I do not detest air conditioning. Not properly serviced units make me instantly sick, as the mould and other pollutants trigger my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There is also such a thing as Sick Building Syndrome. As financial constraints start to bite, shortcuts will be made and as you know, technology has its own way to respond to it.

  56. Huggy: It was the New Scientist article that prodded me into chasing some facts on PCM’s.
    Ootz: I have an open mind on housing and see it as an area with plenty of scope for new approaches. Sure there are things that can be achieved with passive design but there are environments where what is really needed is rapid reconfiguration in response to rain and changing weather. In Brisbane, for example, the best approach for keeping cool when it it not hot enough for air conditioning is usually a low thermal inertia house with plenty of air flow. However, once you reach the point of turning the air conditioner on what you need is an insulated house with negligible air flow. Making that switch means making a lot of adjustments that could logically be done automatically with manual operation the back-up.

  57. Skeptical Science has posted Part 2 of their 2011 Year in Review where they “explore a few of the more cutting edge parts of climate science in 2011.”

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