Climate clippings 62

Energy savings work!

It had passed me by, but an outfit called the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) has been suggesting that energy savings don’t work, according to a guest post at Climate Progress. They say there is a “rebound effect” which causes 60 to 100% or more of energy savings to be lost. For example, if you save on your power bill you will spend that money on a thing or activity that uses energy. The contention has been amplified in the MSM in the US.

A thorough examination of this theory has found that the rebound effect exists, but it’s 10 to 30%. So 70 to 90% of savings are permanent. This is important because, they say, 25-40% of GHG abatement could be achieved through energy savings.

US energy-efficiency programs hit the mark

The figures for energy savings aren’t out for 2011. But the IEE [Institute for Electric Efficiency] report explains that efficiency efforts saved 112 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010, which is about the same amount of energy used to power more than 9.7 million homes in the U.S. By comparison, the entire German solar-PV fleet generated 18.6 terawatt-hours in 2011 — roughly six fold less than American energy savings programs.

Those savings were achieved at an average cost of 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, making it one of the most competitive resources on the market.

Read this post and follow the links.

We do have a $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program and all sorts of state energy savings plans. Does anyone know how they are doing? Back in March our biggest energy users weren’t doing so well.

German solar PV impressive

On solar PV as such the laurels go to Germany by a country mile. They installed 3 Gw of solar PV in December alone, compared with 1.7 Gw in the US for the whole of 2011 – and at roughly half the price.

Phase change materials to save energy

This one had a run in a recent comments thread, but I’m putting it up front because of its importance. The New Scientist has an article on new building at the University of Washington where:

encapsulated within the walls and ceiling panels is a gel that solidifies at night and melts with the warmth of the day. Known as a phase change material (PCM), the gel will help reduce the amount of energy needed to cool office space in the building … by a whopping 98 per cent.

It points out that the energy to change water from solid to liquid form (melting the ice) is the same as heating water 82C. A panel 1.25 cm thick of this gel has the thermal mass of 25 cm of concrete.

You could pick up the discussion on the earlier thread by John D, Huggybunny, Chris, Ootz etc from here. You need a material that has a melting point at the temperature at which you want to stabilise. John D has been looking and there are various materials on the market.

Carbon removal by cheap polymers

Existing methods of CO2 removal can be energy intensive and expensive. Now a group of scientists has found a way of removing CO2 from sources such as smokestack effluent, tailpipe emissions, or even directly out of the open atmosphere using a filter containing polyethylenimine, a cheap and common polymer.

Younger Dryas may not have affected Oz

You’ve probably seen graphs like this one of the temperature over Greenland:

Temperature over Greenland

I don’t have a link for the graph, but it came from a report on security and was sourced to NASA.

Research now available has found “no conclusive evidence for cooling, or indeed any distinctive climate patterning, during the Younger Dryas Chronozone in Australia.”

In a post a couple of years ago I used this graph from Tamino at Open Mind (the link I had is broken):

Temperatures Greenland and Antarctica

That may have been about right. It conforms with the notion (I posted an item last year) that you can have quite significant variations on a hemisphere level while the other hemisphere stays the same or goes in the opposite direction. Both hemispheres warming, as now, is unusual.

That item was from a new weekly feature at Skeptical Science, New research from last week. I’ll keep an eye out for interesting items.

Retreating alpine meadows

A new study of changing mountain vegetation has suggested that some alpine meadows could disappear within the next few decades as a result of climate change.

The first ever pan-European study carried out by an international group of researchers revealed that climate change is having a more profound effect on alpine vegetation than expected.

Led by researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, biologists from 13 different countries in Europe analysed 867 vegetation samples from 60 different summits sited in all major European mountain systems, first in 2001 and then again just seven years later in 2008.

They found strong indications that, at a continental scale, cold-loving plants traditionally found in alpine regions are being pushed out of many habitats by warm-loving plants.

Also at Treehugger.

Wave power

Finally, to please at least one of our readers, two new wave power devices are being developed.

They are aiming to undercut coal and everything else, for that matter.

35 thoughts on “Climate clippings 62”

  1. Thanks Brian – many good news stories here. These really need to be highlighted: for minimising doom-related acquiescence, quiescence and avoidance!

  2. Thanks Brian – a good set of pieces.

    I’ve been holding off saying anything about the Breakthrough Institute, but they are very naughty. They say they’re concerned about climate change but establish their case by beating up environmentalism as a failed ideology. Environmentalism hasn’t worked – that’s why technology can give you a better future – and a pony.

    The way an advocate establishes their argument is very important. If it’s over the carcase of a straw horse that’s been beaten to death, there’s probably not a lot to the case being put. If instead a series of facts are used to back an argument, then the advocate is much more likely to be reliable.

    The TBI are technological cornucopians and pretty much everything they say is in this frame. Conservation of any sort, therefore, must be futile.

  3. I get a bit cynical when the link you gave in “Back in March our biggest energy users weren’t doing so well.” starts by saying:

    “Almost two-thirds of Australia’s biggest energy users risk failing the federal government’s energy efficiency reporting rules – as well as random emissions audits – before the introduction of a carbon price next year.” then, near the end says goes on to say that Carbon Systems (the web page owner): “helps several corporations – including Ramsay Health Care, Bega Cheese, Visy and Elders – to track their energy, carbon and environmental performance to meet the reporting regimes.

    CarbonSystems spokesman Dan Gaffney said corporations had to be able to prove their gas emissions and energy use, and state how they would improve energy efficiency.

    “It’s like looking at kids’ homework – they have to show the workings and I’m guessing there’s been some pretty shoddy work,” he said.”

    Could be a beat-up for business rather than highlighting a problem that will reduce emission reduction?

    The other interesting comment was that emission auditing was becoming

    A large and growing compliance burden as both commonwealth and states impose separate climate change policies has exacerbated business’s lacklustre track record in meeting the reporting regimes.

    Up to six separate reporting schemes regulate large businesses. These include the commonwealth’s national greenhouse and energy reporting scheme, the energy efficiency opportunities scheme and the national pollution index; the NSW government’s national built environment rating system and its energy saving action plan, and the Victorian government’s environment and resource efficiency plans.

    No doubt the design of each of these schemes would make it hard to satisfy their demands with one simple report. Attitudes to emission reduction might improve if reporting were simplified and the people who should be doing something creative weren’t buried under paperwork.

  4. My initial reaction to pressure on big polluters to reduce emissions is that they are already doing quite a bit for both cost reduction and “responsible citizen” reasons. However, when I thought about it, in all my time in the minerals industry I have never had a power consumption goal and never been asked in a design review what I had done to minimize power requirements. (This doesn’t mean I never did things to reduce power consumption – merely that it was seen as far less important than production and product recovery.) One interesting thing was that there were often goals for minimizing the use of a number of reagents that would have cost far less per tonne than power. The decisions were not entirely rational.)
    Concentrators that use ball mills are very concerned about power because they consume an enormous amount of power. However, I suspect power consumption in the rest of the plant rarely gets much attention.
    The message here is that the most likely gains may be made by attacking small items that don’t receive a lot of attention.

  5. JohnD,
    As you say, little things do count.
    “The commission adopted battery charger standards on Thursday intended to save as much as 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, enough to power a city the size of Bakersfield, at a savings of $306 million.”
    Many years ago I tried unsuccessfully to seek funding to develop ultra efficient self managing small power supplies and battery chargers. “Who needs those” was the response.
    Just about a every appliance we use today could be made more energy efficient at a tiny or even zero or even negative cost increment.

    The power supply system has reducible losses, motor vehicles are better than they were once but can still be improved (No not the present crop of Hybrids, they are a joke).

    Implement a really comprehensive energy efficiency program and we will save as much as 50% of our energy consumption with no change in “living standards” and no dear Greens we do not have to adopt third world lifestyles to do this.


  6. Huggy, you’re starting to give me the irrits slagging off at us Greens with such utter bullshit that we want to return to “third world lifestyles”. We don’t, simple. That sort of unfounded inference belies your title and undermines the credibility of some of your other contributions, which I look forward to reading generally, until you feel the need for some anti-Green barb.

  7. Salient Green @ 6
    OK I am sorry, I should not use the term “greens” for the people I come across who advocate a return to the 14th century or some imagined time of natural living – noble savages and all that.
    In the past 200 years we have travelled so far and so fast that by almost any metric we seem to be a different species.
    We are now faced with the imperative to make our so-called civilisation work or we are shortly destined to become simply another failed species.
    Making it work means that we must have immense social change to enable us to do what has to be done to save the planet – not leave the work to the banksters and hangers on.


  8. Huggy @5: There are claims that 10% of household power is wasted on standby. I assume it would be pretty easy to cut this back if not simply eliminate it for most items?
    Ditto battery chargers and power sources for computers etc. What we seem to be doing at the moment is providing cheap, inefficient chargers with each item instead of selling efficient chargers separately. Then there is the power consumption of computers, servers etc.
    New standards anyone? We led with light globes and there is no reason why we can’t lead in a range of other areas.
    I was more concerned about the relatively small but significant items in things like mineral processing plants. I have saved power there by using installing booster pumps for the things that need high pressure so that clarified water pumps operate at lower pressure, using more efficient impellers where this can be done and locating pumps higher in buildings to reduce static head and reduce sump size because run-back is reduced when a plant crash stops.

  9. JohnD congratulations on your work, sad that more engineers do not do the same.
    Many years ago a Swiss owned milk factory set up with a fully imported plant. Part of the kit was a really beautiful back pressure turbine designed to improve the efficiency of the plant. The steam was generated using sawmill waste BTW. I realize now, 50 years later , that the plant was at least half a century ahead of it’s time. Anyway the back pressure turbine was designed to feed the energy returned by the requirement to reduce steam pressure for the process.
    The State Electricity attitude?
    You are not connecting that foreign shit to our grid.
    Never was and the later, new owners converted the boilers to oil.

  10. I wrote a post on my blog after the tsunami about how energy conservation may be a very effective form of carbon abatement, but now that winter is here I’m not so sure.

    Particularly I was thinking that in very unequal societies with high fuel poverty (I’m lookin’ at you, UK), a large proportion of society are using much less energy than they would like to be – many people in the UK only run their heating an hour or two a day. A program of e.g. subsidized insulation and energy-efficiency gains for these households wouldn’t necessarily lead toa reduction in energy use, but would instead lead to these households being able to heat their houses all the time – which could cause them to use as much energy as before. Obviously their lives have been improved, but the carbon reduction gains are nil.

    For people on the edge of fuel poverty, energy efficiency gains would enable them to stop making consumption decisions that affect energy usage, and one could expect a rebound effect. Only in the wealthiest sector of society would energy-efficiency programs actually lead to a reduction in carbon.

    i suspect this is a particularly strong effect in cold, dark, grim, hideously unequal countries like the UK.

  11. faustusnotes @ 10
    If a subsidised heat pump was installed it would provide 8 hours heating for the energy expenditure of 2 hours of direct heating. In either case the cost to the user is about the same. Thus they have to make consumption decisions. My guess is that with 8 hours in prospect the sensible decision would be to watch TV for 4 hours and then go to bed after turning off the heat pump. Thus halving the energy use and cost.

    Actually those who regularily use an electric jug to boil water for beverages are egregious wasters of electricity. There are some neat little tap things that boil water only as much as you need.

  12. huggybunny, my contention is that in a grim and barbarous place like the UK, such a subsidized heat pump would lead to no reduction in co2 emissions because the people suffering from fuel poverty would suddenly be able to heat their house for 8 hours a day instead of 2, for the same price. Or they could turn on some more lights for the 25 hours a day of complete frozen darkness that people in the UK experience throughout the year.

  13. I’m a little unsure as to why people couple wave energy with tidal energy, other that the obvious water connection, when wave is a product of wind.
    Wind/wave energy is handicapped by the unpredictable and inconsistent nature of them( iv’e witnessed windless , therefore waveless fortnights ).
    Not so tidal, from what i can gather water is over 800 times the density of air( 8 knots water= 380kmh of wind) and is a consistently predictable natural force.
    Forget barrage(environment modifier ) , a geared, submerged venturi assisted turbine(close to zero environmental effect) has got to be better than wind/wave by miles.

  14. Huggybunny @ 11 – if you just boil the amount of water you want to use rather than a whole kettle its not wasteful. And a lot of those “instant” hot water taps actually have reservoirs of hot and cold water stored below the sink. They’re energy guzzlers compared to boiling on demand.

    jumpy @ 13 – tidal energy production is not a new idea. I first heard about them wanting to do it in the northern territory because of the huge tides almost 20 years ago. But it doesn’t seem to have gotten anywhere….

  15. Faus @12: A one kW radiator costs about 20 cents/hr to run in Brisbane (or about half this as off-peak. I can’t quite see someone who is struggling to pay this much installing a heat pump unless it is installed free by the government.
    If I was really trying to save costs without being uncomfortably cold I would use a radiator to heat me (not the room) when I came in from the cold and then use warm clothing to stay comfortable. I would also use hot water bottles or some equivalent to warm the bed before I got in.
    A heat pump is not efficient if you are following this strategy. Heat is wasted heating the room and, unless it has been running for some time before entering the room you don’t get the all important pulse of heat when you first come in.
    Electrically heated clothing might be even more efficient since almost all the heat goes to the person instead of the room.

  16. Windless periods off southern Australia are not a problem for wave power because wind in the southern ocean drives swells which arrive here many hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away. I’ve done a fair bit of diving off Cape Jaffa and only seen it flat for a day at a time.

    One thing you get from a swell that you don’t get from local waves is the massive underwater surge from even a 2.5m swell which can send us flying if we’re not hanging on and rip mouthpieces out or dislodge masks down to 10 m deep. None of the wave power devices I have seen look to capture that to it’s fullest.

  17. John D, fuel poverty is a huge problem in the UK. Google the term and enjoy the horror. Part of the reason is that the UK heats its homes by central heating rather than individual radiators, and for people in rented homes the heating tends to be inefficient and badly designed – in my home you couldn’t turn off radiators in rooms you didn’t use, and all the radiators were under a (single-glazed) window, for example (and my home was a very nice home, by Britain’s cave-living standards). Thus the minimum cost of heating the home is quite high, and people have to run their whole damn house for an hour instead of their one room for a day.

    But the other part of the reason is that energy prices in the UK are hideously high, and incomes very low. If you imagine being on a basic entry-level wage – 18k a year – and paying a standard rent – probably above 7k to live alone, then you’ve got on top of that transport (another 1k or more) and then your 1k+ heating bill, things are getting nasty. People make decisions about what to cut back on. By contrast, my heating bill in Japan, where you have aircon from June to September and heating from November to March, would be about 500 pounds a year tops, and my rent 5k a year tops, to live alone in Tokyo.

    I remember a cafe near my house – a business! – that between November and March was basically freezing. People sat in that cafe eating breakfast with their coats on. I refused to go, because it’s so barbaric to sit there in your full outdoor clothes eating, but for Britons this kind of thing is close to normal. I compare this with Japan, where the cost of eating out is lower and the restaurant is always toasty warm, and I remember how lucky I am not to be living in that frozen hell hole anymore …

  18. You are right Faus. My “only 20 cents/hr”=$33.60/week=$1752/yr if heating runs 24/7. High enough to hurt someone on low income. Running only two hrs/day brings it down to $2.80/week.
    Your comments and Googling fuel poverty were interesting. There is clearly scope for providing heating options that gave more flexibility for people who need to cut heating costs and/or live with colder houses.
    Melbourne is the coldest place I have lived in for a year so I have no feel for how much heating really is needed for the comfort of a native. My take on Melbourne was that I spent a lot of winter feeling uncomfortably hot because heating was set too high. (Too high to be comfortable with a singlet under my shirt in the office – my preference would be for places that are at least cool enough in winter to wear a thermal tee shirt under the shirt. Cool enough to be comfortable with a jumper or equivalent on would be even better.

  19. Roger Jones is right about Breakthrough. Shellenberger and Nordhaust, the lead guys, push a kind of watered down Lomborgism.

    To clarify on the rebound effect, it’s quite true that if energy efficiency increases for some exogenous reason (say the discovery of a new and better engine), then there will be an increased demand for energy services, and the final effect can’t be predicted (for a clear example of this, think about computers – my phone could meet all the computational requirements of the world, circa 1950, but that hasn’t reduced demand for computers).

    But, if energy efficiency is rising because of price or policy pressure to use less energy, we are (in the jargon of economics 101) moving along the demand curve, making less energy-intensive choices among options we already new about, and shifting resources to the development of lowr-energy technologies. In this case, there is no rebound effect.

  20. John: Energy consumption is often described as “price inelastic” because price increases have little effect on consumption. I suspect much the same could be said of energy consumption in general. Economics 101 may favour price pressures but, to really make a difference you need approaches that apply more direct pressures such as our light globe efficiency regulations, our MRET emissions trading scheme or my particular obsession with the use of offset credit trading to drive down the average emissions of new cars.

  21. Surely if demand doesn’t vary with price then price is elastic relative to demand or else demand is inelastic relative to price?

  22. I have mentioned this before with not 1 response.

    The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is asking a few questions on how $10 billion ( thats 10,000,000,000 Dollars) should be reasonably spent/invested/distributed and the design of the “entity ” that does the distribution.
    They want ideas on;

    * the scope for the operations of the CEFC;
    * the market gap in financing low emissions technologies;
    * how this gap in financing could be overcome; and
    * how the CEFC could work with other government and market organisations.

    I think it would be remiss of LP not to do a thread and submit it ( in full,unedited) to the “expert review”.
    Remember, mid- march is when Government is informed of the findings, they need time to consider the submissions.

    I know folks here have plenty of opinions on this issue , lets hear em and submit em.

    It’s ten thousand millions!!!, this thing will only get set up once.

  23. Fran: I think my definition is right but who knows. What I do know is that both power and fuel consumption are relatively insensitive to price. In both cases the reasons are reasons that most of the consumption goes to things people think are important and the costs are quite low. For example the John Ds only pay $3/day for household power.

  24. jumpy @ 23, thanks for the reminder about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It’s probably worth a separate post and I’ll see what I can do. Pushed for time at present.

    BTW, it’s a billion a year, if I recall correctly.

    Climate clippings will be late again this week unfortunately.

  25. John D, the difference between Melbourne and London is this thing called “the Sun.” Google it. Because the sun travels around the earth, it is never seen in London. That’s why it’s so cold, and they need to spend a lot on heating. Maybe that’s also why the UK has such awesome inequality. Sunshine makes people happy makes them less inclined to abuse their fellow humans, or something.

    John Q, I’m guessing that the govt paying for energy-efficiency savings in households would be similar to an exogenous reason for energy price decreases? That is, people find that the hourly price of keeping their house warm goes down, so they keep their house warm for more hours?

    Anyway, it’s snowing in Tokyo today so global warming must be a myth.

  26. faus: Couldn’t find anything about the sun avoiding the UK because the sun goes around the earth.
    Part of the problem in the UK and elsewhere is that money spent by landlords benefits the tenant, not the landlord. It is often quoted as a classic example where things like carbon prices don’t work. The other problem is that houses and heating systems tend to be built for people who don’t have to worry about the cost of heating. Then the house ends up a rental property being rented to people who cant afford to pay much for heating.

  27. Oh come on John D, even Gallileo knew the sun goes around the earth. Perhaps you should brush up on your science knowledge, as well as your google fu.

    Then the house ends up a rental property being rented to people who cant afford to pay much for heating.

    This is the nub of the problem, I think. So then if the government spends money to improve fuel efficiency (through insulation/ changing the sun’s orbit), the tenants get a windfall but instead of spending it on other things they use the savings to improve their heating situation, that is to be warm for more than two hours a day.

    I think there might be an additional problem for Britain (particularly) in this: if a serious left wing govt ever got elected in Britain (unlikely) two big ways in which they could immediately reduce inequality and improve a huge number of peoples’ lives is to reduce the cost of transport and energy – both of which are crippling in the UK. But in doing so they will surely cause a huge increase in CO2 emissions. The same thing will probably happen if they find a way to boost the terrible wages that British peasants earn. There’s no way that you can reduce inequality in the UK without pushing up its CO2 emissions.

    I don’t think the same thing necessarily applies in Australia: if the cost of electricity were to go down a little, poorer people wouldn’t necessarily spend it on more air-con. There are lots of other lower-energy alternatives to spend it on. But in the UK, the poorest part of society will spend any windfalls on heating and transport.

  28. John D, the difference between Melbourne and London is this thing called “the Sun.” Google it. Because the sun travels around the earth, it is never seen in London.

    Oh come on John D, even Gallileo knew the sun goes around the earth.

    Given the rest of your comments my sarcasm detector must be rather broken atm.

    JohnD @ 18 – I suspect that a well design house in a Melbourne climate should not need much, if any, heating. But most are not well designed! However there is an issue for some people with for example, asthma, who greatly benefit from warm air temperatures which does not happen from putting on an extra layer of clothing.

  29. Chris! Gallileo abjured his childish views about the movement of the earth around the sun in 1633! After that he adhered to the orthodoxy of heliocentrism. Do try to keep up with the science!

  30. dear fuatusnotes
    oops, indeed. galileo, copernicus, &c. are honored & celebrated for their undisputed contributions, but, for the record, you should know that the mantle of heliocentric research in our times passed to late indomitable sun ra & his solar arkestra.
    space is the place.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  31. SG@16, yes, it’s a site specific for sure. Up here the GBR muffles the ground swell and even Hydrographers Passage can be flat for weeks, though the tide is constant.

    And keeping with the last few comments, SUN-ROOT , deals with the PV inefficiencies due to heat you mentioned in last CC.
    To me, energy efficiencies must be addressed at initial construction rather than retro-fitted, but since most of those measures can be expensive and paid for over 30 years+interest, the ” stitch in time ” can cost more than the ” nine saved” at the present time.

  32. Faus @29:This UK meta study concluded that increasing the price of fuel had little effect on fuel consumption:

    If the real price of
    fuel rises by 10% and stays at that level, the result is a dynamic process of adjustment such that the following occur:
    (a) Volume of traffic will fall by roundly 1% within about a year, building up to a reduction of about 3% in the longer run (about 5 years or so).
    (b) Volume of fuel consumed will fall by about 2.5% within a year, building up to a reduction of over 6% in the longer run.

    Changes in effective income might be expected to have a similar effect. I haven’t got a link but Garnaut said in one of his reports that a 10 % increase in the price of power results in 3% reduction in the short term, 6 % longer term.
    You may be right about heating in the UK being more price/income sensitive in the UK than either of the above figures but it is worjh asking how many people in the UK really are uncomfortably cold in their houses during winter.

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