Climate clippings 184

1. Arctic sea ice second lowest extent

The Arctic sea ice extent has just reached the second lowest ever, tied with 2007. I got the story from The Guardian, but here’s the story at NSIDC:

    On September 10, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year and is tied with 2007 as the second lowest extent on record. This year’s minimum extent is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in 2012 and is well below the two standard deviation range for the 37-year satellite record. Satellite data show extensive areas of open water in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in the Laptev and East Siberian seas.

Here’s the image from NISDC:


Neven at Arctic Sea Ice Blog tells how the season unfolded. After low winter ice the early melt was strong, but in June and July when the sun was hottest, the sky was mostly cloudy. In 2007 it was mostly open. No good news in this story, I’m afraid.

2. Pumped storage with solar

The Kidston Mine solar project seems to be closer to realisation. The idea is to take two old gold-mining pits on a slope, pump water from the lower to the higher at times of low demand and then generate hydro power.

It’s thought to be a world first, because it is off-river, and will use large-scale solar as the power source.

Pumped hydroelectric energy storage (PHES) systems usually cost between $4m and $5m per installed megawatt to build. This one is expected to cost just $1m per installed megawatt.

Water will be re-used with an average ‘water head’ of 190m. It will shift 5 million cubic metres of water, or the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools, for each generation cycle. They have water, and can get more from a pipeline if needed.

    A 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm is already under construction and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017. It will cost roughly $100m and will generate 145,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per year, or enough energy to power some 27,500 homes.
    Stage two of the project is a 300MW PHES. This will operate for seven-hour generation cycles once each day, delivering a maximum of 2250 MWh to the grid.

Here’s the photo:


The company claims they will eventually produce enough renewable electricity per year to power ~82,800 homes, or the equivalent of removing ~99,000 cars from Australian roads.

The company has had some help from ARENA and are seeking more from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility program.

3. World’s first large-scale tidal energy farm in Scotland

The MeyGen tidal stream project in the Pentland Firth has been launched outside Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

Each turbine measuring about 15 metres tall, with blades 16 metres in diameter, and weighing almost 200 tonnes generates initially 1.5MW.

Eventually they are looking at 269 turbines, bringing the capacity to 398MW, enough electricity to power 175,000 homes.

Scotland is said to have 25% of the EU’s offshore wind and tidal power potential.

4. Regenerate the soil to cool the planet

The bad news, says Jason Hickel, is that we’ve blown our chance of keeping warming below 2°C. And according to Prof Kevin Anderson, if we want to stay within 2°C, we’ll need to reduce emissions by 8%–10% per year. Now here’s the problem:

    efficiency improvements and clean energy technologies will only win us reductions of about 4% per year at most.

The one real hope is what you might call regenerative farming:

    Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.

A new study, not yet peer-reviewed, suggests that such changes in farming practices could sequester 40% of current emissions, or 100% if also applied to grazing.

5. The myth of a “carbon budget” for 1.5°C

David Spratt at Climate Code Red brings us up with a jerk again about the seriousness of climate change. He explains at length in what is an article rather than a blog post, with references. It comes down to this:

  • 1.5°C is not a safe target. Indeed the current level of warming of 1°C is beyond adaptation for many nations and peoples.
  • There is no carbon budget available for the 1.5°C target. Indeed warming of 1.5°C, and possibly more, is already “locked in”.
  • Published 1.5°C carbon budgets give a 50% chance of success, a 33% chance of exceeding 2°C of warming, and a 10% chance of exceeding 3°C.
  • The reason why we are not given more sensible targets in terms of risk, for example 90% or 95% or 99%, is simple – the horse has bolted.

The rational implication is that we should reach zero emissions as soon as possible and then head back to Holocene levels of 325ppm.

6. Intent on doing nothing

John Quiggin is a member of The Climate Change Authority which recently brought down its report on what the Government should do to meet its Paris commitments. John thinks a 40-60% reduction in emissions by 2030 is OK if we take action now, and the “toolkit” approach offered by the Authority provides Government with the means of meeting their obligations.

The indications are that the Government plans to do exactly nothing and is unlikely to ask the Authority for further advice.

40 thoughts on “Climate clippings 184”

  1. The Age Reports that the French owners are likely to close or sell Hazelwood Power Station, brown coal fired near Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland.

    Board to meet in October. State Govt has been informed. That power station supplies up to 25% of Victoria’s electricity, they say. The associated mine, between the power station and town, was where a long-running fire (ignited from arsonist’s nearby bushfire) sent smoke and ash across Morwell in 2014.

  2. New methods of farming?
    Yes, more carbon held in the soil, and soil microbes grabbing carbon from the atmosphere…. Higher fertility, recycling waste….. all good.

    But eventually soil will be saturated with C, or intake will come into equilibrium with release, in the long run.

    So we humans will still need to reduce our production of CO2 from fossil fuels, bushfires, wood stoves, etc.

  3. Yes, the article says that the soil can only take so much, but it might extend the time we need to get emissions under control.

    OTOH the standard time for farming innovations to disseminate fully is normally measured in decades, and even then won’t be complete.

  4. Ambiguous: Adding charcoal to soil has boosted farm production for centuries in places like the Amazon. The charcoal holds moisture and nutrients.
    Would imagine that the charcoal would last for a very long time but the practicalities of sequestering enough to make a significant difference are questionable..

  5. Soil micro biota are very important for recycling nutrients, grabbing carbon, and it seems vital for helping the roots of plants take up nutrients. I hear some biota form a symbiotic relation with roots.

    Then there are earthworms, plenty of grubs and insects…. Charcoal is well known to absorb many chemicals.

    It’s a fascinating area for research and agricultural improvement. Australian farmers are damn good at adopting new methods, using IT, and looking after soils.

  6. John, Ambigulous, I think there are two processes at work here. One is using culivation techniques that enhance soil carbon. The other is adding granulated charcoal as separate process, often called biochar. I think the article was just talking about the former.

    The terra preta soils of the Amazon Basin, I think are a result of both processes.

  7. Thanks Brian.

    Overnight, paper published in Nature claims to reconstruct two million years of temperature on Earth.


  8. Thanks for the heads up about the Nature paper. I’ve had a bit of a look and it seems the headline grabbing bit about future temperatures may be misleading, or even wrong!

    I’d better do a post.

    Started last night on the Grattan report on SA power and renewables, which also seems to be wrong. I’m out and about for the rest of the day, so I’ll reflect on which comes first.

  9. Yep, I chose SA power, but came up short last night. Mark comes to visit for a week tonight so not sure how I’ll get on.

  10. Well, right now the whole SA state is blacked out.
    Unusual for Australia.

    Remember the fuss with US east coast blackout – 1965??

    Knowledgeable posters:
    1. Do most wind turbines have to stop generating during a severe wind storm?
    2. Do most domestic rooftop solar gizmos fail to supply the home during a blackout? Only those connected to the grid?

    Just curious.
    Not relevant to general power supply policy, probably.

  11. Oh dear, journalists are writing “perfect storm”, others claim it’s a once-in-fifty-year event.

    Premier says folk are “playing politics” with the blackout.
    Ahem, Mr Premier, isn’t politics your game?

    Can the Premier Weather it All?
    Looks like a difficult climate……

  12. Ambigulous
    I don’t know about the wind turbines (though I’m guessing they would have to be fixed under extreme wind conditions?) but I read a guy on Facebook saying they were advised to switch off the connections from their solar panels because of the instability in the grid.

    I guess that means turning off the inverter – though I would have thought there must be some way of disconnecting from the grid but still drawing the direct power from the panels, but I don’t know. Maybe someone more knowledgeable can tell both of us?

    You’d be getting minimal amounts of solar anyway under those heavy clouds and rain.

    I agree the post on SA would be very good topical Brian – nobody else seems to know what’s going on, so maybe you can tell us. I’m furious with Xenophon for his scare mongering though, very irresponsible. I thought better of him.

  13. Climate Council is attributing the severity of the storm to climate change (Guardian).

    I’ve been reading about how much of specific weather events scientists can attribute to climate change and apparently they are getting better at it. I will send some more details when I’m at Monash if I can find the articles.

  14. Ambigulous

    This is from the Australian, not a source I’d usually rely on, but this sounds reasonable

    Wind turbines were shut down as gusts reached 113km/h, a level deemed too dangerous for them to operate. However, once the power was cut, the turbines would not have been able to operate in any case.


  15. Val, I’ve heard before that turbines are shut down and locked up in severe wind.

    Heard last night on the radio that there were 80,000 lightning strikes and electricity network damaged in 22 places.

    Severe storm that take out part of the network are part of every summer here. We’d think it odd if there were none. It’s unusual for SA, though, so climate change must be in the frame.

    However, renewables appear to have nothing to do with the outage.

  16. Picked Mark up last night and we talked till midnight. Have to work today. It was meant to rain and BOM still says 80% chance, but it looks like a fizzer.

    In part Mark is here to help Labor with how to steal back One Nation voters. Apparently in Maranoa, where Labor came third, 50% of Labor preferences went to ON. The two LNP seats Labor won in Qld were won on ON preferences. And George Christenson in Dawson would have lost (to Labor) except that he persuaded Pauline not to run. So he owes her.

  17. I just heard on the ABC Josh Freydenberg, denialist extraordinaire, demonstrating the degree of his stupidity with a claim that a lightning strike into a power station caused 22 high tension towers to collapse.

    He then went on to implicate solar power as a risk to energy security.


    How do such grossly ignorant people get elected to government in this country?

  18. Here’s the two papers mentioned above about how much of weather events can be attributed to climate change:

    Climate Council (2015). Quantifying the impact of climate change on extreme heat in Australia, Climate Council of Australia. (available from the Climate Council website)

    Fischer, E. and R. Knutti (2015). “Anthropogenic contribution to global occurrence of heavy-precipitation and high-temperature extremes.” Nature Climate Change 5(6): 560-564. ( I guess you need access to a library for that one as I don’t think Nature Climate Change is open access)


    How do such grossly ignorant people get elected to government in this country?

    that’s the $64,000 question! But actually I have an article that’s relevant to that too – will post separately

  19. I teach in a postgrad unit on climate change and public health (as I’ve probably mentioned) and one of the things our students sometimes mention is that it can be a bit confronting or depressing when you realise how strong the evidence is about climate change and the likely consequences, particularly for vulnerable populations, and how little is being done about it. So I’ve gathered some information on ways to cope with this and came across one article that I think is relevant to BilB’s question:

    Eckersley, R. M. (2016). Is the West Really the Best? Modernisation and the Psychosocial Dynamics of Human Progress and Development. Oxford Development Studies. Available FREE online at:

    Discussing a four nation survey on global risks, particularly, but not only, from climate change, the author commented:

    “78% agreed ‘we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world’ (activism) (Randle & Eckersley, 2015). Almost half (48%) agreed that ‘the world’s future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love’ (nihilism), and 36% that ‘we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world’ (fundamentalism). Each response offers benefits to people’s personal wellbeing, but in quite different ways: nihilism through a disengagement and distraction from frightening possibilities and prospects; fundamentalism through the conviction of righteousness and the promise of salvation; and activism through a unity of purpose and a belief in a cause. However, only activism is a socially constructive, adaptive response.”

    So I think the people that elect types like Frydenberg et al may be in the nihilism or fundamentalism camps and are trying to protect themselves from facing reality. It’s a form of denial obviously but I think when you understand it as people trying to protect themselves you can possibly be a bit more compassionate about it and possibly respond to it more effectively.

    (Obviously from the figures people can hold more than one of these beliefs at the same time)

  20. Rain has come here, a bit, so I’m grounded.

    I saw the BOM image of what happened in SA yesterday. A strong and broad front, but not very deep, so it didn’t last all that long. Today there’s more, but it’s a bit more broken, and the worst bits look as though they’ll stay north of Adelaide.

    As I sais outages here in the summer a quite common and sometimes take more than 24 hours to fix.

    On climate change attribution, I don’t personally follow that sort of stuff on specific events. Will Steffen said there’s more intense precipitation events all over the world. I think climate change has changed everything to some degree, and I’m more interested in the broad patterns.

  21. On electing geese, I don’t think there is any prospect of changing the mind of anyone like Frydenberg or Malcolm Roberts, so we need to defeat them politically.

    Ultimately that means working with the voters, and that is long, labour intensive and needs a multi-pronged approach. It’s not what I’m trying to do on this blog, because by and large they won’t be reading.

    However, people mostly change when they see they need for it themselves, and that is likely to come through some kind of life experience with a fair bit of emotional content.

  22. Thanks, Val. That leaves me pondering my state of being.

    Does this make me an Activist Denihilist anti Denialist?

    Following the morning’s story on a little further it turns out that this is a mini anti RET campaign that it seems Turnbull cooked up.

    Are the LNP trying to out Stupid Donald Trump?? If so I think they’ve done it, I’m convinced!

  23. Bilb: The RET, carbon price ETS and carbon tax will only give potential investors the confidence they need to justify long term investments if there is very robust support from both sides of parliament. Abbott and Turnbull demonstrated that this support is no longer there.
    Most of the investment in utility scale renewables since 2013 is the ACT renewable auction scheme. It works because it provides potential investors with the protection that comes from government contracts. It is also providing very competitive price guarantees because of this contract protection. (A new government can stop new auctions but it can only cancel contracts at great expense.)
    It is time climate action supporters got behind renewable auction schemes and started campaigning for something similar to drive roof top solar.

  24. Thanks, JohnD. I support anything renewable that works, so if renewable auctions work then I support them.

    As you know my total focus is on distributed power generation for individuals and that is where my energies flow. I have been putting in a huge effort working on the design of my, now, 37.5 foot yacht a work that I will put up here one day soon. My daughter has demanded that we start building the hull this summer. I say this because a yacht is an ideal closed energy system to experiment with. To that end I have recently started researching water desalinators only to discover that the energy required is anywhere near as high as one might imagine. I haven’t got to a definitive figure yet but it seems to be in the vicinity of 1.5 to 3 Kwhrs per 1000 litres (still researching this). Yachts are reporting that 600 watts of solar capacity are enough to not need the engine for charging batteries and 800 watts are enough to provide all and water as well (not including cooking or hot water). It is a very interesting experiment.

    ACT’s Andrew Barr was on ABC today talking up the renewable auctions, and he presented the case very forcefully and well.

  25. The beauty of tidal is total predictability, an advantage over the intermittent nature of wind and solar and even hydro over the long term.
    Also the only difference between stated capacity and output is mechanical reliability.

  26. Tidal is predictable but inflexible in its timing, which as you know changes every day, with a long term period of one lunar month.

    Solar has the advantage that its maximum output correlates very closely with times of maximum air conditioner use.

  27. Solar has the advantage that its maximum output correlates very closely with times of maximum air conditioner use.

    Really ? Most folk I know work in the day with no air con, and bang it on at bed time.

  28. Jumpy: What you say about air con in central qld may be true for a normal summers day. However, the peak summer demand occurs during heat waves during the time of day when the sun shines.

  29. If you look at tide charts peak times vary depending on where you are. They also vary as you go up rivers. What this means is that spread out tidal systems can give at least some power 24/7.
    However, keep in mind that the actual peaks vary with time of day, wind direction and time of lunar month. It is predictable but variable.
    If you think it through two dam systems can give continuous power in one location.
    Not saying that tidal power is a winner.

  30. John
    All true, it’s a horses for courses situation with almost all renewables. Locations for tidal are limited, as are suitable locations for two dam systems. Usages and peaks vary wildly too. Scotland is a world leader in tidal with little need for air conditioned cooling.

  31. On air con, I meant Australian use, not Scots. In Victoria, use is high during heat waves in summer which come with high pressure systems, sunny skies, followed by strong, hot northerly winds (bushfire weather). Folk are home, or in air conditioned work places. Peak heat around 1pm to 5pm, say.

    Perhaps we’re more sedentary down here than you rugged Queenslanders.

    Tidal is good for base load. An early try on Rance River estuary in France turned out poorly because the building of the dam, messed up the special “resonance” effects which had caused the higher tidal range in the first place. Around 1970.

    The take up of solar, wind and hydroelectricity must be due to lower capital costs, I think. Cost matters to you, doesn’t it, Sir J?

  32. Cost matters to you, doesn’t it, Sir J?

    Yes, it’s most peoples first order concern.
    I like the idea of energy autonomy for domestic uses so the cost is borne by the end user. Any progress there I welcome.

    Paying to subsidise someone else usage doesn’t seem fair, just encourages further growth and reliance in energy usage.

    Let’s just end all energy subsidies, let the real prices be known and the real winners will prevail.

  33. Ambigulous, and others, if you are near the coast you tend to get a sea breeze as the day progresses. So in Brisbane where I am now the hottest time of the day tends to be about midday. In really hot weather it’s often a NW land wind that keeps out the sea breeze, so the hottest time of the day is later.

    Where I grew up abpout 400km NW of here it was usually hottest around 3-4pm.

    There is another factor at work in that Eastern Standard Time is, I think, based on 150 degrees longitude. It goes through around Cape Howe, up through Bathurst and near Mackay. We are about 20 mins ahead and Melbourne is about 20 mins behind. Adelaide would be close to 50 mins behind, not 30 as officially. Mt Isa is about an hour behind Brisbane.

    I think a lot of people knock off about 3pm (teachers and tradies) and kids come home, so the aircon tends to go on when they get home.

  34. Keep in mind that air conditioner power draw is proportional to the difference between outside temperature and the inside temperature. If the difference doubles the air conditioner will be trying to pull 4 times the power. This is why power system peak demand in places like Qld occurs during heatwaves. (Further south the peak may occur during winter.)

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