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Today the US electorate will go to the polls in the mid-term elections.  All the signs are that many intend to us this opportunity to wreak vengeance on a fallen idol. Harmless Sky is not concerned with American or any other variety of party politics, but in this case the outcome of the vote may have far reaching consequences for the climate debate. Already there are dark rumours of Republicans planning investigations by Congressional committees into the science that has led to concern about global warming. And Congressional hearings are not the genteel, and perhaps ineffective, talking shops that House of Commons Select Committee hearings seem to have become in recent years.

Roy Spencer has an excellent scene setter on his blog here:

Global Warming Elitism, Tomorrow’s Election, and The Future

The first part of this article also has resonance for a post that I put up a while back about  A very convenient network.
H/t to Bishop Hill

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For as long as I can remember, a breakthrough in battery technology that will soon provide a small, cheap and light means of storing large amounts of energy has been just around the corner.  Although the demand for better batteries to power laptops has led to some improvement, the state of the technology still falls far short of what the electricity generation industry needs if it is ever going to be possible to iron out the problems created by intermittent supplies from alternatives like wind.

A newspaper report of a bright new idea caught my eye recently. This involves using surplus generation capacity when demand is low, but supply is high, to chill air to -196o C, which liquefies it. This is stored, and when demand is high and there is a shortfall in supply, then the liquefied air can be reheated, causing it to expand by a factor of 700. The ensuing oomph can be used to drive turbines.

 liquefied_air.jpg

This would seem to be one of those ideas that are either completely barmy the developers only claim 50% efficiency or just possibly a remarkable breakthrough. It would be interesting to hear an engineer’s view. I’ve put the text of the article here.

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This letter appeared in the Sunday Times last weekend:

Sir – Last week DFID [Department for International Development] hosted an event for its staff on “Putting gender at the heart of climate change adaptation and mitigation”.

I am delighted that it is concentrating so effectively on its mission t fight poverty.

Maurice Taylor, Bristol

How long, Oh Lord! how long? will it be before  MSM news editors start asking questions about his kind of thing in leading articles rather than leaving it to contributors to their letters pages?

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(About ten days ago I hinted that there was an astonishing post concerning Ofcom and the Dimmock Case in the pipeline. It still is; perhaps it’ll be ready by the end of this week.)

75 Responses to “Of mid-term elections, very cold air, and political correctness”

  1. Manacker

    Have you seen the Desertec project? http://www.desertec.org/en/

    Their idea is to have Solar thermal plants in desert areas and use transmission lines to carry the power where it is needed.

    I wonder what the cost of building the lines would be? not to mention theft of cables or sabotage.

    I can see where they are coming from, you get maximum solar insolation in equatorial regions, but the demand for power is at its maximum in higher latitudes.

    Which brings us back to an efficient way to store energy no matter how it’s generated.

  2. Max,

    I’ve no problem with the idea that the country’s Head of State should be a citizen and actually live in that country. Except that Australia doesn’t go along with that, but that’s another story. Our PM, who’s not our head of State, was actually born in Wales but she moved here as a child so that’s OK too.

    But maybe the US take that principle just a little bit too far? What would happen if an American woman happened to give birth unexpectedly early, while outside the country? Would that child be disqualified from ever running for President?

  3. PeterM

    I cannot answer your hypothetical question about

    an American woman happened to give birth unexpectedly early, while outside the country? Would that child be disqualified from ever running for President?

    The U.S. Constitution simply says a “natural born citizen” and I know that children born outside USA to US parents who are in the military or diplomatic service count as “natural born citizens”.

    The guys that wrote the constitution probably had reasons for this ruling – maybe it was just to keep Alexander Hamilton, who was born in the British West Indies (Nevis Island, now part of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, I believe) from becoming president, but who knows?

    This rule apparently also holds for the Vice President (logical), but not for Speaker of the House (#3 in line if President and VP both die or are removed, as happened when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon after his VP, Spiro Agnew, resigned).

    Maybe Brute knows more on this being a US citizen.

    But I think the question that was circulating on President Obama had to do with whether he was born in Indonesia or in Hawaii. There was apparently a rumor that it was Indonesia but I think there was a birth certificate that apparently cleared up that he was born in Hawaii.

    Max

  4. Rick Thomas

    No. I had not heard of the Desertec project – thanks for link.

    I see that Wiki tells us:

    The company is supposed to create a detailed technical plan for the DESERTEC realisation and to prepare contracts for the DESERTEC supergrid that can be signed in 2012.

    Wiki also states:

    the project could create 240,000 German jobs and generate €2 trillion worth of electricity by 2050

    Sound pretty promising, but there are problems as you mention, with the long transmission lines and potential sabotage or “economic blackmail” by the country where the solar plants are located.

    I wonder if this scheme will be able to really compete economically with nuclear power generation (where the power is needed), especially including fast breeder and thorium technology to essentially eliminate the spent fuel handling and disposal problem.

    But I see that a large number of the sponsors are German, and Germany has made the political decision to phase out nuclear power generation there (albeit with a most recent “extension” of the moratorium deadline).

    Interesting.

    Max

  5. The Desertec idea is an interesting one, although I’d have thought that quite a few promoters of solar energy would find it unappealing – too gigantic, not “local” enough.

    Here‘s the UK site – note that one of its prominent UK members is Polly Higgins, of “ecocide” fame.

  6. Rick Thomas and Alex Cull

    To Desertec:

    It is based on current climate/weather/sunshine hours in the Sahara.

    Today, we read:
    http://www.climatetemp.info/western-sahara/

    There are an average of 3117 hours of sunlight per year with an average of 8.5 hours of sunlight per day.

    This means the sun shines 36.3% of the time on average.

    As a National Geographic report tells us, the Sahara is likely to get greener and wetter (i.e. more rain and less sunshine) if our planet warms (as it apparently was during earlier periods that were warmer than today).

    If the Sahara becomes like Sydney, Australia, for example, the sunlight hours would drop to around 2500.

    This would be only 28.5% of the time on average, or a reduction of 21%.

    I hope the Desertec folks are calculating this possibility into their economic evaluation studies for this project.

    Max

  7. Hi Rick and welcome to this blog.

    You’ve listed a few tech ideas on here.

    Looking inside the black box of each one there are practical problems, eg keeping the sand off the Saharan solar panels.

    But let’s step back and look at them as just black boxes with energy inputs and energy outputs, each solving some requirement.

    There are still problems.

    Let’s assume that there is a problem with human-produced CO2.

    And let’s assume that a go-it-alone approach still makes sense when other countries have different plans.

    You’ve got several more problems – and here is one:

    Building your black box will release a big quantity of CO2 – cement and steel and other construction efforts. Making almost anything on any scale will release a big amount of CO2.

    This is to reduce future production of CO2. How do you balance a big one-off release of CO2 against future savings of CO2 over the life span of the black box?

    What is the calculation? Does anyone know the calculation and the numbers to use?

    I read recently that solar PV cells in the UK will never produce enough electricity in their life to offset the CO2 released in their manufacture. Ouch.

    This sounds like a negative view – but I’m being negative about the green movement and its ideas – not negative about life. I’m upbeat about the future because I don’t think there is a problem with the climate.

  8. Jack Hughes

    You are missing my point entirely. I have made no claims that there is Global Warming or that I believe that man made Co2 is causing it, if it exists.

    I postulated that creating Methane from currently existing technologies would be a way of storing and transporting energy.

    Global Warming or not, we need a cheap, reliable, transportable and sustainable form of energy. At the moment the only energy source that meets most (not all) of those criteria is liquid hydrocarbon based fuel. and relying on the goodwill of the Arab states is insane. (Before anybody accuses me of racism, I am half Arab myself)

  9. The Desertec idea’s biggest problem is the long transmission lines. This is an issue that is always ignored by greens promoting these types of schemes. Even offshore wind farms are often too far from where the power will be used. This is why large electricity users such as an aluminium smelter need to be close to its power source.

    Even Green Peace used to push hard to have power stations smaller and local so that greater efficiency could be had using the combined heat and power cycle. Solving the transmission issue is as big if not bigger than the storage issue, yet gets little publicity, because I think everyone thinks it’s not a problem.

  10. peter geany

    People think that electricity magically transfers from where it is generated to where it is used.

    A couple of weeks ago on BBC4 there was an episode of “The History of the National Grid” it showed how, that to maintain Voltage and Frequency to within required tolerances, they had to monitor the TV stations and bring up generating stations at the end of programs to match demand.

    Can you imagine the cables required to bring the power across the Straits of Gibraltar, submersible cables would be out of the question, unless they were cooled by liquid Nitrogen.

    Solar PV is fine in Northern Europe provided your peak demand is at Noon, and you can forecast the weather accurately in advance.

    See…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1324264/Too-solar-power-overload-national-grid-warns-German-energy-expert.html

    I know it’s the Daily Mail, but there is nothing wrong with the Science.

  11. Plans were recently announced to build the world’s largest marine generation scheme in the Pentland Firth. The promoters claim that this would provide power to 400,000 homes, and yes I do know about the questionable statistics used to arrive at such figures.

    Given that loss in transmission can be up to 30%, it would be interesting to know how big a circle you would have to draw round the the site of the plant to find 400,000 homes, as this is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the UK, or for that matter, Europe.

  12. Peter G, #22:

    I was hoping that you would have nibble at this.

    Two things that you say seem particularly astute. There is little point in investing in the means of making an inherently very expensive and inefficient system of generation slightly less inefficient while increasing the cost, and if the technology that the Highview scheme is playing with is viable then it would already have been explored to iron out existing mismatches between supply and demand.

    The problem is that the normal constraints that free market economics would apply are being ignored, with government subsidy being used to replace the usual incentives that attract developers into this kind of research.

  13. TonyN #61 I’m sure there was a TV news or short documentary item recently, perhaps 3 to 4 months ago that highlighted some major issue with this scheme. And the opposition was coming from local environmentalists who were both sceptical of the claimed output, and worried about the carnage that could be caused to local wildlife.

  14. Jack (57)

    I read recently that solar PV cells in the UK will never produce enough electricity in their life to offset the CO2 released in their manufacture.

    I’ve long suspected that (or at least, something like it). Can you remember where you read it? Even Monbiot has had a bet about their value at these latitudes although, of course, it doesn’t stop him blathering about ‘runaway climate change’:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/mar/11/solar-power-germany-feed-in-tariff

  15. Water pumpstorage (pumping water uphill & letting it run down again) is beingused at Cruachan in Scotland. It achieves nearly 60% efficiency. It was built to allow off peak electricty from Hunterston to be stored, something for which it is as useful as wiyh wind. The remaining, overwhelming, disadvantahe of wind is that it is 10 times the cost of nuclear.

  16. Niel Craig I wonder if that 60% figure includes the capital and running cost of the pump and turbine to use the water when it come back down again or if it is a simple calculation of the KW needed to pump the water up and the the KW generated when the same amount of water comes back down?

    Some of these schemes are in place because a dam and hydro scheme is already in place, but if not the costs as against giving the power away to consumers for say night storage heating, or schools and hospitals for say preheating water with no guarantee may make the whole scheme actually cost more and increase our electricity costs. We need some smarter thinking than we are getting at present on electricty generation. All we are getting are grand schemes to save the planet.

  17. Well there’s always
    http://www.fhc.co.uk/ffestiniog.htm

    The problem with pumped storage, is that you need suitable geography.

  18. Neil Craig, Peter Geany and Rick Thomas

    As I understand the 60% efficiency figure at Cruachan, this means simply that the amount of electrical power generated through the turbines by gravity (during peak consumption hours) is equal to 60% of the electrical power required to pump the water back up into the reservoir (during off-peak hours). [I am actually surprised that this number is so low since large modern hydroelectric plants themselves usually can have up to 80-90% efficiency.]

    Of course, any water that naturally enters the reservoir from rain, etc. would be a net source of electrical power, but the pumping operation itself is not a net generator of electrical power (but rather a net consumer). It is simply a way (at relatively low incremental investment and running cost) to use off-peak electrical power to generate a somewhat lower amount of peak-load energy.
    http://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/CruachanPowerStation

    This kind of system has the primary advantage over wind power that it generates power when power is needed, not when nature happens to provide the “just right” amount of wind.

    As Peter Geany writes, if the hydroelectric plant is already there, it can also be installed at a relatively low incremental investment cost.

    But as Rick Thomas writes (and I can underscore, as a Swiss):

    you need suitable geography

    Max

  19. The pumped storage schemes in the UK (eg Ffestiniog and Dinorwig) were built to provide same day storage – so that the nearby nuclear power plants could keep going at a steady rate and the pumped schemes would average out the demand.

    The Dinorwig station can come up to full output from idling within 7 seconds – but it will also run dry within hours. It’s no good for saving energy in a windy week for a calm week.

  20. Most of the recent posts on the problems of renewable energy, energy storage, transmission line losses etc look to be basically correct. Yes, wind, solar and the other renewables have their place, but there is no realistic possibility of their taking the place of fossil fuels any time soon.

    However, it doesn’t follow that these arguments show CO2 emissions into the atmosphere to be no problem.

    You’d get a better reception in scientific, and all rational, circles if you accepted that, and argued for the nuclear option as the only realistic way to have a high energy, but low CO2, based economy.

  21. PeterM

    Yes. Nuclear seems the logical “way to go” for the future. I can only agree with you on that, Peter.

    This will become an even more logical choice as fast breeder technology (using thorium?) becomes commercially proven, thereby essentially eliminating the spent fuel problem.

    And nuclear fusion will be the next logical step, once this technology is available.

    Unfortunately, an earlier bunch of environmental fear mongers have made this a very difficult option to consider politically.

    And then again, nuclear power generation is not something we would want to see in every small country run by a militaristic totalitarian regime, is it?

    I don’t know how this plays out in Australia today, but in countries like Germany it is impossible to consider new nuclear power generation plants today – even suggesting an extension of the moratorium on existing nuclear plants (as the Merkel government has done) is causing major demonstrations by misguided enviro-activists.

    There is no question that exactly the same fear mongering is now directed against coal-fired power generation (viz. the “coal death trains” and “tipping points” with “irreversible deleterious effects” on our environment conjured up by eco-activist, Hansen).

    Governments, like the one in the UK, are chasing windmills and other totally non-viable “solutions”, and I would agree fully with your statement:

    Yes, wind, solar and the other renewables have their place, but there is no realistic possibility of their taking the place of fossil fuels any time soon.

    The problem I see is that environmental activist groups have “painted us into the corner” with this fear mongering, so that economically viable power generation solutions are no longer politically viable – be these coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear plants.

    I have personally concluded that this really has very little to do with real “science” (although this has been suggested as the basis).

    It is simply based on an irrational public fear, fueled by anti-industrial eco-activist groups and TonyN’s “convenient network”.

    Max

  22. Max,

    So called “eco-activist Hansen” is advocating nuclear power too, as the only realistic option. He’s not what you might consider to be a typical Greenie, no matter how much you might like to present him that way.

  23. PeterM

    No. Hansen is not a “typical Greenie” (or a “typical” anything, for that matter).

    He is a rabid AGW-activist, who uses hysteria and fear mongering to sell his doomsday message (much as earlier fear mongers preached against nuclear power, causing the current hysteria against this option).

    He has compared coal trains with the WWII “death trains” of the Nazis.

    He has called for “civil disobedience” rallies.

    He has told US Congress that we are heading for “tipping points” which will result in “irreversible” climate changes leading to “deleterious effects”, “sea level rise” in this century that can be “measured in meters”, “extinction of species”, etc.

    He has even (believe it or not!) alluded to a “Venus-like” runaway effect from the few ppmv CO2 that are being added to our atmosphere.

    He warns us that the “dangerous level” of atmospheric CO2 is 450 ppmv, later revising this down to 350 ppmv (we are now at 390 ppmv).

    He made temperature forecasts back in 1988, which have turned out to be so far exaggerated that they are ridiculous. So much for his silly GISS models.

    In short, the guy is a “nut” and a “quack”.

    But wait! He is also a well-paid US government employee, paid by US taxpayer dollars to provide unbiased, objective weather and climate data, not to spread his own personal hysterical nonsense.

    The fact that he does not oppose nuclear energy does not change this at all, Peter.

    Max

  24. PeterM

    Let’s talk about Hansen’s famous 1988 temperature forecast.
    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/1988/1988_Hansen_etal.pdf

    The GISS temperature anomaly was 0.31°C in 1988.

    Hansen’s 1988 model predictions for future temperature increase were based on three different “scenarios”:

    Scenario A: trace gas growth rates (incl. CO2) increase at 1.5% per year of current emissions (= “business as usual”)
    Scenario B: growth rates remain constant at 1988 levels (no increase in rates)
    Scenario C: no increase in atmospheric CO2 after 2000

    On this basis, Hansen predicted the following temperature anomaly by year 2009:

    A: 1.15°C
    B: 1.0°C
    C: 0.65°C

    This equals an increase (1988-2009) of:
    A: 0.84°C
    B: 0.69°C
    C: 0.34°C

    As we know, the growth rates of atmospheric CO2 did not remain constant, but increased at a compounded annual growth rate slightly above 0.4% per year in a “business as usual” fashion (Hansen’s Scenario A).

    But what has Hansen’s GISS record shown (even if we ignore any manipulations, ex post facto corrections, variance adjustments, etc. or any spurious upward distortion from UHI, land use changes, poor station siting, station shutdowns or relocations, etc.)?
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt

    The actual temperature anomaly was 0.55°C in 2009, or an increase of 0.24°C over year 1988.

    So Hansen’s “business as usual” forecast (Scenario A) was off by a factor of 3.5 to 1!

    And, even if we compare his forecast for no further increase in atmospheric CO2 (Scenario C) with the actual, this was off by a factor of 1.4 to 1.

    This is what I would call a ridiculously exaggerated forecast.

    I believe we can conclude that anything this man publishes is exaggerated to predict a false picture of future gloom and doom. In short, it is pure fear mongering.

    Max

    PS This, along with our two previous posts, should probably more appropriately be on the NS thread, rather than here, as it has little to do with elections and global warming elitism.

  25. Natural Born Citizen is a locution only used in Presidential eligibility, as opposed to Native Born Citizen. The intention of the framers of the US Constitution was that only the child of two citizens would be eligible, but a Supreme Court decision in the 19th Century, which could be reversed, diluted that requirement somewhat. Barack’s father, a Commonwealth citizen, would have made Barack ineligible by the intentions of the framers of the Constitution.

    I believe Obama was born in Hawai’i, but he has resolutely fought efforts to reveal his long form birth certificate. I believe it probably has embarrassing differences from his autobiographies.

    I also think that he may well have been an Indonesian citizen at one time. Some people think he originally went to Occidental College as a foreign student, but those records also are not publicly available.

    I also think it is possible that he used an Indonesian passport to visit Pakistan in the early 80’s.

    Obama is a smooth speech giver with his teleprompters on hand. A cappella, he stumbles. He’s bright, but perhaps not fabulously intelligent; his college and law school grades are unavailable. His position on the Harvard Law Review was an affirmative action choice and he wrote nothing during his term in charge there, which is highly unusual. So much for intelligent and articulate..

    Calling his opponents racist for opposing his policies is despicable, and the tactic came from Obama himself.

    He’s an empty suit, in over his head, and the US population has caught on. So have the world’s leaders.

    We, well some of us, got fooled. It’s just that simple.
    ====================

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