Gold from the sky

A new video from the Yale Climate Forum delivers the best news on the climate change front that I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever.


59 responses to “Gold from the sky

  1. Horatio Algeranon

    “Distribution of Power”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Centraliesation grips the nation
    While distribution is the solution

  2. This fall in PV costs per KW will be huge for 3rd world countries where central utilities are notoriously unreliable and do not even reach many citizens. Watch for cheap distributed power to grow organically in these places, destroying the argument that poor countries “need” fossil fuels.

  3. Martin Vermeer

    Elon Musk is wicked smart… he is whom I think of when the word ‘entrepreneur’ is mentioned when I’m in a good mood…

    But, he’s human, and when he says “If the sun wasn’t there, we’d be a frozen ice ball at three degrees Kelvin”, he is wrong… more like 40 K, because of the Earth’s internal heat sources…

    Musk’s TED video is here:

    I wouldn’t bet against him.

  4. johnrussell40

    As my wife and I receive more money back for exports from the solar pv on our roof than we spend on heating, lighting and running all the appliances in our house, it’s clearly a no-brainer. The pv panels are assisted by solar thermal to help heat the hot water and we’ve also invested heavily in insulation as part of a renovation project, so it’s a significant up-front cost; but I see it as investing in a step towards a cleaner, more efficient future.

    Unfortunately, on a national scale, the economics are not quite as simple as the video makes out, for as everybody goes in a big way for renewables, there’ll be much too much electricity produced on windy, sunny summer days and a massive shortfall on dark, still winter evenings; which would require the existence of 100% back-up to sit idle more and more of the time as renewables ramp up. In time this will, of necessity, result in massive disparities in electricity prices, which will be either astonishingly cheap or very expensive, depending on the time of day and prevailing weather. So the big challenge will be cracking efficient energy storage and low-loss, long distance electricity transmission.

    But for the time being, as I see it, every 10kWh of renewables is a kilo of coal or a litre of oil that needn’t be burnt. Of course putting a fair and realistic price on carbon, commensurate with the environmental damage it’s doing, would also be sensible and accelerate the necessary changes.

    • Good points, though not hypothetical by any means since Denmark is facing this predicament with their wind power. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the country is virtually flat, so storing the energy as a potential energy is out of the question. However, imagine if Denmark’s car fleet was composed mainly of electric cars. They could conveniently recharge since the wind is usually blowing at night. Two major problems solved with the right combination of technologies.

      • johnrussell40

        Yes, I’ve heard that suggestion before. ‘Usually’ is the crunch point. Imagine a country’s car fleet has gone electric but then they have a week of nights without any wind. So what size of back-up generation capacity would be needed during the periods renewables cannot deliver, in order to meet that country’s need to power homes, industry and personal transport that previously burnt fossil fuels?

        Whichever way I look at it it seems the idea that renewables can provide an alternative that is cheaper, as well as being environmentally more acceptable, is rather pushing it. This is why I believe both efficiency and storage are key to making renewables work.

        [Response: What is the probability that the entire United States will have a week of nights without any wind?]

      • Peter Wright

        Denmark stores a lot of its surplus wind energy in pumped hydro schemes located in Norway. They lose money on the exchange however since they sell at times of low demand and buy back at peak times.

      • Although I can’t speak for the US, in the UK there is a serious problem of seasonality.. my 2.76kW array averages ~100 kWh in January and ~340kWh in June, and there’s about 30% between best and worst figures for a month.

        So the problem (at least for the UK) is ‘What happens when we have a sustained blocking high in winter, losing most wind and solar capacity at a time of high demand’. And this is a common occurrence.

        Storing sufficient energy to balance seasonal variations is not feasible. Even for the US, I suspect you’d see serious problems.

      • johnrussell40

        In response to Tamino’s comment that it’s unlikely that the entire US would have a week of nights without wind — I agree. And that’s why I say that improvements in transmission efficiency are required (current losses being significant over large distances).

        It’s also useful to ask just how many 1000’s of square miles of wind turbines will be required to meet the entire USA’s demand for electricity if the car fleet goes electric. Don’t get me wrong, wind can pay a big part, as can solar, but without storage neither can replace the need for large capacity generation to provide baseload.

        The book by Prof David McKay is worth reading:

      • What is the probability that the entire US will have a week of nights without wind? About the same as the probability that the entire US will be covered with wind turbines. Or that such massive overcoverage can be bought without massively increasing the price of electricity. Budischak et al. 2013 found that getting to 99.9% non-fossil using renewables alone would triple the price of electricity. But of course they didn’t consider nuclear as being renewable.

      • Petronius Knipetang

        Peter Wright, while it is true that Norway is part of the northern European energy market and can sell hydroelectric power to Denmark, it is *not* true that Danish energy is stored by pumping water from lower to higher ground in Norway. The idea has been around for some time, though, as a solution to the problem of large scale storage.

      • Of course, the idea that power is available 24 hours a day is just something we adjusted to because of the nature of fossil fuel power generation.

        I reckon we’ll find a way of having reasonably continuous renewable power pretty soon.

      • John RUssel, a recent article in Scientific American pointed out renewables such as wind and solar had limited potential because there´s a serious lack of grid capacity, and because indeed there will be times when the grid collapses if there´s too much solar and wind power installed.

        Here in Spain we enjoy the benefit of exports to France, which in turn sheds load to the United Kingdom. But even so the renewables are limited.

        It seems to me the enviromental community loses credibility when it proposes wind and solar without taking into account the intermittency problem, which indeed is so serious it WILL KILL industry growth prospects. Why would it do so? Because these renewables are only technically feasible when they have a small fraction of the total load. If they are given a larger fraction, then the whole grid misbehaves, suffers from brown outs, and outright collapse.

        The key, as far as I can see, is a truly cost effective storage device. And please don´t remind me about this or that research finding. Right now NOBODY is willing to make a decent battery with capacity to store electricity at industrial scale.

      • cosmicomics

        Some possibilities are hydrogen and compressed energy air storage. Another would be reducing the need for storage through the expansion of renewables within the Nordic energy collaboration:
        “The Nordic Region is one of the richest sources of energy in the world. Apart from the natural occurrence of fossil fuels such as oil and gas, the Nordic Region has also great opportunities to exploit renewable energy sources such as water, wind, bioenergy and geothermal heat.”

    • Long-distance, high-volume power transport is possible with technology from the 1960s: you send it at high voltage on copper wires. It’s what powers essentially all of Quebec, and part of New England and NY. Transmission loss from James Bay to Montreal (~1000km) is 4.5-8% according to Hydro Quebec (cited at this wiki page):ébec%27s_electricity_transmission_system

      The grid would need to be beefed up even if we stuck to burning coal: the Enron scandal and the 2003 blackout proved as much.

  5. Susan Anderson


  6. Enter stage energy efficiency: don’t heat, don’t cool – insulate, use LED – lighting, don’t use electricity to heat at all, because it’s a waste of negentropy, but gas and sunlight, use efficient electric devices like washing machines et c. p.p. Then the base back-up power you need during night and winter is much smaller. It’s not always cheap, especially insulation, though if integrated in design and building from the beginning, it’s a very small percentage of total building costs, not to speak of life cycle costs.

  7. Michael Hillinger

    I enjoyed this clip and fully support a move to renewables. There are the critics, however. One is Robert Bryce who published a book “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper” and has been very critical of the potential of renewables. He had a piece in the WSJ ( for which I would love to see an analytic response. Does anyone know of one?

    • Martin Vermeer

      Eh no, but seeing that it appeared in the WSJ makes me not want to bother.

      Rather than responding to that, you should perhaps be analysing existing proposals for doing the supposedly impossible…

    • cosmicomics

      Robert Bryce is not a credible critic. He is associated with the neoconservative/libertarian Manhattan Institute, which has received funding from the fossil fuel industry. His writings have repeatedly been criticized for being tendentious and for misrepresenting the realities of the energy sector:
      “Manhattan Institute And Robert Bryce
      The Manhattan Institute is a free-market think tank that advocates a “pro- growth” agenda on fossil fuels and downplays the scientific consensus on climate change. It’s website states that it is “unclear” whether human activity is contributing to rising global temperatures, adding: “Despite the certitude with which the media and politicians treat the issue, the science remains muddled.”
      The Manhattan Institute has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Family Foundations over the last decade. It previously questioned the science on the health effects of tobacco after receiving funding from the tobacco industry.
      Robert Bryce, a Senior Fellow at the think tank, regularly authors op-ed pieces for prominent mainstream and conservative publications and appears on Fox News promoting fossil fuel production and downplaying the potential of renewable energy. On climate change, Bryce has said: “I don’t know who’s right. And I don’t really care.””

      “Media outlets have turned to the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce at least 39 times this year to comment on energy issues without disclosing that the Manhattan Institute is partly funded by oil interests. Bryce, who often promotes fossil fuels while disparaging renewable energy, has been criticized for making misleading claims.”

      “While there are numerable questionable elements in his discussions (such as placing equivalency between a depletable resource, such as a natural gas well, that might produce for just a few years vs a renewable resource (solar or wind) that can produce at that same location indefinitely), his equations simply do not stand up to even cursory scrutiny.

      …One has to read this book questioning every assertion of fact and every statement. This makes this an extremely difficult book to read since simply accepting his statements as accurate is, as the above demonstrates, absurd since so much of what he writes is questionable on factual basis.”

  8. Abhishek Gupta: Community Evangelist

    Think about it, what Elon Musk says in the video makes perfect sense. We must remember that dropping of solar costs are not unnatural irrespective of what the naysayers have to say. As the solar technology developed and scaled (however that happened) the prices had to drop down. When you look at the fact the the utility costs and power tariffs have kept rising, why would the emergence of an alternative technology be a surprise to anyone? It’s happened before and will happen again…

  9. Martin Vermeer

    If these folks are right, Elon Musk is gonna win his bet hands down…

  10. I have working as a researcher in energy for the last few years. There is many promises but solution are hard to come by simply because the system involved are huge and complex. Massive electric energy storage is far from been trivial. Also, most the time the energy needed to put these new system in place is often forgotten.

    • “most the time the energy needed to put these new system in place is often forgotten” — I’ve personally seen plenty of life-cycle analyses for power production targeting carbon, financial cost, and EROI. I’ve also seen some for renewables + storage. Where is the energy cost of construction being routinely ignored?

    • Numerobis,

      Yes, such calculations are done, but the conclusion are ignored very often. Simply because the result is much less interesting is you analyse tho whole problem.

  11. Horatio Algeranon

    “Sunshine on my sol arrays
    Makes me happy”

    — Horatio Algeranon’s runination of yet another song (by John Denver)

    Sunshine on my sol arrays makes me happy
    Sunshine in one guise can make me pie
    Sunshine on bath water feels so lovely
    Sunshine almost always makes me high

    If I had an array that I could give you
    I’d give to you an array just like my array
    If I had a song that I could sing for you
    I’d sing a song to make you feel this way


    If I had a tale that I could tell you
    I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile
    If I had a wish that I could wish for you
    I’d make a wish for sunshine for all the while

  12. Martin Smith

    Here in Oslo, a company called Hafslund maintains and operates the electricity network. Hafslund also supplies electricity, but there are several other suppliers who supply electricity on the same network, and I can choose any one of them to buy my electricity from. I chose Fjordkraft because it had the lowest price at the time. So I get two bills each month. One is from Fjordkraft for the electricity I used, and the other is from Halfslund for how much I used the network to get the electricity from Fjordkraft.

  13. Photon Wrangler

    The falling cost of PV also helps solve another vexing problem of creating a low-carbon world: How to have millions (indeed billions) of people in the developing world pull themselves out of poverty without burning huge amounts of coal. For the ~7kW we might typically install on a home in the U.S. (which may not even eliminate the total consumption), a dozen plus families in India, South America, or Africa could go from having zero electricity to having enough power to have lighting, refrigeration, cell phones, television, and water pumping.

    The economic and social impact of the ‘first’ 100 Watts of power is enormous. Even 10 Watts of power is a boon.

  14. Okay, let’s all think about this scenario for a moment:

    What would happen if your local electric utility went bankrupt, closed up shop, and shut off the power?

    Disaster, on many levels, for many people.

    That’s why we have electric monopolies: to prevent that disaster. We as a society have made a deal: we guarantee the utility a known and regulated profit, and they guarantee society that they will never turn off the power.

    In my view, that’s a very good deal. And to those, especially on the left, who rail against electric monopolies as being a bad thing: be careful what you wish for.

    • The problem you describe is created by monopolies, not solved by them. If there are multiple suppliers, it’s not a disaster if one fails.

      • It is, if the one that fails is the one that supplies power to your home or business. Most electric utilities both generate and distribute electricity. There is only one company that runs lines to my rural home. If they went bankrupt, do I have to wait until the court finishes its Chapter 11 proceedings before that asset (the line to my home) is sold to someone else?

      • Ok, I see what you’re saying, but that still seems like a better argument for a government owned and maintained grid than for granting monopolies to for-profit companies.

  15. In those areas served by public utilities, there’s no private utility to shut off the electricity. And in my part of the world, despite being served by a private utility, nearly all of my electricity comes from government owned, built, and operated hydroelectric dams.

    We can do without private electric utilities. We can’t do without the grid (much of which, where I live, is run by government, i.e. the Bonneville Power Administration).

  16. David B. Benson

    The grid consists of transmission lines, substations with transformers followed by distribution lines. This system forms a natural monopoly and hence is regulated. As best as I can tell it makes little difference which portions are public and which are private.

    As for enhanced transmission, I merely point to the proposed Boardman OR to Hemingway ID transmission line, in planning and permitting since 2003 and Idaho Power now only hopes to finish the process by 2020. In the nonce Idaho Power had to acquire a combined cycle gas turbine in order to have adequate reserves. [By the way. does anybody know whether Tres Amigas is stillborn?]

  17. One issue that utilities and ALEC and the Kochs are trying to tax distributed electricity. We need to find a way to fund the grid while encouraging distributed sources

  18. This video had a lot of good news in it, I suppose. I just wish people weren’t always so hardcore into one type of energy. Some people love solar, some love nuclear, and of course, some love fossil fuels. Wind gets bunched in with solar usually, which is fine—the more prongs the better. That’s why I’m also a big fan of geothermal, satellite-based solar, and anything and everything.

    The goal should not be replacing one thing with another. The goal should be creating the most diverse portfolio of energy supplies and cutting out the ones that have overtly detrimental effects, such as fossil fuels.

  19. turboblocke

    Frankly I find it borderline denierism to be complaining about the problem of too much renewable energy when there is so little already deployed. In any case, you, in the USA, shouldn’t worry too much, by the time you’ve installed a decent amount for a developed country Europe will have solved all the problems and be able to sell you the appropriate know how.

  20. The problem is “stranded assets” — in particular the difficulty forgetting about them and moving on.

    What’s a “stranded asset”? Think of Noah’s Ark after the flood. Or all that coal and oil and gas underground. It got us where we are now and it’s of no further positive value now or in the future — rather, it’s damage awaiting.

    So why continue to invest money in coal and oil and gas, beyond maintenance and setting up decommissioning procedures in an orderly way to reuse the materials that can be recycled?

    Via Eurekalert:

    Putting a price tag on the 2° climate target
    Addressing climate change will require substantial new investment in low-carbon energy and energy efficiency — but no more than what is currently spent on today’s fossil-dominated energy system, according to new research from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and partners.

  21. Thanks for the video link! I really needed a positive, *realistic* EG for the ending of my (otherwise pretty depressing) special report re: energy & consumption.

  22. cosmicomics

    A few points:
    Wind and solar are complementary technologies. The sun is strongest during summer, the wind during winter. Solar energy is for hours with sun. The wind is usually strongest after sunset.

    It’s not enough to look at the abstract cost of a particular technology; one also has to look at the available resources. Some locations are rich in wind resources, some in solar, some in geothermal. Efforts are being made to cost-effectively harness the power of tides and waves. The most secure energy system would combine different technologies over geographically diverse areas using HVDC transmission cables.

    In a number of locations wind is increasingly able to provide base load power. Solar can increasingly provide peak power. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind could supply a wind-rich state like Nebraska with 118 times its electricity needs. Readers from states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas could perhaps tell us whether the wind there is constant or intermittent.

    Solar and wind (in general) do not (yet) give equal returns on the energy invested. It takes a wind turbine approximately 6 months before it starts producing more energy than it took to make it. It takes a solar pv panel approximately 2 years. The encouraging thing about solar is that it’s had a very fast learning curve.

    Not all homes have roofs that are suitable for solar panels. Not all people can afford to buy or even lease solar panels. Energy is not just an individual/family need, but also a social need, and social problems need social solutions. Looking out for number 1, putting solar panels on my house, isn’t sufficient.

    The production of renewable energy technology still requires the input of fossil fuels.

    The best and most cost effective solution is to reduce energy consumption.

    • Six months is a very short time for an investment in endlessly renewable energy to pay off. That’s spectacular, if you ask me.

      • Martin Vermeer

        Yep, it’s pretty damn good. Do remember however that wind turbines are commonly given a useful lifetime of 20 years, not ‘endless’ (but considering depreciation, it is actually almost as good as endless). But still I agree, and am puzzled that the myth that constructing a wind turbine takes more energy than it produces during its lifetime, still lives even among otherwise smart folks.

  23. We need to find a way to fund the grid while encouraging distributed sources

    So just separate the assets, costs and administration of the grid structure and function from the those of the generation process. Whether they’re separated legally and structurally or just by proper accounting within a single company or government authority makes little difference.

    It makes power supply infrastructure much the same as water supply and sewage disposal infrastructure. You pay for the upkeep and upgrading of the pipes/lines/wires quite separately from the water, gas, power actually transmitted to the premises through that system. If you also happen to be generating and supplying power from your roof back into the grid, there’s another line on the account to credit you for that.

  24. lewiscleverdon

    It seems to me that there are fundamental problems with the Musk video not in its accuracy but in what is not discussed.

    First, the intermittency issue currently requires ‘spinning reserve’ of FF generators running very inefficiently at low revs to be ready to go to full supply when needed. The more decentralized the supply (as in private roof-top solar) the higher utilities’ prices must rise to cover this cost, thus encouraging more private supply, etc. Until the intermittency issue is resolved, these FF plants will continue to be run inefficiently thus cutting the rate of transition from FF dependence and requiring increasing subsidy just to stay open.
    – Renewing the grid world wide to HVDC is plainly one part of the solution, but it is an immense task and is clearly going to take decades of work and huge political will to provide the funding or the incentives for private funding .
    – Another necessary development is of the baseload renewables such as geothermal, offshore wave, tidal current, etc, whose RD&D has been grossly neglected to be ~25yrs behind solar and wind. They have huge potential (the EU Comn in 1980 published a study showing that wave energy could supply 80% of the EU15 nations’ total power requirement) but in Europe (and the USA ?) they have been excluded from R&D funding due to their cutting the legs from any prospect of a nuclear renaisance – whose pitch is of being unique in supplying non-fossil baseload power. This corrupt obstruction must be ended.
    – One novel option on the chronic energy-storage issue is the new tech of energy being used to air-capture CO2 and supply electrolytic H2 which are then combined to methanol (CH3OH) which (for those not familiar with it) is a remarkably clean-burning high octane fuel with about 55% of petrol’s energy density. A demonstration plant is running on geothermal power in Iceland (see ) which supplies 2.5% of the country’s liquid fuel cut with petrol. As an energy storage medium it could potentially drive either Direct Methanol Fuel Cells or the more efficient Combined Cycle Gas Turbines as spinning reserve, but would do so at a serious net-energy cost.

    Until the intermittency problem is resolved by baseload supply + storage + delivery changes, there is no prospect of ending fossil fuel dependence, and masking this reality by breathless hype for wind+solar’s potential is actually very unhelpful to getting the huge attention and investment these issues urgently require.

    The second and more fundamental problem with the hype of solar’s potential is that it implies that a free market switch to renewables will resolve the problem of AGW, which is patently false. In particular it implies that a commensurate global emissions treaty is of secondary importance, if any at all. This is clearly a nonsense that serves the status quo.
    – A free market transition is by definition far slower than a well-regulated market that sets a price on carbon, which then accelerates investment in non-fossil options. Given the existential threat posed by AGW, it would be pointless for that carbon price to be set by guesswork of its proper level – it has to reflect a declining global carbon budget derived by science from its knowledge of society’s vulnerability to rising impacts. For example there is little point in aiming to end FF dependence in 2080 if we face the onset of intensifying serial global crop failures decades earlier. Only a global treaty can commit all nations to respect the required carbon budget, and only a global treaty can then agree the allocation of nations’ tradable emissions rights under that budget, which will necessarily converge from present outputs to per-capita parity by an agreed date.
    – However, there is a further layer of rationale for the indispensable need of the treaty. Even a best case of a treaty ending global GHG outputs by say 2050, with the timelagged warming (due to the oceans’ thermal inertia) then continuing to the 2080s, would mean continuous warming for at least 70 years driving the feedbacks’ acceleration. A study published earlier this year on the satellite record of cryosphere decline showed that the resulting Albedo Loss feedback gave an average warming equal to 25% of that from anthro-CO2 in the period from 1979 to 2013. This is consistent with M’s confirmation a year or two back of a study showing that present that current Albedo Loss warming equates to about 30% of warming from anthro-CO2.
    If just one of the eight main interactive feedbacks is already able to offset 30% of a total emissions control, it is surely certain that in combination, with 70yrs of additional anthro-warming plus their own warming effect, by the 2080s the feedbacks’ outputs would be well past the point of fully offsetting a total emissions control.
    – This prognosis sets the need of both the Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration modes of geo-engineering as the necessary and sufficient compliments to Emissions Control, the first to prevent the terminal acidification of the oceans by gradually cleansing the atmosphere, and the second to halt the warming in the interim and so avoid its ruinous disruption of global agriculture and acceleration of the feedbacks. As any nation’s unilateral use of Geo-E would massively violate other nations’ sovereignty (imagine the response to “China planning to control America’s weather”) this essential development can only be achieved within the agreement of a UN global climate treaty. And only the treaty can mandate a UN scientific agency for the stringent supervision and evaluation of the R&D of the Geo-E options.
    – In short, the treaty is essential both for achieving the most efficient rate of Emissions Control and for the governance of the accompanying strategies of Carbon Recover and Albedo Restoration. Any promotional efforts on behalf of solar power should thus be very careful to include the specific information that renewables alone simply cannot get near resolving the climate predicament, and that a binding commensurate treaty is prerequisite for that goal.



    • What we need spinning reserve for is the eventuality of a large fossil power plant falling off the grid.

      For renewables, wind forecasts are quite good, and solar forecasts will likely become good as soon as it becomes important to worry about. So you can keep your backup fossil plants fully shut down, because you’ll have hours to days of warning before needing to turn them back on. In the longer term (which is what we’re talking about here) we can build power lines to neighbouring regions to spread out the supply: the wind is always blowing somewhere.

      • Thanks to humans being human, we will likely exceed ten billion people around 2050 or thereabouts.  It seems safe to project that at least seven of the roughly nine billion not consuming energy at the average per capita rate of today’s N Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and “1%” segments of China and India and other countries will be, by then, demanding “energy (usage) equivalence”.  Even if by then we have managed to reduce the per cap average demand with more energy-efficient devices and homes and transport and the rest, it will still amount to one helluva lot more energy usage than we are bemoaning today.

        It follows therefore, that even if we can solve the tech and grid problems referenced above, we will be burning all the black gold we can.  That is, barring some new world order with weapons and will and the mandate to nationalize buried carbon.  Pleasant thought, that.

        By the numbers, then, it appears to this old systems engineer that we as a species have absolutely no choice but to develop and deploy a suite of carbon capture and some sort of politically viable make-it-go-away solutions.  Yesterday was not too soon.

        From this POV, we need the environmentalists and others to realize that this particular CCS brand of “geo-engineering” must not get lumped in with the rest, or be seen as some trade-off with nuclear.

        CCS need not be a license for the global energy cabal to burn all the bad stuff and keep making unconscionable profits.  Indeed, there are a dozen ways we can make them pay handsomely for access to CCS.

        IMO, the more important thing is that a set of viable CCS technologies is probably the only practical and clean way we can support all the babies people insist on having.

        If we are responsible citizens, we must plan for the UN population projections being wrong, and not on the downside.  We must work like dogs to bring the projects of Mr. Musk et al to fruition.  And, sure, we need to wean people away from their energy addiction in every cost-effective way we can.

        But it simply is NOT going to be enough.  I stood with a million other overly optimistic fools on Fifth Ave on Earth Day One, so that last sentence pains me more than I can say here.

        We need to deal with the reality that we have created during the 44 years since that day.   CCS needs to be elevated to Manhattan Project status, sponsored jointly by the biggest CO2 emitting countries, with no UN involvement other than to sit in the cheering section, and with the big energy companies acting solely as licensees.

        As the youngsters say so passionately now, “We can totally DO this!” For once, I will not sneer at them.  They are totally right.

        [Response: The problem with CCS is that it requires energy. And, it has to be less energy than we got from burning the carbon in the first place.

        I’m not accusing you of this — but some use CCS as an excuse to keep burning carbon. We need to stop.

        How about a “Manhattan project” style effort to develop energy storage, to adopt real efficiency, and to deploy renewables?

        Alas, there won’t be any such major effort until the politicians who deny the problem are kicked the hell out of office.]

      • Horatio Algeranon

        What we need spinning reserve for is the eventuality of a large fossil power plant falling off the grid.

        I thought “spinning reserve” was needed mainly by folks like Bill O’Reilly to maintain BS-load.

    • turboblocke

      LC said, “First, the intermittency issue currently requires ‘spinning reserve’ of FF generators running very inefficiently at low revs to be ready to go to full supply when needed. ”

      That is misleading and reads straight from the denier playbook: the Grid has to continually balance supply and demand. The intermitancy of renewables is no big deal.

  25. lewiscleverdon

    Numerobis – thanks for your response.
    “In the longer term (which is what we’re talking about here) . .”
    We’re also talking of the global transition here, and while your part of the USA (arguably the most technically well-provided country on the planet) may be begininng the process of real-time satellite-linked total weather monitoring with accurate auto-forecasting of dispersed capacity’s production as an alternative to spinning reserve, around 95% of the world’s population is nowhere near doing so. Taken together with the need for reserve on night-time fossil plant, FF spinning reserve is a fact of life globally until lower-tech changes in baseload supply + storage + delivery resolve the problem.

    The widespread assumption that “the wind is always blowing somewhere” seems equally unreliable as an argument for expecting to close down spinning reserve.

    If we take the case of an unusually quiet cloudy winter week, where there is useful wind+solar over only one tenth of the country, after the replacement of the grid with HVDC lines that area would need ten times the capacity used locally to supply the rest of the country. That could theoretically be done, but it poses two problems. First, that not knowing where that area will be means such massive over-capacity in both production and delivery has to be rolled out across the country, and second that such an over-capacity would mean hugely reduced financial return on the average unit of solar and of wind turbine and the average mile of HVDC line.

    Germany is already nearing the point of sufficient wind + solar capacity to supply 100% of demand (reached 70% on recent sunny days) and with its fossil capacity running at a minimum there was a national surplus of power meaning the price charged fell to zero. Thus it already faces the issue that from here on each additional unit of wind+solar marginally reduces the expected return-on-capital. And this is long before it has been able to close down the majority of FF baseload capacity, let alone its spinning reserve.

    No doubt as in any industry there are some share-price-maximizing bastards among solar + wind manufacturers who are keen to push the delusion that baseload supply and storage are seconday concerns if that, but hearing Musk speak gave me the impression is that he is not one of them. He sees the parameters of solar’s potentially huge supply and aims to optimize his participation, but for a reliable non-fossil supply both national baseload and storage capacities are requisite components of the system alongside HVDC.
    The longer that well-meaning videos such as the one above ignore this critical factor, the slower the advance of baseload + storage R&D, and the slower the global transition out of fossil fuels.



    [Response: Brevity is the sould of wit.]

    • Where did I focus on the US? I was implicitly focusing on the developed world, but I think everything I said applies equally to everywhere that is developed except maybe NZ or smaller isolated islands. “My part of the US” is nowhere — I’m in Canada.

      The entire developed world has the technical ability and budget to improve their weather forecasts to get wind energy forecasts; in fact, I’m pretty sure they already have everywhere that has large wind capacity.

      If you want to focus on other parts of the world, a couple billion people currently don’t have a fossil fuel based grid that reliably provides a base load, never mind reserves. That population is not going to be troubled by intermittent wind and solar power being added to their intermittent fossil fuels or their very reliable nothing.

      • Horatio Algeranon

        Very funny, but very true

        “Very Reliable Nothing”
        — by Horatio Algeranon

        For intermittent 1%
        And very reliable naught
        Solar power is Heaven sent
        And something to be sought

  26. lewiscleverdon

    Tamino – I’d have to agree that brevity is the soul of wit –
    and I wish I knew how to be more succinct without just sounding abrasive,
    but then seeking brevity in response to reasoned arguments can also spawn such witless unsupported assertions as:
    “The intermittency of renewable is no big deal.”

    So apart from being over long, I wonder what you make of the rationales outlined above ?


    • Martin Vermeer

      I would say that intermittency is much less of a deal than many people (you?) think. It helps to follow tech developments in the field. But even more than that, consider that currently there is no real market for the storage systems that need to be developed, because at current penetration levels, cheap fossil-generated power continues to serve as the back-up for renewables.

      This will not change until penetration reaches levels where renewable power generation peaks exceed total load — something happening in Denmark, and occasionally in parts of Germany.

      Only at that point do storage systems start to become economically interesting; their current immaturity should surprise no one. Currently their only interesting industrial application is in electric cars, where requirements are rather different.

  27. Horatio Algeranon

    “Black Days Ahead”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    With the sun on our front
    And the wind at our back
    The energy hunt
    Will end in the black