Summer Open Thread

Anything goes. Suggested topic: if energy storage prices come down far enough, is carbon-fueled electricity a dead business model?


  1. if energy storage prices come down far enough, is carbon-fueled electricity a dead business model?

    Mostly. Probably some gas generators would still be required as a reserve but these would be off most of the time.

  2. "If energy storage prices come down far enough, is carbon-fueled electricity a dead business model?"

    One would hope, but it will be a quite a long time dying if that's the only breakthrough. Replacing 14 terawatts (I think it is, too lazy... er.... busy to look it up) will not be done overnight.

  3. Scientists fight dirty in the trenches!

    Mr. Holdren is not reluctant to defend himself. At a hearing in February, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, confronted him with earlier testimony by Roger Pielke Jr., a political scientist, that Mr. Holdren had issued misleading statements about the link between climate change and Western droughts. Mr. Holdren responded that Mr. Pielke’s comments “were not representative of mainstream views,” and a few days later went further, issuing a rare point-by-point rebuttal that accused Mr. Pielke of being the misleading one.

    "not representative of mainstream views"? Why, of all the scurrilous accusations! "the misleading one"? He might as well have said "denier" ;^)!

  4. if energy storage prices come down far enough, is carbon-fueled electricity a dead business model?

    1. Good sites for wind farms would be snapped up overnight.
    2. We would see a lot more off-grid PV powered buildings, but solar power generation costs would still be too high for most utilities.
    3. If storage were really really cheap, nuclear operators might start using it (bank energy at night to sell during high demand)
    4. If storage gets cheap enough to smooth out the demand/supply mismatch some industrial users (EAF steel mills) will get screwed by higher nighttime energy prices.

    What's the nature of the hypothetical breakthrough technology? Does it only work in Gw scales or can we put one in every house? Is it a neighborhood scale solution? Does it work in cars?

  5. Energy storage will help of course, but the costs are still too high for most applications. For example, the best utility scale battery claimed to be forthcoming, with a link towards the end of
    is about US$250/kWh. For comparison, the Mid-Columbia Hub price for firm, high demand power is around US$0.03/kWh. Therefore batteries are not yet viable on a large scale and it is not clear batteries ever will be.

  6. Clarification from
    With a 30-year life, Eos is can provide peak electricity at a levelized cost of $0.12-0.17 per kWh
    which is much more reasonable, although still rather high, suitable only for peak shaving.

    I opine that a further factor of 4 to 5 improvement seems unlikely, but I could well be wrong. I wasn't expecting the already obtained factor of 10+ improvement in utility scale batteries.

  7. No, not quite. The first figure is for the purchase price of a unit, which if cycled once a day, last for 30 years. Also knowing a round trip efficiency factor of about 80--85% one is immediately supposed to see that the levelized cost will greatly exceed the Mid-Columbia Hub clearing price. My apologies.

  8. I haven't the energy to work through the various unit conversions and equivalences, but The Economist seems to have written favourably about Isentropic, which uses gravel filled silos and argon filled pipes to store electricity as a heat pump, apparently at about $50 per megawatt hour, which compares to approximately $65 for hydro. If it can genuinely compete with hydro that would seem to suggest it is plenty cheap enough to be a viable storage and presumably can be sited anywhere.

  9. Framing of the storage argument has so far been captured by those who simply don't want renewables to succeed. The basic strategy is to assume business-as-usual in the consumption of electrical energy, both technologically and economically, and ignore existing technology.

    Consider some simple examples:

    1) Plug-in hybrids come 'batteries included'. If you use the Chevy Volt model, something like 80% of fuel consumption can be replaced by electricity. If we assume that a car is parked something like 18-20 hours a day, a 'smart' charging system combined with contractual obligations for owners and generators would allow all of that to be sourced by renewables.

    2) Space heating/cooling and refrigeration do not require that electrical energy be converted and stored in order to (re)generate electricity. It's already established practice to store *thermal* energy (hot and cold) when electricity is cheaper for later direct use. This practice could be broadly expanded; the hardware is already there, so it's just a matter of incentives.

    3) Many applications can use renewables to charge batteries, whether integral or external, again through smart charging. For example, you can light a house from relatively cheap conventional batteries, using dedicated low-voltage DC wiring and LEDs. And then there are all those iPads the kids have...

    The point of course is that what's standing in the way is the historical utility monopoly model; it isn't a technology problem. We have to think in terms of integrating/matching generation and consumption-- there are optimal couplings that can significantly reduce FF consumption. If you want to run steel mills day and night, then sure, build a gas or coal or nuclear plant, matching the power requirement, and consider that part of the cost. But we never see, in these claims that "storage is the problem", any numbers on how much (or how little) of our consumption really requires being beholden to large-scale thermal plants.

  10. This just passed through my twitter climate hose: "A collapse of the sea ice would go hand on hand with dramatic loss of snow and ice cover on land in the Arctic. The albedo change resulting from the snowline retreat on land is similarly large as the retreat of sea ice, so the combined impact could be well over 2 W/sq m. To put this in context, albedo changes in the Arctic alone could more than double the net radiative forcing resulting from the emissions caused by all people of the world, estimated by the IPCC to be 1.6 W/sq m in 2007 and 2.29 W/sq m in 2013. " (Emphasis added)

  11. Right. That's sort of like refusing to buy a fridge, because it costs more than the beer or OJ you could fit in it.

    I agree that storage prices are high, but you have to work out the economics more thoroughly than that.

  12. I haven't seen an argument from fundamentals as to why your pessimism is warranted.

    This doesn't mean that there isn't one in principle or even in practice.

    But from where I sit, it seems an undecided question for the time being.

    Also see Arty's post - you can store heat or "coolth" as well, and this is a big part of demand.

  13. OPatrick, July 9, 3:42 am

    Curious as to why the folks you link are using argon as a working fluid? Could someone flesh out the "DuuuuH "explanation for me?

    And I’m yet to be convinced that conversion to thermal is the way to go. Entropy never sleeps. With an operating ΔT of 750 ºC there’s a fairly steep thermal gradient for entropy to seriously degrade storage over a short time. I’d be very interested in an energy recovery over time plot for their concept.

    From what I’ve seen, discussion of the electricity storage issue generally lacks an adequate integration of storage time. It’s not just the 24 hr demand cycle, but how to cover supply interruptions that are weather related and lasting up to a fortnight or so. And then those that are seasonal. I’d think there would be much utility in a adopting an approach that addresses all of the time dependent issues as they all have to be factored in providing a parsimonious answer for FF replacement.

    Not one to exclusively carp about how inadequate others ideas are, I’m intrigued, at least conceptually, by electrolysis hydrogen storage. The trade offs in process stage losses being more than countered by completeness of a solution to the more general problem. Though H2 storage is by no means trivial, it is really time insensitive.

  14. I recommend the (relatively) new film Snowpiercer. Worth a Planet 3.0 discussion all by itself.

    With the OECD report:

    And the sense that 4°C is our true target, Snowpiercer seems like it's getting closer to being a documentary. Except for the train part. Unless Elon Musk, or China, gets it together.

  15. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of detailed information available to answer those questions, though I did find some comments here from James Macnaghten, the Isentropic CEO, including this comment:

    I am not sure what heat leakage you mean, but we would expect less than 1% per day, although this varies with store size.

    Is there a reason why they wouldn't use argon?

  16. Whitebeard,

    Behind my earlier comment there are a couple of basic concepts that need to be internalized if we are going to solve this, and I think they may help with your longer-term integration concerns.


    1) In engineering (perhaps more so than science, since there's more money involved), the first step is to answer the question: What's the question?

    The focus from you and most people is on the question: How can I feed the existing electricity consumption infrastructure (physical and economic) so that nothing changes except the amount of CO2 emitted?

    Well, that's not my question. Mine is: How can I be warm in the winter and cool in the summer while minimizing CO2 emissions? (And a whole list of other very specific questions about transportation, manufacturing, and all the other utilitarian goals we try to achieve by converting energy from one form to another.)

    2) The existing system has evolved around a model of crude energy extraction (mining). A system that uses renewables is more appropriately modeled on *farming*-- how we end up with food on our tables. (The obvious analogy is with how we use geographical distribution to ensure a steady supply of one crop or another; long enough transmission lines solve much of the intermittency problem.)


    So, as an exercise, I would just ask you to give some examples of tasks that we need performed that can only be accomplished by having a coal or nuclear plant running day and night every day of the year. I think we can solve it; perhaps a third concept is that simplicity is not the same as elegance, and parsimony is not the same as perfection.

  17. Hydrolysis is definitely one way forward, particularly for transportation of bulk goods by rail or sea, where the relative mass of safe storage of H has less impact and less associated risk than in private vehicles (so far). There is at least one platinum mine in South Africa where this tech is already used, since diesel trains tend to make employees ill, a mile underground.
    But this only really help if the energy used to run the process comes from a renewable source, otherwise the gains don't justify the costs. OTOH, using a freestanding island wind farm to hydrolyse and store H in tenders, rather than export energy to the distribution network, creates considerable advantages in efficiency and reduces project costs (and therefore cost per unit) substantially.
    I haven't really looked into it, but I see no reason why ships couldn't generate electricity onboard (as private yachts do already), to hydrolyse wate and then burn the Hydrogen in their engines...

  18. It's discouraging that the fundamental truth, that we all need to work together, gets buried deeper and deeper in piles of me first shite (of which I am not unguilty). Hillel the Elder:

    If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
    If I am only for myself, what am I?
    And, if not now, when?

    "Without mutual responsibility, we’re a bunch of people fighting each other endlessly or, to quote Thomas Hobbes, we “are in that condition which is called war; and such a war is of every man against every man.”"

    Stolen from DailyKos

  19. Seconded.

    But well. Give me a "plugin" car where one can exchange the batteries for a freshly charged pack of industry-normed batteries.
    Alas, we have to wait, breath held, for the implementation of such a straight-forward super-quick mobile-electric charging system. (Uncle Surjit could need such mobile electricity in his 3rd world off grid village. Uncle Sam would have a whole pile of such batteries in the garage, doing some energy trading on the grid.)

  20. why argon?
    I do not know exactly why but I have a few guesses. They need something non-reactive that remains a gas across all the temps and pressures they're working with. They need a lot of it (needs to be cheap. low/no toxicity also a plus). That narrows down the options to start with.

    Argon has a couple of other nice attributes, one is it's heavy. The attribute I suspect is more useful though is its low thermal conductivity, which helps preserve the thermal gradient in the gravel.

    I don't know entirely what to say to your other points. It's hard to imagine storing more than a few days worth of electricity. Hopefully transmission/demand response will help with week scale shortages. Seasonal shortages are harder. This past brutal winter all kinds of horrible coal burners were going full tilt to keep up with suckers like me who use electricity for heat.

    For long term storage of energy, I'm more interested in synthetic methane than hydrogen. Hydrogen is a beast to store and move around. It's hard on metals and seals, among other reasons. Synthetic methane is harder to produce, but could take advantage of existing natural gas infrastructure. Right now there's 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas stored in the US.

  21. OPatrick, AA,


    The Greentech article at Paddy's link, from early 2010, mentions that three prototypes having been built and the company is seeking funding for a demonstrator system. (The “proof of ignorance” description of the 3rd prototype built for testing operating reliability brings a smile, though the “innovations include using aircraft engineering techniques” reeks of rocket science puffery.)

    Apparently the UK government, through its “Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has provided project funding and an equity investment, together totaling £14m ($22m)” to Isentropic, the company with the storage system. This to, among other things, build a “1.5MW/6MWh electricity storage unit on a UK primary substation” per a June, 2012 company press release.

    All in all I’d say the scheme seems pretty creditable and actually fairly close to roll out. It’s even applicable to many isolated settlements of 100 - 1000 pop. in the bush relatively near where I am with diesel generators (no wood to burn), fuel at $8-10 gallon delivered, good wind to harvest, and likely a consumer tolerance for juice not always at the flip of a switch. That’s a much smaller economic area than the company’s focusing on, though.

    Still I’m leery of storing energy as a difference in temperatures. I note the table in the Greentech piece shows projected cost for 8 hour storage. The ice in ones picnic beverage chest always melts, and the delivered pizza is never piping hot.

    I was not my usual sardonic self in asking “why Argon”, though I did embellish my ignorance a bit. It was a straight question. And thanks again for the informed speculation.

    I have to own to making an error in using the operating ΔT of 750 ºC as it’s really the +475 and -175 deviations from standard ambient that are the end points of the temperature gradients subject to “leakage”. 1%/day likely is down in the operating slop noise but starts “entering the picture” after a few days.

  22. AA - While I'd agree the preferability of storage capacity via RE-methane over RE-hydrogen - not least due to the infrastucture being available for it to serve both electicity demand and heat demand, there is also the option of RE-methanol. A demonstration plant powered by geothermal has been running in Iceland since 2011, using a novel low-temp & low pressure technology to process electrolytic hydrogen and carbon from airborne CO2, to provide 2.5% of the national liquid fuel requirement cut with petrol.

    An article on it (sadly poorly written) can be seen at:

    This offers potential advantages in not requiring pressurized storage and explosion-risk control, as well as in being an excellent fuel for normal CCGT power production on-demand, as well as in addressing the looming scarcity of transport fuels via its use in both IC engines and in Direct Methanol Fuel Cells.

    Its adoption as a common energy storage medium would also offer a significant consequential benefit, in that the most viable option for large-scale Carbon Recovery, via native coppice afforestation for biochar, would produce very large volumes of waste hydrocarbon gasses that would at best be converted to methanol. Having an existing large-scale usage of RE-methanol could substantially assist confidence in the early agreement and launch of that essential Carbon Recovery program.



  23. That US$50/MWh is low enough to be competitive for on demand, prime time power at the Mid-Columbia Hub which typically has some of the lowest prices of any power hub in the US. If Isentropic can actually do that the power storage problem is essentially solved.

  24. Lewis,

    I haven't looked into the methanol economy stuff too much. I know some smart people have been talking about it. The fuel cell potential is interesting. The biggest problem I see is that alcohol can't move in either the gas or oil infrastructure, so we're talking about new storage and distribution.

    [Methanol has a really nasty safety issue: you can't see it burning. I don't know if there's a practical way to "spike" it so it burns visibly (the way natural gas is spiked with a chemical so people smell leaks).]

    To be entirely honest, I don't know much about renewable methane either. I'm mostly just recalling the Audi "E Gas" proposal. The inputs should be similar to a methanol economy: CO2 and hydrogen. Some handy biological pathways to methane of course... not sure about methanol, there must be some.

    Right now fossil natural gas is so cheap you have to twist arms just to keep people from dumping it -uncombusted- into the air.

  25. AA - the storage of methanol could potentially be in re-lined surplus fossil-oil tanks, but replacing their pipework might well tip the decision towards building new storage capacity. However, the distribution question is affected by the production technology reportedly being a very compact low-pressure and low-temp system. This may imply the feasibility of using an HVDC grid to power distributed methanol production and storage units beside reserve CCGT generators, as an alternative to investing in a new grid of pipelines to carry methanol from centralized production & storage units.

    The energy and financial efficiency of such an option are well beyond me, but I'd be very interested to hear others' evaluation of them.

    Methanol is indeed produced in nature, in fact it is ubiquitous, albeit in small quantities. For example, the first commercial trading of 'Wood Alcohol' as it was then known was around 1660, was sourced from distillation of the 'wood gas' output of charcoal kilns, which yielded at around 2% by weight of the feedstock wood. No doubt there are micro-organisms that produce it but I've yet to hear of any fuel-related research on them.

    The invisible flame issue might as you say be resolved by an additive, but again I've not heard of one being tested. A relevant factor on this issue is research done by the (fossil) Methanol Institute showing the potential saving of several hundreds of US lives per year if the transport fleet were to switch to methanol, due to it having a far lower accidental combustion risk than petrol. A further relative benefit is that methanol is very rapidly biodegradable - to the extent that a tanker-load spilled in a marsh will be consumed by bacteria in a few days.

    I gather from your remark of the current cheapness of fossil methane that you're looking at the US prices; here in Europe they're much higher, and the recent intervention in Ukraine's politics has people very concerned over Russian gas supplies reaching us next winter. There is a black irony in the fact that the higher the price of gas, the more generators will swich to burning cheap US coal that is being exported due to the temporary US boom in fracked gas supply. - How the EPA can claim to be cutting US coal emissions without proposing a cap on coal-exports is beyond me.



  26. [Methanol has a really nasty safety issue: you can't see it burning.

    Same with hydrogen.
    So, why are tech folks more enthusiastic about hydrogen than about methanol?
    Perhaps because methanol is so down-to-Earth: It could even be produced from wood syngas, resulting in char coal for carbon sequestration in soil. Doesn't sound like glitzy space age tech. But I get very terresrtial visions: Mobile wood distilleries browsing the forests (Bayerwald Standard Holzöle), or collecting farm waste to produce carbon negative methanol.

    The only issue I see is corrosiveness. But that seems same as ethanol. (And, dear economist, forget about precise energy density numbers.) Does this corrosiveness rule out simple combustion engine technology?

  27. Money quote from Paul Douglas (Republican meteorologist from the midwest)

    The terminology we've been using is all wrong. Global warming suggests everyone warms up, simultaneously. Climate change? Our climate has always changed, although this time we're the ones stepping on the accelerator," he said on his Minneapolis Star Tribune blog.

    Climate volatility is a better descriptor. From a record warm 2012 to last winter's Polar Vortex. From "flash drought" last summer to June 2014, the wettest month in Minnesota history. That's what we're seeing in the data and on the maps.

    I'm a fan of Andrew Freedman who reports current events with a watching brief for climate, and has moved from ClimateCentral to Mashable. Here are three of his reports on the "polar vortex". If it walks like a duck ... the reversal and far northern heat are worthy of attention.

    source (sorry, I'm too lazy/busy (oxymoronically) to make a link):

    His ongoing busy reporting here, current events a bit overpowering:

  28. AA says,

    Methanol has a really nasty safety issue: you can't see it burning. I don't know if there's a practical way to "spike" it so it burns visibly ...

    Easiest thing you can do. TMB stands for trimethylborate, B(OCH3)3, which I made by adding boric acid, B(OH)3, to methanol. Just a little makes a lot of green.

    That's not the colour of a boron-burning flame, because all the boron is already fully oxidized going in. It is, rather, the emission colour of the gas-phase radical BO2. An actual boron fire video (10 seconds). I was going to say it was bluer because of the oxygen-deficient radical BO, but really it looks much the same to me. The oxygen source in that flame is KNO3, so there must be some potassium light in the mix.

    Interesting to note: the energy that little heap of powder released was much more than an equal mass of explosive would have done, but the latter smaller output would have cratered or shattered the block the heap was on, and probably destroyed the window.

  29. Thanks for the proposal of a chemical additive to make methanol flames visible - and a green flame could actually be helpful in its promotion as a fuel for public use in ICsi farm and haulage vehicles.

    Can you say what effect a sufficient ratio of additive to fuel would have on the latter's combustion characteristics ?



  30. It's August, but her goes:

    Kerfuffle about pingos in Yamal region of Siberia. If there is another explanation, I'd like to hear it.

    "Vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor" discovered in Siberian Arctic Sea"
    FishOutofWaterFollow for Climate Change SOS, 28 July 2014, copied at:

    "Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane: Build-up and release of gas from thawing permafrost most probable explanation, says Russian team."
    Katia Moskvitch, 31 July 2014 in Nature

    Also, discussion at Neven's Arctic Sea Ice forum:

  31. Lewis Cleverdon says,

    Can you say what effect a sufficient ratio of additive to fuel would have on the latter's combustion characteristics ?

    Very little, from what I've seen.

    On further thought, pentacarbonyliron, Fe(CO)5, seems like a better candidate. I don't know what colour it would give the flame, but it would have to give it one, again with only a highly dilute solution, and iron is cheaper.

    There are a great many atoms and molecules that emit a lot of light in a flame, and which can, or whose precursors can, dissolve in methanol.

  32. Actually, 30 years of 365 cycles ... round down, that's 10,000 cycles. So, 250$/kWh becomes 0.025$/kWh ... which is marginally less than the Mid-Columbia Hub price quoted. Taking into account the storage efficiency, it's about the same, and then taking into account the financing cost or opportunity cost, it's more ... but I don't see "greatly exceed". More like "a little bit worse, until we get a realistic carbon tax, at which point it's a no-brainer".

  33. Willard left this comment on RabettRun about Francis Bacon, which speaks to our current troubles as the earth begins to groan with overuse:

    opinion varies widely as to the actual social value and moral significance of the ideas .... Those who for the most part share Bacon’s view that nature exists mainly for human use and benefit, and who furthermore endorse his opinion that scientific inquiry should aim first and foremost at the amelioration of the human condition and the “relief of man’s estate,” generally applaud him as a great social visionary. On the other hand, those who view nature as an entity in its own right, a higher-order estate of which the human community is only a part, tend to perceive him as a kind of arch-villain – the evil originator of the idea of science as the instrument of global imperialism and technological conquest.

    As events develop, we are experiencing earth as an entity separate from us, one capable of vomiting out excessively invasive results in the most painful possible way. I'm a fan of collaborating with nature, rather than trying to overwhelm it with ever more draconian use of manipulation.

  34. Blaming Jason Box for telling the truth is blaming the victim imnhso; his presentation was excellent and perfectly clear. That the yellow press exploits the well known fact people prefer catastrophe to something they might have to do something about is not his fault.

  35. Poor Jason Box has said that he has moved from the US to Denmark to escape the impacts of climate change. With rhetoric like that...

    Jason Box has kids. And Bill Maher asked why Denmark. This is no rethoric, but an informed judgement of things. IMNSO (like Susan's) this is classic shooting of messengers. And, dear fellow hominins, it is time to discern your internal blabla (rethoric) from analysis of the world outside the individual or species ego.

    Anyhow, since the time of GW Bush (before the banking crisis) I have advised folks not to migrate to the U.S. and wait for the next POTUS. Alas, this one failed reining in the banking and fossil fools. Meanwhile, it will be difficult to find a safe place in the U.S. with reliable drinking water and climate. By a "safe place" I mean one where you can stay for 2-3 generations. Gone. Fracked and f*cked up. California? 20th century pipe dream! Better stay in ol Barvaria.

  36. Submitted to another article by "graveday":

    I would like to see a thread addressing the outlook of this blog post point by point.

  37. The author has failed doing his homework. (That might be a bit too polite.) E.g. while avoiding the "political" he delved right into the psychpathological by looking at Watts et al. Why can't a U.S. military person look for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences instead?

    Just some of the bunkum:

    There is little evidence that global warming is necessarily bad for the world or humans, and especially there is little evidence that it will cause a militarily more dangerous or less stable world, or cause more work or misery for the US Army.

    Never heard of Darfur or Syria? California drought? Hurricane Sandy? Russia 2010? Pakistan 2010? Dozens of 1000y floods all around the Planet? ...

    There is little evidence that the predictable level of increase of CO2 is directly harmful. There seems to be as much evidence that it might be a good thing. Increases in carbon dioxide might be a reason for increased global plant growth, for instance.

    Plant growth isn't a single factor thing. Never heard of Liebig's Law of the minimum? E.g. plants also need water... It is insanely naive to compare a grower's green house with outside growing.
    The problem with raising CO2 is that it also raises temperature (particularly, night temperature, a fingerprint of AGW). Most crops are grown near the top margin of their ideal temperature range. Thus it's no surprise that plant growers report slight (but statistically significant) decreasing yields since late last century. (E.g. there's data on some Green Revolution rice from some research station on the Phillipines. Exercise for the author: Dig that out.)

  38. I looked over there but lost interest when article suggested reference list "might" be weighted with "skeptics" (scare quotes, because it was an almost unleavened list of phony skeptic sites such as WUWT). Giving attention and clicks to that is imnhso* not helpful and can raise the blood pressure.

  39. Dear Graveday. Read this:

    Now, what do you want to know about?

    If Martin's point are typical then it isn't hard to presume that, since both these are factually false (there's plenty of evidence), the rest may b lacking in credibility...

  40. I posted this to give the guy some air time. His blog post got a comment or two from his peanut gallery. I came across his name in an article mentioning his rambling about in Mexico in the name of our dear government to indulge his hatred of communally held indigenous lands.
    His kind of thinking, his influential position in the military, his publications, etc. all scream to me how scary the hive mind is in the military.
    Ideally, I could copy from here back to his blog as he said he wanted feedback. I guess not so much. Sigh.
    Where do these clowns come from and how can they wear such huge blinders?

  41. Hmm, I think he's not fringe on this or especially clownish. This is the implicit position of most of the news media, particularly in America. Lots of people start from there, and if their interests lie elsewhere to begin with, don't move from that position.

    So I think the question is why the journalism profession has blinders on. And I think for that you need to study Jay Rosen.

    My version: "the press thinks it's the referee but the press is the ball".

  42. This reminded me of Keith Kloor's insisting back a couple years ago that readers should be expected to know that op-eds come with no quality assurance:

    (h/t Brad Delong)

    Anybody else think it's odd that his old posts disappeared (aside from about the same time he mostly switched from climate to GMOs? Then again, that recent interview with RPJr shows them both at their finest.

  43. I haven't seen much discussion of this paper by Charles R Frank Jr from the Brookings Institution. He claims to show that solar and wind are far less economically effective methods of reducing carbon emissions than gas and nuclear. It did get a full page in the Economist, which I suspect has some internal editorial tensions when it comes to the issues of climate change and carbon reductions. I don't know much about the Brookings Institution - 'American think-tank' is not a phrase that inspires confidence in me - but it appears to be relatively liberal in outlook and reasonably credible.

    Amory Lovins is very scathing about it, but is it as clear-cut as he makes out?

  44. Since Lovins' analysis comes up with the same priority of efficiency as I have - efficiency, hydro, wind, solar....
    I'm inclined to think that he's spot on, not surprisingly.
    Small side point, though - the cost effectiveness of wind vs solar is situation dependent, so one is sometimes better than the other, depending on where it is.

  45. What I came here for. Elsewhere there was a discussion about the issue of water supply. In HESS there is a new paper on the modelling of 'socio-hydrological' responses to climate change (here: ), which seems to point in the direction that water supply is a problem in a different way to food supply.

    Feedback welcomed. 🙂

  46. I read this comment about Pielke versus Holdren and decided to research the issue. It seems to me Holdren and Pielke had a typical political cat fight. Reading over Pielke's response to Holdren's response to Pielke's comment about Holdren's testimony......anyhow, here's Pielke's last shot. As far as I know Holdren didn't respond.

    I think Pielke makes a pretty good point. There seems to be a lot of miss attribution of climate phenomena to global warming.

  47. Tasks which can only be performed adequately without adequate load following by the generation system? Just about all of them. If the system has excessive intermittency the grid collapses. To avoid collapse you require the ability to cut off grid sectors at will. This involves shutting off appliances, lights escalators, and industrial facilities. Most of them aren't meant for such shut downs.

    I can see your point, you want to have the ability to perform the shutdowns as needed....thus far nobody has figured out a practical way todo it. And real life doesn't work on dreams.

    If you want an expert opinion on this subject read Ignacio Perez-Arriaga "wind power intermittency in Germany". It's an MIT white paper.

  48. I can just imagine a country side full of giant silos full of argon at 500 and minus 150 degrees C....this is why The Economist isn't called The Engineer.

    The answer to the top question is simply yes. We WILL come up with better energy storage solutions. And they will be used. Meanwhile cross your fingers and hope that it arrives on time.

  49. 'Giant'? 'Countryside full of...'? I'm not clear why you choose either of these phrases, they seem intentionally emotive . And is there any reason why you have a particular concern about the silos being filled with 'argon at 500 and minus 150 degrees C'?

  50. The Economist article doesn´t provide sufficient details, but common sense (and my own background using large compressors and expanders in a real plant) tells me the amount of high pressure argon they need to back up a large wind turbine array would be humongous. Note the gas is stored at 500 degrees C, which means it was compressed to say 10 to 20 atmospheres.

    A steel vessel holding gas at such pressure requires rather thick walls. It will suffer from both cyclic pressure loading as well as thermal stresses. Here´s a video of a large vessel being transported in Canada so you get an idea

    The "argon and gravel silo" may not be as heavy as this monster, but it will definitely be really heavy (after all it´s going to be filled with rocks, not with wheat or corn).

    A wind turbine system requires about 7 days worth of back up to work decently. Now figure out how much argon you have to run through a set of turbo expanders and heat exchangers to back up say 1 gigawatt of wind power you no longer have because the wind died.

  51. the amount of high pressure argon they need to back up a large wind turbine array would be humongous

    It's not clear, but it looks like you may have misread the piece. The energy is not stored as pressurised argon, the pressurised (12 bar) argon is used to create a reversible heat pump, so I don't think there needs to be a 'humungous' amount of it. Here is Isentropic's explanation of their technology. I don't know if it's genuinely viable - I'm sceptical of 'magical' solutions - but I'm also sceptical of the claimed expertise of someone who uses emotive and dismissive language as you have done.

  52. O'patrick the heat pump needs a working fluid. It also needs something to store the heat (using gravel is really impractical but lets use gravel). The heat pump requires a temperature differential. To provide it they supposedly use a pressurized tank full of hot gravel (and hot high pressure argon). They also need a cryogenic tank at minus 150 degrees.

    Just for the sake of keeping things simple work out the heat capacity of 1 ton of gravel at a range between 200 and 500 degrees. Then assume you deliver this at 80 % efficiency (the figure is too high, but give them the benefit of the doubt).

    Grab a calculator and tell us how many kWh you get from one ton of hot gravel?

  53. Having been summarily sent to the corner of the class with the hat on, here's a link to cover some of the reasons why I think hydrogen should be taken seriously. In other words, Joe Romm is wrong:

  54. Ugh. I've said it before, I hate that. I haven't bothered to figure out if it's accurate but that's irrelevant. The surface area of the Earth is about 5*10^14 m^2. That counter is at about 2*10^9 right now. So a Hiroshima bomb's worth of heat has has been added in every plus or minus 2.5*10^5 m^2, or a square about 500 meters on a side. For an American, about 65 football fields or so. If you tell an average lay person that they'll say "What a crock! You're telling me that climate change caused by CO2 has had the effect of an atomic bomb going off in every 65 football fields worth of area on the planet and yet we're carrying on business as usual? I thought you guys might be full of it, that's what Fox News says, and now I know for sure."

    Good luck with providing the nuance that will explain the misconception. It's not quite as unhelpful as the asinine "no pressure" video, but it's in that ball park.

  55. If you have nothing helpful or relevant to say, you just jump in with something clever? That's childish. If you disapprove, please say so, and if you have nothing to say, that's not a good reason to say anything.

  56. Of course Pielke Jr. could have been refuted on the evidence , but Holdren woefully failed at that. What's more, he came across as self-righteous and closed-minded. Pielke manages enough of an academic stance that this is sure to backfire, and it did.

    You need to know what you are about to take on Roger. Roger is something of a problem, but Holdren didn't provide any sort of solution.

  57. Of course Pielke Jr. could have been refuted on the evidence

    That seems naively optimistic. Pielke is well practised at presenting evidence in ways that make it difficult to refute without descending into technicalities that most casual observers will find hard to judge the merits of. Refuting Pielke is as likely to increase doubt in the public's minds as reduce it.

    In my view Holdren did the best thing he could, focus on Pielke's rhetorical tactics. That Pielke pretends to be so affronted at having his views described as "not representative of the mainstream scientific opinion on this point" yet refers to Holdren's "zombie science" provides a much easier way for most of us to judge the integrity of those involved in the 'debate'.

  58. Grab a calculator and tell us how many kWh you get from one ton of hot gravel?

    I'm not clear why this is considered particularly relevant. The calculated costs of $50 per megawatt hour show that the amount of material and the size of the container required are not unfeasible and Isentropic's technology is credible enough for someone to give them a £14 million grant to build a demonstration plant.

  59. I was trying to be polite. The workshop only has cartoons. It's like a Star Trek convention.

    This is a common theme in this field. We see tons of material which lacks a sound basis. Then everybody quotes it, and the next thing we know we hear a government conspiracy financed by the Kovalik brothers is blocking its deployment.

  60. The Charles r. Frank paper is pretty good. I think he may have missed the fact that natural gas fired turbines coupled to wind turbines seem to be the optimum answer (but they can't cover all the required energy).

    The best solution is hydro, natural gas/wind, small nuclear, and 50 % efficiency coal, with some sort of geoengineering to hide the co2....

  61. What did Joe say?

    Hydrogen may well be an important energy storage technology AIUI but it is often confused for a fuel in casual conversation. Complaining about the latter, which he may well have done, is not expressing an opinion about the former.

  62. Fernando: Yes, I should not have indulged myself in that remark, though I do see you change the subject rather than responding quite often and it's not a good habit, and looks like evasion sometimes.

    However, I have no idea where you found cartoons. The website seems quite serious and has a variety of presentations and links, but it's all a bit over my head (which is nothing new, but at least I mostly am aware when I don't know stuff). Here's a repeat of Fergus's link if anyone else is interested. I think it's an interesting field, and would like to see more about it.
    IEA workshop link

    Michael Tobis is helpful in pointing out that there's a difference between ways of storing energy and fuels.

  63. In brief, Joe said that Hydrogen as a substitute for gas (petrol) won't work, mainly because of the distribution costs, but from this he extended to suggest that the Hydrogen economy is a pipe-dream. He has 7 problems with H, but I can address at least 6 of them, and I'm sure other people can too.

    If I got any of this wrong, then I'm sur someone will correct me.

  64. Of course solving the problem is cheaper in some real sense than not solving the problem. That's obvious.

    But economists seem driven by an obstinate denialism of their own. With regard to the recent downturn and lack of complete recovery in the advanced countries, the overview chapter says

    The causes of the crisis and its weak aftermath are intensively debated. Theories include shocks to aggregate demand; overly tight fiscal and monetary policies; financial sector risk-taking coupled with weak regulation; too much private debt and protracted deleveraging; and excessive government intervention and uncertainty caused by unpredictable policies.

    Running out of planet to exploit is, hmm, noticeably absent.

    Let me try to make my point of view on this very clear. The less advanced economies must continue to grow rapidly, but the West cannot expect to do substantially better than it is doing now in terms of any sort of wealth that isn't completely imaginary, and would be well advised to strive to avoid doing substantially worse.

    Anyway, I don't understand what "cost" and "benefit" mean to economists in the global aggregate. Anytime somebody spends a dollar somebody else earns it. Somehow they seem to think everybody else is better off the more often that dollar changes hands, and they use that measure but it stubbornly escapes me why that is a good idea. Some people say that solar is better than fossil because it "creates jobs", but if there were no problems with fossil fuels, why not just use them and just mail some random people a check every month?

    I must be very stupid, but I just don't get it. It seems to me they main purpose of a growing GDP is so that the financiers can skim a little off every transaction and move wealth to the rentier class. And since our sickness and dotage isn't cared for, we are forced to be ever so tiny aristocrats ourselves with our little investment accounts and retirement funds. And so we are forced to breathe a sigh of relief when there is "growth".

    But much of what is growing is damage. Yes there's progress, but there's also exploitation. The system doesn't care; it needs its growth. As the apocryphal native chief supposedly said, this will go on until the last tree is chopped. We may come round to regretting it then.

  65. mt, you are a fount of wisdom. Every time I struggle to put into words my complicated feelings about all this, I am grateful for your efforts, which while sometimes a mite wordy, express the complexities we live with. It's a feature, not a bug.

  66. Can I quote you on that "fount" thing?

    But alas, no, I don't deserve it. I am deeply confused (unfountish) about how to think about economics. I just suspect everybody else is too. It could be because I am somehow too thick to get it.

    I keep asking these questions though, and people who claim to be experts keep ignoring them. They often don't even acknowledge that I have asked! I wish someone would explain these things to me slowly, as to a child.

    I really would prefer to be wrong. I'm not hung up on my eccentric theories. I have too many of them and would love to be more normal in my outlook!

  67. Indeed if it helps you may quote me. I am referring to some of your apparently complicated responses to a number of complicated questions. The way you can hold both the difficulties and the need for solutions is helpful to me. I don't always have time to weigh in, but while I sometimes would try to pare down a few of the words, sometimes that might not help get the overall complexities and necessities across. I am going to repeat my link to the Stern report to the Autumn thread because it is the basis for the Krugman and other material that has appeared in the last few days.

    The New York Times science editor has assured me that climate is about to be (possibly now, as I see it, there's been a lot since Tuesday) featured there for a bit.

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  1. If only you 'Merricans werent soo politically correct... RPJr is not only a hypocrite: He either is clinically confused or is a professional liar. (Cf. the comments by Tom Curtis ff already linked by OPatrick. And he does it with old stuff from 2008! )

    [ I disagree on substance here; it is not necessary to love Roger to perceive, as I do, that Holdren went too far, and that the SS comment you link to is very spiny. But that's beside the point of shadowing this comment. Name-calling is not what we're looking for here. ]

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