The reason we call deniers deniers, is that they solve problems by simply pretending they don’t exist. Anthropogenic climate change doesn’t exist. No problem.

Another problem that simply does not show up on climate denial radar screens is the problem of water supplies. We constantly read glowing press accounts about plans for massive development of new exotic fossil fuel sources in the US, very often in western states, with no balanced consideration of some very serious constraints on those processes. One big one is water.

We’ve seen numerous instances in the past decade of power plants being shut or derated during the very times we need them most, big heat waves in the summertime, because they can’t continue to operate at full power without boiling away the rivers that cool them, or cooking all the fish therein.  Likewise, we also continually hear that China and other developing countries are going to continue building thousands of new thermal power plants, in the face of already critically limited water supplies.

It ain’t going to happen. The evidence is all around. I discussed the issue at the American Geophysical Union with water expert Peter Glick – part one above, part two tomorrow.

Scientific American:

SHANGHAI — The world’s biggest coal consumer now has a new incentive to take a cleaner energy path, as China’s coal-fired power plants are drying up the country’s already scarce water resources.

A report published today by Bloomberg New Energy Finance notes that the top five Chinese power generators — China Huaneng Group, China Datang Corp., China Huadian Corp., China Guodian Corp. and China Power Investment Corp. — have hundreds of gigawatts of coal-fired power plants in the country’s dry north and that retrofitting them with water-efficient solutions could cost billions of dollars.

“Today, 85 percent of China’s power generation capacity is located in water-scarce regions and 15 percent of this still relies on water-intensive, once-through cooling technologies,” said Maxime Serrano Bardisa, one of the report’s authors as well as Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s water analyst.

At the same time, the nation is seeing less and less water. According to separate research by the China Environmental Forum, an initiative of the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ global sustainability and resilience program, China’s total water reserves dropped 13 percent from 2000 to 2009, with the water shortage being particularly severe in the north.

The coal industry has played a big role in the shortage, the report says. Northern China has 20 percent of the country’s freshwater supply, but its coal mining and coal-fired power generators are thirsty for water. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that in 2010 alone, the two sectors combined withdrew 98 billion cubic meters of fresh water across the region — or nearly 15 percent of China’s total freshwater withdrawals in the year.

If the five Chinese power giants continue their current development of coal-fired plants, the report predicts, the sector’s water withdrawals will exceed 25 percent of China’s 2030 target to cap its national water withdrawals at 700 billion cubic meters per year. Some Chinese regions have already extracted underground water faster than it is being replenished, and any increase in water withdrawals could further push China away from an environmentally sustainable future.

There are solutions to ease the water stress, but each comes with major trade-offs.

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It has the ring of snake oil, and there are tech hurdles to be overcome, but seriously serious people are working on air-to-fuel concepts that may have application down the road where liquid fuels remain the most practical option.

Three examples. Video above is a little dull, but demonstrates a startup firm in the UK that is working on a process for pulling co2 out of air, with the eventual goal of creating gasoline and liquid fuels. If ambient co2 is the feedstock, and renewable energy powers the process,  these fuels could be carbon neutral.(more description below)

My own take is that while electricity will eventually be the power of choice for personal vehicles, there is a liquid fuels challenge for air transport, and seagoing vessels. See more lines of exploration here – I’m sure this is a partial list.

US Navy:

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing a process to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce hydrogen gas (H2) from seawater, subsequently catalytically converting the CO2 and H2 into jet fuel by a gas-to-liquids process.

“The potential payoff is the ability to produce JP-5 fuel stock at sea reducing the logistics tail on fuel delivery with no environmental burden and increasing the Navy’s energy security and independence,” says research chemist, Dr. Heather Willauer.

NRL has successfully developed and demonstrated technologies for the recovery of CO2 and the production of H2 from seawater using an electrochemical acidification cell, and the conversion of CO2 and H2 to hydrocarbons (organic compounds consisting of hydrogen and carbon) that can be used to produce jet fuel.

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Let the Wise Men Speak

March 27, 2013

holmes

Controversy equalizes fools and wise men –
and the fools know it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

germgdp2

Paul Gipe in WindWorks:

…at the request of a reader, I am updating my charts on the electricity mix in Germany from 1990 through 2012. These charts are from public information, easily accessible with rudimentary German.

First, the total mix.

As can be seen, renewables continue their steady increase. No surprises there. Hard coal arrests its decline and there’s a slight uptick in brown coal generation.

Total generation of electricity in Germany remains relatively constant at 617 TWh in 2012.

In 2012 there was a slight uptick in coal-fired generation, mostly from brown coal. Generation from hard coal increased from 112 TWh to 118 TWh, about as much as the 117 TWh produced in 2010. Generation from brown coal increased from 150 TWh in 2011 to 158 TWh in 2012. Total coal-fired generation has increase about 25 TWh from a low of 254 TWh at the height of the Great Recession in 2009.

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solarflare

Yesterday’s I posted about urgent warnings to traditional electrical generators. Disruptive change is here.

Your biggest customers will begin to self generate and store power in this decade. Change or die.

More evidence keeps showing up.

Bloomberg:

NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), the biggest power provider to U.S. utilities, has become a renegade in the $370 billion energy-distribution industry by providing electricity directly to consumers.

Bypassing its utility clients, NRG is installing solar panels on rooftops of homes and businesses and in the future will offer natural gas-fired generators to customers to kick in when the sun goes down, Chief Executive Officer David Crane said in an interview.

NRG is the first operator of traditional, large-scale power plants to branch into running mini-generation systems that run a single building. The endeavor strikes at the core business of utilities that have earned money from making and delivering electricity ever since Thomas Edison flipped the switch on the first investor-owned power plant in Manhattan in 1882.

Consumers are realizing “they don’t need the power industry at all,” Crane, 54, said in an interview at this year’s MIT Energy Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That is ultimately where big parts of the country go.”

It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term,” said Jim Rogers, chairman and chief executive officer of Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), the largest U.S. utility owner.

Edison Electric Institute:

Recent technological and economic changes are expected to challenge and transform the electric utility industry. These changes (or “disruptive challenges”) arise due to a convergence of factors, including: falling costs of distributed generation and other distributed energy resources (DER); an enhanced focus on development of new DER technologies; increasing customer, regulatory, and political interest in demand- side management technologies (DSM); government programs to incentivize selected technologies; the declining price of natural gas; slowing economic growth trends; and rising electricity prices in certain areas of the country. Taken together, these factors are potential “game changers” to the U.S. electric utility industry, and are likely to dramatically impact customers, employees, investors, and the availability of capital to fund future investment. The timing of such transformative changes is unclear, but with the potential for technological innovation (e.g., solar photovoltaic or PV) becoming economically viable due to this confluence of forces, the industry and its stakeholders must proactively assess the impacts and alternatives available to address disruptive challenges in a timely manner.

While the pace of disruption cannot be predicted, the mere fact that we are seeing the beginning of customer disruption and that there is a large universe of companies pursuing this opportunity highlight the importance of proactive and timely planning to address these challenges early on so that uneconomic disruption does not proceed further. Ultimately, all stakeholders must embrace change in technology and business models in order to maintain a viable utility industry.

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Three weeks ago, I had my 5 minutes at a local “listening session” on energy, put on by the Governor of my fair state.

My main message was that a technological sea change is coming in energy production – and if regulatory and utility policy do not anticipate the further build out of wind, solar, and distributed energy, the transition is going to be ugly.  Traditional energy producers who think they can hold back the tide will be like typewriter makers trying to bad-mouth word processors. They are going to go away.

I had coffee last week with a well-informed friend, who agreed with me that this is an oncoming freight train. He pointed me to some new survey results from Ernst & Young.

Renewable Energy World:

We conducted a telephone survey of executives involved in corporate energy strategy at 100 companies with revenues of US$1 billion or more. Questions focused on energy spend, types of energy used, energy strategy, and outlook.

The companies were those in energy-intensive sectors with a balanced global distribution. 72% have revenues exceeding US$1 billion, and 28% revenues of US$10 billion or more.

41% of respondents report generating some form of renewable energy with company-owned or controlled resources. Most of these generate power with photovoltaic solar (25%), followed by biomass/biogas generation (20%) and the use of biofuels in company-owned fleets (19%). Wind and geothermal have 7% uptake.

Renewable energy still makes up a relatively small proportion of company generation though. Only 11% of respondents say it accounts for more than 5% of their total energy production.

This looks set to change though:

  • 51% of respondents say company-owned renewable generation would increase over the next five years
  • 16% expect it to increase significantly

As photovoltaic solar hits grid parity at more and more regions of the country, big customers are going to make investments in producing their own power. Many of them will still be connected to the grid as a back-up, but will expect to be able to sell their excess power generation onto the grid. They will make those desires known to their political allies.

Electric utilities will see their revenues drop, and will be forced to raise rates on remaining customers, further encouraging those customers to explore their own generation options as technology improves.

This is the making of a classic utility death spiral – and it is coming on like a tidal wave that will be as irresistible as  the internet, and just as disruptive.

Today, more confirmation from Wall Street Journal:

Traditional transmission and distribution utilities will have to deal with distributed solar power, and it won’t be a pretty fight, according to David Crane, president and chief executive of NRG Energy, a large independent power producer.

Utilities “do realize that distributed solar is a mortal threat to their business,” said Mr. Crane, speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference on Thursday in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“They can’t cut costs, so they will try to distribute costs over fewer and fewer customers.” This, he said, will increase costs for the customers, and will drive more of them toward distributed solar.

Lyndon Rive, co-founder and chief executive of SolarCity, said that “a super-majority of utilities will do whatever they can” to stop companies like his from increasing their market share. “They will create fear tactics,” he said.

Look for stories about “Solar Cell Syndrome” to hit the denial circuit.

Skeptical Science:

A new study of ocean warming has just been published in Geophysical Research Letters by Balmaseda, Trenberth, and Källén (2013).  There are several important conclusions which can be drawn from this paper.

  • Completely contrary to the popular contrarian myth, global warming has accelerated, with more overall global warming in the past 15 years than the prior 15 years.  This is because about 90% of overall global warming goes into heating the oceans, and the oceans have been warming dramatically.
  • Some recent studies have concluded based on the slowed global surface warming over the past decade that the sensitivity of the climate to the increased greenhouse effect is somewhat lower than the IPCC best estimate.  Those studies are fundamentally flawed because they do not account for the warming of the deep oceans.
  • The slowed surface air warming over the past decade has lulled many people into a false and unwarranted sense of security.

The main results of the study are illustrated in its Figure 1.

oceanheat

Figure 1: Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from ORAS4, as represented by its 5 ensemble members. The time series show monthly anomalies smoothed with a 12-month running mean, with respect to the 1958–1965 base period. Hatching extends over the range of the ensemble members and hence the spread gives a measure of the uncertainty as represented by ORAS4 (which does not cover all sources of uncertainty). The vertical colored bars indicate a two year interval following the volcanic eruptions with a 6 month lead (owing to the 12-month running mean), and the 1997–98 El Niño event again with 6 months on either side. On lower right, the linear slope for a set of global heating rates (W/m2) is given.

The Data

In this paper, the authors used ocean heat content data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts’ Ocean Reanalysis System 4 (ORAS4).  A ‘reanalysis’ is a climate or weather model simulation of the past that incorporates data from historical observations.  In the case of ORAS4, this includes ocean temperature measurements from bathythermographs and the Argo buoys, and other types of data like sea level andsurface temperatures.  The ORAS4 data span from 1958 to the present, and have a high 1°x1° horizontal resolution, as well as 42 vertical layers.  As the authors describe the data set,

“ORAS4 has been produced by combining, every 10 days, the output of an ocean model forced by atmospheric reanalysis fluxes and quality controlled ocean observations.”

Accelerated Global Warming

As illustrated in Figure 1 above, the study divides ocean warming into three layers for comparison – the uppermost 300 meters (grey), 700 meters (blue), and the full ocean depth (violet).  After each of the Mt. Agung, Chichón, and Pinatubo volcanic eruptions (which cause short-term cooling by blocking sunlight), a distinct ocean cooling event is observed in the data.  Additionally, after the very strong El Niño event of 1998, a cooling of the upper 300 and 700 meters of oceans is visible as a result of heat being transfered from the surface ocean to the atmosphere.

One of the clearest features in Figure 1 is the rapid warming of the oceans over the past decade.  As we have previously discussed, the warming of the shallower oceans has slowed since around 2003, which certain climate contrarians have cherrypicked to try and argue that global warming has slowed.  However, more heat accumulated in the deeper oceans below 700 meters during this period.  The authors describe the ocean warming since 1999 as,

“the most sustained warming trend in this record of OHC.  Indeed, recent warming rates of the waters below 700m appear to be unprecedented.”

Their results in this respect are very similar the main conclusion of Nuccitelli et al. (2012), in which we noted that recently, warming of the oceans below 700 meters accounts for about 30% of overall ocean and global warming.  Likewise, this new study concludes,

“In the last decade, about 30% of the warming has occurred below 700 m, contributing significantly to an acceleration of the warming trend.”

The warming of the oceans below 700 meters has also been identified by Levitus et al. (2012) and Von Schuckmann & Le Traon (2011), for example.

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Compare to our recent discussion of these developments in the Beaufort Sea.

NOAA Visualizations:

Published on Mar 22, 2013

A series of intense storms in the Arctic has caused fracturing of the sea ice around the Beaufort Sea along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada. High-resolution imagery from the Suomi NPP satellite shows the evolution of the cracks forming in the ice, called leads, from February 17 — March 18 2013. The general circulation of the area is seen moving the ice westward along the Alaskan coast

“Intense storms” are not an unheard of thing in the arctic. What’s new is that the ice is so fragile that normal storm activity is breaking it up much earlier than has  been seen in the past.

Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

To recapitulate: It is normal for the ice to crack and for leads to occur. However, this is very extensive cracking and there are some very big leads, and all of it seems to come earlier than expected. Given last year’s melting mayhem and the low amount of multi-year ice, it makes one wonder whether this early cracking will have any effect in the melting season to come.

There are still several weeks to go before this part of the Arctic is going to start melting, up till then the ice will actually thicken some more, even when the Sun’s rays start to reach the ice. But the ice is already getting broken up in smaller pieces, which means that 1) the pack becomes more mobile (like we saw last year), and 2) the thin ice that now grows to fill up the leads, will go first when the melting starts, potentially leading to more open water between floes to absorb solar energy and convert it to heat.

But maybe not. Maybe this will have zero influence. We don’t know. That’s why we watch.


I can’t believe I missed this till just now.

Mark Jacobson is a Stanford Engineer, who published a plan in Scientific American a few years ago for powering the entire planet on renewable energy. I interviewed him at AGU in 2011, and he’s continued to refine and update his concepts in recent years.

In the US,  -“The amount of wind generating capacity added last year exceeded that of all other sources, including gas-fired power.”

Solar is the new wind.

Everything changes from here on out.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance: 

Solar power will be the second- biggest source of generating capacity added to the U.S. electric grid this year, according to Sharp Corp.’s Recurrent Energy unit.

“Solar is going to move into the No. 2 position in terms of new build, second only to gas,” Recurrent Chief Executive Officer Arno Harris said in an interview yesterday at the company’s main office in San Francisco.

Rooftop solar systems can be installed for about $4 a watt and utility-scale systems for $2 a watt, Harris said. “We can see our way to $1.50,” he said. “At those kinds of costs, we’re competitive in the Southwest with conventional electricity.”

Panel prices have fallen almost 69 percent in the past two years, benefiting companies such as Recurrent that purchase and install the equipment and sell electricity from the systems to utilities. Falling costs also have enabled developers to accept lower-priced contracts. First Solar Inc. has signed a power purchase agreement for a project in New Mexico that will sell electricity at a lower rate than new coal plants earn.

“Solar has clearly landed in a place where it’s a very bankable asset class and is widely accepted and sought after,” Harris said. “It’s going to follow the same path that other asset classes have followed, which is now a move to public capital markets,” and that may include real estate investment trusts, master limited partnerships or other structures that enable shares of project portfolios to be publicly traded, he said.

Photovoltaic systems totaling about 3.3 gigawatts were added in 2012, which was 76 percent more than in 2011. The amount of wind generating capacity added last year exceeded that of all other sources, including gas-fired power.

“Solar has moved alongside wind now as one of the three technologies — solar, wind and gas — that are going to be part of our nation’s energy build-out no matter what,” Harris said.