Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Capacity market payments are an economic externality imposed on the system by intermittent renewables

Two (related) points:

  1. Geographical location is important. Britain is between 51º and 59º latitude. We have short winter days with the sun low on the horizon. Quite long summer days. Summer solar provides a decent amount of electricity. Solar in deep min-winter is about an eighth of summer's. Peak electricity demand occurs in winter, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm long after the sun has set. Meeting peak demand is now a huge concern.
  2. Likewise wind is intermittent. At any time an anti-cyclone could cover Britain reducing wind power to about 5% of its nameplate (600 MWe in Britain is 5% of 12GWe). Such low wind days can hang about for up to 6 days [as they did in early Sept 2014 (3 times)[4]].

The British government recently introduced a scheme to pay providers able to guarantee baseload supply at peak demand time[1]. We never needed capacity market payments before intermittents but do now. Capacity market payments are an economic externality imposed on the system by intermittents.

Last winter, during the capacity market auction, the greens[3] and their renewable allies furiously campaigned against these capacity market payments.

PS: Some links on capacity market payments:

  1. Capacity market payments
  2. First capacity market auction results
  3. UK coal plants could get up to £2.1bn in capacity market subsidies
  4. Gridwatch database downloads

Monday, 26 October 2015

Why is it so hard to convince climate science 'deniers' of the AGW thesis?

-- AKA : the boy who cried wolf

Climate science has long been associated with environmentalism. For example, the great champion of global warming is Al Gore. His movie An Inconvenient Truth, 2006, won him world wide fame and numerous awards. Al Gore himself is a long time environmentalist, and anti-nuke. He was instrumental in banning advanced fission research in the United States back in 1994.

Climate science's strong ties with the environment movement is both a strength and a weakness. It's clearly a strength in terms of mobilizing many greens, green money and organizations to support the man-made global warming, AGW, thesis. Yet this association is also a big weakness for climate science. Any opponent of environmentalism will instinctively be suspicious of AGW because:

  1. many leading climate scientists are obviously environmentalists too,
  2. climate campaigns tend to use the same strategies and tactics as environmentalism

The general campaigning tactic of environmentalists has long been to scare people witless into banning technology and curtailing development. This has been particularly effective against GMOs and nuclear power.

Climate campaigners scare people. But do they tell lies? Climate science is mainly premised on mathematical models. Such models are really just fancy speculation. Speculation has always been a deadly trap for thought that seeks to understand the world. Speculation is generally wrong. The recent GFC showed us that just about every economic model was wrong! Yet science gets models wrong too. Many academic physicists spent the best part of 20 years search for a grand unification theory based on string theory. Countless thousands of physics graduates were channelled into string theory research. All for vain. There is, of course, the core climate science : the more greenhouse gas, GHG, we emit, the more we warm the atmosphere. This core climate science - GHG causes global warming - is widely agreed upon - even by many 'deniers'. In contrast, the climate models which amplify this basic effect between 0.85 and 10 times are disputed - not least by mainstream climate scientists! Which model is right? Many models settle on an amplification effect of 3. We call this effect climate sensitivity. e.g. No amplification = climate sensitivity of 1; 3 × amplification = climate sensitivity of 3.

People promoting environmentalism and campaigning on climate are often the same. Let's consider other similarities between climate and green campaigns.

Let's tally the score
Do they? Climate campaigners Environmentalists
tell lies 'deniers' frequently accuse them of exaggeration yes
promote fear with their campaigns yes yes
promote regulation to stifle energy intensive economy yes yes
promote energy saving yes yes
favour more expensive fossil fuel yes yes
oppose plentiful energy often yes
favour degrowth by implication whenever they promote energy saving or higher fossil fuel prices yes
promote renewable energy as main source of non-carbon energy very often always
oppose nuclear power sometimes always
oppose energy R&D sometimes often : "Calls for R&D are just a 'delaying tactic' - we already have the technology, we just need to build it!"

I think climate science 'deniers' may often be people who've had a bad experience with environmentalists. Quite a few 'deniers' see climate science as just the latest, most sophisticated, environmental campaign.

As such, seasoned environmentalists and deniers often share contempt for each other. One can imagine how difficult it will be to convince a 'denier' when one adopts the habits of environmentalists. Yet the majority of climate campaigners seem to do precisely that! Their habit of preferring to fight battles rather than bother trying to win a war is most puzzling. Their refusal to let go of long-time environmentalist tactics (exaggeration, and existential threats aimed at humanity) doesn't engender them to me.

Lastly: It goes without saying that an anti-nuke climate campaigner, or opponent of energy R&D is faux by definition. Fake. Yet there are a lot of them out there! Faux climate campaigners - what will the environmental movement dream up next?


Also known as
Anthropic global warming - AKA: man-made global warming
Economic contraction and, generally, less people.
Term of abuse for anyone disputing mainstream climate science. The term was explicitly chosen to associate with holocaust deniers
existential threat
A matter of life and death, a threat to one's existence
Global financial crash
Greenhouse gas : a gas emitted into the atmosphere which, very slowly, causes planetary warming
Research and development

Friday, 23 October 2015

Women are more susceptible to irrational environmental fears than men. Why?

GMOs, nuclear power, fracking. 3 perfectly safe technologies. In every case women are more susceptible to irrational fears than men. Why is it?

(1)Women 'less likely than men to support fracking, due to instinct'

A survey of 7,000 people by the University of Nottingham and YouGov found that 31.5% of women believed that shale gas exploration should permitted in Britain, compared with 58% of men.

(2) Men Much More Likely Than Women to Favor Nuclear Power

FavourOpposeSafeNot safe

(3) Pew Research Poll, PDF page 62: The % of U.S. adults saying they favor/oppose building more nuclear power plants to generate electricity


(4) More women say no to GMOs

The poll ... found that 71% of men said they would eat genetically modified foods, and 59% they would feed it to their children. By comparison, only 50% of American women would eat genetically modified foods and 37% would feed it to their children.

(5) Effect of GMO labeling on food choice

... while 49% of men say they'd be less likely to buy food labeled as genetically modified, that jumps to 65% of women.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Why do greens really oppose nuclear power and GMOs?

Greens oppose nuclear power because it can provide plentiful energy not because it's an existential threat to human life.

Yet greens promote fears about safety and nuclear proliferation when they campaign against nuclear power. It would seem I'm wrong! Or am I? Here's my rationale:

If the real reason greens opposed nuclear power was safety and weapons proliferation fears, they would be consistent. They would oppose genome technology too. That's because it's cheaper and easier to apply genomic techniques to create WMD. Greens don't oppose genome tech as such, but they oppose one result of genome technology :- GMOs. What do GMOs and nuclear power have in common? They are technologies of plenty. One offers plentiful energy, the other plentiful food. What possible motive could greens have for opposing plentiful energy/food? One reason stands out: fear of overpopulation. Fear of overpopulation is a perennial green fear reaching back 200 years to the start of green ideas (with Thomas Malthus). It's a kind a Ur green concern. Their overpopulation fear works like so: the more resources humanity has, the more we can consume, the easier we can populate. So according to this Malthusian view, greens should take the long view. That means opposing technologies of plenty because, in this long view, greens hope to slow down the economy, and save the environment from humanity. They understood energy was a key resource and believed it would lead to more environment destruction. Much of this is 'understood' in a quite irrational, fearful way.

"If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it."
— Amory Lovins: key early anti-nuclear power thinker, and renewable energy guru, 1977

Of course, many greens are just hoodwinked into thinking opposition to nuclear power/GMOs is about safety and environmental protection. I'm not proposing that the majority of greens campaign over overpopulation fears. Yet it's also clear the greens have no consistent principles when opposing nuclear power. Hard-core anti-nukes, for instance, will apply any Gish Gallop. They will promote any anti-nuclear power argument they think works. Internet anti-nukes will often cut 'n' paste into a discussion any old anti-nuclear power argument; mostly without bothering to read what they post. Nor can one normally engage such people in a dialogue about what their real concerns are. Then there's the green organizations :- almost as hodge-podge in picking out anti-nuclear power arguments as their supporters. Neither supporters nor organizations have ever produced a convincing argument that nuclear power is environmentally bad, in the conventional sense. It is in fact, the cleanest, safest energy technology we have available.

Why do greens need to go this roundabout route to oppose GMOs and nuclear power? Why can't they be honest and upfront over their fears of overpopulation? Two, or three reasons. First it's politically incorrect to raise the issue of overpopulation. Second, because if they told the public their opposition to GMOs and nuclear power was based on opposition to plentiful energy/food, they'd get no public support. Greens themselves find it politically incorrect, so they can't even bring the issue up even if the feel it. On a practical political level, it's just far easier for greens to oppose things by kicking up safety concerns. Scaring people out of their skins works to get a minority of fanatical supporters on your side, and makes many other people very queasy about an issue.

We've long known that wealth and plenty lead to declining birth rates, that poverty leads families to have lots of children. Hans Rosling, The Overpopulation Myth. If greens were really about protecting the environment by reducing population growth, evidence shows they should support plentiful energy not less energy.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Scientific theories ('paradigms') are not incommensurable

... science is a process that builds continuously upon existing theories—that is, upon existing cumulated knowledge—but continuously revises this knowledge, keeping the possibility open of questioning any aspect of it, including the general rules of thinking that appear to be most certain and beyond question.
It follows that scientific theories are not incommensurable, as some contemporary philosophy of science would have it. Theories can be easily translated into one another, including insufficiencies, approximations, and errors. Copernicus’s discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun remains true within the frameworks of Newton and Einstein. The discovery is translated and re-expressed in the new language. There may be great differences between Copernicus’s language and the new ones, but the discovery remains recognizable. In fact, Copernicus’s theoretical discovery survives not only as a true fact about nature (the Earth revolves around the Sun) but even as a key conceptual ingredient of the new conceptual systems (there is a “Copernican principle” in Einstein’s cosmology).
Perhaps the most obvious example of what I mean is provided precisely by the Copernican revolution itself, the prototype of scientific revolution and conceptual reorganization. Ptolemy’s Almagest and Copernicus’s De revolutionibus are two of the finest scientific works ever written. In moving from the first to the second, the cosmos is turned upside down. In Ptolemy, there are Heaven and Earth. One category includes all everyday objects and the Earth upon which we walk, the other includes Moon, Sun, stars, and planets. In Copernicus, there is the Sun in one category; Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in a second one; and the Moon, alone, in yet another category. Before, we were still; after, we are on a top spinning along at thirty kilometers per second. Can one even imagine a greater conceptual leap? Can two so very different conceptual systems even talk to each other?
Well, open the two books: Copernicus’s treatise, as observed earlier, is extraordinarily similar to Ptolemy’s; indeed, it seems almost a corrected edition of Ptolemy’s! Same language, mathematics, epicycles, deferents, tables of trigonometric functions, techniques, same general structure, same meticulousness, and same immense, vast vision. The two are impressively similar, and different from anything else written earlier or later. Incommensurability? It is obviously the same research program. If there exist two people who truly understand each other, they are Ptolemy and Copernicus. They could almost be lovers.
The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy, by Carlo Rovelli, 2011

More on carlo rovelli's views on philosophy of science:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Materials required for electricity generation

Copied from pages: Quadrennial Technology Review - An Assessment Of Energy Technologies And Research Opportunities, September 2015, Chapter 10, pages 389-391

All energy technologies require materials, but the types and amounts of materials consumed vary widely. Some technologies require only common, plentiful materials such as steel, glass, and concrete, but many require varying amounts of rare materials such as noble metals. Moreover, the degree of material recycling varies widely from technology to technology and material to material, and design, as well as consumer behavior and social attitudes can have a big impact on how easily recyclable certain materials will be. Identifying materials and understanding their flows including reuse, remanufacture, recycling, and disposal are key to the inventory step in LCA. Examples of material inventories for electric power plants are presented in the table below. Key materials by mass per energy lifetime include steel, concrete, cement, glass, and aluminum.[1]

Range of materials requirements (fuel excluded) for various electricity generation technologies[4]

Generator onlyUpstream energy collection plus generator
Materials (ton/TWh)CoalNGCCNuclear PWRBiomass HydroWindSolar PV (silicon)Geothermal HT binary

Key: NGCC = natural gas combined cycle; PWR = pressurized water reactor; PV = photovoltaic; HT = high temperature

An important recent concept in the area of materials use is “criticality,” which is classified in terms of importance to the clean energy economy, risk of supply disruption, and time horizon.[2] Critical materials have important magnetic, catalytic, and luminescent properties, with applications in solar PV, wind turbines, electric vehicles and efficient lighting. Five rare earth metals (dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium), as well as indium, were assessed as most critical between 2010 and 2015. Four other rare earth elements, as well as gallium, tellurium, cobalt, and lithium, were also considered. Important factors include high demand, limited substitutes, political or regulatory risks in countries where critical materials are produced, lack of diversity in producers, and competing technology demand (e.g., consumer electronics such as mobile phones, computers, and TVs all use materials that are also essential to clean energy technologies).[3] See Figure below for an illustration of a variety of these materials in terms of their importance to clean energy technologies versus risk to supply.

While many so-called rare earths are in fact more plentiful than gold and highly dispersed around the world, they are expensive to separate from ore owing in part to how similar their chemical properties are to each other. Recycling, reuse, and more efficient use of critical materials could significantly lower demand for new materials; currently, only 1% of critical materials are recycled at end of life. Other priorities include diversification of global supplies, environmentally sound extraction and processing, and development of substitutes[5], [6] (see Chapter 9, Section 9.2.2 for DOE RDD&D efforts in critical materials through the Critical Materials Institute).As some technologies could significantly increase or decrease the criticality of certain materials, it is important to include a criticality metric in assessments.

  1. Argonne National Laboratory. “GREET 1 2014.” 2014.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy. “US Department of Energy Critical Materials Strategy.” 2010.
  3. Matulka, R. “Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Critical Materials.” U.S. Department of Energy, January 18, 2013. Accessed February 21, 2015.
  4. Argonne National Laboratory. “GREET 2 2014.” 2014.
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, 2010. Critical Materials Strategy, December. (accessed 21 February 2015).
  6. National Petroleum Council. “Securing Oil and Natural Gas Infrastructures in the New Economy.” Washington, DC, 2001.
  7. U.S. Department of Energy, 2010. Critical Materials Strategy, December. (accessed 21 February 2015).

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

'Saint' George Monbiot

George Monbiot does not impress me and here's why.

Today I read that George Monbiot 'quit' the environment movement. No. He still considers himself part of it. For almost 20 years (upto 2006) Monbiot actively opposed nuclear power. He didn't need any evidence to oppose it. He took anti-nuclear power arguments at face value because he was part of a 'movement'. He only turned pro-nuke after spending much time studying it. I can't get my head around that:- why would he oppose nuclear power just because he was part of a 'movement'? It seems a bit mindless to me - if you're part of a movement you really ought to spend the time understanding it's goals, ideas and arguments. After all, it's what your life is about. You need to be certain about this stuff. Here's his transitional essay from 2006. He calls himself an anti-nuke here but his arguments against are pathetic (and wrong).

The most fundamental environmental principle - one that all children are taught as soon as they are old enough to understand it - is that you don't make a new mess until you have cleared up the old one. To start building a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what to do with the waste produced by existing plants is grotesquely irresponsible. The government's advisers have determined only that it should be buried. No one yet knows where, how or at what cost.
This is just one of the factors that make a nonsense of the economic projections. How on earth can we say what nuclear power stations will cost if we don't even know what their decommissioning entails? The government will assure us today that there will be no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry.
It has also become clear that we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran - has done so by manipulating its nuclear power programme. We cannot deny other states the opportunity to use atomic energy if we do not forswear it ourselves.

Let me spend a minute or two refuting 'Saint' Monbiot

  • Waste: So called high-level nuclear waste is mostly partly used fuel. After storing in wet pools for about 30 years this has 0.1% of the radioactivity is had on leaving the reactor. Comparatively
    • it's a tiny amount,
    • is really not as dangerous as made out,
    • can't be used to make bombs,
    • is stored under armed guard,
    • does not 'leak',
    • doesn't need 'burying' anywhere because it can be economically recycled as fuel for advanced reactors which are about 15/20 years away,
    • and is very difficult for Jill Bloggs to get her mitts on.
  • Decommissioning: The utilities running reactors put a proportion of revenue aside (about 5%) into a decommissioning fund. At the end of the reactor life, this fund will be more than enough to pay the plant decommissioning costs
  • Atomic bomb proliferation: Spent fuel can't be used to make A-bombs because the plutonium of of too low a quality.
  • No subsidies: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will be price competitive with current fossil fuel electricity generation and will blow renewables out of the water (even solar [1]).
  • No guaranteed prices: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will provide lower cost electricity than anything else.
  • we do not need it: Not unless we want to live primitive lives enslaved to the vagaries of nature. So who wants that?
  • Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, ...: Not really. Israel has no nuclear power to speak of. Weapons grade plutonium is best made in single purpose military grade reactors with low plutonium burnups. Not in commercial power reactors. One doesn't even need reactors to make A-bombs; gas centrifuge uranium separation will suffice.

With respect to 'no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry' - dare we say hypocrite? I'm sure Monbiot is a great believer in massive subsidies and guaranteed prices for renewables (even though Britain has no renewables industry!)

[1] Solar doesn't work at night, so even if the cost of solar panels fell to nothing, the costs of storage or supporting 'baseload' would still render it uneconomic compared to future molten salt reactors.