Home > Environment > Derp, a 20 year history

Derp, a 20 year history

April 10th, 2014

Noah Smith’s classic definition of “derp” as “the constant repetition of strong priors” was developed with particular reference to solar energy, to refer to people who’ve taken the view, at some point in the past, that solar energy can’t work, and who are neither willing to change their minds, whatever the evidence, nor to state their views once and for all and remain silent thereafter.

The classic illustration of this would have to be Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales. For the past 20 years, he’s been writing and rewriting the same paper, showing that renewables can’t possibly sustain a consumer society. Here’s a version from 1995, and from 2003, and here’s the latest.

What’s striking is that, while the numbers change dramatically, the conclusions don’t. The 1995 report says, in essence, that solar PV is totally unaffordable for all practical purposes. [1] So, our only hope is to embrace a massively simpler lifestyle,

The most recent version, written at a time when cheap solar power is a reality, has much less scary numbers. He estimates that the capital investment required for decarbonization of the economy would amount to 11 per cent of GDP. That’s still an over-estimate but it’s in the right ballpark. Trainer rightly observes that this number far exceeds current investment levels and is unlikely to be attained. But, unlikely as it may be, it would certainly be chosen if people accepted Turner’s conclusion that the only alternative was to live in huts with peat roofs.

And, over time, the insistence on negativity about renewables has led Trainer to promote views that are the opposite of his original concerns about simplicity For quite a few years, his work was published primarily at pro-nuclear site, Brave New Climate[2].

If Ted Trainer actually wants to help save the planet it’s time for him to abandon the campaign against renewables and urge society to accept the relative modest reduction in the rate of growth of income needed to decarbonize energy supply. Once the prospect of massive extinction has been staved off, we will have plenty of tiem to think about a simpler lifestyle.

fn1. As an illustration, the cost of a system to charge an electric car is estimated at $350 000, an estimate that is supposed to take account of optimistic projections of efficiency gains. These systems haven’t quite arrived yet (as usual, there are a bunch of technical difficulties to be overcome) but it appears they will soon be on the market for less than $10000. These systems have an obvious potential to resolve the problem of mismatch between peak PV availability at midday and peak demand in the evening, and may therefore reduce the conflict associated with the idea of a “utility death spiral”/

fn2. BNC ran into the same problem. In his eagerness to push the idea that nuclear power is the only way to save the planet from global warming, Barry Brook ran slabs of anti-renewable nonsense from climate delusionists such as Peter Lang.

Categories: Environment Tags:
  1. Val
    April 18th, 2014 at 20:52 | #1

    @Will Boisvert
    Hi Will I am interested in the ethical implications of the information being omitted as well.

    Unlike some other commentators here, I am quite suspicious of people advocating nuclear as a solution to climate change, and in one previous conversation (on the former Larvatus Prodeo) that suspicion turned out to be well founded. In that light, your failure to acknowledge the ethical problems in the ESAA paper is questionable. It looks like they’ve stuffed up or been deliberately deceitful. Are you able to acknowledge that, or is your interest not so much in advocating nuclear but more in defending the existing system?

  2. Will Boisvert
    April 19th, 2014 at 04:24 | #2

    @ Val, on the “ethical problems” of the ESAA paper,

    You’re the one who first cited ESAA as an authority on the subject of the grid costs of solar power, in support of your position. On closer reading, it turns out that ESAA contradicts your position, so now suddenly you think ESAA is a pack of liars.

    Weak, Val, very weak.

  3. April 19th, 2014 at 11:58 | #3

    Wow, this article is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, therefore I am going to
    tell her.

  4. Hermit
    April 19th, 2014 at 15:33 | #4

    A good fallback is always AEMO’s 100% renewables study. I even read a supplementary report to see if the valley I live in needed to be flooded. Horses however may not appreciate their hay bales getting burned in power stations. While many critics failed to notice the doubling of wholesale power prices the Fin Rev did notice
    http://www.afr.com/p/business/resources/billion_plus_for_pc_green_energy_oBlAunIkfHBaJd5mgvASBI

  5. April 19th, 2014 at 15:34 | #5

    @Will Boisvert

    You should read more carefully Will. I first mentioned the ESAA paper as a possible source for your ideas, and then did a critical analysis of their position. I don’t think you got it.

    The only position from that paper that I’ve used as evidence supporting my position is that they acknowledged transmission costs for distributed generation could be lower since it is used locally. That was an “even they acknowledge that” type use of evidence.

    I think that paper has some serious flaws and when I get back to Australia I might follow it up, if I have time.

    In the meantime I’ve done some googling and I see you are associated with the Breakthrough Institute, right? From what I read about the Breakthrough Institute, it theoretically supports addressing climate change but spends a lot of time attacking renewables and anyone who supports renewables, also switches position frequently, etc. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, right? I don’t know much about the other donors and haven’t time to follow up, but it tends to confirm my view that many people supporting nuclear are doing so to block or distract from the need to transition to renewables.

    Ok some people may genuinely support nuclear, but a lot of it looks like ‘have the cake and eat it too’ stuff – this is a way people like you can ostensibly support action on climate change, while maintaining a corporatised and profit driven status quo.

    I read a good analysis (sadly I can’t remember by whom) about denial in three stages: 1. outright denial of ACC; 2 renewables won’t work; 3 (I think something like) technological solutions (nuclear, ccs, geo-engineering) are better than transitioning to renewables. It’s all about clinging to the status quo and blocking change really.

    If you are going to respond to this, could you please read it properly. I know it’s quick and a bit elliptical, but I don’t mind explaining anything that is not clear. Sadly I have found that in online discussions with men, it is quite common for them to respond to what they think you’ve said, rather than what you’ve actually said. And what they think you’ve said tends to be dumber than what you’ve actually said.

  6. April 19th, 2014 at 16:03 | #6

    Val, Will wrote a couple of hundred words speculating on how I determined the wattage per square meter for PV in Antelope Valley. Apparently he prefered to do that rather than just ask me.

  7. April 19th, 2014 at 16:06 | #7

    Will Boisvert, you wrote:

    “Also, UAE doesn’t have a well-developed, geographically extensive grid to plug into, so a solar development of Barakah’s size would also likely require large-scale construction of transmission and road infrastructure, adding billions to the cost, so that expense should be factored into the capital cost as it was for nuclear.”

    And you also wrote:

    “No question about it: grid costs for rooftop PV are higher, not lower, than those for dispatchable generation like nuclear.”

    Would you care to explain exactly how grid costs for rooftop solar are higher than for utility solar when when transmission and road infrastructure are not required, or would you prefer to just admit that you’ve been a very derpy boy?

    And by the way, have you worked out about how many kilowatt-hours 1 kilowatt of solar PV positioned to generate most of its electricity “during a few hours either side of solar noon” will produce on a cloudless day yet?

  8. Ikonoclast
    April 19th, 2014 at 16:44 | #8

    @Val

    I agree with you. Supporters of nuclear power for the most part appear to want to have their cake and eat it too. They want endless growth capitalism (BAU) to continue forever whilst saving the climate and biosphere with nuclear energy. They don’t realise these goals are incompatible. Endless growth cannot continue. Indeed, some degree of de-growth (retreat from over-consumption) will probably have to occur. No non-renewable resource can save our system. Nuclear fission fuels on earth are another non-renewable resource. In the end, only renewables will be left and whatever they can sustainably support will be what we are left with. There can be no more.

    A lot of pro-nuclear people and a lot of the “renewables won’t work” lobby are simply interested in delaying renewables as long as possible. That is their real agenda and often corporate fossil fuel money and nuclear lobby money is behind it. There is a lot of “shill-ing” go on.

    Steve Kopits gave an interesting talk relatively recently at the Columbia SIPA Centre. At about the 40 min mark in his talk, IIRC, he mentions the huge CAPEX (capital expenditure for drilling exploratory wells) costs incurred by the oil majors over the last 5 years or so. He talks about how, basically, the returns (significant new oil finds) are not there and the oil majors have been hemorrhaging billions on the CAPEX side of the sheet. Now, new projects are being cancelled. Reading between the lines, he expects the oil majors to rapidly give up the search for new oil and just pump known reserves to exhaustion. It’s the beginning of the end (to steal Churchill’s phrase). The Oil Age is over. Expect momentous changes over the next 10 years. The Nuclear Age is also in decline.

    Renewables will be the only game in town eventually. Maybe they will support a surprising level of global activity. Maybe they will not. But whatever level they function at, we will have to make do with it. Time will tell the tale.

  9. Val
    April 19th, 2014 at 16:46 | #9

    I wonder why Will doesn’t want to answer that question, Ronald? Doesn’t sound too difficult.

    My 1.5kw system gets up to 10 on a good day. As I’m not in oz at present not sure how it’s going on bad days, but I did note on my blog once that on an overcast and rainy day in December it generated 1.4kwh (which is more than I use at that time of year – acknowledging that I do have gas for cooking and hot water of course).

    I haven’t been through the depths of winter yet, so can’t comment. Maybe I’ll do a graph and post it one day – I love doing geeky things like that.

    In the meantime, where is Will? I can’t remember why you wanted him to answer that question, but I can’t see why he shouldn’t.

  10. April 19th, 2014 at 16:52 | #10

    @Hermit
    It’s unlikely anyone would ever burn hay. It’s too expensive, too valuable as animal feed, and not quite dry enough. Straw, otoh, is a possibility as it is a waste product anyway.

  11. Val
    April 19th, 2014 at 17:03 | #11

    @Ikonoclast
    Yes well said.

    The only thing I would add, from a health and social justice perspective, is that we have a lot to gain from stopping the focus on growth and focusing instead on using resources more carefully and sharing them more fairly.

    According to Wilkinson and Pickett (2009), increases in key health indicators eg life expectancy, are only associated with growth in per capita income up to about $10,000 pa (2009 figs). After that the benefits are associated with greater income equality rather than increasing income. So we have more to gain by sharing than by growth.

    Plus of course all the well known health benefits from active lifestyles, social connection, eating fresh and locally grown food, reducing pollution and so forth. The future could be really positive if we can get past these nay-Sayers

  12. April 19th, 2014 at 17:51 | #12

    Val, Will is confused about solar capacity factors in Australia but I’m sure if he just slowed down and took the time to work through things step by step it would really clear things up for him.

    Under the “standard conditions” that apply for rating solar panels you could expect to produce pehaps 9 kilowatt-hours from a well positioned 1.5 kilowatt system on a cloudless day, but Australia doesn’t have standard conditions due to a variety of reasons with a major one being that 1,000 watts a square meter is a nice round number.

    On overcast days you can probably expect to get over 10% of your system’s rating, but it will of course vary as not all clouds are created equal and some days will be worse than others.

  13. Hermit
    April 20th, 2014 at 08:04 | #13

    Val you could be seriously wrong about this statement

    many people supporting nuclear are doing so to block or distract from the need to transition to renewables

    . Let me turn it around; if it becomes clear that renewables will not make serious inroads into our dependence on coal, oil and gas then we’ll have to ask who is preventing the problem from being solved or at least significantly ameliorated.

    In my own case I pay nothing for electricity or car fuel (for most of the year) plus I am involved in several renewable energy projects. It’s clear to me without technical breakthroughs in energy storage renewables will never be enough to make a dent in fossil fuels. Now nuclear supporters are accused of AGW denialism or commercial motives. Perhaps they’re actually serious about reducing emissions beyond gestures.

  14. Ikonoclast
    April 20th, 2014 at 09:56 | #14

    @Hermit

    Energy storage breakthroughs are happening right now.

    (1) pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
    (2) thermal energy storage including molten salts which can efficiently store and release very large quantities of heat energy.
    (3) rechargeable battery systems
    (4) niche solutions such as compressed air energy storage, flywheel energy storage systems, the use of cryogenic stored energy, and even superconducting magnetic coils.
    (5) Peaking power plants that utilize a power-to-gas methane creation and storage process (where excess electricity is converted to hydrogen via electrolysis, combined with CO2 (low to neutral CO2 system) to produce methane (synthetic natural gas via the sabatier process) with stockage in the natural gas network.

    On the demand side;

    (1) Smart grids with advanced energy demand management.
    (2) Making electrical equipment and appliances able to adjust their operation to seek the lowest spot price of electricity.

    The thing is, solutions on the renewable side are multiple, systematic, system-wide and mutually reinforcing. Advances are also being made rapidly Thus you need a lot of knowledge and research to be aware of all the contributing possibilities. Nuclear proponents seem to have a different mindset and to only be able to comprehend a single monolithic solution rather than multiple contributing solutions.

    The thing is nuclear fission is not a long-term solution. What do you do when the fissile materials run out? It is not a renewable energy. I have already calculated that if we got all our world power from known uranium reserves then uranium fuel would last us about 11.6 years. This is from nuclear proponents’ claims that there are 200 years worth of uranium reserves at current use rates (which supplies 5.8% of all world primary energy use). Divide 200 by 100 and multiply by 5.8. It is astonishing but true that nuclear fission could only power us for about a decade (allowing for a bit more growth) before the fuel ran out.

    Nulclear power does not stack up. It is not sustainable. New technologies (fast and breeder reactors) cannot in any case be commercialised in a timeframe quick enough to prevent global warming. JQ has demonstrated that over and over in his posts on this topic. I have never seen you refute these facts. You never grapple with facts.

    If baseload solar renewable becomes an unavoidable requirement, then solar updraft towers can be built. These produce power 24/7.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

  15. Ikonoclast
    April 20th, 2014 at 09:57 | #15

    Hermit, energy storage breakthroughs are happening right now.

    (1) pumped-storage hydroelectricity.
    (2) thermal energy storage including molten salts which can efficiently store and release very large quantities of heat energy.
    (3) rechargeable battery systems
    (4) niche solutions such as compressed air energy storage, flywheel energy storage systems, the use of cryogenic stored energy, and even superconducting magnetic coils.
    (5) Peaking power plants that utilize a power-to-gas methane creation and storage process (where excess electricity is converted to hydrogen via electrolysis, combined with CO2 (low to neutral CO2 system) to produce methane (synthetic natural gas via the sabatier process) with stockage in the natural gas network.

    On the demand side;

    (1) Smart grids with advanced energy demand management.
    (2) Making electrical equipment and appliances able to adjust their operation to seek the lowest spot price of electricity.

    The thing is, solutions on the renewable side are multiple, systematic, system-wide and mutually reinforcing. Advances are also being made rapidly Thus you need a lot of knowledge and research to be aware of all the contributing possibilities. Nuclear proponents seem to have a different mindset and to only be able to comprehend a single monolithic solution rather than multiple contributing solutions.

    The thing is nuclear fission is not a long-term solution. What do you do when the fissile materials run out? It is not a renewable energy. I have already calculated that if we got all our world power from known uranium reserves then uranium fuel would last us about 11.6 years. This is from nuclear proponents’ claims that there are 200 years worth of uranium reserves at current use rates (which supplies 5.8% of all world primary energy use). Divide 200 by 100 and multiply by 5.8. It is astonishing but true that nuclear fission could only power us for about a decade (allowing for a bit more growth) before the fuel ran out.

    Nulclear power does not stack up. It is not sustainable. New technologies (fast and breeder reactors) cannot in any case be commercialised in a timeframe quick enough to prevent global warming. JQ has demonstrated that over and over in his posts on this topic. I have never seen you refute these facts. You never grapple with facts.

    If baseload solar renewable becomes an unavoidable requirement, then solar updraft towers can be built. These produce power 24/7.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

  16. Fran Barlow
    April 20th, 2014 at 12:26 | #16

    I have often wondered why solar updraft towers don’t combine the CSP technology and a transparent ‘skirt’ so that the collector area (perhaps a black surface with molten salt under it, heats an air mass driven into the base of the tower by the skirt and this drives the turbine.

    This might allow you to shrink the size of the collector field and cut the cost.

    Presumably, the molten salt, being underground and in a heavily insolated area would remain hot enough to do this usefully until new insolation reheated it on the following day.

  17. Ikonoclast
    April 20th, 2014 at 13:20 | #17

    @Fran Barlow

    Actually, the solar convection tower works at night anyway. The reason is that the surface cools slower than the air at 500 m to 1000 m. This means the temperature differential between surface and top of tower (which differential drives the convection) is higher at night. The result is that the solar convection tower makes even more power at night than by day! Voila! Power 24/7 from the sun!. So don’t let people tell you that solar (or rather the temperature differentials it causes) is not operational at night. This reality is a HUGE blow against the baseline power lobby. If baseline is still required it can be provided in this manner.

    Concentrating Solar Thermal and Molten Salt storage will duke it out with solar convection towers. The most economical and feasible (it might depend on region) will predominate.

    There is little point, I think, in trying to combine the two principles at the one site. The discussion is complicated but it boils down to them either competing over the same insolation or attempting to supplement each other from adjacent sites. I can’t really see a mechanism where that would work.

    However, a small scale solar convection tower coupled with VAWT (Vertical axis wind turbine) might work. A small solar convection chimney rotating through convection might gain additional rotation from wind vanes on the outside. Thus it would be a convection assisted VAWT. Think, wind-vanes on the outside, fixed horizontal turbine fans on the inside. If one or the other became a net drag those vanes or fans would have to “feather”. However, it might not work. It would take testing.

  18. April 20th, 2014 at 14:28 | #18

    Hermit, you wrote: “It’s clear to me without technical breakthroughs in energy storage renewables will never be enough to make a dent in fossil fuels.”

    To me it seems clear that the only way you would believe such a thing would be if you have chosen to believe lies rather than the facts or truth about renewable energy.

    South Australia provides a clear example of how renewable energy can quickly and at low cost reduce fossil fuel use that is basically impossible for you to have accidentally overlooked.

    To me it is clear that your thinking on this topic is broken. Fortunately there is a cognitive exercise that can help you overcome this problem called “thinking things through” and because I like you so much I am willing to spend some of my valuable time to help you work through this exercise.

    It consists of thinking about some very basic facts on the subject and then once you are confident that these basic facts accurately portray reality you can use them to check if your more complex ideas are supported by reality or not and you can reject those which are not.

    You may find the exercise a little challenging, or threatening, or even scary. But that’s okay. People do things that scare them every day and so can too. If you want to take things slowly we can and if you get overwhelmed by anxiety and don’t want to continue you don’t have to and I’ll be here to help you out if you want to continue later.

    So to get you started on thinking things through I’ll ask you a couple of simple questions. I hope you’ll find the courage to answer them and then work through several other simple questions I’ll ask you.

    1. Does South Australia generate about a third of its electricity from wind and solar?
    2. Does each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from wind and solar result in one kilowatt-hour, or close to one kilowatt-hour, less electricity being generated from fossil fuels?

  19. Hermit
    April 20th, 2014 at 15:28 | #19

    @Ronald Brak
    Good questions here’s the answer
    1) SA does indeed generate up to 30% of electricity from windpower but it also generates a neat 50% of its electricity from gas fired generators. Source; AEMO fuel report on SA 2013
    2) Not quite one for one displacement due to spinning reserve, thermal ramping and possibly some older wind turbines need black starting of their induction coils.

    Then there’s the omitted factor of cost. Back it in 2012 it was said SA had the highest electricity prices after Denmark and Germany. A lot has changed since then with public energy asset sales in other states. However the next king hit will come from piped gas going from under $5 per GJ this year to an expected $9 or more next year. The signs point to increased electricity imports when this happens notably from Victorian brown coal plants. Since there are no major new generation projects committed in SA this should mean the state’s direct and indirect emissions will increase. OTOH big power users like Holden are leaving never to come back.

  20. April 20th, 2014 at 15:41 | #20

    Hermit, just to keep things very basic, do you understand that South Australia generates over a quarter of its electricity from wind power?

  21. April 21st, 2014 at 19:28 | #21

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of information.
    I’m glad that you shared this useful information with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for
    sharing.

Comment pages
1 3 4 5 12320
Comments are closed.