Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The COP15 problem is not climate change skepticism, it is anti nuclear fanaticism

We are in a historic transition period between energy technologies that are clearly failing, and an as of yet uncharted new energy system. As in many moments of major historic transitions confusion reigns. The transition is a product of a double failure of carbon based energy technology. First world production of crude oil appears to either be near a peak or to have have peaked already. Geologists have been telling us for 50 years that this day would come, but the global economic system is not built on foresight. Demand for oil based products can be projected to increase, as consumers in massive emerging economies, China and India, are entering the car market. Thus an upward price pressure on global demand for petroleum will emerge, at a moment global petroleum production has stopped growing. It is clear that other essential carbon based commodes, coal and natural gas, although perhaps not at their peak production levels, will not last forever.

The Anthropogenic Global Warming, caused by the emission of CO2 from natural gasses is the second issue. I am not a AGW skeptic, but I do not see a point in arguing about it. There is no doubt that global temperatures are still increasing. 2009 is the 5th warmest year on record, despite an unusual event which should have a negative impact on global climate. I am referring to the quiet sun, the unusual prolonged minimum of sun spot activity this year. Skeptics who argue for a solar driven warming would be hard pressed to explain the relative lack of apparent climate effect by the current solar minimum.

A second grounds for skepticism rests on a denial of the concept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. this argument is basically anti-science and is rejected by more sophisticated AGW skeptics. They point to unverified theory about clouds, or suggest that a Medieval Warm Period demonstrates past climatic changes that are not explained by the CO2 warming theory. There is no conclusive evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was a global climate event. But even if the "Medieval Warm Period" was a world wide global climate phenomena, it is not sufficient to demonstrate that the 20th century climate trend was not caused by CO2 emissions. Falsifiability, not the existence of alternative hypotheses is the standard of science, and AGW skeptics have not demonstrated that the CO2-AGW hypothesis is false.

I am not going to argue this, there are plenty of Internet venues where those who are looking for climate debate can find it, and I suggest that those who wish to debate these points seek out venues like Real Climate, Grist or Joe Romm's blog to play their climate debate games. Furthermore, I would not be greatly surprised if the AGW skeptics fold their tents and slip quietly into the night within the next 5 years. Evens, I suspect, will catch up with the skeptics as global heat records are repeatedly shattered.

On Nuclear Green, I simply assume that global climate change is one of several reasons why the Age of Carbon should be swiftly ended. Most AGW skeptics can be reached by arguments such as ending the use of carbon based fuels will lower the cost of health insurance. or will contribute to American long term energy independence. For this reason I am not targeting AGW skeptics in this present post. In fact I share with them a deep concern regarding the protection of human freedom from the excesses of the eco-extremest. I believe that material prosperity is both possible and highly desirable in the post carbon era, and that this prosperity can and should be spread to everyone on the planet. I further believe that the goals of organizations like Greenpeace is to make future human freedom and prosperity impossible.

Paradoxically, the AGW skeptics are not the most serious enemies of AGW mitigation. The eco-extremests are. If AGW skeptics are basically in denial about AGW, they are not in denial about the essential role of nuclear power in a future of energy. Many AGW skeptics harbor rational doubts about the use of renewables in future energy schemes. The Green mainstream remains incapable of anything but a dogmatic hostility toward nuclear power. This anti-nuclear attitude, leads anti-nuclear environmentalists to hugely exaggerate the liabilities of nuclear power as well as engage in self-deceptive denials of the liabilities of renewable generation systems.

My own analysis has lead me to believe that renewables are not the answer to global warming and that the renewable solution would be the ruin human civilization. I am not alone in this. A generation ago, Alvin Weinberg concluded that among renewable options, only solar power had any potential for displacing fossil fuels, and that solar power would be far to expensive.

Weinberg wrote,
The yearly demand for solar electricity (50 x 10l2 kWh to 100 x 1012 kWh) could be met, in principle, by photovoltaic arrays (PV), by power towers (PT), or by ocean thermal energy converters (OTEC). The first two are intermittent, the last is not. If these intermittent systems are small and are backed up by firm power from a grid, they would need little storage; if they stand alone, or if the total demand exceeds what can be met by reliable backup, these systems would need large amounts of storage -say 6 t o 12 days. Electrical storage is much more expensive than heat storage; hence, a priori, we would expect the PV system with full electric storage to be more expensive than the PT, which uses heat storage. . . .

. . . we have not taken into account the varia- tion in solar flux between winter and summer. This is about a factor of 2 to 3, depending on the latitude. Thus to provide firm power, winter as well as summer,might require three times the capital investment incollectors, though not in storage. Thc storage for thc PT system is much cheaper, though it is too early to say whether the PT or PV system itself is the cheaper. Thus if a large PT can be installed complete for as little as $10 per ft2,we might achieve solar electricity at 20 per- cent fixed charges for, say 10 cents per kWh, but this still does not take into account the winter/summer variation. Firm power, winter as well as summer, might cost at least twice as much.

Weinberg laid out his cost estimates in 1977 dollars,
If a PV system, possibly with a light condensing system, can be installed for $10 per square foot
(ft(2)) without storage (this is 15 times cheaper than the present cost of photovoltaic silicon surfaces), then at our average output of 30 kWh per ft(2) per year, the capital cost of the system is about 33 cents per kWh per year; at 20 percent fixed charges, this comes to about 7 cents per kWh; a t 10 percent fixed charge, 3.5 cents per kWh. If the system were supplied with six days' storage and the batteries cost , with one replacement, $40 per kWh, we would add 66 cents per kWh per year t o the capital costs. The total cost of firm electricity would come to 20 cents per kWh and 10 cents per kWh at 20 percent and 10 percent fixed charges, respectively. Actually, even these may be underestimates for a full solar system, since we have not taken into account the varia- tion in solar flux between winter and summer. This is about a factor of 2 to 3, depending on the latitude. Thus to provide firm power, winter as well as summer,might require three times the capital investment in collectors, though not in storage. Thc storage for thc PT system is much cheaper, though it is too early to say whether the PT or PV system itself is the cheaper. Thus if a large PT can be installed complete for as little as $10 per ft2,we might achieve solar electricity at 20 percent fixed charges for, say 10 cents per kWh, but this still does not take into account the winter/summer variation. Firm power, winter as well as summer, might cost at least twice as much.

There dollar has undergone considerable inflation since 1977. A 1977 dollar was worth about $3.61 in2009 dollar buying power. Weinberg also noted that the size of a world wide high energy solar array would pose a huge financial challenge:
The total land required in the 100 x 10(12) kWh per year scenario is about 80,000 square miles.
Weinberg concluded:
To summarize, it would appear that the high solar electric scenario seems to be very expensive; the high biomass scenario seems to use too much land; the high OTEC scenario seems to imply serious cl matic changes. An all-solar future is almost surely a low-energy future, unless man is prepared to pay a much larger share of his to a1 income for energy than he now pays.
My own analysis has focused on more limited cases, but it has pointed too the same underlying cost problem. Solar is too expensive to be practical. These conclusions find further support in the analysis offered by Barry Brook, Ten Trainer, Peter Lang, and others.

Our present problems in fighting global warming are large due to view preached by eco-extreemest that climate change can be prevented through recourse to renewable energy. \Dogmatic anti-nuclear ideology, and the attendant renewables schemes are the real cause of the failure of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol explicitly rejected nuclear power, the only viable solution to AGW that would protect civilization. The failure of Kyoto was in large measure due that it advocated climate solutions that were simply impossible. Even if Kyoto had not been such an total failure, a report prepared by the IAEA demonstrates that a successful Kyoto would have eliminated far fewer emissions by 2010 than the world's 437 reactors were already eliminating by 2000.

The anti-nuclear fanatics are in no small measure responsible for the failure of the United States Congress to pass much needed climate change legislation this year. Congressional Republicans would by in to a reasonable program to promote nuclear power, with very little actual costs to the tax payers, while the eco-fanatics are doing everything they can to sabotage a pronuclear approach to climate change legislation.

The present Copenhagen conference appears to be headed to an even more disastrous failure than Kyoto. The Copenhagen conference appears to be headed toward buying of poor nations with large bribes, rather than giving them what their people need, access to high levels of energy though low cost nuclear power. This is what India plans to give its people, and there is no excuse for not benefiting the rest of the poor people on earth with a similar plan.

If we are serious about fighting global warming and global poverty, we have no choice but to adopt the nuclear option. We must reject the fanatic misanthropies of the eco-extremests, that will inevitable lead to poverty for everyone, and universal misery.


Barry Brook said...

Great post Charles, I agree with all of this. Too many environmentalists are becoming their own worst enemy.

donb said...

The irony is that those least convinced about AGW are also the most supportive of nuclear power. I put myself in that group.

One reason why I would like to see the use of carbon-based fuels minimized is that this stuff has higher value as feedstock for chemicals, carbon fiber, etc. Just burning it when we can get the heat we need from nuclear sources makes little sense from a long-term point of view.

Yet another serious argument for decarbonizing our energy sources is the negative health effects of combustion products that wind up in the air we all breathe.

One other point: Dr. Weinberg mentioned ocean thermal energy converters (OTEC), but did not go into their disadvantages. While they potentially offer round-the-clock energy, they have problems. The biggest one in my mind is set by the laws of thermodynamics. That is, because the difference in the hot temperature and the cold temperature is fairly small, large amounts of heat have to be moved to extract a small amount of energy. This means that the heat exchangers need to have a large surface area (materials intensive). This also means that large amounts of water have to be pumped. Since so much water is pumped, a lot of the energy developed by the turbine is eaten up by the pumps. The result is that a small decrease in efficiency anywhere in the system(by say biofouling of the heat exchanger, cracks in the water pipe, or wear in the pump) has a big effect on net output of the system, even to the point where it grinds to a halt as the turbine output falls below what is needed to run the pumps.

LarryD said...

I believe you misunderstand what the objectives are; the behavior of the AGW partisans is consistent with grabbing power over people and societies, they're not interested in rational solutions to AGW at all. And there are a lot of "useful fools" willing to support them as long as they get rich in the process.

Unknown said...

AGW supporters in general are not the way you try to paint them LarryD. wither you think the warming is man made or not is immaterial. fact is that not acting on the warming that undeniably is happening is guaranteed to lead to failure. fact is that most AGW supporters are also supporters of nuclear solutions. Greenpeace et al. are not representative of anyone but themselves.
What the final goals of Greenpeace is i cant tell. but those goals are apparently not compatible with prosperity for the masses.

LarryD said...

I chose to use the phrase "AGW partisans" precisely to paint with a narrower brush. Greenpeace is definitely part of whom I speak.

Charles Barton said...

Larry, i would prefer to distinguish between eco-extremest, and the millions of sober and reasonable people, including tens of thousands of PhD level scientists, who are convinced that the AGW hypothesis is supported by strong and scientifically valid evidence. It bothers me that AGW skeptics seem unable to distinguish between Greenpeace, and Berry Brook.

LarryD said...

Again, I chose "partisans" rather than "supporters" to make exactly such a distinction.

Can we agree on a list of eco-extremests? If so, I have no objection to using your term as long as we know we're actually talking about the same group of people.

Charles Barton said...

Larry, I doubt that we could agree on a list. I would see the dividing line having to do with mitigation goals and steps. The is whether or the goals are compatible with a prosperous and free society, and whether the steps are consistent with those goals. I suspect that you would object to doing anything that could not be justified on other grounds.

DocForesight said...

I'd say I'm in the camp with donb and LarryD in this area. While I'm involved in solar technology, I have come, over the past year, to really embrace nuclear power as the most rational form of electricity and heat energy. Never was I anti-nuclear, just not knowledgeable enough about it's superiority.

And I owe much of that increased knowledge to Charles, Barry, Rod Adams, Kirk and many others who contribute their comments.

Whether Roy Spencer's cloud and negative-forcing feedback theory is correct or not, it ought to be heard and thoroughly discussed. Not just dismissed cavalierly because he doesn't hew to the CO2 cause-effect crew.

Using nuclear power for base-load makes arithmetic sense and, as Charles and David Walters have said, the poor peoples of the world deserve to the enjoy the quality of life we have taken for granted. It's the anti-nuclear crowd that shows such disdain for their plight and poverty.

SteveK9 said...

I think you are too pessimistic about the green 'mainstream'. Stewart Brand, Jamers Lovelock, and Patrick Moore are all important icons of the green establishment and all strongly support nuclear energy.

Robert Hargraves said...

Charles, did Weinberg also give a comparable cost figure for the thorium molten salt reactor?

Charles Barton said...

Robert i have discussed ORNL MSR cost estimates in the past, and I might revisit that post in the near future.


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