The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hansen on You Tube

Consider the possibility that he might be telling the truth.


Steve Bloom said...

Climate scientists should do more of this. I suppose there must be plenty I'm not aware of, but if so it doesn't seem to get promoted much.

This was the first time I'd actually heard Hansen. I found listening a little jarring because of the southwest Iowa accent and cadences (a familiar sound from my childhood) combined with the slight NYC overlay and more sophisticated vocabulary.

bernie said...

This was actually a pretty good interview. The dice thing was really hokey and really misleading in that it finesses all the issues over the temperature record.
I also do not understand how a DC grid will somehow make the inherent variability of solar and wind somehow less variable. Does someone have an explanation?

Michael Tobis said...

Bernie, both of your questions are answered by the power of statistical aggregation.

bernie said...

So you are arguing that within the US, there will always be enough generating capacity available wherever the wind is blowing and the sun is shining? Well, let's see in the Winter months (D, J, F) there is an average of 8 hours of sunshine in the SW where presumably most of the solar power generation will be. (In the NE, average daily sunshine in these months is a pitiful 5 hours.) Aggregate all you like but unless there is an efficient intra-day and inter-day storage system, solar is hardly going help us in the NE. The inherent variability of windpower also puts an emphasis on the storage issue. I would love to look at references to the storage issue if someone has them.

Michael Tobis said...

Yes, it's really about storage.

I am told that this is a solvable problem by someone in the business; I don't know if his info is embargoed; I presume not entirely because he doesn't know me all that well and I know what he is up to roughly speaking.

That may provide material for a longer article.

Meanwhile, Google is your friend. You know research used to be a lot harder than it is now. What, exactly, are you waiting for?

You can start here:

Let us know what you find.

bernie said...

I will definitely take a look, but Google tends to be a bit indiscriminate. I would have thought that proponents of renewables would have a pretty definitive reference on this issue.

Michael Tobis said...

It's a big world, Bernie.

I'm a trained signal processsing and digital communication engineer, and a computer scientist and a climatologist and something of a lapsed statistician, though I'd like to revive that, and a lapsed digital circuit designer, which I do not intend to revive. I hope that's near enough for one lifetime; I'm looking forward to more art and music someday.

I am not a mechanical engineer, a civil engineer or a power engineer, nor an expert on geopolitics or taxation and subsidy. I have an active interest in these subjects but no special training or expertise.

I know people who are expert in these matters, and hope to pick their brains someday, but meanwhile, your Google is as good as mine. I'd welcome seeing what you can do with it.

Managing the planet is a big problem. I never claimed to be Mr Answer Man, and people would give me a lot of deserved grief if I did.

cynthia said...


Hansen's accent isn't irritating to me. In fact, I find it kinda cute. He can lose the yellow tie, though.

If you can put up with his accent for an hour or so, you might be interested in hearing this talk he gave on global warming at Caltech on 11/29/07:

David B. Benson said...

The plan for CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) is to heat some salts; these can then be stored, molten, for more than overnight. The moletn salts are drzwn off to a heat exchanger to make steam; the steam runs trough turbines to turn thye electric generators.

There is absolutely nothing new about any of this, other than improved materials and engineering designs.

The HVDC transmission lines on the drawing board are expected to have losses of only 3% per 1000 km. We'll see. In any case, power requirements in one region can be met by generation in another. This will be especially useful when the HVDC transmission lines run generally west to east.

bernie said...

I understand what is technically possible - the question is what is both technically and economically feasible. The relative and inherent inefficiency of solar and wind plus its variable and intermittent profile will require essentially a capacity roughly 3 times of actual output plus sufficient base generating capacity plus the requisite storage plus the new transmission/distribution costs makes for a tough business case.

Michael Tobis said...

More carbon emissions is not morally feasible. We have to stop. We could have slowed down in the past and we didn't. Now we have to stop as quickly as we can.

If this keeps going much longer we will have to find a way to go backwards, which will not have much of a "business case" at all.

Steve Bloom said...

Cynthia, it wasn't actually irritating. I said jarring because I found myself frequently focusing on how he was talking. It's a bit like reading a novel where the author's style forces you to constantly notice it even though you're trying not to.

Bernie, you should have good success with this stuff at the Grist/Gristmill and Climate Progress sites. Check the links also. IIRC the Oil Drum has some of this material as well. Oh, and of course look at the Rocky Mountain Institute site. California Energy Commission too.

bernie said...

Thanks - I will check. Googling was a bit of a dry hole, with few hits at least in the first 30 or 40references that contained empirical evidence. The site, a loose industry association apparently, had some neat graphics, but they were asking readers to submit their estimates of technical performance data - which I found odd to say the least.

bernie said...

Ignoring the economics and the need to make a business case is a dog that simply will not hunt. The DOE's report on 20% Windpower Generation certainly attempts to make a case. One should certainly be able to provide estimates of the costs of an additional ton of carbon - how else do we implement all these carbon trading schemes. If the urgency is to reduce CO2 emissions, why not simply promote Nuclear Power like France and Japan?

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not suggesting ignoring economics altogether, I'm suggesting taking certain things off the table. I would rather this were done with incentives rather than regulations, but that's a detail. Net carbon accumulation must slow immediately and reach essentially a complete stop in the foreseeable future, if not a modest reversal.

Any other outcome indicates that the marketplace is set up to promote destructive activities. If you insist on an economic viewpoint, that would be saying there are enormous externalities skewing the market. This was forgivable twenty years ago when we didn't know better, but nowadays it's just irresponsible for fuel interests and half-baked think tanks to promote it and stupid for the rest of us to comply. We must attribute the costs of carbon to its emitters.

David B. Benson said...

Not to mention the fantastically large subsidies that Big Oil and King Coal receive from taxpayers.

Eliminate all that and the business case for solar and wind suddenly looks very good.