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Video and podcast about confusing the hockey stick with the 'decline'

Posted on 1 May 2011 by John Cook

A common climate misconception is confusing the hockey stick with the 'decline' in tree-ring density. Skeptical Science has cleared up the misconception in Muller Misinformation #1: confusing Mike's trick with hide the decline as well as in this interview on The Climate Show. A new Climate Crock video Unwinding "Hide the Decline" has been released by Peter Sinclair which is one of the clearest explanations of 'Mike's trick' and 'hide the decline' yet (as well as the most entertaining):

Similarly, Dan Moutal has just released Episode 19 of the Irregular Climate podcast. It's another great podcast, informative as always (although Dan should probably read our rebuttal of the climate myth "Renewables can't provide baseload"). I talk to Dan about Richard Muller, BEST and the confusion between Michael Mann's hockey stick and Keith Briffa's 'decline' in tree-ring density. You can subscribe to the Irregular Climate podcast on iTunes.

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. Great job by Peter Sinclair. A very thorough and clear summation of the 'hide the decline' confusion. No sleight meant to Dan, I haven't listened to his show yet :-)
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  2. Careful, Peter, of the little "yippers" or their leader, the "Grand Poohbah Yipper" might send you a terse email. It IS their MO...anyway, loved the vid & the not-pulling-of-punches. The denialarati won't like it, of course; most are unlikely to even click on the link, however.

    I'll listen to Dan's piece tonight.

    The Yooper
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  3. Dan's podcast was mostly good, but John is right that he should read "Renewables can't provide baseload".
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  4. By the way, I just updated that rebuttal to include the 100% renewable energy production by 2050 posts.
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  5. I may need to clarify something here in regards to renewables and baseload power.

    I probably oversimplified things in the podcast, but it seems to me that most of the solution presented in the "Renewables can't provide baseload" article have yet to be tested at the required scale. Nuclear has.

    What I see see with renewables and baseload power is a bunch of interesting solutions to a tough problem that are almost but not quite read for prime time.

    I may be overly pessimistic here (actually I hope I am), but I have seen little evidence to support that yet.

    But arguing this point is a little besides the point. We need to look at energy generation and properly weight the pros and cons of of all available technologies.
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  6. Well if you read the end of the rebuttal, you'll see a couple plans for producing 100% energy from renewable sources using existing technology. So I disagree with it not being ready for prime time. And you also have to add this to the list of renewable pros, or at least take it off the cons.
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  7. The whole idea of 'base load' was invented by generating companies because they wanted to build large power stations for economic reasons. As a result the spare offpeak capacity had to be dealt with (the generators have to keep running even if the demand isn't there), to do this they pushed the consumer goods explosion in the 50s.

    Of course because the whole concept is established, it is inevitable that they now are scared of losing their share of the 'market' so are happy to push large nuclear and gas power stations and 'joke' about the inability of renewables to meet the demand that they manufactured in the first place!
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  8. Like I said, perhaps (hopefully) I am overly pessimistic. And there are a lot of promising solutions to the baseload issue.

    I just think getting off Fossil Fuels will be more difficult without nukes.

    As for the need for the need for baseload power, I had not heard this argument before, so I will need time to digest it.
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  9. "Baseload power" is a concept that exists only because certain technologies are inflexible, not because it reflects what is actually required.

    The demand for power fluctuates through a range of about 2.5:1. In other words, the peak power requirement during a hot sunny day in a place like California is 2.5 times greater than in the middle of the night in winter.

    Coal-fired power stations and nuclear powerplants really like a constant output, both for technical reasons (it's difficult to change the output for both plant types) and economic reasons (coal and nuclear powerplants have relatively high capital costs, relatively low fuel costs, and finite lifetimes, so getting a good cost per kWh generated depends on generating as much as possible during the lifetime of the plant).

    Because of this mismatch between supply and demand we have "peaking power generators", like gas, that follow the load and produce more power when the demand is high and less when it is low. Peak power generators have much higher fuel costs compared to capital costs and they pay for themselves by only selling power when the price is right.

    This is why many utilities offer pricing schemes where they charge more for power during peak periods and much less for power during off-peak.

    The forecast expansion of nuclear was also the driving force behind expanding pumped hydro capacity a few decades ago (see Dinorwig power station for an example) so it's a mistake to think that energy storage is an issue for renewables only.

    In fact, with solar power, because the generating behaviour more closely correlates with demand, the gap between what is being generated and what is being demanded is less, and peaking power generators are actually required less often when using solar than when using so-called "baseload power generators" like coal and nuclear. Nevertheless, there is no reason why solar and wind can't displace a large percentage of "baseload power" generators with load-following generators filling the gap in exactly the same way they do now, and as storage is added to the system (molten salt, pumped hydro, etc.) peaking power will be used less and less often.

    Of couse, we have a long way to go before this becomes an issue -- until solar and wind penetration exceeds 20% of the grid, we can just use "grid storage" (i.e., use them to displace other sources of power), which is extremely efficient because you're not really "storing" energy at all, you're simply avoiding the generation of energy you don't need. Here is a report from Germany on the reduction in the cost of electricity that wind power resulted in that more than compensated for the subsidy paid to have that wind power added: Merit Order Effect

    The reason for the cost reduction was that although wind power wasn't the cheapest energy source available, wind power providers will dump all the power they can generate onto the market whenever they can -- there's no benefit to them in turning off turbines when the price gets too low because there's no "fuel" to save in doing so. The availability of wind power electricity at whatever-price-was-going meant that customers avoided buying power from peak power generators using more expensive technology when there was enough wind for them to do so.
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  10. Not sure how many people saw this piece in the June 2011 issue of Scientific American. The good folks at Climate Progress will probably be able to host it a bit longer than SciAm (who usually keep "the free reading window" open for only 30 days)
    http://climateprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Muller.pdf
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