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Solving Global Warming - Not Easy, But Not Too Hard

Posted on 9 November 2010 by dana1981

A frequent skeptic argument is that solving the global warming problem will be "too hard", and thus we should just resign ourselves to trying to adapt to whatever climate change happens.  Considering that many consequences of a large magnitude climate change would be very bad, hopefully this is not true.  Although it may be comforting to get in the car, close our eyes, sit back, and hope it does not crash into a brick wall, the wiser course of action is to see the wall in our path and attempt to avoid it if possible.

The argument that solving the global warming problem by reducing human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is "too hard" generally stems from the belief that (i) our technology is not sufficiently advanced to achieve significant emissions reductions, and/or (ii) that doing so would cripple the global economy.

Technology

Pacala and Socolow (2004) (PS04) investigated the first claim by examining the various technologies available to reduce GHG emissions.  Every technology they examined "has passed beyond the laboratory bench and demonstration project; many are already implemented somewhere at full industrial scale."  PS04 examined what would be required to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 500 parts per million (ppm), which would require that GHG emissions be held near the present level of 7 billion tons of carbon per year (GtC/year) for the next 50 years. 

PS04 used the concept of a "stabilization wedge", in which "a wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for 1 GtC/year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years."  Implementing seven such wedges would achieve sufficient GHG emissions reductions to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at 500 ppm by 2050, and emissions would have to decrease linearly during the second half of the 21st century.  PS04 identifies 15 current options which could be scaled up to produce at least one wedge, and note that their list is not exhaustive.

  1. Improved fuel economy: One wedge would be achieved if, instead of averaging 30 milesper gallon (mpg) on conventional fuel, cars in 2054 averaged 60 mpg, with fuel type and distance traveled unchanged.  Given recent advances in hybrid and electric vehicle technology, this is a very plausible wedge.

  2. Reduced reliance on cars: One wedge would be achieved if the average fuel economy of the 2 billion 2054 cars were 30 mpg, but the annual distance traveled were 5000 miles instead of 10,000 miles.

  3. More efficient buildings: One wedge is the difference between pursuing and not pursuing known and established approaches to energy-efficient space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, and refrigeration in residential and commercial buildings.

  4. Improved power plant efficiency: One wedge would be created if twice today’s quantity of coal-based electricity in 2054 were produced at 60% instead of 40% efficiency.

  5. Substituting natural gas for coal: One wedge would be achieved by displacing 1400 gigawatts (GW) of baseload coal power with baseload gas by 2054.  Given recent natural gas price decreases, this is another very plausible wedge.

  6. Storage of carbon captured in power plants: One wedge would be provided by the installation of carbon capture and storage (CCS) at 800 GW of baseload coal plants by 2054 or 1600 GW of baseload natural gas plants.

  7. Storage of carbon captured in hydrogen plants: The hydrogen resulting from precombustion capture of CO2 can be sent offsite to displace the consumption of conventional fuels rather than being consumed onsite to produce electricity.  One wedge would require the installation of CCS, by 2054, at coal plants producing 250 million tons of hydrogen per year (MtH2/year), or at natural gas plants producing 500 MtH2/year.

  8. Storage of carbon captured in synthetic fuels plants: Large-scale production of synthetic fuels from carbon is a possibility.  One wedge would be the difference between capturing and venting the CO2 from coal synthetic fuels plants producing 30 million barrels of synthetic fuels per day.

  9. Nuclear power: One wedge of nuclear electricity would displace 700 GW of efficient baseload coal capacity in 2054. This would require 700 GW of nuclear power with the same 90% capacity factor assumed for the coal plants, or about twice the nuclear capacity currently deployed.

  10. Wind power: One wedge of wind electricity would require the deployment of 2000 GW of nominal peak capacity (GWp) that displaces coal electricity in 2054 (or 2 million 1-MWp wind turbines).  This would require approximately 10 times the current (as of 2010) deployment of wind power by mid-century.  Note that global wind power deployment increased from approximately 40 GW in 2004 to 158 GW in 2009.

  11. Solar photovoltaic power: One wedge from photovoltaic (PV) electricity would require 2000 GWp of installed capacity that displaces coal electricity in 2054.  This would require approximately 100 times the current (as of 2010) deployment of solar PV power by mid-century.  Note that global solar PV power deployment increased from approximately 3 GW in 2004 to 20 GW in 2009.

  12. Renewable hydrogen: Renewable electricity can produce carbon-free hydrogen for vehicle fuel by the electrolysis of water. The hydrogen produced by 4 million 1-MWp windmills in 2054, if used in high-efficiency fuel-cell cars, would achieve a wedge of displaced gasoline or diesel fuel.  However, use of renewable energy to power electric vehicles is more efficient than powering hydrogen vehicles with hydrogen produced through electrolysis from renewable power.

  13. Biofuels: One wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provided the ethanol itself were fossil-carbon free. This ethanol production rate would be about 50 times larger than today’s global production rate, almost all of which can be attributed to Brazilian sugarcane and United States corn.  The potential exists for increased biofuels production to compromise agriculturaly production, unless the biofuels are created from a non-food crop or other source such as algae oil.

  14. Forest management: At least one wedge would be available from reduced tropical deforestation and the management of temperate and tropical forests. At least one half-wedge would be created if the current rate of clear-cutting of primary tropical forest were reduced to zero over 50 years instead of being halved. A second half-wedge would be created by reforesting or afforesting approximately 250 million hectares in the tropics or 400 million hectares in the temperate zone (current areas of tropical and temperate forests are 1500 and 700 million hectares, respectively). A third half-wedge would be created by establishing approximately 300 million hectares of plantations on non-forested land.

  15. Agricultural soils management: When forest or natural grassland is converted to cropland, up to one-half of the soil carbon is lost, primarily because annual tilling increases the rate of decomposition by aerating undecomposed organic matter.  One-half to one wedge could be stored by extending conservation tillage to all cropland, accompanied by a verification program that enforces the adoption of soil conservation practices that work as advertised.

PS04 concludes "None of the options is a pipe dream or an unproven idea....Every one of these options is already implemented at an industrial scale and could be scaled up further over 50 years to provide at least one wedge."  While the study has identified 15 possible wedges, PS04 argues that only seven would be necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 500 ppm by mid-century.  The list in the study is also not exhaustive, for example omitting concentrated solar thermal power and other renwable energy technologies besides wind and solar PV.

However, Dr. Joseph Romm (Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration) argues that at least 14 wedges would be necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm.  Romm proposes what he believes to be the most plausible way to achieve 16 wedges:

  • 1 wedge of vehicle efficiency — all cars 60 mpg, with no increase in miles traveled per vehicle.
  • 1 of wind for power — one million large (2 MWp) wind turbines
  • 1 of wind for vehicles — another 2000 GW wind. Most cars must be plug-in hybrids or pure electric vehicles.
  • 3 of concentrated solar thermal — ~5000 GW peak.
  • 3 of efficiency — one each for buildings, industry, and cogeneration/heat-recovery for a total of 15 to 20 million GW-hrs.
  • 1 of coal with carbon capture and storage — 800 GW of coal with CCS
  • 1 of nuclear power — 700 GW plus 10 Yucca mountains for storage
  • 1 of solar PV — 2000 GW peak [or less PV and some geothermal, tidal, and ocean thermal]
  • 1 of cellulosic biofuels — using one-sixth of the world’s cropland [or less land if yields significantly increase or algae-to-biofuels proves commercial at large scale].
  • 2 of forestry — End all tropical deforestation. Plant new trees over an area the size of the continental U.S.
  • 1 of soils — Apply no-till farming to all existing croplands.

The bottom line is that while achieving the necessary GHG emissions reductions and stabilization wedges will be difficult, but it is possible.  And there are many solutions and combinations of wedges to choose from.

Economics

Working Group III of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report focused on climate change mitigation, and a substantial portion of the report focused on the economic impacts of mitigation efforts.  The key finding of the report is as follows.

"Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels (high agreement, much evidence)."

The report found that stabilizing between 445 and 535 ppm CO2-equivalent (350–440 ppm CO2) will slow the average annual global GDP growth rate by less than 0.12%.  Additionally, this slowed GDP growth rate is in comparison to the unrealistic business-as-usual (BAU) scenario where climate change has no impact on the economy.  By 2030, the IPCC found that global GDP would decrease by a total of no more than 3% compared to the unrealistic BAU scenario, depending on the magnitude of the emissions reductions. 

The report also found that health benefits from reduced air pollution as a result of actions to reduce GHG emissions can be substantial and may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.  Some other key findings:

"Energy efficiency options for new and existing buildings could considerably reduce CO2 emissions with net economic benefit."

"Forest-related mitigation activities can considerably reduce emissions from sources and increase CO2 removals by sinks at low costs."

"Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for producers and consumers to significantly invest in low-GHG products, technologies and processes. Such policies could include economic instruments, government funding and regulation."

In short, there are numerous opportunites to reduce GHG emissions at low cost, some of which result in a net economic gain.  Overall, emissions can be reduced at a cost which will not cripple the global economy.  Moreover, these emissions reductions would have a significant positive economic impact by slowing global warming.

We have the necessary technology.  The net costs to implement them will not be crippling.  The question remains - do we have the will to put forth the effort and initial investment to solve the problem?

This post is the Advanced version (written by Dana Nuccitelli [dana1981]) of the skeptic argument "it's too hard".  Basic and Intermediate versions are also available.

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Comments 101 to 138 out of 138:

  1. Bren, Do you know how many mines have 15m thick, high quality seams? It is my understanding that in the US they mountaintop mine seams as thin as 1 meter, and the coal is not high quality. They dump the spoil in nearby streams. The total impact would be at least 10x your best case. That puts energy density around 10% of the solar farm, even without counting the destruction of the downstream environment. To rehabilitate the solar farm you just have to remove the infrastructure, the mountaintop mine is essentially permanently destroyed. BP: Since you like worst cases, can you put together an estimate of W/m2 for mountaintop mining? Consider the life of the plant, not just one year.
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  2. AAAARGH! No mention of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. It has obviously happened in the past. Plant trees, lots of trees. Trees in the desert. Trees everywhere. Trees obviate the need to control emissions. Everybody Talks About the Weather, but Nobody Does Anything About It. Yatir Forest Project
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  3. Berényi: regarding the link: You have the losses in mining the coal because you have an energy input, you have losses transporting it because you have an energy input, you have losses at the generator. The energy input used to mine and transport are a loss and should be included in the efficiency figures, which would lower the 38% figure. You also need to include the production of the trains, machines and vehicles to shift the coal. That is another loss, although if they are used on other sites as well, then this energy loss could be a percentage of the total. As Bern has pointed out, you need a life cycle analysis. For a solar farm you would include energy used to maintain the site, such as vehicles and fuel. Also as I stated earlier, it's a mine field and simple online calculations on a blog just don't work on such a complex subject. On the issue of energy payback issues there is plenty of research, where all energy inputs are included. But there is little (or nothing) on land use that is integrated with it.
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  4. I don't understand why there is a debate about the land use differences between a solar plant and a coal plant. It makes no sense to me. Regardless of which fuel uses land more efficiently, one is self sustaining and clean and the other is neither of those. If both of these fuels were clean and sustainable, then that is when land use could be argued between the two to determine which would be the better option. But the future is clearly solar power (and other self-sustainable options) which is why investments need to be made in it. Debating about small differences in land usage while ignoring the fact that a coal power plant spews more CO2 into the atmosphere than miles and miles of forest could ever make up for is like debating which of two cars you should drive based on looks even though the engine is broken in one of them. Also @TOP: Sequestration was mentioned, but it isn't always that simple. Trees are good and all, but they don't fix the problem. It simply will mask the symptoms for a short time. Obviously deforestation is a problem that needs to be fixed too. But you can't just plant a forest anywhere you'd like (including the desert). The levels at which we've been emitting GHGs over the last 50 years cannot simply be controlled through natural plant consumption. However, it does make for a good wedge in part of the solution.
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  5. I wrote a longish comment about energy inputs at a mine and transport which should be included in a coal analysis, but it disappeared into the ether when I clicked on submit.
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  6. Let's see the other side of the coin. National Geographic, March 2006 When Mountains Move The quest for Appalachian coal has led to mountaintop removal, a process that's been called strip mining on steroids. By John G. Mitchell Photograph by Melissa Farlow It's gruesome, but I think the problem is not coal as such, but regulations and enforcement. If these companies would be allowed to do solar or wind or whatever under such lax rules, they'd destroy even more land and human lives. #100 JMurphy at 04:06 AM on 12 November, 2010 Sounds like the nuclear waste problem - but not nearly as bad. Perhaps we should wait for the technological breakthrough there too ? The toxic waste from used batteries is much worse than nuclear stuff, as it is supposed to be generated in a distributed manner in residential areas. Under these circumstances proper handling and enforcement is next to impossible. For nuclear waste we already had the basic technological breakthrough many decades ago, just development was halted by the same people now trying to throttle economy altogether. It is called nuclear breeder technology which could use present day nuclear waste as fuel, leaving behind a hundred times less waste product. Not only that, but the light radionuclides in it would have a vastly shorter lifetime, making nuclear waste harmless in several centuries (instead of hundreds of thousand or million years). Compare it to heavy metals, that never go away. Increased efficiency of breeder technology would also make nuclear fuel reserves practically inexhaustible.
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  7. Berényi - "I think the problem is not coal as such, but regulations and enforcement". Having grown up in Appalachia, I would have to disagree. Additional regulation would help matters, but even when a strip mine is refilled and 'reclaimed', the underlying mineral formations are destroyed, turning the filled pit from solid rock into a giant percolator that seeps various minerals and mine tailings into the water table. Mountaintop mining cannot be undone - a mountain gets topped off, the rubble goes into a nearby valley, and no-one can rebuild the mountain. Again, the rubble acts as a percolator, the valley is permanently destroyed, and you have the water table contamination once more. That includes some heavy metals that had been bound in the rock formations, but are now accessible since the 'reclaimed' rubble piles are essentially gravel covered with sod/grass. These effects "don't go away" either - except on geologic time scales. Coal for power is just not a good idea.
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  8. BP - "current battery packs...are turned into highly toxic waste at the end of their lifetime." What sort of battery packs are you talking about? I know lithium ion battery packs (which are cetainly current technology) are recycled (i.e. see Tesla), and don't contain heavy metals to begin with. clonmac #104 - very good point that land use efficiency is a relatively minor concern when it comes to energy production and associated environmental impact. There's no shortage of unused land, particularly in deserts, and of course rooftops.
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  9. clonmac #104 "But the future is clearly solar power (and other self-sustainable options) which is why investments need to be made in it." I agree, but more so because it is supposedly a sustainable energy source. Or maybe I said too much. Has anyone produced a study that the world's photovoltaic production could actually sustain itself energywise, not to mention contributing this so called wedge? You know, it actually takes quite a bit of energy to create a solar cell (i.e., energy to get people to factories, turn on the diffusion furnaces, power the factory, package, ship, install, refurbish, and in the end clean the land of high tech poison left from all the exotic chemical processes.)
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  10. #107 KR at 06:21 AM on 12 November, 2010 Coal for power is just not a good idea. Let's say mountain top removal mining is not a bright idea. The story is not about coal as such, but regulations permitting a particular method. There are other, more benign ways to extract coal. You should clearly change section 515(c) of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Current version reads like this: SECTION 515 ­ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PERFORMANCE STANDARDS [30 U.S.C. 1265] [...] (c) Procedures; exception to original contour restoration requirements (1) Each State program may and each Federal program shall include procedures pursuant to which the regulatory authority may permit surface mining operations for the purposes set forth in paragraph (3) of this subsection. (2) Where an applicant meets the requirements of paragraphs (3) and (4) of this subsection a permit without regard to the requirement to restore to approximate original contour set forth in subsection 515(b)(3) or 515(d)(2) and (3) of this section may be granted for the surface mining of coal where the mining operation will remove an entire coal seam or seams running through the upper fraction of a mountain, ridge, or hill (except as provided in subsection (c)(4)(A) hereof) by removing all of the overburden and creating a level plateau or a gently rolling contour with no highwalls remaining, and capable of supporting postmining uses in accord with the requirements of this subsection. etc., etc. Original contour restoration has to be enforced without exception. No "may permit" or "may be granted" in law, it's just call for corruption. In addition to this, topsoil has to be removed and stored in a separate location until open mining of a segment is finished. After contour restoration, soil has to be put back and the area reforested. It is as simple as that. As far as I know the US is still a democracy, at least in theory. Laws are supposed to be written and rewritten by representatives of the people, by the people, for the people and not by corporate lobby groups. Am I missing something?
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  11. Unfortunately, Berényi, original contour restoration may not be possible (rubble is not stable/safe at angles of repose that the original solid rock hillsides often had), and the damage to the water table from rubble percolation is unaffected by top contours. Currently mountaintop mining is the prevalent up-and-coming technique, due to it's low (financial) costs compared to deep mining or even strip mining. I have some hopes that regulation will be developed to minimize this, but not strong ones. $$$ speaks loudly... I'm (personal opinion warning) a big fan of carbon taxes - if it's financially advantageous to use renewable energy, companies will do just that. Taxes, like regulations/penalties, are one of our available behavioral modification strategies.
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  12. #109 RSVP at 07:41 AM on 12 November, 2010 Has anyone produced a study that the world's photovoltaic production could actually sustain itself energywise, not to mention contributing this so called wedge? You know, it actually takes quite a bit of energy to create a solar cell (i.e., energy to get people to factories, turn on the diffusion furnaces, power the factory, package, ship, install, refurbish, and in the end clean the land of high tech poison left from all the exotic chemical processes.) The point is no such study is needed. Just a free market with no subsidies whatsoever and proper regulations (to ensure for example no high tech poison is left behind). If it takes more energy to put solar panels in operation than they are able to produce in their lifetime, power sold would not cover production costs, therefore only madmen (and government agencies) would invest their money in such projects. Let people think for themselves. In this respect the distributed information processing system called free market is much more efficient than any scientific study could possibly be. In the rare cases expert opinion is really needed, people would contract and pay for it.
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  13. #111 KR at 08:35 AM on 12 November, 2010 the damage to the water table from rubble percolation is unaffected by top contours. [...] I'm (personal opinion warning) a big fan of carbon taxes If you are worried over water table contamination, go for a tax on it, not on something else. Makes more sense, IMHO.
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  14. Berényi Péter wrote : "The toxic waste from used batteries is much worse than nuclear stuff, as it is supposed to be generated in a distributed manner in residential areas. Under these circumstances proper handling and enforcement is next to impossible. Well, I seem to find it easy enough to dispose of batteries safely by taking them to recycling centres which (I have to assume) are able to transport them in some safety to their ultimate destination for reprocessing. Can't imagine how I would be able to do that with nuclear waste.
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  15. BP: Just a free market with no subsidies whatsoever and proper regulations (to ensure for example no high tech poison is left behind). So that means no more subsidies for nuclear power or fossil fuels, right? None whatsoever, in any form?
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  16. Berényi Péter: "The point is no such study is needed. Just a free market with no subsidies whatsoever and proper regulations (to ensure for example no high tech poison is left behind)." Wrong. Regulations are why you need a study. eg. Regulations are needed to account for the non-economic factors. Alternatively you have to include the 'non-economic' factors into economics, that then has an impact on business practice and prices.
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  17. Berényi Péter: "If it takes more energy to put solar panels in operation than they are able to produce in their lifetime, power sold would not cover production costs," Prices have nothing to do with energy payback. You can't mix up economics with engineering and science analysis, which you consistently do here to mislead. 'Energy Payback Ratios' are an already well established analysis technique, so it isn't a question of 'if'. All current technologies, including solar PV and others, produce more energy in their life times than used to produce, install, maintain and decommission them. As I have already stated there is plenty of research and 'Energy Payback Ratios' are a well established way of assessing and comparing technologies.
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  18. clonmac: "I don't understand why there is a debate about the land use differences between a solar plant and a coal plant. It makes no sense to me." The only valid issue is the damage to the environment, climate change and biodiversity. The misleading and over simplified analysis by Berényi is not relevant.
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  19. Berényi Péter #112 "In this respect the distributed information processing system called free market is much more efficient than any scientific study could possibly be." I am with you in principle. And there is nothing to stop those who back solar from setting up a pilot plant of this kind to demonstrate how it can actually jump start itself. You would have to give them some slack (I suppose) and provide some external energy source to prime the system. At least the first year. But what they would have to prove (in an ideal place like Phoenix that has Sun, experienced engineers, silicon etc) is that you could produce chips using solar such that if allowed to continue, you would never need to go back to any other power source. Its like the difference between "knowing" you can go to the Moon, and actually doing it. However, I think as a thought experiment, they can save themselves all the trouble, as it doesnt take a whole lot to realize this likely an impossible pipe dream (unfortunately for mankind).
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  20. Berényi Péter: "I am with you in principle. And there is nothing to stop those who back solar from setting up a pilot plant of this kind to demonstrate how it can actually jump start itself. You would have to give them some slack (I suppose) and provide some external energy source to prime the system. At least the first year." What on earth are you talking about?? There isn't a single energy system that can operate on its own. A coal fired power station is dependent on energy from external sources and is dependent on infrastructures that have developed for over hundred years. You haven't got a clue. That's the problem with idealism and why thorough research is required, some of which has been done already, but Berényi ignores. Please do the same insane experiment with coal, gas, nuclear etc. You need to prove that a coal fired power station doesn't depend on oil etc. and while you are at it, you would have to design vehicles and trains from scratch and develop the rail system from scratch based on first principles. The fact is, all current technology is interdependent, you move to new technologies gradually over many decades.
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  21. RSVP: "However, I think as a thought experiment, they can save themselves all the trouble, as it doesnt take a whole lot to realize this likely an impossible pipe dream (unfortunately for mankind)." What you use today was once a dream. Electricity was once an impossible pipe dream. But somehow, in the past we had visionary people that ignored luddites that said it was an impossible pipe dream. There is a lot of red herrings, a lack of engineering imagination, strawmen and goodness knows what else being dished out here.
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  22. Talk about lack of engineering imagination! Took my mum out today for her weekly shopping trip, got to talking about those wonderful days on the farm (1950ish) with no power supply. We had kerosene lamps in the house and a generator to run the dairy, but some neighbours used "windlights". A simple windmill like you see on lots of Oz farms for managing water, only these were run specifically to charge batteries for home lighting. If only! That technology could easily have been developed further to run farms and small communities. Instead all these nifty engineering tricks were abandoned when the 'lectric arrived in town and eventually all the farms along the transmission lines paid to be connected.
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  23. RSVP: What do you suggest people will do in 200 years when all the oil, gas and coal have been used up? Or what part of "nonrenewable energy" do you not understand? Maybe they will all move back into caves and make stone tools. Or is it more likely they will have developed renewable energy sources? Since this change has to be done at some time, why don't we try it now instead of damaging the environment with the last dregs of fossil carbon. The exact time when fossil fuels will run out is hotly debated, but they will eventually run out. Then society will develop sustainable energy.
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  24. #123 michael sweet at 03:40 AM on 13 November, 2010 What do you suggest people will do in 200 years when all the oil, gas and coal have been used up? There is no way carbon based geo-fuels could be exhausted on such a short timescale. If they were, large scale conversion of CaCO3 (limestone) into carbon dioxide should be started, as atmospheric CO2 is expected to be in short supply by that time, with detrimental consequences to plant life. The byproduct, CaO (quicklime) by reacting with omnipresent H2O turns into Ca(OH)2 (slack lime). If it gets into the seas somehow, a dangerous ocean basification can occur (milk of lime is a moderately strong base with pH 12.3). Some more advanced geochemistry is clearly needed to neutralize the stuff. In 200 years carbon is supposed to become the default construction material for practically all purposes because of its unique chemical and mechanical properties. Airborne CO2 being the most obvious source (a convenient shortcut for transportation issues), shortage is a real danger indeed in absence of appropriate replenishment. The most likely energy supply is both solar (with photochemical energy capture/storage releasing O2 into the environment with electricity generation on demand in fuel cells using atmospheric O2) and nuclear breeder technology utilizing the thorium cycle.
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  25. BP: Consequences to plant life? CO2 in short supply? Are you joking? How am I supposed to reply when your entire response may be facetious. Where would the power to convert limestone to quicklime come from? Oil has already peaked. Coal is estimated to peak in between 25 and 100 years. Gas supply is much less than coal. Perhaps gas clathrates could be tapped but that is not currently economic. In any case, if you waiit another 100 years any fossil fuel will run out and need to be replaced. I am suprised you support solar after your previous posts. Can you provide a link to a working full scale thorium reactor?
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  26. I have found a more reliable analysis of coal fired electricity generation by the NREL: www.nrel.gov/docs/fy99osti/25119.pdf It uses real world analysis techniques. eg. it takes into account energy inputs to the system. They calculate a net energy ratio that is fractional (0.3), which basically means you get less energy out than you put in. They calculate an average external energy ratio of 5.0 over the power stations life cycle. eg. 5 times more energy out than was put in. This low figure is due to losses such as fuel inputs to get the coal to the power station. Some comparisons of energy ratios here: ww.hydroquebec.com/.../rendement_investissement.pdf Basically, despite coals apparent high energy density, it suffers a great deal from having to be dug up and burnt inefficiently.
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  27. That link for energy ratios should have been: www.hydroquebec.com/sustainable-development/documentation/pdf/options_energetiques/rendement_investissement.pdf
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  28. #125 michael sweet at 08:11 AM on 13 November, 2010 Consequences to plant life? CO2 in short supply? Are you joking? No, I am absolutely serious. Check this Nanotechnology Roadmap out for example, this is how future is manufactured.
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  29. BP: Your arguments are getting wilder and wilder. Provide a peer reviewed link please. I find it very hard to believe that you seriously think CO2 could be in short supply anytime in the next 1000 years. Where will they get the power to fix all that carbon? Please also provide a link to a functional, full scale thorium reactor.
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  30. BP: "Your arguments are getting wilder and wilder." Indeed.
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  31. #129 michael sweet at 10:38 AM on 13 November, 2010 Please also provide a link to a functional, full scale thorium reactor. We are talking about a two hundred year timescale, don't we? However, there is some aging background material, possibly more than one would wish for. International Atomic Energy Agency, November 2002 IAEA-TECDOC-1319 Thorium fuel utilization: Options and trends Proceedings of three IAEA meetings held in Vienna in 1997, 1998 and 1999 There are also private companies like DBI or Lightbridge going for a full thorium cycle. DBI is planning to build a small, modular, gas-cooled, carbon moderated thorium reactor demonstration plant in Chile. There may still be legal obstacles. The Thorium Energy Security Act of 2010 was introduced in the Senate of the United States on March 3, 2010, was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
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  32. @45 RSVP: "Where all the natural gas is??" Solar and wind plants on the surface do not preclude natural gas mining below. In any case, not all of these desert environments have natural gas in substantial quantities.
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  33. @62 BP: your post is highly misleading, bedcause it implies a beautiful grassland was spoiled by the buidling of the solar plant. However, Carrizo Plain is a huge area, and there is no evidence that significant loss of habitat occured. This is the same saying a photo of a polar bear swimming in water is evidence that global warming is true. It is illogical, irrational, and beneath you. You should retract yourself immediately.
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  34. The "short-termers" here (i.e. those who say renewables are too expensive) are the same types of people who got us into this mess in the first place. You can't fix long-term problems with short-term solutions.
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  35. @clonmac The stuff coming out of Wiezman solves the problem. There is a finite amount of petroleum/coal. Planting the Sahara in trees would put a forest there that would pretty much outlive the lifetime of known coal and petroleum reserves and would remove all the current so called anthropogenic carbon from the atmosphere. It's not a wedge, it's the whole Gouda. I don't like the term sequestration for this because that term implies an activity that is solely for the purpose of removing carbon. Remember one of the forcings is reduction of forests and this is just changing the sign of the forcing with inherent benefits.
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  36. @BP " Just a free market with no subsidies whatsoever and proper regulations (to ensure for example no high tech poison is left behind)." Discussions about the Free Market do not belong on this site, as they are political, not scientific, in nature. If we look at it from a scientific point of view, there is in fact no indication that Free Markets are self-correcting. The few historical examples we have of "true" free markets show they are unstable. Let me put it another way: there is a lot more empirical evidence supporting AGW theory than there is for the Invisible Hand of the market... Let's assume some degree of interventionism in the economy, because there will be - that's a pretty safe bet, whatever your own political ideology (death and taxes, and all that)...argue for Laissez-faire all you want, you can't scientifically prove its benefits, so don't bring it up in a scientific argument.
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  37. @TOP: I'm not a botanist, or anything, but I'm pretty sure you can't plant a lot of trees per square meter in sand and rock.
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  38. BP, I read some of your Nanotechnology Roadmap and I see no mention of fixing gigatons of carbon. They rely on fossil fuel for their carbon. Your claim that this would remove the carbon from the atmosphere is false. Cite a page number that supports your wild claims. Then cite a peer reviewed paper, not an industry piece. Why do you ruin your reputation at this site with such absurd claims??? I see from your links that thorium reactors have not yet been built and are a completely theoretical proposal. I hope they work when they are finally built, at least ten years from now. The amount and type of radioactive waste from those reactors is unknown at this time. We need solutions now, not in 200 years. A two hundred year timescale is useless for my children, their children and me. I am astonished that you now claim your proposed solution is not useful for two hundred years.
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  39. archiesteel #136 "Discussions about the Free Market do not belong on this site, as they are political, not scientific, in nature" Tell that to a professor of economics. Economics is the most honest measure of human motivation, which is in turn tied directly to natural chemical energy. If you havent seen this happening, you can be sure it is due to some unnatural political ideology.
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  40. RSVP, and you've somehow missed the fact that free market capitalism is itself an 'unnatural political ideology'?
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  41. RVSP: "Economics is the most honest measure of human motivation, which is in turn tied directly to natural chemical energy. If you havent seen this happening, you can be sure it is due to some unnatural political ideology." The fact that you stick to this inaccurate view actually implies that you have an ideology yourself. There is no intrinsic connection between economics and chemical energy. Like a religion, economics only exists in the human mind, chemical energy exists whether humans exist or not. In future stick to reality and not your beliefs.
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  42. Re: RSVP. Another point RSVP is that the discussion was about the 'Free Market' which is a specific political view of economics.
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  43. #138 michael sweet at 12:21 PM on 14 November, 2010 I read some of your Nanotechnology Roadmap and I see no mention of fixing gigatons of carbon. They rely on fossil fuel for their carbon. Molecular nanotechnology simply needs carbon, whatever the source may be. As long as carbon based geo-fuels are abundant and cheap, they may be used for this purpose (as they are currently for plastics). However, it was your claim "in 200 years when all the oil, gas and coal have been used up" people would get in trouble. I doubt it, but if it happens, the next most obvious source of carbon is the atmosphere, isn't it? Molecular nanotechnology is the ability to build precise structures at the molecular level according to a pre-defined blueprint, where each atom has its specific place and is held there by strong covalent chemical bonds, resistant to thermal excitation under normal environmental conditions. It can be made cheap only by using molecularly precise self-replicating programmable constructors (called "assemblers" by enthusiasts) in molar quantities (102X of them). Each of these molecular machines would need some 1012 atoms, most of them carbon of course, at least for their structural backbone. Sounds familiar? Plants use ribosomes as self-replicating constructors and chloroplasts for photochemical carbon capture. And guess what? They do not use geo-fuels (that's done by underground bacteria), but atmospheric carbon dioxide, many hundreds of gigatons annually. The only trouble is plants (or bacteria or whatever) are not optimized to serve specific engineering purposes, but to produce more similar structures (according to a pre-defined blueprint stored in DNA). Ribosome, the programmable molecular constructor they rely on is not a universal one either. It can only put together arbitrary chains of 20 amino acids, fixed by peptide bonds, their folded 3D structure being often stabilized by secondary disulfide bridges between remote cysteine members of the chain. All the other large functional molecular machines (like tRNA molecules, ribosomal subunits or chlorophill) are constructed in ad-hoc reaction pathways driven by protein-based machines called enzymes. The same is true for most of the structural polymers like cellulose or chitin. We can obviously hack into these molecular machines. If it is done, it's called biotechnology. However, there is much more to carbon chemistry than the tiny segment covered by this God-given machinery. Some of the most powerful possibilities like diamondoid structures, nanotubes, graphene or Fullerenes are not accessible through this path at all. Carbon is pretty unique in its versatility. No doubt some structural diversity can be attained using silicone heteropolymers, but it does not even come close to carbon. Therefore industrial usage of carbon as the default structural material is expected to go up steeply in the future (meaning many gigatons of the stuff), replacing most other raw materials. At some point relative shortage of carbon is inevitable. On the other hand energy is not expected to be in short supply. Solar radiation is abundant, even at ground level (much more so in space, inner solar system). At the moment there is no economically viable way to use it, because cheap and efficient temporary storage is lacking, but with advanced molecular nanotech it should be easy to manufacture micron sized solar plants en masse (that could be applied to sunlit surfaces as paint), producing some nonflammable, not toxic energy-rich chemical (like sugar), storing it locally and later on turning it into electricity on demand by adjacent microscopic, molecularly precise fuel cell engines. As solar radiation at ground level on Earth is intermittent and has low power flux density, terrestrial land use requirements of solar power are high, even with the most advanced technology. Open surfaces that could be put to dual use without competing for sunlight with plant life, like roads or rooftops have limited extent. Therefore some more compact long term power source is also needed, presumably a nuclear one. The 3He-D fusion reaction is promising, as all the participants have electric charge (no free neutrons), therefore with appropriate arrangement no nuclear waste is produced. A molecularly precise design using smart materials with exotic electromagnetic properties and fast control should enable us to use very short acceleration paths to overcome the 3He-D potential barrier in an energy-efficient manner. 3He reserves in the lunar regolith are estimated to be about 2.5 million tons, enough for thousands of years. The same stuff in the atmosphere of gas giants is practically inexhaustible. With an abundant energy supply, we can forget about shortage of any raw material for a long time. Sorting atoms needs free energy, but from a thermodynamic point of view energy requirements are only proportional to the logarithmic rarity of the component to be extracted. With program-driven engines operating at the molecular level, we can get pretty close to the thermodynamic limit. Nuclear fissile material like uranium and thorium are also abundant in the crust. With molecular sorting capability these resources are inexhaustible, even in the long run (hundreds of million years). With closely controlled proper breeder technology all the long half-life reaction products can be eliminated or fed back to the reaction, making long term (hundreds of thousand years) nuclear waste storage unnecessary. Molecular machines, if their design is redundant enough and they have self-repairing capability can withstand quite high levels of radiation (as it is demonstrated by some bacteria). Therefore they can be used to sort nuclear waste as needed. Current new age Luddite trend of CAGW scare does not help to resolve real problems and implement knowledge extracted from long term basic research as engineering solutions. They are very successful in raising legal obstacles to R+D and investment, but fail to promote necessities, as worldwide compulsory industrial liability insurance for example. At the turn of 19th/20th century there was a horse manure scare. The stuff was supposed to flood cities by the end of 20th century and cover them in a several feet deep layer. What's happened in fact is quite the opposite. I have learnt from my grandpa that horse manure is best for nurturing cucumbers. But unfortunately it is in such a short supply by now, that it took me several weeks to get some. With advanced nanotechnology we can overcome all the present day pollution problems as well. Assemblers (the universal constructors mentioned above) can also be used backwards, as disassemblers (universal programmable deconstructors). They can be programmed to take things apart to their constituent atoms or small (and harmless) molecular compounds, making them accessible to re-assembly. That's what God's nanotech was doing for billions of years, successfully. Temperate forests grow on their own litter, year by year. Yet, they fail to turn into a refuse dump, because an intricate web of disassemblers are at work in the soil, all of them of the most precise design at the molecular level.
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  44. @RSVP: "Tell that to a professor of economics." Even Economists agree that Economics is a Social Science, not a Natural Science (some will talk of "hard" and "soft" science). "Economics is the most honest measure of human motivation," No. Economics is the study of the production, consumption and distribution of goods and services. If you want to talk about human motivation, try psychology. (Hint: a considerable portion of "human motivation" isn't ruled by economics.) "which is in turn tied directly to natural chemical energy." So is Religion. So is making stuff up. So it trolling. What is your point?
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  45. BP: You are talking pie in the sky and the rest of us are discussing solutions that can be applied now. If nanotechnology takes off as you like to dream we can discuss that when the time comes. They have to have a source of energy. I am glad you suggest solar. Wee need to keep that in mind for the next discussion. The technique that you dream about sorting thouioum from the crust is not possible today. You need to stick to the topic: things that can be done TODAY to help slow AGW. Possible solutions in 200 years are not worth discussing today.
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  46. #145 michael sweet at 04:37 AM on 15 November, 2010 The technique that you dream about sorting thouioum from the crust is not possible today. Of course it is not. But I thought we are talking about long term sustainability. If not, please consider this recent Increase In (US) Thorium Reserves. "The U.S.G.S.’ latest estimate of 915,000 tons of thorium ore reserves within the claims held by Thorium Energy, Inc., in Idaho and Montana compares to the previously published U.S.G.S. estimate of 160,000 tons for the entire United States as stated in the U.S.G.S. Mineral Commodity Summaries 2008. The October 2008 U.S.G.S. update states that, "The thorium and rare-earth deposits in the region were initially studied by the U.S. Geological Survey (Sharp and Cavender, 1962; Staatz, 1972, 1979) and others, including the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology, Idaho Energy Reserves Company (IERCO), a subsidiary of Idaho Power Company, the Idaho Geological Survey (Gillerman and others, 2003), Tenneco Oil Company, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Total reserves of the deposits are 915,000 tons of ore." This confirms that Thorium Energy, Inc.'s total Idaho and Montana thorium resources and reserves are the largest in the United States. Furthermore, the company is not aware of any larger, professionally documented reserves of high-grade thorium anywhere in the world. According to the current U.S.G.S. statistics, the next highest estimates of thorium ore are for Australia with 300,000 tons and India with 290,000 tons. It must be noted that the Idaho and Montana deposits are of high-grade thorite and thorianite rather than low-grade disseminated deposits as in India, for example. Mining thorium in the Lemhi Pass is immediately feasible, because the deposits there are not only high-grade but also near the surface. Additionally the identified mining sites are close to roads, water, and power as well as to long established towns and cities in Idaho and Montana. Thorium Energy, Inc. believes that its existing reserves could be as much as three times the 915,000 tons that have been geologically identified on its properties. The company believes that already identified resources of high-grade thorium minerals are economically extractable and that these accessible deposits of thorium are large enough to supply the power needs of the entire U.S. for centuries through thorium-fueled nuclear reactors." According to the U.S.G.S. Mineral Commodity Summary 2010 for Thorium, US reserves are 440,000 tons, reserve base is not published. In 2009 it was 160,000 tons indeed, with a reserve base of 300,000 tons. Anyway, reserves went up by 175% in a single year.
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  47. This started as a good discussion. But, looking at EVERYONE's posts - I don't see a lot of "the PV at my home office does X." "My wind turbine produces Y". How many of us are using renewable energy right now? I will go first ;-> I have 12 solar thermal panels on my roof to heat my home and hot water. PV is awaiting on funding from the savings from heating. I've already achieved systemic energy payback. If energy prices hold steady - financial payback in ~5 years (the system has been up for 4 years already). If energy prices resume their 40 year avg increase of 6% per year - I will achieve financial payback in ~4 more years
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  48. This conversation got stuck on electricity. Electricity is 20% of the energy consumed. Because of the coal in the mix, it accounts for 1/3 of the carbon emissions. Building heating/cooling and water heating are 40% of energy consumed. Transportation is 40% of the energy consumed. The trick is electricity is so darn malleable. You COULD use it for all of the above. So there is a reason it is always in the conversation. But you can get to the desired result quicker by using different technologies. For example, a standard R-19 wall/R-2 window home (shudder) cannot be heated, in a winter climate, by covering the roof with solar PV. You need 50% of your neighbors roof as well. This has been proven to negatively impact neighborly relations. But a solar thermal installation can knock out the heating/hot water load at about 50% of just your own roof. Leaving the remainder for PV for computers and refrigerators. It takes 8 standard sized PV panels to power a Nissan Leaf for a day. There is room for that too. So while you could get there by looking at the world as a giant electric problem, there is REAL, immediate progress to be made by NOT looking at the world that way.
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  49. BP: "Of course it is not. But I thought we are talking about long term sustainability" Title of post: "Solving Global Warming - Not Easy, But Not Too Hard"
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  50. Come on. I for one probably use one third of the energy for heating than you guys, because I have 2 feet thick brick walls :)
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