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What should we do about climate change?

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Kevin Judd

A short piece for the general audience of RTR radio, Perth, Australia.
(listen to the original audio podcast)

Climate scientists are telling us that the earth is warming, we are causing it, and we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions to lessen the effects. So what should we do?

Firstly, we should either use less energy, or use renewable energy sources, like solar-thermal generators that are now providing energy in Europe more cheaply than Nuclear generators, without the waste products. In Australia, peak energy demand is on hot summer days, when solar energy is most abundant; it makes no sense to not use solar energy to help meet this peak demand.

Most importantly, we must stop listening to disinformation. Contrary arguments have been repeatedly shown to be false and misleading. Claims that climate change is a hoax, or a conspiracy, or that climate scientists have deceived the public, is an inversion of the truth. Climate change denial is the propaganda. Ninety seven percent of scientists agree climate change is happening. The peer-reviewed evidence is overwhelming. The time for scepticism about climate change has past.

Scepticism is a good thing, all scientists are sceptics. I always encourage people to critically examine evidence and motivations. A good place to begin is the following. What is more plausible? That thousands of scientists have been fabricating evidence and theory for over a hundred years in a conspiracy to achieve, well, what exactly? Or that industries and their partners are sponsoring a disinformation campaign because they stand to lose billions of dollars in profits, if people should use less, or alternative forms of, energy? Ask yourself who stands to lose the most if the scientists' warnings are acted on? Then ask yourself who stands to lose the most if scientists' warnings are not acted on.

And keep in mind that the costs of prevention now is less than the cost of trying to fix the damage later

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO PODCAST

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Comments 351 to 379 out of 379:

  1. JMurphy @347 From David Mackay, Plan C, page 2: Total electricity generation = 125 GW Nuclear generation = 70 GW "The electricity comes from the following sources. (The numbers given here are average outputs, not capacities.) Wind: 30GW; tide: 8GW; waste-to-energy: 2.5GW; “clean coal” and biomass co-firing: 3.2GW; nuclear: 70GW; concentrating solar power in deserts: 10GW. (That’s a total of about 125GW of electricity.)" 70 GW / 125 GW = 56%
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  2. Peter Lang, you claim that wind is subsidized 100%. The only "subsidy" that I have heard of for the Texas wind farms was they wanted the transmission lines built. Can you provide a reference for your claim of 100% subsidy for these installations? I currently pay $8/month for a nuclear reactor that has not been approved for construction and, IF approved, will not provide electricity for 10 years. Wind is installed by investors with their own money. Who is getting the bigger subsidy? Your shrill claims with little documentation are unconvincing. The more of your posts I read the less I am inclined to listen to what you say. I am starting to lean against nuclear if this is the best argument that can be put forth. Your claim of deviding R&D money by watts currently generated is obviously crank-- an established technology like nuclear should have much less R&D by the government than a new technology just getting started. Nuclear and coal profits should support 100% of their R&D. Where are the thorium reactors you support operating so that I can check the costs? Comparing nuclear waste safety to wind is laughable. You have still ignored my question about nuclear power stations in Afganistan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Do you think those countries can operate reactors safely? How can we use nuclear to power the whole world if many countries cannot operate reactors safely? What fraction of countries can currently operate reactors safely? If you cannot answer these questions you do not have a valid proposal.
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  3. Michael sweet Your claim of deviding R&D money by watts currently generated is obviously crank To not do so is obviously "crank". The subsides listed (a small part of the total subsidies) are annual. So they need to be divided by the energy produced. If you don't mormalsie the figures it is totally misleading. Its like sayoing SA produces more CO2 than Australia. So waht? It's meaningless. Just like trying to compare the annual subsides for wind and nuclear when wind generates about 1% of energy and nuclear about 20% (or what ever it is). It is pure spin. Not objective. Not reliable. Clearly "crank". Wind farm owners need to earn around $110/MWh to be profitable in Australia. It obviously varies from site to site. On top of this wind requires enhancement to the grid (not just more transmission lines) that cost around $15/MWh. Also, there additional costs for the fossil fuel plants that have to back up for wind power. The LCOE for New coal plants is around $50/MWh and much lower for existing plants. Put it all together and the cost of wind power is in the order of 2 to 2.5 times the cost of new coal power and much more than existing coal power. The gap is closed by mandating that wind power muct be bought by the distributors when it is available. That forces the electricity retailers to buy expensive, hard to manage, wind energy instead of cheaper coal or gas energy. The regulations caus eth cost to be about 100% to 150% higher. That is the subsidy I am talking about. Similar schemes exist in UK, Europe, Canada and I understand in Texas too.
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  4. Moderator, I notice you are deleting some of my replies, yet comments like this remain from the anti-nuclear, pro renewable advocates. "Your shrill claims with little documentation are unconvincing."
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    Moderator Response: Your comments that were deleted were in violation of the Comments Policy, containing insults, ad hominems, politics and being off-topic. Keep it clean and on-topic for that particular post and comments stay. You are not being singled out; others, too, experience this and learn in time to communicate their positions in their statements more effectively. To everyone's benefit.
  5. Moderator, you might like to take a look at #343 and #346 for example, and perhaps reinstate my responses. My responses were to a succession of such comments - from people who think they are objective and dispassionate, but are far from it.
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    Moderator Response: Given the overall nature and tone of this thread, emotions have been running a little high. Comment 343 is more egregious than 346, but is in that gray area in the Comments Policy, toeing the line but not openly violating it. As such, the Moderator at that time allowed it. By focusing on the content of your own comments and being mindful of tone when replying to others comments, despite any perceived provocations, we all will benefit from what you have to offer here. If you see another's comment that is in open violation of the Comments Policy, do not reply to its content, but bring that comment to the attention of the Moderator instead. Thanks in advance for your content contributions to SkS and compliance in this matter. Both are appreciated.
  6. Regarding the cost of electricity from nuclear and renewables http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf IEA, “Projected Costs of Generating Electricity – 2010 Edition; Executive Summary” compares the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific by generator technology. Note this comment: Neither does the study include other systemic effects such as the costs incurred for providing back-up for variable or intermittent (nondispatchable) renewable energies. For the calculation of the costs of coal‑fired power generation with carbon capture, only the costs of capture net of transmission and storage have been taken into account. In other words, the costs for wind (and other renewables) do not include the cost of back-up and the cost of Carbon Capture and storage is meaningless because it is for the capture part only and does not include the transmission and storage.
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  7. Peter Lang #353. "The LCOE for New coal plants is around $50/MWh and much lower for existing plants." This is with the externalities being given a value of $0/MWh. Once you price the externalities properly, this figure should be much higher. Not only CO2 emissions, but other forms of damage caused by mining itself.
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  8. I will point out that nuclear power plants were heavily subsidized when first developed. It's a bit hard to compare the situation of a relatively mature technology (at least for once-through light water reactors) to wind farms that are still somewhat in development as major grid sources.
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  9. kdkd, You need to quantify your statement, not just throw out assertions. How much higher? You also need to factor in what is the cost to society of higher cost electricity.
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  10. KR, I agree nuclear was heavily subsidised in the past. So were hydro and fossil fuels and renewables (and still are). But this doesn't change the fact that you have to make comparisons on a properly comparable basis. The link provided the annual subsidies by governments. Therefore, to obtain a proper comparison you need to divide the subsidies by the amount generated in that year. If you want to life time subsidies you need to get the life time subsidies and divide by the life time energy generated by the technology. A couple of other points. Much of the subsidies for nuclear were for military purposes not civil. The total subsidies would need to be split in the appropriate proportions if you want to compare lifetime subsidies. The other point is the figures in the link to not contain the major component of the renewables subsidies (see my previous comments on this, e.g. #353).
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  11. kdkd, Here is European data on the externalities for the different electricity generation technologies (see the two tables on page 13)
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  12. PL #359 (the funniest three digit number according to Douglas Adams fwiw). You need to quantify your statement, not just throw out assertions. Actually in this case I don't. I just needed to point out the hole in your argument. Which leads to #361 and thank you for doing some research. According to my calculations, from the main table on page 13, firstly the external costs of fossil fuel power is aproximately an order of magnitude greater than for the non-fossil technologies. The average external cost for coal is somewhere between €40 and €75 per MwH ($USD 55-105 per MwH). The average externalities for the other technologies (including nuclear) are going to be around 5-10% of this value, and gas is around 25% of the coal externality for reference. I have no particular nuclear axe to grind, but I'm quite keen on the idea of efficiency through distributed power generation, and not putting all of our eggs in one basket (with the proviso that we should decarbonise as quickly as possible). Again, thanks for doing some research :)
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  13. kdkd, Your sacrism is noted. I am just wondering why you didn't look it up yourself given that I've postred the link about a dozen times so far? Since you clearly know a lot about this subject, could you explain which externalities should be internalised and which should not, and how you suggest we should internalise them? Why haven't we managed to yet given that we've been working on this for the past30 years? You forgot to mention what is the cost to society of higher cost electricity? Also, for my benefit, could you please explain what is a MwH?
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  14. PL #363 There's unnecessary sarcasm in your reply. I may have spelled megawatt hour incorrectly, and I haven't been following the comments here terribly slowly for the past couple of weeks, so I'm afraid I'm not across the detail of what you've been posting. Anyway I don't know much about the topic, but I'm pretty clear that economics is far too anthropocentric a discipline to be taken seriously ;). I'm of the view that we should account for externalities to the maximum extent possible. Particularly where human activities can have long term unintended consequences. Anyway, we've established that the real cost of coal is approximately greater than or equal to the real cost of wind. How does it stack up with solar? Bear in mind that solar probably has quite a lot of distance to go before price and storage capacity is optimised, and it could well be entirely appropriate to subsidise this until it can hold its own.
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  15. kdkd, There is an enormous amount of background to cover. I'd suggest you start at the beginning of this thread, read the rational posts and also read the links. There is a lot here. I have observed that most people who have commented on this thread have been constrained by their deeply held personal beliefs and have not been prepared to do objective research. So I am a bit jaundiced to start with. I wonder if you will be different. Will you do the objective research to discover about this important subject for cutting the worlds CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use? The current cost of solar thermal - in day time only and mostly in summer (it is next to useless in winter) - is about $225/MWh. USDOE has a goal to try to get solar thermal capable of baseload generation by 2030. NEEDS has a projection to get solar thermal to be able to provide 24 hour power by 2020. That is it is hoped it will be able to supply one day of full power by 2020; but this does not mean baseload capable because baseload would mean it could generate throughout long periods of overcast weather, dust storms, etc). The point to understand is the cost of energy from solar and wind cannot be compared with cost of energy from fossil fuels or nuclear without including the costs of the back up generators. The same applies to the externalities. In short, intermittent renewables have application for remote sites (but very expensive) and can make a small contribution to the grid. Anymore than a small contribution increases the cost of electricity from the grid substantially (I cannot quantify 'substantially' without defining many assumptions and constraints). We all agree it would be ideal to include more of the externalities in the cost of energy. And we have been progressively including more, mostly by regulating the emissions. However there are offsetting costs too, and in reality we have to achieve the best balance. There is a cost to society of raising the cost of electricity. Just look at the people who do not have electricity and look how they live to understand the costs of making electricity more expensive. I argue electricity should be as cheap as we can possible make it. See previous comments to understand why. I also argue that we can have low-cost low-emission electricity. We are blocking that by the polices we impose and we have been imposing for the past 40 years or more. But to understand requires opening one's mind!
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  16. We interrupt your regularly scheduled fiction for a brief foray into reality: Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) is the name of the largest solar power facility in the world (though there are more than a dozen larger ones now in development). It first began generating electricity in 1984 and was completed in 1991... without the 'massive' subsidies (for 'massive' read, "vastly smaller than fossil fuel subsidies") currently available. It has an installed capacity of 354 MW and has been providing stable baseload power (despite this supposedly being impossible for solar) at competitive prices (despite THIS supposedly being impossible for solar) while also generating a profit (again, supposedly impossible) since the very beginning. SEGS is 20+ year old technology and thus uses natural gas as backup when sunlight is dim; which results in about 10% of the power generated by the plant coming from natural gas vs 90% from sunlight... contrary to claims that solar power actually requires the installation of MORE fossil fuel power than would be required without the solar power. Which are, of course, so mind-numbingly ridiculous that it is difficult to imagine how anyone can take them seriously. This concludes our brief foray into the real world and things which actually exist. We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense about how technology will never improve to the point where such things (that have been around for 20+ years) would ever be possible. Have a nice day.
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  17. PL #365 Well I have a solar thermal plant on my roof in southern New South Wales (an evacuated tube solar hot water system), and I can assure you that while it's not nearly as effective between the March and September equinoxes as it is for the other 6 months of the year, it's certainly no dud during that time. If it's cloudy for a week in winter we have to put the booster on for a couple of hours once every few days. Its winter effectiveness could be fixed by increasing the number of collectors by about 20%. Once you get to lattitudes more polar than say Tasmania, then winter effectiveness will be a serious problem. I see that CSIRO are currently commercialising domestic air conditioning technology based on solar-thermal and evaporative cooling principles, indicating that not everything has to be about electricity generation in order to reduce demand from the grid. Next, once we add externalities, which demonstrate that fossil fuel technologies and renewables are of similar costs before we've realised economies of scale and technological advances relating to renewable technologies. Nuclear on the face of it appears cheaper than both (including externalities), although the capital costs are very high in this case. The safety issues seem to be being addressed, but "safe non-proliferative nuclear" seems to be a couple of years off yet (although I could be wrong). The posts I've seen from you have generally tended towards you producing arguments aimed at confirming your assumptions. I'd like to see you producing an argument aimed at testing your assumptions, so that you can test the rigour of your point of view. Personally given the imperative to decarbonise, I'm wary of any solution that suggests putting more than half of the eggs into one basket :)
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  18. kdkd, Well I have a solar thermal plant on my roof in southern New South Wales (an evacuated tube solar hot water system), That is not a solar thermal electricity generating plant. Not the same at all. Try this indicating that not everything has to be about electricity generation in order to reduce demand from the grid. The above link applies here too and also see David Mackay's 'Plan C' (see links on previous page) Next, once we add externalities, which demonstrate that fossil fuel technologies and renewables are of similar costs before we've realised economies of scale and technological advances relating to renewable technologies. Not even close. See my previous comment as to why you cannot directly compare the costs of electricity from intermittent generators with dispatchable generators.
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  19. kdkd, I posted before I was complete. Personally given the imperative to decarbonise, I'm wary of any solution that suggests putting more than half of the eggs into one basket :) Fair point. But surely that should lead you to do all you can to remove the blocks and imposts against nuclear. [don't forget wae presently have 80% of our eggs in the coal basket in Australia and 76% of our eggs in the nuclear basket in France. So I don't think this is a vaild point. I believe our requirements are: 1. security/reliability of supply 2. least cost 3. health, safety and environmental
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  20. kdkd, Since you live in southern NSW you may have heard of Queanbeyan, yes? This should be of interest. Seriously, you should gain a lot of understanding from it.
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  21. Peter Lang, Since you have not responded to my question about subsidies for wind in Texas I presume that you could find no subsidies. These extensive installations have been put in by the free market and reduce CO2 emisions now, not at some future time. The electricity they generate is billed when it is used at market rates. They are primarily limited by a lack of transmission lines. I doubt that Texans are subsidizing wind as you imply, it is the center of the oil industry and Texans are known to be anti-green. You must provide documentation for your extraordinary claim of wind subsidy in Texas. I am still paying monthly for the unapproved nuclear plant. Since you have not responded to my question about reactor safety in third world undeveloped countries, despite me asking it three times, I conclude that you feel that it is unsafe to build reactors in the third world. How do you propose the third world reduce their CO2 emissions, since they can't safely use nuclear? Your claim about R&D for established industries compared to new technology is absurd. On this web site it is expected that claims will be supported by documentation beyond what the nuclear industry puts out to support their position. You have convinced me that the nuclear option is limited in its ability to provide safe electricity to the world for the near term. Perhaps we can have this discussion again in 20 years if thorium reactors actually work and have a safety record we can examine. I have seen many similar proposals from nuclear proponents in the past that did not work and am skeptical about thorium. I would like to see a proposal for waste storage beyond "leave it to our children to take care of". I also don't like to see all the eggs in one basket, but your nuclear proposal looks like a bad idea that should go to the end of the line.
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  22. Peter Lang #368 My hot water heater may not be an electricity generation system, but as it replaced an immersion heater, it certainly has a substantial impact on demand (reduced our household consumption by about one third). I'm concerned that your argument is geared towards confirming your assumptions. That is, you're aggressively arguing your case, without examining if the assumptions of your argument hold up to scrutiny. If you start making the assumption that some of the premises of your argument are incorrect, and use that to test the quality of your argument, then I'm going to be in a much better position to accept the veracity of your position. For example, what effect would a smart grid have on peak demand if 'discretionary' heating and cooling activities could be moderated through demand side management? What synergistic effects would this have if wind and solar sites were placed to reduce the problems of intermittency? And so on. Right now, I see you agressively defending your own argument with no evidence that you've challenged your own assumptions. Once the small scale safe nuclear stuff is clearly viable, and commercially available, I will be writing to my politicians by the way.
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  23. kdkd, I don't agree with your assertion that I have not challenged my own assumptions. You are not prepared to look at the links. There is too much background to get across to you in a blog field.
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  24. Michael sweet, I believe I have answered you, but perhaps you do not want to hear the message. I think this sums up your position: I also don't like to see all the eggs in one basket, but your nuclear proposal looks like a bad idea that should go to the end of the line. In otherwise, you are not prepared to do any objective research. I've provided sufficient on this thread to get you started if you are interested. If you are not, then so be it.
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  25. PL #373 So do you have anything to say about demand management synergestic effects, and renewable generation site optimisation? Have you accounted for these in your conclusions? Can you show me where?
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  26. kdkd, The discussion is pointless. You need to have some understanding of electricity generation system. Understand the overall picture first, then progress to lower levels of detail one you understand how the part you want to discuss links into the overall picture. Trying to discuss a partluclar item when you don't understand how it fits, or what effect (proportional contribution) it has on the overall system is simply a diversion. Please don't waste time on this. If you are genuinely interested you will do some research. You could start by going through the psosts on this thread, or you could go to Brave New Climate or you coluld take your own route. My suggestion is to read the authoritative reports not the nonsense on the media and Greenpeace type stuff.
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  27. PL #376 The discussion certainly is pointless if you won't answer a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. I see you've written quite a large volume of stuff on energy policy, and that your evaluation of the evidence tends to a conclusion that renewable energy is not terribly viable. I had a question about this which you don't seem to want to answer. Let me repeat it for you: So do you have anything to say about demand management synergestic effects, and renewable generation site optimisation? Have you accounted for these in your conclusions? Can you show me where? Straightforward yes/no answer please. If the answer is "yes" then a link and possibly a page reference will suffice. I'm afraid if the aswer is no, and you haven't evaluated this aspect, then I suspect that you're missing a critical piece of the puzzle, and I would question the validity/coverage of your argument. When people ask me about things that I have written I give them the courtesy of telling them where the passage(s) they are interested in are located - I don't tell them to trawl through my entire output.
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  28. Peter Lang, your response to me gives Australian estimates to imply Texas is subsidized. That is obviously false. You do not mention the use of Nuclear reactors in Afganistan, Haiti and Zimbabwe. You have not answered my questions, you have avoided them. Provide a link if you have one. Since you have chosen not to answer these questions, it is clear that you feel Texas does not subsidize their wind and nuclear is unsafe in the third world. You have dominated this thread with claims supported only by nuclear industry data. I was neutral about nuclear when I started reading this thread. If your argument is the best nuclear can do, I am now convinced that nuclear is not worth much effort. I am still paying for the unapproved nuclear reactor that will not be on line for at least 10 years. Wind is paid for by the installer in advance and is not billed until it produces electricity. Who is being subsidized by this deal? If nuclear is only economic when they bill 10 years in advance it will never work. Nuclear engineers have been making wild claims for the past 40 years. You seem to be adding to that pile. Provide economic and waste treatment data for the running thorium reactor that you claim is so efficient, not just hopeful designs that have yet to be built.
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  29. BP has posted some links describing the status of thorium reactors. Apparently these have not been built yet and are completely theoretical. Since a pilot plant will have to be built before any full scale reactors it will be at least 15-20 years before full scale reactors come on stream. I think that is too long to wait for a solution to be started and that other technologies are pursued while nuclear works out its problems.
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  30. #379: "while nuclear works out its problems. " Some problems just keep hanging around. Jinxed Plant Slows A Nuclear Rebirth Originally slated to cost around $4 billion (€3 billion), its price tag has nearly doubled to $7.2 billion (€5.3 billion). And it is four years behind schedule. ... "If it were any other product, it would have been binned by now," says Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at London's University of Greenwich.
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