Ramping up renewables

There may be conflicting reports as to whether renewable energy can replace fossil fuels in time to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and there are still plenty of people in positions of authority, like our own Energy Minister, who see little reason to hurry the process. The heavy lobbying influence of big oil and coal interests remains powerful. But it’s heartening to be reminded from time to time that transition is nevertheless under way in many parts of the world and that it’s gathering pace. An Earth Policy Institute article has arrived in my inbox offering just such a reminder. It refreshes what Lester Brown had to say about the shift to renewable energy in his book Plan B 4.0.


I reviewed the book on Hot Topic last year, but at the risk of repeating myself I’ll report some of the points which he now reiterates and updates. The first is that the transition to energy powered by wind, solar and geothermal sources is moving worldwide at a pace and on a scale we could not have imagined even two years ago. Texas, the oil state, is a prime example. It has 9,700 megawatts of wind generating capacity online, 370 more in construction, and a huge amount in the development stage. When all of these wind farms are completed, Texas will have 53,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity—the equivalent of 53 coal-fired power plants. This will more than satisfy the residential needs of the state’s 25 million people, enabling Texas to export electricity, just as it has long exported oil.

South Dakota has begun development on a vast 5050-megawatt farm that when completed will produce nearly five times as much electricity as the state needs. It will become an exporter, as some ten American states and several Canadian provinces are planning to be.

Brown then moves across the Atlantic to point to the hopes of the Scottish government for the development of an enormous off-shore wind generating capacity of some 60,000 megawatts. I reported  on Hot Topic a few months ago on a major survey which has identified North Sea potential from wind and wave of even larger potential, capable of producing six times as much electricity as is currently used in the UK. If joined to a northern super-grid it could enable access to a single European electricity market and export opportunity.

Algeria plans to build 6000 megawatts of solar thermal generating power for export to Europe via undersea cable

It’s not only the developed world that is embracing renewable energy on a rapidly growing scale. Brown instances Algeria’s plans to build 6000 megawatts of solar thermal generating power for export to Europe via undersea cable. He points to their awareness that they have enough harnessable solar energy in their vast deserts to power the entire world economy. Solar energy is clearly of enormous potential not only in the Mediterranean region but also in the south-west US and the Indian desert and China, and there is regular news of new developments in all of these areas.

Brown touches on Turkey where construction  permits are being issued for 7,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, in response to bids to build a staggering 78,000 megawatts. In Indonesia the state oil company Pertamina is responsible for developing most of a planned 6,900 megawatts of geothermal generating capacity.

“These are only a few of the visionary initiatives to tap the earth’s renewable energy. The resources are vast. In the United States, three states—North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas—have enough harnessable wind energy to run the entire economy. In China, wind will likely become the dominant power source. Indonesia could one day get all its power from geothermal energy alone. Europe will be powered largely by wind farms in the North Sea and solar thermal power plants in the North African desert.”

The 20th century saw the globalisation of the world energy economy as countries everywhere turned to oil, much of it from the Middle East. This century, says Brown, will see the localisation of energy production as the world turns to wind, solar and geothermal energy. It will also see the electrification of the economy.

“The transport sector will shift from gasoline-powered automobiles to plug-in gas-electric hybrids, all-electric cars, light rail transit, and high-speed intercity rail. And for long-distance freight, the shift will be from diesel-powered trucks to electrically powered rail freight systems. The movement of people and goods will be powered largely by electricity. In this new energy economy, buildings will rely on renewable electricity almost exclusively for heating, cooling, and lighting.”

Can renewable energy be expanded fast enough? Brown thinks so, encouraged by the phenomenon of the extraordinary growth of the communications and information economies in only the last thirty years. Others don’t. Barry Brook in Australia is one, with his views summed up in this recent article and much more on his Brave New Climate website. Not that he’s arguing for fossil fuels – in his view nuclear power is the only technology that can get us there fast enough and economically enough.

Lester Brown falls back on the analogy of the Second World War when the American economy changed direction with extraordinary speed and prospered in doing so. He’s not alone in sounding this theme, but he was an early proponent of it. The difficulty with this concept is that our societies are hardly yet ready to see climate change in the stark terms which obtained in 1939 and 1941.

Whether renewables will be ratcheted up quickly enough or not they certainly represent one of our best hopes of containing climate change impacts. Don’t forget to tell Gerry Brownlee so before September 2, when submissions on the new draft energy strategy close. I’ve said elsewhere on Hot Topic what I see as wrong with the draft.  Simon Boxer of Greenpeace has put it succinctly:

“It’s a document that lacks vision and goals. It shows that the Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee is ignoring the climate crisis. It’s a route map to a dead end.

“The Government’s energy strategy prioritises drilling and mining for more oil and coal, while providing virtually no stimulation for the development of renewable energy and clean technology. It fails to acknowledge the seriousness of climate change and makes no attempt to set measurable emissions reduction targets.”

If you’d like some suggestions the Greens offer a thoughtful submission guide.  If you’re lacking time a shortcut is offered by Greenpeace or WWF . Many of the 40,000 submissions received by the government on Brownlee’s proposals to mine conservation land no doubt used form statements provided by organisations. They still count, so use one of the offered quick responses rather than pass the opportunity by.

115 thoughts on “Ramping up renewables”

  1. Gareth, what about the significant problems building the infrastructure needed for transmission from these new areas of generation? Bill McKibben says in his book, Eaarth, that projects have been stopped or not got off the ground due to the hundreds of millions needed to build new power lines, not to mention the power losses that occur over long distances. He argues that the huge farms will not be anywhere near the full answer, and that local generation is a must. Got any figures on progress in that area?

    1. It’s Bryan’s post, Ken, so I’ll leave it to him to answer. But there have been some fascinating suggestions about a global grid of low-loss transmission lines — and one is certainly planned to carry power from Algeria to Europe.

  2. Ken, Lester Brown discusses grid questions in a couple of places in his book, pp. 103-106 and 137-140 (A pdf version is availble free on line here .) He writes of plans to build very efficient high-voltage direct-current lines to link wind-rich regions in the US with consumption centres and of how they can become part of the national grid that Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants to build. He also mentions the European thinking about a continental supergrid enabling the region “to harness vast amounts of wind energy, particularly in offshore Western Europe, and the almost unlimited solar energy in the northern Sahara and on Europe’s southern coast.” It would also use high-voltage direct-current lines that transmit electricity far more efficiently than existing lines do. There are various other plans he mentions.

    Al Gore has a chapter on the subject in his book Our Choice. Unfortunately I have lent my copy, but here is the summary of the chapter I provided in my review:

    “Continent-wide unified smart grids are essential for the new patterns of generation. Gore has an illuminating chapter on the technologies now available for grid modernisation, including storage opportunities and progress in the development of batteries. The management of intermittency in solar and wind power features in his discussion. The role of electric cars in doubling as a co-ordinated fleet of batteries to assist storage needs is explored.”

    Gore’s book on solutions grew out of a large number of conferences of experts and many one-on-one sessions, so it’s well based material.

    I don’t know that these schemes are incompatible with McKibben’s microgrids. I would have thought that the “smart grids” that are being envisaged ought to be able to encompass them as well as wholesale transfers of power.

  3. Coal is the killer. Every ton of coal produces two tons of CO2 and we can manage without it. Huntley is rated at 1000 mega watts and we can easily make that good with hydro, geothermal and wind.
    Huntley is due for replacement in about three years and we need the new power to come on stream to make sure it happens.

  4. I don’t want to take this OT and start a discussion about Nuclear power, but I’d be interested to hear what people think about Barry Brooke’s TCASE series. He and his guest writers appear very clued up about the technological details (to me anyway) and he seems no less convincing than people who argue the opposite, i.e. that renewables are a feasible alternative.


  5. Thanks for this Bryan, enjoyable read.. along with update to your questioner..

    on that a small aside to the on-car capacitance suggestion per Al Gore..I can’t be sure that the talk reached the man himself but it sure was topical with smiles around the time.. namely that two could play at that game when a suspicion surfaced of how trucking fleets were cumulative big time fuel storage(removal from the market) to assist speculators ramp up road fuel prices in the recent ‘spike’ era..

  6. Solar thermal or CSP with molten salt heat storage is a killer app IMO. The ability to produce large amounts of dispatchable power day and night, helps intergrage other more intermittent renewables like PV solar and wind, into the grid. Some have called it solar base load. Normal base load like nuclear and coal don’t give you dispatchable power.

    The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) says parabolic trough plants can have 50% capacity factor. A power tower type plant can have up to 72% capacity factor.

    NREL defines premium solar resource as over 7 kWh/square meter
    excellent as 6.5-7 kWh/square meter
    good as 6-6.5 kWh/square meter

    And here’s Arizona’ potential for CSP
    Premium 172 GW 376,912 GWh
    Excellent 89 GW 176,496 GWh
    Good 23 GW 41,897 GWh
    Total 285 GW 595,305 GWh

    Using a tiny percentage of the desert would produce very large power supply.

    Here are the numbers for other states. I’m skipping the GWh on some to save time.


    Premium 61.6 GW 134,942 GWh
    Excellent 14.8 GW 29,189 GWh
    Good 21.7 GW 38,093 GWh
    Total 98.1 GW 202,224 GWh


    Premium 81.9 GW
    Excellent 46.1 GW
    Good 37.6 GW
    Total 165.8 GW

    New Mexico

    Premium 94.1 GW
    Excellent 51.9 GW
    Good 73.3 GW
    Total 219.4 GW


    Premium 28.9 GW 63,384 GWh
    Excellent 24.9 GW 47,661 GWh
    Good 21.2 GW 37,168 GWh
    Total 74.3 GW 148,213 GWh

    Indian Lands ( Hopi and Navaho reservations)

    Premium 48 GW 105,337 GWh
    Excellent 9 GW 18,039 GWh
    Good 4.6 GW 8,209 GWh
    Tota 61.9 GW 131,585 GWh


    Excellent 1.7 GW
    Good 10.5 GW
    Total 12.3 GW/


    Premium 2.5 GW
    Excellent 13.1 GW
    Good 22.5 GW
    Total 38.2 GW


    Good 4.8 GW


    Excellent 2 GW
    Good 4.7 GW
    Total 6.7 GW

    For perspective, California now generates about 60 GW from all energy types. Compare with 98 GW potential from CSP.

    When it comes to nuclear power, its not so much the technical details that concern me, but human error. As the oil industry has demonstrated numerous times, mistakes are made, sometimes disasterous ones.

    1. “The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) says parabolic trough plants can have 50% capacity factor. A power tower type plant can have up to 72% capacity factor.”

      That is physically impossible. No sun at night reduces the maximum capacity factor to 50%. Seasons reduce by a further 20%. Add cloudy weather, and you’re down to 15-25%.

        1. Ah yes, indeed, from the generating plant point of view you’re right. I was thinking of the average/peak energy captured per unit area.

          But bear in mind, that thermal storage in no way reduces the enormous size of the whole thing for significant grid contribution. 250 sq km for a 1000MW-average plant is not small.

            1. Roger, renewables is a 100 billion dollar industry, and all banks, VCs, investors, utilities,and even NGOs involved have heard about amortization. It’s the main cost, since no fuel purchase is involved!

  7. Solar thermal can also be CHP, providing hot water and electricity. It can be air cooled, water cooled or closed loop cooled with a Heller type system, using very little water. In addition, it can be used for sea water desalination.

    An NREL study for the Western Governors Association projected power prices from CSP at below 10 cents/kWh after about 4 GW was built and online. They futher projected prices of 3.5-7 cents/kWh after the industry gets up to scale. (note there are 6 GW of planned or current projects now)

    “Even though some solar generating technologies could benefit from research and development, it was made clear that solar resources are abundant; are located where they are needed; that efficiencies from concentrating solar power (CSP) are good enough to justify deployment; and
    cost projections are very promising. All that solar power required, in the opinion of the experts, is an incubation period, where incentives are put in place that allow the transition of this emerging generating technology into the mainstream. It is our view that providing such an incubation period is not a leap of faith, but a proven recipe of success, as the emergence of wind generating technology in Europe has shown.”


  8. My understanding on the nuclear power issue, is that China despite an ambitious nuclear program with numerous reactors by 2030 will still require coal for 80% of its electricity generation or thereabouts. So perhaps we need to think about how to use less energy. In my own household, I have invested in solar hot water, superior wall, ceiling and floor insulation, double glazing, LED lighting, heat pumps (which I rarely use) and my bill averages less than $50 a month, with very little compromise on quality of life. So perhaps we should be focusing more on how each of us can use less energy. Solar hot water has by far given the largest savings for investment in the shortest time in my experience. That might be a good place to start.

    1. Concur entirely. My own experience is the same. An energy efficient home saves not only ones own pocket, but also the planet. Unfortunately the modern home of the modern subdivision is built for “street appeal” rather than solar efficiency, no consideration is given in design for any use of that which is freely available – eg – garage doors that take up half on the northern side of the house! I saw street upon street of this sort of lunacy in my past work. Any attempt to develop energy efficient homes however is dismissed as “Nanny State” and the few sensible regulations repealed out of hand.

    2. What is the interest, or would be interest, on the capital cost of your ‘improvements’ as against the cost of the power you have saved?

  9. Lester Brown devotes a chapter of his book to energy efficiency and concludes that the potential is high enough to offset the nearly 30% growth in global energy demand projected by the IEA between 2006 and 2020. Gore is also eloquent on energy efficiency improvements as by far and away the most cost-effective among the solutions to the climate crisis and capable of being implemented faster than any others.

  10. “When all of these wind farms are completed, Texas will have 53,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity—the equivalent of 53 coal-fired power plants. This will more than satisfy the residential needs of the state’s 25 million people, enabling Texas to export electricity, just as it has long exported oil.”

    Unfortunately, you are not comparing like with like. Coal and other conventional generation is dispatchable on demand, with an 80-90% capacity factor. Wind is not available on demand and has a capacity factor of 30-40%. What is going to step in and maintain grid frequency in the Texas grid pool when there is no wind? The existing coal/gas-fired generators plus new ones built for backing generation.

    Denmark despite enormous efforts with wind and having Norwegian hydro for support have not been able to close a single coal-fired station and their juice is the most expensive in Europe. (Nuclear-based France is the cheapest.)

    Molten-salt thermal energy storage in the largest proposed configurations will last for 17 hours or so. (No such installations currently exist.) This is completely inadequate for wind/solar backup.

  11. It is nice to dream but reality is reality. I have done detailed research into the relative costs of various forms of power generation. When you compare them on a like-for-like basis then, assuming a capacity factor of 25%, which is reasonable for overseas windfarms, wind power costs at least three times as much as conventional sources such as coal, gas and nuclear power. Solar power, at $.50/kWh (US) is impossibly expensive and the capacity factor is usually around 20%. And this is in somewhere like Spain, where the sun quite often shines.

    The huge problem with these renewable energy technologies is that they need a low-cost efficient method of storing huge quantities of energy for days or weeks and months. No such technology exists. (And before you start jumping up and down, hydro pumped storage–which I am advocating for New Zealand–will store electricity on a daily, or at the most, weekly basis and the losses are 25%. The cost is between $1000 and $2000/kW)

    The fact is that with nuclear power, the world has effectively unlimited energy resources. Wind solar and marine power only exist because of the enormous subsidies, tax breaks, free transmission, free backup and the like. But Spain has found that it’s subsidies are unaffordable, Vestas, who make wind turbines, have had a large drop in orders and people are beginning to realise that if you put vast numbers of solar panels in the desert, it will be a massive job keeping them clean and if there is a major sandstorm, they will be damaged beyond repair.

    One can dream, but when it comes to keeping the lights on, one must be realistic.

    1. Bryan, you said:

      “which I am advocating for New Zealand–will store electricity on a daily, or at the most, weekly basis and the losses are 25%. The cost is between $1000 and $2000/kW” (Bryan Leyland)

      Can you be please specific please on the physics of your assumptions? What do you mean by $1000 and $2000/KW?
      How do you calculate 25% losses in using hydro power to compensate for variability in wind?
      In the light of your law suit against NIWA I would think we all in here will watch your words with a keen interest in detail and will subject your assessment to the peer review its due.
      I am keenly waiting your answer.

      1. The cost of hydropower schemes is site-specific. Pumped storage likewise. The one I am advocating is at Tokaanu Power Station would be very cheap indeed. But, the way the electricity market works, it is uneconomic for the owner but highly rewarding for the consumer.
        The overall efficiency for any hydropower plant is about 92% for the turbine, 98% for the generator, 99% for the transformer and there are about 5% penstock losses. This gives an overall efficiency of 85% so you get 15% losses on pumping and 15% losses on generating so the overall loss closer to 30% than the 25% I mentioned.
        In a dry year, the New Zealand Hydro schemes have very little spare capacity to make available when the wind is not blowing. And we already know that the wind blows least in the late autumn when we need it most. The wind blows most in the springtime when, quite often, our hydro lakes are spilling.

    2. Why would Bryan Leyland recommending pumped storage in NZ if all we need to do is to throttle back the baseline hydro generation???

      Throttling Hydro back is done at 100% efficiency and no cost of installation of anything.
      Also wind generation (Manawatu) is happening often much closer to NZ’s main consumers than the big South Island hydro schemes. Hence turning off some of the Hydro at times of good wind capacity allows lake levels to rise while reducing line losses overall.
      As far as NZ is concerned Bryan could not be further of the mark in all he says about wind.

      As far as cost effectiveness in NZ is concerned, Wind power is very cost effective without any subsidies. We produce Wind power at around 8 to 12 cents /KWhr paid to the wind farm operators while the consumer pays about 20 cents/KWhr. A reasonable margin one would think for distribution and resale.

      Germany – to cite a European example – produces 38.0 TWh of wind electricity (2009) or 7% of its total electricity consumption. This will rise to 25% of consumption around 2020. The cost of wind power generation in Germany is about 6 to 12 Euro Cents /KWhr or 12 to 24 NZ Cents /KWhr. At 30 Cents Euro (60 Cents NZ) retail electricity cost in Europe that’s a very appealing margin indeed.
      Then comes the issue of sustainability: The wind will blow forever, coal, oil and gas – Bryan Leyland’s love – will run out or become very expensive…..

      Bryan Leyland seems like a dinosaur just before the KT event…. 😉

      1. Several years ago Mighty River Power applied for a resource consent to ramp up the Waikato River below Aratiatia so that they could supply more power at peak rates and less at low rates. Environment Waikato, presumeably seeing this as a hot potato, dumped it in the lap of Commissioners. I assisted an environmental group in opposition to this application. MRP engaged a ginger haired academic from the AGW politbureau at VUW. This fellow wrote a report, with three or four pages of references, endorsing MRP’s proposal. Perhaps he was planning to get it published. Perhaps was even peer reviewed and published. I pointed out to the Commissioners that he had probably spent more time assembling his list of references that he had looking at the river. I spent half a day on the river and saw a 20 year old pine tree with its tap root exposed in a vertical pumice face, an impermeable clay layer within the range that MRP proposed to vary the water level, a classic example of tunnel gully erosion further down the river, a large clod of grass and pumice floating down the river and pumice granules saltating along the bottom! I do not think that I included a reference in my report to the Commissioners. If I had it would have been Smith’s Elements of Soil Mechanics! So much for peer review and long lists of references.

    3. Bryan, $ 0.50/kWh; where have you been? Solar costs are coming down at a breathtaking pace. In Germany, a $0.35/kWh feed-in tariff is now enough for groundbased PV plants. In sunny regions with twice the radiation, that means $ 0.175/kWh, and decreasing rapidly. CSP can be cheaper than that.

  12. Brian Leyland, you mention being realistic, after having claimed that nuclear power is an effectively unlimited energy resource. Seems somewhat hypocritical don’t you think?.

  13. “Wind solar and marine power only exist because of the enormous subsidies, tax breaks, free transmission, free backup and the like.” – B. Leyland.

    Most likely, and fossil fuel subsidies?, over a half trillion dollars (US) globally per annum.


    “An early draft of a comprehensive new study from the International Energy Agency reveals that total global subsidies to dirty fossil-fuel energy amount to $550 billion a year — about 75 percent more than previously thought.”

    How about we get rid of those subsidies too?.

  14. DappledWater,

    Nuclear is effectively unlimited energy source, or at the very least good for tens of thousands of years with new reactor technologies that give high burn up rates of fuel which may be natural uranium or thorium, existing spent fuel or depleted uranium. The current mainstay, light water reactors, only burn up a couple of percent of the fuel. These advanced reactors should be deployable on a 20-30 year time frame, and we may come to appreciate the considerable quantities of “once used” fuel in storage.

    On a separate topic the IEA Projected Costs of Generating Electricity – 2010 Edition shows nuclear to be significantly cheaper than onshore wind – in all regions. Interesting in Asia, nuclear is clearly cheaper than anything else. As most new generating capacity is being built in Asia, this would seem to be a matter of some importance for carbon emissions.


  15. Bryan Leyland,

    You write like you are not one of these fellows still driving your very first automobile.. And can I presume that the reason for that is today’s autos – (allow me exclude present recalls all around the place and likely due ecm or electronic control modules) are one whole heap better.

    My point: with greater utility the industries that R&D and manufacture newer technology products will deliver better, better still and much better energy apps for all humanity..

    What I saw above as your crossbow of immediate economic swap appears out of kilter with the way things – and Markets – work.

    And yes, in time, for enzed also. My sense is that folks here would want to do this.. to, shall I say, keep up. Naysayers will get older, but hopefully, unlike those early autos, wont ever become a mobile death trap.

    1. Proper markets do not need subsidies. The renewable energy market you referring to is heavily subsidised. And while I’m at on the subject of subsidies, the correct way to measure them is the amount of subsidy per kWh of electricity generated. If you do this calculation, the subsidies for renewable energy are hugely greater than for coal or nuclear stations.
      For the record, I am against subsidies of any sort. That is why I opposed the emissions trading scheme even though I am part owner of hydropower scheme that will benefit enormously.

      1. Bryan:
        Subsidies (= investments of the people into a better future) are the only way that Humanity will engineer itself (perhaps) out of the terrible mess we are in, bypassing the myopia generated by personal financial enrichment which clouds the decision making of individuals and corporations around the globe. As long as there is a dollar to be made burning the last of the oil, coal and gas (bugger the consequences) or to kill the last of the tuna in the ocean (bugger the consequences) private enterprise will do so.
        Major changes in the way we do business require long term thinking and long term planning – well beyond the horizon of today’s board rooms as they are measured by the comparatively short term performance of their stock.
        We are already dangerously close to the point where diminishing abilities of our civilization under the coming resource stresses and the present collapse of the Ponzi economies created by the liberal capitalist decades of the recent past will prevent us from a meaningful bootstrapping endeavor to “dry land” beyond the morass we are walking into…
        Besides, after a well planned dose of initial subsidies the PV industry has grown to the point where the price/KW has declined so much that many installations are simply economically viable and tens of thousands of German roofs are a testimony to this!
        Bryan: you are against subsidies. How about then telling your soul mates, the Koch brothers, in the USA to stop throwing money at the Cato and Heartland “Institutes” or the “Tea Party Madness”? What you call and hate as subsidies – because they are investments of the people into the sustainability of their future – is not materially different form what you would call and love as “Investments” of shareholders into the future of their wealth privatization instruments!

  16. Bryan Leyland, you may have a case with nuclear power, but when you talk about coal and gas being cheaper than wind and solar you are completely ignoring the environmental costs of these fuels. You don’t credit those costs of course, but we do, and they make coal and gas and petroleum far more expensive than any other source of energy, let alone of great danger to the human future. Your talk of enormous subsidies for renewables is highly questionable anyway, but what there are fade into insignificance alongside the subsidy being paid by coming generations to keep fossil fuels burning cheaply.

    1. Could you be more specific about “environmental costs”. Burning gas produces carbon dioxide, the key gas that makes plants grow. The major environmental effect of increased carbon dioxide levels (from whatever source) is that agricultural productivity has improved and desertification is getting less. Computer models “project” that it will cause some warming, this is only because they are programmed with a positive feedback factor which, as many people have pointed out, is not supported by the evidence. Modern coal-fired stations have stack gas cleanup so they too, only produce carbon dioxide. They also produce ash, which is certainly a problem. But there is a technology available that can refine coal before it is burned. This technology turns ash into valuable products.

  17. Brian Leyland,

    I agree that energy storage would be the ideal for renewables such as PVs. However, solar hot water doesn’t need energy storage technology, but can cut household annual consumption by as much as 50% or more depending on total consumption ~3-4000kWh or more per annum per household. Wouldn’t that significantly slow down the rate of drop of lake levels in dry years?

    An issue that comes to mind though is that the IPCC have projected CO2 to be 700-1000ppm by the end of the century, and that estimate hasn’t even begun to consider positive feedbacks. My question to you is, what, if any adverse effects do you expect with GHGs at that level, and on what do you base your conclusion?

    1. As I recall, hot water is about 40% of domestic demand. So 3000 kWh per year is reasonable. There is no doubt that, at considerable expense,, solar hot water would reduce the amount of energy required for domestic water heating. But it might finish up increasing the peak demand and it might finish making little difference to the energy demand on critical winter days and nights when it is cold and miserable and cloudy. So, like windpower, it would probably increase the demand on our hydro storage rather than decrease it.
      Which particular “projection” from the IPCC are you referring to? As I understand it, some of them envisage us burning up more than the world total known reserves of all fossil fuels by the end of the century. But if the world cools, the oceans will cool, and cold oceans absorb more carbon dioxide. So I would not be surprised to see carbon dioxide going down in a few years if, as seems likely, we are headed for something resembling a Little ice age.

      1. Those of us who have installed solar hot water heaters know that your “concerns” listed above as some sort of rational for not doing anything are just that. Shoddy rationalizations for inaction. The “fear” that you express of increasing peak demand is nonsense. A properly installed solar collector works just as well in Queenstown as it does in Whangarei. (In fact collectors may work too well in some parts of the country where draw down from the system is infrequent and the collector needs to dump boiling water. Blinds are the solution for home owners going on holiday). Not only that – because solar hot water heaters are ideally installed in the roof spaces of houses (and at a cost of $1500 / sq m) for a new building the cost of this extra nett living space is a cost saving to the new owner.

        Disclaimer – I have had a solar water heater for 25 years with no problems. I have worked for an importer of solar hot water systems in the past. We had no reported problems or feedback from dissatisfied customers of inefficient hot water systems. Some shonky operators with little understanding of the systems they were importing and installing, or the correct siting of collectors, etc have had some bad results – but this is more a result of ignorance and bad practice than the lack of sufficient solar energy.

        1. Macro,

          Can you explain a bit more about blinds for I assume the solar panels, where can you get them from?

          I also think that the argument that solar hot water increases peak demand is a fallacy. My cylinder has state of the art insulation and so I find that with just off peak power, the cylinder stays relatively hot until the next evening. However, on a sunny winter’s day I can get quite significant temperature boost irrespective of outside temperature.

          I think that maintenance is quite important, checking the sacrificial anode etc. It pays to be a savvy on maintenance, but this is an issue that suppliers could improve on and is not a fault of the technology which is brilliant.

          1. Yes the blind is a for the solar collector. I made my own using a good reflective plasticized cloth with an elastic band round the perimeter and fitted them when going away for more than a week. I had the idea of making a roller blind – but at the moment I think the market would be very limited.
            Cleaning the collectors regularly is good practice too.
            The modern glycol filled collectors are the way to go. Cut down on maintenance and worry of icing in frosty conditions.
            Yes the temperature boost on a cool but sunny winter day is testament to the fact that the suns radiation does not disappear just because it is winter – if you can feel the sun on your skin then you know the collectors will be working.

            1. I agree glycol is the way to go, with minimum maintenance, and little or no chance of bugs growing anywhere.

              I forgot to mention that Solahart have a heat dissipator as well, which fits on to the cylinder, and this is supposed to prevent hot water temperature rising above 75 degrees C even without water use. What I’m not clear on is whether this contraption reduces solar gain in winter months.

      2. Bryan: I am really starting to wonder how you lasted so long in the industry you are in! Your comments here expose a bewildering level of ignorance and a total lack of appreciation of the current and coming predicament of humanity. Its shocking really!
        Just for a hint: Buy yourself a ticket to China. Have a look at hot water solar there. Have a look at wind power there. Have a peek into their electric vehicle industry. Then tell me if you think the Chinese are mad or clever in what they are up to in this regard and if you think their actions are influenced by “evil” western Greenies or perhaps by simple rational thought!

      3. Bryan,

        I am intrigued by your answer regarding little Ice Age, but I don’t quite understand your position. Are you saying that an ice age is necessary to avert serious adverse effects of GHGs and climate change, or under any circumstances GHGs shouldn’t be expected to pose a threat. As I understand it we have just emerged from an ice age, and so predicting another one at such short notice would be a big call.

        Taking one step back, would you agree that the only handle we have of predicting the future effects of high atmospheric GHGs, you need to look closely at the earth’s fossil records, geological and paleontological records to determine when GHGs have been relatively high, and unravel how well species survived over the same time period. Large carbon excursions have been demonstrated to occur throughout the earth’s history, and details regarding their effects on the earth’s biodiversity have only recently started to emerge.

      4. Ah! Bryan, you have seen the light! Finally you make the argument that dropping CO2 levels, after we burned through the carbon fuel reserves, will lead to a drop in global temperature that will herald (in your mind) a new ice age! So its the CO2 after all?! We told you so log ago. Thanks for agreeing with us for once!

        1. Thomas,

          Sadly I don’t think that Bryan in his statement had unwittingly confessed to AGW theory. I suspect he was arguing that the cooling (Ice age) will come first and that atmospheric CO2 decline will follow, a position that he hasn’t waivered from (the oceans might be a tad ruined however). In other words no matter what we do Mother Nature will solve it, and not a moment too soon, we just need to be a little patient. Pay no attention to alarmists who have noted that previous carbon excursions have coincided with significant extinction events, the Triassic perhaps being the most spectacular.

          On a different note, I have a question regarding carbon sequestration. For every terrestrial mole of carbon we sequester, how many moles of CO2 would you expect the atmosphere to become reduced by, and why?

  18. Quokka, I have no problem accepting that nuclear power is a viable option for many countries, but one thing is isn’t and that’s an “effectively unlimited energy source”. Any peer reviewed literature to support that assertion?.

    1. Quite simply resources cannot be estimated until the work is done. Prior to the discovery of the massive West Australian iron ore resources it was widely believed that Australia had no significant resources of iron ore. Similarly with sedimentary uranium. The someone thought that there might be Wyoming type deposits in South Australia. They went looking and found deposits very similar. There is some prospective ground in North Westland but I doubt that we have a government with the balls to let anyone look for or develop it.

      1. The polymetallic Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia is the largest uranium (and the 4th largest copper and 5th largest gold) deposit in the world. It certainly is not a roll-front (Wyoming) type uranium deposit nor was it found during exploration for such a deposit. It was discovered by Western Mining as part of a regional program looking for sedimentary copper deposits.

  19. DappledWater,

    Best suggestion I have re sustainability of nuclear is to have a read of some of the stuff on Professor Barry Brook’s site mentioned by Bryan Walker in his piece. The TCASE series also raises some hard issues with renewables that are very important to understand. In particular, the discussion of materials requirements for renewables – concrete, steel, glass, land etc – is eye popping. Asking the hard questions is important for us all.

  20. Quokka, I’ve only read the odd piece on nuclear power, scalability being a major problem, which is why the “unlimited energy source” claim was particularly hard to fathom.

    Any idea how many nuclear stations required to replace “current” energy needs?. Estimated costs of construction of each?. Subsidies? These must be equally eye-popping too.

    1. What people mean when they talk about “unlimited nuclear power” is that the fuel source is essentially unlimited.

      The effort available for building new nuclear is certainly limited, although the Chinese and Koreans particularly are making heroic efforts.

      We are nowhere near a “uranium peak” and there is little prospecting going on. Even if the current uranium yellowcake price were to go up by a factor of 10 it would still add only half a cent per kWh. And this disregards the possibilities for used-fuel-reprocessing, which is simply uneconomical at present with yellowcake prices at the current level.

      Re your question on nuclear costs, we could use as a rough benchmark Finland’s newest 1600MW nuclear power plant. This has suffered various first-of-a-kind engineering cock-ups and is now coming in at $US7 billion, high by world standards. This is $US4.375/watt of installed capacity. (The Chinese are doing it for half that or less.)

      This compares with Denmark’s newest and largest 400MW wind farm off Anholt Island (shallow offshore, more expensive than land-based but higher load factor) which is currently priced around $US2.3 billion. This is $US5.75/watt of installed capacity.

      On the face of it, roughly similar capital costs.

      BUT, and it’s a big but, the nuclear load factor at 80-90% is more than twice as high as that of wind at 30-40%, so you’re getting more than twice as much energy for your investment over the same period. (Economic lifetime is a separate issue.)

      AND, you don’t need to also cost in backup generation for when the wind isn’t blowing.

      Subsidies, don’t know. Presumably loan guarantees.

    2. I’ll try to keep it brief because it would not be appropriate to hijack this thread into pro-nuke advocacy.

      About 430 reactors currently generate about 15% of worlds electricity =>
      ~ 2800 reactors would meet current needs. Back of envelope stuff and ignores contribution from hydro and other renewables.

      The claim of thousands of years of energy derives from transmuting fertile material such as Uranium 238 into fissile material by neutron bombardment. This already happens to some extent in light water reactors, but in a breeder reactor designed for the task more fissile material is produced than burned.

      Two basic fuel cycles are possible:
      Uranium 238 -> Plutonium 239
      Thorium -> Uranium 233

      If you do the sums, it turns out that a piece of uranium or thorium the size of a golf ball is sufficient to provide the total energy needs of an individual for a lifetime:

      As for build rates of solar, wind, nuclear or anything else, to really decarbonise electricity generation worldwide the task is to put it mildly, daunting.

      Even if you disagree with the high energy demand scenario in the above piece, it’s still very, very challenging.

      1. Yes, its daunting alright. That’s why there is not time to loose.
        I also think that some other reasoning must accompany these thoughts:
        When you plan for an off – the – grid home, powered by PV, Wind and Solar Thermal the first instance is to map out utility demand, then bring that down with good design, then bring the actual energy demand down again with best practice appliances. A standard NZ home might require 20KWhrs of electric energy per day. Well planned this might be reduced to 5KWhrs without losing any real amenity. While providing 20Kwh/day might have been cost prohibitive, 5Kwhr would look outright affordable, storage and all.
        On our boat with only 150W installed PV we can run LED lights and a 12V fridge and a CD player for days in Summer and live comfortably.
        The idea that all of humanity shall and will endeavor to consume like the average American does today is fallacious. We all will and need to scale back.
        Keeping this in mind things look a heck of a lot more doable. Otherwise the data you cite would simply prove the fact that we are doomed as it would seem impossible to envision the rates of deployment envisaged in the article.

      2. Unless the newly designed reactors operate entirely differently there may be problems for many countries with cooling them. Tennessee have had to close down for some time so far this summer – the river water was too hot to use for cooling. (Loss of $US50 million for the operator.) I fancy that this issue would also arise for locations beside shallow seas if waters warm as much as seems likely.

        Regardless of desirability, the geography of some countries or of areas within larger countries may preclude the option.

        1. Yes that is a very valid point!
          A good summary is here:

          Current nuclear plants expel about 2/3 of the energy produced as waste heat. With Thorium high temperature reactors the efficiency might rise to above 50%.
          Nevertheless it is fair to say for a back of an envelope argument that at least the same amount as the electric energy generated must be carried away by some coolant or the other. River water cooling is not an option for any large scale build out of nuclear power.

        2. Conventional nuclear reactors are no different from any other generation that uses a steam cycle in this regard. Either you heat the river or you use cooling towers. Huntly now does both. The sea is bigger than most rivers so heating is not usually a problem for coastal stations, although sea level rise may be in decades to come.

  21. NZ is one of the very best wind-generation sites in the world, in the roaring-forties and with 60% hydro generation to save water in when the wind blows. Pumped storage is far less often required when there is big hydro reserve range. Wind farms definitely have a place here. But I would argue that it’s no more than about 20%, the ceiling which Denmark has run up against in spite of having Scandinavian hydro to offset against.

    We all want to get rid of coal-burning abominations. So, to take a relevant example, what would it take for wind generation to replace Huntly?

    Huntly is 1200MW approx, is run at about 85% load factor to supply baseload power. That works out to about 8900 GWh of energy per year.

    (For comparison, the Tongariro/Waikato hydro scheme has 1075MW of installed capacity, and in the year to 30 March 2010 generated 2977 GWh. That’s a load factor of about 38%.)

    Let’s say we install sufficient wind power to get the same annual energy as Huntly. Since wind generators have a 30-40% load factor, let’s pick a value of 38%, the same as Waikato hydro last year. This implies nameplate capacity of 2700 MW approx. In round-figure terms, that about 1000 turbine towers and 20x approx as big as the Westwind station.

    What’s 1000 wind turbines 100metres high among friends, you may say? Certainly worth it, many would say, to save all that CO2. But that’s not the main difficulty.

    The big problems are:

    (a) the energy isn’t there when we need it most. A chilly winter anticyclone squatting over NZ for a week or so will run the hydro reserve down very rapidly (remember Huntly isn’t there anymore so an amount equal to the entire Waikato hydro capacity then becomes committed) and then the lights will go off.

    (b) we can’t actually use all that energy when the wind is blowing nicely. 2700MW of power flow is just far too much for the NI grid in its present state. And it’s “bumpy” power too, going up and down with wind gusts. You need an almost equal amount of *nearby* “spinning reserve” to smooth things out.. Let’s see, what spinning reserve have we got? Waikato hydro and geothermal, about 1500 MW capacity. No Huntly, it’s gone.

    As Denmark and California have proved, you simply can’t replace any *baseload* power with wind. You need standby reserve AS WELL. We could do this with geothermal, but it would be an enormous stretch, the current geothermal MWh generated would have to increase by about NINE TIMES.

    Or we could build a nice green nuclear station, somewhere north of Auckland.

    A hard nut to crack …

    1. What about the southern Hydro – has the Cook Strait cable been cut?
      So we need to:
      a. Reduce our energy consumption. Domestically we can do that with solar hot water heating, well insulated homes, energy efficient homes, etc and save ourselves money. Business can do likewise, and save itself money.
      b. Reduce our transport requirements, domestically, and commercially. This requires a bit more effort and public consultation – but it is possible. This does not mean sack cloth and ashes and may mean an improvement in our lifestyles!
      c. generate energy locally with solar electric panels feeding into the local grid, wind farms on top of skyscrapers? Wellington could replicate Makara 100 fold and still there would be room for more. Fly out on a clear day and see for yourself.
      d. develop our geothermal capacity even more – not only taupo but northland as well.
      e. tidal – 4 hours on 3 hours off. but still its there.
      We really haven’t even begun to address the problem, and we have a “minister” of energy whose only response is to dig more sexy coal. Meanwhile the planet waits.

      1. Macro, I share many of your sentiments. But when saving the planet, we still have to do our sums and make sure they add up.

        No, the Cook Strait DC link has not been cut. But getting rid of 1000MW of Huntly baseload and depending on southern hydro storage and wind power instead will require you to double its present capacity, and install a brand new DC and/or 400kV national supergrid. Not cheap.

        The total current hydro storage range is 4000 GWh approx, with ~80% of this in the SI. This is currently just enough, more or less, with Huntly and with national efficiency drives in dry winters. But removing 1000MW of base generation from a station that generates almost a quarter of all NZ electrical energy, will require a corresponding increase of a third in hydro storage. Where are we going to put this, and how much will it cost?

        Re (a), yes indeed, let’s do all that. NZ at the moment prob. leads the developed world in energy-crappy buildings. New building codes should be radically improved. But remember the enormous existing stock of houses. As fast as you refurbish and conserve, natural growth and immigration will be eating up the gains. Necessary but not sufficient.

        (b) is a very tough one. Maybe a carbon “fee and dividend” to/from a ring fenced fund for those who use more/less than a target amount might be the way to go here. Government doesn’t get its sticky hands on the money, and everyone gets a financial incentive.

        (c) solar/wind local generation does not do away with the need for a new grid and extra storage, as described above. NIMBY will become severe with huge wind farms.

        As for solar, consider the enormous land areas involved. The sun-tracking Serpa Solar thermal plant on the drawing board in Portugal is expected to average 2.3MW and takes 60 hectares. Scaling this up to 1000MW Huntly equivalent gives (1000/2.3) x 60/100 = 261 sq km per performing GW ! Fixed solar PV on buildings etc is less efficient, that’s an awful lot of buildings to cover with panels.

        (This compares with just ONE sq km (100 ha) for a drop-in 1200MW replacement nuclear plant for Huntly. No extra grid stuff needed except for 220kV reinforcement north of Auckland if we build it there.)

        (d) Geothermal is expensive and high-maintenance and is subject to field depletion over time. Not an easy solution. Huntly equivalent requires a ninefold expansion of our current capacity. How long will this take?

        (e) Large NI tidal schemes have big environmental impact and will need buy-in from Maori. The foreshore fracas does not bode well.

        The quickest low-carbon solution of the necessary scale is nuclear. I’m right with Barry Brook of bravenewclimate.com on that. His sums add up.

        1. “No, the Cook Strait DC link has not been cut. But getting rid of 1000MW of Huntly baseload and depending on southern hydro storage and wind power instead will require you to double its present capacity, and install a brand new DC and/or 400kV national supergrid. Not cheap.”
          But it is already being upgraded to a capacity of 1200MW. In your first “analysis” you did not take this extra capacity into account – now you are saying that it needs to double!

          1. Sorry. I overlooked the fact that Pole 1 clapped out in 2007. I was assuming a rough figure of 1000MW at present capacity. It’s great that we’re already on our way to increasing that.

            My reasoning was simply as follows: If you add 1000MW of wind capacity in the North Island, you ALSO have to make sure that there is an extra 1000MW of dispatchable backup to maintain grid stability. Of course, any single generator of any other type needs backup elsewhere in the system; we rely on generation diversity for security of supply. But this is an ESPECIAL problem for wind because a suitable anticyclone will ensure that ALL the NI wind generators will be running with low or zero output. The reserve has to cover the ENTIRE amount.

            Therefore, if we then rely on South Island reserves as was implied by your Cook Strait cable remark, this implies an EXTRA flow of up to 1000MW across the link. A doubling of its present performance, in very rough figures.

            Of course, in practice we could develop lots of smaller NI hydro sites, and/or increase geothermal so there is more NI backup.

            However we do it, it’s not going to be easy or cheap, at all. Really, I’m not trying to start an argument here, and I’m happy to be corrected if my figures are wrong. I’m just trying to be realistic and point out the practical consequences of the various alternatives. How else can we tackle the carbon crisis but realistically?

            1. turnages you raise some interesting points but I’m not sure nuclear is the right answer for replacing Huntly. If what NZ needs is dispatchable backup then it needs to be a plant(s) you can switch on and off quickly something I don’t think nuclear is good at.

              Something NZ might want to look at instead could be several smaller (say 200MW) biomass plants to provide backup and/or baseload depending on the conditions. Maybe these could run on either biomass or nat gas if we got really desperate.

              Also because NZ would only need one nuclear plant, we won’t get benefits from economies of scale and it could be very difficult to get one built without massive (for NZ) government subsidies, and then we’d still have a decade long s**t fight about getting the thing approved before a brick was even layed. Makes me wonder if, for NZ, it’s worth the trouble.

        2. The good news is that Huntly doesn’t run at 85% capacity…The MED’s Energy Data File says all generation from coal for 2009 was 3079 GWh so actually a 35% capacity factor and accordingly it could be replaced by 1000 MW of wind (say 400 big turbines).
          Also it doesn’t, thankfully, generate “almost a quarter” of our electricity. It is typically something well less than 10% (except in a really bad year).

          As for the “big problems”….an anticyclone parked over the lower north island will see westerlies blowing on the southern wind farms and easterlies blowing up in Northland. Geographic diversity minimises the weather risk.

          Spinning reserve? this is more of a problem for Huntly (or its replacement nuke station)…wind tends to drop away with some warning and gradually – particularly (again) when your windfarms are spread throughout the country. But…if Huntly goes off line then you need 1000 MW in an instant.

          More good news wrt the DC link – it is currently going through an upgrade to get the capacity up to 1200 MW by 2014.

          Turnages also mentions Denmark running into a 20% ceiling for wind penetration. I am sure they will break through that pretty soon and even Ireland (without benefit of norse hydro) has plans for “40% renewables” most of which will be wind.

          I recently saw a presentation on PhD research going on in Auckland showing the benefit of smart charging of EV’s for grid stability (and aiding the integration of wind power in particular). The cars charge via a sensitive frequency controller – if the grid is heavily loaded the AC frequency will drop and the cars won’t charge. Conversely when lightly loaded ( late at night or when the wind is blowing) the frequency will rise and the cars will charge. The effect on grid stability is dramatic and is similar to spinning reserve.

          Big problems may well spawn big solutions (some of which may well be physically small)

          1. Sorry, I was wrong about Huntly. Wikipedia, basing itself on an old Genesis web page, says “about 17%” which is of course less than 25%. Apologies.

            According to a now-expired 2007 online Herald article its load factor was 85%. (Although unlike Mighty River, Genesis seem cagey on exact generation figures for specific years, do you know of any source?) And we forgot that of course they can use gas in any of their boilers so presumably gas accounts for the difference between your figures, which only include coal, and 17%. Running their new 385MW CCGT gas-only unit gives electricity at ~60% efficiency instead of ~34% for the rest of their plant, which they presumably take advantage of.

            I stand by what I said about wind generation not always being there when you need it. Anyone who has worked in a grid control centre will tell you that you simply cannot bet the whole system against 1000MW of weather-based generation. You HAVE to have an equal amount of reserve in the wings. It’s bad enough to deal with a “risk of trip” when one circuit of an important twin line is out for maintenance. If you watch the weather map you’ll see plenty of cases when the whole NI has fine weather and light winds, and fewer, but still some, in which the entire country is becalmed. And when it’s blowing at the south end and the demand is at the north end, your transmission HAS to be able to take the extra.

            Your worries are misplaced about 1000MW spinning reserve for Huntly. No single generator is bigger than 385MW and they can operate independently. Something that took out the entire site would be a very rare and serious event, far more unlikely than the wind not blowing. And I would hope that any nuclear or other replacement for Huntly would have a modular set of say 250MW generators and not one huge 1GW one, as Sizewell B unwisely decided on.

            That’s a brilliant idea about electric car chargers being used to stabilise the grid. Here’s to hoping that we get electric vehicle
            takeup in the hundreds of thousands as soon as possible so it can make a significant difference.

            1. I was just considering the coal side of Huntly – 1000MW since that is the bit that we would ideally be taking out of service.

              My source is the MED’s Energy Data File.

              The E3P 385MW CCGT could well take the overall output from Huntly up to the 17% level.

              I don’t really know how switchable (between gas and coal) the old units are but Wikipedia suggests they were run on gas initially and then converted to coal some time in the 1990’s. So it doesn’t sound like it is something done on a whim. Hence I think using the total electricity production from coal out of the EDF is a reasonable for the output from the old part of Huntly.

              Yes you got me on the spinning reserve being on a per generator basis – but at present the spinning reserve requirement for the north island is set by the loss of the HVDC link. So there is still room for wind energy to expand before it starts to influence the reserve requirement.

              You seem concerned about 1000 MW of wind on the grid but in Spain they have 19,000 MW against a demand ranging from 24,000 to 38,000 at least it was according to REE today. Look at the pie chart on REE’s tracking page too. Not too much in the way of fast start backup available – nowhere near a one to one match.

              Better forecasting of wind output is part of the answer and people are working on that too.



      2. Macro,

        Agree with all of the above. We have acres of roof space, would be great to have them covered in PVs. Some areas where PVs could improve. I have a miniature PV 600x600mm and I notice that when it heats up in summer sun its efficiency drops to the extent that it no longer has enough grunt to power a water pump. I am wondering if there are any effective ways of dissipating the excess heat. Or are there PV technologies that are less susceptible to the effects of excess heat?

        1. Raising panels off a roof surface helps to keep them cool as does having vegetation near the panels. One idea is to have “green roofs” with raised panels above some vegetation. Evaporation from the plants help keeps the air cooler locally and the plants also act as good insulation for the building.

    2. Isn’t there a 90% energy loss after transmission through electrical power lines? If so couldn’t we cut fossil fuel usage by 90% simply by having households burn gas for heating directly rather than through a central coal and gas fired power station. Or is this too simplistic?

      1. Average line losses are probably under 10% on a global average. In NZ in case a lot of load travels from SI to NI that may be higher.
        In some remote areas with long lines at low voltages total losses may ad up to 20%.

          1. I agree completely, even 10% is a lot and that’s why we need more small scale local generation capability such as PV or Wind and why using solar hot water panels is so critical as it inserts a large amount of energy that is easily stored for a day or two directly at the point of consumption instead of hundreds of miles away. It also re-connects the user of energy with the generation of energy in a meaningful way. In the later I see perhaps the biggest “benefit” in reconnecting people with the reality of their lifestyle and its consequences!
            People with a PV home don’t run the vacuum at night nor do they run three loads of washing on a rainy day. This sort of adaptation of use to availability is really not a big issue yet will diminish the much talked about need of standby capacity so that Joe Average can use as much power as he wants to whenever it suits him. The future I believe will need to be much more intelligent than that. If we all produced a meaningful part of the energy we demand to use humanities footprint on the environment would be reduced in a meaningful way!

    3. On Green Nuclear:

      I believe that Generation IV nuclear reactor designs will play a big part in the upcoming energy discussions.

      It is important that the public fully understands that these new proposed designs are inherently different and inherently safe due to the physical laws at work there. They are very different than any of the old water cooled designs of the Chernobyl area and do not suffer from any Peak Uranium issues like the current generation of reactors as they burn abundant depleted Uranium and possibly pose a very viable option to power civilization well into the future that requires careful and honest consideration.

      I would sincerely recommend all who like to take an informed stand in this discussion to read this introduction to the IFR reactor designs.

  22. Bryan Leyland, your remarks in the comment where you ask me to be more specific about environmental costs are standard denialist stuff which I’m certainly not going to respond to in this thread. You reject the science of climate change. We all know that, and we know the lengths you are prepared to go to to attack the integrity of climate scientists. Discuss renewables if you wish on the thread, but understand that it is pointless to talk of fossil fuel energy here as if it was some kind of viable alternative. Understand too that in our view it is in effect highly subsidised through the costs it imposes on the future, so there’s no point continuing that subsidies theme unless in relation to the non-fossil fuel alternatives.

    1. And exactly what am I supposed to deny? I simply do not deny that the climate changes. It changes quite naturally. I do not deny that it is possible that carbon dioxide has an effect on the climate. But, as I am sceptical (something I’m proud of, especially as the opposite is gullible) I want hard evidence (ie evidence that does not come from an unvalidated computer programs, before I begin to take dangerous man made global warming seriously.
      I’m not aware that I, personally, have attacked the integrity of climate scientists. I am well aware that many people on this blog have attacked my personal integrity on many occasions.
      What you’re really telling me is that you closed your mind to the possibility that those who believe the hypothesis of dangerous man made global warming are wrong. A few days ago I was talking to the Vice Chancellor of one of our major universities. I congratulated him for defending the academic freedom of one of his staff who was under attack. This is what he said “Many years ago I was at Massey University studying facial eczema. There was a strange old woman who ran a farm and who insisted that zinc was very useful against facial eczema. For years she was treated as a “nutter” and ignored. Then someone decided to do some research and discovered that she was right.” Unlike many people, he learned from this lesson. As I’m sure you’re aware, the same could be said about Semmelweiss and antiseptics, continental drift, and of course, the sun going around the Earth. Remember, that is the motto of the Royal Society is “by no man’s word”. In other words, the people who set it up did not believe in “appeal to authority” which, it would seem, you do. If you look at Carl Sagan’s “Bulldust Detection Kit” you will find that “appeal to authority” is listed as one of the signs that you should be suspicious.

      1. Bryan Leyland-
        Here is what I don’t understand. You ask for “hard evidence” for the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases on global temperature (and related phenomena), yet there are hundreds of peer-reviewed papers from dozens of scientific fields that report just such evidence – some observational, some theoretical, some computational. Against this overwhelming scientific evidence, there are a handful of papers – many in non-science journals – that present opposing views. What exactly is the sort of evidence that you require?

          1. That’s a foolish demand R2D2. You know the evidence is cumulative, which is what Mike’s comment said. Try the IPCC 4th assessment report working group 1 chapter 9 . Section 7 on page 727 sums it up. They don’t talk of proof, of course, but of the weight of evidence.

            1. Proof is what you have in Maths not science. We deal with evidence and uncertainty i.e. the real world.

            2. Oh so is not proven that burning coal will produce carbon dioxide? Or is that math not science? I’m confused.

              I guess although we think burning a hydrocarbon like coal in an oxygen rich environment should produce carbon dioxide we don’t really know. But then do we really know 1 + 1 is 2?

              Anyway, I was only wanting to see the hard evidence.

            3. Don’t get angry at me then. If it is a foolish demand, then the comment “there are hundreds of peer-reviewed papers from dozens of scientific fields that report just such evidence ” is also foolish. When ever I read the papers the IPCC refers to they mainly simply show the correlation between rises in greenhouse gas and recorded in temps in the last 150 years. If there are hundreds of papers that report the evidence of hard evidence Bryan L asks for then I would like to see them for my own good.

            4. R2D2-
              As you probably already know, http://www.skepticalscience.com is a great place to find links to the peer-reviewed scientific literature on these matters. My single favourite paper (Knutti & Hegerl, 2008, http://www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir/papers/knutti08natgeo.pdf) discusses the multiple lines of evidence that constrain the value of the “climate sensitivity” to a doubling of CO2. Rahmstorf et al. (2007, http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/Publications/Nature/rahmstorf_etal_science_2007.pdf) provides a brief look at how predictions of climate science are doing against the recent observations – the ultimate test of a theory’s validity. Finally, because of my training, I am particularly persuaded by the arguments presented by Royer et al. (2004, http://droyer.web.wesleyan.edu/GSA_Today.pdf) for CO2 as a primary driver of climate change in the geologic past.

            5. Recent events show the IPCC and its reports in a pretty poor light. Shonky is the word for it. If you want to be a party to that sort of stuff it is quite OK by me. Others will judge your intelligence and integrity as they may.

        1. There may be many many papers but how much research are they based on. Recent events have caused us to be more than a little sceptical of the quality of the research anyway. When research is commenced with an open mind it is one thing. When the research is directed to the support of a political message it is something else again. I supplied an example related to the Waikato River in an earlier post. There was an incidental message included there, namely that renewable energy may have its environmental costs. I might have added too that there was very little bird life to be seen along the river. 1080 had been dropped a little earlier.

          1. Roger-
            Be an honest bloke and just admit it. There will never be enough research for you to accept that humans are effecting climate through greenhouse gas emissions. Why? Because you think all such research is politically motivated and therefore can be ignored. You have lost any rational perspective and are now nothing more than a contrarian ideologue.

      2. Bryan: Then by golly, stand by your words you just said here and stop appealing to the “authority of the courts” and instead bring a scientifically convincing argument to a peer reviewed journal to make your point why adjusting old temperature records to match a new location higher up is not useful and necessary in order to obtain a long term temperature series! Has it not dawned on you that its you who is appealing to the “inquisitor’s” assistance when it must be clear to you with even a very simple back of the envelope calculation that a flight student would be able to perform after his meteorology classes that NIWA’s calculations are correct at least to first order effects!

  23. Bryan Leyland, it is ludicrous that you quote the suppression of scientific evidence, by previous guardians of the status quo, as somehow justifying your position defending the status quo against the scientific evidence for AGW.

    No, it is precisely your ilk who scorned Semmelweiss, Copernicus, Wegener and the rest.

    The Catholic cardinals refused to even look at Jupiter through Galileo’s telescope, lest they lose their “faith”. Similarly, it is you who refuse to study the temperature records, isotopic ratios, radiative physics and all the other evidence of AGW, lest you lose your ideology.

    What a bunch of mealy-mouthed hypocrites!

  24. Bryan Leyland, I trust the many scientists of integrity involved in the study of climate change to have taken into account the possibility that they make mistakes, and all that I have read of their work suggests that they certainly do that. They are people of intellectual substance and diligence. In contrast you offer a few fragments with little or no scientific basis and a whole heap of bluster and talk about closed minds. I’ve read what the “sceptics” write and find it simply doesn’t stand up alongside the vast body of work climate science has produced. Furthermore the issue carries fundamental consequences for human life on the planet, with the likelihood of severe effects on human welfare and human civilisation if we continue on our present path. I am amazed that you and your fellows in the CSC and like organisations, on the basis of your “scepticism”, confidently oppose action to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. I’m afraid I consider that reckless endangerment of present and future human populations.

  25. It’s a bit rich for confusionists such as Leyland above to keep banging on about mythical conspiracies to suppress scientific evidence when their standard operating procedure is to systematically ignore and misrepresent the mountains of evidence that actually do exist.

    They can hardly open their mouths without doing so. Above Leyland claims that the sensitivity of climate to CO2 has been derived only from climate models. This is just not true. Paleoclimate studies also play a very important part. When the multiple lines of evidence are considered, it all points to a most likely sensitivity of ~3C per doubling of CO2.

    You don’t need to understand much of the science to realize that this cavalier attitude to the truth should raise a big red flag.

    There is an excellent and fascinating video presentation to the AGU “The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s Climate History” by Richard Alley here: http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm09/lectures/lecture_videos/A23A.shtml

    1. And here is a link to a paper in Nature by Royer et al. that shows how the work of geologists is highly relevant to issues regarding the influence of CO2 on Earth’s climate: http://droyer.web.wesleyan.edu/climate_sensitivity.pdf

      In relation to doubling of current atmospheric CO2 concentrations, these authors state: “We conclude that a climate sensitivity greater than 1.5°C has probably been a robust feature of the Earth’s climate
      system over the past 420 million years, regardless of temporal

  26. On a domestic scale, I am interested in a heating system that I have seen mentioned a few times on the tv programme, “Grand Designs”, which utilizes passive heat from the ground. Has this been used in NZ? Is there any way it could be incorporated in existing dwellings?

    1. I’ve often wondered about that – though I’m just as interested in cooling.

      Seeing as all homes have to have a trench dug for connection of plumbing and the rest, I’ve often thought that making it standard to dig twice as deep and twice as wide, and maybe a bit longer, for a nice large air supply to be piped into the house would be a good idea. Digging something extra, or in a more suitable location or configuration, for specific locations would then be a mere marginal cost.

      Even if such a system didn’t always meet the total need for heating or cooling, it would certainly reduce the number of days – and hours on those days – that power would be needed to supplement.

    2. Carol, if you’re referring to ground source or geothermal heat pumps, I would have thought the Grand Design programs highlighted some of the drawbacks, such as the huge amount pipe required, (for the trench version), the land area, excavation work & the extra cost. I remember one of the owners, on one episode, throwing a hissy fit, trying to lay the coiled alkathene.

      They generally are more efficient, than air source heat pumps, in very cold climates, as the variation in ground temperature is small compared to the air temperature fluctuation.


      1. Thanks for the link, Dappledwater. Living in the depths of Southland, this could be a viable option for new homes down here. Trying to stay warm is one of our biggest challenges each winter.

        1. There are at least two ground source heat pump installs in NZ. One not too far from you Carol.

          I had a look into this (to try and persuade my sister to buy one) a few years ago. I found the equipment was very expensive (imported from USA or Europe) and the air source heat pumps (or so the suppliers told me) are so much more efficient these days that cold outside winter air can still be milked for its heat.

          Nevertheless I still like the concept and if it is going to add up anywhere in the country it will be down in your neck of the woods.

        2. Use thick curtains, a wood burning heater with a wetback and grow some hydroponic veges. I you really want to save money build yourself a houseboat with a water wheel to charge your batteries and park it in a decent tideflow. No rates. You can move when your neighbours piss you off. I would do just that but she who must have a say in all matters would not approve.

          1. I’ll rate you a “like” on that comment Roger – one of your most civilised on this site.
            There’s always the chance you are being facetious but the reference to “she who must have a say” suggests not.
            So it would churlish of us to complain about better insulation, biomass heating, renewable generation and self sufficiency in vegetables…did you have any fishing in mind Roger.

            1. That too. Self sufficiency appeals to me. I have little sympathy for those who insist on windows nearly as large as the wall, particularly if they extend as far as the ceiling, and then winge about their heating bills.

            2. A few square metres of glass or clear plastic, a similar area of ridged black copper sheet, some boxing, insulation, ducting and a fan and you can have a good supply of warm air in daytime. No really necessary in much of the North Island but it might be useful in the South Island. If I was starting afresh I would lay pipes in the floor connected to a purpose built wood burner with a wetback. There are many things that can be done with a bit of thought and will. Small windows, thick curtains and the usual insulation are enough to make a big dent in the power bill.

            3. An acquaintance of mine in Norway runs a heat pump using the water of the nearby lake. The lake freezes over in winter. I imagine that a small stream, little more than a ditch would provide enough heat for a house here.

  27. You can find an interesting progress report on the installation of a GSHP in France here.

    EECA were offering a $1,000 grant on the installation of approved hot water heat pumps (air not ground) last year. Applicants had to agree to provide their post install power bills  and EECA say that they will provide the results from 250 such installations in September 2010.

    I got a quote for a pump Consumer recommended (approx $4,000 after rebate) and estimated savings of $410 per annum in hot water heating and $100 per annum in maintenance costs after year 10. Net present value at the end of year 15 was  a loss of $235, otherwise known as a very bad investment. I will be interested to see the results of the EECA study.

  28. ‘Coal is the killer.’

    Why makes it so stupid for the govt to be ignoring how SOE Solid Energy is undermining climate policy in New Zealand
    Green Party energy spokesman Kennedy Graham yesterday attacked Solid Energy saying two new lignite plants would be the wrong direction for the country.

    State-owned enterprises should be run within a national energy strategy that encouraged the development of tidal, solar and wind power, not coal, he said.


    Such plants would send New Zealand down the path of greater carbon emissions to the detriment of the environment for the country’s children and grandchildren.

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