Why (and how) cheaper solar power, batteries, electric and autonomous vehicles are going to change our world over the next 5 years

This will be the best hour you’ll spend in front of a screen this week, I promise. Tony Seba explains how the plunging costs of battery storage and solar power generation, coupled with the rise of electric vehicles and autonomous driving technologies are going to first disrupt and then transform both the transport and power industries worldwide, and very, very soon. Watch this, and then ask yourself why this isn’t being reflected in the policy discussion in this NZ election. Why are we not encouraging rooftop solar? Why are we still building motorways? Drilling for oil? The timeline on this stuff falls within the lifetime of the next parliament!

Shamelessly lifted from Peter at Climate Crocks. Thanks for the lead, Peter, you just delayed my Sunday work programme by an hour!

101 thoughts on “Why (and how) cheaper solar power, batteries, electric and autonomous vehicles are going to change our world over the next 5 years”

  1. Pretty amazing! And hard to fault for most of it.

    With regards to the end of vehicle ownership – I think that applies probably mostly to the big cities and societies that have fairly uniform driving needs.

    In rural NZ this is unlikely to make a significant inroad soon. Even for the city dewllers, the model of weekenders leaving their city workplace to spend the weekend at their batch at the beach, tow the boat or the trailer full of holiday gear, this use of a vehicle will be difficult to replace by the “transport as a service” model. We can’t even get a decent bus service in rural NZ that operates more than once a day. Let alone a system that permits peoples discretionary use of transport as part of their recreation, hobbies or frequent short holidays.

    But that is not to say that in NZ significant parts of the population will find that owning a car becomes no longer useful, most of the time… But in the ‘most of the time’ lies the problem. People will be well happy to pay the premium price of ownership so that they have the freedom to use it ‘anytime they want, anywhere, for any length’. It is a matter of potential and the empowerment it creates.

    And many people will still regard their own vehicle as a status symbol, and looking at it sitting in the driveway will have tangible a benefit of a perceived potential for many. A bit like the yacht in the Marina, used 10 times a year….

    1. And to add to this: Currently commuting to work twice a day with a stop on the way home at the supermarket is what a large proportion of cars do. The fact that we will have driving-as-service at low cost will not eliminate the rush hour transport need for a majority of users nor will it spread the vehicle use neatly across time. There will for the foreseeable future be two daily peak transport need times and unless the drive-as-service model can get the workforce reliably to and from work, it will not reduce the number of vehicles required in total that much. That is unless ride-sharing becomes a lot more commonplace. I guess the drive-as-service industries will automate that to a large degree. Nevertheless, people will find the premium cost of owning a vehicle worthwhile, for quite some time to come I believe.

    2. I agree with your caveats, Thomas. It’s hard to see how transport as a service can work for rural communities (beyond, perhaps, improving bus-type services), as it must depend to an extent on population density to be viable. But for cities that already have good public transport, it might well take off… But as you say, there are many reasons – good and bad – why people like owning their own vehicles. Nevertheless, the potential impact on the economics of vehicle ownership is huge.

      His views on solar power are even more radical – and far reaching.

      1. Yes, I agree. He is most likely right on many fronts regarding the future of energy as well as transport. The end of the ICE as the standard means of propelling vehicles is neigh. And I also believe that self-driving cars will be commonplace.
        And the energy revolution cannot come early enough if we want to bring this whole bus of the human journey to a screeching stop before the cliff…

        1. I am one of those who have added “800 cars a week to Auckland”, mayor Goff. Although I try to pick my times I am impressed by the apparently unavoidable congestion as well as the huge number of cars parked on the street so that some streets are difficult to navigate. I suspect Auckland is grinding to a halt and no amount of roading will fix it.

          Conversely I visited some relatives (mainly dairy farming background) on a “life style block” South Head, (Kaipara harbour) north of Helensville. It consists of a tree garden and a windy grassed hill. Spread through several buildings, the residents consume approx $500 worth of electricity a month, suffering they said about 200 outages a year. I saw only one other car on the lengthy road while visiting. Their fuel bill is also shocking. Consequently I was grilled for hours on my electric car, solar installation and battery storage. I had my paper record of it all with me (no kw hrs imported yet :). Climate change issues were part of the debate, no denialism. There is no doubting the interest.

          1. I have lived in Auckland on and off for more than 40 years. I own a car so guess I contribute to the problems, but I get public transport a lot as well.

            I have seen traffic congestion go from almost non existent to our current nightmare. In the 1970s once got the occasional slow down on motorways in peak hour, but often even then traffic ran quite smoothly much of the time. Other roads were half empty. Now motorways slow down dramatically even in the middle of the day sometimes, and other roads are so busy I find I have to really concentrate, and it takes all pleasure out of driving.

            Parking has gone form literally rarely a problem in the 1970s, to a constant nightmare today. The change has been massive.

            In my view the causes are used japanese imports putting huge numbers of cars on existing roads, you really noticed the impact of this on congestion. Then we had high rates of immigration, and roads never kept up. You have the considerable difficulty of building new roads or widening roads, in areas that are already urbanised.

            Our public transport struggles because of the linear spread out nature of Auckland designed around low rise living and cars. Many trips need two or more buses, which becomes very frustrating.

            I don’t have any magic answers, and I suppose all we can do is try to improve roads and public transport on a pragmatic sort of basis. I do think NZ needs a breather from such high immigration, but on the other hand I like a more connected world, and there’s value in immigration and being welcoming to other people, so its a tough challenge and not a simple thing. But right now infrastructure is clearly not keeping up.

            Driverless cars may mean its easier to get cheap taxis or cars for hire to do the shopping and doctors visits etc. This will reduce the need to own a car.

            I’m not entirely sure that driverless cars will reduce traffic congestion. In theory they allow faster speeds and closer following distances maybe and more orderly, synchronised traffic flows I’m guessing, so that would help reduce congestion. But what if their convenience means people want to use driverless cars more than buses? This would increase congestion!

            Overall driverless cars may not improve congestion significantly.

            1. A lady from Nissan phoned me for feedback re my Leaf. I told her I charged the Leaf with electricity obtained from my solar system backed up by a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, all the time never drawing any kW hours from the grid this month.

              “You’re perfect!” she exclaimed.

              To think that I have lived 78 years and at last heard a woman say I’m perfect 🙂

            2. Priceless! 🙂

              It connects to the yet unanswered deep question:
              “If a man talks in a forest and no woman can hear him, is he still wrong?” 😉

            3. Walking in the forest is likely to have been procrastination, so yes, on the balance of probabilities, still wrong.

        2. I envisage a future where I can use an app on my iPhone and a car magically appears and takes me to my destination with no money changing hands except electronically

          It’s called Uber and it’s here already

            1. That’s true, and I was thinking along the same lines that this might be the only difference between autonomous vehicles as a public fleet and Uber.

              If that’s the case, we can expedite the driverless car revolution by providing a “no speak” version of Uber.

              On a serious note though, my point is that products like cell phones fulfill a user need. I’m not convinced that a public fleet of driverless cars does this

            2. AndyS, in what way does a fleet of driverless cars not fulfill a need?

              They are fulfilling several needs at once, cheaper transport, time to relax and read a book, potentially greater safety.

              Or are you thinking it’s rather impersonal? Or you like driving?

              I must admit I will be taking a deep breath before I first use a driverless car. I’m getting older and a bit cautious and set in my ways.

          1. Uber is losing billions. The business model uses investment money to keep fares low by subsidising them. This cannot be sustained indefinitely.

            Uber is also in court in several countries for all sorts of violations.

            I would be careful before investing in this outfit.

            Cheerful chap aren’t I.

            1. AndyS, in what way does a fleet of driverless cars not fulfill a need?

              It replaces the Uber driver with a computer. Other than putting a driver out of work, and that you don’t have to talk to it, I’m not sure what difference it has.

            2. I think part of their problems is their employment vers subcontractor model of their drivers and the regulations with that regard in many countries. That’s why they are so keen on the driverless system. Once they get this working and approved as a safe transport, then they are in a very different situation with regards to all this.
              While I do believe that very well working driverless cars are coming, I am still unsure about the “unknowns” in all this. How often would a skilled driver make moves to alleviate a situation and resolve a problem such as briefly drive over a curb and onto the footpath say, to make it reasonably around an obstacle and solve an otherwise lengthy stuck situation? In a city such as AKL that would happen hourly somewhere for sure. Once we have a high % of driverless cars, there will be many “blond” moments of these things that’s for sure. And erring on the side of caution and safety as they must, we will see situations of ridiculous waits in front of otherwise easy to solve situations arise. How would a cop wave a driverless car around an accident scene and over the footpath or otherwise? “Come on car, it’s all good… ” won’t work…
              Road rage against dumb stuck driverless cars will become a new spectator sport with its own youtube channel…. 😉

            3. Andy

              “It replaces the Uber driver with a computer. Other than putting a driver out of work, and that you don’t have to talk to it, I’m not sure what difference it has.”

              You also have advantage of better driving safety ultimately, and no physical abuse etc.

              You cant stop the march of automation and robotics and it will make for cheaper taxi fares. However I know where you are coming from.

              But I think the driverless Uber is a fair way away. Following article is about uber driverless taxis now under testing, and the driver is still having to take over frequently for all sorts of things and progress improving this is slow.


              Things have a way to go before these driverless taxi things hit the mass market, especially as they really are totally driverless when you phone them up. Gulp!

              I think Thomas is right there will be dumb moments, but as computers improves these will decrease, and benefits will increasingly outweigh risks.

            4. Change happens in many places and often is unexpected.

              The new Brompton Electric folding bike looks interesting and taps into a rapidly growing market of commuter e-Bikes


              The great think about the Brompton is that you can take it on trains in the UK as hand luggage. I even took my non-electric version on the plane from Christchurch to Wellington once, after biking to and from the airports. It makes public transport a lot more flexible, and also park and rides a lot easier.

  2. Yes definitely a pretty amazing video.

    One other challenge will be long distance trucking transport. This would currently require pretty massive batteries, but its probably fair to say the technology will improve fast.

    Convergence of technologies is very important, but little things cause new devices to really take off. The first touchscreen smartphone was actually the IBM Simon produced 15 years before the iphone. Google it and be amazed or read below.


    But it was big and clunky and geeky like early nokia smartphones. Good devices, but designed for nerds and executives, not the general public. It never took off, so although there was a convergence new technology this wasn’t quite enough for this device.

    The iphone took off. It was a strong convergence of technology, but was also cool looking, sexy, small enough to put in a pocket, user friendly and things operated smoothly. This was as much a reason for it taking off as the underlying technologies. It was a fashion statement as much as anything. Android picked up on these things, and then low prices really boosted things.

    An interesting related book is “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.

    1. Now I remember who it is in Kerikeri I would like to call on – once chargenet has a station at Kaitaia or I get a caravan adapter for places north of Kawakawa.

  3. Cheers for UK canning coal but “Drax will live on, but only by burning biomass – mostly wood chips imported from the southern United States.”

    I thought the EEC (still including UK) had wised up to the fact that burning biomass obtained by cutting down forest in southern USA results in more CO2 emissions than burning coal in the first place.

    1. The Drax plan is that its fuel is waste wood (in pellets) so ok… But not scaleable and that waste wood in North America would be better used for energy generation in North America. And wherever there is an abruptly increased value for a ‘waste’ there is the perverse incentive to create more ‘waste’, and the North American timber industry has shown very willing to profitably trample on environmental protections before.
      Drax is a wheeze to try and preserve value in a very big plant (4 600MW power plants at one location) but it repeatedly failed to access the higher incentive rates that it wanted at a time when the incentive needed by its low carbon competitors was dropping fast (except for nuclear). So dont worry about Drax, it was only ever a one off and time has passed it by.

      1. Drax Plan. Wasn’t Hugo Drax one of the Bond Villains? Something to do with wiping out humanity with a virus or something.

        I think you are right there’s nothing nothing wrong with burning waste wood and a few old branches, as its carbon neutral.

        The problem is some operators are burning entire trees, including hardwood trees that take ages to grow. This defeats the purpose of growing more trees to provide an increased carbon sink doesn’t it?. And the practice appears to be widespread. Very good article below;


        1. In addition fossil fuels are used in the harvesting and transport.

          “I think you are right there’s nothing nothing wrong with burning waste wood and a few old branches, as its carbon neutral.”

          That’s the rational but carbon neutral is not good enough though better than burning fossil fuels if the wood source is local. Why not shred it and put it in the ground?

          1. Noelfuller on second thoughts you are right there about putting the pellets in the ground. Strictly speaking it would reduce emissions.

            It’s similar to the arguments about methane from cattle cycle and how neutral it really is. However regardless of the cycle, at the end of the day less methane is better right now, although whether it can be practically done is a tough issue.

            I thought the pellet burning idea was primarily designed to enable third world countries to continue to burn wood. I’m not sure why its found its way into western countries. Lobbying from industry I suppose.

            1. I think it was seized on as a direct alternative to coal or oil for heating and in that sense is better but as far as I can see, only if the wood supply is local and regrows fast. Businesses saw opportunity in our ability to deceive ourselves in this regard, like with biofuels. I note that an author of a recent paper on the possibility of keeping a 1.5°C target notes that this is only possible if we can reduce emissions heavily without delay and also extract carbon from the atmosphere to a significant degree – i.e. go carbon negative.

              I put my green woodchips in a pile with a heavy plastic cover over them to keep the moisture in. Given enough moisture, breakdown is fairly rapid but any tree close enough then makes a meal of it, grows higher and shades my solar panels so then has to be topped again.

              People put fertilizer on lawns plus heaps of water. My lawns have never been watered, or fertilised, except by pigeons, are an exhibition of biodiversity! but began to look heathier after I stopped using a grass catcher.

            2. The rapid composting of the wood chips is returning carbon to CO2, only burning it is faster. It is also soaking up available N from anything else it is composted with. If burning waste wood genuinely displaces a fossil fuel then good, but it is not scaleable so only a fringe activity. Your chippings may be a situation where biochar is an improvement, turning a lot of that C in the wood into a recalcitrant form that can persist in the soil and benefit soil functions.

    2. I attended a talk at the last EDS conference “Tipping Points” by Alex Kazaglis from Vivid Economics, UK on the pathways to Caron Neutrality. I link his PPT below. An, in particular, the slide number 3.

      Slides: http://www.eds.org.nz/assets/EDS%20Conferences/2017%20Conference/0955%20Alex%20Kazaglis.pdf
      The Y-axis on the graph is wrong, it should read “Emissions relative to 2012 in %” (not % change in emissions).

      His talk is here:

      His point is: There will still be many technologies that cannot go Caron neutral (air-traffic and many others) in the timeframe required.
      In his view then, electricity generation is the only technological instrument that can go Carbon-Negative!! and he proposes to do so by the burning of Bio-matter + Sequestration of the CO2.
      The idea has perhaps merit. We leave it to fast-growing plants to do the CO2 uptake and concentration, then bury the Carbon and pay for it by burning the bio-matter for electricity generation with CO2 sequestration.
      We need to have carbon-negative parts of our industrial landscape – and lots of it – to have any chance to go carbon-neutral.

      1. Very good video.

        The burning of fast growing bio matter for electricity and sequestration of carbon underground is nice in theory, driving electricity carbon negative.

        The big problem for NZ is 1) NZ currently pretty much still has a surplus of electricity generation overall, despite population growth and so we dont need more 2) its not easy to store carbon underground. Plus if implemented it would only displace building new wind and geothermal production so it starts to look a bit odd or very expensive, or maybe I have missed something here.

        Aviation emissions could still be offset just with tree planting and agricultural methods that improve soil as a carbon sink. Both are full of problems and challenges and unintended consequences, but could still be overcome perhaps enough to deal just with aviation emissions. I stress just aviation emissions because I don’t think carbon sinks are going to be good enough fast enough to deal with much more than that.

        The big problem in NZ is methane much of which comes from dairy farming. I really doubt the burning bio matter for electricity and sequestration of carbon stored underground would be able to extend enough to offset this. I think our only option is to scale back dairy farming radically! This is a big thing as 25% of our exports are from dairy, so it would hurt, even if obviously the land would be used for other crops it would still hurt. But if it was scaled back even by up to 50%, and other measures were taken to reduce methane emissions by improved feedstocks and some contribution was made from enhancing natural carbon sinks this might be cost effective. We also need to face grim facts about dairy farming that it is polluting rivers, has uneven export income prone to crashes in the cycle, face overseas competition, and potential very real competition for laboratory produced milk. So expanding this industry just makes less and less sense, if one thinks long term.

        The other thing I liked about the talk was this Climate Change Commission Great Britain has, that appears to be somewhat independent of government, and thus partisan politics and ideology etc. (This is a little like America’s EPA at least until Donald Trump started mucking it up). The proof is in the pudding and Britians new body has certainly delivered results. We need something like that here in NZ.

  4. After one month

    I wanted to watch the behavior of the Tesla Powerwall2 for a bit. Here is the record for September taken back to 2009. The comments to the right of the table mark the sharp discontinuities. It appears september is not a particularly productive month anyway. I would like to see how what a whole year looks like.

    September Power Use 2009 to 2017
    7 John Davis Rd, Auckland 1041
    Predicted Generation 5kW PV system = 591 kWh for September

    Year Generation Export Import Used Cost $Expt** Fine rain
    kWh kWh kWh Solar $ -$impt Days mm
    2009 424 106 grid only
    2010 585 115
    2011 672 154 3 persons
    2012 476 148 S Heater
    2013 416 124
    2014 523.66 395 159 128.66 3.28 5 163 5kW PV
    2015 523.51 396 131 127.51 22.08 4 109
    2016 451.55 290 152 133.55 1.05 3 129
    2017* 496.52 173 1 323.52 19.26 5 86 PWall 2

    * No solar generation for 1 fine day say 26 kWh
    Thus generation for sept. 2017 may have approximated 523 kWh
    still well below predicted generation as with all september totals from 2014 on.

    ** Solar $Export minus grid $import. Import costs include daily fixed charge and GST. Because of the billing structure that NZ utilities have recently adopted I am not earning anything on exports and they get the interest accruing. I regard this as corporate theft. I will have to invoice them again.

  5. In the collapsed table above, the first column from 2009 to 2013 is imports from the grid, the second column the cost in dollars. In the years since solar panels were installed the columns are in the same order as the titles in the header . The column with a 1 in it is the column of grid imports. help!!!

  6. So a number of ev manufacturers have now announced batteries superior to those we already know. I’m wondering what Tesla will actually produce. This ties in rather nicely with the conferging technologies near future disruption prediction that started this thread.

    GS Yuasa – 2020, range close to petrol tank range
    T0yota – 200 miles, charged in 6 mins
    Northvolt – carbon footprint close to zero
    Rice University – 20x faster charging, high energy density, no fire risk
    Others I forget for the moment

  7. I agree with Tony Seba, we are seeing technological changes that will lead to substantial decreases in GHG emissions. These technologies will supersede and make redundant the need for Government action to reduce emissions.

    1. But these convergent technologies affect only a part of our emissions profile and can’t be counted on to influence current choices (huge inceases in new fossil fueled car sales). Good legislation on carbon emissions should not pick winners nor losers but be universal and influence choices at all levels. At present in NZ only very big players are affected by our ETS and they seem to find ways to play the system.

      Yet despite this I note people are making individual choices like all those deciding to become vegans (TV last night), for climate change reasons, environmental reasons, and even rejection of “economic illusions” (consumerism for instance), but these are a very small if growing part of our society. Legislation should incentivise the needed changes at all levels and across the board. What do become irrelevant are specific and limited targets, like so many electric vehicles by 2020, based on linear projections of current tendancies.

      1. If we go through the list of emissions by sector it looks like going solar/battery with other renewable supporting would cut carbon emissions by more than half – what would be left are some industries (notably cement and steel production) long distance air transport (planes are afoot for short-range electric aircraft), shipping, agriculture (excluding machinery which could be electric), and land use changes (which should decline with lower population growth rates). All other carbon emitters could be replaceable under Tony Seba’s scenario.

        As about 1/2 of carbon emissions we currently produce go into carbon sinks (mainly the oceans) with Seba’s predictions atmospheric carbon increase should drop to zero in about 20 years – that would be far faster than current forecasts.

        1. Thus my disbelief in setting targets in the distant future – everyone does it. They may have an effect in disposing some citizens to work at them. The only real targets are eliminating our production of GHGs, allowing that natural carbon exchange consistent with, say 3oo ppm CO2 equilibrium, remains, and second, recovery of carbon from the atmosphere with a corresponding effect on the oceans. ASAP. That there may be abrupt reductions along the way gives rise to hope that we may make it but does not excuse us from the effort, as some will surely have it. “Oh we have achieved our 2030 target in 2022 so we can take it easy now.” Fortunately the Paris accord will call for new targets earlier as none of the current targets meet the need.

  8. Andrew W

    “If we go through the list of emissions by sector it looks like going solar/battery with other renewable supporting would cut carbon emissions by more than half”

    Yes you are roughly right, absolutely about half.

    “As about 1/2 of carbon emissions we currently produce go into carbon sinks (mainly the oceans) with Seba’s predictions atmospheric carbon increase should drop to zero in about 20 years – that would be far faster than current forecasts.”

    This is incorrect. All our emissions from all sources mostly go into the atmosphere and stay there. This is obvious because CO2 concentrations keep rising. Improvements with renewable energy and electric cars will only reduce atmospheric concentrations about half. Some atmospheric CO2 goes into the oceans but not half and enough to offset increasing atmospheric concentrations. The ability of the oceans to absorb carbon also reduces over time, as they warm and acidify and both reduce capacity to absorb carbon.

    Regarding need for government involvement in reducing emissions, you felt electric cars would mean this wasn’t required. I disagree, and echo Noels comments.

    Current uptake of electric cars is quite slow and government could boost this with helping with recharging stations, and perhaps a subsidy. Some form of fee and dividend carbon scheme would also help.

    Nobody particularly likes government involvement, but environmental problems are an area of acknowledged market failure, that is best resolved with some prudent government involvement. Of course we want as most voluntary personal initiative as well. The two things tend to reinforce each other.

    Once uptake of these electric cars becomes rapid and self sustaining the subsidy can be phased down. You could also time limit the subsidy, so it has to be renewed in parliament every couple of years, to avoid it becoming locked in forever.

    Wind power is now almost competitive without needing a subsidy.

    Clearly other areas of the economy like industry and dairy farming need some form of scheme, whether the current ETS or an alternative carbon tax scheme. I don’t know which is ideal?

    1. I haven’t been following the climate change debate so closely over the last few years and misremembered some details, however, my point remains valid: 1/2 of the carbon we add to the atmosphere is removed by carbon sinks, the oceans account for 1/2 of the carbon removed, other sinks accont for the other half, without those sinks atmospheric carbon would be increasing at double the rate that it is. If we cut carbon emissions in half atmospheric carbon levels would stabilise.

      1. Andrew

        “If we cut carbon emissions in half atmospheric carbon levels would stabilise.”

        Thanks for clarifying I see your point now. They would stabilise if we planted truly staggering quantities of trees. This seems unrealistic to me. I think we are faced with making more emissions cuts than just half, from numbers I have seen.

        Anyway I think Tony Seba makes good points, and batteries are improving fast, but there’s a lot of exaggerated hype as well. I can’t see uptake of electric cars being as rapid as he claims etc. I cant see us resolving the whole problem by 2020.

        1. I think Andrew and his mates are chuckling at the apparent plausibility of this specious argument. I distinctly smell a delusional hare. The tortoise won’t swallow this logic. It will argue that if we cut our emissions by 50% we are still adding emissions to the atmosphere, the oceans and vegies only absorbing half of them. If we then cut emissions by a further half only half of those get absorbed – and so on ad infinitum and assuming that the capacity to absorb CO2 goes on indefinitely.

          What counts is the sum of emissions since the climate was last in an equilibrium state. So far we have added a global warming of 0.96°C since the beginning of the industrial era, rather more if we only consider land areas. Our CO2 has gone up to over 400 parts per million, ignoring carbon equivalents (CH4 for instance). Climate scientists are forcasting global temperatures exceeding 2°C above pre-industrial.

          According to James Hansen an atmosphere stabilised at 350 ppm would deliver an equilibrium state of 1.5°C above pre industrial. Would the glaciers and sea ice somehow stop melting? Would the atmosphere and oceans somehow cool from their current temperatures? Would hurricans lose their energy compared to the current crop? It is argued that even if we stop all emissions immediately the planet will go on warming for quite some time. Nor would it be in a hurry to cool down without our assistance.

          So the newly touted target is 300 ppm! No way can we find an equilibrium where the ecology supports our existence as we have known it without our not only ceasing to add GHGs to the system but withdrawing from it most of what we have added. That will take a long time given our best efforts and in the meantime we are in unknown territory with sudden climate changes in the offing* and huge diplacements of populations overshadowing the tens of millions currently displaced each year by combinations of weather extremes and poor governments, unwary of the real issues, unwilling to tackle them, willing to grab at any apparent out or diversion.

          * sudden climate disruptions

            1. Andrew W

              It’s not clear what you are saying. You also provide absolutely no evidence yourself.

              Are you saying reducing emissions by half and they will miraculously be absorbed by the oceans or existing forests? They wont, they will keep on rising. Its simple logic. They kept on rising when they were half current levels.

              However do you mean plant more forests as carbon sinks? I assume so. If we plant more trees this does act as a carbon sink.

              Currently existing forests absorb about 40% of our emissions. These forests cover 30% of the planet land surface and total 8.8 billion hectares. To absorb half our emissions would therefore require planting about 25% more of the planet in more trees and very quickly indeed. Its just not practically feasible, and its very hard to guarantee they wont be cut down prematurely. Planting trees may offset about 10% of emissions at best. That would be realistic.

              All this stuff has been researched over and over and is settled science. Noel is entirely right. Tree planting is helpful to mop up some emissions, but is no magic answer.

            2. My comment above was directed at noelfuller’s first paragraph, currently sinks take in 1/2 of the carbon we add to the atmosphere, are you saying that if atmospheric CO2 levels were to remain at 400 ppm those sinks would suddenly reduce their uptake of carbon? If so I disagree, while there would be a decline in ocean uptake as that sink became saturated the decline in carbon uptake would be slow, taking many decades to decline. The non-ocean sinks are not our doing, we did not plant many hectares of trees to create the non ocean carbon sinks, like the oceans they were created through the imbalance created by the increase in CO2 from 280 ppm to 400 ppm that’s occurred over the last ~150 years, so like the ocean sink they will also not suddenly disappear or decline in their level of uptake just because atmospheric carbon levels were stable at around 400 ppm.

              I’m not advocating, I’m making an observation – and I say that because I know those fanatical about AGW on both extremes of the debate see everything in ideological rather than scientific terms.

  9. Andrew W

    Thanks for your comments. I do agree people on all sides of the debate are sometimes driven by ideologies of various types sadly to say. But some more than others.

    I’m just struggling to understand the point of the rest of your comments. Yes if we stopped emitting at 400 ppm oceans would eventually absorb some of this CO2, but only after many thousands of years. Its not a solution to our immediate problem. When levels are static the ocean only very slowly absorbs them, and mainly through geological processes. I’m not a climate scientist, but I would say its the increasing partial pressure that causes absorption.

    According to the Paris accord we have to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 unless we plant trees as offsets (and / or better soil management). As I pointed out to get a big difference needs a lot of trees.

        1. You may recognise the graph(s) as the basis for a calculation of the heat trapping over 100,000 years of a gallon of gasoline published in one of his books by David Archer. I recalculated it for a litre of petrol and compared it with the energy output of the Hiroshima atom bomb – generally greeted with disbelief! I queried this and was given a link to a note explaining the matter and the large uncertainties involved, the link being taken down as soon as I had read it.

          So when I looked at the graph Andrew linked I just had to think: “looks like a tortoise to me!” 🙂 Next I looked for the impact of silicate weathering – not there? So I went to AR5 WG1 Chapter 6.1. Silicate weathering was included in the version I have, also a table explaining the terms. I will see if I can reproduce the text here:

          Box 6.1 | Multiple Residence Times for an Excess of Carbon Dioxide Emitted in the Atmosphere
          Columns are: Process, Years, Chemical reaction

          Land uptake: Photosynthesis respiration 1-102
             6CO2 + 6H2O + photons C6H12O6 + 6O2
             C6H12O6 + 6O2 6CO2 + 6H2O + heat

          Ocean invasion: Seawater buffer   10-103
             CO2 + CO32 + H2O 2HCO3

          Reaction with calcium carbonate  103104
             CO2 + CaCO3 + H2O Ca2+ + 2HCO3

          Silicate weathering 10>sup>4-106
          CO2 + CaSiO3 CaCO3 + SiO2

          Note the middle two reactions produce ocean acidification!

          Now we see the big processes whereby nature deals with CO2 in the atmosphere which alas does not breakdown like CH4 (12 years) and NO2 (150 years).

          To return to the matter of reducing emissions.

          Each year a large exchange of carbon takes place between the atmosphere and land and ocean sinks. This is seen in the zigzags of atmospheric CO2 during each year, largest in the northern hemisphere.

          Each year we add on average 2 ppm CO2 which is not absorbed by the above process. That is we add about 4 ppm to the atmosphere but half of that cannot be absorbed in the natural exchange.

          If we manage somehow to halve our emissions in a year we add two ppm to the atmosphere of which 1ppm which cannot be absorbed remains, adding to the total excess we have already built up which nature has not been able to absorb so heating is increased but by less than before.

          The very definition of the carbon we have added to the atmosphere is of carbon that is not going to be absorbed by land and ocean processes on any time scale and continues to heat up the planet.

          Not only that but two of those processes are contributing to ocean acidification (More H+ or lower ph) that is diminishing oxygen production (measurable but small relative to oxygen in the atmosphere) and reduction in shell formation which is bugging corals, oysters, and those little vegies that help maintain out atmospheric oxygen.

          So now it should be obvious why the global warming excess CO2 we have added to the atmosphere is not going to vanish in any short term process. It’s excess because the natural processes cannot handle it short term. Thus we have a climate crisis.

            1. Another oops! My copy and paste left out the arrows in the equations so here they are again:

              Land uptake: Photosynthesis respiration 1-102
                 6CO2 + 6H2O + photons -> C6H12O6 + 6O2
                 C6H12O6 + 6O2 -> 6CO2 + 6H2O + heat

              Ocean invasion: Seawater buffer   10-103
                 CO2 + CO32 + H2O -> 2HCO3

              Reaction with calcium carbonate  103-104
                 CO2 + CaCO3 + H2O -> Ca2+ + 2HCO3

              Silicate weathering 104-106
              CO2 + CaSiO3 -> CaCO3 + SiO2

          1. “If we manage somehow to halve our emissions in a year we add two ppm to the atmosphere of which 1ppm which cannot be absorbed remains,”

            Can you explain your logic with that one, I see no reason why the natural sinks should suddenly halve their rate of carbon removal when the atmospheric concentrations are constant, I see no reason why an annual increase of 0.5% in atmospheric CO2 should bring about the removal of 2 (or 3) ppm/yr and an increase of 0.0% should reduce that rate to 1 (or 1.5 ppm/yr.

            The graph I linked to shows a very high initial rate of decline, eyeballing it it looks like removal of 20% of the anthropogenic carbon in just 5 years (with a sudden drop to zero emissions), which fits quite well with my conclusion (120 ppm total anthropogenic carbon, 20% of that is 24 ppm, over 5 years is 4.8 ppm/year initial decline rate.

            As someone said the current rate of sink uptake is high because with the oceans the current difference in partial pressure between sea and air is high, and the high plant uptake is, like it or not, at least in part because plants are more able to extract atmospheric carbon at these higher concentrations.

            The graph shows a decline in the rate of sink uptake as atmospheric concentrations decline – as one would expect as the difference in partial pressures declines.

            It should also be remembered that, as with heat, the CO2 is only slowly moving deeper into the deeper oceans (from memory the oceans historically contain 70 times as much CO2 as there is in the atmosphere), with a stabilizing of atmospheric CO2 levels the rate of acidification in shallow waters should decrease.

            And before someone gets all ideological, I’m not saying that maintaining the atmospheric carbon concentrations at current levels long term is fine and dandy, just that getting to that point quickly as Tony Seba suggests is possible is a good start with further progress in emissions reductions sure to follow.

            1. I’m sorry you do not see it.

              You said: “Can you explain your logic with that one, I see no reason why the natural sinks should suddenly halve their rate of carbon removal when the atmospheric concentrations are constant …”

              At no point have I said or implied that natural sinks can suddenly halve their rate of carbon removal. Yet you have taken it so. The carbon we discuss, we have added to a large and ongoing natural process which cannot rapidly handle the excess we have put on it. That is what has pushed our planet out of equilibrium, the sum of it that we have added to the atmosphere. If it behaved as you assert, as Nigelj has pointed out, why have we even accumulated this residual quantity in the atmosphere in the first place.

              Also there have been a couple of times when our addition to this total has not increased as it has been doing. Whether due to the sup-prime crash or attributed in part to large increases in installation of renewables, I did not celebrate these as they did not set a cooling trend as we might hope if we are really addressing the issue of climate change.

              I should also ask you to consider why not one genuine climate scientist has twigged this behaviour of the carbon sinks you think is likely.

              Quite simply you are confused an this point. I hope others are not.

              If the disruption of energy and transport technologies we have been discussing occurs in the next few years I will be delighted, but lots of people will have to find other employment. Warming will not cease suddenly, sea level rise will not stop, nor will the production of all these new panels and cars and batteries be emissions free. Nevertheless I will hope that this change will incentivise further pursuit of mitigation starategies. Perhaps we might yet avoid some of the tipping points in the offing and claw our way back to a sustained low carbon equilibrium. We will not if we deceive ourselves that nature is suddenly going to jump to our rescue and we need not be concerned with further mitigaton as you seem to be saying.

            2. “At no point have I said or implied that natural sinks can suddenly halve their rate of carbon removal.”

              Yes you did: “If we manage somehow to halve our emissions in a year we add two ppm to the atmosphere of which 1ppm which cannot be absorbed remains, adding to the total excess we have already built up which nature has not been able to absorb so heating is increased but by less than before.”

              I see no other way to interpret that other than a claim that if we halve our emissions half of those emission remain in the atmosphere. If you meant something different try getting your wording right.

            3. “I should also ask you to consider why not one genuine climate scientist has twigged this behaviour of the carbon sinks you think is likely.”

              I’ve posted a link to a graph from AR5 supporting my position, so rather than your claim that “not one genuine climate scientist” supports my points in fact all I’m stating is the evidence presented by the IPCC, I know a lot of people like to create facts that go beyond the IPCC conclusions, but I’m happy to stick with the science and avoid a detour into creative climate change accounting.

              “Warming will not cease suddenly, sea level rise will not stop . . .”

              I’m not sure why you feel the need to point out the obvious, all these points are covered by the IPCC reports

              “. . . nor will the production of all these new panels and cars and batteries be emissions free.” I’ve no idea what amount of emissions would be produced through a switch to solar a battery energy systems, but I’m sure they’re modest and frankly I think it’s absurd for you to raise that argument against such a conversion to renewables.

              “We will not if we deceive ourselves that nature is suddenly going to jump to our rescue and we need not be concerned with further mitigaton as you seem to be saying.”

              Clearly you have a reading comprehension problem, as I said above:
              “And before someone gets all ideological, I’m not saying that maintaining the atmospheric carbon concentrations at current levels long term is fine and dandy, just that getting to that point quickly as Tony Seba suggests is possible is a good start with further progress in emissions reductions sure to follow.”

              It is apparent to me that you’re suffering from the very ideological issues I mention, that you just cannot restrain yourself from looking to find fault with people for just following the scientific evidence when that evidence doesn’t suit you.

            4. Andrew

              “I see no other way to interpret that other than a claim that if we halve our emissions half of those emission remain in the atmosphere.”

              This seems like a true statement to me. I cant see how Noel is wrong. Maybe you guys are a little at cross purposes. And I think Noel means as an ongoing process before we hit zero emissions, and before natural sinks then gradually draw down emissions.

              Andrew it would help if you could clarify why you raised the IPCC graph issue. It creates the impression that you are downplaying the problem of climate change by implying it wont last a long time or something. You may not intend this but it does.

              Dont get me wrong the graph is useful information, and rapid uptake of electric cars seems a good thing to me as well, even if its disruptive to some employment etc.

              I will add one point however, the IPCC graph is just current best state of knowledge. Have a look at the article I posted above. Rates of ability of oceans to absorb CO2 have ALREADY measurably reduced since 2000, and they think because of increasing acidity, so some sort of chemical process. This may mean when CO2 emissions reach zero and stabilise at whatever point, draw down in the first century may not be as quick as the IPCC think.

          2. Actually Nigael it is not the graph from AR5 WG1, Chapter 6, box 6.1 as I have suggested before but served up here with, different labels and no error bars. It is from a 2008 paper.

            It is a take on the same data and similar graphs as AR5 but with an emphasis in the title on the interpretation. Under David’s name “CO2 is forever”, the graph tending to zero after 100,000 years or more. I have heard him explain this while working through his online Climate Science course, read it in the books he has authored and co-authored. Below is a quote from AR5 WG1 Chapter 6 Bpx 6.1

            “The removal of all the human-emitted CO2 from the atmosphere by natural processes will take a few hundred thousand years (high confidence) as shown by the timescales of the removal process shown in the table below (Archer and Brovkin, 2008).” (The data I copied above – NF)..

            “For instance, an extremely long atmospheric CO2 recovery time scale from a large emission pulse of CO2 has been inferred from geological evidence when during the PaleoceneEocene thermal maximum event about 55 million years ago a large amount of CO2 was released to the atmosphere (McInerney and Wing, 2011). Based on the amount of CO2 remaining in the atmosphere after a pulse of emissions (data from Joos et al. 2013) and on the magnitude of the historical and future emissions for each RCP scenario, we assessed that about 15 to 40% of CO2  emitted until 2100 will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1000 years.”

            “Phase 1. Within several decades of CO2 emissions, about a third to half of an initial pulse of anthropogenic CO2 goes into the land and ocean, while the rest stays in the atmosphere (Box 6.1, Figure 1a)…”

            So there is no way that nature takes care of the remaining residual emissions within a human scale time. For a discussion of this try a recent article, “If we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses right now would we stop climate change?” from a professor at the same university as David Archer.

            Meanwhile I wholly agree that if electrics pan out as Tony Seba proposes there will be an encouraging dent in emissions. Nothing in this means we sit back and do nothing about the rest of it.

            1. Thank’s Noel, you clearly know your stuff, but I had already read that. I know about half our emissions will hang around for thousands of years, causing trouble. I was surprised it dropped by somewhere from 40 – 60% in the first century, thought it was only about 30% that’s all. But dropping 40 – 60% is no great consolation anyway as a century is still a long time from our perspectives.

              I still have no idea what Andrews “case” is. It appears to be that electric cars are coming faster than anticipated, and will mean emissions reduce faster which is fair enough and likely to some extent, but there’s no real connection between this and the rates natural sinks absorb emissions.

              I see however that Tesla are having production number troubles and seem to have disorganised factories using outdated management systems. I like Honda’s and Toyotas, and am hoping they bring out a fully electric car and if not the Nissan Leaf is a good car.

              When I was a university student a had a nissan bluebird. Not the 1980’s saloon we all know, but an early 1970 nissan like a morris minor. I believe it was the first ever Nissan, and it even had a crank handle, as well as normal electric start. Not a rocket ship, but utterly reliable.

              I sold it for a Fiat 850 which turned out to be pretty awful. Never again.

            2. “It appears to be that electric cars are coming faster than anticipated, and will mean emissions reduce faster”
              ” but there’s no real connection between this and the rates natural sinks absorb emissions.”

              Earlier I said:
              “As about 1/2 of carbon emissions we currently produce go into carbon sinks (mainly the oceans) with Seba’s predictions atmospheric carbon increase should drop to zero in about 20 years – that would be far faster than current forecasts.”

              You replied:
              “This is incorrect. All our emissions from all sources mostly go into the atmosphere and stay there. This is obvious because CO2 concentrations keep rising.”

              That is your connection between the rate of emissions reduction and the fraction of emissions absorbed by sinks.

              The first benchmark (and I think the most important one) for atmospheric carbon levels is to stabilize them, we could get to that far more quickly than previously expected, one early target mentioned was 20:20, a 20% reduction by 2020, well we’re not even going to come close to that one, followed by a target of 50:50, a 50% reduction by 2050, I can see us beating that second target by a considerable margin.

              Those who see mitigation as an important goal for environmental and human welfare reasons will be very happy about the prospects of what Seba expects, but those that are more ideologically inclined for their reasons for advocating enforced emissions reductions I believe will dismiss the importance of what Seba is saying because the prospects of emissions reductions being achieved so easily, without the need for their preferred ideological impositions on society, will be a disappointment and something the significance of which needs to be fought against.

              Anyone that suggests that there is no basis to the water melon charge against “Greenies” – green only on the outside are being naive, hence James Shaw is perfectly correct, “greens” are left, a deal with a right of center party is not possible, right of center economic policies are not for the majority of green supporters globally, and as I said, solutions to AGW that do not require left of center government policies are inconvenient to them.

              And yes, I agree that many on the right deny the realities of AGW for similar ideologically based reasons. Many of those people also don’t want to see Seba’s expectations become a reality for reasons requiring quite impressive rationalizing.

            3. Andrew, thanks.

              I see your intended connection between faster uptake of electric cars and ocean carbon sinks now that you have explained it better. Its a good point. The trouble is misunderstandings on the internet are huge, and I think its often because we are short of time and rush comments a bit.

              You say “Those who see mitigation as an important goal for environmental and human welfare reasons will be very happy about the prospects of what Seba expects, but those that are more ideologically inclined for their reasons for advocating enforced emissions reductions I believe will dismiss the importance of what Seba is saying because the prospects of emissions reductions being achieved so easily, without the need for their preferred ideological impositions on society, will be a disappointment and something the significance of which needs to be fought against.”

              With respect, thats very paranoid thinking that makes some enormous assumptions. I dont think you can say an opinion on Seba and uptake of electric cars translates to an ideological position preferring big government of something.

              I initially wrote a post here above thinking Seba had it exactly correct. And I think it would be great if electric cars take off, and have posted my share of comments promoting them. However I now think theres some degree of exaggeration and hype in the projections by Seba having read some comments by a Phd qualified engineer I respect. I dont think facing simple facts about science and engineering makes anyone have hidden ideological motives. I would not have initially supported the idea if I had a hidden agenda of some sort. I’m just guided by the facts. But I hope Seba proves to be correct and uptake is very fast.

              I fail to see how any of this means we dont need some government involvement, at other levels, as I explained previously. I think you are starting to betray your own ideological leanings, which appear to be clearly totally against government involvement. Is that not an ideological position itself? Because it is a sweeping belief based position not grounded in a considered argument.

              I take the following view on government, fwiw. Its pretty much completely orthodox text book economics. I believe in capitalism, the private sector, and free markets in general terms and as a first preference. I have worked mostly in the private sector myself. However sometimes you get “market failures” where business fails to self regulate adequately, or provide certain types of services properly or adequately. In these cases government should legislate and provide services as appropriate. I dont think that makes me a screaming communist. Even Adam Smith the great free market economist took a similar position in his Wealth of Nations. Of course any government involvement should be based on a good case, evidence, good sense etc. I would like to think this overall view is rational and avoids strong ideological belief based positions.

              Government is by nature property owning, rules and laws based, taxes the population, and does things that some people wont like or support. That’s the nature of the beast. The alternative is complete anarchy, the rule of the jungle, chaos, private armies, private police forces, no basic legal protections, no welfare systems or freely available education. The choice is actually quite stark when you think it through.

              And yes we don’t want huge over bearing government either. Its ultimately a bit of a “balancing act” I feel. But there’s no doubt in my mind we need environmental legislation, and people who think otherwise are a bit cranky and paranoid about government, almost anti – government.

              “Anyone that suggests that there is no basis to the water melon charge against “Greenies” – green only on the outside are being naive, hence James Shaw is perfectly correct, “greens” are left, a deal with a right of center party is not possible, right of center economic policies are not for the majority of green supporters globally, and as I said, solutions to AGW that do not require left of center government policies are inconvenient to them.”

              Well yes, I agree broadly that the Greens lean left socially and economically, as well as being an environmental party. This indeed makes a coalition with National an uncomfortable fit. The German Green party are more socially and economically agnostic or neutral. But the NZ Greens are what they are. I like several of their environmental and socio-economic ideas and I suppose I lean socially a little liberal / left, but I find some of their views a bit dark green at times. I don’t oppose mining for example. My point is people have a wide range of views in different shades.

              The problem for me is I don’t think the general right leaning very free market ideas can fully solve climate change as I explained above. Markets don’t provide all the answers or self regulate adequately sometimes. It needs some government involvement to essentially push people along. You might then put me in a box, but I have argued its because of genuine evidence based facts that markets sometimes don’t self regulate and provide adequate answers, etc. History proves it over and over again.

              In fact its interesting when you get down to details. Some subsidies on renewable energy and electric cars are the things that have helped all this take off in America and Britian. Now that there’s some momentum, some of these subsidies could be phased out. So while you are cheering Sebas views, you seem to have forgotten how we have come this far.

              Of course all credit to entrepreneurs and risk takers like Elon Musk, a great guy in my view whatever his current problems.

            4. Nigel, thanks for your reply, I have no argument with you, truth be told my ire was directed – rightly or wrongly – solely at Noel, probably yours and my position on the wider political issues are quite similar. Carbon emissions are an externalized cost and as such, along with other forms of pollution, government action to minimize them is justified. However, the size of the cost that can be justified imposed on those producing emissions (per unit basis) must be in proportion to the scale of the cost to the environment, as I see it if Seba’s predictions come about any form of carbon tax should be at a lower level than if Seba’s predictions do not happen because the reduced net emissions means lower environment and climate cost. Noel has been taking the position (and I don’t think I’m reading too much into his comments) that in terms of imposing penalties on emitters Seba’s scenario makes no difference, that is the crux of my issue with him and why I see him as more kiwi greenie (ideologically motivated) than green (environmentally motivated).

              My first comment on Gareth’s blog was back in 2007, I was trying to get a handle on how practical planting trees was as a means of increasing forestry as a carbon sink, Gareth put the figure of 7,500 kg of carbon/ha/yr as a realistic figure. If emissions do drop as is suggested perhaps nothing more economically intrusive than tree planting programs would be required.

            5. Andrew W

              A couple of points. Yes we don’t want to punish emitters just for the sake of it. However I didn’t get the sense Noel was implying a witch hunt against the evil corporate empire. All these things have to be proportional and not punishment as such.

              However you cannot really choose a carbon price on an assumption that expansion of electric cars would be as rapid as the article hopes for. It would have to be on a more modest, middle ground assumption.

              Frankly any start point on a carbon price will probably be set low for political purposes with intention to ramp up over time. Now if electric car uptake is faster than predicted, you could perhaps lower the carbon tax, or at least its rate of increase. That would be the ideal, and this is why I think we need an independent sort of climate agency like Britain has that takes a technocratic and orthodox economics approach, thus avoiding nefarious politicians of all colours meddling.

              Regarding forestry offsets. Clearly they are useful, but I doubt they would fully offset our remaining emissions problems. Remember the energy and transport sectors are only about half of emissions, and you have industry and agriculture and these are big factors in NZ.

              To soak up all that half of emissions needs an awful lot of new tree planting. NZ only has so much spare land, with rough hill country already planted in forests, and you can’t really encroach much on agricultural land. I doubt we have enough land.

              Here is some rough maths. I noted above forests already absorb about 40% of our emissions and oceans about 20% I think. Forests cover 30% of the worlds land surface. Therefore to absorb half our remaining emission means using another maybe 10 – 20% of our land surface which is huge really. This also fails to deal with the potent methane problem fully, and the best answer to this is really to reduce methane emissions at source. I’m told there is research into some enzyme methane inhibitor for cattle feed or as a vaccine.

              And there are all sorts of problems with tree planting like ensuring they are not harvested prematurely, and there’s evidence warming is turning some forests in other countries into net carbon emitters. I’m not saying forget trees, just that I doubt they would not deal with our other half of emissions.

              The ideal strategy is to cut emissions at source and use forests and soil sinks to mop up some emissions, I think realistically it looks like about 10% of emissions.

              I think a carbon tax and dividend scheme looks best to me, with the dividend partly used for subsidies and partly given back to the consumer. I’m not a fan of the ETS as its easy to rort, although either a tax or ETS could be theoretically made to work. The whole climate issue needs a multifaceted approach. I don’t think there are nice simple answers.

  10. When I was looking for a second hand EV I noted that they came at a wide range of prices with lowest prices tending to match lowest km travelled and oldest cars. Mine had travelled furthest of the second hand cars available, had the greatest range and was the youngest – not the normal criteria for evaluating a purchase.

  11. Thanks Gareth for the tip on NZ climate report 2017. I have only had a chance to read the summary in the NZ Herald here below, for anyone wanting the short version.


    This jumped out at me:

    “We need to develop a proper carbon budget, like other countries, to work out the least cost pathway to net zero emissions by mid-century.”

    This is absolutely true, but National don’t believe in planning, they want to leave it all up to the market and ETS. Labour aren’t much better. This is our real problem, not the science or technology even, but free market worshiping ideology. And I’m stumped if I know how you convince these people they are wrong.

    1. There is no point in arguing with willful ignorance, nor with those who posture and suppose labels to be arguments.

      It seems, however, that many people have discerned that we have had a pretend but do-nothing policy on climate change, with political consequences. I do not believe that the ETS can be fixed as I have often said. Further it seems that all trading schemes can and do collapse. The best, I have supposed, was the Swedish certification scheme run in tandem with a progressive carbon tax but it too collapsed when Norway joined it because of a flood of wind power certificates.

      I think that a straight carbon tax across the board is the only fair way, reaching the individual, whereas the trading schemes do not, as we have previously discussed. To this extent only the greens have developed a usable policy but, as we have also discussed, a carbon tax is only a part of what is needed for climate change mitigation. I do not see any value in “reducing” carbon price if a sector becomes non-applicable a la Tony Seba. A tax is intended to persuade people to find ways to reduce emissions. If we have eliminated our emissions in the forms of transport we use, then we are not paying the relevant carbon tax.

      I have also argued that there is a kind of base level of emissions of CO2 and CH4 that is part of the planet’s normal respiration in an equilibrium climate (say at 300 ppm) so that component of a sustainable system, if it can be quantified, should not be taxed.

      Further, I have said recently to some people on the land that, in the mitigation of climate change, farmers world wide are the most important people in the world, for a farm is a very large solar panel (thanks biofarmer), the chief function of which is capturing carbon. The only carbon sequestering scheme that exists almost everywhere right now which can return carbon to the soil, with proper management, is farming. I have seen the interest with which this thought has been grasped.

      Climate scientists have been saying that we must do this. It has been the subject of research for quite some years. As Beaker has pointed out it is not simple and has its hazards, else some nations would already have a policy of carbon sequestration through improved farming (growing) practices.

      I do believe that climate change mitigation requires policy encouraging carbon farming, this being retro-active to some degree because of the growers that have pursued this goal already and have something to show. Encouraging carbon farming also discourages extractive farming, unsustainable and intensive farming with it’s associated pollution.

      Carbon farming, as a way of reclaiming a livable climate, is of course pointless if others use it for carbon trading – ie keep up their carbon emissions.

      Some might argue that food production would go down which we can ill afford. This is why I look with interest at urban (indoor)(vertical) farming developments, protein and dairy substitutes. Some argue that in any case the cost of current intensive farming practices is unacceptable. Dr Rosie Bosworth began her “In lament of the NZ Farm” with this statement:

      Colleague and Christchurch based technology strategist Ben Reid , recently tweeted that New Zealand is in danger of fast becoming the “Detroit of Agriculture” — a rustbelt left behind after production has moved elsewhere.? Unfortunately, I am inclined to agree.

      Hello, another disruptive convergence of technologies bearing upon farming with consequences like those bearing upon solar energy for buildings and transport.

      I do not expect our new government to come out with a sophisticated policy encouraging farmers to sequester carbon – not right away. I do advocate that they consciously go to work on this – and say so – taking progressive steps as possible.

      1. Noel, yeah that makes sense. I only have a general knowledge of the ETS and carbon tax ideas. I confess haven’t read the ETS founding legislation (who needs the headache) but I understand the basic goals and principles and mechanism much more so than the average person would.

        I think carbon tax and dividend schemes seem a good option, because they are applicable to almost anything and multi-functional, in that they set a fee and have dividends that can be used for different things. Because they give money back, they can be set quite high easily enough. On the downside they will go like tobacco taxes, where even if ramped up high, it will get hard to deter the determined minority of users. You would need additional mechanisms, but maybe not many.

        I think an ETS makes sense in theory, even as a stand alone climate scheme, but the problems seem to be real world application, and they appear insurmountable to me:

        1) An ETS with a modest setting would slowly send price signals right through many things, but would only make a small difference (results definitely suggest small) and ramping the scheme up to higher settings is hard work, because it is quite hard on emitters and they lobby in private. The net effect is the ETS is just too slow to stop dangerous climate change. By the time it does something, emissions will be way over the limit. In contrast you can ramp up carbon tax much quicker politically because if its fee and dividend based, people are at least partly compensated. The corporates would hate it and resist, but they would only be part of people affected, so their resistance would have less power.

        2) How do I know under an ETS that anyone is actually reducing emissions? Does anyone audit this? Although this could also be an issue with carbon taxes.

        3) The ETS mechanism is simply easy for business and government to manipulate, rort, undermine and carbon taxes seem a bit more transparent to me and harder to rort.

        4)Its very easy to exempt companies from the ETS. They have complained in Europe it makes them less competitive and been exempted making a joke of the scheme. With a carbon tax on fossil fuel companies at least this would be harder to exempt those, and this is right at the source of the problem

        5)We had the imported carbon credits fiasco. Carbon trading internationally makes sense in theory, but problems in the real world will be monumental and impossible to untangle. The more certificates and traded units you have the more opportunities for fraud, manipulation etc. You dont get that so much with carbon taxes.

        6) NZ has no proper carbon price or cap. Its a joke.

        I’m sounding pessimistic. I think an ETS could be made to work, but I have yet to see any signs of this being actually done. Ho, hum.

        If you think my points 1-6 are wrong rip into them, they are just quick thoughts.

        Regarding enhancing soil sinks through changed farming systems. I think this has potential. Changes in farming, no till farming, etc are proven capable of increasing ability of soil carbon to increase and also promote deeper root structures. Given the huge extent of crop lands and grasslands and depths of carbon intensive soils, it appears it could be scaled up and significant, although it needs a lot of farmers to be educated to change their methods, not an easy thing.

        However I saw this a day ago which is a bit ominous if correct:


        The problem is soils only absorb emissions very, very slowly. So its not an obvious solution to immediate goals of Paris accord, and probably mostly of use in drawing down emissions from 2050 on assuming they stabilise by then at net zero. However this would be very significant in getting excess CO2 out of the atmosphere over century time scales, and this can only be a good thing. To me its a symbiotic sort of thing as I think you alluded to, in that these natural, sustainable farming systems have several benefits not just climate, and so the sum of benefits suggests they are a good idea.

        You might be right regenerative farming may be more expensive. One is tempted to think if it was cheaper it would be used right now, but then the advocates say its not much more expensive. But nobody is stopping anyone farming this way.

        To me its a question of whether regenerative farming has such profound overall environmental benefits that the government would get involved and incentivise it in some way. And of course its benefits are still somewhat debated. But I would urge the new government to look into it, because soil sinks may be potentially very large and it may not take huge changes to make a significant difference.

        However conventional farming must be reaching its own limits. And problems with excessive nitrate fertlisers etc are all adding up.

        Yes food production may spread into the laboratory and more use of interior spaces for food growing. Holland makes incredible use of huge greenhouse complexes, all very high tech but with reduced use of water, manufactured fertilisers, pesticides etc. They are highly productive with incredible yields. This seems like an intelligent approach to me, and if they can do it anyone can. Of course not all crops can be grown that way.

        I think there’s much to be said for free market innovation and so on, but with strong government environmental standards to set boundaries and push things in the right direction, or at least away from obvious problems.

        1. A good summation. Thanks. The slow soil buildup, refers of course to organic carbon and the absence of man’intentions. Neverteheless even preventing the further loss of carbon would be a gain over most of the planet and the example of some people suggests we can do better than that. However, slow it is as in David Archer’s graph. Then there is the matter of “insect armageddon” as one story has put it.

          1. Yes oops, I didn’t mean soils literally absorbing CO2 , just an enhanced solid carbon store. I believe Australia has carbon rich soils in its grasslands up to 20 meters deep!

            My understanding is modern farming has degraded ability to build up carbon, and that no till farming and year round ground cover all help build up carbon rich deep soils. But to be honest I’m just learning, and have only read little bits and pieces. Agriculture is definitely way outside my comfort zone.

            But what is insect armaggedon? Is this decline of bee numbers?

            1. Rather more than bees. Actually the Guardian title was ‘ecological armageddon’

              Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years…

              Data on flying insects has been collected for 25 years. Pesticide use in neighboring farmlands are the main suspect but no data on this was collected. It’s rather a shock.

    1. Yes. A challenging situation. If James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern can reach a meeting of minds over ETS, Carbon tax, and the net-zero legislation that is being put together by members of most parties including nats, I have cause for hope.

  12. Sea level rise is in the news again and no good news it is…


    And that came in while I was just preparing some sea level time series data for my class for next year in L3 Statistics, time series:

    I got thanks to LINZ downloads of monthly SL data send for a few stations (Whitianga, Kawhia, Devonport) for the period 2008 to 2017. I know 9 years worth of data is not much for looking at climate trends but nevertheless, I was astounded to see as average SLR for these 9 years: Whitianga +40mm/year, Kawhia + 18mm/year, Devonport +20mm/year. These values were for the rate of rise of the Maximum tides. The rate of rise of the mean SL was not much different but a bit less at +36mm/year in Whitianga, Kawhia + 18mm/year and +16mm/year in Devonport. It seems that the max tides are rising a bit faster than the mean SL does. This is of interest as of course effects of SLR will always be felt at the max tide events.

    And intrigued, I went and got more data from http://www.psmsl.org/data/obtaining/ and selected Whangarei +13mm/year, Wellington +9.6mm/year, all over these 9 years and that is the rise of their respective Mean SL as I did not have the Max SL data for these stations.

    And no, I do not have a factor 10 somewhere and no, these are not the changes seen over 9 years, these are the rates in mm/year!

    Whitianga is extreme and there could be a sensor calibration issue there. I am awaiting the outcome of an inquiry by LINZ into that sensor and if it was perhaps moved in that time.

    All these stations – with the exception of Wellington, are on geologically stable land with no significant change in the land levels, I checked – show a significantly larger SLR than what is commonly traded for the last decades (3.2mm/y or so). And the rate of land subsidence for Wellington of about 1mm/year, I factored into those data.

    Of cause I am questioning the outcome and I am in touch with James Renwick and Rob Ball to see what gives… A big swing of the PDO? All these stations somehow wrong?

    If I could upload images here I would show the graphs.

    But with the latest scientists suggestions of 1.3m or more SLR by 2100 rates like the ones I see in the data will eventually be with us. Let us hope these rates turn out to be all somehow wrong, for the time being…

    1. Thomas, my immediate reaction was those numbers must be wrong surely. Perhaps someone has put the decimal point in the wrong place. If they were 3.6mm, 1.8mm,1.6mm. 1.3mm and 0.96mm it might make some sense.

      However they could possibly be right. It’s not actually unprecedented. Parts of Florida has had rapid recent sea level rise with rates 6 times the global average for periods of about 5 years, and possibly thought due to convergence of el nino / la nina and NAO cycles as below.


      And there is no doubt NZ is facing very significant sea level rise problems. The whole thing will play havoc with infrastructure, for example drains stop working well before buildings are effected, and there are no easy solutions to problems like this. Humanity has never dealt with non trivial sea level rise, so is unprepared, and infrastructure has not been designed with it in mind.

      1. Hi Nigel,
        I will email you the data files and my graphs today. The data are what I got from LINZ (Whitianga, Kawhia and Devonport) and from http://www.psmsl.org/data/obtaining/
        On the later site you can download data from all over the world. When you look at these data you need to also consult Geological data for land movement. I will send you a paper for NZ on that as well. You can have a play with the data yourself.
        My 7 cents worth is: 9 years are short. We are looking probably at a period of a significant up-swing which will flatten again for a while and so on.
        But it is would be logical that these periods of up-swings will become more frequent and pronounced as the world aims for the SLR we now think is likely to happen over the next 80 years towards 2100.

  13. I had the pleasure of a visit by Noel Fuller in his Nissan Leaf. Noel is a man with great stories and we discovered common old friends – as you do in NZ so often.

    Noel showed me his impressive logs from his solar home PV system + Tesla Powerwall + charging his Nissan Leaf. And even during the last month Noel is practically energy self-sufficient including local driving and recharging his car as his electricity meters show zero imported power for days in a row. Come Summer… Noel will power the neighborhood too…

    So it can be done. People who do not believe that a self-sufficient PV powered society is the future tend to always extrapolate from negative extremes: i.e. “This is never going to work because it would take xyz amount of square meters of panels to daily recharge an EV 100% etc… and what about winter…”

    The reality is: Most people drive less than 50km in a day, and often less than that. And for the vast majority of their days, a setup like Noels will do nicely indeed. Many people will be able to recharge at work and most workplaces will eventually have solar PV on their roofs, powering their businesses during daytime hours. Already, amortized over 20 years, solar PV is providing electricity even at small residential places at cost below current grid power prices and with larger industrial-sized installations PV produces power at cost below that paid by industrial grid customers. Solar PV has become a no-brainer by now. Noel is living it. It can be done.

    And for long-distance trips, Noel has erased all the gas stations coordinates from his car gps nav and programmed all the charging stations and plug-share places in. Now NZ is an open country for any Leaf and what’s a 20 minute stop on the way from Whitianga to Auckland? Time for a cuppa and a nice chat to others who will buy their first EV next year perhaps…!
    Electric personal transport is a done deal now. The pioneer years are almost over and fast chargers are sprouting up and down the country like mushrooms after a rainfall…

    Oh, and did I forget to say: Push the Eco button to “off” on the Leaf, put anything that might come at you from the front somewhere safe, and hit the pedal from a standstill… (Beware, Petrol heads will want to ban you from their drag racing….) 🙂

    My 1991 Toyota Starlet, driving electrically for the last 10 years is in need of a new set of batteries… I think I might pass it on to a hobbyist and aim for a Leaf soon…

    1. I stick have half a charge in the car after 13 days. That’s unusual but local travel does not require more than one equivalent full charge in a week. Really a full charge is only done slow and if one is starting a long trip. Given our recent cloudy weather it takes about two days to acquire a full charge from the sun. The powerwall2 is not up to directly charging a car battery. It also helps that we are not big consumers of power.

      A chat, a visit to a toilet, a bit of refreshment usually takes longer than a fast recharge but a real is welcome. At the Bayfield 4 bay charger, Tauranga, was greeted with “In all the years I’ve been coming here this is the first time I’ve seen an ev using it.” A couple then informed me their daughter was getting a 6 kW pc system installed for $9000 ,grid tied – half what I paid for 5 kW system nov 2013! Just then another 30X leaf drew up an.d started charging. Even more people stopped to ask questions. It’s .not always like that but the questioning is always serious. This is posted from my cell phone.t

      1. “Given our recent cloudy weather it takes about two days to acquire a full charge from the sun.”

        By this I mean, in Auckland, something like 3 or 4 hours each day. As my PV panels are oriented NE at a pitch of only 16° this means morning sun in winter months. A mixed sky was adequate in September. During October with the sun higher, the afternoon sun became OK too.

        Of course I could always get power from the grid if I had to, say $2 to $3, but that has so far been unnecessary. This Friday, Nov 10, with sky overcast all day, growing heavier pm, I exported 11 kWh which could have been used to achieve an 80-100% car charge had I been starting a big day on the road on Saturday.

  14. As it happens, a Nissan leaf for sale was parked along tamaki drive yesterday. This was late model, about 4 years old, medium blue, only 20,000 kms, and $16,700. These are over $30,000 new last time I looked, but not on the market right now.

    This is bargain motoring. A comparable petrol hatchback would cost significantly more. I purchased a late model honda civic recently with 55,000 kms and this was $20,000 and in other respects has a similar spec. to the leaf. Perhaps people are nervous about state of battery, but 20,000 kms is hardly going to be a concern.

    One of these leafs or similar is on my shopping list in the not too far distant future.

    I think the next couple of years will be the time to buy, because once they catch on prices will increase.

  15. The all-electric Nissan Leaf was voted NZ’s most reliable car!


    “Just four per cent of Leafs in our survey had a major reliability problem that caused significant repair costs or time off the road. “The majority of Leaf owners, 97 per cent, were very satisfied with this electric car.”

    And compare this with the runner-up brand, Suzuki and the rest:

    Of the 23 brands analysed in Consumer NZ’s survey, Suzuki was the most reliable with 20 per cent of 432 Suzuki owners reporting a major failure compared with 30 per cent on average across all brands.

    NZ consumers report:
    4% failure EV to 20% failure in the best ICE…. !
    Tony Sheba knew his stuff… Q.E.D 🙂

    1. I have ruled Dehli out of my ‘Leaf’ travel plans. 🙂 This leads me to wonder how far I could travel in NZ if I excluded roads, rails and airports liable to be closed by climate change exacerbated events in various futures – assuming reincarnation? 🙁

        1. Apart from VTOL air cars there would be no ways left out of Auckland, north or south, except by sea. There will be many more harbours cutting deep into the land, but could we think of improvements to the scows? Scows or catamaran equivalents would have to be right.

          As a kid I had an obsessive fascination with scows. My mother as a teenager traveled by scow from Awanui to boarding school in Auckland. When she missed a class tour of a Japanese warship one day because of some appointment, she horrified her teachers at Epsom Girls Grammar by going down to the warship after her appointment and insisting on a personal tour. The officers obliged the 13 year old.

    1. Hmmm,… this smells a bit like a lure for high-value individuals to throw money at Fisker stock…. so that the owners can extend the trip….

      Some brief on the back of an envelope calculation:
      A Tesla about 0.3 kWh per mile.
      500 miles in an EV would then be 150kWh of energy.

      Charging this in 1 minute would require a power of 60*150 = 9000 kW = 9 MW!!
      I do not know any fast charging station anywhere that would be able to sport a 9MW power connection….

      If your car battery (Tesla S) has 375V that would mean you are charging with a current of 24,000 Amp!
      Now imagine you have a tiny contact resistance R somewhere in that circuit, you would dissipate at that resistance a power of P = RxI^2 …. square 24,000…. Yikes!

      I would stand well back when any of that goes on with some welding goggles and protective gear!

      And that pretty car would probably be a giant spot welding puddle in the end… 🙁

      1. The 1 minute was probably more an indication of the theoretical capabilities, if we’re happy with a charge time of 5 minutes the required amps drop to 4,800 which is about a dozen times what larger car starter motors can draw, I don’t think a system designed for such a current need be outlandish.
        9 MW is about the power that a large office building is able to draw, so again commercial sites able to handle those power flows aren’t outlandish.

      2. I would say people are probably going to be happy with 5 – 10 minutes charging. Ten minutes equals a coffee or play with the phone.

        Most people charge their cars at home anyway, overnight. No big deal.

        The big issue is range. Its psychological, people dont want range anxiety, and worrying about planning every trip carefully or lots of charging. Even if they use car just for work so short trips each week, people like security of decent range. We are creatures of convenience. Get good range at affordable cost, 10 minutes or less charging, and these things will take off.

        1. We got the grid back early morning some time, plus internet and cell phone network, so the Powerwall2 switched from emergency backup mode, where demanding items like the electric stove or the heatpump are out of business, to everything available even though the battery is still supplying all the power. However, I decided just before this storm hit that I would not in future jeopardise the battery back up time by using the last of the sunlight to charge the car and instead went to a free fast charger not too far away.

          I have also done something awful (where range is concerned) to my Leaf. I bought a cartop carrier then engineered a side loading system to get my canoe, Sabrina, on top for portaging purposes. Loading uses an electric winch I happened to have, while unloading is just a matter of using a rope passed around friction sources. Sabrina is not a low drag object like most canoes so having it on top is a large increase in air drag with a large decrease in range. I have not determined how big that effect is yet but the car’s range prediction becomes rather unreliable. Thus portages should be short. I am about to do the Kaipara and associated rivers ending with a portage maybe from Tangiteroria to Whangarei harbour via Mangapai, then sailing down the coast eventually to the Archibald Park slip on the Whau river only 7 km from home.

          I gave myself the challenge of doing this without recourse to fossil fuels. Alas I cannot find an electric motor to match my 2 hp Honda outboard if the motor is required for more than 2 hours say. Carrying spare battery packs is a possibility but the weight would become excessive, let alone the cost and finding recharge points. The big plus for electric is quietness and reliability. Do I need a motor? I have found sailing Sabrina almost impossible between river banks and the strong currents of the Kaipara, and the dangerous harbour mouth, counsel a motor for backup.

  16. Link to briefing to new government on climate change, from Herald article;


    All sensible stuff, highlighting seriousness of problem, and things that have to happen.

    But this is what we are up against. The very heading of the article is “NZ must act to ‘adapt’ to global warming”. It doesn’t say reduce emissions, it twists the entire briefing to highlight just the “adaptation” component. This is from your hard right wing national newspaper folks, clearly captured by business interests, and morons like Mike Hosking.

  17. Another matter of perspective

    Tonight on TV I heard that the higher speed limit on a couple of expressways is getting such a welcome from petrolheads that more highways or parts thereof might go the same way. The issue is cast as “Health and Safety” – it’s OK to go faster because they are safer!

    Having recently driven on them I can attest to how boring they are while toddling along at 80 km/h. Could the offroad views be improved – drivers of autonomous vehicles take note? Nevertheless it’s not OK to go faster!

    Increased emissions with higher speeds is a much more prolonged health and safety issue. In 1973 during the “oil shock” we were advised to go slower to prolong availability of fuel from our oil reserves. It’s an issue of drag – well drag coefficient – every vehicle has a drag coefficient.

    What does that mean?

    1. Drag varies as the square of the velocity. Practically this means that if speed is doubled drag increases about 4 times.

    2. Energy expended increases by the cube of velocity change. I’ve read that means that if I double my speed, power required to maintain that higher speed is increased about 8 times. So GHG emissions change too.

    Then there is even another issue: People who know the above and are trying to get where they want to go with limited power, like me with my EV, insist on going slower, say 80 km/h thus leaving just one lane available for the heavy trucks and speeding cars, drivers thinking they have a right to all of that road.

    Let’s insist on lower speeds for lower emissions and greater range!
    ICE grivers need a card with emissions versus speed for each vehicle whether they want it or not.

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