Friday, July 25, 2014

Baby steps at WUWT towards a cleaner energy future?

Sou | 7:40 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

Today some tentative baby steps were taken on Anthony Watts blog at WUWT towards a cleaner energy future. The reason I say it's tentative baby steps is not that Anthony was promoting clean energy but because he was discussing it. That's one teensy weensy step forward from his usual nonsense that "global warming isn't happening or if it is it won't be bad".  He posted two articles that are (sort of) related to cleaner energy:
  • a clean energy plan for California
  • safe fracking

A clean energy plan for California

Anthony posted two articles, the first was about a paper in Energy, by a large team from Stanford, UC Davis, Cornell and elsewhere, setting out a plan to shift California to renewable energy (archived here).

Needless to say, Anthony was against the plan as were most of those commenting. His headline was: "California’s future energy pipe dream". If Anthony had been born 100 years earlier he would undoubtedly have called the advent of horseless carriages a pipe dream, along with air travel and telecommunications.WUWT is in the business of naysaying. They want to remain part of the problem and are not interested in working toward solutions. Still, it's a baby step that WUWT is even discussing how to wean the world off fossil fuels.

Here is some of the same press release, this one from Stanford University:
The study concludes that, while a wind, water and sunlight conversion may result in initial capital cost increases, such as the cost of building renewable energy power plants, these costs would be more than made up for over time by the elimination of fuel costs. The overall switch would reduce California’s end-use power demand by about 44 percent and stabilize energy prices, since fuel costs would be zero, according to the study.
It would also create a net gain, after fossil-fuel and nuclear energy job losses are accounted for, of about 220,000 manufacturing, installation and technology construction and operation jobs. On top of that, the state would reap net earnings from these jobs of about $12 billion annually.
According to the researchers’ calculations, one scenario suggests that all of California’s 2050 power demands could be met with a mix of sources, including:
  • 25,000 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
  • 1,200 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants
  • 15 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
  • 72 100-megawatt geothermal plants
  • 5,000 0.75-megawatt wave devices
  • 3,400 1-megawatt tidal turbines
The study states that if California switched to wind, water and sunlight for renewable energy, air pollution-related deaths would decline by about 12,500 annually and the state would save about $103 billion, or about 4.9 percent of the state’s 2012 gross domestic product, in related health costs every year. The study also estimates that resultant emissions decreases would reduce global climate change costs in 2050 – such as coastal erosion and extreme weather damage – by about $48 billion per year.
“I think the most interesting finding is that the plan will reduce social costs related to air pollution and climate change by about $150 billion per year in 2050, and that these savings will pay for all new energy generation in only seven years,” said study co-author Mark Delucchi of the University of California, Davis....
...To ensure grid reliability, the plan outlines several methods to match renewable energy supply with demand and to smooth out the variability of wind, water and sunlight resources. These include a grid management system to shift times of demand to better match with timing of power supply; and “over-sizing” peak generation capacity to minimize times when available power is less than demand. The study refers to a previously published analysis that demonstrated that California could provide a reliable grid with nearly 100 percent clean, renewable energy. 

Now the dot points above don't look identical to the plan as outlined in the paper itself, which includes some offshore wind, for example. You can read the full press release here. And you can read the paper here.

Safe fracking

No, not safe-cracking - the second article at WUWT was about fracking or hydraulic fracturing (archived here). That was also a "no, no, no" article. WUWT wasn't objecting to fracking. Rather Anthony was quibbling about three sentences at the very end of a booklet by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Not that he would know anything about the matter other than what he read on the internet. He doesn't live in Colorado let alone the town of Erie.

(You might say that fracking can't be classed as clean energy and I agree. However there seems to be general agreement that replacing coal with gas is an interim step towards clean energy. Fracking is also used to extract hard-to-get oil as well, so it's not really clean energy.)

Anthony's article had a very misleading headline: "Union of Concerned ‘Scientists’ frackivists taken to task for willful misrepresentation of facts in Erie, Colorado", which suggested the UCS booklet is against fracking. It isn't. The booklet is a guide to policy makers and communities to help them assess proposals to undertake fracking in their region. It isn't an anti-fracking booklet. What is does is list some questions to be considered to make sure that if fracking is permitted, it is as safe as can be reasonably expected.

Anthony didn't comment on the booklet as a whole. It's a fair bet he hasn't read it. He doesn't even seem to read many of the articles he puts up on his blog. What he did was slam the Union of Concerned Scientists for the portrayal of what happened in a town in Colorado. Mind you, this was a few lines only on the last page (page 18) of the main section of the booklet. Apparently there's a fight going on between some local politicians and community groups in regard to who should take credit for limiting adverse impacts of fracking in a community in Colorado. Anthony's going with the local authority. This makes a change, because people like Anthony Watts don't usually side with "Authority".

It looks like a political storm in a teacup to me. In most situations, local authorities respond to community concerns. Did the local authorities bring all stakeholders together to work out the agreement or not? If not, then surely it was remiss. If so, then surely that is a good thing.

The irony of the WUWT article lies in the fact that Anthony misrepresented the UCS booklet (wrongly suggesting it was an anti-fracking booklet) to complain that it misrepresented the situation in the town in Colorado.

Jacobson MZ, et al., "A roadmap for repowering California for all purposes with wind, water, and sunlight", Energy (2014), http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CaliforniaWWS.pdf

Science, Democracy and Fracking. A guide for community residents and policy makers facing decisions over hydraulic fracturing. The Union of Concerned Scientists. (available here)


  1. 'Safe fracking' seems like an oxymoron to me, on the same order as 'clean coal'. Pumping mega-gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground assuming that none of it will leach into an aquifer because the pre-drilling geological survey was 100% accurate... hey, what could possibly go wrong? Not to mention the sheer amount of precious water that is consumed in the process. Or the obvious toxic waste disposal problems.

    Honestly, I have no idea what percentage of fracking operations result in contaminating the local groundwater, and am not aware of any conclusive studies that that tackle this issue. But there are so many horror stories out there (mostly anecdotal, I'll admit), that it doesn't seem to be worth the risk of trashing our environment for years to come just to get at that last little bit of gas/oil.

    To me, it appears to be the usual case of short term greed, and damn the long term consequences. You can bet that shortcuts will be taken wherever possible to maximise profits. And we all know how well that usually works out :-\

    1. My favourite fracking miracle is the well linings which are - apparently - the only structures made by man that will remain structurally sound forever. And they will do that even though they run through geology made unstable by fracking.

  2. "general agreement that replacing coal with gas is an interim step towards clean energy" -- citation?

    The gas industry definitely pushes this view. But the research indicates that fracking is no better than coal when it comes to decade-to-century-scale global warming, due to leaks. Building new fossil fuel plants now seems foolish compared to putting that money into renewables that don't pollute.

    1. Citation? :>)

      Numerobis, I'd agree that money is better spent on renewables. Here are three articles covering natural gas, fracking, coal seam gas and shale gas:




    2. Heh -- I walked into that one :)

      So, buttressing my recollections:

      In particular:

      I'd remembered that those articles indicated that leakage was enough to cancel out the switch to coal. The answer is contained within:

      Annoyingly, it does so only in the full text -- the abstract just asks the question... I'll have to read it again when I get home.

    3. OK, your Smithsonian source and a couple others have convinced me I was wrong: natural gas is, on a century scale, better than coal despite leaks. And also that most of the leakage is from big leaks (which gives hope we might fix the worst bits), rather than a million minor leaks (which would be pretty hopeless).

      The cost-benefit of building new gas plants as a bridge, versus going straight to renewables (which likely means more total coal gets burned), I'm not sure about.

    4. Numerobis, thanks for the links. I read your article by Eli Kintisch. It looks as if there are teams currently working on figuring out how much methane is leaking and from where. He also said at the end how some scientists want to cut both CO2 and CH4 simultaneously, while others are concerned that a focus on cutting methane might slow efforts to cut CO2, and CO2 has much longer term impact. I'll quote the final para:

      "To see how a focus on methane might affect CO2 mitigation, Shoemaker ran modeling experiments simulating various delays in cutting CO2 pollution. Each 15-year delay in curbing CO2, they found, caused the planet to warm by an additional 0.75°C by 2400. (A delay in cutting methane emissions has little long-term effect because methane doesn't accumulate.) Such sobering results suggest “it can't be cutting carbon dioxide or cutting methane,” Schrag says. “We've got to develop policies that do both.”"

      A concerted effort has to go into replacing all of coal, oil and gas - and soon.

    5. I think I've understood the source of my confusion: the spate of articles mentions that natural gas isn't a good replacement ... for automobiles. Where it would be replacing gasoline and diesel, which are already way better than coal on carbon grounds.

      I'm not sure about the very long term (on a human scale) carbon issue. If we can get lots of fossil-free energy in the long run, we could build a bit more, putting solar panels in the desert that power carbon-sucking plants to convert the CO2 back into something more stable like coal or graphite. That's technology that exists today (it's how we might get spacecraft back from Mars). It isn't currently viable because of its energy requirements: these days we're better off using excess electricity to turn off fossil-fuel plants. But if we can survive long enough to decarbonize our energy production, we can start cleaning up our waste.


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