Worrying Deceleration In The Growth Rate of Wind & Solar

The latest report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the Twenty First Century (sponsored by the United Nations)[1] is witness to is a significant deceleration in the growth rate of wind and solar capacity increases. For wind energy, the yearly capacity growth rate has subsided from about 20% up to 2010 to around 14% now. Solar capacity growth has decelerated from around 40% to around 20%. Continue reading

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Cleaning Up & Closing Down Coal Bad For The Climate?

Across North America and Europe, and now China, there have been focused civil campaigns together with government actions, to reduce the usage of coal in electricity generating plants. On the face of it this can only be unqualified good news, as a major source of carbon emissions is reduced. Unfortunately, there are two big complications to this good news. Continue reading

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The Panic Of ’32?

The current period reminds me of the period of Perestroika (openness) in the old Soviet Union in the late 1980’s, which instigated media and intellectual freedom, a process put in place by then President Gorbachev to help open up and modernize Soviet society. This ran far beyond what the communist leadership had intended, helping to invalidate the regime as the scale of its crimes, lies, and inconsistencies were laid bare for all to see[1]. The door of media and academic freedom can only be opened a little before uncomfortable truths and realities fundamentally threaten the status quo. Continue reading

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The Complexities Of Increasing Weather-Dependent Renewable Energy Usage

Any transition to weather-dependent energy sources (wind and solar) faces two major hurdles. Firstly, in the absence of cheap massive-scale energy storage, they need to be balanced by other sources that can be easily ramped up and ramped down. In nations such as Canada and Norway, which have abundant hydroelectric capacity not impacted by possible climate change induced drought conditions, this may not be a problem. For countries that can import and export relatively significant and variable amounts of power from and to other countries, such as Germany[1] and Denmark[2], the problem may also be somewhat reduced. At least until such renewables provide a significant amount of the energy supply, Germany only reached 5.9% electricity share for solar and 13.3% for wind in 2015 (with electricity being less than half of energy usage). As nuclear and coal-fired power stations do not lend themselves to rapidly varying output, dispatchable gas-fired power stations have been the logical fallback. As the penetration of wind and solar increase, the reliance on these gas-fired sources becomes much greater. The same capacity is being paid for twice, once for the wind and solar installations and secondly for the reliable variable-output fossil-fueled backup capacity. Once the cost of such standby capacity is taken into account, the relative cost of wind and solar is greatly increased[3]. Continue reading

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2016: Is The El Nino Showing Us Where The Edge Of The Climate Cliff Is?

The last time the Earth had an El Nino event like 2015/16 was in 1997/98[1]. The two events are actually very much alike, peaking at about the same time in the first year and at about the same temperature in the Nino 3.4 section of the equatorial Pacific. In the 1997/98 case the jump in temperatures and year-on-year increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide lasted through the summer of the second year, with the first few months of the year being extra-hot. Continue reading

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British Petroleum 2016 Energy Outlook : Reasonable Base Case Assessment?

The yearly Energy Outlook publication by B.P.[1] provides a good “reality check” with the enthusiasm of the green growth crowd, while at the same time providing a highly optimistic view of future liquid fuel supplies and the acceptance of natural gas as a climate friendly fuel. Continue reading

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The Nature Of Collapse

I sit here listening to a James Lovelock talk on my tablet, typing on my laptop, with the hum of the fridge and the noise of the dishwasher in the background, having come back to my 19th-floor condo in the elevator. Lovelock, in his inimitable style, is stating “London or New York would convert to a camp like one of those in Darfur if electricity was switched off for a week”[1]. This is the classic “end of civilization as we know it” scenario of science fiction thrillers[2], and apocalyptic futurists. Of course, a population terrorized by war, with its social structures rent apart through dislocation and extermination, and removed from its usual surroundings is very different from one experiencing an in situ loss of electricity. The ability of large populations to “muddle through” and make the best of a bad situation has also been repeatedly underestimated, as with the reaction of both British and German populations to large-scale civilian bombing during World War 2[3] [4] [5], the communitarian response of populations to events such as the North American Ice Storm (where power was cut off for days to a major city, Montreal)[6] and the flooding of New Orleans[7]. In the latter case, “the authorities” and private security details, were a much more dangerous bunch than the average citizen[8]. Continue reading

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The Hog Cycle and Oil Prices

Industries that have a delayed supply reaction to price (short term price inelasticity of supply) tend to exhibit a cyclical behaviour in supply and price. Delayed responses to falling and rising prices may create price and supply “overshoots”. Continue reading

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Climate Change: Scientific Measurements Versus Incomplete Estimates

Us humans tend to be a somewhat optimistic bunch, a bias that may have had significant benefits for our species survival, and even for our individual emotional well-being. To back up this optimism we have a conformation bias, selectively seeking information that supports our optimistic beliefs. As things get worse, individuals may even strive harder to find “good news” and ignore the negative. When combined with the structural elements that drive the media to emphasize the positive and ignore things that undermine the status quo, it becomes very hard for individuals to be realistic about the challenges that society faces. In the same way that the global energy production statistics may be quite misleading[1], many of the high profile estimates of global carbon emissions may be at the least confusing and most definitely misrepresented. Continue reading

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Complexity, Short Term Volatility, The Exponential, And The Limits Of Human Cognition

The problem with complex systems, such as Climate Change, the Energy System, and Financial Systems, is that they tend not to move in straight lines. Instead, they tend to oscillate around a trend and can move in a counter-trend fashion for significant amounts of time. The “Climate Change Pause”, and “Counter Trend Stock Price Rallies” are examples. In the same way that climate change skeptics jumped on the “pause” as a justification of their beliefs, buy-and-hold investors jump on counter-trend rallies as proof of a new bull market and therefore a reason not to sell (and pessimists jump on periodic falls in prices during a bull market as a reason not to invest). Such volatility may actually increase near the boundaries of a current equilibrium state, with a system behaving chaotically as it transitions to a new stable equilibrium. Such behaviour has been seen at the transitions going into, and out of, ice ages[1]. Arctic sea ice may currently be going through the same type of chaotic transition[2]. Consequently, the environment may be the most confusing at the very time that it is critical for humanity to understand it. Continue reading

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