Climate Change and Power Generation Research

I came across a short blog post by Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. concerning journalists that can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to natural disasters.

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2010/08/catastrophe-catnip.html

The example he shows is from a reporter at Time magazine trying to tie the floods in Pakistan to “Global Warming” (or is it “Climate Change” this week?). This intrepid reporter appeals to the authority of the IPCC that floods are going to be worse due to rising CO2 emissions. Dr. Pielke pointed out that the IPCC actually said very little about floods like we are seeing in Pakistan. This is not something new with journalists, they even try to turn severe cold weather events into being caused by “Global Warming” induced by CO2 emissions and this typically gets the Skeptic dander up. However that isn’t what interests me it’s the second part that Dr. Pielke highlights in his piece: the call for low-carbon emissions.

Now what is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 emissions? Power Generating stations such as coal-fired power plants.

So from there the Green brigades tied research into new energy generating technologies to “Global Warming” and that is where things went off the rails IMO. If you go back and look at how the energy technology changed over time you will see one constant theme: New technologies are only invented when the older one becomes uneconomical. From that point you can see why the Greens are pushing things that they are, if you implement a Cap and Tax scheme you push up the price on the older technology of coal-fired power generation, while at the same time giving subsidies to the newer technologies (which aren’t that new) of “alternative” or “renewable” power generation.

So you can follow the chain in the logic: World ending due to rising temps, caused by human CO2 emissions, so to fix that change the power generating from the carbon based system to other based systems that are zero to low-carbon. From there governments went out and basically picked winner and losers in the research funding sweepstakes. In France the winner has been Nuclear Power, which would give most Greens in Germany and the US a heart attack, so it’s a loser in those countries. What became the 2 big winners in most countries was Wind and Solar power, both are not really that new, by giving big subsidies for their use. This is where the problems started popping up Wind is very unreliable as a base load power generating source. Besides not being able to generate the needed power when there is not enough wind, they can catch fire or explode if the wind is too strong and the brakes fail. You can see this very clearly online on Youtube no matter how much the greens want to say it isn’t true:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nSB1SdVHqQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkGXoE3RFZ8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOfHxINzGeo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppLh5pGX3qQ&feature=related

Another problem with Wind is the size of the area needed for the physical placement of wind farms compared to the power generated out of it. Here is what I’m talking about. In a report in 2004 the peak power demand for New York City in 2003 was 11,020 MW of power and they were estimating that by 2008 that would rise by 3,780 MW to 14,800 MW.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/energy_task_force.pdf

In 2003 to supply that power with wind turbines it would have taken 14 wind farms the size of the Roscoe wind farm in Texas which is the worlds largest. In that 1 wind farm there is 627 wind turbines and for 14 farms the total goes up to 8,778. Now lets say the report was right and 2008 needed 14,800 MW the number of farms increases to 19 and a total of 11,913 turbines. How much ground would be taken up to supply that power in 2008? Well according to the wiki article linked below the Roscoe farm covers nearly 100,000 acres, so for New York City alone you are talking about 1,900,000 acres or 2,969 sq miles of ground needed. To put that in perspective you would need to take the entire state of Delaware and empty it of every person and building and fill it with wind turbines and you would still be about 500 sq miles short of space and this is just to power New York City alone not the entire state of New York.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roscoe_Wind_Farm

Without mentioning the un-sustainability of government subsidies that make Wind a feasible economic alternative to carbon based generation, the area needed is just not practical to meet our present or future energy needs, so Wind in not a viable replacement for Coal.

Solar faces the same problem of area to usable power generated, the worlds largest Solar farm takes up 247 acres to produce just 20 MW of power.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/powering_20000.php

So lets give it the New york City treatment: For a need of 14,800 MW you would need 740 of these Solar farms covering an area of 182,780 acres or 286 sq miles. To put it in perspective the area of the city of New York is just about 469 sq miles, so over half the size of the city. Not as bad as wind but again not very practical especially when you take into account that they only work when the sun is shining and the storage batteries needed are not cheap nor environmentally friendly to make, dispose of or recycle. Again we didn’t point out the subsidies that are making this a viable economic alternative to coal.

So where does that leave the US citizen where the government with the backing of the greens has sunk our research dollars into non viable alternatives?

If you try to change the research funding so a viable alternative can be found you get the greens, eco loonies and the far left-wing of the Dems out in the street crying about “global warming” and killing the planet (never mind how many will die if you go with the crazy idea that wind and solar can replace coal). This pressure causes the politicians, not all but enough, to keep on this insane course.

You see finding new sources of generating energy is needed, not because of “Global Warming”, but because eventually coal will become uneconomical as a fuel source. As an example of this go back in time to when the majority of the world got most of its heating and cooking energy from the burning of wood. As trees were being used up (this is prior to the idea of loggers replanting forests they cut down) to build homes, ships, furniture as well as heat the places in winter and provide the fire that cooked the food year round; the price of wood increased. England at one point was importing wood from colonial america because they were that short of trees. Now here is the thing, coal was known to be a fuel source well before this point, but in places like North America and most of Europe it was a lot more expensive to mine for coal then it was to just go out and chop down the trees and use. When the trees got scarce the economics changed and coal became viable, but notice it wasn’t done through government picking winners and losers. Then when the industrial revolution hit the ways coal was used was changed to get more bang for the buck, again not by governments getting involved. The governments didn’t all of a sudden pour money into mining or power generation research, that was done by private companies and individuals and that is way things stayed until the 1950’s when government got the Nuclear bug and sunk fortunes into researching it, not just to build bombs but for power generation.

Then another problem cropped up: Man Made “Global Warming” is not that big of a deal. The physics have not changed in over 20 years, you still only get about 1°C rise out of a doubling of CO2. The hypothesized “positive water feedback” has never been found in that entire 20 year period, matter of fact observations are finding that the atmosphere is actually not that sensitive to CO2. So the reason that the greens put forth that we need to get new power generation technologies flew out the window, taking with it for the governments justification to pick winners and losers.

These steps are what I think need to happen to move ahead and find new practical as well as economical ways to generate power:

  1. Power Generation research needs to get that anchor of “Global Warming” off from around its neck. These are two different situations and by tying one to the other, both will sink when CAGW due to human emitted CO2 goes down the tubes as non physical.
  2. Governments need to butt out of research. They are doing far more harm than good, the market really will fix this problem on its own. Besides the example I gave about coal look at the logging industry. When they saw that by not replanting trees after you cleared an area eventually you run out of trees followed shortly by being out of business. So the logging industry changed to meet economic reality. The role government can play in this is making sure what comes out of the research is safe and if they really want to help money wise stop with direct grants. Instead do not tax private enterprise for any monies they spend on power generation research, let them give grants to Universities and hire the bright new scientists that will be graduating from them. This will ensure that what they come up with, really will be economically viable.

So when the economics and practicality of the technology causes us to shift away from carbon based power generation, you will get your de-carbonizing without government interference. The cry of we need to de carbonize to save the planet is patently not true and all it does is divert funds (still searching for that elusive feedback and the hotspot you know) from needed research into viable technology, thus prolonging the carbonization of the world’s energy production. But then again the greens position was never really about saving the planet, or getting clean affordable abundant power for the poor of the world. It was always about their socialistic political goals.

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