A Wake-Up Call on Climate Change and Clean Energy

Yves here. This article is written in a press release-y style, which is a bit off-putting, but it makes an interesting point: if policymakers make credible threats that they will strand assets as a result of climate change, that will have the effect of choking off investment in carbon-dependent, since its investment life and/or expected profits will be much lower than in the current regime. But it also stresses, in keeping with a rash of articles in the past month, that we are much closer to a climate change tipping point than earlier modeling had suggested.

By Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director, INET Oxford. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

A stark warning from Institute researchers on the probability that ‘2°C capital stock’ will be reached in 2017

A new study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and the Smith School for Enterprise and Environment, University of Oxford, shows that we are uncomfortably close to the point where the world’s energy system commits the planet to exceeding 2°C.

In the paper, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Energy, the authors calculate the Two degree capital stock – the global stock of electricity infrastructure from which future emissions have a 50% probability of staying within 2°C of warming. The researchers estimate that the world will reach Two degree capital stock next year, in 2017.

The researchers used Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) carbon budgets and the IPCC’s AR5 scenario database, and assumed future emissions from other sectors compatible with restricting warming to 2°C. They found that based on current trends, no new emitting electricity infrastructure can be built after 2017 for this target to be met, unless other electricity infrastructure is retired early or retrofitted with carbon capture technologies.

Professor Cameron Hepburn, Professor of Environmental Economics based at INET Oxford and the Smith School, and one of the authors, said: “Investors putting money into new carbon-emitting infrastructure need to ask hard questions about how long those assets will operate for, and assess the risk of future shut-downs and write-offs.”

The team recommend that given the rapid declines in cost of zero-carbon technologies and strong evidence that as those technologies deploy at scale their costs further decline, the least risky and most economically prudent course of action is to shift all new energy investment to zero carbon as rapidly as possible.

If this doesn’t happen, argue the researchers, the implications are stark. If the 2°C target is to be taken seriously, then current and future assets will have to be written off before the end of their economically useful life (become stranded assets) or we will have to rely on large scale investments down the line, in carbon capture and storage technologies that are as yet unproven and expensive.

The research team hopes to focus the minds of policy makers in this crucial first year post-Paris by showing a realistic view of the time available for making the shift to clean energy.

Professor Hepburn concludes: “For policy makers who think of climate change as a long-term future issue this should be a wake-up call. Whether we succeed or fail in containing warming to 2°C is determined by what we do now, not in future decades.”

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  1. kimyo

    some scalable method of storage is going to be required for wind and solar to truly displace coal/natgas/nuclear. over the last 5 or so years, natgas has grown significantly, as least in part due to wind and solar’s shortcomings.

    the only potential solutions i’ve seen use underwater vessels which hold air or water to drive turbines during off-times: Wind energy batteries on the seabed.

    this is really not a trivial issue. as is, current wind/solar will never power freight trains, garbage trucks, snow plows, school buses or farm/mining equipment.

    1. Mark Pawelek

      No such technology exists which is both economic and scalable. The problem is very simple :- the energy density of fossil fuel is, itself, two orders of magnitude greater than the most energy dense storage devices which are supposed to replace it. Intermittent renewables backed by “storage”, are not going to work.

      Consequently, the mass of energy storage devices will require a great deal of environmental destruction. Greens want to destroy nature in order to “save” it. Bad idea. Let’s just build lots of nuclear power stations.

      Vaclav Smil (power density): http://www.vaclavsmil.com/wp-content/uploads/docs/smil-article-power-density-primer.pdf (pdf)
      Robert Wilson – Why power density matters : http://www.theenergycollective.com/robertwilson190/257481/why-power-density-matters
      David MacKay : Sustainable Energy : look up the entries on power density and energy density in David MacKay’s online book : http://www.withouthotair.com/

      1. oh

        Nuclear stations with one accident like at Fukushima, will get rid of our population density with power density. Ha! Ha! Toshiba loves ya!

        1. Jonathan

          I’d rather endure ten Fukushimas than warm the planet, potentially killing millions or even billions.

      2. different clue

        If “surplus” wind/water/solar energy could be used at the moment of its “surplusness” to electrolyze water down into H2 and O, the H2 could be pressure stored in the right kind of tanks. The tanks would have to be super non-porous to prevent the H2 from escaping. But supposing such tanks could be designed and built, how energy-dense would stored H2 at 1000 pounds/square inch pressure be? Pressure dense enough to be worth doing?

        If so, that H2 could be carefully released from storage during times of renewable electricity “deficit” and burned for heat energy to turn electro-turbines or even “burned” in fuel cells for greater extraction efficiency of its energy. The “waste product” would be the very same H2O that the H2 was electrolized from to begin with.

        Could that be a good way to store “surplus” renewable electric energy for use during every “deficit”?

        1. Fiver

          I agree – if serious money was spent on ways to create hydrogen and oxygen cheaply from (esp.) solar, air, tidal, geothermal, storing it cheaply, and recognizing how efficiently hydrogen burns, and how directed the rate of combustion can be we should have a major new set of industries and projects flying off the boards and shovels in the ground almost as we speak.

  2. subgenius

    Nobody shows the slightest interest in even discussing what is required, preferring to believe in Tesla and clean coal and safe nuclear and the ongoing shenanigans to keep a thoroughly bankrupt (in every sense, apparently) system from receiving it’s overdue death certificate. They are screwing their progeny but even that isn’t enough to galvanise a response appropriate to the issue.

    1. Charles Duemler

      okies, lets talk!!
      tell me why my solution will not work or build one or something or we can just forget about it and watch as destruction goes on, all those people gonna loose so much money, awww
      well, it involves dictating the movement of the start of a hurricanes eye wall, eye walls eject long wave radiation into space, some of the clouds create by the hurricanes will block the sun’s ray from hitting the poles and some of the will reflect back out into space
      3 structures controlling 3 category 5 hurricanes all year would be too much cooling
      nobody cares though

      1. Rick

        Over-population is not a cause; it is an effect of Capital’s demand for more consumption and production of Earth’s finite resources. Besides, if you are alarmed by over-population, you must start with ‘white’ people of the world who consume X100’s more energy that 3rd World people. Maybe all the ‘white’ Wetikos ought to jump with their families into an active volcano to spare the world of their consumption. The only real answer is to stop Capital accumulation and power down, although it looks mightily that it is too late for that.

      2. Robert Coutinho

        Very interesting, but have you done the structural analyses involved? Such turbines and pipes are likely to be “brittle” in such an environment.

        I like the idea that you are thinking outside the box, btw. Keep it up!

        1. Charles Duemler

          yes, i’ve gone over it with a designer of a record setting freeway bridge and two of his assistants, the big thing was constant 80′ waves but with the design they just relieve pressure on the hull

          keep it up?? ya, have come up with a few more types of structures to improve the quality of life and control of world temperatures made better, what do you want??

          oh, and no, the world could sustain a population of 20 billion easy with my solution. it is too late to just reduce consumption but that needs to be done anyways

          everyone should take a break on having kids, change the idea that having 8 kids is a good idea, feed the people where they are and stop people from hurting each other

      3. Anon

        This week , the Piedmont Earth Skills gathering begins near Pittsboro, nc. Won’t save the world, but perhaps the skills, attitudes, and relationships will save some who care about saving the world, and enough of the world to support them.

        We’re building that alternative you seek around campfires, not on message boards.

    2. sd

      Birth control should be topic number one. The planet just can’t handle more human beings.

      1. Foppe

        Birth control at this point is irrelevant, aside from the fact that it’s not going to happen, and it would likely result in racist campaigns (or people-cide, if white govts decide to take matters into their own hands once again) to boot.
        So let’s leave that 1 decision aside, and focus on what people can do now to reduce their carbon (and land/water use) footprint. First up: becoming vegan. As the authors of a recent PNAS paper put it:

        Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6–10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29–70% [70% in case of veganism] compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts.

        For more information, see http://www.howdoigovegan.com. For an accessible book that tells you what constitutes a healthy vegan diet (and why that diet is healthy), see McDougall’s The Starch Solution.

        1. Vatch

          On the contrary, birth control can make a huge difference. Preventing excess births now can prevent excess deaths and extreme environmental damage in the future. I have no objection to your recommendation that people stop eating meat based foods. But billions of people will refuse to do this. For now, I think it’s more effective to ask people to eat less meat and dairy products. Demands that they become vegan will be viewed (unfairly) by many as fanatical rants, and will not be effective.

          Your claims about racism and government sanctioned murder are very offensive. Rather than start a flame war, I’ll just leave it at that.

        2. different clue

          On the contrary, a system of mixed-species pasture and/or range under livestock sucks down and bio-sequesters more net skycarbon than what it emits, special eye-diddy-ological pleading from vegan missionaries to the contrary notwithstanding.

          1. buffalo cyclist

            Different clue:

            Interesting that you address only carbon and not greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture leads to significant methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. Also, animal agriculture takes up more land and leads to more deforestation, which also accelerates climate change.

            1. different clue

              buffalo cyclist,

              Significant methane emissions is only true for livestock in confinement feedlots eating grain/corn/soy etc. It is not true to my knowledge for livestock strictly on pasture/range.

              Deforestation is only an issue for tropical jungle beef run on crappy pasture that grows up where tropical forest is burned. That issue can be addressed by rigid and total boycotts of tropical jungle beef. Tropical deforestation is also driven by burning rainforest and dry forest all over Brazil to grow soybeans as well, but I don’t hear the vegans complaining about that.

              Huge amounts of methane are also released from water-flooded rice paddies all over tropical Asia and wherever else rice is grown, but I don’t hear the vegans complaining about that either.

              Livestock on naturally non-forest land eat rough plants which people can’t eat, on land too dry or sloped to be sustainably farm-cropped without irrigation and/or levelling/ terracing and petro-powered machinery. Such agri-bulk mono-commodities are anti-sustainable and will stop on that naturally livestock-adapted land once the water runs out and the oil runs out. I don’t hear the vegans complaining about THAT either. And if that land is so bombed out as to be non-restorable to livestock-quality range after agribulk commodity production is thoroughly sunsetted on that land, then it won’t even be restorable to livestock land which could at least yield some human food as against zero human food at all. And I don’t hear the vegans being concerned about THAT either.

              Cattle ranching VERSUS ecosystem conservation? Not always. The Flint Hills in Kansas are privately owned by a whole bunch of cow-calf ranchers who raise calves on grass to feedlot size and then ship them off for feedlotting. The big methane emissions begin when those cattle are feedlotted. If they stayed strictly grass-fed till killed and eaten, their methane emissions would be much lower. Private cattle ranching in the Flint Hills is what has kept the Flint Hills alive as viable eco-habitats for the various non-cattle species who still live there.
              If the Vegan Militants were able to ban cattle ranching there, that land would be attemptedly put into bullshit-crap corn or soybeans or whatever, despite its vast and total unusability for that purpose. ( If anyone genuinely Knows MORE about the Flint Hills ranching situation than I do, let such persons now be heard from).

              Those complaints about livestock are based strictly on feedlotted stock and on forest-burndowned jungle beef. That basis is then dis-applied and dis-directed against ranchers and pastoralists and nomads as part of the Urban Supremacist anti-rancheritic, anti-pastoralitic, anti-nomaditic cultural aggression agenda emanating from urban chauvinist-supremacist anti-ruralitic anti-ruralites.

              How much methane comes from livestock on pasture and range as against comes from ill-capped landfills, abandoned coal mines, abandoned oil wells, abandoned gas wells, deliberately unfixed leaks from natural gas pipelines from gasfield to dwelling unit all over the world? I would be interested to know where the bigger methane problem emanates from.

              But I will provisionally consider taking your point to just this extent: I suspect that cattle/goats/sheep on pasture range just about HAVE to be emitting SOME methane. But HOW MUCH? I don’t know. Do YOU know? If you know, bringing the figure here would be very useful. Why? Because I gather that a molecule of methane has 125 times the warming power as a molecule of carbon dioxide till it is oxidized down to carbon dioxide itself. So as long as that methane molecule exists in the air, then a pasture-range system under livestock
              would have to suck down and bio-sequester 125 molecules of carbon dioxide for every molecule of methane released to break warming-even. If that pasture-range-under-livestock system bio-sequesters 126 OR MORE carbon dioxide molecules per methane molecule released, then that system is operating at net positive DE-warming. If no one has done the science on that ( how much of which molecule is released), someone really should.

              Finally, you are correct in noticing that I addressed carbon dioxide suckdown and not global warming gases overall in this comment. I am in the process of writing a few comments on a recent relevant thread over at Ian Welsh’s blog. In a day or two, my comments will be findable over there in the Big Heat Come Fast post.

            2. kimyo

              the evidence suggests that massive numbers of large ruminants are integral to the health of grasslands and forest, in spite of all that methane. (cafo’s are destroying the planet, agreed. but going back for hundreds of thousands of years – what was the ‘natural’ state of north america? wall to wall bison.)

              Bring Back the Buffalo!

              Grazing by millions of bison and other species not only did not degrade the Plains and prairies [but] promoted coexistence and coevolution of animals and grasses in a remarkably rich and productive symbiotic relationship.

              Bison or Buffalo & Native Americans

              It would have been as easy to count or to estimate the number of leaves in a forest as to calculate the number of buffaloes

  3. EndOfTheWorld

    In the last year there has been some action in the hydrogen fuel-cell market. I think Toyota put out a H fuel cell car you can buy. CA I guess is the only place in the US where you can buy H in enough places to make it feasible. BMW is apparently producing these vehicles in Germany also. They burn with no pollution and only water as a byproduct. The challenge is how to produce H without polluting. I’ve heard of making it from coal in huge underground facilities. Seems to me H could theoretically be produced from sewage or anything else but I am not a scientist.

    1. Synoia

      Hydrogen is an impossible fuel. Its liquefaction temperature is very low, and it heats when it expands making an accident a disaster.

      Hard to handle, hard to transport, dangerous in use. It is a Bush (W) era bright shiny object. It gave the appearance of doing something while knowing that it would have no economic impact on the oil industry.

      1. EndOfTheWorld

        It’s my understanding they’ve been using H fuel cells for buses and other vehicles for some time now. Toyota and BMW are producing the cars now. I haven’t heard of any disasters.

      2. klg

        The key factor is that hydrogen is not cheap…and it is produced from hydrocarbons usually.
        Water electrolysis is particularly expensive.

      3. tegnost

        Any chance you know what the caloric energy comparison is between hydrogen and crude, and if there’s any industry where it might safely be used?

        1. Nick

          It doesn’t matter, because hydrogen is not an energy SOURCE, it’s an energy STORE. The energy within it has to be supplied from outside, usually by using electricity to break down water; the electricity usually comes from a fossil fuel plant. If the hydrogen is produced with electricity from wind/solar/geothermal, then the hydrogen is clean.

          1. tegnost

            You’re all too kind for not asking me how many calories are in a glass of water…duh….storage, got it…no more questions here, move along….

      4. optimader

        In the later ’80’s I was involved in project wherein for a client, Amoco, we produced experimental batches of a “super activated carbon”, using the carbon dregs that are a byproduct at the end of the petroleum refining process.

        This AC had some special properties, ( small pores that would act a molecular sieve for hydrogen and a fantastic surface area in those pores– think 1,000sqm area /cc of carbon.

        Long story short, IIRC after filling storage cylinders with this carbon, they would store at very modest pressure ( I believe it was indeed at 1 ATM, 14.7 psi), more than the theoretical mass of liquid hydrogen in an equivalent volume empty cylinder!

        At the time the speculation was that it was condensing as more efficiently packed heretofore undiscovered liquid phase of hydrogen, the only plausible explaination for what was observed.

        So anyhooo, we produced this stuff over the course of a year or so for Amoco R&D, then the project disappeared from the radar. It being Amaco which at the time was the industries undisputed gold standard for petrochem R&D, materials development projects would come and go disappearing into the Amoco R&D “Arc Warehouse”.

        For Amoco it was more a curiosity what to do with a byproduct rather than any premeditated effort to get involved in or encourage the market for an alternative transportation fuel.

        If you were to search on hydrogen storage and super activated carbon you’ll probably find some interesting hits, haven’t really looked at this stuff in a long time as it isnt an area I’m working in.

        1. different clue

          If this petrocarbon-dregs could super-store H2 because of its super porosity, one wonders whether the right kind of biochar with the right kind of super porosity could also super-store H2. If it could, or if we could gather together enough of the right kind of super-porous carbon matter to be a significant storage space, then this would allow for storing way plenty H2 electrolized from H2O with cyclically surplus wind/water/solar electricity.

          For example, the Desert Countries could install vast solar electro-farms and sell electricity to Europe during the daylight hours and sell even more electricity from daytime electrolized-from-water H2 burned back down to generate electricity during the nighttime hours. Saudi Arabia , for example, could become the . . . uhhh . . . “Saudi Arabia of solar electricity”. And so could Iraq and Iran and Egypt and Libya and Algeria and Morocco. That’s 7 separate “Saudi Arabias of solar electricity”.

      5. Mark Pawelek

        Ammonia is a far more sensible fuel than hydrogen, and people have already developed ammonia fuel cells.

      1. optimader

        They had even less success with railroads.
        just say’in.

        I’m not an advocate for H as a transportation fuel perse, but on the other hand Iceland isn’t necessarily a place to scale off of for transportation solutions either. Nor their lumber industry fot that matter.

        Geothermal, Radiant Heating, District Heating, greenhouses–absolutely..

  4. Paul Tioxon

    First, the damage has been done. It is hardly a reversible process to undo that last 250 years of carbon emissions into the atmosphere from industrialization on the part of Europe, the US and all other industrializing nations up til now. But that is a finer point distinct from the INET investment piece. To begin down a path that will reverse carbon emissions from this point in time, the financing of NEW carbon based energy producing capacity needs to be abandoned and that capital properly allocated to the sustainable energy production technologies.

    One major signpost of the new path is the IPO of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco Oil company. The Saudi’s plan to have a war chest of $2Trillion to rebuild their economy on a basis other than the selling of crude oil. They are cashing out while they still can.


    China is moving even more boldly in its next 5 year plan away from coal and towards wind turbines and solar panels. Even hydro-electric dams are no longer consider a clean or financially sensible investment, as huge tracts of land are submerged for a paltry amount of electricity production, much more easily achieved by using the fallow roof tops of the built environment for solar panels.

    In the US, the past 8 years has seen the engineering studies done

    that provide the clear path for a path away from carbon based energy and towards the sustainable. The whining remnants of pseudo-ecology throwing a tantrum over wind turbines and solar panels being produced by burning coal are just too stupid for words. We can only use whatever energy source we have in place to construct its replacement. That is not a mortal wound of an inherent contradiction, or moral defeat or whatever the denouncing is trying to accomplish, it is using the coal fired plants, the nuke plants the hydro-electricity to build what we need, until they are no longer needed and ready to be de-commissioned.

    And right now, all around the world, and especially in the US, it will be cheaper than any other investment in new carbon based plants or the remediation technology to capture the carbon. Having systems that produce no carbon release at all in the first place will be superior to remediation to produce a clean coal, clean crude or whatever source of energy. It should be clear by now that the lies about clean anything carbon is all that the fossil fuel industry can produce, along with ancillary misery such as water contamination, coal ash, spent plutonium and wasted capital. Clean diesel engines, that too was a lie. Best to admit it was all a big, deadly waste of time, lives, money and move on.

    Enough preliminary studies have been produced by the US Government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in past few years to conclusively show how this CAN happen.

    NREL Raises Rooftop Photovoltaic Technical Potential Estimate
    New analysis nearly doubles previous estimates and shows U.S. building rooftops could generate close to 40 percent of national electricity sales

    March 24, 2016

    ” The report quantifies the technical potential for rooftop PV in the United States, which is an estimate of how much energy could be generated if PV systems were installed on all suitable roof areas.

    To calculate these estimates, NREL analysts used LiDAR data, Geographic Information System methods, and PV-generation modeling to calculate the suitability of rooftops for hosting PV in 128 cities nationwide-representing approximately 23 percent of U.S. buildings-and provide PV-generation results for 47 of the cities. The analysts then extrapolated these findings to the entire continental United States. The result is more accurate estimates of technical potential at the national, state, and zip code level.

    “This report is the culmination of a three-year research effort and represents a significant advancement in our understanding of the potential for rooftop PV to contribute to meeting U.S. electricity demand,” said Robert Margolis, NREL senior energy analyst and co-author of the report.

    Within the 128 cities studied, the researchers found that 83 percent of small buildings have a suitable location for PV installation, but only 26 percent of those buildings’ total rooftop area is suitable for development. Because of the sheer number of this class of building across the country, however, small buildings actually provide the greatest combined technical potential. Altogether, small building rooftops could accommodate up to 731 GW of PV capacity and generate 926 TWh per year of PV energy-approximately 65 percent of the country’s total rooftop technical potential. Medium and large buildings have a total installed capacity potential of 386 GW and energy generation potential of 506 TWh per year, approximately 35 percent of the total technical potential of rooftop PV.”



    Finally, look to the UN this April 22 where over 120 nations are expected to sign the COP21 Paris Accords, especially China and the US along with India.

    1. Jef

      Your comment is interesting and thoughtful. Only problem is your solution is still 99% theoretical and assumes a build out for 100% BAU only with “renewable energy”.

      It is theoretically possible but physically unsurmountable. Take just the amount of aluminum required for all the solar panels and mounting materials, all the wind turbines, all the light weight ev auto mfg, plus more and you have 2 or 3 times the total amount of aluminum ever produced. How is that reasonable?

      What is reasonable is passive solar, solar thermal, micro- hydro galore, wind and hydro to mechanical use, some PV and turbine for sure but basically cutting FF energy use by 75% ASAP.

      1. Paul Tioxon

        It funny how you claim the need for more metals than we could possibly come up with. Especially funny when we know that over 50 Million brand new autos and trucks were sold in the US alone in the past 3 years. Funny, you know, there was enough metal for all of those 1 and 2 ton vehicles, but oh my, where will we get all of that metal for a dozen or so solar panels on roof tops? You have not even come close to raising doubt, the study is only about how much electricity can come from PV panels on roof tops based upon actual wattage from solar energy projected to the particular area of the USA. It is not a deus ex machina overnight solution, but clearly the practical concrete measure of one part of the solution.

        1. kimyo

          if they can’t make it work in the most hospitable environment possible, shouldn’t we demand proof of concept before funding yet another green boondoggle?

          High-tech solar projects fail to deliver

          Some costly high-tech solar power projects aren’t living up to promises their backers made about how much electricity they could generate.

          Solar-thermal technology, which uses mirrors to capture the sun’s rays, was once heralded as the advance that would overtake old fashioned solar panel farms. But a series of missteps and technical difficulties threatens to make newfangled solar-thermal technology obsolete.

          The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California’s Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department.

          One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour’s worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get plant humming every morning. Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.

          Ivanpah isn’t the only new solar-thermal project is struggling to energize the grid. A large mirror-powered plant built in Arizona almost two years ago by Abengoa SA of Spain has also had its share of hiccups. Designed to deliver a million megawatt hours of power annually, the plant is putting out roughly half that, federal data show.

          1. Deloss Brown

            I have become lazy and jaded, and I look at the source of the publication. Your link, kimyo, is to an article published in the Wall Street Journal. It’s one of my quickest discards, along with Investor’s Business Daily. Their attitude is pretty predictable, whether it’s about global warming, Social Security, food stamps, or anything else desperately important.

            1. It isn’t happening.
            2. It’s may be happening, but it’s not our fault.
            3. There’s nothing that can be done.
            4. It’s too late to do anything anyway.

            And after looking at your link, I think I should add a fifth point:

            5. We tried it and it didn’t work.

            Best wishes.

            1. kimyo

              i have no love for the wsj as well, but that doesn’t change the facts. maybe what we have here is similar to what feynman uncovered re: nasa’s managers vs. engineers estimates of space shuttle failure (1 in 300,000 vs. 1 in 300).

              the gap in reality between ivanpah’s promised vs. actual output is a matter of great concern. did the engineers miscalculate? or did the managers overpromise?

              before we blanket every rooftop why not start with a handful of smaller cities? gather some real world, independently audited data.

              not doing so is like building hundreds of f-35’s before we’ve even seen one perform to spec.

        2. Mark Pawelek

          Intermittent renewables like solar and wind will tie us into using fossil fuels. Not quite as much fossil fuel before, but still enough to keep increasing atmospheric CO2. The dream of energy storage is just a dream. Merely extracting the amount of materials required for such storage would, itself, result in vast environmental destruction (were it even possible). That’s because the energy density of fossil fuel is two orders of magnitude greater than even the densest energy storage technologies we could develop.

    2. John Wright

      I glanced at the report you cited and did not find any estimate of the cost in dollars/energy to build out this capacity.

      The paper appears to be a suggestion that “a subset of the effective roof area of US building structures, if covered with PV cells, could produce 40% of US electrical consumption.”

      But what about all the energy to produce, install and service this network of PV arrays?

      Per http://www.solarpanelscostguide.com, an average home in the US requires 20-24kWh per day, a solar array to produce this much power must be 4kW or larger. The average cost of a solar system this size is $17,000.

      One can look at the $17,000 as a rough estimate of human and hydrocarbon energy necessary to produce and install this PV array. In effect the PV array represents hydrocarbons pulled from the ground and burned to produce the solar array now at the cost of higher current CO2 emissions.

      I am skeptical that this rooftop PV potential offers much opportunity for helping with climate change.

      1. Paul Tioxon

        Please refer to the “too stupid for words” part of my post.
        Paul T

        1. John Wright

          If I am reading the paragraph correctly, the suggestion is to divert some of the existing energy into production of PV infrastructure. Perhaps divert is incorrect, as instead this energy may be an increment to the existing consumption, as the current base energy consumption continues unabated and the PV infrastructure energy spend is incremental to this.

          The payback time for solar might be a good model for when the amount of hydrocarbon energy used to produce each homeowner’s system is recovered and the system is helping to decrease future green house gas emissions. This is estimated at 9 years in California.

          I do not see massive PV infrastructure build as a prescription for short term relief of CO2 production.

          The USA is behind the climate change curve in many ways, large homes, poor mass transit systems, large vehicles, long work commutes and strong climate change denial industry.

          But then I am pessimistic that any politically “Hard Choices” ( borrowed from HRC’s book title) will be made WRT climate change in the USA

          1. Paul Tioxon

            Try reading the first words of the first sentence of my post. The damage has been done. There is no avoiding the past 250 years of carbon emissions. How fast and how hard we will be hit by the freight train of climate change are the variables up for debate right now. As far as I am concerned, Sandy was the first blast for my region of the world. I sat without electricity, heat, light, cooking, refrigeration, etc for almost a week.

            No one is saying that we will avoid anything in terms of climate change by transitioning to sustainable energy. Why do people like you keep incessantly demanding to change the subject to the completely irrelevant. This is a policy change enabling piece of research by a technical lab of the US Government, not a magic wish factory. It is not a complete business plan submitted for financing to a hedge fund. The immediate benefits is that we will stop poisoning the air, the water and the soil we need to live. Simultaneous with that, we will begin to very slowly mitigate climate change damage but we will not reverse the death spiral already unleashed. As I said, 250 years of billions of tons of carbon released annually will not be reversed and all of the disruptive natural processes will move forward based on that history.

            From this point into the future, further damage may be avoided as far reducing the carbon and other problematic gases such as methane in proportion to their atmospheric disruption of weather patterns, ocean currents, stable polar ice deposits.

            Don’t worry, Hillary won’t get any credit for saving the world with her solar panel and electric car proposals, we will still see hell unleashed by nature, as if you haven’t seen it already with the storm activity of the past few years in the USA and elsewhere. But we are still going to move away from fossil fuels, and we are still going to get whatever benefits that are consequence of actually accomplishing that on a planetary scale. The fact that the move to solar and wind is picking up at a faster rate than I or anyone else believed possible, financially, politically or technically is also irrelevant.

            The definite pattern is beginning to emerge that geopolitical nations and transnational capital flows are executing policies and investing in more and more power production from sustainable sources. There is no connection between that and a happy ending or avoiding the power of nature changing to an inhospitable environment for humanity and other forms of life. For those of us that can live through it and adapt, we will have some useful technology that will not continue to make matters worse. That’s about the best I expect.

            But that is still a radical change from just going blindly forward, filling up with gasoline in my car, watching Exelon use Marcellus Shale gas for turbines to produce electricity instead of coal, and seeing more and more fracking in my state until some unspeakable disaster occurs in the form of pipe line explosions, earth quakes or something as yet unknown. There is a break with the past from fossil fuels and that is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Avoiding the 2 degree rise in temperature, who knows? Maybe not.

            But I don’t want to give up moving to sustainable technology, which under the greatest of crisis is still the best alternative for having electricity. Under the best of leadership, moving with the speed of the moral equivalence of war, such as we did for WWII, outlawing and decommissioning all fossil fuel plants as soon as they are replaced by up and running alternative sources, and all of that happening in the next few years, that may still not be enough to slow or mitigate or halt terrible climate change consequences. What is certain is that quitting in the face of the challenge will do us in as certainly as the storms, the floods, the heat will.

    3. susan the other

      so is that because small buildings have a larger ratio of roof to building? that makes high-rises less efficient than neighborhoods of free-standing homes and it makes tiny houses more logical…

      1. Paul Tioxon

        HI Other Susan,
        You are correct. On page 9 of the link of the complete study, is a table showing that of the technical analysis of 8 billion sq ft of available roof top space, about 5 billion sq ft comes from roofs 5,000 sq ft or less. Also, this study does not take into account ground installations, which is many urban areas are represented by oceans of asphalt parking lots. Tall buildings, skyscrapers just don’t have the foot prints. However the Japanese and some American startups have glass with photo voltaic capacity manufactured into the glass. So, really tall buildings should have the zoning laws changed to force them to install this glass ASAP.

    4. different clue

      Not reversible? Sure it is. Biochar. Carbon farming. Wetlands restoration for massive peat and muck restoration. Etc. Phyto-carbon fixation for bio-carbon bio-sequestration.

    5. heresy101

      Tried to post this yesterday several times with links; now without links.

      Thanks Paul, I was going to look up that NREL link.

      The main article’s pessimism is over the top because changes are happening quickly. RT is reporting that China will develop the world’s largest renewable energy grid:
      search: “China $50 trillion renewable energy”
      “The company running China’s power grid is proposing a $50 trillion global electricity network to tackle pollution and climate change. If it goes ahead the network would use advanced renewable solar and wind technology and be operating by 2050.
      Beijing’s network will be the world’s biggest infrastructure project, if given the green light. The State Grid has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Russian energy grid Rosseti, Korea’s Electric Power and SoftBank Group of Japan.”

      The Solutions Project out of Stanford has laid out a path to renewable energy for all 50 states and the world: search “Solutions Project” All are doable except maybe concentrating solar where the Ivanpah project is about to default on its PG&E PPA as well as having other problems: search: “Greenbiz Ivanpah 2014”

      Utility level solar pv has reached levels of cost BELOW coal. Austin and Palo Alto have signed solar contracts around $0.04/kWh and this is becoming the norm. The Koch brothers are freaking out because coal is finished (it may take another 10-20 years to retire/replace the plants) but three or four coal companies have gone broke and are trying to stick us with the environmental damage and refusing to pay health and retirement benefits for the coal workers.

      Rooftop solar has dropped from $10/watt in 2008 to $3/watt for a complete installed system. A 4kW system would cost $12K before the 30% ITC that yields $9K net cost for energy that will not increase in cost for the next 20-25 years. The ITC is a government subsidy but I would rather have the Air Force cancel their trillion dollar A32 boondoggle and up the ITC to 40%!

      What the other commenter’s miss about the upfront cost of pv is that there is no energy cost, repeat there is no energy cost with solar, wind, and wave. Wind, solar, and wave have high capital costs but there is no need to dig coal, frac natural gas, and refine uranium in a constant flow of energy to the electric generating plants. There is minimal electric storage today (pumped hydro) so that every kWh that is generated must have a source of energy AT THAT INSTANT. Most electricity in the US is generated by natural gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and coal. So if you are worried about the silicon, aluminum, steel, etc that is used for wind and pv, it is miniscule compared to 25 years of steel, water, enviromental degradation, etc that will be needed to frac the landscape to force the rocks to release the embedded natural gas.

  5. troutbum75

    As far as I can tell, there are less than 20 refueling stations for Hydrogen, all in CA. The gasoline refueling infrastructure has been built over 100 years. I’m curious as to the total energy costs of producing and distributing Hydrogen. The current cost of a Hydrogen refueling station is about 100X a EV recharging station. Hard to imagine Hydrogen as a solution to Climate Change in the timeframe necessary to have an positive effect. Solar is the here and now.

  6. P. Christensen

    Thanks for posting. This is the kind of basic information framing–carbon budgets–we, the public, need to see continuously. The implications, such as stranded capital assets, become obvious as we see the finite nature of our environment.

  7. EndOfTheWorld

    Well, all I’m saying is the gentlemen that run Toyota and BMW are smarter than the average bear and they are at least dipping their feet in the water. The advantage over electric cars is you can refill quickly, like a gas car, unlike charging an electric. It’s a matter of the technology getting popular and then the refueling stations would be built.

    1. different clue

      Perhaps if every car-relevant and truck-relevant and bus-relevant H2 storage tank was filled with the super micro-porous carbon described above, such tanks could contain enough para-liquified H2 to matter, and cars, trucks, and busses could be powered by H2.
      And the H2 could be produced by whatever renewable energy sources could be recruited to the task of electrolizing H2O to get the H2 to begin with.

      So if anyone is studying super porous hard-carbon to store stabilized para-liquid H2, one hopes they are studying its automotive fuel-tank potential as well.

  8. Steven

    I am not a scientist or engineer but I’ve been following this issue for quite some time. From what I can gather the guiding concept should be ‘energy returned on energy invested’ (EROEI)
    If after a comprehensive look at the energy cost state of the art solar generation (and storage), the ratio is determined to be sufficiently positive, this would seem to be the very definition of investment in any meaningful sense.

    Does anyone have a link for some good, unassailable EROEI numbers for solar (and EVs while I am at it) based on relatively recent state of the art equipment? Even among Naked Capitalism (NC) readers, there are people who believe the only way out of the climate change corner into which we are backing human civilization is for everyone to wear a hair shirt, i.e. sacrifice, go back to living in caves (not enough caves for everyone now, of course). They may be right but if as I suspect they aren’t I’d love to have some references with which to reply. (If NC readers can’t supply them they may not exist!)

    John Wright mixes energy and dollar cost but he does raise a valid point that a renewable energy build-out might require more carbon emissions on the front end than just trying to sustain an unsustainable status quo. It is not hard to think of any number of expedients to handle this possibility, e.g. a carbon tax with an exemption for energy used to produce and install renewable energy generation and storage infrastructure. I’ve had a PV system operating for over 13 years now with all but zero maintenance expense. I had to pay $90 to have two (really only one but the manufacturer sent a free replacement for a panel that just looked like it might go bad, i.e. produce less than the 80% of rated power) panel replacements.

    The electric utility industry is a swamp of Michael Hudson’s ‘rent seekers’. Our local utility in sunny Tucson Arizona, determined NOT to get out front in the transition to renewable energy – to be as they put it a beta tester – recently invested about $600 million in new natural gas generation and transmission infrastructure, about $200 million of which went for ‘peaker’ generators, used say 2 or 3 weeks a year, rather than battery storage. Determined to extract every last nickel from its customers, it has led the charge for changes to rate structures which will insure investing in renewable energy is profitable only for the company and its executives the top six of which netted between $21 – 24 million in compensation in 2014 according to their SEC 10k report. (The company BTW has many more than 6 employees.)

    1. heresy101

      You don’t have to find any sophisticated EROI analysis, just compare the costs of natural gas vs solar.

      A combined cycle natural gas plant of average efficiency of 7,000 BTU/kWh costs about $950/kW to build. Thus a 500 MW plant would cost $475 million, or $34 million a year in debt payment and generate 2,190 GWh/year at an average of $0.016/kWh. This is just capital costs. To fuel the plant at 7,000 BTU/kWh, would require about !5,330,000 mmBTU per year. At the currently very low cost of $3/mmBTU for natural gas, this would be an annual fuel cost of $46 million or $0.021/kWh.

      A utility scale pv facility has total costs about $1.25/watt to build. Thus a 500 MW plant would cost $675 million or $45 million a year in debt payment and generate 876 GWh/year at an average efficiency of 20% and cost $0.052/kWh. This is just capital costs and there would be NO energy costs.

      Thus on a capital basis, the solar is 5 times more expensive and the capital portion of the energy is also 5 times more expensive. But when the fuel costs are taken into account, the combined cycle’s fuel costs are $46 million to solar’s zero cost, or $0.021/kWh vs solar’s $0.000/kWh.

      Over the 30 years, the combined cycle will generate 65,700 gWh’s of energy at an average cost of $0.028/kWh. The less efficient solar will generate 26,300 GWh at an average cost of $0.024/kWh. The key difference is that solar will use $0 of fuel and save 15,330,000 mmBTU over 30 years. This is what I would call a positive EROEI.

      O&M costs have been ignored, and hopefully no decimals have been dropped. Even an error factor of 1,000 still has zero fuel cost for solar, wind, or wave power vs a lot of fraccing and mmBTU’s to provide the natural gas.

  9. susan the other

    Shutting down, decommissioning old power plants before their time and stranding the assets of those investors is like a taking. Like eminent domain, which is done for the greater good, supposedly. Certainly this makes investors today less eager to put money into building old technology. So that’s a good thing. But “a 2 degree capital stock (in power plants) will be reached in 2017” is a staggering emergency. Building the new infra will now require a tear-down of the old on a one for one basis. So this represents a huge loss to the old investors. But clever capitalism will resolve this just like an insolvent bank – we’ll let the new buy the old, tear it down, and give the old investors their fair share of the new plant… all subsidized by governments, of course. How else? Besides, this is what money is for.

    1. reslez

      Your comment reflects a concern for investors whose revenue streams will be “taken”. The truth is, they have been “taking” from us for decades… taking our clean air, our water, our climate. And paid nothing in exchange. They have profited enough. Let what they have already taken be compensation for what they will lose — even though they themselves and their own children will benefit from climate sanity — climate change has been a well-known scientific fact since the 70s. They’ve had decades to shift into more productive investments.

      1. Nick

        Yep, totally agree. An individual’s sunk costs don’t form a right that cannot be alienated, depending on the situation.

  10. Gaylord

    Study after study, the catastrophe appears to move closer and closer until we inevitably face the fact that it’s already too late.

    1. reslez

      The study relies on IPCC estimates, which time and time again have proven to be far too conservative, outstripped by reality at every turn. If the results are a “wake up call” it means the human race has been hammering the snooze button for decades.

      1. Vatch

        People have been hitting the snooze button for decades about overpopulation, species extinction, and the continuing concentration of wealth in the hands of billionaire oligarchs. They’re just being consistent when they also do it about global climate change.

    2. EndOfTheWorld

      So the consensus is that there is absolutely no hope whatsoever? Then why even have a thread on the subject?

  11. TheCatSaid

    It looks likely that a global financial collapse will occur even sooner than a catastrophic global-warming induced environmental disaster. If this is the case, then a sudden reduction in FF use (and reduction in development of future FF power generation facilities) could be but one of many challenges.

    I’ve been hearing about this coming down the pipeline for the last year or more from a number of very different sources; just came across a recent post, “The BIGGER Short”, the other day. The author David E. Martin is grounded in applied global economics; he spoke publicly about the coming GFC 2+ years before it happened; he tried to avert the crisis by talking to one of the regional FEDs as early as 1999.

    His commitment now is, rather than making money by knowing in advance what is coming down the pipeline (ala Big Short protagonists), to do what he can to work with those who are committed to learning how to do things differently.

  12. Robert Coutinho

    I am not an engineer (I am a chemist by training). I have been watching the destruction of the environment for about forty years (that would mean, starting when I was twelve years old). I tried to get people to get worried about global climate change, storage/destruction of hazardous waste, and creation of a robust recycling system. The answers to the need for renewable energy and recycling were easy: make those things produced with recycled/renewable cost less than their counterparts (via taxation). Concerning recycling, one need only insist that the tax is for disposal of the residual components (which, of course, has already been paid with recycled materials). The energy portion was simply a tax due to environmental destruction or damage. Non-renewable carbon-based energy adds CO2 to the atmosphere. Nuclear waste is a product that takes hundreds of thousands of years to dissipate into harmless components.

    I failed. I could not get anyone who mattered to listen.

    I believe that, given the realities of how many “new” threats are accelerating global climate change, that we have already passed the 2-C mark. We now need to figure out what we will do when half the people on the planet no longer have access to enough fresh water. We need to figure out what we will do with some 200 million to 2 billion people who will be forced to migrate due to rising oceans. We will need to figure out what to do about our sea-borne transportation infrastructure (all those ports getting flooded are not going to just float on their own and continue sending food by rail/truck).

    These are just the preliminary problems we need to attend to. However, given that only Florida (out of those states who are likely to face hurricanes) has set budgets aside to deal with those common weather events, I seriously doubt that politicians are going to listen when you tell them that the port of New York may need to be floated on recycled plastic or moved up river.

    1. different clue

      What do we do with all those displaced people? Give them all uzis and AK-47s and maps and transport to where the super rich OverClass lives . . . the OverClass who fostered this global warming on purpose to begin with as a stealth plausibly-deniable population reduction measure to begin with.

  13. Jamie

    As a Marxist, I find most climate change fanboys to be closet authoritarians. The idea that future predictions of the weather, one of the most chaotic systems known, is “settled science” is an insult to science. Any statement about the future of a chaotic system is, at best, a hypothesis. Future predictions about weather are not ‘facts’ nor are they ‘settled science.’

    The whole idea of ‘settled science’ reminds me of the Catholic Church at the time of Galileo: If you question our dogma you are a heretic. It is sad to see science, a very skeptical and rigorous discipline, turned into an emotional church-like cult by climate-change fanatics.

    Another pathology about the warmists is that they refuse to add any variables to their models. They are stuck in 7th grade algebra, unwilling to admit the climate of earth may have 100s of variables affecting it. The only *important* thing affecting climate, according to these anti-science warmists, is the change of 200 ppb to 400 ppb of carbon in the air. Solar intensity and other variables are ignored or ridiculed. Once we reduce carbon, we will be magically saved from disaster!

    It is sad because the whole warmist hoax is based on money. It is very unfortunate that the warmist dogmatists on the left don’t follow the money trail. There is a trillion dollar carbon trading floor in Chicago waiting for more action, once cap and trade is passed. Companies like Goldman and BP have spent fortunes promoting this fake mime:

    ‘future predictions of the weather are settled science, along with their sole cause’

    Authoritative warmists need to ask themselves: Why doesn’t the media talk about mercury effects of hydrocarbons? Why doesn’t the media talk about Fukushima and the huge amounts of nuclear waste lying around the world? Why doesn’t the media talk about pesticides and their dangers? Why doesn’t the media talk about fracking and the green-house gas methane, and the toxic chemicals fracking sends into our water base?

    The reason is that it is profitable to not talk about these things; whereas it is profitable to push cap and trade and the trillion dollar carbon trading floor. So the PTB frighten everyone with ‘settled science’ and buy off politicians that parrot the ‘settled science’ mime and encourage cap and trade.

    Cap and Trade will accomplish these things:

    1. Huge profits for the financial industry, which will speculate on carbon credits as they do with oil and food now. Cap and Trade means that financial parasites will effectively own the air we breath and be able to extract rent from the masses.

    2. Massive increases in utility bills. No more protection against gouging, since the utility company won’t gouge … they will just send checks to the financial oligarchy.

    3. Free money, in the form of credit selling, to other dangerous and toxic forms of energy, such as Nuclear and Fracking (With its more effective greenhouse gas methane).

    4. Racial Genocide by pollution. Once a company buys carbon ‘credits’ they can legally put their dirty industry anywhere – usually a poor neighborhood. There will be no recurse for the poor, as long as the industrialist has paid off Wall St with carbon credit purchases.

    A cap-and-trade utopia is a hell for the average person. Only the rich will drive cars and be able to afford central heating and warm water, since utility bills will skyrocket due to speculation on carbon credits. The poor will ride bicycles and rickshaws, the rich in stretch limos. Cap and Trade will help reduce the people of America to a third-world nation, which is precisely what the elites want as they fly around on their private jets railing against carbon emissions.

    Of course the Carbon traders will make sure we never transition away from fossil fuels, for that would end their CO2 bonanza.

    I favor green energy. Petrochemical use causes cancers, damages water supplies, and covers the globe with toxins like mercury; it *probably* also raises global temperatures. We could easily transition to clean forms of energy without the help of the financial elite extracting rent from the air and then speculating on it.

    Cap and Trade is a form of primitive accumulation. Where a natural source of life, the air, is expropriated and rented out — to the masses, who are charged for the privilege of exhaling, or maybe driving to work in the morning.

    1. Robert Coutinho

      You have not helped your argument by misunderstanding one of the fundamental facts: weather is not climate!

      Weather is what is happening today. In my little corner of the world, we are having one of the few snow storms this year (and I live in New England!). Climate is that we have had too few snow storms this season.

  14. different clue

    Well! . . . Marxist denialism is certainly different from merchant-of-carbon denialism or patrioconservative denialism or Tea Party-Hearty denialism. I’ll give it that. It reaches the same endpoint though.

    It is a bit rich for a Marxist to call something ( anything) an “insult to science”, when one remembers what a standing insult-to-science that Marxism itself is. Marxism is just as scientific as Veganism, no more and no less.

    But If I get more time later, I will write a little comment as to why I find the ManMade Warming theory to offer enough predictional robustitude to keep me satisfied with it for the time being.

    1. different clue

      You know what? I have already written comments about why I respect the predictive power of ManMade Global Warming Theory a few-couple times in the last couple of years on these threads, and any curious Marxist who wants to know why I am impressed with MMGW theory can find my past comments in past threads on this subject.

      In the meantime, I heartily recommend that any Marxist who thinks MMGW is a Bourgeois Liberal Capitalist hoax . . . . should go live in coastal Florida or coastal Louisiana or somewhere and report back to us in the decades to come about just how wrong we Warmists have turned out to be.

  15. Vantablack

    To Steven upthread, et al, regarding this topic – maybe the following has never been posted here before? I humbly submit for your consideration the material at the following links:



    we can do this! infrastructure conversion but we need quick scale up politically *accelerando prestissimo*….

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