Nature on Renewables and “Natural” Therapies

Nature published an editorial yesterday purporting to address IPCC’s promotion of the Greenpeace scenario for renewables. The subheading read:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must implement changes now to regain lost credibility or it will remain an easy target for critics seeking to score cheap points.

As hapens far too often, Nature has posed the issue in the wrong way. The problem that Nature should be concerned about is whether IPCC is discharging its duties and responsibilities of providing the public and policy-makers with effective and balanced scientific advice. That’s what Nature should be worried about. If it does so, then critics will have less to criticize.


The editorial demonstrates Nature’s failure to grasp the totality of WG3’s problems. Let me try an analogy. I realize that analogies are often unhelpful as the differences all too often obscure the points. I hope that I can avoid this below.

Let’s suppose that there was an Intergovernmental Panel on Cancer, also divided into three Working Groups. WG1 is supposed to be about the “hard science” (I’ll avoid the temptation to digress into the Working Group 1 proxy reconstructions of paleo-cancer), while WG3 is about therapy.

Let’s also suppose that NGOs are actively supporting “natural” remedies for cancer with one of the NGOs, Green Therapy, claiming that, by 2050, up to 77% of all cancers could be treated by “natural” therapy. (Green Therapy isn’t even the most extreme NGO, another advocate of natural therapies said that 100% of all cancers could be treated “naturally” by 2050.) Let’s also suppose that “natural” therapies for cancer have become popular in university departments of sustainability and that there are a number of vanity “peer-reviewed” journals on the topic and that Green Therapy commissioned a publication of their scenario in this specialist literature, co-authored by several members of a university sustainability department.

Let’s now suppose that the IPCancer commissioned a special report on Natural Therapies, the authors of which are mostly drawn from university departments of sustainability.

Chapter 10 of the resulting report (one of the authors being from Green Therapy) stated that they had located 164 scenarios describing the future outlook for natural therapies and provided summary statistics on the future outlook for natural therapies according to these scenarios. Four of the scenarios, included the 77% Green Therapy scenario, were singled out for special prominence. The authors of chapter 10 made no attempt to independently assess the validity of the Green Therapy scenario (or any other scenario).

The Special Report was then received by the chairs of IPCancer, who were meeting in UAE (not UEA). Without simultaneously releasing the Special Report itself (it would not be available for another month), IPCancer issued a press release leading with the statement:

Close to 80 percent of the world‘s cancers could be treated by natural therapies by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.

Later in the press release, IPCancer stated:

Over 160 existing scientific scenarios on the possible penetration of natural therapies by 2050, alongside environmental and social implications, have been reviewed with four analyzed in-depth. These four were chosen in order to represent the full range. Scenarios are used to explore possible future worlds, analyzing alternative pathways of socio-economic development and technological change. The researchers have also studied the challenges linked to how natural therapies can be integrated into existing and future health care systems and likely cost benefits from these developments.

The most optimistic of the four, in-depth scenarios projects natural therapies could treat as much as 77 percent of the world‘s cancer by 2050, with the lowest of the four scenarios seeing natural therapies accounting for a share of 15 percent in 2050.

The claim that “close to 80 percent of the world‘s cancers could be treated by natural therapies by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies” was widely disseminated by the world press.

A month later, when the report was published, it was discovered that that IPCancer WG3 had made the above press release without any independent assessment of the validity of Green Therapy’s claim that that 77% of the world’s cancers could be treated by natural therapies and that nothing had in fact been “shown” in this respect by the WG3 report beyond what was already known (i.e. that Green Therapy had already made this claim.)

In addition to the WG3 report not actually proving what IPCancer had claimed, it was quickly determined that a Green Therapy employee had been one of the Lead Authors of the chapter responsible for assessing the outlook for natural therapies (but which had failed to do so.) One commenter claimed that the Green Therapy employee had “dictated” the conclusion of the report – an over-statement that was quickly pounced upon by IPC defenders to distract from other equally serious problems.

The prominent science journal Naturo argued that there was nothing wrong with the assessment process itself:

In fact, the Green Therapy writer was one of six authors of a peer-reviewed paper that examined an extreme scenario of favourable economic conditions that allowed the maximum possible take-up of natural therapies by 2050. Although the scenario is optimistic — and no doubt in line with the agenda at Green Therapy HQ — its inclusion is entirely justified. How else could the report answer the question of how much natural therapy would be possible under different economic assumptions?

Naturo thought that the problem was mainly cosmetic:

The IPC’s vulnerability to such attacks should also prompt it to reconsider how it frames its findings. Journalists and critics alike gravitate towards extreme claims. So when the IPC’s press material for the May report prominently pushed the idea that natural therapies could treat “close to 80%” of the world’s cancers by 2050, it was no surprise that it was this figure that made headlines — and made waves. The IPC would have saved itself a lot of trouble and some unwarranted criticism had it made the origins of this scenario explicit.

Too Fantastic?
This all seems a little farfetched, doesn’t it. But read Nature’s editorial and re-read the original CA post on the matter (and follow-ups.)

The problem isn’t just cosmetic; it’s that IPCC WG3 didn’t deliver an authoritative report on Renewables that answered questions that people were actually and legitimately interested in.

As I said previously, I would like to know how much weight we can place on optimistic scenarios for deployment of wind and solar. I’m hardly alone in this – people are starving for reliable and independent information. I knew that Greenpeace and WWF had published scenarios claiming that renewables could supply 77% or more of world energy by 2050. But I wondered whether this was little more than fantasy on their parts. IPCC fails if it doesn’t deliver a report that, after much parsing, does not address the question of whether this is fantasy or not.

I haven’t parsed the literature on renewables, but there are many questions on which I’d have appreciated authoritative opinions.

For example, I hear the usual concerns that the median output of wind farms is a fraction of nameplate capacity and that their output can be zero at times of peak demand. (This is very much the case in Ontario.) In order for the IPCC report to be useful, it has to provide something more authoritative than a repetition of a Greenpeace scenario.

I’m also aware of great optimism on the part of technology promoters that the cost of photovoltaic can be halved repeatedly until it reaches not only grid parity, but becomes the energy supply of choice. It would be great if this scenario bears out. If photovoltaic reaches grid parity or below – then it seems to me that we have a future of great prosperity ahead of us and that many of our present worries will dissipate.

But before relying on such a favorable scenario, I, for one, would like really hard and really independent cross-examination of the evidence that such an optimistic scenario is realistic. It’s one thing to hear such a scenario from Greenpeace or WWF. It’s another thing if their evidence for the feasibility of such a scenario has been examined and verified by independent assessors. IPCC didn’t do this.

The problem isn’t just IPCC’s deceptive press release, though that is a more serious problem than IPCC is acknowledging. In other fields, a press release that was as misleading as the IPCC’s, would bring in the securities commission. If the underlying report had answered questions of actual interest, perhaps people might not have objected so much to the deceptive press release.

But the report itself didn’t answer questions of actual interest. The combination of a report that failed to assess the feasibility of the optimistic scenarios and a deceptive press release should have concerned Nature on the substance rather than the cosmetics. At the end of the day, people want to know how much weight can be placed on optimistic scenarios for renewables. WG3 didn’t deliver. This is what Nature should have objected to.

As one final editorial comment: if climate change is as serious a problem as we are told, we need to know right away whether the Greenpeace/WWF scenarios of plentiful large-footprint renewables are a fantasy. Nor should serious people acquiesce in delays incurred because IPCC WG3 didn’t carry out its responsibilities to provide a searching assessment.

If the scenarios are a fantasy (which is what I suspect but do not “know”), then more climate activists are going to have to follow the lead of Mark Lynas and George Monbiot in grasping the nettle of re-appraising opposition to nuclear. And if the scenarios prove a fantasy, Nature has abetted the perpetuation of the fantasy by its acquiescence in IPCC WG3 abdicating its responsibilities.


  1. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 9:15 AM | Permalink

    Green therapy – great analogy!

  2. kim
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM | Permalink

    Nature’s pinata
    Spills lots of cheap, shoddy dross.
    Crack sharpshooters score.

  3. golf charley
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 9:50 AM | Permalink

    Greenpeace predict that their new sailing yacht, to be launched later in July (to conincide with the anniversary of the sinking of Rainbow Warrior) will only use its engines for propulsion 10% of the time.

    I wonder whether they will be right

    Google Rainbow Warrior 3

    They will also need to burn diesel to run the electrics…., but that isn’t propulsion.

    As someone with a non aggressive but currently uncurable cancer, I find your analogy very pertinent, especially when internet searches confirm I can be cured if I send enough money! Such charlatans offend me a lot! Your post was a pleasure, by the way

  4. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:47 AM | Permalink

    What the editors at Nature have attempted here is nothing more and nothing less than damage control for the IPCC. It is rather obvious that the defenders see the problem as one of public relations where IPCC critics exaggerate minor blips in the IPCC reviewing process.

    So here we have a science publication with very politically savvy editors who point to one or two misstatements, as if they are the only cases where we can judge the capability of the IPCC to review the literature related to AGW and climate change, and at the same time spank the critics.

    This reaction of Nature is a valuable input in determining how we judge that organization, but certainly not unexpected.

  5. observa
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:55 AM | Permalink

    “At the end of the day, people want to know how much weight can be placed on optimistic scenarios for renewables.”

    The answer lies in assessing the very basic building blocks of any such scenario. In my case a 2.1KW solar panel feed-in system on a metropolitan roof in Adelaide South Australia with its ideal Mediterranean climate. Although producing an average 8.5kw hrs per day over a year that masks some terrible variability figures. From nothing at night to 1700-1800Watts maxm on mild sunny days dropping to 1200-1300W on summer stinkers and around 150-200W at midday on wet overcast days. Bear in mind that when these output figures are being achieved, so are the vast majority of other photovoltaic systems in Adelaide producing similar results proportionately. When you own and monitor such a ‘reshiftable energy system’ (forced Govt buyback schemes and taxpayer subsidies) and view the extreme output variability, then you understand completely that there is no magical Green fallacy of composition to be had there.

    • ianl8888
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 5:58 PM | Permalink

      Thank you for those measurements – very helpful. None of this is seen in the MSM, of course

    • Doug Badgero
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM | Permalink

      The net metering schemes can’t work either if many people were at net zero use from the grid. These people are using other peoples invested capitol at no cost to themselves.

    • Faustino
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM | Permalink

      “If photovoltaic reaches grid parity or below – then it seems to me that we have a future of great prosperity ahead of us and that many of our present worries will dissipate.” The New South Wales government has recently found that about 90% of (very expensive) state-subsidised pv panels in the state are faulty, primarily due to imported switch-gear. So however potentially efficient, faulty components and installation can negate any potential benefits. (Almost all panels and associated hardware are imported from China, another example of anti-CO2 policies which raise energy costs for Aus producers and consumers while benefiting the far more polluting Chinese. Better surely to keep supplying relatively low-emission Australian coal for Chinese power stations, but the Greens want to close all coal-mines here.)

  6. patrioticduo
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:57 AM | Permalink

    Engineering research departments the world over have been trying to make wind and solar power dramatically more efficient for decades and they just haven’t been able to get there. That is why engineers also happen to be the most skeptical about those two power techniques ever been able to provide the power that we all need and rely upon. Of course, engineers don’t give up easily so they will continue to pursue the problem but most engineers know that we’re not going to be running our societies on solar or wind any time in the next 50 years. That is, for the foreseeable future. Not unless some near miraculous break through occurs. Engineers don’t rely on miracles. The western world shouldn’t either. It is the non engineers that keep peddling their faith and hope. I wonder how many engineers belong to these green groups. I would love to see some statistics on that.

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

      Back in the 1980’s the head of Greenpeace here in the UK was an engineer called George Pritchard. Greenpeace’s main campaign at the time was against nuclear power. Pritchard visited the Sellafield reprocessing plant and said it had some of the most robust engineering standards he had come across in UK industry.

      Needless to say he ‘resigned’ not long afterwards.

      • patrioticduo
        Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 10:25 AM | Permalink

        According to this research paper that googled up to the top when I searched for Pritchard. Mr Pritchard was more radical than the GP board liked because at about that time they had grown out of their “radical” position and were more interested in protecting GP assets. And this paper strikes me – people actually theorize in a vacuum about the workings of outfits like GP without examining the validity of the issues that GP and others like them go after.

  7. Pat Frank
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Permalink

    Following from Kenneth Fritsch, and rephrasing one of Steve’s opening sentences, ‘The problem that Nature should be concerned about is whether Nature is discharging its duties and responsibilities of providing the public and policy-makers with effective and balanced scientific advice.

    Throughout all the controversy over the IPCC (and AGW), one constant has been that the editors of Nature(London) have been excuse-monger for the shabby professionalism in climate science.

  8. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

    Great analogy. Yet to me, Nature did take a clear stand calling for a timely transition to greater transparency and accountability. A lot not to like about Nature’s overall approach to AGW but a little bit of similar flavor can be found in some climate skeptic organizations as well.

    The bogus ‘megawatershed’ concept seems like a pertinent example.
    Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr had in a recent past life promoted the megawatershed concept through his business EarthWater Global LLC. “Megawatersheds” were presumably vast untapped groundwater aquifers that had never been recognized before. According to EWGLLC promotions, the world’s water problems could be conquered forever, if only governments poured their funds towards EWGLLC’s crack teams of credential-heavy scientists who had a unique grasp of the megawatershed science. Turns out that this business had only one reference to cite that appeared remotely academic. That reference was an entry in a “water encyclopedia” that Lehr himself had authored. No surprise that ultimately the megawatershed term was booted out of Wikipedia and EWGLLC has since apparently closed shop. (There’s even a Trinidad and Tobago element to that sad chapter in hydrology).
    That doesn’t make the Heartland Institute a bogus organization. But it does or it should give it a similar credibility issue that is being applied (rightly so) to IPCC and this Greenpeace authorship topic.

    • Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:19 AM | Permalink

      oops I don’t know why my name came out as snarkmania, that’s an old legacy name that somehow found it’s way from a memory buffer or what? I don’t use that now.

  9. ChE
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    It’s a good analogy except for one thing – in medicine, the question is always about the possible, and cost is an ancillary question. With energy, it’s entirely about feasibility. I don’t think there’s much doubt that 80% is possible, the questions revolve around the side effects (cost chief among them).

    There’s another place where the analogy breaks down, and that is that if natural medicine doesn’t work now, it’s not going to work in 50 or 100 years. A breakthrough in energy storage technology, OTOH, could significantly change the feasibility picture for renewables, even if the renewables themselves don’t improve. This, BTW, suggests a more wait-and-see policy than jumping in head first into a technology that’s not ready for prime time.

    • Paul Penrose
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:46 AM | Permalink

      You would have to have the mother of all breakthroughs in energy storage in order to make solar and wind power even close to feasible. We are talking storage requirements in the Petawatt range which is orders of magnitude greater than what we can provide now.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 12:08 PM | Permalink

      analogies only go so far. It seems to me that the issue with present-day renewables is not “just” cost but also feasibility. As to “breakthroughs”, there are some industries where you can’t expect to halve costs just by wishing. I wouldn’t expect copper costs to go down if there was a big expansion in electric grids. Wind turbines are a relatively mature technology and breakthroughs in it seem remote to me.

      Energy storage technology is pretty interesting, but you still have to get the energy from somewhere.

      Photovoltaics are one area where something might turn up. But it’s not a given that photovoltaic technology will keep halving in cost even with much publicly and privately funded research.


      • Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 12:13 PM | Permalink

        Here is an interesting thought along that line…

        Would there be any consequences of a 100% efficient solar panel? How might it affect local ground heating due to sunlight? …and what would be the subsequent effects upon animal habitat? Presumably convection (air movement) would replace the heat… what do we know? Are we guessing?

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 12:33 PM | Permalink

        As to “breakthroughs”, there are some industries where you can’t expect to halve costs just by wishing. I wouldn’t expect copper costs to go down if there was a big expansion in electric grids

        Electric girds use aluminum for their conductors.

        Steve: electric motors mostly use copper. Electrical uses are the major use of copper. I worked in the copper business for a number of years, know a lot about it. As you say, aluminum is used in high-voltage applications and I wouldn’t expect aluminum costs to go down either.

        • ChE
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 2:28 PM | Permalink

          The cost of aluminum is mostly electricity. So you have a bit of a circular problem if more aluminum allows you to produce more renewables. Aluminum ore is extremely plentiful and cheap.

        • Tom Gray
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 4:22 PM | Permalink

          For the use of copper, one must also consider the transition that has been going on in telecom. Cabling has been changing very quickly from copper to fiber optic glass and wireless. Even in building LANs can use fiber or wireless now and the use of copper there can only continue to decline.

          The use of wireless telephones to supplant the traditional land line is becoming commonplace in the developed world and the developing world is avoiding the land line era by going directly to wireless

          The outside and inside telecom wiring plant used to be a major user of copper. That market must be vanishing now. So at least in this one major area, copper is being supplanted by technology. Glass and radio are the media of the present and future in telecom

        • Tom Gray
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 4:26 PM | Permalink

          I live on a bush road. Even here, I have fiber to the curb service. The only copper plant that serves my house is the 50ft drop wire from the road to the house. The actual telephone switch that serves the house is situated in major city about 2 hours away by car. The connection will be by fibre all the way. Very very little copper is used in new telecom instalaltions

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:33 PM | Permalink

          Please do not argue with me about copper markets. Electrical motors and telecom are different applications. There are technical reasons for preferring copper wire over aluminum in electrical motors and they are not going to change. Increased electrification will increase demand for electrical motors.

        • Tom Gray
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM | Permalink

          I made no statements about electrical motors

        • Geoff Sherrington
          Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 4:42 AM | Permalink

          The Norwich Constabulary could do with more coppers. Yep, Steve, that copper consumption keeps rising. Unlike gold, it oxidizes and goes back to whence it came. Non-mining people might like these gold trivia, which I have heard so many times that they might be true. All gold known to be mined on Earth would fit in a strong room 20m x 20m x 20m. (That’s m=metres, not miles). About 90% of known gold had been mined since 1850, and of that, about 90% can still be accounted for.

        • Greg F
          Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:22 PM | Permalink

          Certainly the adoption of Solar cells and wind turbines will drive copper prices for interconnect and generator (alternator) wire.

          It’s not just copper. Solar cells require about 0.1 grams of silver per watt.

          Steve – no more discussion of metal markets right now please.

        • Pat Frank
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

          According to, global copper consumption has continued to rise since 1980.

          Although usage in the US and industrial nations has dropped slightly since 2000, the decline was more than compensated by the increasing use of copper by China and India. The rapidly industrializing nations, it seems, will keep demand for copper high in the nearer term decades.

          See also the copper production and usage graphs about half way down the page here. They’re both trending upward through 2009.

      • Tom Gray
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 12:35 PM | Permalink

        Photovoltaics are one area where something might turn up. But it’s not a given that photovoltaic technology will keep halving in cost even with much publicly and privately funded research.

        Photovoltaics require breakthroughs in storage technology as well

      • tetris
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

        I live off the grid on a remote island off the BC coast and know from experience that Observa’s comments above are spot on.
        The problem with photovoltaic/solar resides both at the generation and at storage end of the equation. Even with the very best [and most expensive] panels it is physically impossible to obtain efficiencies of more than 25-30% within the earth’s atmosphere. Storage is either reasonably affordable through the use of lead acid battery bank or prohibitively expensive and economically unrealistic using top of the line battery technology. In the former -mainstream- configuration, the effective storage/draw-down ratio is no more than 10-12% as higher draw-downs at normal frequencies will rapidly degrade the batteries. In our case the battery bank has a nominal capacity of 660 amp/h @ 24 volt = approx 15 kW, in reality provides us with approx 1.5 kW/h of useable electricity per 24 hrs. Our house has all the amenities you would find in an on-the-grid- setting -microwave, computers, dishwasher, satellite TV, etc., and we have demonstrated for several years now that by becoming energy conscious in detail, we can live in “urban/suburban” comfort without much of a problem.
        That is, as Observa points out, when the sun actually shines in full. When it doesn’t, we run the generator.

        • Steve McIntyre
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 2:11 PM | Permalink

          the 77% includes not just houses, but industry and transportation.

        • ChE
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

          And how often does the sun actually shine in full on an island off the BC coast? Seems to me, you’d be a better candidate for wind than solar.

  10. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

    Typical of a good analogy, both its presentation and its limitations shed light. Thanks to ChE for showing the boundaries.

    So, if I have this right, the IPCC got the following wrong:

    1. The unjustifiable wording of the press release.
    2. The press release was trumpeted when the report was not available.
    3. When released, the report turned out not to assess whether the Greenpeace paper highlighted in the press release was credible – or any other scenarios.
    4. A lead author of the IPCC report was also an author of the Greenpeace paper.

    Any one of these would be cause for concern. The combination, continuous budget for such effusions, the post-hoc justifications and the tacit support by Nature all suggest ‘propaganda operation’ as a fair description. The only question is how widely that description fits. Nature is losing much credibility for selling damaged goods.

  11. Venter
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:52 AM | Permalink

    I posted a comment about this editorial about this which I did not expect they would publish but they have done so.

    I’m from the healthcare industry and am involved in product development, clinical research and commercialisation. If me or my company made such a statement about such data, we’d be hauled before the beak in no time and censured heavily.

  12. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:55 AM | Permalink

    Manola Brunet’s comment on the Nature blog illustrates the problem very nicely. She is a climate scientist and was an IPCC author. Rather than address any of the issues involved, she writes an incoherent rant, throwing allegations of political motivation, and mentioning ‘denialists’ five times. Yet she is the one who is in denial. Does she think it is perfectly OK for the IPCC to have a dubious Greenpeace claim as the first sentence of its press release? Is there no problem with the IPCC issuing a press release several weeks before the main report on which it is based? Is it fine for the IPCC to have shelved its conflict of interest policy? Even The Carbon Brief acknowledges there are ‘legitimate issues’ with IPCC communications.

    Fortunately for the skeptics, it appears that people like Brunet are in charge, so the IPCC will continue to provide easy targets for its critics.

    [I was going to post this on the Nature blog, but then I noticed it says “don’t get personal”].

    • Pat Frank
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:05 PM | Permalink

      I dropped in at Nature (London) and looked at Manola Brunet’s comment. It’s just this side of incoherent.

      • Steve McIntyre
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM | Permalink

        Manola Brunet is shown as a Visiting Fellow at CRU here with her most recent submission (coauthor Phil Jones) discussing “bringing historical climate data into the 21st century”.

        • Pat Frank
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:37 PM | Permalink

          The second half of my study on the statistical model the CRU has used to appraise uncertainty in global average surface air temperatures is just about to come out in E&E. It’ll be open access and so freely available for criticism. One may hope that Dr. Brunet will bring their error estimates up to mere 20th century methodological standards, as the rest of the record is ushered into the 21st.

        • Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:45 PM | Permalink

          Re: Steve McIntyre (Jun 30 18:29),

          nice password protected site of some station data. one of her projects

      • John Tofflemire
        Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 2:41 AM | Permalink

        To bend over backwards to be fair (regarding the incoherent observation), this person doesn’t seem to be a native English speaker. I make no comment on the content of this person’s observation.

      • Geoff Sherrington
        Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 4:47 AM | Permalink

        Pat, I thought the other side of coherent. Do I read that Harry the Expasperated is still there? “Mr. Ian (Harry) Harris CRU0.05 Dendroclimatology, climate scenario development, data manipulation and visualisation, programming”

  13. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 1:23 PM | Permalink

    Steve, there are studies on wind in particular that show the problems with trying the percent penetration that would be necessary for the about 80% claim. A quick estimate is about 30% wind. The problem occurs with storage. If you can’t store that energy, one has to not generate it or send it elsewhere. This first condition tells you why an engineer will be worried about application. Most devices do not like over or under votlage or amperage. Being near a subgid reflection point, where the AC reverses itself in the loop can be fatal to a lot of equipment with poor voltage or amperage control.

    The next problem is hysteresis.It takes nuclear, hydro, oil or NG electric generation a significant amount of time to change or ramp up compared to wind. Wind can change quite quickly. This is due to the power density capabilities. Wind is many quick moving small generators versus a large generator. Such systems where the small units are uncontrolled can quickly swamp the larger systems. This makes control of the system to prevent brownouts, blackouts, or overamperage hard to control, with numerous components, expensive to run and maintain. An engineer should not be optimistic about controlling such a system, especially economically.

    What is proposed are “smart” grids. This is where the proponents say such things as people will have to get used to having appliances shut them selves off, electricity only available when excess generation occurs above what is needed by constant, necessary users. Think government, industry, hospitals.

    The proposal for wind has the following problem with even smart grids. One has to disable energy production when one exceeds the storage capacity, since for 77% of the world means that one cannot do what current systems do, offload to a grid that has units that can ramp down which is outside the grid that the wind supplies. The percent penetration of renewables means with a nominal of 20% possible, each unit has 5 times the capability of the system to absorb. This means the cost of the control systems go up as the percent penetration increases.

    There are studies which show that as one penetrates wind above 7 to 10%, the costs go up exponentially. Further penetration requires systems and software not in existance. An engineer does not build claims based on vaporware, sales people do.

    The final quick estimate show the greatest concern. When you add the realizable theoretical penetration of renewables, you do not get 77%. The current practicle limit for what we know we should be able to do, even if it does not yet exist, is about 21% wind and 25% solar (take with a grain of salt, have not seen a good study, Spain seems to just give out how uneconomical, not the application problems), hydro is about 15% worldwide unless we can do something we have not been able to do lately, for a total of 61%. To get 16% worldwide from dung, biomass that is in competition with world food demands, or other sources seems quite incredible, even if world energy use goes down a little.

    Fianally, a good engineer is not going to sign off on a system that is a failure from before the ink dries, much less out of the construction box. Energy use is going up. Devices that demand energy uses are going up. The 77% proposition depends on us being able to shut on and off trillions of energy users. I mean pumps, people’s appliances, the control devices themselves. In fact, thinking of just the number of control devices, and they use energy, directly, or indirectly, such as someone having to write software, and parameterize the settings, the assumption of energy use going down looks to be unfeasible with possible technology that does not yet exist, but could be expected just in trying to control such a system. But energy use is not static or flat. However, energy efficiency increases are.

  14. Wolfgang Flamme
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 1:35 PM | Permalink

    You might want to visit Germany in 2020, the promised land of renewables where the sun never sets and the wind blows all the time – according to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.

    • tetris
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:38 PM | Permalink

      I worked my way through this, and knowing it came from one of the Frauenhofer Institutes [supposedly top grade German research] I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The report builds on so many unrealistic assumptions that it’s conclusions are meaningless.

      For flavour, it refers to hydrogen as if it were a going concern, and refers to methane as a renewable energy source. Maybe, if you were to use the methane to produce fertilizer to grow the corn plants to feed to cows so they can fart into the methane reservoir…? 🙂

      Fully in keeping with the recent IPCC/Greenpeace ruminations about renewables.

    • Faustino
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:40 PM | Permalink

      … and where the government has decided to eliminate nuclear power:

      “Germany has voted to shut down all nuclear power reactors by 2022, making it the first major industrial nation to completely reject the technology since the Fukishima disaster in Japan. The fourth largest industrial nation in the world will be powered by renewables, putting massive pressure on infrastructure development in Europe’s biggest economy. While other nations, including Britain and France, plan to build more nuclear reactors, Germany will have to scale up wind and solar power in order to keep the lights on and meet climate change targets.” 1 July 2011

      • tetris
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:02 PM | Permalink

        Germany faces four possible scenarios over the next decade or so due to this decision: 1] import French nuclear electricity, assuming there is a surplus, in what would be the ultimate enviro-NIMBY; 2] crank up the use of [dirty] coal and [very dirty] brown coal; 3] turn Germany ever more into a gas dependent Rusian energy satellite; or 4] witness the onset of de-industrialization as companies relocate elsewhere due to shortages or unreliable availability of energy.

        That’s because there simply is neither enough sun in Germany nor enough wind to cover the shortfall.

  15. mpaul
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 2:22 PM | Permalink

    I think the analogy is very apt. The UN classifies wood and dung as renewables. So it is very plausible, given the proper regulatory environment, that 80% of the world’s energy could come from wood and dung if legislation were to outlaw carbon-based fuel sources this year. What’s left out of the analysis is that these sources could not deliver 80% of the *needed* energy. In a similar way, 77% of cancers could be treated with green cures — what’s left out is that they could not be *successfully* treated. The point is that a regulatory environment can create any outcome it wants. Listening to advacacy groups to create a pre-ordained outcome is a bad idea.

    • mpaul
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 5:05 PM | Permalink

      Yes you are correct (I was writing quickly). Let me amend to say that legislation could outlaw oil and coal. The point is that legislation can easily produce an outcome of having 80% of our energy consumed come from renewables. All they need to do is outlaw non-renewables. Its a meaningless goal. The goal needs to be framed in terms of needed energy not consumed energy. And there is simply no way that renewables can produce 80% of needed energy in the next 50 years.

      • Dishman
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:31 PM | Permalink

        My read of the Greenpeace scenario is that it assumes reducing energy consumption below current levels.

        It does not allow for increased energy usage or economic growth.

        It’s a lot easier to meet people’s “needs” after they’re dead.

  16. Sean
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Permalink

    Nuclear is not a realistic option to replace carbon in most parts of the world. Either we do not trust them to run it, or their greens will protest against new builds. Any promise about the legal framework for decommission or other liability over in 30 to 50 years is worth little to a commercial company as when government policy changes so does the liabilities and so does life cost of the plant. EDF and other government like agencies can run nuclear as the reactors are built, and they just do not cost in poorly predictable costs like decommissioning into production price. If you building a new reactor every aspect will be reviewed and reviewed and reviewed. Governments are just not able push through nuclear as a normal commercial enterprise. Coal other commercial technologies are denouced as crime against humanity. Green tech is not delivering the capacity than needs to be replaced. When the shortfall bits, it is back to more carbon in hurry – and energy prices will rise to cover shale and less accessable carbon, as that is the only thing we can put in quickly.

  17. manicbeancounter
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 5:43 PM | Permalink

    The analogy is well thought out. However, there is a missing point. The current treatment for the cancer, although of proven efficacy, is believed by a huge consensus of the world’s leading scientists, to have possible huge and potentially deadly side-effects. Indeed computer models compiled by leading Natural Therapy scientists project that if use continues to spread and the potential side-effects were to cause fertility issues in future generations, then a potential tipping-point could be passed, jeopardising the very future of the human race. Whilst the use of this cancer treatment is rapidly spreading across the globe with proven benefits, the IPCancer proposes that the dosage be reduced by increasing the cost year-on-year. Furthermore, NGO experts attest that the new Natural Therapies work best when administered over extended periods on remote tropical islands, with plenty of sunlight and gentle sea breezes. They do not see why this cannot be extended to up to 80% of the world’s population is two generations.

  18. pesadia
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:06 PM | Permalink

    I know that the UK is installing wind turbines at a rate of nots but they take no interest in the actual output of these devices. They are only interested in complying with EU requirements to install X amount of capacity.
    Absolutely crazy.

  19. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    To ensure that CRU Visiting Fellow Manola Brunet’s remarks at Nature are communicated to CA readers, here is the blog posting in full.

    Disappointing, falsely balanced, ridiculous, biased and obscurely politically orientated editorial!

    For me there is not any doubt that this Nature editorial is undeservedly and artificially inflating the ?hostile environment? that IPCC has to face and avertedly or inadvertently is making the job to the IPCC contrarian lobbies, which have clear and politically motivated agendas to stop not only any action against anthropogenic climate change, if not also to obstruct, and if possible to avoid, that the most comprehensive scientific assessments that IPCC has been channelling are carried out. This editorial is not only full of very questionable claims that only reflect political opinions that have been many times voiced by the denialist blogosphere (e.g. the inept attempts, a talent for manoeuvring itself into embarrassing situations, seriously damaged the IPCC’s credibility, it has failed to make clear, a new conflict-of-interest, unacceptable, recklessly.., supposedly), if not also contains inaccurate, contradictory and obscure assumptions (?The problems began in late 2009, when it was reported?? a very charitable way of calling the orchestrated campaign against climate change science), along with useless and costly in wasting scientists’ time recommendations (“IPCC should reconsider how it frames its findings” or proceed to assess potential conflict of interest among their thousands of volunteers contributors whatever the cost and the results are) and repeated calls for prompt and quick IPCC reaction to the denialist machine claims.

    Contradictorily, for the Editorial board the denialist claim of Greenpeace ‘dictated’ the IPCC’s renewable-energy report is “trivial and exaggerated” but they don?t doubt in echoing it, recalling the wrong IPCC claim of ?Hilamlaya glaciers? once again (one baseless claim among thousands of correct and well-based ones) timely corrected by IPCC long time ago, and accuse the IPCC of not handling it properly and promptly in the way that denialists had would like: reckoning a conflict-of-interest because a report contain results from a peer-reviewed study that has been co-authorised by a member of Greenpeace (what will be next: declare conflict of interest because you are a republican or a democrat voter?), besides of making the IPCC responsible of how the media coped with that news. Ridiculous! Nature comparing Greenpeace and fossil-fuel lobbies agendas ! Falsely balanced and tendentious, at least! The IPCC is in the crosshairs only in the minds of these editorialists and in the ones of the oil-funded campaigners, not in the minds of these thousand scientists contributing to the IPCC assessments. Sorry, but this issue only matter to the denialist machine and its supporters, which fortunately are mostly ignored by scientists and general public.

    • kim
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:10 PM | Permalink

      ‘Denialist’ is Parseltongue for ‘denier’.

      • Faustino
        Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:43 PM | Permalink

        Perhaps you could translate the rest of the post too?

        • kim
          Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 8:42 PM | Permalink

          How dare you peons
          Challenge your Lord and Master,
          The I P C C.

    • Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 8:12 PM | Permalink

      There is an obviously inappropriate response one could make to this rant, but that would be, well, inappropriate. 😉

    • tetris
      Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:49 PM | Permalink

      It is remarkable that gibberish like this actually gets published. I’ve seen my fair share of bad writing in both academe and the private sector, but this belongs in a league all to itself. An unedited garble of muddled thoughts, doped by emotion.

    • Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:52 AM | Permalink

      I detect the influence of beta-amyloid plaques.

      • Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:55 AM | Permalink

        Nesting is apparently not working; the above “plaques” comment applied to the quoted posting by Brunet. Hopefully her insurance will cover custodial care.

    • John Tofflemire
      Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 2:48 AM | Permalink

      My comments about Dr. Brunet’s grasp of the English language noted above notwithstanding, this qualifies as pure and unadulterated rant. For all of our sakes on both sides of this debate, one hopes that the thoughts of this person represent an extreme outlier.

      • j ferguson
        Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 7:31 AM | Permalink

        This certainly exposes the folly of carrying on in a language you aren’t comfortable in. At first, I thought it a machine translation, but it doesn’t have those type of lumps in it.

        That the IPCC should clean up its act to avoid “cheap shots” from skeptics seems childish. It should clean up its act as an expression of intended integrity. My take on the shots was that the serious ones weren’t cheap.

  20. John Baltutis
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Permalink

    AFAIK, both wood and dung are carbon-based sources.

    Steve – yes, but let’s not bother discussing it.

    • Tom Gray
      Posted Jul 3, 2011 at 5:27 PM | Permalink

      I thought that the issue was that the plants that the animals feed upon use CO2 but that the animals produce CH$ a more potent green house gas. I suppose what can be said is the animals would be in place in any event and that their dung would be there with them if it was used as fuel or not.

  21. EdeF
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 8:45 PM | Permalink

    Staying with the Cancer analogy………..where is the double-blind test data that shows
    GreenTherapy to be effective in comparison to standard treatment? Were the tests done
    by researchers without any conflict of interest? And finally, since the trials were
    paid for by the public, where are the results archived? Are they in a PDF format, or
    something we can actually plot and chew on? (I am shorting GreenTherapy stock asap)

  22. havermeyer
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Permalink

    I’m involved in resource planning at a major US utility. I also value and evaluate renewables. I’m disgusted with the malinvestment in capital required by renewable energy portfolio standards. Corruption and winner picking is rampant in these types of legislation that require a certain amount of production from renewables.

    Solar and wind are poorly correlated with the time of peak demand in my neck of the woods. Over the last two years a recently signed wind deal delivered 0 MWs at the time of peak and 7 MWs at the time of peak. Out of 180 MWs. Can’t run a system reliably that way or cheaply. You’ve got to have the wind capacity and dispatchable capacity to cover the wind shortfall. You need twice as much capacity. It’s ridiculous and is robbing the future of wealth and opportunity.

  23. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

    Some interesting research is underway in Australia (and no doubt elsewhere) on new solar PV technology which can be painted onto or incorporated in building products at a fraction the cost of the clunky ugly solar panels which are currently state of the art.(Ref Yes it’s early days, yes it’s an ABC radio report, and yes a lot of research promises so much but ultimately fails to deliver. Although commercialisation won’t start any time soon and it will take time to have an effect due to bulding stock inertia, I’m encouraged as old buildings eventually get replaced/repaired and new ones get built. Solar PV will only address part of our energy needs but it is a start. As to whether this or any other new tech will enable us to satisfy 77% of our energy needs in 2050 is pure speculation. I hope to be around to find out.

    • Harold
      Posted Jul 3, 2011 at 6:17 AM | Permalink

      Nanotechnology is full of inflated claims of future potential benefits. As noted above by McIntyre: “I’m also aware of great optimism on the part of technology promoters that the cost of photovoltaic can be halved repeatedly”.

      The technology they’re touting does little for the cost of making most of the PV system. Additionally, a house fire with silicon based PVs on its roof produces sand – these researchers are using Cadmium Telluride. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be in the neighborhood of a fire with with this type of PV.

  24. John Carpenter
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:15 PM | Permalink

    The discussions on whether renewables can or can’t fill our energy needs by 2050 is all well and good… but I see the bigger problem here as Natures position on the COI issue.

    “There is no escaping the fact that the IPCC operates in a latently hostile environment. Its critics are vocal, frequently melodramatic and unlikely to surrender the limelight any time soon. The IPCC has to stop handing them ammunition on a plate.”

    Once again, a respectable scientific journal is ‘hiding under the desk’ and has it backwards about the credibility issues the IPCC continues to face over and over and over again. It’s not about handing ammunition on a plate to the melodramatic critics… It’s about being honest with policymakers and the public from the start. Every time another credibility issue comes up, public trust of the overall message goes down and the scientific community responds with ‘it’s only a minor point that doesn’t affect the big picture’ blaming the fringe for ‘making waves’. When will an editor grow a pair and write an editorial demanding massive changes on how the IPCC operates? The only thing that came close and I really agree with in the editorial is that a clear COI policy should be adopted quickly and retroactively for the AR5 report. But it’s not going to happen. How is Nature going to spin it the next time? Give it some time and we will all find out.

  25. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 10:28 PM | Permalink

    Noting the caution about analogies,

    snip – sorry, not going to discuss cancer

  26. Posted Jun 30, 2011 at 11:07 PM | Permalink

    Interesting seeing you get out of your comfort zone and trying to keep up with those of us doing the real heavy lifting in the energy depletion area. You have a long ways to catch up.

  27. Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:04 AM | Permalink

    Parallelling Germany’s pretend abandonment of nuclear, France has just outlawed fracking for oil or gas. But the Invisible Hand has brass knuckles. Neither of those decisions can stand.

    As for Nature (and Naturo): CYA mode ON/.

    Steve, your editorializing is a model of clarity and pertinence. Well, well done.

    For those casting about for a sword to slice the Greenian Knot, have a look thru the site. If its (totally privately funded) project continues to advance, in about 5 yrs. waste-free direct generation (no steam, thanks) will be available at 1/20 to 1/10 current best conventional capital and output costs. Based on very small (5MW) very hot pulsed DPF fusion of the pB11 flavour. (If commercial switching equipment had been up to its claimed capacity, it would have saved almost a year of in-house ~20X ‘ruggedization’ effort and expense, and “scientific break-even” would likely have already been achieved.)

    If it works out, licensing for manufacture world-wide of transportable units will begin this decade. Every renewable will be instant economic roadkill.

  28. EdeF
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:12 AM | Permalink

    CRU Visiting Fellow Manola Brunet’s remarks at Nature ………

    Maybe re-take English Composition 101?

    • John Tofflemire
      Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 3:02 AM | Permalink

      As someone who has had to function as an immigrant for most of my adult life in a country whose language is dramatically different from my own native English, I respectively request that all criticism of Dr. Brunet’s comments focus on content rather than quality of exposition. In plain English, comments on content in this case are like shooting fish in a barrel while comments on quality of exposition are mean spirited and detract from the quality of dialogue posted on this blog.

      • Jim Turner
        Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 7:13 AM | Permalink

        re:John Tofflemire Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 3:02 AM
        (sorry but embedded replies crash my computer)

        Unfortunately it is impossible to disentangle the inproficiency with the English language from the ranting. It looks like a machine translation to me, although you usually only get that degree of mangling when translating from Japanese.

  29. Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 10:43 AM | Permalink

    Breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers. I have a friend who insisted on “natural” cures. She lasted 1 yr. That is the problem with ideology over practicality. It is why engineers need to study engineering, and not postmodern linguistics.
    Re: the 80% goal, much of the current world renewable energy is from burning wood and dung. This practice has a terrible cost in terms of deforestation and human health (the burning is mostly in cookstoves and fireplaces, not power plants), but it is the baseline figure used in the IPCC report. Using horses for transport is “renewable” also, but cities were knee deep in manure in 1880 and it was a public health crisis. Urban planners had meetings at which they dispaired of finding a solution.

  30. observa
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 11:47 AM | Permalink

    When you’ve owned a solar feed-in system you have access to its actual output via the digital readout on the inverter and I outlined some of the extreme variability already of a 2.1 kw system in a Mediterranean climate like Adelaide in South Australia. It’s in my workshop so you glance at it from time to time especially the first year of ownership but the novelty wears off. I should add that from recall I’ve seen it read as low as 34watts at midday on a wet overcast day and on a handful of occasions (4 as I recall) over 2000watts over 2.5 years of ownership, the latter when I first noticed a 2000plus reading after some months I initially believed I had an inverter fault. On those rare occasions the ideal temp, sun aspect and clear sky must all come together.

    So you can see how a fixed panel system (north facing at 30 degrees inclination in the southern hemisphere)on a perfect day could ideally show a bell curve of output from zero to its maxm around midday and back to zero again. Then there’s the zero to 100-150W and zero again on a totally wet rainy day and all over the shop on an intermittent sun and cloud day, bearing in mind with cabling and inverter draw you get zero output well before full darkness and well after a light greying dawn. Now you can begin to appreciate the ludicrous claims of the ‘reshiftable’ energy mob and how it’s possible to think of my solar system as costless for the sake of their arguments about technological advances bringing down the cost. Hypothetically let them have zero up front cost and for a solar panel system that can produce enough average power per day for the average family of four currently on coal fired power, allowing zero output either side of sunup and sundown, a perfect day rising to that theoretical maxima of the system bell curve and then estimate what level of average coal fired backup they’d still require. Then you can begin to factor in wet overcast days and intermittent sun and cloud. This needs an examination of probable night(off peak) and day demand and then there’s the suddeness of blue sky and intermittent cloud to be factored in. At even zero solar cost it’s hard to imagine saving more than 25% of mains power before you account for that on again off again intermittent cloud days.

    When you hypothetically remove their technological advance cost promise from that overall 77% prediction and even add in 100% efficiency of collection (ie give them their maxm energy density of the sun at the earth’s surface clear sky at midday, which only reduces the size of their costless collection system note)you can see the nonsense in it all. Well unless they can stop the earth rotating and their Gaia producing clouds, or store the energy from their Sun God. It’s right about here they’ve got me with their costless batteries I suppose.

  31. ferd berple
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 12:21 PM | Permalink

    “the cost of photovoltaic can be halved repeatedly until it reaches not only grid parity, but becomes the energy supply of choice”

    The beauty of the word “can” is that all things are possible, given enough time and money.

    I bought my first solar panels in 1985 (Arco solar). They cost about $4 per watt. Now, 25 years later, you can get the equivalent panel for about $2 per watt – price halving every 25 years.

    Solar feed in tariffs in Ontario are about 16 times the wholesale cost of power, which by repeated doubling gives us a projected 100 years before solar is competitive for baseload power generation.

    This should not be surprising, given the length of time that baseload power generation has been in development. Assumptions that solar will soon overtake the competition assumes that the competition is standing still.

  32. van_jim
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 2:09 PM | Permalink

    I expect this will be snipped, but at least it will be read, inconvenient truth or not.

    snip – yup. I asked people not to debate cancer.

  33. Septic Matthew
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 2:18 PM | Permalink

    good analogy. As I recall from high school English, an analogy worked out in great detail is called a “conceit”, or was called a “conceit”.

    In my experience, good information on up-to-date pricing and performance of PV cells is hard to get. Here is a site I read almost daily:

    There’s this commercial item at Home Depot:

    For that one, in San Diego County over a 30 year life span, the cost of daytime electricity (generally matching peak demand for electricity to power A/C) is about $0.14/kwh. Caveat emptor.

    Here is a puff-piece, with some actual information:

    Yes, I know that Joe Romm is unreliable, but you can find other information to the effect that this is roughly accurate.

    Here are demand and supply information from the California Independent Systems Operator (the grid operator), showing that peak solar generation matches peak consumption well.

    This display of solar power only includes large systems that feed into the main trunks; roof-mounted small systems only show up in these aggregations as reduced electricity demands in the neighborhoods that have them.

    In California, peak electricity may cost more than $0.25/kwh, a consequence of decades of underinvestment in electricity. But electricity to meet peak demand is the most expensive electricity everywhere, and solar generation matches peak demand in many parts of the US; it may soon be the most economical source throughout the southern third or so of the country.

    I lost the story, but I read of a solar installation that will produce a max of 733 MW of power at a cost of $2.6B — total costs. In a favorable location like San Diego County or Phoenix, that works out to a cost of about $0.08/kwh, over 30 years. Trust but verify.

    Lastly, technologies that work well have not yet made it into large scale mass-production, most notably concentrated solar PV cells. The cells operate at a higher temperature than the current standards, convert twice as much energy as current standards, and only abut 3% as many are needed per panel because the Fresnel lenses concentrate the light — the net result may be a reduction by a factor four, over the next 5 years or so, of the cost of PV panels. Maybe/Maybe not, but “the whole world is watching”.

    Solar has not “arrived”, but solar is in the process of “arriving”. The next 5 years should be extremely informative about the sequel. In the last few years solar power production has increased at about 60% per year, and costs have declined 10% to 20%. There is no guarantee that the cost trend will continue, but also no reason why it should not continue as new technologies find their way into mass production. Keep following the story.

    that’s solar. I agree that the 77% figure in the IPCC report is a low probability deal, and the IPCC headline was misleading.

  34. Septic Matthew
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Permalink

    oops, I meant that over the last few years solar costs have declined 10% to 20% per year. sorry.

  35. Septic Matthew
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM | Permalink

    Here is another current price benchmark for solar:

    The tax credit should be added to the “cost”, since it is a part of the cost paid by someone else; if applied to electricity from the grid (and why no do this?), then the solar price is not lower than the grid price. The details of the calculations matter, but such details vary from place to place. the important point for me now is, 5 years from now this price comparison will almost for sure be more favorable to solar than it is right now. It’s what’s happening, so to speak, that matters most.

  36. Bill Jamison
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 4:31 PM | Permalink

    I don’t see this as an issue of “can we?” but rather of cost. If I remember correctly, that Greenpeace “study” indicated it would cost upwards of $6.7 TRILLION dollars to implement enough renewable energy to meet the 80% stated goal PLUS massive energy conservation/reduction measures.

    I think that is the issue that should be discussed – At what cost?

  37. val majkus
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 5:02 PM | Permalink

    Warwick Hughes has had a post about renewables here:

    and here’s a copy of a comment linking one of my Aust favourite renewables experts:

    TonyfromOz has another of his renewables posts here:
    (a couple of extracts)
    In a media release yesterday, shown at this link, Senator Milne says that Australia needs to transition to 100% Renewables, and to do this as quickly as possible.
    snip -politics

  38. Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 6:15 PM | Permalink


    I can point you at one Ontario Project in Sarnia. I have assembled a great deal of background information on the operation. Everything published appears to be accurate.

    The best starting point is this news release…

    Overall it looks like the plant is valued at $400 for 80MW of power (at peak time).

    It occupies about 1 square kilometer and can produce 80MW at peak (about 2 hours a day) and delivers overall the equivalent of 4 hours of peak production per day. The easiest way to visualize output would be to create the insolation curve and estimate peak output for each day and them compare to atual output to get a reduced capacity factor that allows for weather variance.

    To provide all of Ontario at noon hour — with peak output would take about (16000MW/80MW) ~ 200 square km — assuming a 17% capacity factor (CF) as they claim — and appears to be correct.

    The plant is built by Solar First and they appear to be a competent and reliable supplier with their own technology.

    As insolation varies (They assume 1000 watts insolation X 17% CF) or put another way their panels will produce about 55 – 70 watts / sq meter at 1000 watts insolation.

    The plant produces efficiently only during noon hours.

    If you look at the shoulders of the insolation cure and estimate required coverage you would probably be looking at multiplying the land requirements by two or three times to extend the capacity out by two to three hours.

    Now at peak Ontario draws close to 30,000MW so you could be looking at six to nine times the 200 sq. km estimate. But that would only supply significant power near solar noon — say plus or minus two hours.

    It’s a bit of a tough sell — but maybe somebody has a different math that can show better results.


    • Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 4:08 PM | Permalink

      Apparently this installation was broken into smaller sections for reporting purposes. We believe it was so that the installation would fall into a micro-FIT (or whatever) designation so that they could claim a higher level of subsidy.

      Further, if you examine the reporting by IESO you will find that it is not reported in the production figures, My best guess is that performance is less than expected so NOT reporting the production is better for appearances.

      See the IESO generator figures here for confirmation:

      Just click on a calendar day and you can see all the reporting generators grouped by category. (Wind Even)

      The First Soar/Enbridge location does not appear anywhere — indeed Solar seems to be absent from the mix entirely — despite (apparently) hundreds of locations in service — mostly roof-top or “farm” installations of low output. (Micro-FIT and non-reporting)

  39. Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

    The value of the plant should be $400M or $400,000,000 sorry about that.

  40. observa
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 7:47 PM | Permalink

    For those of you still playing the Green nirvana game with technological advance and concomitant falling cost of solar let me help you to their Promised Land and then judge it for yourself. Not a hard exercise to do with my 2.1KW system and Adelaide’s weather today as forecast from the BoM thus-
    Adelaide Forecast
    Issued at 5:35 am CST on Saturday 2 July 2011

    Warning Summary
    A Road Weather Alert.

    Forecast for Saturday
    A few showers, turning to rain during the morning. Cool to mild with moderate to
    fresh northeast to northwesterly winds.

    Precis Rain.
    City: Max 16

    Now what does actually translate to at my place with the lights on inside naturally, where it is drizzling rain with not a puff of wind outside and at 9.00am my inverter read STARTUP meaning no output yet as any meagre power is trying to run the inverter but at 9.30am the output is a steady 37 watts at last.

    Now imagineer that Green nirvana whereby way back at Kyoto, omniscient Aust began taxing CO2 and invested all the tax revenue in solar R&D and fitting out every Adelaide rooftop with the results. Now you can see my costless system has to be adjusted from it’s 15% efficiency now to that ultimate nirvana. Wave the magic Green wand and my ‘free'(ie costless) system is now a 14KW system (ie 100% efficient) and although I can’t extrapolate that 9.00am zero output figure I can with that 9.30am 37Watt figure to wait for it- 247 Watts. Notice that at 9.30 am in Green Utopia all of Adelaide is still only getting 1.8% output out of its total installed capacity, whatever the cost or efficiency of the panels. Now imagine it’s a week day and we’re all at our office desks, workshops and factory floors having avoided the electric train service. What is happening in Green nirvana with all those costless, 100% efficient solar panels and not a puff of wind out there? Well in case you hadn’t noticed we’re now 100% renewable and welcome to battery-maker’s Paradise.

    • ianl8888
      Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 7:55 PM | Permalink

      Please have your actual measurements published in a “Letter to the Editor” – The Australian would likely publish this, both the Fairfax press and the ABC will not

  41. Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 8:03 PM | Permalink

    Steve: This is MUCH too deep (and much too truthful) for the folks that don’t follow your blog. Sorry, but they have a religion to maintain.

  42. observa
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 8:23 PM | Permalink

    Update: At smoko time at the observa household at 10.30 am the inverter reads a steady 69W out of an installed maximum capacity of 2100W (ie 3.3%)and it’s still raining with no wind and the lights are on. At smoko time in battery-maker’s Paradise that translates to 460W out of that magical 100% efficient, 14KW installed maxima.

    Now recall that average daily 8.5Kw output over a year my neighbours are forced to subsidise me for at multiples of coal power pricing and my investment after an $8k tax clawback and $1.5k in RECs stacks up economically. That’s because the Great Global Green Gruesome Greasum has no concept whatsoever of what happens at the margins, even in Utopia. Alas I am schooled in the dismal science and the fallacy of composition. It’s why I think anyone who makes statements about the world being 77% renewable in anywhere near its recognisable, current form is either, ignorant, delusional or just plain lying. Take your pick with the Greenpeace IPCC and its Fourth Estate caravan of idolaters.

  43. Geoff
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 11:27 PM | Permalink

    “Manola Brunet is shown as a Visiting Fellow at CRU here with her most recent submission (coauthor Phil Jones) discussing “bringing historical climate data into the 21st century”.

    Paper (open access) at:

  44. observa
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 11:31 PM | Permalink

    Any analysis of July 2nd 2011 in Green Utopian Adelaide would not be complete without first light at 6.56am, sunrise at 7.24am, sunset at 5.16 pm and last light at 5.43pm as noted here-
    and similar days of the season in our Mediterranean Utopia you’ll note. This is winter and there will be longer days in MEDUT summer of course, thereby lifting average returns, but back to the marginal output of the day. There are only 10hrs 47 mins of sunup or 43% of 24 hours available for collection (or 45% if you really want to count first and last light) Now recall that zero at 9.00am and 37W at 9.30 the latter which translates to 247W in 100% collection MEDUT. At lunchtime (12.30) things are looking brighter with no rain, the leaves just beginning to move on the trees outside and the inverter steady at 106W translating to 5% of installed 2100W capacity or 707W output in MEDUT. OK so this is more marginal winter but even on a clear sunny day with no clouds you can see that much higher bell shaped curve of output for less than 50% of the days could not possibly average 77% of current useage. How much existing power technology and infrastructure will have to remain to plug the gaping zero holes and extreme variability in their 100% efficient and costless MEDUT, before you even begin to consider that Sanyo world’s best commercial solar panel claim of 23% collection(18% actual output from inverter) at present. The trouble with deniers here is they just can’t see the vision splendid of costless 100% efficient solar systems as technology and taxes advance, as well as the vast mines of untapped Gaia storage sitting under their car bonnets, in their mobile phones and laptops, not to mention all those AA and AA cells in everything from the TV remotes to the kids’ toys and the emergency flashlight.
    Damn! It’s 1.30 and it’s started sprinkling again and the inverter has dropped back to 71W again. No matter as Gaia in her infinite wisdom has started to rustle the trees and the windmills will kick in no doubt to compensate. As our part time Climate Change Commissioner on an extra $180,000 a year would no doubt note( if his past utterances are any guide), it’s just more evidence that Gaia is developing a brain and a nervous system. (we mere mortals in pre-normal science cannot make this stuff up or come to such eminent conclusions)

    • Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 7:23 AM | Permalink

      Since the people pushing this are innumerate, they have no idea what you are talking about.

  45. Dennis Wingo
    Posted Jul 1, 2011 at 11:43 PM | Permalink

    As I said previously, I would like to know how much weight we can place on optimistic scenarios for deployment of wind and solar. I’m hardly alone in this – people are starving for reliable and independent information. I knew that Greenpeace and WWF had published scenarios claiming that renewables could supply 77% or more of world energy by 2050. But I wondered whether this was little more than fantasy on their parts. IPCC fails if it doesn’t deliver a report that, after much parsing, does not address the question of whether this is fantasy or not.


    I have been trying for years to get authoritative numbers on the end to end supply chain energy costs for the production of a watt of solar panels. It is exceedingly difficult to do so, but there are some generalizations that can be made.

    It takes about 4-5 years of solar power production today, to make up for the energy that it took (break even), on the panels. This means that for a panel with a 25 year effective life (which is principally driven by the breakdown in petrochemical based adhesives in the panels), that the net energy gain is only about 5-6.2 x best case. This does not cover the supply chain issues with the inverter, the aluminum needed to make the panel frame, or the cover glass for the panels. Nor does it cover the supply chain energy costs of the copper, the global shipping network, nor the fuel needed by an installer to bring the panels to your house/business for installation.

    It has been my contention that there is a massive hydrocarbon subsidy of the manufacture of solar panels (and wind turbines). With the existence of plentiful and cheap hydrocarbons to maintain the supply chain it is unlikely that a solar panel could be produced, using only the energy of other solar panels. In other words, the net energy gain, subtracting the hydrocarbon energy subsidy, is less than one.

  46. observa
    Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 1:10 AM | Permalink

    Update: Drizzling again at 3.15 in the arvo and inverter is reading STARTUP again and from the latest BoM weather reading at 3.15 also the Adelaide average wind speed for 10 mins measured 10M above ground is 7km/hr (4 knots) and gust speed measured over 3 secs at 10M height is 9km/hr (5knots) Temp is 14.7 degrees Celsius.

    Get the picture Green Utopians? Before cloud-set at 5.16pm I’m off to catch the last quarter or so of the lad’s footy so as we say in oz- Avagoodweekend!

  47. Gary Mount
    Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 2:43 AM | Permalink

    One of my most memorable analogy fails is the judge presiding over the Microsoft anti-trust case who likened turning on the computer and using it was equivalent to paying Microsoft every time for the privilege.
    I thought, good god man, every time you turn on the computer, your paying the electric company for the privilege of using your computer.

  48. Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 5:54 AM | Permalink

    As you say Steve, analogies can obscure the point being made but your “natural therapies” one is a beaut.


  49. observa
    Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    Well I drove to the match among Adelaideans with their car lights on in the rain and the lad won his game of Aussie rules and the team stitched up 3rd spot on the ladder. Go the Bulldogs!

    Now where was I? Oh yes that 77% renewables by whenever we can manage it. The figures I’ve given you here are real, robust and verifiable as is the analysis open to challenge(Greenpeace/IPCC?anyone?) but notice how it doesn’t matter what particular solar system and where and when the output data is measured and produced, because similar results are readily reproducible anytime anywhere. The fact that they so rarely are says something poignant about the state of rational thought, scientific enquiry and subsequent reporting nowadays. Either that or I’m discounting my Economics marginal analysis capability too harshly.

    Initially I set out to simply demonstrate the extreme variability and unreliability of solar power and then realised that in doing so it was a simple task to model the ultimate in Green wet dreams- ie 100% solar system sunlight conversion efficiency. It suddenly dawned on me that whatever the known efficiency of the system in question, you can measure it(or it is commercially accepted)and simply factor it up to their Green nirvana and show it still doesn’t change the overall conclusion. Basically 100% of ten times, five eighths of SFA is still SFA, whatever the cost of collecting SFA.

    Now refute that reproducible, infinitely repeatable and verifiable analysis and conclusion all you Green deniers and idolaters out there. And if you damn well can’t then how dare you propose to tax me and threaten to close down my only reliable source of energy for earning and enjoying a living you ignoramuses-
    On the other hand I’ll remind you I do live in the Saudi Arabia of uranium while you’re still running about naked trying to get your hot rocks off with my hard earned-

  50. Hessel Voortman
    Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 9:36 AM | Permalink

    I have recently started reading Blogs on climate change. The following struck me:

    “As I said previously, I would like to know how much weight we can place on optimistic scenarios for deployment of wind and solar. I’m hardly alone in this – people are starving for reliable and independent information.”

    David McKay’s book “Sustainable energy without the hot air” has been around for some time and is available for free from I must admit I have not found the time to read it thoroughly, so I could not judge whether his analysis is any good.

    Anyone familiar with this work?

    • Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 1:07 PM | Permalink

      I have read sections of McKay’s book that pertain to articles I write. He does a good job of pulling together the basics. As I recall he does show that it is tough to make renewables work on a grand scale. Physics is conspiring against green energy…

      He does a good job of laying out the energy density of various schemes.

  51. AnonyMoose
    Posted Jul 2, 2011 at 12:47 PM | Permalink

    “the cost of photovoltaic can be halved repeatedly”

    Those who say this are probably hoping there’s a similarity between silicon photoelectric generation devices and silicon microelectronics. But the latter have been reduced by increased ability to create smaller devices, while the former are highly dependent upon simply being large surfaces exposed to photons. There have been some photoelectric generation technologies which make small changes to the basic characteristics, but so far nothing which is able to increase power and decrease cost in the same way which smaller circuitry has improved microelectronics.

  52. observa
    Posted Jul 3, 2011 at 9:25 AM | Permalink

    If wet cloudy saturday’s output from 2100W of installed capacity has you worried about closing coal fired power plants, let me finally dispense with all that paintable roof nanotechnology and declining cost of solar with a one minute check of the inverter readout at 9.30am sunday morning. The forecast was for early showers clearing to fine in the arvo, albeit rain later for most of the week. The weatherman got it right for Sunday and by 9.30am the cloud cover had broken to my guesstimate of 60-70% heavy cover with clearer, thinner cover and pockets of blue sky starting to poke through for the remainder. Waiting for the footballer to give me a buzz as to whether we were to roof his new verandah I checked the inverter readout which refreshes every couple of seconds or so and for about a minute what did I see. Lowest reading of 291W and a high of 1265W oscillating up and down as thick cloud then light cloud then a patch of blue sky then cloud again. In other words ranging between 14% and 60% of capacity and that sort of result would be occurring with solar panels scattered all over Adelaide you’ll note. That’s some hoary conundrum for the brown coal fired Playford(South Australian)and interconnected La Trobe Valley (Victorian) power stations, given that Victoria inherits much of SA weather within 24 hours with our Southern Hemisphere circulation. Yes Adelaideans watch out for Perth’s weather a day ahead too, as does the weatherman no doubt.

    Having just passed our winter solstice that 1265W is about right for a patch of blue and it will rise to that 1700-1800W range in spring and autumn but drop back to 1200-1300W in peak summer as the heat reduces panel efficiency. The bottom line however is no matter how efficient solar gets and how cheap, any gloomy wet saturday needs all our current power generation and infrastructure particularly when it falls on a working week day. Furthermore it needs to be there for the sunday mornings too because of that extreme variability. Solar is just a feelgood oncost that no-one on mains power would invest in without those massive reshiftable costs already being mentioned here-

    Already our State and Federal Govts are cutting back subsidies and forced feed-in tariffs as rising commodity prices make reshiftable energy politically unpalatable. The problem is simply that those 76000 systems all rely on average returns to the grid and as I’ve shown that has very little correlation with the more critical marginal output. The classic fallacy of composition for Econ 101 new chums whereby you take a box to stand on at the footy and you’ll see the game better but if we all take a box it’s a zero sum game. Solar feed-in is exactly like that whereby the lucky club members get subsidised for their average inputs and the costs of peak supply at the margin are spread to others via base load costs. More efficient and cheaper panels are just like cheap, funny money rocket fuel for margin borrowers playing the stock exchange but with a further twist. Govt guarantees for the fortunate insiders that they can stay in the game even with their stocks at zero values. There’s just one small problem that if everyone joins in that’s what GFCs are made of, but don’t worry we’ll all be too Green to fail this time round.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Jul 3, 2011 at 12:05 PM | Permalink

      I’ll set up a thread for reports on your solar system. 🙂

      • Posted Jul 4, 2011 at 7:16 AM | Permalink

        Steve, don’t be too hard on Observa – watching solar cells is about as good as it gets in Adelaide. I should know, I come from Adelaide too. (Ironically, my footy team is known as “The Power” although this year they’re running at about, oh, 3% efficiency)

        • observa
          Posted Jul 4, 2011 at 10:46 AM | Permalink

          I’m a Port Power man myself Monopole which is obviously why I’m watching Amateur League footy at present and let’s talk about the upcoming cricket season perhaps?

          Nevertheless Steve did ask-
          “I would like to know how much weight we can place on optimistic scenarios for deployment of wind and solar. I’m hardly alone in this – people are starving for reliable and independent information.”
          and as a solar feed-in system owner of nearly 3 yrs now I have been somewhat bemused that some here are still getting roped in by the usual watermelon babble about the nirvana of technological advances and declining cost of solar in particular. Now I simply chose to stick a 2.1kw system on my roof at the time because the Gummint stuck an economic gun to my head, when I calculated that with all the middle class pork and feed-in tariff, compliments of my neighbours, I’d get risk free, after tax return of 9-10% on my hard-earned. Don’t shoot, you win, I give up!

          Basically as the famous Muslim philosopher Mohammed al Voltaire said- ‘I believe it’s every citizen’s fundamental right to indulge in whatever Gummint pork is going down, even if I personally have to take care of all his Virgins in Paradise’. Yes I went through all the oohs and aahs about being so luvverly and Green at the time, with the usual wets and sundry economic illiterati but they were somewhat taken aback that I only did it for the Gummint Greening returns.(tax clawback I call it and a more eminently suitable candidate you couldn’t find) Anyway from all this I surmise that the widespread ignorance about solar performance, apart from the usual suspects’ snow job, is largely due to those in the club not wanting to let on what a sumptuous taxpayer/billpayer rort it all is.

          So there I was at lunchtime today putting the finishing touches on the lad’s verandah roof after a morning threatening to rain when down it came, light hail and all, so lunch it is. Now the lad has a recent 1.52Kw system (8X190W panels) on his roof naturally but unlike my older Fronius inverter which only reads current output unless you get out the manual to work out what buttons to push to get all the other readout functions, he’s got the latest Aerosharp with scrolling display for dummies. Tyical digital stuff nowadays for tech-heads that can even have a comms interface added so you can gloat in comfort in your lounge room and probably even some Smartphone app out there so you can gloat at work on the bosses time too. Ignore your age, sex and horoscope and there’s the current output 43watts, total time from startup today 4.5hrs (yep this is 12.10 and sunup was 7.23) and wait for it… total output today is 400watts. Back to the sandwiches and coffee and then at 12.30 would you believe it, the rain has stopped and the sun pokes through briefly. Wander over again and this time it’s putting out 1180watts.

          I did mention this is in a mediterranean climate now didn’t I? Anyway if you don’t believe me just check out a system inverter in your neck of the woods, if the owner will let you in on the global gag. Remember we get paid on average output conveniently tabled here-

          (click on the guide and scroll down to the table of average daily outputs for various Oz cities)

  53. observa
    Posted Jul 9, 2011 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    The shorter observa-
    Obviously another frustrated Port Power supporter with too much time on his hands, but I’ll take small credit for you multiplying that superior, scientific data by a factor of 6.67 to view the future of Utopian solar at its absolute best. Conclusions of ignorance, delusion or deceit I’ll leave up to you, whatever the future costs.

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