Sign up | Login with →

Comments by Rodney Smith Subscribe

On Global Warming, Coal Combustion and Sea Level Rise

Willem,

Thank you for your insightful reply to my comments.  I realise even Woodrow Wilson only had 14 points, and I believe it was the French negotiator at Versailles that remarked that God only has Ten Commandments.  In any event I appreciate you reading all 18 of mine!

While I indicated we might just squeak by that is not my true feeling--I am not that optimistic.  As you note the climate system has a significant time delay and momentum built into such things as sea level rise so even if we held ghg emissions at their current levels we would see much more climate change than we have seen to date.

I also agree that more coal than ever is likely to be burnt between now and 2050 and I fear that energy emissions combined with natural sources such as CH4 from the permafrost could drive us rapidly into severe climate change.  Of course the rate of change will be a significant determinant of the impact on human societies.

Your point of RE deployment is well taken, and when I describe R&D I mean just that--figure out the RE technology so in ten years or so we could be considering widespread deployment.  EE alone will not do it.  Peter Kiernan (formerly of Goldman Sachs) states there are approximately only about 1.5 billion of the total world population currently that are classifed as "energy intensive", and that number is projected to grow by 2.5 billion for a total of  4 billion by 2050.  China just surpassed the US in new cars being delivered to its market.  We need to do whatever we can to dampen the growth of ghg's in order to avoid the worst that climate change has to offer.

As you know we are currently in a relatively warm period within an ice age epoch.  Climate state changes within the current epoch have swung from ice ages to somewhat warmer than now, however we have not seen the high global temperatures present before the epoch started roughly 3.6 million years ago.  Climate changes within the limits of the current epoch would be catastrophic, however we need to fear climate change of a magnitude that could flip us out of the current epoch.  Some may say we could grow more food in a warmer world, etc.  However, climate epoch changes often drive biological regime changes that could put at risk most sizable organisms to emergent microrganisms.

There have been previous events leading to massive extinctions involving SO2.  These "green sky" events lead to toxic oceans and noxious skys.  The conditions required for green sky events are only beginning to be understood.  We do know that ocean ph has been significantly changed by CO2 absorption, and we know that ghg emissions will continue to rise preciputously.  We should not risk forcing a moderate cliamte change into an epochal change.

Rod Smith

September 4, 2012    View Comment    

On Global Warming, Coal Combustion and Sea Level Rise

Willem,

Thank you for your insightful reply to my comments.  I realise even Woodrow Wilson only had 14 points, and I believe it was the French negotiator at Versailles that remarked that God only has Ten Commandments.  In any event I appreciate you reading all 18 of mine!

While I indicated we might just squeak by that is not my true feeling--I am not that optimistic.  As you note the climate system has a significant time delay and momentum built into such things as sea level rise so even if we held ghg emissions at their current levels we would see much more climate change than we have seen to date.

I also agree that more coal than ever is likely to be burnt between now and 2050 and I fear that energy emissions combined with natural sources such as CH4 from the permafrost could drive us rapidly into severe climate change.  Of course the rate of change will be a significant determinant of the impact on human societies.

Your point of RE deployment is well taken, and when I describe R&D I mean just that--figure out the RE technology so in ten years or so we could be considering widespread deployment.  EE alone will not do it.  Peter Kiernan (formerly of Goldman Sachs) states there are approximately only about 1.5 billion of the total world population currently that are classifed as "energy intensive", and that number is projected to grow by 2.5 billion for a total of  4 billion by 2050.  China just surpassed the US in new cars being delivered to its market.  We need to do whatever we can to dampen the growth of ghg's in order to avoid the worst that climate change has to offer.

As you know we are currently in a relatively warm period within an ice age epoch.  Climate state changes within the current epoch have swung from ice ages to somewhat warmer than now, however we have not seen the high global temperatures present before the epoch started roughly 3.6 million years ago.  Climate changes within the limits of the current epoch would be catastrophic, however we need to fear climate change of a magnitude that could flip us out of the current epoch.  Some may say we could grow more food in a warmer world, etc.  However, climate epoch changes often drive biological regime changes that could put at risk most sizable organisms to emergent microrganisms.

There have been previous events leading to massive extinctions involving SO2.  These "green sky" events lead to toxic oceans and noxious skys.  The conditions required for green sky events are only beginning to be understood.  We do know that ocean ph has been significantly changed by CO2 absorption, and we know that ghg emissions will continue to rise preciputously.  We should not risk forcing a moderate cliamte change into an epochal change.

Rod Smith

September 4, 2012    View Comment    

On Global Warming, Coal Combustion and Sea Level Rise

Willem,

Thank you for the time you have spent identifying, documenting, and linking several climate change and energy elements.  I wish to share some thoughts that I hope will engernder further discussion.

1). I agree the cheapest watt is the watt saved.  EE should be aggressively pursued NOW.

2). We need to think in terms of delivered cost of watts and not only generated cost of watts.  When watts travel there is loss, and we must build expensive transmission lines.

3). An honest accounting of the end-to-end costs of the energy supply chain would reveal there are many hidden costs and much collateral damage resulting from certain types of generation.

4). Some forms of generation are far more water intensive than others both in fuel extraction and in generation. 

5). Many regions of the world are operating at severe water deficits and one should not assume the water will always be there for generation.

6).Generally RE has far fewer hidden costs and far less collateral damage.  For example, the USA might not station the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain if it were not for the oil supply chain, and RE does not require mountain tops to be torn off that not only spoil the view but also the water supply.

7). The plan, site, build, commission, operate, and decommission cycle for generation plant may exceed 100 years.  If we aggressively pursue EE we may be able to delay building some traditional generation while R&D on RE can drive down costs.

8) Electrcity storage has made great strides during the past 5 years and is poised to be ready for prime time this decade.  Advanced Li battery power factors have increased an order of magnitude during the past 2 years, and a 5 minute vehicle charge is within sight.

9). Electrcity storage has been called a "game changer" by the Edison Electric Institute and can serve to smooth the demand curve, assist with frequency regulation, and solve the problem of intermittency associated with RE.

10). Yes natural gas is cleaner than coal by 50%--yet as global demand for electrcity doubles we wil be treading water if we over rely on NG.

11). We do not yet know even the unknowns associated with climate change and are only beginning to understand certain feedback systems.  It would be dangerous to assume that it is a linear model--since it is a highly complex system the state-changes are more likely to occur rapidly fashion in a non-linear than incrementally.

12). Small changes in climate can have major impacts on human systems.  A relatively modest climate change around 1320 brought unseasonal rains to England in the winter.  The population had increased during the Medieval Optimum climate period and marginal land had been put into production.  The resulting famine resulted in a 25% death rate and was followed 20 years later by the Black Death (and the Hunred Years War).

13). Our just-in-time agricultural system has been successful in reducing the % of people on the planet subjected to famine while reducing the number of days of food supply significantly. (I belive the most recent figure is 42 days of supply assuming efficient distribution).  A relatively monor climate fluctuation could result in deep famine and rising prices especially in the developing world.

14). Famine historically destablishes governments and the bigger they are the harder they fall.  Many dynastic changes in China can be traced to famine events.

15). You mention methane clathrates existing in ocean beds and in the tundra.  CH4 also is being emitted in gaseous form from melting permafrost and rect studies suggest vast quantities exist beneath Artic Ocean ice (rapidly melting) and beneath Antarctcia.  The permafrost belt extends across Siberia, Alaska, and Canada (not to mention Greenland) and the Yedoma region of Siberia (twice the size of Sweden) has seen millions of thermokarst lakes form within the period of satellite imagery--and many of these lakes have CH4 bubbling up out of them sufficient to prevent freezing in the winter.

16). CH4 release potential dwarfs human ghg emissions and has the appearances of a powerful  positive feedback loop over which we have no control.  It is extremely dangerous to take a wait-and-see approach with the permafrost as it might be a runaway train and could force a cliamte state-change.  reducing anthropogenic ghg emissions can only slow the train down and might buy us time to adapt.

17). Yes humans have successfully adapted during the past severe ice age cycle and we live in most environments on the planet.  Species survival is one thing--societal survival is another.  Geneticists have observed several "bottlenecks" where human population was all but wiped out.  A major volcanic eruption 70,000 ybp is perhaps the best example (Mt. Toba if I recall correctly).  More recently the 17th century expansion of Sweden was terminated when famine prevailed for several years following eruption of a volcano in Iceland.  

18). Assuming we might just squeak by without anthropogenci ghg's forcing a climate change we will cannot assume natural factors will not inconveniently occur.

In summary: Agressive Energy Efficiency NOW and Aggressive Renewable Energy R&D NOW.  Through efficiency we buy time, and if we use the time wisely to drive down the cost of renewables we might just avoid a train wreck.

Thanks again for your post--I took the time to reply because of the high quality of work you shared.

Best,

Rodney Smith 

September 3, 2012    View Comment    

On Closing in on Climate Tipping Points

The climate system of Earth is such an incredibly complex open system that of course climate models cannot be expected to perfectly project climate change.  Over time climate is affected by planetary forces such as plate tectonics that rearrange continental configurations that change oceanic and atmospheric heat distribution, and by external variables such as sun cycles and meteors.  Shorter term variables include three major overlapping cycles related to Earth's orbit, tilt, and wobble of its axis.

Given that we live on a planet with an unstable climate I am astounded that there is any debate about the wisdom of pumping gases into the atmosphere that can upset delicate balances we have only begun to learn about.  For those that think we can adapt to climate change we need to think in terms of human societies and systems--not just will an individual be able to adapt to a changed climate.  By this I mean that globalized human systems have to some degree been successful in reducing the percentage of people going to bed hungry--while reducing the number of days of food supply on the planet.

I characterize systems that evolve in this direction as "brittle" systems as they may have the outward appearance of strength yet be very susceptable to shock such as glass.

One feedback loop I have been concerned about for decades is related to the permafrost, and more specifically vast amounts of carbon locked up in the permafrost.  Any warming of the Arctic will result in melting of some permafrost and the release of either CH4 or CO2 depending on the several factors including water.  Recent studies have calculated the amount of carbon locked up in the permafrost to be huge when compared to atmospheric carbon.  The release of only 1% of this carbon would eclipse by an order of magnitude our best efforts to reduce ghg emissions.

As much as I fear geoengineering solutions to reduce warming due to our general ignorance of the climate system I do believe we better have some approaches thought through that could be rapidly deployed if needed. Geoengineering may be our only hope if have already passed critical tipping points.

Why migh tI think that tipping points may have been passed?  There is a time delay in the climate system.  What we are witnessing now as "climate change" is not the result of current ghg levels--but past ghg levels.  AND current energy projections indicate doubling of electrical generrent tation by 2030-2050, and most of that given currenttechnologies will come from carbon-based fuels.  There are time delays in our electrical generation plant systems too.  Generation plants often take a decade or more to plan, construct, and commission, and current rates of renewable generation are not projected to keep up with increases in demand.

Rodney Smith

April 5, 2012    View Comment    

On Experience with Energy Storage Technology Is The Key to Promoting Innovation

So much focus on the cost of battery systems for relatively low value applications (e.g. autos) when we should look to develop and deploy battery storage on high value applications (e.g. rapid regulation services) first, and then apply our learnings on lower value applications.  The current alternatives for rapid regulation services are limited (e.g. fly wheels).  Gas generation cannot be counted as rapid regulation as the response time is measured in minutes rather than sub-seconds.

Rodney Smith

April 5, 2012    View Comment