Global Warming Off Topic

The Mystery of Global Warming’s Missing Heat

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Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2003 completed the deployment of 3000 oceanic robots that dive 1 kilometer deep and record the water temperature. The unexpected result is that the robots have found that the ocean cooled slightly in the past 4 years. Willis also says that the oceans contain almost ten times the amount of heat as the atmosphere so the ocean temperature is much more critical to watch. Compounding the mystery is the fact that the oceans have risen by one centimeter in the past 4 years which is much more than was forecast. A cooling ocean should be falling not rising. He says the fall is offset by icemelt in Greenland and Antarctica but the meltwaters aren’t nearly enough to account for the rise. In another refreshingly canded admission Willis says that global climate models do not adequately account for the effect of clouds and they have no current instrumentation to measure global cloud behavior. He suspects that clouds act as a thermostat to limit how warm and how cold the earth can get. I’ve read elsewhere and have blogged it here that global warming models don’t account for precipitation and increased precipitation might also be a thermostat – when the atmosphere warms up we get a faster water cycle, a faster water cycle means more evaporation, and it takes a lot of heat to evaporate water. Increased rainfall essentially acts like a global swamp cooler.

The long and the short of all this is that blaming CO2 for any negative or potentially negative effects at this point in time is just a lot of hot air (figuratively not literally). In the meantime we do know three things that are undisputed:

1) a warm wet world is better than a cold dry world

2) food crops grow better and faster when given more warmth and carbon dioxide

3) reducing the CO2 in the atmosphere is a costly undertaking that will put further strain on the global economy

So there exists a very real possibility that attempts to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere will have far worse consequences than doing nothing. It will certainly cost a lot to do it starting right away. If it can be done at all it will take 50 years before any benefits start kicking in. If it can be done in 50 years it might be disastrous to the world food supply, especially if the climate cools (for whatever reason) simultaneous to the CO2 reduction. At the very least the whole situation needs to be studied a lot more before action is taken. If we take action based on incomplete climate models we’re just asking for trouble. Look before you leap.

Read more here: The Mystery of Global Warming’s Missing Heat by Richard Harris

35 Replies to “The Mystery of Global Warming’s Missing Heat

  1. 1
    Borne says:

    Great post Dave.

    I used to be a flight instructor – small aircraft. As such I had to teach meteorology. One obvious point is that cloud cover causes temperature changes.

    If in winter, temperatures will remain stable or may go up slightly due to heat from the ground not escaping into the atmosphere so quickly. The clouds thus act as a blanket. But only for a short time, since if they remain, the ground heat will radiate (leak) and temperatures will drop.

    If in summer, the clouds will hinder sunlight from heating the ground and temperatures go down. Thus the clouds act as solar radiation shields.

    These differences in these cloud cover effects are noted by us as above only because the average temperature is different in those seasons.

    The Arabs say, “All sun makes the desert”. Conversely all cloud makes cold. (Depending on the thermal sources of the ground)

    So, to the point, the earth, to regulate it’s heat to favor most life, needs lots of sun and clouds. Obvious right?

    But, the anthropic “coincidences” here are pretty astounding when you think on it. So many variables, so many systems have to be in place, with the right formulas and values to make this world livable it’s just uncanny.

    My points are:
    1. Yes we need to do a lot more research into global cloud coverage as a global thermal regulator and
    2. The design of earth’s eco/climate system is ingenious! And perhaps most amazing of all,
    3. It appears to be self-correcting in line with solar cycles.

  2. 2
    DrDan says:

    There’s in interesting article in the March 2008 issue of Physics Today which discusses the relationship between solar variability and global warming. The two authors are Nicola Scafetta and Bruce West and they have written up their work in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a PEER REVIEWED publication (peer review seems to be highly valued around here). In short, the two authors contend that much of the global variability can be correlated with changes in the solar variablity.

  3. 3
    SCheesman says:

    “There’s in interesting article in the March 2008 issue of Physics Today”

    Hi Dave. I wrote an e-mail to you about this last week (I got your (?) address from Denyse). Did you get my note? The authors estimate up to 70% of temperature variations can be related to changes in solar irradiance. This do this, not by a linear comparison of input to outputs, but by “complexity” matching, where changes in global temperatures are found to correlate (not necessarily in a linear fashion) with variations in irradiance. It’s subscription-only, unfortunately.

  4. 4
    Turner Coates says:

    If we take action based on incomplete climate models we’re just asking for trouble.

    Successful investors rely on incomplete and unreliable economic models. Part of how they profit is to hedge.

    There are inexpensive ways of achieving large reductions in CO2 emissions. For instance, ruminant livestock will soon account for 20% of global CO2 emissions — more than transportation does. Gripe all you want about giving up cheeseburgers and ice cream and obesity-related illnesses, but don’t tell me that substantially reducing CO2 emissions is a costly undertaking. We have ways, but not the will.

    An indisputable fact is that we are presently forced to make decisions on the basis of conflicting scientific interpretations of the available data. No one, but no one, can justify a dichotomous response. The only sane response is to hedge.

  5. 5

    Did you notice the last comment on the article?

    “Trenberth and Willis agree that a few mild years have no effect on the long-term trend of global warming. But they say there are still things to learn about how our planet copes with the heat.”

    How long will this have to go on before it falsifies the theory?

  6. 6
    Turner Coates says:

    DrDan says,

    There’s in interesting article in the March 2008 issue of Physics Today which discusses the relationship between solar variability and global warming.

    Here’s the opinion piece (article?) by Scafetta and West that appears in Physics Today.

    SCheesman says,

    The authors estimate up to 70% of temperature variations can be related to changes in solar irradiance.

    But the authors say,

    We estimate that the Sun
    could account for as much as 69% of the increase in Earth’s average temperature, depending on the TSI reconstruction used.

    TSI is total solar irradiance. Note in their figure that MUCH less than 69% of the increase is accounted for with an alternative reconstruction of TSI from proxy data (i.e., what they actually know about is solar flares, not solar irradiance). They should have specified, and perhaps did specify, the lower percentage along with the higher in their journal article.

    SCheesman also says,

    This do this, not by a linear comparison of input to outputs, but by “complexity” matching, where changes in global temperatures are found to correlate (not necessarily in a linear fashion) with variations in irradiance.

    S/he’s getting their explanations of short-term and long-term fluctuations confused. Read the opinion piece — it’s only two pages.

  7. 7
    Turner Coates says:

    How long will this have to go on before it falsifies the theory?

    Do you mean to say that you know it’s only a matter of time before the theory is falsified? That’s not my idea of a scientific mindset.

    Allow me to rephrase: How long would this have to go on for the theory to be falsified? My answer: Much longer than any blogger with a penchant for overly strong statements can abide. The Physics Today opinion piece DrDan and SCheesman brought into the discussion mentions a “climate time response” parameter of 7.5 years.

    Not only are our climate experiments (mostly unplanned and uncontrolled) potentially very costly, but slow to yield reliable data. Again, that means we should hedge in our decision making.

  8. 8
    Turner Coates says:

    Google and ye shall find. Boxes in the following replace the “approximately” symbol.

    Figure 6 shows the comparison between the two NH temperature reconstructions shown in Figure 1 and the phenomenological solar temperature signatures obtained with the TSI proxy reconstructions corrected with the ACRIM TSI satellite composite since 1980, as shown in Figure 3. By assuming ACRIM, the solar activity has an increasing trend during the second half of the 20th century. By assuming MANN03, the Sun is responsible for approximately 0.18 K (or 22%) with LEAN2000 and 0.23K (or 29%) with WANG2005 of the warming occurring from 1900 to 2005, and 0.05K (or 8%) with LEAN2000 and0.15K (or 25%) with WANG2005 of the warming occurring since 1950. By assuming MOBERG05, the Sun is responsible for 0.45K (or 56%) with LEAN2000 and 0.55K (or 69%) with WANG2005 of the warming that occurred from 1900 to 2005, and 0.15K (or 20%) withh LEAN2000 and DT  0.25K (or 42%) with WANG2005 of the warming that occurred since 1950. (The estimates might present an error of about 20%.)

    Scafetta and West, Phenomenological reconstructions of the solar signature in the Northern Hemisphere surface temperature records since 1600

  9. 9
    SCheesman says:

    Hello Turner. It’s “he”, and mea culpa, I admit I rounded 69 up to 70. As you yourself noted, the original wording is:

    “We estimate that the Sun could account for as much as 69% of the increase in Earth’s average temperature, depending on the TSI reconstruction used.”

    I lash myself for the number inflation.

    I made no mention of long-term or short term, so I can’t see how I was confused; all I said was “changes”.

    One of their original papers in GRL (Geophysical Research Letters) can be found here:

    http://www.acrim.com/Reference.....L_2006.pdf

    In similar articles their estimate of the contribution of TSI is 10%-30%.

  10. 10
    Turner Coates says:

    Hello, SCheesman, sir.

    I lash myself for the number inflation.

    It wasn’t the 1% difference, but your specification of temperature variation when it was in fact mean temperature. I strengthened your statement.

    My comments are held for moderation, so when you see this, there will be more information from the journal article in a comment preceding yours I’m responding to.

    I removed you from the moderation list just now (3/20 @ 7am CST) -ds

  11. 11
    Timothy V Reeves says:

    Highly intriguing post.
    .
    Dave said…
    .
    I’ve read elsewhere and have blogged it here that global warming models don’t account for precipitation…
    .
    I am really surprised to hear that Dave! I have also heard* the theory that mountain building since saurian times lead to increased precipitation and the consequent CO2 scrubbing effect is one of the factors implicated in cooling since reptilian days**, eventually, of course, culminating in a climate that became sensitive to the ice age triggering effects of the Milankovitch cycles. So if precipitation is thought to be that important how can they miss it?
    .
    Footnotes
    * I have to admit that much of my science is hearsay/rumor driven, although I try to make up for it by text-criticism and above all self-criticism, if I can steel myself to face it. Talking of rumors, one way of thinking of Wiki is to regard it as the mother (and father) of all rumors. Perhaps I ought to apply the same textual methods to blogs! With friends like these….
    ** Dinosaur CO2 may have been up to twelve times our current levels apparently… not to mention the methane releasing effects of all that barrel bellied sauropod flatulence. Did the dinosaurs f*rt their way into extinction?

  12. 12
    Frost122585 says:

    But I dissagree with the precept of the article. The theory of global warming isn’t missing any hot air.

  13. 13
    Borne says:

    Timothy V Reeves:

    “Dinosaur CO2 may have been up to twelve times our current levels apparently… not to mention the methane releasing effects of all that barrel bellied sauropod flatulence. Did the dinosaurs f*rt their way into extinction?”

    Ha! You know I came up with theory as a joke a few years back, only to discover (after thinking more deeply on it) that there may be some validity to it.

    Then I googled it and discovered it was indeed a viable postulation in the minds of many scientists.

    Wouldn’t ya know it, the old farts do have some power after all! 🙂 And dino extinctions may be more explosive than we thought!

    Can you imagine how much methane could be produced in an Ultrasaurus tract? Now imagine a nice sized herd. You wouldn’t want to light a match after supper around them now would you! Might lose the whole village.

  14. 14
    DLH says:

    On the impact of clouds, Roy Spencer et al. have confirmed the “Iris Effect”.

    “To give an idea of how strong this enhanced cooling mechanism is, if it was operating on global warming, it would reduce estimates of future warming by over 75 percent,” Spencer said.

    Discussion at:The Iris Opens Again?

    See:
    “Cirrus disappearance: Warming might thin heat-trapping clouds”

    Spencer, R.W., Braswell, W.D., Christy, J.R., Hnilo, J., 2007. Cloud and radiation budget changes associated with tropical intraseasonal oscillations. Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L15707, doi:10.1029/2007/GL029698.

    Roy Spencer gives an excellent intro to: Global Warming and Nature’s Thermostat

    Roy Spencer just published:
    “Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Leads to Bad Science, Pandering politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor” Encounter Books (March 27, 2008) ISBN-10: 1594032106

    That is the biggest moral problem of the “global warming” band wagon.
    e.g., biofuels have pushed the price of corn and soybeans to all time highs, causing major increases in the cost of food for those who can least afford it.

  15. 15
    bFast says:

    Borne, the case of the flatulating dinosaurs was hilarious! Kinda reminds me of a farside cartoon about dinosaurs suffering neck injuries from continental drift. It too has some truth to it. ‘Seems that continental drift is the primary cause of earthquakes, which can give you more than a sore neck.

  16. 16
    DaveScot says:

    Turner

    re; hedging

    Maybe you should address that to Bear Stearns.

    re; ruminant co2 generation

    I wasn’t aware cows were a significant source of CO2. Did you perhaps mean to say methane, which they do produce a lot of and is a much more powerful greenhouse gas? In any case livestock raised for food is very inefficient to begin with so I’m with you 100% on reducing meat production. Personally I consume very little beef, pork, or dairy products. We stopped buying milk a year ago and buy soy milk instead. I do eat a fair amount of lean white chicken and an assortment of seafoods. I would put forward to you that the free market is sorting all this out adequately with no further intervention required. With oil futures closing at what, $112/bbl this week, that’s all the impetus needed to spur conservation. It’s been my position for at least a decade that as known reserves of light sweet crude decline the price of oil will rise through the roof and that alone will cause enough voluntary conservation to sort out the problems. I think we ought to get rid of the subsidies on biofuel that are making it more economically attractive to make alcohol instead of tortillas from corn though. The free market will take care of that too. A better place to put those subsidies is into the construction of the latest generation of fast cycle light water nuclear reactors. It’s ironic that the U.S. greenies 30 years ago made nuclear power plants so prohibitively expensive to build and operate that today we only get 20% of our electricity from a group of antique reactors that are nearing end-of-life. France, which hardly does anything right IMO, gets 80% of its electricity from nukes. That’s one thing they did do right. That said it’s my position for at least two decades that what we should be doing is building solar power satellites in low earth orbit and sending the energy down to the ground via microwave to rectenna farms. The density of solar flux in LEO is orders of magnitude greater than on the ground, there are no cloudy days in LEO, and there’s no accumulation of dirt on the solar panels. Once again the greenies threw up roadblocks because the atmosphere isn’t completely transparent to microwave and there will be some atmospheric heating and any wildlife (birds primarily) in the microwave footprint might be adversely effected. Just wonderful. We maybe save a few birds but trash civilization when the oil runs out. It’s been technology feasible to build solar power sats for decades. Once up they become a virtually free, non-polluting source of all the energy that civilization requires. An added benefit is that rectenna farms can be located almost anywhere so our decrepit, failing electrical distribution grid doesn’t need a major facelift. The upfront cost though is in the trillions and it would take decades to build so it really needs to be about a 50-year plan before it goes from red ink to black ink which is so far beyond the next fiscal quarter that no corporation or governmental body is willing to seriously begin the project. How sad. If we’d begun in the 1980’s it would be operational today and starting to pay back the investment.

    P.S. While browsing around looking for any justification for saying livestock produce 20% of manmade CO2 I ran into this essay which you may find interesting. I didn’t check the claims or examine the sources cited but it rings true and talks about methane production by livestock, not CO2.

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/mis.....arming.htm

    P.P.S. You might want to check out the Wikipedia entry on solar power sats. I spent an hour reading it just now to get myself up to date as it’s been a few years since I checked up on any progress. The most interesting thing I learned was the Lofstrom launch loop which I’d never heard of before.

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

  17. 17
    BarryA says:

    DaveScott writes: “It’s been my position for at least a decade that as known reserves of light sweet crude decline the price of oil will rise through the roof”

    Dave, what you say is obvioiusly true, but with respect to your larger point I think you err when you focus exclusively on light sweet crude. Light sweet is, of course, the most economical oil, but it is not the only oil out there. There are two other benchmark oils, North Sea Brent and WTI (West Texas Intermediate).

    Interestingly (at least in my view), as the price of oil goes up reserves of oil increase for no other reason than that the price of oil has gone up.

    This is true because reserve estimates are NOT estimates of the total amount of oil in the ground. They are estimates of ECONOMICALLY recoverable oil. Obviously, when oil goes up, harder-to-get-to (and thus more expensive to extract) reserves that would not otherwise count get added to the reserve estimate.

    Example, here in Colorado we have oil shale. There’s a lot of oil in it, but it’s costly to extract. When we reach the break even point where the cost of extracting a barrel of oil from the shale is equal to or less than the price of oil on the market (i.e., when it is economical to extract the oil from the shale), those reserves will become part of the total reserves out there. And I understand that there are centuries worth of oil in the shale.

    Thus, even if rates of oil consumption increase, we are still hundreds of years away from running out.

    Conclusion: We are a long long long way from where it would make economic sense to spend trillions on an alternative to fossil fuels.

  18. 18
    Timothy V Reeves says:

    Borne said

    Ha! You know I came up with theory as a joke a few years back, only to discover

    Ah! So it was you that started the rumor! Have you slapped a copyright order on all those scientists who are earning a living from it?

  19. 19
    Borne says:

    bFast: Indeed! Why do people laugh at flatulence? Is this, yet another example of something inexplicable in Darwinian terms? Is this evidence of back-loading!?! :-O

    And speaking of continental drift, did you know that the first person to propose that theory was a creationist? One Antonio Snider-Pelligrini in 1858.
    See: Carozzi, Albert V.
    New Historical Data on the Origin of the Theory of Continental Drift. pp. 283–286 Geological Society of America Bulletin vol. 81, no. 1 (January 1970)

  20. 20
    Borne says:

    Turner: “Ah! So it was you that started the rumor! Have you slapped a copyright order on all those scientists who are earning a living from it?”

    Actually, I made the comments as a joke to colleagues back 2002. Then I looked it up on the net and found that some scientists had already thought of it. So I unfortunately can’t claim the honors for the flatulence or fart theory of dino extinctions. 🙂

    I also think that many large dinos may have caused their own dooms in letting loose too close to active volcanoes though.

    I am however somewhat fearful that, if they ever do succeed in making a real Jurassic Park that the world may be in for another hot and deadly blast from the past!

    We could perhaps hire super hero Mr. Methane (http://www.mrmethane.com) to combat fire with fire. But he looks awfully skinny.

    lol

  21. 21
    Borne says:

    Continental drift: Well actually it appears that Abraham Ortelius was first to suggest this back in the 16th century. But he too was a creationist so we once again see how ID is such a danger to society. 😉

  22. 22
    DLH says:

    I expect constraints of Peak oil will put a damper on grandiose projections of CO2 increase.

    In the long run, prices of solar thermal power will drop fast and pick up the difference.

    PS DaveScott
    “. . . we should be [] building solar power satellites in low earth orbit and sending the energy down to the ground via microwave to rectenna farms. The density of solar flux in LEO is orders of magnitude greater than on the ground, there are no cloudy days in LEO,”

    I am skeptical that the costs of space solar power can come within order of magnitude of the costs of ground based solar systems. See especially solar thermal concentrating systems like Ausra’s compact fresnel lens.
    One primary difference is the assumption of such low terrestrial solar conversion efficiency. Note solar thermal power can potentially approach 40% to 50% conversion compared to 5% to 40% for PV.

  23. 23
    Turner Coates says:

    DaveScot,

    Did you perhaps mean to say methane, which they do produce a lot of and is a much more powerful greenhouse gas?

    Yes, I emitted a bit of methane myself, with the brain burp. Ruminant livestock emit more methane with belches than with flatulence. But what comes out the other end includes nitrous oxide, and that’s not laughing gas in this context. It’s much worse than methane.

    The 20% figure I mentioned was for greenhouse gases in general, not CO2. I honestly can’t tell you precisely what 20% means, given the differences in effect of different gases.

    I used to be with you on letting the free market straighten things out, but now I believe that the time lag in realizing the consequences of certain actions makes the emergence of effective feedback loops unlikely. I’m generally in favor of smaller government, decentralization, etc., so don’t misinterpret my belief that foresight and intervention by elected leaders is essential here.

    A better place to put those subsidies is into the construction of the latest generation of fast cycle light water nuclear reactors. It’s ironic that the U.S. greenies 30 years ago made nuclear power plants so prohibitively expensive to build and operate that today we only get 20% of our electricity from a group of antique reactors that are nearing end-of-life.

    I was nothing like a “greenie” back in those days, but I insisted that we had to be sure we knew how to handle the waste before operating nuclear power plants. A friend of mine argued that some very bright engineers had done some sophisticated risk analysis, and that the greater risk lay with allowing the number of coal-burning plants in the U.S. to increase as projected. He never convinced me of that, but I’m here to say that my absolutist stance was wrong, and that we should have hedged in our choices of electric power generation technology. My understanding of how I erred back then is precisely what is behind my insistence now on a moderate response to global warming.

    P.S.–Thanks for the link. I love the fact that everyone can make a big difference.

    P.P.S.–The cost of R&D into speculative technologies that might be of high utility in the future is TINY relative to the federal budget. With your background, you should know that even major corporations are quite limited in the risks they can take. They’re limited not only in the probability of success they operate with, but time horizon as well. Start-ups regularly operate with low probability of success, but always with a short time horizon. This leads me to say that the federal government should spend much more than it does on research into potentially valuable technology that may not pan out for quite some time, if at all. The trend over the past 20 years, even at the National Science Foundation, has been toward short-term payoffs.

  24. 24
    DLH says:

    Turner and DaveScott
    Consider cost effective solar thermal to distribute risks.

    See near term potential for Sahara solar power to Germany at 6c/kWh

  25. 25
    DaveScot says:

    BarryA

    You’re making a mistake thinking of the cost of recovery in dollars. Think of the cost of recovery in the amount of energy required. When it takes more energy to recover a barrel of oil than is obtained from the oil, it’s then “unrecoverable”. It may still be recovered and refined due to demand for it but one needs to keep in mind that when the energy required to recover and refine exceeds the energy contained in the final product it’s a losing proposition on the whole. Think of it then as borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

  26. 26
    DaveScot says:

    DLH

    Even if solar cells were 100% efficient there is one reality that never goes away – a solar cell cannot produce more power than the amount of sunlight it receives. No surface cell can generate power at night and output declines considerably when there are clouds in the sky. The density of solar flux in space is constant and considerably greater than even the clearest day on the equator. This requires that excess energy be stored for use on (literally) rainy days. Since most areas on the earth just don’t get enough consistently intense sunlight to meet their needs while other get more than they need it requires building a vastly more capable power distribution grid to get the energy from where it’s gathered to where it’s used. Solar power sats get around all these problems. The only real problem that needs to be addressed is the cost lifting material from the ground to low earth orbit. There are various workable ways around that problem. Also keep in mind that as solar cell efficiency goes up, solar power sats benefit from the gain just as much as ground based cells.

  27. 27
    DLH says:

    For nuances of Energy Return On Investment of Energy (EROIE) See TheOilDrum:
    An EROIE Review Robert Rapier
    A Net Energy Parable: Why is ERoEI Important? Nate Hagens

    Major issues are what counts: Fossil or renewable energy (and for biofuels where do nutrients fit in?)
    ($ ratios are sometimes used as quick surrogates for underlying EROEI.)

    Converting abundant coal to scarce liquid fuel may make economic sense until sustainable solar fuels are available in volume, even thought the EROIE may be low.

    Also keep in perspective that incident solar energy is about 10,000 times greater than human use. Can a 0.01% change in solar energy be distinguished from a 100% change in anthropogenic use?

    Applying this to detecting intelligent causation:
    What “quantity”, or “portion” of systems need to be identified as having intelligent causation to distinguish Intelligent Design from natural or evolutionary causation?

  28. 28
    DLH says:

    DaveScott
    You might enjoy Ballistic Launch into Space by Schmidt & Bundy.

    The underlying challenge is how to make space systems competitive when the cost to launch into low earth orbit is about $8,000,000/ton compared to $800/ton or less for delivered steel?
    Compare heliostats at about $150/m^2 or $1,500/ton installed at 0.1 ton/m^2? Can space systems be made that much lighter?

    PS the ratio of average sunlight at ground level vs in space is of the order of 6x.

  29. 29
    DaveScot says:

    incident solar energy is about 10,000 times greater than human use

    Yeah but most that incident solar energy is unrecoverable at the surface. Knock out 70% of it because it is incident over an ocean. Only a tiny fraction falls where it can be practically harvested without serious tradeoffs. Again, solar power sats don’t have a problem there. All the sunlight they harvest would otherwise zoom off into interstellar space and there’s millions of times more surface area in suitable earth orbits than there is surface area on the globe.

    Plus the harvesting of energy of space can not only meet our base needs now, it can provide far, far more than what we absolutely need.

    This is probably all going to be moot in any case as we’re going to run out of fresh water before we run out of light sweet crude.

  30. 30
    DLH says:

    DaveScott

    I agree fossil water depletion will become critical.

    Solar thermal can also supply the fresh water by desalination (condensation) of cooling water.
    Aden Meinel & Marjorie Meinel observed that desert solar thermal could provide all the power for the US while supplying about 2/3rds of the fresh water needed. See:
    Aden Baker Meinel and Marjorie Pettit Meinel, Power for the People, (Tucson, Arizona: privately published, 1970).

    I look forward seeing how space solar can make economic sense.

    As is understand it, 1% of earth’s surface may be sufficient to provide all the power needed.

    PS Any reason we can’t have floating solar power plants if they are cost effective?

  31. 31
    DLH says:

    BarryA
    “We are a long long long way from where it would make economic sense to spend trillions on an alternative to fossil fuels.”

    The problem is that we will rapidly “spend trillions” on oil if we don’t. e.g. US oil imports cost > $350 billion/yr x 30 yrs >>$10 trillion > US National debt – assuming it was available.

    More of a challenge is the limitations on how fast it takes to develop and implement alternatives. See publications by Robert Hirsch: The Hirsch Report

  32. 32
    Turner Coates says:

    DLH and DaveScot,

    I think your exchange drives home the point that no one can predict well how technologies will converge in ten or twenty years. Not to say you shouldn’t debate what will work and what won’t, but I don’t think firm decisions on such matters should be made early on. Not only do apparent non-starters sometimes turn out to be sensational successes, but failures in strange regions of the space of feasible technologies sometimes generate information that turns out to be enormously valuable later on.

    I say we are more likely to get several sensational technologies with exploration of 1000 iffy technologies than by focusing on 100 “promising” technologies.

    Perhaps it’s obvious, but I’ll say outright that I think in terms of the evolution of technology. Simulation studies conducted by David Fogel and associates indicate that when two species, one of which has offspring with higher mean fitness and lower variance of fitness, and the other of which has offspring with lower mean fitness and higher variance of fitness, are in competition, and both generate many more offspring than can survive, the species with the lower mean and the higher variance dominates (i.e., in population size).

    Our society can afford a great many technological trials. I am essentially saying that to get super-fit technologies, we should go with high risk (variance of returns) and low mean return in state-sponsored R&D.

  33. 33
    DLH says:

    The following paper reveals a major cause for the appearance of “global warming”.
    Global Warming Data Affected By Land-Use Change, Study Says

    December 04, 2007 – News Release

    Land-use modifications for urbanization and agriculture have affected climate change data more than previously thought, according to new research by a University of Guelph professor.

    In a paper published online this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmosphere, economics professor Ross McKitrick says the resulting discrepancies may be leading to an overstatement of the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In fact, the study concludes that skewed data could account for as much as half the post-1980 warming trend over land.

  34. 34
    DaveScot says:

    DLH

    re; land use

    1% now (possibly) but our needs grow. We need 10x the amount of energy today than a century ago. A century hence will we need to utilize 10% of the earth’s surface to capture enough solar flux? There is no practical limit to how much solar energy we can capture in space.

    Also, you haven’t yet addressed my point about distribution grids. While it may be possible to cover the Mojave with enough solar panels to meet the current needs of the United States how do we distribute the power from the Mojave to everywhere else? Our power grid is already failing. When one local power plant goes down and power is rerouted from elsewhere to make up for it we get massive cascades of shutdowns because the grid gets overloaded. Several massive blackouts like that have occurred in the past few years. Distribution of energy is as critical a problem as is generation.

    re; floating power plants

    Floating solar power plants have several big problems. The first is distribution. How do you get the power from where it is generated to where it is needed? Floating tranmission lines? The second problem is that saltwater is corrosive. Maintenance costs go up dramatically and useful lifetimes go down dramatically in saltwater environments. The third problem is stability. You need a very stable platform to keep mirrors or panels aimed at the sun. Floating structures on the open ocean lack this stability. Keep in mind it also has to withstand the extremes of weather on the open ocean without breaking up.

    One last point. We currently have about 650 megawatts in solar power plants in the Mojave desert producing electricity at $0.12/kilowatt hour. This is equivalent to a single medium size nuclear power plant which generates power at about $0.06/kwh. We’d need about 500 times more than that to meet the current electrical needs of the United States. Why don’t we just do it? For the same reason we don’t build a thousand nuclear power plants in the Mojave – distribution. When all the power is produced in one place it still has to be distributed to where it is needed. Transmission lines are expensive to build and maintain, have a significant ecological footprint, and have increasingly large losses over increasingly large distances. I think you are basically ignoring the distribution problem which is in fact just as big as the generation problem. At one time it was thought that superconducting transmission lines would come to the rescue but despite decades of research it hasn’t yet become workable. Solar power sats solve both the generation and distribution problems. Land based solar doesn’t solve the distribution problem even if it does solve the generation problem.

  35. 35
    DLH says:

    DaveScott
    I agree that distribution is a critical issue. I would much prefer distributed generation for security. Distribution needs to be considered in the overall mix.
    See Rocky Mountain Institute on Energy Security.
    You suggested: Why don’t we just do it? – Because of distribution problems.
    I suggest there are many far larger reasons. e.g., California monopoly practices and pricing structures, comparing mature fossil/nuclear with nacent solar, tax structures etc. We have yet to see serious aggressive solar thermal design and pricing.

    Yet within that context:

    To transport the electricity to Europe, a 1,875 mile high voltage direct current cable is to be built between Algeria and Germany, running through Sardinia, Italy and Switzerland.

    “Getting permission from all these countries to build this cable could slow down the project for years because of all the red tape. But the cable will be able to carry electricity to Europe with only about a 10 percent loss,” Milow said. He said small quantities of electricity could be imported into Germany as early as 2010.

    See near term potential for Sahara solar power to Germany at 6c/kWh

    Distribution losses can be accommodated at whatever the scale.

    Economists happily wax eloquent on optimal pricing of transmission:

    Electricity Transmission Pricing:
    How much does it cost to get it wrong?
    Richard Green

    For popular info,

    Long-distance transmission of electricity (thousands of miles) is cheap and efficient, with costs of US$ 0.005 to 0.02 per kilowatt-hour (compared to annual averaged large producer costs of US$ 0.01 to US$ 0.025 per kilowatt-hour, retail rates upwards of US$ 0.10 per kilowatt-hour, and multiples of retail for instantaneous suppliers at unpredicted highest demand moments)

    (wikipedia citing)
    PRESENT LIMITS OF VERY LONG DISTANCE TRANSMISSION SYSTEMS
    By L. Paris, et al.

    Issues are:
    1) Pricing structure to provide timely distribution with the reliability people ae really willing to pay for.
    2) Pricing to pay for using the redundancy of backup generation etc.
    3) Technical structuring to provide rapid, fail safe, isolation.
    4) Dealing with those unhappy activists living SE of Europe.

    On ocean stability, submariners do not get seasick, and the navy manages to hit targets from rolling platforms. That is just a economic/technical issue that appears manageable in the larger context of providing economic power and fuel.

    On future demand, consider optimal energy services rather than current wasteful practice. E.g. energy use can frequently be reduced 40% and possibly 80% if you work at it. See Rocky Mountain Institute.

    Distributed energy storage could also be very important in stabilizing the grid.

    What if we could install 1,000 solar thermal power stations across the SW and So US with numerous distribution lines and 20% excess capacity at 5c/kWh?

    See the National Academy for Engineering Grand ChallengeMake solar energy economical

    Please pursue your Satellite Solar, and I will happily pursue terrestrial solar to that goal. May be best design win.
    If you think you can come anywhere close economically, by all means point us to how that can be done.
    e.g., see
    Solar Energy Resources – Orbiting Solar Power Satellite
    G. L. Kulcinski, 2004, National Research Council

    This is a good challenge in current “Intelligent Design” (rather than the distribution system “evolving” with numerous “mutations” with corresponding consequences)!

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