UN urges US to cut ethanol production

Says the FT:

The UN has called for an immediate suspension of government-mandated US ethanol production, adding to pressure on Barack Obama to address the food-versus-fuel debate in the run-up to presidential elections. Most US ethanol is made from corn. The dispute over ethanol promotion pits states such as Iowa that benefit from higher corn prices – and in some cases are swing states in the election – against livestock-raising states such as Texas that are helped by lower corn prices. The UN intervention will be seized upon by state governors, lawmakers and the meat and livestock industry, who have expressed alarm at surging prices for corn. Members of the Group of 20 leading economies – including France, India and China – have already expressed concern about the US ethanol policy. The US is poised to divert around 40 per cent of its corn into ethanol because of the Congress-enacted mandate despite “huge damage” to the crop because of the worst drought in at least half a century, José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, warned.

The biofuels stuff has always been dubious or stupid, though you can make a case that the Brazilian version is worthwhile. The US corn-ethanol programme is and always has been insane (when looked at from a fuel perspective, or a food perspective, or a value-for-money perspective, or any sane perspective) or pork (when looked at from a political perspective). But there is now a whole subsidy-sucking industry built around this pork, so don’t expect it to die without squeals. In fact its probably powerful enough not to die at all.


* Latest Drought Science Alarming for US – EW.
* Heatwaves blamed on global warming – Nature, on Hansen.
* Atmospheric CO2 forces abrupt vegetation shifts locally, but not globally

Carbon tax watch

carbon-tax-now Well, sort of. Via Timmy I find Will Hutton bemoaning the failure of yet another GW-type summit, Rio-20. We all knew it was going to fail: had I thought there was any question about it, I would have offered to bet heavily on its failure (in fact, so little do I care that I haven’t even looked to see if it has failed. But I assume so…). But there would have been no takers. Nonetheless the pointless waste of time took place, which merely demonstrates how broken our politics is. But we knew that too.

Hutton correctly identifies at least one problem, but fails to see the obvious solution:

Climate change sceptics, most vividly in the US where it has become a basic credo of the modern Republican party, are sceptics because to accept the case is to accept the need to do something collectively and internationally that must involve government. But government is bad.

Sound entirely plausible. He continues…

It is inefficient, obstructs enterprise, inhibits freedom, regulates and taxes. Climate change activists want carbon taxes and to set targets for efficient resource use; they also want regulations to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour. This is the back door through which socialism will be reinvented…

(my bold). You can argue about the inefficient, etc. bits – though that’s what the teabaggers think. But notice the bit I’ve bolded, all of which are first-order unnecessary, though will be pushed by the likes of Hutton and env folk. We need a Carbon Tax Now. And as a sop to the teabaggers to get that, we should make it clear that all the rest of the regulation stuff isn’t needed, so that all their “gummint be evil” stuff becomes irrelevant.

[Update: David Hone, who I used to take seriously but no longer can, has a fascinating, and totally wrong, piece about ETS and appears to happily quote some utter nonsense:

The scheme was intended to deliver a significant shortage of allowances against business-as-usual emissions and thereby oblige ETS installations to pollute less…. Even those stakeholders who have argued for a return to the intended levels of scarcity have been handicapped by a dearth of analysis… The business-as-usual emissions baseline against which both the EU climate target and the ETS caps were set are totally obsolete…

You see the problem? No? OK, let me explain. What this is saying is that those in favour of the ETS see it not as a means of reducing CO2 emissions to a certain level, but as a means of forcing industry to emit less CO2 than it wants to. This is a very puritanical, sackcloth-n-ashes viewpoint, and it has nothing to do with science. Because it isn’t saying that a certain level of emissions (implicitly, if they ever did their sums which I doubt, a certain atmos concentration) is OK; its saying that “a bit less than you can comfortably manage is OK”. The entire point of having an ETS scheme is that Big Gummint decides how much emissions are OK, and issues/sells permits to this level. It makes no sense at all to say “oh, well, since we’re all emitting less than expected we’ll artifically make permits scarce”. All that shows, if its correct, is that they got their calculations wrong in the first place. Which, arguably, they did; but that just shows how stupid the whole scheme is.]


* What on Earth is Sir David King talking about? – on the dangers of stepping outside your area of knowledge.
* Carbon taxes won’t work. Here’s what will – provides some extremely stupid arguments and poor thinking (h/t Brian).
* Some are still dumb enough to support the ETS.
* Which Is More Corrupt? Wall Street Or Congress?
* Brian is still pushing Cap-n_trade, though; and points at this for how glorious it is.
* Timmy points at The Most Sensible Tax of All in the NYT.
* Carbon Tax or Cap And Trade? Whichever Leaves Less Room For Politics And Corruption
* There will be any amount of special pleading to reserve carbon tax revenues for particular special interests. Here is one example of such pleading, that should be ignored.

All Scottish coal plants to use carbon capture by 2025?

Or so says reuters and a whole host of others repeating the same story. The source is draft ELECTRICITY GENERATION POLICY STATEMENT from the shouty Scottish government. You won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t believe a word of it (I’ve been pretty sniffy before), but lets read on. Oh, but first, why so sniffy? Because, its not economic (if it was, we’d all be doing it, der). Nor do I see any sign of it becoming economic in the next 10-15-20 years. But who knows, I could be wrong. Lets read on…

They say: The Scottish Government’s policy on electricity generation [nd: this is indeed about electricity generation, not all fuel use; there is stuff in there about other use, but I’ll ignore that -W] is that Scotland’s generation mix should deliver: (1) a secure source of electricity supply; (2) at an affordable cost to consumers; (3) which can be largely decarbonised by 2030; (4) and which achieves the greatest possible economic benefit and competitive advantage for Scotland including opportunities for community ownership and community benefits. These are in conflict, how will they balance them? Some bits seem confused (delivering the equivalent of at least 100% of gross electricity consumption from renewables by 2020 as part of a wider, balanced electricity mix, with thermal generation playing an important role though a minimum of 2.5 GW of thermal generation progressively fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS); – this appears to confuse renewables with carbon-neutral; and there should be a particularly strong role for CCS, where Scotland has the natural advantages and resources which could enable it to become a world leader. is pretty weird, too (oh, they mean they have offshore places to dump the CO2. Maybe). Also, they say No Nooks, but I’m not going to rant about that here) but never mind that; what about demonstrating carbon capture and storage (CCS) at commercial scale in Scotland by 2020, with full retrofit across conventional power stations thereafter by 2025-30?

So I’m trying to talk about CCS here, but along the way I find Our analysis demonstrates that while renewable energy will play the predominant role in electricity supply in Scotland by 2020, the Scottish electricity generation mix cannot currently, or in the foreseeable future, operate without baseload and balancing services provided by thermal electricity generation which I find hard to make sense of. Presumably 2020 is within the “foreseeable future”, so by 2020 renewables will be predominant, and yet thermal generation will still be providing the baseload? Don’t understand. I think its just a kind of lead-in para to the CCS discussion, and doesn’t really have any meaning. Some of the CCS is to be propped up by the UK’s stupid “carbon price floor” (just say No! Instead, Carbon Tax Now!). The Scottish Government has never intended to support unabated new coal plants in Scotland, as this would be wholly inconsistent with our climate change objectives. We have made it absolutely clear that any new power station in Scotland must be fitted with a minimum CCS on 300 MWe of its generation from day one of operation. OK, so much for good intentions. But how will the economics work out? Ah, but before that, note If CCS is not proven to be technically or financially viable then we will consider low carbon alternatives which would have an equivalent effect. So, imagine you want to build a new coal fired plant in Scotland (the policy only applies to coal, not oil or gas). You’re going to have to build in CCS. But, CCS may not be viable – the govt itself admits this – but you’re going to have to build it in anyway. I think the answer to that will be that no-one will want to build new coal plants in Scotland. Maybe that is what they want, anyway.

Oh. That seems to be it. I was expecting them to go on an analyse CCS and work out what carbon price they needed to make it viable, and so on. But they don’t. They just re-iterate CCS is a promising low carbon technology that is still in the early stages of realising its large scale development potential. In the event of CCS being found not to be financially or technically viable, consideration will be given to other emission reduction measures. So, I think this is all motherhood-and-apple-pie. They want de-carbonised energy, because people like the idea, and stuff like that. But they aren’t going to trouble themselves about the costs just yet, so this is just politicians making airy gestures. It is meaningless until the hard choices that they are pretending don’t exist come into play.


* Rabbit pie pushing
* Geoengineering Politics and again.

Fossil fuels are sub-prime assets, Bank of England governor warned?

And, since I’ve been cwuel to the septics, I suppose I ought to have a go at the greenies, for balance:

A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.
— Proverbs 11:1

So (h/t KZ) the Grauniad says:

Open letter to Sir Mervyn King says overexposure to high-carbon assets by London-listed companies risks creating a ‘carbon bubble’… The huge reserves of coal, oil and gas held by companies listed in the City of London are “sub-prime” assets posing a systemic risk to economic stability, a high-profile coalition of investors, politicians and scientists has warned Bank of England’s governor, Sir Mervyn King.

Or just skip the Graun, and read the letter direct.

Weeeeellll: much as I’d like us to reduce our carbon emissions over the next few decades, I really don’t see us managing that by actively deciding not to burn usable assets, to a degree likely to substantially depress their price.

Or, put another way, if the great and the good and the green who signed that letter feel like risking their money by shorting the companies on their list, errm, I certainly won’t be joining them.


* A surprising call from the investment community

Solar panels


We’ve finally got round to having solar PV panels installed. As you can see form the picture above.

The price of solar has been coming down, but still it isn’t economically viable without subsidy for us. However, the subsidy makes it clearly economically beneficial (to us) so combined with a guess that the ecological payback, which is far less clear, might be acceptable too, we went ahead. What finally tipped us into doing something was (a) the government announcing the end of the fat subsidy regime (of which more anon) and (b) a local group organising an installation firm for the village.


Let’s talk about the economics first. In the UK, this is all about the subsidy regime which is currently £0.433 / kWh for solar PV retrofitted, for an installation less than 4 kW. That compares with a cost of electricity from the mains per kWh (inc VAT) of ~£0.25-0.12 (depending on supplier, tier, phase of the moon, whatever). But since our energy needs are vastly less than our installed 3.5 kW, and we’re usually out during the day, most of the time we won’t be saving that money, instead we’ll be feeding stuff back into the grid. And I don’t really know what we get paid for that – casual conversation said £0.02/kWh, this says… its complicated. I can’t even remember if we did the 50:50 “deeming” deal spoken about there.

With all that, the payback time was put to us as being about 9 years. Since it cost ~£10k, that implies generating about £1k/year of power, which certainly exceeds our current bill. Given that price depends so heavily on the subsidy, these calculations only apply to the UK. We scrambled to get our installation in place before December 12th, when the subsidy was due to ~halve, but Solar tariff cut plan ruled legally flawed says that maybe that won’t be the cut-off date. It will be soon, though. Which is probably correct: the price is currently set too high, and its a cash cow for people with the installation.

Our system

DSC_8955-sunny-beam We have 15 Trina panels which are supposed to produce around 220-240 W each (so ~3.3 kW), a 3.5 kW inverter (Schuco) in the loft, wires leading down the the electricity cupboard, several isolator switches, and a meter thingy which we need to read sometimes and send in, in order to get our subsidy. Note that to get the good subsidy, you need a system < 4 kW, but we'd have struggled to get more panels on our (fairly small) roof. We were originally going to have 16, and a 4 kW inverter, but apparently the 4 kW ones are in short supply.

Most excitingly, we have a "sunny beam" Bluetooth power meter, which talks to the inverter in the loft, and draws pretty graphs of your power generated and £'s saved. Miranda in particular loves it, and consults it every day. She did want to take it away with her on a recent visit elsewhere, but we explained that Bluetooth doesn't have a range of 100 km.

Bronte Captial (that isn’t his best post on Trina, search around, you’ll find the rest) isn’t too impressed with Trina as an investment – indeed, he thinks that all panel makers are due to get squeezed. But that doesn’t affect me as a buyer.

The ecologics

Well, I dunno really. I’m assuming that, since it has to be subsidised, the total unsubsidised economic value must be negative. And therefore, using economics as a proxy for ecologics, the ecological value must be negative too? That is less clear; after all, we don’t cost externalities into our electricity costs.


* Upbeat energy were the people who did us, and others in the village. They seemed quite competent and got the job done.
* The eCoton posting with links to some (probably now obsolete) information.
* Misc pics of the installation; more.
* BP exits solar says Timmy. Shades of Bronte.

Can global emissions really be reduced?

Prompted by David Hone (“bonkers”, says NB :-). But it says something that I’ve been thinking for a bit, and haven’t seen anyone else say:

Arguably, we are in a time where underlying global energy demand exceeds supply. This isn’t to say they are out of balance as that is not possible, but it says that if there were more energy then global economic growth would be even faster. This condition could well persist for a long time given population growth and the rapid expansion of several major economies – with more to follow. A direct implication of this thinking is that the production of all fossil fuel energy is infra-marginal, i.e. there is nothing at the margin and that even the most expensive to produce barrel or tonne on the planet is profitable at current price levels.

Now I’m not entirely sure about his economics there, but I do think his basic point is either true or close-to: that for a lot of fuels, oil most obviously, use is limited by production. If we (we? The West, say) limit our use by being nicely green, then someone else is going to burn it instead. I’m not saying “and therefore we should do nothing” but it does present a problem.

Deaths per unit of electricity generated

In the comments to Romm Echoes Groundless Cell Phone/Cancer Fears? we’ve degenerated into an argument about the safety of nuclear versus solar power (“which do you think has killed more people: radiation from Fukushima, or solar-voltaic installers falling from ladders?” was my question. It is a trick question, of course, because no-one has died from Fukushima as far as I know. But the correct question, of course, is deaths per unit of ‘lectric generated). MV, beng something of a spoilsport (just joking, don’t worry) pops the bubble by pointing to someone who has actually worked some numbers out. so I’m going to steal them.

First a warning: I haven’t verified these numbers. They fit my prejudices, so I’m going with them for the moment. But if you feel like attacking them for obvious flaws, please do.

Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)
Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China 278
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – ()world inc Banqiao)   1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)


[Credit: Brian Wang at NextBigFuture]

So by those numbers, nuclear is our safest power source. Solar and wind and hydro are also pretty safe, oil is dangerous, but everything else is completely dwarfed by coal. Coal is also by far the major emitter of radiation {{cn}}.


* Evidence Meltdown – Monbiot, April.

How to be wrong

From the department for shooting fish in a barrel, David Appell has a nice post pointing out that Singer has been a bozo for years, predicting (in 1981) massive future declines in fossil oil use.

This may be a good place to link to another of DA’s posts, US Emissions to Stay Below Pre-Recession Peak Until 2028 which makes an interesting combination with Early Warning on US vehicle miles.

More Singer-is-a-bozo stuff

This is, as I said, shooting fish in a barrel. So I’ll just make it an update to this post rather than a new one. DA went to a talk by Singer that was riddled with errors. One bit stuck out:

Most egregious of his claims was that there has been no warming since 1975. As proof he put up a graph of UAH (University of Alabama at Huntsville) satellite data, compiled by the Christy/Spencer group. Singer said he calculated that it had zero linear trend. One audience member down front almost jumped out of his seat while pointing out that Singer was using version 5.0 of the UAH data, which is years old and had not been properly (and famously) corrected for satellite drift. UAH did that and their new data, version 5.4, now shows warming, and they list the trend at the bottom of their data page: +0.14°C/decade for the globe, +0.17°C/decade for land. Astonishingly Singer feigned ignorance of this.

Singer gave a talk at BAS, ooh, maybe 5 years back, and he was much the same then. He used junk data, and anytime anyone pointed this out, he put on the folksy-old-man persona and pretended he knew nothing about it. As a rhetorical trick, I don’t think it works well: rather than a poor old man being assailed by nasty young men pointing out his errors, he comes across as a senile old chap who doesn’t really know what he is talking about.

Solar power across the Sahara

If you read SEWOTHA (which I highly recommend you to do; and read the book, not just the blog, which has gone a bit quiet recently) you’ll discover the idea that the only really viable way of getting *all* our energy needs in a sustainable way is from solar power plants in the hot deserts – in the case of Yorp, North Africa / Sahara; in the case of the Americas, the hot dry bit in the middle whatever it is called (they are due to the Hadley circulation, so pretty well everyone has one not too far away).

Anyway, someone else has now noticed the idea and Science has a piece on it, mostly paywalled. Sounds good to me – what is the point in putting solar cells in wet cloudy northern latitudes when the same cells will work so much better further south? Oh, the transport and political problems. Well, we’ll get round them somehow. Or maybe we’ll just move there. Who wants to live in Cambridge anyway?

Desertec, one of the world’s most ambitious multinational efforts to scale up renewable energy, aims to build solar and other renewable power projects across North Africa and the Middle East capable of producing 500 gigawatts of electricity and so meet 15% of Europe’s energy needs by 2050. Planners predict it will cost {euro}400 billion or more to cover tens of thousands of square kilometers of desert with solar collectors and wind turbines, connected by thousands of kilometers of power cables. The project–which backers compare to the Apollo space program–has yet to generate a single kilowatt. But it has attracted an impressive roster of political and industrial supporters in Europe and North Africa. Still, analysts say Desertec faces an array of daunting challenges, from finding ready cash to overcoming thorny political and security issues.

Desertec have a website, of course, and a Q+A section that (naturally) I haven’t read.


* Sustainable Energy – without the hot air?