Archive for October, 2010

Solar power subsidies are not sustainable

October 28, 2010


The power plant.

Planta termosolar Andasol: Image via Wikipedia


In Spain the huge subsidies (with feed in tariffs as much as ten times the average cost of electricity production) had led to a rush of developers getting into projects which is now proving unsustainable. Bloomberg reports that

Solar investors  were lured by a 2007 law passed by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that guaranteed producers a so-called solar tariff of as much as 44 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity for 25 years — more than 10 times the 2007 average wholesale price of about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour paid to mainstream energy suppliers. Now more than 50,000 other Spanish solar entrepreneurs face financial disaster as the policy makers contemplate cutting the price guarantees that attracted their investment in the first place.

Spain stands as a lesson to other aspiring green-energy nations, including China and the U.S., by showing how difficult it is to build an alternative energy industry even with billions of euros in subsidies, says Ramon de la Sota, a private investor in Spanish photovoltaic panels and a former General Electric Co. executive. “The government totally overshot with the tariff,” de la Sota says. “Now they have a huge bill to pay — but where’s the technology, where’s the know-how, where’s the value?”

The situation in Germany is equally disturbing. The New Scientist reports

Solar power is intermittent and can arrive in huge surges when the sun comes out. These most often happen near midday rather than when demand for power is high, such as in the evenings. A small surge can be accommodated by switching off conventional power station generators, to keep the overall supply to the grid the same. But if the solar power input is too large it will exceed demand even with all the generators switched off. Stephan Köhler, head of Germany’s energy agency, DENA, warned in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung on 17 October that at current rates of installation, solar capacity will soon reach those levels, and could trigger blackouts.

Subsidies have encouraged German citizens and businesses to install solar panels and sell surplus electricity to the grid at a premium. Uptake has been so rapid that solar capacity could reach 30 gigawatts, equal to the country’s weekend power consumption, by the end of next year. “We need to cap installation of new panels,” a spokesperson for DENA told New Scientist.

The experience with highly subsidised feed-in tariffs is proving to be less than successful. In country after country the use of such subsidies is proving to be a major distortion, unhealthy and unsustainable. Countries such as India which are contemplating the use of similar subsidies for promoting intermittent, wind or solar power are beginning to have second thoughts and are now having to consider caps. It is beginning to sink in that such intermittent capacity cannot be counted into the generating base and does not reduce the need for alternative, backup generating capacity. Moreover the use of intermittent power from solar and wind only ensures that the operating conditions for the alternative capacity and for the grid are fundamentally more inefficient. This in turn leads to a hidden cost as a consequence of using the solar or wind power.

It is likely that these subsidies will have to be scaled down drastically.


“COP10hagen”: UN Biodiversity conference is just about money

October 28, 2010

With 2 days left the quotations from news reports today about the goings-on at COP 10 Nagoya are interesting:

  1. Developing nations in Africa and elsewhere in the world have called for a system under which they could seek compensation over benefits derived from genetic resources that originated in developing nations during the age of exploration by former colonial rulers – Yomiuri Shimbun
  2. A Namibia-sponsored proposal to create a benefit-sharing fund was seen as a compromise, as the southern African country characterized the move as softening previous approaches on the issue. Such a fund would be created with a portion of the benefits derived from genetic resources worldwide to ensure fair benefit-sharing. The Namibian proposal is said to have the support of 53 African nations. – Yomiuri Shimbun
  3. International biodiversity negotiations taking place in Nagoya, Japan, have been given a much-needed boost, with the announcement of US$2 billion in funding over the next three years from Japan to help implement the outcomes of the discussions. Nature
  4. While ministers from the developed countries eagerly announced money their countries were contributing, the fact that most of it was a part of aid funds already committed, was not mentioned. The outstanding issue – known as Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) – is the extent to which profits will be shared between poor nations and pharmaceutical and cosmetics firms from rich countries who use developing societies’ traditional knowledge and medicinal plants. Sify
  5. Elsewhere in the EU, governments with shaky budgets – Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain – have been reluctant for the bloc to commit additional funds beyond the roughly €1bn a year that it has spent on biodiversity since 2002. The Guardian

The objectives of this conference are merely vague platitudes. Just as with the UN Climate change conferences it is money that is at stake. 5,000 people have gathered in Nagoya for this conference/ jamboree. But it is likely – hopefully – to be as fruitless as last year’s Copenhagen climate change talks.  Nature reports that “in the corridors, the nickname “COP-10-hagen” is brewing”.

The End is Nigh!

October 26, 2010

Various headlines today tell their own story:

  1. Global Warming to Bring More Intense Storms to Northern Hemisphere in Winter and Southern Hemisphere Year Round
  2. As Arctic Warms, Increased Shipping Likely to Accelerate Climate Change
  3. Thermogeddon: When the Earth gets too hot for humans
  4. Space tourism could have big impact on climate
  6. Colorado climate scientists tell Ken Buck: Global warming is not a ‘hoax’

The scam is unravelling.



Paul the Psychic Octopus of World Cup fame has passed away ! RIP

October 26, 2010
Ein Weltmeister nimmt Abschied

Paul the psychic octopus

Paul the Psychic Octopus of World Cup fame has passed away !

“Management and staff at the Oberhausen Sea Life Center were devastated to discover that oracle octopus Paul, who achieved global renown during the recent World Cup, had passed away overnight,” the aquarium said in a statement.

“He appears to have passed away peacefully during the night, of natural causes,” said Sea Life manager Stefan Porwoll.

“His success made him almost a bigger story than the World Cup itself… We had all naturally grown very fond of him and he will be sorely missed.”


Some species extinction is necessary – and COP10 Nagoya is not

October 26, 2010

Species, like an ideal gas, expand to fill the space available to them. Most species – so far -have had a life of less than 10 million years though some (the living fossils) may exist for hundreds of millions of years. More species have become extinct over the years than are in existence today. It is stated that over 99% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct. The death of a species is nearly always due to competitive pressure from other species or by a change in their surrounding conditions that the species fails to adapt to. There have been at least 5 so-called mass extinctions over geological time — though in each case sufficient species remained so that evolution and development could continue in new directions. If the dinosaurs had not become extinct then man would probably never have evolved. If man ever does become extinct then it will surely provide the room for the possible development of some other species.

Any strategy to try and “guide” the future development of humankind must  – it seems to me – include for the expansion of the species  and cannot be based on the stagnation of the species. It is inevitable that less successful species will die out in the face of this competition. To merely conserve a species to continue its existence in a Zoo (and there is no nature reserve or wildlife park which is not ultimately just a zoo) without any room for the development or growth of that species may satisfy some deep seated aesthetic, human urge, but it is of no significance  in terms of development of either the species being protected or of the human species. Why then is there so much fuss about the possible extinction of some current species today?

Intentionally terminating a species merely for the sake of terminating that species ought then to be “wrong”. And so it is; except when mankind perceives that the quality of life of the human species is jeopardised by the existence of that other species. There are no qualms therefore in the eradication – or the attempted eradication – of parasites, viruses, bacteria or the tsetse fly or certain types of mosquitoes.

That it is desirable that tigers and lions or other species that are threatened by competition with humans continue to exist, is driven primarily by aesthetic values. If human aesthetics desire the preservation of such species in reservations, then that is perfectly allowable. But such “protected” species are effectively frozen in time and have no space for expansion or evolution. They are effectively removed from being active contributors to the “web of life”. Furthermore the dependence of man as a species on the diversity of other existing species is decreasing. As we increase the use of IVF, or genetically engineered crops, or animal-cloning or selective animal breeding programmes, the dependence of mankind on the ad hoc food-chains that exist is reduced. (I observe that the use of the words “natural” or “unnatural” here are meaningless. The intervention of humans in any “natural” process  is not more “unnatural” than breeding cows or creating over 200 breeds of dogs. Since humans are part of “nature” then anything humans do is – by definition – “natural”). As drugs – which may have first been extracted from some particular plants – are synthesised and tailored to meet human needs the dependence upon the plant species disappears.

The objectives of the Biodiversity conference currently being held in Nagoya are the most inconsequential platitudes which are irrational, unscientific and merely exhibit a “woolly” sentimentality.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:

  1. The conservation of biological diversity
  2. The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

What is not addressed at all is why the conservation (or more correctly the stagnation) of biological diversity is something to be desired and by which species. I take it as axiomatic that the ultimate beneficiary must be the human species – if not necessarily individual humans. (Here too I would observe that it is by ensuring benefits to individuals that we shall probably do the greatest good for the species). The conservation of a species for the sake of conservation is just as wrong as the extermination of a species for the sake of extermination.

The Convention states

As demographic pressures and consumption levels increase, biodiversity decreases, and the ability of the natural world to continue delivering the goods and services on which humanity ultimately depends may be undermined.

This would imply an acceptance that other species exist only to serve the human species. The conclusion then must be that if a species does not contribute to the supply of goods and services for man then it is redundant as a species. If such a redundant species becomes extinct it may be aesthetically displeasing but it is of no consequence for the advancement of the human species. The second objective “the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity” then means that as human ingenuity and intervention ensures the supply of goods and services needed (whether by farming techniques or fish farming or cattle and poultry breeding or by synthetic techniques), then other species which were contributing to such supply become redundant.

The 3rd objective regarding “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources” has really nothing at all to do with the diversity of species and instead is an issue of distribution of the benefits of exploiting other species. For example, it is the issue of drug companies from developed countries extracting medicinal materials from plants only found in developing countries and of ensuring that monetary benefits also find their way to the country in which the plant grows. But once the medicinal materials can be synthesised the plant – as a species – becomes redundant.

Sometimes it is claimed that  biodiversity is needed to maintain the gene pool. But to what end do we need this gene pool where genes do not cross species boundaries? This makes no sense unless one is trying to ensure the evolution and development of replacement species once humans are extinct. It is also claimed at times that we know so little about the various interactions between species that it would be dangerous to allow any species to become extinct. But this is mere alarmism. Focusing on real benefits to humans in need of food or medicine or water or space would be much more constructive than harping on “not doing something” for fear of unknown and unquantifiable dangers.

The COP10 conference in Nagoya seems to be going the way of the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 – and that is probably a very good thing.

That the success of humans as a species is reducing the habitat for and the viability of other species is obvious.

That this is “unnatural” or undesirable is nonsensical.

Increased snowfall in the Antarctic over the past 30 years: Must be global warming

October 26, 2010

When Good Measurements become Bad Science

Analysis of ice cores, drilled at Law Dome just inland from Australia’s Casey Station in the Antarctic shows increased snowfall in the Antarctic over the past 30 years.

Dr Tas van Ommen, Principal Research Scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart will be presenting his research results from the analysis of ice cores during a seminar ‘Antarctic Ice Cores and Australian Climate’ at Curtin University on Monday 25 October.

But inevitably global warming is then invoked on the basis of speculation and correlations.

Analysis of ice cores drilled at Law Dome, a site just inland from the Antarctic Casey station, has revealed that snowfall variability may be linked to climate in the Australian sector of the Southern Ocean and southwest Western Australia.

Dr van Ommen said the ice cores provide a record of annual variations in snowfall and provide a record that stretches back over 750 years.

“Over the past 30 years, the cores indicate that there has been a significant increase in snowfall in that area,” he said.

“This inversely correlates to the occurrence of a significantly lower rainfall and subsequent drought that has been experienced in the southwest of Western Australia. “So when there’s extra moisture at Law Dome, the same circulation pattern is starving Western Australia of moisture.”

Further work is underway to explore these connections and understand the reasons behind them. However, these events of greater snowfall in the Antarctic and drought in WA also coincide with human induced changes in the atmosphere that may be contributing to global warming.

“The snowfall increase we see in the last 30 years lies well outside the natural range recorded over the past 750 years,” Dr van Ommen said.

The item only becomes newsworthy because of this “coincidence” and the speculation that this increased snowfall may be linked to the drought with reduced precipitation in Western Australia which may be linked to “global warming” !!

Coincidences and inverse correlations do not a science make!

But the tag “global warming”  brings in the funding.

John Howard faces a thrown shoe

October 26, 2010
U.S. President George W. Bush Had Two Shoes Th...

Shoe- throwing has become an unambiguous, easily understood and visible expression of political contempt, dissent and outrage coupled to a helplessness against the “establishment”. I have posted earlier about the spread of this behaviour mainly against political figures in the Middle East and Asia.

Now John Howard joins the ranks of George Bush, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in having a shoe thrown in their direction. The Sydney Morning Herald reports

A man who threw a shoe at John Howard on last night’s Q&A program on ABC TV said the former prime minister “deserves a lot worse” than having shoes thrown at him.

Hunter Valley man Peter Gray was unapologetic about his actions this morning, telling Newcastle ABC Radio he was angry about Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War and he “found the right type of protest” to get his point across.

“That is for Iraqi dead,” Mr Gray shouted as the shoes missed their target.


Hunter Valley man Peter Gray tosses his second shoe in the direction of John Howard as Tony Jones stands up to call for the man's removal.

Peter Gray tosses his second shoe in the direction of John Howard: Courtesy ABC


Mr Gray confirmed that ABC staff refused to return his shoes.

Mr Gray explained that it was a very difficult to stand up and conduct such a protest, especially because such action was against his nature. “Quite a few people said I throw like a girl.”


La Niña Strengthens further

October 25, 2010

The NOAA has released its annual winter outlook.

The Pacific Northwest should brace for a colder and wetter than average winter, while most of the South and Southeast will be warmer and drier than average through February 2011. A moderate to strong La Niña will be the dominant climate factor influencing weather across most of the U.S. this winter.

“La Niña is in place and will strengthen and persist through the winter months, giving us a better understanding of what to expect between December and February,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service. “This is a good time for people to review the outlook and begin preparing for what winter may have in store.”

“Other climate factors will play a role in the winter weather at times across the country,” added Halpert. “Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the forecast in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country.”

This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than several days in advance.


Winter Outlook - Precipitation

NOAA Winter Outlook: Graphic NOAA


The beneficial effects of La Niña on the Indian monsoon have already been seen this year. But after the very cold winter in the Southern Hemisphere it remains to be seen if warm and dry conditions  are established in the South American summer now approaching.

From The Canadian Encyclopedia:

La Niña normally exerts much less of a global impact than El Niño, enhancing conditions that are more or less normal. Thus, under La Niña’s grip, normally wet Indonesia becomes wetter, and winters in Canada are often colder and snowier than normal. However, the weather associated with La Niña tends to be quite variable depending on such factors as its strength, the depth and geographic extent of the cool waters and the pre-existing atmospheric circulation. Among the normal weather effects of La Niña are wetter monsoons and flooding on the Indian subcontinent; torrential rains and floods in southeast Asia and northern and eastern Australia; cool and wet winters in southeastern Africa; and warm and dry conditions along the coast of Peru and Ecuador.

La Niña favours the formation of more and intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic Ocean. Three recent La Niña periods – 1988-89, 1995-96 and 1997-98 – were among the most active periods this century for Atlantic hurricanes.

North America typically feels the effects of La Niña during the winter and early spring. Wetter-than-normal conditions occur across the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alaska. On the other hand, it delivers drier, warmer and sunnier weather along the southern tier of the United States from California through Texas to Florida. Northern states west of the Great Lakes generally experience colder and snowier winters. During La Niña episodes, there is also a greater risk of wildfires in Florida and dryness in the North American plains. The great dust bowl drought of the 1930s is thought to have been caused by a decade of La Niña-like conditions and was likely responsible, in part, for the severe drought in the American midwest in 1988.

During La Niña winters in Canada, the jet stream assumes its more normal mid-continental location. Because the mild air and cold air are never too far away, winters usually comprise alternating bouts of freezing and thawing. Overall, in Western and Central Canada, most La Niña winters tend to be colder than normal by 1 to 2°C, and snowfall amounts are greater than normal from the interior of BC to the St Lawrence Valley. During 8 La Niña episodes since 1950, 6 of the winters across Canada were colder than normal (2 were near-normal) and 7 were snowier than normal.


Global La Niña effects: graphic




In flight failure of RB 211-524 engine

October 25, 2010

WA Today reports:

Air safety investigators have found extensive turbine damage in the jet engine that exploded on a Qantas jumbo at 25,000 feet near San Francisco in August this year. Engine parts that were flung outwards tore not only a gaping hole on the far side of the engine cover but also peppered the near-side with holes, air safety investigators have revealed. As the engine vibrated, debris ejected through the engine hole hit the underside of the wing, puncturing the wing flaps, investigators have found.


A Qantas jet was forced to turn back to San Francisco after a hole was blown in the shell of the engine.

Flight QF74 failure of RB211-524 engine:Photo: Channel Ten


The findings are contained in a preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) into the explosion on flight QF74, carrying 213 passengers and 18 crew, on August 30. The incident occurred 15 minutes after take-off.

The pilots shut down the engine, sought landing clearance, dumped fuel and landed safely at San Francisco, where the plane was met by fire crew, inspected and allowed to taxi to the terminal. This was an exceptionally rare event and the first time Qantas has experienced this type of engine failure,” a Qantas spokesman said.

All of the engine’s turbine blades had either fractured or broken away, investigators said. There was also damage of other engine internals including vanes, bearings, speed probes and a turbine shaft. Further testing of engine components will be undertaken by Rolls-Royce, overseen by UK air safety investigators. The Rolls-Royce RB211-524 engine was removed from the aircraft and taken to Hong Kong for examination. The investigation is continuing.


Turbofan engine operation: Wikimedia



RB 211-524:


The RB 211 family is a high bypass turbofan engine originally designed for the Lockheed Tristar. The 211-524 engine was developed with increased thrust and efficiency for the Boeing 747-200 and further improvements led to the 211-524 G and 211-524H for the Boeing 747-400 and for the 767. The 211 family has led to the Trent engines and some features of the Trent could be retrofitted to create the 211-524G-T and the 211-524H-T. A newer version of the same family the 211-535 series is used in Boeing 727’s and 757’s.

An industrial version of the RB211 is used for power generation and another inter-cooled version is used in marine applications.

The Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine designed for Boeing’s Dreamliner has had some initial testing setbacks which seem to be fixed but which has caused some of the delays to the Dreamliner.

That man-made carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate trends is irrational

October 24, 2010


Variations in temperature, CO 2 , and dust fro...

Vostok Ice core: Image via Wikipedia


One of a series of debate articles  in Ny Teknik by Professors Björnbom and Ribbing brings a refreshing whiff of sanity into the “closed and settled” science of global climate change. They conclude:

“To now stubbornly stick to the hypothesis that man-made carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate trends, is irrational in the headwinds from a growing number of critical articles based on measurements.”

Pehr Björnbom, Professor Emeritus, Chemical Engineering, KTH

Carl-Gustaf Ribbing, Professor Emeritus, Solid State Physics, Uppsala University

A free translation of their article is reproduced below:

Azar, Eriksson, Tjernström and Westerstrand, AETW, write: “strange that on the basis of only one study … rejecting decades of research “. This is a misleading summary of many years of development. For our article, and the references to the PDF version, showing a lower climate sensitivity than that shown by the UN’s Climate Change organisation, the IPCC, is not a new phenomenon. In less than ten years, the IPCC’s high values have been  disputed, partly because global warming has been lower than was predicted.

Instead of reducing the excessive carbon dioxide sensitivity the aerosol contribution has been increased to reduce climate sensitivity. In principle it is better to use measurements from high altitude, rather than parameter dependent adaptations to climate models to the Earth’s surface temperature.

AETW write about the glacial cycles that it is “.. very difficult to explain how Earth’s temperature can vary by as much as five degrees … between an ice age and a non-glacial climate when sensitivity is … one degree or less. ” It is “very difficult” only with today’s climate, which shows that the narrow focus on “explaining” the climate variations of carbon dioxide leads to absurdities.
We wonder why Per Ribbing blames us for over-simplification? What we are against is precisely the unilateral selection of the carbon dioxide created by human activity to be the dominant factor in climate regulation. We assert the contrary, that a half-dozen natural factors govern the very complex climate system. It will probably never be scientifically possible to completely describe this chaotic system.
Spencer and Braswell are making great progress with their phase diagram, so that variations in the natural driving forces can be separated from the feedbacks. This gives a higher correlation and a more accurate value of climate sensitivity: 0.6 degrees without the aid of climate models.
This uncertainty gives the obvious; that values can increase or decrease for longer periods than any measuring period. To now stubbornly stick to the hypothesis that man-made carbon dioxide is the main driver of climate trends, is unreasonable in the headwinds from a growing number of critical articles based on measurements.

Pehr Björnbom, Professor Emeritus, Chemical Engineering, KTH

Carl-Gustaf Ribbing, Professor Emeritus, Solid State Physics, Uppsala University

%d bloggers like this: