Monthly Archives: November 2014

Confusing consumption with production

There was quite some cheering in the media yesterday. A Belgian electricity provider, Lampiris, performed an “experiment” to see how a blackout could be avoided. Their intention was was to find out if an awareness campaign at a peak moment is working and how big the effect is.

This is how it was done: Lampiris asked its clients who was interested in participating in this trial and was willing to for example shut off the heating, shut off the television, postpone things like ironing/washing/drying and going to the bathroom in the dark. Thursday evening those volunteers got a text message that asked them to use as less electricity as possible between 18:00 and 19:30.

Lampiris claimed it was a real success and it showed that a blackout could be prevented just by asking people to use as less electricity as possible. It saved 100 to 200 MW of energy, half of the production of a small nuclear plant. This conclusion was praised uncritically repeated by the media.

The question I had was: how could they crunch the numbers so fast? Apparently the result was declared in the news of the same day, maybe even in the news of 19:00, before the monitored period was over. How could they have a result so quickly?!?!

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Global Warming: the definition that fits everything

After the early winter with heavy snow in the North-East of the US, the debate again raises whether this is a result of global warming. On the one side there is the belief that this early winter weather in the North-East of the US is linked to global warming and on the other side there is the remark that one can not have it both. And every position in between.

“But”, would you say, “Couldn’t it be perfectly possible that global warming causes warming as well as snow?”. In a way, that is entirely possible. Sure, if global warming is real this could mean local temperatures go up, maybe even also droughts. Not hard to understand. When because of a polar vortex, cold air blows across a warmer water surface this will produce snow, maybe even lots of it. That is a known phenomenon.

It is of course a bit more complicated than that. The big question is: what is our definition of “global warming”? And do we all use the same definition?

Surprise, surprise, we don’t.

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Today’s renewable energy technologies simply won’t work

Not my words, but the words of two highly motivated engineers who did everything they could to find energy cheaper than coal in order to halt climate change.

It seems that those two engineers (Ross Koningstein and David Fork) of the Google project RE<C were coming to this conclusion the hard way: What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change with the subtitle: Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?

This is what Google wanted to achieve with the project:

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What really caused the emission reduction of the developed countries

In a comment on the post “A 733% growth of something insignificant is still tiny” commenter Kevin Marshall (ManicBeanCounter) shared his thoughts on another graphics of the PBL on the trend of emission until 2012. He later wrote a post on his blog in which he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union has contributed the most to reduction in emissions. I didn’t had a look at that particular infographic yet and was a bit surprised by this statement.

I ended up countind all the increases and decreases per country and it came to this:

Developed countries Developing countries
Australia 158 Brazil 240
Canada 111 China 7,356
France -20 India 1,308
Germany -214 Indonesia 335
Italy -40 Iran 201
Japan 161 Mexico 177
The Netherlands 3 Other non Annex I 667
Other Annex I -128 Saudi Arabia 292
Other Annex II 23 Singapore/Malaysia 169
Other EU27 -281 South Africa 62
Poland 10 South Korea 382
Russian Federation -666 Taiwan 151
Spain 57 Thailand 171
United Kingdom -103    
Ukraine -446    
US 205    
Total -1,170 Total 11,511

Several things stand out. All the developing countries increased their emissions from 1990 until 2012. No surprise here. On the other side, half of the developed countries had an increase in emissions and half a decrease. That was a bit of a surprise, in a way I expected more decreases in the developed countries.

Another thing that stand out is the difference between the developed countries and the developing countries. A reduction of 1,170 Mtonne against an increase of 11,511 Mtonne. That is huge. A gain that is dwarfed by a huge increase. Also, the developing countries are not done yet. On the contrary, there are even others that are longing for more energy.

And yes, it is indeed true that the emission reduction former Soviet Union was the main reason of the reduction of the developed countries. If we add the emission reduction from the Russian Federation (666 Mtonne) and the Ukraine (446 Mtonne), then we get 1,112 Mtonne. Which is 95% of the emission reduction of all the developed countries together!

This massive reduction could not have much to do with the growth of renewable energy. The share of renewable energy in both countries is almost non existing and particularly the Russian Federation has still huge reserves of fossil fuels. More, the emissions in the Russian Federation in fact started increasing back at the end of the 1990s.

Why then the reduction of the emissions? If you look at the emissions since 1970, we see a sharp decrease starting in 1991. So indeed, the emission reduction is very likely to be caused by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On the other side, this means of course that the reduction of the other developed countries is really tiny: 58 Mtonne less in 2012 compared to the 1990. I didn’t really expected that. If we then know that some of the production of the developed countries just moved to the developing countries (therefor reducing emissions in the developed countries), then that reduction was really, really tiny and there maybe even wasn’t an emission reduction after all.

It was very likely the post-Soviet industrial meltdown that was responsible for almost all of the progress in reducing carbon emissions that the developed countries are able to claim. It is quite ironic that those countries that contributed by far the most to emission reduction are now being criticized heavily for having hardly any official climate strategy. It should embarrass those countries that took key steps in slowing climate change with renewable energy and carbon taxation, yet just barely reduced their emissions themselves.

Creative with bubble charts

When playing with the PBL infographics on trends in global CO2 emissions I came around some intriguing things. As seen in previous posts, PBL explained the increase in share of renewable energy by first showing the 1990 values:

Share of wind and solar increasing 1990. Source:

Share of wind and solar increasing 1990. Source:

and compare this with the 2012 values:

Share of wind and solar increasing 2012. Source:

Share of wind and solar increasing 2012. Source:

So far, so good. I found the color scheme particularly interesting. The renewable energy circle is in a deep green color and the other sources are in a pale gray. At first they seems the same gray, but looking closer that doesn’t seem to be the case. The circles of the fossil fuel group are paler than the low-carbon energy group.

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A more plausible reason for the “slowdown” of emissions

In their 2013 report “Trends in global CO2 emissions”, the PBL (Environmental Assessment Agency of the Netherlands) stated that CO2 emissions started to slow down. It was repeated four time in that page and a couple time in their interactive presentation. They came to this startling conclusion because of the last year trend of 1.1%, compared tot the average of the last decade, which was 2.9 °C and the reason for this slowdown was according to them partly caused by the growth of renewable energy. Also that got repeated several times.

It only takes looking at those ten last years to realize the answer will be a bit different. But let’s first start with how they represented it in their presentation:

If the difference between the years is so important, let’s calculate the differences between the years of the last decade in that graph (source of the data):

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A 733% growth of something insignificant is still tiny

In the process of looking for information for use in previous posts, I came along the website of PBL (Environmental Assessment Agency of the Netherlands). An interesting page was: Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 report (with the 2012 data). This is how it starts:

Actual global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. Yet, the increase in global CO2 emissions in that year slowed down to 1.1% (or 1.4%, not accounting the extra day in the leap year), which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. This development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving.

Basically, 2012 was the year with the highest emissions ever, but there seem to be a slowdown in which the the use of renewable energy was a factor. My first reaction: “No way!”. The proportion of renewables is really tiny compared to fossil fuels, so I am not really convinced that the current use of renewable energy sources would have a slowing effect on CO2 emissions.

There is also an interactive presentation “Trends in global CO2 that explains it a bit more. More specifically in the slide with the title “Are there signs of change?”. It depicts a field of solar panels to take the message even more home. Below that picture a chart of the share of renewables, low-carbon energy and fossil fuels. First the situation of 1990:

Share of wind and solar increasing 1990. Source:

Share of wind and solar 1990. Source:

In 1990 the renewable energy sources were almost non-existing compared to the other energy sources.

One could click the 2012 button and then one would see the situation in 2012:

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