Monthly Archives: May 2016

Really smart people and “An Inconvenient Truth”

Screenshot An Inconvenient Truth

How much influence did the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” have? That was the question that was asked in the Grist article The legacy of “An Inconvenient Truth,” explained by 16 really smart people. Sixteen people with some name in environmental activism were asked about how this movie influenced them and terms like “inspiration”, “lightbulb moment”, “watershed moment”, “getting past the legislature”, “wake-up call”, “building of a movement” and many more came up.

Being a believer of anthropogenic global warming at that time myself, what was the influence of that movie on me? The surprising answer is: surprisingly little back then. It was until later that it influenced me, but not in the way it influenced those 16.

Although I was a believer at the time the movie came out, I never went to see it back then. I took from the trailer and from the scared reactions of my friends (who did see the movie), that it was highly exaggerated. At that time I was convinced that “anthropogenic global warming was real” and I was not exactly in the mood for an extra portion of exaggeration, so I passed the opportunity to see it back then.

Nevertheless, while I thought it would be exaggerated, back then I believed that the arguments would be basically true. More, I considered Al Gore some kind of a hero. He was the one that brought the global warming issue in the spotlight. Him being a politician, no less. I found that a noble and selfless act at that time, the same sentiment that was also expressed by those 16. Looking back at this period, I was rather naive back then.

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Why no stabilization of CO2 levels in the atmosphere when emissions have fallen?

Imagine my surprise when I coincidently came across a blog post in which this surprising question was answered: Why has a drop in global CO2 emissions not caused CO2 levels in the atmosphere to stabilize? Some of their readers apparently asked why there has been no stabilization in the measured levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when reported emissions of CO2 have fallen. In the post explained that it was very simple: the sinks for CO2 currently offset only about 50 percent of the emissions and additionally these sinks will slowly lose their efficiency as they start to saturate.

That is remarkable answer to a remarkable question. I wasn’t aware that global emissions dropped. The article was only written yesterday, so I was curious what new information they found. I didn’t find any new information after all, but the post linked to a IEA article which was referred to as “recent stabilization in global emissions”.

So is it a drop or a stabilization? Confusing was also the emissions graphs that were present in two places in the post. Yet at a closer look it didn’t exactly serve their case. It mentioned that there was a 2.2% increase of emissions between 1990 and 2014 and a 0.6% increase between 2013 and 2014 (which was the last year in their figure).

global emissions 1990 2014 Global Carbon Project

So what is it? A drop, a stabilization or a (modest) increase? Time to have a look at the data. Going to the source they linked to, I realized rather quickly that there is a much, much, much simpler answer than the mumbo jumbo answer about the sinks.

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Solar panels and wind turbines sufficient to run the entire German economy…

A couple days ago, I came across this curious message from a wind energy news site from the Netherlands (translated from Dutch):

German economy runs on green energy

Germany can generate sufficient electricity from solar cells and wind turbines to run the entire German economy. Last Sunday, 45.5 gigawatts was delivered (according to Agora Energiewende). There was even a surplus during 15 minutes. Despite that, our Eastern neighbors are expanding clean energy

A quarter of an hour the price dropped under €50 per megawatt-hour because of the oversupply. The Danes delivered 140% of the demand for cleaner energy last year with their windmills and solar parks. Already now they are looking for good storage in order to store surplus production of green energy.

That didn’t make much sense to me. If it is really true that wind and solar were sufficient to run the entire German economy, then how is it possible that there was only 15 minutes of oversupply? Wind and solar are intermittent, it would be one in a gazillion chance that the output of wind and solar coincides exactly with only 15 minutes of overproduction…

It was also rather sloppy reporting. The last sentence of the first paragraph was for example cut off and, although the article was about Germany, in the second paragraph Denmark was mentioned out of the blue. Was this the intention or did they wrote “Denmark” in stead of “Germany”? Or was the connection explained in the cut off sentence in the first paragraph? My guess was that this was a badly executed copy/paste from an article somewhere else.

My guess seemed to be correct. The original article was published in a Dutch news paper. There was the same cheering, but at least it had somewhat more information about what was going on.

The information was still confusing though. The story seemed to be that on Sunday May 15, wind and solar produced “45.5 GW” while the demand was “45.8 GW”. I read the same figures in other cheering media reports and that didn’t make any sense. 45.5 GW is a capacity, not a production and 45.5 is lower than 45.8 anyway. So how could they claim that production was sufficient to match consumption with even a small surplus? Time to go to their source to look what really happened that day.

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Stop and Go: not seeing the beam in their own eye

A last short post on the Stop and Go-campaign to stop with nuclear energy and go for renewable energy. Besides the arguments of small share (within the primary energy consumption) and high price, two more (non-)arguments were given. The first one is:

Moreover, nuclear power is not a CO2-neutral energy source.

They explain that during energy production no CO2 emissions are produced, but it is however produced in the other stages of nuclear energy, like mining, enrichment, transport and so on. They said it is about 1/3 of the emissions compared to natural gas. That could all be true, but they didn’t compare it to renewables. I guess they assume wind and solar are CO2 neutral energy sources.

Well, do I have a surprise! wind and solar are not “CO2-neutral” either.

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Nuclear energy is expensive, but what about wind and solar?

Continuing with previous post in which I wrote about the Stop and Go-campaign site that claimed that nuclear power is just a marginal power source and this provoked with me the question how their own preferred energy sources of those organization behind this campaign did compared to this. Not well, as it seemed. The fun didn’t end there. They brought even more arguments to the table. Let’s start where I left off (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

The total number of plants would have to rise incredibly spectacular, before nuclear power would make a real difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To decrease global emissions by 6% by 2050, the current number of 436 commercial nuclear reactors should be quadrupled. This is much too late and too little. Moreover, this is unrealistic if we see that the cost of a single new nuclear reactor exceeds 5 billion euro.

Aha, the cost argument. A nuclear plant isn’t cheap, but wind and solar aren’t exactly cheap either. For 5 billion one can definitely build a lot of windmills, but there are other things that should be taken into account.

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If nuclear power is only a marginal energy source, then what about “renewables”?

Recently I came across this webpage of Platform Stop and Go (Dutch and French). It is a website written by those who also wrote the brochure about the German Energiewende: Greenpeace, Bond Beter Leefmilieu and WWF, but also the French speaking Federation Inter-environnement Wallonie. It is apparently an older site (probably dated from 2011 or so), dedicated to make the demand (to our previous government) to keep with the decision to close some nuclear plants in 2015. In the meanwhile the decision was made (by the current government) to prolong the life of those nuclear plants because security of supply was not guaranteed otherwise.

The page that I initially landed on was Closure of nuclear plants and climate goals go hand in hand (Dutch) in which several reasons were given to show that the closure of nuclear plants doesn’t interfere with “climate goals”. They start with this bang (translated from Dutch):

Contrary to what proponents of nuclear power would have us believe, nuclear energy worldwide is a marginal energy source. Nuclear energy produces only 5% of global primary energy consumption. The total number of plants would have to rise incredibly spectacular, before nuclear power would make a real difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To decrease global emissions by 6% by 2050, the current number of 436 commercial nuclear reactors should be quadrupled. This is much too late and too little.

So the claim is that nuclear energy produces only 5% of the global primary energy and therefor doesn’t make a difference and that it needs to grow incredibly before it could reduce emissions. It is certainly true that nuclear energy is only 5% of the primary energy consumption. This because nuclear energy is almost only used for electricity production and not in the transport sector, industry, agriculture or households. But the same problem will be true for the two darlings proposed by those groups as the solution for lowering emissions: wind and solar. These are also largely used for electricity production and this means that when looking at the share of the primary energy consumption, it will be rather small. The problem of that reasoning is that it cuts both sides. So my question was: how do those two saviors are doing compared to nuclear energy that is only 5% of primary energy consumption?

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Green energy: a source of prosperity in Germany and of misery in Flanders?

After a string of 18 posts on energy, or more specifically on the neglected side of communication on the Energiewende, I had the intention to write about a different subject. Then I encounter this opinion piece (Dutch) in which two politicians from the Flemish Green Party ask themselves “why green energy is a source of prosperity in Germany and a source of misery in Flanders?”. That is an interesting question. Most of the arguments were recognizable, I think they came from the same source that I was looking in during those 18 previous posts.

The authors came to the conclusion that two factors are involved in the success of the German energy transition: economic and public support. They explained that the government is responsible for both factors, doing a good job in Germany and a lousy job in Flanders. But no worry, according to them, the German success story is also possible here… Where did I heard that again?

Starting with the economic support: the authors say that “Politicians must provide economic support by making a stable renewable energy policy” and this is where our politicians went wrong. I reckon that they mean subsidies or some other financial support. I certainly agree that there wasn’t much of an energy strategy in the past (still not) and that the message was not always consistent. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to prevent giving “economic support” for alternative energy during that time. As far as I know, Belgium only invested in wind, solar and biomass in the last decade or so. There were and still are subsidies for alternative sources, billions are still being poured into it. Proof of this is our current hefty energy tax and everybody knows that it is necessary to finance alternative energy.

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