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#4: The hilarious part of this is we have known this for decades. I recall reading stories as a kid about the glorious future of perpetual motion machines. They always had the caveat about the entire electric grid, down to the last insulator, having to be replaced with as yet invented alternatives. (For those of you out there born without the ability to detect sarcasm, I am employing hyperbole here.) Way back when this latest craze got going, the critics pointed out this fact - again. We have a grid built for constant power, not power whenever the wind blows or the sun shines.

The good news is the whole global warming thing turned out to be an error. They were holding their hockey sticks upside down. With the "consensus" now predicting a coming ice age we can rev up the SUV's, coal plants and other carbon emitting gadgets that made life fun not so long ago.

I guess I should just be thankful that the global warming thing is there as a convenient "self-refuting comment."

You have not been reading your updates from the hive again. http://usfinancepost.com/scientists-increasingly-moving-to-global-cooling-consensus-9198.html

As irony, humor, that might work. In the 70's also it was lame journalism to say "some scientists think," as opposed to, you know "scientific organizations agree."

(I believe we still have consensus among scientific academies world-wide on the one hand, and internet cranks and political hacks on the other.)

Nothing close to consensus on feedback effects- direct effects of increased CO2 are weak tea.

That's a weak one-liner Brian. Are you expecting all of us to over-extend the implication? Absorption of light by CO2 and temperature increase are a freshman science experiment. It is much harder to model temperature from the deepest ocean trench to the highest atmosphere, yes. But the difficulty of the latter can't really undo the implications of the former.

As soon as the word "consensus" makes its appearance, you have left the laboratory and moved onto the faculty lounge. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for consensus as long as everyone agrees with me. Otherwise. I'm not a fan, especially when we are in the lab.

Consensus is not a scary word at all, to a rational man. It has taken on a perverse meaning among the irrational. Given.

Who said anything about scary? Consensus has no more place in the lab than any other oogily-boogily nonsense. You can hold as many votes on gravity as you like, but if I toss you off the building, you will make a mess. Gravity is unconcerned with consensus, as is the rest of the natural world.

You don't have very much science, do you Z? Consensus might be tested in the lab. And then built on. I mean, we use 3000 PSI pressure bottles because the consensus is that they are safe. And then we move on to an area of interest.

The perversity I mentioned, among the irrational, is that when "the scientists" reach "consensus," they are more likely wrong, or lying, or something. They take it as a contra-indicator. That's pretty crazy. Odds are (literally) that most consensus truths are correct. The movement at the margin is the process which guarantees that.

"Absorption of light by CO2 and temperature increase are a freshman science experiment."

You experiment would et you a 1.2*c rise per doubling of CO2. The 'consensus' has been arguing that the rise is in the range of 4-6*c, not supported by histroy or any known feedbacks. IPCC has now lowered their estimates where the lower bound is down around 2*. Getting closer to the sceptics.

At the real rate we have 3 more doublings before the extra warmth is no longer considered beneficial.
That buys us a lot of time to adjust, and is no longer a historically unusual event.

Those are interesting details, TMC. The thing is, we are "concerned" with a very narrow band of the total earth elevation profile affected by solar radiation. It would be a pretty good thing to get the ~6 foot surface temperature important to us and our crops right, straight off.

I think the broad answer that we see warming occurring, and that concern is warranted, is pretty solid.

(If "skeptics" have moved now to only saying that warming, while apparent, isn't precisely understood ... it's a bad day for skeptics.)

An extra 3 degrees *and* more CO2 would be good, not bad for crops.
Either way the earth has seen it before and flourished. Nothing catastrophic here.

Wow, two such wrong things in such a short response! First, experiments have not proven any agricultural gain even in controlled experiments, and in uncontrolled ... it depends on where you are. If you are Canadian you might have something. If you care about the US and particular the huge amount of dry land farming upon which we depend, you are probably making more than one optimistic assumption.

On the whole "either way the earth has seen it before and flourished" ... what a strange appeal to the subjective. Many species, and many humans, have suffered environmental damages over the millennia. If we were to die out, it's true that the cockroach-men who replace us might say it was all for the best!

Seriously though, the risk of this or any other environmental concern is reduced welfare for immediately future generations. Any subtraction from environmental services subtracts from their welfare.

"I think the broad answer that we see warming occurring, and that concern is warranted, is pretty solid."

I believe there is general consensus on this point. Of course, this tells us little about how bad the problem is or what we should be doing.

And the consensus has definitely been gravitating away from the overly-alarmist vision.

http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/don%27t-shoot-the-messenger.aspx

Well Brian, it's been a long road. I remember when skeptics were skeptics. By that I mean that they disbelieved even warming. Then they disbelieved anthropogenic causes. If now we are only quibbling on scale ...

actually this is the discussion we should have had, without all the intervening distractions, twenty years ago.

I mean we haven't even gotten to the hard questions. What can we really tell the Chinese and Indians? Should they suck it up and cap their growth while we loll in our high energy lifestyles?

On a personal note, I did buy a bunch of efficiency products, striking my energy use far below the US average. Efficiency is still cheaper and easier than any green generation option. Few do it though, which leads me to believe that AGW is real, and we'll suffer it, whatever it is.

" Few do it though, which leads me to believe that AGW is real"

Err, so you're denying an obvious consensus?

That was poorly stated. I believe the scientific consensus that AGW is real, and since I see little movement around me, I am lead to believe we will live with the consequences whatever they are.

Over the last 20 years a lot of "skeptics" have had sliding defenses, from as I say "no warming" to "not so bad." I don't know why we'd think the skeptics would be right now, after so many serial defeats. Perhaps 30 years from now "skeptics" will be saying "this is bad, but not as bad as the worst forecasts ever made!"

(I don't know why the public is broadly inactive. Perhaps some are confused by the "skepticism," and some accept the science, but just aren't motivated enough to do anything about it.)

And yet the modeled predictions from the "consensus" are wrong.

If you knew this subject better you would realize that there is a consensus the planet has warmed since the Little Ice Age and that human CO2 has an influence.

But there is no consensus that for tipping points, catastrophic warming, increased extreme weather or other manifestations of hysteria.

I guess Chip confirms my prediction, 30 years early. Global warming may be true, he says, but dogs and cats WILL NOT be living together.

(Yes, "The Day After Tomorrow" was just a silly movie.)

"We have a grid built for constant power" Is that why we must leave every electric device on, 100% of the time?

FWIW, I did work in power plant monitoring at one point. It was interesting to look at plant duty cycles in my area. They had pairs, with one up for six months, and then the other. That made planning and maintenance very easy. I've got to admit that planning around wind and solar output is harder. But, it is actually an incremental problem. It's more about adding another wind farm in a local grid, than doing some massive and wholesale national conversion at once.

"Is that why we must leave every electric device on, 100% of the time?"

That's a pretty obtuse comment. We certainly have to leave the hospitals, prisons, police departments, traffic lights, etc on 100% of the time. So yes, the grid is built for constant power. He didn't say the grid is built to power "every electric device on, 100% of the time".

Believe it or not, there are a lot of useful numbers between 0 and 100. ;)

Prisons? Set everybody free except for murderers, rapists and disgraced Illinois politicians and prison power consumption will drop a little. Why are all those freeway lights on all night? Aren't cars required to have headlights?

And yet still a number much greater than 0. The grid has to supply power all the time, or at least over 99% of the time, to avoid fairly large disruptions to our society. Any source that can't reliably provide consistent loading, must be backed up with standby generation capacity.

“We have a grid built for constant power”

Actually we don't, and unpredictability is only the beginning of the problem. The predictable part also creates problems.
Load swings during the day. For example, late afternoon and early evening are peak demand when air conditioning peaks, Peak load are not as efficient, but can switch on and off quickly. There are other factors and industry engineers I've talked to work load and time of day demand costs into their plant operations.

Base load, typically coal or nuclear is very efficient, but doesn't come on or off quickly. During times of peak load other generators, for example natrual gas powered, come on. The problem with wind is that it blows in the morning and dies in the evening. It is anti-cyclic with load demand, increasing the size of the swing. Wind replaces efficient base capacity and must be replaced with more expensive and less efficient peak capacity. This is a first order economic effect. Solar is better aligned with load demands but still far from ideal.

I've seen the hour-by-hour numbers. They are more regular than some might expect. And note that while a gas plant can respond more easily to peaks, it still has days of start up time, and so must be running and ready.

The PISA doom and gloomers fail to mention that the USA scores very high in reading and decent in math. The high scores among Asians countries is attributed to test cramming and very long school hours. Kinda lie the economic doom and goomers that were wrong about black Friday & cyber Monday sales being weak.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/12/02/cyber-monday-results/3804039/

The numbers are mind-boggling. As of 6 p.m. Eastern time, overall sales were up 17.5% on Cyber Monday compared with last year, says IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Another e-commerce research company, Custora Pulse, found online sales up almost 19%. The numbers may shift even higher as people continue to shop through the evening.

This year, "Cyber Monday is well on its way to being the biggest online shopping day in history," says Custora CEO Corey Pierson.

Looks like power is back on at the asylum day room.

Re: PISA scores: who says Average is Over?

It's just a new average, isn't it? Global, networked, education changes things.

How come PISA was uttered and Steve Sailer isn't here yet? I thought it was a Pavlovian response.

For you or Steve?

4. Why can't we store energy as potential energy, such as pumping water uphill or lifting enormous weights or winding large springs so we can milk during nights with calm winds?

We do. Its called pumped storage. Obviously it is a fairly expensive set up and there's efficiency losses.

Yes, there's people around the world working on that issue, but already built infrastructure will have a long service life: 20, 30+ years. Change is possible but it will take time. Imagine you bought a car a couple years back, and the model from this year saves 15% on fuel. Buying the new car is a good decision just because of the advertised savings? If you have money in the bank with no other purpose, perhaps it is a good idea. In the case of infrastructure there's no money saved in the bank, some people have to think of where the money will come from to pay for the change.

Issue here is that the journalist approaches to the topic like a fashion journalist. This wardrobe is so winter 2012....scrap it!

Ps. some NMBYs out there say that using cheap night electricity or renewable electricity to pump water back into an hydropower dam is bad for the fish and the environment, so storing energy is a challenge beyond engineers.

There are two reasonably economic forms of stored power, pumped hydro and compressed air storage. Batteries, fly wheels, etc are not currently economical for any kind of long term grid scale storage (more than 10-15 minutes).

The batteries that are deployed on electrical grids are usually designed more for smoothing out rapid fluctuations and to allow other power plants time to come on-line. When you factor in the cost of the cheapest forms of stored power (pumped hydro), renewable power becomes much more expensive.

The article failed to cite any of the grid research on the issues, but most estimates I've seen say that first world electrical grids can handle around 20% renewable power. Beyond that point you start seeing issues and those estimates seem to be matching real world data. Areas that are generating more than that level of renewables end up exporting renewable power to neighbors, thus effectively enlarging their grid area so that the combined area is less than 20% renewable.

That being said, there are some caveats. Solar power in sunny regions tends to match air conditioning load for obvious reasons and thus tends to put very little grid wide load. So, electrical grids can probably be assumed to be able to handle (20% + peak air conditioning load) solar power.

Also, high power DC lines can cost effectively expand the 'local' region of grid to an entire continent, and thus keep you below the 20% number for quite a long time.

The article mentioned geothermal power. For all practical purposes geothermal power can be treated as base load power and has no negative effects on the grid. It is however limited to fairly small geographic areas with current technology. It's probably the area the Federal government should be prioritizing for research grants, but since it involves massive drilling, most Greens are against it.

Since we are far below 20% renewable, we have a lot of headroom, generally speaking.

Re, the Greens/Geothermal bait, note that those California liberals (spit!) love the geothermal, and have the largest group of geothermal power plants in the world,.

Yes, nothing but pumped hydro and compressed air is economical, but there are caveats with those two: (1) pumped hydro is great, but it's already in use pretty much everywhere it's viable; (2) compressed air is at the prototype stage; it may eventually have a huge impact, but it's not an option today.

I'm skeptical about your (1). "Viable" is traditionally a very flexible evaluation.

Re your (2), aren't there already a couple of MW scale compressed air grid storage plants in operation now? I think we are beyond the prototype stage.

I too think there are plenty of opportunities for pumped hydro. You don't actually need a river or an existing dam, though those will make it cheaper. You really just need a convenient body of water and a decent change in elevation.

Now economically viable is a different aspect.

"December, 2012 – General Compression completes construction of a 2MW near-isothermal CAES project in Gaines, TX; the world's third CAES project. The project uses no fuel and has 500MWh of storage capacity.

2013 (projected) – The first adiabatic CAES project, a 200 megawatt facility called ADELE, is planned for construction in Germany."

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

Classifying Compressed Air energy storage as in the prototype stage is probably a judgement call. Technically, we've had them for decades, but there are only 3 utility scale ones in the world and the third was built last year.

A good summary. I wonder, is there also the other option of redesigning / retrofitting conventional fossil fuel power plants so that they can be brought on and off grid faster?

It's by no means easy but I wonder what (if anything) could be done. Peak load gas turbines are anyways pretty fast I think. The rest not so much.

Peak load gas turbines are indeed fast to spin up, probably because they are essentially just jet engines on their side.

"I wonder, is there also the other option of redesigning / retrofitting conventional fossil fuel power plants so that they can be brought on and off grid faster?"

I'd say probably not. Or at least not in any economical fashion. It's a fundamental design issue. Most large base load power plants (coal, oil, nuclear) use a large boiler (really a steam generator) that they heat up. Then they use steam to drive a turbine. The reason that they take a long time to heat up is that they have to be big to be efficient and since they are big they have a lot of thermal mass, that most be heated. There's no cheap, quick way to raise the temperature back to the peak efficiency range.

And of course while it's heating up fossil fuel plants are inefficient and thus produce a lot of CO2 for little energy. In some cases, highly intermittent renewable resources (usually wind) will cause the local fossil fuel plants to produce more CO2 than if they ran at peak efficiency all the time.

Yes but what about something analogous to co-generation? You could keep the boiler hot, you just have to have an alternative user for the steam. It can't be a small user, obviously, so the options seem some sort of petrochem or refining or metallurgical user.

It can’t be a small user, obviously, so the options seem some sort of petrochem or refining or metallurgical user.

Hmm, well in those cases you're absolutely correct. However, for the most part, those industries already use (or are actively switching over to) natural gas co-generation plants for just the reasons you would imagine.

1. I see that Scott said I was right.

re. 3, Google Acquires Seven Robot Companies, Wants Big Role in Robotics

I guess this means Google ranks robotics as low hanging fruit.

The "low hanging fruit" metaphor is one Tyler's more unfortunate contributions to talking about technology.

It's a bit like how philosophers for centuries assumed that all the important work had been down by the ancients and the early Church fathers.

Thank goodness James Watt, Samuel Morse, Nikola Tesla et al. didn't think in these terms.

It's complicated, obviously. Some developments make others easy, some goals remain hard. The old James Burke "Connections" program was good for showing ... well, connections. When Google tackles robotics it might be because other developments (cheap computing, slightly better AI) have made it a ripe area for development ... or it might just be the least bad choice available. I mean, they must place their bets.

I'm skeptical of a big Google market in the short term, but perhaps they are too. (ooh, and maybe Google Glass needs a distraction)

Google Glass itself is a distraction. I have a theory that 90 percent of what Google announces is to keep up its stock price so nobody notices that search is commoditized.

Re #4:

Compare the humility of an engineering community struggling to understand and revamp a complex electrical system with the fatal conceit of those who imagined that drawing a few simple flow charts would be tantamount to successfully restructuring a complex health delivery system. There is a lesson here for conservatives and Progressives, but a larger one for the latter and its many political/economic/academic avatars.

1. Korea - maybe "happy" schoolchildren is not what society should strive for. IE they need to postpone short term happiness for long term societal gain.
2. PISA - this is obvious - like GDP growth in poor countries.

What's up, the whole thing is going sound here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that's actually excellent,
keep up writing.

Why study? US president John Adams:

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

(Letter to Abigail Adams, 1780)

What is the intra-country variation of happiness?

I live in a wealthy West Coast suburb. By any measure, the inhabitants are an over-achieving crowd. And yes, a lot of Asians.
The police chief remarked recently that such "crime" as exists has to do with teenagers letting off steam - alcohol, pot, minor mischief.

Just as the US has pockets of the tropical third world, to what extent do we have pockets of South Korea?

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