Is there a wind shortage?

In academia, no, but in the real world perhaps:

Electricity generated by US wind farms fell 6 per cent in the first half of the year even as the nation expanded wind generation capacity by 9 per cent, Energy Information Administration records show.

The reason was some of the softest air currents in 40 years, cutting power sales from wind farms to utilities…

“We never anticipated a drop-off in the wind resource as we have witnessed over the past six months,” David Crane, chief executive of power producer NRG Energy, told analysts last month…

Standard and Poor’s put a negative outlook on bonds issued by two wind farm companies as their revenues tracked wind speeds lower.

“Although our current expectation is that the wind resource will revert back to historical averages, at this time it is unclear when that will happen,” the rating agency said.

Wind generated 4.4 per cent of US electricity last year, up from 0.4 per cent a decade earlier. But this year US wind plants’ “capacity factor” has averaged just a third of their total generating capacity, down from 38 per cent in 2014. EIA noted that slightly slower wind speeds can reduce output by a disproportionately large amount.

The Gregory Meyer FT article is here.  Here are some earlier articles on wind speeds slowing down, some of them appear to be reputable.  According to this recent article, for parts of 2015 wind speeds may be 20-50 percent below average in the American West.  Caveat emptor, but food for thought.


No doubt you will hear sincere arguments that although global warming adds energy to atmosphere and increases temperature differentials, and causes more hurricanes, it decreases average wind speeds. Why because it's always bad!

It's not that difficult to posit a theory. Alaska and the north are getting warmer faster than the continental U.S. Wind is a function of the temperature difference between points. Less delta, less wind.

Accurate? No idea. Plausible? Sure.

+1 for Rob - not to turn this into a global warming thread, but it's interesting that the GW skeptics are mostly found in the USA, where some studies have found is the one country that will actually be benefited by global warming. American 'exceptionalism' again.

The point is you never, ever hear that some positive change is due to global warming. It's simply not plausible that its 100% bad for everything, all the time.

No one has ever said it's bad for everything, all the time.

Just that it's bad for humans.

I mean, it's going to be f'ing fantastic for desert-dwelling species.

"I mean, it’s going to be f’ing fantastic for desert-dwelling species."

There's no reason that global warming would make the world dryer on average. So it shouldn't have any impact on desert-dwelling species. Granted, some areas may get dryer and some wetter, but generally speaking the great deserts are still going to be in roughly the same spot. The Sahara will keep growing, just as it has for millenia. I expect to see numerous articles on how desertification is growing and it will be pinned to global warming, even though the trend predates industrial society.

@Just Saying: actually it's bad for humans in Bangladesh and Maldives and New Orleans, good for humans in Canada, Siberia, etc.

Close, but not quite. Nordhaus's RICE model shows Europe doing as well if not better than the US, yet that is where concern for climate change is strongest. Subsaharan Africa appears to be the worst off, but in surveys, awareness of and prioritization of climate change is relatively low. (But that is likely due to having more pressing concerns.)

Climate disaster in Subsaharan Africa will only increase the number of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe. In that sense climate change will be very bad for Europe.

@Just Saying:
I believe that RICE model does not look at climate induced migration.
I work in climate policy and live in Europe. My sense is that most Europeans are not (well, maybe now in the last week) concerned about climate change because of potential refugees. They believe that the environment will be greatly harmed (true) and that the European economy will be greatly harmed (probably false, at least for moderate levels of climate change, e.g. < 3C)

Oops, I mean @Peter Akuleyev


I don't know enough about the the RICE model, but I think the disruptions in Europe (consider the flooding we have experienced in Central Europe in the last 10 years) will be significant and very costly.

Also there's a lot of European cities which are low lying: not just Amsterdam! London for one. You probably saw the projected map of London after the St Jude's Day storm, with no Thames Barrier? The whole of Canary Wharf (the largest office district in Europe!) would have been under water! And we might need a replacement for the TB in 30 years ie 2050s, not 80-100 as was forecast at the time of completion (1982).

If you think about the impact of drought on key European agricultural areas: Italy and Spain in particular, that also is not a pretty sight. The olive oil thing may be a harbinger of things to come.

The migration factor I know the UK COBRA (national security committee) committee was thinking about it 10 years ago, but maybe it's now coming into public focus. Syria did have a severe and long lasting drought before the civil war kicked off.

"Europe ... is where concern for climate change is strongest."

Apparently environmentalism is stronger in the Protestant parts of Europe than in the Catholic parts. That is what happens when a religion believes in individual responsibility.

I am not sure the US benefits?

Maybe at low increases-- say below 2 degrees C. But above that you have coastal flooding issues, which will be huge and expensive (NOLA, Miami, Norfolk, Boston, NYC, Portland ME are among the most vulnerable cities and have huge capital invested in low lying areas-- think the Back Bay under water). Plus longer and more frequent droughts particularly in the west (consider the cost already of the California one, which may or may not be climate change related; and the whole western USA uses more water than it has, in a dry year). More severe tornados and hurricanes. Heavier rainfall in some already wet parts of the country.

In terms of longer growing season it will be mainly the Canadians who benefit. But balanced against that, for Canada and Alaska, the loss of infrastructure balanced on permafrost will be in the 10s of billions of dollars to replace or repair.

What you can say is the USA, by virtue of its wealth, size and geographic diversity, has greater potential resilience. But as an example take lower Manhattan, just in GDP terms, it is huge-- and protecting or relocating that will be very expensive.

A replacement for the Thames Barrier in London (which was forecast for 2080, and now may be needed in the 2050s: remember that the original need was identified in the flooding of 1952, and it opened in 1982, so a 30 year lead time is not long) will cost at least £10bn in today's money (say $15bn) and London has only one main river, and is not a seaport in the way New York is.

Science has a greater profile in European policy making, and the tendency is for the elites who run Europe to think technocratically: the French leaders often have phds in engineering from the Grands Ecoles. The UK has historically had a disproportionate percentage of Nobel Prize winners, as well as 2-4 of the world's top 20 science universities (Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, UCL).

And weather in the UK has a particular resonance and importance. Both as a national subject of discussion but also because we are a seafaring and air and sea dependent nation-- the joke that the old headline "fog in Channel, continent cut off" has a grain of truth in it. Many of us go to sleep listening to the Shipping Forecast, for sea and wind conditions around the UK. It is a national institution in its own right

Sir John Houghton, who wrote one of the leading textbooks on climate change, was Chief Meteorologist of the UK, and briefed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on the subject (she had noted changes in the breeding season of birds and plants at her castle in Sandringham). He was a leading member of the IPCC. He is also an evangelical Christian-- which means the chapters on morality in his textbook (rich countries imposing costs on poor ones) are particularly interesting.

There is absolutely no evidence that warming is leading to more severe tornadoes and hurricanes (anywhere) or more frequent droughts (in the U.S.). In fact all of those have been declining in the U.S. (which I am sure is just evidence that later it will increase a lot, right?)


Kerry Emanuelle thinks that Atlantic Hurricanes are increasing -- and he is one of the world's leading experts on the subject. But I agree it is debated.

Our models are not good enough to give us a clear picture of regional trends. So, indeed, any particular weather event cannot be tied to climate change. What's happening in California could be part of some other cycle.

What we do know is average temperatures on a global basis are rising, and the biosphere appears to be responding. Also other things like sea levels and icepack melt. Arctic temperatures are rising much faster than at lower latitudes, due, we think, to albedo effects.

I was questioning the assumption that the USA is a net beneficiary of warming.

When much effort is being taken to tie climate changes to weather related events such as hurricanes, and the results are debated, that's a good indication there is no link.

vt - the Charles River in Boston (fronting Back Bay) has its height controlled by both upriver inlets/outlets/dams and by the Charles River Dam at its mouth, near the landmark Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. Thus, Back Bay is in no danger of flooding due to sea level rise until at least the 22nd or 23rd century.

It's clearly Canada that will benefit the most from warmer northern latitudes, and Russia. The US not so much. Too many low lying and coastal cities.

Only in western Canada are the northern soils good enough to benefit from a longer growing season (Ontario you will get better wine, probably).

And if there are water shortages, then Canadian agriculture is not a winner.

It is true Canadians will have lower winter heating bills-- barring this movement in the Polar Vortex, of course.

The damage to northern Canadian infrastructure, which is already happening, could cost in the many billions. The same is true in Russia.

Not clear if it is to Canada's benefit that a bunch of other nations which either claim the Arctic, or free passage through, will have ice free access 365 days a year. That could simply land Canada with the environmental issues without the benefits.

The second country benefited from GW is, sigh, Russia; warming of Siberia will allow more arable land and easier building construction (not to worry about permafrost). Same thinking for Greenland (=Denmark). BTW GW skeptics in CIS were 47% in 2014.

OK, sure, except for now make the argument that extreme weather events and hurricanes are more likely at the same time.

...model the atmosphere as a heat engine. The Sun pumps energy in, and that energy is slowly radiated out into space.

First Law of Thermodynamics -- heat is work, and work is heat. Because the atmosphere is a gas, all that extra heat means that the gas moves around more.

The extra heat gives you more convection -- thus, stronger storms and weather events -- but also distributes the heat more evenly over the surface of the planet -- thus, less north-south winds across the Great Plains, the relevant ones for power generation.

The prevailing winds on the Great Plains are westerlies.

...the strength of which is dominated by the thermal wind relation.

it's amazing what people can rationalize when they are emotionally motivated to do so....

mood affiliation ftw

...which is to say, you don't have any technical reason for why I say isn't a plausible explanation, you just ~don't like it~

"The extra heat gives you more convection"

No it doesn't. Temperature differentials create convection. The data says that global warming is warming the colder reasons (Arctic and Antarctic) more than the temperate regions. So the temperature differentials are decreasing.

If your very simple model is correct, hurricanes should be decreasing due to global warming.

@JW - actually, aren't they decreasing? Along with tornadoes?

"@JW – actually, aren’t they decreasing? Along with tornadoes?"

Yes, and in a rational world I would expect to see climatologist to predict a decrease in both tornadoes and hurricanes due to Global Warming. And then for them to be touting the current drop as proof of climate changes. But we don't live in a rational world and somehow the science got high jacked and people became vested in the idea that Global Warming must be bad in every possible way. So, instead the predictions (and studies to back them up) shifted towards Global Warming increases tornadoes and hurricanes.

So now we are in the delightfully wacky world where politics trumps science on both sides of the issue.

Eventually, we might see a compromise group form, that actually makes the following points:
1) AGW is happening, the data shows it.
2) It's not catastrophic, but it will cause climactic changes.
3) It's milder than we originally thought it would be.
4) It will not be a linear trend, because CO2 effects are on a decreasing Log scale. So if atmospheric increases in CO2 are not increasing on a Log scale, then you can expect the warming trend to decline over time.
5) The current mitigation strategies seem to be working, if we keep building out renewable energy at the current pace, the long term problems will be manageable.

J Watts

3. it's not clear it will be milder

4. the saturation argument has not held water, so far

5. the current mitigation efforts are most assuredly not happening fast enough. In particular deforestation in tropical areas. If they were working, then CO2 concentrations would not be steadily rising. The non-increase in CO2 emissions this past year seems to be more about the precipitate fall in Chinese economy (plus switching from coal to gas in some western power markets) than about renewables per se. And gas is on the path to a low carbon future but it's not a final stage- just a stopping point.

Uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of effects of our exogenous pulse of GHGs into the atmosphere is *not* our friend in this-- a point this blog has made more than once.

Remember, even of the pulse so far, we have seen relatively few of the final effects on the climate. Let alone of the emissions we will make in the next 50 years.

"3. it’s not clear it will be milder"

The evidence says otherwise:

On June 30, 1989, the Associated Press ran an article headlined: “UN Official Predicts Disaster, Says Greenhouse Effect Could Wipe Some Nations Off Map.” In the piece, the director of the UNEP’s New York office was quoted as claiming that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000.”

In March 2000, for example, “senior research scientist” David Viner, working at the time for the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, told the U.K. Independent that within “a few years,” snowfall would become “a very rare and exciting event” in Britain. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he was quoted as claiming in the article, headlined “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.”

"The 2005 UNEP predictions claimed that, by 2010, some 50 million “climate refugees” would be frantically fleeing from those regions of the globe."

"4. the saturation argument has not held water, so far"

It has nothing to do with saturation. The forcing from CO2 is on a Log scale. The reason AGW is rapidly increasing temperatures is because we continue to pump ever more CO2 into the atmosphere.

"•The relationship between atmospheric CO2 concentration and the corresponding increase in radiative forcing is given (3rd Report IPCC – TAR, table 6.2) by the logarithmic formula: RF = 5.35·ln (C/C0), where RF denotes radiative forcing in W/m2, C is CO2 concentration in parts per million (ppm), C0 is a reference concentration (usually the latter is 280 ppm – the concentration before the industrial revolution)."

Leaving aside some quibbling, JWatts stated the essentials of my view. Rather nicely.


re 3 I am going by what the IPCC says, as opposed to anyone else. "Milder"? We can't assert that. And we could be very wrong (in either direction, but the economic and human costs go up non linearly if we underestimate the speed or magnitude of change).

In a sense it doesn't matter. We have to behave as if the trend is at least as bad as forecast, because the costs of underestimating it are so severe. So if it turns out that things don't heat up as much (or more likely take longer to heat up than we expected) then that's kismet-- a free bonus.

Re 4 the modelling does not show a decreasing trend. Yes CO2 saturation, but you get more water vapour.

Remember, we have not really had the full heating effects of the emissions we have made so far. Those are yet to come.

The danger remains the things about which we have lower scientific understanding:

- methane release from permafrost or undersea clathrates leading to a positive feedback loop
- acceleration of deforestation or saturation of other carbon sinks
- something dramatic happening like a shutdown of the North Atlantic oscillation

On your model of hurricane intensity you are missing the impact of a warmer ocean surface-- that increases the power of hurricanes.

On 5 the current mitigation strategies are most definitely *not* working. If they were, there would be signs of a slowdown in CO2e concentrations in the atmosphere and/ or stabilization. Since the EIA at least believes CO2 emissions fell 2014 on 2013, the problem may be saturation of carbon sinks (or an acceleration in the pace of tropical rainforest deforestation).

What we can say is that we have proven renewables can be made to work as part of the electricity supply system at material levels (although no one has made them a majority of electricity supplied in a situation where import/ export was not taking place, ie a truly separate grid). And we have driven the individual cost of renewables (solar and wind) down to economic levels (at least in high cost markets).

Huge amounts of work remain in terms of energy storage, grid balancing, demand management etc.

"re 3 I am going by what the IPCC says, as opposed to anyone else. “Milder”? We can’t assert that. " I listed three different reputable sources that made falsifiable claims, and they all turned out false. I would be foolish to believe the non-falsifiable claims from the same groups.

"In a sense it doesn’t matter. We have to behave as if the trend is at least as bad as forecast, because the costs of underestimating it are so severe." That's a logical fallacy. You are attempting to Appeal to Consequences.

"Re 4 the modelling does not show a decreasing trend. " LOL, yes you hit the nail on the head. The modeling doesn't show a decreasing trend. Of course, the data sure does!

"Yes CO2 saturation, but you get more water vapour." Sigh. I've already told you, it has nothing to do with saturation. It has to do with CO2 being a logarithmic forcing to warming. That's the science behind Global Warming. If you exponentially add CO2 to the atmosphere, by continuously adding more coal plants, you'll get a linear trend increase in global warming. If you decrease the rate of your increase (I'm intentionally avoiding the calculus terminology, but think asymptotically approaching a constant) the linear warming trend will flatten out.

"On 5 the current mitigation strategies are most definitely *not* working. If they were, there would be signs of a slowdown in CO2e concentrations in the atmosphere and/ or stabilization." No, see number 4. Have you had calculus? It's easier to explain the consequences of inputs into log functions if I know the target audience.

J Watts

On the consequences. It goes like this. The consequences of the current emissions path is projected to be bad.

Now if we underestimate (either it happens faster, or some positive feedback loop kicks in and it is much worse) then the consequences are significantly worse than we think. And that's where the economics come in: a 2 (or 3, or 4) degree C rise is a lot more expensive and painful to deal with if it happens more quickly and/or if it is of greater magnitude than we forecast.

Think of London. If we have to build a new Thames Barrier (location is still being debated) by 2080 that's fine-- it will cost, but we have 65 years. But recent sea surges and the frequency of closing the barrier is much greater than anticipated when it was designed and commissioned (1952-82). Perhaps we will need it in the 2050s. That's still doable (although the policy response has been to kick the can down the road). But if it is the 2030s then we have a very significant unanticipated cost. And if you look at the map of London on the St Jude's Day storm without the Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf, the largest office district in Europe, is under water-- it would be like downtown Manhattan under 12' of water. And you would have had billions of dollars of damage to transport infrastructure (most of the main Tube lines would have had stations under water), power, transport etc. Residential property in the flooded area goes for c. £1000 per square foot, btw. Roughly speaking, the flooded area would account for c. 5% of UK GDP (depends how far the flooding went and what the impact on the rest of the financial services sector would be).

(I recognize the irony of citing the right wing Daily Mail for anything to do with climate change! ;-))

If we have overestimated the effects then the cost to us is lower. We moved too quickly, scrapped or changed some industrial equipment, transport, structures, earlier than we needed to. But we still had to scrap those and replace them with low or zero carbon equivalents, eventually- -cars and power plants don't last forever. If there are slack resources in the economy, of course that activity is "free" in the sense it will increase GDP. My own view is that in the long run it doesn't matter, because the demand for low carbon forms of generation/ transport etc. will in time create its own supply and induce technological change (progress in other words). As long as we do not have to scrap (much) existing capital stock too quickly, the long term costs will be minimized.

So that's the asymmetry I am talking about. It's more dangerous to be too conservative re the effects, rather than to be too pessimistic. Because the costs of an error on the conservative side grow exponentially. This is a point Tyler Cowen has made in this blog, as well-- uncertainty is not our friend in this.

On the data I don't think there is any consensus that the process of warming is slowing down. Yes the IPCC said something about it, but 1). this is from 1998, a very warm year, so it's a cherrypicked endpoint 2). a subsequent paper in Nature (from memory) questioned whether, statistically, there was any slowing down of warming at all 3). since we know that heat has entered the Earth System, the best guess is that it has gone into the deep ocean, which poses enormous long term risks (those methane clathrates again) and of course it could simply reverse.

Thanks for your explanation on the other point (yes I have taken calculus at a university level-- although it's rusty). However nothing I have seen in IPCC AR5 or any of the textbooks suggests that there is a slowing down of GW effects as we get over 500 ppm CO2e, which is I think is what you are implying?

In other words, the physical property you mention is known, but the atmosphere still lets out a lot of heat (ie infra red) back into space, and that means as you add CO2 there is still a significant effect.

Is there anything in the official sources which agrees with you on the phenomenon?

I was going to say the same thing. It will be blamed on climate change. Every weather event is

At least, the ones that aren't cited as evidence against it.

Even the ones cited as evidence against it are blamed on climate change

It appears it is the El Nino event. Whether that has been altered by climate change (frequency or intensity) is not clear. Our tour guide in Galapagos (where this event has huge impacts on the local flora and fauna) said the sharp divisions between El Nino years and others seem to be disappearing.

Except this year is going to be a super-extra-strong El Nino.

So you can rationalize the lack of El Ninos as caused by global warming, and then rationalize the super-strong El Nino as caused by global warming.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that humans are warming the planet. It's just that I am highly skeptical of the efforts to attribute every "extreme" weather event or phenomenon to global warming. In this area, the science is much weaker. if there is any science at all. it's all kind of just-so stories that barely stand up to scrutiny.


But that is precisely what I am not doing-- attributing this to climate change per se.

When I said the distinction appears to be disappearing (in the Galapagos) I believe the guide meant that every year was becoming more like an El Nino year.

That's in contrast to what I've been reading - there hasn't been an El Nino for 10-11 years. It's been in La Nina's phase until this year, not weak El Nino. That's why the California drought has been so bad. When we're in El Nino years, California gets MORE rain, not less.

5 days ago, before his visit to the artic, Obama said ““If we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century ” This is a ridiculous claim. The last IPCC report gives a range of 3.7C to 4.8C by the end of the century for their business as usual ( no Carbon reduction) highest rise scenario.
Actual datasets regression lines trends (GISS LOTI, HADCRUT4, NCEI, RSS, UAH6.0) give 0.11 C to 0.16 C per decade from 1979 to 2015 and -0.03C to 0.12 C per decade from 1998 to 2015 . The satellite data sets ( RSS,UAH) showing a slightly negative trend ( no warming the last 17 years). The worst case of the data sets gives us 1.4C increase by the end of the century.

Alaskan data and global data are two different things. Global rise can be lower but Alaskan still bigger.
And I think your centigrade and Fahrenheit are getting mixed up...

Obama was clearly using Fahrenheit.

There is now no "Business As Usual" scenario as such. What there is is the RCPs (Representative Concentration Pathways) referring to amount of radiative forcing: the scenarios are from memory RCP 2.5, 4.5, 6.5 and 8.0.

We are nicely tracking emissions for RCP 8.0, but that is still not a Business As Usual scenario I don't think.

yes it was deg F not C. Still 12F is 6.67 C, outside the IPCC range.
The period 1949 to 1975 was substantially colder than the period from 1977 to 2009, however since 1977 little additional warming has occurred in Alaska.

So Obama was right at the lower end (converting degrees F to degrees C) but not at the higher end?

I think if you take the RCP 8.0 pathway you do get higher that 4.8 degrees C?

"and -0.03C to 0.12 C per decade from 1998 to 2015 . The satellite data sets ( RSS,UAH) showing a slightly negative trend ( no warming the last 17 years)."

In other words, "I don't like the scientific data, so I will discard the parts I don't like, and keep only the data I like."

Classic conservative argument based on there being conservative scientific instruments and liberal scientific instruments, conservative thermometers and liberal thermometers.

How about proving to 98% of scientists that only RSS,UAH are valid datasets because they do not have the flaws you have identified in not only GISS LOTI, HADCRUT4, NCEI dataset collection and processing, plus the reasons to discard all the datasets obtained over four centuries of the British empire collecting detailed shipping records from its global fleet of military and commercial ships, and all the other land based observations over two centuries in the US because people like Franklin and Jefferson were just such idiots?

To repeat the obvious to all but conservatives, you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.

What nonsense are you spinning? I did not say only use RSS and UAH, only they show lower trends than the other sets.

Hydropower can be hurt by a bad water year; now it appears that this variability can exist with wind power. I never knew or even imagined that!

This just adds to the problem of a dilute energy resource versus dense (fossil fuel, uranium) energy. Already, wind power is intermittent. And the wind does not blow on the hottest summer days when the demand for electricity is highest.

It does do so, however, off shore.

And hottest days are usually when you get max solar insolation-- so there is a synergy there. As there is with pumped storage hydro. Dinorwic in Wales (c. 3% of UK peak demand) pumps water uphill at night when rates are low, and releases it back down to generate electricity in peak periods. The same could be done with some Norwegian fjords.

What you need there are High Voltage Direct Current lines to move the power long distances. These are rare in the USA, but much more common in Quebec, Brasil, Russia and Europe.

If you take the full estate of a coal based energy system-- big open pit mines, railways, storage facilities etc. it's not clear coal is that "high density". Ditto with the entire nuclear supply chain.

And nuclear power is not load following (the French do it, but I think there situation is acknowledged to be fairly unique). So it doesn't complement well renewables. For load following/ peaking power, you need gas turbines, pumped storage or other storage mechanisms. Load management/ load shifting is also key (demand side management) that's what smart meters are all about.

"What you need there are High Voltage Direct Current lines to move the power long distances. "

High Voltage DC lines aren't that much more efficient that High Voltage AC lines. People have an exaggerated opinion of electrical line losses. Sure, if you are going to build a new, and you were going to span a very long distance (1,000+ km) you probably want to go with HVDC. However, it's generally not going to be economical to replace AC lines with DC lines. And if you have shorter distances, AC wins economically. (Unless it's underwater or if you are connecting two different AC systems together).

Also, HVDC equipment is less reliable and more expensive than HVAC equipment.

HVDC losses per 1,000 km = 3.5%
HVAC losses per 1,000 km = 5.0%

"dense (fossil fuel, uranium) energy"

The future is thorium, not uranium.

The sooner we realize that, the better.

Existing nuclear reactor technology, the Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) is over 60 years old. Developed by the US Navy under Admiral Rickover. Alternative technologies such as CANDU (Canada heavy water) and Magnox/ AGR (UK) and RBMK (Russian graphite reactor) have fallen by the wayside.

We will not change our reactor technology quickly-- the sheer wait of approvals, tests and safety requirements mandates that. The 3rd Gen reactors are simply evolutions of the 2nd Gen.

So there's no real prospect of commercial scale Thorium reactors for 20-30 years. Even if there was a drive towards them (which there is not).

"We will not change our reactor technology quickly– the sheer wait of approvals, tests and safety requirements mandates that."

If we were really concerned by AGW we easily would and could. Do realize the first commercial nuclear power plant was built by Westinghouse in 1960 and that the bulk of all US nuclear power plants were built by 1980. So in 20 years we built all of the US's current nuclear power, which provides 20% of our current electricity.

It's not that we couldn't, it's that no one is really that concerned with AGW. If environmentalists really thought it was an approaching catastrophe they'd be marching on Washington in mass to demand that all coal power plants be replaced with nuclear power plants in the next 15 years.

Revealed preferences.


The litmus test for seriousness of AGW concern is "does this person strongly advocate for more nuclear power."

First commercial nuclear reactor was Calder Hall (Graphite reactor).

First US commercial nuclear reactor was Shippingport (1957 - a PWR design).

"if we were really concerned by AGW we easily could and would". That's not at all true. Not with such an advanced technology, with a high risk of getting it wrong, that locks you into that specific implementation for 5 years construction +40+ years of operation.

Nuclear technology is not like replacing a mobile phone. The scale of the commitment of technology, capital and expertise is so large, and the safety concerns so significant, that there are not radical leaps in the way we do it. Just the licensing procudures alone. And there's 30+ years of operator experience on BWR and PWR reactors (and on graphite and CANDU).

The PWR works, and the 3rd Gen is a lineal descendant from the previous reactors. We will not build new reactors in the next 20 years that are not 3 Gen or 3 Gen+.

There are the ongoing safety issues-- and Fukushima is not something you can ignore nor is the absence of any credible solution for long term disposal of waste. And the world now has terrorist organizations which can exploit weaknesses in nuclear power facilities.

But the real show stopper is cost. Hinckley C (EDF - an Areva EPR design) has been delayed again, to past 2023. Despite the highest electricity subsidy in the UK market, excepting offshore wind (where the technology is at a much earlier stage). Flamanville and Oulu are over 10 years late and over 3x projected cost.

The economics of the reactors just don't stack up. And that's before any new safety issues that may crop up. As the CEO of Exelon said, his shareholders would fire him if he started on a new reactor. They are only possible with government subsidies and loan guarantees.

Even the French did not experience learning curve effects-- their later reactors cost a lot more than their early ones. And that's with all the arrows pointing in the same direction: state support, political buy in at the highest level, limited or no local opposition, single technology and common design with experienced plant builders, full vertical integration of power markets. It would be very difficult for another country to duplicate that.

Since renewables are now coming onto the grid at lower than the cost of new nuclear power, it's no surprise that renewables are growing much faster than nuclear in developed countries.

The global nuclear supply industry now, couldn't scale to meet the demands of the 1960-80 period.

But this is about getting a new design* tested and running on commercial unit. That would take at least a decade from now. Scaling up after that would be a mammoth task. No utility now would take on that risk (investor owned utility).

On the way you can see all the obstacles; political, regulatory, financial, technological. There aren't any working commercial thorium reactors, for example.

20+ years one could get there. ie by year 20 we could see a rising order schedule for nuclear reactors of a new technology (eg Thorium). But not in less than 20 years.

Since (UK case) subsidies for new nuclear reactors come out of the budget for renewables, one can see why the advocates of the latter are not big fans of the former. (this is generally the case with Feed In Tariffs/ CFDs as implemented in the UK-- the additional cost to construct these sources is laden onto all consumers of electricity, and the UK Treasury sets an overall budget for the maximum subsidy).

* which is not basically a PWR or a BWR

valuethinker, you seem to be quoting a miscellaneous collection of facts and it's obscuring the underlying argument.

We don't need to invent new technology. If we just replicated the Nuclear reactor we have now and replaced every coal plant with them, we would drastically reduce the rate of Carbon entering the atmosphere.

Try this basic logic.

alpha are the risks associated with Nuclear power as perceived by Climatologists; beta are the risks associated with Climate change as perceived by Climatologists;

A) IF alpha IS MUCH GREATER than beta THEN climatologists would be demanding we eliminate all Nuclear Power.
-- They aren't demanding we eliminate all Nuclear Power, Ergo A is FALSE

B) IF beta IS MUCH GREATER than alpha THEN climatologists would be demanding we drastically increase Nuclear Power to mitigate the risks of Global Warming.
-- They aren't demanding we drastically increase Nuclear Power, Ergo B is FALSE

Therefore, I conclude that the risks of Global Warming aren't substantially different than the risks associated with Nuclear Power. Nuclear power is considered a marginally acceptable risk to civilization, therefore Global Warming should be considered a marginally acceptable risk to civilization.


I was telling you why we will not have thorium reactors in the next 20 years. Even with a crash programme, 30 years is more likely to have a significant fleet. And that radical changes in reactor technology just do not happen (or not quickly)-- we are still using 60 year old reactor technology.

What I am telling you (from the perspective of the son of a nuclear utility engineer-) is that nuclear power does not currently stack up on an economic basis. It is possible the Chinese will engineer down the cost base (as they have done in other areas of heavy industry and construction) but if you have seen the build quality of other Chinese construction (eg high speed rail that falls off the tracks) you would worry that they might cut corners. We trust the Japanese to be good at high technology and quality control, but in a similar situation to China (overly close relationship between regulators and regulated in the nuclear power industry and a culture of complacency re safety) they manifestly failed to manage the risks. China might build that 100+ reactors, but my own suspicion is they will not.

I am not sure there is a "group view" amongst climatologists re nuclear power. It's one of Paccala and Socolow's 14 wedges (but the assumed scaling) so certainly there is an argument for it amongst the climate policy community. I am not alone in thinking that the Germans were wrong to terminate their existing reactors prematurely for political reasons (Merkel's CDU lost the Baden-Wurtemburg elections to a Green-SPD coalition and that was a key issue, along with the Stuttgart train station).

The problem with nuclear power is not whether the climate movement does or does not want it, it's that the economics of new nukes just do not stack up against alternatives.

J Watts

Just on your argument logic.

If we don't have nuclear power, we have other alternatives (and cheaper ones, it looks like).

If we get it wrong on climate change, we don't have a habitable planet (or at least not habitable by the 9-12 billion of us there will be by mid-late 21st century). And on the way the stresses (on a planet where there are at least 6 nuclear weapon armed nations) could finish off our civilisation.

So it's perfectly reasonable to be opposed to *both* climate change and nuclear power.

My own view is that the nuclear power choice has become contaminated with politics which don't have anything to do with climate change (Germany!). However the requirements of society to make nuclear power work (stable technocracies operating on 1000 year+ time horizons) is not one that has been sustained in our recorded history-- so there's a reason to be cautious. And estimated costs of new nukes have risen roughly 3-fold since 2000, making the technology marginal in economic terms vs. other low carbon alternatives.

In building Hinckley C, the UK government has chosen to guarantee the utility (EDF of France) a higher electricity price than *any* other alternative available to it (other than offshore wind, where there is an agreement to reduce subsidies over time, and the tidal barrier projects in the Severn eg Swansea Bay). That's not a compelling argument for new nuclear power- -not given the historic experience of cost curves (which rise with susequent stations, not fall).

"our current expectation is that the wind resource will revert back to historical averages" - TTBOMR no real evidence that temperature or other weather aggregates are stationary. My recollection is that tests have not rejected unit roots for temperature, no reason to think that wind is different. It's not a simple random walk and there are transient shocks, so for a six month dip it is not unreasonable to assume that things will return to normal, but on the whole the longer we see these doldrums the longer we can expect them to be the "new normal".

This is in principle orthogonal to the AGW dispute, although accepting that temperatures are non-stationary means that a long-term warming trend does not necessarily have to have any cause. It still could or the warming could be more than the I(1) process implies.

Right. The point is you can come up with an over-fit, back tested model for anything you want to explain depending on your objectives that may even sound plausibe. See: macro-economics, climate science, et al.

macroeconomists, climate scientists, and court astrologers should form a special club and exchange notes.

Macroeconomists make deliberately simplifying assumptions about individual humans and firms to make economic forecasts. Results are fairly unimpressive. Old fashioned Keynesian IS-LM models with much less micro rigour have done better in forecasting the last few years.

Court astrologers presumably have their finger on the pulse as to what the kings and lords of the day wanted to hear. They would know all the gossip.

Climate scientists use physical principles in their modelling. Known properties of elements and molecules, and known parameters eg solar insolation and reradiation. When Pinatubo blew, Hansen and his team at Goddard correctly forecast the subsequent drop in world temperatures-- indicating we have a good handle on SO2 forcing, at least.

If you read Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming (it's available free on line) then his concluding chapter is about the limitations of climate modelling we now face. The incredible scale up in computational resources necessary to get to smaller gradations of atmospheric volume in the models. It's a great book, btw.

We are probably better at forecasting climate sensitivity (the change in global temperatures associated with a given increase in CO2 equivalent gas concentrations in the atmosphere) than about the time that those changes will actually take to occur. It could be a lot faster (due to feedback effects like permafrost melt) or longer (due to oceanic effects, say) than we think. That uncertainty increases the risk of delaying action-- a point that Alex or Tyler has made on this blog.

The geologic record shows both. Very long term climate changes. And, in geologic terms, almost instantaneous ones.

"Court astrologers presumably have their finger on the pulse as to what the kings and lords of the day wanted to hear. They would know all the gossip."

That's an excellent point. Hazel Meade, I think the modern term for court astrologers is Political Pundits.

The long term trend is unknown. For 2015 there's el Niño Pacific Ocean periodic event. Anyone wonders why there was 3 hurricanes in the Pacific basin last weekend while nothing has happened during the Atlantic hurricane season?

Anyway, it's interesting to see aforestation as the main suspect for slowing winds.

How many trees are there on the planet?

that number has just been revised. Both the number of trees (7 trillion) and the speed of deforestation have been revised upwards.

They had made a 750% error in estimating the number of trees, but somehow can be sure that the number of trees has dropped by 46% ( not 45% or 47%) due to man-made activities

We're extracting too much wind power. We've passed Peak Wind. It's a finite resource, and the European and Chinese are harvesting it at an unsustainable rate.

Finally, the truth comes out!

You beat me to it, and then some.

See the perils wrought by Big Wind?

Our poor children will soon grown up in a kiteless society.

If you read Isaac Asimov "The Gods Themselves" then he makes the point there, too, that yes, there is a limit.

David Keith has done some modelling. Short answer is we shouldn't worry before we get to 1m wind turbines (of c. 2MW each).

By which time our solar systems will be so good that it may be academic. It's easy to see a role for wind in the next 30-40 years, say, but in the 50+ years it is much harder to make that assumption. It will depend a lot on energy storage, Concentrated Solar Power, solar cell conversion efficiencies, etc.

The MR comment section defies the "Peak Wind" thesis.

Almost every comment section does.

Some of those windfarms are huge, so I don't believe it is impossible that they are modifying local wind patterns. For instance they could be improving mixing between lower level warm air in contact with the ground and colder air higher up. Since a lot of wind activity is driven by temperature differences this might have an measurable effect. Consisten with one of Cowan's laws (I forget which one) there is even literature on the subject -
The paper suggests local warming of up to 0.7 DegF due to better mixing, which is actually more than I would have expected.

It's certainly a new phenomenon. As with any power technology, when you scale it up, you discover new things. The side effects of superdams are much better understood than they were 100 years ago. Ditto the wind effects around skyscrapers.

In 25 years (c.) the existing wind farms will all have to be repowered-- turbines and maybe towers replaced. By which time we will know a lot more and other technologies like solar may be a lot cheaper.

I don't think this is what is at issue here in that it seems to be a western North America problem- -ie regional weather at least.

Wind farm blades impede air flow, whether their rotors spin or no?

Are the climate chroniclers accounting for altitude?

Too much west-to-east air traffic?

Too little heat dispersion in the Northern Hemisphere?

Too much plastic floating in oceans south of the equator?

David Keith has done some modelling. When we have 1 m wind turbines, the effect on a global scale will be noticeable.

However unless there is some regional/ local effect we don't understand (and the local effects are well modelled-- have to be, to build the wind farms) it's unlikely this is what is causing the slowdown in winds. AFAIK there has been no evidence of same (general decrease in wind speed) in Denmark,Scotland or northern Germany, where the wind turbines are probably more densely sited than in the USA (nor in California, AFAIK).

"David Keith has done some modelling. When we have 1 m wind turbines, the effect on a global scale will be noticeable."

Frankly, that sounds like a very low number. Wind turbines are (on an Earth scale) very small. What's the cross section area of 1 million wind turbines? Is it as much as a single large mountain?

For reference, there are currently around 250K wind turbines built.

I'd have to dig out the paper, but from memory there was a fractional change in surface temperatures and wind speeds when you got to 1m large wind turbines.

This approach was first attempted by David Keith and colleagues in 2004. When they compared the climate in their model with and without extremely large wind farms (large enough to generate about twice the world’s total present electrical demand), they found that in addition to climate effects in the immediate vicinity of the wind farms, there were changes in climate all around the world.

There were regions of warming and cooling of about 0.5°C, and increases and decreases in precipitation by a few percent. A followup paper showed that these changes were mostly a result of changes in wind direction caused by the wind turbines.

Note that the article makes a fall from 38% capacity factor to 33% sound like big news. European wind farms average less than 30% CF. That's partly because of politics and national energy grids (northern Germany is not an ideal place to build wind farms vs. say the Shetland Islands (a turbine there has the highest CF in the world).

Winds raking Scotland closer to the latitude of Glasgow and Edinburgh have even demolished wind turbines, as I heard in late 2011.


There was that one picture of one turbine blowing up during the highest velocity winds that part of Scotland had experienced in 125 years. Made the front page of all the papers.

However that same storm actually caused a much *greater* loss of nuclear power from the grid, because the National Grid lines to one of the remaining Advanced Gas Reactors (AGR) in Scotland went down.

Not too many turbines have blown up due to wind velocities. It's a small risk (above a certain windspeed, the turbine disconnects so the rotor is free spinning, and they are built with massive strength margins above maximum generating speed).

Or perhaps what is going on is that the estimates of wind-speed and wind-power generation capacity were delusionally over-optimistic?
True believers want to believe!

You do an anomemonitor study of wind intensity and duration at the location before you build a wind farm. that's essential, because the microvariation can be huge due to local factors.

Generation capacity is not overstated (that's why you can calculate a capacity factor). As to wind speed, well people have been building commercial wind farms for 30 years: especially in Denmark. BTW 33% Capacity Factor looks very good for a wind farm in the eastern USA or in Europe (onshore).

What I meant is the amount of electricity that could be theoretically generated using estimates of average windspeeds.
My suggestion is that a lot of true believers may have systematically (consciously or unconsciously) biased their data to overstate average wind speeds and overstate the amount of electricity that could consequently be generated.
Maybe some of this year's decline is attributable to wind speeds being lower than predicted, and some is due to less efficient generation than forecast, and both were given overly rosy predictions to sell the technology.

Since these wind farms were built as commercial propositions, I doubt anyone knowingly overestimated wind. In the sense that many of the owners of these assets are the original developers so there wasn't an incentive to overestimate future output.

On a national level, say, we have a lot of wind data. In the case of the UK at least 2 centuries worth.

So I don't believe we overestimated average wind speeds. It turns out, in the western USA, that wind speeds this year were a lot lower than expected. There's not enough in that article to say whether we have recorded periods when wind speeds were much lower than expected (ie we ignored natural variation we knew about) or whether this is a new phenomenon (to the extent we have records, which I am guessing for western USA is 100+ years, on a regional level, but not a local one).

On Capacity Factors (Load Factors) there is now a lot of industry experience. I agree some of the macro projections may have used overly optimistic numbers relative to what has actually occurred. The issue being that at the local level you can't build wind turbines in the ideal locations for a host of reasons. There are also issues with wind turbines in the same farm impacting on each other.

I don't think your distinction "some attributable to wind speeds and some due to less efficient generation" is a correct one:

- the efficiencies of wind turbines are known and well understood
- lower capacity factor is not lower efficiency. It is either the result of 1). greater maintenance downtime than expected (a problem the industry has addressed) 2). less time with wind in the right range of wind speeds (too high or too low wind speeds).

What is happening here from what has been published in the press is 2-- winds aren't blowing fast enough for as many hours as was estimated. That's always a risk with a wind farm at the local level (because even with anomemter data, you still may not fully understand local wind conditions). At the regional or national level? It might be true (we've underestimated the variation in wind speed year-on-year) but that might be simply because this is a new condition.

I think you are confusing lower capacity factor (equivalent to electricity output/ theoretical electricity output if the turbine blew at full power for 8760 hours a year) with efficiency (the conversion of wind energy into electricity). The mechanical efficiency of these turbines is well understood.


It's not delusional to note that a source of energy that has gone from 0 to significant in the energy production of many of the world's leading industrial countries (Germany, USA, China, UK) is important.

There may not have been enough data about wind velocity. That's certainly true at the local level. At the regional and national level, in developed countries, I am surprised if there was (the UK is perhaps anomalous because of our orientation towards the sea and weather-- we have the longest contiguous records of the developed countries, I believe).

But what's also possible is that these weather conditions are unprecedented. Or at least were very rare, and are becoming less rare. Which of course could be climate change at work (or it could be some other cycle we don't understand well). As with most such regional phenomena, it's too early to tell- -our models are only now really beginning to tackle the question of regional changes to the planet's climate, and the main effects of climate change at the macro scale lie in the future.

Or it could be that you need to collect more than a few years of data to determine what the average wind speed really is.
Many people are discovering that California's drought is actually more like the geological norm for the region and that rainfall in California was above average during the last century. It took 100 years to figure that our, and some advancements in research.

It's not quite that.

What you are saying is that the long term variation might be greater than we thought. Fine. We weren't wrong about average wind speeds (within our experience) just about the range that they might take on.

On California we have several thousand years of data from tree rings, and it's been known for a long time there was a huge dry spell (about 1100AD I believe).

The Northwestern tsunami is a better example. There was a huge one in 1700, and it tracks back both to oral legends of the indigenous populations but also records in Japan (a tidal wave with no earthquake). And we only pulled the pieces together on that in the last few years, as I understand it.

We've been at the wind power game for 35-40 years, about (of course there was also wind generated electricity in the US in the 1930s). We have data. You have to make some assumptions and get on with it. In the same way that dams were built in the western USA using data of what turned out to be a very wet period in the life of the Colorado River.

But should we say they should have waited another 80 years to start on the Hoover Dam? Of course not.

Won't this just lead to a better understanding of wind variability for turbine design, and better technologies for turbines to perform in a variable wind speed environment? How good were solar panel systems at dealing with above average cloudiness in the early years of the technology?

There are certainly designs (eg 2 bladed propellers on horizontal axis turbines) which are better for intermittent winds.

You don't have to look beyond local effects, at least for this summer. The southern Great Plains were remarkably wet this spring and early summer -- areas that were deep in a multi-year drought recovered completely. The moisture inhibits the high pressure system that usually sets up over the southern Great Plains -- the high that provides a lot of the "pumping" winds for the North American Monsoon. The northern end of the monsoon has been very disappointing this year in the absence of that big high pressure system. It's unsurprising that output from the wind turbines is also down.

Predicting the future is not science.

Wind-farms are primarily tax shelters. The only wind they really need is the hot air promoting favorable legislation.

I gained the knowledge how to trade with the help of Superior Trading System. Just Google them and you’ll find them.

By the mid 1980s wind surveys (and windfarm annual power output) had indicated that , at given sites , annual aggregate wind power could vary by ~ 40% , although most years had less variability.

Concerning the present thread , I think "Michael Cain September 3, 2015 at 11:40 am" is on target, and also related comments by 'Valuethinker'&'Hazel Meade':
There is some similarity between continental weather this spring/summer and that of 1983 when we also had ElNino -- very large airmasses , which decrease the periods of frontal passages , when winds are stronger.

Thank you for that additional info, which is useful.

AFAIK no one has said this is climate change per se. And most scientists would express caution about mapping global changes onto regional ones-- we are just not that sophisticated at estimating regional impacts (I think it is an area where the modelling has progressed, greatly, but it's an inherently very difficult problem). linked from here

So in essence it looks like the FT just didn't get the right handle on the story. H1 2014 was a year of very strong winds, thus making H1 2015 look a lot worse. Still within the known historic variations on wind intensity.

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