By Christopher Arcus, Automotive X Prize Competitor, Design Engineer, Dedicated CleanTechnica Reader
A recent article titled “The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit” requires a response. The central idea is that we will not cooperate enough to avoid global warming consequences.
The premise is subject to debate, because it is a matter of opinion, not fact. But there are some disturbing errors in its factual analysis.
It is also replete with logical fallacy, starting with the notion that we have not cooperated thus far, so we will not in the future. The topic of political resistance to efforts to reduce climate change is a daily feature of many sources.
The article sources from a comment in Nature from Michael Geden. His idea that scientists come up with good news pressured by politicians does not include any specifics. It’s hard to justify that against the backdrop of Eric Rignot’s moment of realization that a large part of the Antarctic ice sheet is past the point of no return.
So, too, goes the claim that scientists are baking overly optimistic assumptions into their models. What we have been hearing is that IPCC is overly optimistic, but not so that politicians can have good news to report, but because scientists make estimates on what they know. The extent of polar sea ice has decayed faster than prediction in part because some causes were not well known and the scientists made predictions based only on what they knew.
A large part of Geden’s criticism is assigned to BECCS, a form of carbon capture and storage. and whether limiting to 2°C warming is possible. Certainly, CCS as used to allow coal plants has failed. If this is a wake-up call that more serious efforts are needed, it’s true and welcome. CCS efforts continue to ignore deforestation — and it’s opposite as a remedy.
A tipoff to some serious flaws comes when it is mentioned that Michael Mann and Stephan Rahmstorf disagree with the article conclusions. Those are two people whose statements matter and should not be ignored.
But when Roberts claims the public is unaware of the serious nature of global warming, he loses me completely. Clearly, the public is far ahead of politicians. That cannot continue indefinitely. And progress is made despite this.
But there are serious flaws in the article when it comes to energy and references to an NREL paper.
The NREL paper sources material from pre-2012, most of it 2010 and earlier. The renewables field is changing rapidly and the article does not address notable recent events. Many of his arguments are based on false assumptions relating to current advances. A read of the NREL report reveals that the author preface admits that the conclusions are already off. Solar PV advances exceeded their projections. Likewise, energy storage projections have come sooner and been greater than anticipated. These two alone put paid to arguments based on the NREL report. But those are not the only flaws. The NREL paper concludes that 80% renewables by 2050 is achievable. Its conclusions are conservative, and not limiting. In fact, the NREL paper concludes that the results are robust against constraints.
Roberts arguments are not supported by the NREL paper. The level of variable renewables required is only 35% wind and 15% solar, a total of 50% variable renewables necessary for 80% renewables. That’s because the remaining amounts are from hydro, geothermal, biomass, etc. — all so-called dispatchable renewables, accounting for another 30%. Iowa is already nearing the 30% level.
The NREL report only anticipates 10% storage is necessary. What the recent storage cost advances have done is turn the situation on its head. Instead of having storage necessary for renewables, we find ourselves in a situation where storage displaces gas peakers for following daily demand. Storage displaces gas peakers at under $350/kWh. The Tesla Powerwall is $250/kWh to utilities.
The article also repeats the confusion of the word “dispatchable” applied to all fossil fuel power plants. There is a difference between “dispatchable” that takes hours or days of startup time and the layman’s notion of flipping a switch to get power. Large central thermal power plants take hours or days to start and ramp slowly, so the system needs gas turbines to make up the daily 2:1 variation. Likewise, the notion that renewables penetration will not be achieved per NREL’s predictions because of human nature and resistance to infrastructure changes is contradicted by recent events. The recent introduction of the energy imbalance markets is a way of creating real-time interchange between distance ISOs, allowing further renewables penetrations, reducing reserves requirements, and lowering costs.
Certainly, there is a tension between advances and innovation and business as usual. However, the subject deserves a better and more up-to-date discussion than the Roberts article has provided. Recent events have already eclipsed many of the objections in the article.
Lastly, the article ends with the statement, “Who wants to put on the posterboards, go out on the street corner and rant?”
I will leave the rhetorical answer to a picture of the 400,000 Climate March.
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