Eigg – a model for a sustainable energy future

A short distance off the west coast of Scotland lies the island of Eigg, area 15 square miles, population 87 (2005). It has never had a grid connection to the mainland, so historically its residents have either had to generate their own electricity from diesel generators or go without.

Eigg scenery

Then on the 1st of February 2008 everything changed. Eigg proudly switched on its new power system, which generates around 90% of the island’s electricity from renewables and feeds it to consumers through a smart grid. In 2010 the system won a £300,000 share of the National Endowment for the Arts and Sciences Big Green Challenge award and also the prestigious Ashden gold award for energy efficiency. It’s been hailed as a example of how renewable energy can be made to work, and as a model for a sustainable energy future.

So using Eigg as our model, let’s see what a sustainable energy future might hold for us.
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For A Few Trillion Barrels More

On 18th September 2014 (in a few days time), Scotland will vote on the following question:

Should Scotland be an independent country?

Answer YES and the vote is for independence, answer NO and the vote is to stay with The United Kingdom. Energy has not figured at the top of the debating issues that have been dominated by currency union, the economy and disaffection with Westminster. The future of North Sea oil has been on the second tier but periodically gets thrust into the limelight, normally on the back of sensational headlines about the future. Part of the current reality is that Aberdeen is in the early stage of cyclical recession, brought about by declining production and soaring costs now exacerbated by Brent sliding below $100/ barrel. Redundancies have already begun. In this post I want to examine three issues that have been in the news 1) future exploration potential 2) offshore fracking and 3) remaining reserves.

Figure 1 The history of UK Offshore Field discoveries according to this UK government source. Three main discovery cycles are evident, the third centred on 2007 riding on the back of rising oil prices. The UK is now at a discovery rate cycle low not witnessed since 1968. In recent commentary the highly respected Professor Alex Kemp of the University of Aberdeen saw on average 3 discoveries per year over the next 30 years which is a rather cautious but credible estimate.
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Blowout week 37

The focus this week is on Scotland in advance of the independence vote, beginning with the latest research from the University of Aberdeen:

Energy Voice:  Scottish independence: expert predicts North Sea oil bonanza

Alex Kemp, from the University of Aberdeen, has used detailed financial modelling to set out “commercially viable” projects for the industry following the Wood Review. Prof Kemp argues the 99 finds could be made by 2045, and also outlines an additional 58 which he says will be “uneconomic” by 2050 but could become viable as a result of technological improvements. He further points out 147 already discovered fields which are not yet at the detailed planning stage and 25 fields currently “being assessed” for development.

~20 more stories below the fold

Now with seven more added by Euan Mearns:
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HadCRUT4 strikes out

By Roger Andrews

HadCRUT4, a joint production of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, is the world’s “official” global surface temperature time series. It’s the time series that tells us how much the Earth has warmed. It’s the time series the IPCC uses to “verify” its climate models and to support its claim that the warming was dominantly anthropogenic. It’s the time series that underpins the world’s efforts to cut carbon emissions and transition to a “sustainable” energy future. It’s difficult to overstate its importance.

Figure 1: HadCRUT4 “global surface temperature” time series

One hopes and trusts it’s reliable.

Unfortunately, however, it isn’t.

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The Methane Time Bomb

Atmospheric methane peaks from sampling stations at Barrow northern Alaska and Alert northern Canada (off N Greenland) are centred on January of each annual cycle (Figures 1 and 4). This makes it highly unlikely that the annual cycle in methane concentrations is caused by the freeze thaw cycle of Arctic tundra.

Rather, the rise of methane concentrations 1983 to 1990 and subsequent flattening of the curve, combined with annual cycles with mid-winter peaks (Figure 2), matches Russian (or N American) natural gas production.

Figure 1 Atmospheric methane concentration data from Alert station, Canada. The annual peaks are centred on January each year when the Alert station is surrounded by frozen ground and frozen seas for more than 500 miles on all sides.

Data source is NOAA: Alert and Barrow.
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The High Cost of Renewables

In this post I present “back of envelope” style calculations on the capital costs of renewables globally since 1998 and deduce that roughly $1.3 trillion has been spent installing wind turbines and solar panels. Is this a lot of money? Is it a wise investment? What else may we have we got for our money?

There are different ways to view this. For example UK annual GDP is roughly double this sum and in that perspective it is not a huge amount for the world to spend over 15 years. Some would argue that we should be spending a lot more. Another perspective is that the same money would buy 50 Hinkley Point style pressurised water reactors. That would add 163 GW to global generating capacity, roughly three times the UK total generating needs.

We hear a lot about the plummeting cost of renewables and escalating costs of nuclear power. Looking just at capacity installation costs, nuclear comes in at $8000 / kW and wind at around $2000 / kW. But these figures need to be adjusted for load capacity factors (nuclear 0.9, wind 0.17) and for the longevity of the installations (nuclear 50 years, wind 20 years). Applying these adjustments wind works out at 3 times and solar at 10 times the cost of installing nuclear power.

Figure 1 The binge in renewables investments began in 2008, the year of record high energy prices, the biggest financial crash in living memory and passing of the Climate Change Act in the UK. Global investment in solar now exceeds wind and combined they amount to $1.3 trillion.
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Blowout week 36

Fracking in PA; Paul Nurse and Brian Cox dislike scepticism; BP on the rocks; “FREEDOM” for Scotland; Blackouts around the corner; China & India cool on climate talks; North Sea Fracking mad; 15 nukes in Ukraine give NATO headache; Wind records – really?; Floating solar in Japan. 33 stories in total this week from Roger and I.

NY Times: How Much Europe Depends on Russian Energy

Current European Union sanctions ban the sale of certain oil industry technologies to Russia, and European leaders are considering a further round of sanctions. But the situation is complicated by the union’s reliance on imported Russian oil, which has not yet been restricted.

HT Joe Public
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The Arctic Sea Ice Canary Refuses to Die

In late 2007 the Arctic sea ice area took an unexpected plunge and this event is largely responsible for triggering the Global Warming hysteria of recent years. This led leading warmist James Hansen to declare that man made global warming was now having a clear impact on the Arctic and the chorus warned of changing albedo and warming seas that may trigger an explosion of methane from melting permafrost and seabed methane hydrates. Everything was much worse than was believed before.

For the five following summers the Arctic Sea ice experienced similar higher than “normal” summer melt back culminating with “unprecedented melting” in the late summer of 2012 (Figure 1). But then last year, the high melt back did not occur and it seems unlikely to occur this year. Whilst it is too early to say, things appear to have returned to “normal”. That is good news, isn’t it? The Arctic Sea Ice canary’s refusal to die may turn out to be another nail in the coffin of global warming theories.

Figure 1 Detail for Arctic Sea Ice Area anomaly showing the significant summer melt back in the years 2007 and 2012. In 2013 and 2014 there are signs that the sea ice is returning to its pre-2007 state and there is little evidence for a terminal death spiral model favoured by warmists. The illustration is adapted from the full Arctic sea ice record as reported by Cryosphere Today.

This post could easily have been titled “Sea Ice for Beginners” since its main purpose is to provide the uninitiated with a perspective on global sea ice variations and what they tell us.
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The residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is …. 33 years?

By Roger Andrews

An important consideration in estimating future greenhouse warming risks is how long CO2 remains in the atmosphere. Here I present the results of a simple mass balance model that provides a near-perfect fit between CO2 emissions and observed atmospheric CO2 using a CO2 residence time of 33 years. This, however, is significantly longer than 36 peer reviewed estimates that cluster between 5 and 15 years and much shorter than IPCC’s estimates of 100 years or longer, hence the question mark in the title.

Figure 1: CO2 Residence Time Estimates (data: Jennifer Marohasy )

I developed the mass balance model using the following deductions and assumptions:
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The Arguments for and Against Shale Oil and Gas Developments

The energy debate is full of controversy. Whether it is about the pros and cons of renewable energy, nuclear power or fossil fuels (FF) there are a range of arguments made on either side. If it was clear cut which arguments were best, there would be no controversy to discuss. And so it is the case with shale developments, some strongly in favour, some violently opposed. How are we going to solve our energy crisis?

[This article was invited by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists where it was published earlier this month, although it has yet to appear on line.]

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Blowout Week 35

by Roger Andrews

NY Daily News: Kurdish tanker carrying $100 million in oil disappears from radar off Texas coast following legal battle with Iraq

A Kurdish tanker loaded with $100 million worth of oil vanished off Texas’ coast Thursday. Radar systems showed no signs of the United Kalavrvta cargo ship, which has been at the center of a long legal battle between Iraq’s government and the country’s Kurdish region. The ship, which was 95% full and carrying 1 million barrels of disputed crude, was on its way to Galveston when it mysteriously went dark Thursday night. Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan each claim the oil on board as its own.

It’s common for ships carrying disputed crude to go dark while they offload shipments. Without functioning transponders, the ships’ movements are hard to track. Earlier this week, a partially full tanker carrying Kurdish crude disappeared from satellite tracking north of Egypt. It reappeared empty two days later near Israel.

The United Kalavrvta heads for radar-free waters

 ~20 more stories below the fold:

Now with lucky thirteen more added by Euan at 6pm UK time
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German Power 2013

The latest summary presentation from Prof. Bruno Burger of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems arrived in my in box today courtesy of Willem Post and Hugh Sharman. It is a gigantic pdf with 263 slides. I have selected just 7 slides and provide minimal commentary here to illustrate how the Energiewende is going in Germany. Hugh made this observation:

The reality remains that, according to these statistics, the capacity factor of wind and PV in Germany is ummmm…pretty awful

Solar PV capacity GW 35.651
Solar PV production TWh 29.7
Capacity Factor 9.5%

Wind capacity GW 32.513
Wind production TWh 47.2
Capacity Factor 16.6%

Such low capacity factors, especially for solar, may actually push the energy return on invested (ERoEI) to below unity. In other words, more energy may be used to manufacture, install and maintain the units than they ever produce.

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CO2 in, CO2 out

by Roger Andrews

Some time ago I posted a graph showing how the IPCC’s 21st century temperature projections for the “worst case” RCP85 emissions scenario could be replicated almost exactly using the IPCC’s CO2 radiative forcing estimates for the scenario, a climate sensitivity of 2.2C and nothing else. (Note that I don’t claim this as an original discovery. Others, I think Clive Best is one, have presented similar graphs in the past):

Figure 1

Author note, early am UK time August 28th : Dave Rutledge has pointed out that Figure 1 gives a climate sensitivity of around 3.0C when calculated using the present-day CO2 concentration of ~400 ppm and a 2100 concentration of 936 ppm, the IPCC’s official estimate for RCP85. This is higher than my best-fit estimate of 2.2C because I used 289 ppm CO2 in 1750 as the baseline and the IPCC’s official 2100 estimate of 1,233 ppm CO2 equivalent, which includes other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide expressed as CO2.

Although there’s actually nothing very surprising about this result because CO2 is effectively the only input the IPCC’s climate models receive in the 21st century. Only about half of the ~4 degrees C of warming they project under the RCP85 scenario, however, is contributed by the direct radiative impacts of CO2. The other half comes from positive feedbacks generated by the interaction of CO2 with other model variables, so if the models are to predict the right amount of warming it’s important that they correctly quantify these feedbacks.

And do they?
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North Sea Oil and Scottish Independence: where does the truth lie?

  • How much oil and gas is left in the North Sea? 16 billion barrels oil equivalent (boe) according to Sir Ian Wood or 24 billion boe according to Oil and Gas UK? The correct answer for official proved+probable reserves is between 8 and 9 billion boe, a figure that both DECC and Oil and Gas UK agree on. With over 9 different classes of reserves, this debate is sterile and this is not the correct question to ask.
  • How wealthy will oil make Scotland? In 2013, the direct tax take from oil and gas production for the whole of the UK was £4.67 billion and falling. This compares with annual spending of the Scottish government (plus UK spending on Scotland) running at £65.2 billion. Hence, direct taxation of oil and gas production may account for less than 7% of the Scottish budget. What we should be asking is where the other 93% is going to come from?

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Blowout week 34

I had only 5 stories this week, but luckily Roger dug up another 26 cracking stories in this bumper issue of Blowout with 31 stories below the fold.

BBC: Glacier-like hazards found on Ben Nevis

Hazards common in arctic and alpine areas but described as “extremely unusual” in the UK during the summer have been found on Ben Nevis.

A team of climbers and scientists investigating the mountain’s North Face said snowfields remained in many gullies and upper scree slopes.

On these fields, they have come across compacted, dense, ice hard snow call neve.

Neve is the first stage in the formation of glaciers, the team said.

HT Wattsupwiththat

Does this fate await Spean Bridge at the foot of Ben Nevis? Scientists say that the advance of the Rhone Glacier in 1890 to 1900 was down to natural causes but that its subsequent melting back to prior levels is down to man made global warming.

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Hydro Balancing Wind in the UK

There’s nothing that renewables advocates like to discuss more than building power lines, lots of them. And a favourite subject is to build very expensive power lines between the UK and Scandinavia so that we, like the Danes, can balance variable wind generation  off their controllable hydro. Every country in Europe wants to do this.

The UK of course has its own suite of hydro dams with 1.7 GW capacity, most of it in Scotland. And so you would think that before we begin to dream about balancing our wind power off Scandinavian Hydro we would start by utilising our own hydro to maximum effect before hand (Figure 1). Nothing could be further from the truth.

Figure 1 If UK hydro were being used to balance wind, a negative correlation between the two would be expected since hydro generation should be turned down or switched off altogether when the wind blows. If anything there is a positive correlation suggesting that UK hydro is not being used to balance wind power at all. Data points are 5 minute intervals for the whole of 2012. Data sources BM reports from Gridwatch. Continue reading

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How cheap is “cheap” oil?

By Roger Andrews

Everyone seems to agree that the world is running out of cheap oil. But how cheap is cheap? Until we know it’s hard to say exactly what the world is running out of, or indeed if it’s running out of it at all.  Clearly what is needed is for someone to put a dollar value on cheap oil, and here I do my best to come up with a number.

Before we can start we need a definition of “cheap”. Webster’s defines it as “worth more than the price paid”, which is probably as good a definition as any, so we will use it. But how do we define when oil is no longer worth more than the price paid, i.e. not cheap? When the world stops buying it. There is of course no exact point at which this occurs; in theory oil will become progressively less “cheap” as the price rises and consumption growth will decrease progressively as a consequence. However, there will come a point at which the oil price becomes high enough to turn consumption growth negative, and for the purposes of analysis I’ve picked this as the “cheap” oil threshold.

Using this criterion we will now look briefly into the question of where this threshold might occur.
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The Clair Oilfield – distilling facts from fiction

In an email last week:

Recently a number of friends of mine have been telling me that the largest oil field in the world has been discovered encompassing BP Clair Ridge. They further tell me that the UK government has ordered BP to stay quiet about this until after the independence referendum. Now this seems unlikely to me to say the least but I wonder if you have any comment.

I agreed to write a short post setting out the facts as I understand them. I do not own any shares in BP, but many years ago I was involved in geochemical and mineralogical characterisation of the reservoir that led to the development of techniques still used today. Continue reading

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Blowout week 33

18 stories this week below the fold.

The UK had some weather this week as the remnants of hurricane Bertha passed over. This caused flooding, and perhaps coincidentally, another major power cut took place during strong gusting winds. Image BBC.

BBC: Parts of Scotland affected by ex-hurricane Bertha

Parts of Scotland have been badly hit by high winds and heavy rain in the wake of what was Hurricane Bertha.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has almost 40 flood warnings in place, covering Aberdeenshire, Speyside, Moray, Caithness and Sutherland, and Tayside.

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The Laschamp Event and Earth’s Wandering Magnetic Field

A few weeks ago, commenter Phil Chapman left this comment in a remote corner of the blog:

It is not quite correct that changes in the geomagnetic field have been unimportant in the time frame covered by your post on solar influence on glaciation. It is true that the last major pole reversal was 780 kya, but lesser geomagnetic excursions are more frequent. The last one, known as the Laschamp event, was only 41 kya. It involved a full reversal, but the whole thing lasted only 440 years. During the change, the field dropped to 5% of its former value, and the cosmic ray flux more than doubled.

The scary thing is that we now seem to be in the early stages of a similar event. The N magnetic di pole has left the Canadian Arctic; it is now at 86 N and barreling towards Siberia at 60 km/yr. This is as fast as the maximum speed during the Laschamp event. If it continued, compasses would point at some point on the equator only 180 years from now — but it will probably break up long before then. The very recent data from the ESA Swarm satellites indicate that the field is becoming disorganized and decreasing in intensity by 5%/decade.

It seems quite likely that we will lose the protection of the geomagnetic field within decades to perhaps a century, exposing satellites, communication systems and terrestrial power grids to serious damage, and requiring much heavier shielding for astronauts in Earth orbit (and perhaps for people at high latitudes, such as Scotland). Moreover, if the field weakens substantially while we are still in the coming Grand Solar Minimum, the climate may become much colder than the Little Ice Age.

This prospect demands immediate serious attention, including objective studies of the connection between GCRs and climate, close observations of the evolving solar and geophysical phenomena, and preparation of contingency plans to counter the effects on agriculture, public health, the economy and living conditions.

Phil Chapman (Sc.D., physics, MIT, long ago)
Scottsdale, AZ

This was in response to my post on Solar influence on glaciation in Greenland where I examined the co-variance of the cosmogenic isotope 10Be with Dansgaard–Oeschger events (D-O events). It is not every day that a retired NASA astronaut calls by to share his knowledge and I decided to dig a little deeper into what he had to say. Continue reading

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