Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why a climate sceptic can go solar

Reasons to adopt green energy

It has long been considered self-evident that green energy will cost more than conventional sources. Individuals opting for green energy do so because of their strong belief in the necessity of achieving a greener planet. Given the possible alternatives, this small price premium is not an issue. These people are truly early adopters, proud to anticipate major shifts in the energy market. Companies, on the other hand, are generally perceived to be investing in green energy to stress their public image of corporate responsibility and consider this added cost as part of doing business.

Fundamentals of Power System Economics

Review by author

By Daniel S. Kirschen, Goran Strbac (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, UK)

The introduction of competition into the electricity supply industry has fundamentally changed the way it works. In light of these changes this book provides a clear and comprehensive explanation of the basic principles underpinning the design and operation of modern competitive electricity markets.

The Electric Universe

By David Bodanis

This essay, which reads like a novel, takes us through the development of electricity, its omnipresence in our natural environment and its impact on an industrial or technological society.

The book opens with a description of the effect of a long power outage on a major city. It goes on to describe how the invention and development of electricity has changed our lives by using the metaphor or warping a Roman Proconsul into our present era just before or after the electrical era has started. He would feel right at home in 19th century society before electricity, recognizing most things he saw. But 100 years later, we would need to do a lot of explaining.

The Electric Universe describes the major inventions based on electricity, each of which revolutionised society, such as for example the invention of light, telecommunications, computers, ... Each of these changed our lives, usually for the better. The people behind the inventions (Edison, Faraday, Morse, Volta) are presented as real personae.

With radar, electricity changes warfare, and shows for the first time an ugly side. But without electricity, there is also no rock & roll, and we could speculate about a less emancipated society.

Finally, electricity plays a crucial role in human and animal life. Without it, there can be no eyesight, or neuron activity.
The Electric Universe is well researched, providing a wealth of references and is highly entertaining if one likes the subject.

Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

Beyond Oil

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's PeakBy Kenneth S Deffeyes

As an academic geologist from Princeton who has spent a large part of his working life in exploration, Professor Kenneth S Deffeyes is worth reading on carbon energy sources. 'Beyond Oil' obliges through providing the usual chapters on oil, gas, coal and uranium. It discusses alternative carbon supplies such as tar sands and oil shale. But if you can spare only time for reading one chapter, read the last one 'the big picture'.

With earth formed 4,500 million years ago, geologists 'can't be bothered with stuff that lasts less than a million years', which is incidentally about the lifetime of a mammal species. As there is no reason why Homo Sapiens should be an exception, we may have 900,000 years left before the next stage in our evolution.

Thinking out of the box, an example that we can make deliverate changes to the earth's major systems: digging 2 sea-level canals accross the Isthmus with flap gates could wipe out in a few 100 years the salinity difference between the Pacific and the Atlantic, making the tropics less hot, and the poles less cold. In other words 'San Diego everywhere'.

Beyond Oil offers further musings on population control as an instrument for sustainability. Obviously controversial, the most humane and acceptable method would be to teach calculus to teenage girls.

Its recipe prefers a mix of existing technologies, such as high efficiency automobiles, coal-fired power plants located near to CO2underground storage areas, wind turbines and nuclear power plants. It also pleads for a better use of combined techniques, i.e.:
  • plan coal-fired electric power plants near to oil fields, to use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery
  • nuclear plants supplying heat and hydrogen for processing heavy-oil sands
  • agriculture to produce both food and burnable waste products

The Chilling Stars – A New Theory of Climate Change

Review by Dr P D Hopewell, B.Eng, Ph.D, C.Eng, MIET

In recent years industry and the public alike have, rightly, become less tolerant of pollution and much progress has been made to 'clean up our act'. However there is a new cause for concern; climate change is now recognised to have a major impact on the world's people and economies. Publication of the authoritative and comprehensive 'Stern Review' in 2006 put the UK at the forefront of attempts to assess the economic cost of climate change, the costs of tackling global warming and the policies required to address the problem. With widespread acceptance in the media and Government of CO2 as the de-facto cause of climate change and global warming, it would seem to the layman that there is no longer any scientific debate or doubt about this assertion. Svensmark and Calder's book is one of the very few recent publications to
present an alternative view.

Given the strong emotions associated with global warming, Svensmark and Calder's work may be seen by many to be unfashionable at best, or irresponsible at worst. However, an open-minded reader is likely to be intrigued by the theories and analysis presented and may well begin to question the mainstream CO2 = global warming link.

Henrik Svensmark is one of a number of largely Danish researchers who have been investigating the subject now known as 'cosmoclimatology' for over a decade, so far with very little funding and recognition for their work. In the mid 1990s they identified a strong link between the rate of cosmic rays received into the Earth's atmosphere and the rate of cloud production. Furthermore, they corroborated the strength of cosmic rays with accepted proxies for temperature. They also used satellite data to develop an understanding of the repulsive effect of the Sun's magnetic field on the cosmic rays. From this work they deduced that a more magnetically active Sun (as indicated by high levels of sunspot activity) tends to deflect cosmic rays away from the Earth. This results in less cloud formation and hence more sunlight reaching the Earth, since cloud tops reflect light out of the atmosphere and in to space.

In 'The Chilling Stars', the authors cite archaeological evidence which suggests that the Earth's climate has often undergone rapid transitions, both cooling and warming. For example, summer 2003 saw the retreating perennial ice of the Schnidejoch in the Swiss Alps yield a 4700 year old archer's quiver. Subsequent finds demonstrated that the Schnidejoch had been unfrozen and open to human passage many times since the last Ice Age and that there were four periods during the past 5000 years that were warmer than the present day.

Over a period of hundreds of millions of years, Earth has experienced many climate change episodes, oscillating between icy and hot and Svensmark and Calder have unearthed evidence to link these to the changing levels of cosmic rays and their role in cloud formation. Indeed the authors argue that as the Earth, Solar System and Galaxy have travelled through space, the background of cosmic rays has played a major role in shaping the Earth’s environment since primordial times. When compared to these timescales and magnitudes, mankind’s potential for impact surely appears small.

Despite this, there is clear and unquestioned evidence that the Earth is presently undergoing a period of warming. However cosmoclimatolgy tells us that the human influence on the cause of such warming is much less than supposed in contemporary climate models (with the consequence that many of the worst excesses of rapid warming predicted should not come to pass). If this is indeed the case then it would surely be prudent to direct humanity's efforts towards adapting to a warmer world rather than trying to mitigate the unmitigatable. As Svensmark and Calder say, “...among the thousands of human generations, ours may be the first that was ever frightened by a warming.”

At risk of flying in the face of the received wisdom, the theory presented in this very readable book appears plausible and may withstand Occam's Razor equally as well as, if not better than, the mainstream CO2 explanation. Read it and draw your own conclusions, but be prepared for a possible change in your perception of global warming.