Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tol: The Structure of the Climate Debate

I can't recommend a paper from Richard Tol highly enough - I think on content, but communication style might be part of the appeal.
Abstract: First-best climate policy is a uniform carbon tax which gradually rises over time. Civil servants have complicated climate policy to expand bureaucracies, politicians to create rents. Environmentalists have exaggerated climate change to gain influence, other activists have joined the climate bandwagon. Opponents to climate policy have attacked the weaknesses in climate research. The climate debate is convoluted and polarized as a result, and climate policy complex. Climate policy should become easier and more rational as the Paris Agreement has shifted climate policy back towards national governments. Changing political priorities, austerity, and a maturing bureaucracy should lead to a more constructive climate debate.
The full paper (.pdf) is worth the full read. Some of my favourite sections (stripped of those clumsy references academics clutter papers with):
Economists have been reluctant, however, to write much about the climate debate itself and apply their tools of analysis to the question why participants in this debate behave the way they do. This paper makes a first attempt.
A number of things stand in the way of a reasonable debate on international climate policy

First, the presentation of climate change is often a discourse of fear... There is a demand for an explanation of the world in terms of Sin and a Final Reckoning... Although many Europeans are nominally secular, fewer are in practice. The story of climate change is often a religious one...: emissions (sin) lead to climate change (eternal doom); we must reduce our emissions (atone for our sins). This has led to an environmental movement (a priesthood) that thrives on preaching climate alarmism, often separated from its factual basis. Environmentalism further offers an identity..., a tribe to belong to, and an opportunity to feel better than outsiders. In order to maximize their membership and income, environmental NGOs meet the demand for scaremongering and moral superiority...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Bird deaths and ignorance

The big story of the day contains, as it so often does, nonsense from the Canadian Wind Industry - which I'd like to address, so...

Study calls for 18-km turbine setback | John Miner, London Free Press
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a standard that wind farms not be located within five kilometres of the shoreline. The Nature Conservancy recommends eight kilometres. The new evidence points to an 18-kilometre zone as appropriate, Hutchins said.
“These birds don’t just belong to Canada and the United States, they are a shared resource and they are worth billions of dollars,” Hutchins said, pointing to their role in controlling pests, pollinating crops and dispersing seed. “We can’t afford to lose these animals,” he said.
Ontario doesn’t restrict the proximity of wind turbines in relation to the Great Lakes, but does require wind farm developers to monitor bird and bat deaths for three years. For bats the acceptable mortality level is 10 per wind turbine each year, while the limit for birds is 14 birds annually per turbine.
Beyond those levels, the wind farm company may be required to take mitigating action.
Data released last month indicated wind turbines in Ontario in 2015 killed 14,140 birds, mainly songbirds, and 42,656 bats, including several species on Ontario’s endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife radar study found that migrating birds concentrate along the shorelines to refuel and rest before crossing the lakes. The researchers also found the birds make broad-scale flights along the shorelines to explore wind conditions and orient themselves for migration.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Renewables and gas and Hinkley Point

I'd been thinking the discussion around the new May government's delay of a decision on EPR reactors at Hinkley Point was featuring well known voices tossing off half-cooked ideas as alternatives to the project, and am now inspired to say so by...

“All other things equal, a 1% percent increase in the share of fast reacting fossil technologies is associated with a 0.88% percent increase in renewable generation capacity in the long term,” the study reports. Again, this is over 26 separate countries, and more than two decades.“Our paper calls attention to the fact that renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply,” the paper adds.
“When people assume that we can switch from fossil fuels to renewables they assume we can completely switch out of one path, to another path,” says Verdolini. But, she adds, the study suggests otherwise.
Verdolini emphasized this merely describes the past — not necessarily the future. That’s a critical distinction, because the study also notes that if we reach a time when fast-responding energy storage is prevalent — when, say, large-scale grid batteries store solar or wind-generated energy and can discharge it instantaneously when there’s a need — then the reliance on gas may no longer be so prevalent.
Ah the future - a country unknown to all but zealots.

The study seems to find what I'd expect. Renewables in much of the world (certainly Ontario) lack meaningful capacity value, so they are always additional generation. They do not replace other generators.
Thinking through the eternal promise of storage, I argue wind and solar should be viewed as fuels for the batteries (or other storage) which would be the generators.

It seems to me these issues have been around long enough, they should be obvious, and yet it remains common to see renewables presented as alternatives to actual generators - such as the proposed Hinkley C.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

New York, South Australia, and U.K. messages on nuclear, and wind

The New York State Department of Public Service (NYSDPS) took a small, but significant step forward yesterday. By a vote of three yeses and one concur, the commissioners decided to implement a clean energy standard that includes zero emission credits for nuclear plants that are struggling in a market where the wholesale prices are too low to cover their fixed costs. - Rod Adams, Atomic Insights
It was nice to see my American pro-nuclear online acquaintances get something of a win yesterday with the passage of a plan I wrote on in New York bringing hope back to US nuclear operator. Now that I can't jinx it passing, I want to discuss issues revealed over the past 3 weeks by events including New York's Zero Emissions Credit (ZEC) initiative, an electricity supply crisis in South Australia, and a new government in the U.K. delaying signing off on a new reactor agreement.

Starting in New York...
Brad Plumer has a story at VOX that seems well regarded, so I'll recommend that while noting the title is highly questionable and the following section both important, and misleading (at best):
From Nuclear power and renewables don’t have to be enemies. New York just showed how:
Right now these reactors aren’t fully compensated for this climate benefit. So, the commission decided, let’s start with that $50 a ton and then subtract out what these reactors already receive from power markets, capacity markets, and RGGI, the Northeast’s cap-and-trade system. Then we’ll pay the reactors for the difference — call it a “zero-emission credit” (ZEC):