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Bob Wallace

Ac A - lots of stuff. Let me hit what I can.

We have a tremendous amount of oil below the Earth's surface. We used up the really cheap (easy to get) stuff long ago. We won't fall off an oil cliff, we will go after the harder to extract/harder to refine stuff and prices will rise until we move to another energy source.

We've already started to move off oil.

Current predictions are that Chinese solar panel manufacturers should be able to drop their manufacturing costs another 30% or so over then next 2-3 years.

It almost doesn't matter if panel price drops or not. Solar panels are now selling for just over $0.50/watt. There's not much room between half a buck and zero.

It's the balance of the system prices that need to come down. Germany is installing at an average of $2/watt and a lot of their solar is residential rooftop.

$2/watt would mean electricity for 7 to 9 cents/kWh in most of the US.

We're in the very early days of the transition away from fossil fuels. The rate of wind/solar installation is accelerating like crazy.

People do buy new cars. Average car lifespan is 12 or so years. Over 12 to 20 years we could replace fuel cars with electrics. The price of electrics should fall below that of gasmobiles. Much simpler to manufacture.

Those places which have installed the most renewable energy (Germany-solar, Texas-wind) are seeing their wholesale price of electricity dropping. On sunny days in Germany the wholesale price of electricity drops to the lowest of the 24 hour cycle.

(Those lower prices are not being passed on to customers, but that's a different issue.)

I see pretty much the opposite of what you see. I see our electricity prices dropping. I see us driving for less. I see the price of goods coming down because the energy inputs will be cheaper.

Bob Wallace

Stephan -
"That's not the point, the point is how heavily it is fought by fossil fuels big money.
The point is that co2 emissions are still rising at tremendous speed and that new coal plants are being built even in Germany with planned lifetimes of 40+ years."

The fossil fuel industry is fighting renewables. But they are losing. Coal plants in the US are being shut down. Republican governors are lobbying for continued support for wind.

Germany's new coal burning plants are replacing (not adding to) the older plants that either have been or will soon be decommissioned.

By 2020, 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity will be decommissioned, whereas only 11.3 gigawatts will be newly installed.

Furthermore those plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing.

CO2 emissisons for the EU27 peaked sometime in the 1990s. CO2 emissions for the US peaked in 2005. World wide emissions are still rising largely due to China and India.

China has set a target of reducing its CO2 emission levels to about 60% of 2005 levels by 2020. China has set several targets for wind turbine installation, met them all early and then set higher target. They just boosted their 2015 solar goal from 5 GW to 35 GW.

Here's what I think. I think the Arctic sea ice will melt out within the next five years. And that will be a moment of great awakening.

I think the world is going to get a lot more serious about getting off fossil fuels really, really soon.

Bob Wallace

Jim - coal and nuclear plant owners are scared. Their profits are being snatched away by natural gas and renewables.

We've got two nuclear reactors being shut down in the US this year. About a quarter of the US nuclear fleet is barely avoiding bankruptcy. Any significant repair and they are done.


Solar is really hurting "always on" generation. Those plants make little money, even lose money, during off peak hours and make their profits during peak hours. Solar is wiping out their sunny day profits. Wind is driving them to sometimes sell their late night power for less than zero cents (they can't shut down and subsidized wind can make money selling for zero).

Watch what happens this year with solar. We passed the affordability threshold this last year. It's past the point where coal and nuclear can stop it.

Ghoti Of Lod

Good comments Bob. I agree with you completely.

Chris Reynolds


Seasonal thinning as a function of thickness in April (PIOMAS) for 2012 and 1983.

1983 chosen as random.


Thanks Chris,

Curious curved lines of points. I see they are consecutive cells in same PIOMAS cell loop and/or similar positions. I guess I should expect similar outcomes for nearby cells.

It seemed strange that there were some curved lines that had much larger gaps to adjacent loops than between adjacent cells in same loop. The well separated loops with thickening I tracked down were very close to Greenland. So there may well be an effect where cells very close to land have less movement of ice than cells in loops further from Greenland. Of course the thickening is likely due to transport of ice. I guess this explains those well separated curved lines. Elsewhere curved lines have close neighbours.

Wayne Kernochan

@bob wallace: If your concern is showing that solar and wind make sense, all this is true. If you are assessing what's likely to happen and its effects in the next few years, I think you're being too optimistic.

First, as Joe Romm notes, because of the way it is typically produced, natural gas decreases carbon emissions per amount of resulting energy used very little -- not by 50%. Second, the US may be stopping planning for new coal plants, but because plants of a certain age are not required to have certain pollution equipment, they have been and will be kept open far past their usual lifetime. As far as China is concerned, that reduction is either a reduction in carbon emissions per unit of energy (but the amount of energy used goes up sharply) or is a pure fantasy. China has indeed increased wind and solar by large amounts, but has also increased coal by large amounts, and continues to plan to do so in the next few years.

There also seems to be an assumption that small decreases in carbon emissions is the only thing that matters. No -- we also need to worry about keeping significant amounts of coal and oil in the ground for the next 100 years, if not probably the next 1000 years. At a certain point, it becomes more difficult to resequester it, no matter how much we reduce additional emissions.

With regard to solar pricing, if pure price was the only criterion, you would be absolutely correct about solar's oncoming superiority to oil and coal. Our present infrastructure was built for coal and oil. Yes, you can do new infrastructure that's suited for solar on an individual basis quite effectively, but on a national and global basis, there has to be a huge superiority before the market (and governments) make the switch. Witness, for example, the delay of substitution of fiber for copper and telephone poles.

This is not to say we shouldn't do this; quite the opposite. It is to say that we shouldn't be satisfied at all with "we're on our way to changing fundamentally semi-automatically." We desperately need to cordon off oil and coal resources even where people will object that they might suffer (and bend our efforts to making sure the new solar/wind doesn't make them suffer), and start solar/wind installation now even where the economics seem strongly against it -- because that pricing will turn around soon.

May you be right that the ice-free Arctic causes people to fundamentally change their thinking. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean they'll fundamentally change what they do. Here's hoping they do that as well -- even if I see few if any signs of it.

Bob Wallace


Joe's right, but he misses the important aspect of natural gas. NG turbines can go from full off to full on in less than 15 minutes.

Wind is already cheaper than NG and solar is getting there. When wind or solar are available NG gen will shut down. That can't happen with coal or nuclear.

Wind and solar can always underbid NG because they have no fuel costs.

China has capped the total amount of coal that can be burned per year starting in 2015. The level will be roughly what they burned in 2011. Any new generation from here on out will have to be something other than coal.

When you consider the financials of installing solar, don't forget that solar is unique in that it competes against the retail price of electricity. Residential and commercial solar offsets end-user priced electricity.

Were we installing rooftop at Germany's price per watt the non-subsidized cost of solar would be multiple cents cheaper than the average price of electricity in the US.

There's no need for new/different infrastructure with end-user solar, except some neighborhood transformers may need to be switched out earlier than expected.

We've replaced quite a bit of coal generation (from over 50% of our gen to 37% in 2012) with natural gas. And we will replace more.

Until we come up with better storage (or start building more pump-up) NG will likely turn into fill-in for wind and solar.

I think it unlikely that people in general will change what they do/how they live.

But I do think we'll see greater and greater demand that the government do something, even if it costs "not large" money for individuals.

One thing that could happen would be a carbon tax. Especially if the revenues were used to subsidize end-user electricity costs. That would put a thumb on the scale for non-carbon generation while not driving up utility bills.

I'm not saying that we will absolutely transition "in time". And I'm not 100% convinced that it's not "too late".

I'm just saying that we have a viable route and it seems that we are starting to take it.

If what we have to do to avoid extreme climate change is to cap CO2 by 2020 and start a significant downturn I think it's doable.

The EU27 and US have peaked and started down (not fast enough, but) and I suspect China will peak around 2020. China's government has a lot of engineer types in it and not, as far as I know, any coal barons. China accepts that extreme climate change would be a disaster for them.

India, I suspect, will turn things around. They burn a lot of diesel for electricity and they can install solar for less than what they spend to import diesel. They are also manufacturing and installing wind turbines.

Yes, I realize that this is way off topic.

But those of us who have been watching this Arctic sea ice disaster unfolding for a few years should be more aware than most how quickly things are developing.

It seems to me that we are going to be explaining more and more often to those around us what is happening in the Arctic.

And when that happens we are going to be in an excellent position to describe how we can at least attempt to get things under control.

People need to be shown answers. If they have some potential answers then they are going to be more likely to insist their governments do something.

Kevin McKinney

Bob already mentioned this, but here is one of a number of stories about Chinese plans to 'stabilize' their enormous coal consumption:


Good news--let's hope it plays out as envisioned.

Artful Dodger

Good (and enjoyable) discussion here folks. But i think most of it belongs in the Open Thread...

PIOMAS is Arctic sea ice volume. :^)


Chris Reynolds


BTW check your email - there's some stuff on my Google Drive for you.

I kept meaning to do a run for a year plotting the grid locations, but didn't get round to it. That would help identify those loops. Some of the plots you'll see on the thinning vs initial thickness stuff I did last year are very 'loopy'.

What I take from the plot I posted is that the change in thinning between early years with thicker ice and recent years with thinner is that

1) Some of the apparent reduced thinning in the average in earlier years may be due to negative thinning i.e. a gain in thickness over the melt season. This cannot be thermodynamic, must be due to ridging / transport. That 2012 is lifting from the zero thinning axis shows how thermodynamics are dominating now.

2) There is no reason to suspect a change in thinning with thickness or such a change with time because what is happening is a shift towards thinner April ice, with no shift in the mass of data points. The mass just below 1m thinning merely draws back from thicker ice in April. If anything the April tilt upwards in the 1983 set merely ceases to be there, implying a net reduction of thinning of thickest ice category.

3) Proportionately the clustering around the 1:1 line is greater in recent years - i.e. April thickness = thinning => melt out to open water. i.e. more open water. In the years to come it will be interesting to see the spread gradually cluster around the 1:1 line, until when we get a totally ice free September average we'll see all points arrayed along 1:1.

Ac A


It seems to me that we're entering a new era in which energy is going to be cheaper and more abundant than ever before.

Oh, common! Are you serious?? Bu even if you are right, that is even worse than till now since "cheap energy" is THE primary reason, which got us into this global mess...


Ac A

Bob, one more thing, regarding your last sentence, I do not think your feeling is based in reality, check this as just ONE example where we are now:

Tens of thousands of Bulgarians protested in more than 20 cities against high electricity bills on Sunday, piling pressure on the government after a week of persistent demonstrations. ... http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/02/17/world/europe/17reuters-bulgaria-protests-electricity.html?_r=0



Espen wrote (Feb 11):
Lots of crushed sea ice North of Nares Strait (Kennedy / North West Greeenland), it seems to develop hour by hour:


... and it seems to me to be still developing. Is this a normal process this time of year?

James Lovejoy

AC A, Regarding your posting of the Bulgarian protests, their major demand seemed to be to re-nationalize the electric grid. That might be a good thing for renewable energy. I read an article about Hawaiian power a few months ago, and one of my take-aways was that the private power companies on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii were saying that 30% renewables couldn't be handled while the cooperative in Kawaii was planning to boost its renewable portion to 50%.

Craig Dillon

I do not doubt that ice volume is the ONLY reliable predictor of what is going on in the Arctic. In 2000, it was reported that the US Navy submarine data showed that the summer ice went from 17ft thick to 9ft thick from 1979 to about 1996. I did a simple extrapolation and calculated zero thick Arctic ice by 2017. At the time, all the models were predicting 2060 to 2100. So, far that little computation has proven more accurate than the super computers. [BTW. After a long email correspondence with Maslowsky, he was the first to predict 2020 as the data of zero ice. I like to think I helped him in that.]

Now since PIOMAS seems to be predicting things better, I presume they have figured out why there was the loss of ice thickness from 1979 to 1996, when loss of albedo was not an issue. I was always curious about that. I figured it had to be warmer currents under the ice, since the melting seemed to be happening from below. I would love to hear from someone who knows about that.

Steve Bloom

Craig, when did Maslowski say 2020? His announced model results are for 2016 +/- three years.

John Christensen


Regarding warmer currents, there has been plenty research on the sediments on the eastern side of the Fram Strait, showing that the inflow of warmer Atlantic waters increased in volume already back in the 1860's, see:

The argument is that the warmer currents did not immediately impact the surface conditions, but that this is happening to an increasing extent.

It would therefore be reasonable for PIOMAS to include the impact of Atlantic water inflow, and as I have argued elsewhere on this blog, this would seem a plausible reason why volume is suffering relatively more than SIA or SIE, melting from below taking place for a longer period each year than melting from above.

Bob Wallace

AcA - "Bob, one more thing, regarding your last sentence, I do not think your feeling is based in reality...."

I did not say that electricity would be less expensive immediately. There will be a cost in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables. New infrastructure to be built.

But consider....

When we build a coal or nuclear plant and pay it off over 20 years we still have to fuel the plant.

Fuel and maintenance for a paid off nuclear plant can run as high as the cost of electricity from a brand new wind turbine.

When we install a wind turbine or solar array we pay them off and then enjoy a decade or more of fuel-free electricity from wind and decades of fuel-free electricity from solar panels.

Our first wind turbines operated about 30 years before maintenance costs caused them to be replaced. Newer technology should operate longer.

Our oldest solar panels have been operating for 40 years and are still producing at roughly 80% of their original output level. Solar panels lose about 0.5% output per year. No one has ever observed a "solar cliff".

And there is no limit on how much wind, solar and other renewable capacity we install. There will never be a fuel shortage.

Jim Hunt

Some more of my "political pessimism" for you to consider Bob:


There is no limit to the quantity of scientific and technological gibberish uttered on behalf of the powers that be.

Nightvid Cole


Now, let's compare easy (cheap) oil to electricity for transportation.

An EV uses about 0.3 kWh/mile. Average US electricity prices are $0.12/kWh. So $0.04/mile.

To drive for four cents in a 50 MPG gasmobile you'd need to find $2 gallon fuel.

Except that you are ignoring the effects of wear and tear in both cases, the more miles you drive the sooner the car will need servicing, and the sooner it will need to be replaced.

Gasoline cars usually cost at least twice as much per mile as you would think if you only look at fuel cost. I am not as familiar with electric cars...

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