Some of you readers are aware that I have been working as a Telescope Operator at the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park. There are three domed instruments that are open to the public for viewing on Saturday nights – weather permitting. I get to operate the smallest to these — a 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain instrument. For non-Astronomy Nerds, the 14 inch number refers to the diameter of the mirror that is inside the big, black tube.
BTW: Brazos Bend State Park, where the George Observatory is locate, has been closed for flooding until early July. SO, this activity of mine is “on hold”.
We might have forty or more visitors on an average night, but even so there are occasional intervals when I can make some photographs. There was one night when the atmospheric conditions made the “seeing” miserable, but I still managed to catch some images of Saturn. Most detail of the planet and rings was lost, but a couple of satellites were captured in one long time-exposure where the planet and rings were overexposed. You might need to zoom to see the moons.
More recently, on a night with better seeing, the Orion Nebula was captured in a series of different exposure times. I include two below.
There are methods, these days, to stack (combine) multiple images and get far more impressive results. I am looking in to that.
The word “whence” is a Middle English term that means “from where”. Use of this word has the advantage of eliminating dangling prepositions (as in: Where does electricity come from?) and avoidance of sounding like Yoda (Comes from where, electricity does?).
A great many people have the idea that it is possible to eliminate “fossil fuels” and nuclear power from our energy supplies and that “electricity” is the means by which that will be accomplished. That “Renewable Ideal” is founded upon a grand misconception and a stunning lack of common sense – as will become apparent while we contemplate this question: “Whence Electricity?”.
The Reality as it Exists (2016)
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does a survey of US energy use every year. The results are published in a flow chart that requires considerable snaky-eyed concentration to understand. But, I eyed the 2016 Livermore data for you to make this simple pie-chart of electricity in percentage by source:
All graphs are generated by the author and the numbers are from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories
Note: For purposes of this report, commercial sources of energy are capitalized – as in the graph above.
The most obvious lesson here is that Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear power (with a tiny bit of Petroleum) provide the vast majority – some eighty five percent – of electric generation in the US. The remaining 15% that might be considered to be “environmentally correct” – we will refer to them as “Renewables”.
If you did not know this before, you will be further surprised that the amount of “Fossil Fuel” (and Nuclear) to be replaced in the electric grid is just the beginning of the task.
There are some limitations that characterize the sources called “Renewables” that must be considered.
Hydro-Electric Generation (Hydro)
Hydro is a simple, inexpensive and reliable source of electricity that – unfortunately – has lost its “Green Credentials”. Environmental “wisdom” doesn’t like those dams on rivers and they are now “all-in” on tearing them down. Hydro is dwindling slowly and can be expected to die a slow, lingering death by Green politics. You may think of Hydro as “Renewable” and that’s fine. If you want to claim it is reliable, this reporter will disagree. Your Humble Narrator once visited his in-laws in Bogota, Columbia (he’s a diplomat). They had rolling black-outs because their Hydro projects were suffering from an extended drought (and funds for electrical development that somehow were mis-directed to politicians’ pockets). Blind luck that the Bogota (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora, Santa Fe De Bogota) has a climate mild enough to do without power at home for 8 hours. Kerosene lamps, candles and propane stoves were enough to get by. Business is another matter and the streets of the Capital were filled with gasoline generators running furiously outside the buildings and snaky extension cords going inside. Hydro requires back-up – even if ad-hoc.
The source of Biomass in electricity generation is mostly industrial and agricultural waste that is burned to generate electricity. Those sources exist because engineers are making efficient use of what would otherwise be an expense nuisance. Most of those opportunities have already been realized, but you may count on that increasing as industry itself expands. Ethanol and biodiesel are generally not used to generate electricity but do make up a small percentage of transportation fuel (which we have not addressed in this electric discussion).
The U.S. has the most Geothermal generation of any country and it is still quite small when compared to the total. It could be expanded, but since it typically involves drilling holes in the Earth, fracturing and using groundwater for a working fluid (unlike petroleum operations), it is also in danger of losing its “Green Credentials”.
Wind is currently subsidized by tax credits and production mandates which make them quite profitable to build. There are major windfarms now under construction. This author has seen fields of hundreds of turbines now being erected in Texas and Kansas – as well as a vast staging yard with parts for hundreds more. Wind provides the dominant part of growth in Renewable generation.
Photoelectric and solar-furnace generation is small but growing, though not as quickly as Wind.
Wind and Solar provide pretty much the only significant growth in Renewables. And that growth amounts to: 0.29 Quadrillion BTUs per year. You see that growth rate graphed as a vertical green bar (i.e., flat green square) next to the orange bar representing 2016 total Conventional electricity capability that the Renewable Ideal would have us replace.
To examine what this “replacement” will require, we will assume that
Electric Demand will not increase (except for all that transportation now fueled by Petroleum).
That ONLY Gasoline and Natural Gas will be replaced. This allows us to avoid the obvious problems in making electric airplanes, trains and ships. The alert reader will point out that ships and trains already are propelled by electric motors. And, the author will point out that those vehicles get their electricity by burning Diesel fuel.
That Wind and Solar plants either last forever or for 50 years (both are unrealistically long).
The graph below shows the timeline for replacement of the Conventional Electric Generation (orange line) and for replacement of both that and the Gasoline and Natural Gas transportation.
The orange line represents total “Conventional” electric generation for 2016 and we have assumed that will not increase. The yellow line is the total of Conventional electric and Gasoline energy expended in the Transportation sector. We have assumed that neither of these will increase. The green line represents Renewable generation increasing at the same rate as the last two years – when it has been quite actively increasing at unsustainable rates. It is assumed that Renewable installations last forever.
In that case, full replacement of Conventional generation can be had by 2109 and replacement of that plus Gasoline and Natural Gas by 2169.
If – on the other hand – it is assumed that such installations last 50 years (a bit more reasonable, but again, overly generous) the years of both “replacement” points can be changed to “never” – as indicated by the blue curve.
There is More
Wind and Solar – which make up the Lion’s share of Renewable growth – are intermittent by their very nature. Solar interruptions are mostly as predictable as the sunset and cause about a 60% full-blown outage every single day. Wind on the other hand, can fail you at any moment – either by calm or storm. Your Humble Narrator has seen whole wind farms in Wyoming standing idle in the fierce winds that frequent that state. They would have been torn apart in the shifting, gusting conditions if they weren’t locked down.
Intermittent energy sources are dependent on other sources of generation. The most clearly relevant of those others are Coal and Gas. Nuclear has so long been long demonized and over-regulated that it will, at best stay constant, and will be of little help in backing up Wind and Solar.
One might come up with the idea of more Renewables as backup. It does not require much thought to see the flaw in that reasoning.
What that means is that Conventional sources of electricity simply cannot be replaced unless you can convince every electric customer to live with intermittent service. That did not happen in the aforementioned Bogota example and will not happen here. However, the attempt would make for Gargantuan sales of home generators – make mine a diesel, please.
So, the “All renewable” points in that graph are nothing less that Absolute Fantasy. Wind and Solar must be backed up completely (that is to say 100%) with Fossil Fuels or Nukes!
Even if we imagine that windmills and solar panels last forever – after 90 to 150 years of hideous expense, there will be just as much “non-renewable” electric capacity as before. The difference will be that the non-renewable plants will mostly be wastefully idling, waiting for the Sun to go down or the winds to calm.
P.S. Some of you are saying, “What about batteries, then?”
First off, you sound like Brits.
Second, I will address this in “Around Robin Hood’s Barn in an Electric Car – Part Two”
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Once, I accepted – without examination – the idea that human activities might cause Global Warming.
A Geologist colleague did not debate me, but rather challenged me to research the topic and come to an informed conclusion.
He was right and I am a Geophysicist with the tools, talent and temperament to do such research. That was over twenty years ago and I have since “done the math”, “paid my dues”, “done the due diligence” and examined the facts.
My conclusion is that the idea of Man-made climate change is a political fiction.
If I can get people to sit still and listen to me present the facts for an hour or so, I can show them (with facts, charts, graphs, data, references and quotes) exactly how I came to that conclusion. That has happened a few times. But, most people do not or will not willingly sit in a room and listen to a lecture. It’s too much like going to school and they spent a large fraction of their youth doing that and most of them don’t want anything to do with further such activity.
So, I have come up with this idea. Take ONE FACT about the subject and present it with clarity and completeness. Then, do that again with another fact.
That’s right! The hottest year in the U.S. was not “this year” as you may have heard (over and over) for the last 10 or 20 years. The hottest period since 1880 was the 1930’s. The Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at Columbia University decided to “adjust” the historical record so they could talk about “Global Warming”. The graphs below show the U.S. Temperatures Before (left) and After (right) the “adjustment”. I found several such “adjustments” to temperature records in my decades of research. This is just One Fact, but I will no doubt post others. – Steve
Please be aware that these two graphs are allegedly of the same dataset until 1998!
What happened is that somebody decided that all those people looking at thermometers, back over all those years, were wrong. This is not the way “Science” is supposed to work.
Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:
“When was the last Ice Age?”
The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time. There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice. There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice. So, when was the last “Ice Age”?
The most recent time that has been referred to by that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA). When exactly that was depends on who you ask. The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD. This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers. The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise. There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history. That painting of George Washington un-wisely standing in a rowboat, while his men push big chunks of ice in the Delaware out of the way? LIA, again. Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences. You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.
Timespan: 2000 Years
These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph. So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then. But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate. In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground. There are no such climax forests there today.
They date to about one thousand years ago. So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now. There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic. But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it? And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.
The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today. The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1100 years. Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.
Timespan: 11,000 years.
The last “Ice Age” (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather. This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.
Timespan 450,000 years
You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least. The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them. (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )
While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.
But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops. The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions. Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?
What happens if we widen the time span? Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.
Timespan: Five Million Years.
The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this seafloor sediment “proxy” of temperature. Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles. Before that was a much warmer time. There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.
Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”. -Steve
Quote about Antarctica:
“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”
“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”
The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!
WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!
It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.
The entire Alarmist Fraud of Global Warming is based on computer models that predict that temperatures will rise catastrophically as Carbon Dioxide emissions from human activities continue. This is absurd on the face of it, because:
It ignores the fact that human emissions of CO2 are a tiny fraction of natural emissions from volcanoes, forest fires and the decay of dead plants and animals.
It ignores fluctuations of natural CO2 emissions
It ignores the natural reaction of plants to increased CO2 (i.e., they grow faster and absorb same).
None of these, however, is the One Fact that we are here to discuss, which is:
The computer models that the Alarmists have come up with have been proven WRONG by REALITY.
As the title states these are 44 computer climate models all predicting warming of more than one degree Centigrade by 2025. The blue and red lines are plots of actual experimental temperature measurements made by satellites and high altitude balloons. Please notice that with the exception of 1998 (an “El Niño” year), every year was measured to be in a flat trend – not a catastrophic increase.
The National Climate Data Center average global temperature graph below demonstrates a method of Scientific Fraud called “Cherry Picking”. Science is supposed to be about finding the truth. Sadly, in Climate Science, the goal has lately been to get the desired POLITICAL result.
These are differences in temperature from some particular value, but the idea is to show changes over time.
Notice that the average temperatures in the period between 1930 and 1990 – while fluctuating – were, on average, constant. Then suddenly, the temperatures showed an abrupt, disturbing upward trend. These numbers are frequently presented as “proof” of Man-made Global Warming.
At the same time the count of weather stations in the average (the red line) abruptly fell from about 5000 to about 300*. Not only that, but the average latitude of the stations involved went from 30° (about that of our own Houston) to 20° (about that of Veracruz, Mexico). I have chosen these two places because they are both near sea level and on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In any reasonable mind, these are comparable in climate, with only their latitude being different.
*I had another chart where those numbers were 500 and 30 – those axis labels turned out to have had the last zeroes cropped off.
So, let us examine the average temperatures from Climatemps.com for Houston and Veracruz in (pick a month) – OK, January:
Average January temperature for Houston, Texas………50° Fahrenheit (10° C.)
Average January temperature for Veracruz, Mexico.…..70° Fahrenheit (21° C)
So, does anyone – ANYONE – out there think that the graph below is a valid indication of Global Temperatures over time?
I don’t want to say that young people today are spoiled by modern conveniences – mostly because it makes me sound like a stereotypical curmudgeon. But, it is absolutely true and it was true for me as well in those long-ago days when I could be described as “young”. You, too. And our parents, and theirs and so on, ad infinitum. There is only one way to make young people appreciate the technological heritage they have. The progress from a less complex technology to their time has to be described to them by us involuntary immigrants from the past.
Perhaps only an early-adopter “Space Nerd” from the middle Twentieth Century could explain the early days of the exploration of the Solar System. That would be Your Humble Narrator and I am stepping up on this occasion to review a Netflick Video about that very subject. I followed the Voyager missions from their launch in 1977 to the flyby of Neptune in 1989 – and beyond.
Before there was Voyager, the outer planets were only vaguely known. In 1977 there had been some probes sent to the outer planets – most notably the Mariner and Pioneer probes, which were not insignificant. But, this documentary is an appreciation of Voyager – the “Game Changer” in Solar System exploration – and its very momentous accomplishments. It was the most ambitious and significant exploration of the Solar System of that time and the facts and images gathered are a fundamental part of planetary science to this day.
Because Jupiter is the largest and nearest – at “only” five times the Earth’s distance (One Astronomical Unit (AU)) from the Sun – it was the best known. Even at that, all that was known was some bands of clouds and a “Great Red Spot”. We knew that Jupiter had four large moons. Your average Astronomy Nerd – like Your Humble Narrator – could drag the telescope out of the Garage and show you the Bands and the Spot and the four moons. He would tell you their names – “Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto” – and show you four dots of light surrounding a small dimly striped Jupiter where the Great Red Spot might be barely visible.
The more enthusiastic Nerd will have an even bigger telescope and will almost certainly show you Saturn. He will twist your arm (literally, if necessary) to show you Saturn! That is because Saturn is the stunning little toy in the eyepiece that everybody loves to see. They might look at a picture made by a great observatory and appreciate it, but when they see it in a telescope with their own eye*, it is always a stunning epiphany. Saturn’s largest moon Titan and a few of the smaller ones are visible in a large amateur ‘scope About twenty years ago, I showed my mother Saturn and Titan, Rhea and Tethys. It is a great lumbering 12 inch Dobsonian that has no clock drive to track the planet. I had to constantly re-adjust the aim and then tell Mom, “Okay – look quick!” and duck out of her way. She could glimpse Saturn for a scant few seconds until the Earth’s rotation took it out of view. Then I would step back in to find it again, describe what to look for and where and jump back out of the way. She was fairly impressed when I told her that very few people on Earth – one in many millions, perhaps – have personally looked through a telescope and seen these.
*With very few exceptions, telescopes are “monocular”.
The next two targets of Voyager Uranus and Neptune were – even with the best telescopes of the day – were still not much more than small indistinct discs of light.
I told you all that so I could tell you to see “The Farthest: Voyager in Space” on Netflix.
The Story of Voyager
The story begins with the engineers who built the thing. Things, actually – there were two of them. What they modestly describe is really a miracle of concentrated effort and talent, innovation and adaptation. Those engineers and planetary scientists that participated in the effort are interviewed, but not in any simple question-and-answer format. Rather, their responses are woven into the narrative to make a smoothly-flowing saga.
The tale continues. Once the craft were assembled and packaged on their rockets, they were summarily thrown off their native planet – never to return – in dramatic, suspense-filled launches.
The spacecraft encountered, recorded and sent back to Earth discoveries that, on the one hand confirmed long-held ideas of the nature of the Solar System. On the other hand, they relayed stunning new revelations that nobody – in their wildest dreams – had imagined could exist.
Each planetary encounter at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune -and the decisions and the problems – is chronicled and described by the people involved. There is archival video from the encounter operations where you will recognize younger versions of the interviewees. After Neptune, the continuing mission of the probes is described. And all through the narrative, the sounds and pictures of the famous “golden record” (a Human message to the Universe) are heard and displayed.
Doubt me if you must, but this story is a compelling drama, complete with comedy, tragedy, euphoric glory and devastating failure. A well-written, well-produced timeless chronicle of a stunning achievement for all mankind.
This video has become my new “Saturn” moment. I dragged (figuratively, figuratively!) my Wife to see it with me and she was fascinated by what she had never known. I am working on appointments to watch it again with First and Second Sons.