“What has always alleviated our scarcity? What has always alleviated our environmental problems? Technology. What breeds technological dynamism? Economic success,” explains Joshua Jacobs, co-founder of the Conservative Future Project, a new pro-science, pro-technology organization that’s trying to get the Republican Party to embrace an open-ended future filled with driverless cars, stem-cell research, and private space exploration.
If that sounds like a tall order for a party whose leading presidential candidates in 2012 waffled on whether they believed in evolution, you’re right. But Jacobs argues forcefully that the GOP is no less anti-science than the Democrats and actually has a long history of pushing scientific and technological innovation.
Nick Gillespie sat down with Jacobs in Reason‘s D.C. studio to talk about how conservatives might stop standing athwart history yelling stop and march boldly into the future.
April 28, 2013
April 18, 2013
In The Register, Tony Smith discusses a new prototype battery that might be coming to your electronic devices … eventually:
Electronics continue to shrink to ever smaller sizes, but researchers are having a tough time miniaturising the batteries powering today’s mobile gadgets. Step forward, bicontinuous nanoporous electrodes.
Smartphones use smaller power packs than they did five years ago, it’s true, but that’s because their chips and radios are more power efficient, not because of any major new battery technology.
Now boffins from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reckon they have come up with a new pocket-friendly electricity supply.
Enter the “microbattery”, a compact power cell constructed from many three-dimensional nanoporous electrodes capable, its developers claim, of delivering both high power and a large energy capacity.
The negative cathode was devised by another team at the university, but graduate student James Pikul, working under Bliss Professor of mechanical science and engineering William King, figured out how to create a compatible anode and put the two into a battery.
[. . .]
The cathode design, devised by a team led by the University’s Professor Paul Braun, is fast charging. Pikul reckons building a battery out of it yields a rechargeable that can be filled up in a thousandth of the time it takes to charge a comparably sized regular rechargeable cell.
Building a battery in a lab is one thing. Working out how to manufacture it commercially at a price that makes it a realistic power source for future devices is another thing altogether. Pikul and King will be working on that next.
April 11, 2013
Ontario’s Green Energy Act is pushing the province to the top … of the retail electricity price table
Ontario loves to be at the top of rankings, but Ontario electricity users should be upset that we’re surging to the top of this particular ranking:
Ontario’s Green Energy Act (GEA) will soon put the province at or near the top of North American electricity costs, with serious consequences for the province’s economic growth and competitiveness, concludes a new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian think-tank.
“Already, the GEA has caused major price increases for large energy consumers, and we’re anticipating additional hikes of 40 to 50 per cent over the next few years,” said Ross McKitrick, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act.
“The Ontario government defends the GEA by referring to a confidential 2005 cost-benefit analysis on reducing air pollution from power plants. That report did not recommend pursuing wind or solar power, instead it looked at conventional pollution control methods which would have yielded the same environmental benefits as the GEA, but at a tenth of the current cost. If the province sticks to its targets for expanding renewables, the GEA will end up being 70 times costlier than the alternative, with no greater benefits.”
[. . .]
The study shows that the GEA’s focus on wind generation is particularly wasteful: 80 per cent of Ontario’s wind-power generation occurs when electricity demand is so low that the entire output is surplus and must be dumped on the export market at a substantial loss. The Auditor General of Ontario estimates that the province has already lost close to $2 billion on surplus wind exports, and figures from the electricity grid operator show the ongoing losses are $200 million annually.
The wind grid is also inherently inefficient due to the fluctuating nature of the power source. The report calculates that due to seasonal patterns, seven megawatts of wind energy are needed to provide a year-round replacement of one megawatt of conventional power.
“Consequently, the cost of achieving renewable energy targets for the coming years will be much higher than the Ontario government’s current projections,” McKitrick said.
March 28, 2013
At The Register, Lewis Page debunks the propaganda from the government and shows the cost components of British energy prices from the government’s own published source:
The government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, with the current minister as mouthpiece, has just pushed out a report claiming that its green policies are saving us money now and will save us even more in coming decades. Can it be true? We can save the planet — or anyway reduce carbon emissions — and it not only costs nothing, but puts money in our pockets?
In a word, no: of course not. If that was true there would be no need for government action, we’d be acting to reduce carbon emissions on our own. And indeed, once you skip the foolish tinned quotes and bogo-stats in the executive summary, the report itself makes it very clear that in fact green policies are already to blame for most of the sustained climb in electricity prices we’ve suffered over the past decade — and that it’s going to get a lot worse.
So there you are, plain as day. The various green interventions in the UK and EU energy markets which have come in since the turn of the century are already costing you a hefty sum — the government have already forced up the price you pay for electricity today by nearly 20 per cent over where it would have been if they’d left matters alone. If they carry on as planned, by the year 2030 they will have managed to drive it up by more than a third over where it would normally be.
March 23, 2013
Oh, right. It’s once again time for the Gaia-worshippers to do an hour’s penance for the crime of being alive in an industrialized society. The Competitive Enterprise Institute proposes a different way of using that hour:
On Saturday, March 23 at 8:30pm (local time), some people, businesses and governments around the world will choose to sit in the dark for one hour as a symbolic gesture to take action against climate change. The organizers of Earth Hour say that they [no] longer expect energy use to actually drop during the hour, but instead see it as a way for people to show their commitment to reducing energy use and taking action beyond the hour.
It’s absolutely every person’s right to decide if they want to conserve energy for whatever reason; they are free to sit in the dark as long as they want. However, it should not be their right to impose their beliefs or opinions on others. And that is what is at the heart of the environmentalist movement. While many participants in Earth Hour sincerely want a cleaner environment — a desire most of us share — the environmentalist movement whether implicitly or explicitly seeks to clamp down on human progress by reducing energy consumption whether through regulation and taxation. They want to make fossil fuels, which they see as dirty, more expensive to encourage the use of renewable “greener” energies.
Despite any good intentions, the ultimate result of environmentalist policies is not a healthier, cleaner environment. Instead we will see a population that is sicker and poorer. The only way we achieve technology that is “greener” is by building on older “dirtier” technology. As we make it harder and more expensive for those in the business of creating new technologies, all we do is slow progress and make it that much longer to reach more environmentally friendly solutions.
March 14, 2013
Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen, Genome, The Rational Optimist and other books, dropped by Reason‘s studio in Los Angeles last month to talk about a curious global trend that is just starting to receive attention. Over the past three decades, our planet has gotten greener!
Even stranger, the greening of the planet in recent decades appears to be happening because of, not despite, our reliance on fossil fuels. While environmentalists often talk about how bad stuff like CO2 causes bad things to happen like global warming, it turns out that the plants aren’t complaining.
March 4, 2013
The German government is having to pay a lot of money in subsidies to solar power generators, but is also having to scramble to buy power from other European sources as the solar output is falling far below current demands:
The Baedeker travel guide is now available in an environmentally-friendly version. The 200-page book, entitled “Germany – Discover Renewable Energy,” lists the sights of the solar age: the solar café in Kirchzarten, the solar golf course in Bad Saulgau, the light tower in Solingen and the “Alster Sun” in Hamburg, possibly the largest solar boat in the world.
The only thing that’s missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.
As is so often the case in winter, all solar panels more or less stopped generating electricity at the same time. To avert power shortages, Germany currently has to import large amounts of electricity generated at nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. To offset the temporary loss of solar power, grid operator Tennet resorted to an emergency backup plan, powering up an old oil-fired plant in the Austrian city of Graz.
Solar energy has gone from being the great white hope, to an impediment, to a reliable energy supply. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.2 billion) in subsidies in 2011, but the electricity they generated made up only about 3 percent of the total power supply, and that at unpredictable times.
December 23, 2012
Matt Ridley on an interesting paper from Jesse Ausubel and Iddo Wernick of Rockefeller University, and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station:
Globally, the production of a given quantity of crop requires 65% less land than it did in 1961, thanks to fertilizers, tractors, pesticides, better varieties and other factors. Even corrected for different kinds of crops, the acreage required is falling at 2% a year.
In the U.S., the total corn yield and the total corn acreage tracked each other in lock step between 1870 and 1940-there was no change in average yield per acre. But between 1940 and 2010, corn production almost quintupled, while the acreage devoted to growing corn fell slightly. Similar divergences appeared later in other countries. Indian wheat production increased fivefold after 1970, while wheat acreage crept up by less than 1.5 times. Chinese corn production rose sevenfold over the same period while corn acreage merely doubled.
Yet the amount of farmland in the world was still rising until recently. The reason is that increased farm productivity has been matched by rising demand for food, driven by population growth and swelling affluence. But the effects of these trends are waning.
[. . .]
Even with these cautious assumptions, the researchers find that over the next 50 years people are likely to release from farming a land area “1½ times the size of Egypt, 2½ times the size of France, or 10 Iowas, and possibly multiples of this amount.”
Indeed, the authors find that this retreat from the land would have already begun but for one factor so lunatic that they cannot imagine it will not be reversed soon: biofuels. If the world had not decided to subsidize the growing of energy crops on 3.4% of arable land, then absolute declines in the acreage of arable land “would have begun during the last decade.” The prospect of “the restoration of vast acreages of Nature” is enticing for nature lovers.
October 20, 2012
The Economist looks at the performance of electric cars, fuel-cell cars, and nitrogen-powered cars:
As long as its storage container is well insulated, liquid air can be kept at atmospheric pressure for long periods. But on exposure to room temperature, it will instantly boil and revert back to its gaseous state. In the process, it expands 700-fold — providing the wherewithal to operate a piston engine or a turbine.
Liquid nitrogen does an even better job. Being considerably denser than liquid air, it can store more energy per unit volume, allowing cars to travel further on a tankful of the stuff. Weight for weight, liquid nitrogen packs much the same energy as the lithium-ion batteries used in laptops, mobile phones and electric cars. In terms of performance and range, then, a nitrogen vehicle is similar to an electric vehicle rather than a conventional one.
The big difference is that a liquid-nitrogen car is likely to be considerably cheaper to build than an electric vehicle. For one thing, its engine does not have to cope with high temperatures — and could therefore be fabricated out of cheap alloys or even plastics.
For another, because it needs no bulky traction batteries, it would be lighter and cheaper still than an electric vehicle. At present, lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles cost between $500 and $600 a kilowatt-hour. The Nissan Leaf has 24 kilowatt-hours of capacity. At around $13,200, the batteries account for more than a third of the car’s $35,200 basic price. A nitrogen car with comparable range and performance could therefore sell for little more than half the price of an electric car.
A third advantage is that liquid nitrogen is a by-product of the industrial process for making liquid oxygen. Because there is four times as much nitrogen as oxygen in air, there is inevitably a glut of the stuff — so much so, liquid nitrogen sells in America for a tenth of the price of milk.
October 17, 2012
All the media chatter about Premier Dalton McGuinty running for leader of the federal Liberals must be coming from folks who want to watch a national train wreck, says Michael Den Tandt:
Set aside that, with nine years as premier of Canada’s most populous province, constituting more than one-third of the national population, McGuinty would be past his best-before date at the best of times.
And let’s ignore his long track record of broken promises, beginning shortly after he was elected on a solemn vow to run balanced budgets and hold the line on taxes. He made that promise in writing. He broke it without a shred of visible remorse, blaming the other guys.
Let’s set aside the e-Health scandal, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. scandal, the eco-tax affair, and the continuing Ornge air ambulance scandal. While we’re at it, let’s wave off the abrogation of the rule of law in Caledonia. That’s all old news.
Forget the voluminous independent study by economist Don Drummond, who found, in a nutshell, that McGuinty’s entire approach to government in the previous eight years had been wrong-headed, slipshod and ruinously wasteful. Drummond recommended a radical course correction. McGuinty nodded sagely, kindly even, and ignored him.
We could even try — come on now, let’s do this — to ignore the Green Energy Act. This was the ideologically driven plan, still in place, to create an artificial market for “green” energy and erect thousands of 50-storey industrial wind turbines across Ontario, destroying the landscape for the sake of energy that only flows when the wind blows — that is, intermittently.
[. . .]
Let’s set aside, also, the cloying, nanny-state condescension of McGuinty’s approach to leadership — never a principle too firm to be melted into formless goo, never a controversy too sharp to be smothered in a warm quilt of apple-pie hokum. Never mind that, temperamentally, McGuinty is Mitt Romney without the millions. These are intangibles.
July 3, 2012
In the Guardian, George Monbiot (known to his detractors as “The Great Moonbat”) admits the terrible truth. He was wrong, again:
The facts have changed, now we must change too. For the past 10 years an unlikely coalition of geologists, oil drillers, bankers, military strategists and environmentalists has been warning that peak oil — the decline of global supplies — is just around the corner. We had some strong reasons for doing so: production had slowed, the price had risen sharply, depletion was widespread and appeared to be escalating. The first of the great resource crunches seemed about to strike.
Among environmentalists it was never clear, even to ourselves, whether or not we wanted it to happen. It had the potential both to shock the world into economic transformation, averting future catastrophes, and to generate catastrophes of its own, including a shift into even more damaging technologies, such as biofuels and petrol made from coal. Even so, peak oil was a powerful lever. Governments, businesses and voters who seemed impervious to the moral case for cutting the use of fossil fuels might, we hoped, respond to the economic case.
[. . .]
Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time.
A report by the oil executive Leonardo Maugeri, published by Harvard University, provides compelling evidence that a new oil boom has begun. The constraints on oil supply over the past 10 years appear to have had more to do with money than geology. The low prices before 2003 had discouraged investors from developing difficult fields. The high prices of the past few years have changed that.
June 16, 2012
James Lovelock, who is perhaps best known for his “Gaia” theory, gives a somewhat surprising interview to the Guardian:
“Adapt and survive,” he says, when asked why he has decided to move. After more than three decades living amid acres of trees he planted himself by hand, he and his wife Sandy have decided to downsize and move to an old lifeguard’s cottage by the beach in Dorset. “I’m not worried about sea-level rises,” he laughs. “At worst, I think it will be 2ft a century.”
Given that Lovelock predicted in 2006 that by this century’s end “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable”, this new laissez-faire attitude to our environmental fate smells and sounds like of a screeching handbrake turn.
Indeed, earlier this year he admitted to MSNBC in an interview reported around the world with somewhat mocking headlines along the lines of “Doom-monger recants”, that he had been “extrapolating too far” in reaching such a conclusion and had made a “mistake” in claiming to know with such certainty what will happen to the climate.
[. . .]
Having already upset many environmentalists — for whom he is something of a guru — with his long-time support for nuclear power and his hatred of wind power (he has a picture of a wind turbine on the wall of his study to remind him how “ugly and useless they are”), he is now coming out in favour of “fracking”, the controversial technique for extracting natural gas from the ground. He argues that, while not perfect, it produces far less CO2 than burning coal: “Gas is almost a give-away in the US at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.”
Lovelock says the political fallout from the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year means that the chances of a surge in nuclear power generation are dramatically reduced. “The fear of nuclear is too great after Fukushima and the cost of building plants is very expensive and impractical. And it takes a long time to get them running. It is very obvious in America that fracking took almost no time to get going. There’s only a finite amount of it [in the UK] so before it runs out, we should really be thinking sensibly about what to do next. We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant. Fracking buys us some time, and we can learn to adapt.”
The reaction in Germany to Fukushima — which announced within weeks of the disaster that it was to shut down all its nuclear power plants by 2022 — particularly infuriates Lovelock: “Germany is a great country and has always been a natural leader of Europe, and so many great ideas, music, art, etc, come out of it, but they have this fatal flaw that they always fall for an ideologue, and Europe has suffered intensely from the last two episodes of that. It looks to me as if the green ideas they have picked up now could be just as damaging. They are burning lignite now to try to make up for switching off nuclear. They call themselves green, but to me this is utter madness.”
Nestled deep into an armchair, Lovelock brushes a biscuit crumb from his lips, and lowers his cup of tea on to the table: “I’m neither strongly left nor right, but I detest the Liberal Democrats.”
[. . .]
Lovelock does not miss a chance to criticise the green movement that has long paid heed to his views. “It’s just the way the humans are that if there’s a cause of some sort, a religion starts forming around it. It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion. I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use. The greens use guilt. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting CO2 in the air.”
June 7, 2012
Tim Worstall explores the range of possibilities:
Viewing the ghastly mess that politics makes of anything, it can be difficult to decide between cock-up and conspiracy theories. Are politicians simply too dim to perceive the effects of what they do, or are they are plotting to make the world a worse place?
Which brings us to where I believe the real climate change conspiracy is: in what we’re told we must do about it all. I’ve pointed out that if we assume that the basic science is correct (and I certainly don’t have either the hubris or technical knowledge to check it) then the answer is a simple carbon tax. The British Government employed Nick Stern to run through what was the correct economic response, assuming the IPCC was correct, and that was his answer. So the question has to be why hasn’t that same government enacted that very solution? Which is, as I say, where I think the conspiracy comes in.
For instead of this simple and workable solution we end up with the most ghastly amount of wibble and dribble.
Consider the subsidies to renewables. Our system gives higher subsidies to the more expensive technologies: clearly ludicrous. We have some limited amount of money, whatever that limit is, and we thus want to get as much renewable power as we can from that limited money. But we give five times more money per unit of power to the most expensive technology, solar, than we do to the cheapest, hydro. What have the politicians been smoking to deliberately spend our money in the most inefficient manner possible?
Or we could look at the argument for subsidy to solar itself: we’re told that it will be economic, comparable to coal-generated power, within only a couple of years. Thus we must have subsidy now – which is insane. If something is about to be profitable without subsidies then we don’t want anyone installing it yet; install it in a couple of years when it is profitable without subsidies. Why waste good money when we can just wait?
May 23, 2012
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:
Anyone who claims to understand energy policy is either mad or subsidised. Last week I wrote that politics is seldom rational. It is more often based on intuition and tribal prejudice. This week we have a thundering example: the government’s new policy on nuclear energy.
Do not read on if you want a conclusion on this subject. For years I have read papers, books, surveys and news stories, and am little wiser. I trust to science and am ready to believe there is some great mathematician, some Fermat’s last theorem, who can write an equation showing where energy policy should turn. I have never met him.
The equation would start with the current market price of coal, gas, oil, nuclear and so-called “renewables”. That would give simple primacy to coal and gas. The equation would then factor in such variables as security of supply, which — being imponderable — can be argued from commercial interest and prejudice. Then it would have to take account of global warming and the virtue of lower carbon emissions. At this point the demons enter.
We must consider CO2 reduction through substituting gas for coal, carbon capture, nuclear investment, biomass, wind, wave, solar and tidal generation. We must consider the application of fiscal policy to gas and petrol use, to energy efficiency and house insulation. Each has a quantity attached to it and each a fanatical lobby drooling for subsidies. As for achieving a remotely significant degree of global cooling, that requires world diplomacy — which has, as yet, proved wholly elusive.
Britain’s contribution to cooling can only be so infinitesimal as to be little more than gesture politics, yet it is a gesture that is massively expensive. Meeting the current EU renewables directive, largely from wind, would cost some £15bn a year, or £670 a household, and involve the spoliation of swaths of upland, countryside and coast. It is calculated to save a mere 0.2% of global emissions, with negligible impact on the Earth’s sea level.
April 19, 2012
Scott Stinson explains why Ontario consumers are facing huge price hikes for electricity over the next 18 months:
It’s no secret that Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have placed a huge bet on growing a green-energy sector by subsidizing the production of renewable energy. Although energy bills have been steadily rising since the party took power in 2003 — the average cost of a kilowatt of electricity was more than 30% higher last year than it was five years ago — the Liberals have somewhat masked this fact by handing a 10% rebate back to consumers with the euphemistically named Clean Energy Benefit, which also happens to utterly contradict the conservation incentive that should be part of a switch to a greener grid.
Electricity costs, though, are set to spike.
“Ontario’s power system is fuelled by consumers to the tune of about $16-billion a year,” says Tom Adams, an energy consultant who has written extensively on electricity and environmental issues. “That number is headed for $23-billion or $24-billion soon, by 2016,” he says in an interview.
[. . .]
Mr. Adams notes that when the Green Energy Act, with its guarantees of above-market rates for wind and solar electricity known as feed-in-tariffs (FIT), was introduced in 2009, the Liberals said electricity costs would only be impacted by about 1% annually. We now know that rates for consumers are rising by 9% a year. “The government says about half of that is due to Green Energy, but if they were being honest it would be more than that,” Mr. Adams says.
The coming increases, meanwhile, which can partly be attributed to locked-in contracts for renewable energy, are also a result of a host of other factors, from new generation capacity being introduced to phase-out costs of existing facilities to new transmission capacity being added to the energy grid.