Time to update our climate change framing.....

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woodgeek

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Jan 27, 2008
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Another dose of techno-optimism from Noah Smith:


His basic theme is that the debates from a decade ago about how we had to choose between killing the climate or killing the economy are DEAD. Now we can clearly grow the economy while fixing the climate, bc solar and batteries have gotten cheap, and are being rolled out at scale in a bunch of places (except maybe the Harris Ranch supercharger).

Its his usual greatest hits, if you ever read this stuff. But he has a new (2023) chart on the price of Li batteries that shows that they **finally** crossed the magical threshold of $100/kWh last month. We all read that the prices of these batteries went UP last year due to supply chain issues and inflation, etc, and there were LOTS of stories about that. Haven't seen any other recent stories about how they have started to fall again, to record lows. Hmmm. Dog bites a man, not news. Man bites a dog? Leads.

How cheap? He says that utility-scale PV + batteries' production now costs $46-102 per MWh, or 4.6-10.2 cents per kWh. Compare that to your price in New England. Combined gas cycle and onshore wind give a very similar range of numbers, everything else is more expensive. Boom.

I can be critical that he does the thing where he talks about **capacity** numbers for gigawatts, rather than production. This makes solar look 3-4x bigger than other sources, since it has a 20% capacity factor (at best). Of course, fair is fair, since the 'other side' likes to play games too, talking not about production, but about BTU **inputs** which make fossils look 3-4x bigger than solar bc they have 20-30% efficiency.

So, I'd scale all his solar numbers by 1/4th, and they would still be impressively large. He points out the the capacity additions for the US in 2023 are at 29 GW for utility-scale solar, and 10 GW for grid batteries. If you divide by 4, that is the same solar production as 8 very large (1 GW 90% uptime) nuke plants, added just this year. And if you worry about intermittency, the batteries are covering a third of those additions, meaning that the non-intermittent (on a 4 hour scale, presumably) production is still the same as 3 large nuke plants.

And that is just what was added this year in the US, when battery prices during planning (in 2022) were still high.

He points out that TEXAS has current plans to install 100 GW PV and 50 GW batteries by itself. That is 3X the US numbers for 2023 above, or the same as just TX installing the energy production of 25 large nuke plants, with half of it with 4 hour battery backup! Somebody tell Abbott!

But don't worry... we are living in an age of energy scarcity the likes of which we haven't seen since the 1970s. And the price of gas is gonna cripple everyone if we elect the wrong person in 2024.

He also points out that the IEA, which has a history of underestimating, says that installed global PV capacity will exceed global coal capacity in 2027! That is close enough (4 years) to be a reasonable prediction, and if the IEA is wrong as usual, maybe it will happen in 2 or 3 years.

Applying my rule of 1/4 to that and extrapolating would still say we need until 2035 for solar to pass coal production, but that is not nothing neither.

It's happening folks.
 
I want to understand what impact the IRA has made on this. Are the IRA influences baked in yet to projections for the next 3 years. Texas I don’t understand well. But I do think there are lessons to learn from them.

What does this mean for those of us that haven’t installed residential solar?

Battery tech and cost will be critical moving forward
 
I want to understand what impact the IRA has made on this. Are the IRA influences baked in yet to projections for the next 3 years. Texas I don’t understand well. But I do think there are lessons to learn from them.

I would assume yes... all the modelers got busy after the IRA passed. These projections are similar to others I have posted that took IRA into account. Ofc, that doesn't affect (much) the global numbers. Also, the 2023 (US actual) data obv reflect IRA effects.

What does this mean for those of us that haven’t installed residential solar?

Battery tech and cost will be critical moving forward

Look at the chart for residential solar... it is much more expensive per kWh than utility-scale solar (solar farms).

The price of rooftop solar plateau'ed several years ago because of its higher fixed and labor costs per (small) project, nothing to do with the tech. It only makes sense with subsidies and assuming you want a low risk, low return investment. Also, the VOLUME of residential solar is fast becoming a decimal point on the solar development curve.... the data here might not even include it.

Home batteries? I expect it will be a similar issue. Batteries for grid operators will always reduce THEIR costs more than a homeowners, so PV+batteries at home will IMO always be more expensive than grid power (with economies of scale).

The exception will be niche markets in major cities (maybe), New England (bc of shady/corrupt utilities there) and super rural places with expensive hookups.
 
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Personally, I see this as a big win towards "energy independence." However, I do not mean that in the context it is generally used. In an ideal world, every home could have the ability to power itself. Not needing power lines run to my house? Good. Not having to deal with rate increases because the power company didn't plan ahead? Good. Removing the need to rebuild out of date infrastructure? Good.
Individual home/ facility solar combined with NG/Propane is all we really need.
But I am not naive enough to know how that kind of transition would go...
 
Personally, I see this as a big win towards "energy independence." However, I do not mean that in the context it is generally used. In an ideal world, every home could have the ability to power itself. Not needing power lines run to my house? Good. Not having to deal with rate increases because the power company didn't plan ahead? Good. Removing the need to rebuild out of date infrastructure? Good.
Individual home/ facility solar combined with NG/Propane is all we really need.
But I am not naive enough to know how that kind of transition would go...

Good point. We can suppose that in the future electricity will be more like water, you can have a well, or 'city water'. Both have costs, I'd guess in a city the utility would be cheaper, in a rural area, a well.

While I think that home PV+battery will be more expensive than utility (cost to produce), it could be that in some locations and with some utilities, it will pay.

A lot of analysts think all this cheap solar and batteries will _reduce_ the price of grid power in real (inflation adjusted) terms. I understand if people are skeptical of that.

The PROBLEM with this off grid issue is seasonal storage. A lot of locations have great solar resources in part of the year, and carp resources at others, like the 'greater northeast' east of Chicago, and north of Virginia.
 
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I just read that posting this morning. It's good to see progress. Still, northern latitude areas will need to develop other renewables. Solar is not too productive in winter on the maritime side of the mountains. Hydro is pretty much maxed out which points to wind, and nuclear. I would love to see more geothermal here, but there has been little movement in this direction from what I can tell.
 
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I just read that posting this morning. It's good to see progress. Still, northern latitude areas will need to develop other renewables. Solar is not too productive in winter on the maritime side of the mountains. Hydro is pretty much maxed out which points to wind, and nuclear. I would love to see more geothermal here, but there has been little movement in this direction from what I can tell.
Maybe when all the fusion startups go poof, the investors will go into geothermal instead.
 
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Could be right. Probably not in my lifetime.
PS: Thanks for turning me on to Noah Smith's substack earlier. He's often a good read.
 
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I always wonder about the potential geological impacts of massive widespread geothermal. Generations ago, if you told anyone we could change the climate by burning fossil fuels, they’d have said you were crazy. But why do people insist on treating geothermal as a ”zero-impact” adder to any heat pump system? There must be some deployment density at which sinking and sourcing heat from the ground has some impact on soils, biology, and even volcanic activity in some locations.

I’d hate to learn that the aquifer supplying my well is supporting some new dangerous bacteria, because the temperature of it has shifted in a way that supports this new life, thanks to a few hundred thousand local heat pumps.
 
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Commercial geothermal is usually deep below the surface. The impact on soils and biology is typically low. The risk of disturbing an existing fault a mile or two down is a valid concern.
None of our power generation technologies is without impact. Regarding deep-level geothermal drilling, the cows already left the barn as soon as they started fracking all over the place.
 
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I always wonder about the potential geological impacts of massive widespread geothermal. Generations ago, if you told anyone we could change the climate by burning fossil fuels, they’d have said you were crazy. But why do people insist on treating geothermal as a ”zero-impact” adder to any heat pump system? There must be some deployment density at which sinking and sourcing heat from the ground has some impact on soils, biology, and even volcanic activity in some locations.

I’d hate to learn that the aquifer supplying my well is supporting some new dangerous bacteria, because the temperature of it has shifted in a way that supports this new life, thanks to a few hundred thousand local heat pumps.
Point taken. But realistically how many mega tons of material are at that temp and how many btus are you removing? The wide spread geo thermal is using water wells. Most must inject back in. Really can’t lower temp by more than 30 degrees MAX at a flow rate of 10-25 gpm. I could do the math. But won’t.
 
Point taken. But realistically how many mega tons of material are at that temp and how many btus are you removing? The wide spread geo thermal is using water wells. Most must inject back in. Really can’t lower temp by more than 30 degrees MAX at a flow rate of 10-25 gpm. I could do the math. But won’t.
I’d guess it depends on population density and saturation level of geothermal tech. In dense cities, or even the high-density suburbia that makes up so much of the northeast, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that anywhere near-100% conversion to geothermal might create a thermal island effect that could indeed affect local geology. When a 1 or 2 degree change in global average temperature is cited as a problem for climate change, how many tenths of a degree change in local aquifer temperature might lead to undesired effects below?
 
I’d guess it depends on population density and saturation level of geothermal tech. In dense cities, or even the high-density suburbia that makes up so much of the northeast, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that anywhere near-100% conversion to geothermal might create a thermal island effect that could indeed affect local geology. When a 1 or 2 degree change in global average temperature is cited as a problem for climate change, how many tenths of a degree change in local aquifer temperature might lead to undesired effects below?
But we’re fine pumping all the water out and not asking questions?? (We’re asking those now) Dollars to doughnuts aquifer depletion will have much larger consequences than extracting heat. And if anything your heating season is longer than cooling so the net effect anywhere north of South Carolina will be a meet cooling of the ground.
 
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I think that commercial geothermal does not tap into an existing aquifer unless there are naturally existing volcanic pools and hot springs like in Iceland. This is where fracking technology is being explored to create fissures deep below the surface into which water is then injected. They have to drill deep to get where the water that is returned is super-heated by the earth. These are wells that are several miles deep with water heated to around 360ºF.

 
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I always wonder about the potential geological impacts of massive widespread geothermal. Generations ago, if you told anyone we could change the climate by burning fossil fuels, they’d have said you were crazy. But why do people insist on treating geothermal as a ”zero-impact” adder to any heat pump system? There must be some deployment density at which sinking and sourcing heat from the ground has some impact on soils, biology, and even volcanic activity in some locations.

I’d hate to learn that the aquifer supplying my well is supporting some new dangerous bacteria, because the temperature of it has shifted in a way that supports this new life, thanks to a few hundred thousand local heat pumps.

Hmmm. The reason why climate change is a thing with fossils is bc the power is the radiative balance of the atmosphere is HUGE compared to (fossil) human flows and the greenhouse effects perturb that massive flow. So burning a pound of carbon releases x BTUs of heat, but the CO2 released adds the same x of heat to the atmosphere every year thereafter for 500 years.

The mass of the earths crust is really huge compared to the atmosphere. The heat we are pulling out to get power will be puny compared to radiative flows in the atmosphere (so no climate change) but the it will accumulate in the crust as a temperature change. mostly lowering temps.

That temperature change will propagate only slowly, over centuries (without water flow). Hmmm.
 
But we’re fine pumping all the water out and not asking questions?? (We’re asking those now)
Well, if you're going to answer your own question! ;lol Exactly, we're asking those now.

The mass of the earths crust is really huge compared to the atmosphere. The heat we are pulling out to get power will be puny compared to radiative flows in the atmosphere (so no climate change) but the it will accumulate in the crust as a temperature change. mostly lowering temps.
That's fine. In fact I know our local regime will be geologic cooling, as we're in a heating climate, the aquifer warming example is more applicable to equatorial regions.

And of course the mass of the crust is absolutely huge compared to the net thermal energy sourced or sunk from it, no issues on the global scale. But I'm talking about very localized cooling or heating on the scale of a few square miles in smaller areas with very high population density. New York City, Los Angeles, even Philly and Chicago.

For perhaps better examples, will Mexico City suffer problems with their aquifers, due to massive cooling demand per square mile? Will Reykjavík suffer even more geological activity due to massive heating demand density over a very small few square miles?
 
I think we need to differentiate between high temp geothermal and low temp. I think most residential will be low temp. Utility scale high temp?
 
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I think we need to differentiate between high temp geothermal and low temp. I think most residential will be low temp. Utility scale high temp?
I think of residential low temp as "ground source" to differentiate between that and deep geothermal.
 
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I think we need to differentiate between high temp geothermal and low temp. I think most residential will be low temp. Utility scale high temp?
Yes, they are entirely different animals.
 
That's fine. In fact I know our local regime will be geologic cooling, as we're in a heating climate, the aquifer warming example is more applicable to equatorial regions.

And of course the mass of the crust is absolutely huge compared to the net thermal energy sourced or sunk from it, no issues on the global scale. But I'm talking about very localized cooling or heating on the scale of a few square miles in smaller areas with very high population density. New York City, Los Angeles, even Philly and Chicago.

For perhaps better examples, will Mexico City suffer problems with their aquifers, due to massive cooling demand per square mile? Will Reykjavík suffer even more geological activity due to massive heating demand density over a very small few square miles?

I've read a little about this.

In high load and high density cases, the wells can get depleted of heat or coolth over time. I have seen proposal to require annual heat balancing. That is, in a heating climate, you would be expected to pump more heat into the ground in the summer than required merely for cooling. If energy is cheap in the summer (i.e. lots of PV), then this might be cost neutral bc it would improve the performance in winter heating mode when electricity is more expensive (imported, or offshore wind).

Personally, I think most folks will just transition to air-source, and geos will exist for large projects and progressively further northern communities.
 
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A counterpoint to Smith's optimism is presented in a recent study completed in Germany. Out of 9 boundary areas, the earth's health is failing in 6 of them. Smith is correct that change is afoot and apparent in several areas but it takes time and time is running out.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/26268316
Two of the other areas are in decline instead of improving. One can dispute the limits they've set but it is apparent that the planet is losing biodiversity and is under great stress due to human activities.
The Rockstrom report
 
Interesting stuff. At 65 degrees north latitude, I just don't see air source heat pumps working for me. Ground source, I can make work.

From a different forum, I know of a process engineer about three miles from me. His basement looks like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. He has one array of underground tubing encased in south facing dyed black concrete for when he needs heat, and a second set of tubing for the same compressors buried under (shaded by) berry bushes for when he needs cooling. When it is time to switch, he just goes to the basement and switches the levers on some ball valves to select which of the underground tubing arrays his compressors draw from.

I remain totally impressed by the 200%-300% efficiency heat pumps can offer, but outside the design envelope their performance can suffer a LOT.
 
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Back to the OP. I find this argument missing any considerations of the developing world. We are on a trajectory to address how the developed northern hemisphere can make progress. Missing is how the developing nations of Africa and India can continue to make economic progress that doesn’t result in carbon emissions similar to the countries that have already progressed.

It doesn’t discuss any carbon capture which I think is going to be required.

I’m not pessimistic but his argument is clearly missing how the developing wold will pay for for the batteries and solar. Remember Africa and India have combined 2.5 billion people. Most are looking to improve their way of life which means increased consumption.
 
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Back to the OP. I find this argument missing any considerations of the developing world. We are on a trajectory to address how the developed northern hemisphere can make progress. Missing is how the developing nations of Africa and India can continue to make economic progress that doesn’t result in carbon emissions similar to the countries that have already progressed.

It doesn’t discuss any carbon capture which I think is going to be required.

I’m not pessimistic but his argument is clearly missing how the developing wold will pay for for the batteries and solar. Remember Africa and India have combined 2.5 billion people. Most are looking to improve their way of life which means increased consumption.

The developing world is going to adopt the new tech because it is cheaper. That is in fact part of the point of the article. The developing world is going bigtime into solar right now.

As batteries get cheaper, they will buy batteries. When (not if) electric cars are cheaper than ICE cars, they will buy EVs.

Countries that develop later 'leapfrog' technologies. A lot of current developing countries went right to everyone having (cheap) smartphones, and they never had landlines.

Part of the reframing is letting go of the idea that these new technologies have to be more expensive than previous tech forever.
 
well to do buy's new tech first.like flat screen tv's when they first came out cost a small fortune,now not so bad.where the well to do's for green tech