Drone flights from the Miss Kitty in the Virgin Islands

My lovely wife Aurelia and I just returned from a wonderful charter of the Miss Kitty in the British Virgin Islands. I took my DJI Phantom 3 drone and shot video at several stops, both from the yacht and from shore. The videos can be seen here. While snorkeling in the islands Captain Pat Little caught these great shots of a spotted eagle ray.

Spotted Eagle Ray

Spotted Eagle Ray and shark sucker

In addition to the drone videos in the link above, here is a link to a video, taken by Captain Pat Little, of the eagle ray in the pictures above.  Click here.

Take-aways from the Washington, D.C. Heartland Climate Change Conference

By Andy May

This was my first climate change conference and I had a great time. So, here is a quick note sharing my most memorable take-aways from the conference. Continue reading “Take-aways from the Washington, D.C. Heartland Climate Change Conference”

Moving to Texas

By Andy May

“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas” Davy Crockett, 1835

According to the Texas Tribune in 2016, Texas has become the top destination for people moving from other states and leading the way are people from California. Beginning in 2005, Texas has outpaced all other states in population growth. Half of the growth is due to people moving to Texas.Continue reading “Moving to Texas”

Exergy and Power Plants

By Andy May

Key question: Can renewables ever replace fossil fuels and nuclear?

Understanding the value of renewables, vis-à-vis fossil fuels and nuclear power, requires that we consider that all energy is not equal in value. In fact, the quantity we call energy can be misleading and many experts prefer the quantity called “exergy,” which is defined in economics as (source Exergy Economics):

The maximum useful work which can be extracted from a system as it reversibly comes into equilibrium with its environment.”

Or it can be thought of as the measure of potential work embodied in a material or device. Continue reading “Exergy and Power Plants”

Renewable Energy, what is the cost?

By Andy May

What are the costs of using renewable energy? The sun and wind are free, does that make wind and solar power free? Biofuels require power to plant crops, make fertilizer and spread it, harvest the plants, make and transport the ethanol. Solar and wind require power to produce, transport and install the equipment. All renewable energy sources require lots of land per megawatt of electricity produced. We will not be able to determine a cost for renewable power in this essay, but we can discuss the components of the calculation and provide some context.  A key question to think about, do renewable fuels decrease fossil fuel use, or do they increase it?

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The timing of Interglacials

By Andy May

P. C. Tzedakis and co-authors have just published a new paper in the February 23, 2017 issue of Nature entitled “A simple rule to determine which insolation cycles lead to interglacials.” The paper introduces new rules for defining interglacial periods in the geological record. They come up with the same interglacial periods that Javier identified in his post Nature Unbound I: The Glacial Cycle.Continue reading “The timing of Interglacials”

Global Climate Models

By Andy May

Global Climate Models (GCM) are used to compute the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions and to compute man’s contribution to recent global warming. The assertion that most of “climate change” is due to man’s influence is based solely on these models. They are also the sole basis for concluding “climate change” is dangerous. Just how accurate are they? How close are their predictions to observations?

Dr. Judith Curry has written an important white paper, for the layman, describing how the models work. It is easy to understand and well worth reading.

Her key conclusions:

GCMs have not been subject to the rigorous verification and validation that is the norm for engineering and regulatory science.

There are numerous arguments supporting the conclusion that climate models are not fit for the purpose of identifying with high confidence the proportion of the 20th century warming that was human-caused as opposed to natural.

There is growing evidence that climate models predict too much warming from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Some portions of the GCMs are rooted in fundamental physics and chemistry, but there are thousands of atmospheric and surface processes that cannot be deterministically modeled and must be “parameterized” using simple empirical formulas based on observations. These empirical formulas are “tuned” or “calibrated” to make the models match observations. They are tweaked to match the twentieth century, especially the warming period from 1945 to 2000. Even with all of the tuning, the models do a very poor job matching the warming from 1910-1945.

Since all models are “tuned” to the twentieth century (see Voosen, et al., Science, 2016) and since the “more than half of warming is due to man” conclusion is based upon comparing two model runs “from 1951 to 2010” the validity of the computation of man’s influence is highly questionable. Dr. Curry points out:

“GCMs are evaluated against the same observations used for model tuning.”

This is not something that inspires confidence. Further, the Earth has been warming for 300 to 400 years, as Dr. Curry writes:

“Understanding and explaining the climate variability over the past 400 years, prior to 1950, has received far too little attention. Without this understanding, we should place little confidence in the IPCC’s explanations of warming since 1950.”

She adds:

“Anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is a theory in which the basic mechanism is well understood, but of which the potential magnitude is highly uncertain.”

Precisely so.

Risk and Nuclear Power Plants

By Andy May

The financial risk is too great.

Updated post (2/21/2017)

In any discussion of the future of energy, nuclear power generation is brought up. Once a nuclear power plant is built and operating, it can produce cheap electricity reliably for decades. Further, in terms of human health, some claim it is the safest source of energy in the U.S. Others, like Benjamin Sovacool, claim the worldwide economic cost (worldwide total: $177B) of nuclear accidents is higher than for any other energy source and nuclear power is less safe than all other sources of energy except for hydroelectric power. Some of the costs could be due to an over-reaction to nuclear accidents, especially Chernobyl and Fukushima.  Others have much lower fatality estimates than Sovacool, it is unclear how many later cases of cancer are, or potentially will be, due to Chernobyl.

Permitting a new nuclear power plant and building it is a problem because there have been more than 105 significant nuclear accidents around the world since 1952, out of an IAEA total of 2,400 separate incidents. Thirty-three serious nuclear accidents compiled by The Guardian are listed and ranked here and mapped in figure 1. As figure 1 shows these incidents have occurred all over the world, some are design flaws, like the Fukashima-Diachi 2011 disaster and some are due to human error, like the loss of a Cobalt-60 source in Ikitelli, Turkey.

Figure 1: All nuclear power plant incidents, source The Guardian.

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Oil – Will we run out?

By Andy May

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (old Danish proverb, sometimes attributed to Niels Bohr)

In November, 2016 the USGS (United States Geological Survey) reported their assessment of the recent discovery of 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent (technically recoverable) in the Midland Basin of West Texas. About the same time IHS researcher Peter Blomquist published an estimate of 35 billion barrels. Compare these estimates with Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, the largest conventional oil field in the world, which contained 80 billion barrels when discovered. There is an old saying in the oil and gas exploration business “big discoveries get bigger and small discoveries get smaller.” As a retired petrophysicist who has been involved with many discoveries of all sizes, I can say this is what I’ve always seen, although I have no statistics to back the statement up. Twenty or thirty years from now when the field is mostly developed, it is very likely the estimated ultimate hydrocarbon recovery from the field will be larger than either of those estimates.

The technology for producing this sort of shale oil was invented very recently, well after Marion King Hubbert produced the “Hubbert curve” predicting that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970’s.  As Daniel Yergin points out in The Quest:

“Hubbert got the date right, but his projection on supply was far off. Hubbert greatly underestimated the amount of oil that would be found – and – produced in the United States. By 2010 U.S. production was four times higher than Hubbert had estimated- 5.9 million barrels per day versus Hubbert’s 1971 estimate of no more than 1.5 million barrels per day.”

A comparison of actual oil production versus a version of Hubbert’s curve is shown in figure 5 (this curve is slightly different than the one Yergin used):

Figure 5, source

Technically Recoverable Reserves

So clearly Hubbert’s Malthusian curve did not predict oil supply correctly, new technology has allowed us to tap into oil that was not part of the potential supply when he did his calculation. Paul Ehrlich’s ominous 1968 prediction in The Population Bomb that 65 million Americans would starve to death in the 1980’s was incorrect for the same reason. He could not have predicted the green technology revolution that included natural gas based fertilizer (the Haber-Bosch process) and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug’s new hybrid strains of wheat, rice and corn. Some might say, well Hubbert was wrong then; but what about tomorrow? Isn’t oil still a finite resource? Let’s examine that idea. Table 1 shows a rough estimate of the technically recoverable reserves of oil and gas known today, using only known oil and gas technology. More deposits will obviously be found and technology will improve in the future.

Table 1

The reserve estimates are in billions of barrels of oil equivalent. NGL and oil volumes are presented as is and natural gas is converted to oil-equivalent using the USGS conversion of 6 MCF to one barrel of oil. The table includes the “proven” worldwide oil, gas and NGL reserves from BP’s 2016 reserves summary. It also includes the 2012 USGS estimate of undiscovered “conventional” oil and gas reserves fully risked, the EIA estimate of unconventional shale oil and gas reserves, and the IEA oil shale (kerogen) and oil sands (bitumen) reserve estimates. Our estimate of 1,682 BBOE in world-wide unconventional shale oil and gas reserves is lower than the IEA estimate of 2,781. The spread in these estimates gives us an idea about how uncertain these numbers are. Our estimate of 781 BBO in oil sand bitumen reserves is lower than the IEA estimate of 1,000 to 1,500 BBO. So, please consider this table very conservative.  Yet, it results in a 148-year supply!

The moral of the story? Never underestimate the ingenuity of mankind and never assume that technology is static. Also, the resources that technology recognizes today are not all the planet’s resources.

More here!

Energy and Society from now until 2040

By Andy May

ExxonMobil released its 2017 Outlook for Energy, A View to 2040 in mid-December. David Middleton has written that the report reveals wind and solar will supply a whopping 4% of global energy by 2040! He also reports that wind and solar capacity will grow, but we will only be able to utilize 30% of the wind capacity and 20% of the solar capacity due to their intermittent nature. This is true, but the report has much more to say and this year the nomination of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State makes it even more important. Here we will cover some the other numbers in the report.Continue reading “Energy and Society from now until 2040”

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