Energy and global warming news for January 3, 2011: Top wind farms had costs averaging $0.059 per kWh; Carbon dioxide causing Caribbean coral collapse; Climate change is the next security threat

Climate change: Next security threat

Certain senators and the new Republican-controlled House are attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit carbon pollution. This is likely to have devastating consequences for our environment and our national security.

Over the past 14 months, Operation Free and thousands of veterans across the country, from every generation, have worked to support a national clean energy policy. The Veterans for American Power tour visited hundreds of communities nationwide, meeting with thousands of Americans to deliver the message that U.S. national security is closely tied to our energy policy.

In Washington, veterans have met with scores of senators to ask for support for a climate and energy policy that reduces dependence on oil.

This oil dependence is among the most dangerous threats to U.S. national security. For years, senior military and intelligence officials have warned that too much of U.S. oil payments eventually trickle down to terrorists, who use it to buy the weapons used against our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey said it best: “This [the war on terror] is the first time since the Civil War where we are funding both sides of the war.”

Ignoring all the warnings and security implications, the Senate failed to consider comprehensive climate and energy legislation last session. To make matters worse, Congress will soon consider legislation to strip the EPA of its authority under the Clean Air Act. This would give polluters’ free reign to emit as much carbon pollution as they want, speeding up the effects of climate change and risking national security.

If climate change continues unchecked, we will see millions of people displaced globally, countries destabilized and U.S. troops mobilized to address these new threats.

The Defense Department calls climate change a destabilizing influence and “threat multiplier.” There is no better example of climate change as a destabilizing force than what happened in Pakistan last year. More than one-fifth of Pakistan was flooded by torrential rains and insurgents have pounced on the chaos-created opportunity to turn Pakistan into a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorist activity.

As predicted climate-related calamities occur — including drought and famine in unstable countries like Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — these are also likely to become breeding grounds for terror.

While some senators attempt to move us in the wrong direction, the Obama administration now has an opportunity to steer us back on track. Pushed by a diverse coalition that includes veterans and national security organizations, the EPA recently set new fuel efficiency standards of 60 miles per gallon by 2025.

Sixty miles per gallon by 2025 is an achievable goal that we must attain if we are to reduce dependence on oil and strengthen our national security. It will significantly cut demand for oil and drive prices down.

And by reducing the $1 billion a day that the United States spends on importing oil, the new standard would put less money into the pockets of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his nuclear program and his recently developed “Ambassador of Death” missile. It would also significantly hamper other regimes seeking to do us harm.

Most Americans don’t think about climate change as a national security threat. But we must begin to focus on how it makes us vulnerable in a global context. Thousands of veterans, active duty troops, intelligence professionals and national security experts are doing this every day — and will continue the fight to secure America with clean energy.

It is in our national security interest to do so.

— Jonathan Murray, a Marine veteran, is the former advocacy director for the Truman National Security Project and former campaign director for Operation Free.

Wind’s competitive edge (EnergyBoom):

Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor and the Director of the University’s Atmosphere and Energy Program, co-authored in 2001 a Science Magazine article entitled, “Exploiting Wind Versus Coal.” Jacobson reported then that when the health and environmental costs of coal-based energy are calculated, “the total price for coal-based energy”¦” ranges from “”¦$0.055 to $0.083 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).” Interesting, since the U.S. Department of Energy reports that as of 2008, top performing wind farms in areas with excellent wind resources had costs averaging only $0.059 cents per kWh, a price clearly competitive with, if not far less than, the costs of coal.

So apples to apples, wind power projects don’t cost more than the polluting, all-too-familiar energy sources we’ve come to accept, if only because until recently, American consumers have had few options.

Solar Fuel, With High Efficiency

Concentrated solar radiation enters the reactor, is intensified by a compound parabolic concentrator, and is focused on a cerium oxide cylinder. H2O and CO2 enter side inlets, and O2, H2, and CO exit a bottom outlet.

Concentrated solar radiation enters the reactor, is intensified by a compound parabolic concentrator, and is focused on a cerium oxide cylinder. H2O and CO2 enter side inlets, and O2, H2, and CO exit a bottom outlet.

Researchers have developed a novel thermochemical reactor that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbon-fuel precursors at a relatively high efficiency.

The feat is a key step toward using solar energy to produce much-needed liquid fuels more efficiently than may be possible with alternative methods, such as photocatalysis or microbial fermentation-based hydrocarbon-fuel production.

The new thermochemical reactor is believed to be more efficient than previously developed ones, whose efficiencies could not be comparably measured. And it is amenable to continuous operation, suggesting that an industrial-scale version of the process could be developed for solar towers.

The reactor was designed by solar technology specialist Aldo Steinfeld of ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich; materials scientist Sossina M. Haile of California Institute of Technology; and coworkers (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1197834). It uses concentrated solar energy to thermochemically dissociate CO2 and H2O via cerium oxide redox reactions to produce CO and H2, respectively, with O2 as a by-product. CO and H2 form syngas, which can be processed to generate methanol, gasoline, and other liquid fuels.

The reactor’s solar-to-syngas energy conversion efficiency, experimentally measured with a 2-kW prototype, is 0.7 to 0.8%, which Steinfeld says is significantly higher than those of current photocatalytic methods for CO2 dissociation. A thermodynamic analysis indicates that efficiencies of 16% or more are achievable with the new reactor.

The study’s “solar conversion efficiencies are less than 1%, but these efficiencies set an important benchmark for further improvements in the use of pure solar thermal energy to split CO2,” notes renewable energy researcher Stuart Licht of George Washington University.

The novelty is the experiment’s relatively large scale, “the number of cycles demonstrated, and performing the demonstration long enough and in such a reproducible and controlled way that the efficiency can be carefully determined,” says thermochemistry specialist James E. Miller of Sandia National Laboratories. “It’s a step toward demonstrating what’s possible for a technology that has been underappreciated and deserves more attention.”

CO2 causing Caribbean coral collapse

29 Responses to Energy and global warming news for January 3, 2011: Top wind farms had costs averaging $0.059 per kWh; Carbon dioxide causing Caribbean coral collapse; Climate change is the next security threat

  1. Esop says:

    Seems that the new year has brought rather warm temperatures to the denier central of England. Temperatures up to 10C in the 8 day forecast for London, that is way above normal (normal is less than 6C). If the mild temps last, I’m confident that the British MSM and the mayor of London are going to start quizzing Piers Corbyn et al. why the lack of sunspots and position of celestial bodies no longer turn Britain into a freezer, as this was predicted by these prophets to be persistent all winter.
    Looks like the MET office wasn’t that far off after all (although I would advise not to issue 3 month forecasts for the winter when the Arctic is in the current state of chaos).

  2. Stephen says:

    I think the word ‘cents’ should be removed in these prices!

    Does this price including the full costs including balancing & backup? surely it is somewhat meaningless to show a best price anyway.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Might I suggest to the veterans that US ‘national security’, that strange insatiable bogey-man whose omnipresence in a country never invaded by a foreign force (not since 1814)and never witness to widespread destruction and civilian death save in the Civil War, baffles reason, would be best served by ceasing to attack the rest of the planet? After all, closing down the hundreds of military bases inflicted across the world on mostly unwelcoming populations, would save vast amounts of money, that could be invested in renewable energy technologies. If the US, safe in its continental redoubt, surrounded by sea and friendly neighbours, was to reduce its gigantic military expenditures by 50%, 500 billion a year would be freed, to rebuild US infrastructure and society. You’d probably be surprised how many fewer so-called ‘terrorists’ emerge when you stop murdering their families with Hellfire missiles. And, as for Pakistani ‘insurgents’ taking advantage of the floods, what they were actually doing was helping their fellow citizens, neighbours and relatives in a time of disaster, as is typical of people all around the world.

  4. Eric Normand says:

    Between 4000 and 50000 black birds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve near Bebe Arkansas. A spokesman for the Arkansas game and Fish commission said “The birds showed evidence of trauma in the breast tissue, blood clots in the body cavity and a lot of internal bleeding.” The story, as covered by CNN, sites lightning strikes or high-altitude hail as possible reasons. Another article cited fireworks as a possible explanation.

    An estimated 100,000 dead “drum fish” turned up just three days later in an Arkansas river some 100 miles from the spot where the dead birds were found. One article sites a population boom, followed by a cold snap during which “their immune systems are compromised and can’t always fight infection”. One official said that fish kills occur every year, “but the size of the latest one was unusual, and suggested some sort of disease was to blame”.|main5|dl1|sec1_lnk1|34283

    It’s probably too soon to know the cause of these two strange occurrences, and whether or not they are related, but I find these events disturbing. Does anyone have any more info or thoughts on this?

  5. catman306 says:

    NPR’s ATC interviewed a biologist in Arkansas who hinted that it the blunt force trauma may have been caused by the explosion of 3 ‘cannon’ fireworks, which are enormously powerful arial fireworks.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Yes, $0.059 cents does not make sense.

  7. Theodore says:

    I wish the solar fuel developers the worst of luck. The last thing we need is another way to make more gasoline. The technology should be outlawed while it’s still small enough to kill.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Mulga Mumblebrain, I agree that the best thing we could do for everyone, including ourselves, would be to cut the military budget in half. Unfortunately, it won’t happen. Not enough space to explain why, but the short answer is that we’re somewhat crazy.

    This doesn’t detract from Jonathan Murray’s contribution. I appreciate his thoughts and his passion, and hope that a lot more people do as well.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Theodore @7 — The CO2 is from air capture, so the process is the first step in a method of making carbon neutral hydrocarbons. For fuels made in that fashion, no FCOAD fee need be imposed.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Eric Normand #4, I get a really sinister frisson from these stories. We will see many, many, more ‘surprises’ as ecological collapse proceeds, and this could just be one of those horrors that were predicted or predictable, or it could be a nasty, nasty, surprise, the first of many of a similar type.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    In the various price comparisons, note I found a study with new nuclear power plants having an LCOE of US$0.0645/kWh. So that is also competative with both wind and coal.

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Eric Normand said “Does anyone have any more info or thoughts on this?”

    This maybe (Without checking geo data)

    Twisters killed four people in Missouri and leveled at least 50 homes, damaging as many as 280, AP reported Sunday.

    In Arkansas, tornados killed three and damaged 27 homes and six businesses.

    The National Weather Service also confirmed storm activity in Mississippi to be three tornadoes. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said the twisters wrecked 39 homes and 40 businesses, AP said.
    Read more:

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    It might be possible the the tornados picked up something, which ended up killing the fish and birds.

  14. Sarah says:

    Theodore @7. Au contraire, storing energy in chemical form is much more efficient than storage in batteries. Chemical bonds don’t leak energy over time; liquid is especially easy to store. (oil has been stored for millenia underground.) That’s why converting solar energy to a chemical fuel is a sort of holy grail for alternative energy technolgy.
    H2 (and some hydrocarbons) can be used in fuel cells, much more effieicnt and less polluting than combustion, where much of the stored energy is lost as heat.

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    “This oil dependence is among the most dangerous threats to U.S. national security”

    Yes, yes and yes, but it is not only the U.S. and terrorist can’t kill more then climate change does, it’s about the entire world. Giving money to fossil energy anywhere, is a threat for the survival of the species.

    Climate change threatens the survival of the species according to the best science the planet has to offer!
    Plus, 98% of scientist agree that climate change is happening and warn of the devastating life threatening consequences.

    Human race ‘will be extinct within 100 years’, claims leading scientist
    Read more:

    Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan on the Greenhouse Effect

    WTF are the people working for NATIONAL SECURITY waiting for?
    SHUT DOWN fossil energy extraction, by all means! Shut down the DENIAL MACHINE, NOW!!!!!!!!

  16. Prokaryotes says:


    Organic farmer decertified in WA after crop contamination
    Tuesday, 04/01/2011
    A Western Australian Great Southern farmer has been decertified as an organic grower after genetically modified canola was found on his property.
    Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh alleges the canola, which has spread to 70 per cent of his land, blew in from a neighbouring property.
    Independent tests by the WA Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of GM canola whilst the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) decertified his organic farm registration indefinitely.
    Steve Marsh says he has a lot to lose and so may GM growers in the future.
    “If I permanently lose my markets, and probably that’s one of the major concerns with this whole issue, and we start to realise the extent of of the liability that GM farmers, and not only GM farmers, but all people involved with the GM industry could be confronted with.”

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    ‘Earth might end up like Venus! Temperatures here may rise to 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid!’ It is said by one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, and cannot be ignored. Steven Hawking warned this in a recent talk in China, stating that he is ‘very worried about global warming.”

    Video: James Hansen on Runaway Warming
    December 16, 2010

  18. Tim says:

    Sarah @12. Well said, but it is worth conceding that the solar-to-chemical conversion has to be efficient too for chemicals to be a more efficient way to store energy per unit mass. Note also that H₂ is very much more inefficient per unit volume than batteries. For that reason, Dan Nocera is pitching his fascinating research into photochemical water splitting (via continuously regenerated catalysts) as a means for generating H₂ to be used in buildings, not for transportation.

  19. Zach says:

    The wind-is-cheap link is broken; missing a colon FYI.

    I don’t see the point of debating cost competitiveness when anyone can point to any number of projections and/or historical data that show that mode X is cheaper. Doing so is inevitably problematic because the fact is that, in the United States, coal will always be cheap, always be available, and always be massively scalable; especially if CO2 emissions aren’t taken into account. If you prove that something is comparably expensive, critics will move on and say, rightly as it turns out, that the next MW of wind energy installed is likely to be less “top performing” than the last.

    The linked article is also factually problematic. It’s criticizing various statements that offshore wind (Cape Wind, specifically) is expensive by referencing a 2001 study that references typical results at onshore Danish wind farms. That’s not “apples to apples.” Using cost estimates from the MA AG ($2.5B) and output and lifetime projections from folks supporting and building the thing (420 MW, 39% capacity factor, 20 year lifetime), that’s about $2.5B for 28B kWh or 9 cents per kWh in construction costs alone.

    This isn’t to say I don’t think Cape Wind is worthwhile, just that the linked article isn’t.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Prokaryotes, I must recommend the Institute of Science in Society for its demolition of genetically engineered organisms. Their research into the concept of genetic fluidity and the utterly random placement within the genome of the artificially introduced genes, with absolutely unpredictable consequences, is immensely interesting and worrying, and totally ignored by the MSM swamp. That’s not even to mention that other novel horror, nanotechnology, where carbon nanotubes have already been linked to pleural granulomas amongst workers, and where these are seen, mesothelioma cannot be far behind.

  21. From Peru says:


    What David B. Benson says is in part true:

    “Theodore @7 — The CO2 is from air capture, so the process is the first step in a method of making carbon neutral hydrocarbons”

    It is actually better than that, this is a carbon NEGATIVE fuel!

    The most valuable product produced is H2, hydrogen. Hydrogen is the cleanest fuel if it do not comes from fossil fuels.

    The syngas (H2 + CO)could be used to:

    1) manufacture liquid hydrocarbons
    2) used directly as fuel
    3) in the iron furnaces as a reducing agent to obtain metallic iron from iron oxide ore by the reactions:

    FeO + H2 = H2O + Fe
    FeO + CO = CO2 + Fe

  22. Bill Maddox says:

    #3 Mulga. I could not agree more. Either our paranoia is remarkable or there is a lot of money being made in stirring up the hornet’s nest. Maybe both i.e the mob is paranoid and a few make the bucks.

  23. Chad says:

    I am a bit confused about this solar fuel contraption.

    Can’t we just use a 20% efficient PV panel to power an 80% H2 fuel cell, and get 16% efficiency of sunlight to chemical energy. If we really wanted a liquid, we can convert the H2 to hydrocarbons via syngas reactions, which will retain most of that energy.

    [JR: No commercial FC is close to 80% efficient.]

  24. Prokaryotes says:

    Runaway Climate Change

    Northern Wildfires Threaten Runaway Climate Change, Study Reveals

    ScienceDaily (Dec. 6, 2010) — Climate change is causing wildfires to burn more fiercely, pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to a new study to be published in Nature Geoscience this week.

    This is the first study to reveal that fires in the Alaskan interior — an area spanning 18.5 million hectares — have become more severe in the past 10 years, and have released much more carbon into the atmosphere than was stored by the region’s forests over the same period.
    “When most people think of wildfires, they think about trees burning, but most of what fuels a boreal fire is plant litter, moss and organic matter in surface soils,” said University of Guelph professor Merritt Turetsky, lead author of the study.
    “These findings are worrisome because about half the world’s soil carbon is locked in northern permafrost and peatland soils. This is carbon that has accumulated in ecosystems a little bit at a time for thousands of years, but is being released very rapidly through increased burning.”

  25. Bill W says:

    Re the “extinct within 100 years” story linked by Prokaryotes at #15:

    Sound the trumpets! This is a story in the “Daily Mail” that doesn’t belittle or deny climate change! Have they ever done that before?

    That being said, I tend to be skeptical of predictions by professors emeriti, and I think (and hope) Dr. Fenner is being overly pessimistic.

  26. “Sixty miles per gallon by 2025 is an achievable goal that we must attain if we are to reduce dependence on oil and strengthen our national security. It will significantly cut demand for oil and drive prices down.”

    I know the US gallon is smaller than the UK one but European manufacturers are already producing volume models that can exceed this specification. If efficiency is to have any purpose it has to be implemented quickly and should not take the place of the transformation that is required.

  27. Theodore says:

    When I said earlier (#7) that the last thing we need is a new source of gasoline, what I’m talking about is emissions, specifically the fact that I’m really tired of breathing exhaust fumes from the car next to me while sitting at an intersection. This is obviously unhealthy and very annoying. Carbon neutrality is not a virtue sufficient to redeem gasoline or any other hydrocarbon fuel used in an internal combustion engine.

  28. Tom Lenz says:

    A fourth victim of the tornados here in Arkansas has died. Too close for comfort as we live just a few miles away from ground zero.