A tree ring study estimating past rainfall and drought shows the southeast USA drought was mild compared to past events

Trees may be better rain gauges than they are thermometers.  From a press release of:

Killer’ Southeast Drought Low on Scale, Says Study

Others Were Far Worse; Population, Planning Are the Real Problems

Lake Allatoona, Ga., November 2007Lake Allatoona, Ga., November 2007

A 2005-2007 dry spell in the southeastern United States destroyed billions of dollars of crops, drained municipal reservoirs and sparked legal wars among a half-dozen states—but the havoc came not from exceptional dryness but booming population and bad planning, says a new study. Researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory defied conventional wisdom about the drought by showing that it was mild compared to many others, and in fact no worse than one just a decade ago. According to the study, climate change has so far played no detectable role in the frequency or severity of droughts in the region, and its future effects there are uncertain; but droughts there are essentially unpredictable, and could strike again at any time. The study appears in the October edition of the Journal of Climate.

“The drought that caused so much trouble was pathetically normal and short, far less than what the climate system is capable of generating,” said lead author Richard Seager, a climate modeler at Lamont. “People were saying that this was a 100-year drought, but it was pretty run-of-the-mill. The problem is, in the last 10 years population has grown phenomenally, and hardly anyone, including the politicians, has been paying any attention.”

Region wide, the drought ran from late 2005 to winter 2007-2008, though many areas in the south were still dry until last week, when the weather turned conclusively, and flooding killed at least eight people. During the height of the dry period, Atlanta’s main reservoir sank more than 14 feet, usage restrictions were declared in many areas, and states became embroiled in lawsuits among themselves and with the federal government over use of water in rivers and reservoirs.

Seager and his coauthors Alexandrina Tzanova and Jennifer Nakamura put the period in context by comparing it with instrumental weather records from the last century and studies of tree-growth rings, which vary according to rainfall, for the last 1,000 years. These records show that far more severe, extended region-wide events came in 1555-1574, 1798-1826 and 1834-1861, with certain areas suffering beyond those times. The 1500s drought, which ran into the 1600s in some areas, has been linked by other studies to the destruction of early Spanish and English New World colonies, including Jamestown, Va., where 80 percent of settlers died in a short time. The 20th century turned out relatively wet, but the study showed that even a 1998-2002 drought was worse than that in 2005-2007.

https://i1.wp.com/www.ldeo.columbia.edu/files/uploaded/image/graph.jpg

Southeast U.S. rainfall reconstructed from tree rings, 16th-20th centuries

The factor that has changed in the meantime is population. In 1990, Georgia, which uses a quarter of the region’s water, had 6.5 million people. By 2007, there were 9.5 million—up almost 50 percent in 17 years. The population is still ascending, driven largely by migration. However, little has been done to increase water storage or reduce consumption. There has been increased sewage discharge near water supplies, and vast tracts of land have been covered with impermeable roofs, roads and parking lots, which drain rainfall away rapidly instead of storing it.

Previous studies by Seager and colleagues have shown that droughts in the American Southwest and Great Plains states are controlled by cyclic changes in tropical Pacific Ocean sea-surface temperatures –the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle. This means that dry weather, which goes along with the cold phase of the cycle, can be predicted to some extent. However, in the current study, the scientists found only a weak correlation between Southeast weather and the tropical Pacific. Instead, says Seager, dry spells appear to be generated by random changes in regional atmospheric circulation. This means weather could dry up at any time.

Seager’s studies also suggest that manmade warming is beginning to perturb precipitation patterns across the globe. As a result, he says, the Southwest may have already entered a period of long-term aridity. In contrast, global warming does not appear to have yet affected rainfall one way or the other in the Southeast. Most climate models project that higher temperatures will actually increase rainfall there—but as temperature rises, evaporation will also increase. At best, says Seager, the two effects may balance each other out; at worst, evaporation will prove stronger, and result in drier soils and reduced river flows in the long term. “Climate change should not be counted on to solve the Southeast’s water woes, and is, in fact, as likely to make things worse as it is better,” says the paper.

“It was a lot drier in the 19th century than it has been recently, but there were so few people around, it didn’t harm anyone,” said Seager. “Now, we are building big urban centers that make us vulnerable to even slight downturns.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that national losses due to drought ran around $8 billion a year in the 1990s, but they are probably higher now. Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska who was not involved in the research, said of the study’s results: “This should be a wake-up call. If this is not the worst case scenario, what are we going to do when the worst-case scenario arrives?”

David Stahle, a tree-ring scientist at the University of Arkansas who made the link between 1500s-1600s droughts and the struggles of early Southeast colonies, said settlers then were particularly vulnerable because they had just arrived and lacked sufficient infrastructure or backup supplies. He called the Lamont study “a bedtime story with a moral for modern times.”

“Are we returning to a period of sensitivity and danger like the colonists experienced?” said Stahle. “In a way, yes, it looks like we are.”

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90 thoughts on “A tree ring study estimating past rainfall and drought shows the southeast USA drought was mild compared to past events

  1. I think Reid Bryson established that the droughts during the MWP were far more severe than anything during the observed record in ‘Climates of Hunger’ about 35 years ago.

    The recent drought isn’t worse than earlier 20th c. droughts, so Bryson’s analysis remains valid.

  2. We have no clue what actual risks and variation there is in nature. Any valid graph shows the last 100 years as incredibly flat and stable. Look back 100 or 1000 years (or, gasp! 10,000 years) and you find that we have no clue what nature can deal out.

    Recently, mature trees were found at the bottoms of lakes all over California and Nevada. Clear evidence of hundreds of years of drought (relative to today) that have not been seen for 1000 years…

    We have not clue, but our “scientists” are worse, they think they have a clue when they don’t even have a cup of good coffee…

  3. According to the study, climate change has so far played no detectable role in the frequency or severity of droughts in the region, and its future effects there are uncertain; but droughts there are essentially unpredictable, and could strike again at any time.

    Ok, so man made CC is not the cause. But wait…

    “Climate change should not be counted on to solve the Southeast’s water woes, and is, in fact, as likely to make things worse as it is better,” says the paper.

    It probably will be just over the horizon.

    Do they have to out these kinds of speculation in their papers to get published?

  4. “Do they have to out these kinds of speculation in their papers to get published?”

    As I read this paper, I was thinking “great, a realistic, balanced study.” Then came the above, mandatory drivel. Yes, I agree, they must throw that in to get published.

  5. For an area that has no spring/summer runoff due to snowmelt, a -3 on the scale is tough cookies. In the Pacific Northwest, -4 to -6 are the really bad years.
    There is enough known about the precipitation records. The problem isn’t so much climactic shift as it is an overly prescribed usage of resources.
    Georgia and adjacent areas notwithstanding, nobody beat California for recklessly gambling with thier water supply. It’s the politicians and bureaucracies who make the mess. We got along just fine in the 76-77 drought, but can’t handle a shadow of it now.

  6. Is “aridity” akin to “nuditity”? Can anyone tell me who coined that word?

    Re: trees under water. The Cascades are filled with lakes like that. But it isn’t because of aridity versus raininity. It’s because of volcanic eruptions closing off rivers. And these are “brrrrrr cold” rivers. When the basin fills to the rim of the volcanic flow, it fills with this icy water that then finds its way through the volcanic rubble down hill somewhere. The basin stays filled with ice melt percolating to the basic from the mountain peaks above. This is the kind of water you don’t go for a swim in, especially in your nuditity, even on hotter than hell days. The submerged trees stay almost untouched from decay and you can see nearly to their trunks on the lake floor. If you ever get the chance, visit these lakes.

  7. John, yes. They have to say, in affect, “Mother may I”. And Al the purse strings holder says, “Yes you may”.

    By the way, I love this new adjective talk. Or is it verbidity. Whatever. Can we call the sleeping Sun “sleepidity”? or Blankidity?

  8. Lake Allatoona (pictured above) is now 12 ft. over normal. The reason for the low lake levels in 2005-2007 was because the gauge at Buford Dam (Lake Lanier) was broken and they (Corps of Engineers) were letting out twice as much water as reported. After fixing the gauge, the corps continued to release more than normal because of Fla and Ala filing lawsuits. The corp tried to build another reservior north of Atlanta, but a lawsuit from Ala put that on hold indefinitely. All of the lake levels in Ga are full except Lanier, which is only two ft below summer level.

  9. We have the same “100 year drought” phenomenom here in South Eastern Australia. When one looks at rainfall patterns, it hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years. What has changed is the number of people drawing on the water without any increase in supply or storage capacity. The same can be said for our bread basket regions. Irrigators have drawn more water than is sustainable. And the politicians claim it is all about AGW.

  10. Rob wrote: “It’s the politicians and bureaucracies who make the mess.”

    YES. From a lifelong Southeasterner. Agreed.

    And the recent SE drought was due to the warm AMO.

    No big deal.

    Even if Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel can blindside me with his quote about the recent Atlanta floods being due to “Climate Change.”

    Get used to it, Jim. Climate CHANGES. That is what it does.

    For shame you….even YOU are locking into this emotional “argument.”

    Get over it…and survive with the rest of us.

    CHRIS
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  11. Climatology is just my hobby. Economics is just my hobby. politics is just my hobby. My profession is machinist. Steve McIntyre’s profession is a statistician, his hobby is climatology. Hobbyists can yield some spectacular results.

    Did I get that right?

  12. Pamela,

    You’re one of the commenters I always like to read, because you’re like a splash of cold cascade (or more rightly Blue Mountain) water on a very hot day. You improve my attentionidity.

    Mike

  13. Pamela Gray This is the kind of water you don’t go for a swim in, especially in your nuditity, even on hotter than hell days.

    I tried to take a dip in the Deschutes River once….and it was like…..way too cold.

    All of that South Sister snowmelt. BRRRRRR

    The Pac NW is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, no doubt.

    CHRIS
    Norfolk, VA, USA

    Chris
    Norfolk

  14. It seems like there should be a bureau in Washington that advises where urban growth could do best based on the drought history of an area. Because if we don’t learn from history we’re sure to relive it. With that said, it seems the thing I learn from history is a pattern of what will be happening now and in the future—with different names of people, places, and things.

    Also, a good solution to water shortages has always been wells. Well water tastes wonderful too! (Deep wells I am mainly meaning.)

    p.s., this is a nice study making for an interesting post! Not all that is bad is global warming. ;-)

  15. par5 (21:08:07) :

    Thanks for the straight story. This has never been reported in the media, at least not here in California. I should remember that old saying when I watch the news :

    “Don’t believe most of what you hear and hardly anything you see.”

  16. savethesharks (21:30:50) : Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel

    Any time I see his shaved head, black rim glasses—and looks of doom on his face—I just change the channel—the two former things having nothing to do with it.

  17. Failure to build sufficient water supply infrastructure is a worldwide problem. Environmental protests and obstructions being a major cause.

    Despite all the talk and predictions of climate change and climate instability, the last 50 years has had a remarkably stable climate and outside of Africa there have been no major droughts of the size we know occured in earlier times, as recently as the 1930s.

    The late monsoon in India this year should have been a wake up call to those, who while obsessing over what might happen in a 100 years, ignore the fact the world is one bad harvest away from a catastrophe.

  18. Re: trees under water. The Cascades are filled with lakes like that. But it isn’t because of aridity versus raininity. It’s because of volcanic eruptions closing off rivers.

    The Sierra Nevada, on the other hand, has lakes like that, as E.M. Smith pointed out. There is a post from a few years ago on Climate Audit that describes a paper on those lakes. Seems California has had periods of several centuries with rainfall greatly below today’s rainfall amounts during the Holocene. In fact, the past couple of hundred years have been quite an unusually wet period.

    When rainfall patters return again to one of these dry periods, California is going to be in a world of hurt. We are talking about a hundred or hundreds of years of below what we would call “average” rainfall.

    On a different subject: If we are nearing the end of this interglacial period, look for less stability in climate. We saw the Little Ice Age which appears to be the coldest period since the Younger Dryas and then we have seen warming not quite recover to what it had been before. In fact, climate was relatively stable until about 2000 years ago. Since then we seem to have experienced greater and greater swings between warm and cool periods. Each cool period seems cooler than the one preceding. Expect these swings to get even greater in amplitude as this interglacial comes to an end. Climate could vary considerably in relatively short periods of time. We could have entire areas of Canada become unusable for agriculture for several decades only to warm up again as if nothing had happened for a few decades and then slip back into freezing cold.

    These cool periods may be associated with extreme drought in some areas if the oceans cool and evaporation is reduced. Storm tracks may be pushed South and areas that are currently quite arid may see an increase in rainfall (e.g. the Great Basin area).

    REPLY: Got a link to that paper/post on Sierra Nevada lakes? – Anthony

  19. So let me see if I get this straight.

    “An Inconvenient Truth” is Science Fiction.

    Did I get that right?

  20. An observation about the topic;
    It seams to me they are trying to ease the sheeple into accepting reality.

  21. “Seager and his coauthors Alexandrina Tzanova and Jennifer Nakamura put the period in context by comparing it with instrumental weather records from the last century and studies of tree-growth rings, which vary according to rainfall, for the last 1,000 years.”

    Do they now ?.After the exhausting tree-ring/temperature discussion we have this. What’s next, tree rings and the abundance of reindeer droppings ?

  22. Pamela Gray (20:59:04)

    Aridity is akin to Nudity, it is a valid word long established in the Complete Oxford English Dictionary.

    Perhaps it’s new to the Colonies?

  23. For years we have taught that the Southeast USA is generally short of precipitation while being resupplied by tropical storms with haphazard timing. And politicians can’t solve known problems. Not much new in this paper.

    I wonder, did they use Bristlecone Pines or Larch in this study?

    Just kidding!

  24. Seager’s studies also suggest that manmade warming is beginning to perturb precipitation patterns across the globe. As a result, he says, the Southwest may have already entered a period of long-term aridity.

    How does he recognize between natural and man made warming? 2008 in US was colder than 1900 and 2009 will be even colder. Wheres the man made warming, except man made hockey sticks and manipulated records?

    “It was a lot drier in the 19th century than it has been recently.

    So colder probably means drier in general. This explains relation between evaporation and precipitation. Where is the proof it will be now dry because of being warmer, oh sorry colder?

  25. Re: Pamela Gray (20:59:04) :

    Is “aridity” akin to “nuditity”?

    “Warmidity” generally encourages both “aridity” and “nudity”. Conversely, “coldidity” discourages “nudity” although there remains a possibility of concurrent “aridity”.

    I’ve given up entirely on tree rings and am now focusing my efforts on petrified naked people. Find yourself a wad of those in some bog and you’ve got yourself a bonafied “warm period”.

  26. Michael (22:26:56) :

    So let me see if I get this straight.

    “An Inconvenient Truth” is Science Fiction.

    Did I get that right?

    I wouldn’t characterize it as Science Fiction, as much as a sort of fantasy fiction along the lines of “Chariots of the Gods” or most of Michael Moore’s work: ie, string together a lot of relatively factual things, then guide the viewer/reader into making his/her own completely incorrect conclusion.

    Science Fiction (often also called Speculative Fiction) usually either attempts to place a story in a future world, or shows how disfunctional a future would be if current social trends continue.

    I’ve written some Science Fiction, some Fantasy, and am currently working on a Science Fiction story about a future where nothing predicted has actually happened, and yet oddly enough they still believe it will.

  27. The historic record shows that of the amount of water available for use has always varied over time, just as climate varies. Some places get droughts while others are getting floods at the same time.

    As the study says, the pressure of extra population has a major effect on water useage, but modern farming techneques, often requiring massive use of water for irrigation to get the high yields are also a big factor.

    To reduce the impact of this problem on the population, money needs to be spent on an infrastructure of pipes, so that what water is available can be distributed to the places where it’s needed.

    Any chance of this happening anytime soon? I don’t think so – those in power would rather spent our taxes on the already falsified hypothesis of AGW. What a waste.

  28. Why am I NOT surprised that useless lawyers and enviro- ignoramuses hav j ointly conspired to creat the consequences of the predictable drought by denying, delaying, and preventing, the construction of proper reservoir storage.

    Why can’ t someone sue these incredible monkey wrenches for the damages that they have predictably caused. Lets attach all their future earnings singly and collectively, and all the contributors to their cock-eyed causes as well.

  29. So let me see if I get this straight.

    “An Inconvenient Truth” is Science Fiction.

    Did I get that right?

    Mostly. Except for the science part.

  30. Gene Nemetz: “It seems like there should be a bureau in Washington………….”

    Step away from the bottle, Gene. If such a bureau were created it would be be an office of the GISS or the NCDC or NOAA. Its first recommendation would be development of the four corners region.

  31. The picture above is of a small shallow cove usually about six feet deep. It does not represent the lake at all. You can see the private boat docks in the background, but the photo does not show the water behind the photographer. Take a good look at the bouy, its anchor and the length of the supply line.

  32. As my handle might suggest, I have to question whether trees make any better rain gauges than they do thermometers. My inclination is that they do, but only slightly.

  33. This study points out one of many ways in which people overbuild in areas that are poor choices from the standpoint of climate and geological timescales. From over building relative to water supply, to building below sea level, to one of my favorites…. If you ever fly into Cincinnati airport approaching from the north, observe the topology and building pattern in southern Ohio near Cincinnati. You’ll see plateau-ish looking areas with serpentine valleys that clearly were once rivers. The past riverbeds are where all the houses are with little on the elevated areas. I keep thinking that someday in the next several hundred years, they might regret that…

  34. The chart at the top of this post only goes back to the 1500’s; iirc the worst north American drought in human terms is probably the drought that’s believed to have occurred in southwest in the second half of the 13th century, starting soon after 1250 ad. Tree ring data suggests a long period of extended drought, which is probably what eliminated the Anasazi culture which had been doing fairly well up until that time.

    “When this cycle of drought began, Anasazi civilization was at its height. Communities were densely populated. Even with good rains, the Anasazi were using their land to its limits. Without rain, it was impossible to grow enough food to support the population. Widespread famine occurred. People left the area in large numbers to join other pueblo peoples to the south and east, abandoning the Chaco Canyon pueblos and, later, the smaller communities that surrounded them. Anasazi civilization began a long period of migration and decline after these years of drought and famine. By the 1300s, it had all but died out in Chaco Canyon.”

    http://www.learner.org/interactives/collapse/chacocanyon.html

    to be fair regarding the Anasazi, “The Great Drought may have been the last straw,” said Dr. John Ware, another archeologist at the Museum of New Mexico. “But in and of itself, it just wasn’t enough.”

    http://raysweb.net/canyonlands/pages/drought.html

  35. Well, I live right near Lake Allatoona GA, and wish to report that the lake is now completely full to its seasonal average by last November. Yes, it was low for a while. Yes, we had a drought. Then it ended.

    Further, Lake Allatoona did its needed job of protecting houses and cities downstream when 30+ inches of rain fell in a five day continuous storm this Sept. Now? Up to the spillway.

  36. I’m probably being stupid or ignorant here, but can anyone explain to me how it can be that we have one group of paleodendroclimatologists who believe trees measure temperature, and another who believe trees measure precipitation, and neither of them know the detail of temperature or precipitation prior to say 1800, how do they separate the supposed temperature signal from the supposed precipitation signal in tree ring widths?

    Or do they believe that some trees are good thermometers and others are good precipitation guages? How do they tell the difference. And if trees are both thermometers and precipitation guages, how do they assign relative values to each trait?

    Do these two groups hold joint conferences? And can I have some please.

  37. John Nicklin: Do they have to out these kinds of speculation in their papers to get published?

    It’s like the way Soviet era academic publications always included mandatory praise for Lenin. The quantum physicists were spared because Lenin couldn’t possibly have contributed to quantum physics…

  38. Only slightly OT, in as far as the region. I thought the most significant drought to hit the US in recent history was the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which also hit Canada. I understood it to be devastating and was brought about by the farming practices of the time, although I have heard it was Climate Change also. This event is surely the bench mark for drought in North America?

  39. Yes, it should be obvious that tree rings record rainfall quite well. When rain falls bark absorbs water and expands. When the rain stops and weather dries the bark hardens in its expanded state.

  40. Briffa begs using a tree as a thermometer. Now it is a rain guage also? Some of the drought effect has to do with timing. I do not deny a water crisis. We have always had droughts but we have not abused water suppiels like we do now. It takes a lot of water to please a newly planted sod lawn. It takes a lot of water to supply rare fishies when there is a court order.

  41. “studies of tree-growth rings, which vary according to rainfall, for the last 1,000 years” ???
    Somebody needs to tell the Hockey Team.

  42. I know I will be dealing with this the rest of my life. What else is there? Even when they get it right they get it wrong. If the conclusion was that this was not a bad drought then why talk about climate change at all. Why speculate. And why would it get worse and not better. I have read maybe one or two articles that say as the earth warms people will benefit. How can the whole world get worse? I am tired of the negativity.

  43. WWS,

    It may not have been the droughts, as much as it was the nature of the rainfall, that stressed out the Anasazi culture. One theory I have read states that gentle rains were replaced by gully-washer thunderstorms, and the irrigation systems were wrecked, or rendered useless when the stream-bottoms eroded lower than the inflow channels to canals.

    I mentioned in an earlier Briffa post that I have cut down hundreds of trees and always check the rings. In New England the rings seem to show it is the rainfall during the months from March to July, more than temperature or other factors, that encourages growth. Despite the fact there is considerable variation from tree to tree, nearly all trees show a drought that lowered reservoirs in New England in the mid-1960’s, with a series of skinny rings.

    However even here there are exceptions to the rule, for some trees press the limits in terms of how much time they can stand with “wet feet.” (These trees are the sort that inhabit lowlands, and which a single family of beavers can wipe out with a single dam, which is why you can sometimes see a ten acre patch of dead trees, standing silver and barkless, while driving across New England.) These trees, growing in a flat area which is not quite too wet for trees, actually benefited from the 1960’s drought in New England, and their rings show they grew better during that drought, for their roots were under water less.

    Therefore one can arrive at opposite conclusions, if one looks at tree rings in New England without paying attention to where the trees are from. An unscrupulous resercher could prove nearly anything they wanted.

    I have found great pleasure studying tree rings, and feel a dedicated scientist could learn far more than I’ve learned. I would hate to see funding for such study cease. However such study must be honest, and not funded by people who have an agenda and desire certain results. Such funding, whether it be from Big Business or Big Brother, sucks all the wonder from science, and, rather than inspired by the beauty of truth, we wind up disgusted by the dishonesty of greed.

  44. “Stephen Skinner (06:09:43) :

    Only slightly OT, in as far as the region. I thought the most significant drought to hit the US in recent history was the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which also hit Canada. I understood it to be devastating and was brought about by the farming practices of the time, although I have heard it was Climate Change also. This event is surely the bench mark for drought in North America?”

    Recently on WUWT there was an article on the death of Dr. Norman Borlaug.

    Anyone wanting to read what he had to say about that, the links are there.

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/09/13/agicultural-pioneer-and-climate-skeptic-dr-norman-borlaug/

  45. Not quite OT – a response to piping water from the East to the West. There is new R.O. technology just announced which significantly cuts the amount of power needed to produce fresh water. Now all the folks that champion windmills have to do is get the NIMBYs to let them build massive R.O. facilities offshore in CA which are also sites for windmills.

    My bet is that the NIMBYs would rather die of thirst.

  46. Aron (06:14:54) :

    Bark thickness isn’t involved in tree rings. The rings are growth variations laid down inside the cambium, while the bark is produced outside the cambium.

  47. Crosspatch and Michael: “Fallen Angels” is an example of contemporary science fiction that is timely, prophetic and satirical.

  48. wsbriggs: re Desalinated water in California.

    We are building one plant, near San Diego, to produce 50 million gallons per day.

    The power required is a major operating cost, but the cost of carbon credits required to keep the plant running under cap and trade will likely make this the last such plant ever built in California.

    NEWTAP is in keeping with California’s penchant for importing necessities such as electric power, automobiles, and water. As the state’s idiotic laws continue to choke the economy, more and more businesses close their doors and flee the state to more friendly environs.

  49. “Steve McIntyre’s profession is a statistician, his hobby is climatology.”

    There is no profession in the world more important than statistics to this subject. All of the results and theories stand on top of statistics.

    I am stunned at the lack of statistical training on the part of these “climatologists”.

  50. Nuclear makes a great power source for desalinization. In fact, it could probably be integrated into the cooling system.

  51. Oh, and the link I gave above (at 01:23:19) is the CA article I thought I had read several years ago with the information on the Sierra lakes and prolonged drought in California.

  52. crosspatch:

    Why would anyone want to build a new nuclear power plant at 30 to 40 cents per kWh to run a desalination plant? What would be the required sales price for the desalinated water in that case? Can anyone afford such expensive water?

    Or are you proposing to increase the condensing pressure on existing nuclear power plants, thus producing much less power from each plant, in order to increase the temperature of the steam so it can provide energy to thermal desalination? How would the reduced power be replaced, and provided to the grid?

  53. wsbriggs (09:07:07)

    Do you have a link to that energy saving Reverse Osmosis technology that you mentioned?

  54. Nuclear electricity costs 30 to 40 c/Kw-Hr? Try about a tenth of that although with enough lawyers I’m sure you can make anything more expensive than necessary.

    Nukes are baseload power although I’ve seen plans for peak load nukes as a result of work done on nuclear aircraft propulsion in the 1950s and nuclear thermal rockets clearly don’t take hours to bring up to power.

    So build more and bigger nukes so that you can cover base + peak power requirements and run the desalination RO plants when not all the electricity is required to run the grid. The water is easily storable to provide system buffers and the desalinated water is unlikely to be the sole source of water anyway.

    This system would be perfect for Australia with large cities all needing extra water all on the coast and a lunatic government about to cripple our economy with an emissions trading scheme while something like 80+ % of our electricity is presently generated by burning coal and the same government is resolute against nuclear power. This in a country with around 40% of the world’s easily recoverable uranium and lots of GAFA to store any waste in. Did I say lunatic?

    * GAFA – Great Australian F… All

  55. “Why would anyone want to build a new nuclear power plant at 30 to 40 cents per kWh to run a desalination plant?”

    On what planet does nuclear power cost 30 to 40 cents per kWh?

  56. Electricity Production Cost by Fuel Type (2008)

    * Nuclear: 1.87 cents per kWh
    * Coal: 2.75 cents per kWh
    * Natural gas: 8.09 cents per kWh
    * Oil: 17.26 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh)

  57. And nuclear power costs drop even more if you co-locate a fast neutron reactor and processing plant on the same site. This is because it allows spent fuel to be re-used and also eliminates the need for the expensive enrichment process. Natural uranium is exposed to the neutron stream where it is converted direction into fuel via transmutation. This means things such as “depleted” uranium can be used for fuel.

    This also eliminates the long-term storage problem for spent fuel and eliminates the issue of transporting fuel over the transportation system. Once fuel enters the site, it never leaves. What waste is produced decays in only a few hundred years. We know how to build structures that last a few hundred years.

    I would point you to learning about the AP1000 plant from Westinghouse. It is the safest plant ever built. You can shut off the primary cooling system and all external electrical supply and the plant will maintain cooling for up to two weeks without any intervention using only natural convection, evaporation, and gravity. With the application of external cooling water to the outside of the containment dome, it can be rendered safe indefinitely.

  58. crosspatch,

    You must have missed all the fireworks on WUWT a few weeks ago where this topic of nuclear power was discussed.

    You might want to recognize a few facts about the US nuclear power industry’s abysmal record of building power plants on schedule and on-budget. Cost overruns of 5 or even 6 times the original estimate were the rule, not the exception. Case in point is South Texas Nuclear Project, original cost estimate $900 million, final cost $5.5 billion, plus many years behind schedule. The much-touted French Areva reactor design is taking the typical route at the plant in Finland, where the project is many billions of Euros over budget, and so far behind schedule they no longer will make even an estimate of the completion date.

    Nothing has changed in this industry, except the fools who want to build these things. Now South Texas Nuclear Project is wanting to expand the site, using two Japanese reactors to double the capacity. The cost estimate this time is for $13 billion – but it will easily be $22 to $25 billion.

    Don’t take my word for it. See a nuclear project expert’s writings, Craig Severance.

    As to the comparative costs you cited above, those appear to be merely variable costs of production, and do not account for capital charges. That is a bit like crowing that one’s car costs only 10 cents per mile to drive, and counting only the cost of gasoline. The $1200 per month car payment is conveniently ignored. In the real world, the utility must charge the consumers for enough money to pay off the money borrowed to build the plant, and the equity owners in the plant.

    In any event, even if San Antonio buys into the STNP expansion, the cost overruns and lengthy delays are inevitable. It will be the last nuclear plant ever built in the USA, and the costomers in its service area will pay dearly for their power. That is a good thing in one respect, because it will provide strong incentive to use solar, wind, and local mini-gas turbines as customers go off the grid. That is a bad thing, though, for the poor and those on fixed incomes who have no options but to pay the outrageous increased power prices to the utility.

    See my article on Nuclear Nuts, at http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com/2009/04/nuclear-nuts.html

  59. Mike Borgelt,

    Well, I am a lawyer, and my skin is pretty thick. We bring lawsuits to force nuclear power plant builders to follow the law, build a safe plant, and comply with all environmental and regulatory requirements. We do the same with natural gas fired power plants, wind-turbine power systems, solar-powered systems, and coal-fired power plants. If you would like to change the regulations on nuclear power plant design and construction, and the environmental requirements, please go to it.

    The nuclear advocates in this country love to whine that the lawyers increased the cost of the existing nuclear power plants. At the same time they crow about their perfect safety record – when in reality that record has yet to be written to account for spent fuel disposal or reprocessing, and radioactive waste disposal along with plant demolition. It is only because the lawyers forced them to build the plants to code and to regulations that the safety record is as good as it has been thus far.

  60. I kind of like this one the most:

    http://www.nvwra.org/docs/journal/vol_2_no_1/jnwra_2_article3_kleppe.pdf

    That’s the Nevada Water Resources Association… they care.

    ABSTRACT
    The author of this paper has discovered large trees rooted at a depth of 36.5 m (120’) below the existing surface level of Fallen Leaf Lake. Fallen Leaf is one of the major watershed areas for Lake Tahoe. Some of these trees measure over 30 m (98’) tall with a circumference of over 4.5 m (15’), which is an indication that they were over two hundred years in age when they died. The significance of this discovery is the fact that for these trees to be rooted below the surface of the lake, the lake must have been down at least 36.5 m for over two hundred years. This would indicate that a “mega drought” had occurred, since several of these trees have been carbon dated to have “drowned” in 1215 A.D. ± 40 years. This would indicate that the drought persisted during the medieval period 850-1150 A.D., and was followed by an extremely wet period that brought the lake level back up high enough to drown the trees. There are also signs on these trees that another severe drought occurred sometime later, but did not persist for as long as the first one.

    I added the bolding…

    The L.A. Times view:

    http://articles.latimes.com/1994-06-16/news/mn-4748_1_tree-ring-research

    A study of the stumps of ancient trees that once grew from stream beds and lake bottoms in the Sierra Nevada has turned up new evidence that droughts in California can last 100 years or more, far longer than the state’s official estimates.
    In this week’s issue of the British journal Nature, a Cal State Hayward professor writes that submerged stumps in Mono Lake, Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park, the West Walker River in the northern Sierra and Osgood Swamp near Lake Tahoe are relics of trees that grew on land that was uncovered when droughts reduced water levels by up to 60 feet.

    Which is how you can get a tree growing full sized on what is now a lake bed…

    No pretty pictures, but a decent write up with references:

    http://www.planetspatula.com/holocene-drought.html

    This link has a chronology of the last 2000 years of drought in the west:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VGS-4P2J050-C&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1033081314&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=cfa3df1b47252c0e5bb5dc744d47ad2d

  61. More on the Megadroughts issue:

    This one does a nice job of tying it to the end of the Maya:

    http://sites.google.com/site/medievalwarmperiod/Home/drought-and-the-collapse-of-mayan-civilisation

    And with more references that you could ever want:

    http://sites.google.com/site/medievalwarmperiod/Home/drought-floods-famine-and-central-and-south-america/sources

    and it cites the original work by Dr. Stine.

    Interesting if a bit unglamorous:

    http://sfbay.wr.usgs.gov/publications/pdf/dettinger_2001_droughts.pdf

  62. tallbloke (05:58:19) : explain to me how it can be that we have one group of paleodendroclimatologists who believe trees measure temperature, and another who believe trees measure precipitation,

    Plants are subject to the principle that the least available resource limits their growth. So if a tree is short of water, water will make it grow more. Too cold? Heat increases the growth. Not enough Nitrogen? Bear Poo to the rescue! (Yes, salmon runs eaten by bears doing what bears do in the woods is a major or the major source of Nitrogen to the forests. Salmon fishing and bear reductions also are measure by tree rings… )

    how do they separate the supposed temperature signal from the supposed precipitation signal in tree ring widths?

    Well, ya know, that’s gonna be a might tough… And don’t forget you also need to map the bear population and the salmon run sizes… AND CO2 concentrations… AND any volcanic ash fertilization… AND any shading of one tree by another (and when which fell down)… AND you need to know if any other nutrient was limiting to growth so you better have a complete soil mineral concentration plot over the entire life of the tree… otherwise you are just assuming that nothing changed when maybe a bit of flash flood washed some bird potash deposits down the hill.

    Or do they believe that some trees are good thermometers and others are good precipitation guages? How do they tell the difference. And if trees are both thermometers and precipitation guages, how do they assign relative values to each trait?

    Well, each person assigns the growth to the thing that they are studying. If they didn’t do that, then they would not get a paper to write or they would need to bring in some other person as co-author, and who needs that?…

    IMHO, it’s a bit of a broken science. Heck, you can look at a well managed farmers field and get all the way from 8 foot corn to 2 foot runts or bare dirt in the same field with folks trying to manage it all to be the same. I’ve just got to think it will be worse in a wild tree population…

  63. Keith Minto (18:13:25) :
    wsbriggs (09:07:07)

    Do you have a link to that energy saving Reverse Osmosis technology that you mentioned?

    I think he is talking about this:

    http://www.energyrecovery.com/px_technology/how_it_works.php4

    That’s the one I point to in the water section of:

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/there-is-no-shortage-of-stuff/

    I’m also of the opinion that cheap nukes are doable, but only if you get the legal, union, greens, and other political pressure groups out of the way. It’s just not a technical problem.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/there-is-no-energy-shortage/

    OTOH, trying to rebuild transmissions for cars in California is becoming too hard thanks to our brain dead government. My mechanic can no longer get the degreaser / cleaner that works so instead of a simple spray / drain it takes spray, scrub, repeat 10 times… He demo’ed it with his last can of “the good stuff”. Startling. One just runs off taking all the gunk with it, the other one just does nothing. So prices go up and folks leave the state. As near as I can tell it is a ketone that is banned. Propanone or propan2dione? Don’t remember quite… The ‘approved’ stuff uses acetone and just does not work.

    Good luck trying to build a nuke plant with no working degreasers and solvents. And good luck trying to keep prices down if you must ship machinery interstate for repairs… (And don’t even think about the “lead mitigation” requirements and what that does to soldering anything…)

    Sidebar: Sub nukes use fuel as highly enriched metal plates. This gives a much smaller reactor. The plates can be turned toward / away from the center to throttle the reactor rapidly. One One Small Problem. Having a very highly enriched metal fuel plate puts you very much closer to making a bomb… IIRC, light water reactor fuel is enriched to something like 5% while the subs are nearer to 60% or so. To be ‘proliferation resistant’ you need a different design than the sub type. But they are fairly simple and easy to build compared to the current crop of land power units.

  64. Here is a paper, published in the highly influential UK ‘Beano’ publication (widely circulated among the next generation of environmentalists ) and rigorously peer-group reviewed by their resident subject-matter experts Biffo-The-Bear, Rupert-Bear, and that world-famous ursine coprologist, Winnie-the-Pooh.

    The paper puts forward the scientific reason for the inclusion of outliers in the analysis of tree-ring data, in order to descry past climatic conditions.

    The hypothesis is based on the postulate that bears*** is deposited in woodlands. As it is rich in nutrients, it ought to give any nearby tree a growth boost for a season or so.

    So, records of tree-ring thickness variations may contain information on the fluctuations in the bear population, and so could act as proxy for past climatic conditions.

    Now as Bears are creatures of habit, they tend to ‘go’ in the same places. So there will be a need to pick tree cores that have anomalous growth-spurts …. aka ‘outliers’ …..

    http://www.daysgonebyshop.co.uk/883_1970-the-beano-biffo-the-bear-canvas-print.html

  65. “Not enough Nitrogen? Bear Poo to the rescue! (Yes, salmon runs eaten by bears doing what bears do in the woods is a major or the major source of Nitrogen to the forests. Salmon fishing and bear reductions also are measure by tree rings… )” –E M Smith

    There is also lightning. It is a nitrogen fixer. N2 breaks apart, forms NO and NO2, which runs down in to the soil in the rain water. So increased electrical storms in an area would make your trees happy.

    Less likely than bears going to the loo after a good salmon run of course, but still goes to the question of whether tree ring data would hold up in an actual court of law to prove rising temps. Too many other suspects.

  66. In fact, it would be pretty easy to have been feeding trees in a remote Yamal somewhere, to fix a story, wouldn’t it?

  67. You might want to recognize a few facts about the US nuclear power industry’s abysmal record of building power plants on schedule and on-budget. Cost overruns of 5 or even 6

    There has not been a single nuclear plant started in the US that I know of since 1979. Your figures are sheer propaganda and not related to any reality. Today’s plants are MUCH simpler to build than those plants were. China has ordered 200 of the AP series plants from Westinghouse.

    Two of the drivers of plant construction costs are the cost of financing during the construction phase and the substantial amount of skilled-craft-labor hours needed on site during construction. The AP1000™ technique of modularization of plant construction mitigates both of these drivers.

    Overnight construction costs
    The AP1000 was designed to reduce capital costs and to be economically competitive with contemporary fossil-fueled plants. The amount of safety-grade equipment required is greatly reduced by using the passive safety system design. Consequently, less Seismic Category I building volume is required to house the safety equipment (approximately 45 percent less than a typical reactor). Modular construction design further reduces cost and shortens the construction schedule. Using advanced computer modeling capabilities, Westinghouse is able to optimize, choreograph and simulate the construction plan. The result is very high confidence in the construction schedule.

    Simplification was a major design objective for the AP1000. The simplified plant design includes overall safety systems, normal operating systems, the control room, construction techniques, and instrumentation and control systems. The result is a plant that is easier and less expensive to build, operate and maintain.

    The AP1000 design saves money and time with an accelerated construction time period of approximately 36 months, from the pouring of first concrete to the loading of fuel. Also, the innovative AP1000 features:

    * 50% fewer safety-related valves
    * 80% less safety-related piping
    * 85% less control cable
    * 35% fewer pumps
    * 45% less seismic building volume

    With so many of these plants currently being built worldwide, the construction has been modularized and the process refined so that they go in quickly. The plant design has eliminated much of the complexity of older designs. Passive emergency systems means they work without having to be activated by a computer or a person and can not be accidentally deactivated by a computer or a person.

    To greatly simplify, it works like this:

    If the pool surrounding the reactor core begins to heat, water evaporates. It condenses on the inside of the containment vessel and the water returns to a reservoir. When the water level in the pool drops to a certain level, float valves operate allowing water from the reservoir to flow and replace the water lost in the pool due to evaporation. Basically the same technology that makes toilets work. This can continue for two weeks worst case (longer in winter when the containment dome can shed heat to the outside air) without any pumps, external power, HVAC, anything. At the end of that period, cooling water sprayed on the containment vessel (fire hose) will allow operation indefinitely.

    But in any case, you cost overrun argument is silly as there is not a single modern plant to which that argument can be applied in the US.

    Also, much of the additional cost is due to “lawfare” applied by misguided, uneducated, fear mongering groups who would want to scare the living crap out of people about nuclear power. They have convinced a great portion of California that nuclear plants are unsafe in seismic areas, for example. We have reactors capable of surviving greater seismic loads than Earth can dish out. What is the equivalent seismic load of a depth charge going off next to a submarine hull?

    The anti-nuclear movement is based on ignorance and works by stoking irrational fear in people. The only legitimate concern is spent fuel. If you reprocess that fuel on-site, that concern is gone, too. That is why China is doing it, India is doing it, France is doing it, Japan is doing it, and Germany will now likely be doing it. The entire world EXCEPT the US will be generating carbon-free power in huge quantity while we base our energy policy on rainbows, unicorns, and technology that might be here someday.

    It is idiotic.

  68. Crosspatch, and Mike Borgelt,

    Those are the same tired (and untrue, ultimately) arguments the nuclear industry made 40 years ago — and look where we ended up. “We have a good design,” and “these plants are inherently safe,” and “we know how to build these plants.”

    Sure you have, and sure they are, and sure you do. [sarc off] You cannot kid me, crosspatch, because I have worked all across this globe building and running process plants, refineries, chemical plants, and power plants. You can probably sell that propaganda to the gullible, non-technical public, but not to me nor any of my colleagues. We know better.

    But the arguments at this point are futile. I will be accepting the apologies of all the nuclear nuts, after a so-called Generation III nuclear power plant is built here, in the US, not in other countries. The cost overruns and schedule delays will be public record. The higher cost of electricity will be common knowledge. (on second thought, nuclear nuts will likely not apologize, but instead will make perpetual excuses how it was not their fault, if only the environmentalists and their lawyers had stepped aside none of the cost overruns would have happened).

    The nuclear power industry has always had rose-colored glasses, in a hopeless dream to build the most expensive, toxic legacy-creating, misguided form of power man has ever devised. The retail power price increases due to massive cost overruns will harm the poor and those on fixed incomes, and it will be those people who share your misguided optimism who are squarely to blame.

    One last point, and that is end-of-life-cycle increased accidents. The existing nuclear power plants are entering the final phase of their operating lives, and they will (because they must) experience increased system failures and radiation emissions. This has already begun as pressures exist to maintain or increase operating rates, systems and pipes corrode, tritium leaks into groundwater, and other systems slowly fail over time.

    With at least 50 nuclear power plants older than the average (in the US), the odds are increasing with every passing day that an accident that releases deadly radioactivity will happen. This is not good for your cause.

  69. crosspatch, I respect your writings on WUWT, as you usually have interesting and (mostly) accurate things to say. But this time, IMHO, you fell quite a bit short of that mark.

    Do you really want to hinge your argument for nuclear power plant safety on float valves, the “technology that makes toilets work?” I suppose toilet float valves work with close to 100 percent success somewhere in the universe, but not on this planet. Even a 99.9 percent success rate is not good enough for a nuclear power plant. That missing 0.1 percent represents 0.36 days, or roughly 8 hours of each year when the float valve will not work. Not nearly good enough.

    I have spent too many hours fixing faulty float valve systems on toilets for that to be a convincing argument. I suppose next you will tell us that these are nuclear-grade float valves, not the cheap junk that are installed in actual toilets. Still, a float valve is one of the LEAST reliable of all instrumented control systems, and I have seen thousands of these in industrial (e.g.non-toilet) applications in my career. Their failure rates are legendary.

    For just a partial list of float valve failure mechanisms, consider that float valves stick open, stick closed, stick partially closed, they corrode, they rust, they bend, they spring a leak and fill with fluid (water), the hinges freeze, and many, many others.

    Thanks for the laugh on that one, I will be sure to include it in my presentations in the future! I think a bumper sticker is also in order.

    “Don’t worry folks! These new nuclear plants are SAFE!!! We use the same float valve technology that makes your toilets work!!”

  70. Wow, Roger,

    I glad you came out and admitted you are just another irrational anti-nuke kook.
    Unfortunately you are a lawyer also (that’s two strikes) and will no doubt offer your services to any group of idiots wanting to obstruct the next new nuclear plant in the US.

    crosspatch, unfortunately we’ve got lots of Roger’s kind here in Australia and they’ve been quite successful (the present governing party is resolutely anti-nuke) so we’ll be with the US in that we’ll “base our energy policy on rainbows, unicorns, and technology that might be here someday.”

    E.M Smith : I think proliferation is a red herring. Any *government* which wants a nuclear weapon will get one regardless of civilian nuclear technologies in use. Israel has nukes and South Africa had them.

  71. And I would yet *again* encourage people to download and read the article “smarter use of nuclear waste”. A fast neutron reactor in the US where the product never leaves the site does not in any way encourage nuclear proliferation in another place in the world. And yes, it produces plutonium, but not the isotope used in weapons. And since the plutonium never leaves the site, there isn’t a problem with it being hijacked, involved in an accident, getting lost, etc.

    All that aside, us not building them does not in any way prevent others from building them, and they are. India has recently announced a program to build several of them for reprocessing fuel. Japan reprocesses their fuel, in fact, their reactors are plutonium fired, not uranium fired.

    The arguments the anti-nuclear crowd use sound good until you actually think for a moment about what they are saying. They seem to want you to believe that if you build a fuel reprocessing plant in Indiana, Burma will suddenly appear with a nuclear weapon. It is simply insane.

    Lawyers make a lot of money by blocking things and engaging in litigation. They are a major part of the problem. Win or lose the lawyer gets paid. They have an economic incentive to litigate, it is what they do for a living. They are a scourge on our society and a leach on the wealth of the nation when they engage in that kind of behavior. Basically they do not make the world a better place, quite the opposite, they cause a lot of unproductive work to be done that benefits nobody but themselves.

  72. Hah! No one has come up with the right answer! The phrase and word, “Excuse my nudiditity” (I misspelled/misspoke my first offering but my bf has just corrected me) was offered by the character Radar in the M.A.S.H. episode where he first meets the new (Harry Potter) Colonel. He raises his hand in a salute while sunning and covers his armpit, whereupon he utters the apology.

    Right now I am in my house, a roaring fire is in the bedroom, it is snowing cats and dogs (5 to 9 inches expected by tomorrow night above 4500 ft), and I am in my bathrobe.

    So till morning, please excuse my nudiditity. Signing off.

  73. Lets talk a bit about energy production and consumption in the US and most of the developed world. Consumption is not constant. It peaks in the late afternoon / early evening and reaches a low just before dawn. The demand is met by a mix of power production.

    Nuclear is not throttled up and down with demand. The notion is to operate the plant at peak output around the clock. This handles what is called “base load”. These plants are on line 24×7. If there is not enough nuclear generation to satisfy minimum load, hydro may be used to augment base load but has become unreliable lately due to litigation where water levels are deemed more important than power production. So where hydro can not meet the remaining base load, coal will fill the gap.

    Now as demand ramps up during the day, coal units are brought on line. There might be some wind and or solar available but that can not be relied upon. It might be cloudy today or the wind might not be blowing. Besides, wind and solar can vary much more in a short period of time than power plants can be adjusted to compensate for the change in load. Once all the coal capacity is on line, if demand exceeds supply, you are faced with two choices, either attempt to purchase power from the grid from a neighboring power district with excess capacity or bring up the oil and gas turbine “peaker” plants. Once all of those are online, if demand continues to increase you are again faced with two choices, you can try to purchase more power from the grid or you begin a process of “rolling blackouts” to cut demand.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for solar and wind power but it must be done in a way that makes sense. It is touted by its supports as something you just install and it magically generates more power than you are ever going to use and you sell it back to the power company and never have to buy electricity again. That isn’t true BUT there are some interesting things that can be done with the same infrastructure required for wind and solar that can make conventional power more efficient.

    Imagine a system like this: You have a battery bank that runs a sine wave AC inverter that provides the AC power your home requires. You have battery capacity for 12 hours of consumption. You have a controller and a grid charger so that you can charge the batteries off the grid. Now imagine you configure the system so that it draws a constant supply of power from the grid. You use the battery bank as a reservoir. During times of peak demand, you draw down the batteries but your grid charging current remains level. At night when your demand decreases, you refill the reservoir from the grid, again at a constant rate.

    What you are doing is “load shifting”. You aren’t using any less energy but you are removing the peaks and filling in the valleys. This means that during the day you are using a higher percentage of power that was generated at night using nuclear or hydro power when it was put into your battery bank. Your overall “carbon footprint” is lower.

    Now, lets say you add some solar panels. You can place them across your battery bank with a controller and so during the day you draw even less from the grid when the sun is shining. You can do the same with a wind generator. You don’t want to send this to the power company unless your battery bank is completely full.

    If every home in the country did this it could potentially save maybe 5 percent of our energy consumption.

    But what is the environmental cost of that? What if every residential and commercial building installed such a system. How many batteries is that? How environmentally friendly is it to produce and ship that many batteries? And what about replacement cycle? I would guess all of those batteries would need to be replaced at least within 10 years with some failing immediately, failure rate dropping for a while and then starting to climb. Sure, they *can* be recycled but we don’t have the recycling capacity at that scale and what is the environmental impact of a battery recycling plant? Want one in your neighborhood? And so far we have only addressed about 30% of our electric consumption. General rule of thumb is that 30% goes to domestic and commercial general distribution, 30% to industrial distribution (an electric steel mill uses more electricity than a small city), and about 30% for the pumping, storing, distributing, treating, and disposing of water. Now if you want to convert the country to electric transportation, you need to double the grid load.

    China recently decided to destroy 25 square miles of Mongolian habitat to build a 1000 megawatt solar installation. You could produce 1000 megawatts with nuclear energy in a much more environmentally friendly manner. Solar energy on a large scale is NOT environmentally friendly. There is nothing “green” about semiconductor manufacturing. Where do those raw materials come from? How are they refined? Have you witnessed the manufacturing process in a semiconductor fab (I have)? It can be deadly if you don’t know what you are doing and we would be talking about expanding production a million fold.

    There isn’t enough land to place enough panels to make a difference. And it would destroy habitat on a huge scale. How many solar panels and windmills would it take to power America’s steel industry which at this point is mostly electric blast furnaces? How about steel and aluminum? It is impossible to build enough capacity to reliably support just those two industries with power.

    Solar and wind are nice for small scale niche applications such as off grid or maybe domestic lighting but it doesn’t scale to the power needs of an industrial society. We have the technology right now to stop burning coal for power. The only thing preventing the replacement of all of our carbon energy production for electricity are lawyers and idiots.

  74. Probably the worst peak load problem in the world occurred in the UK in the 1970’s. The then Central Electricity Generating Board had coal and nuclear stations and an excellent grid but suffered the curse of the electric kettle. For the country had only three TV stations two of which had high audiences and whose major shows ended at much the same time.

    This meant that in the late evening, when some popular programme ended, several million housewives put on their 3KW kettles to brew a cuppa before bed.

    No wonder the central control room used to scan the the TV schedules with much anxiety and call stations onto line as the expected surge in demand approached.

    The CEGB’s answer was the Snowdonia pumped storage scheme, a reversible hydroelectric station, combined with small, 25 MW gas turbine sets using natural gas which could run up in around two minutes.

    As I have said before, apart from political ones, I cannot see what problem the USA has. It has coal aplenty and is awash in natural gas.

    Natural gas/steam plant has several advantages provided the gas is available.

    1. It is about 50% efficient and can be built economically in quite small units so excess heat is available for district heating if wanted: that heat can also be turned into district cooling of course in summer.

    2. The overall efficiency of a combined gas/steam plant with district heating/refrigeration is around 70% as as opposed to the best coal fired steam plant at 40% for electric only or 55% for combined heat and power.

    3. Gas/steam turbine is cheap in terms of capital cost, roughly half that of coal fired steam plant: although over a station life of 30 years the total capital and maintenance costs come out as much the same.

    4. To meet peak loads gas is easily stored as liquified gas using well tested peak shaving plant.

    So for the next hundred years at last the USA has no need for nuclear, it can do it better and cheaper with natural gas and coal.

    And given its enormous gas reserves which can be synthesised into liquid hydrocarbons backed up with its proven oil reserves it would not need to import a drop of oil, let alone gas or coal, for the next hundred years either.

    And at an overall energy price much the same or rather less than today. So whats the problem?

    Kindest Regards.

  75. crosspatch,

    “Once all the coal capacity is on line, if demand exceeds supply, you are faced with two choices, either attempt to purchase power from the grid from a neighboring power district with excess capacity or bring up the oil and gas turbine “peaker” plants. Once all of those are online, if demand continues to increase you are again faced with two choices, you can try to purchase more power from the grid or you begin a process of “rolling blackouts” to cut demand.”

    Actually, the power dispatching function is based on the available generating resources. Most states have base load CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) plants that also follow the load, and are far more efficient than gas turbine peaker plants. Also, hydroelectric dispatching depends on many factors, such as holding the water for later agricultural use. California also eliminated rolling blackouts by offering price discounts to customers who are willing to have their power cut off during an emergency – these are mostly government buildings.

    “This means that during the day you are using a higher percentage of power that was generated at night using nuclear or hydro power.”

    Actually, by definition base load does not change. The incremental demand at night is filled by something else, but not by baseload. Also, batteries are not the only means to store power for household use.

    “General rule of thumb is that 30% goes to domestic and commercial general distribution, 30% to industrial distribution (an electric steel mill uses more electricity than a small city), and about 30% for the pumping, storing, distributing, treating, and disposing of water.

    This very much depends on the state, its population and industrial makeup.

    “Win or lose the lawyer gets paid. They have an economic incentive to litigate, it is what they do for a living.”

    Actually, only a small percent of lawyers are litigators. Most are not. And of those who do litigate, much of their work is taken on a contingency, not an hourly fee basis. Therefore, the plaintiff’s lawyers who lose on a contingency case get nothing. It happens. Of the non-litigator lawyers, some are paid hourly, and some take work on a contingency basis. And as it turns out, the environmental lawyers, as a group, are among the lowest paid of all attorneys.

    ” Solar and wind are nice for small scale niche applications such as off grid or maybe domestic lighting but it doesn’t scale to the power needs of an industrial society.”

    Actually, wind and solar are grid-scale as the evidence in both Texas and California clearly demonstrate. Wind in Texas is grid-connected, as I wrote on in my blog (see below). Solar is more prevalent in California, and has both grid and home/commercial applications. But wind is also a big factor in California. There are no longer any coal-fired power plants in California, and the two nukes from the 60’s are baseloaded, so the swing power is provided by natural gas combined cycle gas turbine power plants, with peakers only brought online during extremely hot days and then only for a few hours.

    The entire Texas power grid can be viewed at the link below, with my comments. The wind provides, by my observations, around 8 percent of the state’s power at peak wind. This is much more than “small scale niche applications.”

    see http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/2009/07/texas-wind-power-generation.html

  76. Sorry, WUWT, for being OT.

    Roger Sowell, the present state of nuclear power development is similar to objective climate research — they have been and are presently mostly dead-in-the-water in the US. Environmentalism and litigation have done their jobs very well over the decades.

    If the US had maintained its can-do attitude, we would already have safe and proliferation-proof nuclear plants reprocessing their own fuel. The US is now falling behind the progressive (non-European) countries in science and technology development in general. Space exploration has been the exception, but now even that is at risk.

    Sorry, but “renewable” energy sources are and will always be bit players in the big view. It’s a basic thermodynamic thing — low-density energy sources (wind, solar, even hydro) can never replace high-density sources like fossil fuels and especially nuclear (very high density). Unless we want to return to an 18th century society.

  77. beng,

    What a pessimistic viewpoint!

    The reality is that renewable energy sources are now major players, as designed. The incubation and encouragement of innovation via government assistance has provided economically viable renewable power generation plants. Although the Road Not Taken argument makes it impossible to know where we would be today if not for the government assistance, the fact is that we do have viable solar power, viable wind power, viable geothermal power, and very promising wave power. Ocean current power is the next big thing, and it needs zero storage.

    For California, only because I live here and am familiar with these numbers, in 2008 (source and percent of total state power generation):

    Natural Gas 46.5%
    Nuclear 14.9%
    Large Hydro 9.6%
    Coal (out of state) 15.5%
    Renewable 13.5%

    Renewables provided more than large hydro, and almost as much as nuclear in that year. As renewables continue to grow, and coal is eliminated, it will soon be the second largest power source. That is hardly a “bit player.”

    The horrible realities of nuclear energy (outrageous cost, toxic byproducts that endure for centuries, among others) spurred development of renewables also.

    The US government has very recently increased emphasis on offshore renewables development in wind, wave, and ocean current. Other countries also are developing their offshore renewable resources.

    http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/renewables-in-outer-continental-shelf.html

    The thermodynamic argument is laughable! A dilute resource is just as viable as a concentrated resource. By your argument, sunshine is not viable because it is so dilute. Yet billions of plant leaves silently refute your argument every day, and have done so for billions of years. By extension, water vapor is not a viable energy source because it is spread out across the entire atmosphere. Yet thousands of hydroelectric plants give mute testimony that such a dilute resource (in the form of rainfall) is perfectly capable of providing economic energy. And, before hydroelectric plants were built, waterwheels provided power for centuries.

    Thermodynamics has a place in the debate, but not where you seek to place it. A far better argument is one of economics. If I can build a windmill (taking advantage of that highly dilute resource, wind) and provide power at a lower cost than the highest alternative resource (e.g. a new nuclear power plant or a gas-fired peaker plant), then that is all that matters. Perhaps I tie the windmill to a water source, and use the windmill to pump water uphill into a hydroelectric plant, rather than direct generation of power. In this manner, I obtain a time-shifting of the power in the wind, and I do not care that the wind blows mostly at night while my electric demand is during the day. Thermodynamics has absolutely nothing to do with that aspect, simply economics does.

    As to the US and its can-do attitude, it of course still exists. What we learned in the 60s and later the 70s is that radioactivity is too deadly to ever be widely implemented except under very carefully regulated and monitored conditions. There is a reason that children should not play with firearms, and there is a similar reason why nuclear fission processes are heavily regulated. If that increases the cost of building a power plant, and the time required to build it according to the laws, then so be it.

    As I have stated before, if you do not like the existing laws, you are welcome to change them. This is the USA. We have in place procedures to do exactly that. Good luck to you.

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