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China to accelerate thorium reactor development.

March 30, 2014

Thorium is a viable alternative to uranium for power generation with some huge potential advantages.  It is a shame that the United States is not aggressively pursuing it as an energy source.  China has been exploring the use of thorium and just announced a rapid acceleration in their development schedule.

According to the South China Morning Post…

A team of scientists in Shanghai had originally been given 25 years to try to develop the world’s first nuclear plant using the radioactive element thorium as fuel rather than uranium, but they have now been told they have 10.

UntitledThat statement isn’t entirely true. There have been several reactors of varying design powered by thorium. My own state of Colorado had the thorium powered Fort St. Vrain power station back in the 1970s and 1980s.  Today, Thor Energy in Norway is pursuing a U-233/thorium fuel cycle

But the Chinese are working toward the holy grail of thorium reactors: a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR or “lifter”). Here is a nice “TED.com” video on the LFTR concept.

smogChina’s appetite for energy is growing by leaps and bounds.  Coal is their primary source of electricity, but the resulting smog chokes their cities.  Coal will continue to be heavily utilized in China in coming years, but they see thorium a likely route to a cleaner future.  They currently have nearly thirty nuclear reactors of various types under construction to meet some of the growing demand.  But the LFTR has the greatest potential for fuel supply, non-proliferation, and minimal long term radioactive risk.

It is sad that the great United States may have to learn this lesson from the Chinese.

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RetractionWatch: Lowendowsky paper formally retracted

March 22, 2014

RetractionWatch.com

A year after being clumsily removed from the web following complaints, a controversial paper about “the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science” is being retracted.

Lowendowsky unrepentant about his embarrassment to science.

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Units of energy: homes?

March 8, 2014

corrected 4/12/14

How many BTUs are in a kilowatt-hour?  How many barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) are in a kiloton of TNT?  There are a lot of different units of energy and power.  Which one is chosen at a particular time depends on the field and the customs of its experts.  It can get a little confusing when comparing numbers from practitioners in different fields.

It can be very eye opening to make the conversions.  For example, six sixteen watt CFL bulbs lit up for six hours will use as much energy as released by the detonation of one pound of TNT.  My preference is to convert powers to watts and  energies to watt-hours.

New unit for power

But there seems to be a new unit of power that I can’t find in any of my physics books.  Its called a “home.”  Here are some examples of its usage…

“The Tatanka Wind Farm, on the North Dakota-South Dakota border, will power 60,000 homes.”

“Limon I Wind Energy Center in Colorado is capable of generating enough electricity to power approximately 100,000 homes.”

“[E]nough clean electricity to power over 60,000 homes.”

“A 230 MW photovoltaic solar station in the Antelope Valley of California that will supply enough energy for 70,000 homes.”

“The new Copper Mountain 3 solar plant, which will be finished in 2015, will be able to generate enough power to supply around 80,000 homes.”

“Chicken Manure to power 90,000 Homes in the Netherlands!”

Ivanpah

Ivanpah mirrors

Mirrors at Ivanpah

Brightsource’s Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California is a case in point.  This is a solar thermal site that uses thousands of mirrors to concentrate sunlight to generate heat to run generators.  Smithsonian.com says  the “$2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System—the largest of its type in the world—will power 140,000 California homes.”  It looks like they are using a “home” as a unit of power.

What does “will power 140,000 California homes” really mean?

According to the EIA, the average home in California consumes about 7000 kilowatt-hours of electric energy each year  (most recent data, 2009).  That means 140,000 homes would use 9.8 x 108 kilowatt-hours (9.8 x 105 megawatt-hours) of electric energy per year.  I think we’re on the right track here, because the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says Ivanpah will produce 10.8 x 105 megawatt-hours per year.

But this unit of power called a “home”  is still a little misleading.  Although the average California home consumes about 7000 kilowatt-hours of electric energy per year, energy from other sources is also consumed.  The other big source is natural gas, which may be used for space heating, cooking or water heating.  If you think this is trivial compared to the amount of electricity used, think again.  The EIA document on residential energy consumption in California shows these graphs…

EIA California energy consumption

I think it is bad practice to use two mix different units for energy (kilowatt-hours and Btu) as the EIA has done with these graphs.  How many people can compare kilowatt-hours and Btu by looking a graphs?

The graph on the top left is where I got the estimate of 7000 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy per year for the average California home.  Notice that it is labled “ELECTRICITY ONLY.”  The graph on the lower left is for “ALL ENERGY average per household,” and indicates about 62 million Btu per California home per year.

How does 62 million Btu compare to 7000 kilowatt-hours?   62 million Btu translates to 18,170 kilowatt-hours!  In other words, 11,170 kilowatt-hours of energy consumed in the average California home comes from sources other than electricity.  If you find this hard to believe, look at the number of kilowatt-hours you used on a recent winter electric bill and look at the amount of energy, usually in “therms,” on a recent winter gas bill.  Convert the “therms” to kilowatt-hours and you will see what I mean.  It takes a lot more energy to heat water and air in your house than it does to light your bulbs or power your TV.  So Ivanpah really only provides enough energy to power 54,000 (≈140,000 x (7000/18,170)) California “homes.”

You might think that providing enough energy for 54,000 homes is still pretty impressive and makes a big dent in California’s energy needs.  Think again.  There are 12.5 million households in California.   So it would take about 240 (≈12,500,000/54,000) Ivanpahs to power them all.  Ivanpah covers about 16 square kilometers.  So it would take about 3600 (= 16 x 240) square kilometers to power all these households.

Building 3600 square kilometers of mirror arrays is a big undertaking, but wouldn’t it be worth it to power the entire state of California?  The problem is that it wouldn’t power the entire state of California.  Residential power consumption is only about 20% (1/5th) of California’s total energy consumption.  Far more energy goes into commercial, industrial  and transportation needs.

If we assume vast efficiencies then we might say that it only takes 2.5 times (instead of 5 times) the residential energy consumption to run the entire state of California.  With these assumed efficiencies Ivanpah would provide the total (not just residential) energy needs for the occupants of only about 22000 (≈ 54000/2.5) homes. It would take nearly 600 (≈2.5 x 240) Ivanpahs, a whopping 9000 (≈ 3600 x 2.5) square kilometers of mirror arrays, and $1.3 trillion (≈ 2.5 x 240 x $2.2 billion) to provide the average energy needs of the entire state.

Why talk in terms of “homes?”

The use of “home” as a unit of power has a warm and fuzzy feeling to it.  I guess good and caring people are concerned about “homes,” while cold and uncaring people talk about “kilowatt-hours.”  Using “homes” as a unit of power gives the impression (intentionally?) that all the energy needs of the people living in those homes are met.  It is much more impressive to say an energy project will “power 140,000 homes” than to say it will compensate for the total energy needs for the people living in 22,000 homes.

I believe this loose use of the English language and lazy, imprecise use of physical values  is used precisely because it yields more impressive numbers.

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The Search for Acceleration, part 10, US Gulf Coast

February 17, 2014

magnifying glass 145This is part 9 of a series of posts in which I am searching for a large acceleration in sea level rise rate in the latter part of the 20th century.  Such a rise rate is needed  to reconcile the 1.8 mm per year average rise rate for the century attributed to tide gauge data and the approximately 3 mm per year rise rate for the tail end of the century attributed to the satellite data.

U.S. Gulf Coast

This region  has 4 tide gauge sites with at least 90% data completion between 1950 and 2008.  Three of the sites have data back to 1930 or earlier .  I will analyse this data in my usual manner: detrending, weighting, averaging and derivatives.

This slideshow shows my standard analysis.

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Conclusion

One thing is certain from the above graphs: the sea level rise rate in the US Gulf Coast region has not shown an acceleration in the last part of the 20th century or the 21st century. The rise rate reached a peak in the 1940s and has been dropping since around 1970.

Keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to the rise rate in this region.  Subsidence is the primary cause, and subsidence itself has multiple components.

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Vermeer and Rahmstorf paper rejected

January 31, 2014

Vermeer and Rahmstorf had a paper rejected by the journal “Climate of the Past.” This news is 16 months old, but I just heard about it, and could find very few references about it on the web.

This paper, On the differences between two semi-empirical sea level models for the last two millennia,  promoted their earlier sea level rise models.  They couldn’t seem to get traction with this paper.

Here are some reviewers’ comments…

One of the major problems with this work is the decidedly biased analysis and presentation.

Highly biased analysis and presentation.

It currently takes significant effort to figure out which pairs of models and training data sets the authors use, and whether they have evaluated all the relevant combinations of the same.

No surprise here.  Rahmstorf has a history of alluding to all kinds of data sets and implying that he has taken them into consideration, but only presenting results for those that support his thesis.

And the final blow…

In the light of the two negative reviews and one comment which all require new analyses and point to fundamental flaws in the methodology of the current paper, I regret to inform you that my conclusion is to support rejection. I strongly dissuade the authors from submitting responses and a revised version.

Here is the paper…

Click for full PDF version

Here is the reviewers’ discussion that lead to the the rejection.

Of course, Vermeer and Rahmstorf do not give up that easily, and similar papers have been shopped around to other journals

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Why left-leaning environmentalists ignore southern peril

January 23, 2014

I have pointed out the imminent danger of global freezing to the Southern Hemisphere.  I have pondered why it is that the left-leaning environmentalist get all worked up about warming in the arctic, but don’t seem to be bothered by rapidly advancing ice in the South.  I am not sure if their prejudices are conscious or subconscious.

I promised that the answer to this question would break the story wide open.  Here it is…

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Deny, they cannot!

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Akademik Shokalskiy: Reality is stranger than satire

December 31, 2013

A few days ago I wrote

Our prayers go out to the scientists and others on this harrowing adventure as ice breakers race to free them the frozen grip of the sea.  I hope the sauna stays warm and the booze holds out until they get there.

Today the Sydney Morning Herald writes

The ship is stocked with two weeks’ worth of fresh food and another fortnight of dehydrated rations. But [ship’s doctor Andrew] Peacock said drinks were running low, with “just enough alcohol left to celebrate” the arrival of 2014.

“We are preparing for evacuation to a dry ship so a few drinks seems reasonable, but we also have to be ready at a moment’s notice for the helicopter arrival so staying sober is important.

A “dry” ship?  Oh my, that will ruin all the fun!

The Morning Herald goes on to lament that…

…passengers had been upset by speculation on social media that they were not on a “serious science-based” expedition.

Truth is stranger than satire.

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