Physics Envy

October 22, 2014

Heisenberg uncertainty principleI have marveled through the years as quacks and charlatans justify their nonsense with vague references to quantum mechanics.  But today I saw something that takes the cake.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Where could you find more quacks and charlatans than in the present administration of the United States.

Today the embarrassing White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, was confronted by CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller about the The Most Transparent Administration In History’s  lack of transparency when it comes to President Obama’s fundraisers.  First, it is noteworthy that anybody from CBS would confront the White House about anything.

Knoller asked “Why doesn’t that transparency extend to the Q&A sessions with the donors which would be a great interest to all of us?”

Earnest babbled..

“…The goal of those Q&A sessions is to foster a more candid and open dialog where you have donors who are expressing their views, and, uh, the nature of…The Heisenberg principle. That’s the fact of someone observing something necessarily changes what is actually being observed. And I think that’s at play in a dynamic like this when you have a relatively small group of individuals who are seeking to have a conversation with the president of the United States.”

Josh, you are a smooth talking political hack, not a physicist.  I know you think bringing up Heisenberg in this context makes you sound smart.  And it probably does – to the empty-headed dolts that are still hypnotized by the administration’s claptrap.  But to anybody who knows what they are talking about, you just sound pretentious.

This is a classic case of Physics Envy.

See the entire exchange here.


Plain Speaking from John Coleman

October 22, 2014

John Coleman, co-founder of the Weather Channel, knows a thing or two about the climate.  He recently had plenty to say about global warming hysteria.  In an open letter to the UCLA Hammer Forum he said…

The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar Bears are increasing in number. Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms (in fact storms are diminishing). I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environment agenda item, but the science is not valid.

Here’s John explaining the basics…



In Defense of Solar Thermal

October 15, 2014

Is the sacrifice of 28,000 birds in order to offset the energy needs of 57,000 Californians for a year really asking all that much?

“Solar thermal” energy is the concentration of light to heat which can be used to generate electricity or for other purposes.  This is different, of course, from solar photovoltaics (my field).

I like to be realistic about energy sources, staying clear of the abundant quasi-religious nonsense.  Because of this I am not a great enthusiast for massive solar thermal projects.  They may have their place, but they are still expensive.  For example, the $2.2 billion Brightsource Ivanpah site in California, which covers 16 square kilometers, could offset the energy needs of people occupying about 22,000 California homes.  That works out to about $100,000 per home!

Ivanpah image


One of the criticisms that is being aimed at the Ivanpah site, and by implication any subsequent solar thermal site, is that they kill a lot of birds.  This  idea is easy to understand.  Concentrating sunlight from a large area to a single central target makes the irradiance blisteringly high near the center.  Birds flying close enough get toasted pretty quick. They even have a name for those birds that fly through this hot spot: streamers.  Get it? Rather descriptive I’d say.

Widely reported estimates range as high as 28,000 birds per year killed at Ivanpah.  But this high number is controversial and widely disputed.  Here is a good discussion about the derivation of that number.  Let’s accept that number for the moment, just for the fun of it.


Scorched bird at Ivanpah solar thermal facility. Click image to see Canadian CBC article.

Is the sacrifice of 28,000 birds in order to offset the energy needs for the occupants of 22,000 California homes really all that much?  That is about 1.3 birds per home.   There are 2.6 people per household in California, so 22,000 households works out to about 57,000 people.  That works out to about half a bird per person per year.

There are about 8 billion chickens per year eaten in the United States.  That is about 25 per person.  All of the sudden trading half a bird for a year’s energy supply doesn’t sound like very much, does it?  Pet cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds per year (about 4 to 11 birds per person) in the US each year.

While every streamer is a tragedy (for the bird), it is important to put things into perspective.

The anti-solar thermal partisans jumped on the 28,000 bird estimate because it puts the solar thermal proponents on the spot.  Those proponents tend to be the type of people who use accusations of wildlife harm as a weapon against everything they don’t like. This makes them look like hypocrites – always a good rhetorical weapon.


Editorial Leakage at NPR

September 17, 2014

jungleWhen I was in college I worked for Phytofarms of America, which produced the highest quality leafy vegetables in a hydroponic environment.  The environment was completely artificial, high-powered lamps, nutrient controlled water and CO2 at three times the atmospheric level.

Years later when I was working at NREL I received incredulous guffaws from some co-workers when I mentioned the growing advantages of high CO2.  They were certain, of course, that any deviation from the “normal” CO2 level was bad.

We’ve now had two decades of dire predictions of disastrous effects from CO2.  People who have suggested possible advantages of elevated CO2 have been treated like kooks.  This adherence to quasi-religious dogma is usually flawlessly practiced a the Church of NPR.  But something slipped by the editors.

A recent episode of Science Friday covered the discovery of the dinosaur Dreadnoughtus Schrani.  This dinosaur, they tell us, was as massive as a Boeing 737.  It had to eat a lot to get that big.  How could it find enough food to sustain itself?

Ira Flatow (host): It would seem like it would take a lot of food to feed a body that size.  Is it constantly eating all day long just to stay in shape? …  Would this mean that you couldn’t have a lot of them living together because they would just eat so much and, you know, compete for food?

The guest, Kenneth Lacovara says…

 Well, you know, it depends on what the baseload productivity is in the eco-system, the phyto productivity…

Then Locovara said this (click link to pay mp3)…


…the temperatures in the Mesozoic, especially in the Cretaceous, are high, CO2 levels are high. Plants love this, so you would imagine that plant productivity is high.

I guess its time for the re-education camp for an NPR sound editor


10 to 1 odds for Prof. David Barber

August 27, 2014


Back in 2008 University of Manitoba Professor David Barber made two rediculous statements.  First, National Geographic reported on June 20th, 2008, that Barber said

“We’re actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history].”

Of course, that did not happen.  At the low point for the year there were still 3 million square kilometers of ice in the Arctic and 2.25 million square kilometers in the Arctic Basin.   But Barber wasn’t done sharing his insight.   That year the Star Pheonix (Saskatoon) reported

The ice that has covered the Arctic basin for a million years will be gone in little more than six years because of global warming, a University of Manitoba geoscientist said. And David Barber said … he estimates the Arctic sea should see its first ice-free summer around 2015.

At the time I challenged Barber to…

…a friendly wager based on this prediction. I will bet David Barber $1000(US) that the ice covering the Arctic Basin will not be gone anytime before December 31st, 2015. The bet would involve no transfer of cash between myself or Barber, but rather, the loser will pay the sum to a charitable organization designated by the winner.

Definition of terms. The Arctic Basin is defined by the regional map at Cryosphere Today. “Gone” means the Arctic Basin sea ice area is less that 100,000 square kilometers, according to National Center for Environmental Prediction/NOAA as presented at Cryosphere Today . Charitable organizations will be agreed upon at the time the bet is initiated.

David Barber is a smart guy and evidently an expert in his field. Taking on a wager with an amateur like me should be like shooting fish in a barrel. I look forward to reaching an agreement soon.

I got no response from Barber.

On August 15th, 2009, I upped the ante, sending Barber email offering 2 to 1 odds.

Still no response. 

Instead, in November of 2009 The Univeristy of Manitoba published this video of Barber…

Current Ice Status

Anybody who is paying attention knows that Barber has been wildly off the mark for the Arctic, and that the sea ice extent in the Antarctic is pushing record highs.  Globally, the sea ice area has been above its historical average during most of the last year.

10 to 1 odds

Today I am offering Barber 10 to 1 odds.  That’s right, I will put up $10,000 to his $1000 that the ice covering the Arctic Basin will not be gone anytime before December 31st, 2015, all the rest of the terms being the same.  Today I sent Prof. Barber this email, to the address found here.   I am looking forward to hearing from him soon.


Climate Hockey Stick Confirmed!!

June 29, 2014

The Climate deniers are taking it on the chin again today as another independent source confirms the climate hockey stick that was first revealed by Michael Mann.  It is getting harder and harder for those corporate sponsored capitalist luddites to hide the truth about runaway effects of increasing atmospheric CO2.

See for yourself…

graph 140629_2


This satellite data comes to us via an unimpeachable source: The University of Illinois Department of Atmospheric Sciences. What could be clearer than the rapidly rising temperature seen in the blade of the hockey stick on the right side of the graph? Based on this data, it is high time that the deniers are rounded up and punished (executed?) for their greed inspired destruction of the planet.


News: White house installs 6.3 kW solar PV system

May 28, 2014

You’ve probably seen the news – it been reported everywhere: the White House has installed 6.3 kilowatts of solar PV.  How much energy will that system yield in practical terms?

The rated power of a PV system is the power that it will yield when the sun shines straight on to it with an irradiance of 1000 W/m2, and the temperature is 25 degrees C .  If those conditions are met for one hour, then the white house PV system will yield 6.3 kilowatt-hours.  If they are met for two hours, then it will yield 12.6 kilowatt-hours, etc.

But those conditions are rarely met exactly.  In the United States those conditions will  be approximately met around noon time on a cold sunny day if the panels are mounted at the proper angle.  Your results will vary.

There is another way to approximate the average daily energy that solar panels will yield: multiply the rated value of the panels by the average daily insolation.   The accuracy of this approach depends on the angle that the panels are mounted and several other variables, but this very simple approach will give an approximation good enough for our purposes

The average daily insolation in Washington DC is 4.23 kilowatt-hours/m2/day.  So the White House PV system would yield about 27 kilowatt-hours per day.

How much energy is 27 kilowatt-hours in practical terms?

If you add up all he energy that is consumed in the United States each year and divide it by the population and 365 days, then you will get the average daily per capita energy consumption in the United States.  Many people have a vague (and wrong) idea of what their energy consumption is, perhaps based on their monthly electricity bill.  They are often shocked when they learn the truth.

Here are the numbers…

Total US yearly energy consumption: 97.4 Quads

This is equal to 28,560,000,000,000 kilowatt-hours (since one Quad is 293,000,000,000 kilowatt-hours).

This translates to a daily per capita consumption is 247 kilowatt-hours per day


Therefore, the solar PV on the roof of the White House provides about 10% of the 247 kilowatt-hours consumed by the average American each day!

In all fairness though, we have to understand that a large portion of that 247 kilowatt-hours per day per capita does not do any useful work.  I hesitate to say that this large portion is “wasted.”  Rather, it is lost mostly due to the inescapable consequences of thermodynamics.  Look at the energy flow chart from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  On the right side you can see that out of the 97.4 Quads of energy used yearly in the United States, 38.4 Quads goes to “energy services” and 59.0 Quads are “rejected energy.”  Effectively, 97.4 Quads of energy are consumed in order to yield 38.4 Quads of “energy services.”  That is only about 40% efficient.

Almost all of the energy generated by the Solar PV system on the roof of the White House can be used for “energy services.”  With this in mind we could fairly claim that the PV system on the roof of the White House provides about 30% of the energy needs (or “energy services”) of a single average American.

Some more perspective on 27 kilowatt-hours of energy

A gallon of gasoline has an energy content of about 32 kilowatt-hours.  If you drive a truck that gets 15 miles per gallon, then you are consuming about 2.1 kilowatt hours per mile [ (32 kilowatt-hours / gallon) / (15 miles / gallon) ].  If you are driving down the highway at 60 miles per hour, then you will consume 27 kilowatt-hours in a mere 13 minutes!

If you are driving down the road at 60 mph in the President’s limo, which gets only 8 mpg, then you will burn up your 27 kilowatt hours in only 7 minutes.  Of course, the President travels with an entourage of about 45 vehicles along with his limo.  It is a pretty good bet that most of these vehicles are heavy-duty, low mileage vehicles.  I think a good approximation would be an average of 20 miles per gallon.  At 60 miles per hour this entourage would burn about 135 gallons an hour, or about 4320 kilo-watt hours per hour.  At that rate they would burn the allotted 27 kilowatt-hours every 22.5 seconds

Consider the Boeing 747-200B (or its militarized version: the VC25, such as Air Force One).  It has a range of 6,100 miles on 48,445 gallons of fuel and a typical cruising speed of 555 mph.  That works out to about 8 gallons per mile (that is “gallons per mile” not “miles per gallon!”) and about 9 miles per minute, resulting in a fuel consumption rate of about 72 gallons per minute!  The energy content of the jet fuel is about the same as gasoline, about 32 kilowatt-hours per gallon.  So, in one minute of cruising the 747 consumes about 2300 kilowatt-hours of energy.


At that rate, the 747 will consume a days worth of the energy produced by the White House solar PV system in about 0.7 seconds (after traveling only about 500 feet), and a years worth of energy in about 4 minutes and 15 seconds.  A round trip from, say, Washington DC to Hawaii and back is about 9540 miles.  At 550 mile per hour that would be about 17.3 hours of flight.  How long would the White House Solar PV array have to operate to produce enough energy for that round trip time?  Answer: 243 years.

243 years

My position

I have been working on solar PV research for about 17 years and believe any energy source is worthy of research.  But religious devotion to one source or another does not advance the human race.  Consequently, I am a supporter of both nuclear energy and solar energy (if and when it is affordable and competitive on its own merits – not massive subsidies).


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