Technology and solutions


To avoid other threads from being overriden by discussions on technology issues, here’s a semi-open thread for those topics.

A few references:

Mark Jacobson’s review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security, comparing electric, hydrogen (both from a variety of primary energy sources) and biofuel powered transport.

SkepticalScience moving into solutions. John Cook captures my own sentiment very well: “My views on various solution strategies are not as well formed as my views on the attribution of climate change.” Lots of learning to do. Their first post leans heavily on the idea of stabilization wedges by Pacala and Socolow.

There are tons of documents outlining strategies to achieve a low carbon economy. E.g. Roadmap 2050 from the European Climate Foundation, I discussed the Shell energy scenario’s previously, IPCC wgIII, . I’ll update this list when I have more time on my hands.

Joe Romm has a lot of useful things to say about sustainable technologies (as even noted Joe Romm critic Tom Fuller admits). To avoid getting stuck in the details or in overly adversarial posts, perhaps best to go to an overview post such as this or that first.

Previous posts of mine somewhat related to technology and/or solutions. Some other threads also evolved into interesting technology discussions, but I can’t locate them at the moment (which shows the use of keeping discussions on topic).

Topics on my to-write-about list regarding technologies are geoengineering (based on e.g. chapter 6 from my hand in this report, which starts with an overview of mitigation options before exploring some in more detail), the indirect land use effect of biomass (e.g. chapter 3.3. of the same report) and perhaps transport.

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35 Responses to “Technology and solutions”

  1. Dana Says:

    The reason I used the Pacala and Socolow paper in the Skeptical Science post was that they discussed so many different ‘wedges’. The stabilization wedge concept is just a way to think of a set amount of GHG emissions reductions. It’s a useful concept, but much more important is listing the various ways we can achieve those ‘wedges’. That’s something Romm is good at, as I also mentioned in the article, and as you noted.

  2. MapleLeaf Says:


    Have you see this?

    IMHO, the The International Energy Agency is really onto something here. Why continue to subsidence dirty and GHG intensive fuels when those funds could be used to develop and implement sustainable and clean energy sources? It makes no sense to use tax payers’ money to subsidize harmful FFs and to subsidize an industry that claims to believe in the “free market”.

    Canada is guilty of generously subsidizing FFs, including the tar sands, so we are not blameless.

    Doing so (ending subsidies) could be yet another wedge (Pacala and Socolow’s ideas , IMHO, remain the best and most pragmatic).

    Energy industry analysts who I have talked to very much like Pacala and Socolow’s “wedge concept”– they think it is pragmatic and that it will be effective in reducing GHG emissions. BUT, to implement it properly government’s need to set binding targets….

    If the “wedge concept” can be embraced and implemented I see a possible Nobel in Pacala and Socolow’s futures….or did Socolow already received the award for contributing to AR4?

  3. Roddy Campbell Says:

    MapleLeaf – have you read the IEA report you refer to? I’m half way through, will digest tomorrow, I was going to reply to Marco who linked to it yesterday. One suggestion – look at the 3 countries that contribute 40% of the subsidies, and ponder the IEA methodology of calculation.

    Anyway, more on that tomorrow when I’ve read it through.

  4. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Bart, a useful reference for you and readers. The Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK, David MacKay, wrote a book a while ago which I read a year or two again called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. You can read the book online at his website

    It is excellent, dispassionate, he (as you would expect from an advisor to Chris Huhne at the DECC) is a warmist, so zero sceptical bias, and (as you would expect from an advisor to the DECC) is also something of an expert.

    He is at the moment in written argument with Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist) on Ridley’s website on warming in general.

    You would approve of him, and where he comes from in the debate. It’s also the best book on alternative energy I’ve read.

    The other UK expert I respect is Dieter Helm, of New College Oxford, who advises various European governments on energy policy especially as it relates to mitigation commitments. No books (or maybe there are) but plenty of policy papers online.

    Insofar as this thread is about solutions, energy solutions, and presumably solutions to mitigation, I would suggest that the EU has signed up to reduced emissions and has, as a result, a plethora of expert opinion on how to move the needle on CO2 over the next decades. I’m familiar with some of the UK work, others must be able to access advice given to other European governments and the EU.

    It’s more interesting when it’s practical. I find algae kind of wishful.

  5. MapleLeaf Says:

    No, I have not read the report Roddy, just the summary. Some of us are rather busy you know ;)

    I’m sure you’ll tell us everything that is wrong with it in due course.

  6. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Which summary did you read? Just Roger Harrabin’s? Gosh.

    I must say I wouldn’t offer an opinion by repeating a BBC news article, but there we go. Roger’s not very likely to tell you what’s wrong or right with it, is he?

    There’s a lot right with it, and yes I think it gets some things wrong in that its conclusions are not really supportable in reality. An example – from what I can gather from the methodology disputes the article describes, in Saudi, Iran, and Russia oil is available in the domestic market at a price that is above the cost of extraction and production. the state could sell these products overseas for more, but chooses for political reasons to sell them domestically for not so much. the IEA counts this, under its methodolgy, as a ‘subsidy’. You or I might count it as a country’s population enjoying the fruits of their natural resources.

    So, and correct me if I’m wrong from your reading, 40% of the gross subsidies they calculate are Iran (20%) and Russia and Saudi (20%) keeping some of the oil they produce for their populations.

    The methodology is stated, so that’s fine, but it is not a subsidy as you would understand it.

    That’s just one observation from the first few pages. Their assessment of the lesser amount of oil consumed and CO2 emitted, were these ‘subsidies’ to be removed, are wrong imho in consequence of the ‘subsidy’ methodology – if the government sold the oil domestically at ‘market’ price it would generate a large surplus which it would rebate to consumers in tax cuts or credits to achieve the same end.

    Have a read, it’s interesting stuff.

  7. MapleLeaf Says:

    Roddy, yes…I’m busy, remember? But I did look at the summary PDF presentation. In which they state on slide 23 (last bullet):

    “Getting the prices right, by phasing-out fossil-fuel subsidies, is the single most effective measure to cut energy demand”

    Also had a look at their fact sheet:

    I’m curious what they have to say about the Canadian government subsidizing the tar/oil sands and other FF ventures (and not in the way the IEA allegedly does its accounting/classifying).

    Anyhow, I’ll see if I can find some time to have a closer look, unlikely though.

    PS: And I do not blindly agree with everything that appears in the media, including the BBC. And maybe Roger does not suffer from D-K effect or enjoy pontificating (too much).

  8. Marco Says:

    Roddy, do remember there also is a historical component. Germany alone has spent over 150 billion of subsidies in a less than 50-year period on coal alone. Its *own* coal alone.

  9. Bart Says:


    I’ve heard good things indeed about MacKay’s book (sust energy – without the hot air) from people with relevant expertise, but have only glanced at it. For Dutch readers, I recommend Jo Hermans’ Energie boek, also very neutral and factual.

    Thanks for adding interesting references here, guys. Keep them coming!

  10. Heraclitus Says:

    Another ‘Roadmap to 2050 for Europe’ report (it may be connected to or possibly the same as the one you have given in the original post, but I didn’t seem to end up in the same place when I followed the links, so hopefully not) is that produced by PriceWaterhouseCoopers:
    This shows how Europe could be powered entirely by renewables by 2050.

    Roddy, interesting to see David MacKay involved in debate, but how depressing following the discussion to Matt Ridley’s site to find another WattsUpWithThat-like echo chamber.

  11. Heiko Gerhauser Says:

    FF subsidies are an interesting policy area, where the traditional left/right distinction gets a bit blurred. In Iran it’s not some profit seeking oil company that sells the oil, it’s the government, and the ones benefiting from the subsidy aren’t shareholders or energy company workers, but the population at large. Staples like food, or fuel oil / LPG for heating or cooking, that the poor need, get subsidised, because that’s a good way to help the poor, especially so in corrupt countries with poor government infrastructure that would have difficulties handling direct payments fairly. When those subsidies are cut, there can be riots on the street.

    Coal subsidies in the UK and Germany are also there for social reasons, and typically got support from Labour/SPD (German social democrats), because they cared about these communities. Just think of the Miners’ strike in the UK in the 80′s and what the positions of the Tories and Labour were there; it sure wasn’t so that Labour wanted those bad, bad fossil subsidies cut, and was prevented from doing so by those evil right wing Tories who wanted to maintain an environment destroying industry …

  12. Roddy Campbell Says:


    I agree – very good to see a debate between Ridley and MacKay, but I would MUCH rather it was on energy policy than yet another rerun of whether late C20th unprecedented blah blah eocene blah and so on. I rate Ridley – The Rational Optimist is a good book (which is not the same as saying it is right in every detail, it’s just thoroughly interesting) – and I think if he is engaging with the adviser to the Energy and Climate Change Minister there are many more interesting things with respect to energy policy, EU targets, UK Climate Act, nuclear programme and subsidies, power generation mix, optimal feed-in tariffs for renewables, an endless list of real stuff to talk intelligently about. These questions are independent of WG1 in political reality.


    I quite agree. The conclusions drawn by the IEA, although quite rightly they note all the issues with their methodology and so on, are affected by the points you make. The bare headlines of global fossil fuel subsidies of $557 billion are offset by taxes on FFs of over $400bn, plus all VAT, the great bulk of subsidies are producing countries sharing the benefits with their poor (eye-balling the chart 100% of them, since there are no developed countries in the list, and the great majority are ff producers!!!!).

    I also wonder whether a $5 rise in the oil price is more significant in demand effects than all these so-called subsidies?

    Off topic – Climate Audit has linked to a Swedish documentary on climategate and beyond which is interesting and very balanced – plenty of Mann, Schmidt, Schneider and Oreskes, all old ground but good balance I thought.

  13. JMurphy Says:

    There are also lots of links (and heated discussion with regard to nuclear !) within this Skeptical Science thread’s comments :

    What should we do about climate change

  14. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Does anyone have slightly more authoritative nuclear figures than those within the SS thread? Perhaps a government report or somesuch?

  15. Bart Says:

  16. Roddy Campbell Says:


    CO2 comparison: Nuclear 8 to 32 grams per kwh, wind 6 to 23, solar 30 to 100, coal 800 – 1100 g per kwh, gas is half of coal.

    Costs, round numbers:
    E4.5bn for 1600MW
    fuel costs + waste disposal + plant decommissioning = between 1 and 2 eurocents (ec) per kwh.
    total cost per kwh between 3 and 8 ec, the range being explained by duration (25 – 40 years), interest rates, and return on capital.

    2006 wholesale market prices were 6.6 ec in Holland, 5.5 ec in Germany, which were highish prices

    cost of coal-generated electricity was 2ec to 5.6ec and gas was 3.4ec to 6.6ec.

    the report gives a figure for onshore wind of 4.1 to 8.4ec, which is very very low, so may cast some doubt on its numbers, but that may just be because it was written in Sep 2007, and actual wind experience since then is not as good as that, but I would need to check actual figures.

    The same might apply to its nuclear numbers, since no new nuclear has been built in the West for a while.

    The report seems clear that because of the increasingly interconnected European grid there is no issue with increasing the baseload capacity. Coal is the main baseload fuel, so nuclear would effectively displace coal, the highest CO2 emitter.

  17. Bart Says:


    The cost estimates for the different technologies in that report all come from the same primary sources. Compare also with e.g. Mark Jacobson’s article that I linked above. He finds higher CO2 emissions for nuclear than for solar PV if you account for opportunity costs (it takes a lot longer to get nuclear up and running than PV). Solar thermal is also more efficient than solar PV, and wind is the most efficient (in terms of CO2-e emissions per kWh).

  18. Jeff Id Says:

    “Hr nuclear than for solar PV if you account for opportunity costs (it takes a lot longer to get nuclear up and running than PV).”

    No it doesn’t and who cares about CO2 emissions from nuclear or PV? Isn’t there a point where you can consider it small? Why the heck would you calculate in terms of CO2/KWh on systems that don’t produce GT of CO2?

    It will take you at least 30 years to make useful solar energy and the costs are ridiculous!! Again Bart, it isn’t even a close call.

    This is an insane discussion!!

  19. Bart Says:

    “This is an insane discussion!!”

    Thanks for elevating it to a higher standard, Jeff.

    But indeed, you’re right that in light of the big difference with coal and other fossil fuel emissions, the difference between small and slightly smaller emissions hardly matters.

    It seems like the world upside down: You’re catching me looking at the trees and forgetting about the forest! Thanks, mate.

  20. Jeff Id Says:

    Well come on Bart, you’re discussing CO2 emissions of photovoltaic cells. It is just too much for me to work with. Do you really think it matters if you’re not making gigatons?

  21. Dana Says:

    “It will take you at least 30 years to make useful solar energy”

    What does that even mean, “useful”?

    A 1 GW concentrated solar thermal plant was just approved in southern California, so there goes your “systems that don’t produce GT of CO2″ comment.

    And globally, 17 GW of solar PV were installed between 2004 and 2009.

    I do agree that the difference in CO2 emissions between nuclear and solar PV is small enough that it doesn’t really matter.

  22. Dana Says:

    Whoops, the “useful” comment threw me off and I confused GT CO2 with GW of energy production. My bad.

  23. Alex Heyworth Says:

    Marco Says:
    November 10, 2010 at 08:14
    Roddy, do remember there also is a historical component. Germany alone has spent over 150 billion of subsidies in a less than 50-year period on coal alone. Its *own* coal alone.

    At least they got a decent amount of energy for their money in this case. They have also spent 43 billion euros on solar PV to generate 0.1% of their electricity.

  24. Alex Heyworth Says:

    I second Roddy Campbell’s endorsement of David Mackay’s Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air. The really good thing about it is that it contains detailed calculations of what would be required to meet the UK’s energy needs using various technologies and assuming a range of mixes of technologies. The numbers are daunting.

    One of the sensible points he makes is that solar does not really make much sense in the UK, except perhaps for solar hot water systems. If solar is to be used to provide large amounts of energy for Europe, it would only make sense if the power generation was done further south (Morocco or Algeria) with high voltage power lines into the European grid. Solar only makes sense in sunny places. Obvious, when you think about it.

  25. Jeff Id Says:


    Sorry for the last reply. It has been a day of mea culpa for me.

  26. Alex Heyworth Says:

    Another worthwhile source to have a look at:

    This is on Barry Brooks’ website, an analysis of the cost and CO2 emission projections for various electricity generation options for Australia to 2050.

  27. Bart Says:


    Did you err with your decimal point about the share of solar PV in Germany? Isn’t it closer to 1%?
    Still not much of course, but a factor of 10 higher than your estimate (what source did you use?)

  28. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Alex – thank you for the Bravenewclimate link, it’s good to see dispassionate analyses derived from sources such as BNC whose ‘green’ or ‘warmist’ credentials are not in doubt, so we can all agree to discuss them as ‘fair’ approaches.

    Barry Brook’s intro is excellent:

    “We must cut our carbon emissions immediately!“… “We have to transition rapidly to 100% renewable energy!“… “A massive nuclear build out is the only logical course of action!“… and so on. We get these well-meant but hand-waving arguments all the time, almost always bereft of real-world numbers — especially those with $$ attached. This greatly limits their utility and credibility. Without a practical, pragmatic plan, we aren’t going to get anywhere and the people in control of the purse strings will not pay them serious attention.

    And the methodology – replace coal at a fixed rate by substituting with 5 different mixes of replacement generation – is blisteringly simple to follow.

    I note Barry Brook also references David MacKay.

  29. Alex Heyworth Says:

    Bart, you are right, of course. I can’t remember what the source was, but obviously either I misread it or the source misread someone else. Thanks for picking it up.

  30. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Re technology solutions – here’s a power generating company’s CEO speaking to Scottish MP’s:

    Mr Soames attacked politicians for being too focused on long-term targets several decades away, and for having no “Plan B” when it comes to addressing the threat of more immediate energy shortages.

    “We may wish the replacement to be wind; we may wish it to be tidal; but wishing isn’t going to make it happen,” he said. “We need a Plan B.”

    But Mr Soames did not reserve his criticism for Scotland.

    “At the moment we as a nation are turning up to meetings with the bank manager in jeans and a T-shirt that says: ‘Jesus loves you’,” he said.


  31. Roddy Campbell Says:

    Nev, I like you, but you do three things;

    Sometimes you make grand statements like ‘It is abundantly clear that the current global system cannot continue indefinitely. It isn’t sustainable.’

    Sometimes you link to frankly unreliable sources like or

    Sometimes you launch into ad homs.

    But you don’t engage with specific points, produce facts, or stick to the point. You may dislike my views, or my ‘arrogance’, but I try to tackle the points you raise and answer them, as I did with all your recent links on Chernobyl. I don’t duck, well I try not to.

  32. Neven Says:

    But you don’t engage with specific points, produce facts, or stick to the point.

    And you do? By asserting that Chernobyl turned out to be nothing? And your source is the IAEA? And you keep brushing the things I come with off the table because they aren’t uttered by the nuclear energy industry? So I spend over an hour reading and looking for things, and you discard it in less than a minute?

    No, thank you, you win. You are the winner. You are right.

  33. Roddy Campbell Says:

    ‘And you keep brushing the things I come with off the table because they aren’t uttered by the nuclear energy industry? ‘

    Nev, the thing I ‘uttered’ didn’t come from the nuclear industry – what is that obfuscation? It came from:

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),
    World Health Organization (WHO),
    United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
    Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),
    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),
    United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA),
    United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR),
    The World Bank.
    and the local three governments.

    Chernobyl wasn’t ‘nothing’, it was just an awful lot less than people feared, and an awful lot less than people are still claiming, so far as I can see without evidence. If WHO say deaths in the low thousands, and your most extreme link says a million, that’s an awful lot less. Did you read through that odd paper done for IndependentWHO? It was, frankly, unconvincing.

    My experience with WHO is they can be alarmist rather than the antonym, whatever that is.

    I went through every link you supplied, and commented – that’s not brushing anything off the table, and I’m sure it took me an hour. :) It was interesting, if not terribly convincing.

  34. Neven Says:

    I couldn’t help myself and read some more (although you inevitably win, Roddy). Two questions:

    Would you describe the IAEA/WHO report as something that would conform to IPCC AR4 WG1 standards, or to WG2/3 standards?

    Are you able to read French?

  35. Roddy Campbell Says:

    The key report to look at is, which is the overall one, combining the individual work of the eight groups listed above + the World Bank, and at 60 or so pages a readable length, a good balance between explanations, clarifications, and hard data.

    I am not an expert in any of the specific areas covered, but have spent my working life reading stuff and making judgements on its reliability and truth, at which job a healthy scepticism is useful, because most things claimed by most people most of the time are ‘wrong’ to some degree or other, and very often biased, both consciously and unconsciously.

    For example someone seeking to raise money to develop a drug will present, consciously and unconsciously, the best case they can, in terms of its chance of success, its timetable, its market, its likely profitability, and its competition. A wind-farm proposal might seek to exaggerate its likely yield as a percentage of notional capacity, underestimate its down-time, and exaggerate its yield ‘dispersion’.

    I would say it’s a good document, as well as being very readable. I won’t excerpt from it, take a look yourself, and see if you come away with your smell-test and bullshit detector zinging. I don’t. They seem to have asked the right questions, tackled them, and not ducked. For example they 100% attribute thyroid cancer to Chernobyl, as well as stating that iodine mitigation was critical in keeping the number down. They tackle reports claiming much higher incidences of cancers and find that they have methodological limitations and lack statistical power.

    One way to look at it is to assume they have underestimated by a factor of 2, or even 3, and use those numbers in judging whether Chernobyl was as bad as feared, or as painted, in terms of deaths over the 25 years, bearing in mind that this was the worst nuclear accident ever.

    Another way is to read the TORCH report and the others you linked to, having inspected the provenance and potential biases of the authors and commissioning groups, and see if they land a glove on the WHO report. From my scanning of them I doubt it – they do not seem to be high quality documents – but I have only scanned them.

    There is a problem in comparing this suite of UN reports with WG2, which is that everything that has happened in respect of Chernobyl is, in theory, knowable, and what has happened in the last 25 years will more or less inform precisely what will happen going forward – there should be no remaining unknowns. So it’s all in the very recent past, the knowledge we seek, and the test is only how diligent we are at measuring it.

    In WG2, future impacts, it’s all in the future, and mainly distant future.

    My French is dinner party quality only despite having lived there. I am English you know, we don’t do foreign languages very well!

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