Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 19, 2019

Open Thread 2019-75

News & views ...

Posted by b on December 19, 2019 at 17:15 UTC | Permalink

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@Really?? #195
Regarding veganism: the flaws with the vegan's assumptions are that
1) All food is grown equally, on the same land, with the same methods.
Beans, corn, wheat, soybeans, nuts, peas etc require farm land. This is land with a certain amount of water, a reasonably high level of soil fertility, transport, weather etc. If you look at the amount of farmland in the US over time, you'll see that it is actually declining - because prime farm land produces more and is economically more sustainable than more marginal farmland.
However, growing peas vs. quinoa vs. nuts vs. broccoli is very different than growing wheat, soybeans or corn. There are transportation logistics issues, there is weather/growing season/soil fertility and type issues. There is labor cost. Likely a lot more other issues which actual farmers of these products would know.

2) Processing doesn't matter even though many common vegan food products have a significant industrial footprint.
What is the ecological footprint to process? Tofu, for example, requires calcium or magnesium salts (epsom salt is an example) in order to coagulate the whey, as well as grinding of the soybeans to produce soy milk. Beyond Meat - who has taken the mantle of biggest tech propagandist today from Uber - does the same with peas.

3) Specific types of plants are required in order to live healthily as a vegan. The footprints of the most productive/carbon efficient plants are used but the actual plants needed are not analyzed.
A lot of the propaganda out there is based on a lie: the weight of the food product as opposed to the dietary requirement provided by the food product.
You can get carbs and fats from plants pretty easily; the protein is far less straightforward.
Humans need protein to live - and specifically an assortment of protein. You can get this from a full vegan diet, but it requires a wide assortment of plant foods to do so.
Secondly, the "carbon footprint" graphics are always skewed to make meat look bad. Here's the same data, presented a different way: Carbon emissions per gram of protein
The actual nutritional requirements of being vegan: 11 food groups for Vegan diet health
Notice that these food groups are widely scattered: nuts, legumes, seaweed, processed tofu (soybeans), other types of processed plants (almond/oat/soy milk etc), seasonal foods like broccoli/fruit, exotics like quinoa.
What is the ecological footprint to assemble all these food sources in one spot?
What is the ecological footprint to grow each of these, mostly highly perishable foods?

4) Cows are always used vs the many types of actual livestock - goats, sheep, chickens and pigs.

Sheep, goats, cows but generally not pigs and chickens - do not inherently require prime farm land. Yes, modern practices shovel corn into these animals weeks before slaughter to fatten them up, but the majority of energy intake is not from these sources (again, excluding pigs and chickens).
Beef consumes the most farmed grain per kg of output than anything else - it is 3x that of chicken and 2x that of pork, for example, so it is an easy target.
Yet there's no mention of other animal-based proteins: eggs, milk, fish etc.
There is also no mention that the traditional farm grows both animals and plants: the plants for carbohydrates, the animals to convert inedible plant products into edible human food. Slops for pigs is one example; clover hay for cows is another (clover used in crop rotation). Chickens not grown industrially traditionally are fed some grain but also eat a lot of insects (free range).

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 15:54 utc | 201

@Bemildred #200
If risk is unknown, but there are other, known, large risks - why again should the precautionary principle be prime consideration?
I've mentioned before that the biggest problem in the US is health care. Is climate change a bigger problem than the $1.25 trillion of wasted spend every year in the US alone (i.e. health care industry profits)?
What about the US military budget and the many foreign wars - is the $1 trillion spent just for Afghanistan over 18 years = $56 billion per year not worthy of consideration?
What about opiates? 70,000 Americans died from opiate overdoses in 2017 alone.
I'm sorry, but I don't see why climate change matters jack diddly vs. these very real problems that kill Americans and waste our dollars today.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 15:59 utc | 202

@Really?? #195
I didn't answer your questions on industrial farming.
I absolutely agree industrial farming has created serious problems - but again, the problems arise due to lack of regulation. Industrial pig farms produce food for literally tens to hundreds of thousands of people. It shouldn't be surprising that the concentration of pigs into a small area which transport of feedstock enables, would create huge mounds and ponds of waste.
However, the biggest problem overall isn't the pig shit ponds - it is runoff from industrial vegetable and grain farms running into rivers and out into the ocean. Carbon footprint does not equate to output waste - yet another example of the climate panic-mongering sucking all sense out of everything.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 16:05 utc | 203

@ c1ue | Dec 22 2019 16:05 utc | 203

Don't forget that industrial farming, for efficacy of production, requires the ecological simplification of monoculture, a sure invitation for ecologic trouble requiring herbicides, insecticides and herbicides to try effecting some control.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 16:40 utc | 204

@ 204

First of of those herbicides should be fungicides. Not nearly enough coffee consumed.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 16:45 utc | 205

@Formerly T-Bear #204,205
Monoculture is an issue, but it isn't clear that it is soluble if the goal is still to produce enough food to feed everyone, cheaply.
The monocultures being decried, as well as the rest of the regime, are responsible for the real hockey stick graphs: yield per acre.
Here is the historical corn yield per acre
Here is the historical wheat yield per acre
Increased CO2 levels have also been a factor:

About 430 observations of the yields of 37 plant species grown with CO2 enrichment were extracted from the literature and analyzed. CO2 enrichment increased agricultural weight yields by an 36%. Additional analysis of 81 experiments which had controlled CO2 concentrations showed that yields will probably increase by 33% with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration. Another 46 observations of the effects of CO2 enrichment on transpiration were extracted and averaged. These data showed that a doubling of CO2 concentration could reduce transpiration by 34%, which combined with the yield increase, indicates that water use efficiency may double.

source
there is an annual oscillation in the concentration of atmospherice carbon dioxide. In the spring, leaves emerge on the trees, and their photosynthetic factories draw it out of the air and turn it into more plant material during the ensuing summer. In the fall, the leaves fall off the trees, to ultimately decompose over the winter and spring.

This magnitude of this annual cycling of carbon dioxide, shown below, has been increasing as the concentration has risen. There are two possible reasons: either there's more plant material being formed each year (explaining the low points) or plants are respiring more. This last is related to growing season temperatures which haven't changed enough to result in much of an increase. Conclusion? Planetary greening.


source
Note that the same technologies underlying the cereal crop growth have impacted most other crops to some extent as well.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 17:55 utc | 206

@Formerly T-Bear #204,205
I should add that the problem is likely the indiscriminate use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.
I don't know that government is responsive enough to be able to regulate it, but the regulatory regime today is extremely thin, as far as I understand it.
China is a good (negative) example of how indiscriminate and short term use of chemicals can negatively affect farmland and the environment.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 17:57 utc | 207

@ 175 Jen
The breadth of your knowledge never ceases to amaze me.
Thank you for information about USS Liberty and the screenplay, Enemies Within.
And thanks to everyone else here who have helped me learn so much!

Posted by: lex talionis | Dec 22 2019 19:01 utc | 208

@ c1ue | Dec 22 2019 17:55 utc | 206 and 207

I recall the grandfather having four or five plaques for IIRC corn production, this in the 1950's, some 30 or 35 bushels/acre for some hybrid (don't remember actual numbers but thereabout). Your information about increased CO2 and yields isn't surprising but something I had not encountered before, thank you for the links, nice to have for future reference. My opinion is the monoculture makes for a fragile ecology by removing diversity, a price that someday will be extracted, until then another 1% will continue feeding the other 99%, just as the medical 1% attend a differing 99% in diagnosing and prescribing treatments. Not enough is known (or understood) about soils and their biota to take the risks that are being taken. This year some information became available about the loss of soil biota from using glyphosate herbicides which should be a warning flag to be taken seriously. But it won't, too much income is dependent on its continued use. Agriculture's problem: procurement of goods from monopolies; dependence for selling production to monopsonies; living between rocks and hard places economically, not a level pitch in sight now that government has been neutralised to meet libertarian desires. YMMV

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 19:06 utc | 209

@Formerly T-Bear #209
Totally agree - the ongoing demise of the banana industry is a prime example. African swine flu in China is another.
Equally agree - much of the abuse we see in farming production can be traced to the economic pressures placed on farmers by the monopolies and monopsonies around them, exacerbated by government trade and subsidy policies in the US and Europe.
It is arguable that what exists today is simply a modern form of feudalism - the earliest example of Super Imperialism as Dr. Michael Hudson writes about.
The sad reality has always been that it is easier to watch other people farm for you than do it yourself. The best rulers have found ways to increase overall wealth and productivity; the worst do the opposite.
Pretty clear which regime we're under today...

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 20:22 utc | 210

Bemildred and c1ue:

To me c1ue's position sounds kind of like stopping while Rome burns to have an argument in the street as to how the fire started.

We do observe phenomena occurring that are resulting in species die-offs. Just one example, ocean acidification and death of coral reefs. So, we can blithely continue to pour chemicals into the atmosphere and the oceans that speed acidification---after all, no one can prove that acidification didn't occur in the past "naturally."

Or we can halt the use of chemicals that encourage ocean acidification. Bummer! Prove it!

Another: we have lost to development and filling in huge acreages of salt marshes, which, we know, are crucial to nurturing many organisms in the ocean's bio-web. Historically, human development has been the main driver of the disappearance of salt marshes. We sure can prove that. But since we cannot prove that saltmarshes receded on their own some eons in the past, let us, again, shout: "Prove it to me!!"

To me ignoring these phenomena is like a moral position that equates an earthquake causing a boulder to fall on someone and kill her, and actually pushing a boulder down on someone and killing her.

Posted by: Really?? | Dec 22 2019 20:22 utc | 211

@ Posted by: Really?? | Dec 22 2019 20:22 utc | 211 who is writing about what I call social risk management

Thanks for that and I agree with your thoughts.

My example is nuclear power. I posit that because PROFIT and global private finance control, humanity has chartered a course that has hundreds of future generations forced to be responsible for managing the toxic effluent from all things nuclear. To me that is a poor risk management decision that the elite made for all of humanity just like they are making other decisions that keep them in power via global private finance of the West for the past couple of centuries.

If we didn't have a social contract based on greed and elite control we would be expected to make better social risk management decisions, IMO, across the board.

Posted by: psychohistorian | Dec 22 2019 20:48 utc | 212

@Really?? #211
Ocean acidification would be a lot more credible if CO2 levels were not immensely higher at the time the marine molluscs evolved.
Yes, corals lived through eras with far higher CO2 levels. Some species *may* be affected, but I've dived in parts of the Pacific Ocean where CO2 bubbles directly from volcanic vents to the surface...right through thriving coral reefs.
The people talking acidification are scaremongering and have been quoted as saying they deliberately wanted to do so.
So if you want to try and confuse things - please at least try to use something which is factual.

The only item you mentioned which really is a problem is human land use - but solar and wind isn't going to fix that, is it?
Nothing is going to fix human land use except less humans.

Are you going to volunteer to do your part by removing yourself and your loved ones from the debit side of the ledger?

Otherwise, I find a lot of these "save the Earth" crusades to be "after you, I insist" or "Do as I say, not as I do".

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 22 2019 20:50 utc | 213

@ c1ue | Dec 22 2019 20:22 utc | 210

Your reply needs be met with a well reasoned response. Although getting late here, trust a brief statement might suffice.

… exacerbated by government trade and subsidy policies in the US and Europe.
It will be found all governments will support the lowest possible food costs for their populations, their survival depends on this. What external trade will produce is another story, either adding to or subtracting from trade balances. The last quarter of 19th century, first quarter 20th brought great wealth to the U.S. agricultural producers. Global competition, dislocations from war, trade imbalances and national income disparity have all acted to reduce that agricultural income. IIRC, the 1960's saw U.S. consumer food cost about 10% of their income and a supermarket of the day would realise about 1% return on investment. I've been gone from that market for a quarter century now and have no idea what those figures might be, but would be little surprised at gigantic changes.

It is arguable that what exists today is simply a modern form of feudalism - the earliest example of Super Imperialism as Dr. Michael Hudson writes about.
When your economic production is bracketed by monopoly and monopsony, your income from your investment and labour is more akin to wage slavery rather than feudalism (which is a relationship that entails responsibility between parties - wage slavery doesn't, the wage received terminates the relationship).

The best rulers have found ways to increase overall wealth and productivity; the worst do the opposite.
Pretty clear which regime we're under today...

Machiavelli Discourses on Livy after The Prince are vital reading for understanding the human nature of political power. The Discourses … lays out the nature of exercising political power, The Prince is his advise to the prince that replaced Machiavelli's preferred republic form of political governance. Note his advise to princes about the policy they chose to employ. Interesting reading and highly applicable today, it hasn't lost its flavour on the bedpost overnight.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 21:22 utc | 214

Really ?? @211: Well you can just go on and on, and they do, as one can easily see.

I think we vastly over-estimate our own brilliance, in a "Sorcerer's Apprentice" kind of way. What I have read of our history, anthropology, archaeology, current events, doesn't suggest to me that we collectively have anything like the necessary self-control to direct our own affairs. Surely not in the USA today, if ever. So I think it was and is kind of inevitable in a overall kind of way. We were always going to make waaay too big of a mess and be waaay too incompetent to deal with the results.

I mean not even harm minimization, we can't even have that, got to make as much plastic etc, as much ephemeral crap, as possible while we can. Got to find ALL the oil and drill it. It's political no less.

I mean when you look at the clowns who are running the USA today, you have to wonder how we made it this far?

All that talk.

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. -- F. Bastiat "The Law" 1850

"Such euphemisms illustrate one major function of language, which is to keep reality at bay." – John Carey "Eyewitness to History" Introduction


Posted by: Bemildred | Dec 22 2019 21:58 utc | 215

@ Bemildred | Dec 22 2019 21:58 utc | 215

You don't suppose by extending the years spent in education might appear as delayed maturity as well? How many do you know who will finish their lives and never see adulthood? So many are adults by calendar only. No?

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 22:08 utc | 216

And here is Caity on the same subject:

Why Everything Is Fucked

Posted by: Bemildred | Dec 22 2019 22:10 utc | 217

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 22 2019 22:08 utc | 216

Something like that yeah, you can argue about nomenclature. I think we live in our cushy self-created environments and mistake them for how things are.

Framing it as adulthood works well enough, being all grown up, 'wise', having Grecian 'virtue' as a sort of omni-competence. Or Talib's anti-fragility == survivability addresses the same sort of anti-specialization idea. Unspecialized adaptive excellence vs hyper-specialized hyper-organized expertise.

The point is you can't expect to control your life if you can't control yourself, and most of us are crappy at that, and not too honest with ourselves about it either.

And the "civilization" we live in encourages that sort of infantilism, it helps keep us in the "buying mood".

Posted by: Bemildred | Dec 22 2019 22:26 utc | 218

@Formerly T-Bear #214
You said

It will be found all governments will support the lowest possible food costs for their populations, their survival depends on this.

This is the theory. In reality, this is not true. Japan, for example, explicitly drives up the price for rice - a staple grain - through import blocking and price level setting for Japanese rice farmers.
Internationally, it is also not true. The IMF and World Bank have a very long history of preventing potential client nations from developing self-sufficiency in the food products which might compete with US farmers.

You said

When your economic production is bracketed by monopoly and monopsony, your income from your investment and labour is more akin to wage slavery rather than feudalism (which is a relationship that entails responsibility between parties - wage slavery doesn't, the wage received terminates the relationship).

I would note that the client/patron relationship you refer to existed only between feudal lords. The peasants were farmed for tithes and had no rights otherwise. From my view, the only difference is that feudal lords had some responsibility to kick back food when times were bad; modern feudalism doesn't even have to bother with that.

You said

Machiavelli Discourses on Livy after The Prince are vital reading for understanding the human nature of political power. The Discourses … lays out the nature of exercising political power, The Prince is his advise to the prince that replaced Machiavelli's preferred republic form of political governance. Note his advise to princes about the policy they chose to employ. Interesting reading and highly applicable today, it hasn't lost its flavour on the bedpost overnight.

Interestingly, I put up a link to a recent Nassim Taleb article on antifragility - which also mentioned earlier versions of the antifragility principles as espoused by Machiavelli.
My view is that Machiavelli's views applied to small city-states. They don't work well in large federal government situations with large bureaucracies. In any case, the ultimate issue is what does any given government, as practiced by both its leaders and its rank and file, believe their charter to be.
The larger the government and/or bureaucracy, the less likely any noble purpose is to hold up over time as opposed to personal gain or some other selfish purpose.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 23 2019 0:35 utc | 219

@ c1ue | Dec 23 2019 0:35 utc | 219

Thanks for the reply to #214. My remarks concerning are:

You said #1:
Japanese policy is to protect their agricultural sector at all cost from not only foreign supply but what is perceived lower quality product, this to maintain autarky within national borders and controls. The cost results in high rice costs for the population, economic independence is preserved. My assertion still stands. Those foodstuffs not produced indigenously will still be had at lowest possible price to their consumer.

You said #2:
Feudalism refers to a specific historical era marked by strongmen, warlords directing their subjects and exacting production from those subjects occupying, within their territorial control. That production was subsistence for all. Peasants are a class of labour that works with land, not at all the same thing, feudal lords are not required.
Words have meanings, it is necessary to use those meanings correctly. Modern feudalism is not related to historical feudalism other than sounds alike.

You said #3:
No. Machiavelli wrote about political principles discoursed upon by Livy concerning the republican form of organisation, later applied to autocratic principals in The Prince. The confused befuddlement of modern discourse is akin to heavy fog obscuring both knowledge and understanding and is designed to replicate disruption of effective communications similar to the effects told in the myths of constructing Babble's tower. You may find the idea of principles antiquated but when they are used concerning human behaviours, principles operate regardless of political constructs or their extent. Should you not be familiar with human behaviour, all discussion becomes a meaningless, useless exercise. To relegate human behaviour to a medical practice may be the unwisest course possible to take. YMMV

My reading of your penultimate and ultimate paragraphs is akin to a word salad, all manner of concepts thrown together, interesting to consume but mostly unrelated ideas conglomerated together containing some supposed epiphany. Whatever "antifragility" has to do with Machiavelli is not found in anything extent by Machiavelli; are you sure it isn't some misread or misinterpretation or mayhap be delusion? Since the balance written is dependent on that premise, not a lot of sense was garnered from your efforts, regrettably. In all, I will stand by my earlier position; thank you for the dialogue nonetheless.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 23 2019 9:00 utc | 220

c1ue@196
Who wrote: "...fundamentally uneconomic solar PV and wind.."

I have to disagree on that point. At least for the case of Australia:

CSIRO/AEMO study says wind, solar and storage clearly cheaper than coal

Posted by: Jon_in_AU | Dec 24 2019 7:08 utc | 221

c1ue@196
I await your esteemed rebuttal...

Have a great X'mas, either ways...

Posted by: Jon_in_AU | Dec 24 2019 17:44 utc | 222

@Formerly T-Bear #220
You said (regarding Japan)

The cost results in high rice costs for the population, economic independence is preserved.

Given that Japan imports 60% of its food - I can't say that I agree economic independence is preserved in any way. Nor is Japan pushing hard to get more of its land devoted to rice farming as opposed to condos.

You said

Feudalism refers to a specific historical era marked by strongmen, warlords directing their subjects and exacting production from those subjects occupying, within their territorial control. That production was subsistence for all. Peasants are a class of labour that works with land, not at all the same thing, feudal lords are not required.
Words have meanings, it is necessary to use those meanings correctly. Modern feudalism is not related to historical feudalism other than sounds alike.

This seems like meaningless distinction to me. Prior to feudal lords, there weren't peasants. The same economic job of subsistence farmer existed, true, but the subsistence farmers didn't have to pay the corvee, they didn't have to give up droit du seigneur, they didn't have to involuntarily tithe to a protector.

Equally, the notion that the feudal lords directly anything - this is absolutely hagiography since the progress of society in the feudal era was entirely a function of the mercantile class - which in turn is related to the free cities and trade.

As for modern vs. historical versions of feudalism: the basic mechanism is the same except for the illusion of choice and the utter lack of obligation downwards. The feudal lords did have to, at some point, recognize the peasant class in general as an asset - hence the passage of laws restricting peasants from leaving - but that is a far cry from direction or responsible management. No doubt there were "good" feudal lords just as there are "good" billionaires, but the social dynamics are such that there is no concrete reasons to be "good".

You said

No. Machiavelli wrote about political principles discoursed upon by Livy concerning the republican form of organisation, later applied to autocratic principals in The Prince.

I think you're muddling more than a bit. I made no reference to what Machiavelli did or did not do, nor was I talking about Machiavelli and the medical discussion ongoing. I merely commented on another person's view of the matter. But, I would note that Machiavelli's writings make a mighty assumption: that human nature has not changed at all from his era to ours.

Is that true?

I would disagree. Among other things, new concepts such as socialism have come into play.

The capability to propagandize has also increased several orders of magnitude with the advent of the internet and social media. Machiavelli also was advising strongmen: people who had absolute power - such as was possible in that era, of course, but who did not have the access to information and analysis which individuals and leaders have today.

You said

My reading of your penultimate and ultimate paragraphs is akin to a word salad, all manner of concepts thrown together, interesting to consume but mostly unrelated ideas conglomerated together containing some supposed epiphany. Whatever "antifragility" has to do with Machiavelli is not found in anything extent by Machiavelli; are you sure it isn't some misread or misinterpretation or mayhap be delusion? Since the balance written is dependent on that premise, not a lot of sense was garnered from your efforts, regrettably. In all, I will stand by my earlier position; thank you for the dialogue nonetheless.

Interesting view, but I would direct it towards Nassim Taleb. Note I never said I agree with what he wrote, merely that it is an interesting viewpoint.
The final few sentences are my views - which you dismiss because you believe that Machiavelli is the end-all, be-all source of human behavior.
As you've no doubt seen from the prior paragraphs, I don't agree with this assertion.
A Machiavellian prince would not create socialism.
A Machiavellian prince didn't have to worry about alternate sources of information being accessed by his subjects.
A Machiavellian prince didn't have the ability to literally monitor visible percentages of his subject's communications to understand what is going on and be able to respond.
Machiavelli was absolutely a master of his time, but that time isn't ours any more than Machiavelli would apply to a hunter gatherer band.

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 26 2019 17:36 utc | 223

@Jon_in_AU #221
The study in question has many problems but I'll focus on just one: assumptions of backup power needed.
The article itself:

And Graham says these are conservative estimates. He points out, as previous studies from the CSIRO and chief scientist Alan Finkel have shown, that the level of storage required for wind and solar is minimal up to a point of around 50 per cent.

Alan Finkel says solar and wind base load up to 50% needs minimal storage, yet the UK experienced a blackout caused in no small part due to an offshore wind farm going offline source
The UK National Grid further warned:
Yet in April, National Grid published research warning that using more renewable power sources posed a threat to the network’s ‘stability’.

In a report based on a £6.8 million research project, National Grid admitted that renewables increased the ‘unpredictability and volatility’ of the power supply which ‘could lead to faults on the electricity network’.

The UK's present renewable energy is 29%.

The UK isn't the only example: Texas has had a number of wind energy related grid issues source

The problems with solar and wind are not just that they don't product consistently. The other problem is that the production is skewed vs. when the usage actually occurs. Solar produces peak at noon; actual usage peak is evening. Wind, of course, varies.

This expresses itself in power prices: California, Texas, UK, Denmark and other areas with high renewable levels have experienced multiple negative price electricity periods. Denmark can get away with it, mostly, because they can feed into the overall EU electricity grid. This won't work, however, if the other EU nations ramp up their solar and wind.

Secondly, the study also makes a heavy assumption on the level of backup (or level of acceptable service) required. It states that the LCOE cost is lower even if 2 or 4 hours of storage/backup is included.

The problem is that wind and solar have many, many periods where generation is low to zero, that last longer than 2 or 4 hours.
Here's a graph of actual UK electricity production from various sources over a 1 month time period: source
Note the blue line - my eyeball says there are at least a dozen periods where the wind electricity generation is low to zero over this 1 month period. Clearly 2 to 4 hours is not a good measure for how much wind energy backup or storage.
Then there's solar. Do I really need to find data showing that solar can also be unreliable? That a passing weather front can interrupt solar PV electricity productions for days at a time?
To put the storage/backup problem in perspective: the entire output of the Tesla Gigafactory, for a year, would store 3 minutes of the US' annual electricity consumption.

Lastly, I would put up this interesting fact: the political entities which have the highest renewable power penetration also have the highest electricity costs: California, Denmark, Germany, Japan. Texas used to have one of the lowest electricity costs in the US, but their electricity costs have been increasing at multiples to nationwide averages as they increasingly install wind.

Your moniker implies that you live in Australia. How have the electricity prices acted in the past few years even as Australia installs unprecedented amounts (for AU) of renewable energy - which CSIRO says is cheaper than coal, natural gas or nuclear?
I've read that prices have been skyrocketing, but maybe that's wrong: Australia electricity prices up 117% (in 2018), 4x of other sectors, since 2008

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 26 2019 18:07 utc | 224

@ 223

I stand by my comment - completely. Your answer contains all manner of befuddlement and will not be addressed further without serious compensation; life is too short.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 26 2019 18:23 utc | 225

c1ue@224

Thanks for the reply.

The 50% figure you quote is for total net penetration-rates for renewable energy. In my understanding once the rates reach those levels, grid-stability issues come to the fore.
In the case of Australia (which has the highest or second-highest rate of solar penetration in the world) this can cause issues with harmonic currents, voltage rise within medium voltage networks, and frequency drift issues. Additionally, it can have the effect of causing stress to the transformers, cabling, and switch-gear of the network.
The latest requirements under AS/NZS4777.1 have attempted to address most of these issues, by a massive tightening of the parameters required for injection of power to the grid. It allows utility companies increasing control over the operation of the inverters, and in some cases allows for remote control of the output by the individual utility.

The decreasing cost of battery systems can add more 'smoothing' of the output, and allow extension of the solar day into the evening peak. West-to-Northwest facing arrays can also assist in skewing the output towards the evening peak-usage times.

Australia is a little unique in the sense that we have vast expanses of terrain that has little cloud cover throughout the entire year, which bodes well for large solar PV penetration rates. The firming/back-up issue needs to be addressed, to be sure, but a combination of battery storage and pumped hydro can move this along adequately.

With wind, Australia has one of the best wind-resources on the planet, but variability is an issue as with solar PV. An issue I do see here, are the 'Southern Annular Mode' cycles that can affect the wind-profile across the nation, pushing the cold-fronts further South in a positive S.A.M (which we are currently experiencing).

The energy prices here are horribly high, largely due to the 'gold-plating' of networks, and price-gouging by the big generators that sell into the N.E.M. This operates like a short-term hedge market, which allows generators to hold capacity out of the market until the price spikes, then bid in at ludicrous prices. There is a major push to reduce the settlement period from the current 15mins to 5mins (or even less), which will render the near-instant reaction time for battery-inverter systems to be much more viable economically.
Renewable energy subsidies have contributed around 16% of the rise in prices (or 6% of the total cost), IIRC.

I do indeed live in Australia, and have to confess that I have been a qualified designer and installer of solar PV applications for 20 years...talk about bias... :O)
Sorry for the long warble...


Posted by: Jon_in_AU | Dec 26 2019 23:06 utc | 226

@Jon_in_AU #226
As an electrical engineer who was trained in power systems (but has been practicing computer design), I can tell you that network stability is impacted long before 50% renewable penetration.

The way Germany manages its network, for example, is by turning coal plants off and on - which is really bad because it is the rampup/rampdown where the already heavily polluting coal plants *really* churn out smoke. Is this what you would consider "no impact"?

The issue isn't the source of electricity, it is the variability itself. The electric grids were designed for the type of variability concomitant with large central sources of power. The networks of transformers, for example, are designed to smooth out specific types of electricity supply changes.
Yes, it is absolutely possible to design a network which can handle the high variability of renewables. The problem is cost.

I'm not even talking about storage - the "falling" price of batteries is only relative. The cost to store 3 days of electricity in a typical US household - roughly 100 kwh - is $35000 (I'm using $350/kwh). This battery capacity has a finite lifetime - nobody really knows what it would be, but the worst case would be comparable to a laptop battery (2-3 years, 500 charge cycles). The best case might be 10 or 20 years (25-50 charge cycles used per year).
Even in the best case: 20 years - we're talking about $1750 per household per year compared to the annual electricity payment of $1200 (for 1000 kwh/month @ $0.10/kwh). Cut this battery cost in half and double the electricity cost - we're still talking about a huge percent of cost add-on (33%). And that's the best case.

For a full grid redesign - the cost for a full revamp of the US electrical grid is estimated at $476 billion over 20 years = $24 billion a year. Not so much, right? It is only 6% of total US electricity utility revenue in 2018 ($403 billion).
Of course, the above is an estimate - for which large infrastructure projects are notoriously wrong.

The above estimate likely doesn't take into account the higher costs of handling a much more variable electricity ecosystem: you can design the grid to handle more renewable energy - it means not just more storage but a lot more transformers to even out the load. I'm not talking about those little boxes on poles (in the US, not sure about Australia), I'm talking about 100 MVA+ capacity transformers which can weigh up to 400 tons. source
It would take a serious effort to even build that many more, much less install them.
Of course, the next thing would be "smart" grids - the idea that microgrids can replace the existing infrastructure.
It is theoretically possible - the problem is that microgrids are totally unproven in a systemic utility framework. If the grid stability is a challenge now with grid level (more varying) inputs and outputs - how much more challenging if the component segments can connect and disconnect at will? Each with its own generation, consumption and storage?

Lastly, subsidies. You've made a living installing solar - good for you. Solar absolutely has its place, but one of these places is the ability for a wealthier person to prepay the electricity and be subsidized to do so. The subsidies reinforce the benefit to a wealthy person: a tax break isn't nearly as helpful for a poor or average income person as it is for a wealthy one.

Yet unless the solar install is for a fully off-grid house - the solar customer is still using the grid: to feed power in, to take power from as needed. Existing utility billing is based on consumption - which pushes the transmission and grid maintenance costs onto the non-solar population.

The EV credit was just denied in the US Congress. The Republican Senator from Wyoming said:

Nearly 80 percent of the tax credits go to households earning at least $100,000 a year, these car buyers don’t need a taxpayer subsidy.

I wonder what the income breakdown for solar install owners is.

What's your personal experience?

Posted by: c1ue | Dec 27 2019 16:32 utc | 227

c1ue@227
Thanks for the reply.

"I can tell you that network stability is impacted long before 50% renewable penetration."
I concur.
Back in around 2000-1 I was fed a series of papers by (testing memory here) Gosbel, Periera, etal, from the 'Integral Power Quality Centre - University of Wollongong'. They utilised a summation law (to create a harmonic allocation constant - "k") to assess the number of embedded generators that could be feed into any local MV grid (typically 1kV-33kV in Australia). I would need to sort through a whole box of paper to find it, but IIRC it was around 56.
It would obviously depend upon the total harmonic distortion of each input source, but that is (obviously) being exceeded in many locations in Australia.

re: "rampup/rampdown":
This is definitely a serious issue with coal-fired gen'.

I had a solar client who used to be a senior supervisor at such a facility, and he told me that it was a minimum 6 hour ramp-up to bring one generator online. He did say that they would cycle between 3 such generators, with one for base, another ramped up for peak, and the third being serviced and readied for deployment. This went in a constant cycle to prevent any mis-haps. Upon privatisation, they sold one of the generators, and he took a voluntary redundancy (who could blame him?), but I digress...
The vast majority of the coal fleet in Australia is reaching retirement age (with all due for retirement by around 2045-50), shorter 'ramp-up' LNG/LPG gas plant is taking up quite a bit of the short-term slack, but there are complexities to Australia's gas market which have reached a point where (due to overseas forward contracts) it is nigh-on viable to buy our gas back on the wholesale market from Japan than to buy it direct in Australia... I love a free market...

This link gives you a decent overview of the current approved batteries for use in the Australian market:
Solar Battery Storage System Comparison and Prices

The typical warranty is around (7-10) years (based on one cycle per day, on average). The chart provides $/kWh, warranty, and warranted cycles (based on one full cycle per day), among other data.
The cheapest Li batteries come in at about AUD$0.22/kWh (obviously ex-installation and inverter) and it is falling continuously.
Reclamation and recycling issues are at the forefront of my mind, perhaps more-so than the total cost, but that is another debate along the lines of "who's waste is the worst waste?"


Re: "...variable electricity ecosystem...":
It is an issue that has long been at the forefront of our industry, and in particular the network operators that we interact with (as per the harmonic studies mentioned above).
The latest version of AS/NZS4777 (Aussie for "the inverter standard") has tightened the voltage & frequency tolerances, brought in a staged ramp-up to full output time, and brought in DRED (Demand Response Enabling Device) requirements (allowing remote shut-down, and at the discretion of the network operator) to try and address the instability risks.

We have a rather onerous system (on the technical side, forget retail for the moment) here in Australia, with the following loose pecking order (top-to-bottom):
Local network owner/operator > Local council requirements > State-based service and installation rules > Clean Energy Council requirements > Federal legislative requirements (including official Australian Standards). It certainly makes for many a quiet evening reading the latest permutation of any or all of the above.

Re: Micro-grids:
There has been some pioneering work done with "block-chain"-style trading conducted by AGL (second largest utility/retailer in Aust) in order to better understand the C/B of such systems. One link is:
Household Energy Trading Pilot
Problems will be found, and can be addressed.

Re: Subsidies:
It has driven me to the point of mental melt-down.
We have had constant cycles of state and federal rebates and incentives coming and going (strangely aligned with election-cycles), which have paradoxically helped and hindered the nascent industry.
Much of the subsidy money has turned into middle-to-upper-middle class hand-outs, while the working-poor/pensioners/the unemployed/renters,etc have been largely locked out. It has left me deeply conflicted, in spite of the fact I've never made any real big-style coin out of my work (I've almost always worked for other peoples' retirements, not mine; and did it for the joy of solving the design, implementation, and trouble-shooting issues at hand), but sadly I feel somewhat sullied by the whole experience.
The average 'non-solar' home subsidises the 'solar' homes to the tune of around AUD$160-200 per annum. That is wrong, misguided, and only fosters more class division.

That being said, I have dealt with clients from every walk of life, from cats with a shed on a patch of land with one 80W module to power a little chest-fridge & a light & radio, to people worth $250M+, who just thought it was worth doing (either fiscally, out of necessity, or just to get bragging-rights with their mates).

I'm sorry for the rant, but it is something that I am deeply involved in (but becoming less so, due to my burgeoning disillusionment).



Posted by: Jon_in_AU | Dec 30 2019 20:24 utc | 228

@Jon_in_AU #228
Thanks for the info - I will definitely look at it.
It does seem that the far right attacks on renewable energy have some validity: that the subsidies go primarily to "limousine liberals" as opposed to actually helping the overall CO2 emission situation or the middle class/poor.
If true, this is utterly unacceptable.
Again, I have no problem with the goal of reducing fossil fuel usage - but replacement should be with better capabilities: cheaper, more reliable and/or less CO2 or actual pollutant emissions.
The problem is that existing renewable energy sources are none of the 3: even the latter - the emissions during usage do not compensate for the emissions of the solar or wind device production/teardown.
The blase assumptions on grid capability, cost, etc are also more than a little irritating for me personally.

Posted by: c1ue | Jan 1 2020 14:05 utc | 229

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