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Climate Hustle

The fossil fuel industry's invisible colonization of academia

Posted on 13 March 2017 by Guest Author

On February 16, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center hosted a film screening of the “Rational Middle Energy Series.” The university promoted the event as “Finding Energy’s Rational Middle” and described the film’s motivation as “a need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues.” 

Who can argue with balance and rationality? And with Harvard’s stamp of approval, surely the information presented to students and the public would be credible and reliable. Right? 

Wrong.

The event’s sponsor was Shell Oil Company. The producer of the film series was Shell. The film’s director is Vice President of a family-owned oil and gas company, and has taken approximately $300,000 from Shell. The host, Harvard Kennedy School, has received at least $3.75 million from Shell. And the event’s panel included a Shell Executive Vice President. 

The film “The Great Transition” says natural gas is “clean” (in terms of carbon emissions, it is not) and that low-carbon, renewable energy is a “very long time off” (which is a political judgment, not a fact). Amy Myers Jaffe, identified in the film as the Executive Director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, says, “We need to be realistic that we’re gonna use fossil fuels now, because in the end, we are.” We are not told that she is a member of the US National Petroleum Council

The film also features Richard Newell, who is identified as a Former Administrator at the US Energy Information Administration. “You can get 50% reductions in your emissions relative to coal through natural gas,” he says, ignoring the methane leaks that undermine such claims. The film neglects to mention that the Energy Initiative Newell founded and directed at Duke University was given $4 million by an Executive Vice President of a natural gas company. 

Michelle Michot Foss, who offers skepticism about battery production for renewables, is identified as the Chief Energy Economist at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin. What’s not said is that the Energy Institute she founded at UT Austin is funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel interests including the Koch Foundation, or that she’s a partner in a natural gas company.

You may notice a pattern. The very experts we assume to be objective, and the very centers of research we assume to be independent, are connected with the very industry the public believes they are objectively studying. Moreover, these connections are often kept hidden. 

To say that these experts and research centers have conflicts of interest is an understatement: many of them exist as they do only because of the fossil fuel industry. They are industry projects with the appearance of neutrality and credibility given by academia.

After years conducting energy-related research at Harvard and MIT, we have come to discover firsthand that this pattern is systemic. Funding from Shell, Chevron, BP, and other oil and gas companies dominates Harvard’s energy and climate policy research, and Harvard research directors consult for the industry. These are the experts tasked with formulating policies for countering climate change, policies that threaten the profits – indeed the existence – of the fossil fuel industry.

Down the street at MIT, the Institute’s Energy Initiative is almost entirely fundedby fossil fuel companies, including Shell, ExxonMobil, and Chevron. MIT has taken $185 million from oil billionaire and climate denial financier David Koch, who is a Life Member of the university’s board.

The trend continues at Stanford, where one of us now works. The university’s Global Science and Energy Project is funded by ExxonMobil and Schlumberger. The Project’s founding and current directors are both petroleum engineers. Its current director also co-directs Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, which is named after (and was co-founded by) the CEO of a natural gas company (now owned by Shell). Across the bay, UC Berkeley’s Energy Biosciences Institute is the product of a $500 million deal with BP – one that gives the company power over which research projects get funded and which don’t.

Fossil fuel interests – oil, gas, and coal companies, fossil-fueled utilities, and fossil fuel investors - have colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities, and much of energy science too. And they have done so quietly, without the general public’s knowledge.

For comparison, imagine if public health research were funded predominantly by the tobacco industry. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to understand the folly of making policy or science research financially dependent on the very industry it may regulate or negatively affect. Harvard’s school of public health no longer takes funding from the tobacco industry for that very reason. Yet such conflicts of interest are not only rife in energy and climate research, they are the norm. 

This norm is no accident: it is the product of a public relations strategy to neutralize science and target those whom ExxonMobil dubbed “Informed Influentials,” and it comes straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook. The myriad benefits of this strategy to the fossil fuel industry (and its effects on academic research) range from benign to insidious to unconscionable, but the big picture is simple: academia has a problem.

As scientists and policy experts rush to find solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our institutions are embroiled in a nationwide conflict of interest with the industry that has the most to lose. Our message to universities is: stop ignoring it.

Click here to read the rest

Dr. Benjamin Franta is a PhD student in the Department of History at Stanford University, an Associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a former Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He has a PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University. 

Dr. Geoffrey Supran is a Post Doctoral Associate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Post Doctoral Fellow in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. He has a PhD in Materials Science & Engineering from MIT. 

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Comments 1 to 24:

  1. Word selection is ironic. US had a Neurosurgeon, denier, running for president. But then, I too had wrong information when I wrote my book related to the subject and underestimated the efficacy of alternative energy in 2013, and passed on wrong info.

    The objective of the industry is clear, to maximize fossil fuel profits at the expense of the planet's viability, before the poison is shut down.

    The solution seems just as clear, we need to fight to accelerate development of viable technology and policy. Policy is the tough one in the US. But the US is just the head and largest emitter per capita, the rest of the world needs to act for good policy, the US is broken for the next two years.

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  2. Dear Drs Franta and Supran: As an older well wisher, former academic and technologist,  please be advised that you have put your future careers on the line. But don't get intimidated, the stakes are the future of humanity and possibly , life on Earth. So here's some encouragement from a far corner of the universe viz India.

    Sanjeev Ghotge

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  3. PluviAL - I have to wonder what is going through your mind. Efficacy of alternate energy sources? What are these? Pacific Gas and Electricity has been working on "alternate sources" for 30 years. They presently have enough solar and wind power that if they were all operating at maximum output they would have be able to supply 19% of the maximum load. 2015 was an almost perfect year for these "alternate energy sources". It was during a drought in California with little cloud cover in mid-day and wind at or near perfect speed for the wind generators. What was their yearly percentage attributable to "alternative power"? 3% and a normal year will give them 2%.

    There are few places in the US with conditions as good. And forms of alternate energy such as daming off the Golden Gate or the Bay of Fundy is massively damaging to the eco-systems.

    This call for alternate energy sources has me aghast since it shows and almost complete lack of just what it would require.

    Would you stop driving a car? Heating your home in the winter and air conditioning it in the summer? These three things alone would drop average age perhaps as much as 10 years. Do you really think that being able to drive to a supermarket or cool an older person in the mid-western summer isn't extremely important to health?

    Do you believe for one second that people would stop flying commercial aircraft around the world or importing products and goods via ships and moving them via railroads and trucks?

    A reduction in the use of energy would hit the high population countries such as China and India the hardest and they will simply refuse to do so.

    I suggest before you speak of solutions you actually know of one.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Ad hominem snipped. Per the SkS Comments Policy:

    • No ad hominem attacks. Personally attacking other users gets us no closer to understanding the science. For example, comments containing the words 'religion' and 'conspiracy' tend to get moderated. Comments using labels like 'alarmist' and 'denier' as derogatory terms are usually skating on thin ice.

     

  4. Let us comment also about the idea that there is a "fossil fuel" entity. Almost ALL of the oil, gas and coal companies is publically owned. It is public information who owns and who controls these companies and they are NOT some single entity. Most of these stocks and the control of those stocks is in the hands of investment bonds. And these are in turn mostly controlled by retirement funds. YOU grandparents are making a living off of the VERY small profits that are made by these companies. And your parents either are presently living off of the returns of these funds or about to be.

    It is silly and childish to present "Big Oil" as owning or controlling ANYTHING and especially the government who makes approximately 10 times more off of the taxes on oil than the oil companies make in profits.

    Should we be skeptical about BATTERIES? After all a fanily just had several members killed when a hoverboard caught on fire and their home burned down.

    Why do you suppose this is? After all - battery technology is 150 years old. But infact it isn't. Battery technology is dependent upon chemistry which is a FAR older science and all of the easy means of making batteries have been investigated. So the remaining ways use rare materials and dangerous chemistry. While there are claims that there are several promising battery technologies on the horizon, presently the lithum ion batteries are far and away the best workable solution and the others have very short lifespans and can be even more dangerous.

    While this reference is a bit over the top it nevertheless points to what people are thinking is going to defeat "Big Oil": www.democraticunderground.com/10027822859

    If we are going to be skeptical we first have to start from a position of knowledge and not that of a spoiled child trying to put one over on his elders.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The use of all-caps constitutes shouting and is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

    In addition you are skating on the thin ice of sloganeering when you make assertions (in this case about the fossil fuel industry) without providing substantiating documentation.

    All things considered, the last sentence of your comment rings hollow.

  5. Wake @3, 

    "They presently have enough solar and wind power that if they were all operating at maximum output they would have be able to supply 19% of the maximum load. 2015 was an almost perfect year for these "alternate energy sources". It was during a drought in California with little cloud cover in mid-day and wind at or near perfect speed for the wind generators. What was their yearly percentage attributable to "alternative power"? 3% and a normal year will give them 2%."

    You provide no sources for this information. Anything controversial, and I want to see sources in the form of an internet link.

    And are you seriously trying to tell me California had good levels of wind and solar everyday, for the entire year? It looks utterly implausible, and you provide no sources for your claims anyway. It's a strawman argument to compare output in idealised, perfect conditions, to likely conditions. 

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  6. Wake @3:

    "They presently have enough solar and wind power that if they were all operating at maximum output they would have be able to supply 19% of the maximum load. 2015 was an almost perfect year for these "alternate energy sources". It was during a drought in California with little cloud cover in mid-day and wind at or near perfect speed for the wind generators. What was their yearly percentage attributable to "alternative power"? 3% and a normal year will give them 2%."

    In 2015, 25.8% of power in California was from renewable sources, of which the major components were wind (9.4%), solar (5.9%) and geothermal (5.1%):

    In 2016, the total renewable contribution rose to 27%.

    Once again Wake's stated "facts" have no bearing on reality.

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  7. Wake @4, you appear to believe the executives in charge of oil companies need permission of the owners to determine their position on climate change science. So its all the elderly owners fault if oil companies spread climate denialism.

    This is just nonsense. The people spreading climate denialism, are oil company executives, ( as discussed in various books like Merchants of Doubt,) and they don't need permission of the owners. The executives would consider it "day to day operations".

    I doubt investment funds even know what the climate policy process is, and the individual elderly retired people investing in some retirement fund probably don't even know what companies those funds invest in. It's absurd to try to blame elderly retired people.

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  8. And just in case Wake claims he was talking about the company only, in 2013 PG&E generated 6% of its power from wind, and 5% from solar, with a total of 22% from renewables overall (excluding large hydro):

    In 2014, those figures rose to 7, 9 and 27% respectively.  In 2015, the total renewable (excluding large hydro) and risen to 30%, though I cannot find a breakdown of the individual components.

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  9. Tom,

    I think you should include big hydro in the renewable mix.  It is renewable energy.  Say  30% small renewable and 11% hydro for a total of 41%.  

    Duing the time period you provided data for they were having a severe drought (the worst in over 1,000 years) in California which would reduce hydro power.  This year (2017) they have flooded so they will get a lot more from hydro.  Total this year is looking like at least 50% (my estimate) from renewable energy.  Hardly insignificant as Wake claims.

    They have been seriously building out renewable energy for less than 10 years.  Wake imagines that they should build out 100% capacity in a single year.

    As an aside, scientists predict climate change will result in more drought and more flooding.  It may be a coincidence but it is exactly what was predicted.

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  10. michael sweet @9, in principle I agree.  Wake's argument, however, was about non-dispachable power sources, specifically solar and wind.  As big hydro counts as dispachable power, in this context it was appropriate to exclude it.  Having said that, big hydro, if set up for pumped storage, is the most economical way to make maximum use of excess production from "non-dispachable" sources, so California's abundance of hydro is also relevant there.

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  11. Tom,

    Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in California, does have a pumped hydro facility attached to it.  It currently stores excess electricity generated by nuclear and coal power stations, which cannot shut down at night.  It could obviously be used to store excess WWS.  It would probably be cheap to expand the maximum power the pumped hydro could generate to support windless nights, although it would be difficult to expand the total amount of energy stored.

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  12. Tom Curtis - I have something of a problem with your figures. If you look at http://www.energy.ca.gov/almanac/electricity_data/total_system_power.html carefully you see that some things don't jib.

    Firstly - geothermal and biomass aren't really "renewables". Geothermal sources are extremely rare in the USA and most other places as well. And they are of questionable "reliability". And the only reason that biomass is used for energy is because this would normally be littering and fertilizing the area from where it is collected. Whether or not this is a good idea is under question. Are you aware that of the millions of acres of corn being grown, only 1% of it is for food? The rest is for production of ethane and biomass. Does that strike you are a good idea? This isn't something I would call a proven technology.

    Also they are including "small hydro" in "renewables" column. A dam is a dam. We just had a couple of these poorly designed dams come near to failing in several places in California this rainy season (My God, these record rains haven't been like this for 20 years!) and the damage that was caused by this far exceeds the energy they have produced. Even locally here we have a couple of reservoirs fed by creeks and streams and they are largely earthen works that could quite easily fail. And of course there are thousands of homes in the path of such a failure.

    Also you can see that a large amount of the wind and solar power is imported from out of state. (So is the fossil derived energy but that isn't under question.)

    The sorts of numbers just keep showing that they are designed almost entirely to meet the "renewable energy" standards and not reality. i really question geothermal generation providing more energy than the staggeringly huge, large scale hydroelectric power in California. And to my mind the only reason that they did not include the large scale hydroelectric power sources in the renewable energy column is because they are trying to force other energy souces on us.

    I don't know about where you live, but I live in the San Francisco bay area. The weather here is one of the most moderate anywhere. I do not have nor need air conditioning. I go to bed at 9 pm so my use of electricity and gas is very light. And yet because of these demands for energy, I'm paying $200/mth for power. And other utility rates are equally preposterous. Fully an eigth of my social security goes to paying for services that I must pay for. The same services that 30 years ago would have hardly been noticeable. My friend has moved from here to Pheonix and tells me that his power rates are higher still with these same sorts of demands from the US government though everything else is half the costs as California.

    While I can't find where I took the numbers of 19% max and 3% for 2015, I did not pull those out of the air. It might have come from the stock brochure from my 401 plan. If solar power were so great why have virtually all American solar companies bit the dust? I went to a show and talked directly to the engineers and the word I got from them was completely different from the ones that were in all of the present advertisements. They told me that the useable lifetimes were HALF of what was stated. That the outputs were so dependent upon no cloud cover and no dust on the covers that you could lose almost all output quite easily. Since I'm an EE they weren't BS'ing me to put their own companies out of business, but to make me aware of how to design with their products. Tipping the cells 10 degrees on a roof installation could make it almost totally ineffective over half of the 5 hour day that solar cells produce.

    In any case I think that something is extremely odd about the amount of renewable energy being claimed.

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  13. Wake... Your post above has a staggering number of errors. Yes, geothermal and biomass are considered to be renewables. In every single report you see anywhere, this will be the consistent case. No, 99% of corn is not used for ethanol and biomass. About 45% is used as feedstock and about 15% is used as food. No damns in CA almost "fell down." The Oroville spillway had some issues this year due to heavy rains because it was (by design) no capped in concrete, which in hindsight was clearly a mistake. No, none of the data in the chart you present includes imported power.

    With regards to your PG&E utility bill (Pacific Gas and Electric), I also live in the Bay Area. I think you'll want to go take a look at your past year of bills. Unless you live in an unusually large home (not many of those in SF) your PG&E is not likely $200 every month of the year. Look at your monthly usage and see if you're going over the tiered usage levels. If you're pushing into the third tier, yup, you're going to see $200 bills. You need to look at how you're using energy in your home. Chances are you could save yourself several hundred dollars per year with some very very simple changes. You can also call PG&E and ask them how you can get your monthly bill down. They'll have many suggestions.

    No, virtually all solar companies in the US have not bit the dust. Some did, for sure. You might want to look back in history to see how many early oil companies went out of business between, say, 1850 to 1900. JD Rockefeller was quite adept at killing off his many competitors. There are lots of very strong and growing solar companies in the US. In fact, solar installations are growing fast and job growth in that sector is faster than almost any other industry in the US. 

    If you don't want to take the risk of purchasing solar panels for the reasons you stated (clouds, shorter lifetime, etc) then just call up SolarCity. They do leasing programs that guarantee you a fixed energy bill. They take on the responsibilities and risks relative to the technology. They do the installation. They replace the panels if they get old and inefficient. You just pay a fixed monthly bill that is usually less than what you're already paying for your electricity.

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  14. There are so many alternatives to fossil fuels that if implemented on a SYSTEMIC level would soon crowd fossil fuels right out of the market.

    As is detailed above, the only way that the fossil fuel sector survives at all is by creating not just a virtual monopoly for its products in the marketplace, but by attempting to do the same at an academic level.

    So instead of coordinated programs to introduce much less carbon intensive means of producing and using energy we're still stuck burning billions of tons of coal, oil and gas each year.

    Here's just a few alternatives that could be actively developed and introduced on a large scale right now to totally replace fossil fuels.

    - Solar power, this can be implemented on both the small and large scale, with large solar electrical generation plants and panels that can be placed on homes.

    - Wind power, ready to be implemented on a large scale.

    - Biomass.

    - Tidal, obviously you need a coast and good tidal effect.

    - Nuclear,  50 years ago Alvin Weinberg and his team at ORNL developed a safe and highly efficient nuclear power reactor that operates on transmuted thorium, isn't under pressure and can't melt down, it's a molten salt design. This avoids much of the nuclear proliferation issue, waste problem and disaster potential.

    - Catalytic processes like thermal depolymerization that can take long chain carbon molecules and turn them into the kind of light crude that nature creates in millions of year in a matter of hours. We don't need to totally phase out hydrocarbon fuels, just stop extracting them from fossil reserves.

    We can also change how we build most of society including how cities are structured and more. Our world right now is built around the long ago disproved hypothesis of "cheap" power from fossil fuels. It's not cheap if it costs us everything.

    How is any of that going to happen if the people entrusted to provide the knowledge of how to do all this at a systemic level are effectively working for a sector that only exist by externalizing massive costs constantly.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] "All-caps" constitute shouting and are prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy. You may emphasize a word or words by bolding the font.

  15. Rob, you are correct in that cattlefeed did slip my mind. And I was referring to corn used directly as food and not as a sweetening or bulk products added to most other manufactured foods. These are neither necessary or particularly healthy.

    As for solar: www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/04/2015-top-ten-pv-cell-manufacturers.html As you can see that more than half of the world's solar panels are made by the top ten companies. The majority of the other 47% is made in the Philipines and other far eastern areas.

    Only one of the companies is American and most of their production is in Malaysia.

    Who would have expected that the heating bill in the summer would be lower than in the winter? But my electricity bill has risen over the last three years from $20 to $40 a month and that is steady regardless of season. And I do not live in a particularly large home at 1400 square feet and homes in places like Illinois or Texas or Florida in middle class neighborhoods are usually nearly twice that area with the same number of bedrooms and baths. What's more I keep my heater settings to 62 most of the time raising to 68 only in the morning for a couple of hours and in the evening until 10 pm. If you are inplying that I am wasting energy and therefore that is why my bill would be so high you're incorrect. What's more I have double insulated windows and insulated attic. Something that most homes in this area do not. And for all of that I have to wear a jacket inside of my home most of the winter. And I'll warrant that I'm in much better health than you are.

    My conversation has nothing whatsoever to do with the private purchase of solar panels. That is your call and you are welcome to it.

    Doug - fossil fuel companies do not "create" a virtual monopoly. The population as a whole decides what they wish to buy and does so. You have the alternative of electric cars, bicycle or walking. Over the last 6 years I have put more miles on my bicycles than on my car. Many of my friends do not even own cars. Neither do they use commercial airlines. Do you?

    You have alternatives and yet proclaim a monopoly. It wasn't the oil companies that closed down the nuclear power plants in California. It was the environmentalists. There are several "safe" nuclear power cycles but we had protests on every campus in California and in the streets and so PG&E closed down all but one I believe. And this one is due to end soon. They didn't want "safer" nuclear power - they wanted an entire end to it.

    Do you think that there will be less CO2 generated by burning some other form of carbon? That is curious indeed.

    I will ask you as well as others - with your complaints about fossil fuels have you stopped driving? Most power comes from fossil fuels so even electric cars burn fuel even if you appologize for it by saying that you get better fuel economy. The "Energy Stored On Investment" of all battery systems is lousy. Using excess electricity generated by renewable energy sources to pump water back into dams when available is some 25 times more efficient than the very best battery systems. That should tell you something. All of this completely ignores the problems that large scale batteries use rare materials that are enviromentally unfriendly to mine and refine.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Sloganeering snipped.

    For a detailed assessment of the multiple issues about nuclear power in California, see:

    Nuclear Power in California : 2007 Status Report, prepared by MRW & Associates, Inc., for the California Energy Commission.

    Abstract

    This consultant report examines how nuclear power issues have evolved since publication of the consultant report, Nuclear Power in California: Status Report, which was prepared for the 2005 Integrated Energy Policy Report (2005 IEPR). The report focuses on four broad subject areas: 1) nuclear waste issues, 2) costs of nuclear power, 3) environmental and societal impacts of nuclear power, and 4) nuclear power in the United States in the coming years. Nuclear waste issues include the status of a federal repository at Yucca Mountain, the proposed federal reprocessing program, and issues related to the transportation of nuclear waste. The costs of nuclear power are addressed from three angles: the costs of operating California’s current nuclear power plants, the costs of building and operating new nuclear power plants, and the cost implications of a “nuclear renaissance.” Environmental and societal impacts discussed include the environmental implications of nuclear power, the role of nuclear power in climate change policy, and the security implications of nuclear power generation. Finally, the future of nuclear power is addressed by considering the safety and reliability of the aging U.S. nuclear fleet, license extensions that could keep the current fleet operating for an additional 20 years, and the development of new nuclear power plants in the United States. The report concludes by offering potential implications for California from these events.  

  16. Wake @12, the data for California renewable sources comes from the California Energy Commission, as does the table to which you link.  Further, allowing for rounding the data in the pie chart @6 is the same as that from the table to which you linked except for two entries.  First, the table shows 7,500 GWh of biomass vs 8,600 GWh on the pie chart.  However, the table shows "data as of July, 11 2016", whereas the pie chart is from a document published in Oct, 2016 and "last updated December, 22 2016".  In other words, the pie chart represents more recent data, and is to be preferred on that ground.

    The other difference is that the table shows a total energy use of 295,405 GWh compared to 255,300 GWh on the pie chart.  Looking in the fine print of the report in which the pie chart was published, that is because that data excluded power used to pump water in pumped hydro schemes along with "excluded entities", ie, "...electricity delivered to federal Department of Energy facilities, military bases, water pumping facilities such as the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, utility use, electric vehicle charging, and street lighting" which are excluded from the renewable energy target by the statute.  A case can be made that the exclusion of pumping costs for pumped hydro is appropriate, but the other is not for the purposes of this discussion.  Consequently I am quite happy to use the data from the table for which you provided the link.

    Using that table, we still find a combined 13.9% of Californian power production, and 14.2% of Californian power usage coming from wind and solar.  This represents an underestimate because rooftop solar is not included.  Further, part of the mix of "unspecified sources of power" are from hydro plants (presumably large scale hydro).  Regardless of the underestimate, the data from the table is an order of magnitude larger than your "3% and a normal year will give them 2%" estimate for all "alternative power", ie, non-fossil fuel or nuclear power.

    At some point you need to start acknowledging errors, and correcting them or you will no longer be taken seriously.

    On a side note, given San Francisco's latitude (37.8o North) the best yearly average power for a fixed solar panel will be obtained by tilting the panel 37.8o from the horizontal towards the south.  That will give peak power in spring and autumn, and reduced power in summer and winter.  You may prefer more winter or (I think more likely in California) summer power.  Peak summer power will be obtained with a 15o tilt, while peak winter power requires a 40o tilt.  You may also prefer more power in the afternoon, which requires a slight tilt towards the west.  Any of these alterations will reduce your total annual production, but increase the production at the most convenient times and seasons.  The idea that the system will produce effectively nothing with a 10o tilt is bunk.

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  17. Wake @12

    "Firstly - geothermal and biomass aren't really "renewables". Geothermal sources are extremely rare in the USA and most other places as well. And they are of questionable "reliability".

    I live in New Zealand. We get 10% of our electricity from geothermal and more is planned. I have never heard of any reliability problems at all in the last 50 years, and I take an interest in this sort of thing.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_New_Zealand#Geothermal

    Solar output does fall on cloudy days. I think its reasonable to suggest the design engineers would actually be aware of this, and things would be designed accordingly with enough capacity to cope with varied conditions.

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  18. I'm having trouble grasping what could possibly be "unreliable" about geothermal energy. In fact, of all sources of energy, where it works well, it would be more reliable than any other sources. Iceland gets 25% of their electricity from geothermal due to their local geology. 

    I have a real problem with people, like Wake, who state things that are clearly wrong, won't listen when corrected, and then go on to repeat and add to their errors.

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  19. Rob Honeycutt @18, it is almost as though he was in denial about AGW.

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  20. @ Wake

    "fossil fuel companies do not "create" a virtual monopoly. The population as a whole decides what they wish to buy and does so. You have the alternative of electric cars, bicycle or walking. Over the last 6 years I have put more miles on my bicycles than on my car. Many of my friends do not even own cars. Neither do they use commercial airlines. Do you?"

    The amount of money that goes into determining policy and also the subsidies that are then sent back to the sector involved argues strongly against that. Renewables are almost certainly competing against a fixed deck where "cheap" fossil fuels hold the strategic high ground.

    The population as a whole is almost entirely left out of decision making processes, something we see here - Canada - constantly. So instead of comprehensive programs to begin a system wide transition to a low carbon dioxide emitting energy model, there is a piecemeal approach to renewables but a system wide approach to maintaining fossil fuel production with the result that there will be decades more of extensive use of fossil fuels at the level of burning billions of tons a year with the current "business as usual". Resulting in the catastrophic impacts that have already begun and will likely increase.

    As has been explained, this is not because there are not alternatives, there are many. It's due to multi-level actions on the part of involved industry that we aren't seeing the large scale transition to renewable energy resources. First off to deny there is even a need to transition off of their products that can be traced right back to the disinformation campaign created by the tobacco lobby. Secondly by massively funded lobbying to sway policy makers at all levels to continue the use of fossil fuels.

    This has been the pattern with growing force and apparentness since at least the late 1980s and it could be argued it started a decade earlier. While at the same time the technology for producing low carbon emitting energy has rapidly matured.

    Best practices with the best technology available are clearly not being applied on the largest scale when the evidence is looked at. We are still in a policy holding pattern that continues the massive burning of fossil fuels at a time when the valid science is stating clearly the likely catastrophic impacts.

    Fossil fuels are not cheap or sustainble on any level when the likely consequences of their use is social, economic and ecological losses on a level hard to contemplate let alone quantify.

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  21. As an example of what I'm saying, individual activity has little impact if official policy includes activity that maintains the use of fossil fuel.

    I haven't had a car for a decade and walk, bike or ride transit for transportation.

    But it's official policy here to encourage the growth of tar sands development that over the next several decades will add billions more tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a time when almost all the available evidence indicates that will result in catastrophic impacts.

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  22. I looked at hte reference  Rob Honeycutt posted at 18.  It said:

    "In 2014, roughly 85% of primary energy use in Iceland came from indigenous renewable resources. There of 66% was from geothermal."

    Most of the remaining energy was generated using Hydro.  The non-renewable energy was primarily oil for transportation and fishing.  When they switch to electric cars they will be  almost 100% renewable.

    70% of their electricity (which is very cheap since there are no fuel costs) is used to make aluminum which is exported.  Geothermal energy is so cheap they use a lot of it to heat outdoor swimming pools!

    The Icelanders will lead the way to show others how to go carbon free!  Too bad their model cannot be reproduced in many other areas.  You would think that Hawaii could access geothermal.

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  23. @Wake

    "There are several "safe" nuclear power cycles but we had protests on every campus in California and in the streets and so PG&E closed down all but one I believe. And this one is due to end soon. They didn't want "safer" nuclear power - they wanted an entire end to it."

    There are modern Pressurized and Boiling Water reactor designs that have significant safety factors designed into them, thorium fueled molten salt reactors are a complete departure from solid fueled reactors. First off as described they simply can not melt down, the fissile material is already in a salt solution that is circulated through a gaphite core and to a heat exchange loop. They also aren't pressurized and can not undergo catastrophic loss of coolant. Fission products like Xenon-135 that make solid fuel rods unusuable after a few years can be be removed while the reactor is running. This can also be done with medical radio-isotopes used in imaging and cancer treatment, every molten salt reactor is also medical grade radioisotope producer.

    In terms of waste a single stage thorium fueled MSR uses about 50% of the fuel input as compared to less than 1% for PWRs and BWRs. A two stage thorium reactor with an outer loop containing thorium in molten salt being transmuted by neutron capture would give almost 99% fuel efficiency. These reactors also run at much higher temperatures meaning much higher thermal efficiency with the result that water is not necessary for cooling to produce power but it does increase efficiency even more.

    In a state like California with severe pressures on water resources something like an MSR could actually produce large amounts of electricty, a constant supply of medical radioisotopes and desalinate sea water. As for safety, to shut off an MSR you turn off the core circulation pumps and the cooling fan for the frozen salt plug in the reactor vessel drain. It melts and you core drains into sub-critical storage under the reactor.

    The waste produced by thorium fueled MSRs is much less and easier to handle than solid fueled reactors. Instead of large amounts of solid fuel needing to be stored safely for thousands of years, much of the by-products coming out of an MSR are commercially valuable like the radioisotopes, Xenon for high efficiency deep mission rocket engine and even small amounts of noble metals like gold and platinum.

    Most of the waste is much lighter fission products with short half lifes which have decayed to ground state within 10 years and the remainder is hazardous for about 300 years, that's slightly over 10% of the total waste.

    A thorium powered MSR gives much less waste, valuable materials in constant production, can be used to desalinate large amounts of sea water, can't melt down, has much higher thermal efficiency and is fueled by an element in the same abundance as lead.

    If we began large scale conversion of our energy production to thorium based MSRs there wouldn't be an energy shortage, and our carbon emissions would drop significantly within decades. This in combination with all other low carbon energy resources. There's more than enough energy to replace fossil fuels, and do so in a way that has benefits that oil, coal and gas never will.

    That is one option and there are many goods ones that if implemented in a planned phaseout of fossil fuels would at least give us a shot at mitigation of climate change. Itès netirely possible that we will need in the coming decades to go to a carbon negative energy model to avoid catastrophic impacts.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Just a heads up that this is rapidly heading offtopic. Please do not turn this thread into a place for arguing the pros and cons of nuclear power. Those interested in the topic are invited to use BraveNewClimate instead.

  24. I guess my point was there's really no justification for the influence that the fossil fuel sector is effectively buying within academia, just it does the same with policy makers and the public at large with things like the extremely well funded denial campaign.

    It can not be claimed that due to limited alternatives we're forced to rely on the fossil fuel sector decades into the future. This self-sustaining paradigm of the fossil fuel sector receiving the bulk of revenues worldwide in the energy market then using a significant portion of that across society to make sure fossil fuels remain the dominant product is highly destructive, something that academia should be focused on dealing with effectively not enabling.

    It's going to be a decision between continuing course with fossil fuel use and suffer the inevitable catastrophic impacts or radically change course which will by necessity create a great deal of stranded assets as fossil fuels are phased out. That will include that part of academia that has allowed itself to be influenced this way.

    Experts in fossil fuel use better become an anachronism and soon.

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