My Third Global Warming Science Fiction Novel “Last Week”

Oct 13 2013

I have written a third global warming science fiction novel, this time with a strong Bitcoin theme, called “Last Week”. It shows that our little global warming problem can easily be solved in a week or two. I am sticking this post to the front page for a couple of weeks.

Here is the cover:

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Here is the short summary of the story:

Princess Angel travels back in time from 2323 to warn us of the horrific consequences of global warming. She has her work cut out for her convincing people that she’s for real. Will she be able to make her voice heard in time? Or will humanity ignore its last chance in her last week alive?
With the help of Satashi Nakamoto, she just might have a chance.

Last Week is the first global warming science fiction Bitcoin novel ever written. And it’s hot!

You can read it either as a FREE PDF file (the whole book in one file), or in a series of 52 individual posts on this blog, starting with this link to Part 01.

A printed edition is available at Createspace for $10.77.

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33.2 GW Of New Renewable In Japan

Apr 19 2014

The Japanese Economics Ministry has released figures on the state of play on renewable energy in Japan under the new feed-in tariff. Some of it is good news. Thanks to this Tweet by Hiro Matsubara for the link.

The Japanese feed-in tariff system expects people to get a recognition (認定) before actually building capacity. That means there are two numbers to report. One is the amount of capacity that has received a recognition. The other one is the number of projects that actually have started delivering electricity.

The former number is substantially larger than the latter. The Ministry reports a total of 33.2 GW of installations that have received recognition. Most of that comes from solar, which is at about 31 GW in all. And most of that is from large-scale installations over 10 kW (28.7 GW), with projects over one MW contributing 16 GW.

In contrast, wind projects are still very weak. There are only about 0.97 GW of wind projects in the pipeline that have received recognition.

The capacity that has started delivering electricity in the 17 months since the feed-in tariff is in place is about 7.6 GW, with almost all of that (7.41 GW) coming from solar. 5.741 GW of that is non-residential solar.

That compares to an installed base of about 5.6 GW of solar before July 2012.

Wind is in very bad shape for the capacity that has started delivering. It is at only 0.074 GW over the 17 months, with a falling trend.

And Japan, with its great geothermal resources, has managed to deliver 0.001 GW of new geothermal from July 2012 to March 2013, and nothing in the time after that until January 2014.

So the good news is that solar is in good shape in Japan. But for everything else the feed-in tariff system has still completely failed to deliver any significant results.

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Great News About Coal in China

Apr 16 2014

Greenpeace has published a short report on recent trends in Chinese coal consumption, titled “The End of China’s Coal Boom“. Thanks to this Tweet by Kees van der Leun for the link.

The report shows plans of multiple provinces in China to either reduce or massively reduce the use of coal. Beijing stands out with a reduction of 50% over the next couple of years. This is partly motivated by the fact that coal is not only bad news for the climate. It also means massive air pollution.

Collectively, these measures would lead to 1.3 Gt less CO2 emissions in 2020. In comparison, the EU target for 2020 is only 0.451 Gt. Clearly, these measures will have a massive impact.

Such a reduction in coal consumption will need other energy sources. That of course means rapid growth of renewable. As pointed out in the Greenpeace report, solar has gone to over 20 Gw installed capacity in 2013, up from only 8 Gw in 2012 and less than 1 Gw in 2010. That’s exponential growth. Wind is at around 89 Gw in 2013, up from 44 Gw in 2010 and less than 6 Gw in 2007. Again, that’s exponential growth.

This is of course also very good news for any project of generating renewable energy in the Mongolian Gobi desert. The big market in China with a need to replace massive coal use is just next door.

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Stiftung Umweltenergierecht On Commission Guidelines

Apr 15 2014

The Stiftung Umweltenergierecht has published an 89 page analysis (in German language) explaining how the recent move by the European Commission to violate Germany’s legislation competences is illegal. Thanks to this Tweet by Heiko Stubner for the link.

This study was commissioned by the think tank Agora Energiewende.

The main reasons why they think the Commission’s guidelines are illegal:

1. The Commission fails to provide any reasons for their opinion that a transition to a “competitive bidding process” is needed to avoid distorting competition (which is the Commission’s job).

2. The guidelines violate Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. I recall having made a similar argument. My argument was based on my opinion that the German feed-in tariff is not State aid in the first place.

Their argument is wider. They note that with a technology-neutral bidding model, Member States may end up with an energy mix different from that they would get if they were free to decide about their policy. That, in their view, is incompatible with Article 194, even if the feed-in tariff was State aid.

3. The guidelines are incompatible with the Renewable Energy Directive.

Article 3 of Directive 2009/28 says that Member States may apply support schemes. And Article 2 gives a definition of the term “support schemes”, which reads:

‘support scheme’ means any instrument, scheme or mechanism applied by a Member State or a group of Member States, that promotes the use of energy from renewable sources by reducing the cost of that energy, increasing the price at which it can be sold, or increasing, by means of a renewable energy obligation or otherwise, the volume of such energy purchased. This includes, but is not restricted to, investment aid, tax exemptions or reductions, tax refunds, renewable energy obligation support schemes including those using green certificates, and direct price support schemes including feed-in tariffs and premium payments;

That means the combination of Article 3 and this definition gives Germany the right to use a feed-in tariff to support renewable deployment. If the Commission does not like that, they are free to propose an amendment to the Directive. But they can’t just go ahead and abolish this right Germany has unilaterally without worrying about a majority in Council and Parliament.

I think this third argument is a very worthwhile addition to the debate. And I am pleased that it helps my point of view.

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Build More Coal Power Plants!

Apr 15 2014

That’s probably not a headline readers expect here.

Let me explain.

Cleantechnica just published an interesting interview with Peter Terium, CEO of RWE, one of the big German power utilities. From that interview:

EP: Still, I get the impression that you are filling the gaps in renewables, but you are still big in coal, lignite and gas. Has RWE really changed?

Terium: Look at where we came from. Some ten years ago, we were an extremely CO2-intensive company. We had a lignite power plant fleet that was not state of the art at all anymore. In five years’ time, we changed our CO2-profile from outlier to average. We did this by investing in renewables and gas-fired power, and by implementing new technologies in coal power plants. Coming from 100% conventionally generated power, now our portfolio includes 6% renewable capacities. We had to do all this in a very short time. Note that last year we had to buy €1.2 billion in CO2-certificates. If these had cost €30 per ton, RWE would have been in big trouble.

There actually is a case for building new coal power plants. That is when, like RWE did over the last decade, you build new coal plants with the newest technology that get more kWh per ton of coal and therefore emit less CO2 per kWh. If one has to fire coal (and Germany will need that for another couple of decades), one should use the most efficient way to do so.

So, build more coal power plants with better efficiency, and retire old and inefficient plants with the same capacity. It is basically the same thing like retiring an old car that burns lots of gasoline per kilometer and buy a newer model. The best solution would of course to have an electric vehicle, but if one has gasoline cars in the first place, they should all be built to achieve maximum efficiency. That reduces CO2 emissions while the transition to 100% renewable still is not complete.

 

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BECCS and 600 ppm

Apr 15 2014

I have a couple of comments about the “Mitigation of Climate Change” report released yesterday by the IGCC.

First, I learned from this report what “BECCS” means.

“CCS” of course is carbon capture and storage. Burn fossil fuel and dispose safely with the CO2 at the point of emission. Or maybe capture an equivalent amount of CO2 by using olivine.

The “BE” added before the “CCS” means “bioenergy” (page 24 of the report).

As discussed earlier, it is possible to make  coal from present day biomass. See my 2013 post titled “Good Coal“. Doing that leaves one with zero CO2 cost when firing the coal.

Doing that and on top of that deploy CCS leaves one with negative CO2 emissions. That would be highly desirable to have.

The way to get there would be to put BECCS plants right at the top of the new merit order. Give them priority over all other forms of renewable energy. Solar and wind are nice, but they don’t come with negative emissions. Running the meter backwards is exactly what the climate needs.

Again, the new merit order would assign priority to BECCS projects regardless of their cost. This would lead to slightly higher electricity costs in the short term, but as long as we don’t see a big boom in BECCS installations, it would not have much influence on the big picture. If we do see such a big boom, that’s a nice problem to have.

Which leads me to my second comment. The report gives a number for the expected cost of mitigation efforts on page 17. It says:

Scenarios in which all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price, and all key technologies are available, have been used as a cost-effective benchmark for estimating macroeconomic mitigation costs. Under these assumptions, mitigation scenarios that reach atmospheric concentrations of about 450 ppM CO2 equivalent by 2100 entail losses in global consumption – not including benefits of reduced climate change as well as co-benefits and adverse side-effects of mitigation – of 1% to 4% (median 1.7 %) in 2030, 2% to 6% (median 3.4%) in 2050, and 3% to 11% (median 4.8%) in 2100 relative to consumption in baseline scenarios that grows anywhere from 300% to more than 900% over the century. These numbers correspond to an annualized reduction of consumption growth by 0.04 to 0.14 (median 0.06) percentage points over the century relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.

This is a surprisingly low value. It is only 600 ppm.

It is probably good news that these experts think that even with such a lukewarm and cheap effort global warming can be solved. On the other hand, I certainly don’t agree that this kind of investment is adequate considering the risks involved. 600 ppm investment may lead us right to a 600 ppm CO2 World.

I for one think that at least 2 percent of global GDP need to go into mitigation efforts. Not 0.06 percent.

Bonus link to my own idea on how to easily solve global warming in a week or two.

 

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New Merit Order

Apr 13 2014

I have written extensively about the fact that the market order for electricity in Germany is broken. A search with the term “merit order” brings up those posts.

These questions are complicated. With this post, I will try to make a very simple point:

“Merit” should not be based simply on price.

Even right now, that is true in part. The German Law on Priority for Renewable Energy says in Article 8 that electricity from renewable sources needs to be bought with priority, irrespective of price.

That is a very simple order with only two elements. Renewable beats everything else.

But one could very well imagine a more detailed merit order. I will show one example right now. It shows my personal ranking. Other people may have different ideas. But showing my idea will make the concept clear.

I’ll do so in two steps. The first step shows a very rough order. In a second step, I will go into more detail.

1. Rough Merit Order

I agree with the present legislation that renewable energy from all sources gets priority over everything else.

On second place comes nuclear. I don’t think that the dangers from radiation caused by nuclear accidents are as severe as the dangers caused from firing fossil fuel. Obviously, a lot of people will disagree with that. And anyway, nuclear in Germany will be phased out over the next decade, so this entry in the order will disappear completely eventually.

And fossil fuel (all sources) has no merit at all, so it deserves a place firmly at the bottom of the scale.

2. More Detailed Merit Order

There are a lot of renewable options. How should one decide on their relative merits?

I am not very sure about this right now. But the big picture is that the transition to renewable energy needs to process as fast as possible. To achieve that, the most important thing is to get prices down for technologies that are still more expensive than others.

For example, onshore wind is already very successful in Germany, but offshore wind development is still behind schedule and still much more expensive than onshore wind.

Therefore, offshore wind should get priority over onshore wind. All things equal, that will help offshore wind get to scale faster.

Note that this leads to higher average prices now, since it gives priority to the technology with higher costs. But it leads to a faster transition in the long term and therefore to saving more fossil fuel costs faster in the future.

For example, solar is still more expensive than onshore wind and will stay so for another couple of years before it becomes the cheapest option. Therefore, solar should get priority over onshore wind right now.

Firing fossil fuel has no merit at all. But the damage to the climate is different for gas, hard coal and lignite. It is also different depending on whether it is cogeneration (using the heat for other useful purposes like heating buildings or water) or not. The way to decide this would be to calculate the CO2 emissions per unit of useful energy, and put the worst alternatives at the very bottom of the list.

3. Prices

Once a policy decision has been made on a detailed merit order, the question is left who gets paid how much. The present way of dealing with this is broken. It makes it impossible to operate fossil fuel plants with a decent profit. That’s a problem since fossil fuel plants will still be needed for a couple of decades as backup. And it’s also a problem since in the future people will make coal and gas from renewable sources. There’s nothing wrong with firing gas if you make it from excess wind power in the first place. There is no problem with firing coal if you make the coal from present day biomass, as opposed to fire fossil reserves.

This post is not the place to discuss that in detail. But I think that the system needs to make sure that everybody gets paid a fair price that is enough to cover costs and a fair profit. The way to do this would be to have everybody bid based on the sum of their fixed and marginal cost, and pay everybody who gets to sell under the  new merit order based on these bids. More on that here.

 

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Bad News for E-ON

Apr 12 2014

E.ON is one of the big German power companies. They decided to leave the Desertec industrial initiative, according to this article at WDR. Thanks to this Tweet by Heiko Stubner for the link.

Maybe they think that they still have a chance to make money with their conventional power stations. But those times are gone. Even without Desertec, renewable energy is eating their lunch.

The big energy companies in Germany need a new strategy. Desertec is one alternative for them.

They own 30 percent of the London Array, which is good news for them and for the climate. But they may fall back in the race for owning a piece of the Northern African desert energy infrastructure.

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Useless and Harmful EU Guidelines On Renewable Energy

Apr 12 2014

The EU Commission has adopted a useless and harmful Communication titled “Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020“. Here are a couple of  remarks.

1. How To Work Around the Useless and Harmful EU Commission Guidelines

These guidelines are on “State aid”. Therefore, they don’t apply to a feed-in tariff system like the German one that isn’t State aid in the first place.

It would have been helpful if these guidelines discussed the relation between feed-in tariffs and State aid, so as to enable Member States to steer clear of anything that triggers application of these useless and harmful guidelines.

Unfortunately, the guidelines offer no such discussion. The document has a section on “scope of application”. The words “feed-in tariff” are not to be found in that section. Nor do these words appear anywhere in the section on renewable energy (section 3.3).

The only place this term shows up is at Paragraph 19-21, in the definition of the term “operating benefit”. That reads:

´operating benefit´ means, for the purposes of calculating eligible costs, in particular cost savings or additional ancillary production directly linked to the extra investment for environmental protection and, where applicable, benefits accruing from other support measures whether or not they constitute State aid, including operating aid granted for the same eligible costs, feed-in tariffs  or other support measures;

I have no idea what exactly that is supposed to say. That sentence is much lacking in clarity. But clearly the last part assumes that feed-in tariffs may constitute State aid, or may not (“whether or not”).

They got that right. Under Court of Justice case law Member States can mess up and build their feed-in tariff law as State aid (like France did), which triggers application of these useless and harmful guidelines. Or they can successfully avoid such a mistake, and avoid this Commission power grab.

It remains to be seen if there is a fight at the EU Court of Justice between Germany and the Commission over this. And it remains to be seen if the Commission succeeds in dictating their useless and harmful ideas about feed-in tariffs to the German legislator. And then it remains to be seen if this act, which is ultra vires, stands to a challenge before the German Federal Constitutional Court.

As far as I am concerned, the German feed-in tariff is not State aid. Therefore, these useless and harmful guidelines do not apply in the first place.

2. Increasing Cost of Renewable Energy

The Commission seems to be motivated by a desire to decrease the cost of the transition to renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the ideas they propose will work in the exact opposite direction.

The German experience with over ten years of feed-in tariffs shows one thing. There is not much risk building a project  under a feed-in tariff. Investors know exactly what return they can expect.

That point is very important for reducing cost. Capital costs (interest) will go up with more risk. And capital costs are the main cost factor for renewable energy. Once you have your solar panels or wind parks deployed, the fuel is free and operating costs are very low.

The risk for investors will go way up under the “competitive bidding process” the Commission favors. In such a competition there will be losers. And of course small scale citizen projects, which have been essential to the German renewable transition, won’t have the resources to participate in those bidding processes in the first place.

The risk for investors will also go up under the idea of paying premiums over market prices (Paragraph 125 of the Communication). Selling electricity directly to the market brings the new risk of not finding a buyer. And it of course adds new marketing costs, which again will be difficult for small citizen projects.

3. What Germany Should Do

There are several possible courses of action to deal with this power grab.

One is of course to fight the EU Commission at the European Court of Justice. I think the German government should defend the right of Member States to decide on their energy policy, and strongly resist this illegal Commission power grab with full force..

Another one is to actually introduce a State aid system for renewable energy on top of the existing feed-in tariff, which is not state aid.

Find a modest amount of public funds, let’s say one million euros. Then pay those out in “premiums” to installations of geothermal electricity generators, which is still a very small sector in Germany. Of course keep the feed-in tariff payments (not from public funds and not State aid) in place as well.

There would be two points in building such a system. One would be a contrast to the feed-in tariff system, which is not state aid. And the other one would be to empirically study, as a pilot project, if there is any chance that the model the Commission favors will be of any use for getting things done faster in the geothermal sector.

 

 

 

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I Think Using “Ƀ” For bitcoins Is a Good Idea

Apr 09 2014

Some people push for using the Unicode symbol “Ƀ” for bitcoins. I am all for it. I think it is a big advantage that Unicode already has this covered. In contrast, using a capital “B” with four strokes added is impossible to write with a normal keyboard.

And this is a good occasion to once again point out the difference between bitcoins (small b) and the Bitcoin network (capital B). The units of currency should be spelled with a small b, and when talking about the network one should use a capital B.

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Isaac Asimov On Working With Editors

Apr 07 2014

So I just released my third novel “Last Week” as a PDF file (available for FREE here).

In contrast to my first and second effort, this time I paid Zoë Markham of markhamcorrect.com some money to provide copy editing service. In this post, I am going to discuss my experience. And to spice things up a bit, I will use some quotes from Janet and Isaac Asimovs’ book “How to Enjoy Writing”, published in 1980. It contains a short section on working with editors, not titled “how to enjoy editors”.

But I sure enjoyed this part of the process. Isaac Asimov seems to share this feeling. First quote:

JANET: It’s amazing that editors all seem to love you.

ISAAC: I like them. I’m funny that way.

Before I started this experiment, I assumed I would hate the experience. After all, the job of an editor is to point out my failures and weaknesses. How can I possibly like that, if I am not a masochist, which I am not?

Part of the answer is that I get to read my manuscript again. And since it was fun to write in the first place, it was fun reading again.

Another part of the answer is that my editor made some super valuable suggestions for improving the manuscript. And I like having a better manuscript as a result of the process.

That is of course true on a purely grammar and spelling level. Some of these mistakes were difficult to find for me because I have German as a first language. For example, in German “glasses” (Brille) is singular. In English it is plural.

But it is also true for many suggestions that improved the clarity of the manuscript. My text would be not wrong on a grammar and spelling level, but would still be improved by one of the suggestions.

Yet another level of usefulness were a couple of places where the editor found and pointed out inconsistencies.

In contrast, there were also some suggestions I did not follow. Let’s quote Asimov again:

But really, I don’t think I’m the best writer in the world, and I’m ready to accept changes. I went through the manuscript and adopted at least one hundred of the ten thousand changes he put in, where the changes actually corrected me in matters of fact, or where he really did catch me in what I like to call an “infelicity in phrasing”. However, my general writing style must be inviolate, not because it is perfect but because it is the only style to which I want my name attached.

When leaving the level of grammar and spelling (“infelicity in phrasing”) and reaching into the level of style, there is a fine line between helping to improve and changing the voice of the author. I don’t have enough experience, so I am not sure how to navigate that. But the above quote from Asimov (who does have lots of experience in these matters) does show that there is a need for the author to reject some of the suggestions. And, interestingly, that may be the right answer in some cases even if the suggestion would lead to a more perfect text.

Another set of suggestions would be those that one could call exchanging URLs for uniform resource locators. That’s a Dilbert reference, if you didn’t recognize it. In other words, some of the suggestions may replace one good way of phrasing with another good one.

In those cases, I mostly followed the suggestions.

To sum up, I enjoyed the process of editing. And I like the fact that my manuscript is much improved. I could never have found so many errors on my own. It was a pleasure to work with my editor on this project, and I strongly recommend Zoë Markham for anyone who thinks about hiring a copy editor.

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