Berkeley 2011

Notes from The Physics of Sustainable Energy Conference, Berkeley March 5--6

Conference Schedule

Dian M. Gruenich

  • She's a former commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission (6-year term ended in December). Been into energy policy for thirty years.
  • The loading order of energy resources, as prescribed in the California Public Utilities Code Section 454.5:
  1. energy efficiency
  2. demand response
  3. distributed generation
  4. renewable generation
  5. cleanest available fossil resources
  • The current law prohibits new long-term contracts involving fossil fuels unless they are the cleanest, state of the art.
  • California Energy Efficiency Roadmap --- the California long-term energy efficiency strategic plan. Take a look!
    1. CSI (Million solar roofs)
    2. CSI-Thermal
    3. Self-generation incentive program (wind, fuel cells, storage systems)
    4. New solar homes
    5. Emerging (wind, fuel cells)
  • Thirty years ago, law suit brought to Supreme Court (decided 9-0), which says we can't build new nuclear (in CA?) until disposal has been "solved." Ergo, no nuclear in the state until law changed.
  • Power losses on grid in California on the order of 6%.
  • CA stable in terms of policy and laws; she started under Jerry Brown's first administration. Federal level: stimulus money was one-time activity. Is the state law + stimulus enough to get things going.

Daniel Kammen

Currently the chief technical advisor at the World Bank. He described the stages of language on climate change in the successive IPCC reports:

  1. unequivocal detection of human impact not likely for a decade (1990)
  2. 1995 balance of evidence suggests discernible human influence
  3. (2001) most of the warming in the last 50 years is likely (>66%) due to human activities
  4. (2007) most of the warming very likely (>90%) due to human activity
  5. (2007) warming will most strongly and quickly impact the global poor

Ashok Gadgil, LBL

He discussed the Human Development Index (HDI), developed by the United Nations. It combines

  • economic wellbeing
  • life expectancy
  • literacy and education

and was made avoiding imposing a pro-Western bias. He discussed the relationship between per-capita energy consumption and HDI.

  •, energy efficiency standards
  • Efficiency of refrigerators in U.S. started to improve with label requirements to help combat the lowest first cost view. The gains have been impressive, but they were initiated only when government "interfered" in the marketplace.
  • 2 million deaths per year from water-born illness. 1.6 million from respiratory illness from soot and inefficient cooking stoves.
  • --- Each stove saves about \$1600 over five-year life. Costs about \$14 to stamp in India.

Energy Secretary Chu and others now pushing super-efficient appliances. Aiming for 50% efficiency improvement. Since only a few manufacturers worldwide make TVs, air conditioners, etc., they can target with standards and move the market quite effectively.

Ben Santer

He mentioned the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2010). As it turns out, he figures prominently in this book, which I have subsequently read and recommend.

  • Since the 1970s we can study the output of the Sun from space and see the 11-year variation and other frequency components. While we don't completely understand all the frequency components, we do know the impact on climate.
  • Volcanos cause significant perturbations to the climate by throwing sulfates and ash up high in the atmosphere, where they raise albedo (increase the fraction of incident sunlight that is reflected away)
  • Green house gas emissions; no question about that
  • Changes in aerosol particles
  • Logging, changing the albedo, changing moisture evolution.
  • An Alabama group that used to argue that the temperature in the lower atmosphere has been cooling. They found a sign error and now agree that there is about 0.5 C increase caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions
  • We know that GHG are responsible for warming and not variations in solar output. Increased solar irradiance would warm the entire atmosphere, whereas GHG would trap heat lower, warming the lower atmosphere but cooling the upper atmosphere. This latter signature is actually observed.

Chris Field, Carnegie Institute Washington

The Hidden Costs of Energy NRC 2010

Standard economic analysis is based on discounting: a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. When significant effects show up far down the road, a "standard" discount rate reduces their importance to virtually nothing. In consequence, some have proposed very small discount rates, or even negative discount rates, to emphasize the challenges of handling environmental externalities. He mentioned the Stern Review of 2006 for a discussion of the discount rate.

Coming up with the right climate cost per ton of emitted CO2 is difficult:

  • discount rate
  • aggregate vs distributional effects; equity
  • market vs. non-market; influenced by one's worldview
  • degree of concern about low-probability, high-consequence outcomes

He showed a plot of the distribution of damage per kWh from coal for the various plants operating currently in the United States. There is some low-hanging fruit to be had either cleaning up or shutting down the most polluting tail of the distribution.

He mentioned two recently published papers in Nature:

  1. Min, S., Zhang, X., Zwiers, F.W. & Hegerl, G.C. Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes. Nature 470, 378-381 (2011).
  2. Pall, P. et al. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to flood risk in England and Wales in autumn 2000. Nature 470, 382-385 (2011).

Conflicts in Africa over the last 50 years are strongly correlated with temperature. The implication is that global warming will increase conflict in the world.

Most estimates suggest that at $30 ton/CO'_2_', a carbon tax gets to be effective. Perhaps start at $15/ton CO2 and rise 5%/yr? (I don't see how that gets up to the right range rapidly enough.)

Michael Webber

  • The Great Warming by Brian Fagan
  • The Tang, Yuan, and Ming dynasties collapsed after roughly 20 years of drought
  • The United States installed a network of water pipes made to last 100 years a century ago. We then added with pipes made to last half a century 50 years ago. It will cost an estimated $250 billion to fix our water pipes. Currently, we lose up to 15% from leakage.
  • It takes up to 1000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of biofuel
  • The Ogallala aquifer is down in places between 50--100 ft. This is "fossil water", left over from the last ice age and not susceptible to replenishment.
  • India's water table has dropped precipitously in places, often aided by over-pumping by Coca Cola

Berkeley 2011 Day 2