## On the responsibilities of engineers

A recent tour of Titanic Belfast with my son, Dave, and pondering the responsibilities of engineers with respect to Big Constructs, like defending a city against floods, or advising on the ramifications of deploying geoengineering, and worrying about the tendency of scientists and many engineers to self-censor, led me to think about Space Shuttle’s Challenger and Columbia, again. As always, the definitive work is the comprehensive report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). Related, and very good, is the talk given by Professor Sheila Widnall of and at MIT regarding the CAIB and the accidents, included below.

But the best single write-up, before Professor Widnall’s summary, is by William Langewiesche in The Atlantic. An excerpt:

But Gehman was in some ways also naive, formed as he had been by investigative experience within the military, in which much of the work proceeds behind closed doors, and conflict of interest is not a big concern. The Columbia investigation, he discovered, was going to be a very different thing. Attacks against the caib began on the second day, and by midweek, as the board moved from Shreveport to Houston to set up shop, they showed no signs of easing. Congress in particular was thundering that Gehman was a captive investigator, that his report would be a whitewash, and that the White House should replace the caib with a Challenger-style presidential commission. This came as a surprise to Gehman, who had assumed that he could just go about his business but who now realized that he would have to accommodate these concerns if the final report was to have any credibility at all. Later he said to me, “I didn’t go in thinking about it, but as I began to hear the independence thing’You can’t have a panel appointed by NASA investigating itself!’ I realized I’d better deal with Congress.” He did this at first mainly by listening on the phone. “They told me what I had to do to build my credibility. I didn’t invent itthey told me. They also said, ‘We hate NASA. We don’t trust them. Their culture is no good. And their cost accounting is no good.’ And I said, ‘Okay.'” …

By the end of the second week, as Gehman established an independent relationship with Congress and began to break through the boundaries initially drawn by NASA, it became clear that O’Keefe was losing control. He maintained a brave front of wanting a thorough inquiry, but it was said that privately he was angry. The tensions came to the surface toward the end of February, at about the same time that Gehman insisted, over O’Keefe’s resistance, that the full report ultimately be made available to the public. The caib was expanding to a staff of about 120 people, many of them professional accident investigators and technical experts who could support the core board members. They were working seven days a week out of temporary office space in the sprawling wasteland of South Houston, just off the property of the Johnson Space Center. One morning several of the board members came in to see Gehman, and warned him that the caib was headed for a “shipwreck.” …

At the caib, Gehman, who was not unsympathetic to NASA, watched these reactions with growing skepticism and a sense of déjà vu. Over his years in the Navy, and as a result of the Cole inquiry, he had become something of a student of large organizations under stress. To me he said, “It has been scorched into my mind that bureaucracies will do anything to defend themselves. It’s not evil—it’s just a natural reaction of bureaucracies, and since NASA is a bureaucracy, I expect the same out of them. As we go through the investigation, I’ve been looking for signs where the system is trying to defend itself.” Of those signs the most obvious was this display of blind faith by an organization dependent on its engineering cool; NASA, in its absolute certainty, was unintentionally signaling the very problem that it had. Gehman had seen such certainty proved wrong too many times, and he told me that he was not about to get “rolled by the system,” as he had been rolled before. He said, “Now when I hear NASA telling me things like ‘Gotta be true!’ or ‘We know this to be true!’ all my alarm bells go off … Without hurting anybody’s feelings, or squashing people’s egos, we’re having to say, ‘We’re sorry, but we’re not accepting that answer.'”

Now, I don’t want to minimize how hard it is to be an engineer some times, particularly when you know something’s not right, and it needs a decision. Often, bad news is dampened, and the approach to a problem may involve cultural clash.

In the case of Columbia, NASA and the United States got lucky: Columbia was an R&D vehicle. The other Shuttles had been declared “operational”, and, so, they did not even have flight data recorders on them, victims of the Agency’s overly aggressive declaration of success.

Posted in aeroautics, engineering, NASA | 1 Comment

## ‘Nuf said: Ensembles as descriptions of Bayesian space-time posterior densities

(UPDATED, 2017-09-09, 12:38 EDT)

An exercise in the appreciation of ensemble models. By the way, many of these charts were obtained courtesy of my subscription at Weather Underground. They are, as far as I know, public domain. Unless otherwise specified, these are United States GFS ensemble members.

Note how the ensemble members converge towards one another as boundary conditions for a forecast become more and more certain. Also note how forecasted tracks distant in time can suddenly diverge from one another when new information is presented.

Update, 2017-09-02, 14:45 EDT

Update, 2017-09-03, 11:31 EDT

robertscribbler has a very thoughtful post on prospects for Hurricane Irma.

The ensemble model projections are looking far from safe.

Update, 2017-09-04, 12:20 EDT

Update, 2017-09-04, 20:08 EDT

Update, 2017-09-05, 23:37 EDT

Oh, oh. A continuity argument might say there’s non-zero probability on trajectories between the principal mass indicated by the white average, and the extreme rightmost ensemble member. The westernmost trajectories look like they are being discounted.

Description of the above: The 12Z September 5, 2017, track forecast by the operational European model for Irma (red line, adjusted by CFAN using a proprietary technique that accounts for storm movement since 12Z), along with the track of the average of the 50 members of the European model ensemble (heavy black line), and the track forecasts from the “high probability cluster” (grey lines)—the four European model ensemble members that have performed best with Irma thus far. Image credit: CFAN.

Update, 2017-09-06, 10:39 EDT

Update, 2017-09-06, 12:25 EDT

Update, 2017-09-06, 17:21 EDT

Update, 2017-09-07, 08:34 EDT

Hereinafter, ensemble model plots will just be appended, without a heading just like the above. The date of the ensemble graphic can be noted in their upper left hand corner.

Here is the most recent ensemble from ECMWF rather than GFS, courtesy of Weathernerds.org (*):

Two things are interesting about the ECMWF Hurricane Irma ensembles in contrast with the GFS ensembles:

• The ECMWF ensemble lines are more symmetric about its median or spine, especially early in the projections.
• The far-field projections, in the more distant future, continue that pattern of symmetry, whereas GFS ensemble members seem to “go crazy”, each in their own way.

This suggests to me two possibilities. First, it’s possible that the ECMWF ensemble set also would, in principle, behave like the GFS ensemble, but are being actively regularized. Or, second, GFS has many special cases, and asymmetries and far-field divergences are due to where these special case differences begin to dominate in contrast with the ECMWF which seems to be structurally more uniform, differing in degrees. I do not know which of these two explanations makes better sense or, if, there might be a third. And note that ECMWF ensemble does have a member where the hypothetical future Irma heads out far into the Atlantic in contrast with other members.

Alas, the constraints have not improved much:

Finally, a solid west coast of Florida preference on the track:

Both models now show a clear left-coast-of-Florida rake by Irma. I wonder how much being partly over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters is going to help maintain the hurricane’s strength?

(Click on images to see larger figures, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

It’s interesting that this update from the GFS ensemble shows the density bifurcating into an along-the-west-coast-of-Florida run and down the middle of the Florida panhandle:

(*) I’d like to support Weathernerds.org with a cash donation, but they don’t seem to have a link on their page for doing that. Also, their server seems (understandably) loaded right now.

## Houston, forward

For the purposes of this post, let’s pretend climate disruption does not exist (!). Let’s pretend Hurricane Harvey had no climate component, and that Hurricane Harvey was just another, big storm afflicting the fortunes of the U.S. Gulf coast. The village and eventually city of Houston has long had a relationship with the Buffalo Bayou, including extreme floods in the early half of the 20th century. (In fact, the first flooding was experienced shortly after the village was established in 1836.) These were contained by a major flood control project, but, in recent years, the long term lessons of that effort have been forgotten, and Houston has expanded beyond sensible development, sensitive to the risks such development entailed. In recent years, flooding has been repeated, such as the event of 1994.

I’m emphasizing Houston’s failure to listen to Nature, not only to put recent events in perspective, but to underscore how, as Professor Robert Young of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines has repeatedly pleaded, such ignorance of the loud assertions from Nature have been repeatedly ignored along U.S. coasts, especially in the aftermath of extra-tropical storm Sandy. People continue to rebuild where they were located before and, in fact, the laws of the United States and politicians of all parties, including ones, like Senator Schumer of New York and Senator Warren of Massachusetts, continue to defend and support the need for federal bailouts of property owners who are thereby shielded from the risks their location of property have embraced, creating tremendous moral hazard, in economic terms. Houston is far from unique. Professor Young attended and spoke at a symposium on Boston’s coastal future, and he was not complimentary regarding the plans he heard.

The consequences of this failure are playing out in the news, before our eyes, in humanitarian tragedy, in business loss, in what we’ll see as biological and chemical contamination across wide swaths of property, and in terms of environmental destruction of habitat and of life. It is tragic.

This post goes farther, however, and tries to argue that what would make this tragedy permanent is if the critical underlying lesson were lost, the “model solution“ which President Trump touted abandoned, and if Houston were simply rebuilt as it was, consistent with the pattern of failure we have thus far seen elsewhere. In this instance, if such rebuilding occurs, it will be an incredibly expensive fail, because it is likely to be undone, and soon.

But, despite precedent, I am optimistic. I think the experience of Hurricane Harvey could be the beginning of a change in how Americans build their homes. I think it could be the beginning of a new found realization that, for many reasons, we need to learn how to coexist with Nature, not try to conquer Her. The latter eventually fails. And I hope the lessons are appreciated by the people who are promoting a sea wall around Boston. That will simply never work, if for no other reason than that we do not really know how high to build such a sea wall.

The government and the public are tired of spending. As Professor Young relates, much of the monies spent by the federal government benefit very few — and often very wealthy — individuals, even through mechanisms like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Financial exhaustion might be one reason.

Professor Young is not the only expert sounding the alarm. Professor Amir AghaKouchak of the University of California at Irvine is quoted in the Washington Post:

“Always when there is a hurricane, you have compounding effects of ocean flooding — surge — and terrestrial flooding …” Harvey, he said, is a prime example of how these two factors work together to create the perfect storm, producing catastrophic coastal flooding when they occur at once. And now, he said, we need to pay more attention to the way these factors work together when we’re estimating flood risks for coastal regions — before disaster actually strikes. Scientists tend to focus on one flood driver or another when conducting flood hazard assessments for any given area — evaluating either the risk of terrestrial flooding, which occurs inland as a result of excess precipitation and overflowing rivers, or of surging ocean waters. But in many coastal areas, where rivers run out to meet the sea, both factors play a major role in the risk of regional flooding. Focusing on only one or the other can run the risk of underestimating the likelihood of a major flood.

The work of Professor AghaKouchak and colleagues is reported at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bloomberg reports how the present outcome is the result of bad city planning. I have heard calls now, as during Hurricane Katrina, to focus upon the humanitarian response, that anything else is ‘politicizing the tragedy’. But, as Professor Young again pointed out, during his presentation at Harvard’s HUCE HUBweek in 2015, the trouble is that without the immediacy of the tragedy, the United States seems to lack the political will to do anything about these problems. Moreover, we seem to only be able to focus on one thing at a time, and as Hurricane Harvey recedes into memory, eclipsed by threats from North Korea, or racist behavior of police in Akron, Ohio, the public is distracted, with its famously short attention span. Possibly recognizing this, some of my colleagues, progressive environmentalists, try to roll up a big ball of activism, combining environmental problems with racial and social justice, so people can focus on something. The trouble with that, as Professor Young points out, is that in doing so, the set of people who agree strongly on all these issues together is much smaller than, say, the set who might agree on having to do something regarding flooding and city planning, and, so, an opportunity for a critical discussion and consequent action is lost. In fact, this is expressible mathematically:

$|S_{1} \cap S_{2} \cap \dots \cap S_{n}| \le \min{(|S_{1}|, |S_{2}|, \dots, |S_{n}|)}\,\,\,\,\,\,\,\,[1]$

where $S_{1}$ is the set of people interested in issue 1, $S_{2}$ is the set of people interested in issue 2, $\dots$, and $S_{n}$ is the set of people interested in issue $n$.

But there’s money being lost in Houston, not only from damage to retail and nearby refineries, but because those same companies cannot operate if their people cannot get to the facilities or have a place nearby to live. It is possible that the painful lessons of Hurricane Katrina were learned, and things will be different. Let’s hope so.

I am hopeful.

But I know if they are not, there will soon be another Hurricane Harvey-sized flooding disaster, perhaps not at the coast, perhaps inflicted by an old hurricane-as-tropical-depression or perhaps inflicted by a nor’easter, which will bring the memory back. And, as thick-headed as our United States polity appears to be, eventually the message will get through.

The Economist this week (2nd September 2017) also highlights the perverse incentives some government policies have which make the effects of flooding worse.

(The above is from the Darmouth Flood Observatory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. They manage an online database of flood events from around the world.)

## Harvey, Category 4, 850 mb, EarthWinds

It’s actually rather beautiful:

## `The California way: sunny, with a chance of apocalypse’ (recommended read)

Dystopian scenarios encourage us to act in such a way that the dystopia does not come to be.

This continues an idea documented by Buckminster Fuller in his book Utopia or Oblivion:

Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. . . . Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe

## Remaining below the UNFCCC +2°C limit through demand transformation and focus upon agriculture

Some projections of country commitments to the UNFCCC process indicate the +2°C limit will be exceeded, at least without deploying implausible amounts of negative emissions technology. The Rocky Mountain Institute has issued a new report, Positive Disruption which argues that give the unprecedented and exciting renewable energy technologies the target can be met, and met using global, market-based solutions. Quoting,

Overall, our analysis demonstrates that limiting temperature increases to well below 2°C will require more and deeper change in the years ahead than
most analysts contemplate, with shifts not only in the energy sector but also in agriculture and land use. These changes are not inevitable, but will require urgent and extraordinary efforts to align policies, overcome ﬁnance bottlenecks, and speed market adoption of new solutions. Our assessment indicates that such changes may still be within reach, provided that enough subnational, national, international, and especially private-sector and civil-society actions can be launched and aligned to take full advantage of globally scaled production and deployment of clean energy technologies.

## On supporting farms with a second stream of income

Kevin Sullivan decided to access the second stream of income from a large solar PV array on his farmland property to help him keep the property profitable. This is popular enough that it’s gotten a name: dual-use. Having just returned from a trip to Northern Ireland, the pattern seems worldwide. There, owners of predominantly agricultural land are taking advantage of their windy geography and low population density to erect hundreds of land wind turbines, some of the least capital intensive energy producers available, cheaper even than large scale natural gas. (See page 2 of that reference. And see below why Lazard’s parroting the industry line that “baseload” power is needed is simply wrong.) Northern Ireland has 150 rainy days a year. Yet we still saw installations like that below, one which includes both solar PV for electricity and solar hot water, the two panels to the left.

However, Sullivan’s pursuit of this PV installation has produced opposition, mostly, it seems, because of local concerns about the project’s effect upon adjacent property values. This is a story which will be played out over and over again. Fortunately, Connecticut has a state-level siting council, which supersedes local authority. As these are regional resources, in my opinion, that is how it should be, and I wish Massachusetts had the same. Actually, Massachusetts does, but these are only authorized to site large producers of energy which can support “energy reliability”, predominantly fossil fuel resource.

The project on Sullivan’s property is being constructed and will be operated by Jeff Grybowski‘s Deepwater Wind company.

I’ve written before about how the idea of needing “baseload generation” is a myth. Here are some of my posts:

And, finally, there is the 2015 op-ed by Steve Holliday, former CEO of National Grid, titled “The idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”. Two excerpts:

What is the future of baseload generation in such a system? “That’s asking the wrong question”, says Holliday. “The idea of baseload power is already outdated. I think you should look at this the other way around. From a consumer’s point of view, baseload is what I am producing myself. The solar on my rooftop, my heat pump – that’s the baseload. Those are the electrons that are free at the margin. The point is: this is an industry that was based on meeting demand. An extraordinary amount of capital was tied up for an unusual set of circumstances: to ensure supply at any moment. This is now turned on its head. The future will be much more driven by availability of supply: by demand side response and management which will enable the market to balance price of supply and of demand. It’s how we balance these things that will determine the future shape of our business.”

How much of a problem is the integration of intermittent renewables in Holliday’s view? “It’s simplistic to only look at storage. We will have the intelligence available in the system to ensure power is consumed when it’s there and not when it’s not there.” This is what software companies are working on at the moment, says Holliday. “We have a partnership with New York University where we support a programme for startups. Of the 30 startups we are supporting, 25 are software companies. And this is called an energy incubator!”

These companies, says Holliday, “are building the apps that will transform the energy world, aggregating data, marrying supply and demand. It is a really exciting space to be in.” As an example he notes that “there will be massive amounts of data available from vehicle charging stations in the future. Intelligence is going to decide how this will be used.”

Be sure to check out National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios.

## `The Republican Party is enabling an increasingly dangerous demagogue`: Fallows, at The Atlantic

I don’t often do straight politics or even national concerns here. Some people (you know who you are) think everything I do is political. For example, I had an exchange on Google+ which included as the last post from my correspondent:

Jay Abramson
+Jan Galkowski don’t get snippy. I don’t have to listen to your superiority point of view. I didn’t deny the climate is experiencing change. I do question the contribution or amount of human development. Even you should entertain discussion. There has been falsified data. There is an agenda. And it isn’t saving the planet. While as an industrial we certainly produce a number of emissions, et al, we are among many, and we do have environmental controls. Talk again when China cleans up their act, and India.

To be complete, the entire exchange is quoted below. This is a classic interchange with a science denier: They don’t want to exchange on the actual Science, because they know they’ll lose on that terrain, and may not even know what you or I is talking about. They keep moving the discussion to human interactions, as if in a courtroom, where the veracity of the witness can be questioned.

Jay Abramson
Earth has had several ice ages; what happened between them? Global Warming. Or Climate change.

The bigger question is what, if any, effect are we having on it?

For the record, I’m not denying the climate is changing. But so far I’ve seen no proof we are changing it. But I have seen reports of falsified data. Science is supposed to be impartial; pure if you will. As soon as humans get involved so do agendas, and the whole damn thing goes out the window.

Jan Galkowski

+Jay Abramson​ Learn some Physics, dude. You don’t need observational data. You need to know about triatomic gases, a bit of radiation physics, knowledge of global CO2 emissions, and a command of — wait for it — arithmetic.

Jay Abramson

+Jan Galkowski that’s funny. And here I thought Science was based on observation, theory and repeatable experiments to prove the theory. At least the American Heritage Dictionary thinks so:

“Science

n. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
n. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
n. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.”

Jan Galkowski

+Jay Abramson It is. But observations and experiment once done need not be repeated. And the Science I quoted above is accepted without question — even by the likes of YOU — when it is used in or used to make products which are convenient. So there’s no question of that. And if such Science, through logic and calculation, implies people are producing enough excess warming to change climate, well, there you go. You can’t deny it without then believing the products you use which rely on exactly the same Science are also hoaxes, such as cell or smart phones, laptops, and solar panels.

Unfortunately, there was a long post I made (via my Android “smart”phone) which did not make it into the mix. In fact there were a couple. One addressed Mr Abramson’s claim that people had nothing to do with climate change. The other had to do with the role India and China played. They never got posted to Google+. Alas. So I am reproducing the substance here.

On the former, I pointed out that all one needed to do to demonstrate people were responsible for climate change was to (a) find out how much people were emitting per year into the climate system, (b) understand the emissions spectrum of the Earth at its temperature, (c) understand the absorption spectrum of CO2, and (d) understand the Blackbody Effect in the context of Conservation of Energy.

On the latter, I pointed out, and referenced, that because CO2 is scrubbed from the climate system at a rate on the order of multiple centuries, it stays in atmosphere, on human scales, essentially forever. Accordingly, the groups most responsible for current climate change are those whose cumulative emissions are biggest, and the previous link demonstrates who those are. China is a distant third. India is a distance eighth, behind France.

I also indicated that anyone who felt so strongly about these matters could verify the basics themselves, and, if they in fact felt so strongly, they should. I indicated that Science is not a courtroom, where the most persuasive argument wins. Science is such a powerful system because you can replicate a result whether or not you agree with the person who claims it, or otherwise trust them.

And this brings us to Mr Trump. (I heretofore will not use the title “President”. He has, by his actions, disgraced his title to that address.)

James Fallows writes how (a) Mr Trump is increasingly becoming a demagogue, and (b) how this stain will (unfortunately, and I am no Republican) stick to Republican Party indefinitely. My minister summarized the moral problem as that Mr Trump has made cruelty and expressions of cruelty socially acceptable. Sure, this has been developing for many years, and Trump exploited it as much as extolls it.

I suspect this is, sociologically, the side effect of a large white populace experiencing the effects of an empire in decline. But that does not help the victims of their anger, nor absolve them of moral responsibility.

## Amory Lovins, 2008: `Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution with Amory Lovins`

An excellent presentation from über successful dropout from Harvard University and Oxford University, Dr Amory Lovins, at University of California at Berkeley:

## Saving the World: Jacobson, Chu, with DiCaprio, at Stanford

(The above video is intended to start at time second 2051 or at 34 minutes. WordPress is sometimes funny about that. Apologies if not.)

## Carbon Worshipers and Worship

Linking Michael Klare’s piece at Resilience: The Cult of Carbon.

There’s agitation and angst in some circles regarding the proper term to dub individuals who, however technical their training, reject the conclusions of climate science, physics, and even Exxon from the 1970s.

There’s denial, skepticism, and rejection as terms which might be applied to those who reject climate science. These can be preceded by climate or science as one wishes. The angst is over which is the most appropriate. For good reasons, people, apart from the “deniers” themselves, have rejected “skepticism”. Skepticism is a healthy part of all scientific and intellectual inquiry. For this reason, and for example, the Associated Press will no longer, as matter of policy, refer to “climate deniers” as “skeptics”.

For me science rejectionist sounds like the best all ’round description if that groove is worth remaining in. My reasons? As I wrote in a comment to Science Denial Crock of…

View original post 700 more words

## On Hoarding Electrons

I was once scolded by an energy wonk and political progressive at a semi-public forum for suggesting people “hoard electrons”. That is, instead of being grid connected, there seemed to me to be situations where becoming as independent of the electrical grid as possible with solar and storage was the right thing to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong: While, to me, the ideal situation is a highly distributed, decentralized grid, I expect and hope people can and will share with their neighbors, towns, and regions. I just don’t see a centralized, ISO-NE-managed grid as having a future.

However, while I think people should share with their neighbors and the present-day grid, they should not be penalized for doing so. Unfortunately, this is what is being done in some regions in the United States and the recent rate proposal by Massachusetts Eversource does essentially that: It does not return the value of the full benefit to the grid of residential and small commercial PV to the owners of the PV, penalizing them instead. Eversource claims, as all these utilities doing this do, that the PV owners are benefitting from the grid, maintained and paid for by non-PV owners, and, accordingly, should bear a bigger burden of grid costs. This means that rather than one-one net metering, the value returned to owners for generation is less than the cost of consumption. There are plenty of studies indicating the value of solar to the grid is actually more than one-one, and, technically, a PV owner should get compensated more than what they are charged for a kilowatt-hour. (See another, and another, and another.) This benefit varies throughout the day and, so, time-varying rates are the fairest way of assessing costs and assigning benefits. Local utilities whine and complain that such a system is expensive to roll out and they should be compensated and rewarded for doing so. (National Grid appears to be an exception.) Fine, then use some average which can be updated every couple of years.

But, should Eversource or any other utility do this, my answer is that, indeed, people should hoard electrons. If leadership like ISO-NE’s Gordon van Welie can only see a grid-centric zero Carbon electrical system, which is suggested by his claim that such a system is only practical if there is “seasonal storage” available, then the “markets”, which Mr van Welie and others so cherish, should respond in the way markets do, and pursue grid defection at a local level. Perhaps, some day, when ISO-NE or its replacement is kinder to people who have invested capital to create PV sources, subsidized, no doubt by federal and local incentives, they’ll think about reconnecting. Such defection is facilitated and incentivized by a burgeoning set of technical suppliers who are selling to disillusioned grid customers the means whereby they can leave. There are also even turnkey packages available. (See also.) And it’s possible, except in the most extreme cases, to make a sense for defecting most of one’s load off-grid. The extreme cases are rare proposals by utilities to penalize a solar PV residence \$20 a month for being grid-tied. (Stupid.) The rationales offered by utilities have been seriously criticized.

Claire Anderson writes in Homepower what it takes to do this. Note that’s a 2015 article, and the price outlook for solar PV and storage batteries has markedly improved since that time.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

We’re comin’ fer ya!

## The South Shore Recycling Cooperative can save you money!

Abington, Cohasset, Duxbury, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Hull, Kingston, Middleboro, Norwell, Plymouth, Rockland, Scituate, Weymouth, Whitman

Join ’em. Ask your town governors on the South Shore to check ’em out. It’s your tax dollars wasted if you don’t. What your town gets.

And here’s the problem, from a recent paper in Science:

From Geyer, Jambeck, Law, “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made”, Science Advances, 19 Jul 2017: 3(7), e1700782, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782

## “Energy is at the core of all these things”

Energy and water.

Update, 2017-07-19: The Solver

• It is possible to supply every electron needed to keep America humming by covering just 100 square miles with solar panels.
• “The batteries you need to store the energy, to make sure you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square mile. That’s it.”
• “People talk about fusion and all that, but the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. It’s really reliable. It comes up every day.”
• “We’ll need to be a combination of utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, combined with wind, geothermal, hydro, probably some nuclear for a while, in order to transition to a sustainable situation”
• “People do not like transmission lines going through their neighborhood, they really don’t like that, and I agree”
• “Rooftop solar, utility solar — that’s really going to be a solution from the physics standpoint. I can’t really see another way to really do it.”

You can watch the keynote below:

## Schroders asset management forecasts global warming of more than +4℃

(Updated Thursday, 27 July 2017)

Andy Howard, Head of Sustainable Research [at Schroders], led the work on the dashboard. Here, he explains why it was developed:

“Climate change will be a defining driver of the global economy, society and financial markets over coming years, decades and beyond. While the issue has moved up investment agendas, the change in strategies has not kept pace.

“The danger is that investors think the problem is being tackled, and that their exposure to climate change risks is reduced, when this is not necessarily the case.

“We developed the Climate Progress Dashboard as part of our efforts to manage the risks and identify the opportunities climate change presents. It provides an objective and transparent view of change to help investors base decisions on the outcomes that are likely, rather than those they would like to see.

“It’s worth noting the dashboard is a snapshot of where we stand, not a forecast of where we will end. We are in the early stages of changes that will play out over several decades. Estimates could change quickly with small changes in direction over coming years.

“As a result, the dashboard conclusions must be seen as measures of the paths we are currently on, rather than conclusions on where we will end up.”

While the assessment is, I believe, basically sound, I think the Standard and Poors projection on impacts which they quote (see below) is overly optimistic about impacts for the United States and northern Europe. I do not have quantitative evidence right now to back that up. However, to the degree to which U.S. businesses and residents depend upon extended supply chains for their sources, shipments, and intermediate products, as well as delivery, food, fuel, and so on suggests to be a much larger than nominal exposure to inclement weather and other disruptions which could arise in a +3℃ or +4℃ world. That is, and disaster planning backs this up, to the degree to which communities are locally self-sufficient is the degree to which they are resilient, in economics and living conditions.

Update, 2017-07-27

The Final Report giving recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures was issued in June 2017. Some highlights of the presentation introducing it:

And its members:

## A “capacity for sustained muddle-headedness”

Hat tip to Paul Lauenstein, and his physician brother, suggesting the great insights of the late Dr Larry Weed:

Great lines, great quotes, a lot of humor:

• “… a tolerance of ambiguity …”
• “… a final diagnosis is a myth …”
• “If you cannot evaluate what you’re doing, then there is a very serious possibility that you do not know what you are doing.”
• ”… they played `Sherlock Holmes’ too early. They asked the first question, and then the next question would be determined by the first question, because they were brought up in a CPC sort of atmosphere. `What do you think of next, doctor?”’

Unfortunately, it’s not clear medicine — or statistics — has progressed much beyond 1971. Note the 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences,
To Err is Human.

The last quote reminds me of something I was taught in graduate school (in 1973, noting the above video is from 1971), when I took 6.871, Knowledge-based application systems, and medical decision support was covered as a subject. I distinctly recall that problems of software-physician interaction during the patient interview centered about the comparatively unstructured way which physicians gathered information, that they could not be constrained to using a diagnostic or taxonomic key as is popular in, say, Botany. The thought crossed my mind at the time, that “How do we know if the approach the physicians are using are the most effective?” However, being a student, and knowing next to nothing about diagnostic medicine, I suppressed my doubts and took the advice as definitive. Given Dr Weed’s comments, I should have been more assertive with my doubts. And, unfortunately and apparently, these methods of practice which Dr Weed criticized have gotten ingrained in decision support software for medicine. See E. H. Shortliffe, “Computer programs to support clinical decision making”, Journal of the American Medical Association, 258, 61-66, for their status as of 1986, some 15 years after Weed’s talk.

Incidentally, while I have found two additional references by medical authors to the title phrase of this post attributed by them to Alfred North Whitehead, that is, claims that Whitehead mentioned a “capacity for sustained muddle-headedness”. My online research has failed to turn up that reference. The closest I can find is a mention by Lomax in an article in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 17(1), January 2011, on page 46 where he quotes Whitehead from Whitehead’s 1938 book Modes of Thought where Lomax writes

Alfred Whitehead said that the job of the philosopher was “living with sustained muddle-headedness”.

Whitehead liked the term muddle-headed, even applying it to himself. I doubt he ever meant it, however, in exactly the way Dr Weed and colleagues used it.

## “Explosive methane will create two million jobs!”

The American Petroleum Institute has trotted out a commissioned study claiming an increase of two million jobs in 2040 off a base of four million (in 2015).

First, these are not people working with development or distribution of natural gas. 44% are “end user” workers, that is, someone someplace who works to “… convert natural gas and its associated liquids to electricity, petrochemical and other products and the industries that manufacture, sell, install and maintain gas-fired appliances and equipment used in the residential, commercial, vehicle and industrial sectors”. (API, “Key Observations and Findings”) The implication is that if natural gas went away, so would these 44% of jobs. That is not correct. The report further defines these as

The largest NAICS codes associated with the end-use segment are Chemical Manufacturing, Gas-fired Electric Power Generation, Power Boiler and Heat Exchanger Manufacturing, Household Appliance Repair and Maintenance, and Industrial Process Furnace and Oven Manufacturing. The end-use segment also includes portions of the jobs related to Industrial Equipment and Machinery Repair and Maintenance, Industrial Construction, Freight Trucks, Turbine and Turbine Generator Set Manufacturing, Iron and Steel Pipe and Tube Manufacturing, and Freight Rail.

While it is not clear what “largest” means here, nevertheless there is no notion of substitution or displacement. The natural gas industry is really responsible for jobs in “Household Appliance Repair and Maintenance” and “Chemical Manufacturing”?

Second, 30% of the claimed jobs are in fact directly associated with natural gas mining, production and distribution. These are fully tied to natural gas.

Third, 25% of the claimed jobs consist “…of oil and gas production companies and their suppliers of goods and services…”, or, to quote their NAICS descriptions,

The largest NAICS Codes primarily associated with the production segment include Support Activities for Oil and Gas Operations, Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas Extraction, Drilling Oil and Gas Wells, and Oil and Gas Field Machinery Manufacturing.

Natural gas can be credited with all of these jobs?

Fourth, the study limited itself to 2015-2016 natural gas growth scenarios, and cherry-picked data from the U.S. EIA Annual Energy Outlook for those years. In particular, here are the case studies the report chose:

In contrast, EIA AEO scenarios from 2017 show some projections with flat natural gas consumption, per:

Presumably because there is no increase in use of natural gas, there is also no increase in numbers of jobs.

So, I conclude, in a best case scenario, about 600,000 jobs could be added by 2040 for which the natural gas industry is responsible, and perhaps another 200,000, dependending upon how the other categories are counted. There is no allocation that I can see to jobs fixing existing pipeline infrastructure, which don’t increase as production does. The method used to make these projections, as far as I can tell, is using linear fits based upon historical employment numbers.

Incidentally, the API report contains an interesting Appendix B which compares the jobs intensity for construction of natural gas plants, nuclear, coal, onshore wind, and two types of solar, sourcing modules from the U.S. or China. While there are plenty of examples of unfair comparison in that Appendix, including failing to account for additional decrease in price for solar modules between now and 2040, the study produces the result that for new wind, solar, and natural gas construction, the job creation intensity is about the same. For some reason they excluded offshore wind.

Finally, as I’ve noted before, there is nothing natural about natural gas. It is explosive methane. Natural gas ain’t granola.

## Solar Costs at `Jaw-Dropping Lows`; `No Evidence That Changing Power Mix Endangers Electric System Reliability`

From GTM:

`Solar Moves in a Curious Direction Since Trump Quit Paris Deal: Up

Also see Bigger is Not Better: Grid Modernization and the Antiquated Concept of ‘Baseload’, and in particular the comment by Gene Grindle to that post.

As some of the coal and nuclear plants face retirement decisions, focusing on their status as “baseload” generation is not a useful perspective for ensuring the cost-effective and reliable supply of electricity. Instead, system planners, market administrators such as regional effectively and efficiently defines and measures system needs and (b) develops planning tools, scheduling processes, and market mechanisms to elicit and compensate broad range of resources
that have become available to meet those needs. Fortunately, planners and operators have been hard at work at such innovations and have moved past the concept of “baseload” to focus on the attributes of resources and the services they provide to the system that help the modernized electricity system operate more reliably, efficiently, and nimbly. While coal and nuclear power plants—as well as a broad range of other resource types—are recognized for providing a wide range of reliability services to the grid, the traditional definition of power supply resource adequacy is being revisited by some system operators and planners. Still, additional work is needed in planning and markets to better recognize and compensate resources for the value they provide to the system, and to incorporate the environmental impacts of electricity generation, including resources’ ability to reduce the system’s greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with public policy goals.

Coal and nuclear plants do not provide unique operational services that are specifically identified by or correlated with the term “baseload” generation. The term does not reflect the broader range of services that various resources can provide. As system planning and electricity market design are modernized, it is becoming increasingly clear that the services and attributes most under-recognized by today’s markets are greenhouse gas emissions in some jurisdictions and operational flexibility. A resource is considered flexible when it can react to operational signals to ramp its power generation up and down to help meet the needs of the system over multiple hours and minute-to-minute. Flexible resources can cost-effectively assist with meeting changing system loads and integrating the variable output of renewable resources. These flexibility needs are rapidly expanding as a result of numerous industry trends: (a) recognition by policymakers that renewable energy resources are needed to meet long-term emissions reductions goals; (b) customers’ increasing desire to voluntarily procure renewable energy or generate electricity on-site; and (c) substantial technological improvements that have driven down the cost of renewable resources to the point where, even before accounting for tax incentives, they are the lowest-cost option for new generating plants in some regions of the country.

## Defying technology, trends … nay, defying Mathematics!

The creatures from Trumpland are planning an Energy Week in the upcoming, probably to lead up to the Fourth of July celebrations. Our Orange Leader

… will tout surging U.S. exports of oil and natural gas during a week of events aimed at highlighting the country’s growing energy dominance.

[He] also plans to emphasize that after decades of relying on foreign energy supplies, the U.S. is on the brink of becoming a net exporter of oil, gas, coal and other energy resources.

(Brief excerpt from the Bloomberg article on the subject)

Trouble is, this defies trends and the cost curves of wind and especially solar technology, as noted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Lazard. Worse, as energy supplies are more constrained in their sources and demand more exotic methods to extract, either the price per unit needs to increase, or there needs to be a greater subsidy from the federal government. Fossil fuels in the USA already receive huge subsidies: Consider the FERC-directed eminent domain takings which pipeline companies receive, rather than having to buy the land their pipes cross and despoil. (In contrast, consider what Amtrak has to do for its rights of way.) As additional supplies of fossil fuel are dumped into the marketplace, prices are depressed, especially explosive methane (“Natural gas ain’t granola”).

Worse, their prices are at best constant, and, over time, increase are the reserves get rarer, whereas renewables — without subsidies — will be cheaper than costs of transmission for electricity in the early 2020s.

This is matching a linear curve with an upslope against exponentially decaying curves. Trumpland wants overseas consumption, but at what price? Cheaper than, say, coal dug in China with fewer health and workplace protections? With lower transportation costs?

What do the markets think? Trumpland is happy to quote, take credit for, and lie about increases in jobs (e.g., increases in numbers of jobs in coal as cited by EPA head Pruitt), but how have energy sources performed since the junta was in office?

(Click figures to see larger images, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

Not too well.

In contrast, have a look at wind and solar investment (*):

I daresay that solar via TAN:ETF has perked up recently, after a time of doldrums.

By Trumplands criteria, they aren’t doing too well. The order is tall to provide convincing evidence how the United States is going to defy headwinds, develop markets, avoid having climate damage reparations set against it, let alone financially succeed. It’s possible that Trumpland is trying to set up a protection racket, consistent with organized crime, where if the rest of Earth doesn’t want their planet trashed, then the USA should get paid off. But, if that is the objective, it speaks for itself.

And it won’t work. I’ve detailed many times elsewhere here why.

Update, 2017-07-01

From Kevin Book of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, in his “An energy policy of dominance”, 28th June 2017:

Governments in the United States can position the country for dominance by rationalizing disparate policies that muddy price signals for private industry. For example, the \$1/gallon federal biodiesel tax credit implies a CO2 price of ~\$196 per metric ton. By contrast, the ¢24.4/gallon federal diesel tax corresponds to a CO2 price of ~\$24 per metric ton. Federal wind energy tax credits of \$24/megawatt hour imply ~\$54 per metric ton, but the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctioned carbon allowances in June for ~\$2.80 per metric ton. Paying green energy producers 10 to 20 times more to abate greenhouse gases than we charge fossil fuel consumers for emitting them is distortion, not dominance.

That, incidentally, shows how silly the claim of government subsidies support renewables and that’s why they’re winning is.

Also, outgoing FERC member Collete Honorable says “I don’t see any problems with reliability, and I say bring on more renewables”.

(*) Statement of interest: Both my wife, Claire, and I have holdings in the FAN and TAN ETFs. Also, this is not intended as any kind of financial advice. You should consult with a professionally licensed advisor before acting on this information.

## Yea, BOSTON!

MAKING CLIMATE CHANGE DATA ACCESSIBLE

Today, the City of Boston released ClimateChangeData.Boston.gov. The City website features scrubbed information from the U.S. EPA Climate Change website.

Just another band out of Boston …

## Causation and the Tenuous Relevance of Philosophy to Modern Science

I was asked by ATTP at their blog:

hypergeometric,
Which bit of what Dikran said do you disagree with? It certainly seems reasonable to me; if you want to explain how something could cause something else, you need to use more than just statistics.

After consideration, I posted a long explanation, worthy of a blog post on its own. But I’m leaving it there, and just putting a link to it here.

## Deloitte: The drumbeats for the extinction of utilities have begun

From The Economist, 25th February 2017:

FROM his office window, Philipp Schröder points out over the Bavarian countryside and issues a Bond villain’s laugh: “In front of you, you can see the death of the conventional utility, all financed by Mr and Mrs Schmidt. It’s a beautiful sight.”

Microgrids where the Big Grids don’t go.

Why microgrids.

Update, 2017-09-14

Someone’s going to cannibalize our business — it may as well be us. Someone’s going to eat our lunch. They’re lining up to do it. I think repositioning, redefining the grid from what it is as sort of a passive purveyor of energy to one that is an enabler of transactive energy at the grassroots level is a much more sustainable, profitable strategy.

## Statements by the Ecological Society of America on the proposed U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement, and on Climate Change

By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change, the United States is abdicating its role as the world leader in using science-based information to inform policy. Business, political, and scientific leaders the world over are condemning the decision. More than 190 signatory nations agreed to take actions towards reducing future temperature increases and addressing the serious threats posed by a changing climate to people, livelihoods, and nature. The science-based evidence is clear that humans are driving climate change.

Management strategies have traditionally operated under the assumption that natural systems fluctuate within a certain range—the past has served as an indicator of future conditions. But this assumption does not hold in the face of rapid climate change. Even conservative warming projections show that natural systems will experience unprecedented stresses, including shifting habitats and ecological processes (e.g. wildlife migration and reproduction) and more frequent and severe natural disturbances, such as fires, floods, and droughts. These unavoidable changes will require management that addresses ecological thresholds, tipping points, and other sources of uncertainty. Ecosystems are naturally dynamic and diverse—they are the products of change and adaptation. But human activity has impaired the ability of many systems to respond. Preserving natural function is central to maintaining resilience and safeguarding ecosystem services in the face of climate change.

I am a member of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Great technical literature! Interesting problems!

## Installed Non-Utility Solar, Massachusetts, 12/2016

(Click on image to see a larger figure, and use browser Back Button to return to blog.)

## Prayer Vigil for the Earth, Needham Common, Massachusetts, 4 June 2017

Led by our own UU Needham Reverand Catie Scudera, with Reverand Daryn Bunce Stylianopoulos of the First Baptist Church of Needham, and Reverend Jim Mitulski of the Congregational Church of Needham, Sunday, 4th June 2017 saw a vigil of members of their combined congregations, singing songs of reflection and protest in response to Thursday’s announcement by President 45, that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate agreement.

In response …

Why? Oh, why not try something from an episode on Tyson’s excellent Cosmos:

(properly, for pay) https://www.amazon.com/The-Lost-Worlds-Planet-Earth/dp/B00K5M962G

And, for background to this, read Ogden and Sleep.

In the world in excess of $+2\textdegree$, dragons prowl. The most obvious are methane clathrates, but who knows what else.

And, while solemn, the songs, the sun, and the moment were memorable.

And there is some good news, even if it is partial.

## Disney’s Robert Iger resigns from Trump advisory panel over the Trumpistas’ decision to quit COP

“Protecting our planet and driving economic growth are critical to our future, and they aren’t mutually exclusive,” he said in a statement. “I deeply disagree with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and, as a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s advisory council.”

— Disney’s CEO, Robert Iger

Story from Variety.

## GForce Waste Sorters!

Check out their Wide World of Waste.