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Shub and the IPCC renewables report

Shub Niggurath has been looking at the nitty-gritty of the IPCC's renewables report and, in AGW parlance, "it's worse than we thought".

...the situation is analogous to a biological experiment where some of the control cases also appear in the study group or the use of a new experimental methodology where a fraction of the target subjects are themselves used in the training set. An even more accurate analogy would be like attempting to compare two clinical studies: the first one, where a small number of patients with good outcomes are selected and the study examines patient records retrospectively to see that such patients received quality healthcare at substantial healthcare costs, and a second prospective study which aims to attain the same for all included patients, with the exact same good outcomes operating as constraints. Healthcare costs (akin to CO2) in the second study would necessarily be high! The result is circularity of inference, and the root of the problem lies in the cross-inheritance of input parameters between scenarios of fundamentally opposite types.

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    The economic models indicate that the wrong combination of policies, but successfully applied, could cause a global depression for a nigh-on a generation and lead to 330 million less people in 2050 than the do-nothing scenario.

Reader Comments (14)

A medical researcher asked if I would guineapig a new migraine drug. Yes, I would. When he found I had atrial fibrillation, I was dropped like a hot meat pie because, he said, "We do not want people dying in the middle of a trial of a new drug". So much for thre golden standard of the double blind placebo.... etc.

Funny ending. The medico tried it privately. Said it was a serendipitous migraine discovery, had to do with delayed pain. Hit your thumb with a hammer, it hurts at first, then later a second pain sets in. This drug abated the second pain. After I took it for a month, he asked if it has worked. "No, I have not had the courage to hit my thumb with a hammer."

In climate work, when there is a reference period like 1961-1990, does the graph change all the time as stations are put into and taken from this reference period to give the anomaly method? Also, is the variance of the reference period included in calculations of longer-term variance, at all, or methodologically correctly?

Jul 20, 2011 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

I am sorry but I found Shub's analysis difficult to follow and the analogy confusing. Geoff's statement made me think of the problem of assessing diagnostic tests by only looking at the % of cases of a rare problem that are identified, while ignoring the % of false positives. But again, I think Shub is trying to say something else.
His last couple of paragraphs argue that the IPCC requires scenarios to be plausible, but the report never demonstrates that they are in fact plausible.
I would find a more formal statement of the issue easier to follow.

Jul 20, 2011 at 1:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

bernie @ 1:44pm


Jul 20, 2011 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

O/T but short and sweet...

20 July: Daily Mail: Max Hastings: These dripping wet inquisitors achieved the impossible feat of making us feel sorry for Rupert Murdoch
It is extraordinary that almost a quarter of Scotland Yard’s entire staff of 45 press officers are ex-NoW employees...

Jul 20, 2011 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Before anyone else had responded I was going to post simply "Uh?".

But my politeness got the better of me!

Jul 20, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered Commentermarchesarosa

Lest we forget:

New IPCC report reveals: Renewable energy is indispensible [sic] to avoiding climate change

No limit on renewable energy potential, technology or costs – the barrier is policy

Abu Dhabi, 9th May 2011: Just 2.5% of viable renewable energy sources could provide up to 80% of world energy demand by 2050 with currently available technologies, according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources (SRREN) also highlights the potential of renewable energy to play the key role in mitigating climate change and increasing energy access, equity and security. However, there are significant energy policy barriers, which need to be removed in order to unlock the full potential of renewable energies the report concluded.

Sven Teske, Renewable Energy Director from Greenpeace International, and one of the lead authors of the report said: “This is an invitation to governments to initiate a radical overhaul of their policies and place renewable energy centre stage. On the run up to the next major climate conference, COP17 in South Africa in December, the onus is clearly on governments to step up to the mark.

“The IPCC report shows overwhelming scientific evidence that renewable energy can also meet the growing demand of developing countries, where over two billion people lack access to basic energy services . And it can do so at a more cost competitive and faster rate than conventional energy sources. Governments have to kick start the energy revolution by implementing renewable energy laws across the globe,” Teske said.

The Energy [R]evolution scenario – a joint project of Greenpeace International, the European Renewable Energy Councile (EREC) and the German Space Agency (DLR) was chosen as one of the lead scenarios of the report. Since the first edition was launched in 2005, Greenpeace has published the Energy [R]evolution in over 40 countries and developed national scenarios, as well as three editions of its global version.

For more information: Sven Teske in Abu Dhabi: +49 171 8787552, Caroline Chisholm – media contact – in Amsterdam +31 646 162018 or caroline.chisholm(at)

[Emphasis added.]

Distortions, gross misrepresentations, blatant political arm-twisting. All in all, an absolute disgrace. And Teske, Teske, Teske... or if you prefer, Greenpeace.

What the hell was the IPCC thinking of when it sanctioned this press release? It literally beggars belief.

Jul 20, 2011 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


I fail to see how your being excluded has anything to do with respect to a "double blind placebo study." It's more along the lines of experimental controls (in this case, something like patients must be healthy), which is a wholly different animal.

Assuming the drug is found to work at all, later on you might assess its effects on patients with other conditions, assuming it's also found to be "safe," for whatever the accepted threshold might be.

Jul 20, 2011 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Paul Nurse and Steve Jones should be able to understand Shub's argument.

Jul 20, 2011 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

bernie, marchesarosa,

I kept my post intentionally terse (or so I imagine!), and didn't draw any simpler analogies.

I'll try to state the problem in a more direct, simpler way.

Look at Table 10.2, in the GDP/capita row. The 'baseline' scenario - which is really the world as we know it now - experiences a growth of 10.9 to 24.3 GDP/capita, by 2050. Pretty good - I would say. More economic progress, more wealth, more goodness. The baseline IEA model requires that you put in the value of GDP/capita and then gives a 'projection' of the various energy sources used to attain that progress

Now, look at the Teske-Greenpeace scenario in the same table - it is the column marked with a red dot. Note that the Greenpeace scenario has the same GDP/capita growth. This is because it derives this value from the baseline scenario - that is how their model is constructed. However, the Greenpeace scenario does not allow nuclear and virtually does not allow any fossil fuel use. Look at the red-dot column: nuclear is marked 'negative', and GtCO2/yr is fixed at 3.5 whereas the current level is 27.5.

What energy source, is left to expand and make possible the imposed high growth rate in their model? Renewables, what else!

That is how the Greenpeace scenario arrives at its magical 77% figure - by assuming a relatively, and all likelihood an implausible high growth rate and choking off nuclear and fossil fuel use. The model software per se, obviously has no plausibility checks (which could be based on 'n' number of parameters) which could constrain renewable energy use.

Now note this: the growth figure of 24.3 found in the baseline scenario, was also calculated by the Greenpeace guys. No clarifying further details are given in the IPCC report.

Secondly note: if you make *any* claim about the Greenpeace scenario - you need to compare it to a study which is *similar*. The baseline study's plausibility check is built-in - we all know that fossil fuel use is the bedrock of present-day industrial society - we know it is possible. By inheriting the same level of economic progress into a back-casting model which prohibits fossil fuel use, the Greenpeace scenario neatly sidesteps the plausibility question in this comparison.

Jul 20, 2011 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

We should bear in mind the continent-sized plant footprint imposed by high-renewables scenarios.

We should also remember that the materials used to construct a continent-sized plant need to be mined, processed, refined, transported, manufactured into components, transported again and constructed into renewables plant.

Usually in profoundly inhospitable locations like deserts or offshore.

So there's the infrastructure cost as well (road/rail construction; tractor units/locomotives and flatbed carriage for both; jack up barges etc). And giant solar plant in the desert requires lots of clean fresh water. And there isn't enough to go around right now, never mind with several hundred thousand km2 of solar plant to service.

All these resources can only be used once. This is the resource opportunity cost.

The total energy required from the mining of resources to the final plant assembly can only be used once. This is the energy opportunity cost.

The total CO2 emissions arising from this use of energy and raw materials is the emissions opportunity cost.

Here’s environmentalist Stewart Brand writing on Saul Griffith and the scale problem. Welcome to Renewistan:

The world currently runs on about 16 terawatts (trillion watts) of energy, most of it burning fossil fuels. To level off at 450 ppm of carbon dioxide, we will have to reduce the fossil fuel burning to 3 terawatts and produce all the rest with renewable energy, and we have to do it in 25 years or it’s too late. Currently about half a terrawatt comes from clean hydropower and one terrawatt from clean nuclear. That leaves 11.5 terawatts to generate from new clean sources.

That would mean the following. (Here I’m drawing on notes and extrapolations I’ve written up previously from discussion with Griffith):

“Two terawatts of photovoltaic would require installing 100 square meters of 15-percent-efficient solar cells every second, second after second, for the next 25 years. (That’s about 1,200 square miles of solar cells a year, times 25 equals 30,000 square miles of photovoltaic cells.) Two terawatts of solar thermal? If it’s 30 percent efficient all told, we’ll need 50 square meters of highly reflective mirrors every second. (Some 600 square miles a year, times 25.) Half a terawatt of biofuels? Something like one Olympic swimming pools of genetically engineered algae, installed every second. (About 15,250 square miles a year, times 25.) Two terawatts of wind? That’s a 300-foot-diameter wind turbine every 5 minutes. (Install 105,000 turbines a year in good wind locations, times 25.) Two terawatts of geothermal? Build 3 100-megawatt steam turbines every day-1,095 a year, times 25. Three terawatts of new nuclear? That’s a 3-reactor, 3-gigawatt plant every week-52 a year, times 25.”

In other words, the land area dedicated to renewable energy (”Renewistan”) would occupy a space about the size of Australia to keep the carbon dioxide level at 450 ppm. To get to Hanson’s goal of 350 ppm of carbon dioxide, fossil fuel burning would have to be cut to ZERO, which means another 3 terawatts would have to come from renewables, expanding the size of Renewistan further by 26 percent.

Meanwhile for individuals, to stay at the world’s energy budget at 16 terawatts, while many of the poorest in the world might raise their standard of living to 2,200 watts, everyone now above that level would have to drop down to it. Griffith determined that most of his energy use was coming from air travel, car travel, and the embodied energy of his stuff, along with his diet. Now he drives the speed limit (and he has passed no one in six months), seldom flies, eats meat only once a week, bikes a lot, and buys almost nothing. He’s healthier, eats better, has more time with his family, and the stuff he has he cherishes.

Can the world actually build Renewistan? Griffeth [sic] said it’s not like the Manhattan Project, it’s like the whole of World War II, only with all the antagonists on the same side this time. It’s damn near impossible, but it is necessary. And the world has to decide to do it.

Griffith’s audience was strangely exhilerated by the prospect.

To be absolutely clear: Griffith strongly advocates a high-renewables energy mix. What he says is not (at least in his eyes) an almost decisive argument for nuclear.

Jul 20, 2011 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

This is much clearer. Using what I recall as an old economics student, it looks like the IEA says with our current Production Function we should get 24.3 as the GDP in 2050. Greenpeace comes along and implicitly assumes the same Production Function (which is, of course, very heavily dependent upon our current means of generating and using energy) but constrains the production of CO2 without a concommitant change in the Production Function and determines where the energy comes from by defining the source of required energy for a given GDP output as having to come from Renewables - it is as you suggest illogical, implausible and indefensible.

Jul 20, 2011 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

You are right. A small bit of a correction. For the IEA, the logic is that, in order to get a 24.3 as GDP/per capita in 2050, you use the energy sources as their model shows (i.e., it is an input value) The rest is as you put it.

Jul 20, 2011 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Shub and bernie,

Yes, you have it right. The Warmista simply assume that if existing and projected energy resources are replaced by renewables then the renewables will not cost a unimaginable fortune and destroy all economic growth. Of course, what they are supposed to be arguing is that the renewables will not cost a unimaginable fortune and destroy all economic growth. A more perfect circle one could not create. Warmista really indulge themselves in fallacious argumentation, when they bother to argue at all.

Jul 21, 2011 at 2:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

Matt wrote "It's more along the lines of experimental controls (in this case, something like patients must be healthy)"

Many people volunteer for clinical trials because they know they are NOT healthy. At the very least, they will have usually visited a medico because the medical records are a common source of collection of volunteers. Thus, there exist the possibility of an inbuilt bias in trials. A successful design would, as you note, be aware of this. I agree. However, if you are seeking a cure for ingrown toenail, a portion of the guinea pigs must have that condition in order to show improvement or not. If some of that population also has an unrecognised disease, that portion cannot be identified and rejected. So, as usual, the big impediment to careful experiments is uncontrolled or uncontrollable variables.

In climate work, I suspect that we have not recognised quite a few uncontrollable variables, but that is personal opinion and so not worth much.

Jul 21, 2011 at 4:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Sherrington

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