Old Warmth In The Sea And New Cold In The Living Room

  • Date: 12/02/19
  • Prof Fritz Vahrenholt, Achse des Guten

In January 2019, Science published a work worth reading entitled “The Little Ice Age and the 20th-century deep Pacific cooling”. The result: the Pacific has cooled down in depth from 1870 until today, the Atlantic has not.

The circulation of the deep sea means that the Pacific depths are still influenced today by the Medieval Warm Period (“MWP”), about 950 to 1250, and the transition to the Little Ice Age (about 1500 – 1800). The warmed water from 1,000 years ago will take so long to reach the Pacific Ocean at depths of around 3,000 meters. This implies two things: The Medieval Warm Period was a global warming period of comparable magnitude to today’s warming, as we also prove in our MWP project and in several publications (here, here, here). The IPCC models cannot reflect this warming, they fail in retrospect.

Why is this publication so important? In 1750, the climate was not yet in equilibrium, as the models assume. Because the models attribute warming since 1750 to anthropogenic components, they neglect the fact that residual heat from the MWP was still present in the deep waters of the Pacific. The growth in the total heat content of the oceans to date is therefore smaller than the models assume. In other words, the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 is much smaller than previously assumed.

The IPCC report will therefore have to be fundamentally revised. There is much to be said that if CO2 is doubled, the temperature increase will not be 1.85°C (IPCC) but 1.3°C at most. Thus, there is no reason to fear that the 1.5°/2°C targets will be exceeded in this century. We would therefore have much more time – until the end of the century – to switch to a low-CO2 energy supply. This realization would have dramatic effects on politics if it were not based solely on government advisers such as Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who predicts a warming of 6 to 8°C: “Some tipping points may already have been exceeded. All the more important it is to defend the 2 degree limit. If we give up those, it can be that the Holocene with its mild temperatures is soon distant past and we slip into a self-reinforcing greenhouse effect with 6 or 8 degrees warming.“

The exit from coal and the price of panic

The Federal Government has welcomed the results of the Coal Commission and will implement them. According to the findings, 12,700 MW of coal-fired power plants will be decommissioned by 2022 and a total of 52,100 MW (including nuclear power plants) by 2038. The current peak load is around 75,000 MW. The costs are estimated at 80 billion euros.

An electricity price increase of 1.5 €ct/kwh granted by the Commission itself will raise the industrial electricity price for the aluminium, steel, metal and chemical industries by 40 percent. This will have an impact on the competitiveness of these industries. The federal government wants to compensate this price increase from the federal budget. It is written in the stars whether the EU Commission will take part. Economics Minister Peter Altmaier commented on the withdrawal of coal: “Security of supply is guaranteed”. He knows better and should not lie to us.

As early as mid-January, it was only possible to secure the electricity supply in Germany by taking large-scale consumers such as the aluminium industry off the grid with 1,025 MW for three hours. In 2018, the aluminium industry already had to endure 78 shutdowns (see my presentation to the Stiftung Marktwirtschaft on 8 February 2019). From 2022, the Federal Network Agency fears “increased probability of load cuts, increased risk of major disruptions”.

How does the Commission intend to compensate for the loss of secured capacity?

“In order to meet demand at all times…, demand must be made more flexible” (page 21 of the Commission’s final report “Growth, structural change and employment“). This confirms my assumption that load shedding will become a new energy policy credo, i.e. the closure of industrial plants and regions, as we know it from emerging countries.

The next means of compensation is “the use of renewable energies, storage and power-to-gas” (page 8 of the report). In order to know what we are talking about, we need around 16 terawatt hours of electricity to bridge a ten-day wind slack with battery storage. At storage costs of 100 €/kwh (which have not yet been reached), this will require investments of 1,600 billion €. To compensate for the fluctuation of one year, 4,000 billion euros investments – every eight to ten years. Electricity would then be three times as expensive as it is today. Two figures are enough to estimate the profitability of power-to-gas: Today’s production costs are about 50 €ct/kwh. Stock market price today 4 to 4.5 €ct/kwh.

Guaranteed performance through wind power?

They want to take the expansion with wind power plants seriously: For wind turbines and ground-mounted PV areas “relevant sizes must be designated, accepted and approved” (p. 21 of the report).  If the number of wind turbines doubles, there will be one wind turbine every 2.7 kilometres on average. This must be accepted. And nature conservation? And citizens’ concerns?  At least the Federal Government should know that nowadays almost half of the wind energy generated is shifted abroad. We pay 27 billion EEG costs per year, and almost half of the oh so proud 18 percent of wind power generated in 2018 crosses the border for reasons of grid stability (page 6 of the presentation “Is the German energy revolution more cost- and environmentally friendly?”).

But we are saving the climate. Really? Today’s emissions of 256 million tonnes from the electricity sector will be reduced to around 100 million tonnes for 80 billion euros in taxpayers’ money, because without more expensive gas-fired power stations (with half the CO2 emissions like coal-fired power stations) – as even the Coal Exit Commission sees it – it won’t work at all. That’s about 500 euros per tonne of CO2. Today’s CO2 price is 20 €/t. So it’s not about profitability, competitiveness, it’s about the spectacular process of getting out, switching off, shutting down.

But we want to be a role model. For whom? By 2030, China with 280,000 MW and India with 174,000 MW will increase coal capacity tenfold. Where do I get the figures from? These are the official notifications by China and India of the Paris Climate Protection Agreement. We are saving 150 million tons, and China will emit an additional 10 billion tons by 2030. Over the next few years, 1,600 coal-fired power plants will be built in 62 countries around the world. Many of them with Chinese help.

But the citizens seem to think it’s all good. 59 percent are in favour of withdrawing from coal in the near future. The Greens are at 20 percent in the polls and smart-alec Greta Thunberg is celebrated by the German media. What the citizens probably don’t know is that two thirds of coal-fired power plants provide domestic and industrial heat through cogeneration. Then we must dress warmly.

Fritz Vahrenholt is an honorary professor at the University of Hamburg in the Department of Chemistry and was Senator for the Environment of the Freie Hansestadt Hamburg until 1997. From 1998 to 2013, he held board positions in the renewable energy sector at Deutsche Shell AG, Repower Systems AG and RWE Innogy. He is Chairman of the German Wildlife Foundation .

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