Azimuth on Google Plus (Part 6)

Lately the distribution of hits per hour on this blog has become very fat-tailed. In other words: the readership shoots up immensely now and then. I just noticed today’s statistics:

That spike on the right is what I’m talking about: 338 hits per hour, while before it was hovering in the low 80′s, as usual for the weekend. Why? Someone on Hacker News posted an item saying:

John Baez will give his Google Talk tomorrow in the form of a robot.

That’s true! If you’re near Silicon Valley on Monday the 13th and you want to see me in the form of a robot, come to the Google campus and listen to my talk Energy, the Environment and What We Can Do.

It starts at 4 pm in the Paramaribo Room (Building 42, Floor 2). You’ll need to check in 15 minutes before that at the main visitor’s lounge in Building 43, and someone will escort you to the talk.

But if you can’t attend, don’t worry! A video will appear on YouTube, and I’ll point you to it when it does.

I tested out the robot a few days ago from a hotel room in Australia—it’s a strange sensation! Suzanne Brocato showed me the ropes. To talk to me easily, she lowered my ‘head’ until I was just 4 feet tall. “You’re so short!” she laughed. I rolled around the offices of Anybot and met the receptionist, who was also in the form of a robot. Then we went to the office of the CEO, Trevor Blackwell, and planned out my talk a little. I need to practice more today.

But why did someone at Hacker News post that comment just then? I suspect it’s because I reminded people about my talk on Google+ last night.

The fat-tailed distribution of blog hits is also happening at the scale of days, not just hours:

The spikes happen when I talk about a ‘hot topic’. January 27th was my biggest day so far. Slashdot discovered my post about the Elsevier boycott, and send 3468 readers my way. But a total 6499 people viewed that post, so a bunch must have come from other sources.

January 31st was also big: 3271 people came to read about The Faculty of 1000. 2140 of them were sent over by Hacker News.

If I were trying to make money from advertising on this blog, I’d be pushed toward more posts about hot topics. Forget the mind-bending articles on quantropy, packed with complicated equations!

But as it is, I’m trying to do some mixture of having fun, figuring out stuff, and getting people to save the planet. (Open access publishing fits into that mandate: it’s tragic how climate crackpots post on popular blogs while experts on climate change publish their papers in journals hidden from public view!) So, I don’t want to maximize readership: what matters more is getting people to do good stuff.

Do you have any suggestions on how I could do this better, while still being me? I’m not going to get a personality transplant, so there are limits on what I’ll do.

One good idea would be to make sure every post on a ‘hot topic’ offers readers something they can do now.

Hmm, readership is still spiking:

But enough of this navel-gazing! Here are some recent Azimuth articles about energy on Google+.

Energy

1) In his State of the Union speech, Obama talked a lot about energy:

We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.

He acknowledged that differences on Capitol Hill are “too deep right now” to pass a comprehensive climate bill, but he added that “there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean-energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”

However, lest anyone think he actually wants to stop global warming, he also pledged “to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.”

2) This paper claims a ‘phase change’ hit the oil markets around 2005:

• James Murray and David King, Climate policy: Oil’s tipping point has passed, Nature 481 (2011), 433–435.


They write:

In 2005, global production of regular crude oil reached about 72 million barrels per day. From then on, production capacity seems to have hit a ceiling at 75 million barrels per day. A plot of prices against production from 1998 to today shows this dramatic transition, from a time when supply could respond elastically to rising prices caused by increased demand, to when it could not (see ‘Phase shift’). As a result, prices swing wildly in response to small changes in demand. Other people have remarked on this step change in the economics of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy-makers.

3) Help out the famous climate blogger Joe Romm! He asks: What will the U.S. energy mix look like in 2050 if we cut CO2 emissions 80%?

How much total energy is consumed in 2050… How much coal, oil, and natural gas is being consumed (with carbon capture and storage of some coal and gas if you want to consider that)? What’s the price of oil? How much of our power is provided by nuclear power? How much by solar PV and how much by concentrated solar thermal? How much from wind power? How much from biomass? How much from other forms of renewable energy? What is the vehicle fleet like? How much electric? How much next-generation biofuels?

As he notes, there are lots of studies on these issues. Point him to the best ones!

4) Due to plunging prices for components, solar power prices in Germany dropped by half in the last 5 years. Now solar generates electricity at levels only slightly above what consumers pay. The subsidies will disappear entirely within a few years, when solar will be as cheap as conventional fossil fuels. Germany has added 14,000 megawatts capacity in the last 2 years and now has 24,000 megawatts in total—enough green electricity to meet nearly 4% the country’s power demand. That is expected to rise to 10% by 2020. Germany now has almost 10 times more installed capacity than the United States.

That’s all great—but, umm, what about the other 90%? What’s their long-term plan? Will they keep using coal-fired power plants? Will they buy more nuclear power from France?

In May 2011, Britain claimed it would halve carbon emissions by 2025. Is Germany making equally bold claims or not? Of course what matters is deeds, not words, but I’m curious.

5) Stephen Lacey presents some interesting charts showing the progress and problems with sustainability in the US. For example, there’s been a striking drop in how much energy is being used per dollar of GNP:


Sorry for the archaic ‘British Thermal Units’: we no longer have a king, but for some reason the U.S. failed to throw off the old British system of measurement. A BTU is a bit more than a kilojoule.

Despite these dramatic changes, Lacey says “we waste around 85% of the energy produced in the U.S.” But he doesn’t say how that number was arrived at. Does anyone know?

6) The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has a new report called The Long-Term Energy Efficiency Potential: What the Evidence Suggests. It describes some scenarios, including one where the US encourages a greater level of productive investments in energy efficiency so that by the year 2050, it reduces overall energy consumption by 40 to 60 percent. I’m very interested in how much efficiency can help. Some, but not all, of the improvements will be eaten up by the rebound effect.

22 Responses to Azimuth on Google Plus (Part 6)

  1. You should use Twitter, I’m sure you’ll get a huge following :) It will help spread the word even more.

  2. By the way your posts on “quantropy” are my favorite so far lol

  3. Even with your non-hot topics I’m sure you can make money off this blog you just have to know how to promote it, using twitter can help drive more traffic here.

  4. Zorawar says:

    The 85% energy wasted figure probably comes form the “Energy Flow” diagrams the government produces (in archaic units), e.g. https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/

  5. Tim van Beek says:

    John asked:

    That’s all great—but, umm, what about the other 90%? What’s their [the German's] long-term plan? Will they keep using coal-fired power plants? Will they buy more nuclear power from France?

    This is what the ministry of ecology says (see renewable energy, goals):

    The following goals are laid down by law: The share of renewable energies in total gross electricity consumption will be increased to at least 30% by 2020. After that date, a continuous increase is prescribed. In 2020, the share of renewable energies in heating is to reach 14%.

    I’m sure there is more information to be found on that page, but the remarkable point is that these goals have been laid down as law by a conservative/liberal government, so it is unlikely that these will be changed after the next election.

  6. Thomas Fischbacher says:

    There are a number of points worth knowing about the situation in Germany. In particular, there is a cap in the law that limits the amount of newly installable renewable electricity generation capacity in any given year. Technically, I think one can exceed the cap, but grid operators are then not obliged to allow you to feed it in at the agreed tariff for renewable energy.

    Additionally, concerning wind power, where to site it always is an issue in densely populated Germany. So, there are plans that designate “preferred areas”. The political battle going on in Germany right now is that certain political forces – in particular the libertarian party in our present conservative/libertarian government – actively fight wind energy by trying to designate areas as “preferred” that do not have sufficient wind to make them interesting for power generation – thus also blocking the opportunity to set them up in “non-preferential areas” where it actually would make sense.

    Incidentally, this very same party – our German Ayn Rand fans, it seems – also supports climate change denial propaganda activities. The interesting thing about that party is that, while they still sit in the government, they have become so massively unpopular that poll results show them on par with the large zoo of mostly unknown splinter parties.

    Ad nuclear:

    The decision to phase out nuclear power in favour of renewables was made under the previous social-democrat/ecological party government. Our present conservative/libertarian government first tried to substantially modify that decision in a way that just stopped short of reverting it. But then, immediately after Fukushima, Chancellor Merkel changed her mind and reverted that revert, and actually considerably accelerated phasing out nuclear.

    Will Germany buy more nuclear energy from France – especially in winter? Actually, it’s the other way round. In particular in winter, France is importing electricity from Germany. The problem is that the economics (and to some extent technology) of nuclear power makes this a somewhat unflexible power source – not easily ramped up and down. But the French are using electricity a lot for heating. Winter last year, France could not import enough electricity via international transmission lines and hat to cut off two million customers as an emergency measure. Even this winter, with many German nuclear power plants standing still, France is importing electricity from Germany. The German electricity suppliers did – just days ago – switch on some fossil powered plants normally standing still as an emergency measure. (So, the best thing to do something about this strange situation probably would be to get the French to stop abusing electricity for heating rather than properly insulating homes.)

    Personally, looking at my own January electricity meter (the feed-in meter, that is) readings, solar power did amazingly well this winter.

    • G.R.L. Cowan says:

      Will Germany buy more nuclear energy from France – especially in winter? Actually, it’s the other way round. In particular in winter, France is importing electricity from Germany.

      Data provided by ENTSO-E (https://www.entsoe.eu/db-query/exchange/electricity-exchange-of-a-specific-range-of-time/ ) say that France exported 1498 gigawatt-hours to Germany in December 2011, and got 4 gigawatt-hours back.

      January 2012 data aren’t yet available, but for the last nine months of 2011, Germany’s net electricity exchanges with its neighbours amounted to the import of 5272 GWh.

      • John Baez says:

        Thanks, G.R.L. I tend to trust sourced data more than anecdotal accounts, so I’m afraid Thomas’ comment:

        Will Germany buy more nuclear energy from France – especially in winter? Actually, it’s the other way round. In particular in winter, France is importing electricity from Germany.

        pales beside the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity data saying France exported 1498 gigawatt-hours to Germany in December 2011, and got 4 gigawatt-hours back. If the data is wrong or misleading, it should be possible to find better data.

        (I just checked and it’s not some special feature of December 2011. According to this website, throughout the year France sends a lot more electric power to Germany than the other way around—though usually just about 15 times as much, not 370 times as much as in last December.)

        By the way: I’m not trying to start a fight about nuclear power here. I’m just wondering what Germany’s goal for decarbonization is, and how they plan to meet it. Tim says:

        The following goals are laid down by law: The share of renewable energies in total gross electricity consumption will be increased to at least 30% by 2020.

        The source I quoted says:

        Germany has added 14,000 megawatts capacity in the last 2 years and now has 24,000 megawatts in total—enough green electricity to meet nearly 4% the country’s power demand. That is expected to rise to 10% by 2020.

        So, which forms of renewable energy will supply the remaining 30% – 10% = 20% of Germany’s electric power by 2020?

        Or is there some discrepancy somewhere? For example, might the ‘expected’ amount of renewable energy in various forms be less than what’s ‘laid down in law’?

  7. Your blog perfectly fits into the niche between ‘scientific american’ and ‘real’ research.

    What can you do to improve this blog? My personal wish list: I think theoretical biology is underrepresented. Maybe you can reactivate Cameron Smith for a second article. The quantropy cycle currently is the highlight. Hopefully you will soon discuss the hydrogen atom (in part 4?). I also remember you writing about bad science practices e.g. Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. That was much more focused than the current clash with Elsevier and really fun to read. What about reprinting selected issues of ‘this weeks find’?

    Btw there is a superfluous $\latex /h$ in the equation after ‘In terms of classicality, we have’ in your recent quantropy (part 2) article.

    • John Baez says:

      Thanks for the detailed feedback, Uwe!

      I’ve been trying reactivate Cameron Smith. Maybe your comment will help. Tim van Beek has a post almost ready on fluid dynamics. I would love to get lots of people putting up regular posts here on biology, climate physics, energy policy, etc., but apparently it’s very hard for most people to keep up a steady stream of blog posts. For example, Cameron got distracted by his work on theoretical biology: too busy thinking to blog, it seems!

      So, I urge you (and everyone else) to check out Planet3.0. This is a blogger’s collective, of which Azimuth is part! You’ll see lots of stuff there.

      I also remember you writing about bad science practices e.g. Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. That was much more focused than the current clash with Elsevier and really fun to read.

      It was fun to read, and fun to write, but then the editor of that journal started suing people and threatening to sue me, and it became much less fun. The Elsevier boycott has been more productive, because it’s led to Math 2.0 and other initiatives which I’ll be teling everyone about soon.

      Thanks for catching that typo; I’ll fix it!

  8. Ron Broberg says:

    Despite these dramatic changes, Lacey says “we waste around 85% of the energy produced in the U.S.” But he doesn’t say how that number was arrived at. Does anyone know?

    Purely speculative, but it sounds like a ballpark figure for automobile transportation inefficiency. Transportation overall is about 75% ‘wasteful’. Per the following LLNL energy flow chart, all US Energy comes in at about 57% waste.
    https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/

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