What “On the…”?

I’ve never liked titles of scientific papers that being with “On the[whatever]”. It’s always struck me as simultaneously pretentious and uninformative. These days I usually try to give the main result in a paper’s title, or at least, make it clever, or humorous… (Another irk is when people introduce a speaker with the phrase “Without further ado…”. Please.)

But despite myself, I’m going to start a new “On the” series on BNC (3.0). In this case, it seems to fit. You see, there are a whole range of topics on which I have been holding myself back from commenting over the last year or two (…for various reasons). Now, it’s time to unleash. Or counter. Or muse. Or speculate. Whatever befits the topic, really. You know all those soapboxes I’ve been erecting for others in the Open Threads? My turn, again.

I’ve made a start on a few of them in Evernote. In no particular order: “On Fukushima”. “On Solar Thermal”. “On Sc[k]eptics”. “On Ideologues”. “On Expertise”. “On the Energy Mix”. “On Science and Philosophy”. “On Space”. “On the Future”. “On Supervision”. “On Qualitative Research”. “On Positive Discrimination”. “On Religion”. And so on. Who knows, if I write enough of them, I might have myself a(nother) publishable manifesto!

Other topics are planned, but I won’t give away their titles. It’d spoil the effect. Suffice to say that they’ll be wide ranging (across the broad techno-climate-energy-environment-ecology-evolution-philosophical theme of BNC at least), variable in length, quality and evidence base, and always with a strong lashing of personal opinion. It is BNC 3.0 after all…

The first “On the…” will come soon – tomorrow(ish)… I hope! It’ll feature the NFCRC. Given my involvement on the science expert panel, I’d better say something about its findings.


P.S. I did some minor updates to the blog’s theme, cleaned out that awful background image that was well past the ‘grating on me’ stage, and restored the topic categories on the side-bar. I also updated my icon ‘photo’. It seemed appropriate.

BNC 3.0

3pointzeroThe 6th January 2015. That was the last time I posted an original contribution to Brave New Climate (BNC)  — at least something that wasn’t a re-post (e.g., from The Conversation), a guest post, an Open Thread or a side note… In other words, the BNC blog has fallen fallow for well over a year. I think it’s about time for a reboot! So here’s to BNC 3.0..

The original blog started back in August 2008 (first post here). It got a real reboot in late 2009, and then a false dawn in 2014. This time, I think it’ll stick.

So what’s been going on? I moved down to the far south in 2014 to take up a research and teaching position as the Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania (based in the School of Biological Sciences). At UTas I started a new research programme on the dynamics of eco-evolutionary patterns (D.E.E.P.), which has a new website at ecological-dynamics.org and a Twitter handle @ecol_evo. I work on projects spanning Wildlife, Ecosystems & Landscape Dynamics (WELD), Forests, Trees & Agroforestry (FTA), and Evolutionary Ecology (EE). There are plenty of opportunities for students!

113In May 2016 I was awarded a 5-year Australian Laureate Fellowship by the Australian Research Council, which will fund a >$4M research project looking at disaggregating the drivers of land-use change, and assessing the implications of different development pathways on biodiversity. The big vision thing is to establish a multidisciplinary Institute for Future Landscapes and Ecosystems in Tasmania. Here’s a summary of the ARC project:

The success of biodiversity conservation depends on how effectively society can ‘decouple’ environmental impacts from economic growth and rising human prosperity. This project will involve a systematic analysis of contemporary and historical data on agriculture, energy use and urbanisation, to identify the consumption and technology pathways that can most effectively mitigate the future extent and impact of land-use change. This synthesis will underpin the development of new forecasting and optimisation tools using an innovative hierarchical meta-modelling approach, and seeks to identify key intervention points where policy or technological change can most effectively mitigate negative impacts at regional and global scales. A key outcome will be the resolution of inherent trade-offs between ongoing human development and the competing need to conserve habitats, ecosystems, and species.

Obviously, these goals tie strongly to the themes of BNC, focused as it is on the intersection between technology, global change and environmental sustainability.

logoOver the last year or so I’ve been in involved with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in South Australia, serving on the Expert Advisory Committee. The final report was released on 6 May 2016, and I would encourage BNC readers to look through it. For this reason I have necessarily been relatively quiet, publicly, on nuclear matters over the last year.

I now plan to start posting regularly (but not to a schedule!) on BNC again. One thing I hope to do is write a collection of short posts to critique some key issues/arguments that have been propagated over the last few years; ones that really cry out for critical scrutiny. These will be written largely for my own edification, but I hope you’ll find them useful.

More soon!

Open Thread 24

The last Open Thread has screamed past 1000 comments, so time for a new one… (And for those who are wondering why there have been so few posts on BNC recently, well… there are reasons. I will post again soon[ish] to explain more, and discuss the future directions of this blog/website. Meanwhile, on with the productive discussion!)

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

The capacity factor of wind

Guest Post by John Morgan. John is Chief Scientist at a Sydney startup developing smart grid and grid scale energy storage technologies.  You can follow John on twitter at @JohnDPMorgan.


A lot of ink is spilled on wind intermittency, and not necessarily based in data.  So I have extracted and analyzed a high resolution dataset of a year’s worth of Australian wind power for a number of interesting properties.  I previously wrote about the capacity factor as a limit to the share of electricity that wind and solar can acquire, so I also ask how wind capacity factor changes with time, place and season.  In particular, how does it change during sunlight hours and what does it mean for the capacity factor limit on renewable energy penetration?

Australian wind fleet data

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) publishes data on all generators connected to the National Electricity Market (NEM) grid, which covers the eastern states including Tasmania, but excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  The data includes power generation every five minutes for every generator for the last year, their capacities as registered with the grid operator, and more.  It is not very accessible, being in the form of thousands of SCADA data files, many of which contain errors.  But with a bit of work the data can be extracted.  Here, for instance, is the output of all grid-connected wind farms at five minute resolution over one year:

Wind capacity factor

Here is the top level summary of the Australian wind farm fleet over the last year:

The nameplate capacity is the total capacity of all wind farms – 3753 MW.  But the whole fleet only manages 3238 MW at peak.The whole is less than the sum of its parts – half a gigawatt less in this case. Why is this?

The fleet is comprised of wind farms distributed over a large area of eastern Australia.  To achieve maximum theoretical power the wind would have to be blowing at the optimum speed for each wind farm, at all wind farms, simultaneously.  This is a statistical improbability and quite possibly a hydrodynamic impossibility, as it would require a high velocity correlated flow field over very large distances.

Continue reading

Open Thread 23

The last Open Thread is feeling a tad dated, so time for a new one…

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.