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Solar Cycle 24 is still late, perhaps signalling cool weather ahead

2 September 2008

Summary:  Sunspot counts and other indicators of solar activity continue at low levels.  The last month with zero sunspots was June 1913.  August had zero spots, or one (there is some debate about this).  How solar cycle 24 develops deserves to be on the list of things to watch for anyone interested in geopolitics.  A “small” solar cycle — a period in which the global climate cools — would have substantial effects.  Esp. with global grain inventories at such low levels.  As always, links to more information are at the end of this post.

Updates

(a)  Initial reports were incorrect, as both of the major instiutions tracking sunspots have reported that now says it was NOT a spotless month!  Here is the SIDC and NOAA data.

(b)  Jan Janssens, posted at his Spotless Days site, puts this in perspective using the data provided by SIDC:

  1. Pending further review of the preliminary daily sunspot data by SIDC, the period from 21 July 2008 till 20 August 2008 is one of the longer ones since the beginning of daily solar observations in 1849.
  2. An even longer period in recent history occured during the previous solar cycle transition, from 13 September 1996 till 24 October 1996, when the sun was spotless for 42 consecutive days.
  3. One of the longest spotless periods (since 1818) is probably from 24 October 1822 until 12 March 1823 (140 days!), but unfortunately, the series is broken on 29 December 1823 (no observation available for that day).

The original post

Since the calendar month is a quirk, it is better to look at the number of 30 day periods without sunspots.  As in this excerpt from “Sunspeck counts after all…Sun DOES NOT have first spotless calendar month since June 1913“,  Anthony Watts, posted at his blog Watts Up with That, 1 September 2008:

Joe D’Aleo of ICECAP also wrote some interesting things which I’ll reprint here:

The following is a plot of the number of months with 0 sunspots by year over the period of record – 23 cycles since 1749.  Note that cluster of zero month years in the early 1800s (a very cold period called the Dalton minimum – at the time of Charles Dickens and snowy London town and including thanks to Tambora, the Year without a Summer 1816) and again to a lesser degree in the early 1900s. These correspond to the 106 and 213 year cycle minimums.

There seems to be some unjustified excitement about the August sunspot count.  Leif Svalgaard explains, in the comments of the above mention post by Watt:

So it seems to me that the NOAA/SWPC data still support the claim of a spotless August. It is just SIDC that has counted something.  There was a tiny ‘spot’ on August 21-22. Or, more accurately, what is called a ‘pore’.  The difference is whether there is a well-defined penumbra surrounding the dark central part, the umbra.  The pore was observed by Bill Livingston [as I have reported in this blog] and he even measured its magnetic field and temperature [and found the pore to be just on his projected trend for disappearance of spots by 2015].

The issue is whether to count the pore and here NOAA and SIDC seem to differ. 

… But, really, no spots or one tiny one doesn’t make any difference. The psychological impact of a spot-free month is undeniable, though. Physically, it doesn’t make much difference.

FM Notes:  (1)  NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  SIDC is the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center. 
(2)  I can find no bio on Svalgaard, he described as a physicist.  See his list of publications here and here

What is going on with the Sun?

1.  “The Sun remains in a magnetic funk“, Anthony Watts, posted at his blog Watts Up with That, 30 August 2008:

While sunspots are often cited as the main proxy indicator of solar activity, there is another indicator which I view as equally (if not more) important. The Average Planetary Magnetic index (Ap), the strength of which ties into Svensmark’s cosmic ray theory modulating Earth’s cloud cover. A weaker Ap would mean less cosmic rays are deflected by the solar magnetic field, and so the theory goes, more cosmic rays provide more seed nuclei for clouds in Earth”s atmosphere. More clouds mean a greater albedo and less terrestrial solar radiation, which translates to lower temperatures.

I’ve always likened a sunspot to what happens with a rubber band on a toy balsa wood plane. You keep twisting the propeller beyond the normal tightness to get that extra second of thrust and you see the rubber band start to pop out knots. Those knots are like sunspots bursting out of twisted magnetic field lines.

{detailed explanation follows, with excellent graphics}

… We continue to remain in a deep solar minimum, and with the forecasts being modified to push back the real “active” start of Solar cycle 24, it remains anybody’s guess as to when the sun will come out of it’s funk.

2.  “Still No Sunspot Action on the Sun“, Linda Moulton Howe, Earthfiles, 29 August 2008 — An interview with David Hathaway, solar physics team leader at the NASA Marcshall Space Flight Center.  I strongly recomment reading this.  Excerpt:

There has not been a spot on the sun for at least a month and this is about the third rotation of the sun this cycle where we have not seen any sunspots at all. It is suggesting that the next cycle 24 might be a small cycle – much to my consternation! – since I’ve been predicting a big cycle. But the fact that it’s taking this long to get started and that it’s starting out so slowly are hallmark signs of a small solar cycle.

On the other hand, there are other factors I looked at that suggested solar cycle 24 ought to be a big cycle. So, I’m confused!

… That forecast is what provoked Dr. Hathaway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to bet Dr. Gilman that solar cycle 24 was going to come on quickly in 2006 because it was going to be so strong – perhaps the strongest solar cycle on record.

Two now years later in August 2008, the sun is still extremely quiet. It was only nine months ago on December 11, 2007, that a patch of magnetism on the sun was declared by NASA to be the first official sunspot of the new Solar Cycle 24. The spot was in a high-latitude on the sun with reversed polarity compared to the previous Solar Cycle 23. The expectation was that meant after a very long time without sunspots, the sun would finally become active again. But that has not happened and this week I talked with Dr. Hathaway about what’s happening on the sun …

I am surprised that if it’s going to be big solar cycle 24 it’s taking this long for sunspots to get started.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

About International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project (ICECAP)

From their site:

ICECAP is the portal to all things climate for elected officials and staffers, journalists, scientists, educators and the public. It provides access to a new and growing global society of respected scientists and journalists that are not deniers that our climate is dynamic (the only constant in nature is change) and that man plays a role in climate change through urbanization, land use changes and the introduction of greenhouse gases and aerosols, but who also believe that natural cycles such as those in the sun and oceans are also important contributors to the global changes in our climate and weather. We worry the sole focus on greenhouse gases and the unwise reliance on imperfect climate models while ignoring real data may leave civilization unprepared for a sudden climate shift that history tells us will occur again, very possibly soon.

Through ICECAP you will have rapid access to our experts here in the United States and to experts and partner organizations worldwide, many of whom maintain popular web sites or insightful blogs or newsletters, write and present papers, have authored books and offer interviews to the media on climate issues. We spotlight new findings in peer-review papers and reports and rapidly respond to fallacies or exaggerations in papers, stories or programs and any misinformation efforts by the media, politicians and advocacy groups.

ICECAP is not funded by large corporations that might benefit from the status quo but by private investors who believe in the need for free exchange of ideas on this and other important issues of the day. Our working group is comprised of members from all ends of the political spectrum. This is not about politics but about science.

Other sources of information about the Solar Cycle

(a)  For current data and analysis

  1. Daily sun watch at Spaceweather.com
  2. NOAA’s  Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), including their Solar Cycle Progression page and the latest predictions.
  3. NASA’s background information about Solar Cycle Predictions
  4. Detailed information at SolarCycle24.com
  5. Solaemon’s Spotless Days Page — Excellent graphs of historical sunspot activity

(b)  Other posts on this site

  1. Worrying about the Sun and climate change: cycle 24 is late, 10 July 2008
  2. Update: is Solar Cycle 24 late (a cooling cycle, with famines, etc)?, 15 july 2008

For more information about global warming

(a)  Other posts on this site

  1. A look at the science and politics of global warming, 12 June 2008
  2. Global warming means more earthquakes!, 19 June 2008
  3. An article giving strong evidence of global warming, 30 June 2008
  4. More forecasts of a global cooling cycle, 15 July 2008
  5. Two valuable perspectives on global warming, 4 August 2008
  6. President Kennedy speaks to us about global warming and Climate Science, 7 August 2008 

(b)  Information from other sources

  1. SURFACE TEMPERATURE RECONSTRUCTIONS FOR THE LAST 2,000 YEARS“, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES (2006) — aka The North Report.
  2. Report of the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Hockey Stick Global Climate Reconstruction”, commissioned by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (July 2006) — aka The Wegman Report.  Also note this excerpt from the Q&A session of the Dr. Edward J. Wegman’s testimony.
  3. The role of statisticians in public policy debates over climate change“, Richard L. Smith, American Statistical Association – Section on Statistics & the Environment Newsletter (Spring 2007) — One of the too-few reports by statisticians on the climate change literature.
  4. A timeline of the science and politics of climate science.
  5. Bibliography by year of climate science research. 
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19 Comments leave one →
  1. John Thomas permalink
    2 September 2008 3:01 pm

    Stop calling it “Global Warming” if you want to be taken seriously. It has always been referred to as Global Climate Change by anyone who knows what they’re talking about. The only people who refer to it as “Global Warming” are crackpots, Resource Extraction Industry employees, and gullible laypeople who’re proof of the decline of science education in the USA.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I love these the bombshells from God which occasionally fall on the FM site!

    “The only people who refer to it as …”

    Twenty-seconds with Google News shows this to be false.

    “Global warming” is a vernacular expression widely used in these matters. Experts often prefer circumlocutions (a wonderful word with several contradictory implications), or technical formulations expressing greater or (as in this case, lesser) precision/scope.

    While often hated by experts, vernaculars often better express the debate and are often the labels that goes down in history. I believe that will be the case here.

    When reading such carping, I recall TE Lawrence’s replies to the rather pedantic corrections given by his Editor to “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. My favorite was “God egg. I call this really ingenious.” (most of his replies were in this spirit).

    Like

  2. Chuck Schulz permalink
    2 September 2008 4:39 pm

    Yeah, the rocket scientist pedant on the global climate change comment begs the question. Whatever you call, the question in whether it’s anthropogenic. If the sun’s [in]activity is driving our climate change, then the hystericists are wrong, whatever they choose to call their error.

    Like

  3. Mike Kelley permalink
    2 September 2008 4:46 pm

    I believe it was called global warming until the numbers started to stall or go down around 1998. With so much invested in calamity, the doom and gloomers then changed their rhetoric to “global climate change.” Anthony Watts and others have been physically inspecting weather stations in the US, and they have found that the system is very poorly maintained and doesn’t follow the rules that are supposed to dictate siting, etc. It looks like at least some of the “warming” that envirocrits have been harping about has been an artifact of growing urban heat islands and poor measurement. Check out Anthony’s work at: “Help survey a weather station this Labor Day weekend“, Anthony Watt, posted at his blog Watts up with that, 27 August 2008.

    Al Gore’s assertion that there is a global consensus on this issue is pure bull.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: The driver and major source of information on the quality of the US network of surface temperature measuring stations is SurfaceStations.org. This is an important and fascinating project, regular people auditing the data collection network which provides much of the data for climate science.

    Their work to date proves that many claims about the high quality of the network are unjustified, and that the data resolution of the network — while adequate for its primary meteorological — may not be sufficient for the climate science applications to which it has been applied. The large and difficult to explain adjustments to the data — past data is often adjusted — also raise questions.

    Like

  4. 2 September 2008 5:11 pm

    “The only people who refer to it as “Global Warming” are crackpots, Resource Extraction Industry employees, and gullible laypeople who’re proof of the decline of science education in the USA.”

    You mean, people like Al Gore?

    Like

  5. Fxconde permalink
    2 September 2008 5:17 pm

    Here is another good report about the sun driving weather and the effects of CO2 on warming: “Solar Cycle 24: Implications for the United States“, David Archibald, International Conference on Climate Change, March 2008.

    I have no problem spending money to find out what is going on with the climate but at this point I’m not sure it could be done without some agenda driving it. I don’t think science is immune from corruption. Dupont driving the ozone hole issue to ban the version of freon which they had the patent on but it was about to expire.

    It’s getting harder to deny that our entire system, business, political, and even science, has not been corrupted by relativism.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Links to this article and many other valuables reports are on the FM reference page to “Science, Nature, and Geopolitics“.

    Like

  6. dumbpolack1 permalink
    2 September 2008 5:58 pm

    A year ago on SATTV, I watched a lecture delivered by a female scientist on global warming. For over an hour, she presented chart after chart, graph after graph of data from all sorts of scientists around the globe. It was a most compelling case. Our own Chi. Trib. weather guy showed a graph of average winter temps going back to 1937. There were lots of ups and downs but a clearly detectable uptrend. After looking at the data, I find it hard to reject global warming. People who reject global warming really haven’t done their homework.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Please God, let this be a joke.

    Data since 1937 shows nothing about long-term climate trends, or human-caused climate change. The baseline is far far far too short.

    Like

  7. 2 September 2008 7:03 pm

    David Evans, consultant Australian Greenhouse Office, 1999-2005, published an article “Why I Recanted” in the National Post Financial Post, p. 15 in the weekend edition of August 31-Sept 1. Key paragraph:

    “When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty good: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; the old ice core data; no other suspects.

    “The evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we were certain when it appeared we needed to act quickly? Soon governments and the scientific community were working together and lots of science research jobs were created. We scientists had political support, the ear of government, big budgets and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet.

    But since 1999, new evidence has seriously weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, and by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming. As Lord Keynes famously said, ‘hen the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?'”

    The then lists all the contra-evidence he finds compelling for this change of understanding . Read the whole article if you have an open mind as he seems to have.

    Like

  8. Mike Kelley permalink
    2 September 2008 9:16 pm

    I think that the biggest threat to science education in this country and others is the pc mentality that pervades most colleges and the news media. News or findings that don’t conform to this are either hidden or ignored. “Climate change” fits right in with this.

    Like

  9. 3 September 2008 12:14 am

    Fab, I think you’re wrong about the label — “Climate Change” will stick in history, because it’s the defensible fall back gloom & doom position when “Global Warming” is debunked.

    CO2 is going up. Plants can breathe more easily! and grow faster!

    From my view, even if Global Warming is true, the main price we’ll be paying is the short and mid-term climate change issues, especially dealing with water.

    We need more free market water prices on fresh water, everywhere, as well as higher insurance premiums against flooding. I’m wondering when solar panels in the desert will be economical.

    On the melting Artic, I’ve read that the antarctic is growing?

    Like

  10. O Bloody Hell permalink
    3 September 2008 12:47 am

    > You mean, people like Al Gore?

    Well, he does qualify for all three of the given categories….

    > Our own Chi. Trib. weather guy showed a graph of average winter temps going back to 1937. There were lots of ups and downs but a clearly detectable uptrend. After looking at the data, I find it hard to reject global warming. People who reject global warming really haven’t done their homework

    People who defend global warming haven’t done their homework.

    There was a clear downtrend into the 1970s. There was an uptrend for the next 20 years. Now there’s been an 11-year downtrend again. If you’re going to look back to 1937, only, then why not look back further? What’s so special about 1937, unless it allows you to cherry-pick your data? One can argue the 1970s as a starting point, because that is the beginning of regular satellite data. Oh, right, those don’t support the global warming hypothesis.

    On top of that, the GreenHouse Gas signature simply isn’t there: “No smoking hot spot“, The Australian, 18 July 2008.

    Since there is ice core data suggesting strongly that increases in CO2 *trail* prehistoric temperature increases, one is left with the likely fact that CO2 and other GGs were probably *not* driving any temperature increase of the 80s and 90s. The fact that GGs have steadily increased in the last 11 years despite the steady cooling trend, also belies the hypothesis.

    In short, YOU haven’t done your homework, if you’re depending on ONE source for data, ONE set of charts from someone to produce your stance. In both cases, you assume that the person in question doesn’t have a pet theory, doesn’t have an axe to grind, and is presenting the data fairly and without bias. The recent history shows the flaws in this naive assumptions — the IPCC and their wonderful “hockey stick”, along with Hansen’s associates fiddling with data, combined with the fact that an awful lot of these people don’t seem to want to release their base data, formulas, and methodology for review and consideration by their colleagues — all these show that at least some so-called “scientists” have far less reliability as a source of information than your typical carnival barker.

    Oh, and, while we’re at it: Pay NO attention to that man behind the curtain!

    > I’m wondering when solar panels in the desert will be economical. If they aren’t already, they aren’t likely to be. With the solar constant at 1kw/sq-m, you have to cover quite a bit of area with the buggers before they can generate enough to make up for their inconstancy (i.e., nighttime).

    > On the melting Artic, I’ve read that the antarctic is growing?
    80% of the Antarctic ice pack is increasing and has been steadily. The only part which has been decreasing at all is in the viscinity of that long peninsular segment which sticks out from the continent itself. That’s where all the hysterically reported calving of bergs is coming from, too.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Solar panels are a form of semiconductor technology. Not only are they experiencing the rapid evolution characteristic of that technology, they can rise the price/volume curve of these high capital costs – low maginal cost manufacturing economics — as sales volumes are increasing at 20%+ annual rates. “The first one costs a billion dollars; the second one costs a nickel.”

    The tiny changes in solar radiation over time are not material compared to these factors.

    Like

  11. FxConde permalink
    3 September 2008 3:58 am

    Thanks Fabius for editing my post to make it clearer. I did’nt major in english. This issue needs to be settled so the nation can go forward with some kind of energy plan. In my opinion, we are probably going into a long term cooling trend meaning we may need more CO2. More coal fired power plants and the liquification of coal would go a long way to kill two birds with one stone.

    Of course politics will get in the way. When Clinton was President he designated a large area in Utah, some 1.7 million acres, as a National monument and removed one of the worlds largest, if not the largest, sources of low sulfar coal from use. Of course one of his donors has a large source of this clean coal. This was covered by the Investor Business Daily.

    The Clintons’ Coal-Gate“, editorial, Investor’s Business Daily, 23 January 2008 — “Hillary Clinton calls President Bush’s talks with the Saudis about increasing oil output ‘pathetic.’ But it’s not as pathetic as her co-president husband locking up billions of tons of clean coal in exchange for political contributions.”

    I’m sure Clinton is not the only one and I’m sure it’s not Democrats.

    Like

  12. 3 September 2008 5:10 am

    Update: I strongly recomment reading this.

    Still No Sunspot Action on the Sun“, Linda Moulton Howe, Earthfiles, 29 August 2008 — An interview with David Hathaway, solar physics team leader at the NASA Marcshall Space Flight Center. Excerpt:

    “There has not been a spot on the sun for at least a month and this is about the third rotation of the sun this cycle where we have not seen any sunspots at all. It is suggesting that the next cycle 24 might be a small cycle – much to my consternation! – since I’ve been predicting a big cycle. But the fact that it’s taking this long to get started and that it’s starting out so slowly are hallmark signs of a small solar cycle.

    “On the other hand, there are other factors I looked at that suggested solar cycle 24 ought to be a big cycle. So, I’m confused!

    “… That forecast is what provoked Dr. Hathaway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to bet Dr. Gilman that solar cycle 24 was going to come on quickly in 2006 because it was going to be so strong – perhaps the strongest solar cycle on record.

    “Two now years later in August 2008, the sun is still extremely quiet. It was only nine months ago on December 11, 2007, that a patch of magnetism on the sun was declared by NASA to be the first official sunspot of the new Solar Cycle 24. The spot was in a high-latitude on the sun with reversed polarity compared to the previous Solar Cycle 23. The expectation was that meant after a very long time without sunspots, the sun would finally become active again. But that has not happened and this week I talked with Dr. Hathaway about what’s happening on the sun …

    “I am surprised that if it’s going to be big solar cycle 24 it’s taking this long for sunspots to get started.”

    Like

  13. Reynardine permalink
    3 September 2008 6:34 pm

    The nice thing about “climate change”, as opposed to “global warming”, is that the first term is not falsifiable. Whatever happens, the climate is sure to change…and when it does, the advocates of “climate change” will be proven right. It is a most peculiar mark of this age that mere change should be regarded as evil, unnatural, and necessarily the result of human transgressions. As if the natural world never changes.

    Also amusing is the confusion of “climate” with “weather”. The distinction was clear until recent times, but now people anxiously watch the thermometer for signs of “climate change”.

    Like

  14. OBloodyHell permalink
    4 September 2008 6:50 am

    > Fabius Maximus replies: Solar panels are a form of semiconductor technology. Not only are they experiencing the rapid evolution characteristic of that technology, they can rise the price/volume curve of these high capital costs – low maginal cost manufacturing economics — as sales volumes are increasing at 20%+ annual rates. “The first one costs a billion dollars; the second one costs a nickel.” The tiny changes in solar radiation over time are not material compared to these factors.

    I’m sorry, Fabius, you misunderstand the physics term “The Solar Constant”.

    {FM note: since I have never used the term “solar constant” on this site, your comment is obviously incorrect.}

    It refers to the amount of sunlight energy striking an object at this distance from the sun, per unit area, assuming no other affecting influences. In practice, it is varied, of course by latitude, which affects angle, sunlight hours, etc., as well as various weather phenomenon, which reduce the effective amount of energy derivable. Add in the obvious factor of efficiency, which solar cells are not amazingly good at, yet, either.

    So let’s do some math:

    The solar constant is, very roughly, 1kW per square meter. This means to derive one kW of energy under perfect conditions, with a perfect solar cell, you need to cover a *full square meter* with “little blue cells”. In the Real World, however, you need to cover more than that because you only have sunshine at most half the day — so that’s 2 meters. Then there is efficiency, which, AFAIK, is limited to about 40% (but let’s be generous and make it 50% for a nice round number). This means you have to cover *4* square meters per kW. Then there’s the fact that you need energy in the evening, so you’ll have to have some kind of battery storage, with associated inefficiencies at converting and unconverting. Call that(since it’s only part of the time) another 50%. *8* square meters. Current Generating capacity for the USA alone is in the terawatt range, or 1 billion kW. So, in order to generate the electric power used by the USA alone, we would need to cover not less than *EIGHT –billion– Square Meters* with “little blue cells”. That is 8,000 square KILOMETERS — or about 1.25x the size of the **STATE OF DELAWARE**. And, at a cost of about $615/sq-meter (price derived from here). That would be about 4.5 trillion dollars. ANNNK. Thanks for playing.

    But wait, we haven’t started the *fun* part yet:

    1) Cleaning. Solar cells need to be cleaned on a regular basis, or they quickly lose about 30% of their efficiency. What is the major cause of accidental death in the USA after vehicular accidents? Can you say “Accidental falls”? I knew you could. So deaths from accidental falls are pretty much guaranteed to go up extensively. Don’t forget to add the expense of having someone regularly clean that 8 thousand square km of solar panels to the costs listed above… along with accident and health insurance, to be sure. What do they pay window washers on high-rises in NYC?

    2) Toxic Waste. Production of semiconductors is a rather nasty process, with lots of toxic chemicals as byproducts. The primary reason the cost keeps going down despite the need for properly disposing of them is that the actual size of the chips goes down, which means that the actual total surface area being produced from year to year does not need to go up substantially. Solar cells, OTOH, aren’t going to go down much (even getting 100% conversion, an unrealistic goal, means 4,000 square kilometers of coverage) in areal production requirement… so the amount of toxic chemicals produced will be anything but negligible and is generally not figured into anyone’s cost calculations which are not “total life cycle” calculations. And I guarantee you that, if the Greens actually figured out those numbers, they’d be demanding that solar panels be *taxed*, not subsidized.

    3) Lifespan. A typical solar cell does not have a really long lifespan — we’re talking somewhere between 5 and 10 years, depending on your “too much lost efficiency” cutoff numbers. So that 4.5 TRILLION dollars isn’t amortized over 20-40 years as it is with most power plants, it’s a payout at least once every *10* years.

    4) Disposal. Every 10 years, we’re going to scrap, somehow, 8 thousand square kilometers of solar panels. Recycle? Landfill? What? How much is THAT going to cost? Wanna bet it’s not gonna be cheap?

    A couple of those numbers can be fudged by improvements in tech or variations of existing tech (for example, if you came up with a non-semiconductor solar-panel — say, a nanotech panel) you could cut the numbers to 1/2 or 1/4th of that 4.5 trillion dollar figure. That’s still one hell of a lot of change.

    Ergo — Solar cells *suck*. Big Time. They’re going to continue to suck for the indefinite future, and probably forever. No amount of investment, tech development, economy of scale, or other is likely to change that.

    P.S., Here is another breakdown, from someone who claims to be in the solar panel business. Subject it to your own verification, but it appears accurate to me on the surface.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: First, this violates the comment policy in two important ways. First, it is too long; more of a Wikipedia entry. At aprox 900 words it is almost as long as the post — 250 words is a reasonable max. Second, it is not topical. Some “comment drift” is normal and OK, but this is hijacking the thread on a comment unrelated to the post. I will not edit it down this time, but please follow the FM comment policy in the future.

    As for the accuracy of this, perhaps you should write the 50 or so major companies in this field — and their thousands of institutional customers — to share your insights. Since they will somehow sell almost $10 billion of these things (growing at 25-35%, despite the polysilicon shortage), you insights are desperately needed.

    Like

  15. OBloodyHell permalink
    4 September 2008 10:40 pm

    1) My apologies for the OT nature of it, but I simply threw out a quick line which you chose to reply to. Refuting your reply took more than a sentence or two to do properly.

    > Since they will somehow sell almost $10 billion of these things (growing at 25-35%, despite the polysilicon shortage), you insights are desperately needed.

    Citing the amount of sales argues more for the effectiveness of marketing and/or for the degree of public foolishness. It says nothing about the need for or effectiveness of the product being sold, which you entirely sidestep with this argument. I take it thereby that you lack any valid refutation.

    Or do you really think the world needs 400 brands of toothpaste and 250 brands of deodorant? I’m all in favor of the free market, don’t take that wrong, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that the usage of and sales of cosmetics, deodorant, and perfume products far outweighs the need for them in the locales where they are sold the most.

    And, as the old humor piece Deteriorata notes:
    “Take heart in the deepening gloom that your dog is finally getting enough cheese”
    (a reference, if you are not old enough to know it, is to a dogfood product, “Gaines Burgers” which purportedly contained cheese).

    You can sell anything. That doesn’t mean people need it or that it’s a good value for the money.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Taking this by the numbers.

    “Citing the amount of sales argues more for the effectiveness of marketing and/or for the degree of public foolishness.”

    I doubt this is true, and would like to see your evidence. Solar cells are largely bought by businesses. Sales to households are a tiny fraction of the total.

    “Or do you really think the world needs 400 brands of toothpaste and 250 brands of deodorant?”

    That is not relevant to my point, which had nothing to do with the number of companies selling solar cells. Using your analogy, you are saying that toothpaste and deodorant “suck”, that we do not need them. If so, I am grateful this is only an email conversation.

    “You can sell anything.”

    No, I do not believe that is true in any meaningful sense. Not in the billions of dollars per year range. Evidence, please.

    Like

  16. OBloodyHell permalink
    5 September 2008 6:31 pm

    Note, this is continuing OT by your own requests:

    > I doubt this is true, and would like to see your evidence. Solar cells are largely bought by businesses. Sales to households are a tiny fraction of the total.

    1) I’d like to see yours… Since you’re the one making a claim, cite, please.

    2) Assuming you’re correct, however — There is a clear public mandate for “sustainability” and other ridiculous folderol (thanks to the marketing of these ideas to the public) Businesses are thus encouraged to throw some money in that direction regardless of its effectiveness, for marketing reasons. Just as there are lots of “naturally grown” products, etc., even though even a casual examination of the data shows that “naturally grown” doesn’t mean jack. So, too, does a company attain a measure of public approval by claiming they’ve put money into “sustainability”, and other things “green”, as long as they don’t also have to show any *real* benefit of having done so. Just enough to make the pro-green consumer “feel good” about the company.

    > That is not relevant to my point, which had nothing to do with the number of companies selling solar cells. Using your analogy, you are saying that toothpaste and deodorant “suck”, that we do not need them. If so, I am grateful this is only an email conversation.

    Cute. I cited the AMOUNT — the VOLUME as excessive. I don’t claim there is no purpose to these things (not even solar cells) — only that the volume sold does not reflect *need*.

    It reflects the effect of marketing efforts in inducing widespread public memes. You know, like the idea of Global Warming, which leads to both business and governmental policy creation which supports the idea no matter how invalid it is. This marketing is in play for solar cells, which the public has the impression that they provide “free energy”, when, in real, total-cycle creation-to-destruction terms, is utterly incorrect. All current evidence is that they are energy-negative. Barring a major breakthrough, that isn’t going to change, and even with such a breakthrough, as my base numbers, unalterable by economics, show, isn’t going to trend into the “plus” column sufficiently to justify them.

    Covering the entire state of Delaware plus most of Rhode Island with little blue cells just doesn’t make sense.

    Do you really, really believe that the multiple *billions* spent in the USA on deodorants and perfumes actually represents a real need? If so, you listen far too much to marketing shills. I can see how you’re apparently been sold on solar cells.

    > No, I do not believe that is true in any meaningful sense. Not in the billions of dollars per year range. Evidence, please.

    Already did. Cosmetics and pet care products. Four-WD SUVs come to mind, too. The number of those sold which are never, ever taken offroad is flat-out absurd.

    I ask you once, more, however, for data which supports the primary idea that solar cells *don’t* suck which doesn’t involve the lemming-like argument that “Hey, All these others are doing it!!”.

    How many are buying them is a peripheral argument. It says not one thing directly in favor of the central one, which is that they aren’t cost efficient. I’ve cited one alternative reason for purchases which does not involve a rational assessment of their utility — “sustainability”, etc., etc. That is sufficient that there shouldn’t really be any more use to that claim.

    When it costs about $16,000 just to match the usage of a single household (see one of my original links), a few billion dollars doesn’t go very far when it comes to matching the needs of a few dozen large businesses.

    Sorry about the length.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: No need to apologize. You replied to a question, with specific and clear answers!

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  17. John A. Jauregui permalink
    12 September 2008 4:11 am

    I just returned from visiting Yellowstone and was struke by the devastation of the 1988 fires, which were preceeded by acute drought and record setting dry lightening. I began to wonder what solar activity occured leading up the 1988 fire storms. Solar cycle 22 started just a couple of years before that summer of drought and dry lightening. Check this out. Relative to other cycles, that solar cycle had 1) a very fast rise time – 2.8 years, 2) a very short cycle length – 9.7 years, 3) a high minimum sun spot number – 12.3, and 4) a high maximum sun spot number – 158.5

    Excerpt from “Solar Cycle Number 22 (1986 – 1996) in Review“, Richard Thompson, posted at the site of the Ionospheric Prediction Service of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (undated):

    “Cycle 22 certainly provided us with many highlights. Early in the cycle the smoothed sunspot number (determined by the number of sunspots visible on the sun and used as the traditional measure of the cycle) climbed rapidly; in fact more rapidly than for any previously recorded cycle. This caused many to predict that it would eclipse Cycle 19 (peak sunspot number of 201) as the highest cycle on record.

    “This was not to be as the sunspot number ceased climbing in early 1989 and reached a maximum in July of that year. Whilst not of record amplitude, Cycle 22 still rated as 4th of the recorded cycles and continued the run of recent large solar cycles (Cycles 18, 19 and 21 were all exceptional!). A very notable feature of Cycle 22 was that it had the shortest rise from minimum to maximum of any recorded cycle.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Interesting data. Neither forest science or meteorology are my fields. However, I have seen many of our southwestern forests — which after a century of fire suppression look like giant tinderboxes. Heavy undergrowth, dense forests of thin trees, loads of debris on the ground. In a region with a millennia-long history of long droughts. The question is when these will burn, not if.

    There seems to be no alternative. As I said here, this is a fine metaphor for the 21st century condition (as we saw with the GSE’s): years of folly leave a small number of unpleasant alternatives. We can work through the troubles to come, paying no longer fully avoidable consequences.

    Like

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  1. Is a month without sunspots a big deal? » The Ethereal Voice
  2. The Spotless Sun « In Other Words

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