Jan 23, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Hi Noah. I have only one point of disagreement after reading this: Under your "Sustainability" section you state, "the supply of sunlight is not limited".

I must reluctantly disagree. Our supply of sunlight is most certainly limited ... to about 3 billion years of the Sun shining tops.

Of course, our problems are a lot bigger than sustainable energy supply long before the Sun becomes a red giant.


Guy who won't be around by then and who is OK with that.

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Jan 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Not to point attention to horrid comments, but Substack should have a word filter on comments, right? Probably should enable that feature 😬

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The last point about sustainability is a huge one. Everyone knows that contact with nature has a huge impact on wellbeing, you can tell that whenever a king parrot flies into your back yard and everyone smiles. I saw one study that said 10% increase in local bird life is as good as a 10% increase in income. We also know there’s an obvious connection between nature and mental health. But the whole topic is woefully understudied.

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You also made the point elsewhere that by over building solar, say, you can start doing stuff with the otherwise "wasted" power, like mining bitcoins for profit, without trashing the environment. Obviously being frugal with baseline needs like heat and light is always a good thing. Actually, there are lots of more useful things to do with cheap excess power, like making hydrogen, maybe carbon capture. Others?

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Jan 23, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

It would seem that, like a bubble, the end of a stagnation would be hard to see while you're in it. The work of the previous 2 decades are now leading to a more visible exit of stagnation today.

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Just so everyone is on the same page:

-You could switch off every solar panel in the USA and it would have approx zero effect on the total emissions of the country.

-The marginal benefit of each solar panel is dropping with each installation.

-All the progress made on emissions in the developed world is due to the switch from coal to natural gas.

-There is no feasible plan to get us down to zero net emission by 2050 that doesn't involve a lot of nuclear power.

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California (like Germany before it) reveals why the transition to renewables runs into difficulties of cost and reliability at system level unless our decarbonization plans include flexible and diverse energy resources: https://slate.com/technology/2020/08/california-blackouts-wind-solar-renewable-energy-grid.html and to go deeper, Jesse Jenkins and his colleagues at Princeton have been modeling and publishing about the systems cost/ reliability implications of various mixes of resources.

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I searched this article for the fragments "Chin" and "Subsid" and didn't find either so I'm sure it's extremely misleading.

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You do realize it's not overbuild or storage, right? It's overbuild AND storage. So you have enough capacity to charge and store batteries in the winter. https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/06/californias-solar-energy-problem.html

Which then has the cost going up exponentially. We are at least 20 years (if ever) away from batteries hitting that price point. I still am waiting to hear how we HEAT and Power Minneapolis during a week long windless 2 foot snow storm. That one city alone would require roughly double the capacity of all the batteries currently existing in the world. There is zero chance we get anywhere without a massive ramp up of nuclear.

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Can you either write, or point to some report that actually incorporates battery costs/constraints into their solar energy analysis? It's all well and good to say that battery costs are decreasing, but I've looked and I can't find anyone that does an estimate of total costs of a solar-only system that would achieve, say, 99% uptime, in say, pheonix or boston. And then project that out using current trends, and optimistic/pessimistic scenarios 20-50 years in the future.

The issue isn't that solar-only can't be done, or won't be better in 50 years, but that we need to start shifting away from fossil fuels in a big way very quickly, and really eliminate fossil fuels, not just eliminate their use during the day. Which means it really matters if solar-only can work well within 20 years or 50 years, or 100 years.

If it's 50-100, then if we really should be doing nuclear, until either solar-only or fusion becomes tenable. The downside of that is that nuclear has much higher capital costs, and much lower fuel costs then fossil fuels, which means it won't coexist efficiently with day-only solar.

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Noah, what do you think about modern nuclear fission reactors? They seem to be more efficient, more compact than solar or wind. Solar and wind damage the ecosystems where they're placed. NPPs built with modern techniques in design and engineering are mechanically safe. Off by default. The cost of making them seems to me to be in the regulatory process and the overabundance of criteria they have to meet. Geothermal seems to be in a stage of growth too and for it the argument of permanent pollution is out the door. What's your view of nuclear & geothermal in comparison to wind & solar?

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I don't think Lithium-ion batteries make sense for solar. Hybrid redox batteries for much greater periods of time. Luckily the cost for that type of battery is also going down(https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210122112306.html)

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I don't know if the applied divinity blogger was necessarily arguing for the techno-pessimistic side. I think they were arguing more that recent commentators' pessimism or optimism has not had much to do with the measurable indicators of technological progress.

I'm sure that cheaper energy will cause more productivity because it is an input to all economic processes, but the tone of the post almost seems to presume that productivity will go up linearly with energy cost declines. But the Nordhaus paper saying that productivity growth stagnated in response to a sudden rise in energy prices doesn't necessarily mean that. And the CBO paper about TFP growth seems to attribute the significant TFP growth in the early and mid 20th century to the qualitatively new appliances, lighting and forms of communication that came with first-time electrification, which isn't necessarily the same as the effect of a reduction in electricity prices decades later.

The CBO paper also seems like it might disagree with the Nordhaus paper: "Whatever the case, the widespread view that the decline stemmed from the dramatic rise in energy prices after 1973 fails to account for the lack of a similarly strong slowdown in other countries or for the failure of TFP growth to recover after energy prices declined in the 1980s. "

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Solar YES !! (in most of the USA, Canada not so much)

Wind YES !! (in most of the USA, Southeast not so much)

Batteries NO 🥺 Not for time shifting renewable generation to demand

Pumped Storage YES !! (and they last 100+ years without degradation instead of @ 15 years of declining capacity).

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Hi Noah

Learning curves hypothesis has been challenged

for instance look at this blog post


summarized in this thread


he is not saying they dont exist but that it does not explain everything

research/progress independant from learning by doing could happen in paralells that could explain the dropping in cost

I would have liked your opinion on this post

The question is: are you sure we measure the causality correctly? Do sales lead to cost reductions through learning effects? Or does learning take place anyway, leading to cost reductions and thus to more sales?

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