Skip to main content

To conclude my three-part series on solar energy (Part 1 and Part 2), I will now address the aspect of global warming that is largely being ignored and which may still doom humanity to a long, hot Dark Age if not dealt with: Even with emission-free energy, humanity will still be pouring prodigious amounts of heat into the atmosphere at a time when the loss of ice caps and glaciers has darkened planetary albedo (i.e., made Earth more absorptive of energy that would otherwise be reflected back into space).  Fortunately, the solutions are simple and cheap - provided we have the foresight to implement them in tandem with clean energy.  

First, a review of basic physics.  We've all had the experience of burning our hand on a metal surface in the hot sun, and yet find other surfaces - e.g., wood - are merely warm to the touch in the same light.  While there are chemical complexities, we can say more or less correctly that this is not because the metal is hotter than the wood: Even at identical temperatures, the metal can burn your hand without the wood doing so.  The reason is that metal can dump its accumulated energy into your hand much faster than wood can, and - more importantly - much faster than your hand can dump it into the rest of your body and the air.  

So even though the metal and wood may be the same temperature, the wood gently warms your hand over time while the metal blasts the first layer of skin on your hand with all it's got.  The relevant part of this example is your hand: Whenever thermal input into a system exceeds output, the result is an increase in temperature (again, with caveats for chemistry) until equilibrium is restored.  The skin of your hand is heated much faster than the internal structure can absorb it, so the skin may be damaged as a result.  We see in this example that the problem is not the absolute amount of energy passing through your hand - as long as the rates of input and output are in balance, the total amount of energy is thermally irrelevant (again, caveats).  

Planet Earth only has two significant sources of energy - heat from its core, and absorption of radiant energy from the Sun.  While there are small ecosystems based around seafloor vents and natural geothermal pools, the vast majority of the biosphere - including humanity - is directly dependent on solar input for survival, and no longer has as much contact with geological processes as it did in earlier eons when the crust was much more fluid.  So while there are worthy investigations into such topics as the climate effects of geothermal outgassing, volcanism, and evaporation of greenhouse gases (GGs) dissolved in rocks, what mainly concerns me (as a modestly informed layman) is the overall balance of solar input with planetary re-radiation.  

As noted, if these rates are permitted to remain imbalanced, the result will be continued global warming even with zero CO2, CH4, or other GG emissions.  Consider the following graphic from Wikipedia, which looks roughly plausible (though I wouldn't rely on these numbers for any kind of mathematical calculation):

Available_Energy-4

The small red block in the above graphic is not the current global consumption of clean energy, but the current global consumption of all energy combined.  I'm not sure whether the author of the image generated his figure for solar using the total amount of solar energy that reaches Earth, or if it was a more nuanced calculation finding the amount of solar energy that would be practically obtainable, but the figure would be staggering even if it were a hundredth of what is shown.  The upshot is this: The amount of heat being released into the atmosphere is trivial compared to what it will be after we transition to clean energy.

The process works like this:

1.  Solar radiation reaches the Earth's atmosphere.  At each given layer of the atmosphere, it can be reflected back upward, passed transparently to a lower layer, or absorbed by the gases that are then heated.

2.  The radiation that passes the entire atmosphere transparently then reaches the ground, where it can be (similarly) reflected back upward or absorbed, heating the ground.

3.  The atmosphere is only transparent or reflective to certain wavelengths of radiant energy, and others are absorbed.  Unfortunately, when the ground absorbs solar energy at a wavelength the atmosphere passes, it can re-radiate it at wavelengths the atmosphere is not transparent to, causing the heat to be trapped.  GGs are a problem because they make the atmosphere less transparent to long-wavelength radiation re-emitted by the ground, trapping it in the lower atmosphere where the biosphere exists.

So we have two BIG problems, both immediate but only one getting any attention: We are making the atmosphere less able to release energy, like the hand in the analogy above, and at the same time are pouring more energy into it at an increasing rate.  Clean energy partially addresses the first problem by seeking to end additional direct GG pollution (though it will not undo that already released, and the consequent natural releases that follow), but as the above graphic illustrates, it will radically exacerbate the second problem.  While I doubt we will allow this to happen, it seems that even a fully-renewable, zero-emission energy system could very easily make the planet unlivable without coming anywhere near maximum production.

Here is the problem of heat, boiled down to its essence: When you use energy, the waste heat that is radiated is always at a longer wavelength than the original.  There is no way around this - it is inherent in thermodynamics.  So without some manipulation of the Earth's reception of solar radiation, or increasing its ability to release heat back into space, more efficient, sustainable energy systems are a double-edged sword: They reduce the amount of energy released by a single application, but radically increase the total pool of available energy worldwide, ultimately guaranteeing an increase in the total power output (and thus, waste heat) of human civilization.  

Most disturbing of all, the technology with the greatest promise also carries the greatest peril: Solar energy transforms surface area that would have been at least somewhat reflective into an efficient energy-capture system.  The electricity that is thus generated results in heat that is then captured by the atmosphere, and at rates likely far higher than whatever heat would have been emitted by the original surface.  This is especially acute given how solar installations are most financially attractive in desert environments, where the surface is largely light-colored, somewhat reflective sand, rock, and dust.  Replacing these surfaces with solar energy systems is thermally equivalent to replacing dull mirrors with black metal - it absorbs light, and then radiates out infrared heat the atmosphere traps.  As ice packs disappear and planetary reflectivity is diminished, this becomes increasingly relevant.

Solar panels

What is the solution?  Clearly we can, should, and must make the transition to clean energy - there are not only climatological reasons for doing so, but also the simple fact that other forms of energy are unsustainable.  Oil, coal, natural gas, and rare fissile materials cannot continue to underpin our economies over the long-term - they are diminishing, non-renewable commodities that incur vast unnecessary expenses to discover, acquire, process, transport, use, and defend (or steal) militarily.  But we must also deal with the problems our technology would cause, and this time deal with them with foresight rather than waiting to be bitten in the ass later.  That means the world should begin to cooperate on ways to manage the total energy input/output of the planet, to assure that we are not absorbing it more quickly than our atmosphere can release.

Fortunately, the ways to accomplish this are relatively trivial.  All that has to be done is to replace and exceed lost reflective surface - enough to compensate for the warming effects of GGs by absorbing less overall energy, as well as compensating for the increased absorption caused by solar energy infrastructure.  As Energy Secretary Chu has noted, this can be as simple as painting roofs white rather than darker colors.  But the discussion on this subject needs to ramp up soon, because this is not a secondary concern - it is something that must be addressed in tandem with our elimination of GG emissions, or else the whole climatological purpose of clean energy is negated.

White  Bermuda Roof Tops

I can see any number of steps being feasible to address the problem efficiently, affordably, and in ways that minimize further unintended consequences.  First, as noted, people can simply utilize more white and reflective surfaces in developed environments - much as many Mediterranean cities already have white roofs for their passive cooling ability.  Second, there can and should eventually be large-scale projects whose purpose is to offset the albedo effect - large fields of mirrors and other reflective environments established to offset new solar plants.

But more importantly, these steps should begin to be taken in a systematic, quantitative way: Companies that provide solar panels could calculate what a system's global albedo impact would be, and give customers options for offsetting it.  Companies that build large utility-scale installations could begin to offset them by creating more reflective sand for the surrounding environment.  More desperate measures (e.g., blanketing huge tracts of desert and ocean dead zones with mirrored material) are imaginable if it comes to that, but I see no reason it should: This is common sense, and not expensive at all.

White Sands

Shiny Roof

The biggest obstacle, I think, is that there is no direct profit in it.  We can convince individuals on the forefront to pay extra to offset the thermal effects of clean energy, but businesses would have very marginal (if any) motivation to do so.  They sell energy, and compensating for its externalities does not add anything to their profit margins: And that is how we got into this mess in the first place.  But I am optimistic given the relatively low marginal cost of addressing the problem - I don't imagine white sand or white paint cost much relative to solar panels and thermal plants - as well as the greater awareness that the rise of clean energy business brings to the fore.

If we do this right, the possibilities of clean energy are more than utopian - the sheer amount of energy that's available, not to mention its sustainability, will permit us to realize previously abandoned science fiction dreams, transform economies into freer and more decentralized configurations, and make possible levels of civil engineering and urban planning that would be absurd today.  They will give us technologies and mentalities that would serve us even in space, on other worlds, and allow our species to spread and diversify over the long-term.  It would also give us a profound ecological awareness and appreciation for both the perils and the promise of any given environment, and make us more adaptable and far-sighted as a species.  But it has to be done right, and soon.  

Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 5:08 PM PT: Some of the comments indicate to me that I need to clarify something: Increasing surface reflectivity is important not merely to compensate for increased darkening due to solar panels, loss of ice, and urbanization, but also as a simple way to immediately compensate for heating caused by greenhouse gases.  It expels energy at wavelengths better able to leave the atmosphere rather than being absorbed, and saved tons of CO2 emissions by keeping buildings cool.  There is no downside.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 08:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Troubador at his best, imo. (9+ / 0-)

    Thanks, this is an example of real thinking and weighing.

    If I read aright, it also means more jobs than just the direct solar-capture ones.


    Until we break the corporate virtual monopoly on what we hear and see, we keep losing, don't matter what we do.

    by Jim P on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 09:20:36 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this explanation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnN, Troubadour

    of the need and the peril of shifting to solar energy.

    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

    by Dragon5616 on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 09:58:14 PM PDT

  •  Concur on installing reflective surfaces but (10+ / 0-)

    it's important to quantify the extent of this impact on a global scale.  Unless that's clearly done, and it's shown at every, every turn that this efffect is much smaller than equivalent GHGs, wingnuts will use this as yet another  conterargument against solar energy ---"solar creates warming!"   %#^#^@^@#^

    So is this effect equal to 1%, or 10% or some other percent of what would be produced by the equivalent energy generation by combustion sources?

    •  Think back to the figure above (3+ / 0-)

      showing the potential production of various renewables compared to current total energy consumption.

      Fossil fuels are obviously a lot worse than any renewable - they release millions of years of cumulative solar energy in the space of human lifetimes.

      BUT...once we've moved away from them, the total power output is just going to keep going up, and up, and up, easily outpacing the decline in greenhouse gas concentrations.  That means we have to include surface albedo as a variable in our thinking.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 11:12:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Too early. (12+ / 0-)

        I think albedo is a legitimate problem in 100 years. But the impact of albedo from solar panels is microscopic compared to the impact of greenhouse gasses. We reduce the net heating impact far more by using horribly inefficient black solar panels than we do by burning even the tiniest amount of fossil fuels.

        So while your concern is not entirely wrong, I think it's far too early to worry about it. The greenhouse gasses will be around for centuries, and their effect simply overwhelms the impact of solar panels.

        Now, if you want to talk about albedo effects from snow/ice at the poles, or even albedo effects from cropland, I think you might have a point. I've even seen articles about trying to engineer lighter color leaves on crop plants like corn and soybeans, which would have a measurable effect purely due to the area they cover.

        •  Too early to worry, not really. (5+ / 0-)

          But what's being talked about is not exactly a radical rethinking, just adding one slight additional level of planning to energy infrastructure - heat compensation.  This shouldn't be difficult.

          The loss of ice reflectivity is something that definitely needs to be compensated, but the most important thing is simply that we begin planning energy from a whole-planet input/output frame of thinking rather than still acting as if each of these systems is separate.

          The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:30:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  No, it won't. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW
        BUT...once we've moved away from them [fossil fuels], the total power output is just going to keep going up, and up, and up, easily outpacing the decline in greenhouse gas concentrations.
        It's a finite planet.  We'll run into some other limit if we beat global warming.

        Renewable energy brings national global security.      -6.25, -6.05

        by Calamity Jean on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 12:13:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Ok, but really, (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Recall, LookingUp, radmul, melo

        what is the proportion?  It really matters, numbers matter.

        If an albedo effect relating to solar installations is a fraction of a percent of the equivalent GHG emissions, and if solar installation cause a fraction of a percent of total albedo loss, then it's just noise and albedo should  be considered more globally as in making sure that:

        [Offsets from all sources] >= [Albedo decrease from all sources]

        In that sense, it doesn't matter what the cause is, and the potential fact that a small portion comes from solar installations is just a distraction that the merchants of doubt will use like other irrelvant and cherry picked factoids to slow progress and generally cause trouble.

        Yes, absoluletly yes, on pragmatic and very cost-effective solutions like lighter colored buildings, but I don't think the numbers will bear out a meaningful link between this larger issue and the potential contribution of solar installations.

        •  I think we're getting sidetracked. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          James Wells

          The discussion of how much solar development contributes to planetary darkening is secondary to the fact that increased reflectivity is the most direct, immediate, and practical way to address global warming.  It reduces emissions by keeping buildings and entire regions cooler, and also causes more heat to be expelled entirely from the atmosphere rather than absorbed.  It is true the solar panel contribution is more of a long-term concern, but increasing reflectivity is an immediate necessity to address global warming that has already occurred, let alone what will continue to occur.

          The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:24:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, let me have just a little bit of peril? (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            melo, Troubadour, Recall

            If I got sidetracked, looks like everyone else did and here's why.

            Clean energy partially addresses the first problem by seeking to end additional direct GG pollution (though it will not undo that already released, and the consequent natural releases that follow), but as the above graphic illustrates, it will radically exacerbate the second problem.
            Most disturbing of all, the technology with the greatest promise also carries the greatest peril: Solar energy transforms surface area that would have been at least somewhat reflective into an efficient energy-capture system.

            So if we see "clean energy ... will radically exacerbate [a component of global warming]" ..., even "peril" it's pretty natural to response to that.  I also think it's reasonable to ask for some kind of quantitative backup that the contribution of solar is a real issue.

            I think it would be interesting to evaluate whether (even setting aside GHG completely), the albedo effect of solar is less than just the waste heat of combustion sources (per same amount of energy).  If so, then replacing combustion sources with solar, TW for TW, is a winner on all fronts.  While some future vast increase in total power consumption could cause a problem, that problem is not related to solar as such but related instead to the vast increase in power consumption.  

            If we head in the direction of "if we solve all the problems of X, it will lead to overuse and thus devastation", this is the kind of rebound-effect "reasoning" that is currently used to stop efforts to increase energy efficiency of appliances and vehicles.

            So if the discussion of the "peril" of solar is a sidetrack, then perhaps the sum of my comment would be that this aspect of the diary distracts and detracts a lot from the 90% which is excellent and really on target.
             

            •  Very well. (0+ / 0-)

              However, as a layman (as I note in the diary) I'm not really equipped to offer a quantitative analysis that would pass any kind of rigor.  But you do the math - what would it mean for even a thousandth of the quoted total solar potential to be utilized?  That would be 5-6 times the total global energy output today, essentially all of which would end up as heat released into the atmosphere - heat from the initial absorption, heat from the electrical systems, and finally heat from the end-user application of the electricity.  That is what is meant when I talk about the "albedo" effect - not the mere change in surface color, but the whole-system change in how much energy is being kept in the system.  That looks catastrophic to me.  

              The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

              by Troubadour on Tue Jul 26, 2011 at 04:48:04 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  This is fearmongering bullshit: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andhakari, i dont get it
    Most disturbing of all, the technology with the greatest promise also carries the greatest peril: Solar energy transforms surface area that would have been at least somewhat reflective into an efficient energy-capture system.  The electricity that is thus generated results in heat that is then captured by the atmosphere, and at rates likely far higher than whatever heat would have been emitted by the original surface.  This is especially acute given how solar installations are most financially attractive in desert environments, where the surface is largely light-colored, somewhat reflective sand, rock, and dust.  Replacing these surfaces with solar energy systems is thermally equivalent to replacing dull mirrors with black metal - it absorbs light, and then radiates out infrared heat the atmosphere traps.  As ice packs disappear and planetary reflectivity is diminished, this becomes increasingly relevant.
    •  "Fearmongering"...you didn't read the diary. (3+ / 0-)

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 11:08:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not fearmongering, just wrong. (13+ / 0-)

        Current global energy usage is about 16 terawatts (TW). One square meter of tropical desert receives about 1000 watts of energy on a sunny day. If you were to cover that square meter with a solar panel, you could recover about 200 watts of that energy. So if we could meet all of global energy demands with solar panels, that would require 80 billion square meters, or 80,000 square km, covered with solar panels. Let's assume we could do that, by covering large areas of desert.

        Let's assume that a typical solar panel has an albedo of .1, that is, it reflects 10% of the sunlight hitting it and absorbs 90%. (Objects with albedos this low typically look black to the eye.) Since 20% of the incoming energy is converted to electricity and 10% is reflected, only 70% of the incoming energy is converted to waste heat. In other words, it's effective albedo, from a waste heat standpoint, is 30%. Desert sand has an albedo of 40%. So we have decreased the effective albedo of that patch desert by 10%, which amounts to an additional 8 terawatts of heating. (Note that if we had installed those solar panels on roofs in the city instead of the desert -- which is where most solar panels really are located -- we wouldn't have changed the effective albedo at all, and perhaps even increased it. So this is very much a worst-case scenario we're talking about here, by putting the panels in the desert.)

        Since Earth as a whole has an area of 510 million km^2, that 8 terawatts would add at most 0.016 Watts per square meter of heat to the Earth. Anthropogenic CO2 is currently adding about 2 Watts per square meter, or more than a hundred times that amount. And since this is a worst-case scenario, solar panels are certainly much less than this already insignificant impact.

        We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

        by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 10:34:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour

          for doing the math so I don't have to!

          Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

          by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 11:20:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Clever argument, but totally wrong (8+ / 0-)

          Where do you think the 20% converted to electricity goes, after it's finished doing whatever we want it to do? First law of thermodynamics says it's not going to vanish into thin air; second law says it's going to end up as the random motion of particles, i.e., heat. It just takes longer to get there than the 70% that's immediately absorbed, but get there it does--& then you have the same problem with it.

          IOW, your nominal solar cell is still turning 90% of the incident sunlight into heat, no matter what useful detour it takes, vs. the 60% for the desert.

          Nice try, but no cigarillo.

          snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

          by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 01:23:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Don't think all is heat (0+ / 0-)

            At least some of it, depending on the application, will be converted into mechanical energy.

            In the case, of electric cars, I would think the majority of it is mechanical energy. Same with fans and pumps and compressors and electric trains and vacuum cleaners.

            •  And the mechanical energy will end up as-- (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour

              Anyone? Anyone? Bueller??

              --Sorry for the flippancy, I can't resist a straight line. But seriously now: Energy used to perform any sort of work is going to end up as heat as the system reverts to its highest-entropy state. The only exception to that is if you stored the energy--say you put it through a fuel cell to split water into hydrogen & oxygen--& then removed it from the system completely--say you use the H2 and O2 to fuel the upper stage of an interplanetary rocket. The end result is still heat, but because you've removed it from the system it doesn't end up there.

              I'm all for getting every joule of useful work out of every bit of sunlight. But it all ends up as heat somewhere.

              snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

              by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:22:42 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  That's true of ALL energy sources. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Recall

            No matter where we get our energy from, it will all end up as waste heat eventually. The only way to avoid that is to stop using energy, which is the end of civilization.

            The question is whether solar is good/bad/worse in that department than other forms because of the albedo effect. Clearly, albedo is trivial compared to greenhouse.

            We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

            by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:50:53 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Uncle Cosmo has aptly addressed (0+ / 0-)

          your math, but I can add this: Even if you were correct, the fact remains that we'd be massively increasing the amount of heat poured into the atmosphere at a time when greenhouse gas concentrations are still increasing from lingering fossil fuel usage and natural releases from permafrost, and when reflectivity is being lost from the loss of ice.  

          We don't merely have to compensate for the darkness created by new solar capacity, but for all the heat created by GGs, the loss of reflectivity from melted ice, and numerous other smaller ways that we're increasing heat release while simultaneously disrupting the atmosphere's ability to get rid of it.

          The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:31:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Uncle Cosmo hasn't addressed anything. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Recall

            See my previous comment: ALL human-used energy ends up as waste heat, regardless of the source. The question you're asking is whether solar is worse than other forms because of albedo. Clearly, albedo is utterly trivial compared to greenhouse.

            In fact, in the total-solar world hypothesized above, the total excess heat added to the planet is about the same as we currently add from greenhouse gases every eight weeks.

            We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

            by Keith Pickering on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:59:48 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  We have to do the math. (0+ / 0-)

        Let us assume that we generate all of current electricity using solar.  Let's assume as the earlier commenter says that solar panels absorb 90% of light energy, and that sand absorbs 60%.

        If 20 percent of incoming light is converted into electricity, then the other 70% is turned directly into heat.  Since we are replacing the current electricity with the same amount of electricity from solar energy, the heat that eventually arises from the usage of electricity is the same.  That leaves total excess heat about 3 and a half times the electricity energy.  Since the total from the chart in the dairy is 15 TW, the excess is about 52.5 TW.  If there was no solar panel there, the same amount of sand would absorb 60% of light as heat, about 3 times the energy that the solar panels would have produce, or about 45 TW.  So the difference in heat produced by changing from the current system to all solar is about 7.5 TW.

        Now compare this with the total amount of solar energy getting to the Earth from the chart: 86,000 TW.  More than 10,000 times the excess heat absorbed by using solar energy.

        Of course, this is just a quick back of the envelope calculation.  But you can't worry about this issue unless there is calculation about it, and if my calculations are not accurate enough, then you need to present a better calculation, which would probably end up getting a lot more detailed and technical than I can do, or that you would see in your average DKos dairy.  This is a symptom of a more general problem: for highly technical subjects like climate change, we are forced to rely on specialists, since most of us cannot take the years of time and effort to learn how to do this for ourselves.

        Note I do not disagree about having a lot of white roofs.  That might help some, but probably the most help is that buildings with white roofs would need less air conditioning.

        I think some people might be under the misconception that the heat generated by human power usage is a cause of global warming.  But given the large ratio of total solar energy reaching the earth compared to the total energy used by humans, our energy is a drop in a very big bucket.  But the greenhouse gases only have to make a small change in the amount of the total solar energy retained to make a big difference in temperature.

        I don't know what is going to be worse: global warming or the exhaustion of the fossil fuel supply.  The serious decline of our economy and our political culture is not helping.

        "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

        by Thutmose V on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 09:00:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You'll have to explain as it is presented (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      in context with the rest of the diary.

      Otherwise your comment seems like reactionary bullshit.

      •  Somehow the diarist managed to convince himself (0+ / 0-)

        that installing solar panels aggravates global warming. That's just wrong.

        •  It's not wrong, but it's also not central (0+ / 0-)

          to the important issue: Increasing reflectivity is the most immediate, cheapest, and most practical means of addressing global warming.  It saves massive amounts of CO2 emissions in buildings, and also reduces the amount of energy captured by the atmosphere.   We have to address this, because greenhouse gases will continue to build even after we've stopped emitting them, and the total energy output of the world is not going to decrease.

          The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:59:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  "White roofs" sounds very appealing in (6+ / 0-)

    a simplistic way. Unfortunately, and I don't have a link so don't ask me for one, I've heard that there isn't enough rooftop acreage relative to land acreage to make a difference.

    Full disclosure: I have children and thus care about climate. @RL_Miller

    by RLMiller on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 10:35:30 PM PDT

    •  desertification (4+ / 0-)

      I understand that as a byproduct of our global industrial civilization, we´re reducing the forest cover of earth substantially, and helping to expand deserts. Troubadour, you´ve yourself named deserts as one relatively high albedo earth surface type. Doesnt the human caused desertification by its magnitude swamp the albedo reducing effect of solar panels that scares you?

      •  I'm not sure what you're asking. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        maybeeso in michigan, Odysseus

        It's preferable to have forests rather than deserts because the former use up a lot of energy in chemical changes that are only very slowly released as heat through decay and animal metabolism.  That certainly makes them far more attractive than deserts regardless of albedo.

        However, once a place is desert, it's better to have it be a highly reflective desert.  If you cover it in solar energy installations without some kind of offset, you're recreating the forest's absorptive ability but turning the resulting energy into heat at a much more rapid pace.  

        The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

        by Troubadour on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 11:24:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  marsanges (6+ / 0-)

          is saying we are creating deserts faster than we are covering them with solar panels so the point of this diary is moot.

          Worry about desertification first and lowered albedo a distant, distant, distant, distant second.

          Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

          by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:29:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think this is a misunderstanding. (0+ / 0-)

            Albedo is just one aspect of the wider issue: Planetary input/ouput.  We need to make the Earth more reflective on average because we're trapping a lot more heat through both greenhouse gases and darkening from urban development and loss of ice.

            The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

            by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:34:26 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  sorry (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Recall

              you wrote a diary about albedo, not about planetary input/output. And then you said that solar energy conversion systems are "the greatest peril" of all. And that has been shown to be unsupportable using stuff like math and science.

              If you want to change your story, fine, but don't complain about people calling bullshit on your original.

              Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

              by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:11:23 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I also mentioned white sand (3+ / 0-)

      and industrial-scale mirror fields that could be built in conjunction with new solar capacity.  It would be a pretty cheap additional expense - they don't have to made with any degree of care, just scattered around.  The albedo effect is one of averages, it doesn't have to be efficient.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Sun Jul 24, 2011 at 11:16:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It can make a big difference in one important way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLMiller

      In cities, it can drastically reduce the "heat island" effect (the effect of all that heat absorbed during the day re-radiating out of the buildings at night, making the overall temperature of the city higher than it would be.

      Reducing the heat island effect drastically reduces space cooling needs, thus reducing electrical usage, thus reducing the need to burn our worst fossil fuel from a CO2 perspective: coal.

      It's effect from a strictly albedo perspective can't completely solve the problem, but smart use of white roofing can have a multiplicative effect beyond its reflectivity alone.

      Once the bear eats your friend, there's no one left to outrun. And it'll still be hungry.

      by radical simplicity on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 07:44:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a piece of denialist horse-manure. (4+ / 0-)

    Climate change isn't caused by sunlight; it's caused by excessive greenhouse gas accumulation. Is your followup diary going to propose painting trees white because leaves absorb too much solar radiation?

    "I almost died for the international monetary system; what the hell is that?" ~ The In-laws

    by Andhakari on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:14:08 AM PDT

    •  Look here, you fucking genius. (11+ / 0-)

      All energy in the Earth's atmosphere that doesn't come from geological processes comes from the sun.  Greenhouse gases are those which are chemically disposed to absorb and thereby trap the wavelengths typically re-radiated by the Earth's surface.  If more of the Sun's energy is absorbed by the the surface (or systems on it), then more is re-radiated at wavelengths trapped by greenhouse gases, accelerating global warming and secondarily climate change.

      Either you didn't read the diary or you have the reading comprehension of a 10-year-old.  Calling this "denialism" is fucking insane.  Remove your HR.  Frankly I don't how the fuck you got TU status in the first place, but apparently they're just handing it out like candy these days, so if you even have any credibility to salvage, I'd recommend removing your HR.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:20:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He does have a valid point though (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean, LookingUp, radmul

        If you're only looking at albedo, then you have to recognize that forests are much darker than deserts.  Lifeless deserts reflect a lot more sunlight than life-filled forests.  So are forests bad?
        Also note that you should be fully in favor of urban sprawl, since massive concrete parking lots and roads have a higher albedo than the cropland they replaced.

        Would you propose cutting down forests, turning the land to desert, and paving over farmland in order to increase albedo?  No, of course you wouldn't.  Recognizing that Earth is 75% open dark water and with a large amount of white cloud cover, Earth's albedo is basically fixed, and there aren't a lot of large scale changes we can make even if we tried.

        Sorry, it's not always as simple as changing a single variable.

        •  These kind of objections are silly. (3+ / 0-)

          It's the equivalent of saying "if weighing less is so good, why don't you cut off your legs?"

          When someone points out a problem, there's no reason to jump to the craziest possible solutions.

        •  But I'm not only looking at albedo. (0+ / 0-)

          It's one aspect of making energy decisions on a global input/output basis.  Forests absorb more energy than deserts, but they trap it in organic chemicals and release it very slowly from decay and animal metabolism, so there is a balance that isn't present with deserts and urban environments.  And you're wrong about cities - they're not at all reflective.  They absorb sunlight and radiate it as heat, contributing to the heat island effect.

          The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

          by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:37:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What's the difference between sand and concrete? (0+ / 0-)

            Whatever applies to giant swaths of urban concrete also applies to deserts.  If concrete absorbs sunlight and radiates heat, sand in the desert does the exact same thing.  They both have very similar albedo and heat retention.  If urban areas create heat islands, so do deserts.

            So therefore you should simply take the good of C02 free engergy generation and not worry about the second order effects of making the albedo a bit lower.

    •  Read the diary. (14+ / 0-)

      This isn't denialist, and it clearly attributes climate change primarily to greenhouse gasses.

      However, there's a secondary issue of albedo changes, which is a legitimate concern. Once the greenhouse gasses are taken care of (ie reduced drastically), we'll still have a warming problem if the earth's albedo has darkened significantly.

      Now, I disagree with the diarist, since the albedo changes from solar panels are about a billionth of the impact of greenhouse gasses, so it's not a problem worth worrying about yet.  YET.

      But that doesn't make this a denialist diary, and it's certainly not a HR worthy pile of horse-manure.

      Please read the diary again.

      •  We shouldn't understate the problem. (3+ / 0-)

        While it's true that GGs are far more significant as an isolated phenomenon, the fact is we'll be dealing with both problems simultaneously.  The gases already emitted into the atmosphere will not go away for a long time, and even more will be pouring in from permafrost melting and evaporation from substrates in which it's been dissolved (e.g., some kinds of rocks).  So the fact that we're going to be changing albedo and ramping up energy output beyond all prior records means this is an immediate problem.  The solution is simple and cheap enough that standards should be developed as early as possible.

        The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

        by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:35:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is also the synergy of a "teaching (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, The Hindsight Times

          moment," as Troubadour approaches technology implementation in a manner considerate of our place in the ecology of the earth: imagine where we would be ecologically if minimizing the impact of our activity were a value we took seriously throught the history of industrialization!

          The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce. Clayton Act, Section 6.

          by Ignacio Magaloni on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 02:37:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  And why is GHG accumulation a problem? (5+ / 0-)

      Because it traps energy brought in by sunlight. You really should go around calling other people's writings horse-manure when you're so ignorant yourself. Jeebus.

      "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

      by tomasyn on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:53:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Neptune's atmosphere is filled with GHGs (0+ / 0-)

      but that doesn't make it a very good choice of winter vacations spots.

      •  Neptune is a *lot* farther from the sun (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, Troubadour

        than Earth is, so it intercepts less solar energy.  

        Renewable energy brings national global security.      -6.25, -6.05

        by Calamity Jean on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 11:41:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks, but I think you missed my point. (0+ / 0-)

          I was responding to Andhakari's:

          Climate change isn't caused by sunlight; it's caused by excessive greenhouse gas accumulation.

          Neptune has excessive GHGs, but not enough sunlight. Therefore, it's not suffering excessive heat at its surface from the GHGs alone. Therefore, the amount of sunlight striking the GHGs in a given atmosphere is critical and makes sunlight very relevant.

          Hence: Climate change is caused by sunlight, and GHGs.

          •  Earth's orbit hasn't changed, and the sun (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Pescadero Bill

            is sending out sunlight at the same rate as it did 500 years ago.  The sunlight received by Earth hasn't changed.  What has changed is the green house gasses in the atmosphere.  This means that the same amount of energy as always comes in, but less goes out, resulting in global warming.  Sunlight is a required precondition for global warming, but it isn't the cause, because it hasn't changed.  

            Renewable energy brings national global security.      -6.25, -6.05

            by Calamity Jean on Tue Jul 26, 2011 at 09:41:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Ah, but if a large enough volcanic eruption (0+ / 0-)

              were to throw enough ash into the stratosphere to block sunlight the earth would cool no matter how much green house gasses were in the atmosphere.

              In other words one way to mitigate climate change would be to limit the amount of sun reaching the atmosphere's green house gasses.

              The increasing green house gasses interacting with sunlight is causing climate change.

      •  i think that's mostly due to the commute (0+ / 0-)
      •  It's a better vacation spot than Uranus. (0+ / 0-)
        The stratosphere of Neptune is warmer than that of Uranus due to the elevated concentration of hydrocarbons.[13]

        link
    •  This is one of the worst comments... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ashaman, strandedlad, ruscle, Troubadour

      ...I have ever seen.

      Not only are you 100% wrong about this being "denialist horse-manure", not only are you 100% wrong about "climate change isn't caused by sunlight" (you do get why they're "greenhouse" gases, right?), but you're also 100% wrong about hide-rating a diary simply because you disagree (or, in this case, totally misunderstand) it.

      You should really remove the hide, and actually read the diary, too.

  •  We also need to replace the albedo lost by the (6+ / 0-)

    disappearing polar ice. Kudos for thinking ahead about the issues that will be created by our new technologies, if only we had done that with our old energy technologies...

    "We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap." Kurt Vonnegut

    by tomasyn on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:59:07 AM PDT

  •  Lacking any rigor ... (6+ / 0-)

    The problem with the diary is that there is no attempt to quantify the "problem". You make a vast leap from solar panels have a lower albedo than desert (obviously true) to it is a global problem that is going to thermodynamically cook the world.

    Even if 100% of the reflected energy were coming from deserts (it isn't) and PV were a perfect black body (it isn't), then covering 1% of deserts would reduce the reflected energy by, um, um, 1%.

    In any event, I guess Solyndra is the answer to your concerns. They take low albedo roofs, cover them in bright white membranes, then have a tubular PV system that catches some small percentage of reflected light.

    The bright white roof also lowers cooling costs and acts as an insulator so it's a win-win-win situation.

    Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

    by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:26:51 AM PDT

    •  Good start, but room for improvement IMO (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jam, Troubadour, melo

      If I understand correctly, PV cells vary in the efficiency of conversion depending on the wavelength/frequency of the incident light. If you can only convert X% of incident solar radiation into electricity, you would want that conversion to be concentrated in narrow wavelength ranges where you get very high efficiency--then you cover the cells with a sheet of something that is highly transparent to those wavelengths & highly reflective of all other wavelengths.
      The devil of course is in the details...

      Then again, if you can't prevent heat from being absorbed, why not make it useful? I had this idea of sandwiching the PV cells between two pairs of double glass panes that would incorporate channels for water. Incoming light would be attenuated by the top panes but then trapped to heat the water; heat absorbed by the PV cells would be transferred to the water in the underneath panes (which would be silvered on the backside to reflect any remaining light back through the stack). You run the heated water back into the house & use it for heat &/or washing, instead of generating that by a GHG-emitting power plant. I haven't worked out any details but it strikes me that there may be some real advantages to that sort of system--& it appeals to my interest in wasting as little as possible.

      snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

      by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 01:48:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  PV/T & Multi-junction diodes (4+ / 0-)

        PV/Thermal hybrid:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/...
        Photovoltaic thermal hybrid solar collectors, sometimes known as hybrid PV/T systems or PVT, are systems that convert solar radiation into thermal and electrical energy. These systems combine a photovoltaic cell, which converts electromagnetic radiation (photons) into electricity, with a solar thermal collector, which captures the remaining energy and removes waste heat from the PV module.

        Multi-junction pv cells:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/...
        Multi-junction solar cells or tandem cells are solar cells containing several p-n junctions. Each junction is tuned to a different wavelength of light, reducing one of the largest inherent sources of losses, and thereby increasing efficiency. Traditional single-junction cells have a maximum theoretical efficiency of 34%, a theoretical "infinite-junction" cell would improve this to 87% under highly concentrated sunlight.

        Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

        by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 02:20:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Very interesting, thanks! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, melo

          I didn't exactly expect that the general idea for the PV/thermal hybrid hadn't occurred to someone long ago. I still think my particular idea might have some merit...a couple of things occur to me that I should consider getting witnessed before I put them out in public...

          The multi-junction stuff is good too. If you layer them in order of decreasing wavelength, you ought to get some boost from internal reflection at the layer boundaries...

          Fun stuff!

          snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

          by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 06:06:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  And HVDC trunklines to move electricity (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jam, Egalitare, Troubadour

    to where its needed.

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 08:31:27 AM PDT

  •  no mention of population control? (4+ / 0-)

    No methods of mittigating our destructive choices is complete without some form of population control.

    We simply MUST put raincoats on willy.

    •  Absolutely - (0+ / 0-)

      And I reiterate that Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb" forth years ago HARMED the discussion of population issues by its disaster-movie scenarios.

      The same caveat applies to climate issues - wild claims like the Arctic melting by 2013 - will only provide ammunition to the corporatist right wing. The net result is that it undercuts the less sexy - but more serious findings.

      •  I don't think the US Navy Postgraduate School (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zbbrox, JeffW, Troubadour
        - wild claims like the Arctic melting by 2013 -
        makes wild claims.  Their claim is that the Arctic Ocean will be (briefly) ice-free in September (the end of the melting season) in 2016, plus or minus three years.  So that would put temporary ice-free status sometime between 2013 and 2019.  It probably won't happen in '13.

        Renewable energy brings national global security.      -6.25, -6.05

        by Calamity Jean on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 11:47:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  No, and you won't see it mentioned either (0+ / 0-)

      The Left as a whole basically ignores population growth. You'll see some throwing up of hands claiming "Men are evil, there's nothing we can do...".  But mostly a general refusal to talk about it for fear of being "politically incorrect" for saying that women in poor countries shouldn't have 12 kids they can't feed.  For some reason, the reality based community just can't deal with this issue.

      As if mother nature really cares what's politically correct or not...

      •  Correction: PEOPLE shouldn't have 12 kids (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean

        Just trying to head off the "It takes two to tango" comments that usually appear.

      •  Women in POOR Countries? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean, Troubadour

        One of the central precepts of Dominionist theology is the "be fruitful and multiply" line - combined with subjugation of women. Right-wing Christians have 6 or 8 or 10 children - and this is often celebrated in the local media. 10 American children have a far larger footprint than 10 Malawian children.

        •  It all comes down to if they can feed the kids (0+ / 0-)

          The carbon footprint is a separate issue.  If we're talking simply about overpopulation, then it comes down to resources and food.

          If a fundie couple in Utah can feed 10 kids, then they can have them.  If a couple in Malawai can't feed their 10 kids, then mother nature will take them away.

          I don't agree with the Christian couple having 6-8-10 kids either.  But we have to start somewhere, so it might as well be with the places facing famine.  No one said life is fair.

        •  10 american children. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          johnnygunn

          . . .who believe that mankind was made from mudpies 6000 years ago and that Noah played kickball with dinosaurs have an incredibly large and ignorant footprint.

      •  flat out wrong. it's discussed regularly. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Odysseus, Troubadour, dewley notid

        You're completely and utterly wrong, the Left does not ignore population growth. It's discussed regularly, and I rarely notice a global warming diary where someone doesn't bring it up in the comments.

        The correct answer is always the same: pushing for legal and financial equality for women always drops the birth rate. Educational and financial opportunities drop the birth rate. And every step towards simple moral fairness in society will drop the birth rate.

        You won't make any progress on this issue if you try to discuss forced sterilization or genocide, for obvious reasons. But the simplest of indirect methods is horrendously effective, and also morally correct.

        We deal with the issue all the time, but we deal with it in a way that is fair and respectful of people's inherent freedoms.

        But I constantly see this lie repeated, that the left doesn't address the issue. If you think that's really the case, you're deluding yourself, and skipping over the discussion that's right in front of your eyes.

        •  No I just see a bunch of rolling over (0+ / 0-)

          Where's the fight?  I see a bunch of people fighting tooth and nail for gay marriage.  But when it comes to birth control access in the third world it always comes down to either "Bush cut funding", or "The church banned condoms".

          Well if the Left is just going to roll over like that and then do nothing about it, it's the same as ignoring it.

          When we accept as fact that people should depend on charity from around the globe for their birth control or accept the power of unelected Church leaders over their lives, why should we be surprised that nothing changes?

    •  Population control will occur, one way or another. (0+ / 0-)

      I'm simply addressing the problem from a planetary energy standpoint.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:41:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You're overstating the polar albedo effect (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    First of all, recognize that Earth has an axial tilt of 24 degrees and very pronounced seasons.  Both poles are in full darkness for months in winter.  So Albedo has no effect.

    Second, in the summer when there is perpetual daylight, even at its' highest on June 21st, above the arctic circle the sun is no higher in the sky than it is in Chicago in December.  If you've ever tried to feel heat from the sun in December, you'll know there isn't any.  So there just isn't much direct solar heating of the poles at any point of the year.

    And third, because of the low sun angle in summer, most of the sunlight will be reflected away.  If you've ever been on a body of water in early morning or late afternoon, you'll notice that sunlight reflects off the water, that water IS very reflective to light that isn't shining straight down.  Since the sun never can shine straight down on the Arctic ocean, most of the sunlight striking it will be reflected back into space.

    So yes while there will be some albedo affect from a loss of summer arctic ice, it will be a small effect.  

    •  It isn't just albedo. (0+ / 0-)

      The polar ice is absorbing massive amounts of energy in its phase-change to water.  Once it's no longer ice, the planet will heat up far more quickly because the energy is no longer being dampened by such a large-scale phase-change.

      Furthermore, on the subject of albedo, we're not just talking about polar ice - we're talking about glaciers everywhere they exist, as well as less snowfall in winter in lower latitudes, and also urbanization.

      I'm trying to get through this message as clearly as I can:

      MORE HEAT + CONTINUED GG INCREASES = HOTBOX.

      The end of deliberate GG emissions may only reduce the rate of increase from natural sources.  We can reduce the heat component by replacing and exceeding lost reflectivity.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:51:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Freezing ice releases heat too (0+ / 0-)

        You're also overstating the amount of heat absorbed by the ice when it melts.  The polar ice amounts are a cycle.  Ice melts in summer, and re-freezes in winter.

        When water freezes, it releases heat to the environment just as melting ice absorbs it.  Therefore, if the melt/freeze cycle ended (although it never will due to seasons), then the loss of heat absorbed is perfectly balanced by the loss of heat emitted.

        Further on albedo, glaciers don't exist in massive amounts anywhere but the poles, and havent for thousands of years.  The glaciers of greenland are very far north.  If they melted, the land and water beneath aren't going to be baking in tropical strength sunlight.

        For mountaintop glaciers, they typically overlay very light colored and reflective granite.  Little albedo change.

        You're also ignoring any increase in cloud cover from a warmer ocean that evaporates more water.  Clouds will more than balance the loss of any non-polar glacier from an albedo standpoint.

      •  But if you really want to reflect heat (0+ / 0-)

        Then you should support projects to inject sulfur dioxide (as from volcanoes) high into the atmosphere.  This will scatter sunlight and cool the planet, as happens naturally after a large eruption.

  •  There is a simple solution (0+ / 0-)

    Very dirty energy. Yup lots of smoke that will reflect the sun light will reverse global warming. However, no one wants the side effects of increased cancer, acid raid, more asthma, and on and on. But lots of reflecting pollutants will work.

    Practice tolerance, kindness and charity.

    by LWelsch on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 10:05:14 AM PDT

    •  Wow (0+ / 0-)

      I think you just wrote the next ad for the Petroleum Institute

      Just another day in Oceania.

      by drshatterhand on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 11:13:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I have actually seen spozedly serious proposals (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      to modify jet airliner engines to dump particulates into the stratosphere, where they would increase cloud formation--& clouds are highly reflective of incident sunlight. The possible unintended consequences of doing this on the scale necessary scares the spit out of me, though...

      Or for the true technogeeks amongst us, there's always the possibility of putting a humongous reflecting shield between us & the Sun. The stuff could probably have the consistency of plastic wrap & work just find, since you don't much care where the reflected light goes. You could probably keep one at L1 without expending too much energy, but since that's only about 1% of the distance to the Sun, its size would have to be 102% of the area of the Earth's disk times whatever fraction of the insolation you want to remove...

      snarcolepsy, n: a condition in which the sufferer responds to any comment with a smartass comeback.

      by Uncle Cosmo on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 02:06:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, as I recall, the Freakonomics guys... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Uncle Cosmo, Troubadour

        ...suggested combating global warming by pumping sulfur into the atmosphere to mimic the effects of volcanic activity, which cools the planet. Brilliant! No chance of anything going wrong there, right?

      •  There are a number of desperate measures (0+ / 0-)

        which could be taken if people don't take this seriously when we still have a chance.  As mentioned earlier, huge swaths of desert and ocean dead zone could be covered in highly reflective material.  Beyond that, there is as you mentioned the possibility of space-based solutions, although that would be enormously complicated to implement.  And at furthest extremity, which I doubt very much will occur, there's always deliberate nuclear winter.  But I don't see any of these being necessary - it's so damn cheap to just address the problem from the beginning.

        The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

        by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:54:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The "waste heat" from solar panels, caused by (7+ / 0-)

    the change in albedo, is completely trivial.  

    Please remember that the electric power produced by the solar panels will be replacing power primarily made by burning coal and other fossil fuels.  Burning (anything) to generate power also produces waste heat.  

    The increased heat from solar panels will be offset by the reduction in heat from fossil fuel burning generators.  

    Additionally, a large fraction of non-GHG-emitting renewable energy will be wind power, which has no effect on albedo.  

    Renewable energy brings national global security.      -6.25, -6.05

    by Calamity Jean on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 12:07:40 PM PDT

    •  The only reason I don't agree completely (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, Calamity Jean, dewley notid

      is because there could be some local effects (think Urban Heat Island) that would be minor (one step up from trivial or two steps up from "completely trivial" ;)

      On a global scale, yes, agreed. On a local scale, it's worth thinking about. Similar to RL Miller's comment, while white roofs may not make a tinker's damn on a global scale, it makes my house cooler and use less energy.

      Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

      by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 01:20:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think Troubadour's worry is that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      ...because we can potentially derive so much more power from solar, eventually we'll start heating the planet using solar power much more effectively than we could burning coal. But that is a very long-term issue.

      •  It is both long-term and immediate. (0+ / 0-)

        The contribution to planetary darkening by solar panels is a long-term issue, but increasing reflectivity is the most direct, practical, and immediate way to address global warming.  It decreases the amount of energy absorbed by the atmosphere, decreases the need for energy usage by keeping buildings and entire urban regions cooler, and requires no economic sacrifices.  The fact we aren't already doing this on a massive scale is cause for concern, given how cheap and obvious a solution it is.

        The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

        by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:18:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Which is an absolutely absurd concern. (0+ / 0-)
    •  Think systemically. (0+ / 0-)

      Don't treat fossil fuels and solar in isolation.  Think about the fact that GGs are still increasing as we ramp up renewables, and will be increasing even after we stop deliberately pouring them into the atmosphere.  Think about the fact that ALL electricity generated will ultimately end up as heat poured into the atmosphere.  Think about the fact that the total amount of electricity that we generate will be increasing.  In that context, there are only three ways to address the problem, and the first way isn't going to happen:

      1.  Use less total energy.
      2.  Actively remove GGs from the atmosphere (a very long-term endeavor).
      3.  Change average planetary albedo so less energy is trapped by the atmosphere.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 04:58:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I put forth this waste heat proposition (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jam, Odysseus, Troubadour, LookingUp

    once upon a time and was promptly told to take a hike.

    Turns out it's only going to be a problem if we try to utilize a significant portion of total solar energy, like tens of percents. Since when have humans ever attempted to exploit an energy resource to that great an extent? Especially one whose raw energy source is free?

    Other times I jokingly ask if we should paint our roofs white before or after applying the solar panels.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 12:39:17 PM PDT

    •  before (0+ / 0-)

      Causation was, is, and ever shall be a slippery bitch, so we're best sticking with noting the facts

      by jam on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 01:21:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The albedo issue goes beyond (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      billmosby

      what greater implementation of solar is going to change.  It's pretty much the only immediate way to impact global warming.  Ending GG emissions is absolutely necessary, but even then we'll be stuck with them in the atmosphere for a very long time.  Changing surface reflectivity, however, actively expels energy from the planet with less of it being absorbed by the atmosphere.  It all adds up.

      The conundrum of stable democracy: Reform requires the consent of the corrupt.

      by Troubadour on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 05:03:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Which is why I have resisted (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour

        my spouse's suggestions from time to time that a gray roof or some other darker color would be so much better than the white that it currently is. Every little bit helps, and I think it helps us in particular. We live in Salt Lake City where in the summer it gets into the 90s most every day for about 2 or 3 months. We never use the A/C because filling the house with cool air in the evenings with a 20 inch window fan keeps the house cool enough all day. Between the white roof and the extra insulation in the attic we save quite a bit of energy.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 09:36:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Man-made albedo helps, but need to research oceans (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, Troubadour

    Concur we should immediately be doing what's practical to increase albedo (which we are losing with the loss of polar ice), along with reversing deforestation.   These are technically easy and economical, and just need the political will.  However, they are just a slice of the global warming pie.  Fully green energy are a bunch of slices.
      We are clearly headed from the 1 degree (C) of warming we have now to at least 2 or 3 degrees, if we never put another ton of CO2 into the air.  To avert climatological disaster, we need to evaulate all our options. One of the biggest that needs the most careful research is that of the oceans, which consume roughly half of the CO2.  Its consumption has been reduced recently, which is a cascade effect.   There are simple ways to enhance phytoplankon on a large scale, which will consume the CO2 of large forests within a short period of time.
       But we must be precautionary with our already stressed oceans and start the longitudinal and scale studies we need to understand if they can help.  So, iconically, I put ocean carbon cycle research at the top of the GW priority stack along with green energy, to take CO2 OUT of the atmosphere to have a chance to prevent Thermogeddan.

  •  There's more to homeostasis (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jam, Troubadour

    Fortunately people with better data than I are already responding to this. This "felt wrong" to me because of some "back of the envelope" figuring based on snowpack and how much more land area (that varies with snowpack) is in the northern hemisphere. The "whitening" in the winter does not cause runaway cooling.

    The rate of change in climate strikes me as a much more complex than suggested in the simple analysis of albedo presented here. Not only does winter whitening not cause runaway cooling, but the man made darkening of the surface of the earth is already more extensive than would be the area of solar panels that might ever be deployed. Between roofs, pavement, agriculture, and deforestation we have made changes in the overall average albedo that, it strikes me, would dwarf any change made by solar panels.

    Moreover, it is likely that beyond static sources of latent heat (ice pack, oceans), there are probably also already existing biological feedback loops (think Gaia hypothesis, Daisyworld thought experiment) that can probably adapt to albedo based changes. I tend to think that were this not so, the transition from Pangea to the present landmasses would have been a catastrophe.

    I'm not informed enough to comment beyond these simple assertions, but I have already seen decent refutations of the dire predictions. (Search for a post by someone who has "Pickering" in his or her username -- the case there seemed well made).

    Now, that said, increasing albedo where possible seems an inexpensive and worthwhile thing to consider whenever we, as individuals, build, plant, whatever. Whitening up those shingles seems not a bad idea.

  •  These comments are killing me (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Prospect Park, Troubadour

    This is basic stuff, people. The effects of lightening surfaces are well known.

    Lightening-up roofs and pavement can offset 57 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, about double the amount the world emitted in 2006, the study found. It was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
    Researchers used a conservative estimate of increased albedo, or solar reflection, suggesting that purely white roofs would be even better. They increased the albedo of all roofs by 0.25 and pavement by 0.15. That means a black roof, which has an albedo of zero, would only need to be replaced by a roof of a cooler color -- which might be more feasible to implement than a snowy white roof, Berkeley Lab says.
    The researchers extrapolated a roof's CO2 offset over its average lifespan. If all roofs were converted to white or cool colors, they would offset about 24 gigatons (24 billion metric tons) of CO2, but only once. But assuming roofs last about 20 years, the researchers came up with 1.2 gigatons per year. That equates to offsetting the emissions of roughly 300 million cars, all the cars in the world, for 20 years.
    Pavement and roofs cover 50 to 65 percent of urban areas, and cause a heat-island effect because they absorb so much heat. That's why cities are significantly warmer than their surrounding rural areas. This effect makes it harder -- and therefore more expensive -- to keep buildings cool in the summer. Winds also move the heat into the atmosphere, causing a regional warming effect.

    http://www.popsci.com/...

    Warning: Erwin Schroedinger will kill you like a cat in a box. Maybe.

    by strandedlad on Mon Jul 25, 2011 at 03:57:38 PM PDT

  •  Great diary and (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    interesting thread. I've thought about this in the past in the context of articles I've read about the efficacy of reflective roofing and the ability to reduce what I've always thought of as ambient heat generated by our energy production.

    Whether or not to paint roofs some roofs white and equip others with solar panels and maintaining as much forest as possible seems a question asked and answered.  Yes.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site