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How do you power a billion lives?

As the Australian Labor Party changes its stance on trading uranium with India, a pertinent question arises: why is India so keen to buy this controversial fuel? And what do India’s energy resources look…

India’s power needs are growing at a staggering rate and coal won’t do the job. NASA

As the Australian Labor Party changes its stance on trading uranium with India, a pertinent question arises: why is India so keen to buy this controversial fuel? And what do India’s energy resources look like, both fossil and renewable?

India has a population of 1.1 billion people, and 290 million of those people have no access to the electricity grid. Those that do have access to the grid use, on average, 2.7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per person, per day. Compare this to the 30 kWh the average Australian uses.

If all Indians gain access to the grid, and use just half the electricity of the average Australian, India would need an eight-fold increase in its generating capacity.

It’s all about coal …

India currently gets most of its electrical energy from coal-fired power stations (67%), with hydropower contributing 15% and gas 12%. Only 2% currently comes from nuclear power stations.

India has 90 Gigawatts (GW) worth of coal-fired power stations, compared with only 4 GW of nuclear capacity (for reference, the Hazelwood coal-fired station in Victoria has a capacity of 1.6 GW).

India has some 60 billion tonnes of coal in proven reserves. Australia has a bit more at 75 billion tonnes. But if India were to continue using coal to provide 70% of its electricity while increasing demand to 15 kWh per person per day, their coal reserves would last just 15 years. Burning that coal would see global carbon dioxide levels rise by 45 parts-per-million (ppm) – most of the 60 ppm buffer we have between today’s concentrations (390 ppm) and the levels considered allowable before climate change becomes unacceptably dangerous (450 ppm).

Even if India bought all of Australia’s coal reserves they would only buy themselves an additional 18 years of power generation. And even though gas is considered a transitional fuel, India has less than 1% of the world’s natural gas reserves. These factors make it clear that alternatives to fossil fuel need to be found.

What’s the alternative?

As demand for energy in India rapidly increases, they are already embracing renewable technologies including wind and solar. India has the fifth largest total capacity of wind power in the world with 15 GW of wind power installed. Australia has just over 2 GW of wind power capacity even though we have considerably better wind resources compared to India.

The Indian Wind Energy Association estimates a potential capacity of 65 GW of wind power. But the capacity already installed runs at just 15% capacity factor due to perverse incentives that encourage the building of turbines, but not the production of power. Some turbines run at just 10% capacity, well under the 25% capacity factor generally considered economically viable.

India has 35 GW of hydropower, with a further 37 GW under construction. In theory an additional 100 GW could be installed, but with great environmental damage. India’s solar resources are fair to good, and several GWs of generation are in the planning stage, and potentially 100s of GW could be installed.

But the variable nature of solar power, especially in a country with strong seasonal variability in cloudiness due to the monsoons will limit the practical amount of solar and wind power that can make up the total generation capacity. There is potential for around 10 GW of geothermal power, and between 10 and 20 GW of wave and tidal power could be harnessed.

Biomass could provide another 25 GW of power, but growing the fuel needed would put yet another pressure on a landscape that is already beyond carrying capacity.

One possible outcome

So, assuming all of these available options were exploited, that’s approximately 400 GW of generation capacity (not including solar). But it’s important to consider this figure in the context of projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA suggests that India will need at least 500 GW of generation capacity by 2050 to satisfy its energy needs, but that number could be as high at 1300 GW.

Clearly, there is work to be done.

One scenario from the IEA shows India’s energy capacity increasing to 750 GW by 2050, with:

  • 190 GW of solar
  • 133 GW of gas
  • 77 GW from coal with carbon capture and storage
  • 76 GW from hydro
  • 66 GW from wind
  • 122 GW of nuclear power and
  • 150 GW from other assorted technologies.

For this scenario to occur, a global carbon price of around $170 per tonne would be required, resulting in a 50% reduction in global carbon emissions compared with 2005 levels.

That leaves nuclear, right?

To power 122 GW of nuclear power stations, using current technology, India would need to import some 25,000 tonnes of uranium per year. In 2010, Australia (with 30% of global reserves and currently the third largest exporter) exported 7,000 tonnes of uranium.

So a drastic ramp-up in uranium mining would be needed if Australia was to help meet India’s requirements. If similar increases in nuclear power are seen in other countries, a shift to Generation IV reactors (that use far less uranium) is required.

The challenge to install enough generating capacity to power India through its economic rise from poverty is great. Many hurdles need to be overcome, including an inefficient grid, perverse green incentives, and an electricity pricing system that discourages investment (currently domestic users pay less than industry per kWh).

To avoid dramatic increases in carbon emissions will require significant uptake of renewable technologies, but this alone cannot meet demand. Nuclear power will be required if India is to meet its long-term energy goals.

Join the conversation

41 Comments sorted by

  1. Mark Harrigan

    PhD Physicist

    Thanks for this article. I think it shows fairly comprehensively that if we take the threat of climate change seriously, then at a global level at least, increased nuclear has to be part of any comprehensive solution and that Renewables will play an important role but simply cannot do all the heavy work.

    That's because there is simply no evidence that Renewables can do all that the world needs (claims of BZE and others notwithstanding as these have been debunked many times).

    If the adoption of…

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Countries with high population density will always struggle to meet their energy needs through renewables alone. Australia, however, with its huge renewable resources could provide 100% renewables, at least technically, especially when CSP with storage is used It might be overly expensive to go all the way to 100%, and at some point sequestration activities will be the best way to make up the last bit. I have seen criticism of the cost of BZE, but nothing that says it's impossible.

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    2. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Thanks for this reply Roger. I too have seen many criticisms of BZE - many quite valid. The word "inpossible" is not really reasonable to apply though. The question is whether or not it's economically feasible to power 100% of Australia's needs through renewables (I'm sure it is "possible" if we are willing to fund enough redundancy and to pay a LOT for storage)

      To be blunt I am extremely skeptical.

      I would like to see us build as much renewwables as fast as possible. Not least because they…

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    3. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Mark Harrigan,

      I think you are nit being even-handed in your criticism of the nuclear industry’s transparency.

      First, I’d point out that the renewable industry and its supporters are far from even handed. It is nearly impossible to get information of the performance and costs of renewable energy plants, especially solar thermal plants.

      Second, I’d point out that it doesn’t matter what the nuclear industry does or information it releases it is accused of lying and cover-up. At one stage in Canada…

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    4. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Roger Dargaville, (apologies for incorrect spelling in my previous comment).

      Thank you for your post on India, however, given you are a Research Fellow in the Energy Research Unit, I am surprised you would make a statement like this:

      “I have seen criticism of the cost of BZE, but nothing that says it's impossible.”

      I'd suggest you should have said "there is nothing to show BZE is possible". It’s not even close to being practicable. The technology does not exist and probably would not be economically viable even if someone did make it. Furthermore, they assume energy consumption will reduce (a lot) instead of increase (a lot). And they assume we'll run electric trains all over our wheat growing areas to collect wheat stalks to burn in solar power stations to make heat when the sun doesn't shine in overcast whether. They assume all our hydro resources can be diverted to back-up for their totally uneconomic dream scheme.

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    5. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Peter - I'm a fan of the concept of ZCA - I don't see any component of their plan that is not already in existence or unfeasible. The solar with molten salt storage exists. There is already pumped hydro storage in the Snowy. But as I said before, I very much doubt we'll get to 100% stationary energy through renewables - that would be too expensive there will be other cheaper options to reduce emissions. Maybe we'd even get nuclear power here, but I'd be surprised to see it within 20 years from the day the government decides to change its policy.

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    6. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Roger Dargaville,

      Did you see this critique:
      http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/08/12/zca2020-critique/
      The conclusion say:

      • The ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan has significantly underestimated the cost and timescale required to implement such a plan.

      • Our revised cost estimate is nearly five times higher than the estimate in the Plan: $1,709 billion compared to $370 billion. The cost estimates are highly uncertain with a range of $855 billion to $4,191 billion for our estimate.

      • The…

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    7. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Peter, without going into details of your post I broadly agree.

      I am as much against the anti-nuke science denialism and misrepresentation of some in the "green" sector as I am against AGW denialism - and have posted to that effect many times on the past. And I am not attempting to be an apologist for nuclear or renewables. As I think my posts above demonstrate I am in favour of both progressing as rapidly as possible and let the best (mix) of solutions emerge on their merits

      My point about…

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    8. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Roger Dargaville,

      You said:
      “I'm a fan of the concept of ZCA - I don't see any component of their plan that is not already in existence or unfeasible.”

      It is unfortunate the University of Melbourne, Energy Research Institute is misleading the Australian public by advocating a discredited proposal [1], [2]. It suggests University of Melbourne’s Energy Research Institute has little understanding of energy economics and is not objective. It appears to be promoting an ideology instead of rational…

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    9. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Peter Lang - please don't confuse "I'm a fan of the concept" with some expectation that we are actually going to see the ZCA plan play out. I think we can all see that the ZCA plan is on the optimistic side both in terms of cost and certainly in terms of the current political will to invest in low carbon technologies on a serious scale. It's a very interesting study and has encouraged lots of very constructive debate on the topic.

      That being said, I think the comparison you make is not entirely…

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    10. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Peter Lang

      The above comparison does not include the cost of transmission. The cost of transmissions for nuclear would be little different than for new coal or gas generation because nuclear plants would be located near the demand centres the existing transmission infrastructure. However, solar would have to be widely distributed across the desert regions to get the highest insolation and to minimise the effect of widespread overcast conditions. Transmission capital cost for solar would significantly reduce the amount of solar thermal capacity we could build for the $68 billion. This makes the nuclear option even more attractive.

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    11. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Peter Lang

      The above comparison does not include the cost of transmission. The cost of transmissions for nuclear would be little different than for new coal or gas generation because nuclear plants would be located near the demand centres the existing transmission infrastructure. However, solar would have to be widely distributed across the desert regions to get the highest insolation and to minimise the effect of widespread overcast conditions. Transmission capital cost for solar would significantly reduce the amount of solar thermal capacity we could build for the $68 billion. This makes the nuclear option even more attractive.

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    12. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Peter Lang

      The above comparison does not include the cost of transmission. The cost of transmissions for nuclear would be little different than for new coal or gas generation because nuclear plants would be located near the demand centres the existing transmission infrastructure. However, solar would have to be widely distributed across the desert regions to get the highest insolation and to minimise the effect of widespread overcast conditions. Transmission capital cost for solar would significantly reduce the amount of solar thermal capacity we could build for the $68 billion. This makes the nuclear option even more attractive.

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    13. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Roger Dargaville,

      The issue is that you are advocating a totally unrealistic plan for renewable energy and, therefore, misleading the public about realistic options. You are guiding Australians in a wrong direction. This is what has been going on for 50 years. Instead of providing objective, balanced information about realistic alternatives, you advocate a completely unrealistic belief. By so doing, you delay action, because people keep waiting and hoping for a dream that will never happen…

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    14. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      On page 330 of "Slaying the Sky Dragon" Dr Charles Anderson (physicist with 38 years' experience) deduces, after several pages of detailed calculations based on empirical data that, even if the absorbtion of re-radiated photons by the surface did take place, then the WARMING EFFECT of carbon dioxide would be ONLY 13% of THE COOLING EFFECT, the latter due to keeping heat away from the surface by absorbing the incoming solar radiation, a significant portion of which is in the IR spectrum. (This is exactly one of the mechanisms I postulated well before obtaining the book.)

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Black carbon in the atmosphere from household cooking fires is the second most likely cause of global warming, according to some, while most of this black carbon is being produced in African and Asian countries, and about 20% to 30 % of black carbon comes from India and China.

    Elimination of black carbon from the atmosphere by using electricity for cooking would be an important part of cleaning up the atmosphere.

    Maybe that could be a bargaining point in negotiations with India regards the sale of uranium from Australia.

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  3. Forth Sadler

    logged in via Facebook

    Average consumption of 30kWh/day?
    *eyes most recent power bill showing daily consumption of 5.71kWh/day*
    How the hell do you use 30kWh/day?

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    1. Roger Dargaville

      Research Fellow, Energy Research Institute at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Forth Sadler

      It's not just domestic, but industrial and commercial too. IEA reports that Australia uses 244 TWh per year of electrical energy = 11 MWh per person per year = 30 kWh per person/day.

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    2. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Forth Sadler

      I can help with this reasonable question Forth. In 2010 energy consumption was of the Order of 240 TWh. Assuming 365 days in a year and a population of 22 million that gives the below

      Annual 240000.0 GWh
      657.5 GWh/day
      657534.2 MWh/day
      29.9 KWh/day/person

      BUT residential was only about 28% of this total - or about 8.4 kWh/day - so you are still dojng well! :)

      (source - energy supply association of asutralia)

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    3. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Roger Dargaville

      Sorry for Duplication Roger - was composing while yours was posted. Thanks for the article btw

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    4. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Dr Harrigan, I thought you'd be busy trying to prove me wrong about incoming solar insolation having a significant amount of infra-red which carbon dioxide absorbs, thus having a cooling effect which has been calculated as being 7 times greater than the supposed warming effect, at least during daylight hours. I asked Nick to prove me wrong also, but am still waiting. Anyone else? I'm genuinely interested to confirm this claim or otherwise. (See "Slaying the Sky Dragon" pp 323-330)

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  4. Tom Bicknell

    Journalist

    It's also worth noting that India is doing a lot of work on thorium-based nuclear power, because of their large deposits of thorium and their difficulty getting hold of uranium. That could potentially play a large role in their future mix of power generation.

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  5. Gideon Polya

    Sessional Lecturer in Biochemistry for Agricultural Science at La Trobe University

    Some key points not covered by an otherwise very useful article.

    1. India is a world leader in applying thorium-based nuclear technology which is much safer than uranium nuclear technology. Australia, the US and India have large thorium reserves (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium ) .

    2. Both thorium and uranium are non-renewable resources. Dr Mark Diesendorf (UNSW) has argued that in the context of an existing carbon economy and through use of low quality uranium ores a modern uranium-base…

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  6. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    Roger Dargavale, thank you for this well written comment. Your heading asks:

    HOW DO YOU POWER A BILLION LIVES?
    The short answer is:
    “WITH A BILLION GOLF BALLS OF URANIUM”.

    A golf ball volume of uranium contains the energy to provide all the energy needs of a person for their whole life, at the rate a US person consumes energy. That includes all the energy used directly and all the energy embodied in all the products and services used throughout a person’s life.

    The current generation of…

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  7. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    What we've seen with Beyond Zero Emissions is supposed scientific research which has been presented for the general public and the media through slick press releases, slick shiny brochures, polished websites, public relations and marketing, instead of being published through the usual channels of professional scientific peer-review.

    In this respect, Beyond Zero Emissions is hardly any different from, say, the press releases and media attention that accompanied the nonsense Steorn Orbo technology.

    When somebody claims to have some significant new scientific research and then proceeds to "sell" it to the media and the public through a well-organized and slick "marketing" campaign instead of going to scientific peer-review, that's usually a classic warning sign that what you're looking at is not actually serious science but pseudoscience.

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  8. Ken Fabian

    Mr

    The problem for the nuclear proponents is they are so desperate for allies that there seem to be as many who are climate deniers as who are sincere about nuclear as a solution to rising emissions. Ultimately the former variety will not support the levels of carbon pricing that would ultimately undermine the widespread distrust of nuclear. I suspect a partisan anti-environmentalist motivation overrides any genuine commitment to emissions reductions in that category of nuclear proponent.

    I also…

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  9. Douglas Cotton

    logged in via Facebook

    THE CASE AGAINST ANTHROPOGENIC (MAN-MADE) GLOBAL WARMING ...

    What they will tell you is quite true up to a point ....They will explain in detail how carbon dioxide molecules "trap" radiated photons from the surface and get warmed. They may not mention that they cool again (sometime less than they warmed, but not always) when they emit another photon a very small fraction of a second later. Nor may they mention that about as many of these new photons go up to space as return down to Earth…

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    1. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Douglas Cotton

      Mr Cotton is basing his latest blather on the "work" of Postma who claims that there is no greenhouse effect

      As is often the case with these types of “skeptics,” the more extravagant the claim, the more obscure the publishing venue; in this case the host is Principia Scientific International, which according to the website “…was conceived after 22 international climate experts and authors joined forces to write the climate science bestseller, ‘Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory.’” Most rational people would stop here. Not Doug

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    2. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      No I'm not. It's based on Wien's law in Physics and the work of these eight ....

      Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. (United States)
      Dr. Charles Anderson is a materials physicist with a 38-year career in the use of radiation to characterize and analyze the properties of materials. He especially enjoys the use of multi-discipline techniques to solve complex materials problems quickly and efficiently. He has worked as a laboratory scientist for the Dept. of the Navy, Lockheed Martin Laboratories, and has…

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    3. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      There's absolutely no way that you, Dr Harrigan, or anyone can prove that energy can be created, as would need to be the case if the Earth's surface absorbed photons which have lower energy than the ones it is emitting and thus got warmed by the energy (or less than the energy) which it previously emitted up to the carbon dioxide which then sent it back.

      The greenhouse fraud case is closed. I just have to play my part in getting the news to the world, as are numerous scientists (about 40,000 now I understand) who have latched onto this published information now.

      If you wish to keep believing the hoax that's your prerogative, but in my view you know next to nothing compared with these eight scientists who's work I have been studying these last 24 hours in great detail I can assure you.

      They have the truth and actually say much the same as me about GHG's cooling effect, and of course about how the world is starting to cool.

      .
      .

      .

      .

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    4. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      I will be. But you can't explain the opposite.

      Look, Dr Harrigan, I too was fooled by the IPCC claim that photons sent back to the surface were absorbed by the surface. The FACT is they are not. The surface merely scatters them back into the atmosphere. Likewise, other GHG molecules also scatter. This is why they there are missing lines for CO2 - they are scattered and hardly any go straight through in the same line, so from space, pointing an instrument at a spot on the Earth, next to nothing…

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    5. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      The only effect the Sun has on climate comes from the original incident high energy (SW) radiation which can penetrate deep into the oceans.

      In summer, when sunlight hours are long and the Sun is more overhead, we can observe how natural warming in that hemisphere actually functions. Most of the trapped energy is in the ocean where it has not all been able to escape at night. But the reverse happens in local winter.

      Understandably over the course of a full year worldwide there could be small build ups or declines between one year and the next, although the net build up between 2003 and 2011 must have been nil or slightly negative if sea surface temperatures are a reasonable indication. Even if not, it is such temperatures which have the greatest influence on climate.

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    6. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Spencer is mentioned here. Do you see why I quote this? Guess who wrote it.

      "Sites like skeptical science would never remove the bad information so anyone reading the website would think Spencer was a crank. I know that about the Skeptical Science website because EVERYONE of the subjects they have about what skeptics say and what science says that I read - and I went through most of them misrepresented the skeptic view. Then they argued something that was scientifically correct as far as it…

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    7. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Did you find "Postma" in the list of authors, Dr Harrigan?

      Let's just concentrate on one simple fact that you and anyone can understand and which doesn't need any peer-reviewed explanation. Here it is ... the last nail in the Anthropogenic Global Warming Guesstimate coffin ..... ....

      Yes, here's a bit more evidence, strangely omitted in all the greenhouse explanations. Note the yellow sections in this plot which represent the incoming solar energy that has been absorbed. Note how much is in the infra-red. Some of those big yellow potholes are due to carbon dioxide because they correspond with its spectral lines.

      http://earth-climate.com/spectral-content.gif

      Yes. carbon dioxide also has a cooling role. It absorbs incoming infra-red radiation from the Sun and sends some straight back to space. This prevents extra warming in daylight hours - the very time when polar ice can melt when it is above freezing point.

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    8. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Douglas Cotton

      Nice try Mr Cotton but the graph you have posted is a lie. It shows significant visible radiation emanating from earth's surface with a large part of the curve under 600nm.

      That is confuddling relfected radiation with blackbody emitted radiation (like at night). The truth is here

      http://marine.rutgers.edu/mrs/education/class/josh/images/bbes.gif

      Also, you continue to deminstrate you cannot read. In order to try and give an air of credibility for their fantasy novel the authors of sky dragon created Principia Scientifica (a bogus peer reviewed publication) in which Postma published the essential (psuedo) science of the book.

      You have been scammed - a bit like with all the diet pills you promote and pay for

      You just continue to make yourself look like a fool

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    9. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      This peer-reviewed paper (dated 6 November 2011) describes a repeatable experiment which proves beyond doubt that "back radiation" from the atmosphere cannot add to the temperature of a warmer surface. The paper has not been refuted and it debunks the greenhouse hyputhesis.

      http://principia-scientific.org/publications/New_Concise_Experiment_on_Backradiation.pdf

      I don't care what you say about the author and the five peers who reviewed it Dr Harrigan, we shall wait and see if it is ever successfully refuted with sound physics.

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    10. Douglas Cotton

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      The graph is of incoming solar radiation from space, and the red section is what gets through to the surface. Did you misunderstand that, Dr Harrigan? It doesn't seem as if you were concentrating on what I was saying about the cooling effect caused by carbon dioxide absorbing incoming infra-red radiation from the Sun and preventing it getting to the surface.

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    11. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Douglas Cotton

      Principia Scientific is a private organisation funded and founded by climate science deniers and publishers of the fantasy novel "slaying the sky dragon" as a fraudulent front group to appear to be a peer reviewed scientific journal. In fact it is no such thing.

      On it's own website it claims Principia Scientific International “…was conceived after 22 international climate experts and authors joined forces to write the climate science bestseller, ‘Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse…

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