“We must cut our carbon emissions immediately!“… “We have to transition rapidly to 100% renewable energy!“… “A massive nuclear build out is the only logical course of action!“… and so on. We get these well-meant but hand-waving arguments all the time, almost always bereft of real-world numbers — especially those with $$ attached. This greatly limits their utility and credibility. Without a practical, pragmatic plan, we aren’t going to get anywhere and the people in control of the purse strings will not pay them serious attention.
That’s why I’m so happy to present this new, clear-headed analysis by Peter Lang on BraveNewClimate (which was spawned by in the discussion threads of previous posts on wind and solar power — their costs and ability to mitigate carbon emissions). Using Australia as a case study (although the same principles would apply in almost any developed economy that is currently reliant on fossil fuel energy), Peter considers six electricity supply scenarios for the period 2010 to 2050 — a high-carbon business-as-usual projection as a reference, and five low(er) carbon alternatives. In each of the alternatives, coal-fired power stations are retired, and not replaced, such that by the period 2035 — 2040, the last few are closed.
These analysis are simple, clearly presented and easily understood. Yet they’re also realistic in the same way that David Mackay’s energy plans are realistic — they add up (although Mackay was concerned about whether the physics are right, Lang is concerned about whether the $$ and build rates are plausible). They are an apples and apples set of plans, in the sense that they represent reasonable relative comparisons which all aim to achieve the same goal, in different ways. Like any modelling exercise, the uncertainties lie in the quality of the input data and the acceptability of the assumptions made. Peter makes them quite explicit. If you wish to disagree and propose/source your own numbers, fine, but remember that the onus is then on you to justify your assumptions.
I’ll stop and this point and let you read the analysis. Get yourself a large mug of coffee or a tall glass of wine, and settle in for an interesting read. After that, let the comments fly. I certainly have my own points to make about where I think the analysis is most/least plausible, but that can come a little later…
Emission Cuts Realities – Electricity Generation
Cost and CO2 emissions projections for different electricity generation options for Australia to 2050
By Peter Lang, January 2010
(Download the printable 32-page PDF version here, which also includes references and Appendices).
Peter Lang is a retired geologist and engineer with 40 years experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy R&D and providing policy advice for government and opposition. His experience includes: coal, oil, gas, hydro, geothermal, nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal, and a wide range of energy end use management projects.
Five options for cutting CO2 emissions from electricity generation in Australia are compared with a ‘Business as Usual’ option over the period 2010 to 2050. The six options comprise combinations of coal, gas, nuclear, wind and solar thermal technologies.
The conclusions: The nuclear option reduces CO2 emissions the most, is the only option that can be built quickly enough to make the deep emissions cuts required, and is the least cost of the options that can cut emissions sustainably. Solar thermal and wind power are the highest cost of the options considered. The cost of avoiding emissions is lowest with nuclear and highest with solar and wind power.
This paper presents a simple analysis of CO2 emissions, capital expenditure, electricity generation costs and the emissions avoidance cost for six options for supplying Australia’s electricity. The results are presented at five year intervals for the period 2010 to 2050.