Carbon smoke and mirrors – the reality of emissions reduction plans

When it comes to energy and carbon emissions reduction, the devil is always in the detail. So too with Australia’s plans to cut its emissions by five per cent below year 2000 levels by 2020. But first, let’s look at the big picture.

Why we need to do this

As a scientist who researches the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and other natural systems, I see an existential threat posed by global warming to our planetary boundaries. As the dominant species on this planet, we have no choice but to face up to this problem, and solve it, fully.

Will a carbon tax in Australia do this? Of course not – it is only a small piece in a very large puzzle. So why should we commit to this, and why should Australia move ahead of most of the world?

Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are a tragedy of the commons. If most nations ‘wait and see’, the commons – our atmosphere and biosphere – will be degraded, to the detriment of all people.

Without a price on carbon dioxide emissions, Australia will keep burning coal for its electricity. With an abundant and cheap supply, there is no reason to do anything else. To decide not to do this, there must be an economic justification – a trigger for change. That is what the carbon price is.

The carbon tax plan

At $23 per tonne of carbon dioxide, however, little will be immediately different. Coal will still probably be the cheapest option. So the price must rise over time – or else the carbon tax will fail to deliver.

A rising tax makes the debate about the initial price a sideshow, because businesses will plan for the future, not just for the now. A rising price with scheduled minimum gateways will make a real difference to the medium and long-term choices being made by investors (government and private sector).

Households should be compensated, because they currently have few options other than to buy what is offered. To fix this lack of choice, the energy market must also be opened to real competition. Renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels with carbon-capture-and-storage – all must be allowed to compete on a fair and level playing field. Other technology specific subsidies should be eliminated.

If we try to pick winners and ban competitors (nuclear), as we are currently doing, we risk high costs, few gains and lost time. As a nation and a leader, this is not something we can afford to get wrong.

Emissions reduction targets – it’s complicated

Now, given what I’ve said above, what is the Australian government’s actual operational plan for reaching our emissions reduction goals of five percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050? Well, as Martin Nicholson explained in this excellent analysis, the 2050 target involves a lot of hoping on the unproven.

Focusing on the short-term 2020 goal, the government’s expectation is that total national emissions will rise from the 2011 figure of 578 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2-e to 621 Mt by 2020 – a net growth over the next nine years of 7.5 percent!

Remember, the target is five percent below 2000 levels of 558 Mt, so the target number the government is seeking to reach is 530 Mt. according to the above projection, they are off by 91 Mt.

Still, the business-as-usual expectation, as explained here, was 680 Mt, so the carbon tax and other emissions reduction incentives (such as energy efficiency and renewable incentives) is expected to save about 60 Mt compared with the no policy approach.

How to fill the 91 Mt gap? Treasury modeling suggests that 15 percent of the 2020 emissions reductions will come from international pollution permits from developing countries, including clean energy projects, avoided deforestation, and so on. These are of course difficult to verify, but that’s the theory.

So, 15 percent of 621 Mt is 93 Mt being offset – so there, the government will technically meet its goal on the back of paying other people to do the job for us – if these reductions can even be proven.

The Gorilla on the ship

Of course, this all neatly skims over the biggest problem Australia faces. We currently export 350 Mt of coal on our giant barges (known as ‘overseas carbon sequestration’) each year, and this is forecast to rise to 450 Mt by 2015. So the Prime Minister was correct when she said Australian coal has a ‘bright future’.

In climate terms, this of course makes a mockery of domestic targets. When you burn 450 Mt of coal, you release roughly 1.5 Gt (that’s billions of tonnes) of carbon dioxide into the world’s atmosphere. It doesn’t matter where it’s burned, the effect on the climate system is the same.

You’ll also note that this figure is almost 2-and-a-half times greater than our total national 2020 emissions. Yet, we’re not planning to buy international offsets to cover this.

Hypocritical? I’ll leave you to judge.

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Footnote: The standard response to our coal exports is: “If we don’t export it, someone else will, so stopping our coal exports is no solution”. Strangely, we don’t use that same argument with respect to refusing to supply heroin, or indeed any other illicit or dangerous substances, to the international market.

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First published on 1 Aug 2011 on Our World Today

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58 Comments

  1. It would make sense to compile CO2 emissions for all countries by that standard (where does the fossil fuel come from). And it might be an interesting approach to focus on having more of the stuff stay in the ground in the first place, instead of regulating only the users.

    One might add that this could be in the interest of the producing countries as well. Why not form a new “Organization of Coal Producing and Exporting Countries” and set production quotas, as the oil countries do? That means more income per ton for Australia, and less consumption world wide. Looks like win-win to me.

  2. Karl-Friedrich: Very good idea. In fact, if I remember correctly, most nuclear fuel is very carefully tracked for its origin – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, yes?

  3. The federal and state governments are in thrall to the coal and gas industries.There have been many statements by the likes of Combet,Gillard,Bligh et al to support this view.That may well be one of the reasons they refuse to even consider the nuclear option as nuclear is the only real threat to fossil fuels for electricity generation.

    I was opposed to Rudd’s CPRS because it was inadequate to the point of being a sick joke.I put Gillard’s Carbon Tax in the same category.The CT is simply a way to protect the interests of the oligarchy while pretending to do something meaningful about carbon pollution.This tax,no doubt complicated and expensive to administer,will cause all sorts of collateral damage in areas which have little if any relationship to reducing cabon emissions.

    Meanwhile, no effective effort is being put into actual reduction in fossil fuel use in the principal offending sector,electricity generation.

    Coal and gas exports are a separate issue.I can’t see restricting coking coal exports being practical as long as it is necessary in steel making.Steaming coal and gas,especially CSG because of the environmental harm involved in its extraction,need to be looked at very carefully with a view to a gradual phase out for coal and a complete and immediate cessation regarding CSG.

    The use of offsets,like carbon trading, is nothing more than a scam fabricated by the same sleazy folk who brought us the global financial crisis.

  4. Carbon taxing coal and LNG exports is likely to be more effective on global CO2 than the minor efficiency gains we will get at home. It neatly sidesteps the issue of whether LNG train operators are ‘trade exposed’ re onsite gas use for compressors since the customers have to pay anyway. It might enable a rethink on overgenerous assistance packages for coal and aluminium. I think it is slightly bizarre that iron ore from WA or bauxite from NT is reduced with NSW/Qld coking coal or electricity from thermal coal but in other countries. The other countries merely offer sweatshop labour and slack pollution controls when we could do it all here. Watch this space because I suspect Rann’s Olympic Dam ‘breakthrough’ will involve extracting and enriching our uranium in China.

    Since c.t. is supposed to be revenue neutral the importing country (not the private business) can ask for a refund. The money should go on green programs. If it ends up spent on presidential palaces at least it creates a hoop to jump through. After a few years we can switch to a global ETS in which total CO2 must steadily decline. Non-joiners will face sanctions. Few other countries have the coal and LNG export infrastructure that Australia has or will have, to wit the world’s biggest ship to process gas off WA. If we c.t. fossil fuel exports it will create real problems for those countries that are dragging their feet.

    On international offsets if the Aust govt spends 1c on them there will be a deserved outcry. I imagine that something like sustainable basket weaving by Andean villagers will somehow erase the emissions from Hazelwood. Reason being there wasn’t enough gas to do the conversion from coal since all the gas was exported without paying c.t.

  5. Great article, thanks.

    Australia is being very hyprocritical on the offsets business, indeed.

    On the level playing bit (which I tend to strongly agree with), I note that Mark Lynas, in his latest book The God Species, makes the argument that simply allowing technologies to compete on the market won’t work, as without some central planning it will be impossible to get the right mix (i.e. baseload, load-following, peaking, and no one will know where and how much to invest. What do you make of this?

  6. Tom, I’d disagree slightly – I think the market *would* come up with the right mix, eventually – although I think a centrally-planned system would probably be far more efficient and cost much less!

    Having a carbon price will help by at least making high-CO2 options less attractive – especially as the carbon price is likely to increase significantly over coming decades with the transition to the ETS and the gradual withdrawal of permits to reduce total emissions.

  7. Firstly, I’d have no problem with the idea of imposing a substantial export tax on coal/LNG, based on a CO2 price of about $100 per tonne … that said ..

    It would be useful to track CO2 emissions by end user. Thus, if a good or service entailed lifecycle emissions of 1tCo2e, then the end user gets the charge against their emissions — thuus every state — China , Australia, Germany whoever would at least get a true picture of its total CO2 footprint. CO2 released to satsify western lifestyle, rather than being accouinted for in China or India or some other place would be accounted in the pertinent western state.

    Then we could get away from this argument and begin making decisions based on the facts of the matter. I suspect that China’s emissions on that figure would be a lot lower relative to the west than they are now. Helping China clean up its energy systems would then lower western emissions, and if we could do that at lower cost than here, it would still count.

  8. Back to something illegal, but arguably effective.

    1. Nuclear power is currently banned in Australia. Nonsensical, but…
    2. Regardless of Western nations’ decisions, most of the world’s population have no decisions to make, no choice. If electricity or gas or liquid fuels are available, that sure beats starving or freezing.
    3. Australia has, at least in name, an overseas aid program. If $2B of that was dedicated each yaer to nuclear power station construction where it is needed most – see Point 2 above, then a 1000MW station could be constructed. Each year. Output, say 8000 GWh per year, ie the equivalent of 4,000,000 tonnes of high grade coal, about 12Mtpa CO2-e. For over 50 years. 600Mt CO2-e avoided.
    4. So, even if Australia chooses the rich man’s option and declines to use coal at home, by diversion of part of the annual aid program, each year some of the world’s poorest and most needy who have absolutely no options at all would receive reliable power supplies and the world would be better off by 600MT of carbon dioxide. All for $1B per year. Over time, that is $1.50 per tonne of avoided CO2.

    Yes, I know… The CO2 avoided is over a period of 50 years, not all in Year 1, I haven’t accounted for operating costs, I have no distribution system and the “let them all die” option hasn’t been considered in my back-of-the-envelope analysis. All it needs is for the government to include in its scheme for foreign nuclear power to attract credits. That sure beats paying for carbon credits which will disappear as soon as somebody clears the forest in respect of which they were claimed.

    Let’s leave the details to the engineers. Who knows? Security issues might be resolved through operation of the power station under Australian management, with the used fuel returned to Australia rather than becoming a hypothetical terrorist target.

    Besides which, what type of foreign aid has a better effect than reliable power?

    Sanity check: $2B is only 0.015% of Australia’s GDP, $37 per head, about the cost of two average bottles of wine or tickets for 4 to a cinema on Thrifty Tuesday with a coffee or Coke all round afterwards.

    Once per year.

    We can afford that. Much of the world’s population cannot.

  9. Back to something illegal, but arguably effective.

    1. Nuclear power is currently banned in Australia. Nonsensical, but…
    2. Regardless of Western nations’ decisions, most of the world’s population have no decisions to make, no choice. If electricity or gas or liquid fuels are available, that sure beats starving or freezing.
    3. Australia has, at least in name, an overseas aid program. If $2B of that was dedicated each yaer to nuclear power station construction where it is needed most – see Point 2 above, then a 1000MW station could be constructed. Each year. Output, say 8000 GWh per year, ie the equivalent of 4,000,000 tonnes of high grade coal, about 12Mtpa CO2-e. For over 50 years. 600Mt CO2-e avoided.
    4. So, even if Australia chooses the rich man’s option and declines to use coal at home, by diversion of part of the annual aid program, each year some of the world’s poorest and most needy who have absolutely no options at all would receive reliable power supplies and the world would be better off by 600MT of carbon dioxide. All for $1B per year. Over time, that is $1.50 per tonne of avoided CO2.

    Yes, I know… The CO2 avoided is over a period of 50 years, not all in Year 1, I haven’t accounted for operating costs, I have no distribution system and the “let them all die” option hasn’t been considered in my back-of-the-envelope analysis. All it needs is for the government to include in its scheme for foreign nuclear power to attract credits. That sure beats paying for carbon credits which will disappear as soon as somebody clears the forest in respect of which they were claimed.

    Let’s leave the details to the engineers. Who knows? Security issues might be resolved through operation of the power station under Australian management, with the used fuel returned to Australia rather than becoming a hypothetical terrorist target.

    Besides which, what type of foreign aid has a better effect than reliable power?

    Sanity check: $2B is only 0.015% of Australia’s GDP, $37 per head, about the cost of two average bottles of wine or tickets for 4 to a cinema on Thrifty Tuesday with a coffee or Coke all round afterwards.

    Once per year.

    We can afford that. Many of the world’s population cannot.

  10. Looks like Australia has natural gas since they are exporting it. I would suggest a 2 prong approach for the island:

    1) Nuclear
    2) combined cycle natural gas plants like GE’s flex 50 modular plant:

    http://www.ge-flexibility.com/products/flexefficiency_50_combined_cycle_power_plant/index.jsp

    This plant gets 60 % cycle efficiency and provides power at around 385 g/kwh vs a coal plant at about twice that.

    GE also makes a version of the flex 50 that has wind and solar along w/ the CCNG so all the base load is there when the wind or sun quits.

    GE also makes some nice Gen2 Nuclear plants. I’m sure you are all aware of this nuclear stuff.

    PS I don’t work for GE. As an ME I promote ideas that I think make sense both environmentally and financially.

    GSB

  11. Australia Broadcasting Corp National Interest radio show host Peter Mares asked Dr. Joachim Schellnhuber what he thought of the Australian CO2 reduction target for 2020:

    Schellnhuber: “Compared to the scope of the challenge, globally but also for the national economy here, in order to decarbonise, this target sounds almost ridiculous. But I wouldn’t ridicule it, really. I think it’s the first step on a very, very long journey”

    interview audio and transcript available here http://www.abc.net.au/rn/nationalinterest/stories/2011/3270544.htm

    On the subject of is coal evil: you have to deny the reality of carbon capture technology and its future development in order to debate the subject in the black and white terms I’m seeing here.

    The problem with coal is the CO2 emissions that result, if they are allowed to enter the atmosphere.

    In the U.S., American Electric Power has the Mountaineer coal plant in Virginia. CEO Mike Morris saw the writing on the wall years ago, i.e. he thought there would be a price on carbon one day, so he committed his company to building a pilot scale carbon capture plant of a type, I believe, that could be retrofitted to different types of coal plants. After completing the pilot plant, they abandoned plans to build at full scale, not because their process did not meet expectations, but because in the US the writing on the wall has changed and a price on carbon is not expected for a long time. Morris was asked what he thought electric power generated by a coal plant fitted with his company’s new process would cost:

    CEO Morris: “If that [coal] power plant makes the energy at five cents, it might make it at seven cents with this technology

    The Public Radio International host expresses some astonishment at this point, “you’d still be cheaper than just about any other power source, right?” CEO Morris: “Clearly cheaper than new nuclear, clearly cheaper than sun and wind. Other than the new potentiality available shale natural gas combined cycle units, that’s true.”

    PRI interview and transcript here http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=11-P13-00029&segmentID=1

    Capturing Carbon is a fairly new book, by Robin Mills, which discusses carbon capture in great detail.

    NYTimes article http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/business/energy-environment/utility-shelves-plan-to-capture-carbon-dioxide.html on the cancellation of the full scale Mountaineer CCS plant (note they did not include any reference to what the owners thought coal power with CCS using their process would cost per kWhr, as if NYTimes readers have a need not to know….)

  12. On ABC Lateline last night they had a debate between a coal seam gas driller and a farmer. It was disputed whether gas is a transitional fuel or a long term fixture. The farmer said renewables were just showpieces to hoodwink the public and in any case gas wasn’t that clean. In my view we want the grid average emissions to get under 100g CO2 per kwh. Say 75% of 330g for new CCGT doesn’t get there.

    Barry was briefly on SBS Insight where all the buzz was smart meters and renewables so nuclear was only mentioned in passing. I note renewables enthusiasts assure us how cheap it will be yet fail to mention permanent dependence on quotas and subsidies. For example it was pointed out that of the latest 17.3% price hike for electricity in NSW 6% was due to mandatory renewables. Seconds later the BZE bloke (Wright?) said the cost of renewable electricity would fall. That seemed to fly in the face of the evidence,

  13. David Lewis, on 3 August 2011 at 5:18 AM said:

    In the U.S., American Electric Power has the Mountaineer coal plant in Virginia. CEO Mike Morris saw the writing on the wall years ago, i.e. he thought there would be a price on carbon one day, so he committed his company to building a pilot scale carbon capture plant of a type, I believe, that could be retrofitted to different types of coal plants. After completing the pilot plant, they abandoned plans to build at full scale, not because their process did not meet expectations, but because in the US the writing on the wall has changed and a price on carbon is not expected for a long time

    The writing on the wall that changed was that coal mine productivity East of the Mississippi river in the US began a decline around 1999 and has gone from 4 tons/man hour to less then three tons per man hour and shows no sign of rebounding while at the same time transport cost for Western Coal has skyrocketed due to rising oil prices. To add insult to injury natural gas prices are at historical lows.

    Coals ‘market share’ of electricity generation in the US in 2008 was 48%. In 2010 that dropped to 45%. In the first 4 months of 2011 it was less then 44%. Electricity Consumption between 2008 and 2010 was close to identical. Source – US EIA Generation Statistics http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf

    There has also been a shift from Eastern Coal to Western coal which distorts year on year raw tonnage comparisons. Western Coal tends have a lower BTU content..8,800/lb compared to 12,500/pound for Eastern coal so burning the same amount of coal yields less CO2 and of course, less electricity.

  14. David Lewis,on 3 August 2011 at 5:18 AM -

    I had to read this comment twice just to satisfy myself that you were not writing tongue in cheek.

    As I have not heard much about carbon capture and storage lately I thought that the idea had been put to rest as just another strategy by the fossil fuel industry to divert attention from their polluting activities.

    I don’t care how many links you have to support the process,just reasoning from first principles will inform any sane person that the process,while technically feasible,can’t be scaled to the point where it has any significant affect on carbon emissions.

    Apart from the cost of capture itself(in equipment and wasted energy) the cost of pipelines,compressing and pumping equipment would be prohibitive.There is also the inescapable problem of finding sufficient hiding places for the toxic stuff where it won’t escape.

    All this problematic expenditure so we can keep burning a resource which will run out in the not too distant future – please get real.

  15. George Bower,before commenting on this site (which is Australian) I suggest you brush up on your geography at the very least.On the other hand,if you were just trying to be facetious that didn’t come off either.

    As for your suggestion that a 2 prong approach (nuclear and gas) would be appropriate for the “island” (more commonly known as a continent) – If we are going to build nuclear why bother with burning a fossil fuel like gas?

    Apart from being polluting there are much better uses for gas than using it to generate electricity.I can think of two for starters – an interim transport fuel and in industrial processes.

  16. I agree with Podargus that gas as a transport fuel has yet to hit home. Barry pointed out on Insight that in future the grid will also have to charge electric cars. I’m not so sure given sluggish sales of the Chevrolet Volt

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Volt

    People want and outer suburb commuters need cars that can go 00′s of kilometres on a single fill-up. Liquid fuels are currently affordable due the moribund world economy but at some point we must face prices around $3/L. Then gas will be in heavy demand as a transport fuel, something few have allowed for.

  17. David Lewis, the costs of CCS of various flavours (for IGCC, PF coal, CCGT) are covered, in detail, in my Energy paper. I suggest you take the time to read this. Its emissions profile (LCA) ranges from 130 to 170 kg CO2-e/MWh, which will be insufficient for serious CO2-e abatement. It also does nothing to control damage from expanded coal extraction (e.g. mountaintop removal), fugitive methane emissions, heavy metal and black carbon pollutants from the smokestack, etc. It may be part of a solution, as I outline here, but not a big one, I suspect.

  18. Dead right John Bennetts on the desirability of giving aid to the third world in the form of appropriately sized nuclear reactors. I seem to remember saying that on a couple of previous blogs. It’s becoming pretty obvious that if the world is going to beat the CO2 problem then we need urgently a generation type that is clean, green, concentrated, continuous,emissions -free and affordable and as soon as possible. THERE IS ONE ALTERNATIVE THAT CAN DELIVER THAT IN THE TIME WE WOULD APPEAR TO HAVE AND THAT’S NUCLEAR. Nuclear has to be the prime source of future world energy for the planet and we all need to stop pussyfooting around and start doing something about getting that message out to the people and especially here in Australia. It’s all taking far too long. Time to hurry things along guys.

  19. Podargus,
    Did not mean to insult:

    Podargus Quote:

    If we are going to build nuclear why bother with burning a fossil fuel like gas?

    Answer is: If you can not make nuclear happen then this is the 2nd best choice. If you CAN make nuclear happen AND all of a sudden they only let you put in 1 Nuclear plant then CCNG’s are your best alternatives. Sounds like you guys have a CO2/$ advantage if you have it on the CONTINENT.

    Sorry for being a Moron!

    GSB

  20. Podargus said:
    “an interim transport fuel”

    Are you saying burn it directly???

    While I think that is a good approach. I would say that a bunch of CCNGs and some Nuclear plants would provide prodigeous quantities of clean electricity!!

  21. Its getting very clear that CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere if civilization suddenly decided it wanted our descendants to have a chance at living on a planet somewhat remotely like the one we inherited. I wonder how people expect that will be accomplished if CCS technology is not developed.

  22. I have been away for a few days – moving house and off-line for a while. During my absence Barry has kept an eye out for any glaring violations of the Comments Policy. Normal moderation will now resume.

  23. @ David Lewis.

    1. CCS does not remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: it is able to remove part only of the CO2 produced by burning of fossil fuels – gas, oil and coal. That part is nowhere near 100% and is likely to fall in the range 30 to 70%.
    2. There is possible extension of CCS to biofuels used in stationary applications, however biofuel proponents are already able to claim that their fuel is green and renewable, so I am not aware of any proposal to couple CCS with biofuels.
    3. CCS is unsuitable for mobile applications – transport and temporary installations.
    4. CCS involves an unbelievably large infrastructure – pumps, pipes and so forth, as well as an assumption that suitable storage places can be found at the necessary scale, which is incorrect.
    5. CCS will need piles of money to implement, that’s if it is ever implemented.
    6. CCS requires a reported 30% of the electrical energy generated by the initial burning process, so there is more carbon dioxide to account for in the first place.
    7. If there is an option not to put the CO2 into the atmosphere in the first place, it is clearly preferable to benerating the CO2 and then trying to capture it, separate it, condense it, pipe it, store it and then monitor it for ever and ever. Nuclear power is one such technology.
    8. CCS has never been demonstrated on an industrial scale.
    9. Nuclear power has been proven both industrially and commercialy, with close to 450 plants operating, 50+ years of experience and multiple technologies to chose from.
    10. Nuclear power plant, even the oldest designs still in service, are much safer than any of the fossil fuel alternatives.

    While many of us agree philosophically with you that removal of CO2 from the atmosphere on an industrial scale would be a good thing to do, current technology is not up to the task, so your loaded final sentence has an answer and that answer is nuclear fission.

    Sorry, everybody. I have not provided references for any of the above, in part because these matters have been chewed over time and again on this site.

  24. I put the link to (Chancellor Merkel’s climate advisor) Schellnhuber’s interview in my original comment for several reasons, i.e. he was just in Australia, but another one was he explains authoritatively what all the commitments to limit GHG emissions by all the countries that have made them add up to – we are losing our chance to limit climate change to merely dangerous levels and moving on into territory where what civilization can do when it realizes it is committed to catastrophe becomes the debate.

    Schellnhuber’s U.K. equivalent, David King, says this: “Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?”.

    It isn’t that far away that the question becomes what do we do now that catastrophe is here. At least to me, someone who has been involved in climate debate since 1988, it seems about a blink of eye away.

    One way to look at the arguments about the “unbelievably large infrastructure” CCS would require would be to examine the approximately equal order of magnitude unbelievably large infrastructure that handling sewage required. When civilization realized that limiting certain diseases required this infrastructure it was built. A more appropriate critique is to examine the cost of CCS. At $100 a barrel, it is becoming quite practical to build unbelieveably large and technically challenging infrastructure to get oil from very far below the sea floor in very deep water, and no one says the age of oil will end because $40 of that $100 selling price (to arbitrarily select a figure) is to build infrastructure. What matters is how much is ultimately available at the price and if a profit can be made, i.e. are people willing to pay. Our problem is that far too much fossil fuel is available at a price people will pay.

    The IPCC Special Report on CCS in 2005 published figures on how much extra it would cost to apply CCS technology, and one reason I found the recent interview with CEO Morris interesting is that his explanation of the cost today, had his regulator allowed him to charge his customers for adding CCS to a full scale plant, is in line with what the IPCC found in 2005. I.e. about 2 cents a kWhr tacked onto the cost of electricity production in a system where most of the cost is elsewhere, i.e. capital cost for the plant, fuel, and distribution cost. Critics of CCS sound like critics of nukes to me, given what the facts are.

    I recommended the book “Capturing Carbon” because I found it to be a thoughtful contribution to a very sparse literature – here’s a quote from it that came to mind as I read your critique:

    “Writers and researchers on the climate change issue often fall into what I call the ‘panacea fallacy’. This is the idea that a single technology or approach is the way to solve climate change – whether the panacea is nuclear power , renewable energy, reforestation, carbon capture, energy efficiency, geo-engineering or some other concept. The converse is to pick on a particular technology, show that it cannot solve the climate change problem on its own, and therefore dismiss it as useless. In fact, given the scale of the problem, even a 5% solution is highly worthwhile.”

    I thought the black and white debate about coal on this page, given what is happening in R&D and implementation of CCS worldwide, was not appropriate.

    There is a political factor as well. I live in the US, where the political system allows small coal producing states equal voting power in the Senate as California or New York. Branding coal as evil and denouncing CCS as impossible has, I believe, made passage of climate legislation so inadequate Schellnhuber would call it “almost ridiculous” more difficult.
    MODERATOR
    David – please supply refs/links for your assertions as per BNC Comments Policy.
    Further instances of this violation of the policy may be deleted. The Open Threads are the only instances where this requirement does not apply.

  25. David Lewis –

    Elements of CCS “technology” for removing CO2 from the atmosphere already exist naturally, in the form of vegetation.

    The “S” (sequestration) element of CCS is feasible by converting biomass into long-lived products, instead of burning it for energy.

    Using nuclear for electricity broadens the potential to systematically use biomass, and to substitute-in biomass, as a feedstock for long-lived products, because biomass then is not required as a feedstock for combustion to generate electricity.

    If one is concerned about climate change, this would seem to be a better use for biomass.

    Aside: has anyone investigated the radioactivity introduced into the ambient atmosphere because of the burning of biomass? I can’t find anything on this. I would find it interesting if biomass burning, like coal burning, exceeded the radioactivity releases permitted from a nuclear energy facility. I expect it varies with the background radioactivity in the area where the biomass is grown, and with other factors as well.

  26. Barry Brook: I agreed with your papers conclusion, i.e. that nuclear is the cheapest low carbon baseload generating technology.

    Although I would add – if political factors are left out. I write from the US, where it is now much more obvious to the world that rational decisions are becoming increasingly difficult for politicians to agree to make.

    The fact that so many climate activists and politicians who support climate action are adamantly anti nuke here makes new build nuclear cost here a more open question than it is, say, in China.

    This is the country where one reactor, Shoreham, estimated to cost $217 million for an 820 MW design in 1969 was fought over politically until costs escalated to a total of $6 billion. The reactor operated for two full power days over a period of intermittent operation of two years, then was decommissioned. They threw that investment away.

    What happened in Germany after Fukushima tends to undermine arguments that this kind of opposition is not liable to happen again in the US, although climate is more widely perceived to be a problem now.

    But even China, which has the largest new build nuclear program in the world, has plans to expand its coal use that dwarf what its doing on the nuclear front. It looks like they intend to double their coal generation capacity, adding the order of about 500 GW, so they will have greater than 1,000 GW of coal capacity by 2035. (http://www.fbcinc.com/EIA/presentations/Houser.pdf)

    There must be something holding China back from building even more nukes instead of all that coal fired generation. As they realize it is suicidal for them to allow the CO2 from that coal to enter the atmosphere, we’ll see what they turn to, CCS, or nuclear or both.

  27. ‘John Newlands, on 3 August 2011 at 8:09 AM said:
    I agree with Podargus that gas as a transport fuel has yet to hit home. Barry pointed out on Insight that in future the grid will also have to charge electric cars. I’m not so sure given sluggish sales of the Chevrolet Volt.’

    It’s way too soon to be concluding anything about the Chevy Volt sales potential. They have barely made any (~ 4000) and sold them all. It will be a year or two before the picture is clear. Over the next year they plan to build ~60,000 and will ramp up from there if the demand appears. Worldwide sales will also commence.

    By the way I’ve followed the Volt off and on since its beginning. The’ve done a great job with this car. Batteries prices need to come down for sales to really take off, but this approach (EV with 40 mile range, with on-board gasoline generator) makes a (largely) electric vehicle practical as a primary vehicle.

    I used to sign off on the Volt fan site, http://gm-volt.com/ (and other places) with:

    Nuclear Power + Electric Cars = Bright Future

    After Fukushima I get a lot of ridicule now, but I still believe in this slogan.

  28. Pingback: Carbon smoke and mirrors… « SeekerBlog

  29. David Lewis quote:

    “There must be something holding China back from building even more nukes instead of all that coal fired generation.”

    I do not have a link for this but I think the Chinese will follow the Japanese and use lots of nuclear to fuel their economic growth.

    It’s a small bright spot in the future.

    GSB

  30. @ David Lewis, on 4 August 2011 at 12:53 AM:

    David Lewis, on 4 August 2011 at 12:53 AM provided copious quotes re the cost of CCS, none with references. How about a few links, David?

    When/if the “IPCC Special Report on CCS in 2005 published figures on how much extra it would cost to apply CCS technology… found … about 2 cents a kWhr tacked onto the cost of electricity production.”

    Not stated is whether this 2 cents provides for 100% recovery and sequestration of CO2 or some lesser percentage, say 70%, which would appear to be magnificent. Magnificent, that is, until the energy cost of doing this work – say 30% – is added in, so we still generate a net 30% of 1.3 = 39% of the CO2 load that we started out with with.

    39% is not a solution to the problem, it is only a deceleration of the velocity at which we drive over the cliff.

    “Critics of CCS sound like critics of nukes to me, given what the facts are.” Thanks for the gratuitous insult. Great negotiating tactic.

    “Writers and researchers on the climate change issue often fall into what I call the ‘panacea fallacy’… given the scale of the problem, even a 5% solution is highly worthwhile.” No, 5% is not a solution to any problem. The remaining 95% is still a problem. See driving and cliffs, above.

    David advocates a discussion of CCS as an option for tackling climate change. I’m sure that Barry would find room on this site if David was to submit such a paper or provide a reference to a suitable paper elsewhere. For one, I simply don’t believe that CCS is as bright as some would have us believe and that it is, like wind, actually a figleaf for fossil fuels and a delaying tactic. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but the difference between proof and wishful thinking is the same as the gap between facts and spin.
    MODERATOR
    DL has been asked to provide refs or risk his comments being deleted.

  31. What most impresses me about that EIA total energy document, is that nuclear has such a high capacity rate with no new plants in…..how many years? At a glance, it would seems that facility improvements have delivered plenty of additional power. And most of these thermal nuclear designs being passed around lately, claim an even HIGHER conversion rate.

    I would like to see a change to the nuclear energy approval process, wherein a plant could be expedited if its blueprint is EXACTLY equal to a previously approved design. Say, if five years from now Westinghouse provided a whole-facility layout comprising 1-4 AP 1500 reactors in a demand-growth construction model (start with as few as one, expand up to four in a predictable way). If that whole-plant blueprint were approved, you could expedite the review process to build another one elsewhere. If you wanted to add a reactor, the whole process is already available and you only need to bother with transmission capacity negotiations.

    You could also have safe-operation incentives and penalties, convert the $1bn disaster seed to an insurance program that monitors performance and unscheduled releases etc. Similar to a multi-car policy, there would be discounts to insure multiple sites with an identical design while an accident ANYwhere raises your insurance EVERYwhere. This encourages better self-regulation to avoid the “idiot tax”, but lowers the initial cost of installing new or expanded capacity.

    I would also like to see GW+ sites coupled with 1-2 ~100MW units which can adjust their output more quickly. This reduces the need for gas turbines and can also compensate as the larger plant spins up to provide that extra energy.

    In the most peculiar circumstances of Australia, they could actually use their copious nuclear reserves to convert coal into other fuels. Even using inefficient methods, Australia could be energy-independent and hydrocarbon-independent for perhaps hundreds of years.

  32. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_the_United_States

    Supposedly average capacity factor per plant has gone from ~60% to >90%, which more than offset lack of new sites and decommissioning of several others.

    Does Australia have major outstanding issues with seismicity? Because if not, they have little excuse to play the number game with fossil plants. Last I checked the country was very large and sparsely populated, I am sure they could determine a couple of safe places to build a nuclear facility.

    Looking aside, how’s the PV performance down there? I’d imagine it is at least better than northern Europe.

  33. Relgoshan I favour placing NPPs on Australia’s southern desert coastline which has been 1,000 km from a Richter 7 quake in the Indian Ocean a couple of times. Just a few weeks ago there was a Richter 4.6 quake at Wonthaggi Vic, the site of Australia’s largest desalination plant when completed. Some suggested it be powered by NP not brown coal with a token wind farm.

    Australia has just had the strongest La Nina weather since the 1970s. In my observation PV output (at Lat 43S) has been woeful due to incessant cloud cover. I hear stories that large wind farms are also under performing.

  34. Aussie coal to help power a 1200 MW power station in Vietnam.

    Seems some countries must have had a memory lapse on the way home form the climate conference. Until recently Vietnam was a coal exporter. Coal export enthusiast Wayne Swan will be beaming, If we carbon taxed fossil fuel exports the foreign customers might think a bit harder about the alternatives.

  35. Pingback: Canada Unlikely To Meet 2020 Emission Targets | Enviralment

  36. John Newlands, on 5 August 2011 at 2:20 PM said:

    Aussie coal to help power a 1200 MW power station in Vietnam.
    Seems some countries must have had a memory lapse on the way home form the climate conference

    Vietnam has 4 NPP’s on order. It’s a long road from no nuclear power plants to having nuclear power plants. Training programs for operators and inspectors have to be set up. Various government to government agreements have to be made, long lead time parts have to be ordered etc etc etc…..

    The Vietnamese are going down that road but they need power ‘now’…..

  37. @moderator

    I can’t understand what you are talking about, i.e. “DL has been asked to provide refs or risk his comments being deleted”

    I mean, I understand you are threatening to delete, but the fact is, I supply references wherever I think it could possibly be useful.

    Take a look at my first comment on this thread – there are three live links to references.

    “Podargus”: “”I don’t care how many links you have to support the process, just reasoning from first principles…” No one pointed out at that point that according to some comment policy on this website, references are required for, what, all opiinions expressed, or just all opinions expressed that run somewhat counter to the zeitgeist as it has evolved here? Please clarify.

    Subsequent comments I made contain either live links or named sources. Take a look.

    Your first warning to me that I must supply references came after I posted a comment 4 August 2011 at 12:53, that contained three references.

    I made that comment in response to “John Bennetts” far more reasonable than “Podargus” reply which contained his 10 points. “John Bennetts” entire comment contained no references. He apologized, but according to him as I understood what he was saying, it wasn’t worth his time to supply references because, I presume, CCS has been ‘chewed over” so often here it would be pointless.

    My comment posted in reply to John, who I thought had told me it wasn’t worth his time to bother with digging up and naming or supplying live links to references, started out talking about a reference I had included previously. I explained why I had included a live link to a Schellnhuber interview. I put in a David King quote taken from the book Capturing Carbon. I referred to a document that is online, the IPCC report on CCS (although I did not link to it, how hard is it for people to type in a Google search box?), and I also put in a quote from the author of Capturing Carbon, which is in his book, i.e. the book I had recommended in my previous comment.

    Rereading my comment, I see that I didn’t make it clear that the David King quote came from Capturing Carbon, but I confess that the “Podargus” remark that references don’t matter here, and “John Bennetts” basically telling me it wasn’t worth his time to point to the sources of his opinions, had left me dismayed. I see that compared to what I usually do when debating online, I had become somewhat lax as to supplying references for people to examine.

    Then, “John Bennetts” asks me for sources on CCS cost, and you, the moderator, warn me I’ve been warned already, comments without references will be deleted.

    You tell me – what am I supposed to do? I’m already supplying references, more than the people who are responding to me are. It really looks like I am expressing a verboten opinion, i.e. that it looks to me as if CCS will be part of the solution to climate change if civilization ever decides to act decisively, and therefore I am being asked to do what others are not asked to do on pain of having my comments deleted. Go ahead. Delete away.

    Barry’s reply to me was an excellent way to respond, if anyone is interested in my unreferenced opinion at this point.

    Barry gave his peer reviewed paper as a reference. I had already seen it. It contains an examination of CCS cost, it is online, and he supplies a live link. His paper’s references include the IPCC Special Report on Carbon Capture and Storage, the document I had referred people here to myself. That document examines all aspects of CCS including cost, although it is somewhat dated. Barry’s abstract contains his conclusion: “CCS will require rapid major advances in technology” if it is to play a role in meeting “the IPCC timetable for GHG abatement”. I note that the criteria he and his co-authors imposed on themselves in selecting technologies to evaluate in this paper had them reject Gen IV nuclear from consideration at all.

    My first comment here contained a live link to an audio interview and transcript done with the CEO of a company that had just built a pilot scale plant using a new CCS process, that he said he was prepared to build out at full scale except his regulator would not let him recover the cost because there is no carbon price in the US, that he said he felt was cheaper than new nuclear or anything else his company could build except a shale gas plant, and I thought that was interesting. It may not be true, but it seemed as if it could be – the guy was turning down a DOE grant that would have paid for a substantial part of this full scale CCS plant, and he said it was because in the US, a price on carbon seems a very long way away, which is the way it seems to many here.

    Barry’s paper comparing cost on new nuclear to CCS says their group found new nuclear should be cheaper than CCS, especially in China, but this executive, who has to build in the US, says thats not the case for his company in that location.

    Now you can dispute what this CEO is saying, but how can it be that by pointing out a reference to what he said I’m warned I’m not supplying references?

    CCS has been demonized by Al Gore et al “there is no such thing as clean coal”, and I wonder why. Its one thing to be skeptical of a coal industry “clean coal” campaign that was mostly all hot air and no actual removing CO2 in any significant way, but its another to reject a technology that the IPCC thought had such potential it did a special report.

    Another source for discussion and information on CCS is “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” by Mark Jaccard

    Here’s a recent article from The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/aug/02/drax-power-station-biomass on how the Drax coal plant could be transformed into the largest “renewable” source of electricity in the UK if they merely increased the percentage of biomass they feed into it. Its already producing 6% of the “renewable” power in the UK, according to the article. People studying CCS say do that, up the biomass feeding in alongside the coal, and apply CCS, and you can use existing infrastructure to withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere.
    MODERATOR
    Your comment at 4 Aug 2011 @12.53 did not contain any clickable references. General references to books, reports etc are not enough. The aim of asking for links that can be followed by other commenters is to enable further discussion. You cannot expect others to necessarily be able to obtain primary sources or read through them in detail to verify what you claim.
    Another commenter, quite properly, asked for those links to be supplied hence my comments. This rule applies to any scientific/economic opinion otherwise it is just personal conjecture. You have not been singled out – the same rules, re refs, apply to all commenters on all but the Open Threads.

  38. Desalination is definitely something I keep coming back to. It’s a perfect use for nuclear. You can operate at ideal load 24/7 if there’s a balancing reservoir system in the mix. Risks of water contamination or seaside contamination are effectively nil, and the fuel supply would not (as easily) be endangered by a rail disaster or mining strike. And if you so happen to also generate a high factor of baseload power….that’s just icing on the cake isn’t it?

    You’d also think a giant, isolated nation would be concerned about the fuel supply for shipping and industry. Where are they getting their petrol, their number 6, their LNG? Is there is a substantial supply of coal-seam gas or something? I don’t think any nation’s about to switch over to 80MW nuclear trains with self-propelled cars, but shipping deserves a new shake. 2-3 different companies (Hyperion being one) have been pushing ultracompact plant designs based on liquid lead coolant. If they can keep the total mass of the power plant and shielding below 1000t, it would be attractive on virtually any large vessel.

    So why is everyone only talking about normal thermal electric use? Seems things would be more compelling if someone could chart out an ecosystem.

  39. Strangely, we don’t use that same argument with respect to refusing to supply heroin, or indeed any other illicit or dangerous substances, to the international market.

    We should. The prohibition on heroin production and export enables a thriving black market were profits flow to violent criminal syndicates. Heroin is a needlessly demonised substance (a bit like nuclear power). It is a low risk drug in the sense that prolonged use causes few notable medical problems. It is quite addictive and in too high a dose it can put you to sleep permanently but neither of these qualities ought to see the over the top legal sanctions that we employ today. That people get executed for trafficking what is in fact a wonder drug is a tragic consequence of our failed morality and reason.

    Likewise any argument for the ban of coal exports is a folly. Others will supply it. Possibly using more dangerous mining techniques in more marginal societies but none the less it will happen.

    Worse than the carbon tax is all the other “green” policy that is bolted on. The MRET scheme is nuts. The solar rebate schemes are a waste. The green grants and give aways a menace.

    However even the carbon tax, the most pure and neat of the economic policy remedies designed to deal with CO2 emissions is a folly. It imposes a set of costs which whilst manageable are still in fact greater than the benefits delivered. Some people thing we must reduce emissions “at any cost” however most causes have such fanatics. We should reduce emissions where the cost of doing so is reasonable given the benefits of doing so. To proceed even when the costs are greater than the benefits is to act as a zealot.

    The typical response to this is to suggest that the benefits seem limited because this is just the first step, or this is part of a global scheme of action. It is fine to point to the benefits of second steps or more widespread implementation of such a scheme but only if you include the cost of second steps and broader implementation. As it stands the proposed carbon tax will over a decade cost households thousands of dollars whilst altering the temperature trajectory by thousands of a degree. In essence it makes us poorer for no good reason. It is akin to the selling of indulgences or the burning of witches. Some people might get some demented pleasure from the ritual but rational should know better.

  40. @John

    the appearance of an editorial “Washington does not need to help feed China’s coal habit”, it isn’t that convincing a sign that “some countries get it”. I live in Washington.

    This country, the US, does not get it. Putting a price on carbon is so far off the political agenda it is a subject of debate among some of the supposed climate literati whether it is wise to continue to mention the word climate at all. http://www.marcgunther.com/2011/07/26/maybe-its-time-to-stop-talking-about-climate/

    The state, Washington, is more “liberal” or “progressive” than most, but it remains an open question about that coal moving through here.

    My next door neighbor, initially friendly when I moved here, cut off all further conversation after he realized I believed in that strange threatening religion, climate change. That was a year ago.

  41. And would he call the police if you mentioned nuclear? I’ve visited DC a couple of times and the folk there are often as backward as the deep South.

    Most days of the week it seems our best hope for a fix is global empire under an iron dictator. Universal wage and currency would solve the one-way trade deficit practically overnight, and they could have the military enforce grid transition. But that’s an impossibility anyway, and you could bet the 2nd-gen dictator would be another Stalin.

    *sigh* The depressing thing about discussing energy here is that it doesn’t change policies where these decisions are made. And demonstrating for pro-nuclear just sounds….weird due to the cultural stigma. It must be the image aspect of Barry’s “Smoke and Mirrors” characterization. The antinukes describe this technology in terms of mutated children, health problems, radioactive wastelands, dead cities, 20km glowing craters. Then they paint a pastel image of sky-blue wind towers rising delicately above lush fields, children taking shelter from the rain in a solar-powered bus stop. And never you mind how the bus gets there, that technology is “coming soon”. Pronukes should fight back with fossil horror stories, from methane in the water to miner’s lung to mutated children (funny how it works both ways) to huge refinery disasters. Air so thick you can’t go outside. Then follow up with the same clear skies and open fields, but this time there’s no red-eyed cyclops towering above your barn at night. Your car doesn’t run flat on the side of the road. Bad weather doesn’t keep you from doing laundry. Wind and solar take us back to the whims of nature, while nuclear allows us to continue reshaping the planet in our image.

    But the cultural aversion is quite strong; I feel a little like a crackpot even for suggesting the above sentiments.

  42. Relgoshan –
    Apart from the references to a dictator and the need for one world currency/government, I tend to agree.

    It is time to aggressively attack the negatives of fossil fuel, wind and solar other than as an alternative to nuclear. That presents the listener with an easy way out – “Sounds good, but they are nuclear apologists, so of course they would say that kind of thing.”

    We are exposed daily to the reverse, when (for example) in Climate Spectator recently, at http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/clean-energy-insurance-policy-no-regrets. Paid spokespersons with huge conflicts of interest get away with supporting the illogical by banging their “feel good” drum and because they have learned not to mention the war.

    They never mention cost, because that is not a winner for them.

    They don’t mention safety, because they would rather that the public assume that safety is not an issue – renewables are perfectly safe, right? Never led to deaths and injuries, right again? Don’t need huge quantities of rare earth minerals which are extremely dangerous to manufacture? Still right.

    Renewables need m any huge mines and leave a bad legacy of waste and destruction… but their proponents won’t tell you that. Of course, not – it is not a winning point.

    Last, the renewables industry has learned to shame the alternatives in public by mentioning anything mean and tricky about Fukishima, anything perceived as being unsafe about nuclear, regardless of statistics, focussing on the (arguable) need to open mines for uranium.

    For example, Olympic Dam is described as a uranium mine, when its economic justification is copper and other metals. Its potential to become the world’s largest uranium mine is a side issue – the mine would still be economic if all the uranium went back into the ground in the tailings, because of the very much larger volumes of other metals in the ore. The decision to proceed will not hinge on the uranium potential.

    I’m starting to think that there is merit in refusing to engage publicly on any of the perceived negatives regarding nuclear power, regardless of how incorrect they may be.

    That leaves the positives – Affordable. Scalable. Reliable. Small footprint. High capacity, 24/7. Weatherproof. Proven. The only demonstrated way to get rid of dirty coal power stations and coal mines.

    To which, I would add “safe”, except only in the context that references would only be to positives – industry record of safety, while refusing to argue the toss over Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukishima, etc – that is to be dragged down in to the gutter of details and “he-said-she-said” tit for tat hollow arguments which lead nowhere. The fact remains that nuclear is far safer than the alternatives. That is the only message re safety, except in an academic environment where facts are accepted and examined, rather than fashioned into spears.

    So, in public, nuclear power proponents must learn to accent the positive and eliminate the negative, as the saying goes. The renewables shills are doing this and are currently getting away with it every time.

    We need to drive the agenda away from defending the perceived negatives of nuclear and thus giving some credence to them by comparing safety and other outcomes with alternatyives. Avoid comparisons. Deny that they are relevant. Don’t give them oxygen. What IS relevant is the poor safety record of technology 1, or the poor waste outcomes of technology 2, or the huge mining implications of option 3, or the resource shortages of option 4, etc.

    Note: I’m not advocating lying – there’s already enough of that coming from the conflicted and amoral folk on the other teams.

  43. Wind Energy Does Little to Reduce CO2 Emissions by Willem Post; 4 September 2011

    For some years wind turbines were presented to the public as renewable energy producers that would reduce the CO2 emissions of fossil plants, because less fossil fuels would be burnt, while making the US less dependent on energy imports from unstable regions.

    Wind turbine vendors, project developers, financiers, trade organizations, etc., popularized wind energy as saving the planet from global warming with PR campaigns that claimed significant CO2 reductions/kWh, and that capital costs/MW would decrease, and that wind energy costs/kWh would be at grid parity in the near future. 

    Apparently many people, including legislators, believed it all, because a fear-driven, heavily-subsidized, multi-billion dollar build-out of wind turbine facilities occurred.

    Finally, after skepticism was expressed by technical analysts in the US, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc., about claims regarding CO2 reductions due to wind energy, and after numerous complaints from grid operators regarding instability impacts of wind energy on their grids, the truth regarding CO2 reductions is finally emerging as a result of two studies based on measured operations data of grids in Colorado, Texas and Ireland, all with significant wind energy penetration.

    STUDY OF COLORADO AND TEXAS WIND ENERGY

    The Bentek study of the Colorado and Texas grids, based on measured hourly (in case of Colorado) and 1/4-hourly (in case of Texas) power plant operations data of fuel consumption and CO emissions, proved that wind energy on the grid needs to be:

    - balanced with energy from other plants, preferably quick-ramping CCGTs and OCGTs, to ensure grid stability and,
    - that this balancing produces more CO2/kWh, more NOx/kWh, and more SOx/kWh (from coal plants on the grid), and uses more fuel/kWh with wind energy on the grid than without. 

    The balancing plants, usually consisting of quick-ramping gas turbines or hydro plants, would need to ramp down when wind energy surges and ramp up when wind energy ebbs to ensure a near-perfect balance of supply and demand is maintained on the grid. The balance needs to be maintained to minimize excessive frequency and voltage deviations from target values to avoid brownouts and blackouts and to avoid overloads.

    The balancing plants would need to operate at a percent of rated output. That mode of operation is very inefficient for gas turbines and ramping up and down at a percent of rated output is even less efficient. This results in significantly increased Btus/kWh and increased CO2 emissions/kWh.

    When coal plants are used as wind energy balancing plants, as is the case with Colorado and Texas, the rapid up and down ramping at part-load causes their combustion systems (designed for optimum and steady operation near rated output) to become unstable, and because up and down ramping causes the chemical composition of the flue gas to vary the scrubber-based air pollution control systems (also designed for optimum and steady operation near rated output) also become unstable as the required stoichiometric chemical ratios cannot be maintained in a timely manner. The up and down ramping increases wear and rear of equipment, just as with a car.

    Colorado  

    Public Service of Colorado, PSCO, owns insufficient gas-fired CCGT capacity for balancing to accommodate wind power. Instead, it is attempting to use its own coal plants for balancing for which they were not designed and for which they are highly unsuitable. The results have been significantly increased pollution and CO2 emissions per kWh.

    The heat rate of a coal plant operated near rated output it is about 10,500 Btu/kWh for power delivered to the grid. It is lowest near rated output and highest at very low outputs. If a plant is rapidly ramped up and down in balancing mode at a percent of rated output, its heat rate rises. See Pages 26, 28, 35, 41 of the Bentek study.  

    On Page 28, the top graph covering all PSCO coal plants shows small heat rate changes with wind power outputs during 2006. The bottom graph shows greater heat rate changes with wind power outputs during 2008, because during the 2006-2008 period 775 MW of wind facilities was added. For the individual PSCO plants doing most of the balancing, the heat rate changes are much higher. 

    On Page 26, during a coal plant ramp down of 30% from a steady operating state to comply with the state must-take mandate, the heat rate rose at much as 38%.

    On Page 35, during coal and gas plant ramp downs, the Area Control Error, ACE, shows significant instability when wind power output increased from 200 to 800 MW in 3.5 hours and decreased to 200 MW during the next 1.5 hours. The design ramp rates, MW per minute, of some plants were exceeded.

    On Page 41, during coal plant balancing across the PSCO system due to a wind event, emissions, reported to the EPA for every hour, showed increased emissions of 70,141 pounds of SOX (23% of total PSCO coal emissions); 72,658 pounds of NOX (27%) and 1,297 tons of CO2 (2%) than if the wind event had been absent.

    Those increases of CO, CO2, NOX, SOX and particulate per kWh are due to instabilities of the combustion process during balancing; the combustion process can ramp up and down, but slowly. As the varying concentration of the constituents in the flue gases enter the air quality control system, it cannot vary its chemical stoichiometric ratios quickly enough to remove the SOX below EPA-required values. These instabilities persist well beyond each significant wind event. 

    PSCO does not release hourly wind power generation data. Such information is critical for any accurate analysis and comparison of alternatives to reduce such emissions; deliberately withholding such information is inexcusable.

    Texas

    The Texas grid in mostly independent from the rest of the US grids; the grid is operated by ERCOT. The grid has the following capacity mix: Gas 44,368 MW (58%), Coal 17,530 MW (23%), Wind 9,410 MW (12% – end 2009), Nuclear 5,091 MW (7%). Generation in 2009 was about 300 TWh. By fuel type: Coal 111.4 TWh, Gas CCGT 98.9 TWh, Gas OCGT 29.4 TWh, Nuclear 41.3 TWh, Wind 18.7 TWh.  Summer peak of 63,400 MW is high due to air conditioning demand. 

    Wind provides 5 to 8% of the average generation overall, depending on the season. Its night contribution rises from 6% (summer) to 10% (spring). Texas capacity CF = 18.7 TWh/yr/{(9,410 + 7,118)/2) MW x 8,760 hr/yr)} = 0.258. Texas has excellent winds and should have a statewide CF of 0.30 or greater. Explanations for the low CF likely are:

    - grid operator ERCOT requires significant curtailment of wind energy to stabilize the grid. 
    - vendors, developers and financiers of wind power facilities, eager to cash in on subsidies before deadlines, installed some wind turbine facilities before adequate transmission capacity was installed to transmit their wind output to urban areas.

    Much of the gas-fired capacity consists of CCGTs that are owned by IPPs which sell their power to utilities under PPAs. That capacity is not utility-owned and therefore not available for balancing to accommodate the output of more than 10,000 MW of wind power facilities. Instead, utilities are attempting to use coal plants for balancing for which they were not designed. The results have been significantly increased pollution and CO2 emissions.
          
    Unlike PSCO, ERCOT requires reporting of fuel consumption by fuel type and power generation by technology type every 15 minutes. The 2007, 2008, 2009 data shows rising amplitude and frequency of balancing operations as wind energy penetration increased. In 2009, the same coal plants were cycled up to 300 MW/cycle about 1,307 times (up from 779 in 2007) and more than 1,000 MW/cycle about 284 times (up from 63 in 2007). The only change? Increased wind energy penetration.

    On Page 69:  The ERCOT balancing of plants to accommodate wind energy produced results similar to the PSCO system; increased balancing resulted in significantly more SOX and NOX emissions than if wind energy had been absent. Any CO2 emission reductions were minimal at best, due to the significantly degraded heat rates of the balancing plants. See websites.

    http://docs.wind-watch.org/BENTEK-How-Less-Became-More.pdf 

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/57905/wind-power-and-co2-emissions

    STUDY OF IRISH WIND ENERGY

    A new report by Dr. Fred Udo, a Dutch engineer, analyzes the CO2 emissions of the Irish electric grid, managed by EirGrid, which posts on its website 1/4-hour operations data of total electricity demand, wind energy and CO2 emissions. Analysis of the data proves wind energy reduces the CO2 emissions by just a few percent. 

    The study proves 20% wind energy on the grid reduces CO2/kWh by 4%, 28% reduces it by 1%, 34% reduces it by 6%, and 30% reduces it by 3%, not anywhere near to what is claimed by wind energy proponents.

    Note: The above variations of the CO2 percentages are largely due to the heat rates, Btu/kWh, of the combination of CCGTs and OCGTs selected by the grid operator during wind energy balancing. See website. 

    http://www.clepair.net/IerlandUdo.html 

    Note: Paste this URL in the left field of your browser window to access the site.

    The following is a direct quote from the site of EirGrid:

    “EirGrid, with the support of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, has developed together the following methodology for calculating CO2 Emissions.

    The rate of carbon emissions is calculated in real time by using the generators MW output, the individual heat rate curves for each power station and the calorific values for each type of fuel used.

    The heat rate curves are used to determine the efficiency at which a generator burns fuel at any given time.

    The fuel calorific values are then used to calculate the rate of carbon emissions for the fuel being burned by the generator“

    Note: The heat rate degradation due to ramping down the fossil-fired plants with wind energy surges and ramping up with wind energy ebbs is not accounted for in the above calculation method; i.e., the CO2 emissions posted on the EirGrid site are understated. 

    This means the above CO2 reductions will likely disappear, or become increases.

    CAPITAL COSTS OF WIND ENERGY

    The total capital cost of the wind turbines, PLUS the capital cost of the new quick-ramping balancing plants required at higher wind energy penetrations, PLUS the capital cost of grid modifications with new HVDC lines on 80 to 135 foot-tall steel structures is about 2 to 3 times greater than the total capital cost of a capacity of 60% efficient CCGTs that would produce, in base-loaded mode, the same quantity of energy, use only a few percent more fuel/kWh and would emit only a few percent more CO2/kWh than the above (wind energy + balancing energy) alternative, but at a much lower cost/kWh (see next paragraph), AND at minimal visual impact, AND at minimal transmission system changes. See websites.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/57905/wind-power-and-co2-emissions

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61774/wind-energy-expensive

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/61309/lowell-mountain-wind-turbine-facility-vermont

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/47519/base-power-alternatives-replace-base-loaded-coal-plants

    The US Energy Information Administration projects levelized production costs (national averages, excluding subsidies) of NEW plants coming on line in 2016 as follows (2009$) :

    Offshore wind $0.243/kWh, PV solar $0.211/kWh (higher in marginal solar areas, such as New England), Onshore wind $0.096/kWh (higher in marginal wind areas with greater capital and O&M costs, such as on ridge lines in New England), Conventional coal (base-loaded) $0.095/kWh, Advanced CCGT (base-loaded) $0.0631/kWh.  http://www.energytransition.msu.edu/documents/ipu_eia_electricity_generation_estimates_2011.pdf

    IS WIND ENERGY GOOD ENERGY POLICY?

    The above begs the question: If wind energy reduces CO2 by so very little/kWh or not at all, AND requires so much capital/MW to implement, AND produces energy at such a high cost/kWh, AND has such huge adverse impacts on quality of life (noise and infrasound, visuals, social unrest, psychological), property values and the environment, why are we, as a nation, doing this to ourselves?

    Has an irrational renewables hubris clouded the minds of policy makers? 
    Where is Galileo to speak truth to power when we need him?

    AN ALTERNATIVE TO WIND ENERGY

    The below article describes an economically and environmentally more attractive alternative to wind energy that is based on 60% efficient CCGTs.

    The new “GE FlexEfficiency 50″ plant has a capacity of 510 MW and a 61% efficiency at rated output. Its design is based on a unit that has performed utility-scale power generation for decades. The plant fits on about a 10-acre site; i.e., minimal visual impact. 

    It is quick-starting: from a cold start, it reaches its rated output in about one hour. Its average efficiency is about 60% from rated output to 87% of rated output (444 MW) and about 58% to 40% of rated output (204 MW). It can be ramped at 50 MW/minute. CCGTs are usually not operated at less than 40% of rated output because of very high heat rates, Btu/kWh.

    The GE unit is designed to efficiently produce electric energy in base-loaded mode and in daily-demand-following mode. Its high ramp rate enables it to also function as a balancing plant to accommodate the variable energy from wind turbine and solar facilities. See websites.

    http://www.ge-energy.com/content/multimedia/_files/downloads/FlexEfficiency%2050%20Plant%

    20eBrochure.pdf

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/59747/ge-flexefficiency-50-ccgt-facilities-and-wind-turbine-facilities

  44. Pingback: Cutting Australia’s carbon abatement costs with nuclear power « BraveNewClimate

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