Inconvenient truths about energy policy

by Judith Curry

This post is stimulated by an email I received from Georgia Tech alum Rutt Bridges, who asked for feedback on a recent article he published in First Break entitled “Economic Challenges for Carbon Capture-Storage and the Role of Natural Gas.

Rutt Bridges has a very deep and interesting perspective on climate-energy challenges.  For background, see his Wikipedia biosketch. He is a geophysicist that started his career at Chevron.  He is founder of the Bighorn Policy Center (now defunct) and has been very active in the Democratic Party in the state of Colorado, including running for the U.S. Senate and declaring candidacy for governor (but withdrew from both races).

Here are excerpts from the email I received from Rutt, which summarize the paper and his motivations:

I have real concerns about the [impact of global warming] on our planet. However, I was asked to contribute an article to a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) special issue for the EAGE (European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers) First Break publication. Of course, I am always concerned about economic issues when looking at problems such as this, and the results of my research were quite troublesome. At this stage I am very skeptical of CCS and so-called “clean coal” as a viable solution. In addition, it appears that investment in alternative energy has fallen dramatically in the last year (72% drop in wind investment in the first 3 quarters of last year) due largely to anticipated expirations of subsidies. In the end I concluded that natural gas appeared to be a reasonable and financially competitive bridge fuel, in spite of the fact that it still produces significant amounts of CO2 (about 40% as much as coal).

Economics are a tough hurdle to clear, especially in times of recession. Given the current political environment, that is especially true. I am not very optimistic at this time that we will see any significant contribution carbon reducing carbon from the US in the next several years due to economic and political drivers.

I would welcome any comments, regardless of how critical they might be.

I encourage you read the whole paper, it is concise and well written.  I have posted the paper online here.

Here is the concluding section to the paper:

Carbon capture and storage is the only currently known solution for burning fossil fuels without adding significantly to greenhouse gases. In America, given the challenges facing nuclear and renewables plus the lack of suitable hydro-electric sites, the continued development of CCS will be essential to achieve long-term goals for CO2 reduction. But given the lead times for CCS development, natural gas could well offer the only practical bridge to that future. It is not a perfect solution, but can we afford to let the perfect be the assassin of the good?

To summarize:

• In the US, additions of wind and solar power are likely to decline significantly without the renewal of subsidies and tax credits, and that decline appears to have already begun.

• Renewal of current subsidies and tax credits appears to be unlikely in the current political environment.

• The significant expansion of US nuclear power in America will be difficult to achieve.

• US electricity markets are increasingly price-sensitive, in part due to the recession and in part due to shifting politi­cal winds.

• Electricity generation is responsible for 40% of America’s total CO2. Coal produces 45% of US electricity but 80% of electricity-related CO2

• Opportunities for retrofitting existing US coal-fired plants to CCS are more limited in the US due to the low efficiencies of the installed base.

• Modern natural gas-combined cycle (NGCC) plants can provide electricity at a significantly lower cost than can new conventional coal-fired plants.

• NGCC plants produce 60% less CO2 per MW-hour than conventional coal-fired plants.

• America has a 100-year domestic supply of natural gas at current consumption levels and rapidly growing unconven­tional gas resources.

• Though such a change is unlikely, replacing all coal-fired electricity with NGCC plants would cut total US CO2 emis­sions by 20%.

• The low cost of electricity from existing coal plants will be a barrier to the greater use of natural gas, unless the external costs of greenhouse gasses and noxious pollutants are taken into account.

• Uncertainties regarding the stability of the price of natural gas are a deterrent to its expanded use, though long-term contracts, price hedging, and potentially utility-gas producer partnerships can mitigate this issue.

• Pollution control could offer a significant and immediate advantage for natural gas over coal in some markets.

• In spite of the challenges, ultimately a transition to renew­able energy, nuclear, and/or CCS-assisted natural gas or coal will be necessary to meet long-term CO2 reduction goals.

Is the cure worse than the disease?

There is significant concern about possible adverse effects from natural gas fracking to obtain shale gas, see the Wikipedia for a summary:

As noted above, the Obama administration has sometimes promoted shale gas, in part because of their belief that it releases fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than other fossil fuels. However, there is growing evidence that shale gas emits more greenhouse gases than does conventional natural gas, and may emit as much or more than oil or coal. In a May 2010 letter to President Obama, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents [7] urged great caution against a national policy of developing shale gas without a better scientific basis for the policy. In late 2010, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency [8] issued a new report, the first update on emission factors for greenhouse gas emissions by the oil and gas industry by the EPA since 1996. In this new report, EPA concluded that shale gas emits much larger amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than does conventional gas. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, although it stays in the atmosphere for only one tenth as long a period as carbon dioxide. Recent evidence indicates that methane has a global warming potential that is 105-fold greater than carbon dioxide when viewed over a 20-year period and 33-fold greater when viewed over a 100-year period, compared mass-to-mass.[9] A recent study by Cornell University environmental professor Robert W. Howarth [10] and colleagues finds that once methane leak impacts are included, the life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas is far worse than those of coal and fuel oil when viewed for the 20-year period after emission. On the 100-year time frame, this analysis finds shale gas comparable to coal and worse than fuel oil.

Chemicals are added to the water to facilitate the underground fracturing process that releases natural gas. The resulting volume of contaminated water is generally kept in above-ground ponds to await removal by tanker or injected back into the earth.

There is a good article on this subject at the americanprogress web site entitled “Drilling Down on Fracking Concerns: The Potential and Peril of Hydraulic Fracturing to Drill for Natural Gas

But previous assumptions that gas yields half or less carbon pollution than coal are coming under new scrutiny. What is needed is a definitive new EPA study of the so-called lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions—from extraction to distribution, to use to release into the atmosphere—from natural gas, one that takes into account changing industry practices as shale gas becomes more important and better estimates of fugitive methane emissions from sources such as leaky pipes and valves.

The potential threat of natural gas fracking to water supplies is discussed in this article.

My main issue with CCS is that I do not view it as a robust policy option.  If greenhouse warming is less of an issue than currently envisioned, the expenses of implementing CCS will be sunk, with little or no benefit.

Moderation note: this is a technical thread, comments will be moderated for relevance.  Rutt Bridges will be reading the comments, and you may also email him with comments at the email address on the article.

407 responses to “Inconvenient truths about energy policy

  1. David Bailey

    I have never believed that carbon capture made any sense at all – it seems as though someone thought of the idea as an analogy to the storage of spent nuclear fuel. Even this is highly problematical, but the volume of spent nuclear fuel is, of course, vastly smaller than the corresponding amount of CO2.

    As far as I can see, CO2 would have to be stored as a compressed gas, or compressed in aqueous solution. There is no obvious solution, such as combining it with calcium oxide, as the latter is made by driving CO2 off calcium carbonate!

    Because the gas is heavier than air, and so dissipates slowly, large quantities of CO2 are very dangerous, as the villagers around Lake Nyos in Cameroon discovered when this gas escaped from the lake and suffocated over 1000 people and many livestock.

    My guess is that if CC plants are ever built, the gas will end up being transported to China and quietly released!

  2. My main issue with CCS is that I do not view it as a robust policy option.

    Seems to me that the robustness of an option must be viewed as relative; by comparison, at least in some degree, to other policy options.

    Given the externalities of our dependence on foreign oil, and with your conditional of ” If greenhouse warming is less of an issue than currently envisioned,” what do you think is a robust policy option? More domestic drilling?

    • The robustness of a policy option will be affected by factors such as how easy it is to reverse, whether it carries collateral benefits and cost vs benefit. CCS would not carry additional benefits beyond the reduction of GHG emissions (not to mention costs and storage issues). To use your example of our dependence on foreign oil, an example of a more robust policy would be promoting energy efficiency – this would have the collateral benefit of reducing our dependence on foreign oil even if the GHG angle was moot.

    • We do not use oil to make electricity so foreign dependence is irrelevant to the power generation issue.

      • Fair enough – but I think that the question still stands, and other externalities could be substituted with other energy sources in place of the externalities of relying on foreign oil (pollution, environmental damage from mining, etc.).

        Given the condition of “if GHG effect is less than currently envisioned,” what is a robust policy option?

      • I guess my real question is whether the condition that Judith applies effectively alters the equation. Would the most robust policy option vary based on the degree to which CO2 emissions contribute to climate change?

      • It’ll be a determining factor in the debate over diesel from coal.

    • randomengineer

      I’ve heard enough hereabouts to know that “externalities” is generally a nonsense codephrase where the “externalities” of oil presumes a massive fraction of the DoD budget ought to be factored, as if much of the mission of the DoD is related solely to oil. And if the writer deflects and claims to not be intending the DoD all manner of imaginary hobgoblins are invoked, all of which are purported to be solely about oil and all of which are most certainly not.

      This is much like similar codephrases such as ‘deniers are funded by big oil’ which are designed solely for the ear of the listener who is already inclined to presume that corporations are bad or evil. And we all know who these listeners are.

      In truth there are no “externalities” that ought to be considered; this is intellectual masturbation at best and an outright lie otherwise.

  3. If fracking is releasing 9000 times as much methane as previously thought, then some engineers need to get on it as that’s natural gas floating off into the atmosphere and I hear people will pay good money for it.

    • I agree JCH. The natural gas coming aboard the North Rankin A ,off West Australia, when I worked there was about 70% methane. They strip out the CO2, water, & oil, then it gets compressed & sold to Japanese, Korean, & Chinese power plants. Makes big profits for Woodside, Shell, et al.

  4. We have already switched to natgas for new power supply in the USA. Peak demand grows about 20,000 MW a year and we added 200,000 MW of new capacity around 2000, almost all natgas. This is why coal has dropped from 51% to 45% of the supply. The next building boom will occur when we emerge from the recession and it will be almost all gas fired, because a growing host of new EPA non-climate regulations preclude new coal fired construction and are going to close a lot of existing plants as well. Gas will replace them.

    Gas is presently our only large scale option so there is no question it will be used. The fracking issue is only related to how much we will have to pay for our juice, not how it will be powered.

    CCS is a distant issue at best, which should not be confused with the issue of new generation today. (One of the greatest confusions in power policy discussions is the mashing together of vastly different timeframes. ) CCS is only viable if the AGW scare regains its power and momentum, which is presently unlikely. Even then we will be lucky to see demonstration CCS plants operating by 2020, so who knows what our politics and policies will be then? Widespread use cannot occur before 2035, and may never occur. The safety and cost issues are horrendous, and everything depends on the re-emergence of a climate emergency. Gas is only a “bridge” if we are going there, and there may be no there there.

  5. In spite of the challenges, ultimately a transition to renew­able energy, nuclear, and/or CCS-assisted natural gas or coal will be necessary to meet long-term CO2 reduction goals.

    Most people are surprised at the following statistics:
    19.6% of US total energy consumption comes from nuclear generators while 13.4% of world energy production is nuclear.

    US nuclear power plant performance has shown a steady improvement over the past twenty years, and the average load factor now stands at around 90%, up from 66% in 1990 and 56% in 1980. This places the USA as the performance leader with nearly half of the top 25 reactors, the 25th achieving more than 98%. The USA accounts for nearly one third of the world’s nuclear electricity.
    Wikipedia.

    http://world-nuclear.org/info/inf01.html

    Nuclear isn’t just carbon free. It safely, efficiently and reliably supplies a big chunk of US electric power. It is unreasonable and irrational to not build more nuclear generators.

    • It is unreasonable and irrational to not build more nuclear generators.

      Absolutely. In his paper Bridges explains:

      But it remains to be seen whether objective logic and government efforts to expedite the permitting process can overcome a long history of cost overruns and the popular political mistrust of nuclear energy.

      • huxley –
        Many, if not most, of the cost overruns have been due to the nuisance lawsuits brought by the environmental organizations and too often upheld by the courts. That can only be controlled by tort reform.

      • Hopefully you quantify that, maybe in a bit more detail than just a blanket assertion of “most?”

      • Jim Owen: I quite agree. See my post further down.

    • Do you envision the massive public underwriting that would be necessary to support significantly increased reliance on nuclear power? Given that the ROI is so far out from the initial investment required, that the cost of storing spent fuel is enormous, that default rates are over 50%, that investors don’t seem to find it a particularly attractive vehicle when they can get greater returns more quickly through other means, that the cost of natural gas may continue to be relatively low, that the liabilities involved are enormous, and that the general political environment is not one conducive to public underwriting on a massive scale – how to you realistically envision significantly more of our energy needs being met from nuclear reactors in any kind of reasonably short-term time frame?

      • Somehow France, Belgium, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland and Japan manage to generate 31% – 77% of their electricity from nuclear power. Although we have not built a new nuclear plant since Three Mile Island, we get 20% of our energy from nukes.

        I don’t see why we can’t do more and better with newer nuclear technology. Certainly other countries are because they don’t have as many choices as we do.

        The costs and delays you mention are largely self-imposed by excessive regulation and NIMBYism designed to stop nuclear power. It’s a matter of political will to change that.

        We will continue to need large amounts of power to run society in the future. Fossil fuels are becoming more expensive and have pollution problems and climate change problems. We need steady, massive sources of baseload power. That’s not wind or solar.

        Until better solutions are invented, I don’t see any alternatives to nuclear power to get us through the 21st century. Certainly not if one is also concerned about carbon emissions.

      • Aren’t France, Sweden, Switzerland, and Japan “socialist” countries? Isn’t South Korea a country where Chaebols have inordinate influence in economic policies? Is it because there are no enrivonmentalists there? (Not that it’s necessarily related, but Belgium is on pretty shaky legs, economically).

        Do you imagine that with Republicans ascendant, we are going to have the kind of energy policy development apparatus that they have in the countries you listed?

      • Jeffrey Davis

        “ascendant”?

        Counting your chickens before they’re hatched.

      • Yeah, well, I’m a born pessimist.

      • “Do you imagine that with Republicans ascendant, we are going to have the kind of energy policy development apparatus that they have in the countries you listed?’

        Nothing the Republicans could do would be worse than the no drilling permits; no new exploration grants; no new leases; no new refineries; drilling moratorium; no new nuclear plants; let’s bankrupt coal companies and coal fired power plants while we dump billions down the wind, solar and ethanol toilets; intentionally inflate electricity costs; and raise massive taxes on fossil fuels through the EPA, that make up the energy policies of the current administration.

        The only energy sources CAGWers want to develop are the ones that aren’t feasible.

      • correction, are the ones that do not produce CHEAP energy, i.e. economically feasible AT THE MOMENT. If you include the cost of the externalities of “economic” energy sources, then renewables becomes more competitive.
        Even the Chinese government, not known for its opposition to fossil fuels, seem to think renewables have a big future.

        http://mitigatingapathy.blogspot.com/

      • “economically feasible AT THE MOMENT?” Wind and solar are going to be feasible in a moment? You should go invest all your money in those industries now then.

        As far as “externalities” (I love when progressives try to morph their ideological arguments into economic ones), how about those of renewables? Ethanol drives up the cost of feed stock around the globe while; wind and solar suck tax dollars out of struggling economies to subsidize failing industries; and those taxes hit the lowest income earners hardest by lowering employment.

        And I wish all the Sinophiles would go live there for a while, in the hinterlands, among the billion or so living on $4,500 per year.

      • Switzerland is not a “socialist” country at all.

        The socialist party is a minority party (currently number 2 of the 4 main parties). The country generally votes more to the right than to the left, with the French speaking part a bit more inclined to the left that the larger German-speaking part.

        All-in-all, I’d say that Switzerland is generally “right of center”, probably a bit more so than the USA today.

        Max

      • The costs and delays you mention are largely self-imposed by excessive regulation and NIMBYism designed to stop nuclear power.

        Since you seem to think that it is regulation and NIMBYism that stopped nuclear power in the U.S., do you have evidence of less regulation or NIMBYIsm in Belgium, France, Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, and Sweden?

        How about just one of those countries if not all of them?

      • You can do your own research. I claimed that those countries manage to build nukes and generate a third or more of their electricity with nuclear power. If they can do it, so can we. If not, the onus is on you to demonstrate otherwise.

        I also said that the US used to produce nuclear power plants and we still get 20% of our power thereby. We haven’t been able to do so since TMI and that’s because of regulation and NIMBYism. That’s not mysterious either. Here for instance is Bridges on the long time frame for a plant that you complained about:

        Regulatory changes following the Three Mile Island disaster added years of construction delays…

      • Firstly, I’m a strong nuclear power supporter and enjoy blaming all the ills of the world on people of a different political persuasion as much as the next guy:)

        The Europeans or Asians don’t have cheap coal, we do(relatively).
        The French were complaining about the shipping costs of American coal which they were importing to run their coal fired plants in the 50’s.

        The going rate for steam coal in Rotterdam this week was $6/Mbtu. The going rate in Gillette, Wyoming was 82 cents.

      • Joshua: If you want to argue that nuclear power is the wrong energy path to take, fine.

        But if you want to argue that nuclear power is economically unfeasible in spite of the obvious fact that different countries all around the world have been building plants and using the substantial amounts of power generated since the fifties, that’s silly.

        The laws of physics have not changed, the alternatives to nuclear power have grown more expensive, and the technology has improved. If the US could build nuclear plants fifty years ago productively, we can do so now, if we want to.

      • huxley,

        I neither said that nuclear power is wrong, nor that it is economically unfeasible.

        I’m saying that the only way that significant nuclear development will take place in the U.S. is with significant underwriting, and that from what I can tell, blaming environmental regulations for the lack of development of nuclear power in the U.S. is a red herring.

        What I find curious is that many of those in the climate debate who support nuclear energy as an option also seem to align politically with those who strongly oppose governmental influence in the economy. Countries where nuclear power has been developed, it happened with massive government involvement, and it happened in countries with at least as stringent environmental regulations as we have here in the U.S.

        I’m pretty agnostic about nuclear power – except for the unsolved problem with spend fuel; even if there were sufficient public will to build the massively expensive storage facilities, problems with storing nuclear waste will remain.

      • I should say that most of the countries with significant nuclear power have stringent environmental policies. I imagine that South Korea would be an exception. However, it is not an exception with respect to governmental involvement in the economy.

      • Joshua –
        My wife worked for a lawyer who handled lots and lots of lawsuits brought by environmental organizations against various projects – including nuclear permits. We’re not just talking about “environmental regulations” here – just about “nuisance lawsuits” that hold up the permitting process – and then the construction phase – ALL of it causing construction delays – and therefore exorbitant costs. How much does a construction delay cost? Per day/week/month? How long does it take to resolve a lawsuit – even a frivolous one?

        I also had a in-law who was an environmental lawyer for the power companies. He was also a friend and a good drinking buddy – I miss him, but I haven’t forgotten the information he passed along.

        And then – I still know a few people who are in the nuclear industry.

        As for nuclear waste – there are solutions – other than the obvious. But, as you say, it takes political will. And that won’t come easily – or cheaply.

      • Joshua: I said “regulation” not “environmental regulation.”
        Here’s another cite explaining why US nukes are more expensive and take longer to build than elsewhere:

        In Japan and France, construction costs and delays are significantly diminished because of streamlined government licensing and certification procedures.

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

      • Huxley – given that it comes from the link you provided, I assume you also read the following?:

        One of the big problems with nuclear power is the enormous upfront cost. These reactors are extremely expensive to build. While the returns may be very great, they’re also very slow. It can sometimes take decades to recoup initial costs. Since many investors have a short attention span, they don’t like to wait that long for their investment to pay off.

        Because of the large capital costs for nuclear power, and the relatively long construction period before revenue is returned, servicing the capital costs of a nuclear power plant is the most important factor determining the economic competitiveness of nuclear energy

        Or this:?

        Analysis of the economics of nuclear power must take into account who bears the risks of future uncertainties. To date all operating nuclear power plants were developed by state-owned or regulated utility monopolies where many of the risks associated with construction costs, operating performance, fuel price, and other factors were borne by consumers rather than supplier

        Blaming “excessive regulation and NIMBYism” sound good, and it is useful if the intent is to blame libz and/or environmentalists – but it isn’t sufficient for explaining the reality of why we have less nuclear power than other countries. If people want more nuclear power, they’re going to have to demonstrate to their politicians that they want massive public underwriting and government involvement in the energy industry.

      • Let’s review.

        In the last 1980’s our existing nuclear power plants were running at 60% capacity. Since the cost of a nuclear power plant is fixed not being able to sell 40% of your capacity makes it Expensive.

        We stopped building them because we didn’t need big baseload. We needed peak load.

        Between 1990 and 2009 20GW of coal was built, mostly in 100MW and 200MW plants for small towns in the midwest.

        We built 200GW of natural gas ‘peakers’.

        That’s just the way the US Energy business goes. We spend 20 years building baseload, then we spend 20 years building peakers, then back to baseload.

      • As I noted above, US nuclear power plants are currently averaging a 90% load factor. Some as high as 98%.

      • Agreed.

        It took 20 years for baseload demand to catch up with supply.

      • I don’t think Three Mile Island had much to do with it.

        When Comanche Peak first came on line I lived in Dallas. We got two electric bills. One was covered with coal dust. It was very very cheap. One glowed in the dark. It was very very expensive. Texans nearly rioted. The legislature had to meet and change the way the billing was done. Nuke power was obviously significantly more expensive than coal power.

        Bottom line, in the 1990s it became apparent that nukes could not compete financially with fossil fuels for electric power generation, and in the US the cheaper price usually wins. Texans would have built nukes like crazy if nukes had been competitive. Texans are generally driven by pocket-book issues, and seldom by environmental issues. Cheap nukes would have been two-stepped through the legislature with ease. Only problem, they weren’t cheap and could not compete.

      • According to the IAEA, the Three Mile Island accident was a significant turning point in the global development of nuclear power.[57] From 1963–1979, the number of reactors under construction globally increased every year except 1971 and 1978. However, following the event, the number of reactors under construction in the U.S. declined every year from 1980 to 1998.[citation needed] Many similar Babcock and Wilcox reactors on order were canceled — in total, 51 American nuclear reactors were canceled from 1980–1984.[58]

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

        TMI was a turning point in which the majority of Americans turned against nuclear energy.

        A Los Angeles Times question in December 1978 began this way: “Some people say that the nation needs to develop new power sources from nuclear energy in order to meet our needs for the future. Other people say that the danger to the environment and the possibility of accidents are too great.” The results of this query were that 52 percent favored building more plants, and 36 percent were against this solution.

        However, a September 1978 NBC News-Associates Press question that emphasized safety produced a different result. Fifty-seven percent agreed that “No more nuclear power plants should be built in this country until questions about safety are resolved, even though this will mean energy shortages within 10 years.” Forty-three percent disagreed.

      • I’d take this source with a grain of salt, but it is true that there were a variety of factors related to energy pricing that made nuclear energy less attractive. It wasn’t all because of TMI:

        Suddenly, after the oil shock, with demand falling, the nuclear plants that were in the pipeline were seen as “over capacity,” an unnecessary “surplus” of power that no one should have to pay for. It was not the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 that started the rush to cancel nuclear plants. Between 1973 and 1979, more than 40 had already been cancelled. And by 1979, the projections for nuclear power by the Department of Energy were slashed to 150 GW by the year 2000. Orders for new nuclear plants disappeared.

        http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/spring01/nuclear_power.html

      • 3-M Island raised the bar for safety.

        People in Texas were more than willing to build nukes that were safe. They just weren’t willing to pay multiple times as much for the electricity, and that ended it. Nuclear power could not compete with coal. If it had been otherwise, they would have kept building nuclear plants.

      • There are three risks in nuclear power

        1) Regulatory risk.
        2) Construction Cost risk
        3) Demand Risk

        As industry’s mature the regulatory risk declines simply because the ‘rules of the game’ become more refined. The Hydro-frakkers are in for some regulatory headaches in the next few years as unanticipated impacts show up.

        Construction costs risks are a function of how many of these have been built? The local finance manager might be encouraged that 4 of these plants have been built in China for X amount, but he’s not really going to be happy until you can show him what it actually costs to build a pair in the US.

        Demand risk can be addressed in a number of ways. The most common method in the utility industry is to sell a portion of your generating capacity to your competitors and neighbors on a fixed contract. Obama’s ‘clean energy standard’ is another way to address demand risk.
        Timing new generating capacity with retirements is also a way to address demand risk.

        At this moment in time, no one could get a financing in the US without loan guarantees.

        Plant Vogtle Unit #3 and Unit #4 will define construction and regulatory risk, as far as I can see the investors are risking $6 billion on Vogtle #3 and #4 and the Federal Government is risking $8 billion.

        The initial intent of the loan guarantee program was to get a pair of nuclear plants a small number of designs built. Which would substantial reduce the regulatory risk and construction cost over risk for subsequent builds.

        Loan guarantees can’t address demand risk. 30% of coal fired plants are already 40 years old and another 100+GW worth will turn 40 by 2020.

        A number of utilities are applying for site permits which are ‘relatively’ inexpensive. Having a site permit in hand basically cuts 3 years off the time between ‘decision point’ and ‘shovel in ground’.

        The first Westinghouse AP1000 is expected to be turned on in China in 2013. Plant Voglte Unit #3 isn’t expect to be completed prior to 2015 or 2016.

        All the ‘chatter’ about getting financing for subsequent AP1000 construction at this point is simply chatter.
        The answer to 2 of the 3 risk questions can’t be known for a couple of more year at the minimum. Nobody has any idea where natural gas prices will be in 2 or 3 years time.

    • To all those discussing the practical aspects of building nuclear power plants in the US, which come down mainly to money (procedural, legal and PR delays cost money as does rebuilding the knowledge needed to permit, design and build) I suggest reading the Wikipedia article titled, “Economics of new nuclear power plants.”

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

  6. “The low cost of electricity from existing coal plants will be a barrier to the greater use of natural gas, unless the external costs of greenhouse gasses and noxious pollutants are taken into account.”

    But how are we supposed to “account” for the external costs of GHGs when we have no way to quantify them–there’s not even a way anywhere on the horizon.

    Which, of course, points up a more fundamental problem. Because we can’t even pretend to quantify the costs (or benefits) of GHGs the entire project of an economic analysis of CO2 reduction a fool’s errand.

  7. “If greenhouse warming is less of an issue than currently envisioned, ”

    The fact that such a comment is made relative to a discussion on energy policy only goes to show that we have the cart far ahead of the the horse.

    Global energy policy has been driven by the “belief” that greenhouse warming is not only an irrefutable fact but a danger to mankind and the planet. Policy decisions which in retrospect will most likely be seen as counterproductive if not outright destructive have been instituted. Billions of dollars in global wealth have been squandered, resources have been misappropriated and wasted based upon the “dangerous” global warming.

    Countless millions of people have been deprived of resources which could have at least mitigated their intense poverty due to the climate science communities obsession with an unproven theory which has been hyped beyond all reason driving policy makers into decisions which more often than not will have the affect of driving civilization backwards rather than progressing. and you have the gall to say

    “If greenhouse warming is less of an issue than currently envisioned, ”

    Ethanol and the resulting starvation is the responsibility of the climate science community,

    The increased destruction of the world’s rain forests in order to plant bio-fuel crops is the responsibility of the climate science community.

    Mercury laced light bulbs and the coming environmental catastrophe is the responsibility of the climate science community.

    The future lack of trust in the scientific community by a deceived generation of children is the responsibility of the climate science community.

    The growing disdain for science as an institution is the responsibility of the climate science community.

    I could go on but I assume you get the point, nothing in my many years of life has so disheartened and shaken my faith in man as that which has been perpetrated on mankind by the climate science community. I am neither a reactionary fool or alone in my views, I am only a very concerned grandparent who has watched over these past couple of decades as a group of self serving ideologues have somehow set mankind back a hundred years while deluding themselves into believing that they are a force for good in the world.

    Publish if you will but for the sake of future generations, take it to heart.

    • Ethanol and the resulting starvation is the responsibility of the climate science community,

      Given that you are suggesting that policy options can only be properly evaluated if all relevant variable are quantified, and given that ethanol production was growing very rapidly prior to widespread concern about climate change, and given that ethanol production does not effectively reduce GHG emissions, can you quantify a tad more precisely whether there might be any contributing factors other than the “climate science community” the starvation resulting from ethanol?

      • Perhaps he should have said the climate science community while wearing their general environmentalist hats. Same folks for the most part. Many of the same arguments were heard at the time.

      • Can you provide some quantification of the different influences on the increase in ethanol usage? Was it 99.99% from the “climate science community while wearing their general environmentalist hats?” I realize that anyone who was concerned about the pollutants in gas that were replaced by ethanol can legitimately be tarred as “enviro-nazis” with the same brush as the “climate science community” (after all, their all just a bunch of limp-wristed libz anyway), but I’m sure that you have data that show that lobbyists and politicians from corn-growing regions were less than .01% responsible?

      • …given that ethanol production does not effectively reduce GHG emissions

        Joshua: Actually ethanol does net to reduced GHG if compared to burning the equivalent amount of gas or oil.

      • Even when produced from corn? My understanding is that the answer to that is very controversial.

      • Craig Loehle

        Ethanol in gas was first pushed by EPA for air pollution reasons–though it is dubious what benefit it has even here. The huge ramp up in ethanol mandates (yes it is an EPA mandate) over the past 5 years is due to the climate change issue. It has caused a big food shortage. The USA used to have huge corn surpluses, which we exported. Now we have none. Europe also has biofuel ethanol usage.

      • The huge ramp up in ethanol mandates (yes it is an EPA mandate) over the past 5 years is due to the climate change issue.

        So you have some way of isolating the influences of lobbyists and politicians from corn-growing regions? Could you share your analysis? Remember Bush’s “addicted to oil” speech where he encouraged the use of ethanol? Was that because he was a secret “warmist?”

      • 10% is well beyond what’s needed to get the benefits to combustion of oxygenated fuel. That 10% number was driven by things other than MTBE replacement.

      • <iGiven that you are suggesting that policy options can only be properly evaluated if all relevant variable are quantified

        Jerry said no such thing – you’re playing dumbass games – again.

        given that ethanol production was growing very rapidly prior to widespread concern about climate change

        Nope – the rapid growth in ethanol production started about 2005 – long after the widespread concern about climate change.

        http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2011/02/us-ethanol-production.html

        http://www2.econ.iastate.edu/classes/econ642/Babcock/Gardner_Ethanol.pdf

        can you quantify a tad more precisely whether there might be any contributing factors other than the “climate science community” the starvation resulting from ethanol?

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/nov/06/comment.biofuels

        http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3500954.ece

        http://www.forbes.com/2010/12/08/ethanol-subsidies-energy-opinions-contributors-matt-kibbe.html

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/23/AR2010072304345.html

      • Nope – the rapid growth in ethanol production started about 2005 – long after the widespread concern about climate change.

        OK, my bad. Growth from @ 5,000 barrels to 100,000 barrels from 1980-1995 (thanks for the chart) isn’t rapid growth. Hilarious.

        And as for your other links, I only looked at the first two but apparently you’re confused. I wasn’t asking for evidence that the ethanol production has increased rapidly (which is obvious) – I was asking for quantification for how much of it is attributable to the “climate science community,” given that it doesn’t reduce GHG, as opposed to the “profit community,” given that the production (in the U.S.) was subsidized by politicians from corn growing regions – many of which were AGW “skeptics/denialists.”

      • Oh, I just found this. I guess you were right afterall. You know, George Bush is famous for his being an “alarmist,” and “environmentalist,” and member of the “climate science community.”

        Bush: Use ethanol to get off oil
        Bush calls for energy independence, stands by ethanol although environmental benefits of the corn-based fuel are questioned while it is blamed for surging food prices.

        President Bush renews his call for ethanol as a means of attaining energy independence at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference.

        WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) — President Bush said the United States should “get off oil” Wednesday as crude prices hit record highs and renewed his support for ethanol use despite concerns the corn-based fuel is driving up food prices and isn’t more environmentally friendly than gasoline.

        “We gotta get off oil, American has got to change its habits,” Bush told a crowd at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, a meeting of global energy officials and an adjoining trade show that’s the largest all-renewables show ever held in the United States. “It should be obvious to all, demand has outstripped supply, which makes prices go up.”

        As the conference got into its second day, crude oil on the New York mercantile exchange jumped nearly $4 on falling oil inventories, trading over $104 a barrel and setting a new all-time record.

        Part of Bush’s plan to wean the country off oil includes big investments in ethanol.

        The energy bill passed by Congress and signed by Bush in December calls for refiners to replace 36 billion gallons of gasoline with ethanol by 2020, up from about 7 billion gallons today. About half of that will come from ethanol made with corn.

        “That’s good if you’re a corn farmer, and it’s good if you’re concerned with national security,” Bush said.

        Funny, though, how Bush mentioned “national security” but neglected to mention his real concern: anthropogenic climate change.

        I guess it just slipped his mind.

      • “Nope – the rapid growth in ethanol production started about 2005 – long after the widespread concern about climate change.”

        OK, so I followed the link you provided. The plot shown there seems to indicate the departure from the roughly linear trend since 1980 begins in 2003, but let’s not quibble about a couple of years.

        The same blog you referenced says about it, “You can see the steady rise through the eighties and nineties, then the big take off as oil prices shot up in the 2000s and both policy and commercial advantage dictated converting more of the corn crop to ethanol.” I suppose one can hide AGW-alarmism under the rubric of ‘policy’ but it sounds more like pure economic driving forces to me.

        Post hoc ergo propter hoc?

      • What both of you apparently missed is that I didn’t draw any conclusions. Only you did that – and not well.

        What I gave you was links to both sides of the political spectrum re: starvation.

        For Joshua –
        5,000 to 100,000 bbl in 15 years isn’t even a minor pimple on the backside of progress. Evidently you know nothing of industrial processes either.

      • Jim, it qualifies as rapid growth, and it predated widespread concerns about climate change. There were at that time, and continued to be afterwards, significant drivers in addition to concerns about CO2 emissions. Look at the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007. Look at Bush’s policy statements of 2008. Concerns about CO2 emissions were not the primary drivers for those policy initiatives for increased use of alternative fuels such as corn-based ethanol. Trying to lay all increased ethanol production at the feet of the “climate change community” is either uninformed or disingenuous. Level-headed discussion of just how much responsibility should be attributed to that community are worthwhile – which is why I’ve been asking for data that can explain attribution.

      • “Rapid growth” – over 15 years? Horse puckey.

        Assuming a linear growth curve the average yearly growth was less than 6.7k bbl/yr. Rapid growth would have been more than an order of magnitude greater – more like the right side of this curve which eyeballs at over 200,000 bbl/yr increase.

        As for climate change (actually Global Warming at the time) very few people actually heard much about it until the early to mid 90’s. In spite of Gore and Hansen. It didn’t take off with the public – or with many scientists – until the IPCC published Mann’s hockey stick.

      • You would think a CAGW fanatic would know a hockey stick when he sees one.

      • It is really quite simple, 25% of US corn crops, it may be higher now, is used for ethanol. There are starving people in the world who could use that corn for food. If the policy of the United States was to feed starving people rather than burn it in our gas tanks, there would be less starvation. I know the people that frequent this site like to have all sorts of ” intelligent” discussion and debate, but sometimes, usually, life has little to due with academic debate, it has to do with simple survival.

        However if you want some proof that the climate science community is the primary driver of this aspect of global starvation, I will give you this.

        Recently the EPA allowed mandates for Ethanol to be increased from 10% to 15 %, regardless of the lobbying or the politics involved, the justification for allowing more corn to be burned than eaten was expressed by the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

        “We have followed the science,” she told reporters on a conference call. “Our models have become more sophisticated. We have accrued better data.”

        The reason she had to “follow the science” was that it was a new rule passed by congress that any biofuel must emit at least 20 percent less in “lifecycle” greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Had the EPA not ruled that it did, ethanol as a additive would have been done in.

        So the whole purpose of Ethanol has become a means to reduce greenhouse gas . Without the climate science community and their own famous models driving the agenda of man made global warming, market forces would have ended ethanol long ago. The fact that Ethanol does not even reduce GHG except in the EPA’s fairy tale models makes the whole scheme even more corrupt and deceptive.

        However as I said in the beginning the very idea that a civilization would burn food while people are starving in an attempt to reduce an unproven threat is beyond stupid, it is suicidal.

      • Jerry – you referred to a recent statement out of the EPA justifying a mandate for increased use of ethanol. Fair enough.

        However, you refer to a trend that predated that statement. Consider George Bush’s statements, in 2008, about the need to use more ethanol as a matter of national security. He didn’t mention GHG, and he was certainly not a proponent of AGW theories. One would think that the president of the United States making a major policy statement might be considered indication of a significant driver.

        That ethanol is, in fact, not a viable way to reduce GHG, and that environmentalists have been saying so for a long time would lend credence to the conclusion that it was, in fact, not environmental concerns that have been driving the policies that mandate increased use of ethanol.

        If you examine the history of regulation requiring the increased usage of alternative fuels, you will see that the primary driving force, up until recently, was not concerns about GHG. For example, look at the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

        The stated purpose of the act is “to move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes.”.[9] House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promoted the Act as a way of lowering energy costs to consumers.[10] The bill followed another major piece of energy legislation, the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
        The bill originally sought to cut subsidies to the petroleum industry in order to promote petroleum independence and different forms of alternative energy. These tax changes were ultimately dropped after opposition in the Senate, and the final bill focused on automobile fuel economy, development of biofuels, and energy efficiency in public buildings and lighting.

        The subsidies for ethanol are a problem – blaming them on environmentalists or the “climate change community” will not solve the problem. Look at the list of 2012 Republican presidential candidates: the only ones that have expressed disagreement with ethanol subsides are Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann. The others are hardly environmentalists or members of the “climate change community.”

      • Biofuels is a congressional mandate with gallonage requirements.

        Biofuels from cornstalks and woodchips hasn’t worked out as well as anticipated.

      • Jerry – read about the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007. Read about Bush’s statements in 2008. Concerns about CO2 emissions were not driving the legislators who passed the Act nor Bush as they advocated for and mandated increased usage of alternative fuels.

        The fact that the motivation for further increases in usage is being labeled as concerns about CO2 emissions – despite that environmentalists have been saying for a long time that ethanol usage is not viable solution to increased CO2 emissions – is indication in and of itself that it is not the environmental community that is driving the mandate and subsidies – it is the economic interests of stakeholders who hold great sway.

        Look at the Republican presidential candidates for 2012. Of the list, only Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann have voiced opposition to ethanol subsidies. None of the others have, and they are hardly environmentalists or members of the “climate change community.” Pointing the finger in the wrong direction will not help achieve the end you are seeking.

      • I’m getting snagged in the filter, so I’ll have to break this up. Sorry if it turns out to multiple post.

        Jerry – read about the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007. Read about Bush’s statements in 2008. Concerns about CO2 emissions were not driving the legislators who passed the Act nor Bush as they advocated for and mandated increased usage of alternative fuels.

      • The fact that the motivation for further increases in usage is being labeled as concerns about CO2 emissions – despite that environmentalists have been saying for a long time that ethanol usage is not viable solution to increased CO2 emissions – is indication in and of itself that it is not the environmental community that is driving the mandate and subsidies – it is the economic interests of stakeholders who hold great sway.

      • Look at the Republican presidential candidates for 2012. Of the list, only Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann have voiced opposition to ethanol subsidies. None of the others have, and they are hardly environmentalists or members of the “climate change community.” Pointing the finger in the wrong direction will not help achieve the end you are seeking.

      • Look at the Republican presidential candidates for 2012. Only two have voiced opposition to ethanol subsidies. The others are not members of the “climate change community.” Pointing the finger in the wrong direction will not help achieve the end you are seeking.

      • Joshua

        You are one of those , I see,.

        You obviously are hung up on the politics of ethanol, or rather the political parties, I couldn’t give a hoot about which President or which political party is responsible for the situation. Although I will point out that in 2007 a Democratic Congress passed the legislation.

        Regardless of what other benefits the politicians saw in the legislation, or the name of the legislation or which President signed the legislation, the fact that GHG was the primary reason for the legislation as regards to ethanol is evident by one simple fact. If the primary purpose for the ethanol subsidies and mandates was to create energy independence there would have been no provision to do away with the mandates and subsidies if ethanol did not meet the 20% reduction of GHG compared to gasoline.

        The very fact that this provision was part of the legislation only goes to show what the priority of the legislation was. If ethanol was deemed to be a national security benefit they certainly would not have put a provision in the law to do away with it if it did not meet the GHG reduction criteria. If the primary purpose was to reduce dependence on foreign oil then even a break even status on the GHG factor would have been sufficient. Instead they chose to make the GHG reduction provision the criteria by which ethanol would be judged. All the rest is just verbiage.

        There are many reasons to move away from fossil fuels over time, but that is not the agenda of people who promote global warming. The climate science community is infected with people who use global warming hysterics to achieve a political goal not toprove a scientific theory. Your arguments thus far prove it.

      • OK, Jerry – I got it now.

        And the reason that McCain flip-flopped on ethanol subsides was because in 2006 he became a “warmist,” just like the rest of that cabal that passed the legislation. The promotion of ethanol subsidies had nothing to do with stakeholders in Iowa or other corn-producing states.

        Sorry for my confusion.

      • The only problem, the corn was never used in that way. If you want farmers from the high plains to feed the starving masses, think expensive steaks.

        Field corn is used for ethanol. Before ethanol, almost all (~90%) field corn was used to feed animals being raised for human consumption.

        Corn used to produce ethanol still feeds animals raised for human consumption. The protein is still there.

        Can you show that corn production generally designated for human consumption has been reduced in any material way because of ethanol? Is sweet-corn production down? Is 10% of field-corn production no longer processed as meal, etc.?

        On merit, ethanol appears to be a good oxygenator. Beyond that purpose, it makes little sense to me.

      • This is very weird. When I was a kid we fed our cattle corn. The corn we grew never went directly to humans. It went to animal production: cattle, hogs, chickens, etc. At the time the US had around 135 million head of cattle. Now they say ~ 40% of corn production goes to ethanol, and this is causing starvation among human populations because of evil climate scientists. Odd. Today the US has around ~ 110 million cattle. Do they eat 40% less corn? No, the ethanol plants sell back the corn residue and the ranchers supplement it and feed it to their cattle. What is the net loss in nutrition for cattle due to corn ethanol?

        If you want to eat field corn, be my guest. Me, I’m going to the grocery store to buy sweet corn. I have no idea from where it comes. I grew up in corn country. Nobody I knew ever grew sweet corn for people until my dad talked his neighbors into joining him and running one row for charity fund raisers. From where does grocery-store sweet corn come? It wasn’t from us.

      • You are correct in that most of the by product of corn ethanol distillation solids are sold back to cattle feed lot operations, with about a 20% loss of nutrition from the fermentation process, that is made up by adding sorghum/milo or soybean byproducts from bio diesel production after oil removal.

        This mixture now replaces corn that would have been fed directly to the cattle, without the ethanol extracted, very little change in net reduction of corn production of food for humans really occurs. Mostly it is just preprocessed cattle feed that has to augmented by other basic animal feed stocks.

        The local production of sweet corn is usually grown on irrigated crop land that also grows corm for human consumption, made into cereal products, corn flour, corn meal, sweeteners, and other food additives.
        Most ethanol corn production is from marginal dry land farms that usually does not make it into the human food chain anyway.

        [Based on the ground experience from local grain elevator operators in Kansas]

  8. Judith,

    There is a great deal of BS on both sides as each side has their own agenda and what is lost is manipulated and slaughtered science.
    Understand the process of extraction and the process of separation of gases or liquid fuels. A great deal of water is added into the process.

    • Agreed – the level of ignorance on geology and associated engineering geology displayed in most blogs is appalling and unhappily this website is not an exception. That people are ignorant of these areas I can accept, but it is wryly amusing to observe that most people seem quite determined to exercise their inalienable right to remain ignorant

      The issue with CCS is *not* the CC (CO2 scrubbers of varying efficiencies have been around since Methuselah was born) but the S. Collection, transport and storage of the enormous volumes of CO2 generated daily in power stations across the country is an almost insoluble problem – certainly an insanely expensive one. It dismays me that people seem to lack the imagination to grasp this concept. It’s not rocket science

      The current state of play (March 2011) with operating nuclear power plants:
      Canada 18
      US 104
      Mexico 2
      Brazil 2
      Argentina 2
      UK 19
      France 58
      Spain 8
      Germany 17
      Switzerland 5
      Czech Republic 6
      Hungary 4
      Slovakia 4
      Belgium 7
      Sweden 10
      Finland 4
      Ukraine 15
      Romania 2
      Bulgaria 2
      Russia 32
      Pakistan 2
      India 20
      China mainland 4
      S Korea 21
      Japan 54
      Taiwan 6
      South Africa 2

      It is also perhaps not well known that France through its’ nuclear plant network sells power to a host of surrounding countries, including the UK. These countries purchase nuclear plant generated power without the environmental and political problems of doing this on their own soil

      Using “natgas” (ie. CH4) instead of coal has variously ascribed drops in CO2 emissions of 20-40% (some Aus politicians are claiming 50% in our current bare knuckle “debate” but these people lie to their grandmothers at Sunday lunch just for the practice). The actual drop depends on the Specific Energy (SE) of the coal used being compared with the SE of the gas being used. These SE’s depend on the purity of the coal and gas supplies (ie. mineral matter, water content etc). In MJ/kg, “natgas” SE as used ranges from 38-50, while coal SE as used ranges from 20-35. The mean drop in the real world is about 30%

      Note: as usual, I won’t respond to faux moral outrage/ trolls at this post. I thank Judith C for the link to Bridges’ paper

      • http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/co2-emission-fuels-d_1085.html

        That link has a lot of information on fuels and CO2 production. Natgas versus “coal” is close to 50% less CO2 but it depends on the coal quality like you said. Often comparisons are made with combined cycle natgas versus average coal efficiency. That’s cheating. High efficiency coal co-generation compared to combined cycle natgas is closer to 30%. Lots of variation possible with efficiencies though.

  9. It always seems that whenever a new innovation comes along, like shale gas, somebody finds a reason to disparage it. Nothing is risk free. If there is a risk of methane release into the atmosphere, then make sure there aren’t any leaks.

    • True, extracting shale gas in place has a variety of hurdles though, cost, groundwater contamination and lost product are pretty big. Mined and processed makes more sense but that has political/environmental hurdles.

  10. Craig Loehle

    Re:Wind power. There is an interesting post at WUWT about wind last week, showing large % of older wind installations to be not functional/broken. I suggest that this results from subsidies to install the structures, but no subsidies to repair them, with invalid cost models employed at installation (overly optimistic equipment life claims, as also happens with solar).

    • Having hiked through the same area last summer that WUWT highlighted (Tehachapi/Mojave) – as well as several other “windfarm areas”, I can confirm Anthony’s observations. And back them up with photos, as well.

      There were entire “older” windfarms that were totally dead. Some of those go back to the late 60’s when GE was developing them. At one point I refused to work out there and they threw me into the briar patch.

  11. The article by Rutt Bridges was both informative and to some extent discouraging, in that the near future appears likely to remain dominated by fossil fuel consumption, while the ultimate renewable energy sources of greatest capacity, such as solar, have yet to evolve into practical substitutes. Having said that, I find his suggestion that natural gas can serve as a bridge to a lower carbon future to be quite reasonable, and in fact, natural gas eventually combined with CCS may well be a direction in which to head to meet part of our energy needs while reducing CO2 emissions. No single alternative will suffice, and so endorsement of one alternative should not entail rejection of others.

    Bridges states that “the cheapest energy source is… conservation”. However, if conservation means “having less usable energy”, it has a distant cousin of equal merit that it should not be confused with – increased energy efficiency – which involves maintaining usable energy while reducing total energy expenditure. Energy efficiency entails a spectrum of options from “zero energy buildings” to proper automobile tire inflation to improvements in the structure of the electric grid to the substitution of electricity or hydrogen-based power for the internal combustion engine as technology evolves in that direction. What would be useful to see is a comparison indicating the CO2 emission reductions potentially achievable in the near and more distant future from conservation/efficiency improvements vis-a-vis the development of alternative energy sources, but again with the understanding that both will be necessary.

    Finally, conservation/efficiency options are cost-savers, while the alternatives entail short term costs for the purpose of reducing the putative future economic and human welfare costs of continued increases in CO2 – warming and its consequences as well as ocean acidification. Cost saving in the present is also a more saleable commodity than prospective future savings, particularly if the magnitude and even the existence of the latter are subject to dispute, and so the political implications of a focus on this element of CO2 curtailment shouldn’t be neglected.

    • Fred –
      Have you ever been to Washington, DC – at night?

      We have a government that goes through all kinds of legislative, regulatory and PR hoops to induce us ( the people) to conserve, to be more efficient, to cut back, to drive less, etc, etc. And then there are the environmental organizations (ALL of which have offices in DC) that want us all to revert to an 1850’s lifesyle – while, of course, ignoring the question about where we’d get the whale oil to maintain that lifestyle. :-(

      All that hot air, all that preaching – and if you walk through downtown DC, you’ll find nearly ALL of the office buildings lit like Christmas trees – ALL night long – EVERY night. The energy consumed on any given night by that practice would likely power half of America for a month. Note that the same situation applies in NYC, Chicago, LA, and every other large city – although not all of it being Federal government.

      You want to conserve – or get more efficient – let’s start with the governments – Federal, State, County, etc. Then I’ll start to worry about mine. Until then, whatever inefficiencies I perpetrate pale in comparison, whatever conservation I fail to apply is so insignificant as to be invisible.

      • Jim – Having been in DC, LA, NYC, and Chicago at night, I have to say that you are exaggerating, but even if you are half right, it reinforces the point that we can reduce CO2 emissions and save the economy money at the same time by reducing the use of energy that isn’t doing anybody any good. And that is only the conservation end of the package. The efficiency changes could magnify the effect considerably. The zero energy building concept is already a subject of interest to DOE, along with demonstration projects already built, including one in Colorado ZEB. (Government efforts are also facilitating research into substitution of electricity and/or hydrogen for gasoline and the internal combustion engine as a means of increasing energy efficiency).

        What concerns me is your statement, “Let’s start with the governments”. I have no objection to pressuring the governments to save money and reduce CO2 emissions, but I’m troubled with the notion that we should always “start” with someone else. Why not make this a societal effort through the combined effect of pressure on our elected officials plus our own efforts? It would not hurt you to check your tire pressures from time to time, and if you already do, good – recommend the same to your friends. As for fuel efficient vehicles, better home insulation (a substantial energy and cost saver), and a host of smaller items, you’re probably smart enough to have gone in those directions already, so you’ve already “started”. What isn’t a good idea is to suggest that others should go first as a justification for doing nothing. I’m not suggesting that the efforts of individuals will be anywhere near comparable to the savings achievable by government (or other large intitutions). I see it as more as a symbol of societal commitment to a goal, which is an attitude that can spread from individuals to larger groups as a salutary form of contagion.

      • Fred –
        we can reduce CO2 emissions and save the economy money at the same time by reducing the use of energy that isn’t doing anybody any good

        Yup. It would also reduce the deficit – and maybe even your tax rate. But I wouldn’t count on the tax cut. :-)

        The zero energy building concept is already a subject of interest to DOE

        ZEB is a misnomer – and an oxymoron. I lived and worked in one of those monstrosities in the early 80’s. The only thing zero energy about them is that they’re colder than a witches elbow in winter – and hot in summer. Unless you’re running mainframes and have to keep them cool. Then everyone lives in the computer room in summer and runs personal heaters in winter. Not only that but they usually turn into “sick buildings.” BTDT Fred – not impressed.

        It is also outfitted with a smart lighting system which sends employees an on screen message on their computer monitor telling them when to open their blinds.

        That line, in particular, got a horse laugh from me. BTDT in several other buildings where opening the blinds meant I wasn’t gonna be working on a computer. There’s very often a reason for those blinds.

        As for the rest – yes, I already do those things. I’m not much of a societal commitment type if you haven’t noticed. I minimize energy consumption because it suits me – not to save the world. Most of the “save the world ” types don’t seem to realize that the world doesn’t have a lot of interest in being saved. But I don’t respect those who tell me to do things for reasons they can’t support – and then fail to follow their own advice.

        And you still haven’t told me where to get whale oil :-)

      • My only comment on the ZEB principle is that you’re not qualified to judge current ZEB designs based on your 1980’s experience.

        Regarding the rest, a point I tried to make is that conservation and energy efficiency can help “save the world” if we engage in it in order to save money. It’s a “twofer”.

        The “whale oil” comment misses the point. Turning out the lights in buildings after everyone has gone home doesn’t require whale oil, nor does reducing your heating bill by improving your insulation. I am personally willing to go beyond that and turn down my thermostat in winter and turn it up in summer within reasonably comforable limit, but that’s my personal choice. However, I have no hesitation in suggesting to others unwilling to make that type of choice that they ought to save themselves some money by improving their insulation.

      • My only comment on the ZEB principle is that you’re not qualified to judge current ZEB designs based on your 1980′s experience.

        Um – You’re assuming “only” 1980’s experience. I’m a lot more “qualified” than you think. But we won’t go there. What we’ll do is wait and see how it works out for them. Likely won’t take as long as you think.

        Yup – $ is a good reason. And the world still doesn’t need saving. :-)

        But we’ll ALL need whale oil if the CAGW extremists get their way.

      • Regarding the rest, a point I tried to make is that conservation and energy efficiency can help “save the world” if we engage in it in order to save money. It’s a “twofer”.

        Fred Moolten: But “helping” to save the world with conservation and efficiency — how do the numbers stack up?

        Sure, it’s a fine thing to do and I’m all for it, but it strikes me as saving up for retirement by putting your spare change in a jar when you come home from work. It feels good and it helps, but it is not the real solution.

        By 2050 there will be about 2 1/2 billion more people. We will not cover those people by using mercury bulbs and moving thermostats up or down five degrees.

        Quite a lot of people I talk to really believe that if we would all drive Priuses and recycle our garbage etc., things will work out. No, they won’t.

      • Huxley – I don’t think is any single “real solution”, but conservation, and more importantly, increased energy efficiency can complement the development of alternative energy sources in reducing CO2 emissions below the trajectory they would otherwise follow.

        What we do as individuals could constitute only a very small fraction of the total, and therefore reflects more an awareness of a societal need to act than a substantive contribution to CO2 curtailment. However, actions taken by government or large institutions can have greater impact. Certainly, in the building sector, huge energy savings are possible through better building design. In the case of transportation, the replacement of conventional internal combustion engines with power sources utilizing electricity or possibly hydrogen could also have a major impact. In the case of electricity, the impact would be offset if most of the electricity were generated from coal. On the other hand, the benefits would be magnified if alternative energy sources were used for electricity generation, including nuclear power, natgas, wind, solar, etc.. I believe other examples are discussed in AR4 WG3.

      • Fred M: Broadly speaking, the real solution is massive new power plants. If one cares about CO2, that means nuclear. Period.

        We have been conserving and “efficiencizing” (C&E) since the seventies — much of the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested. We will continue to do so of course. Those help but they are not the solution.

        By 2050 the world population will be 35% larger. If further C&E efforts manage to save 35% more energy between now and then, that savings will be wiped out.

        Yes, of course I understand that every little bit helps, but IMO the talk about C&E is a soporific that distracts from the vital discussions needed for future energy policies. Otherwise, it’s like an unemployed person focusing on clipping coupons for the grocery store instead of looking for work.

        If your concern is reducing CO2, you and your colleagues need to understand that you are talking about a nuclear future or a peasant future.

      • The fact that we’re discussing the night lighting in DC as a way of averting AGW illustrates the foolishness of this entire exercise in central planning. I’m sorry, but I’ve walked the streets of DC at night, and I submit that the price in blood would outweigh any minimal reduction in CO2 emissions, even if we do eventually learn that CO2 causes global warming.

        If and when we have a good reason to conclude that human emissions of CO2 cause harmful global warming, an administratively simple CO2 tax on power plants would be the most efficient response. Let the market compute which uses are efficient and which are not.

        Of course, for that to work with regard to government buildings, we’ll have to impose meaningful constraints on government spending (and send the CO2 tax elsewhere), but that’s another problem entirely.

    • Energy efficiency entails a spectrum of options from “zero energy buildings” to proper automobile tire inflation to improvements in the structure of the electric grid to the substitution of electricity or hydrogen-based power for the internal combustion engine as technology evolves in that direction

      Huh? Substituting one source for another is an efficiency increase? And hydrogen is an energy source? And how, pray tell, does one make a building with a half megawatt of electronic equipment in it in Houston in July run with zero energy? Let’s not even go into the “structure of the electric grid”, and exactly what that means.

      • ChE,

        They got the first six words right then wandered into warm and fuzzy land. Still, energy infrastructure is an issue, if that was where they were going. The national grid gets most of the talk, but the natgas infrastructure is no where near what is needed if the cold snap in New Mexico this year is any indication.

      • Correct. If fact, there is no “national electric grid” in the US, and never was one. That’s a concept that’s applicable to small high-density countries like in Europe and Japan, but doesn’t fit the US any more than coast-to-coast high speed rail.

        Most people don’t realize that there are three separate AC systems in the US (not counting AK and HI) running on different clocks, and loosely connected by DC ties. there is no “national grid”, and never will be until until what time as room-temperature superconductors are invented.

        People also don’t realize that you can moves X joules of energy over a long distance for a lot less money by moving a fluid in a pipe than electrons in aluminum.

    • Roger Caiazza

      This is in response to Fred Moolten note that it would be useful to see is a comparison indicating the CO2 emission reductions potentially achievable in the near and more distant future from conservation/efficiency improvements. In their comments on the interim report (http://www.nyclimatechange.us/InterimReport.cfm) for the New York Climate Action Plan environmental organizations and many others argued against the use of coal with carbon sequestration and nuclear to meet the goal of an 80% reduction of 1990 emissions by 2050.. They referenced “Beyond Business as Usual: Investigating a Future without Coal and Nuclear Power in the United States” (http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapseReport.2010-05.CSI.Beyond-Business-as-Usual.10-002.pdf) prepared by Synapse Energy stating that it “shows that we can achieve 80% reductions by 2050 by increasing our reliance on energy efficiency and renewables, retiring all coal plants, retiring aged nuclear plants in the northeast and not building any new nuclear plants”. While I will not vouch for the numbers themselves the analysis is transparent so you can see what energy mix they thought would meet the goal.

      If you root around in that report you can eventually determine they predict a total decrease in total energy use of 7% by 2050 in the NE. While at first glance that does not seem like much keep in mind that they also projected economic growth such that in the absence of the aggressive energy conservation and efficiency policies they proposed, growth would cause generation in the Northeast to grow by 52% over the study period.

  12. May I just get on two of my hobby-horses. Corn (food) ethanol has disadvantages, but cellulose ethanol has far less effect on food supplies.

    In the end, we may learn how to recycle CO2. Genetically modified organisms that can operate in an atmosphere of just water and CO2 could, in the end, be the way to generate large quantities of storable energy. So we may need to capture CO2, not so that we can store it, but because we will be able to recylce it.

    • Craig Loehle

      Cellulosic ethanol sounds great but cellulose is hard to break down into sugars. Cows use microbes in their rumen. We can’t digest it at all. No single enzyme does the trick because cellulose is not a single compound, and the lignins and waxes that are mixed in screw up the digestion (even abiotic chemical “digestion”). There is lots of big talk about this approach, but it is so much hot air that a windmill should be put up before each press conference on it.

      • Cellulose ethanol is very close to a waste of time unless there is some major break through. Biomass and/or coal Fischer Tropsch synfuel is more promising I think. Some real use of CO2 other than boosting oil production is needed for CCS to make sense. Maybe we should call the FutureGen project a biomass experimental project. Dump 15% biomass in with the coal to make it look all warm and fuzzy :)

        http://www.greencarcongress.com/2010/12/liu-20101209.html

    • Jim Cripwell: I’ve been checking out a company called Joule Unlimited that has developed custom bacteria that turn sunlight, water, and CO2 directly into diesel fuel — thus obviating the storage problem of solar.

      They claim to be competitive at $30/barrel oil. Their setups yield 15,000 gallons/acre/year.

      Which sounds reasonable, but it would take 25,000 square miles of these bug rigs to generate fuel for America’s fleet. Still I’m sure there are some situations where they would hit just the right sweet spot.

      • John Podesta, former Clinton Chief of Staff,current CEO of the Center for American Progress sits on the board of directors of Joules Unlimited.

        The ‘sceptical’ bells go off in my head when the boss of ‘America’s Most Aggressive Climate’ blogger also has a personal financial interest in a ‘climate solutions’ company.

      • Well, I don’t believe everything I read either, but it is an elegant solution, if it works. If it doesn’t, maybe someone in biotech will eventually provide such a solution.

        Or maybe Dr. Randell Mills at BlackLight Power will save us!

  13. What would be useful to see is a comparison indicating the CO2 emission reductions potentially achievable in the near and more distant future from conservation/efficiency improvements vis-a-vis the development of alternative energy sources

    I would like to see that too.

    But given the burgeoning demand for power because of increasing population and increasing prosperity, I consider the emphasis on conservation/efficiency to be a feel-good displacement from the real challenge of providing large amounts of new power.

    Our buildings, cars, etc. have been getting steadily more efficient since the seventies oil shocks. I’m sure we can do better, but we are not going to be able to conserve and “efficiencize” our way out of this unless we are willing to drastically slash our lifestyles.

    • Roger Caiazza

      See my response to Fred Moolten above for a projection of energy efficiency and energy conservation reductions. The referenced report ( http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapseReport.2010-05.CSI.Beyond-Business-as-Usual.10-002.pdf) was used by environmentalists to claim that you don’t need coal or nuclear power to get an 80% reduction of 1990 CO2 emissions in New York by 2050 because of the effectiveness of energy efficiency and conservation. My review of that report does not indicate that it even claims an 80% reduction can be achieved because Table 9 in that report only shows a 66% reduction in CO2 between their reference case and the transition case. Moreover, my analysis using their methodology only achieves a 53% reduction in CO2. If you want to see my analysis and play with the New York numbers yourself go to the NY Climate Action Plan comments (http://www.nyclimatecomments.us/view-comments/index.cfm?) and look for my very recent submitted comment that contains a spreadsheet with the data.

      • Robert C: Thanks for your yeoman work on this paper. I looked through the graphs and read some of the Synapse paper, but didn’t check the numbers closely as you have.

        Their proposal is that we transition out of coal primarily by growing a combination of conservation, wind, solar, biomass and gas CHP. (See Graph 4). It all looks wildly optimistic to me.

        First, they don’t mention population once. According to the US census the population will grow 30% by 2050. Synapse shows a 10% reduction in total power use in that period. I guess if they hobble the economy and make it extremely expensive to drive and fly they might manage that.

        Second, they show wind (mostly) and solar contributing over 30% of the power. Given that both are variable power sources, they must be backed up by substantial baseload power supplied by the usual stalwarts — coal, gas, oil, nuclear and hydro. At 30% wind/solar it becomes flaky to do so.

        Some of my skepticism is due to reading glowing projections of wind and solar for decades now and it keeps not quite getting there — like fusion.

        My message to climate change folks is that if reducing CO2 is so all-fired important , let’s go big on nuclear — we know that it will work. When and if solar, wind and whatever are ready for prime time, we can fold them into the mix. But otherwise it looks like you are more interested in imposing your pet visions of the future on the rest of us rather than solving the climate change crisis you warn of.

    • Roger Caiazza

      PS – My analysis confirms your suspicion that “we are not going to be able to conserve and “efficiencize” our way out of this unless we are willing to drastically slash our lifestyles.”

  14. Meh. Aside from his (wrong) brush-off of nuclear, this is all rather obvious. If there’s anything that’s amenable to a “consensus”, it should be the economics of energy.

    He also portrays wind as suffering only from economic problems when in fact the problems are deeper, if the penetration is going to get into double digits. It’s a pipe dream because of its output profile, and the US government doesn’t have enough money to fix that.

  15. He didn’t bring up the “smart grid”, either, but it’s probably just as well.

  16. “In a May 2010 letter to President Obama, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents [7] urged great caution against a national policy of developing shale gas without a better scientific basis for the policy.”

    Better scientific base for a policy? Ha! Why would we need a scientific base for a policy? We seem to be doing fine with the CAGW policies without one…

  17. Craig Loehle

    For every rail car of coal arriving at the power plant, CCS says you need to store an equivalent mass of compressed CO2 somewhere (ignoring the added coal that must be burned to do the CCS). The logistics, cost and risk of pumping that much gas underground seem pretty staggering. I think it is clear that people are talking about CCS without having the foggiest idea of the magnitudes of stuff that must be moved around.

    • Craig –
      It occurs to me that Alberta tried CCS – and buried the gaseous CO2 in farmland. At least until it leaked. Not sure what happened to it after that. :-)

      • Nonsense. Injection is to 1000 feet down or so, deep in rock formations. There are pilot CCS projects all over the world and Alberta has a big one, with the CO2 coming from North Dakota. So far none has leaked.

      • Forever is a long time.

      • Maybe it has leaked and maybe it hasn’t. Surprise-surprise, competing groups of experts disagree:

        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=weyburn-carbon-storage-alleged-leak

        Leakage of CCS is a possibility, and one industry is aware of. Maybe the locations chosen are risk-free in this regard, but I’m ever-skeptical.

      • To summarize: a Saskatchewan couple had fears of leakage on their land, and hired a consulting firm who found evidence to support their fears. A large number of other experts have criticized this evidence. Monitoring equipment at CCS projects so far has nor raised leakage as a concern.
        Where I stand on this echoes many of the concerns over CCS here – the scale of this “solution” and its cost is staggering. Just because there’s not much in the way of credible evidence of leakage doesn’t mean this isn’t a possibility (forever is a long time). Earthquakes are also a risk (or so I’ve been told by someone working on the technology).
        CCS may have some limited applications, but as a green light to “clean coal” I consider it a dangerous approach.

      • David –
        The headline was several months ago. I don’t claim either personal knowledge of it or truth for it – just a headline and a short article in a local media source that claimed leakage.

      • Rutt Bridges

        In fact, leakage of CO2 that is stored in underground geologic traps is a serious concern, and the subject of considerable research. The standards need to be very high to be successful. Quote from the article, “Leakage of just 0.5% per year would result in a loss of 64% of CO2 to the atmosphere over 200 years.” Simple math.
        The most attractive structures are those that have managed to trap oil (and gas) for millions of years. In some cases the CO2 may serve the double purpose of assisting secondary recovery efforts. But leakage is clearly a legitimate concern for CO2 sequestration, and one that needs to be carefully mitigated if this technology is ever to reach truly commercial use. Due mostly to economic issues related to the cost and energy burden of the CO2 capture process, there is a long way to go.

      • Rutt

        Please see Craig Loehle’s post above at 5:56pm and mine at 6:23 pm

        The CC part of CCS is do-able, even at a cost to energy efficiency. The transport and storage costs (the S part) are insanely high, since as you have correctly noted, geologically suitable storage sites are very limited

        I really don’t understand why this is not understood

      • John Carpenter

        I’m glad to see no one talking about putting CO2 at the bottom of the ocean.

      • Richard Hill

        Norwegians are injecting CO2 into the bottom of the North Sea. Have been doing it for years.

    • Actually, a lot more. Coal is roughly C1H1. CO2 is 44/12 of C. You end up with about 4 lb of CO2 for every lb of coal.

      • The US coal burn is one billion tons per year so this is a staggering amount of CO2 to capture, transport and bury. The scale is unbelievable.

      • It is my understanding that the Chinese coal burn is now over 3 billion tpy. It was one billion in 2000 and 2 billion in 2005.

      • Yes, and about 800 million tons is for cement production.

      • And there’s something like a 30% energy penalty just to run the capture/compression/liquefaction equipment. IOW, however many kWH you get out of a ton of coal now will require a ton plus another 600 lb or whatever the number it is.

      • Yeah! CO2 scrubbing makes much more sense, but is a major pain in the butt. Algae scrubbing has promise but is expensive. Salt water/limestone is interesting. Still, creative co-generation is more realistic in the near term. Now if some bright ChE figures out how to use a bunch of very cheap of co2 for something interesting?

      • Last I checked there was about 3 GW of coal fired power plant West of the Rockies all nearing end of life.
        Most of the coal fired plants in the country are a very long way from saltwater.

      • The East coast has a fair number coal plants by salt water for barge delivery of coal. Not enough to make a huge dent, but it may be of some use. Higher efficiency with syn-fuel production makes more sense, but it has its draw backs. Without FutureGen we may never know what it can do.

      • Some outfit in Israel is working on a concept along those lines, where a pond is effectively a solar collector, and the CO2 from the combustion plant is used to grow algae in what amounts to seltzer water, the concept being that the algae will grow very quickly in that medium, is harvested, dried, and burned, and the loop is closed.

        With the discovery of all of that gas of the coast of Israel, this concept is probably economically doomed.

      • There are many complicating factors in making estimates (coal type,plant type and age etc) but I believe your number is a bit high. A good summary can be found in an on line publication “Power Generation from Coal” from the International Energy Agency (IEA //www. iea.org)
        For hard or black coal the world average is given as 1.1kgCO2/kWh with 0.48kg coal/Kwh or 2.3kg CO2/kg coal. Current best technologies improve the power station efficiencies to 0.74 kgCO2/kWh with 0.32kg coal/Kwh (again 2.3kg CO2/kg coal).

    • Dr Loehle,

      Making any significant dent in CO2 emissions with CCS is a huge undertaking. Either I am overly naive or have more optimism in the creativity of chemical engineers to find uses for huge amounts of virtually free CO2 than most.

      In this blog post, http://ourhydrogeneconomy.blogspot.com/2011/03/our-hydrogen-economy-and-synfuels.html I mention one of the rarely discussed options for captured carbon. Oil prices and availability of hydrocarbon feed stocks make a big impact on the viability of course. Carbon efficiency, or “recycling” is interesting, at least to me.

      • As a ChE, I have to point out a rude fact of life: you can’t make anything out of the CO2 without getting the O2 off of it first. That means putting the energy back that you got by burning it in the first place.

        TANSSAAFL.

      • I agree and it is not rude. The link I gave is for improving the efficiency of syn-fuel manufacture. Other than limited success with algae scrubbing, there is not much you can do with CO2 other than let nature take over. Adding hydrogen to the syn-fuel process just increases useful hydrocarbon production while reducing the amount of CO2 that has to be sequestered or emitted. No magic involved.

  18. The first rule in evaluating US Energy Options as related to electricity generation are that all economics is local.

    Natural Gas City Gate(delivered to the gates of the city) and Coal delivered prices are all over the lot. For natural gas the variance is between $4 and $9/MBtu and for coal the variance is between $1 and $4/Mbtu.

    Only a financially challenged person would build a new coal fired plant along the Eastern Seaboard of the US. US mine productivity east of the Mississippi has been falling for at least 10 years,from 4+ tons/man hour to less then 3 tons per man hour and shows no signs of ever recovering.

    The cost of shipping coal from Wyoming to the US Eastern Seaboard is prohibitive.

    West of the Rockies prevailing winds means a buildup of any emissions (smog) between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, hence various health concerns make building a new coal fired facility impossible. Less then 1% of US coal consumption occurs west of the Rockies and that will almost certainly reach 0% in the next 15 years as the last coal fired plants reach retirement.

    40% of US Generating Capacity is already natural gas compared to 30% for coal. The problem is the regional distribution.

    Roughly 30% of US coal fired capacity is already more then 40 years old. 90% will be older then 40 years old by 2030. They will have to be replaced with ‘something’.

    Wyoming is the coal capital of the world, coal is basically free in Wyoming. If CCS were proven to be a viable technology they would implement CCS in Wyoming if forced to do so. The further one gets from Wyoming the less economically attractive coal becomes and the less viable CCS becomes.

    The economic and political viability of various energy options has to be taken on a state by state basis. There is no national ‘right answer’.

    • Oh, Harry. That’s so 20th century. Didn’t you know the smart grid was going to be national?

      /sarc

      • International. The offshore contribution will be a variant of Stuxnet.

      • International! That includes the Keys right? So big electric will be able to turn my toaster off? Next thing you know they will kill my TV when I turn to that controversial fair and imbalanced news channel, Comedy Central. That’ll solve the problem.

    • Roger Caiazza

      A minor quibble – if you build a new coal plant anywhere in the country where you can get two railroads to compete the price of deliverd PRB coal to the east is not cost prohibitive. If you don’t do that all bets are off. This is based on the fact that some coal plants in New York State burn PRB coal.

      That brings up one unintended consequence of banning coal. A large number of railroads went bankrupt when the anthracite heating market ended and I would bet that if coal is banned for electricity generation you would see the same thing happen.

  19. Don’t count on shale gas as a large potential source. The fracking process is not only chemicaly distructive to the ground water, but the entire process has not even been shown to have a significant positive ERoEI. Shale gas wells are short lived, 6-8 years, then decline rapidly follows.

    Carbon Capture and Storage has not even shown to be viable. Where it has been tried in Saskatchewan escaping CO2 has been killing livestock in near by farms http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/carbon-capture-project-leaking-into-their-land-couple-says/article1866299/?service=mobile

    CCS also requires energy and money, which reduces the ERoEI of the energy source, and increases the price of power. People are already near energy poverty.

    Of course, the problem with the entire article is the ASSUMPTION that more CO2 into the atmosphere is bad.

  20. The NYT has been running an interesting and critical series about fracking in the US:

    http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/us/series/drilling_down/index.html

    Regulators seem to be playing catch-up in several countries at the moment.

  21. Pumping high pressure CO2 in the ground with the intention to store it is the height of absurdity. It’s a method to let the coal power industry to tap into the climate change pot of gold and produce nothing a great expense. Mother nature stores CO2 very well in limestone, marble, dolomite and other sedimentary rocks. The limestone walls of the grand canyon are 700 million years old and all that carbonate is still sitting there. Find out how to accelerate the natural process by just a couple of percent and you’ll proably start reducing atmospheric concentration of CO2. Just be sure that it’s really necessary before tinkering with this however.

  22. David L. Hagen

    Pumping CO2 into reservoirs for Enhanced Oil Recovery makes economic sense. See DOE’s Primer on CO2 EOR
    Recovery of Original Oil In Place (OOIP) can be increased from 33%, potentially to over 60%. ie. potentially recovering more than 60% more than what has been conventionally recovered.

    Tad Patzek explores CCS in:
    Subsurface Sequestration of CO2 in the U.S: Is it Money
    Best Spent?
    Natural Resources Research, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2010 ( 2010) DOI: 10.1007/s11053-010-9111-3
    He shows that:

    upgrades to the more efficient supercritical steam turbines would decrease current emissions by up to 50% (from the current average plant efficiency of 32% to over 45%).

    Conversely:

    Let us assume an increase of coal consumption by 1/3 (33%) on average. Since we also want to sequester emissions from the additional coal needed for sequestration, the total coal emissions will increase as the sum of an infinite geometrical series with the quotient of q = 1/3 . . . Thus, CO2 sequestration will ultimately increase CO2 generation by 50%.

    Thus the current policy of CCS and “mitigation” is technically and economically perverse. Focusing funds instead on improving efficiency and on cost effective solar thermochemical fuels would provide benefits rather then the major costs of current CCS programs.

  23. Pollution control could offer a significant and immediate advantage for natural gas over coal in some markets.

    “Pollution control” the new euphemism for “CO2 Control” is incorrect. The gas CO2 that we exhale, plants inhale and fires release is not a pollutant.

    Global warming and cooling is cyclic.

    http://bit.ly/cO94in

    As a result, the data does not show any man-made global warming.

    • Rutt Bridges

      Actually, the pollution control referred to here is not CO2, which was never a driving issue in Colorado’s decision to switch some older coal plants to natural gas. The driver was the need to dramatically cut nitrous oxide, SO2, particulates and mercury. The bipartisan Colorado coalition was far more concerned about our Front Range ‘brown haze’ pollutants, which are a serious health issue. Many other areas suffer from this problem. To quote from the article, “…natural gas compared to coal produces only a third as much nitrous oxide, a fifth as much carbon monoxide, 4% as much sulfur dioxide, and virtually no mercury, particulate matter, or solid waste.” It was also the most cost-effective solution for consumers.

      • Rutt Bridges

        The driver was the need to dramatically cut nitrous oxide, SO2, particulates and mercury.

        Since SO2 has a cooling role through cloud formation via CCN (and therefore offsets Global Warming), reduction is essential to keep the game going. Reduction was a parameter in model scenarios.

        Capture of mercury presented a disposal problem which has been solved by storing it in your homes inside CFLs. :-(

        All design is a tradeoff, even climate / energy policy.

  24. Rutt Bridges

    I noted with much concern the issues raised in Dr. Curry’s introduction regarding methane emissions for well completions for unconventional gas (mostly frac’ed shale gas) versus conventional gas reservoirs. Hopefully others can shed more light on this. But by tracking back the Wikipedia reference to the original EPA study there is a reported statistic that unconventional natural gas well completions emit over 9 million cubic feet of methane, which implies annually 85 billion cubic feet of methane emissions. While their calculations are based on limited data from somewhat dated/suspect sources, these are serious and troubling numbers since methane though short-lived is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

    Given that much of the source data was 5+ years old I did do some additional research and found that several companies have seen this loss of gas as an economic opportunity (I do love market forces!). Williams for one built a gas capture system that gathers over 90% of otherwise vented or flared gas, adding $56 million to their 2006 bottom line in one Colorado gas field. There were similar stories from Devon Energy, Anadarko and BP from similar periods. I am not sure how widespread this practice is today but given the economic incentives I suspect the EPA estimates could benefit from some newer data. Completion technology for unconventional wells has a way to go, but it is improving. But I would love to hear of other data sources if anyone can offer them. Forty-five billion cubic feet of methane is worthy of concern.

    • Rutt, Thank you for this comment. A large quantity of such a clean and efficient energy source as methane simply going to waste for lack of the means to capture it is a real shame, and it is certainly to be hoped that the opportunity to harvest this resource is not lost.

    • Rutt:

      Personally, I hesitate to put much reliance on EPA “studies”, unless I can find even-handed and independent support. I see that you searched for some, and are also cautious. You are no doubt aware of the following, but other readers may not be. Dr. Carlin is no longer with the EPA.

      Carlin, Alan. 2009. Comments on Draft Technical Support Document for Endangerment Analysis for Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act (Based on TSD Draft of March 9, 2009). Scientific Blog. Carlin Economics and Science. March 16. http://www.carlineconomics.com/files/pdf/end_comments_7b1.pdf

      I do not maintain that I or anyone else have all the answers needed to take action now. Some of the conclusions reached in these comments may well be shown to be incorrect by future research. My conclusions do represent the best science in the sense of most closely corresponding to available observations that I currently know of, however, and are sufficiently at variance with those of the IPCC, CCSP, and the Draft TSD that I believe they support my increasing concern that EPA has not critically reviewed the findings by these other groups.

      As discussed in these comments, I believe my concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA before any attempt is made to reach conclusions on the subject of endangerment from GHGs. I believe that this review should start immediately and be a continuing effort as long as there is a serious possibility that EPA may be called upon to implement regulations designed to reduce global warming. The science has and undoubtedly will continue to change and EPA must have the capability to keep abreast of these changes if it is to successfully discharge its responsibilities. The Draft TSD suggests to me that we do not yet have that capability or that we have not used what we have.

  25. Forgetting the issues related to fracking , shale, gas etc Is there someone out there who can answer what appears as a simple question and I guess Judith has alluded to it.
    How do the full cycle GHG numbers for coal and natural gas really stack up? I work in and around the coal and CSG industries and the difference between natural gas and coal CO2 output at electricity generations is always stated. That is fine but what are the CO2 and other GHG numbers prior to burn? Here in Australia some of the new gas projects being devloped are “dirty gas” resources containing 10-20% CO2 and currently thay is not being sequested.

    • Very, very few coal seams outgas pure CH4. The outgas almost always contains some % of CO2 and H2O. When burnt in-situ (ie. underground combustion), the resulting gas mix as collected is a complex mix of hydrocarbons

      Using “natgas” (ie. from gas deposits rather than outgassing from coal seams) has the same issues of purity of source supply. Cleaning it is obviously crried out but adds considerably to costs

      As I’ve noted in my post above, the real world figure of GHG advantage using natgas over coal is about mean 30%. Supplying base load through gas results in a GHG advantage of about 30% for the same supply/demand curve. My meaned figure of 30% comes from constant comparative measurement of these various outputs for the last 30+ years

      • Rutt Bridges

        Ian,
        You are correct about the lower quality of coal gas, though deep shale gas is considerably purer.
        Much of the data on natural gas consumption is based on gas ‘peaker plants’, which are very inefficient (but very cheap) when compared to natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plants. The study I reference in my article claims a 60% CO2 reduction for NGCC compared to current technology coal generators. And of course the savings are considerably higher compared to the installed base of older coal plants.

      • Ian sorry you may have missed my question. The coal side is not my question.
        What I would like to know is what is the true differential between coal and natural gas for the full cycle – not at burn. As stated many new natural gas resources being developed have CO2 levels of 10-20% which is currently vented and not taken into account at burn. Doesn’t natural gas loose some of its advantage if this is considered?

  26. Concentrating on Carbon capture rather than switching to other alternatives (nuclear being the only real option) always seemd daft to me.

    But then i guess a whole new regulatory body, taxes and schemes can pop up around that rather than do something actually useful.

    • No one is concentrating on CCS. Research is spread across all the options, from fusion to efficiency. Congress just established ARPA-E to look at more esoteric options. Meanwhile the industry has been forced into gas fired power. There are a few new nukes in the pipeline, but not even enough to replace the existing fleet of 100 or so reactors built in the 1970’s. Research and construction are two different issues.

      • Semantic quibble, but nonetheless an important point: fusion isn’t yet an option. A lot of bad policy is being driven by people thinking that possibilities are options. Right now, wind is straddling that line between possibility and option, and so is CSS.

    • Concentrating on Carbon capture rather than switching to other alternatives (nuclear being the only real option) always seemd daft to me.

      Labmunkey: Just so. No small portion of my skepticism about climate change comes from the unreality of the proposed solutions — wind, solar, carbon sequestration, conservation, efficiency — to reach a target of per capita carbon emissions of “well below one metric ton” in a matter of decades.

      Meanwhile climate change advocates, for the most part, still oppose nuclear power.

      This is magical thinking.

      • This is magical thinking.

        Some people live in a Harry Potter world. :-)

      • Meanwhile climate change advocates, for the most part, still oppose nuclear power.

        Not sure exactly what “climate change advocates” means, but…

        Meanwhile, “anti-climate change advocates,” for the most part, still oppose the kind of public underwriting and governmental involvement our economy that would be required to substantially increase nuclear power (as you can see by looking at all the countries that have more nuclear power).

      • Climate change advocates means who you think it means — those supporting the agenda to prevent climate change.

        The majority of American skeptics support the nuclear power that we built in the past and would support building newer ones as we did in the past or differently.

        I don’t accept your argument that conservatives prevent the building of nuclear power plants. As far as I’m concerned that’s your privte hobby horse to ride until you make a more specific claim than gesturing at a list of countries.

        How about a cite like this:

        President Barack Obama’s Yucca Mountain decision is a blow to US nuclear power

        US President Barack Obama appeared to deal a decisive blow to America’s nuclear power industry earlier this year, when he pulled the funding for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

      • I don’t accept your argument that conservatives prevent the building of nuclear power plants.

        That’s not really what I’m saying. I’m saying that there is a logical disconnect in the arguments of some conservative who seek to blame environmentalists, climate scientists, and liberals for a lack of nuclear power, yet at the same time undermine the governmental structures that would be required to increase nuclear power.

        Not to mention, the unhistorical reconstruction that ignores market factors in our lack of nuclear power, presumably out of a political orientation.

      • Well cite some specifics or go away. Just flailing away at conservatives is uninteresting and unconstructive.

        There is no question that a large portion of liberals, environmentalists and current Democrats oppose nuclear power, whether conservatives blame them or not.

      • Maybe, if you want Joshua to cite specifics, you ought to set an example and cite some specific evidence for your various implausible assertions: “There is no question that a large portion of liberals, environmentalists and current Democrats oppose nuclear power,” “The majority of American skeptics support the nuclear power that we built in the past” . . . flailing away at vaguely defined “liberals” or supposed “skeptics” (Do you mean the comically unskeptical deniers? Be clear) just makes you look like a hypocrite.

      • Well cite some specifics or go away. Just flailing away at conservatives is uninteresting and unconstructive.

        Unfortunately, the irony of that statement is completely lost on you. Read Robert’s comment and contemplate, huxley.

      • Joshua –
        huxley defined the null hypothesis as:
        There is no question that a large portion of liberals, environmentalists and current Democrats oppose nuclear power, whether conservatives blame them or not.

        It’s up to you (and/or Robert ) to falsify it.

      • Jim – there is no question that you have stopped beating your wife. It’s up to you to falsify that comment.

      • Jim – I don’t doubt that many libz and Demz oppose nuclear power. That’s not why I think that huxley’s flailing away at libz and environmentalists and Dems and the “climate change advocates” is “uninteresting and unconstructive.”

        What I’ve been asking for is some quantification for how much their opposition is responsible for the lack of development in that industry in the U.S. – as opposed to other structural (political, technological, safety, fiscal) obstacles. I keep asking for it that kind of quantification, and in response, huxley just keeps repeating his unsubstantiated claims, and/or, inaccurately restates my argument.

        It’s easy to hand-wring about the evil-doing libz and demz and environmentalistz, but that won’t address the simple truth that we won’t have more nuclear power without the kinds of “socialist” policies that conz and libertarians violently oppose.

        Now I’ll ask you, since huxley apparently doesn’t want to answer: how do you see increased development of nuclear power without massive public underwriting and massive government “interference” in our economy via loan guarantees, public investment in storage facilities, and safety regulation?

        If you think that type of governmental support is necessary for development of nuclear power, how do you see libertarians and conservative reconciling the contrast between such policies and their long-standing anti-government/anti-regulation ideologies?

        If you don’t think that type of government support is necessary, could you explain why investors would sink so much into risky investments with such a long ROI and where there is such a high default rate, when more stable and faster-returning investments are available? Further, could you explain why the only countries with significantly more nuclear power have relied on “socialist” policies to fund that development? Do you think it is purely coincidental? Do you think that merely streamlining regulatory processes will be enough to produce the type of private-sector investment necessary to build many reactors and create sufficient storage? Where will the storage go where there won’t be public opposition? Do you think that only liberals object to having spent nuclear fuel in their neighborhood?

      • Robert & Joshua: I have provided quotes and links in some of my posts. Other than piggybacking on one of my cites, Joshua has provided none, IIRC.

      • Joshua –
        Jim – there is no question that you have stopped beating your wife. It’s up to you to falsify that comment.

        Not at all. One doesn’t need to falsify a hypothesis that one agrees with. That’s why Trenberth tried (is still trying?) to change the null hypothesis.

        Do you know the Muslim strictures on beating ones wife/wives? :-)

      • Joshua –
        What I’ve been asking for is some quantification for how much their opposition is responsible for the lack of development in that industry in the U.S. – as opposed to other structural (political, technological, safety, fiscal) obstacles. I keep asking for it that kind of quantification, and in response, huxley just keeps repeating his unsubstantiated claims, and/or, inaccurately restates my argument

        For once, you’re on the right thread and not thread-jacking. So… while I have limited time right now – your question is : How much? And the answer is – if you have access to the legal data bases (Nexus, for exmple), go find out how many lawsuits relate to nuclear power facilities and who filed them. And then figure out the political bias of each organization – and count noses. That part won’t be hard. I know the generalized answer but, given your political orientation, you’re not likely to believe me.

        It’s easy to hand-wring about the evil-doing libz and demz and environmentalistz, but that won’t address the simple truth that we won’t have more nuclear power without the kinds of “socialist” policies that conz and libertarians violently oppose.

        You forget that we DID NOT have those “socialist structures” when the nuclear plants were built back in the 60’s and 70’s. You may “believe that we need them to build facilities now, but that doesn’t make it true.

        What we had then was a regulatory agency that supported the nuclear industry, but also made it as safe as was possible given the state of technology at the time. I KNOW what it was because for a while I worked for the man who was known as the “Father of the US Nuclear Industry” and we spent more time together than I deserved. He became an NRA Commissioner immediately after I left his department.

        BTW – the evil-doing libz and demz and environmentalistz thing is hyperbole. I’ve know some truly evil people, but they’re rare and usually don’t classify politically. My words for your hyperbolic groups would be ignorant, lazy, perhaps hedgehogs, sometimes stupid and frequently rude, crude and uncalled for. But “evil” is reserved for those who deserve it – think Tucson, Stalin, Hitler, Genghis Khan, etc.

        Now I’ll ask you, since huxley apparently doesn’t want to answer: how do you see increased development of nuclear power without massive public underwriting and massive government “interference” in our economy via loan guarantees, public investment in storage facilities, and safety regulation?

        Given the present incestuous business/government relationship, I see businesses asking for what you infer is necessary simply because few business executives today have the guts to make the kind of investments necessary and because it’s become “expected” that one of the functions of government is to bailout anyone who’s “too big to fail”. Horse puckey.

        IF they had the guts that their predecessors had, they wouldn’t need government backing – with the sole exceptions of safety regulation and tort reform.

        Just to give you something else to carp about – there is NO constitutional authority for government involvement at the level you envision. Nor for a great many other present day government programs and activities. But that’s a different conversation.

        If you don’t think that type of government support is necessary, could you explain why investors would sink so much into risky investments with such a long ROI and where there is such a high default rate, when more stable and faster-returning investments are available?

        Why did they do it in the 60’s and 70’s? It was even riskier then because the technology was still being proved. It’s a business decision based on long-term growth – not fast profits. And that’s a business model that still works today – for those who have the vision to see it. Note – my MS is in Technology Management and I was taught some truly dumb things by some very smart people – which is apparently what you’ve also been taught. I was also taught some really smart things by some other very smart people – you may have missed out on that part.

        The financial and technological risks today are no greater than they were 50 years ago – except wrt the legal challenges that you are supposedly going to define by your research. :-)

        As for “other countries” – who gives a flying @#$%. We don’t have to deal with their systems – or their problems. We have our own system, our own problems – and our own solutions – and for the last 200+ years it’s worked out a whole lot better for us than theirs has for them. Emulating others is not a formula for success – in <bANYTHING – whether national or personal.

        Ah – two more things – the wife beating thing – is an indicator that you’ve lost (or at least, are losing) the debate. And the “denier” thing? – puts you firmly in the “believer” camp – which is, in itself, as anti-scientific as any of those you denigrate by using it. Really not recommended.

      • I don’t know who asked this

        Further, could you explain why the only countries with significantly more nuclear power have relied on “socialist” policies to fund that development?

        France, Japan and South Korea don’t have enough coal to hold a backyard BBQ. Shipping coal is enormously expensive because it literally ‘weighs a ton’.

        Do ‘protectionist’ policies belong to any political grouping?

        In the US the real(inflation adjusted) price of coal peaked in 1979 then troughed in 2000.

        http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/pdf/pages/sec7_19.pdf

        Nuclear vs Coal is a fix rate mortage vs variable rate mortgage question.

        If rates are trending up, you pay a little extra and lock in the monthly payment. If rates are trending down you just ride the trend.

        Coal prices started peaked in 1979 and started declining.

        Why would an investor go with nuclear when the price of coal was going down?

        Coal prices are trending up again as they did for 30 years from 1949 to 1979. The cost of transporting coal is also trending upwards.

        At the moment natural gas prices are volatile. They were at historic highs in 2008 and they were at historic lows last year, which is the trend?

        The US Southeast has the most expensive coal costs in the country, they are not going to replace their upcoming retiring coal plants with coal again. They also aren’t going to bet the farm on ‘all natural gas’ either.

        The ‘demonstration projects’ that nuclear loan guarantees were meant to facilitate will happen, or maybe not. Maybe the AP1000 becomes the standard light water reactor.

        Changes in the NRC licensing procedure, seperating out the design license, site license and combined operating license cuts 3 years off the ‘decision’ time line. I.E. Someone who wants a nuke in 2021 doesn’t need to decide until 2015.

        The loan guarantees was just a way to get a few ‘early builds’ so that when utilities start having to replace massive amounts of baseload beginning in 2020 they will be in a position chose based on a proven design that someone has built and operated rather then ‘on the drawing board’ designs.

      • Jim. You agree that you stopped beating your wife?

      • Didn’t agree to anything. But she says she has no complaints.

        Do you?

        :-)

      • Yes. Or more to the point, the concept of carbon reduction through cap-and-trade or a direct tax can only have the desired effect of driving the world toward low/no carbon alternatives if the alternatives exist. Otherwise, all it does is make the public pay more for energy. And not many engineers believe that the “alternatives” are ready for prime time.

        Over the course of decades, maybe. But pushing now will only have marginal effects, such as more windmills, and much more expensive energy. And you can figure out where that money’s going to end up.

  27. I am sure i am revealing my scientific illiteracy here but instead of CCS research is there any research into splitting CO2 into its constituant parts. I understand that water H2O can be split into hydrogen and oxygen. Can CO2 be split into carbon and oxygen? Is it possible and would one end up with black carbon and oxygen ?–cheers wade

    • Diamonds and Rust.
      ============

    • I’m afraid this is pretty much a non-starter, due to the law of conservation of energy. The CO2 is produced by burnin–oxidizing– carbonaceous materials, which we do because those chemical reactions release energy. We could run the reverse reactions, but doing so would cost more energy than we get from burning the fossil fuels in the first place.

      Still, the idea isn’t entirely impossible. It’s possible that with the right catalyst there might be a way to harness some otherwise unusable energy source to the task of de-oxidizing carbon. In fact, that’s exactly what plants do, using solar energy.

    • Syn fuels processes basically do that, split things down and recombine to what you want. Breaking CO2 down is not cost effective. But adding more hydrogen to increase the conversion of carbon to hydrocarbons in a syn-fuel process has potential. This is pooh poohed by the “greens” since it is still hydrocarbons. If you think of it as increasing the efficiency of carbon use it makes more sense. The hydrocarbons can be used as feed stocks for plastics etc. which can be recycled, or used as fuel. Cost is of course the biggest issue, but unstable oil prices make it much more attractive.

    • David L. Hagen

      wade
      good question. The commercially important conversion is from 2 CO2 to 2 CO + O2 – See Sandia’s Sunlight to Petrol program.
      It appears to need a little lower energy than 2 H2O to 2H2 + O2.
      The cost of the solar collectors at $300/m2 is the primary barrier!

      • David,

        Cost is the bugger. Coal based synfuel with hydrogen enhancement is cheaper. 2.33 per gallon coal plus H2 versus $3.31 CO2 plus H2 estimated per this article, http://www.tbp.org/pages/publications/Bent/Features/Su07Uhrig.pdf and it would be limited to the Wyoming cheap coal region. Both are interesting.

      • David L. Hagen

        Thanks Dallas. Interesting comparison.
        LINC Energy has developed methods of underground coal gasification to make syngas, and thence to synfuels.
        Linc has acquired 3 million acres of coal. They state a fuel cost of about $28/barrel or $0.7/gallon. They are working to make synfuels in a major way. With Saudi’s now “happy” with $120/barrel, I would expect Linc will be well established before we see any nuclear to fuel at three times that cost.

        Re “Breaking CO2 down is not cost effective.”
        That is almost entirely a function of the cost of concentrating solar dishes. Bring that cost down sufficiently and splitting CO2 or H2O becomes very cost effective!

      • I should have said near term. I then to think in a ten year window of availability. LINC looks interesting

      • David and ChE,

        There are tons of options that make sense, but they require cheap energy. Unfortunately, coal is about the cheapest making it a hard sell. Also hydrocarbon fuels don’t blow any wind up green skirts even if there is a net carbon reduction.

        So here is my rough sales pitch.

        http://ourhydrogeneconomy.blogspot.com/2011/03/america-sudia-arabia-of-trash.html

        There should not be any need for lipstick because synfuel is not a pig, but maybe this is the approach needed to get people off their butts.

      • David L. Hagen

        Dallas
        Yes garbage to fuel could help. The Navy is developing it for their ships. Problem is that scale is small relative to demand. Consequently costs are much higher.
        Re: “Unfortunately, coal is about the cheapest making it a hard sell.”
        Personally I pay for cheaper fuels and work to keep our economy afloat. Without that, no social security, pensions or medicare. That trumps <0.01 deg C reduction of global temperature in 100 years.
        China is aggressively establishing coal fired power plants and coal fed fuel systems. It already exceeds US in CO2 production. All US + EU efforts will be meaningless compared to the increase in coal use by China, India & Brazil etc. So pragmatically, use the cheapest fuels available and adapt to whatever climate happens (warming or cooling). Most of the world will continue to vote with their pocket books.

        PS With innovation and funding, there are ways to make solar thermal fuel cheaper than coal based fuel.

      • True. There are a lot of the pieces of the puzzle. Solar is still maturing. Nanosolar delivers PV utility scale panels for about $1 a Watt and predicts less fairly soon. It is hard to predict when solar will reach a buy cost/performance ratio. Wind is nearing build out in the US and there are still questions about its long term reliability. Nuclear’s future is literally up in the air. Natgas is nearly ready to bang into infrastructure issues. Coal is unlikely to fall below 25% of US power production by 2030.

        The US needs to lead by example, we can’t mandate other national energy choices. We can push for international pollution standards, black carbon especially, provided our own house is in order.

        Unfortunately, the energy conversation always wanders off to hypothetical instead of the realistically available options. I am trying to convince people to look at options available over a realistic time frame, 10 years is my choice. CCS is unrealistic, synfuel is realistic. Massive solar is unrealistic, biomass including trash is realistic in the time frame.

        Natgas is a darling because of price and availability. That will change as demand increases and infrastructure limits are pushed. There is no real difference between natgas and ultra low sulfur diesel fuel CO2 emission wise (more nitrogen compounds).

        So what would be the realistic choices for now, based on all the issues, definite energy security issues, definite limits on alternative energies, possible global warming and the question of environmental impact?

      • Dallas,

        Even at $1/watt for nanoscale PV is not ‘cheap’.

        An well sited solar panel in the Southwestern US rated at 1 KWh will yield 6 watts per day. In most of the country it’s more like 4 KWh per day.

      • Harry,

        It is cheaper than most. 5 watts per day is a fair average, with a 25 year estimated life, and average 80% of nameplate power (efficiency reduces with age) that’s 36.5 KWh for a buck neglecting inverter efficiency, installation and maintenance costs. Lot of if’s, since the first 1 MW plant only started up last year and their price is dropping while efficiency is going up. Nanosolar has a weird business approach for solar. Below average efficiency with a lot lower production cost using printing press style manufacture on aluminum foil substrate. Their average efficiency is just over 15%, but sneaking up. So I think they could be a player in the next ten years. Privately held company though.

      • David
        That is “3 million acres” of coal tenement which may or may not have economic coal resources. Be careful of presentations that only state their ground coverage. This is still Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) and I don’t believe there is yet an economically and environmentally acceptable project anywhere. No one really knows the details from the former USSR projects and how can LINC honestly state they have been “commercial” for 50 years. UCG is not getting a smooth ride here in Australia.

      • David L. Hagen

        Alan
        Thanks for the heads up on “tenements”.
        Linc 7.8 billion tonnes Resource within 261 (km)2. It sold that resource for $3 billion total:
        Linc states:

        UCG at Yerostigaz
        Produces one million cubic metres of commercial UCG gas per day for Angren Power Station.

        Any references to concerns over UCG in Australia? e.g., any ground water contamination, subsidance, SOx/NOx emissions?

      • David
        I have had a look at the presentation you linked from Linc Energy and as a resource geologist there are a number of issues with this presentation, mainly related to the way the coal resource is reported. As this is a public document the company can only quote resource figures that comply with the reporting code – JORC ( http://www.jorc.org – the US uses the SME code). The JORC code outlines categories to which resources are reported relating to the level of confidence in the estimation and also states that the “competent person” responsible for the estimation is to be named in the document and that they agree to the publication. This Linc presentation doesn’t actually state who that person is.

        In the JORC code there are 3 resource categories measured, indicated and inferred from highest to lowest confidence. There are separate categories for reserves ie the portion of the resource which have had economic and social parameters applied. 7.3 Bt of the 7.8Bt of coal reported here is in the lowest level (inferred) and for a coal resource this could be achieved with a drill hole spacing of 4km and as they state they have used 47 cored holes, a bit over 160Mt per hole which shows the low level of knowledge. Caution should also be exercised with the coal quality as outlined as they do not state the reporting base ie as received, as tested. By the look of the moisture values this is air dried or as tested and therefore the energy values will be actually lower than this as a thermal coal product and in addition the ash values are high. There are a lot of other issues I could outline with this presentation but this is not the place for it. Just let’s say there is a fair bit of coal there but it is poorly defined, both quantity and quality at this point in time.

        As to your question about Australian UCG, the best place to look is the Queensland Department of Mines and Energy website (www.dme.qld.gov.au). Queensland has 3 trial projects underway including Linc and there has been a number of problems both real and perceived largely around water and water contamination issues. Some of these areas of concern have spread to the developing CSG industry in Queensland.

  28. Judith,

    Many statements by scientists are just a guess, yet seem plausible at that time.
    The deeper I delve into science, the more mistakes I find which have set back our understanding of this planet.

    Found three more areas of mistakes in basic science.
    “Water never boiled on this planet”.
    Supersaturation of boiling water which at the creation of this planet boiled and dissolved salts in massive amounts as the molten magma was cooling.
    Second mistake is “salt leached from rocks”. Salt, silt, etc. formed the rocks over the billions of years.
    Finding salt deposits in higher elevations shows how the trapped water on this planet had an extremely heavy salt content.
    Third mistake, “water and life was created by chemical sludge”. Water was boiling, so how could the chemical compounds survived? Many meteors and comets are balls of frozen water.

    These are all connected to planetary slowdown that leaches out salt as the planet slows.

  29. Dr. Curry: The link to the Rutt Bridges paper: http://www.eas.gatech.edu/files/Rutt_Bridges_article.pdf yields a “Page Not Found” error this morning.

  30. In Freeman Dyson’s heresy paper ( http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dysonf07/dysonf07_index.html ) he recommends storing our carbon emissions as biomass in the soil:

    To stop the carbon in the atmosphere from increasing, we only need to grow the biomass in the soil by a hundredth of an inch per year. Good topsoil contains about ten percent biomass, [Schlesinger, 1977], so a hundredth of an inch of biomass growth means about a tenth of an inch of topsoil. Changes in farming practices such as no-till farming, avoiding the use of the plow, cause biomass to grow at least as fast as this. If we plant crops without plowing the soil, more of the biomass goes into roots which stay in the soil, and less returns to the atmosphere. If we use genetic engineering to put more biomass into roots, we can probably achieve much more rapid growth of topsoil. I conclude from this calculation that the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem of land management, not a problem of meteorology.

    Dyson goes on to suggest that biotechnology may provide answers:

    If biotechnology takes over the planet in the next fifty years, as computer technology has taken it over in the last fifty years, the rules of the climate game will be radically changed.

    I think this is quite possible, assuming we don’t turn against biotech as we have against nuclear.

  31. The electorate is notorious for its fickleness. If you think the electorate is against nuclear electricity generation because of waste disposal and fear of accidents, if you think the electorate is against fracking because of fear, if you think the electorate is against fossil fuel-based electricity generation because of fear of CAGW— just wait’ll you see what they’re suddenly FOR when the lights go out ( as they inevitably will ).

    • Diogenes: Yes, and by degrees that is already happening as economies stagnate and jobs go away.

      Much of the green/climate change agenda was supported the astonishing economic expansion and prosperity of the past fifty years. It was a luxury

      I still can’t get over Somerville’s advance testimony before Congress that Dr. Curry offered in the Climate Stabilization topic. This one quote in particular boggled me:

      More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well below 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80 to 95% below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.

      What Somerville actually means — I think he’s expressed it poorly or even misleadingly — is that we must reduce carbon emissions in developed nations by to 5% (e.g. US) to 20% (e.g Mexico) of current per capita emissions.

      This is such an Alice in Wonderland idea, especially given that Somerville does not mention nuclear power once, that my jaw drops. Yet Somerville drops that statistic then a few paragraphs later is surprised that it is so hard to set targets and come to binding international agreements about limiting carbon at Copenhagen.

      Does anyone believe that this will happen or can be made to happen?

      If Somerville, a climate scientist with the prestige to testify before Congress, is so incapacitated in his understanding of how today’s civilization works, perhaps he and his colleagues have a similarly limited understanding of how the immense system of global climate works.

      I certainly see no reason to trust the Somervilles of the world in their recommendations about what we should do about climate change.

      • Some support the agenda for reasons other than Global Warming or saving Gaia:

        “The challenge of climate change is an economic, scientific, and labor issue much more than a traditional environmental issue. Therefore, we advocate that the labor movement take the lead in pushing Congress to enact a massive program of public investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as proposed by the Apollo Alliance, which sees clean energy and more jobs as reinforcing each other.”

        DSA USA. 2008. Toward An Economic Justice Agenda. Political. Democratic Left. May. http://www.dsausa.org/pdf/eja_may2008.pdf

      • Cost is a benefit to those who get the money.

      • Some support the agenda for reasons other than Global Warming or saving Gaia:

        Pooh, Dixie: My own dark suspicion is that the debt-ridden Western governments see it as a new source of taxes and a way to expand government bureaucracy and power.

    • Bingo. It’s easy to be against X as long as you see no consequence. Power outages will focus the mind wonderfully. And we will be having power outages if some hard choices aren’t made. And no, “smart grids” aren’t going violate the first law.

      TANSTAAFL.

  32. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/newsarticle.aspx?id=28907

    Putin suggests Germans replace nuclear with firewood
    Quote:
    01 December 2010
    Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has told German businessmen that they may have to rely on Russian firewood for heating if they do not want to construct new nuclear power plants or bring in Russian gas supplies. At a business conference organized in Berlin by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Putin recognised that “the German public does not like the nuclear power industry for some reason.” He continued: “But I cannot understand what fuel you will take for heating. You do not want gas, you do not develop the nuclear power industry, so you will heat with firewood?” Putin then noted, “You will have to go to Siberia to buy the firewood there,” as Europeans “do not even have firewood.”

    • Putin is an SOB but in this case he is right.

      Too many Westerners are squeamish about energy production but take it for granted that the energy will always be there for them.

      Coal, oil, gas, and nuclear are icky, but they are all we’ve got for now.

    • >“You will have to go to Siberia to buy the firewood there,” as Europeans “do not even have firewood.”<

      Siberia doesn't have a real lot of it either :)

  33. “Opportunities for retrofitting existing US coal-fired plants to CCS are more limited in the US due to the low efficiencies of the installed base.”

    That is true, but opportunities to increase thermal efficiency of coal fired power plants are wide open. The theoretical maximum efficiency of a coal fired power plant is 95% versus ~35% (28% world wide)currently. Newer coal plants designs are closer to 45% and 60% is not unreasonable. This is a whole new topic.

    “Though such a change is unlikely, replacing all coal-fired electricity with NGCC plants would cut total US CO2 emis­sions by 20%.” Increased efficiency of both coal and natural gas power plants makes that number much more likely. The investment in coal power plants makes it unlikely that there will be a total switch to natgas. Increased co-generation is more likely as it would enhance the investment. Conversion of older, lower efficiency coal plants is likely. You would have to look at the initial efficiency, age (for investment recovery) and potential for expanded co-generation, to determine the best option for each plant.

    “NGCC plants produce 60% less CO2 per MW-hour than conventional coal-fired plants.”

    That number is misleading (as others have mentioned), as older coal plants are replaced with natgas or efficiency of the coal plants increased, the 60% will drop to the 20% to 50% range. That will also have a big impact on the 80% CO2 produced by coal number. More nuclear and “clean” power will increase the 80% number. It is a moving target that doesn’t mean much unless put in the proper perceptive.

    The discussion doesn’t get into the transportation fuel issue enough. As far as natgas versus diesel goes, there is no significant CO2 impact made switching to natgas (it is an energy security issue). Electric cars will only reduce CO2 emissions significantly, if the source of the electric for charging is “greener”. Hydrogen as a transportation and peak load generation fuel (yes, hydrogen is like a battery, so it is not a source of energy, just a form of stored energy), makes a much greater CO2 impact if the hydrogen is produced by thermolysis (co-generation) or electrolysis (off peak load balancing). Electrolysis is not that efficient, but off peak production increases the overall “effective” efficiency.

    Yes, I am a hydrogen fan, so my views are biased.

    • Dallas –
      That is true, but opportunities to increase thermal efficiency of coal fired power plants are wide open

      That may be true – or not. Last time I looked (some years ago) coal plants were limited by legislation to replacement of less that 10% of capital equipment per year. Major refits (and thus major improvements in efficiency) were thereby limited. And many plants were slowly degenerating for lack of upgrades that exceeded that 10% allowance.

      Don’t know if that’s still true – and don’t have time to check right now. But I suspect someone here should know. Harry maybe?

      • Rutt Bridges

        Jim,
        I know that at least in Colorado such capital investments are approved by the Public Utility Commission, a governor-appointed board. Since rate hikes are often needed to cover the utilities’ costs for such improvements, they are looked at carefully. The deciding factor may be the economic tradeoff’s of the investment versus increased plant efficiency and power production. I believe that any hard limits on capital investment would be set on a state-by-state rather than a federal basis. However, it would seem foolish to do so if real cost-effective power production efficiencies can be reasonably demonstrated.

        However, it is worth noting that capital for such efficiency improvements is often used up in meeting pollution control requirements.

      • Any regulation that has grandfathering clauses is also going to restrict the amount of renovation you can do and still be grandfathered.

      • There are various limits, so a strong case has to be made for upgrades. I think that is reasonable. Manufacturing and utility partnerships are overly complicated it seems to me. That is a problem.

        Still, older plants will be dropped out and the newer plants will have higher efficiencies. 2010 coal plant construction starts were pretty high, equal to the 1980’s I think, so the percentage of higher efficiency coal use will jump even higher by 2016 or so.

      • There was a bit of a flurry for a couple of years but its almost dead now.
        Figure #3 and Figure #4 are particularly informative.

        http://www.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf

        Most of what is ‘proposed’ at this stage is technology demonstrators hoping for government subsidies.

    • David L. Hagen

      Dallas
      What are you referring to by “theoretical maximum efficiency of a coal fired power plant is 95%”? That is far higher than the Carnot efficiency of about 64% at 540 C steam.
      The World Energy Council states a fuel cell theoretical efficiency of 85% at 25C. (Practically ~ 40%-60%?).

      • Hey, David,

        One source listed a theoretical maximum of 95% for coal power with cogeneration. 80% is the more common “realistic” maximum efficiency.
        One example, http://www.brain-c-jcoal.info/cctinjapan-files/english/2_7A1.pdf

        To approach those maximums requires utility and business partnerships that are impractical in most cases. In some areas, low temperature desalination can boost overall efficiency, others heating water or absorption cooling. Any process that can use low or medium temperature hot water can add significantly to the overall efficiency. Exhaust heat recovery use for heating/drying processes, pulp, wood and concrete applications for example, also add significantly to efficiency.

        I will try to put together a list of some of the more interesting cogeneration applications. This one that I have not studied in depth has a target of 85% efficiency.

        http://www.gepower.com/prod_serv/products/tech_docs/en/downloads/ger3430f.pdf

        On the fuel cells, 60% efficiency seems realistic. I am mainly interested in vehicle fuel cells and Ballard Power is one company that I follow (it’s a Northern hemisphere pride thing I guess) . Ballard has made some interesting progress, but Honda and Toyota appear to have a lead.

  34. Oops! One thing I missed. “Recycling carbon” is using clean hydrogen combined with carbon sequestering to produce syn-fuels. The FutureGen project is supposed to explore that potential I believe. That possibility is rarely discussed.

  35. The Rutt Bridges article and subsequent thread commentary address benefits of replacing coal with alternatives that include natural gas as a means of reducing warming due to CO2 emissions. It’s worth mentioning that gas, in addition to providing more energy per molecule of CO2 generated (if methane leaks are controlled), can also reduce an additional anthropogenic warming factor derived from coal combustion – black carbon emissions. These account for less warming than greenhouse gases, but enough so that reducing them may have a discernible effect. A recent paper analyzes this in more detail –

    Black Carbon

    • Fred –
      Long ago an AGW advocate expressed opposition to a windfarm in Maine. I pointed out to him that the choice was between “green energy” and the minimal environmental impact of the the windfarm. It was too hard a choice for him. BTW – I’m NOT and advocate of windfarms.

      There’s the same kind of choice here – energy or the environment. You live in PA (as do I) and a major fight is shaping up between greens/environmentalists/hunters/hikers/etc and the gas extraction companies over the environmental damage perpetrated by frakking on the land and particularly on the watersheds.

      I’ve spent 20+ years hiking the country and drinking from the streams they’re destroying. I’ve built, maintained and written guidebooks for the trails. 50 years ago, the coal companies did the same thing in NE PA by strip mining – and years of work were destroyed so they could increase their profits by getting the coal out cheaply. Guess which side I’m on.

      • Jim – I agree with most of your comment, although I wouldn’t object to more windfarms like the one near the PA Turnpike. Currently, I get about 20 percent of my electricity from non-fossil fuel sources, probably mostly wind-generated electricity from Ohio, and pay about $10/month extra for the privilege of feeling that “I’ve done my part” (symbolically, that is). Ironically for Pennsylvania, green jobs in wind and other alternative energy sources are likely to skirt the state in favor of Ohio, NY, NJ, etc., because they have higher alternative energy requirements than PA (and I’m not even counting China as a competitor).

        Frakking is a big issue, as you state. In theory, with adequate controls, and with some remediation funded by taxes on the enterprise, which the Governor and Legislature don’t want to impose, the extracted gas might give us a net benefit, but I’m certainly worried about the environmental damage.

        Re strip mining, the big issue these days, at least in neighboring WV, is mountaintop removal, which is obscene in its disregard for the environment and public health in the scramble for profits. If the EPA does its job, that will end, but I’m not sure there’s enough willpower to overcome the political clout of the industry and its supporters (including the unions, which are sometimes on the good side of issues but not in this case).

      • In theory, with adequate controls, and with some remediation funded by taxes on the enterprise, which the Governor and Legislature don’t want to impose,…

        Just today Corbett seemed to back off to some degree – in that he expressed openness to local municipalities levying “impact fees” on frackers. Still – a policy that varies by municipality could prove to turn into a bidding war to see which communities will take the most risks to attract drillers.

        http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20110324_Corbett_opens_door_for_local_levies_on_shale_drilling.html

        Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue to allow drilling in state forests without requiring frackers to conduct environmental impact statements (as was happening under his predecessor). Responsible drilling would be one thing, but there seems little reason to believe that drillers will be responsible.

      • Ironically for Pennsylvania, green jobs in wind

        Wind map – the darker the color the more economic wind becomes

        http://rredc.nrel.gov/wind/pubs/atlas/maps/chap2/2-01m.html

        Installed windmills

        A well sighted wind farm will average about 25% of it’s nameplate capacity over a years time.

      • Rutt Bridges

        Jim,
        As a fellow hiker, I respect your position. Democracy is at its best when individuals speak out (and listen to each other) on the issues for which they feel passion.
        Back in October I chaired a forum on political and environmental issues related to unconventional gas. The panel included Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter and the CEO’s of two gas producers, Anadarko and Range Resources. Range’s Jeff Ventura noted that they felt the well design regulations of Pennsylvania were too week, and that they set Range’s own standards much higher. The PA standards were established before extensive hydrofracing was common. Range is currently working with state and local governments to raise the bar for everyone. The two incidents of water contamination could have been prevented, and hopefully will be when regulation catches up with modern practice.
        For now I think most companies are switching to the higher standard of practice. In the end that is best for the environment, and best for the gas industry as well. Though there are always a few Neanderthals in any sufficiently large group, I find that most people in the gas industry are genuinely concerned about extracting energy with minimal environmental impact. We need to be better at this, but we are seeking to continuously improve. Meanwhile, keep speaking out and keep the heat on!
        But please don’t compare the gas development to coal strip mines…

      • I’d be curious to read your opinion and environmental impact statement requirements for drilling in state forests. Also, about the questionable practices of wastewater recycling/disposal.

      • Sorry, should have written “your opinion on environmental impact statement requirements…..

      • Earle Williams

        I apologize if this is wandering a bit off topic, but in reply to Joshua’s question about environmental impact statements, I would like to remind folks that the U.S. law requiring analysis of environmental impacts is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If the hypothetical drilling on state forests does not require a permit or authorization from the federal government (unlikely but certainly possible) then there is not likely to be any environmental impact statement developed, barring what may be required by that state’s laws. If there is a federal permit required then the EIS must look at direct and indirect impacts for the porposed drilling as well as a reasonable range of alternatives.

        EIS requirements are driven by NEPA, the guidelines of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the policies of all agencies cooperating in the EIS process. Oh, and toss in the prevailing caselaw for the respective district for the U.S. courts. Rutt’s response below is wise even if the question were well-posed, but given the extreme breadth of the issues involved I don’t see how anyone could give a meaningful answer in the limited scope of a blog comment.

      • Thanks for the context. This is what I have read.


        POSTED ON FEBRUARY 25, 2011 BY DAVID WAGNER

        Pennsylvania Rescinds EIS Policy for Well Operators Seeking to Drill on State Land

        This post was written by Nicolle Bagnell and Ariel Nieland.

        Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett rescinded a policy that required well operators who wanted to drill for natural gas in state park and forest land to obtain an environmental impact assessment statement from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) before applying for a drilling permit. The 4-month old policy, which former Governor Rendell imposed in October 2010, provided for increased cooperation among the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the DCNR, and well operators in addressing drilling permit applications. The policy was applicable in situations where the state owned the surface rights to the land, but the subsurface mineral rights were privately held. According to former DCNR Secretary, John Quigley, the policy was a “common-sense approach to mitigating or avoiding any environmental, recreational and aesthetic impacts from the well drilling.” The Corbett administration, however, has described the newly-rescinded policy as “unnecessary and redundant” as operators are already required to mitigate environmental damage and are held to responsible drilling practices by the DCNR and DEP.

      • Earle Williams

        Replying to myself because it’s too deep to reply to Joshua below…

        Joshua,

        I didn’t realize your comment was specific to Pennsylvania requirements.

      • Rutt Bridges

        Joshua , I have to plead ignorance on the issue of environmental impact statements for development in state forests. I haven’t studied the subject, and find it unwise to pass along 150% of what I know about an issue. As Socrates (probably) said, “Wisdom begins with the realization of ignorance.”
        With regard to wastewater, there are some companies that are already recycling 100% of what they use. In my opinion this should become standard practice.

      • Thanks.

        As a hiker, and a PA resident, I’m particularly concerned about the drilling that is taking place in state forests – that much more so because for years, fracking companies have been skirting environmental impact requirements (and not held to account by state officials or the EPA), and now the requirements have actually been lifted.

        I assume you’ve seen this series of articles:

        http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/us/series/drilling_down/index.html

        In particular this article:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=1&ref=drillingdown

        While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

        The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

        There are some questions about whether the levels of radioactivity in the water are dangerous – but it does seem that there are a lot of questions left unanswered as of yet.

      • With regard to wastewater, there are some companies that are already recycling 100% of what they use. In my opinion this should become standard practice.

        In other words, the above articles indicates that the recycling practices seem questionable.

      • Rutt, Fred and Joshua –
        Just want to make it clear that I’m not against natural gas extraction, just against the kind of destruction that’s apparently been happening for the last several years in PA. I don’t know first hand what effect it’s had because I’ve been gone for 5 years. But I listen to people I know and trust (like State Foresters) – and I don’t like what I’m hearing. One thing that I know hasn’t been happening is water recycling – and therefore, subsequent watershed damage has resulted.

        I WILL be finding out first hand about the impact over the next few months because we’ll be going back to hike the trails we helped build and maintain. And I will have a camera with me. I suspect y’all will hear more about this.

      • Dr Curry –
        I blew it with the italicization. Would you fix it? Please. :-)

    • [Black carbon emissions] account for less warming than greenhouse gases, but enough so that reducing them may have a discernible effect.

      Fred Moolten: Your posts consistently fail to distinguish between the range of discernible, significant, major, and crucial differences. As the Black Carbon paper says:

      Whilst controlling black carbon emissions in the future may provide some assistance in mitigating near future climate change, the overall influence is small compared to the much larger contribution from greenhouse gas emissions…. However, the most effective way of reducing any long term warming in the climate remains reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

      I’m a software engineer. Often I must optimize code I have written. There are dozens, even hundreds, of places I could make “discernible” optimizations, but any textbook will tell you that the trick is to measure code performance and then make the few optimizations that will make the greatest difference.

      • I have to weigh in with Fred on this one…reduction of black carbon is pretty much a win-win. It appears to be a significant culprit for loss of both Arctic ice and Himalayan glaciers and it has negative consequences for human health. Regardless of any worries re: CO2, natural gas is a winner in this respect.

      • Even the Bushes agree with that. The problem is that black carbon is more a rest of the world problem. The Clean Air Act did a lot to limit BC in the US. I am sure more can be done in the US, but getting other countries to use scrubbers and particulate measures is a political issue. Leading by example I think is best for the US rather than forcing our political will on others. The Chinese and Indians are learning from their own mistakes. Maybe they can start learning from our successes.

      • Without a doubt black carbon is less a problem in the US than in India, China, and Korea. I was responding to Huxley’s suggestion that it wasn’t worth doing since it didn’t have the biggest impact.

      • Huxley – I wasn’t disagreeing with the summary you quote regarding long term warming. However, replacing coal with other energy sources will reduce both CO2 and black carbon. They are not alternatives that one must choose between, at least as far as coal is concerned. The benefit from reducing CO2 emissions will be much greater in the long term, but the benefit from reducing black carbon will come sooner.

      • Fred M: “…may have a discernible effect” is such weak language.

        What are the stakes here? This sounds more like clipping grocery store coupons instead of finding a job. Again, you ignore the issue of scale.

        I’m a lukewarmist. I take climate change somewhat seriously and to the extent I do, it drives me crazy that climate scientists and advocates wander off into secondary and tertiary concerns plus dubious schemes like carbon sequestration that all might have some “discernible effect” but none will address the huge ongoing and increasing energy needs of our civilization.

      • How do you feel about libertarians who actively undermine the government structures that would be necessary to fund and regulate the safety of increased nuclear power?

        Not to say that regulation couldn’t/shouldn’t be streamlined, but still….

      • Well, if you can cite some libertarians who oppose nuclear power as you say, then I’ll oppose them. Happy?

        But whoever they are, if they are, they are vastly dwarfed by the liberals, environmentalists, and Democrats who oppose nuclear power proudly and effectively.

      • Italics off?

        Huxley,

        I’m not saying that there are libertarians that have voiced disapproval of nuclear power. I’m suggesting that there is a logical disconnect for some: they support nuclear power but are strongly opposed to the governmental structures that have enabled larger-scale development of nuclear power in every country that has more substantial amounts.

        If you envision some way that we’ll have significantly more nuclear power reactors built without extensive public underwriting (which runs counter to most libertarian/conservative ideology), please let me know what it is.

        If you support massive scaling up of nuclear power without extensive public investment (which would run contrary to most libertarian/conservative ideology) in dealing with spent fuel, please let me know what you think should be done with spent fuel.

        If you support massive scaling up of nuclear power while also supporting significantly diminishing the regulatory power of governmental agencies (a fairly common libertarian/conservative ideology), I’m afraid I have to disagree, and doubt that you will see enough public support to realize that vision. It seems unrealistic to me to believe that there will be much public support for nuclear power reactors being built without extensive government regulatory oversight.

        I think it is possible that conservatives and libertarians will support increased nuclear power even though it would require policies that runs counter to much of their long-standing ideology – but identifying the obstacles as comprising only the “climate change community” or “regulation,” or NIMBYism, or environmentalists, or liberals, seems to me to be unlikely to get the job done.

      • Joshua: I’m not a libertarian. I’m not even a proper conservative. I’m still a registered Democrat. Take your beef up with someone else.

        All I’m saying is that we built nukes before, other nations are building nukes now, and I see no reason we can’t build nukes now. All we lack is the political will and for the past several decades — it’s a matter of public record — the majority of liberals, environmentalists, and Democrats have opposed nuclear power and done so effectively.

        End of discussion.

      • Joshua –
        And just how effective have all those libertarians been at derailing those government structures? Your argument in this respect is just silliness. Libertarians don’t have nearly as much influence as you seem to think.

        In one respect the liberal/environmentalists have been smarter – they’ve used the court systems and regulatory processes. And have generally been far more effective with respect to derailing the nuclear permitting and construction processes.

        Have no idea why anyone would think “climate scientists” would be blamed for this kind of activity.

      • At some level a bit of pragmatism goes a long way, regardless of ones political leanings.

        In all things political, ‘Perfection is the enemy of the good’.

      • If you’re a software engineer, can you figure out how to un-Roger the thread?

      • Huxley, you are exactly right.
        Once upon a time, we built a fairly complex manufacturing system for daily use. Right out of the box, it ran in 26 hours. The data center told us it would never run daily.
        We did as you advised. The team tuned it. also, we removed a data center requirement that accounted for much of the excess run time, and contributed nothing to reliability. The revision ran in 45 minutes.
        Take away? Remove self-serving and ludicrous requirements that contribute nothing to success. I could not possibly comment on similarity to current regulations.

  36. One other thing to note about natural gas: in addition to its value as a heating fuel and power generation fuel, it would be a reasonably simple matter to convert large transportation vehicles (semi trucks, trains, ships) to run on CNG or LNG, as many municipal bus systems run on it now (and have been for many years). Fleet vehicles and personal vehicles would be a little more difficult, but represent some additional potential.

    So in this sense, using this domestic resource could make a significant dent in both oil imports and carbon emissions.

    • ChE, dent on imports yes, but the KgCO2/KW between natgas and diesel is not much, 0.23 versus 0.24. I am all for letting the “greens” get all warm and fuzzy thinking they are making big changes, but there is little difference.

  37. Judith Curry

    Here are my comments to the study by Rutt Bridges.

    He has gone into the various CCS alternates and the costs for these alternates, but has left out the answer to the key question, namely what will this all do for our climate?

    Let’s go through that quickly:

    The study by Pacala and Socolow, to which Bridges refers,

    “implies that we need to cut a cumulative 25 GtCO2 over the next 50 years just to cap the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at a modest 500 ppm (we are now at 390 ppm). If all our solutions cost €25 per ton, the economic impact would be €625 billion ($833 billion) over the next 50 years”.

    OK. So what do we get for our $833 billion?

    Assumed CO2 concentration in 50 years if CCS proposal implemented = 500 ppmv
    CO2 reduction in atmosphere over 50 years = 25 GtCO2
    Mass of atmosphere = 5,140,000 Gt
    Reduction = 25 * 1,000,000 / 5,140,000 = 4.9 ppm(mass) = 3.2 ppmv

    Case 1 – No CCS
    C1 = 390 ppmv
    C2 = 503.2 ppmv
    C2/C2 = 1.2903
    ln(C2/C1) = 0.2548
    2xCO2 = 2
    ln2 = 0.6931
    dT(2xCO2) = 3.2°C
    dT after 50 years = 3.2 * 0.2548 / 0.6931 = 1.18°C

    Case 2 – CCS as proposed
    C1 = 390 ppmv
    C2 = 500 ppmv
    C2/C2 = 1.2821
    ln(C2/C1) = 0.2485
    2xCO2 = 2
    ln2 = 0.6931
    dT(2xCO2) = 3.2°C
    dT after 50 years = 3.2 * 0.2485 / 0.6931 = 1.15°C

    Warming avoided by CCS implementation = 1.18 – 1.15 = 0.03°C
    Cost of CCS implementation = $833 billion.

    Is this a good deal?

    Obviously not.

    And it just shows us the inconvenient truth that, no matter how much money we throw at it, we cannot change our planet’s climate.

    It is a shame that Bridges did not add this simple “return on investment” calculation to his otherwise excellent study.

    As to his conclusions.

    I believe that they are all valid: nuclear will be difficult (for political reasons – especially now after the Japan tsunami), retrofitting US coal plants to CCS will be difficult and costly, natural gas (NGCC) plants are a low-cost alternate to new coal plants, there is plenty of natural gas in the USA (and he has not even included the shale deposits or possible future harvesting of deep ocean clathrates), coal power will get more expensive (as pollution restrictions on SO2, NOx, particulates, Hg, As, etc. get tighter).

    Bridges then adds

    Though such a change is unlikely, replacing all coal-fired electricity with NGCC plants would cut total US CO2 emissions by 20%

    Is this is another economic no-brainer? How high would the capital cost be to shut down all of the US coal-fired power plants and replace them with new NGCC plants?.

    This study estimates all-in capital investment of $621/kW in 2002 dollars (or with 23% inflation since then, around $765/kW today).

    http://www.westgov.org/wieb/electric/Transmission%20Protocol/SSG-WI/pnw_5pp_02.pdf

    Bridges cites a figure of $894, but let’s use the lower figure and add in $50/kW for shutting down and decommissioning the coal plants.

    At the end of 2009, the US had about: 310,000 MW of coal plants. So replacing these would involve a capital investment of: 815 * 1000 * 310,000 = $253 billion

    Total US CO2 emissions were around 6 GtCO2 per year, so a 20% reduction would mean 1.2 GtCO2/year. Let’s say the shutdown and replacement occurred over a 20-year period from today through 2030, and let’s calculate the long-term climate impact by 2050.

    On the above basis, the switch to gas would result in a calculated cumulative reduction of CO2 by 2050 of 37 GtCO2.

    Going through the same calculation as above we arrive at 0.04°C reduction in global temperature at a cost of $253 billion. So this is a better deal than CCS, but still a lousy investment, since we are not really changing our planet’s climate.

    And I believe that this is the inconvenient take-home from Bridges’ study:

    we are unable to change our planet’s climate, no matter how much money we throw at the problem.

    Max

  38. For some reason the last post appeared all in italics, so will try to send again:

    Judith Curry

    Here are my comments to the study by Rutt Bridges.

    He has gone into the various CCS alternates and the costs for these alternates, but has left out the answer to the key question, namely what will this all do for our climate?

    Let’s go through that quickly:

    The study by Pacala and Socolow, to which Bridges refers,

    “implies that we need to cut a cumulative 25 GtCO2 over the next 50 years just to cap the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at a modest 500 ppm (we are now at 390 ppm). If all our solutions cost €25 per ton, the economic impact would be €625 billion ($833 billion) over the next 50 years”.

    OK. So what do we get for our $833 billion?

    Assumed CO2 concentration in 50 years if CCS proposal implemented = 500 ppmv
    CO2 reduction in atmosphere over 50 years = 25 GtCO2
    Mass of atmosphere = 5,140,000 Gt
    Reduction = 25 * 1,000,000 / 5,140,000 = 4.9 ppm(mass) = 3.2 ppmv

    Case 1 – No CCS
    C1 = 390 ppmv
    C2 = 503.2 ppmv
    C2/C2 = 1.2903
    ln(C2/C1) = 0.2548
    2xCO2 = 2
    ln2 = 0.6931
    dT(2xCO2) = 3.2°C
    dT after 50 years = 3.2 * 0.2548 / 0.6931 = 1.18°C

    Case 2 – CCS as proposed
    C1 = 390 ppmv
    C2 = 500 ppmv
    C2/C2 = 1.2821
    ln(C2/C1) = 0.2485
    2xCO2 = 2
    ln2 = 0.6931
    dT(2xCO2) = 3.2°C
    dT after 50 years = 3.2 * 0.2485 / 0.6931 = 1.15°C

    Warming avoided by CCS implementation = 1.18 – 1.15 = 0.03°C
    Cost of CCS implementation = $833 billion.

    Is this a good deal?

    Obviously not.

    And it just shows us the inconvenient truth that, no matter how much money we throw at it, we cannot change our planet’s climate.

    It is a shame that Bridges did not add this simple “return on investment” calculation to his otherwise excellent study.

    As to his conclusions.

    I believe that they are all valid: nuclear will be difficult (for political reasons – especially now after the Japan tsunami), retrofitting US coal plants to CCS will be difficult and costly, natural gas (NGCC) plants are a low-cost alternate to new coal plants, there is plenty of natural gas in the USA (and he has not even included the shale deposits), coal power will get more expensive (as pollution restrictions on SO2, NOx, particulates, Hg, As, etc. get tighter).

    Bridges then adds

    Though such a change is unlikely, replacing all coal-fired electricity with NGCC plants would cut total US CO2 emissions by 20%

    Is this is another economic no-brainer? How high would the capital cost be to shut down all of the US coal-fired power plants and replace them with new NGCC plants?.

    This study estimates all-in capital investment of $621/kW in 2002 dollars (or with 23% inflation since then, around $765/kW today).

    http://www.westgov.org/wieb/electric/Transmission%20Protocol/SSG-WI/pnw_5pp_02.pdf

    Bridges cites a figure of $894, but let’s use the lower figure and add in $50/kW for shutting down and decommissioning the coal plants.

    At the end of 2009, the US had about: 310,000 MW of coal plants. So replacing these would involve a capital investment of: 815 * 1000 * 310,000 = $253 billion

    Total US CO2 emissions were around 6 GtCO2 per year, so a 20% reduction would mean 1.2 GtCO2/year. Let’s say the shutdown and replacement occurred over a 20-year period from today through 2030, and let’s calculate the long-term climate impact by 2050.

    On the above basis, the switch to gas would result in a calculated cumulative reduction of CO2 by 2050 of 37 GtCO2.

    Going through the same calculation as above we arrive at 0.04°C reduction in global temperature at a cost of $253 billion. So this is a better deal than CCS, but still a lousy investment, since we are not really changing our planet’s climate.

    And I believe that this is the inconvenient take-home from Bridges’ study:

    we are unable to change our planet’s climate, no matter how much money we throw at the problem.

    Max

    • Replacement cost is not all. Replacement would roughly double US consumption of natgas so one needs to double the existing pipeline and storage system, as it is close to capacity. Then one needs to double production of gas. Then too gas typically runs three times more expensive than coal, on a Btu basis. A trillion here, a trillion there, it adds up.

      • David, you are right.

        I just looked at bare capital investment and “return” on investment (i.e. how much warming could we avoid.

        CCS as presented by Bridges’ study is a very poor deal (as he also concludes). I just showed that it would also have no impact on our climate (which he failed to include in his otherwise excellent study).

        I then looked at Bridges’ alternate proposal of shutting down coal plants and replacing them with gas plants. (As you pointed out, I did not even include the added infrastructure investment required, which could easily add another 20% to 40%. This scheme is not quite as costly initially (excluding these costs), but also achieves no change in global temperature.

        My inconvenient conclusion is simply:

        We cannot change our planet’s climate, no matter how much money we throw at it.

        So let’s look at something smarter.

        Max

      • Rutt Bridges

        Max,
        Thanks for the analysis… I wish I’d had it before the paper went to press. The mitigating impact is on AGW is certainly depressing. I suffer from an insufficiently broad background.

        And by the way, a sudden switch from coal to natural gas is certainly not a rational act. However, a gradual transition that involves replacing aging coal pants that can no longer meet pollution standards does IMO make sense. That is what Colorado did. The KW-h cost of gas for new construction is cheaper than new coal plants… but that also assumes that the cost of gas isn’t subjected to price spikes as it has been in the past. The vast supply of unconventional gas should mitigate that, as discussed in my article. But it is a risk. In the end, any transition of electricity sources will be driven by economics. That is why renewables have suffered so much of late.

        I also briefly discussed the potential for “small nuclear”. My original text on this was longer but was the victim of word count limits I am sure many of you who publish are familiar with. I have been surprised that it hasn’t come up in these discussions. See Wikipedia, “Small Modular Reactors” for more details. I believe that it could address some of the current objections, and bring economies of scale to the electricity generation issue.

      • Rutt – If you reproduce your article elsewhere, I believe you should correct the second paragraph to accurately represent the Pacala and Socolow proposal. They suggest that reasonable stabilization could be achieved by utilizing a total of eight “stabilization wedges” out of a potential fifteen, with each wedge designed to reduce emissions of carbon (not CO2) by at least 25 gtons. This would lead to an approximate reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 100 gtons CO2 per wedge (800 total). Using the calculations in the above comments, but estimating the airborne fraction remaining to be about 50 percent of emitted CO2 (actually a bit less), we would have roughly a temperature reduction for each wedge individually of about 0.06 C, or about 0.48 C total for eight wedges. The total cost per 100 gtons would be about $3.3 trillion, and for all eight would be about $26 trillion. These would be global, not U.S. costs, and would amount to about half a trillion dollars per year globally for 50 years. This is a rather small fraction of the global economy, and would remain small even if some additional costs are factored in. Whether that degree of temperature stabilization would actually be realized and be worth the cost is a subject for other discussions, but it is probably not an unreasonable investment.

      • Actually, the 0.48 C reduction in temperature rise would be an equilibrium value, and the figure at year 2060 would be less.

      • Fred Moolten

        We’ve gone through the US proposal and that did not make any sense economically as Rutt Bridges concluded, but let’s look at it globally.

        I come up with pretty much the same figures as yours ($26 trillion for 0.48°C reduction in warming). You have concluded

        This is a rather small fraction of the global economy.

        That’s basically where we disagree, Fred. I have concluded that it is a lot of money spent for nothing achieved.

        Let’s take an extreme case, and say that 50% of all new coal-fired power plants in the world are equipped with CCS, and that the cost of CCS is $25 per ton of CO2 captured and stored per Bridges’ study.

        And let’s use the IPCC estimate (scenario B1), which tells us that atmospheric CO2 will reach around 600 ppmv by 2100, without this CCS scheme.

        By 2100 this will result in the cumulated capture and storage of around 700 GtCO2, assuming that new coal-fired plants continue to be built across the world (and there is no mass shift to nuclear). Roughly half of the emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere, so this is a net reduction in atmospheric CO2 of 350 Gt.

        This represents a reduction of 68 ppm(mass) or 45 ppmv, from 60 to 555 ppmv

        At a 2xCO2 CS of 3.2°C, this represents a reduction of warming by 2100 of 0.36°C.

        At $25 per ton CO2 captured and stored, this represents $17.5 trillion.

        This is a lot bucks for not much bang.

        I’d agree with Rutt Bridges that we should give up on CCS.

        I would also add that we should recognize the fact that we cannot make any perceptible change to our planet’s climate no matter how much money we throw at the problem.

        So instead of chasing that will o’ the wisp, I’d say let’s spend our money to adapt to whatever climate and weather nature throws at us, if and when we see that this expenditure is required.

        Max

      • David L. Hagen

        The world needs to replace depletion oil production to maintain transport fuels that are critical to economies.
        Saudi Arabia is now “happy” with oil up to $120/barrel.
        That will strongly depress global economies, increasing unemployment etc.

        65 million bbl/day over the next 20 years.
        At a typical $100,000/bbl/day
        Cost $6.5 trillion.

        That is the most critical “adaptation” needed.

        Bringing the cost of solar/renewable fuel down below this level is an “adaptation” alternative.

        Any climate adaptation will need to wait till we shore up our economies.

      • David L. Hagen

        Agree with you that countries like USA that have untapped oil reserves should do everything possible to develop and exploit these to get away from $120/bbl imported oil from Saudi Arabia.

        The oil shale deposits are apparently as big as the reserves in Saudi Arabia, including a lot of gas as well. These should be exploited full blast. This makes sense (according to Shell) at $80+/bbl, let’s say at close to $100/bbl to be on the safe side. Then there is always ANWR and many offshore locations that are idle today.

        Natural gas is still plentiful in the USA and this could be used as a motor fuel, as well.

        Then there are the projects being worked on by several large oil companies to generate bio-fuels from algae. On the other hand, the government-sponsored corn to ethanol effort was a total flop from the start and should be abandoned.

        You mention bringing the cost of solar/renewable fuel down as an “adaptation” alternative.

        I agree if the cost can be “brought down” by coming up with more efficient and cost effective processes, but not simply by taxpayer funded government subsidies.

        Max

      • Fred M: Thanks for posting the link on Pacala & Socolow stabilization wedges. That helps me better understand where you are coming from in this discussion.

        I notice though that their first proposal was made in 2004 and aside from Princeton’s developing the concept into a simulation game and that their paper cited in a number of places, I can find little analysis of their proposal on the web.

        I find myself quite skeptical of many of the wedges, e.g. convert 1/6th of the world’s cropland to ethanol?

        I would like to see some outside analysis of these wedges with a firm eye on costs (not included in the P&E page). You mention $3.3 trillion per wedge but I don’t see how those wedges would each cost the same.

        Like manacker I consider $26 trillion a significant amount and I am not convinced it will produce the claimed result.

        I’m big on nuclear because it is an energy-dense, proven source capable of providing huge amounts of 24/7 baseload power. The green sources — wind, solar, ethanol — have their uses but are not proven to the scales demanded in the P&E proposal.

        I believe solar will be improved to that level in this century but I question wind and the ethanol. We may be pleasantly surprised by fusion as in the polywell work Agnostic mentioned further down.

      • Rutt Bridges

        Thanks for comment.

        Yes. Replacing old coal plants with new technology natural gas plants as you suggest makes a lot of sense, from many standpoints.

        As you know better than I do, many of these older plants often are not up to latest pollution abatement requirements regarding real pollutants (SO2, NOx, particulates, Hg, As, etc.) so replacing them with clean natural gas would be a good thing environmentally, whether you worry about CO2 or not. And, as you wrote, they do emit a lot less CO2 per kWh than coal, so that’s a side benefit.

        Max

      • But these combined cycle plants are a whole lot more efficient than the old coal plants they’re replacing. Probably on the order of replacing ~30% with ~50%.

    • manacker: Great work! That was my gut sense, but you did the work. Kudos.

      That’s the problem with so many climate change schemes — they are enormously expensive and accomplish very little. Bjorn Lomborg did a similar calculation for the Kyoto Protocol.

      It makes me wonder what the climate change folks are up to. Are they so panicked that they want to rush into any activity which seems to address the problem, never mind if it has significant impact? They don’t seem to be thinking things through.

      • Yup. Here’s the cold hard reality: Hanson’s right. If we do have a climate emergency, it’s going to take a whole lot more than just capping emissions at yesteryear’s levels. It really is binary; either there’s not a problem, or we need to do 90+% decarbonization all over the world. There’s no splitting that baby.

        A direct consequence of Arrhenius’ law.

  39. OK. It looks like we’ve switched to all italics.

    • There’s a dangling HTML thingy somewhere. There’s got to be a plugin or something to prevent this from happening.

  40. If anyone is actually interested in CCS technology the US R&D program is here:

    http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/carbon_seq/overview/index.html

    They have a monthly newsletter that tracks US and international activity here:

    http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/carbon_seq/refshelf/subscribe.html

    • In the end, CCS is built on a whole lot of rather mature technologies. The capture part is the same process as is used in hydrogen plants to absorb and then desorb CO2 in an alkaline solution called “Benfield solution”. The compression and liquefaction is old technology. The only real unknown is the geological part.

      The good news: it has a high probability of working in the short term with no real surprises.

      The bad news: since it’s all based on mature technologies, the cost isn’t going to come down significantly, in the short or long terms.

      The rest is just details.

      • ChE

        You wrote:

        “The only real unknown is the geological part.”

        Amen!

        Max

      • ChE

        The other “bad news” is that it will not result in any perceptible change in our planet’s climate.

        Max

      • Rutt Bridges

        ChE,
        Unfortunately, according to a September 2008 McKinsey report (see my article for the reference), about two-thirds of the CCS costs is CO2 capture. If we can’t find a much more efficient way to accomplish capture, CCS is unlikely to go anywhere, regardless of the storage side issues.

      • Welcome to the world of climate, where economics is an afterthought. If that.

      • Rutt

        Your article doesn’t contain a useable reference for the McKinsey 2008 report you quote. Could you supply a link please ?

        The reason I’m interested (although I’m mistrustful of McKinsey, Boston Consulting etc as I’ve had too much to do with them) is that I suspect that McKinsey has underestimated the transport/storage costs. I’m quite prepared to be wrong here, but I should like to analyse this first

      • Rutt Bridges

        Of course, Ian… here it is: http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/sustainability/pdf/CCS_Assessing_the_Economics.pdf
        I share some suspicions about McKinsey having dealt with some of their experts in the past, and look forward to your comments.
        And by the way, I just tried to access the paper and got a “Link not found…”

      • Thanks Rutt

        No trouble accessing the paper with your link. My ETA for reading and commenting is a day or two

        As background, my current view is that the anthropogenic signal in climate change is not significant, too much swamped by natural variability. But I live in a democracy (of sorts, anyway) and a perhaps bare majority of people are frightened, so I had hoped for nuclear power as the way. The current catastrophic situation in Japan is an absolute tragedy on many levels – one of which is that nuclear power is dead here as an option. This is very saddening for me, since the “options” of wind and solar can only supply about 35% of current demand – my country is at political risk of becoming 3rd world. Using gas is an option on the replacement basis you have noted for Colorado, but a very expensive one for Aus … about 60% of the country’s manufacturing capacity, including alumina smelters, is supplied through brown coal deposits, and these power plants are not upgradeable to gas

      • >The only real unknown is the geological part.<

        Do you mean leakage, earthquake risk etc ?

        If so, then these risks are quantifiable within significant error bounds. Geology is one of the basic building blocks of science and has built up a very significant body of knowledge

        As I've noted above, with several later posts confirming the point, the *real* issue is the transport and storage costs from all over the country to geologically acceptable sites for injection storage

        Please try to grasp the scale here (other posters have). The imagined process is so immensely huge and costly that it is literally a pipe-dream

  41. Let me try something.

    Is it fixed now?

  42. Reducing greenhouse gas emission is a classic example of a problem solved best by the market, not via central planning. The questions posed above — Is CCS realistic? Is natural gas an appropriate bridge? Should we expand nuclear and/or increase efficiency? — can be multiplied ad infinitum.

    We need a carbon tax which reflects the negative externalities of CO2 emissions in the bottom line of the producers and by extension, their customers. Once that is in place, the market will find the most cost-effective and “robust” strategies to maximize their profits by reducing emissions.

    In the case of coal specifically, costs should also reflect the negative externalities of respiratory diseases and water pollution attributable to mining and burning coal. Coal is, in fact, an extremely expensive way to generate power, which our government heavily subsidizes by allowing the coal industry to degrade the commons at no cost to themselves.

    • Hilarious! A tax is not central planning. Who sets the rate, the market?

      CO2 has no known externalities. Coal’s are minor, while the benefits of affordable electricity are great.

      • David Wojick

        Yes.

        Let the market set the price.

        Set the price to the level of diminishing revenues, just like any shareholder would demand of the revenues of any venture.

        CO2 has many known, verifiable externalities that can be easily internalized.

        If the benefits of affordable electricity are great, then let the democracy of the market demonstrate that.

        Or are you against Capitalism?

      • Bart,

        Since you are in favor of capitalism, can I assume you are against banning of incandescent light bulbs?

      • Bob Koss

        I’m certainly more in favor of banning subsidies on light bulbs of all sorts than banning light bulbs of any sort.

        Incandescent bulbs can be rendered significantly more efficient using metaprocessing and nanoscale etching of the filaments, at a very low cost without the dangers of mercury vapor.

        What’s keeping these vastly better metaprocessed filaments off the market?

        Not capitalism.

        There are extreme low-energy nanofibers doped with high luminosity materials on the horizon, which could be orders of magnitude more efficient than current ‘high-efficiency’ lights.

        What’s the right way to get the best bulb into the world, and take ‘bad’ bulbs out?

        Pricing.

        Internalize to the market the current ‘externalities’ dealt with by ‘all-knowing’ committees and regulators.

        If something will ‘pollute’, put a price on that to be paid up front by the consumer.

        If something will eat into the CO2 budget, charge for that up front.

        If something will use up landfill space, charge for that, up front.

        Let the democracy of the market impose efficiency by the thrift and tastes of individuals receiving correct, unsubsidized, price signals.

        Let the potential of the market to receive the best technology drive productive investment in research.

        You can’t get this if you kill incentive for real productivity improvement by subsidy and poorly-structured regulations.

    • Is CCS realistic?

      Draw a 1,000 mile circle around Gillette, Wyoming and cut out anything west of the Rocky’s(Smog issues kill coal west of the Rocky’s)
      CCS could be economic inside that geographical area.

      Outside that geographic area the cost of transporting coal plus the cost of carbon capture plus the cost of ash disposal doesn’t make coal use a particularly compelling case.

    • Robert,
      If the market was allowed to deal with CO2 honestly, there would be little or nothing to do with CO2.

  43. Natural gas is complicated stuff.

    It comes in varieties and grades, from full-on acid gas (some of the nastiest stuff ever belched out of the innards of the land) to pure sweet gas to the outcome of organic decay on farms and in forests, from icy ocean-bottom calthrates to artificial byproducts of fractionation, from easily tapped wells to fugitive emissions from coal mining.

    You don’t want any of these things uncombusted in the air, expecting at many times the negative effects of these volatiles as from CO2 itself.

    Life cycle studies are useful and all, but there’s a reason states are responsible for some things.

    Each state faces different mixes of different issues, and on coal and natural gas, nuclear (and corn byproducts) and a federal EPA assessment may not apply equally to Colorado in all ways.

    My own naive questions involve trade-offs.

    If a state had something that emitted a lot of GHGs traditionally, even something like decomposing plant or animal wastes, and managed to find a low cost way to slow that decomposition — like the Dyson suggestion in huxley’s post (http://judithcurry.com/2011/03/23/inconvenient-truths-about-energy-policy/#comment-57358) above, then why not do that, instead of more costly CCS?

    If the net outcome is the same and the cost lower, won’t the economy benefit?

    And while CCS may leak, so long as the leak is managed so as to be non-catastrophic, it’s a success if it reduces CO2 emission to just 0.5% (http://judithcurry.com/2011/03/23/inconvenient-truths-about-energy-policy/#comment-57319), so why not use slightly leaky-CCS, if the cost is much lower?

    It’s been a couple of years since any of my own family lived in Colorado, a very beautiful state by any measure, but I don’t recall it having so much farmland as some states, so I doubt the Dyson proposal is really a huge winner there.

    As a place to locate charred biomass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar) and integrate it into terra preta for biosequestration, though, Colorado’s pretty well-positioned. Has this practice been figured into the CCS model?

    I can see careful and prudent local management of natural gas being a good way to go for places blessed with the sweet and easily tapped variety, close to markets for it. Is this the situation for Colorado?

    For most uses, in situ H2 extraction is not likely to be a very good solution, but I don’t know Colorado’s circumstances well enough to comment. Isnt’ much of Colorado is very concentrated into urban centers or resorts that might find trendy hydrogen or natural gas vehicles appealing?

    Overall, because it’s a kick of mine, I generally appeal to those who can influence such decisions, take away the subsidies from all industries so much as possible, make the playing field level, and let the democracy of the markets sort things out.

    They want roads for their internal combustion vehicles, let the auto industry and the oil industry and their customers pay for those roads directly.

    Put a price on GHG emission at the state level with local state emission taxes and give that revenue _not_ to the general revenues of the state, but to each owner of the air of the state — the citizens of Colorado — per capita.

    • Bart R,
      If the benefit of CCS is, as you propose, successful at a 0.5% reduction, how can you assert that with not any look at the cost?
      What is the benefit of a .5% reduction of CO2? Is it even measurable?
      Is the price of CCS even remotely cost effective?
      Are you actually just blithely writing off the potential ground water and land impacts of a leaky CCS system?
      The idea of a tax on CO2 producers to be passed through to citizens has vast problems as well. But you seem to be in the stage of belief that simply has faith that something wonderful will happen if your beliefs are turned into policy.

      • hunter

        Floor, ceiling.

        If the leak of a CCS is 0.5%, then the reduction is 99.5% immediately, and over 36% for the span of 2 centuries, to use the author’s calculations.

        Is the benefit worth the cost?

        Cost/benefit analysis is an inappropriate vehicle of analysis in this case, as the future direct costs are unknowable and can only be analysed in terms of Risk. Risk analysis is the necessary first consideration. Competitive cost analysis for proposals or mixes of solutions is also appropriate.

        The usual standard for a CCS is ‘perfect’ and ‘permanent’ from the point of view of policymakers.

        These terms don’t really mean anything, in any case, so it is best to recognize leaks and work instead on standards for leak rates. All seals eventually leak.

        If a CCS with a 0.5% leak rate cost 1/1000th a CCS with a 0.05% leak rate, then the question isn’t which CCS is better, but do both meet carbon reduction targets?

        The perfect should not be the enemy of the good enough.

        Do I blithely write-off the costs of leaks on groundwater and land? No. I’d include such costs in the overall analyses of competitive bids.

        However, we’re speaking at multiple different levels here.

        One CCS method championed by a Colorado firm is pyrolysis of biomass to produce biochar.

        This is carbon stored as a solid, and the process prevents emission not only of CO2, but also of multiple CO2E (equivalent) GHGs.

        Methane for example has a CO2E of 400, I believe.

        There would be an arguable net benefit to land of enriching soil with biochar, converting it to terra preta, which is said by some to be advantageous.

        Also, the suggestion of the report is an either/or philosophy, instead of a mixture.

        If the ‘perfect’ CCS has only half the needed capacity, and other imperfect CCS’s are available at low cost, why not use those?

        If a mix of CCS’s is valid, why not a mix of other solutions, too?

        It isn’t usual for policymakers to consider CCS on anything except coal, but on natural gas not only is CCS possible, it’s also more cost effective because of technical considerations, in some cases.

        If you reduce your carbon emissions by a significant amount by taking advantage of hydrogen burning (such as in natural gas), and also use the most cost effective CCS, this might be more economical.

        Going further, why just speak of a mix of competing solutions to CO2 emissions for energy production?

        Throw into the mix the most cost effective of the ways to reduce fugitive emissions, such as decay of organic farm or forest materials into CO2E’s, if such has a better net reduction at a lower cost.

        While my preferred method for getting there is to internalize the cost of CO2E emission by carbon pricing on fuels and fugitives, I’m perfectly willing to hear out your list of vast problems with capitalism, and your alternatives to it.

  44. BERLIN – Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

    The world’s fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

    The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a “catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

    The government has been vague on a total price tag for the transition, but it said last year about euro20 billion ($28 billion) a year will be needed, acknowledging that euro75 billion ($107 billion) alone will be required through 2030 to install offshore wind farms.

    “Consumers must be prepared for significantly higher electricity prices in the future,” said Wolfgang Franz, head of the government’s independent economic advisory body.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110323/ap_on_bi_ge/eu_germany_abandoning_nuclear_power

    • Germany likes to talk about its renewable’s, what it doesn’t talk about is the 8 GW of new coal fired power plant that is under construction or why they located a carbon fiber spinning plant for BMW’s new eco car in Washington State rather then Germany.

      • Drawn by cheap and sustainable hydropower, a joint venture to manufacture carbon fiber parts for a new BMW electric car will be built in Moses Lake, the heart of central Washington’s potato country.

        http://www.manufacturing.net/News-Washington-State-Gets-BMW-Parts-Plant-040610.aspx

        Microsoft, Yahoo and Intuit built data centers there and Google has one across the river in Oregon. While “renewable” looks good in press releases, “cheap” and “reliable” are the real reasons.

      • Moses Lake’s in the middle, not on the OR border. They do have cheap power, but only because Grant County was smart enough to get some long term contracts from Bonneville. It’s not going to last forever.

        The PNW is the only significant region where wind power pencils out, precisely because they can backstop it with hydro. They’ll be able to get a certain amount more generating capacity that way, and then they’ll be out of swing capacity, and stuck.

    • Germany will either be the first nation to de-industrialize and return to second or third world status, or they will reject CO2 obsessed polices, or they will change and embrace well managed nuclear power.

    • I look forward to the results of the German experiment with offshore wind farms.

      • De Spiegel had a recent update-

        http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,751149,00.html

        Following a crisis meeting two-and-a-half years ago, the industry managed to increase subsidy rates from the 9 cents per kilowatt hour that was originally planned to 15 cents. Now, under the so-called Renewable Energy Act (EEG) assessment, consumers will even be expected to pay more than 18 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from offshore wind farms.

        I hope it’s 18 cents US not 18 Euro-cents.

      • For a typical German family of four who pay about euro1,000 ($1,420) a year to use about 4,500 kilowatt-hours, the tax amounts to euro157 ($223).

        That’s from the news article Speed linked. I can’t tell if the number is before or after taxes, but that’s 32¢/kwh and that’s expensive.

        The average cost of residential electricity was 12¢/kWh in the U.S. in April 2009, and ranged from 7¢ in North Dakota to 26¢ in Hawaii.

      • You really don’t need air conditioning in most of Northern Europe.
        Prevailing winds are off the North Sea.
        Good thing, because no one would be able to afford air conditioning.:)

        Prices in Germany are twice the price of France.

        http://www.energy.eu/#Domestic

    • I had lunch with a European friend who follows politics. He says that Merkel’s move on nuclear plants is is purely political. The Greens are the key swing voter bloc in the next German election.

      In the meantime France plans to build more nukes in order to sell power to the Germans.

      My friends also says that wind power is a boondoggle in England, Scotland and Denmark. Not only are the wind contributions minimal, but in winter they can net negative since wind requires outside electric power to maintain the turbines.

  45. Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

    The best thing that can be done is to allow the free hand of the market to operate and choose the winner. If you want to believe in global warming that’s fine. But don’t drag everyone into it and force socialist polices on the whole of society. All I’ve seen is a lot of talk and no action. All of the greenies get on the computer and complain about how the environment is being destroyed but they do nothing about it. I see a direct similarity to their behavior and that of hippies complaining about big corporations. The only difference is that one’s method of protest is to complain on the computer while the other’s is to go to a concert and dance around like fools. Has anybody else noticed that every single solution now to a problem is to increase regulation and create or increase a tax? This isn’t a nice thing to say but I believe it. I think Judy knows that global warming is a complete hoax. Why?

    Firstly, she will not comment on Dr. Happer being fired by Al Gore.
    I have not seen her comment on Enron’s carbon trading intentions before they crashed.
    She doesn’t say anything about the personal beliefs of scientists. Judy, how come Gavin, Santer, Cicerone, etc. won’t debate Lindzen or Singer? It is so obvious that they are intimidated because those 2 are superior scientists. So I am sorry to say that I think Judy wants to keep the notion that global warming could be true alive so she can continue to get traffic to her website. As a climate scientist, you could offer everyone a lot of help by talking about what these scientists say behind the scenes. Frankly, it is insulting to my intelligence that the global warming scientists want me to believe that after billions of years, the earth is now in serious danger because of a suspect warming trend that started in 1850-present. For crying out loud, the GAT is 10C lower than it has been for the past 600 million years. The atmosphere has had so much more carbon dioxide and the ocean took all of it out. Therefore, global warmists would have us believe that it can’t be done again, yet on an even lesser scale. It is shameful and embarrassing. Judy, stand up and defend the people.

  46. I have not read this entire thread, but I have gotten the gist of many of the comments and some are very interesting. There are very good reasons for developing alternative energy to fossil fuels without invoking AGW.

    I have been very interested in Thorium Molten Salt reactors as a possible energy source to replace fossil fuel energy, and they are well worth checking out (someone mentioned them briefly). Thorium is interesting because it is much more plentiful than uranium, is evenly distributed around the world (no country would have a monopoly on supplies) it leaves no transuranic acitinides, and it it’s waste has a considerably shorter half life. It works well in the Molten Salt design for fission reactors. It is existing technology as well – it’s been around for a while but forgotten.

    However, I want to draw your attention to this:

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

    If you have the time, watch the entire video and the Q&A. It is fascinating. For go your evening telly – this is much more worthwhile. He skates over a lot of physics in order to get to the good bits, but by god the good bits are interesting (IMO).

    I am struck by the parallels with climate science when he explains why it is he has had so little funding, why the funding had to come from the US Navy, and why it is that the US probably will not develop this technology further – unless it is funded by a private source. He is not sore about it – merely philosophical.

    If this technology proves viable it could be truly revolutionary. What appeals to me is that it is relatively simple, basically using fairly arcane physics that even I understand from High School and Uni.

    • Agnostic: Thanks for the Google link to the Bussard talk on electrostatic fusion. (For those not interested in the technical presentation, I recommend skipping ahead to the 1:00.00 mark.)

      It is a fascinating story and if it works out — fingers crossed, things have been so far — it is a total game changer. Clean cheap energy for the entire world. No more worries about pollution, CO2, energy prices, fresh water, nuclear waste, and on and on.

    • Here’s a transcript PDF of Bussard’s talk, for those like myself who prefer reading over watching.

      Here’s an interesting passage during the Q&A where Bussard explains that they’ve run the project on a shoestring with funding from the Navy because the DOE would kill the project because it’s outside the box of their expectations for how fusion will be solved:

      But the major impediment has always been money. Since 1989 we’ve told the Navy and the Department of Defense that the cost of this program in today’s dollars is $200M, in report after report after report. They’ve known this from the beginning. But they say, we can’t do that. Because if we do that, it becomes visible to the staffers on Capital Hill. Then everyone becomes aware that this is what the Navy is doing. The Department of Energy will see it. Everyone will say, no, you can’t do that. We have the charter to do fusion. And that is the end of the program.

      This is a swell example of groupthink and turf-guarding in a scientific hierarchy that is quite natural but invisible to those involved. I believe the same mechanism is at work in climate science.

    • While browsing at a large used bookstore today, I encountered Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking. I looked up Bussard in the index and read that section of the book.

      Apparently it is easy to create “tabletop fusion.” The quintessential American inventor and television pioneer, Philo T. Farnsworth, had managed it in the 1950s. Bussard’s work, in fact, is based in part on Farnsworth’s.

      But the trick, of course, is to create a net gain of power from fusion. Too easily the energy drains away in nuclear fusion without the fierce gravitational confines of a sun.

      According to “The Sun in a Bottle” the conventional wisdom is that net power is impossible from one of these tabletop setups. Bussard says that in his design, net power scales at the power of five of the device radius. So to demonstrate net power Bussard intended to build full-scale 3 meter diameter, 40 MW device, for $200 million.

      Bussard died in 2007. His work is carried on by his company. They have a new Navy contract for $8 million to produce a new prototype, not full-size. The contract ends next month.

      There the trail ends for now. As I say, the conventional wisdom is that the Bussard design is a pipe dream. Bussard, a physicist of no small reputation, believed otherwise.

      • Thank you very much for this.

        I have just ordered it. I feel Bussard’s work should be more widely discussed and known about. It should be seized upon and determined whether or not it really can work in a practical way – it is simply too important. Perhaps it will turn out to be a blind alley, but every avenue in search of fusion should be ruled out thoroughly because the prize is so great.

      • For the record, I think this is crackpottery akin to cold fusion, but there’s a guy by the name of M. Simon over at:

        http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/

        Who is a big booster of Bussard fusion, and who writes extensively about it. FYI.

      • Thanks for that – actually I have been googling around on this and discovered the blog you linked to and I want to go into it. I must say I think it is a touch harsh to describe this technology as “crackpottery”. IEC has been around a long while, but had design limitations as a plausible energy gainer. If those design limitations have been overcome then it’s really significant.
        WB-7 has been built and successfully validated WB-6, and its results have passed an external review, which doesn’t sound like crackpottery if it’s true.
        I have my own doubts though, particularly the thermalization issue. I am also aware of scientists successfully resolving physical science without them necessarily having practical engineering resolutions and this might be the case here. But everything about this has the ring of plausibility about it – it’s very exciting. It seems the kind of story that fits great discovery. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Without a doubt, it deserves to be thoroughly ruled out as a possibility for fusion energy.

      • Lubos talked about this a few years ago, and the consensus there among some very knowledgeable people was that there are some serious issues. I’ll leave it at that.

        http://motls.blogspot.com/2007/07/bussard-fusion-funding-from-california.html

      • I checked out your link – thanks again. I read the post comments and they didn’t seem particularly knowedgable at all unless I missed something. Also these comments were made 2007. There has been some development since then:

        http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/2009/06/boys-at-talk-polywell-have-struck.html

        They have built a new machine that validates Bussards work with another 2 on the way, one of which is to test Boron as a fuel – the advantage there is that it can produce more energy and almost no neutron radiation. They are planning a larger machine WB-9 which will be based on the improvements of WB 8 or 8.1 depending on how they go. So they sound pretty confident.

        It should be pointed out that 2007 (when the comments were made) was shortly after Bussards work on his polywell design came out. He warned there would be resistance because he was under a publishing embargo for most of the development, so the process over-coming the myriad problems was not known.

        If you know of any skeptical comments that are recent I would be very interested to read them. They should be by now better informed of the physics behind his research and thus better able to make judgements about it.

  47. Fred Moolten

    We have both pretty much agreed that no matter how many trillions of dollars we spend to cut carbon emissions with CCS, we are not able to make any perceptible change to global temperature.

    Australian Climate Commissioner, Tim Flannery, seems to agree that we cannot change out planet’s climate:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/mtr_today_march_25/

    Bolt: Have you got a number? I mean, there must be some numbers.

    Flannery: I just need to clarify in terms of the climate context for you. If we cut emissions today, global temperatures are not likely to drop for about a thousand years.

    A “thousand years”?

    Looks like Hansen shouldn’t worry so much about his grandchildren, or even their great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren; there will be no impact until 50 generations down the line.

    Max

  48. Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

    @Dave

    Well I wish he were more concerned with dropping temperatures, as it is more dangerous.

  49. I am a small oil and gas producer and as such I have use fracturing all the time. Like most producers the vast majority of my wells would not be economically productive without it. I work in Texas and Oklahoma which both have very strict rules concerning the handling of oil field chemicals and produced waters and have had for as long as I have been in the business which is over 40 years. There is no dumping into creeks or rivers, no one would ever send these wastes to a sewage treatment plant. Working pits need to be lined or use metal tanks if there is any possibility of pollution. Storage tanks have to be diked if there is any possibility of a leak which could end up in a creek or river. It is always convenient and self aggrandizing to assume that your opponents, who have been doing whatever it is you are incensed about for decades, are so stupid that they have not already addressed the problems that you have suddenly decided you must trumpet.
    This said I am more than a little disappointed that articles cited which pro port to illustrate the hazards of fracking do no such thing. I would hope that a semi scientific exposition would give there references a careful reading to make sure they really do support their argument. The reference I am referring to is in a paragraph in the main article which states,
    “There is a good article on this subject at the americanprogress web site entitled “Drilling Down on Fracking Concerns: The Potential and Peril of Hydraulic Fracturing to Drill for Natural Gas”
    In this article they discuss fracturing as part of the drilling process. IT IS NOT. Generally fracturing takes place after drilling is complete often months even years later. This confusion is through out the article where they consistently equate frac fluids with drilling waste. Not the same thing at all. In fact people who argue against fracturing seem universally to equate pollution problems associated with drilling and production to fracturing, when this is almost never the case. On those rare occasions when it does happen, it generally has to do with produced water from the wells. or disposal of drilling mud. (In fact were the articles to be believed about how these materials are handled, they are in fact scandalous and have been outlawed for most of the last century in Texas and Oklahoma and I imagine most main oil producing states.) To the point in this article which illustrates my point, they have a subheading
    “Lessons from Pennsylvania” in which they discuss a series of problems illustrating the dangers of fracturing:
    1. drinking water in Dimock Township
    If you follow that link you will find that while there is some disagreement about the source of contamination, however fracturing was never one of the sources suggested.
    2. mud spill in Sproul State Forest.
    Again following the link this is about drilling mud not fracturing. In fact one of the main uses of fracturing is to over come damage caused by drilling mud in the well bore.
    3. 32-mile fish kill in Dunkard Creek
    According to the article the investigation is focusing on a mine. However there is speculation that it might have been caused in part by illegal dumping of drilling waste water. Not frac fluids but drilling waste. Moreover it would have been caused by an illegal act, not in the course of business in the drilling industry.
    4. High Total Dissolved Solids in the Monongahela River. The article states that the ” Sources of TDS include waste water from oil and gas drilling, sewage treatment plants, storm water runoff, abandoned mine drainage and a host of industrial activities.” Again no mention of fracturing.
    So the examples used to demonstrate the dangers of fracturing do no such thing. They only demonstrate the ignorance of the authors and there anxiousness to make the case at any cost. Wikipedia is no better. Not to belabor the point, but in one paragraph in that article it talks about the dangers of silica dust. It suggest that workers wear protective gear to protect them from this dust while fracturing. In all my experience in the oil field, I have never heard of gear to protect against silica dust. Moreover the last sentence in the paragraph is a “What??” moment, it says that “However, sand used for proppant is washed to remove fines and is, therefore, virtually dust free.”
    This is, unfortunately, the level of discourse on this subject as are many in the discussion of Climate Change. Judith I read your blog assiduously and I feel for the most part you do a reasonably scholarly analysis of papers that you cite. However, it is all to easy to fail when one is talking about things outside ones area of expertise and in particular articles dealing with the cause celeb of the moment. Moreover I find it very off putting when writers refer to polemical web sites as if they were objective, carefully researched and even handed. I include capitalist apologia web sites as well as those of organizations which promote environmental action. It was the uncritical acceptance of environmental activist’s articles that caused much of the problems with many of the IPCC statements, was it not?

    • CMS –
      Thank you for your input.

      So far, most of my input has been from hiking and hunting organizations, and State Foresters. What I’ve heard has been irritating, to say the least. BUT – as I said, I will be investigating personally over the next several months – as soon and as far as my recovery from knee surgery will allow.

      I have copied and printed your comments for future reference – and as ammunition against hyperbole by either side when I head north to do some personal investigation. IF I find that there are violations of the operational procedures that you apparently use, I’ll have more to say on the subject – either here or in Harrisburg. Or both.

      Moreover I find it very off putting when writers refer to polemical web sites as if they were objective, carefully researched and even handed.

      That was a point I learned long ago – and, unfortunately, sometimes momentarily forget. Fortunately, I’ve also learned to get the facts – whenever possible. Which is specifically why I’ll be headed north ASAP.

    • I work in Texas and Oklahoma which both have very strict rules concerning the handling of oil field chemicals and produced waters and have had for as long as I have been in the business which is over 40 years. There is no dumping into creeks or rivers, no one would ever send these wastes to a sewage treatment plant.

      CMS – did you read the NYTimes article which documents fracking wastewater practices in NY/PA that run contrary to your experiences?

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=1&ref=drillingdown

      • Well, when the next generation of environmentalists claims that frakking wasn’t related to CC, you can point them to this –

        <iEnvironmentalists say using natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil.

        :-) :-)

      • Joshua
        I have read the NY Times article and have looked at the linked documentation. It stated that Pennsylvania is the only state which allows oil field waste to be run thru sewage plants. This is unfathomable to me. They claim that this is because there are so few disposal wells. Drilling a disposal well is no more difficult than drilling a regular well, and where there is a need, we do it all the time. As a former Penn State student I am aghast that the first state to drill an oil well seems the least knowledgeable about how to regulate that industry. But if you look at the article and associated documentation my argument stands. They are talking about drilling waste which is primarily bentonite based mud and produced salt water and supposing that that equates to the effects of hydraulic fracturing. Only in the most indirect sense is this true. Without fracturing there would be no gas production and hence no produced water, something I think of which some critics are quite aware. In addition, I give little credence to speculation and anecdotes except to say that they should be inspected to determine their validity, but until that is done they do not constitute evidence. There are known problems that can occur from oil and gas production and techniques to mitigate these problems. I do not say that fracturing can never cause problems, but I do say that the blame attributed to it by most of what I see in the NY Times or the movie “Gasland” does not stand up to a knowledgeable analysis. If when you read these articles or watch them on television, ask yourself exactly what is the mechanism that ties the creation of a fracture deep within the earth to the problems they attribute to it at the surface. I think that you will see that there is invariably a ellipses filled with innuendo and speculation about how cause and effect might be tied together.

    • Here are some good links explaining fracking and directional drilling, including how the water table is protected. Fracking in the oil and gas industry has been used since the 40s, it is definitely not a new technology. Just about every of the tens of thousands of well ever drilled pass through the water table, if there is one.

      • Interesting stuff -thanks for posting this.

      • You are welcomed. It seems odd that Obama wants to study fracking more when it’s been used on tens of thousands of wells over the last 60-70 years. There is no significant problem with it.

      • Not odd at all, Jim. It’s part of fulfilling his campaign promise to “make energy more expensive”. It’s in the same box as “no off-shore drilling permits”.

  50. David Wojik

    The point about Flannery’s remark is quite simple: we are unable to change our planet’s climate, no matter what we do today.

    Fred Moolten and I have figured out that investing $20 trillion in CCS will only reduce the warming expected by 2100 by less than 0.4°C, so that’s a return on investment of 0.02°C per $trillion invested.

    Where Fred and I differ is that he thinks this could be a reasonable investment, whereas I think it would be an expensive hare-brained scheme.

    Other actionable proposals made to date show the same thing.

    A recent NASA-GISS paper in Env. Sci. Tech., co-authored by James E. Hansen calls for the shutting down of all coal-fired power plants in the USA by 2030, in order to avoid the global warming caused by the emitted CO2.

    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2010/2010_Kharecha_etal.pdf

    But, just like all of the actionable proposals that have been made to date, this alternate would cost trillions (if the coal plants were replaced by carbon-neutral nuclear power) and result in an imperceptible change in the warming we would see by 2100.

    In this case, 0.08°C warming might theoretically be avoided with an investment of $1.5 trillion (obviously Hansen et al. avoid showing a cost/benefit analysis as part of their study).

    Face it David, the inconvenient truth of the matter is quite simply that we cannot change our planet’s climate, no matter how much money we throw at the problem.

    And I think that is what this whole thread has confirmed.

    Max

    • Max, if you accept the expected warming (I don’t) then you should say we can’t not change the climate, not that we can’t change the climate. Your calculations assume that we are in fact going to change the climate.

      • David Wojick

        I think we may be arguing semantics here.

        Today is 2011.

        We are discussing various specific actionable proposals to change our planet’s climate by 2100, i.e. to reverse some of the projected future effects of human activities and natural climate forcing.

        We see that, even with the high 2xCO2 climate sensitivity as assumed by the IPCC models, we are unable to achieve any perceptible changes in our planet’s climate, no matter which actionable proposal we implement, i.e. we realize that we are not able to change our planet’s climate, no matter how much money we throw at the problem.

        That was my point.

        Whether or not human activities as they exist today have had a perceptible impact on our climate is another discussion entirely.

        So I think we agree.

        Max

    • Hansen calls for the shutting down of all coal-fired power plants in the USA by 2030

      We currently have roughly 300 GW of coal fired plant. Only about 10% of that has been built since 1990. So 90% of it will be older then 40 years old in 2030. Two thirds will be 50 years or older by 2030. 1/3rd will be over 60 years old in 2030.

      Depending on how old one defines ‘useful life’ 90% of our coal plants are going to have to be replaced with ‘something’ anyway. Regardless of climate change.

      Pielke Jr had it right when he said the goal should be new energy sources ‘cheaper then coal’. If we can get their tossing some small change at R &D or maybe some demonstration projects I’m all for it.

      The only thing to like about coal is its price.

  51. Judith writes: “My main issue with CCS is that I do not view it as a robust policy option. If greenhouse warming is less of an issue than currently envisioned, the expenses of implementing CCS will be sunk, with little or no benefit.”

    Indeed. This concept only makes sense when that CO2 is usefully pumped to enhance oil or gas production. That only works on specific formations. Some of the suggestions for larger systems – ‘an elaborate series of tubes’ – are apparent boondoggles which conveniently do not consider their full economic or environmental costs.

    • Al Gored

      Enhanced oil recovery techniques include the injection of gases (incl. CO2), water, steam, caustic soda, mobility control polymers, surfactants, or other chemicals.

      Using this technique with CO2 as a CCS scheme will be very limited, as you point out.

      Any other CO2 injection schemes (simply to get rid of CO2) do not sound like they will ever be cost effective, especially as they will not result in any perceptible change in our planet’s climate.

      There may be some taxpayer money “invested” into promoting these schemes, with a few entrepreneurs making a buck, but it appears to me this will all die down as the reality sets in that we cannot change our planet’s climate.

      Max

    • From Rutledge’s Powerpoint presentation [my emphasis]:

      Climate
      — 2/3 of the change in CO2 forcing appears to have already occurred
      It appears that the Cancun commitment to less than a 2C rise will be met without any climate policy at all

    • The resources aren’t finite.

      They are finite given alternatives at a known cost.

      I.E. Burning ‘expensive’ coal will seem stupid at the point where rising coals prices and declining solar panel prices meet.

  52. Rutledge’s analysis is interesting, but there is enough uncertainty in estimating coal reserves to make firm conclusions difficult. He believes reserves have been overestimated, whereas others disagree. Typically, global recoverable reserves are estimated at about 900 gtons (Rutledge estimates only about 680 would be producible). However, what is “recoverable” depends on the price of coal. If customers are willing to pay a great deal, because alternatives are unavailable, coal that is difficult to mine will be added to the “recoverable” category, and the 900 gton figure could easily be exceeded. Conversely, inexpensive alternative energy and/or a carbon tax would reduce the incentive to recover coal through expensive technology. This would serve as a useful means of reducing fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

    The temperature effect of consuming estimated fossil fuel reserves (dominated by coal) is also somewhat uncertain, because it depends on the correct value of “climate sensitivity” to CO2 increases. At a modal value of about 3 C/CO2 doubling, I have calculated that consumption of mid-range estimates of reserves might raise temperatures about 2-2.5 C at equilibrium – less over the course of the next century. However, there is an important “fly in the ointment” that raises additional concerns. Coal burning produces sulfur emissions that contribute to cooling aerosols. If future pollution controls reduce this element of the emissions, temperatures will rise further than the above estimates. Furthermore, elevated atmospheric CO2 subsides to baseline at varying rates, with a long “tail” requiring hundreds of thousands of years (via weathering of silicate rocks). Once coal is exhausted, the sulfur emissions will cease, but the temperature forcing from elevated CO2 will persist, and so temperature will be boosted without any intervention from pollution control policies.

    I hope Rutledge turns out to be right, and I believe it would be prudent from both an environmental and an economic perspective to pursue alternative energy pathways that make it unprofitable to mine coal that is difficult to reach. Regardless of actual reserve amounts, that is a policy choice that is within our control.

    • Some analyst’s predict peak coal will occur in the next 3 years.

      Two thirds of the worlds coal reserves are in 5 countries
      US , Russia,China,Australia and India.
      China and India are net importers.

      Then is I look at US coal production

      http://www.nma.org/pdf/c_production_state_rank.pdf

      The top 5 producing states are Wyoming,West Virgina,Kentucky,Pennsylvania and Montana.

      Coal production peaked in West Virgina in 1947, Kentucky in 1990 Pennsylvania in 1918. Coal production in Pennsylvania has declined 80%.

    • Fred Moolten

      You point out that if the Rutledge estimate of total fossil fuel reserves is correct, we do not have much to worry about from AGW (I personally agree with you that the estimates are probably low).

      But let’s say he’s right.

      All the global reserves will result in around 3,080 Gt CO2 emitted to the atmosphere.

      If 50% “remains” in the atmosphere (as has been the case on average over the past), this means that atmospheric CO2 will increase by 1,540 Gt CO2.

      The atmosphere has a mass of 5,140,000 Gt, so this equals at increase of 300 ppm(mass) or 197 ppmv.

      Today’s CO2 concentration (C1) = 390 ppmv
      The future CO2 concentration when all fossil fuel reserves have been completely consumed (C2) = 587 ppmv

      ln(C2/C1) = 0.4091

      ln2 = 0.6931

      dt(2xCO2) per IPCC = 3.2°C

      dT (from today until all fossil fuels have been consumed) =
      3.2 * 0.4091 / 0.6931 = 1.9°C

      This would mean that the most AGW we could ever see is around 2C, so nothing to really worry about. (A bigger worry would be running out of fossil fuels, so this should be the real reason for switching to alternate energy sources.)

      The best (optimistic) estimates of total fossil fuel reserves I have seen would get us to around 850 ppmv in the atmosphere when they are all gone (more than twice the Rutledge estimate).

      Using the same calculation, this would get us to an absolute warming from AGW of 3.6°C from today.

      For the year 2100 IPCC has two “scenarios” (A2 and A1F1) with CO2 levels reaching levels exceeding 1200 ppmv. These are obviously ludicrous, in view of the limited amount of carbon available in all the fossil fuels remaining on Earth. I would also consider “scenario” A1B dicey at an assumed CO2 level above 850 ppmv.

      Unfortunately, these are the “scenarios”, for which the alarming temperature projections by 2100 were made (“best estimate” of 2.8 to 4.0°C). So it appears that these projections can be thrown out as impossible (and we are left with a “best estimate” of 1.8 to 2.4°C).

      Note that the IPCC estimates are based on “°C at 2090-2099 relative to 1980-1999”, so if we adjust to a baseline of today’s value (2010 instead of 1980-1999) we end up 0.2°C lower that the stated IPCC estimates, i.e. 1.6 to 2.2°C warming from today to 2100.

      I’d say that’s nothing to worry about.

      Max.

      • The worst case IPCC scenario is based on ‘geologically available’ coal which is something like 6,000 Billion tons.

        I’m not sure how undersea coal mining is going to work out but something tells me solar panels will be cheaper.

      • Based on projections of adverse long term consequences, “dangerous anthropogenic interference” (DAI) with the climate system has typically been defined as a rise in temperature exceeding 2C from pre-industrial times when CO2 was about 280 ppm. Under these circumstances, even the low Rutledge estimate, combined with the consumption of other fossil fuels besides coal, and a climate sensitivity of 3C per doubling would constitute DAI, because the rise would exceed 3C. Whether that definition of DAI is appropriate is a subject for a different discussion.

        We then have to consider the availability of “unconventional” fossil fuel sources that have typically been neglected in estimating reserves. Of these, shale natural gas is now thought to constitute a potentially enormous reserve (with the benefit of yielding less CO2 per joule of energy produced than coal or oil, but only if substantial leakage of methane to the atmosphere is avoided). This would add further to the potential warming of fossil fuel consumption.

        As I mentioned earlier, the end of coal consumption would reduce the emission of cooling sulfate aerosols, thereby permitting greater temperature increases than those calculated simply on the basis of CO2.

        Finally, these calculations are based on additions to current CO2 concentrations, but if the climate is already unbalanced due to current greenhouse gas forcing, the warming from that imbalance will also have to be considered – possibly another 0.6-0.8 C.

        The above relates to warming potential. To my mind, an equal concern over rising CO2 is ocean acidification – sometimes called “global warming’s evil twin”. Without mitigation, future rises in CO2 are potentially capable of doubling the ocean’s hydrogen ion concentration over the next hundred years, with significant damage to the food chain important to the welfare and economy of many parts of the world.

        Now I realize that every one of the above points can be argued about (and has been), and I won’t reargue them here. The only point I want to make with this comment is that it is premature to consider even Rutledge’s estimates to signify a future that is necessarily benign. My personal wish is that we won’t need to find out whether that is true or not, because we will take steps to curtail the use of fossil fuels in favor of alternative energy sources.

      • My personal wish is that we won’t need to find out whether that is true or not, because we will take steps to curtail the use of fossil fuels in favor of alternative energy sources.

        What energy sources, Fred? The usual suspects won’t provide the necessary energy levels to maintain the civilization we’ve all become accustomed to. Nor can those alternate energy sources even be built and deployed without the use of fossil fuels.

      • Jim – The amount of fossil fuel energy needed to build a wind turbine or solar panel is not really relevant to the larger questions you pose.

        In my view, the obstacle to transitioning comfortably from our fossil fuel-based economy to one dominated by alternative energy over many decades is more political than technological. The technology has already been the subject of volumes of data, but if you wish to try to document your views quantitatively, across the large multiplicity of energy options, I’ll read the evidence and try to respond.

        I believe you’ve asked the wrong question, however. Our task is not to compare lifestyles attendant on the transition with our current lifestyles, but rather the lifestyles that would result from the transition with those resulting from failure to act – that’s a very different comparison. I’m certainly not inviting that comparison here – that too has already been discussed and analyzed in enormous detail by scientists, economists, sociologists, and philosophers (because the costs and benefits don’t accrue equally to the same individuals or even the same generation).

        My own statement in my earlier comment was much more modest. It entailed “taking steps” and “curtailing” fossil fuel emissions rather than completely eliminating the latter. I see no reason not to go ahead.

      • Fred M: I think Jim O’s question, “Which sources?”, matters and that you are dodging it.

        It’s not enough to comment vaguely about “taking steps” to curtail fossil fuels, if the alternatives don’t stack up. It’s not just a matter of lifestyle, people’s lives will be blighted and some large numbers will die, if we try to run the world on, say, wind power, however wonderful that might be for carbon emissions.

        My English friend tells me that already hundreds of old people in the UK are dying of current carbon taxes because they can’t afford enough heat in the winter.

        Your post exhibits the usual ACC fallacy that the only significant downside in the future is if we don’t choose to curtail fossil fuels.

      • In my view, the obstacle to transitioning comfortably from our fossil fuel-based economy to one dominated by alternative energy over many decades is more political than technological. The technology has already been the subject of volumes of data, but if you wish to try to document your views quantitatively, across the large multiplicity of energy options, I’ll read the evidence and try to respond.

        That’s quite a mouthful. When you stop using nebulous platitudes like “alternatives” and start talking specifics, there isn’t such a long list. In fact, when you start talking about non-fossil sources, the list is quite short: nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal. That’s it. All of the various schemes, including biofuels, come under one of those headings. Take nuclear off the table for political reasons, and hydro off the table because of fisheries issues and the fact that it’s mostly tapped out already, and you’re left with wind, solar, and geothermal. Geothermal works in a small handful of locations, and is mostly only suitable for building HVAC, and this won’t be anything but a small bit player. This leaves wind and solar. Wind has been thrashed out elsewhere, and can’t serve as the primary source. So this leaves us with solar.

        Solar is more than just photovoltaics, but PV is where most of the attention is focused. Even in a desert location the economics are abominable. They may get better, but they’re still next to useless without a viable storage system.

        All in all, pretty slim pickings for the foreseeable future. Until something breaks in the area of advanced nuclear that deals with all of the manifold safety and disposal issues, there’s no magic in the crystal ball.

        And all the academic papers in the world won’t change that.

      • Fred –
        The amount of fossil fuel energy needed to build a wind turbine or solar panel is not really relevant to the larger questions you pose.

        I know you’re not an engineer, but please do try to use some imagination before throwing out this kind of non-answer. Do you know – 1) how many wind turbines it takes to replace a single 1GW coal plant? And how many 1 GW plants you would have to replace to achieve your “alternate energy” world? 2) How much energy (CO2) it takes to find, develop, extract, refine and produce the various metals used in creating wind turbines? Not to mention the transportation costs for all the stages of production – or the facility construction and operating costs for each stage of the process – for each of the required component metals (more CO2). 3) What’s the forming/machining cost, as well as the facility construction/operating costs (more energy/CO2)? 4) How would you get the finished product to the site (more CO2)? 5) How much cement is required – on land that has to be bought, graded, wired and prepared to receive each of your 80-100 ton wind turbines (MUCH more CO2)? 6) How are you going to erect each of those wind turbines (more CO2)? 7) What’s the minimum fossil fuel usage (CO2) for each of those steps in the process and for the process as a whole? For each wind turbine? And what’s the ROI in terms of energy – AND CO2 balance?

        Yes – many of those questions have been answered and the processes are known. The costs are also becoming known. And they’re prohibitive without massive government subsidies. Ask Shell Oil – they got into the business – and then got out because it wasn’t profitable. So a final question here – just who do you think is going to manfacture and operate wind turbines on the scale required to provide the energy output for your “alternate energy” world – even assuming that that world provides a lesser ”lifestyle” than what we enjoy at present? And why do you think the people of the world will accept that lesser lifestyle?

        You need to pay attention to what’s happening in Europe wrt wind farms. Not to the hype, but to the reality, to the costs – and to the recent political posturings on the issue.

        Solar? Let’s not get silly here – solar has some uses – in some places. But there are too many places where it’s utterly useless for at least a large part of the year. And as someone (ChE ?) pointed out – even where it might be collectible, there’s still the storage problem.

        Our task is not to compare lifestyles attendant on the transition with our current lifestyles, but rather the lifestyles that would result from the transition with those resulting from failure to act – that’s a very different comparison.

        And that, my friend, is pure arrogance. You have no idea what future lifestyles will be, regardless of what theoretical conditions you use for prediction, regardless of whether we act or fail to act. Have you learned nothing over your lifetime about the foolishness of predicting the future? Have you never read Taleb’s “Black Swan”? Have you so little knowledge of the history, either of science or politics, that you believe our present state of knowledge competent to make predictions of what “lifestyles” will be if we “act” – or “fail to act”? On what basis do you presume to know what will happen, what technology will be available, what political and societal conditions will prevail in 5 or 50 or 150 years? There is no basis in climate science – or in any other “science” for that kind of predictive certainty.

        Bottom line, Fred, is that your answer needs considerably more thought. It was based in confirmaton bias – not in the facts as they are.

      • Jim – No matter how you spin it, I don’t think you can make it come out that substituting alternative energy for fossil fuels is going to increase fossil fuel consumption over the long run. That’s a non-starter. As alternative energy ramps up, the energy to construct even more alternative energy devices will come increasingly from the alternative energy sources, and the eventual fossil fuel and CO2 reductions will be substantial. Of course there are start-up considerations, but that is hardly a reason to avoid transitioning to alternative energy over the next 50 years rather than building new coal-fired plants to replace the many that will be retiring.

        Regarding future predictions, I reject the notion that it’s arrogant to strive for the best possible estimate of the respective costs of alternative options, in both economic and human terms. On the contrary, it’s an obligation we all have, considering that both action and inaction are prediction-based decisions that harbor potentially significant consequences – i.e., it’s a forced choice. To base that estimate on knowledge rather than guesswork or wishful thinking requires a thorough understanding of climate, including the considerable evidence we have as well as the remaining uncertainties. It’s a reason why I have tried to move toward that level of knowledge in recent years, and why I draw the conclusions I draw, as best I can. However, I always look forward to additional information on these issues from knowledgeable individuals who have gained their understanding starting with the basic textual material in geophysics and climatology (e.g., Pierrehumbert’s geophysics text, which I recommend) and continuing through a regular following of the articles in the many journals in these fields. A few such individuals comment from time to time in these threads, and I fnd their comments informative.

  53. Here is an interesting article from The Futurist: Why I Want Oil to Hit $120 per Barrel.

    The author’s point is that the world has shown that it can handle high oil prices without the system collapsing. So if the price remains high it will provide a reliable profit target for alternative technologies to stay in business and develop real, scalable solutions.

    In this topic we have read about several approaches. I’m convinced that there are some great advances ahead that will bust loose when we need them. If not, nuclear still looks good if we can beat the luddites down before the lights start going out.

    Even though I’m a lukewarmist, I don’t worry that much about climate change. We will phase out fossil fuels in due time, not because the overlords of the UN and Union of Concerned Scientists tells us to, because of climate change, but because fossil fuels are dirty, have other uses, and are becoming more expensive, and we will have better solutions.

    It’s possible that climate change will be more challenging than I expect — it’s even possible that we’ve already passed some threshold and it’s too late to do much about it — but I’d prefer that we go about our future in a light, unrushed and well-considered manner. That’s not what I’m hearing from the ACC movement.

    • huxley

      You are right in saying that oil at $120/bbl has some advantages.

      On the demand side, I don’t think it will make any real short-term differences, but people will probably consider hybrid or all-electric cars more readily (especially if technology can be improved), so it could shift people away from oil-based motor fuel over the medium term.

      On the supply side, it will make more difficult oil deposits more viable. This is particularly true of the vast oil shale deposits , which are largely in the USA (and thought to equal Saudi Arabia in total reserves).

      Max

      • I think you guys are missing something. Since most of the recent increase in the price of oil, as denominated in US dollars, has been due to the inflation of the US dollar, $120 is the new $80. What you’re seeing is mostly just the devaluation of the buck. This is why we’re going to have $150 and then $200, and nothing will change. Inflation is monetary policy, whether anyone admits it or not.

      • ChE: It’s true that The Futurist wrote that column before the economic meltdown and the inflation that we are now seeing.

        But his point (and mine) isn’t a specific magic number for the oil price, but simply a stable high number that allows alternate technologies a chance to develop without being whipsawed out of business by sudden drops in oil price.

      • Here’s my rhetorical question: when in the past has it been government policy to makes something expensive in order to drive something out of the market, because the nearest alternative has been deemed more desirable?

        We’ve had war time rationing before, and we’ve had import tariffs, but I’ve never before seen anything quite like this, where proposed government policy is to price domestic/imported product “A” out of competitiveness with domestic product “B”, so that people will start buying domestic product “B”. I’m not sure that monsters don’t lie down that road. I’d rather see outright rationing (long explanation why, but I think you get the picture).

      • More details on Cigarette Taxes as a brake on consumption.

      • Cigarettes aren’t a necessity.

      • ChE — Know any smokers?

      • Beside the point. The “alternative” to fossil fuels is some list of other energy sources or in some situations, conservation. Failing that, you freeze in the dark. The alternative to smoking is not smoking. Difficult, but not the same thing as freezing.

        And btw, cigarette taxes (and state lotteries, and other vice fees) aren’t uncontroversial. Smoking is a vice primarily of the underclass. Cigarette taxes hit the poor disproportionally. Or in tax lingo, they’re regressive. The fact that they exist doesn’t mean that everybody thinks they’re wonderful.

      • cigars aren’t taxed….yet.

      • Fred, I stopped smoking, not because of the ultra-high tax on cigarettes in the UK, but despite it.
        Even if they had put a £10 tax on a pack, it wouldn’t have stopped me – I would simply have done without other things, like food.
        You have to be a smoker (or ex-smoker) to understand that.

      • I doubt that taxes would even do much to stop kids from starting to smoke.
        Because kids don’t (and can’t) fully appreciate that you can’t stop once you’ve started. And by then it’s too late.

      • Not to beat this to death, but Peter has a point: while they were screwing down on the taxes, the social tide was also turning against smoking as a socially acceptable practice among the middle class. Nowadays, passing gas loudly doesn’t invoke as much scorn as smoking. So lo and behold: the middle class quits, and the underclass keeps on smoking.

        Draw your own conclusions as to the true cause and effect relationships.

      • Peter and ChE – Your argument is with the tobacco companies, which seem convinced that the taxes hurt their business (see my second link above). I’ll let other readers judge whether the tobacco companies or you are right on this issue.

      • And what did you expect the tobacco companies to say? Taxes are wonderful?

      • Here’s the link again, including tobacco company internal documents and outside assessments by others. I think it would be worthwhile for readers to make their own judgments about the role of taxes and other price increases in determining demand – Cigarette Tax Documents

      • Again, not wanting to beat this to death, but…

        The question of whether or not cigarette taxes discourage smoking is a completely separate question from whether they’re a good model for encouraging alternative energy. Since one is a necessity and the other is a luxury, they’re not the same tine.

        However, the question is interesting, because it’s a very good metaphor for climate CACC, complete with specious correlation, and socioeconomic side effects. You can assert that studies conclude things until you’re blue in the face and it doesn’t make it so. In the end, the studies are what they are, and the facts are what they are, and they only thing connecting them is assertion, because causality is always trickier than asserters assert.

        It’s really an excellent metaphor, and it’s excellent whether you’re a believer or not.

      • when in the past has it been government policy to makes something expensive in order to drive something out of the market, because the nearest alternative has been deemed more desirable?

        ChE: But that’s not what The Futurist, who is largely of the libertarian persuasion, is saying. Nor am I.

        He is simply looking at the upside of expensive oil. He is not recommending that the government enforce high oil prices. (He also has a riff about high oil prices as a sneaky way to kill petrotyrants.)

        I suggest looking at the article. The Futurist doesn’t post often, but he is always interesting (sometimes controversial), he knows his stuff, and has a high hit rate in the dodgy futurism game. He is the best I’ve seen Herman Kahn.

      • IF peak oil is upon us, THEN that will happen on its own. Until then, it won’t. All the wishing in the world won’t change that.

        And that’s the way things have always been. 200 years ago, lamp oil came from whales. A combination of declining whale populations and the advent of petroleum kerosene made whaling no longer viable. Note that you need both: you need the scarcity of the old and the viability of the new. It wasn’t an act of congress that ended the American whaling industry.

      • Again, The Futurist is writing about the positive effects of stable high oil prices — not tariffs, not taxes, not peak oil though those all can contribute.

      • But how do you get stable high prices unless we’re near the peak?

        “Peak oil” means several different things. We may very well have picked all the low hanging fruit, and it’s all going to be more expensive from here on out. But there can still be lots left in the ground. You have to spell all of this out, along with reasonable projections for increases in demand from the developing world (since demand is flat in the developed world) before making the case for sustained high prices.

        I don’t think anybody really knows how it’s going to play out. As usual, the people who are certain will be wrong, and everyone will listen to them, because people would rather be sure and wrong than unsure.

      • ChE: For Odin’s sake, read the article. It’s a provocative lede.

    • “The author’s point is that the world has shown that it can handle high oil prices without the system collapsing.”

      The world’s economy has not shown that. We had the worst financial crisis in 80 years with the peak in oil prices in 2008. The world economy and oil prices crashed and taxpayers had to rescue the banking system from collapse. We are not out of the woods by any means.

      • fred berple: The 2008 economic meltdown was caused deeply overextended lending, not high oil prices. No, we are not of the woods yet.

  54. The question that should be asked is why the US, with all the hype over oil security, and the largest coal reserves in the world, is turning a huge portion of the world’s corn production into ethanol. The US has the cheapest coal in the world. Why is this not being turned into gasoline?

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

    Coal liquefaction is one of the backstop technologies that could potentially limit escalation of oil prices and mitigate the effects of transportation energy shortage that will occur under peak oil. This is contingent on liquefaction production capacity becoming large enough to satiate the very large and growing demand for petroleum. Estimates of the cost of producing liquid fuels from coal suggest that domestic U.S. production of fuel from coal becomes cost-competitive with oil priced at around $35 per barrel,[49] (break-even cost). With oil prices as low as around $40 per barrel in the U.S. as of December 2008, liquid coal lost some of its economic allure in the U.S., but will probably be re-vitalized, similar to oil sand projects, with an oil price around $70 per barrel.

    • fred b: US energy policies are essentially incoherent and stalemated due to the war between liberal green forces and conservative market-favoring forces, so we are stuck with what we’ve got. Because the US is still such a rich country, we can afford to kick the can down the road on energy decisions for a while longer, though not much longer.

      Given that we won’t even drill for more of our own oil to replace foreign oil — in fact we have cut back on drilling in the Gulf — it’s hardly surprising that we won’t develop fuel from coal.

      In terms of climate change, synthetic fuels from coal still net to increased carbon emissions when the fuel is consumed, even if CCS techniques are employed during the conversion.

      That said, the Obama administration this past week announced “US to auction off Wyoming coal reserves.” This has greatly angered the left and climate change advocates: “Why are Obama and Salazar pushing a massive expansion of coal production?

      I’m not sure what prompted that decision. I suspect some short-term political horse-trading.

      • And the reason why such a political stalemate stops any substantive change dead in its tracks is that a plant such as a Fischer-Tropsch plant, even if the economics pencils out, is so capital intensive that the investors need to be confident that the economics will pencil out 30 years from now.

        Uncertainty kills large scale investment, and we default to the status quo. Ditto for nuke or just about anything.

      • I like what the French say about their nukes: “We have no coal, we have no oil, we have no gas, we have no choice.”

        The problem we face in the US is one of luxury: we have so many choices — we can even do nothing, for a while at least — so we are paralyzed.

      • Case in point: California. In 2000, due to a number of factors, their lack of sufficient reserve capacity ended up costing Gray(out) Davis his job, and ushered in the era of Aaanold. Then things got better, and they’re running on just as thin a margin as always.

        They apparently learned nothing, and when the lights go out again, they’ll be looking for someone to point the finger at, when the guilty party is every NIMBY Californian who opposed every attempt to build a responsible margin of reserve capacity.

        Then there’ll be hell to pay, and a need for somewhere other than the NIMBY in the mirror on whom to fix the blame. Maybe they’ll blame Arizona.

      • The US is throwing nearly 40 billion into nuke loan guarantees, so a little something will happen there if Fukushima doesn’t kill it.

      • 40 billion might buy 6 or 8 plants. If they were Gen IV demonstrator plants, it could be significant, but if they’re old-school, it doesn’t amount to anything.

      • ChE: As I read Dallas, he is speaking of loan guarantees, not buying whole plants.

        I don’t know the numbers for underwriting nuclear plants — perhaps Joshua does — but I suspect that the US government kicking in $40 billion could push more than 6-8 plants past the proposal stage into real development.

        Given that we haven’t managed to build a new nuke since 1980, building even an old-school plant would be significant just to break out of the anti-nuclear box.

      • Guaranteeing the loans means exactly that – they aren’t kicking in any capital at all directly, they’re just telling the banks that if the operators default, the government will pay them off. This should remove the uncertainty that has plagued the industry, and allow utilities to build with confidence that 15 years from now, something isn’t going to come out of left field and shut them down.

        There’s not much way to leverage that, though. And the fact that they’re having a hard time finding any takers tells me that there are other issues.

      • We will have to see what the take-up is on that.
        IIRC $18 billion in guarantees have been on the table for 3 years and only $8 billion has been allocated.

        The program originally intended for the first pair of a given design.
        There are only 3 designs currently anywhere near NRC approval.
        The AP1000 and the guarantee’s for that have already been allocated.
        Then there is a GE design and a French design.

        The French design had ‘substantial’ cost overruns in Finland.
        Areva has offered to basically build the French design with it’s own money but US law prohibits foreign ownership.

        That leaves a possible pair of GE-Hitachi reactors being built with loan guarantees. So even with $36 billion in the budget for loan guarantees it’s unlikely more then $10 billion will be allocated.

      • GE. Funny that.

    • The earlier discussion of advantages of $120/bbl crude oil would also include making coal to liquid fuel processes more viable (SASOL has been doing this for years, both for motor fuels and petrochemical feedstocks).

      Sure, South Africa has lots of coal and hardly any oil, plus they suffered under a global embargo for many years, but if it made sense there with $50-80/bbl oil it probably would also make sense in the USA with $120/bbl oil.

      Max

      • F-T and shale have always been just beyond our fingertips, economically. Now that our fingertips may be touching them, they’re going to be forbidden for carbon reasons. Cui Bono, Achmed?

      • Yep, while F-T makes perfect sense, sense is not a requirement for political activists. Remember di-hydrogen monoxide? The inmates are running the asylum.

      • It is an uphill battle.

      • But keep in mind: F-T is incredibly capital intensive. Operating costs are relatively modest, but the mortgage payment is a sumbich. That means the economics 20 years from now matter. Same problem as with nukes.

      • True, but cost will only go higher. While I did not examine the accounting too closely, $2.30 a gallon was estimated in 2007 I believe it was. Inclusion of biofuel would get the “green” incentives. A NATO fuel blend with the “green” sticker would virtually guarantee a Navy contract. Actual performance of a few plants would then determine the viability of expansion.

        Up front cash/loans is no small matter, but less than a medium nuke plant and with a much higher value of product, worthy of consideration I would think. I could also scare the hell out of oil traders.

      • I had a great come back, but the spam filter ate it. Now you will just have to wonder.

  55. Looks like another case of hyperactive spam filter syndrome.

  56. Fred – I’m another (former) smoker who wasn’t deterred by price, but by the inconvenience. The discomfort of accommodating my habit became greater than the discomfort of withdrawal. Withdrawal, I might add, that lasted only weeks, not a lifetime or more. If we didn’t need energy to heat, move, grow, harvest, transport, work, cook, manufacture, inform or anything else, your hypothesis works. When it becomes more convenient to use public transit, to grow my own veggies or buy them from a neighbor, etc. etc., I’ll be happy to abandon oil. If you raise the price of energy only to reduce usage, I’m sorry, but I can’t afford that and will freeze and die. But good luck with that.

    • Hi Mark – I suppose the snide answer to your comment would be that if price didn’t deter you from buying cigarettes, you could use the money you saved by quitting to pay higher energy prices. More seriously, I wasn’t implying a significant reduction in total energy usage, but rather a combination of conservation, increased energy efficiency, and the gradual replacement of fossil fuels with alternative energy sources as a means of reducing carbon emissions over the next half century. From the evidence I’ve seen, the technology exists for this gradual transition, even though it is not mature enough to be cost competitive yet. A number of commenters above have argued differently, but this thread is simply not adequate for the extensive quantitative discussion needed to evaluate all the technologies in detail, and so readers will have to refer to discussions elsewhere, including the Pacala/Socolow proposals, the articles in Nature on alternative energy, and many other technical sources. Below, Chief Hydrologist cites a process proposed for creating fuels from CO2 removed from ambient air. That is so attractive that one really must be skeptical about it while hoping it might prove itself in the long run, and of course, there is always nuclear fusion, which has been only 10 years away for about the last 40 years. In the meantime, I believe that a carbon tax used to discourage carbon emissions, make alternatives more affordable via tax credits or other subsidies, and support alternative energy R&D is one useful mechanism to start the transition. The goal will not be total elimination of fossil fuels (and particularly some retention of natural gas as a relatively low-carbon alternative to coal and oil), but rather a major reduction in emissions by 2050. My knowledge of economics is limited, and I’ll be glad to concede that I’ve probably oversimplified the problem, but I’m convinced that the direction I describe will be far better than a laissez-faire approach.

      • Fred M: You’re right that this thread is not an appropriate forum for a thoroughgoing discussion of alternatives to fossil fuels.

        However, a topic titled “Inconvenient Truths About Energy Policy” can bear the weight of emphasizing that the transition away from fossil fuels is not a simple, happy matter of curtailing coal, gas and oil with carbon taxes etc. then gaily skipping off into the green future.

        No, be assured that the path you propose will have a misery index and a body count, and both have begun already.

        In the long run, your approach may be justified by even worse misery and death resulting from business as usual. But that’ s a bet, not a certainty, and how we collectively make that decision is very much up for grabs.

        It’s nice that you are convinced that your vague recommendations are far better than laissez-faire, but why should the rest of us be persuaded?

  57. In a quite reasonable invitation to join the Pigou club (http://www.economics.harvard.edu/files/faculty/40_Smart%20Taxes.pdf ) – it is stated that some 54 to 65% of economists favour higher energy taxes in the US.

    It is in my opinion a soft majority and an argument that fails to clear the hurdle of demand inelasticity. Demand for oil is inelastic – in practice demand is non-responsive to price by and large and especially so if other taxes are reduced at the same time. The argument is that if a high enough price is put on fuels then an alternative supply will emerge. That price is very high at this stage as we lack alternatives that are anywhere near price competitive – although there are dozens of technologies in the development stage. The one mature alternative – ethanol – has very serious dangers and limited potential to substitute for oil.

    At that high price demand for oil plummets as substitution takes place and then the oil price slides dramatically. As the oil price plummets the alternative suppliers call for more taxes to maintain their margins. Many oil producers go out of business – there is again a shortage of oil. The world economy wildly fluctuates between oil glut and bust and then Iran drops a nuclear bomb on Israel – the law of unintended consequences. The global economy is well known to be an example of a dynamically complex system – minimal interference by neo-socialists and transparent good governance are the ideals to be defended at every turn.

    Even if markets stabilise with an alternative supply at much higher prices – there will be no tax collection on the alternative supply and no compensation. The higher cost of inputs must result in less production and a market contraction that much of the world can ill afford. In the unlikely event of a widespread adoption of Pigovian taxes – at best there is a severe contraction in economic growth and at worst there is an economic disaster to make the GFC pale in comparison.

    There are many alternatives. As of this morning I calculated that I was paying US$5.50/gallon for ‘gasoline’. This is of course closer than not to double the US price. I was interested the other day to read this from the LANL – http://www.lanl.gov/news/newsbulletin/pdf/Green_Freedom_Overview.pdf – It is notable that stripping carbon from the atmosphere and converting it to synfuel is viable at US$4.60/gallon. It becomes a whole lot more viable with Gen IV nuclear reactors. At the end of the day – the one real solution is technological.

    Indeed, as the nation with almost all of the world’s nuclear fuels resource, it makes sense for Australia to process, reprocess and stockpile nuclear fuels. We have a stable geology, politics and (unlike others – you know who youse are) economy.

    There are other very sensible and effective things we could do. Most obviously in Australia in reversing 200 years of soil carbon loss and land degradation – this has multiple benefits including much needed biodiversity and soil conservation. These are things that should be paid for by reducing the size of government otherwise.

  58. Their accounting makes me want to scream. The PDF is locked, so I can’t quote the paragraph, but they calculate a cost/gallon based on pure operating costs, and then mention – oh, by the way – that you have to add capital amortization to that.

    You don’t do it that way. The cost is what it is, including all costs, even the ones they failed to include. And then you have to add distribution and taxes on top of that.

    I’m appalled.

    • The accounting is worse then abysmal.

      They quote a total capital cost of $5 billion, more then half of which is the nuclear power plant. If more then half is 60% then they figure they can buy a nuclear power plant for $3 billion.

  59. Chief Hydrologist

    The Green Freedom write-up on the CO2 to gasoline process sounds interesting.

    The syngas conversion processes are well known, although there appear to be some innovative new ideas in the described processes.

    What interests me more are the CO2 capture and sysngas production processes and, as a result, the overall energy requirement. The described concepts look like they could make sense, but what is missing is the overall energy unit ratio per gallon of gasoline produced.

    A US gallon of gasoline contains roughly 125,000 Btu of energy (~47 MJ/kg).

    How many Btu of energy does it take to produce this gallon of gasoline?

    Just from looking at the various process steps, I can imagine that it is several times the 125,000 Btu.

    Since CO2 is the by-product of a process converting liquid (or solid) fuels into energy, it is clear that a significantly greater amount of energy is required to reverse this.

    Have you seen any write-ups that show unit ratios and unit energy requirements?

    The process would have to be compared with conventional gasoline production from crude oil at some specified crude price.

    One could also compare it with coal-based processes for producing liquid fuels (e.g. SASOL).

    One could then calculate what energy price and crude oil or coal price is required for this process to be economically competitive with conventional oil- or coal-based liquid fuel production processes, ignoring AGW aspects from CO2..

    A second comparison could be made at expected future oil and coal prices to establish the premium cost of a gallon of gasoline from this process versus conventional sources, and then convert this in order to see what the cost is per total net ton of CO2 not emitted plus recovered.

    A third comparison would be between an all-electric drive car (nuclear power source) and a car driven by gasoline from this process.

    Have you seen any more details on this?

    Thanks.

    Max

  60. Chief Hydrologist

    Of course, as ChE points out, capital investment and amortization have to be considered as well.

    Max

    • At first, that puzzled me. But they’re not the only ones who do that. That’s pretty standard practice for mass transit projects; just quote the operating costs and ignore the capital costs. Are they that dishonest?

      Then it occurred to me. The notion of rolling mortgage payments into operating expense is a practice that’s unique to the private sector. In the public sector, capital is something Santa Claus hands out every year. If these are people with no private experience, this may seem like a reasonable thing to do.

      But it’s not. This is basic engineering econ/accounting 101 duh. If people purporting to have the Next Big Thing are to be taken seriously, they need to get serious about having some professionals do the economics. Otherwise, they’re just like this guy:

  61. As I said earlier – that price is very high at this stage as we lack alternatives that are anywhere near price competitive – although there are dozens of technologies in the development stage.

    The LANL idea is not even at prototype stage – so I wouldn’t get too carried away. If I did my usual engineering thing – I would double the estimate to about $10/gallon.

    There are low tech versions – using algae in ponds to strip carbon and make fuel from the algae for instance. But there are of course many ideas around.

    The real point is that Pigovian taxes raise costs of inputs substantially in the global economy as there is no cost effective alternative. This has no comparison to cigarettes as the alternative to cigarettes is any other item of discretionary expenditure. Cigarettes are not fundamental inputs into the production of food and shelter for instance. Cigarettes are not how we get to work and do work. By fundamental economic theory demand, price and supply would fall in economies where energy was priced much higher by taxing initially – and then if it worked by replacement with higher priced alternatives. In the unlikely event that anyone much in the developing agreed to this, it would result in millions more of deaths in the 146 million people who are on the edge of starvation already.

    Even in the west such an inefficient, unfair, ineffective and costly tax is bad policy – to be resisted. We are far better off putting more money into technology. I have one question – is it a deliberate attempt at global economic sabotage or are these people simply the worst kind of well meaning and sincere fools.

  62. Chief Hydrologist and ChE

    Without even considering energy losses, etc. one kg of hydrogen takes 35 kWh to generate from H2O by high temperature electrolysis. 1 kWh = 3.6 MJ, so it takes 126 MJ per kg H2.

    It takes 2 kg of H2 to convert 44 kg of CO2 to 18 kg H2O plus 28 kg CO
    This reaction requires around 10 MJ per kg CO produced.

    Another 4 kg of H2 are required to produce 32 kg of syngas of 2H2:1CO on a mol basis, so a total of 6 kg H2 are required to produce 32 kg of syngas.

    To produce 6 kg H2 from H2O takes 756 MJ.

    So (theoretically) it takes 28 * 10 + 756 = 1036 MJ to produce 32 kg of syngas from CO2 and H2O.

    This converts to 32 kg of CH3OH (methanol) releasing around 48 MJ

    Converting this to 18 kg H2O plus 14 kg hydrocarbons (methanol to gasoline or MTG process) generates around 1.6 MJ per kg CH3OH or 51 MJ.

    So we have a total theoretical energy requirement of 1036 – 48 – 51 = 937 MJ to produce 14 kg of gasoline. This equals 67 MJ per kg.

    1 kg of gasoline contains around 47 MJ energy, so it looks to me that theoretically if there is no energy loss along the way, it takes around 1.5 times as much energy to produce gasoline from CO2 and H2O as it will contain.

    Am I missing something here?

    Max

    • Missing anything..

      Getting about 40% of generating capacity in the US means something has to run at less then full capacity.

      In the US Nuclear plants run at 90+% of capacity. Coal plants are down around 60% capacity and natural gas plants are at something like 25% capacity.

      So if ones goal is to replace all the coal plants with nuclear then we are going to have a whole lot of excess off peak capacity. Looking at the feasibility of what products could be made at a profit with that off peak capacity is not entirely a waste of time.

      The transportation market has been paying a premium of 400% for the energy density of liquid fuels for a very long time. Unless something magical happens with batteries that is likely to continue.

      • It just occurred to me that there’s one thing mitigating in favor of these kinds of schemes – they represent flexible loads that can be used to match power generation to demand. If done right, these CO2 to gas kinds of things can be used to load base plants at night, and consume wind gusts.

        At least in theory. I can see all manner of practical reasons why this might never make sense.

  63. Chief Hydrologist and ChE

    There is also an energy requirement to capture the CO2 from the atmosphere (if this is the CO2 source for the process), which I have not counted.

    Max

  64. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!