The rising fortunes of coal - perhaps

A week or so ago I wrote about the power supply debate going on in New England, with the controversy over the wind farm to be sited in the waters off Cape Cod. In that post I commented on the fact that, in response to an energy shortage that had appeared in 2004, the area had ensured additional supplies of LNG, and had converted some power stations so that, instead of relying on natural gas, they could also burn oil. The advantage of oil in this particular case is that it is somewhat more easily stored and thus is accessible when the gas lines are not available.

However I skated around the issue as to what would happen if there were neither oil nor gas available. This is not, unfortunately, a theoretical exercise. Chris Skrebowski has projected a supply shortfall by 2012. Yet already in India power plants are being idled because they cannot get enough LNG. And as for the supplies of oil, the likelihood of us being past peak by 2012 is increasingly real. So, that being the case, where can one look for alternate fuel. As articles in the New York Times and in the Washington Post have noted, for most of the rest of the world the short-term answer would appear to be from coal.

And this is where it is going to start getting awkward. Because it is fairly clear that those who are concerned that carbon dioxide is increasing the world’s temperature are becoming more pro-active in stopping this change. Only this past week the Governor of Kansas, a strong Senator Obama supporter, vetoed approval of two coal-fired power plants. Such activities, naturally, can be expected to slow industry plans to install more coal-powered plants around the country, if this presages the attitude of an incoming administration. (Since Vice President Gore was part of the last Clinton Administration, one might reasonably assume that his attitude would also prevail if Senator Clinton made the White House in an alternate selection). So given this potential if either Democratic candidate reaches office (note that on this issue Senator McCain is apparently not much different ) then let us, for a moment suppose that there is a de facto moratorium on new coal plants in the U.S. for a couple of years. That is not going to change the way the rest of the world goes after power. As I noted in a recent post on Botswana, they need power to move the nation forward and electrify the rural community, as well as to power the mines that will provide the commodities that will pay for it. Coal is their natural resource, and like other countries in the region it is what they will use.

At the same time China has already realized that it will need to import more supplies to meet a need that is greater than the supplies that it has domestically available. (Sentence corrected for meaning at 9 pm). Thus, as The Economist recently noted, it has actively become engaged in acquiring supplies from around the world. There was a time, just recently, when 79 ships were lined up at Newcastle, Australia for cargoes to China, 43 of them loading coal. And China is not alone in needing to import more. India too has seen power blackouts, and intermittent supply, as demand had grown to much greater levels than current supplies can meet. And so it too will switch more to coal, as it struggles to meet the need for fuel, with a consequent increase in imports.

As a result, India expects to import 51 million tons by 2012, nearly as much as U.S. exports last year. By 2022, imports could climb to 136 million tons, Kumar said.

There are a couple of things that worry me about this growing scenario, where coal, as the only fuel apparently available to allow significant growth in the short term. The first is one of ensuring that there is enough to go around. While the tap in developing coal mines is somewhat different to that in extracting oil, production can, in many instances, be stepped up at the mine itself, providing there is equipment and manpower. (Neither of which is necessarily going to be there). Getting the coal to where it is needed is another story. Rail facilities around the world are already being stretched to meet current needs, and are vulnerable, as the recent winter in China demonstrated, to external conditions. However, given the need, over the course of the next few years one can anticipate that Asian markets will continue to grow and consume an ever increasing percentage of the coal produced.

Which brings me to two more worries – the first is that if indeed the U.S. is going to need significantly more power, but does not now start the process to put in the power plants, and make arrangements for the long-term supply of coal, then when it needs it the supply may already have been sold, and that at that point the United States may find itself as Southern Africa did last December, with a need for power that cannot be met, and where load shedding and rolling blackouts become the alternative.

The second concern relates to the stridency that seems to be entering the discussion over GHG impacts on global climate. The Economist leader ended its discussion on the way in which China is seeking to acquire the resources it needs by noting:

China is bound to consume enormous amounts of raw materials as it develops. But given how polluted the country already is, and how much unrest that pollution is causing, it should curb its hunger for resources. A less wasteful development strategy would be a healthier one.

The reality is that many of the nations that are switching to coal to provide the power for the next 20 years or more are doing so in part to bring their people closer to the living standard of the West. When villages have no power, we do not have the right to tell their government that they cannot provide it, even if coal is the only power source available. This is not to say that cleaning up working conditions is not a good idea. For those of us raised in industrial Britain after the Second World War, memories of the poor air quality of the time are not pleasant. But, by the same token, it provided the power that brought Western Europe back from the devastation that it had suffered.

My worry is that of time, because if the power is not there when we need it, it is a little late to admit error (not that there is going to be a whole lot of that going around, if Southern Africa is any model). Power stations take significant time to install, or convert from other fuel. We have a window of opportunity, sadly I am beginning to doubt that we will take advantage of it.

It's all about cost. Alternative energy schemes become more viable with each passing day. The U.S. almost doubled its wind power capacity last year. Put a $100 per barrel tax on oil and the U.S. will have a balanced budget,with just about any form of alternative energy becoming more affordable than oil and gas. That won't happen,but peak energy will have the same effect. It'll take a bit longer and won't balance any budgets,but it'll happen nonetheless.

Maybe the greyhound will catch the mechanical rabbit, but I remember opinions that oil would never pass $100 without alternatives gaining ground. Oil is still the preferred energy source at $107 and you state that $200 is the new limit-why $200-why not $113?

Er, alternatives are gaining ground. Theres lag time for infrastructure to be built, weather its tar sands production, coal liquefaction, GTL or whatnot. Theres also the institutional reluctance to invest billions of dollars in an industry with high production costs when its perceived oil prices could be a bubble.

But SASOL has large contracts now, tar sands production is rising, and new infrastructure is being built.

NG storage history Summary:
Working gas in storage was 1,277 Bcf as of Friday, March 21, 2008, according to EIA estimates. This represents a net decline of 36 Bcf from the previous week. Stocks were 240 Bcf less than last year at this time and 33 Bcf above the 5-year average of 1,244 Bcf. In the East Region, stocks were 19 Bcf above the 5-year average following net withdrawals of 33 Bcf. Stocks in the Producing Region were 38 Bcf above the 5-year average of 456 Bcf after a net injection of 4 Bcf. Stocks in the West Region were 24 Bcf below the 5-year average after a net drawdown of 7 Bcf. At 1,277 Bcf, total working gas is within the 5-year historical range.

The rising fortunes of coal

The title should rather be called "The melting fortunes of coal", just as this news has come in:

Ice shelf 'hangs by a thread'

Once the ice shelf has gone, next in line is the ice sheet itself, sliding freely into the ocean, causing immediate sea level rise.

Almost to the day a year ago, NASA climatologist James Hansen had this to say:
".....and even of more concern is West Antarctica because it's now losing mass at about the same rate as Greenland, and West Antarctica, the ice sheet is sitting on rock that is below sea level. So it is potentially much more in danger of collapsing and so we have both the evidence on the ice sheets and from the history of the Earth and it tells us that we're pretty close to a tipping point, so we've got to be very concerned about the ice sheets."

The latest research by the Hansen lab indicates that at about 450 ppm of carbon dioxide we should expect an Earth free of ice, which would raise sea levels by about 80 meters (ca. 250 ft).

"Paleoclimate data show that climate sensitivity is ~3°C for doubled CO2, including only fast feedback processes. Equilibrium sensitivity, including slower surface albedo feedbacks, is ~6°C for doubled CO2 for the range of climate states between glacial conditions and icefree Antarctica. Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, large scale glaciation occurring when CO2 fell to 425±75 ppm, a level that will be exceeded within decades, barring prompt policy changes. If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

Since peak fossil fuels will still let us go to 450 ppm, our goal should be to keep as much in the ground as possible. Instead we have an essay bemoaning the lack of capacity to use it up!

Personally, I could adjust to life with little and intermittent electricity and am totally willing to accept that if it is necessary to keep the Earth system fairly habitable for me, my descendants and other forms of life.

If climate change scientists and the educated lay people are "strident" it is because we prefer to live rather than have a die off that looks like the movie "Soylent Green."

Instead we have an essay bemoaning the lack of capacity to use it up!

I do not think that is the intent of the essay at all. I think he is bemoaning the fact that rather than build nuclear and renewables, the people who are trying to build power plants are assuming that coal will solve the problem. However, politicians in the west are blocking the building of coal plants, too, so that we will soon have power shortages. He does not even mention that there is good reason to believe that coal production will peak in about 15 years.

Conservation can mitigate the decline of fossil fuels but it cannot solve our future needs. The only thing that can is to build capacity of sources that have assured fuel and do not contribute to global warming. Those are nuclear, wind and solar.

He shouldn't be concerened. While the Arctic is warming Antartica is mainly unaffected by global warming. The only bit warming is the West Antarctic Penninsula. That has only a small area.

Ah, Hansen is an expert in paleoclimatology and the implications for ice.

He is talking about a complete loss of ice from the entire continent of Antarctica at 450 ppm or so.

If W. Antarctica ice alone goes that's ca. 5 m (16 ft) sea level rise.

Never mind, no need for concern (sarcasm alert).

He shouldn't be concerened. While the Arctic is warming Antartica is mainly unaffected by global warming. The only bit warming is the West Antarctic Penninsula. That has only a small area.

Antarctica temperature trend is very uncertain due to big interannual oscillations and short timeseries anyway recent data shows warming over most antarctica :

Sorry, but that's a little misleading. Last southern winter the Antarctic had record maximum ice (since satelitte photos started). Active volcanoes have been found under the ice and under the Ross Sea ice. That's why West Antarctica is melting whilst the rest of Antarctica is cooling and ice is spreading.

Note the red hotspots in the temperature trends map at:

Already in the approaching winter, Antarctic ice is running an amazing 60% ahead (4.0 vs 2.5 million square km extent) of last year when it set a new record. The ice extent is already approaching the second highest level for extent since the measurements began by satellite in 1979 and just a few days into the Southern Hemisphere winter and 6 months ahead of the peak.

In fact the southern hemisphere has cooled slightly over the last 70+ years, so these reports by Hansen et al with no balancing comments is very misleading!

The above link leads to following articles:

This image shows temperature trends for the icy continent from 1982 to 2004. Red indicates areas where temperatures generally increased during that period, and blue shows where temperatures predominantly decreased..
Although Antarctica warmed around the perimeter from 1982 to 2004, where huge icebergs calved and some ice shelves disintegrated, it cooled closer to the pole.

Why is Antarctica getting colder in the middle when it’s warming up around the edge? One possible explanation is that the warmer temperatures in the surrounding ocean have produced more precipitation in the continent’s interior, and this increased snowfall has cooled the high-altitude region around the pole. Another possible explanation involves ozone. Ozone in the Earth’s stratosphere absorbs ultraviolet radiation, and absorbing this energy warms the stratosphere. Loss of UV-absorbing ozone may have cooled the stratosphere and strengthened the polar vortex, a pattern of spinning winds around the South Pole. The vortex acts like an atmospheric barrier, preventing warmer, coastal air from moving in to the continent’s interior. A stronger polar vortex might explain the cooling trend in the interior of Antarctica.

In Sciencedaily Jan 22nd, /2008

The first evidence of a volcanic eruption from beneath Antarctica's most rapidly changing ice sheet has been reported. The volcano on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet erupted 2000 years ago (325BC) and remains active.
Co-author Professor David Vaughan (BAS) says,"This eruption occurred close to Pine Island Glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The flow of this glacier towards the coast has speeded up in recent decades and it may be possible that heat from the volcano has caused some of that acceleration. However, it cannot explain the more widespread thinning of West Antarctic glaciers that together are contributing nearly 0.2mm per year to sea-level rise. This wider change most probably has its origin in warming ocean waters."

Then, on March 4th 2008

"Could Volcanic Activity In West Antarctic Rift Destabilize Ice Sheet? The West Antarctic rift is a region of volcanic activity and crustal stretching that is roughly the size of the western United States (from Salt Lake City to the Pacific Ocean).
It is interesting nevertheless, because volcanic eruptions beneath the ice could destabilize the ice sheet, leading to as much as 25 feet of sea-level rise. How likely is it that this could happen is a question scientists have debated for over a decade. LeMasurier addresses the question by comparing the West Antarctic rift with similar areas of crustal stretching elsewhere in the world.

The comparison shows that volcanic activity in rifts is most common where the land is a mile or more above sea level, and rising, which can readily be seen in Antarctica along the Transantarctic Mountains, and in the Pacific coast mountains of Marie Byrd Land. The large sub-sea-level interior of the rift does not, therefore, seem to be a likely place for present-day volcanic activity.

This is good news, because the sub-sea-level base of the West Antarctic ice sheet is already especially vulnerable to warming of the atmosphere and surrounding seas. However, this study also shows that the land in West Antarctica has been rising beneath the ice sheet in some areas and subsiding beneath it in others, over roughly the past 25 million years."

Hansen said he will soon publish a paper on Antarctica

Furthermore that image is old(1982-2004 trend), the new one is available here(1981-2007 trend):

Just three more years changed drammatically temperature trends inside antarctica due to strong short term fluctuations.
That's why antarctica trend are so uncertain.
Anyway there's no doubt antarctica peninsula warmed at a fast rate during last 50 years and ice shelves respond to long term temperature variations, it's not sea ice.

Neccessity is the mother of invention.

Nothing will stimulate development of energy efficiency and renewable alternatives in the NorthEast faster than increasing prices, decreasing electricity supply, and brownouts/loadshedding.

Building new coal plants now, without any significant effort to harvest the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency would be a tragic economic and environmental mistake. Heating oil and electricity are widely used in the NorthEast to heat pathetically energy-wasteful housing stocks. 30 years ago we built my brother's passive solar home in Downeast Maine and it still uses around 10% of the heating energy that his neighbor's houses' consume. Today, vastly superior windows, insulation, and controls are available compared to what we used in 1976. Requiring new/remodel construction to meet Germany's PassivHaus standard would make much more economic sense than constructing new coal plants, in the face of the inevitable coal cost increases coming.

Even global warming deniers cannot deny the environmental destruction that coal causes when it is mined ("mountain top removal"/stripmines/etc.) and when it is burned (particulates kill 60,000 per year in the US alone, tons of mercury/etc.).

Personally, I am glad that the combination of billion dollar capital requirements and NIMBY opposition to any proposed coal plant site will likely make coal plant construction in the NorthEast almost impossible, until supply shortages/escalating costs make it a moot point.

If Americans had only used more of all that borrowed home equity to increase home energy efficiency instead of buying whole mountain ranges worth of granite counter tops, the country would be a little better off.

Building new coal plants now, without any significant effort to harvest the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency would be a tragic economic and environmental mistake.

That future is here. Coal-fired power plant construction is at a 25-year high. Thermal coal exports are forecast to rise 36% this year.

A recent news item from Japan; 8000MW of LNG powered combined cycle power is setting idle due to lack of firm fuel contracts. I agree that we are playing with fire in restricting the construction of new power plants to both meet new demand as well as replacement of old inefficient/worn-out ones. If we end up "behind the curve" on meeting electrical demand the only recourse is demand destruction which will have a much larger impact than the looming 5-10% per year reduction in transportation fuel. If significant portions of the US population start suffering blackouts, either at work or at home, the politicos will run for the hills and emissions will be very low on the lists of concerns for getting reliable power back on. Unfortunately, everyone loses in that scenario.

"Almost to the day a year ago, NASA climatologist James Hansen had this to say:"

What does he have to say after the coldest winter in decades? Those ice sheets grew like gangbusters this winter.

"But figures from the respected US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that almost all the “lost” ice has come back.

Ice levels which had shrunk from 13million sq km in January 2007 to just four million in October, are almost back to their original levels.

Figures show that there is nearly a third more ice in Antarctica than is usual for the time of year."


What does he [Hansen] have to say after the coldest winter in decades?

The maps are used to show that, even averaged over a month, local weather anomalies
(dynamical fluctuations, more-or-less independent of forced long-term climate change) are much larger
than the global mean temperature change of recent decades. Weather fluctuations or ‘noise’ have a
noticeable effect even on monthly-mean global-mean temperature, especially in Northern Hemisphere
winter. Weather has little effect on global-mean temperature averaged over several months or more. The
primary cause of variations on time scales from a few months to a few years is ocean dynamics, especially the Southern Oscillation (El Nino – La Nina cycle), although an occasional large volcano can have a cooling effect that lasts a few years. The 10-11 year cycle of solar irradiance has a just barely detectable effect on global temperature, no more than about 0.1°C, much less noticeable than El Nino/La Nina fluctuations.

The past year (2007) witnessed a transition from a weak El Nino to a strong La Nina (the latter is
perhaps beginning to moderate already, as the ocean waters near Peru are beginning to warm). January
2007 was the warmest January in the period of instrumental data in the GISS analysis, while, as shown in Figure 1, October 2007 was # 5 warmest, November 2007 was #8 warmest, December 2007 was #8
warmest, and January 2008 was #40 warmest. Undoubtedly, the cooling trend through the year was due to the strengthening La Nina, and the unusual coolness in December was aided by a winter weather

The monthly fluctuations of global or near-global temperature, as well as the trend over recent
decades can be seen in Figure 2 for the GISS surface temperature analysis as well as the lower
tropospheric data of UAH (University of Alabama at Huntsville)2 and RSS (Remote Sensing Systems).

The reason to show these is to expose the recent nonsense that has appeared in the blogosphere, to the
effect that recent cooling has wiped out global warming of the past century, and the Earth may be headed into an ice age. On the contrary, these misleaders have foolishly (or devilishly) fixated on a natural fluctuation that will soon disappear.
Note that even the UAH data now have a substantial warming trend (0.14°C per decade). RSS find 0.18°C per decade, close to the surface temperature trend (0.17°C per decade). The large short-term temperature fluctuations have no bearing on the global warming matter or the impacts of global warming discussed in the Illinois Wesleyan presentation. A global warming much smaller than weather fluctuations has the potential for dramatic effects, e.g., by setting in motion future large sea level change, species extinction, and various other impacts.

Cold weather does raise an interesting point, though. People who do not like cold weather, and might have welcomed the idea that Minnesota may become more like Missouri or Massachusetts like Virginia, must give up that notion, unless they wish ill for a large fraction of the planet’s inhabitants, both human and other creatures. We are going to have to figure out a way to keep climate zones pretty much where they are now (winters will continue to happen, as always). It is possible that we can still do that – just barely.

Let's not confuse weather with climate. Weather is the little ups and downs (this winter was, the last storm was, the last rain storm was), climate is the long term global average. Although the media noise machine will never make this clarification, let's keep things clear.

Antarctic climate exists within, and is determined by, global climate. There is no dividing line between the hemispheres with respect to oceanic or atmospheric circulation; they are all connected.

This shelf break-up is a very bad thing and probably represents a significant tipping point. The flow of ice off the highlands of this portion of the Antarctic continent will now significantly increase. Such speed-ups of glacial ice flow velocities (up to a factor of 10) have been observed in Greenland.

This is serious people.

Twelve-month long drop in world temperatures wipes out a century of warming

Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile -- the list goes on and on.
No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.

Sorry perry.

Hansen throws cold water on cooling climate claim

The graphs used in the article go back to 1988, and show that it was even cooler in the early 90s. Best to take a long view and check out the source of the cited data, which gives a much different perspective:

Perry, your facts are just wrong. It has not been a record cold winter in Minnesota, it's been a "normal" winter in Minnesota. It has felt darn cold, but that's just because we haven't had a "normal" winter for quite some time. It's kind of nice to be anticipating spring again, I haven't felt this way for a long time.

Yes, temperatures dropped significantly this year. But again, they aren't cold, they are near normal. Global climate change doesn't eliminate year to year variation, there's still going to be variation around the mean, the problem is the mean keeps going up.

If we have 3-5 years of "normal" then we can talk. Until then, the trend doesn't look good.

Here are the slides of an impressive presentation on coal given Friday night at the ASPO Houston meeting


And see Rutledge deliver that live as the Watson lecture here:

duplicate deleted

Very nice presentation IMO. Highly recommend it.

IMO (fuzzy logic ;-)) coal reserves and recovery are underestimated - though the rate of extraction has likely reached a global plateau.


Whew! Thanks John. Global cooling is much scarier than global warming. Here's a Newsweek article from 1975 that warned of politicians not doing enough to prepare for an impending ice age. Melting all that pesky Antarctic ice was just one proposal.

The Cooling World
Newsweek, April 28, 1975

ah, the good old tired "scientists cried global cooling in the 1970s" red herring. the facts say otherwise. good spinning though.

'They predicted global cooling in the 1970s'

Try checking out the scientific review of scientific papers from that era:

I do think it possible that the Holocene was going to come to an end sometime in the future with a return to ice age conditions. One must distinguish between a paleoclimatic discussion of Earth's history and concerns over the LONG TERM about such a scenario versus the very IMMEDIATE threat posed by over heating.

It is possible to rationally discuss these two topics without becoming anachronistic.

If I had my druthers (which I don't) I'd chose an ice age over a fry pan age any time. The Earth is quite healthy during ice ages, with super productive oceans due to the cold, nutrient rich waters they harbor. The biodiversity at the start of the Holocene emerged from a series of glacial and interglacial periods, whereas we are heading for times not seen for 10s of millions of years and relatively few species would likely survive.

If I had my druthers (which I don't) I'd chose an ice age over a fry pan age any time. The Earth is quite healthy during ice ages, with super productive oceans due to the cold, nutrient rich waters they harbor.

Along with super productive ice sheets? Are you serious.

Really, climate change whether warming or cooling is a threat to the global economy and infrastructure; These threats shouldn't be ignored. But asserting that a planet in an ice age is preferable to humanity than a planet thats warmer than today seems at best a little naive.

The main threats of a warming planet are drought, loss of infrastructure to rising sea levels, increased storms. Of a colder planet, its the rather drastic reduction of cropland which we sort of need to survive.

I completely disagree with you on this of course.

I don't think you have much of a clue about the threats of global heating.

Oceans mostly die. No more fish to catch.

Most ecosystems and species go bye bye. No more wood to harvest.

Tropical latitudes too hot to grow crops. Largest land mass areas on the planets basically uninhabitable by people.

Perhaps check out the book Six Degrees.

If we let the ppm go to 450 ppm we lock in 6 degrees.

If we let the ppm go to 450 ppm we lock in 6 degrees.

I do not think that is established, as much of a God as Hansen might be.

Okay, I could add a few caveats...

Maybe a giant volcano will put enough aerosols into the atmosphere and keep us cool for a while....

Maybe we will have enough energy to perform wild geoengineering and artificially keep us cooler than otherwise...

And, while Hansen may be the recognized name in all this, none of his work stands alone. He is part of a body of knowledge from hundreds of others, and his analyses are certainly done in the context of peer review and published only after considerate reflection and "what ifs" given the severity of the claims and how critically they will be vetted.

But yes...I hope he is wrong and we can burn it all and cross our fingers and be alright.

Do you feel lucky enough to just sit back and let that happen?

Wouldn't that be a great public service ad, something with Clint doing his "You Gotta Ask Youre self one Question, Do I Feel Lucky?."

Any prudent investor in the future would answer, "not at all".

According to the Climate Code Red report which oft quotes/references Hansen we have +.8C already and +.6C locked in due to short and long(er) term positive feedbacks. And thse estimates do not include the albido effect of losign Arctic sea ice.

Soem concern that even +2C (actually as low as +1.7C) might cause the mother of all irreversible tipping points.

But the real point is - I think - an mentioned in the reprot and posted about a bit yesterday is that it isn't a black-white thing (+2C, +3C or even +6C) - it's a risk management thing.

If there is 1 in 1 million chance that +2C (or pick your number) wreaks havoc with species - including humans - is it worth the risk to do nothing (or at least continue to deny the 1-1,000,000 threat)?


I do think it possible that the Holocene was going to come to an end sometime in the future with a return to ice age conditions.

"What's happened now is that the amount of methane and Co2 are increasing off the chart (relative to past 400,000 years). So the conclusion is that another ice age will not occur unless humans go extinct: we're now in control."

Hansen in:

If next winter is as cold as this last one was,scientists will re-gather all their data and predict an ice age. Politicians will be urged to release more CO2 to forestall global cooling. Am I right or wrong John?

You're trying really really really hard perry. it's not working though.

Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January doesn’t mean climate stopped warming

You are worried we will not have enough coal but apparently are not worried at all about global warming and all the other physical harm that coal causes. While there may be many reasons we may not have the right to tell others not to use coal, we apparently have the right to tell future generations that they can just tough it out when it comes to a heated planet and all the ramifications of that future.

And then further down we have all the arguments that one winter somehow cancels out a long term warming trend, even assuming, a big if, that it was really an exceptionally cold winter on a global basis.

The U.S. will need significantly more power if it just continues business as usual. Meanwhile, the administration refuses to do much, if anything to encourage conservation by increasing appliance efficiency, boiler efficiency, and the like. Meanwhile, extensions or increases in tax credits for renewable energy languish in congress because of Republicans who cannot bring themselves to extract a few billion from the oil industry.

Coal. Squeaky clean coal.

Coal mining and burning over the next 25 years is going to cause a level of global environmental damage unprecedented in human history. Even if the Netherlands succeeds in its efforts to figure out carbon capture and sequestration within the next few decades, an entirely new generation of coal-fired plants not using it will be far from the ends of their useful operating lives.

This die is cast entirely entirely as a result of population-based demand growth and Chinese/Indian economic expansion.

Add to that the inevitable stampede to coal that is already starting to stir as the result of high oil prices and oil supply constraints, and the catastrophe will be complete. David Goodstein warned about this long before the Hirsch report came out.

I'm not trying that hard John. Really. I'm just saying that scientists will change their tune if next winter is as cold as the last. The 70th warmest January on record sounds comforting,until you realise the record is only 128 years long. That means it was cooler than the average Jan. in the last 128 years,not hotter. Maybe it was an anomoly. If it happens again next year,alarm bells will be ringing though. You know I'm right.

what about December and Feb. perry?

"If it happens again next year,alarm bells will be ringing though. You know I'm right."

no. a month or a year doesn't make a trend.

February was also the coldest in at least a decade John. The trend is supposed to be warmer,isn't it? One winter doesn't make a trend reversal. But if it happens again next year....

It's the growing climatic (and I do mean climate, not weather) unpredictability I'm most worried about, with consequences for agriculture and food supply.

The trend would have to extend over decades to be significant. And If next winter is warmer will you admit that the climatologists are right? Was the September 07 to March 08 season cooler in the southern hemisphere also?

There are two issues: peak energy and global warming. I believe that peak energy is hitting us harder and hitting us first. But this is no way means that global warming isn't going to become an ever greater issue as we move deeper into the century.

There are ups and downs in the price of oil. And there are some who each time they see a dip, say: see, no problem, no peak, you're wrong. Same thing with global warming. But the CO2 is relentlessly building, and its role in GW is well established by now. The evidence points to our immediate (on a human time-scale) problem being GW, not an ice-age, although it seems equally certain that eventually (soon, on a geological but not human timescale) we will tip into one.

The pressure to revert to coal is immense. Even those that resist it now will likely cave in as circumstances become more dire. This is because the impact of GW is somewhat delayed and therefore addressing it takes a greater degree of collective intelligence and will power. These are being forged and will be forged -- thru suffering. At some point, I am almost sure, we will get it together, but what kind of world we'll have left to rebuild I'm not sure.

I was hoping Peak Energy would be the answer to Global Warming Dave. That solar energy would become so attractive that we'd move to it enmasse. We could soak up sunshine and burn less carbon at the same time. The future is right around the corner,so we'll find out soon enough,right?


Firstly no "scientists" will not change their tune but the spin doctors might, secondly I wish they had never coined the phrase "Global Warming", its not like we a boiling an egg here, there will be some places that are colder, some warmer, but it is the totally net amount of energy in the biosphere which counts, ie its should be "Global Climate Change", you may say whats in a name but does anyone remember what happened when they called AIDS GRID? (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), it might stop this populist sniping of "Its cold here so GW is not happening" which we get from media idiots like J Clarkson et al

Yeh, but Climate Change sounds so neutral, something the Bushies might have cooked out to downplay the dangers inherent therein. How about Global Climate Disruption or at least something with a little danger in it. Don't we all like change? Isn't that what Obama is all about?

So take something that should be a scientific issue with serious policy implications and morph it directly into a political issue?

I call it Climate Catastrophe but of course in the reasoned calm of scientific debate that will never catch on.

I recently had the chance to participate in the writing of a paper on the forces shaping future energy markets (I may post it in TOD). To summarize, three factors are at play:

1- Economic factors : decreasing supply, increasing demand, increasing price.

2- Political and commercial factors : this is a broad category that includes energy dependence from unstable countries, public acceptance of policies like no-SUVs, impact in domestic political bases (ie corn growers' lobbies i nthe US), NIMBY effect and the commercial challenges of introducing new alternatives, among others.

3- Environmental factors : a category further subdivided in global warming and pollutants.

The main conclusion of the paper is than when all the above constraints are taken into consideration simultaneously, there does not exist a solution that addresses them all (save a disruptive change in technology). The one that comes closer is nuclear energy + plug-in cars, but it is still not perfect (nuclear energy is finite and suffers from NIMBY)

As a result, one of the three constraints will be violated.

At this point the paper gets speculative, but my personal feeling is that the first constraint to be violated will be the environmental, and in particular global warming. This is because the only real solution to all the other constraints is coal-fired power plants.

But only transiently - any fossil fuel can only fill the gap for a period of time, and then it is gone, whether that period be measured in decades or centuries. While I disagree with some of the others that write here on the actual scale of the coal resource that will be used over the next century, I do not disagree with the finite nature of that volume, and the fact that it will deplete faster, in some countries, than is currently anticipated.

Please post it to TOD. I for one would be very interested.

Nuclear is very constrained in its potential for growth and also has a relatively poor EROEI so you might want to look at some stronger alternatives such as solar and wind:


At the end of a wind generators life, they can just remelt and remake the coils. Once the steel eventually fatigues beyond repair, just remelt and reform. More then 98% of all the components can be rebuilt in this way, to have a new wind generator. There is no radioactive waste.

Once a nuclear facility is too old, what percentage is completely recyclable ??
How much of the waste is radioactive ??

Wind power can be recycled almost continuously, while radioactive waste and ruble, just builds up over time.
It should be obvious which long term use is more beneficial and sustainable.

Most of a nuclear powerplant is not radiactive.
There ought to be good figures to tell how much more then 90 % is immediately recycleable since lots of calculations have been done and used reactoirs have been demolished, but I could not find it in 5 min. :-(

Then some technology development can help. Studsvik is a company that have developed a method for recycling most of the steel in used steam generators. It is to expensive compared to new steel but the waste becommes a lot easier to handle.

And if we would end up with a long term steady state nuclear powered society the components could be buried for a long time and then reused.

Yes, that is one of the nice aspects of creating a renewables based economy now. It gets less and less expensive with time. The effects of recycling iron in wind turbines and purified silicon in solar panels dramatically improve EROEI while the components of a nuclear plant should really be made from raw materials each time for safety reasons. I'm a little concerned to read that a proposed new reactor where I live will have a core made from scrap even though the company that is to make it uses virgin ore to produce their famous swords:
This seems like corner cutting on safety to me. When plants are decommisioned, the cores are stored as nuclear waste.

Another aspect of nuclear power is the amount of land that is made unusable. With a major accident every 40 years at the present rate of use, we can expect an increase in the accident rate to once every few years with a nuclear build that covers all of our energy use. That will take 3000 square km of land permanently out of use with each accident. So, in 3000 years, as some dream the fuel supply might last, that puts an area the size of Western Europe permanently beyond use, which is a bit wasteful. Presently, land use is restricted over a broad region from the Chernobyl disaster with restrictions on meat consumption in many places in Europe. The impacts of nuclear accidents of food production could be pretty severe.

My own opinion is that a large nuclear build will deplete the fuel supply rather quickly so we might only expect 3 or 4 major accidents before it is all used up. The plants won't be used for their design lifetimes owing to lack of fuel but the iron in the cores will still be radioactive and so will have to be stored rather than recycled. A wasteful process all together I think.


Why would a "TMI" accident with a core melt every 40 years be a disaster?

If you include TMI, that is a major meltdown every 20 years.


TMI is relevant since new PWR:s and closely related reactors are being built. Chernoble RBMK is not relevant since that type of reactor is no longer built.

Both types of reactors can melt down and TMI came pretty close to rupture. Some of the RBMKs are still operating. The statistics probably haven't changed much since human error seems to have been a contributing factor in both accidents. That is something that seems difficult to avoid consistently.


My own old guess is that we would get a TMI every 2-3 generations since it takes time for some staff to somewhere forget the old lessons but since it is an expensive lesson that makes a large impression the number of accidents wont go up with the number of reactors.

It is impossible for PWR:s and BWR:s to have a "chernoble" accident since they do not have hundreds of tons of graphite on their core that can burn after the meltdown and lift a significant part of the core into a smoke plume. And a PWR or BWR can be built to handle a rupture of the reactor vesel. The Swedish PWR:s and BWR:s has been retrofitted with filters for vented steam and the new PWR in Finland is built with a core catcher if a core melt would penetrate the preassure vessel.

We'll see how the numbers work out. With license extentions being handed out like candy, we'll have a bunch of worn out plants operating during the next twenty years. It is hard to see how these can be more safe than when they were newer regardless of lessons learned. They are heading into territory beyond their design specifications.


Robert Bryce in "Gusher of Lies" has data from EIA that shows the US becoming a net coal importer "by 2015 or so."

Well I just got the book this week, so after I have a look I'll let you know what I think, but sight unseen that seems incredibly early.

This 'record cold' line is cherry picking. In the last month the city of Adelaide, Australia had 13 straight days over 37.8C, the old 100F. Coming to an area near you.

A friend of mine, a climatologist on the edge of the IPCC, reckons we in the West need to cut our energy consumption by 90% if we are really serious about mitigating the most serious effects of runaway climate change. How the Chinese and Indians will react to such a serious challenge is a whole other story. Yet I predict we are going to see a massive increase in the consumption of coal in the near future and huge increase in the amount of nuclear power generated. One really doesn't know which is worse, the threat from coal or from nuclear. Either way I don't believe we'll opt to cut energy consumption drastically, at least not under the terms of our current socio/economic paradigm.

... we in the West need to cut our energy consumption by 90% if we are really serious about mitigating the most serious effects of runaway climate change.

Actually, we need to cut greenhouse emissions by around 90%; actual energy use is more or less irrelevant except on a very local scale.  Your friend needs to be more precise.

I don't believe we'll opt to cut energy consumption drastically

If you correct that to "greenhouse emissions", the options look a lot better:

  • Keep end-use utility the same, but cut energy use through efficiency increases in both generation and consumption.
  • Generate energy though non-fossil supplies (wind, solar, biomass).
  • Sequester or destroy GHGs from processes which create them (capture carbon from powerplants, react CF4 from aluminum production with sodium, etc.)

Total US energy use in the USA is roughly 110 EJ/year, including energy lost in conversion.  The land area under impervious surfaces in the USA is sufficient to generate in excess of 75 EJ/year of electricity (after conversion losses) with current photovoltaics.  It can be done; it is just a question of whether or not we'll organize well enough to do it.

It can be done; it is just a question of whether or not we'll organize well enough to do it.

Perfect. That line should serve to narrow the focus on the discussion from now on.

Actually, we need to cut greenhouse emissions by around 90%; actual energy use is more or less irrelevant except on a very local scale. Your friend needs to be more precise.

I don't believe we'll opt to cut energy consumption drastically

If you correct that to "greenhouse emissions", the options look a lot better:

Well, they may look better but that just avoids the real issue. We need total energy reduction. I realise that you want to carry on doing everything you do now with no changes to the way you live at all, just change by buying more efficient things. To use something which is more efficient means replacing it with something more efficient in almost all cases - fridge, TV, car, washing machine, etc. Which requires manufacture. Requiring more raw materials and energy (and more CO2). The original, maybe your old TV, then may be bought by someone who previously could not afford a TV and so now we have two TVs drawing energy whereas before we had one - result, more CO2 emissions. Doh!

People really don't want to hear this one, even here on The Oil Drum, but if we're to have a reasonable future we have to use less energy in total. But then considering that energy is mostly related to consumption of stuff and that as we know that increased consumption of stuff doesn't really make us any happier, just poorer, let's embrace it!

We need total energy reduction.

Claim without support.  The USA can produce ~75 EJ/year of electricity from PV over existing impervious surfaces, and perhaps another ~38 EJ of land-based wind power and another ~28 EJ from wind on the continental shelves.  This sums to about 140 EJ/year of totally renewable electricity, compared to a bit over 100 EJ of raw energy input used today (only a fraction as useful as electricity for most purposes).

Where's the need for reduction?  Is there some secret of the ancients which relates to absolute energy consumption, or are the advocates just mis-stating the need for less ecological impact?

Adelaide is noted for it's heatwaves. I read the early British settlers found it so got so hot that lead fell out of pencils. Once England played a test match there and it got to 138F. Virtually too hot to play and hardly any spectators.

Let's hope for cooler temperatures and settlement.

Sunday, January 07, 2001 5:52 PM

Dear Friend,

Us cats are working on this.

Here's what


Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad

We are all working on peaceful settlment of these unfortunate matters.


I think I found a typo here:

At the same time China has already realized that it will need to import more supplies than it has domestically available

You may want to replace 'import' with 'use' as China will definitely USE more coal than it has domestically available, but they most certainly will and can not IMPORT more than the amount they have at home.


I accept the correction - sorry.

No, I'm sorry for splitting hairs here. :-) It somehow just caught my eye, but such typos happen to all of us some of the time - even to the best of the best. ;-)

It is worth having a look at why coal plants in the US are not getting built. Lester Brown has a recent writeup:

This passage might be the most interesting part.

Coal’s future is also suffering as Wall Street turns its back on the industry. In July 2007, Citigroup downgraded coal company stocks across the board and recommended that its clients switch to other energy stocks. In January 2008, Merrill Lynch also downgraded coal stocks. In early February 2008, investment banks Morgan Stanley, Citi, and J.P. Morgan Chase announced that any future lending for coal-fired power would be contingent on the utilities demonstrating that the plants would be economically viable with the higher costs associated with future federal restrictions on carbon emissions. On February 13, Bank of America announced it would follow suit.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell...
Ariel in The Tempest


Coal shares could be a good buy. Even if coal fired stations in the US are vetoed there is still a booming export market for the stuff. Soon the US coal industry could be working flat out to supply China etc.

“Residents of coal-mining communities have long complained of impaired health,” Michael Hendryx, Ph.D., associate director of the WVU Institute for Health Policy Research in WVU’s Community Medicine department, said. “This study substantiates their claims. Those residents are at an increased risk of developing chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases.”

Wind power might be able to help a lot in some regions in the US.
I am thinking specifically of the area near the Great Lakes.

Recently Boone Pickens committed to a 4GW build in Texas, to cost around $10bn:

Actual capacity would be around 1.5GW on average per hour, meaning the power is fairly expensive, perhaps just under $7million magawatt, as I have been a bit generous in the capacity factor.

On the fact of it that is a bit expensive, as for comparison the build of the nuclear plant in Finland looks like coming in at around $6bn for similar capacity.
However, although I do not normally talk in terms of levelised costs, as they depend so much on the assumptions you use, it is nevertheless true that it is much more expensive to finance a nuclear build, and a windpower build is much quicker.

Unfortunately I understand that in Texas the period of maximum demand is in the summer, when the wind is very slack.

In Britain wind power tracks use very well indeed:

It seems to me then that the best prospect might be in the Great Lakes area.
Does anyone know what the profile of demand is in that area, and what the profile of wind power is?

The other area of difficulty is of course intermittency.
Storage of compressed air in large sacks seems like a simple idea which might help:

However, I understand that when you release the compressed air you need to heat it, usually using natural gas.

Does anyone have more precise information on this?

Money would also need to be put into strengthening the grid, as Germany has some problems with around a 7% wind-power penetration.

Denmark has access to truly massive amounts of hydroelectric power from the Scandanavian countries, and so can go a lot higher in penetration.

7% though is nothing to be sneezed at, and gives a fair buffer.

Here is information on wind resources and electricity consumption around the Illinois area:
State Energy Program: Power of Wind Increasing in Illinois
Wind Powering America: Illinois Wind Maps
ISGS - Illinois in the Global Energy Marketplace
Record Heat Wave and Electricity Usage Trigger AES NewEnergy's Chicago Area Curtailment Program for First Time | Business Wire | Find Articles at

Briefly, Illinois needs around 30GW of electricity, with nuclear supplying a third of it.
Wind power has the potential to generate around 9GW of power, and that is based on old maps looking at the resource at 50 meters, whereas modern turbines are 80 meters high.
Unfortunately peak demand is in the summer, wind is strongest in winter and spring.

It does seem though as if wind power in that area for the foreseeable future will be limited by the potential to integrate it into the grid rather than a problem with suitable sites.

Dave, The mismatch between winter wind and summer demand will seem less severe as fossil fuels production declines. The natural gas and oil used for winter heating will need substitutes in the form of electric power sources to operate ground sink heat source systems.

To put it more directly: Peak Oil will increase winter demand for electricity. So wind farms that produce electricity in the winter will find plenty of customer demand.

Hi Dave,

Here is an article summarizing the current state of wind power in Michigan and the significant hurdles facing increased capacity:

The regions mentioned are all fairly small populations. It is not inconceivable that a significant portion of their power demand could be satisfied with wind. Solar is probably not an option, but I have to wonder if wave power could be harnessed.

Also, there is a conference on Great Lakes Wind Power coming up in about a month or so. It will be held in Buffalo, NY:

Hi again Dave,

I managed to find the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's wind resource map for the state of Michigan, and the potential is very impressive!

Here is a link to the graphic:

Happy Friday!

He there Wolverine!

It looks as though a lot of the best resources for Michigan are located off-shore.
That usually works out to around twice as expensive as on-shore, so the economics could be pretty difficult.

On-shore is probably a bit dearer than nuclear, even allowing for longer build times for the nuclear plant and so on, and it is way dearer than coal, as that doesn't have to pay for the damage it does.

Off-shore the costs go out of sight, and I doubt that much will end up getting built.

On-shore alone though sounds as though it is fairly good resource, from the discussion on the link you provide, although the maps don't look like it.

Grid integration is the weak spot though, as your links make clear.

Hi Dave,

Yes, grid integration and the cost of off-shore development are significant concern.

Also, the NW coast of Michigan's lower peninsula has a tourist-based economy and many wealthy landowners on or near the shoreline. A significant degree of NIMBY-ism should be expected, but probably nothing on the level of what we've seen in the Cape Cod area.

1.5 GW average from 4 GW nameplate is 37.5% capacity factor.  This is excellent, if it can be achieved.

The data I've seen for compressed-air energy storage have failed to include the electric efficiency (kWh out / kWh in).  I suspect that this figure is on the order of 1:1 or worse.  However, the gas input for the generation side has impressive figures:  ~4000 BTU/kWh heat rate, or about 85% gas-to-electric efficiency (ignoring the electric input to the compressor).  With such high efficiency, it becomes more economic to use bio-fuels to supply this additional heat.  Gas from nearby biochar-production efforts could combine with bio-oil from more far-flung sources to supply a carbon-neutral fuel stream, and sequestration of charcoal could make the system as a whole carbon-negative.

Sorry, EP, I was just being sloppy and going for round figures as the costs are only estimates at the moment anyway.

Some of the US wind resources are very good though, and I believe in Texas it may be as high as 33%, so we would be talking more nearly 1,320MW for $10bn, or $7.5 million/megawatt of average hourly output.

I think you are correct and that in the mid-West region biogas would have a big part to play.

Here is how it went when they tried balancing the grid with all -renewables in a German experiment:
Comment is free: Renewed energy
The Combined Power Plant: the first stage in providing 100 % power from renewable energy

The other element they used for grid balancing was solar, which would actually fit in pretty well with peak in both Texas and Illinois.
Silicon cells like this might make it practical:
Technology Review: More-Powerful Solar Cells

In practise whatever we may think about it all of these will be supplemented with a considerable coal burn, but there seems no reason why the lights should go out in many of the more thinly populated areas of the US at any rate.

Another possibility is to use the waste heat from a nuclear plant to reheat the decompressing stored air. It might even give a double boost to the electricity productionby improving the cold side of the nuclear thermal cycle, although I doubt that would be significant.

Wikipedia says "China National Nuclear Corp. selected the Westinghouse/Shaw consortium to build four nuclear reactors for an estimated US$8 billion," so at US$2 billion each that seems to be much cheaper than the Finnish plant.

Construction costs are way lower in China than in Finland, and it is a multiple build of smaller reactors - the Finnish one was one off and being designed as it went along.

At around $6bn perhaps for a 1.65GW design it works out at about $3.6bn GW - the Westinghouse design does look cheaper even when everything is taken into account.