The IEA WEO 2008: Will coal usage be phased out?

Figure 1 - World Energy Outlook 2008 coal demand scenarios, reference (blue), 550 policy (green), 450 policy (red).

In this post I summarize the climate policy scenarios of the World Energy Outlook 2008 in which coal usage is stabilized and ultimately phased out. A scenario that would render the question of coal availability useless if it becomes reality. According to the IEA a combination of energy saving policies, a large expansion of Nuclear and Renewable energy, as well as a large scale implementation of carbon capture and storage at coal and gas power plants are necessary to achieve stabilization of CO2 in the atmosphere between 450 and 550 parts per million, and the ultimate phase out of coal. The question of coal availability will be analyzed in a follow up post.

The three scenarios
This year the International Energy Agency has published two climate change scenarios in their World Energy Outlook next to the usual reference scenario. The climate change scenarios are named after the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. In the 550 policy scenario, the IEA has taken a look at the policies necessary to stabilize the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at 550 parts of CO2 per million parts in the atmosphere by 2030. In the 450 policy scenario the goal is thus to stabilize CO2 concentration at 450 parts of CO2 per million in the atmosphere. Current atmospheric CO2 concentration lies around 385 parts of CO2 per million parts.

The stabilization of CO2 concentration at around 450 parts of CO2 per million implies, according to the IEA, that emissions should only slowly rise to 2020, after which emissions need to decline at a rapid rate (shown in figure 2).

Figure 2 - Emissions in the reference, 550 Policy and 450 Policy scenario with their subsequent emissions reduction wedges.

The largest part of this decline in emissions comes from using less coal for electricity production. In the 550 policy scenario coal consumption is 27% lower than in the reference scenario in 2030, and in the 450 policy scenario coal consumption is 51% lower than in the reference scenario. The three coal scenarios are as follows:

Reference scenario - Coal demand grows by 2% on average between 2006 and 2030. Leading to an increase in coal consumption by 61% from 2006 to 2030.

550 policy scenario - Coal demand grows by 0.7% on average 2006 and 2030. Coal consumption increases by 21% from 2006 to 2020 and begin to decline thereafter. The decline is caused by to the introduction of national policies that constrain coal consumption, in particular according to the IEA: energy efficiency, nuclear, renewables and more efficient coal fired power plants. In 2030, coal demand is still 17% higher than today.

450 policy scenario - Coal demand peaks around 2020 and declines thereafter. In 2030 world coal consumption is similar to the level in 2002. The heavier decline after 2020 compared with the 550 policy scenario is the result of introducing carbon prices in other major economies (China, India) after 2020.

Figure 3 - Breakdown of alternatives that need to be implemented according to the IEA to reach 450 and 550 ppm.

The 550 policy scenario in detail

For the 550 policy scenario the main policy changes relative to the reference scenario were assumed to be:

- A cap and trade system which includes the power generation and industry sectors for OECD+ (OECD countries and non-OECD EU countries), resulting in a carbon price of $90 per tonne of CO2 in 2030. This makes renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS) more competitive against fossil based electricity generation.
- An intensification of research and development programs to reduce the cost of advanced technologies in OECD+
- Adoption of international sectoral agreements in road transport and aviation.
- An international agreement by aircraft manufacturers to increase the efficiency of new planes by around 20% by 2020 and around 30% by 2030 respective to 2006 levels.
- Targeted support mechanisms in OECD+ to speed up the deployment of technologies close to market competitiveness
- Development of grids to integrate renewables in OECD+
- Policies that improve the fficiency of fossil-fuel plants in other major economies (China, India etc.)
- Policies that encourage reducing electricity transmission and distribution losses in other major economies
- Policies that support acceleration of building nuclear power plants in other major economies
- Incentives and regulations boosting the deployment of renewables in other major economies

The effect of this policy change is estimated to be:

- Implementation of carbon capture and storage at 7 coal-fired power plants and 3 gas-fired power plants every year as soon as possible up to 2030
- The construction of 11 new nuclear power plants each year up to 2030 as soon as possible
- The construction of almost 12,000 wind turbines in the period to 2030
- The expansion of hydropower every two years up to 2030 by 64 gigawatt (equivalent of three dams with the capacity of China's Three Gorges Dam).
- The reduction of coal fired capacity power plant by 762 GW up to 2030
- An increase in gas fired power plant capacity by 107 GW by 2030.
- A global average efficiency in the light duty vehicle fleet in 2030 of 120 grammes of CO2 per kilometre (equivalent to approximately 5 liter per 100 kilometre or 47 miles per gallon)
- A global average efficiency in the heavy duty vehicle fleet in 2030 of 560 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, opposed to the current 840 grammes of CO2 per kilometre.

Table 1 - WEO 2008 table showing gross additional power plant capacity added in GW up to 2030. Net capacity which includes the

The 450 policy scenario in detail

In the 450 policy scenario the additional CO2 reduction effect comes from an assumed enlargement of the cap-and-trade regime in OECD+ to other major economies (India, China, Brazil etc.) around 2020. The resulting effect is that even more nuclear power plants, hydropower, renewable energy are built between 2020 and 2030 that offset the construction of coal- and gas fired power plants. In addition it is expected that even more CCS will be implemented. The difference between the 450 and 550 policy scenario by 2030 are shown in figure 4 and table 2.

Figure 4 - World electricity generation fuel mix in the 450 policy scenario relative to the 550 policy scenario in 2030.

Table 2 - Capacity additions in the 450 Policy Scenario relative to the 550 Policy Scenario from 2020 to 2030.

A few observations to end with

The first questions that arise when I look at the 550 policy scenario table outlining capacity additions from 2007 to 2030 (table 1) involve CCS and the more unknown renewable energy sources.

CCS - The IEA assumes 22 gigawatts of coal fired and 10 gigawatts of gas fired power plants with Carbon Capture and Storage globally by 2020. This hinges heavily on the assumption that CCS will be implemented due to the emissions trading scheme of the European Union, or that the US government will put a lot of public money in CCS. In Europe the European Union has decided that it is up to member states to invest in CCS individually. To my knowledge the investments for only one small (300-400 megawatt) demonstration power plant in Great Britain have been secured so far. Is the assumption of 32 gigawatts of installed CCS at coal and gas fired power plants by 2020 realistic?

Renewable energy - The IEA assumes that by 2030 only 36 gigawatts of solar thermal, 10 gigawatts of geothermal and 7 gigawatts of tidal and wave will have been built. While this improves somewhat in the 450 policy scenario (especially for solar thermal) it makes one wonder on what cost assumptions the very low growth figures of Solar Thermal, Geothermal and Tidal and Wave power by 2030 have been based. To my expectation these technologies have much more potential than assumed by the IEA.

As petroleum resources become depleted and economies collapse, investment in massive nuclear & alt. energy projects becomes untenable. Nations burn what they have domestically available in order to buttress BAU and stave off the social unrest sequent to food & energy shortages. In a climate of diminished revenues, environmental protections are cast aside as CO2 & other greenhouse gasses accumulate in the atmosphere & surface ocean unabated. Lowered ocean pH causes marine ecosystem collapse, along with the fisheries dependent on their integrity. Range shifts and selection can't keep pace with climatic warming, especially not in habitat patches fragmented by human activity, as terrestrial ecosystems - including agro-ecosystems - increasingly unravel. Deprived of the biotic resource bases upon which human society depends, war breaks out in the desperate attempt to deal with famine of unpresidented scale. Strategic pathogens are unleashed against staple grain crops & legumes, along with regional nuclear exchanges. Ecosystem support services spiral dowward under a set of positive feedbacks, resulting in the depopulation of the northern hemisphere within the lifetimes of those already born. Relict human populations in the southern hemisphere wink out over the course of the next couple centuries.

In the absence of human perturbation, climate and ocean chemistry slowly begins to recover. On the even slower scale of evolutionary time, biodiversity begins to reestablish likewise. Over the span of 10 mys, diversity is fully recovered and little trace of the ecocidal ape's wanton legacy remains.

The suits & bean counters at the IEA present their technocopian scenarios, I present mine.

DD, I always appreciate it when you take the long view. You might like my new blog: Desdemona Despair: Blogging the End of the World™.

One thing both of you are completely missing in the "long view":

GEA's Revenge.

Now, you'll probably think I'm referring to GEA(Lovin's presentation of Earth as a closed/Feedback system) as revenging itself from the "scurge" that humanity has caused the planet.

No, it's actually the reverse.

Plant life has become increasingly efficient at scrubbing the atmosphere of CO2 [see Wiki: C4 carbon fixation - "C4 plants arose around 25 to 32 million years ago[2] during the Oligocene (precisely when is difficult to determine) and did not become ecologically significant until around 6 to 7 million years ago .. Today they represent about 5% of Earth's plant biomass but account for around 30% of terrestrial carbon fixation"], so that before the Anthropocene levels were even below 300ppm. Well, the results were an unstable climate which oscillated from deep freeze to extended polar ice and back.

GEA, on the other hand, would "prefer" a warmer climate and needed an agent/catalyst which finally released some of the carbon which had been increasingly sequestered over the last half a billion years.

The last 3 million years have been increasingly colder. The last 3 million years, man has evolved from it's position as just another ape (right, Lucy?). Coincidence?

Now, finally, man has been burning coal and become advanced enough to drill for deposits of oil and gas in the technological age. FINALLY, GEA has been able to steer back to being a warm weather planet, despite sub-optimal plate techtonics and the conjunction of N. and S. America.

Will Homo Sapiens continue to serve GEA's purpose or will it be put asside as it's task has been accomplished? Stay tuned til next week to find out in "As the GEA turns"...

Cheers, Dom


The truely long term situation is that the Sun is gradually getting hotter (on the timescale of 10s+ million years). Since geochemical drawdown of CO2 by silicate chemical erosion is broardly temperature-dependant, there is a feedback effect - hotter sun = lower CO2 levels (For same climate).

This very-long term effect has made life harder and harder for C3 plants; these originally evolved in a high-CO2/zero Oxygen atmosphere about 3.5 billion years ago - oxygen poisions the process of photosynthesis. The evolution of C4 plants is a reaction to this.

Eventually - about 500 million to 1 billion years hence - CO2 levels will fall to near-zero but the sun will still be getting hotter, leading to final runaway warming and the Earth 'going-Venus'. THAT is the end of the world..

Well, I must admit that I'm quite antropocentric in my views and time frames..

BUT as I pointed out, GEA might just be that too - at least at the moment. Maybe GEA is also using Homo Egocentris to begin exercising Geo-Engineering. You know, shock the species a bit (maybe a partial extinction) so that it begins dealing with GW.

The bit of extra radiation that the sun will be sending us in millions of years would be easy enough to reflect, once the mirrors have been put in orbit...

One minor flaw in your argument: If the growing sun is supposed to fix away more C02, why is Venus's atmosphere almost only CO2?

Greetings from Munich, Dom

Because there's very little water on Venus?


Basically the 'venus effect' is what happens when the feedback system breaks down.

Once CO2 is practically zero but the sun is so hot that temperatures are higher than today, you reach the point that water vapour feedback dominates. Essentially, once the oceans reach an average temperature of about 28 Degrees C (about 13 degrees higher than today), you get the situation that evaporation exceeds precipitation in an ongoing cycle (Higher evaporation = higher temperatures = more evaporation, where it cannot rain out fast enough to stop). Very, very quickly (perhaps a century), surface temperatures exceed the boiling point of water; the oceans boil into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect even more.

Now, of course, the temperature gets so extreme that carbonates start breaking down, so all exposed Carbonates release CO2 back into the atmsophere. Volcanic CO2 will also build up. Even more greenhouse effect.

The huge increase in atmospheric water means that more will br broken down by UV light into oxygen and hydrogen, with the hydrogen escaping. Several hundred million years hence, the water will mostly be gone and the oxygen gradually removed by reaction with lava. We will now have a massive CO2 atmosphere and a searing desert of a surface, much like Venus today.

The implication is, of course, that Venus was once like Earth, although this is uncertain - it may never have been cold enough to keep the ocean/CO2 equlibrium. It is also interesting that sea temperatures in the late creatceous super-greenhouse may have averaged 25 degrees C or higher.. placing us a couple of big volcanic eruptions away from the runaway greenhouse.

Something to think about next time you start your car up..

If I recall correctly, Venus has an extremely weak magnetic field, so without such a shield there's a lot more radiation and the water was broken down relatively quickly and the hydrogen escaped into space.

The earth's magnetic field is very strong, making it unlikely that most of our water will disappear, and the sequence you discribe will likely be different on our planet.

Yes, it will take longer (might take longer than the sun will last..) - but that's not a great comfort if you happen to be on the surface.. Indeed the additional effect could see temperatures high enough to melt wet granite.

how much different?

In my college courses it was called Gaia, but no matter. The notion that nature has an intentionality seems a little far fetched to me, but to be intellectually consistent, it must hold that h.sapiens has no intentionality either.

PeakPlus' comment does get at the serious difficulty of attempting to hold the earth in a steady state, just the way we like it. Our complex social and economic systems demand that stability. In the medium and long run, it's probably not possible.

Sorry, Gea is an engineering group in Germany..
And Sorry: was proposed by Lovelock, not Lovins..

Exactly: I'm pointing to a philisophical question that is skipped by many a die-off expert.

Cheers, Dom

The Gaia theory is an interesting thought experiment, to understand the concept of bio albedo feedback, but because of it's gross oversimplification it has rather limited practical value.

Eloquent and succinct.

Thank you.

Its difficult to take issue with your statement. Anything which takes such an extremely long view is ultimately wrong, despite being correct, because of the law of unintended consequences.

I can't take your 10my scenario seriously.

If you take the extreme long view, anything over 10,000 years, human beings are all extinct because they will have died off (pick your poison, there are lots of possible causes, [from biotic to viral to social to religious to ecological/environmental,]) or because they will have evolved into something better, or worse.

Maybe we need to kill off all the bean-counters who think that bean-counting is all there is to life.

(The suits are going to kill themselves off as this economy goes into the crapper.)

There was a joke during the late 60's or early 70's: "a true environmentalist is one who is willing to freeze to death while sitting on a coal mine". Using this definition I doubt that there are many true environmentalists.

Agree completely.

There does seem to be a vocal set of Environmentalists who really do think things would be better without modern industry. I doubt they'd last a week if they really got what they wanted..

"As petroleum resources become depleted and economies collapse, investment in massive nuclear & alt. energy projects becomes untenable"

What do you mean by "collapse" if you mean a depression similar to 1930's this is just the environment for a massive build of wind and solar, lots of unemployed, excess industrial capacity.

"Range shifts and selection can't keep pace with climatic warming"

As far as agriculture is concerned seeds are available for a wide range of climates, for example wheat adapted to Mexico or adapted to Canada, some varieties adapted to low rainfall some to high rainfall. Similarly for maize and rice. Frosts are often the biggest threats to plantation crops such as rubber or coffee.

"Relict human populations in the southern hemisphere wink out over the course of the next couple centuries."

Why would relic human populations "wink out"? Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand all have low population densities covering a wide range of latitudes. Would they not move south? Why would Tasmania or the S Island of NZ cease to be habitable ?


>As petroleum resources become depleted and economies collapse, investment in massive nuclear & alt. energy projects becomes untenable.

Even if currencies and government collapse.... the people, equipment, knowledge and the desire to fix the problem will remain.
I believe you underestimate the ability of new currencies and governments to rise up. Then the people and resource will then be diverted to fix the energy problem.

Your scenario is plausible but I think your timeframe might be too long. I specialize in writing, speaking and publishing about issues of energy, water and terrorism. It is my opinion that as fresh clean water becomes more scarce, along with energy, the impact of scarcity is compounded significantly.

Discussions of these issues demand an informed and focused leadership. Since we have a relatively uninformed public about energy, water and terrorism issues, they don't demand this type of informed leadership. We can not even discuss these issues in depth as a country let alone come up with rational solutions.

I think a bioterrorist attack on the water or food supplies (or both) is very possible in the near distant future. This is especially true as populations and countries struggle to maintain minimal living standards in the face of massive scarcity.

Part of the solution is to continue to write, blog and discuss these issues. It is imperiative that more people become aware and informed, as it seems our leadership refuses to do so.

H. Court Young
Author, speaker, publisher & geologist
Promoting awareness through the written word

*Visit my website or email to subscribe to my free ILLUME newsletter and get my free How to Prepare for the Coming Energy Crisis 3-part mini-course*

Thanks Rembrandt for your work on the IEA report. I like your question re. renewable energy. I once asked a U.S. EIA fella why they were so gung ho on fossil fuels and so down on renewables. He said they didn't understand renewables very well so didn't feel comfortable modeling them. Ironically, it doesn't look like the IEA and EIA understand fossil fuels very well either!

Though they appear in this report to be climate policy proactive, the IEA is also behind the times with respect to climate change. I would like to draw attention to the arguments for getting co2 down below 350 ppm, and I personally feel it needs to get down to ca. 300 ppm. Here's something recent from the web site of James Hansen on what he feels the Obama administration needs to be told about climate and energy:

Yeah, agreed. Where is the 350 ppm scenario?

This is what Hansen writes in his letter to Obama:

All of the slack in the schedule for averting climate disasters has been used up. The time has passed for ‘goals’, half-measures, greenwashing, and compromises with special interests. We have already overshot the safe level of greenhouse gases. Things are just beginning to crumble – Arctic ice is melting, methane is bubbling from permafrost, mountain glaciers are disappearing. We must move onto a different course within the next year or two to avoid committing the planet to accelerating climate changes out of our control.

Will coal usage be phased out?


I like easy questions

I have to agree with you gary. In fact, I've yet to see one reasonable scenario offered which shows coal consumption decreasing...mostly due to China and 3rd world expansion. Of course, this isn't to say there isn't good reason to decrease global dependency upon coal. But unless someone can offer a practical way to prevent China et al from expanding coal consumption as other petroleum energy sources decline I can't see the world preventing CO2 production from increasing let alone reducing the current level in the atmosphere.

The one chance was to have reached a global agreement with teeth (blockade anyone not following it) BEFORE people realised the oil/gas decline problem.

Now there is no chance, global warming or no; new coal stations will be built and CTL will be exploited. Otherwise people will riot.

I said the same to Mr Contraction and Convergence (Aubrey Meyer) a few years ago ... not what he wanted to hear.

I would love to see more people look at the number Paul Gipe put together for ASPO-USA 2008.

He sees the industrial capacity in heavy duty truck capacity alone capable of producing enough wind turbines to offset all fossil-fuel generation for electricity in the U.S. and Canada in about 10 years.

What do you think?

Should something done with those industries going out of business right now? What about the car industry? Should they be building a new rail infrastructure that can run on electricity?

What do you think?

...I've yet to see one reasonable scenario offered which shows coal consumption decreasing...mostly due to China and 3rd world expansion. Of course, this isn't to say there isn't good reason to decrease global dependency upon coal. But unless someone can offer a practical way to prevent China et al from expanding coal consumption as other petroleum energy sources decline I can't see the world preventing CO2 production from increasing let alone reducing the current level in the atmosphere.

I can see one possible scenario by which China at least decreases the rate of growth: world recession drops demand for 'stuff' from the factory floor. I'm not an economist, but I suspect that the demand growth for electricity in China has something to do with their manufacturing sector. I guess we'll see over the next little while.

That could be a factor chemist although I see a convoluted scenario where the global slow down might encourage more coal exploitation: Lower export income = decreased ability to pay for imported oil/NG = increased exploitation of domestic coal. It's all a matter of degrees, of course. But the Chinese people have gotten their first real taste of free enterprise and improved life styles. Gonna be tough to kill that thrist IMO.

The recent report I read on Germany's pilot CCS plant suggests it uses pure oxygen in the combustion chamber. The reason for this must be to ensure that the combustion gases are not 78% (or so?) nitrogen I suppose. My question is how energy intensive is obtaining pure oxygen and how do they obtain it in the quantity required? This pilot plant is very small scale, though I forget its exact output.

Slightly off topic, the uk finances are not looking good. When Margaret Thatcher came to power she had several options at her disposal to save the day.

Selling off the utilities
Selling of the rail industry
selling off the coal industry
Privitising other uk assets (BP and Rolls Royce for example)
North sea oil and gas revenue
Building low cost electricity generating infrastructure, that was based on very short term thinking.

Every one of the above was a one off bounty that's now gone forever. Now that Gordon Brown has raided the pantry once again, how will the next government find the coffers for the next great bailout. Maybe when we can't afford gas from Russia, coal will be our only choice. I write this worried for my children, who are both oblivious to the situation and happy.

According to the Industrial Gas Handbook by Frank G. Kerry, 2007, energy consumption for production of liquid oxygen has been reduced to 400kWh/t or less. The theoretical limit is 80kWh/t.

I can't find consumption rates for these gasifier plants right now :)

Without going into too much chemistry, as a round figure crude estimate, a 2000MW power station would need about 20% of its output to produce oxygen. I suppose that's not too bad. (please correct me if I've got my numbers vastly wrong). I have assumed about a tonne of oxygen a second, it could be half that I suppose with efficiency gains.

I've heard the 20% number before, I just didn't want to quote it in case I was audited.

That said, 20% might not sound that bad off the cuff, but the cost increase it translates to may push these plants out of investment range, with or without carbon pricing. It's a neat technology though.


It was a lazy estimate on my behalf based on 36% efficiency and coal @ 20MJ/kg. That gives about a tonne of coal every 3-4 seconds for a 2000MW power station. Assuming 2 oxygen to weigh roughly 3 carbon atoms (approximations I know)that give 1 tonne per second of oxygen use.

I was prepared to take the wrath of one of the oil drum's "specialist ridicule team" since I'm used to it. But I can say with complete confidence if you want to know something without working too hard, make a ludicrous statement and some clever dick will do the work for you thinking they are making you look stupid! I could take pleasure in naming a few, but most know who they are in anycase.

Your final comment is the crux to all these glorious technologies that are available to save the day. Affordability and the ability to make a profit for the investors, otherwise the party's off. I also appreciate a 20% reduction in output is a significant loss of efficiency, but I wrongly assumed it was likely to be much worse than your numbers suggested. (this comment is not a dig at you, your numbers were useful to know)

I agree with everything you say :)

"it makes one wonder on what cost assumptions the very low growth figures of Solar Thermal,..."

Good question, as it reveals once again the IEA's advanced use of their Infinite Improbability Drive:

Take the example of Concentrating Solar Power (page 170, highlight is mine):

"CSP generation is projected to reach 11 TWh by 2015 and 107 TWh by 2030. Current
power-generating costs under the best conditions are around $150 to $250 per MWh or
even less where the sun shines persistently. The lower end of the generation cost range
is close to that of gas-fired generation at current gas prices, but CSP is generally more
expensive than coal-fired generation (in the absence of a carbon value), nuclear and
wind power. The economics are expected to improve in the future, falling to around
$100 per MWh in sunny areas by 2030."

On one hand the IEA fills many pages that at least appear as if they were designed to persuade policymakers to reduce carbon emissions.
But on the other hand the IEA dismisses in one sentence one of the most promising solutions by simply ignoring any carbon costs (CSS, certificates or whatever), which would bring also coal close to this level.

Honi soit qui mal y pense...

Presumably geothermal power receives equally cavalier treatment.....

There's a promising new geothermal company, Raser, that's almost completed their first plant of 10 MWe and has a power purchase agreement to sell for $ 78/MWh.

Your figures look good. The recently opened Ausra pilot plant cost around 3 dollars per Watt, which has to be in the ballpark of $ 150/MWh. Since operations are pretty cheap (mostly cleaning and replacement parts) I'd imagine levelised cost won't be more than $ 160/MWh. A really big plant should be a bit cheaper for obvious reasons. The trough plants are a bit more expensive, and central receivers have so far been the most expensive I think (but are also supposed to have the biggest future cost reduction potential). Material cost are high today and money's tight so I don't expect these solar thermal projects to be built really cheap anytime soon, but things may be looking better further in the future.

Supposedly, 1.5 to 2 billion in subsidies would bring the cost of CSP well below $ 100/MWh. Sounds like a good allocation of subsidies to me. IMHO, we need several of these big programs to fund promising options (based on engineering and physics) that private investors are unwilling to invest in. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor is another one, as is high altitude wind, as Davemart will no doubt tell you all about :)

Cyril, high altitude wind aside ;-), there are a couple of reasons to look forward to good progress in solar thermal fairly soon, even in the present straightened financial circumstances.

The first is that material costs are dropping like a stone, there is always some lag but this is very important for both solar thermal and wind power as they are materials-intensive.

The second is ideas to use it as a supplement on existing power stations:

EPRI to Evaluate Adding Solar Thermal Energy to Natural Gas and Coal Power Plants

This strikes me as the way to go.
Some get a bit over-enthusiastic, and would like to go head to head with existing power sources for base-load generation.
This is tough to do, mainly because of the lower amount of sunshine you get per day in the winter than in the summer.
The trick then is to go with the grain rather than against it, and leverage your development by using it in the most cost-effective places, which will hopefully lead to more cost reductions.

In another area of renewables, the perhaps unfortunately named DONG of Denmark sees EV cars as a potential way of increasing the present circa 20% penetration of wind power in Denmark by it's potential to store energy generated at night and perhaps release some of it during the day:
This sounds like something that is unlikely to kick in in a big way for some years though.

Thanks Dave. I've read about those fossil solar thermal hybrids before, and it looks like CCGT is the most attractive from a financial and engineering viewpoint since natural gas fuel is rather expensive (so displacing it with solar heat is more lucrative) and the steam conditions for the bottoming cycle aren't too high so integration isn't too difficult.

Coal plants are more difficult, especially the newer ones that operate on higher steam pressures and temperatures. That means the solar thermal part has to operate under such high steam pressures and temperatures to be most effective, but that makes the collectors (steam lines and other plumbing) expensive. This proved to be quite a problem for the Ausra guys, since their CLFR system operates under very low steam temperatures and pressures, compared to a modern coal plant. But from a GhG saving perspective, displacing coal fuel with solar heat makes more sense than natural gas with solar heat.

Of course there is the extra difficulty of finding a fossil fuel plant in a high direct beam solar insulation area. If you happen to have a coal plant in the middle of the desert...

Coal isn't as cheap as it used to be though, so perhaps the economics look a lot better now; with the upcoming carbon trading and taxes, it should make sense even more. Since the solar field is the biggest cost component in a solar thermal powerplant, getting economy of scale and high volume production through hybridization with fossil plants to reduce the cost of the solar field is an excellent development.

Biomass powerplants are also great for hybridization since their steam conditions are lower and they emit far less GhG. Unfortunately, there's the problem that places with high direct beam insulation are arid and don't have too much biomass to be sourced from the region. Hauling biomass over longer distances is energy intensive, but if the biomass is converted on site of harvest into biogas or bio charcoal the losses are much lower.

CCS plants are another market, since they require low temperature heat for regenerating the solvent that is used to remove the CO2 from the exhaust. A CCGT burning biogas, assisted by a solar thermal system to provide the heat for sequestration would make for a very clean and carbon negative powerplant, with a cheaper (low temperature) solar field.

Thanks Cyril.

That does not sound too hopeful for supplementing coal plants, but there seems to be a little headroom for gas.

Personally, although costs are presently very much higher, I attach more hope to solar PV.

Again, taking out the costly bits seems the best hope.
Use it for peak power in hot areas, as it uses very little water unlike solar thermal.
Don't bother mounting it on roofs, as that increases costs for both installation and maintenance.
Build it in medium size 2-10MW fields, so that maintenance is economic but you don't need to transmit it large distances or step it down even.
It would also fit in quite well with wind power.

Here is how Nanosolar plan to do it:

With present technology though I really can't see how you generate substantial base load in a low-carbon way without using nuclear power.
Engineer-Poet had some interesting posts on clean coal technology - I am hoping he might do a key post on it.

Maybe at some stage in the future hot dry rock geothermal might do the trick, but that is not yet, not by a long way.

The water consumption of a solar thermal powerplant is about the same as for a high efficiency PV powerplant. Since water is scarce in regions with high direct beam insulation and dry cooling is a commercially mature technology it's what's going to be used in the future when there's going to be larger amounts of solar thermal powerplants installed. With the newer carbon foam and composite based dry cooling systems there's not that much extra energy losses.

A low efficiency PV plant (like most thinfilms are today) would actually use more water due to greater panel area required per unit of energy generated (ie greater area that needs to be washed). But the water required for washing is relatively small (compared to for example most agricultural uses) so it's unlikely to be a show stopper anyway. Pressurized air can also be used for some washing, so less water would be required, if that's a problem.

Roof mounting doesn't look attractive right now but integrating it in new or refurbished buildings (BIPV) will probably become very attractive a bit further on in the future.

And if there's no grid connection then PV displaces expensive diesel fuel from generators which is easy competition. This is one of the most cost effective markets for PV right now, even in places with mediocre solar resource.

2-10 MWe looks like a winner already in some places. Adding booster mirrors behind the panels looks like an easy way to improve energy harvest per panel while reducing costs a bit.

The baseload question is a bit more complicated, since in the US the baseload market is already overbuilt so is difficult competition for new plants. As more older coal plants have to retire it may become more financially attractive to build cleanish coal and new nuclear, but right now it's a tough sell.

The advanced geothermal is one of those promising options that requires not a lot of subsidies and is likely to offer large amounts of clean power for many decades, so should be included in the 'promising but risky' technologies portfolio that I hope the next administration will make an aggressive move on. Drilling the holes is still the biggest bottleneck (no pun intended) so requires attention. There's work going on with hydrogen combustion fracture drilling that's very promising.

Thanks Cyril.

I understood that dry cooling is substantially more expensive?

If the cost difference is not huge it would also seem to be a good option for some nuclear and coal plants where water is not always readily available, for instance in a drought in some areas of France a few years ago, and, from memory, in Georgia.

One of the other issues with solar thermal in non-desert regions is a very poor response to cloud cover, I believe.
Crystalline silicon has some of the same problems, but I understand amorphous silicon fares much better, although the overall efficiency by area is of course lower.
Providing space is not in too short supply it is cost that is more important though:

I haven't managed to dig out any data on the efficiency of thin film technology in cloudy conditions - presumably the several different technologies there might vary widely.

Your thoughts and insights on the subject would be valued.

Dry cooling systems are common around the world, especially popular for CCGTs:

More specifically, here is an NREL study about dry cooling for troughs that showed at most ~1 cent per kWh increase in levelised cost, less if optimized. In terms of capital, it's an additional $ 40 - 250 per kWe increase. Not really a lot of money at all. Of course, the NREL tends to be slightly overoptimistic about their cost estimates, but they can't be that far off. Even the high ball estimate is really not a lot of extra money. The water saved is valuable especially in arid areas where the solar thermal systems would be sited so partially makes up the extra investment cost. Total water use is 12-13x less than a wet cooling system, effectively solving the water use problem:

Some thinfilms are very good at harvesting diffused light, but at any rate the output drops substantially since there's simply less energy in the beam (the clouds do not only diffuse but also stop a bunch of sunlight). I'll try to get some figures about the efficiency later on, but I suspect it's not really a big efficiency penalty for CIGS cells, just that there's less energy in the beam to begin with.

Discussing the issue with a thermodynamics expert has assured me to my dismay that high concentration of diffuse light is quite impossible. Something about a fundamental black body radiation restraint. Don't ask.

The solution for concentrating solar systems (CSPV and CSTE) is quite simple. Just don't build solar thermal systems in places that are frequently cloudy. Florida doesn't appear to get this though.

OK, I found an interesting read about the performance of multijunction amorphous silicon cells that performed quite well under cloudy conditions. Efficiency doesn't appear to suffer much, but again keep in mind that even a whisp of cloud not only diffuses but also blocks some energy.

Thanks Cyril.
That pretty much nails the state of play.

For most places amorphous silicon or thin film sounds like the way to go.
There is a heck of a difference between reduced energy and no energy if you are getting a substantial part of your power from this source, and many places such as India which have good solar incidence are monsoonal.
Having virtually no power for a couple of months is not great.

In my view the information here knocks on the head advocates of excessive reliance on solar power, for instance in the Grand Solar Plan advocated in the Scientific American a volcanic eruption would radically reduce energy for a period of months or even years.

As usual, the best answer seems to be to mix thee energy resources.

Hopefully France is taking measures to move towards dry cooling for it's nuclear reactors to prevent a repeat of past difficulties in times of drought.

The thinfilms that work well in diffuse conditions would be great help for equatorial places. Cloudy, misty, but lots of energy in the diffuse beam, and less seasonal variation in output.

Some of the thinfilms have really low cost production factories, that means a lot of capacity can be brought online for a relatively small amount of money, strongly supporting exponential growth.

I also think the solar grand plan is a bit too grand for it's own good. Still, excessive reliance on solar power is acceptable in high solar resource locations; I'd suggest a strategic natural gas (or biogas) reserve for the occasional weather emergency. Proven technology, and cheap long term backup if not used too much. CAES can also be used for this purpose, since it has very low specific storage and capital costs, and being able to absorb excess low carbon energy means less methane has to be burned. Volcanic eruptions severe enough to deplete the strategic reserve would also destroy agricultural output, so we're probably screwed either way then. If you're talking supervolcanos like Yellowstone, that also creates nasty ash clouds that can severely damage pretty much every power generation technology available. I think this is not a very good argument to use in favor of any one technology, except perhaps for geothermal since it can stop the pressure and temperature building up too much in risky magma resevoirs, so as to avoid catastrophic volcanic events altogether. May sound like a bit too grand again, but it may prove useful in the future (right now, the environmentalist would not like the idea of tens of GW in Yellowstone National Park).

But yeah, a mix it is, and a mix it will be. If we've got any one technology scaled to at least several percent or so of electric needs, it'll be much easier to scale it beyond that if we decide on that, or if the situation demands it.

As for France, they've got the ocean for wet cooling, and can build their plants there. Care needs to be taken to build a network of diffusor pipes, so that there is no significant thermal pollution, but otherwise it's great (perhaps Chris Dudley will come up and talk about 100 feet sea level rises). It's really a question of the cost of transmitting the power from the coast to the inland versus the extra costs of dry cooling. Dry cooling may be cheaper in France, which isn't too hot so dry cooling is practical and fairly efficient. Transmission lines also lose some power, which may negate the wet cooling advantage near the ocean. The difference may not be big.

I personally would like to see more attention to underground pumped hydro electric storage. Affordable, efficient and abundant utility grade storage. Basically an underground excavated resevoir with an upper aboveground artifical lake. It is really one of the best wholesale diurnal electric storage schemes. There was supposed to be a 1500 MWe project in Ohio that uses this concept, but I can't find good references on this.

I wasn't really thinking about volcanic eruptions on the scale of Yellowstone - for the US at least that would pretty much be game over.
I was really thinking of Krakatoa scale events, which are more frequent.
If there is a 'year without summer' then it won't help if we are also missing too large a fraction of our power.

Perhaps you could throw more light on a discussion I was having here which pretty well petered out.

My main hang-up about solar power for off-peak use in most areas is not diurnal variation - we should be able to cope with that, but annual variation.
That is why it is such good news that amorphous silicon and thin film have relatively good performance in cloudy weather - a lot of areas and population within, say, 25 degrees of the equator where seasonal variability is limited have substantial cloud cover.

Even by the time you get to the latitude of Cairo at 30 degrees, the total incidence in the winter per day is very much reduced:
See fig 6

By the time you get to even the most favourable US locations such as the Mohave at 34 degrees north, then this is a major problem.
This is mitigated of course by the lower use of electricity in the winter in this sort of area, as most of it is for cooling not heating, and can also be minimised by motorised dishes - but that costs money, and moreover would not lessen the difference between winter and summer as it would also optimise summer collection.

Of course, in practise solar power can anyway be massively expanded for many years to cope with peak demand, but it would present difficulties if solar build in effect necessitated the burn of Natural Gas in substantial quantities, as it may not always be available at any rate at any reasonable cost.

Dual axis tracking helps a lot with annual variation, especially further from the equator. It also increases the summer output but does relatively more for the winter output. So the annual difference is a much smaller factor. At any rate it's not going to be a serious problem until we're talking about solar providing very substantial amounts of grid energy and capacity installed. Since solar has such an impressive learning curve, there could be very substantial reductions in installed cost and that allows some more room to play. But my point is that's not really a problem right now. Right now there's a nice market for PV in off-grid diesel hybrids and remote locations etc. But I agree we shouldn't get ahead of the facts. If PV does not come down enough in price then the market will restrict it's penetration because of the dumping of high cost electricity in the summer. But we're a long, long way from that.

In many places, biogas seems like an option with great potential to replace natural gas. We'll want some easy store of fuel for strategic backup anyway. Biogas is also great for a predominantly nuclear grid, as peak assist.

The Ausra website has some good readings about how well the solar output of a well located single axis tracker solar thermal electric system with 16 hours of storage correlates with demand. Effective load carrying capacity is very high.

There's a wealth of good info in the Idaho study below. Notice the difference a good location makes (compare figure A-10 with figure A-11 in the appendix A).

There's also a large difference in having a single axis tracking system (lineary concentrators) directed in north-south alignment compared to an east-west alignment. Right now, it's advantageous for solar systems in hot climes to have a large bias towards summer generation; the prices are higher. But if we're talking about a larger portion of cheap solar on the grid, then that changes.

I remember when PV systems cost more than $ 300 per Watt. Now some are being installed for $ 3 per Watt. It's not unthinkable that total system price will be 30 cents per Watt or less in the long run. That leaves room for overhead.

Excellent information - I am not sure how I missed the Ausra information, as I have frequented the site.

As you say, it all depends on installed cost, which hopefully will fall rapidly.

I know that currently in New Zealand at least costs are too high to make proposals to the Government for solar, and that the costs in Spain for the 50MW or so plants they have been building have been substantial.

Relative to ethanol from corn, I have been keen on biogas, but wonder how sustainable it is, as of course if you are doing it on a relatively large scale and not just burning waste then you would be extracting materials which would otherwise go to improving the soil.

Whilst not totally persuaded that lack of phosphates etc is a show stopper, I do wonder what effect the major use of biofuels to compensate for renewables intermittency would have.

Well, biogas doesn't contain meaningful amounts of phosphates, so there appears no inherent reason why this will be a problem. It does require attention (and, IMHO, it won't work without strong legislation). In order to be sustainable, there are a lot of conditions.

- Some portion of biomass has to be left alone.
- Some of the harvest has to be returned to the soil (agrichar seems like a decent option, since it retains nutrients).
- Nutrients must be returned from where they came from (biogas production creates residues which can be converted to organic fertilizer)
- Plants with lower water and fertilizer requirements.
- As little dedicated bio-energy crops as possible (use forestry and agri waste such as corn stover. >1 billion tons/year in the US)
- etc etc (you must have read enough reports to know what other kinds of sustainability criteria are used).

It's easy to see why this wouldn't happen without laws prescribing it (as that's happening right now in many parts of the world). It would be useful if a global certificate system can be put in place to make bio-energy more sustainable.

If the biogas is primarily used as deep backup for renewables (let's call it that) the amount of biogas production could be low enough to be sustainable.

Hopefully France is taking measures to move towards dry cooling for it's nuclear reactors to prevent a repeat of past difficulties in times of drought.

More realistically they'll just get exemptions for the regulations on discharge temperature or build cooling canals. Dry cooling is only really necissary in very dry areas.

Don't underestimate the local effect of thermal pollution and the trouble this gets you with environmental groups. Tens of GW thermal plants discharging into the same river can lead to issues with the local ecology, and even bigger issues with environmental groups. Cooling canals could work in France but I was under the impression that they worked less well in hot sunny areas (for solar thermal electric).

Thermal pollution is really a stupid problem to have since it's so easily fixed with the right engineering. Don't overuse rivers, use dry cooling (or cooling canals). Oceans are fine to use, with a diffusor system the local thermal pollution impact isn't big. Combined heat and power is also underused in many places.

One of the things that's great about dry cooling is that it offers greater site flexibility, even more than cooling canals. Since dry cooling has historically been underutilized (water resources were less valued) it still has a lot of room for improvement. Indirect dry cooling systems for example are an improvement over most air cooled condensers in efficiency. Carbon foam radiators offer another potential efficiency improvement.

The use of air heat pumps and the larger size of new reactors might mean that France will only need to eventually replace the same number of reactors as it currently has, and will still be able to do without petrol and gas.
Of those 60 reactors, most will be beside the sea or in areas with good supplies of water.
So they can probably eliminate most of the problem by building maybe 15 reactors or so as they come up for replacement with dry cooling, which will ensure greater security of supply.
The experience gained would also be helpful to France in selling reactors in water stressed areas around the world, so the total cost of the exercise should be marginal or nil.

"it makes one wonder on what cost assumptions the very low growth figures of Solar Thermal,..."

Good question, as it reveals once again the IEA's advanced use of their Infinite Improbability Drive:

Take the example of Concentrating Solar Power (page 170, highlight is mine):

"CSP generation is projected to reach 11 TWh by 2015 and 107 TWh by 2030. Current
power-generating costs under the best conditions are around $150 to $250 per MWh or
even less where the sun shines persistently. The lower end of the generation cost range
is close to that of gas-fired generation at current gas prices, but CSP is generally more
expensive than coal-fired generation (in the absence of a carbon value), nuclear and
wind power. The economics are expected to improve in the future, falling to around
$100 per MWh in sunny areas by 2030."

On one hand the IEA fills many pages that at least appear as if they were designed to persuade policymakers to reduce carbon emissions.
But on the other hand the IEA dismisses in one sentence one of the most promising solutions by simply ignoring any carbon costs (CSS, certificates or whatever), which would bring also coal close to this level.

Honi soit qui mal y pense...

This makes me wonder: are there any nonlinear models that try to capture how the rise in fossil fuel prices interacts with the deployment of deployment of renewable energy sources? I'm imagining something like a system dynamics model that provides a more realistic basis for predicting how such developments might play out. (Of course, it may just be my overheated imagination...)

There are some other interactions to consider. Fewer vehicle miles travelled due to lack of liquid fuels means less demand for cement, air conditioned shopping malls and the goods they contain, each with embodied coal. I predict that commercial CCS and nonvolcanic geothermal electricity will never happen.

However this factor could be major. Within a decade I suspect only the US and Australia will have coal export capacity, South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam having dropped out of the race. Russia is a dark horse for coal exports. Ironically both the US and Australia will have domestic cap-and-trade, probably watered down, but with a blind spot to coal exports. Notable coal importers are Japan, South Korea, India, China starting now and Europe including renewables poster boy Denmark.

Here's the catch; coal exporters US and Australia may cut exports both to reduce global CO2 and to keep jobs at home. For example aluminium smelters have threatened to relocate to China to avoid cap-and-trade but that may backfire as China imports more coal.

Therefore there are political factors that may limit coal use even though there is plenty left in the ground. How that works out with ppm of CO2 I can't say.

A lot of nonsense posed as fact in some of the above postings.

Last I heard, US is a net importer of coal FROM China.

Notably, one quarter of total U.S. imports of coal, a key raw material in U.S. steel production, comes from China.

Also interesting, the above referenced link is primarily a lobbyist's argument that "Trade with China does NOT cause lost jobs in the USA". It's a load of crap. The authors debit imports for killing only the jobs of the manufacturing employees who loose their jobs when manufacturing is re-located to China. They then credit imports with "creating new jobs" in advertising, finance, shipping an handling, retail, services, etc. IMHO, all those jobs would exist regardless whether the manufacturing were done in USA or China. Plus no debit against imports for the 7 support jobs lost in a community for every manufacturing job lost.

Also interesting is that by their counting method, they figure out that Texas benefits more than California from moving manufacturing to China, because Texas had no manufacturing to begin with but still needs to do the warehousing, distribution and retailing. Duh-uh.

Really sad writing. I hope no politician actually is exposed to this toxic stuff.

For example aluminium smelters have threatened to relocate to China to avoid cap-and-trade

The Global Credit Crisis arrived just in time! :D With slackening demand, as well as a reluctance by institutions to lend, they're stuck here. ;)

They're just bluffing, for the most part, however. They simply don't want to pay an additional 'tax', one that could be leveled out by Tarrifs on imported aluminium from countries without a compatible CAT system.

Well, perhaps we should help energy intensive industries a bit. After all, the cap and trade proposed by the new administration is rather aggressive, and we don't want to scare away entire industries and related jobs. Not all of them may be bluffing.

An investment tax exemption for more efficient equipment, and allowing tax deductions when low carbon energy is bought, would help these industries make the transition, while stimulating nationwide efficiency, low carbon energy, and innovation in general. The revenue lost (lower tax income for the government) can be made up by using a small percentage of the carbon trading revenue.

Even lower growth figures for wind: capacity additions of 358 GW durgin 2007-2020 (550 policy scenario) is about 25 GW a year, even less than what is expected for 2008 (26 GW, BTM Consulting). This scenario thus projects that growth of capacity additions (about 30%/year during the last decade) will stall! This doesn't look very realistic to me...

Makes me wondering what the IEA predicts for wind in their reference scenario... A complete economic meltdown for the wind turbine sector?!

Even the 450 policy scenario with 635 GW (2007-2020) capacity additions seems rather conservative. By Comparison, GWEC predicts about 1000 GW (total) installed capacity by 2020 and 2300 GW by 2030.

Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I wanted to alert folks to a rather new way to promote PO awareness and possible responses to it.

The White House 2 website hosts an interesting kind of public dialogue on priorities for the new Administration. I've added a proposed priority: Adopt the Oil Depletion Protocol. Feel free to jump in, endorse it, improve it, propose a better alternative, etc.

I wonder if recent political events in Australia provide a clue to realistic scenarios. I believe despite all the green rhetoric from the current Federal government the rate of wind farm build is less than their supposedly anti-environment predecessors. I also note that when the gas plant exploded in Western Australia that two or three coal fired stations were brought out of retirement. That suggests we are hamstrung by two dogged realities;

1) the investment horse has bolted
We may want to build new renewables, HVDC networks or in some cases new nukes but there is no spare cash or efficient capital market. The money has gone on bailouts, tax cuts and any other last minute dramas.

2) we can limp along on the auxiliary motor
Quietly and unnoticed old pulverised coal plant will keep chugging away at full power well past retirement. Tar sands will be dug until the net energy is near zero.

At first there will be excuses for inaction such as 'they are working on CCS'. Official carbon constraints will be near useless. As years go by and coal starts getting really hard to access we will get into electricity rationing and regular supply interrupts. Then permanent powerdown with atmospheric CO2 at say 450 ppm if Aleklett, Rutledge and others are right. If that seems gloomy just look at the evidence.

Cheer up, one year is too short a time to plan and build a wind farm. Like the US, Australia has great wind, solar and geothermal resources. Now that steel prices are on the way down, and we are going to have a price on CO2e, wind and solar are going to be even more competitive.
Nothing wrong with having a few mothballed coal burning plants to use in emergencies, lets hope we eventually have all the coal fired plants in "reserve", much better than to be using them all the time.

Renewable energy is not that big an investment. The average household in Australia probably used less than 16,000 kWh per year, about 2kW which would require about 6kW of wind capacity; at $3,000 a kW, $18,000 or about the price of a new car, or about 5% of the price of a house, not really a high price to pay for having refrigeration , heat, hot water, A/C, light, cooking, electrical appliances. In fact if you add up the cost of electrical appliances it probably exceeds the capital required to generate electricity to run them by renewable energy. That will certainly be true for an EV.
Most of us could probably manage on rain water, chemical toilets, no NG, even give up a car, but not electricity. We could manage using a lot less than 2kW, say 1kW for an investment of $9,000, but why bother while its so inexpensive.
I can't see CCS ever being relevant, most coal plants are going to be mothballed long before CCS is shown to be too expensive compared with renewable energy.

Nice little essay by David Strahan early this year(below) but does anybody have any updates?
UK has seen remorseless decline in domestic coal production from peak in 1913, and recent year on year reductions in both deep mines and what we call 'opencast'or surface mining.
Very recently attention has been drawn to new UK opencast production projects that are applying for planning go-aheads. Whether these will change the overall picture of inevitable decline, and for how long, is not clear.
UK is heavily reliant on imports of coal: 45-50Mt/y out of total of ~70Mt used mostly for power, contributing ~35% of ~400Twh total electricity

David Strahan quotes Caltech's Dave Rutledge on UK coal: image
whole Strahan essay and image at

...To test the linearisation technique for coal, Rutledge applied it to historical data for UK production, which peaked in 1913. He says it provides a better model of the decline since then than traditional economics, which tends to blame factors such as foreign competition and Winston Churchill’s decision to switch the navy to oil, and later the displacement of coal by natural gas. Because the straight-line decline in the growth rate of total production starts long before the peak and continues long after, for Rutledge this suggests the cause is fundamentally geological, reflecting the increasing difficulty of expanding production while exploiting resources of progressively poorer quality. ...

Rembrandt, Thanks for taking the time to put this article together, it is informative.

I am wondering if you have read the book "Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free" by Arjun Makhijani. The book talks about the very subject of this post. The book takes the stance that with technology available today we can do much better than the conventional wisdom would suggest.

Myself having built an electric car and powering it with solar power, I can safely say that we can do much better than what Detroit would have us believe. I am sure that this applies to other areas of energy production and consumption as well.



Thanks for the tip on Makhijani's book, haven't read it yet. Will order it and take a look.

Haven't read the book, but did read most of the stuff on the IEER website (which also contains a book preview/summary)

Although he's a bit biased and overreacting when it comes to nuclear power, it's good stuff mostly. The website is a bit on the cheap side though :)

A 1,000 MW coal fired power plant requires the continuous geo sequestration of 150 Kb/d of liquid CO2, preferably into deep ocean sediments. Thousands of kms of pipelines would be needed. For that steel we could build many wind parks. A CO2 industry would also be in competiton to the existing oil and gas industry which needs more and more drilling rigs after peak oil.

Once oil production starts to decline, and once global warming raises its ugly head we will be forced to use those clean energy solutions which will minimize the consumption of diesel during manufacturing and construction, calculated per rated MW output.

Our consumer society seems now to unwind after the 1st phase of peak oil (May 2005- July 2008) much faster than we assumed. We now need massive employment programs for rail and clean energy projects.

The CO2 needn't be sequestered at the coal plant per se, it can also be sequestered via minerals such as olivine, which is permanent (no leakage risks/issues).

Is the assumption of 32 gigawatts of installed CCS at coal and gas fired power plants by 2020 realistic?


Here in Oz, a bunch of coal-fired plants operate in the Hunter Valley (conviently close to the coal seams). About a year ago, CCS was being touted as being 'only five years away' from Commercial viability. Astute readers of the press will allready smell the cowpats, due to the standard 'five years' projection.
This year, just after the Rudd Labor government recieved one of the Garnaut Reports on Climate Change, a new coal-fired power plant was announced by the New South Wales Labor government (who are currently trying to flog off the state-owned generation capacity, because the entire state in in a financial hole, and needs money right now). It would be built with CCS in mind, and it was expected the CCS add-ons would be ready for use in about 2023...
In just one year, the 'viability date' for CCS blew out from five years to seventeen.

Compare this to the efficiency gain by pre-heating water for the boiler in a Solar Thermal system, a prototype of which is already operating at a NSW powerstation somewhere.

Just last week, the Coal industry took out full-page ads in The Courier mail (and presumably other newspapers) assuring us that they werte on the case, and had invested Au$1bn in CCS research. How much of that money went to lobbying and advertisments, they didn't say. Nor did they mention that liquid CO2 is corrosive, and would require hundreds of kilometres of vulnerable pipeline from the power station to a suitable geologic formation where it would be sequestered.

CCS is a boondoggle, a farce, a joke designed to keep governments and the public convinced that we can just keep 'digging stuff up and burning it', because all will be right, just around the corner. We just need to trust them. They'll take care of everything...

How about this idea:P Nanotechnology and other advances will make photovoltaics and wind far cheaper than they are today. Coal's appeal will decline as the price of PV plummets. The cost of coal extraction will become higher than the cost of PV.

Or will the cost of coal extraction decline as fast as the cost of PV? I would not expect so because I would expect the energy cost of coal extraction to stay high as compared to the energy cost of PV manufacture.

Plant growth rates, and therefore crop and forest yields, are optimized at 1000 PPM. Additional global warming impacts are minimal at these levels. Therefore 1000 PPM should be the target limit, not 350 PPM. Plant growth stalls at 200 PPM.