More Coal Equals More CO2

As the indigenous extraction rate of natural gas has declined, tipping the UK from net exporter to net importer, prices have unsurprisingly risen. This gas price rise, coupled with the lower than expected cost of carbon emission under the EU carbon trading scheme, caused a dramatic shift away from gas and towards coal for electricity generation last winter.

The office of John Hemming MP has recently considered the impact this increased coal burn has had on UK carbon dioxide emissions.

"It is not surprising", said John Hemming "that more carbon was emitted by burning pure carbon rather than a mixture of carbon and hydrogen. The government's failures in the gas market do not only hit people's gas bills, but they also hit the environment."

Just looking at the primary evidence it is clear that CO2 emissions would rise. From the DTI’s DUKES publication table 5C (pdf available here) we have this estimated data for electricity generation in 2005:

FuelTonnes of carbon per GWh
All fossil fuels167
All fuels (inc nuclear and renewables)124

Remembering that 12 tonnes of C is equivalent to 44 tonnes of CO2.

The same publication also states:

It is estimated that carbon dioxide emissions from power stations accounted for 29½ per cent of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2005.

Considering the total amount of electricity generated from both coal and gas:

  • Winter 2004/05 Coal generated 77.84TWh
  • Winter 2004/05 Gas generated 75.74 TWh

  • Winter 2005/06 Coal generated 89.62TWh (+15.1%)
  • Winter 2005/06 Gas generated 64.60 TWh (-14.7%)
Source: DTI Energy Trends 5.1

"Winter" is taken here to be Q4+Q1 (Oct-Mar).

The 15.1% increase in coal generated electricity represents an additional 2.8 million tonnes of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. The reduced gas burn mitigated just 1.1 million tonnes to produce a net increase of 1.7 million tonnes of carbon. A further 0.3 million tones were added by a 65% increased oil burn with oil fired generation up from 2.55 to 4.22TWh.

Although this oil burn is quite small compared to the coal and gas the fact that we burnt so much, especially given the price illustrates how tight things were last winter. Also, just last week an oil fired power station at Fawley in Hampshire was reopened after being mothballed for 12 years (BBC News report). You know things aren't great when we increase oil burn for electricity.

We can calculate the total carbon (and also CO2) emissions of electricity generation from coal, gas and oil during both winters:

  • Winter 2004/05 fossil fuel electricity generation 26.6 million tonnes of carbon or 97.5 million tonnes of CO2.
  • Winter 2005/06 fossil fuel electricity generation 28.6 million tonnes of carbon or 104.9 million tonnes of CO2 (+7.7%)

Perhaps it is unfair to blame this increase entirely on the structural shift from gas to coal. After all, more electricity was generated in 2005/06 compared with 2004/05. After adjusting for the additional 2.8TWh generated by assuming the increase is borne proportionately by each generating source the CO2 emission percentage increase directly attributed to the fuel switch reduces to 6.3%, still a significant increase.

We had an extra 2 million tonnes of carbon (7.3MT of CO2). How significant is that? This chart from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) illustrates UK CO2 emissions:

In 2004 net CO2 emissions were 559.1 million tonnes. In 2005 the emissions have been provisionally given as 561.0 (+1.9, +0.34%) million tonnes. I expect this will turn out to be a slight underestimation when the data is firmed up.

Commenting on this data DEFRA say:

Carbon dioxide emissions in 2005 are provisionally estimated to have been about ¼ of one per cent higher than in 2004, resulting from an overall increase in energy consumption combined with increased use of coal in electricity generation at the expense of gas. The change between 2004 and 2005 however is smaller than the range of uncertainty associated with the provisional estimate.

It's hard to be critical when such small differences are involved though it's not fair to describe 0.34% increase as "about ¼ of one per cent higher".

The additional 7.3MT of CO2 emitted last winter due primarily to coal substitution for gas is equivalent to 1.3% increase over the provisional 2005 figure.

With further indigenous gas depletion guaranteed and the gradual decommission of the nuclear fleet it seems impossible for the CO2 emissions from electricity generation to do anything thing other than rise. Add to this the dramatic rise in CO2 emissions from aviation and it is hard to see how the UK domestic goal will be met and although the Kyoto target is currently being met it isn't unrealistic to suggest that by the turn of the decade the UK could also miss the international target.

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister

Speaking for the last time as Prime Minister at the Labour Party conference last month (26th Sept) Tony Blair said this on carbon dioxide:

We will meet our Kyoto targets by double the amount; and we will take the necessary measures, step by step by step, to meet one of the most ambitious targets on the environment set anywhere in the world - a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050.
Full text of the speech available here:

With the trend of coal substitution for gas, decommissioned nuclear likely replaced with fossil fuel at least in the short term and growth in aviation I fail to see how Blair can justify his Kyoto optimism.

Whilst the lights did stay on last winter in the face of tight gas supplies the pain of indigenous gas depletion was felt in other ways, customers (domestic and commercial/industrial) experienced dramatic price rises and the atmosphere received additional CO2.

Peak Oil and Climate Change
This brings me to a related point about the environmental impacts of potential peak oil solutions. Whilst there is considerable overlap between sensible actions in the face of the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change (in the broadest sense both would be benefited by reduced energy consumption) there are some actions which clearly benefit just one of these problems.

Burning more coal (without CO2 sequestration) is one such action, whilst coal is relatively abundant and capable of making a meaningful contribution to energy security as oil and gas supplies decline the CO2 impact would be unacceptable.

It is wise to consider peak oil and climate change as two sides of the same problematic coin, not only to recognise the broad correlation of useful actions but also to flag up any actions which serve one challenge to the detriment of the other.

One irony between global climate change and UK energy consumption is that
we are having on average much milder winters, reducing our winter
heating demand and leaving more gas for use in power generation.  Could
someone work out the net saving in gas for say a 1 degree C rise above
average winter temperature (current level of local warming) and also a
2 degree C rise (probable rise in the next 20 - 30 years) ?  How far would
this go to offset the rise in coal consumption ?


The DOE has that heating degree day data.  I think it was cited here in a previous post.  I'll have a look at some point.
Yes, but won't that be offset by the rise in AC?
There is almost no domestic central air conditioning in the UK, whereas there is 100% (almost) domestic heating.

A few more summers like the last one, and I expect people will begin to introduce home AC.  Already there are window units.

Office air conditioning is obviously ubiquitous, and with the very hot summers we have been having, being retrofitted.

GE recently delivered a 49%-efficient 5.4 kW SOFC stack to the US Department of Energy which supposedly could be manufactured for $254/kW.  I strongly suspect that such a stack could burn natural gas with little preparation other than sulfur-scrubbing, and sizes of 5 kW are just about perfect for household cogeneration.

If Britain's heating and electric needs could both be met from heating fuel (and wind electricity when it was available), how would that change the calculus?  Is UK gas depleting so rapidly that the respite wouldn't be worth the effort?

Here is my (heretical) thought on Peak Oil v. Global Warming:

- for Peak Oil, until now, the world oil supply has risen every year.  Since supply + change in inventories = demand,
that is trivially true.

There hasn't been any big change on the delta of inventories (where publicly available). If anything the evidence is that they have been rising (US and China).

So oil supply has risen to the challenge of meeting oil demand.

Granted the price has gone up a lot.  But then, oil is a price inelastic commodity (both supply and demand), characterised by long lags to bring on new supply or to structurally reduce demand.  The evidence so far is that there have been few supply production restrictions on oil, the price has risen because of Chinese and Indian demand, and the strength of the US economic recovery.

So the jury is out on Peak Oil.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The date of Hubbert's Peak remains uncertain.

Indeed oil prices have fallen sharply and OPEC is cutting quotas, suggesting there is still enough supply out there.

(I should add to that I am sure Peak Oil is inevitable: this is an exhaustible resource, and exhaustible resources deplete.  The question of when is what is at issue).

- Global Warming there is no reasonable doubt.  There is no serious glaciologist or geographer who doubts that the world is warming.  There is no serious climatologist who doubts that the cause of this warming is human action.

(2 exceptions AFAIK: Lindzen at MIT and Gray at Colorado.  But Lindzen doesn't deny global warming, he simply says it isn't a problem because increased cloud cover will offset it-- and admits he may be wrong.  Gray says we are too reliant on computer models, we don't have enough empirical data.  I don't know what he says about rising CO2 levels and rising average temperatures).

What is at issue with Global Warming is how fast, how far, how much?

The prudent man would look at the extreme cases of Global Warming and the geologic evidence we do have.  In particular, CO2 levels were at 1,000 PPM during the time of the great Permian Extinction, when 90% of all animal species died.  CO2 levels now are at 380ppm (from 280ppm in 1750) and rising at 2ppm pa.

At current rates of acceleration of CO2 emission, we will cross 1,000ppm early in the 22nd century.

The particular tipping point is the mass release of permafrost methane-- there is 100GT of methane under the permafrost.  It appears that over a relatively short period at the end of the Permian era, this is what happened.

More seriously, a number of biologists and climatologists believe the world is stretching its capacity to absorb excess atmospheric CO2.  At some point, the process becomes a positive rather than negative feedback cycle-- human action becomes irrelevant.

When I first started looking at this, consensus was 550ppm was a level we could live with avoiding the worst consequences of global warming.  Scientists are now talking 450ppm, a level we will have reached in the 2040s on current trends.  The truth is we don't know.

There are other, less alarming, scenarios than the mass methane release, such as a 10 degree centigrade rise in average surface temperature, which would make much of the planet uninhabitable, and potentially kill billions.

As The Economist argued a few months ago, any prudent man (or woman) looking at that, would suggest that we do something, and a lot, to try to forestall that moment when we cross the 450ppm line.

Global Warming has become the challenge of our generation, the legacy we will leave to all future generations.  What we do in the next few years as a society will be absolutely critical.

Peak Oil will come, some day.  Global Warming is here, and now.

Don't find this terribly heretical, except that while people are arguing the date for peak oil, the planet burns. The fact is, it doesn't matter when oil peaks, we should take action to make it peak and decline regardless of the economics or the geology.

Peak oil is used as a goad to encourage alternatives, but many of those alternatives may be good at replacing oil but maybe not so good at replacing fossil fuels. Replacing oil with ethanol while burning coal to run ethanol plants may not be such a great tradeoff unless your only  concern is oil.

Peak oil mostly translates into politicians talking about how we need to get off oil and come up with what they call renewable alternatives. As long as global warming is not part of the equation, we may invest our money in things which have short term benefits for oil but do little to deal with global warming.

We have had over 30 years to do something serious about oil, all the while becoming more dependent upon those who hate us year after year after year.  If we only have a few years to deal with global warming, it ain't gonna happen.  We as a species are not capable of moving that fast.

Actually as a species we are capable of moving that fast.

Consider Russia in the winter of 1941-42 (entire industrial base moved east, Army reconstructed more than once).  Or Britain throughout WWII (higher level of industrial mobilisation than Nazi Germany).

Or the North Vietnamese during the 'American period' of the Vietnam War.

What we are proposing here is that we might go back to a standard of living of the 1950s: but the 1950s with the internet, the 1950s with 2000 medical technology, etc.  The big changes are we have to revamp the electric power system, the domestic heating and air conditioning system, and how and what we drive.

The problem is as a society, or a collection of societies, we are not willing to make that jump-- the public thinks global warming is a complex subject about which there is much debate, and is a threat maybe to our grandchildren.  The glaciology/climatology people think global warming is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.

Right.  I remember  listening to Churchill offering nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat. And I remember the people on both sides of the Atlantic responding with a fast, huge effort.  

Sure we can do it.  Where is that certain trumpet?

History shows people willingly sacrifice for a common good, as long as they feel everybody is together doing the sacrificing.  Getting them together is what leaders do.  Where are they?


There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tiny blasts of tiny trumpets, we have met the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.
Walt Kelly
US animator & cartoonist (1913 - 1973)

Sums it up perfectly.  the enemy is ourselves, and our way of life.

Beautiful example in the Guardian today.  Swale Borough Council in Kent has blocked the London Array, a 1000MW offshore windfarm.  Why?  Because they don't fancy having a power cable come onshore on their beach.  Oh and it might spoil the view.

The locals are entirely rallied around this, and the law means Swale can block the interests of the nation.

Biggest wind power project is blown off course as residents fight back

Scheme that would provide 25% of London's power is bogged down in planning

Terry Macalister
Monday October 23, 2006
The Guardian

Martin Bellis dries himself off with his towel and gives a wry smile when asked if he is not just another Nimby objector looking after his own patch of beach against the potential encroachment of a wind farm near Faversham, Kent. "No, I'm really not. I am a supporter of clean energy and really care for the environment," he said.
"I just happen to think wind is a bit of a white elephant because it's so inefficient and I cannot understand why anyone would choose one of the best bird sanctuaries in Europe as a site."

I must admit I had this fantasy of building nuclear power plants in Kent as sweet revenge-- of course they will have to be on the beach (cooling water).  ;-).

This from The Guardian last week:
Reliable energy supplies are set to rival military capability in their contribution to a state's security, Tony Blair said yesterday.

Speaking at the formal opening of a gas pipeline between Norway and the UK, the prime minister noted that demands on the world's energy resources were increasing, driven by the growth of countries such as China and India, while Britain was moving from near self-sufficiency in oil and gas to heavy dependence on imports. In little more than a decade Britain could be importing 80% of its gas, he said.

"I think in the future energy security will be almost as important as defence in the overall security of a country's interests," Mr Blair said. supplies are set to rival military capability in their contribution to a state's security...

By logical extension of the argument, windfarm protestors are effectively terrorists! ;-)

Where are they?

Sucking Kool-Aid out of the Poll straws.

Goodness, that seems mild.  I'm looking at phenomena like the retreating glaciers, shrinking icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica, and the growing methane releases in Siberia and concluding that we need to start pushing CO2 down from where it is now (perhaps to 350 ppm or even less), and start warming-mitigation strategies immediately to prevent positive-feedback loops from starting before we can get there.

If you're a heretic, what am I?

I would agree with your long term prognosis of what needs to be done.

When I first started noticing the debate, the IPCC I think settled on the 550 level.  It was something of a political compromise.

Now the leading climate scientists are talking 450, but some are talking lower.

Positive feedback loops are not something that politicians understand, nor most laymen.

I can't pluck the abstract out of the pdf, but it's really all you need to know.  A relative rate problem with a bathtub, a running tap and a drain-- and most graduate students still get it wrong.

I was laughing to myself... they tested this model on 'MBA students at Harvard'.

I guess President Bush (HBS class of 1973) wasn't in the test group?


Just when I was getting happy thinking that the only thing we had to fear was:

  1. Fear itself
  2. Peak Oil
  3. Global Warming
  4. Global Dimming
  5. Kim Jong-Il and the Pilsbury Dough Boys (rock on dudes),

some asshole gets on the TV and starts telling me how the Earth's magnetic field is collapsing and soon our planet will be just like Mars.

Damn. Can't a fellow finish off his remaining years simply believing in the life eternal?

Worry about solving the problems one can solve.  The rest God will look after for you (my personal image of God is the Supreme Being in the film Time Bandits, memorably played by Sir John Gielgud in a Saville Row suit).

If you smoke, you should still give up smoking.  As a society, we should still do something about global warming.

Whatever kills you, it probably isn't what you expect.

Chris - interesting stuff.  A few comments and one question.

The Kyoto targets really seem quite pointless and meaningless.  They have brought CO2 awareness onto the political scene, but we seem to have been given a license to continue churning out CO2 at an unsustainable rate.

As a general point, it seems that peak oil and gas production is ironically going to mean more CO2 - not just from burning coal but from a lowering of EROEI of oil and gas production everywhere, from developing tar sands and other measures such as coal to liquids.

My question is can you elaborate on the basket of greenhouse gasses - what this comprises - guess CFCs - may be in there - and hey presto - the hole in the ozone layer seems to be healing.

Would also note that dash for gas was effective in lowering SO2 and helped solve the acid rain problem.  CO2 is just much more tricky to deal with.  We should consider an expose on all political parties suppor for the expansions of Heathrow, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Aberdeen airports.

Like Valuethinker, I think we need to be concerned about melting permafrost.  Don't know what the weather is like for you, but it is still very warm in Aberdeen - I am still cutting grass - which is growing like grass.  And here's the reason - seasurface temperature anaomalies form 17th Oct.  Look at all that warm surface water in the N Atlantic and the North Sea.  Also note a big El Nino forming in Pacific.

My question is can you elaborate on the basket of greenhouse gasses - what this comprises - guess CFCs - may be in there - and hey presto - the hole in the ozone layer seems to be healing.
The basket contains these six greenhouse gases: CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6

The 2004 break down expressed as million tonnes of carbon equivalent was:


So, CO2 is ~84% of the basket.

Chris, you got any historical numbers on this (e.g 1990) - it looks like great inroads have been made to reducing everything bar CO2 - and now with CO2 making up 84%, it will have to be reduced to make further progress.
This data from 1990 is available here: DEFRA
Isn't the CH4 a more potent absorber? Would be interesting to see the chart normalized for IR absorptivity, though as a supplement, not a replacement.
Isn't that implied by 'million tons of carbon equivalent'?
methane is about 20 times the GHG that CO2 is.

However methane breaks down in the atmosphere in about 10 years (one of the decay products is CO2, unfortunately).  CO2 sits around for 100+ years.

The numbers above adjust for the differing GHG impacts by making them all CO2 equivalent.
Even when peak oil bites there will be increases in the CO2 emissions as the CO2/unit useful energy rises. The swing to coal is a major part of this in the UK but there are other effects. The further away the source of natural gas the greater the energy lost in transporting it . Liquefying and re-gassifying it use even more of it (23% by some estimates) and increases the risk of leakage. Since methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (estimates vary from 21 or 23 times as strong) even a half percent increase in leakage will increase the greenhouse effect 10% and estimates of leakages are of this sort of magnitude.

The swing away from conventional light crude oil to super heavy oil, tar(sorry oil)sands and kerogen (sorry oil)shale have a double impact far more energy (and therefore CO2 emissions) are required to extract it and the lower yield of  light products per barrel of input mean that more must be extracted per barrel of useful energy.

Thus peak useful energy will precede peak oil extraction by some years and peak CO2 production will trail peak oil extraction by some years.    

Thus peak useful energy will precede peak oil extraction by some years and peak CO2 production will trail peak oil extraction by some years.

Given the available reserves of coal, tar sands and heavy oil, how long do you think will be that trail? I can easily guesstimate it up to a century or so.

I don't think civilisation would last that long if it tried to maintain, still less continue to expand at its current rate, the amount of net energy  it uses. However I agree there are enough dirty hydrocarbons in the ground to keep the CO2 levels going up for a century.
Hi all, just written an article for my blog(Climate Change Action) that isn't up yet. It is currently on my google discussion group.

Climate Change, Peak Oil and Canadian Oil Sands

I would appreciate any comments/suggestions/corrections.

Calvin Jones -sands

If you would edit out all the sentence breaks it would be easier to read.
Just a few small points...

Gray is not a climate scientist. He was (and probably is) very good in hurricane predictions, but that is not the same as being a climate scientist.

The Canadian oil sands do have a lot of oil, However, the investment required to get it out and the time required to get the sand to your tank make it no real alternative. The energy requirements, the water requirements... 80% of all capital expenditure in the oil sands is towards the water management, treatment, etc... Then there is the issue that the entire oil industry is having to deal with, the lack of qualified people. Th head of Shell in Fort McMurray said they need about 40,000 people to develop their site and run it. That's just the Shell site.

The oil sands won't be saving the world.

Oil sands will rise from c. 1m b/d towards 5m b/d.

I actually think equilibrium will be around 3.5m b/d, for all the reasons you identify.  It will be c. 2030 before that is realised (and the production will be somewhere between 3.5m b/d and 5.0m b/d).  At which point that production will go on until the end of the age of Oil.

I think there is something over 2m b/d of new projects or expansions on the drawing boards, announced, started etc.  Not all of that will prove economic for the reasons you cite above.

If necessary, they will bring gas down from the Mackenzie Delta for the processing bit.  Or build a small nuclear steam generator.  Water can be recycled (but most people don't realise it is, effectively, a cold desert up there).

Skilled labour is the biggest logjam but they are bringing in crews from India, Latin America etc.

Despite the hype about the public's greater concern over GW everywhere you look there is a swing to coal. Did I read about Ireland importing Polish coal?

I live on an island (Tasmania) that was all hydro and windpower with a natural gas peak load generator. A single cement factory uses some local lignite. Then in April 2006 an underwater HVDC connected the island to the mainland with the hub and presumed key supplier being a cluster of lignite burning power stations. These  stations produce 1.25 kg of CO2 per kwh compared to effectively nil for hydro. Referring to lowering dam levels the  hydro execs announced 'at least we don't have to worry about climate change any more'.  

What seems to be going on is
the Connect... from clean energy to coal fired
the Disconnect.. between coal and climate change.


Despite the hype about the public's greater concern over GW

Personaly I think that the average Joe doesn't give a s%*#t about GW. This hype is just a response to the need of the populace to have an indulgance for continuing our irresponsible way of life. Tragedy of the commons over and over again.

Average Jane (or Joe) is confused.  I often find they confuse GW with the ozone layer (the hole is at a record size, but scientists are relaxed).

Various powerful interest groups have made a huge effort to spread misinformation, disinformation and confusion about GW, eg the US ads 'Carbon Dioxide, we call it life'.

Senator James Inhofe, as well as President Bush, believe Global Warming is a conspiracy to destroy the American economy and way of life.  I have had that quote thrown at me more than once on the internet. is a good site on this.  His basic point is that we think we can keep piling on facts, to win the argument, but actually we are making no emotional connection with the other side or with the undecided.

Ironically, groups of American evangelicals are starting to pay attention. But more conservative voices will continue to argue that anything that happens is God's punishment for man's sinfulness-- as on 9-11 when 2 senior leaders of the movement (Falwell and Robertson) said 9-11 was God's punishment of America for tolerating homosexuality.  When you don't even believe in the theory of evolution, it's difficult to argue with someone about the geologic record before the Bible says the world existed.

* But then, if you are of the more extreme evangelical elements and of the 'Rapture' persuasion (Book of Revelations), our time on this planet is limited anyways, and we should expect the Resurrection relatively shortly.  (Tim LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series of novels has sold over 50 million copies )

Tim LaHaye's 'Left Behind' series of novels has sold over 50 million copies

What about Foley's new book: "No Child's Behind Left (Subtitle: Shucks)"?
Guaranteed to be a kick ass seller.

OK. Kidding aside. I agree with you. Humans respond to emotional messages, not to dry logic.

So where is our compelling emoticon for Peak Oil?


Bathtub Basics

Why do people underestimate the time delays in the response of climate to GHG emissions? To explore this question, we presented highly educated adults enrolled in university graduate programmes with descriptions of past greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and global mean temperature.

Subjects were asked to predict the behavior of CO2 levels and global temperatures in response to changes in human-generated CO2 emissions. No mathematics was required and data was drawn from the non-technical reports of the 2001 UN report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

We found a widespread misunderstanding of climate change dynamics. Two-thirds of the subjects believed global temperature responds immediately to slight or dramatic changes in CO2 emissions. Still more believed that reducing emissions near current rates would stabilise the climate, when in fact emissions would continue to exceed removal, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and radiative forcing.

Such beliefs make current wait-and-see policies seem entirely logical, but violate basic scientific principles of conservation of matter.

Low public support for policies to reduce emissions may be based more on misconceptions of climate dynamics than high discount rates (that is, putting a low value on the future) or uncertainty about the risks of harmful climate change.

If greater resources were devoted to developing public understanding of the dynamics of climate change, citizens and policymakers would have a more reliable basis for assessing current and future climate policy proposals

If greater resources were devoted to developing public understanding of the dynamics of climate change, citizens and policymakers would have a more reliable basis for assessing current and future climate policy proposals

I disagree. Educating the mass is causa perduta. If Churchill spent his time educating the public about how bad Hitler in fact is, we would be all speaking German now. What we need is a strong leadership, capable of defending sacrifices in the short term for the long term. Unfortunately such leadership is grossly incompatible with our current model of democracy.

gives you a feeling of why.

The Australian government, from John Howard on down, is in the hands of global warming denialists.  Tim Flannery is also very good on this (The Weather Makers): he first brought to my attention the droughts you are having down there, I had no idea they were so widespread nor so long lasting.

The leaders of the 3 developed countries with the highest GHG emissions per capita (Australia, Canada, USA) are now all officially deniers of global warming.

You ain't seen nothin' yet. More CO2, more SO2, more mercury, more everything. Just wait until all the new coal plants get built. Just wait until they start up the massive CTL & oil shale programs which are surely coming. They will burn every ton of coal we have in less than half a century, you watch. You won't be able to eat fish, there won't be any pines left for the acid rain. It will get so hot in the summer you won't be able to stand it. Oh, wait a minute, most of that stuff has already happened. Never mind.
I havent seen a pine tree in the piney woods of east texas in years :*(
If we implement Carbon Sequestration then the problem can be at least delayed.

However we have to start implementing that on new plants almost immediately, to have a significant effect by 2050.

If we implement Carbon Sequestration then the problem can be at least delayed.

I think that CS is a very dangerous self-delusion. Consider what the costs would be to build every new plant near a underground cavity, to build CO2 separation and liquification facilities etc... This daydream idea will very soon crash with the reality of declining energy. Do you think the public will wait for CS plants when shortages hit? AFAIK DOE has been building a small experimental plant in the mid-West for some 5 years now... compare that to a conventional plant which can be put in exploitation for just 2 years and you'll see why this thing will never happen.

CCS will happen when we put a reasonable price on carbon emission. torage.htm

I can't crack the pdf to quote directly, but the exec summary quotes a range of costs of 1 cent to 5 cents/KWhr of electricity (1-2 cents if using EOR).  Which is 20-100% of current wholesale electricity prices.

It's actually not hard to move CO2 by pipeline hundreds of miles-- it already happens.

As I stated before, I think CO2 emission will get us before Peak Oil does.  I am sure I am not in the majority here on that one.

WOW. Ask any coal power producer if 1 to 5 cents per kwth is a "reasonable price". Last time I checked the cost to produce electricity from coal was some 2c per kwth. What you are suggesting now is effectively killing the industry providing some 50% of our electricity. Now where do you suggest we get these 50% from? Where do you get the massive amounts of capital to build the infrastructure you are talking about? It is all a pipe dream.

Think about that: if you build a nuclear power plant instead, you will replace that same coal plant you are trying to put CS in for much less money and will produce electricity for just 2.5-3 c/kwth. In the same time the total cost of coal would be 3 to 7 c/kwth. Who will agree to finance such a large scale waste of money?

nuclear will cost 8 cents/ kwhr.  That is, after all, pretty conservative in light of past construction experience, and we are talking new plant here.  you can read the MIT study, they have arguments why it will get to $0.06, to which my reply is that it has never in the past, so why now?

(which isn't to be completely pessimistic, I am also not expecting the kind of 200 and 300% cost overruns that characterised the industry historically).

For reasons I have already covered, nuclear cannot replace all of fossil fuel generation.  The industry cannot build at that rate, nor would society accept the consequences.

Coal is 4 cents/ kwhr, fully costed.  Not 2 cents.  You can't take Drax's current cost of fuel and maintenance, and say that that is the cost of power from Drax.  Someone built Drax, and it will be replaced someday.

And then you have to add the cost of carbon emission (see below).  

You are confusing variable cost with total cost.  At which point, the cost of wind is zero ;-).

On pp 10-11 of the IPCC report summary, we have:

reference plant costs/ kwhr

CCGT $0.03-0.05
pulverized coal $0.04-0.05
IGCC $0.04-0.06

P. 11 we have the abatement costs per tonne of CO2 with Sequestration (but not enhanced Oil Recovery)

which are

pulverized coal $30-70
IGCC $20-70

$27/tonne is about $100/tonne of carbon, which is the level of benchmark carbon avoidance cost (either by permit or by taxation) was I was talking about.

The report summarises (Conclusion 14) that the cost will be $0.01 to $0.05 per kwhr.

If Enhanced Oil Recovery is included, then the cost will fall to $0.01 to $0.02. (I would imagine in some circumstances it would be negative-- this could certainly be the case in Alberta).

Note their oil prices assumed are USD $15-20/bl, and their gas and coal prices are similarly out of date.  Of course US power rates have, in many jurisdictions, already risen by more than the amounts we are talking about if CCS was implemented.

nuclear will cost 8 cents/ kwhr

On what base? My observation is that people come with all sorts of numbers for future projections based on whatever result they want to achieve. Past experience shows less than half of that cost:

The graph is from here.

Unfortunately I don't have the time to match your arguments, but I would be happy to continue the discussion some other time.

This is the cost for "generating electricity".

But where are the cost graphs for "treating cancer" in people exposed to the undisposable waste fuel and who is going to pay that "cost".

How do the alternate methods stack up when compared against nuclear's "cost" for treating cancer; for storing undisposable waste materials; for protecting against terrorist attacks; etc., etc.?

This is scaremongering, not a real fact-based argument.
On CSS generally, yes the DOE FutureGen project is delayed.

But other countries (Norway, UK) are much closer to working plants.

All the different bits work in commercial contexts already (capture, pipeline, reinjection).

Weyburn Alberta

Sleipnir Norway

BP has already announced plans for two hydrogen power plants. At Peterhead, Scotland, BP together with Scottish and Southern Energy plan to build a 475MW hydrogen fired power plant based on natural gas. It would sequester 1.8 million tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide 4,000 metres below the seabed in the Miller oil field where the carbon dioxide will enable the production of some 40 million barrels of oil that would not otherwise have been recoverable. A final investment decision is due in early 2007 so the plant can be in commercial operation in 2010.
The second project is a 500MW hydrogen power plant at Carson, southern California. BP, and partner Edison Mission Energy, would take petroleum coke, a refinery by-product and synthetic form of coal, to create the hydrogen. The plant will capture and store 4 million tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide which, like the Peterhead project, will enable incremental oil production. This project is scheduled to be complete in 2011.

Actually the Chinese have already announced 2 (3?) coal-to-oil plants, licensing the tech from Sasol (South Africa).
Absolutely! We will burn everything we can, then we will probably turn to nuclear. This is the only realistic scenario I am coming up with. Society and economy have always been following the path of least resistance, and I don't see why this will change this time.

Therefore I'm already thinking of adaptation strategies for GW... can anybody recommend me good place to live in Canada?

Some place close to the oil sands, that's where the jobs are.
Open up an asthma clinic there
You can't structure a world where the 460 nuclear reactors extant (about 8% of energy consumption worldwide) are replaced by, literally 3000 reactors.  The waste and proliferation problems would be too chronic.

What i think is likely is some countries will replace their existing nuclear capacity (US, Canada, Britain).

But the battle will be fought in conservation, and in alternative energy, and in carbon sequestration.

Each has its role.  UK, US and Canada could each get 20% of their energy from wind power.  At a cost which would be competitive with fossil fuel (assuming a carbon tax).

If you believe in GW then the 2 places to live in Canada are Winnipeg (strangely hip town these days: it's real peak was 1910 when world (real) wheat prices were at an all time high, but the last few years with a gay mayor it has become a quite interesting place to live again) and Edmonton (logistics centre for the oil sands).

Winnipeg is on a flood plain, and thus justly famous for its mosquitoes, and it was also nearly destroyed in the century record floods a few years back.

The third alternative is Calgary, the centre of the Canadian oil industry.

Calgary is urban sprawl personified, a northern Denver with the mountains giving the same traffic problems.  Also culturally it is much more American (Edmonton is actually the capital and a little more quiet Canadian for that).  IF GW is real, its skiing advantage will be eroded.

They both are famous for their bitter winters (in Edmonton, you leave your car running whilst you pop into the shops, and the parking lots all have engine block heater points (good for plug in hybrids if we ever get there).

Alberta has far and away the lowest taxes in Canada, even lower than the most highly taxed American states.

And the people in both places are very, very nice.

Sorry, it may sound like nitpicking but I don't think anybody "structered" the world we have today, and I am the last one that has ideas for "structuring" it. My point is that the world evolved to what is its current state and that's how it will continue - it will be evolving to some other state. Now the direction it will evolve is very easy to predict - nuclear is the only scalable, cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. Yes, maybe renewables will also take some place but it will be marginal at best. You can't run a civilisation on an unreliable energy source. As for the problems with "3000 nuclear reactors", I would be more concerned about the 5000 or so coal power plants spewing CO2 as we speak. The nuclear waste issue is in fact a very easy one to solve if there is the political will to do that.

Thanks for the Canada references.

Agree re 'structure' v. 'evolution'.

You can't direct the final outcome except in the broadest ways.  I was looking at the blank sheet of the world in 2030, and thinking what it could look like, hence 'structuring' a solution.

Back to the reactor point.

It took the world roughly 30 years to build 460 opearting reactors (I think the total was about 800, including decomissioned, over about 50 years-- many of these were very small, eg Douglas Point, the first CANDU unit (about 30MW pace 850 for a current generation CANDU)).  The nuclear industry has shrunk in capacity to build since then.  It takes 10+ years to train an 18 year old to be a useful nuclear industry worker, and the average age in the industry is about 50.

There is no way that:

  • in 26 years, we could build another 3000 reactors (which would produce 40% of world energy consumption assuming those reactors scaled in size at the same speed as world GDP)

  • having built those reactors, fuel them (uranium industry has the same supply constraints, and currently only produces 60% of the uranium that is actually consumed, the rest comes from dismantled reactors and bombs).   Breeder reactors are fiersomely complex beasts, and none works commercially-- fairly sure the Sellafield Mox plant (a relatively simple process) will never run again.

(worth googling the MIT nuclear study, which is optimistic re nuclear but covers some of these issues.  Issued 2003 so already out of date, of course).

- deal with all the proliferation, waste disposal and security problems that would create (remembering we haven't even solved the historic waste problem)

A reasonable guess is that we could build another 1000 reactors by 2050.  That's 50 a year, whereas the current build rate is closer to 2-3.  So doubling the size of the installed nuclear sector (but the existing reactors phase out 2006-2050).

Now the direction it will evolve is very easy to predict - nuclear is the only scalable, cost-effective alternative to fossil fuels. Yes, maybe renewables will also take some place but it will be marginal at best. You can't run a civilisation on an unreliable energy source.

So nuclear is not scalable, not on that scale.

Cost effective?

  I'm the son of a CANDU reactor builder, just to be clear.  My take on nuclear is that it has never produced low cost power, and it never will.  The UK has a £70bn decontamination liability, which is a crude proxy of the kind of costs that a nuclear programme incurs.  then there is the Price Anderson Act and its equivalents (insurance the private market won't provide).

You remember the 1990-1998 Non Fossil Fuel Obligation?  That was a 10% charge against UK electric bills, that paid to complete Sizewell B-- £8bn collected in total.  Sizwell B cost £4bn, 2 times over budget.

That kind of cost overrun is typical of nuclear power.  The Finns are already 18 months late on their new reactor.  that is why private capital markets will never underwrite nuclear power, without implicit or explicit subsidy.  In the case of EDF, it is implicit: a vertically integrated market where the customer pays, and the French state underwrites the R&D.  In the case of the Bush Energy Act, and the UK government plans, it is an explicit subsidy to new nuclear plant builders.

Nuclear power will never be cheap.  At a guess, 8 cents/ Kwhr (wholesale) is a reasonable bet.  Might be possible to get to 7 cents.  The numbers the nuclear industry quotes (down to 2 cents) are entirely fictional, based on running existing plants, full out, and writing off past costs (as a measure of how big those costs can be, in the case of Ontario, about $30bn written off into a fund underwritten by the taxpayer, for about 10GW of capacity).

Nor is nuclear power reliable.  British Energy has none of its 8 units running at capacity at the moment, due to cracks.  Ontario Hydro's problems are notorious (at one point, all of 14 reactors shut down).  This is the reason the National Grid Co capacity credit for nuclear is relatively low (about 65% I think ie 10GW of nuclear capacity offsets 6.5GW of 'firm' grid capacity) due to unplanned shutdowns.

Note the dangers of long production runs of identical reactors-- if one develops a new fault, you may have to shut down all of them.  This is the problem with the French approach.

proven reliable alternatives

 - Firstly there is wind.  There is no grid or other reason why wind cannot be 20% of the power generated in the UK, Canada and the USA.  Other countries perhaps less, some (emerging markets) perhaps more.

We've never pushed it beyond that to know what the challenges are.  My gut is we need some clever energy storage technology, plus hydro pumped storage, to get it above 20%.

- Wind is already economic and cost competitive (if you assume a price for CO2 emissions).  it is an attractive generation option for any operator, because it hedges the fuel price, and has a different operating profile.  

Note the attractiveness of wind is improved by the same thing that makes nuclear power in the 2000s possible, whereas it was not in the 80s and early 90s: lower real interest rates.  Your cost of power is all up front.

  • Hydro is of course a no brainer, and actually older than fossil fuel as an energy technology. Hydro produces at least as much nuclear in the world's energy budget.

  • Combined Heat and Power is surprisingly large.  Over 5% of the UK generating capacity, for example (who knew?)-- roughly 5GW on 70GW.  There is more to go for there, and in particular the home Stirling Cycle/boiler combination is little explored (starting to sell those in the UK).

  • Solar isn't there yet, except solar water heat, which is already economic.  But solar is essentially a semiconductor technology, and the slope of that cost performance curve is steeply down and to the right: look at the microprocessor now v 1968 (storage and DRAM have fallen even faster).  Solar will surprise us, some day, with what we can do with it.

The second half of the 21st century will be a solar century (if we haven't thrown the game away via global warming).  It's just getting there that is the hard part.

- Biomass (see CHP) to my mind only makes sense in a CHP context. Pure biomass isn't a 'win' in CO2 terms, as far as I can see, if your planetary carbon capacity is already overloaded.

Fundamentally my conclusions from the above are:

- nuclear has a role in the baseload.  It won't be cheap, and it's no panacea.  But the countries with a historic affiliation to it, plus the 'gone nuke' third world countries like India and China, will build new nukes.

As I have argued in other posts, nuclear is a 'complex closely coupled system'.  Translation is failure is inevitable.  The question will be how we cope with those accidents when they occur.  (bad failure: Chernobyl.  Good failure: Three Mile Island).

- renewables can be 30% of the electricity generation portfolio.  In a place like Canada, they already are (hydro).  The big upside is in wind-- the technology isn't even mature yet, and it is already cost competitive.

Whether it can be more than 30% of the portfolio I don't know.  Storage is the key issue, I think.

- You still have 30-40% of the generation pie which is fossil fueled.  Which means sequestration.

The technologies for wind and carbon capture and storage are there or therabouts, with lots of efficiency gains to come.  Nuclear technology is mature, and those other technologies will catch up.

Ouch! This will require a lot of digesting.

Let's start from here:
It took the world roughly 30 years to build 460 opearting reactors
...during an era of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels. Now ask yourself why did we need nuclear if it was not cost-effective all the way? My answer would be: governments. Governments knew that some day fossil fuels will simply not be enough for our civilisation and developed the only possible alternative at hand. Now obviously this time is coming and many countris that don't have an ouchy-gouchy govts like ours are ramping up their nuclear programs: look at China, India, Russia, Iran, Finland, even USA.

There is no way that... in 26 years, we could build another 3000 reactors

I don't know how you came up with this number and how it should be a measure for the credibility of nucleat. In 26 years we will most likely to be using much, much more coal and just a little more nuclear. But what about in 50 years? I know, I know - we will have a wind turbine in every backyard. Guess what? It will not happen. There are simple technical reasons I can point out:

  1. Renewables require 30 to 40 times more natural resources (steel, concrete etc.) per kwth of electricity produced than nuclear. Check it out if you want. With every natural resource becoming scarce and expensive in the years to come (because of lack of energy) what do you think will happen with these huge wind farms and the supporting infrastructure they need? How are we going to maintain and replace them?
  2. Cost effectivness. Some 80 to 90% of the cost of nuclear energy goes into added value for the qualified labor it requires. With renewables it is vice versa: 80-90% is materials and 10-20% is labor. Now the resources are becoming scarce and the population is still booming. See the point?

Nuclear technology is mature, and those other technologies will catch up.

This is simply not true. I know maybe half a dozen of reactor designs which are in process of development. In contrast wind has pretty much reached it limit. Our hopes would be on photovoltaics, solar concentrators or cellulosic etanol but they all suffer the same problem that makes reneawbles incapable of powering a industrial civilisation by themselves: LOW ENERGY DENSITY.

When you have low energy density you have to invest huge amounts of natural resources to get much less energy out. This will kill them in just a couple of decades when everything will be prohibitively expensive and we'll have to learn how to do with less. Think about it.

It took the world roughly 30 years to build 460 opearting reactors
...during an era of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels. Now ask yourself why did we need nuclear if it was not cost-effective all the way? My answer would be: governments. Governments knew that some day fossil fuels will simply not be enough for our civilisation and developed the only possible alternative at hand. Now obviously this time is coming and many countris that don't have an ouchy-gouchy govts like ours are ramping up their nuclear programs: look at China, India, Russia, Iran, Finland, even USA.

I don't think, except in a blue sky way, that is what governments were thinking of.

What was going on was that there were these military nuclear programmes, and there was this optimism that the spinoff would be infinite cheap energy-- the prediction was that electricity would be unmetred.

It never paid out like that.  The programme sucked hundreds of billions of dollars, globally, in subsidies.

There is no way that... in 26 years, we could build another 3000 reactors

I don't know how you came up with this number and how it should be a measure for the credibility of nucleat. In 26 years we will most likely to be using much, much more coal and just a little more nuclear.

3000 reactors would be making 40% of world energy consumption nuclear assuming the scale per reactor increased at the same rate as global energy demand (it won't).

If we are using much, much more coal, and we don't have carbon sequestration, then we are dead, or rather, we have massively increased the probability of a major climatic disruption which will threaten our civilisation, and possibly human life on this planet.

 Renewables require 30 to 40 times more natural resources (steel, concrete etc.) per kwth of electricity produced than nuclear. Check it out if you want. With every natural resource becoming scarce and expensive in the years to come (because of lack of energy) what do you think will happen with these huge wind farms and the supporting infrastructure they need? How are we going to maintain and replace them?

I didn't come up with impossible numbers for the steel and concrete to build wind power.  It's on the scale of the world offshore industry (for offshore sites) and not as much as we have invested in motorways, say, onshore.

As to repair and maintenance.  Much easier for a wind turbine, which is a relatively simple piece of kit, than a complex nuclear reactor, where a failure in one place can cascade through the system.

I've watched Ontario Hydro (and the various iterations of British nuclear maintenance) balls up nuclear maintenance completely.  One reactor was destroyed by a repairman leaving a lead blanket in the moderator pool-- lead ions coated on everything.  Of course British Energy this week has admitted that all of their plants have cracks and are not running at full capacity.  Japan's problems are well documented.

I'm not actually expecting a global shortage of natural resources.  Oil (and gas) are special cases, but most natural resources have alternatives and alternative sources of supply.

Cost effectivness. Some 80 to 90% of the cost of nuclear energy goes into added value for the qualified labor it requires. With renewables it is vice versa: 80-90% is materials and 10-20% is labor. Now the resources are becoming scarce and the population is still booming. See the point?

I'm really not sure I understand the economic logic on this one.

A nuclear power plant, by and large, is a relatively small, highly skilled labour force.  Some of the skills are quite unique, and take a long time to develop-- both construction and operation.

Renewables rely more on manufacturing at a factory, and on site construction and installation.  The UK offshore industry was built supplying offshore oil facilities, and employed lots of people.

There is not much really to choose on the two.

Once they are operating, neither uses a lot of labour: biomass obviously more.

Nuclear technology is mature, and those other technologies will catch up.
This is simply not true. I know maybe half a dozen of reactor designs which are in process of development. In contrast wind has pretty much reached it limit.

I don't see such a huge leap from '2nd generation' to '3rd generation' in nuclear-- it's basically about scaling and a few more safety features?

Beyond that, well maybe.  Pebble bed and that looks pretty speculative to me.

My sense of nuclear as mature is that we have built 800 or so civilian power reactors, plus over 1000 military power plants (counting say 500 or so subs and ships) and so we ought to know pretty much what can be done with the technology.  We can get economies of scale (but are then vulnerable to system-across shutdowns, if we find a design flaw in one).

Wind is a really young technology.  It's quite extraordinary what has been done since the first wind power plants in the early 1980s.  The turbine technology (and reliability) is coming on by leaps and bounds.

So wind power, as a commercial electricity technology, is less than half as old as nuclear power.  And still on that sweet spot on the cost curve.

The thing I love about wind is that, by and large, once you've built it, it runs itself-- maintenance downtime should be quite limited, ditto operator supervision.  You've got 20 years of power generation with little interference.  And no fuel cost.  And then, when you do replace the turbine, that should be a lot easier than it was to put it up in the first place (because the tower is already there).

Its also robust and in parallel.  Take out one generator, the rest are still running.  Take out one wind farm, there are still others.

Our hopes would be on photovoltaics, solar concentrators or cellulosic etanol but they all suffer the same problem that makes reneawbles incapable of powering a industrial civilisation by themselves: LOW ENERGY DENSITY.

When you have low energy density you have to invest huge amounts of natural resources to get much less energy out. This will kill them in just a couple of decades when everything will be prohibitively expensive and we'll have to learn how to do with less. Think about it.

This is the argument of the Peak Oil crowd I never can really get my head around.  Too much of an economist, I guess.

I don't believe that all natural resources will become prohibitively expensive, nor that something with a decent return on capital is a bad bet. If wind was a bad bet, the turbines wouldn't be worth building, but they manifestly are.

I agree in and of themselves, renewables are not enough.  Largely because of the storage problem.  There is more than enough energy hitting the surface of the planet, we just don't have good ways of storing it for when and where we need it.

Now obviously this time is coming and many countris that don't have an ouchy-gouchy govts like ours are ramping up their nuclear programs: look at China, India, Russia, Iran, Finland, even USA.

Yes the US has provided for explicit government subsidies to encourage new nukes, but the industry has said it won't move until there is a waste disposal solution.

Iran-- well they want the nuclear material for other purposes ;-).

Russia - have they started any new ones?  Given their past safety record, I find this very chilling.  Chernobyl was only the tip of an iceberg of accidents and dumped nuclear waste.

Finland - interesting, and a special case in some senses, because they have these big primary industries that can and will sign long term power contracts.  Also of course there is government subsidy, and the plant is behind schedule and over budget (as any observer of nuclear history would be unsurprised to know).

China and India - as I said, I expect there to be more nukes.  They have such massive power demand projections, and particularly in the case of India such desparate power shortages, that they will do this.

But in both cases, coal is, and will remain, 80%+ of their power. Although India is the third largest market in the world for wind power- -who knew?

Good Debate guys.

I really enjoyed your point versus counterpoint style.

I think the jury is still out on nuclear power.

You might want to look at some hard facts. The USA is the "most advanced" (according to Merry'cans) country on the face of the Earth and what does its nuclear industry look like?

A peek at some recent court cases involving spent fuel might bring a warm glow to your fuel pile:

These actions stem from the failure of the Department of Energy ("DOE") to begin disposing of SNF at the nation's nuclear power plants not later than January 31, 1998, as agreed under DOE's Standard Contract.  

... DOE did not commence performance by January 31, 1998, as agreed, and it still has not begun to date. Under varying legal theories - partial breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and Fifth Amendment taking without just compensation - Plaintiffs claim that the delay in DOE's performance has resulted in significant damages.

... Plaintiffs' cross-motions for summary judgment on liability are GRANTED. The cases shall proceed to a determination of Plaintiffs' damages.
s/ Thomas C. Wheeler

clipped from this PDF site:

This is hardly an isolated case, just the latest.
Look further here:
and search for "spent nuclear fuel"

The French cracked the nuclear problem.. so far.

There are reasons why they could do it:

  • strong traditional of centralised, state directed engineering excellence.  The entire postwar modernisation of France was built on it

  • single unitary national utility co

  • many of the top French politicians and businesspeople are engineering graduates of Ecole Polytechnique, their equivalent of West Point

  • post the Oil Crisis, a national political agenda shared by both the Socialist and Gaulist parties, to make France independent of foreign energy sources.  Remember France continued with open air nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific for decades after the Brits and Americans stopped (the Rainbow Warrior assassination in New Zealand)

  • they pursued one reactor design, and replicated it again and again, thus gaining economies of scale and learning effects (but if there turns out to be a flaw in one, they could wind up shutting down all of them)

  • they stopped saying they had a permanent solution to nuclear waste, rather local communities were bought into the process that these were interim waste disposal stations, where the waste would be stored underground, and in 20 (or 100) years, removed again

By contrast, the British and American approaches were characterised by:

  • short term financial goals (whether the UK Treasury and its control over the nuclear generators and builders, or the US private utility structure with its antagonistic relationship with regulators)

  • a number of different approaches: Magnox reactors, Advanced Gas Reactors, Boiling Water Reactors, Pressurised Water Reactors, CANDU (in Canada)

  • each reactor was customised to its site.  French reactors were manufactured, American and British ones were in some sense all bespoke.

  • adversarial relationship with the US safety authority

  • also, by and large, the US and British reactors were earlier than the French, and the French avoided some of our technological problems

The result was construction costs were several times estimates, leading to massive restructuring in the industry and huge sunk costs (absorbed by the State in the UK case).

EDF has some serious financial problems so we cannot say the French solution has been an unvarnished success.  In addition, in the droughts Europe has been having, the French have had to shut down reactors (insufficient cooling water)-- a positive feedback effect from Global Warming?

It's fashionable to deride France and the French economy.  But there are areas (Middle Eastern islamic terror is another) where their approach has paid serious dividends.

interim waste disposal stations, where the waste would be stored underground,
and in 20 (or 100) years, removed again

So what is it that they (or you) are saying?
"Let the kids deal with the unsolved radioactive waste problem"?

I thought "we" were the 2nd Greatest Generation.
And that is our final solution?
Let our glowing kids deal with it?
Is that how we love our children to death?

It would have been great if nuclear fission worked well on the large scale. But it doesn't. (Yet.)

re the French and waste disposal.  It is as much about language as about anything else (how very French ;-).

I would say we have implemented nuclear power in scale.  460 operating reactors, and (guess) 800 civilian reactors.

I could see us building another 1,000 (say 200 in China, 100 in India, 100 in the USA etc.).  This would be a useful, and meaningful amount of power-- if it is 16% now of global electricity consumption it could be that again in 2040-50.  But by the time we get there, solar may well be cheaper (and storage technology may well be a lot better and cheaper).

I keep circling back to Joseph Tainter-- failed civilisations implement very complex solutions.

Civilian nuclear power is straining the limits of our ability to manage (long term) complex technologies, safely.

I keep coming back to the complex systems theory point.

a 'closely coupled' complex system will inevitably fail at some point.  The issue is what are the consequences of that failure, and can we live with the risk?

My problem with nuclear energy is that is a very complex solution, very dependent on complex and sophisticated inputs and ongoing control.  There are allusions to Joseph Tainter in this-- that complexity is what kills societies.

It's also quite centralised, with a long supply chain, which makes it vulnerable to disruption and increases the consequences of that disruption (if a plant goes down, you can lose 1-2% of your national production).

I don't think we can live without nuclear, given what we have to achieve on the CO2 front.  But I don't see it as some sort of panacea (nothing is-- we need all of it: conservation, renewables, sequestration-- the works).

Rereading them, I probably should have been clear.

For living in Winnipeg and Edmonton are probably preferred to Calgary.

but Calgary is in the mountains, is a very pretty city, with nice people.  That's why its population has exploded-- hence the traffic and the sprawl.  And it is the business capital of Western Canada (Edmonton is more of a government town).

So I really think if you are emigrating to Canada, you first choice in terms of personal opportunity is Alberta, and then Calgary and Edmonton in that order.  Alberta is the only province with no sales tax (vs. typically 8% in the rest of the country so 14% in total counting the Federal GST), and also has the lowest income taxes and a budgetary surplus.

If you want 'Europe in North America' then the choice is either Montreal or Quebec City.  But be prepared to learn French to a high degree of fluency.

Toronto is a big North American city.  I love it because it is my hometown, but it has no particular advantages in a world of Peak Oil and/or Global Warming, and it is one 5 million people supersprawl (with real downtown neighbourhoods, which most American cities just don't have any more).  The banking and commercial capital is Toronto, but a lot of companies have moved to Calgary to exploit the booming economy and lower taxes there.   Toronto appeals to people who want a 'laid back New York'.

For lifestyle, in Canada, there is really no beating Vancouver-- one of the world's most beautiful settings, with Whistler (the next Winter Olympics) a short drive away.  But career opportunities are less (fewer big companies).  People 'work to live' not 'live to work' there ie they consciously downshift.

Because of land shortages, housing prices are very high-- as high as Toronto.

And it rains, quite literally, every day for 6 months at a stretch, some  winters.

I have been rather hoping that peak oil would turn out to be this year, with a steep downslope. Not because I'm a crash-and-burn doomer, but because of global warming. If we don't start diminishing the rate of damage now, we're cooked.

If there's a long plateau, as seems likely, that leaves time to ramp up tar sands and coal, compounding the damage. I don't think we, as a species, are capable of just leaving it in the ground. I used to think so : there was a window of opportunity in the late 90s, when international co-operation might have come to something. But that was before 9/11 and the terrorism sideshow.

Whaddayaknow the Howard govt in Australia is to announce some funding for geosequestration experiments this week. Howard's chief science advisor til recently moonlighted as a coal industry lobbyist. Both Flannery and a public broadcasting program have analysed the engineering plausibility of this technique.  The conclusion was that it would not deliver on the required scale. I would add that in my opinion carbon taxes wouldn't help much. Nonetheless Howard and his good friend Bush regularly mention carbon capture as a technical salvation.

If the rainfall patterns have changed permanently in Australia I think people will mostly adapt eg by not watering the front lawn. Drinking water in the coastal cities will come from desalination powered guessed it, coal fired electricity.

Carbon taxes, or traded carbon emission permits, would force a change in carbon emissions.

I'm talking about a level of taxes that would add $500 to a London-Sydney flight, or 2.5 cents/kwhr to electricity produced from a coal fired station.

These changes in economics would have profound effects.

CCS I think is doable.  The IPCC thinks its doable too. versity.pdf

It's one of Socolow's '15 wedges' that Al Gore refers to.  The above ppt has some good slides on the technology.

I think universally adopted clean coal is a dangerous delusion that is steering us away from effective action.  Sure there are several demonstration projects that seem to handle small amounts of CO2 and have some special factors working in their favour. We want CCS to work for tens of thousands of landlocked, older style coal plants, in an arbitrary geological setting with no subsidies and modest carbon taxes. It will never happen. Google FutureGen and see how far it has progressed.

Therefore if climate scientists are right we will have to mothball at least half the coal industry. Yep that means throwing people out of work. This parallels the way Monbiot says we will simply have to fly less. Of course there is the small problem of replacing half our coal fired energy.  The swing to coal means the problem gets bigger every day.

If the direct-carbon fuel cell can be commercially operated on coke, we'd be looking at 70% net efficiency out of coal[1] vs. ~33% currently.  On top of this, the CO2 stream from a DCFC is relatively pure and could probably be sequestered with little difficulty.

The efficiency improvement would cut coal demand in half right there, and the sequestration would slash carbon emissions by an additional factor of up to 100% minus leakage.

[1] This appears to depend on coking the coal with waste heat from fuel cells.  The coke fraction would go to to DCFC's after de-ashing, and the gas/tar fraction would go through a cracker and on to something like an SOFC after cleanup.  Other chemicals could be produced along the way.  If we are going to use coal for anything, this is probably the best option we could get.  This system would also be able to use bio-charcoal, so a fully-sequestered system could run carbon-negative as far as you could find biomass to feed it.

IGCC moves coal efficiency from 35% to 45%.

Sequestration (including transport to the injection field) will burn about 40-50% of total output.

so a 650MW unit will generate about 500MW of usable output.

Where do you get those figures?
From the IPCC report on sequestration (from memory) and also from some of the papers you pull up if you google 'IGCC'. torage.htm versity.pdf

(this latter powerpoint is a really handy document)

It's a back of the envelope calculation.  You basically burn 40% more fuel, but you are 10% more efficient in the use of that fuel.  That is to fully sequester your carbon (a lot depends on how far you have to ship the CO2, and what happens at the other end).

The good news is as we run these things, we will get smarter at them.  There will be considerable learning curve effects which will lower the costs of construction and operation of IGCC and the costs of sequestration.

We are in a race between ourselves and our propensity to emit excess carbon.  To my mind, that justifies just about any technology that can help.

Whether it will be possible to economically retrofit CCS on 'old plant' I don't know.  But new plant will have it (and old plant will have to buy CO2 permits in an open market).

Again and again I come to the same conclusion.  If we price Carbon at $100-200/ tonne, or CO2 at $27-54/tonne (same thing), then we put renewable energy and fossil fueled power on a level economic playing field.  

Extend that to consumer industries like automotive and aviation (so for example an additional $500 for a flight London to Sydney), and we start to have a level of carbon emission charging which will have real effects on consumption patterns.

The relative efficiency figures in table 3.10 of IPCC's chapter 3 shows at least a potentially much smaller efficiency hit than you quote.  Further, the examples (which are not specified well enough to find the original numbers from just the table) all appear to assume CO2 capture at the combustion exhaust.  For IGCC with cold-gas cleanup, it is actually cheaper to co-capture CO2 along with H2S at the fuel-gas cleanup stage than to separate them.  Follow gas cleanup with steam reforming to hydrogen and CO2 and something like the CO2 Wash process to remove most of the CO2, and something very Future Gen-ish might be possible at a lower cost than anything listed there.

I tend to trust the IPCC, but I have to wonder if they were using the most accurate assumptions they could there.

We're stuck with coal.  I don't see us jettisoning coal fired electric power generation this side of 2050.  PV would have to get a lot cheaper, very fast.

My feeling on coal is a bit like my feeling on nuclear.  I don't like it, but I don't see what choices we have.  I increasingly feel we have 2 critical periods ahead of us:

  • now to 2020 - act, and act firmly.  Put the building blocks in place for the future.  Monbiot is right on this, so is Al Gore, so is Tony Blair.

  • 2020 to 2050 - in an increasingly unstable world climate, deal with the challenges and keep driving the low carbon solutions.

  • 2050+ - low or zero carbon civilisation, and solar renaissance.  See Tim Flannery The Weather Makers and Meyer Hillman How to Save the Planet

(maybe we have controlled nuclear fusion by then: maybe ;-).

The good news on shrinking the coal industry is a lot of the world has already been through this pain.  The UK employed 500k coal miners in 1945, vs. less than 10k now.  Other European countries have had similar shrinkages, I don't think the coal industry is that big in Appalachia, now (100k people?).  In the EU, I think only Poland now has a significant coal employment.

Powder River Basin probably employs less than 50k people, for the world's largest coal repository.  (guessing on that number).  Machines have replaced people.

The Chinese coal industry kills literally thousands of people each year.  It's not a job, in the long run, that will be missed.

The problem with coal is a bit like the problem with agribusiness.  Small percentage of GDP and employment, but politically awesomely powerful and entrenched.

One thing about those coal plants is they will all be replaced in the next 30-40 years.

In fact US environment regs encourage 'repair' which is really replacement, because old capacity is exempt from environmental rules.

What scares me is when TXU applies for 10 new plants.  AEP has applied for 3 IGCCs-- from there, sequestration is a simple hop, skip and jump.  But TXU is going to build conventional plants.  Once built, they will be pumping out CO2 for the next 40 years.

I'm not at all confident that direct carbon fuel cells will be ready in time. The demo project has a 6kw solid oxide fuel cell and we need to scale up and replicate these plants to take the gas from a billion tonnes of coal. The economic incentives aren't yet in place to justify the massive effort. I'm also beginning to wonder if perhaps the only reliable carbon sink is Mother Nature. As Lovelock points out if there were only a billion of us we could burn coal to our heart's content.
There is the possibility of genetic engineering.

We genetically engineer an oceanic algae bloom to soak up excess CO2.

We might also be able to create some sort of cloud living creature (bacterium) or moss that has the same effect.

I know they tried pouring iron filings into the sea and the results weren't positive.

There is a sense that this is like fighting smoking by having more lung transplants.

I suspect, as the century wears on, we will try more and more exotic solutions of this type.

(just saw the Al Gore movie 'An Inconvenient Truth' btw, it is actually much better than I expected-- both quite moving and quite informative).

Note Lovelock is not entirely correct.

1 billion Americans (and Australians and Canadians) would have the same impact on the planet that 4.5 billion people (including 350 millions of the above) do now.

300m Americans X 7 tpa Carbon each = 2.1bn tpa (current estimated level)

1 bn Americans X 7 tpa = 7bn tpa which is quite close to our current world output

(pace there might not be the same level of jungle deforestation)

His last book seems more polemic than solid analysis but he is a good synthesiser-- each little scientific discipline (Greenland glaciology, Antarctic glaciology, climatological modelling etc.) is looking at one piece of the GW problem, and not seeing the big picture of onrushing catastrophic change.