The Clean Carbon Bad Joke

Yves here. Even though the analysis focuses on Australia, the underlying tech and tradeoffs are germane to the US.

I doubt the enthusiasm for carbon sequestration is warranted. It looks to be a hope for a magic bullet. My understanding is that the approaches so far haven’t worked out as well as hoped, that the carbon leeches out or has bad effects where it is stashed. But this is one area where a big breakthrough would be hugely beneficial, and perhaps readers know of more promising approaches under development.

By David Llewellyn-Smith, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of The Diplomat magazine, now the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics website. Cross posted from MacroBusiness

From Credit Suisse today:

■ ‘Clean coal’ and CCS take the stage: Lately a key strain in our national policy conversation has involved the promotion of ‘clean coal’ – the idea that some coal-fired technologies might allow coal-fired power to be part of a low-emissions generation portfolio. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is occasionally thrown into the discussion when decarbonisation targets are raised.

■ Taking a look at clean coal in more depth: In this note we assess both ultrasupercritical coal technologies (USC) and CCS in order to interrogate these claims a little. We review existing CCS for coal-fired power projects around the world (three, two operational), as well as other CCS projects, and survey existing research on USC and CCS, including cost forecasts and emissions intensity.

■ ‘Clean coal’ a misnomer, CCS far from a done deal: We note that USC plants are only low emissions compared to sub-critical coal – the most emissions intensive option on the NEM. As such, ‘clean coal’ is a misnomer for USC. Furthermore, we note that although CCS technology is often presented as an available option, this technology is presently far from proven for sequestration and storage following power production, and is also far from viable at present. No commercial project to date has captured and stored CO2 emitted from power production. In Australia we have conducted some surveys, some desktop research, and some sequestration trials, but are otherwise in the Dark ages as far as CCS implementation goes.

■ Let’s talk about emissions reductions, rather than getting caught on coal: In our view, the conversation is currently obsessively stuck on coal/no coal, a narrative reflective of our role as an energy exporter. Recent Australian work on CCS has been laser focused on CCS for use in power production. However, we think the conversation needs to move away from this obsession, and consider our least cost emissions reduction options.

■ Consider critical CCS, rather than CCS for those who complain loudest: Broadening this focus a little leads immediately to the fact that CCS will be most critical for industry – much of which has no other emissions reduction option, and a much higher cost of abatement. We make suggestions that CCS apparently more viable for industry, and more critical, Australia’s CCS development efforts should be more effectively allocated. Presently, our CCS policy looks very much like an effort to preserve the assets and resources of a particular industry, rather than an effort to develop CCS as a useful option and deploy it where most needed.

The role of CCS

■ Business as usual in Australia exhausts our CO2 budget by 2030: On current estimates Australia has a carbon budget of 10.1 GT of CO2-e between 2013 and 2050 as part of its share of the 1,700 GT CO2-e global carbon budget. Under a business as usual approach, Australia will exhaust its share of that budget by 2030, according to the latest report from the University of Queensland, Energy Security and Prosperity in Australia: A roadmap for carbon capture and storage. AGL assumes that the electricity sector’s share of this is 3.363 GT, while other analyses assume that electricity will take a larger share. Sector emissions must decline by 7% year on year from 2020 to 2050 to meet the target of decarbonizing the sector by 2050.

■ How much carbon? Australia’s emissions in 2014 were 523MtCO2e. Of this, 181MtCO2e came from power production, 150Mt of this from coal-fired power. Another 93Mt came from transport, 47Mt from manufacturing and construction, 38Mt from fugitive emissions, and 32Mt from industrial processes. Compared to emissions from electricity, industrial emissions are particularly challenging to abate, often being intrinsic to the chemical processes used to create products.

■ IEA says 2 degree scenario needs CCS: CCS is estimated to deliver 94 GT of global CO2 emissions reduction through 2050. This is 12% of the cumulative emissions reduction for the energy sectors. 52 GT of that is estimated to come from the power generation sector (80% of that will be from coal fired generation). This represents 850 GW of electricity generation with CCS (570GW of this will be coal). Any residual coal plant without CCS in 2050 is assumed to be running at very low capacity factors (219 GW). 29 GT is estimated to come from the industrial sector, representing 20% of their emissions. Without CCS, coal-fired power virtually disappears from the generation mix (refer Figure 2).

■ Industrial emissions particular difficult: Emissions reductions from industrial processes would be particularly difficult to eliminate. The use of scrap in the steel and iron sector increases by 80% from 2020 to 2050 but the 2 degree scenario from the IEA assumes there are limits to then availability of economical scrap steel. In cement production, clinker substitution and CCS are considered the only available measures for drastically reducing CO2 emissions.

■ CCS has struggled for power generation: High costs coupled with limited sequestration opportunities outside enhanced oil recovery (EOR) are impacting the future potential of CCS in the electricity sector. At the very same time, the economics of renewables are now well ahead of new coal plant. The race to couple renewables with other methods of storage, such as battery and pumped hydro, means that CCS for power generation may be entirely bypassed in most countries. In Australia, it may well become a technology that is more suited to capturing CO2 from industrial processes that do not have such alternate economic solutions.

■ The size of the problem – an example: A 1000MW coal fired plant working at 90% capacity will generate 7,884 GWh, and likely emit 6.3 MT of CO2. With a 20% energy penalty, only 800MW of that capacity is available for use outside the CCS plant. With 90% of the CO2 captured, 0.63MT of CO2 will be still be emitted for an 800MW plant. This equated to 0.1t/MWh, or about 25% of what a thermal gas plant would emit. Uncompressed, the captured emissions are is 3,153GL or 3,153,654 m3 .

■ Storage options little progressed in Australia: The Federal Energy and Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, has described CCS as “absolutely critical” for decarbonisation. However, in Australia CCS cannot work without the storage part of the CCS process. We do not have a history of using CO2 for EOR, so that avenue is not an option for solving the storage puzzle. To date, storage appears to have been the stumbling block for the industry. Finding safe reservoirs within a viable distance to sources of CO2 emissions has been difficult, with only a project in the Otway Basin of Victoria showing any viable progress. However, we understand this basin is too small to provide an industry wide solution, leaving the little explored Gippsland Basin in Victoria and the Surat Basin in Queensland as the only frontiers of possible carbon sequestration.

■ CCS important for viability of some companies: BHP’s scenario for a 2 degree world assumes that CCS is viable and used post 2030. Without CCS, BHP’s energy coal division is expected to be more impacted. In contrast, AGL, with only domestic operations, has reviewed the impacts of a 2 degree scenario, assuming that CCS does not play a part in Australia’s energy mix.

What is “Clean Coal” and CCS?

■ Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from industrial processes such as thermal power generation, gas and oil production, or manufacturing such as cement or steel making. The carbon dioxide is captured before it is released into the atmosphere and “stored” either through sequestration into underground reservoirs or through re-injection into gas reservoirs, often for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

■ Carbon capture: There are three types of carbon capture: pre-combustion, post combustion and oxyfuel combustion. In the post combustion (most common) capture process, emissions are separated by a solvent or membrane technology that captures the carbon dioxide. It becomes attracted to a liquid or solid material (say an amine solution) and then subject to pressure or temperature to desorb it from the chemical solution to make it suitable for transportation and storage. The carbon capture process requires capital investment to build the capture plant and operating costs for the solvent or filtering process.

■ 90% of carbon dioxide is captured (in the ideal case): The aim of most CCS is to capture 90% of the CO2 emissions, leaving 10% of the CO2 to vent into the atmosphere. However, many plants achieve lower levels of capture, with numbers around 70% being common.

■ Transport: The storage of CO2 usually involves transportation through a pipeline (or via a ship is an option if offshore) to an appropriate underground reservoir. The CO2 is in a compressed liquid form. CO2 transportation technology is mature in some places, with North America having networks for CO2 transportation for use as part of enhanced oil recovery.

■ Storage: The storage reservoir must ensure safe and permanent capture of carbon dioxide and is usually a porous geological structure several kilometres underground. Old oil and gas reservoirs are often suitable, as are deep saline formations. The reinjection is usually at a temperature and pressure to ensure the CO2 is in a liquid form. The storage needs ongoing monitoring to ensure it is safety encapsulating the CO2. The CO2 may just remain in the porous storage (“residual storage”), it may bind with salty water in the reservoir and sink to the bottom of the site (“dissolution storage”) or chemically bind to the rock formations in the site (“mineral storage”). The reservoir has a natural impermeable seal, just like existing oil and gas reservoirs.

■ Energy penalty: All that work to capture carbon and store it requires energy. Most of the energy consumed is spent in capturing and compressing the CO2. This energy spent in CCS is called the energy penalty. This energy penalty is estimated to range from theoretical low bounds of 11% through to 40% with 29% assumed to be a good target (scientists at MIT). The IEA estimates this could become as low as 7-10%.

Coal-fired power not a strong contender for emissions reductions

■ “Clean coal” versus “cleaner coal”? There has been much political discourse on “clean coal” in Australia of recent times. But the discourse is not clear on what is meant by “clean coal”. Some of the commentary is coupling CCS as part of the meaning of clean coal. Other discourse is focusing on the “lower emissions” of ultra-super-critical coal (USC) plants, the latest technology for coal fired generation. This technology is sometimes called HELE – high efficient, low emissions coal technology.

■ USC plants provide ~20% reduction on sub-critical coal: Various USC technologies exist for electricity production from coal-fired power. These technologies achieve emissions reductions by achieving higher thermal efficiency, increasing the power output per unit of coal used. Where existing thermal efficiencies are around ~33%, HELE technology can achieve ~40-45%, reducing emissions from above 0.88t CO2e/MWh for new subcritical coal to ~0.74-0.80tCO2e/MWh (refer Figure 5). This is still twice the emissions produced by base load gas fired generation (CCGT – 0.37tCO2e/MWh – refer Figure 6), so it is important to keep in mind that these stations are only low emissions compared to sub-critical coal-fired power (the most emissions intensive option on the grid). It is expected that R&D efforts will bring these efficiency levels up to 50% or above.

■ USC plants operate at relatively average cost: USC plants tend to have slightly higher LCOEs (Levelised Cost of Electricity – the NPV of the unit cost of electricity over the lifetime of the generating asset or the average breakeven price of electricity) than comparable sub-critical coal-fired plants. This is due to the more expensive materials involved with their construction. However, power production from USC plants is not overly expensive – in the major OECD nations LCOEs for these plants are estimated at around US$95-$120/MWh depending on location, using a 10% discount rate.1 Australian estimates put average estimated LCOEs for new USC plants using black coal at A$80/MWh as of 2015, compared to A$79/MWh for supercritical plants, A$122/MWh for IGCCs and ~A$75/MWh for Combined Cycle Gas.2 Figure 7 and Figure 8 outline cost range estimates made by CSIRO in 2015.

■ USC plants a road to lower emissions? USC plants have been touted in Australia as a route to reducing the emissions produced by the Australian electricity sector, being presented as a low emissions option. As outlined above, the emissions intensity of USC plants is ~0.8-0.74tCO2e/MWh. This is ~14% lower than new subcritical coal, 23% lower than Australia’s existing coal fleet, and about 5% below the current average of the NEM (which is majority fueled by sub-critical coal). Other key contributors to the grid – gas-fired power and renewables – are of course far more emissions efficient that USCs (gas CCTs at ~0.37tCO2e/MWh). As such, USC plants are only low emissions compared to subcritical coal-fired technologies, and the addition of new USC plants would not provide any significant reduction in emissions intensity.

■ What if we stranded existing coal-fired stations? One route to emission reductions often presented is replacing Australia’s existing coal-fired generation fleet (brown and black) with USC technology. This of course firstly requires someone to swallow the cost of stranding existing assets. This difficulty aside, this move would reduce emissions from the production of coal-fired electricity by 23% on our numbers, providing ~20% emissions saving for all electricity production (using 0.76tCO2e/MWh – the most regularly quoted figure for USC plants). This equates to ~7% reduction on Australian emissions (523MtCO2e as of 2014). As an extreme comparison, replacing the entire coal-fired fleet with combined-cycle gas-fired power would result in electricity of roughly the same price, and emissions savings of 62% for replaced power, 52% for the electricity sector and 18% for Australia. This of course assumes gas availability – another of those energy debates that Australia is having.

■ 20% emissions reduction… to 2050: Assuming one were happy funding the replacement of Australia’s entire coal-fired generation stock to achieve these emissions reductions, this proposal has a more important shortcoming. The investment horizons on plants of this magnitude of course run from three or five decades. Investing in a brand new USC fleet would lock in significant generation capacity with relatively high emissions intensity for decades. Least-cost decarbonisation scenarios present emissions savings from coal-fired power of ~90% by 2030, far above the ~20% that would be effectively locked in by a new USC fleet. Undertaking such investment in new USC capacity would take this much of this comparatively cheap emissions reduction opportunity off the table.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. JG4

    The only clean carbon is coal/kerogen/etc. converted to graphite wind machines, electrode materials for sodium-ion batteries and other renewable energy infrastructure. When you burn the carbon, you’ve already lost. Hubbert showed 60 years ago that fossil fuels can only be a stepping stone. I’m reluctant to advocate nuclear power after seeing that even the country that makes Toyota and Honda can’t get it right.

    1. Synoia

      Convert the amorphous carbon to graphite? That too costs energy, because the entropy IN amorphous carbon has to be moved (cannot be destroyed).

      Is there such a large scale in industrial process?

      If so please post link.

    2. blert

      Peru has enough hydro-potential to power the entire Westen Hemisphere.

      ( It’s the ‘solar collector’ for the Amazonian rain forest. )

      It can be converted to hydrogen gas and piped fantastic distances… even along the continental shelf.

      Why are we goofing around with oil from the MENA?

      1. lyle

        But why not go a step further convert the hydrogen to methane using CO2 from the atmosphere. The process of transporting methane is well understood and a lot of the infrastructure is already built. (Further if you need to go by ship LNG is well understood, shipping liquid hydrogen is far less well understood)

  2. Hacker

    I rely on Biochar and biological carbon capture for my personal carbon footprint reduction. Biochar is hard. Farming for carbon capture is hard. If everyone were doing them, they would be easier but not nearly as easy as current practices of using the atmosphere as an open sewer for gases. Meaning that in order for them to work there has to be a program of taxes and transfer payments to certified sequesters. Therefore a lot of productivity lost in bureaucratic inefficiency. [1]

    They also do not scale to cover the current global needs for carbon capture, in that the total available organic material available for conversion to biochar and the total available agricultural land that could be used for carbon capture can not compensate for current fossil fuel use.

    That doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile and deserving of a whole lot more research and development effort. It’s just that anyone who tells you we can green up civilization without drastic cuts in energy consumption and sourcing the rest from renewables is wrong.

    [1] But hey, with all the robots coming, maybe we’ll need more bureaucratic overhead.

  3. craazyboy

    This article is way more comprehensive than any attention I’ve been paying to developments the last 10 years. (I gave up on finding The Big Silver Bullet).

    However, the DOE did fund a demo carbon capture plant in the late 90s and the industry has done work and paper studies. They seem to agree that the tech would about double the cost of a coal plant. So that’s good news for solar, if nothing else.

    Storing CO2 is very problematic when you consider geological timeframes. It has to be pumped somewhere under very high pressure and in huge quantities. Eventually, it will leak out, either slowly or quickly. Then the Earth ends with a pffft, rather than a big bang.

    1. visitor

      The first thought that came to me when I heard about carbon sequestration for the first time (many years ago) was “what about the final energy efficiency of filtering and high-pressure injecting all that carbon?”

      This article answers my question:

      This energy penalty is estimated to range from theoretical low bounds of 11% through to 40% with 29% assumed to be a good target

      29% energy penalty a “good” target, but it can go up to 40% — for up to 45% reduction of CO2 emissions.

      It seems that carbon capture, like other complicated technological fixes, is fool’s gold, and serious energy savings the real way to go.

      1. HotFlash

        serious energy savings the real way to go.

        Amen! It just drives me crazy when I read stuff like this, real science (more or less) by real scientists, and then my weekly flyer from the local hardware store arrives — electric lawnmowers, electric carving knives, electric winecork removers, for pity’s sake. Well , yes, there is some solar stuff — to charge your cellphone or tasteless garden tschotchkes.

        I conclude that we are doomed.

        1. different clue

          Really? You really literally saw an actual electric wine cork remover?

          I guess you did. I guess there are.

          Like this . . .

          Or this.

          Or maybe these.

          Electricity should be reserved for doing those things which only electricity can do. Like computering. Perhaps we are doing too much computering. The case could be made.
          But using electricity to open a wine bottle? No. That can still be done by hand.

          The answer is to raise the price of electricity to punitive levels. If you want to encourage conservation, you have to punish waste. And the way to punish waste of something is to charge a punitive price for something. If electricity cost a hundred dollars a pound, so to speak, at least people would reserve it for computers and TVs and things. At a hundred dollars a pound for electricity, people would open their garage doors and sharpen their pencils and uncork their wine bottles by hand. Punitive pricing would do it.
          Nothing else will.

          1. HotFlash

            Yup, I really did, and now you have, too. And you are exactly, exactly right: we should reserve electrons for things that need them — computers and such — but for mechanical power, esp human power, absolutely not.

            I also cringe when I bike past a 24-hour gym in my city, floors 4 and 5 of an office tower, brightly lit so you can see the dozens of people on treadmills. If only they were making those lights work!

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      And could you really pipeline CO2 at high pressure anyway? After all, people are FREAKING OUT about the possibility of leaks from oil pipelines, where the consequences of a leak are rather modest. I imagine people people will freak out even more when they realize the pipeline will be filled with an invisible, ground-hugging asphyxiant.

      Getting a CO2 pipeline permitted may prove impossible politically.

      And yes, it’s huge quantities at high pressure. Typically 300+ tons per hour for a large coal-fired station, being pumped at 200+ psi.

  4. taunger

    CCS primarily faces the same cost problem nuclear does as a clean energy source. Surprisingly, solar and wind both cost significantly less than either CCS or nuclear, and have abundant untapped resources. Anytime you hear someone talking CCS or nuclear, its just talking their book.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Solar and wind cost significantly less than nuclear? Then why is electricity in solar-heavy Germany and wind-heavy Denmark so much more expensive than electricity in nuclear-heavy France:

      And even worse, Germany and Denmark have substantially higher CO2 emissions per capita than France: In the case of Germany, it’s nearly twice as high

      People keep saying that solar and wind are cheaper than nuclear. But somehow electricity prices always seem to go UP when a country heavily embraces renewables. And the reductions in CO2 emissions end up being quite minimal.

      1. craazyboy

        I think it may be explained by legacy construction costs of old operating nuclear in France. Then they probably don’t put decommissioning and cleanup in the numbers.

        We had sticker shock here on new construction. We have or had about 3 projects, Gen 3 plants, in the South and construction estimates were in the $10 billion range. Still could be overruns too, tho I think that some or all of these did get cancelled post Fuki.

        Then , here on old plants no one knows what cleanup costs are because Yucca Mtn got cancelled and there is no Plan B.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Nuclear became more expensive over time because we chose to make it that way:

          Other countries (like South Korea) have figured out how to build their nuclear stations more cheaply over time. There is no technical reason we cannot do the same.

          And decommissioning costs? When spread out over the operating lifetime of the station, it works out to about 0.2 cents/kWh, which is absolutely trivial compared to the premiums that people in Germany and Denmark are paying for their renewable-based schemes. Schemes that product substantially more CO2 per capita, BTW.

      2. Doctor Duck

        Cheaper perhaps when you consider the externalities? Nuclear looks good until you consider the very long term problem of disposal. Sure there are proposed solutions, but they’re not in the market today.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Disposal is a political problem. Technically, it’s pretty straightforward. First, you reprocess your spent rods to reclaim reusable U235, U238, and Pu239. Then you sinter the leftovers into ceramic pellets and dump them in the deepest hole (several miles, BTW) you can drill. Cap with concrete and call it a day.

          And when it comes to externalities, don’t forget about the massive ones associated with renewables. Like the giant battery energy storage systems that will be required to get us through a windless winter night. Telsa recently started up an 80 MWh station:

          To get through a windless winter night, the US could easily end up requiring 40 TWh of storage capability on a renewables-only grid. That’s 500000 times as much as Telsa’s “massive” offering. How much do you think that might cost? How many lithium mines (with their resulting pollution) would be required? Is there even that much lithium out there?

          1. Doctor Duck

            Some assumptions in there. Disposal may be a political problem, but does that make it easier to solve?

            How many reprocessing plants are there in the US, with what capacity? How many planned, where, at what cost? How will disposables be transported? What state will accept these boreholes? …and so on.

            We can also question the assumption that batteries, and only lithium batteries, are the storage needed. Other technologies exist to help fill the buffer role: flywheels and molten salt for two. “Solar” doesn’t just mean photovoltaic either, it can be integrated into inherently buffered systems.

            I don’t mean to argue that renewables can take up all the slack in the short term, but ingenuity and invention have gotten us out of bigger holes.

            1. Grumpy Engineer

              Political problems are undoubtedly difficult to solve at times, but they’re still easier than those imposed by the laws of physics. If your community requires 300 MWh to make it through a windless night and your energy storage system (be it lithium battery or flywheel or molten salt or whatever) only has 60 MWh stored, your grid is going to collapse at 1AM or so. And if it’s cold enough, people will freeze to death. There are hard limits imposed by the Law of Conservation of Energy, and there’s no getting around them.

              There are no technical problems with nuclear that cannot ultimately be solved. If we’re willing to learn from the South Koreans and French, we can even do so cost-effectively. Only the political problems remain potentially intractable.

              With renewables, there are both technical and political problems. We don’t know if we can fully solve the technical problems in an affordable manner. Hell, we don’t know if we’ll ever have enough energy storage capability to make it through several cloudy, windless days straight. Unless some technical miracle comes through for us, we’ll be burning coal and fracked natural gas for backup purposes forever. Taking this path is a HUGE gamble. And early results from Denmark and Germany (where they’re cutting subsidies and cancelling projects because rising electricity bills are hurting people too much, even though they’re well short of their CO2 reduction goals) indicate that we’ll likely lose that bet.

              Why turn away from the one technology that we know can get the job done? Right now I’m praying that the “lukewarmers” are right and that AGW won’t be that bad, because I don’t see how we’ll ever get there with renewables.

      3. James McFadden

        The Germans have chosen a path to reduce the long term dumping of carbon into the air. They are making the investment in new infrastructure, which is costly, and they developed a power grid pricing system which requires using clean energy first. Such a pricing system is also costly in the short run, but considering the costs of climate change, this approach is the only reasonable long term solution. Germans have chosen a more costly path because it is the moral thing to do. These higher costs also result in better conservation and less waste – a benefit. However, there is a downside. Germany continues to run its fossil fuel plants, rather than decommissioning them, providing about 10% of its surplus electricity to neighboring countries, increasing its carbon footprint for generation, not consumption. How this carbon should be allocated is debatable. Over time these older plants will be decommissioned, but for now its footprint is still high.

        As regards nuclear being cheaper in France – this does not include all the government subsidies to the nuclear industry. The French are gambling that there will be no accident, with caps on insurance and unrealistic estimates of the long term costs in decommissioning and waste storage. The Japanese made that same gamble and lost.

        If the USA ever decides to leave the suicide path of fossil fuel burning, we will also see higher short term costs for electricity – along with more jobs. The long term costs of not taking this path are much higher – climate chaos and rapid climate change will be devastating to all life – including humans. The economics of a change to clean energy have been analyzed in depth by Stanford Prof. Mark Jacobson. Here are links to an outline of that project and the cost-benefit analysis.

        1. Grumpy Engineer

          The Jacobson study? Oh, good grief. He buries you in an avalanche of numbers but hopes you won’t notice that things don’t add up. For example, on page 64 he assume that we’ll eventually end up with 541.6 TWh of energy storage capability.

          541.6 TWh?!? Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive that is? The US currently has less than 0.5 TWh of energy storage capability, over 99% of which is pumped storage hydro. California’s “giant” Energy Storage Mandate project will add another 0.0053 TWh. Do you really think we can increase the nation’s energy storage capacity by a factor of a thousand to make Jacobson’s plan work? Especially now that we’ve become allergic to the large earth-moving exercises required for new pumped hydro?

          On that same page of the document, Jacobson also lists round-trip energy storage-and-release costs between $0.05 and $0.70 per kWh. Even if we’re lucky enough to end up at the very bottom of this scale, we’re talking about a 50% increase in electricity prices. If it’s near the high end, we’re talking about electricity prices going up by a factor of EIGHT!!

          You may consider higher costs to be a benefit, but I don’t. I know how people respond when energy prices get too high. They turn off their heat pumps and start cutting down trees to feed into a wood stove instead. It’s already happening in the UK, where an emphasis on renewables has doubled electricity prices and driven people to burning wood:

          1. James McFadden

            “He buries you in an avalanche of numbers”

            I thought you were an engineer. All the engineers that work for me like numbers. You know, sometimes you actually have to do some calculations to figure things out. If you are an engineer and don’t like numbers, no wonder you are grumpy.

            “541.6 TWh?!? Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive that is?”

            Hmmm …. well with that logic, lets see.

            Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive all the hot water heaters are in the country? They would be impossible to build. Oh wait a minute – we did that.
            Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive all the indoor plumbing is in the country? They would be impossible to build. Oh wait a minute – we did that too.
            Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive all the roads are in the country? They would be impossible to build. Oh wait a minute – we did that too.
            Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive all the power plants are in the country? They would be impossible to build. Oh wait a minute – we did that too.

            The reason current storage is small, is that power companies have chosen to over-build power generation instead. Do you have any idea how mind-blowingly massive all those extra power plants are in the country? Jacobson’s calculations indicate storage system costs are similar to costs for overbuilding power plants.

            The problem is not cost or how mind-blowingly massive things are — it is just the political decisions about how we spend our time and who controls the infrastructure. There are plenty of people to make this happen, the technology exists, and it is sustainable. If it is decentralized like hot water heaters, bathrooms and roads, it won’t look so massive.

            So do we waste our time maintaining a support structure for the parasite class by centralizing power so they can control us? Do we continue to heavily subsidizing an outdated and expensive nuclear industry and just hope that one doesn’t fail near us? Do we continue to burn fossil fuels until we destroy most life on the planet in the 6th extinction (including several billions of us)? Or do we build a clean energy infrastructure for the next 7 generations? I prefer the latter. I don’t want my grandchildren to have to live in the bleak future that climate chaos is bringing.

            1. Grumpy Engineer

              Look at

              At the rather optimistic price of $54/kWh, adding 541.6 TWh of energy storage will cost a “mere” $29 trillion. A more realistic price would be $100/kWh, putting the energy storage system cost at $54 trillion. That’s equivalent to replacing the entire current electrical grid (valued somewhere between $1.5 and $2 trillion) more than 20 times over. Where do you think the money for that’s going to come from? I’ll tell you in two words: power bills.

              Cost matters. If we head down the path you propose, declaring cost to be non-problematic, we’ll drive electricity prices through the roof. Energy-intensive industries will fold, and a great many people will be pushed under financially. Those that are physically able will start cutting down trees to burn through the winter. Those that can’t will freeze to death. People are dying TODAY because it costs too much to heat their homes:

              And for comparison:
              125 million waters heaters * $500 = $0.07 trillion for water heaters
              125 million homes * $10000 to replace all indoor plumbing = $1.25 trillion
              2.7 million miles of paved roads * $1.25 million per mile = $3.4 trillion

              All of your “mind-blowing” feats were much cheaper than what Jacobson describes. Let’s throw in another one:

              4 TW of nuclear * ($2021/kW @S.Korea prices) = $8.1 trillion

              So for 0.07+1.25+3.4+8.1 = $12.82 trillion we could buy everyone a new water heater, replace everybody’s indoor plumbing, repave every single road in America, and replace every single power station in America with nuclear reactors from South Korea and still come in at less than half the cost of the energy storage system required by Jacobson’s scheme.

              Why am I grumpy? Because people keep proposing ludicrous schemes without bothering to add up the costs to see how viable they are and how they’d affect actual human beings. Given that Jacobson’s scheme would cost more than $29 trillion for energy storage systems alone, I can assure you that it’ll never happen. $29 trillion is $91000 per person. $230500 per household. Who’s going to pay for that?

              And we haven’t even included the costs of the extra wind turbines and solar arrays that it’ll take to charge that massive energy storage system. How much more do you think that’ll cost?

              1. James McFadden

                You pick expensive Lithium batteries designed for compactness for your cost comparisons – give me a break. There are cheaper less compact alternatives. But just for the sake of argument let’s start with your bloated price of $29 trillion. Assuming the infrastructure under Jacobson’s plan is installed over the next 30 years, we are talking about $1 trillion per year. We spent $20 trillion bailing out the banks over just a few years starting in 2009 and got nothing for it but rich capitalists. So I think we can afford to spend $1 trillion per year actually building infrastructure that is beneficial. Building that infrastructure will employ 15-20 million people who instead of being unemployed would be doing something useful to save the environment and humanity. If the Fed can conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out banks, then it can surely conjure up a trillion a year for infrastructure. Money is not the issue – just keystrokes on a computer. Money is just an organizing tool to get people to do useful tasks. Let’s put people to work doing something useful, not pushing paper. And we do it without private debt – QE for the workers. And just to make sure we don’t spur inflation, we tax the millionaires and billionaires to get that $20 trillion of bailout funds back.

                Lastly, if nuclear power was so cost effective, then why does the nuclear industry demand huge subsidies and protections from liability, and have no solutions for decommissioning and waste storage. If it is so safe, they how did Fukushima happen? Or 3 Mile Island? Stop shilling for the nuclear industry – it is dead. Let it go.

                1. craazyboy

                  “There are cheaper less compact alternatives.”

                  I hope you aren’t referring to lead-acid car batteries. Engineers like existing technology too. It’s what makes us different, and better, we think, than mathematicians.

                  That said, I’m open to solutions in safe, affordable nuclear w/ safe waste disposal-recycling. Distributed solar w/ distributed storage that is practical and works. Fusion energy is cool too.

                  It’s just that all the pieces don’t exist yet.

                  1. Grumpy Engineer

                    I’m glad to head that you’re open to options.

                    But please note, affordable nuclear with safe waste disposal & recycling already exists. Just not here in the US. Other countries, though, have somehow managed it, primarily through a better nuclear regulatory infrastructure. The South Korean example is the one that’s most relevant.

                    Distributed solar with distributed storage will likely never get there. Beyond the cost issues, there’s also the space issue:

                    Lead-acid batteries are are cheaper than lithium (by about a factor of 2), but they only hold 100 kJ/kg, vs. the 460 kJ/kg that lithium batteries hold, and they wear out twice as fast. In terms of life-cycle cost, they’re actually worse.

                    To get to Jacobson’s 541.6 TWh of energy storage capability using lead-acid, you’d need 1.95e13 kg of lead-acid batteries. That’s 170 tons per household. I don’t think I have room in my basement for that much battery. And given that they’d need to be changed out every three years… Our whole economy would be centered around the battery exchange and recycling process.

                    It’s a little less bad with lithium. Only 37 metric tons per household with six years between swap-outs… But that’s still a tremendous amount of battery.

                    Generating power “on-the-fly” on an as-needed basis (like we do today) is the better answer. Doing it with fusion would be ideal, but nobody has that working yet. Doing it with fission is the next best alternative.

                  2. Grumpy Engineer

                    I’m glad to head that you’re open to options.

                    But please note, affordable nuclear with safe waste disposal & recycling already exists. Just not here in the US. Other countries, though, have somehow managed it, primarily through a better nuclear regulatory infrastructure. The South Korean example is the one that’s most relevant.

                    Distributed solar with distributed storage will likely never get there. Beyond the cost issues, there’s also the space issue:

                    Lead-acid batteries are indeed cheaper than lithium (by about a factor of 2), but they only hold 100 kJ/kg, vs. the 460 kJ/kg that lithium batteries hold, and they wear out twice as fast. In terms of total life-cycle cost, they’re actually worse. That’s why everybody is working on lithium.

                    To get to Jacobson’s 541.6 TWh of energy storage capability using lead-acid, you’d need 1.95e13 kg of lead-acid batteries. That’s 170 tons per household. I don’t think I have room in my basement for that much battery. And given that they’d need to be changed out every three years… Our whole economy would be centered around the battery exchange and recycling process. And can you imagine how ugly a house fire would be when there’s 170 tons of charged lead & sulfuric acid in the basement?

                    It’s a little less bad with lithium. Only 37 tons per household with six years between swap-outs… But still, that’s a tremendous amount of battery.

                    Generating power “on-the-fly” on an as-needed basis (like we do today) is the better answer. Doing it with fusion would be ideal, but nobody has that working yet. Doing it with fission is the next best alternative.

              2. UserFriendly

                Yeah, it’s gotten to the point where I just skip the comment section on most Climate Change articles because I’ve had it with people who are so completely sure, based on no science, that we can cut nuclear and live on solar panels and wind. They do just as much harm as the people pushing natural gas with their head in the clouds idealism.
                I can only imagine how many people have just said to hell with this I’m going to work on something where people are in touch with reality.

                1. Grumpy Engineer

                  It’s worse than you think. When we push renewables (solar in particular) really hard, we end up with a grid where net demand (total demand minus renewables contribution) dips sharply at dawn and rises sharply at dusk. Google the phrases “California duck cuve” or “Hawaii Nessie curve” for a better explanation. To keep the lights on at night, we must back-fill the grid with electricity from somewhere.

                  Ideally that “somewhere” would be nuclear, but the highly variable net demand ruins economics of nuclear. Instead of running at 90% utilization, they’d only run at 40% utilization. The increased thermal cycles (and resulting thermal fatigue) would increase the technical risk as well. What’s the most economical alternative? Something with really low capital costs: Gas turbines fed by fracked natural gas.

                  Net result: More solar = More fracking.

  5. Charger01

    The primary problem with “renewable are the only solution” is baseload. You need combined cycle gas, coal, or other energy dense on-demand technology to provide the foundation for renewable to build on through the day. I’m encouraged that the article mentions pumped hydro and batteries are essential- otherwise the article would be very narrow in scope. Unless you can harness the excess energy production that during the middle of the day (solar, wind peak production) we’ll be using fossil fuel baseload for another generation at least.

  6. McWatt

    This discussion is putting the cart before the horse. The problem is too many people on the planet.
    We need to manage human growth.

    And while we manage population we need to plant way more of natures carbon capture machines; trees.

    1. oh

      Exactly! I hope that coal fired power plants go away like coal powered locomotives, followed by any petroleum based fuel.

    2. Wyoming

      This is what I have argued for years…why it gains no traction is, of course, pretty obvious.

      Climate change and global carrying capacity simply cannot be seriously addressed unless we immediately institute a dramatic reduction in global population while simultaneously lowering global living standards and levels of consumption. Absent these two things all efforts are a form of BAU and will lead us no where and to no solution.

      1. different clue

        Of course the lowering of living standards would have to start in the high standards places first.

        And maybe one can decouple highness of energy consumption from highness of quality of living standard. I hear they use less energy per person in Finland than in America and Finland has a reasonable standard of living.

        They may have a lower standard of Obnoxico Crap, but that is not the same thing . . . is it?

        1. Wyoming

          Yes the bulk of the adjustment in living standards would have to work from the top down. But defining where the level to adjust to is where the sand in the gears comes into play.

          Finland is undoubtedly a nice place – in may ways a lot nicer than the US, but…they are very rich by any standard which would need to be applied to this issue.

          For example: UN projections are for the globe to be somewhere in the vicinity of 9.5 billion come 2050. Say the entire world adjusted their carbon emissions to that of the average African – roughly 1 tonne per capita. That is an almost inconceivable number to reach. But that would still leave the global total at 9+ Giga tonnes per year. And, very importantly, this in no way accounts for all of the natural carbon emission sources we are triggering by human actions re worsening climate change and activities such as deforestation, CAFO operations, industrial agriculture, etc. In other words, even reaching those levels of standards of living would in no way solve the problem.

          Thus population levels are the number 1 critical path issue.

  7. blert

    “Carbon sequestration” WRT coal burning is a nonsense concept… totally absurd.

    Coal is a hydrocarbon that has a trivial hydrogen content… which is plainly the only energy source to be recovered in such a scheme… as the carbon has to be converted to graphite or pumped into titanic storage tanks as liquid carbon dioxide.

    Right there it’s obvious that the scheme is nonsense on stilts.

  8. Lyle

    As an article elsewhere pointed out the US is unique in that it has a use for carbon dioxide that works for storage. It turns out in many oil fields carbon dioxide is a good way to increase the yield of oil out of the ground. Indeed there is a coal plant in Tx that is doing this right now, capturing the CO2 and sending it thru a pipeline, where it gets put into the ground to increase oil recovery. Also the US does have a number of reservoirs that hold CO2 and some of that is piped right now to other oil fields. (Note that is is a retrofit plant not the disaster that is the attempt to build a plant in MS)

    1. craazyboy

      Except they’ll frack the ground and the CO2 comes out the next hole they drill.

      Generally speaking, no one is ever real sure highly compressed CO2 will stay put. Geology is not real stable.

      1. lyle

        Actually that is not true there exist co2 reservoirs in Co and NM have held co2 for millions of years: (the Co2 is a product of volcanic processes here). The article suggests up to 17 million years. In any case we do know that natural gas fields hold the gas for at least that time frame, and a portion of almost any natural gas is Co2 also. In fact the first use of these reserves was to pipe the Co2 down to the Permian Basin in Tx to stimulate oil production. Given that methane is a lighter molecule atomic weight 20 versus Co2 at 44 methane if anything should diffuse out of reservoirs faster. (In any case fracking only affects the shale not the sandstones around it. (Why waste energy fracking rocks that don’t have any oil or gas to produce?)

        1. craazyboy

          They stopped fracking in CA because they determined it caused quakes. CA also has areas where natural CO2 plumes break thru to the surface.

          In oil recovery, and proposed CO2 storage, they have to pump CO2 down under high pressure. It will find the tiniest way out. The “mapping” tech they use to map potential underground oil fields and caverns has no where near enough detail resolution to have a clue how cracks and fissures are connected down there.

          The order that stuff gets pumped out a new hole, if you must order it by molecular weight is methane, CO2 and finally oil.

          Many areas of the country have earthquakes, at least sometimes.

          Oil companies haven’t been so careful about where they frack – they have breached the water tables already.

          There are stable geographical areas some places. But what this proposed solution takes is the confluence of oil deposits, stable geography and a national transportation system which will deliver compressed CO2 from all the nation’s coal plants and whatever to the drilling – CO2 sequestering area.

          This will never happen anywhere near the required scale to make a significant dent in CO2 sequestering, so it will only be a boutique “solution”, similar to them cleaning up the CO2 and sending it to soda pop bottling plants to carbonate our soda pop.

          1. lyle

            Actually it is not the fracking that causes quakes but the disposal of waste water deeper into the earth. This problem was first encountered at Rocky Flats near Denver in the 1950s. Now it is a problem in Ok. But on the leaks issue. If you look at a traditional gas reservoir leakage is slow there else there would be no gas left. There is no evidence that CO2 leaks much faster than methane out of natural formations. As another example consider that many coal seams In particular coal mining has always had a problem with Blackdamp which is mainly CO2 and nitrogen. The fact that you find this in coal mines implies that coal seams work well to store CO2. (up to 100s of millions of years) So the other alternative being considered is to produce use unminable coal seams as a place to store CO2.

    2. Lyle

      Note that for this plant the price of oil has to be above $75 for the economics to work.

  9. Monte Davis

    The phrase “clean coal” makes laymen think too readily of past progress with sulfates and particulates — which are trace elements compared to the sheer tonnages of CO2 involved.

    Vaclav Smil on CCS: “to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput [of liquefied C02] would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry — whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storage took generations to build.”

  10. IanC

    Somehow i instantly thought of the brit comedy skit on the 2008 crash when it mentioned USC as Ultra Super Critical withe the High Grade Structered enhanced leverage fund mentioned in skit Bird and Fortune – Subprime Crisis – …

  11. Paul Lebow

    Its odd that its always the silver bullet high-tech solution that gets the attention and the literally “low hanging fruit” is pushed aside. Of course I am referring to the many analyses concluding that animal agriculture surpasses the GHG emissions of the entire transportation sector several times over (UN FAO, World Bank, etc.). Then there is rain forest and species destruction and heavy water usage pollution due to livestock.

    Maybe not so odd, sadly.

Comments are closed.