Tag Archives: coal

Environmental Dreamers on Pennsylvania Avenue

I’ve been struggling for a long time with the Obama Administration Energy and/or Environmental Policies.  I am particularly puzzled by their reluctance to embrace natural gas.  Today I think I finally figured out what is going on…and admittedly I’m a slow study….but I think I’ve got it.   The bureaucrats that advise the President are environmental dreamers.

Dreamers live in the world they would like to have, the rest of us are stuck in the real world.   In the dreamers world…we have lots of renewable energy… and we have a way to store the energy.   Storage that is both economical and efficient would be nice.  Too bad it doesn’t exist.

When it does exist, all sorts of wonderful things become possible.  But until then, there is one truth that cannot be denied, utilities cannot use renewable energy to meet their demand requirements because it is not reliable (except for hydro, which works because it has storage in the form of water behind the dam).  The average solar panel works about 5 hours a day, the average windmill 7 or 8.  What is a utility to do the rest of the time?

Power utilities must choose between three available choices, coal, natural gas and  nuclear.  There are no other currently available choices.   Of those, one is a clear loser… with current technology…coal.  And the Obama administration has figured that out.  There are two choices left….and the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refuse to make a choice.

I like both choices, but since I live in the real world I know that Nuclear is not a political reality.   This leaves natural gas.  This is not a difficult choice.   Support widespread use of natural gas.  Sure it’s a fossil fuel, but it’s the good one.  It burns relatively cleanly.  Sure natural gas produces some carbon dioxide, but it produces about half as much as oil or coal and is clean burning (no cancer causing air pollutants).  And it’s cheap.

Therein lies the problem….a cheap clean burning fuel reduces the need for renewable energy.   And according to the dreamers at the White House, that is not a good thing.   Renewable energy good…fossil fuels bad….in the fantasy world surrounding the White House.    When a cheap battery becomes available, the economics of solar power and wind turbines will dramatically improve…..but while we wait…..let’s produce lots of natural gas.

NY Times notes Carbon emissions soar

Last Monday the Anchorage Daily News printed an article with a New York Times byline titled Carbon dioxide emissions soar.  It was a surprisingly bad article.

But it really isn’t fair to only blame the Times because the Anchorage Daily News edited the article before they printed it.  They shortened the article by omitting 5 paragraphs.  My local paper took a bad article and made it worse.

The Times article titled With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming is full of mistakes too.

The first paragraph tells us carbon dioxide will likely exceed the record levels of 2011 in 2012. Yup.  It’s been going up steadily for 150 years, so year 151 wouldn’t be much of a surprise.   We are also told efforts to limit emissions are failing.  Let us continue…the second paragraph:

Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Where to begin….the notion of ultimate warming is an odd one.   We live on a planet with dynamic climate that routinely varies by 1 degree C in a century all by itself.   Temperature changes in both short and long term cycles that are a part of natural climate variation.  This background noise makes it difficult to tell which is natural and which is man made.  Most climate change before 1950 is assumed by climate experts to be natural climate variation.

Here is some East Anglia University data that goes back to 1850.  There are single year changes approaching .4 degree C.  My favorite time, a period of  rapid cooling in the late 1870’s.

Still not convinced…let’s look at an Antarctic Ice Core that goes back more than 400,000 years.

The notion we can limit climate to a 2 degree C (3.6 degree F) range and that there is an ultimate temperature must ignore history.   In 2009, a goal surfaced to try to keep the world from warming by 2 degree C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.   It had already warmed by more than a degree so the goal really was 1 degree C from 2009 levels.

The 3.6 degree F goal stated in the article is I believe the same goal.   This goal became very popular leading up to the climate meetings in Copenhagen in
December of 2009. That goal is not on the verge of becoming unattainable, it was unattainable in 2009 when it was adopted.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published their Fourth Synopses in 2007.  On page 67 is table 5.1.  That table states that we must reduce man made emissions by 85% from 2000 levels by 2050 to achieve the stated goal of 2 degree C. If we did that, the USA would have the same emissions level as Bolivia today.   That was never possible…and nobody in the press even noticed.

The next 5 paragraphs talk about the failed international efforts to reign in man made carbon emissions.   The paragraphs are full of advocates voicing concern, with only modest specific information, but I found no factual errors.

Paragraph 8 breaks the trend with some serious misinformation.

The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.

USA emissions are down for two mains reasons, the power switching noted, and reduced gasoline consumption because people are driving less and driving autos that get better fuel economy.  Germany had an aggressive Solar program that has been reduced in recent years to save money.  Spain, the second largest solar market in Europe has made significant cuts too for financial reasons.  Wind projects all across the developed world are being put on hold to save money.

Renewable energy plays almost no role in the current changes in the USA.   Environmental review of any major construction project takes years…and most green energy projects are still in the various stages of design or permitting with a very small number under construction.   The Times article exaggerates the current benefit of renewable energy.   It really is a hope for the future, not an alternative today.

The next paragraph goes like this

But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.

The paragraph is correct as far as it goes.   It sounds like China and India are two examples of developing countries using more energy which is accurate, and unnecessarily vague.  China matters and the Times has written the paragraph so that they seem to be a small part of a bigger problem….which is not true.

China passed the USA to become the biggest carbon dioxide producer in 2006.  Since then they have continued to increase emissions by about 8% per year. In 2011 they increased their emissions by 9%.  The Global Carbon Project estimates China’s share of the world total was 28% in 2011, more than the USA (16%) and the EU (11%) combined.  The USA will be down again in 2012 and China continues to grow their emissions.

India is growing rapidly, but from a much smaller base (7%).   It will matter more in time, but it is relatively less important right now.  Another factor not mentioned in the article is the increase in coal use in Japan and Europe because of reduced Nuclear Energy use following the Fukashima nuclear disaster.

The article quotes lots of people warning of disaster and finishes with two paragraphs of standard global warming gloom and doom.   Any article that has space (8 paragraphs) to express concern ought to include the China impact more completely.  China matters and the Times barely notices.

Environmental Group Sues to Protect Seals

Wednesday ( September 12, 2012), the Anchorage Daily News ran a story titled Environmental group sues to protect ice seals.  The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the US Government because they have not listed the Ring Seal as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

I know nearly nothing about the Ring Seal…but I’m confident of one thing…the lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the seals longevity.     Two reasons, science and China.

My experience has taught me that Environmental groups frequently make wild claims.   There are  many many individual environmental groups.  Each has it’s own agenda.  It is difficult to build anything without offending one or more of the groups  and too many use the courts to air their complaints.   They sue to stop roads, mines, bridges, and oil drilling.   They sued San Antonio to reduce water use.  Sometimes the lawsuits have merit, but too many are a giant waste of time.  An unnecessary expense for both the environmental group and the government.

The third paragraph of the article emphasizes my point.

  “Without steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ice seals don’t stand a chance in the long term,” said attorney Rebecca Noblin in the announcement of the lawsuit. “The plight of Arctic species like these seals demands immediate action to break our fossil fuel addiction.”

They have assumed that greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for the seals plight.    Maybe, maybe not.    Maybe the ice is melting for a whole host of reasons (natural climate variation or perhaps air pollution or soot), not just the one they have identified.   Maybe the seal can survive with much less ice than they think it can.
Let’s set the science aside and do a little simple environmental arithmetic.   We’ll start by assuming carbon emissions are impacting global climate and that coal use is the biggest driver of that emission total.   Let’s look at some coal use data courtesy of BP.
Coal Use By Country  (millions of tons oil equiv.)
Country            1970        1980         1990        2000       2010        2011     %of Total
USA                          309           389            483           569          526           502        13.5%
China                       163            305           507           710      1,676       1,839        49.4%
Germany               152            140            130              85             77             78           2.1%
UK                              96              71               65              37             37             31            0.8%
Russia                     n/a             n/a            181            105            90              91           2.4%
India                         38              57               96            144          271           296          7.9%
Japan                       60              58               76               99          123           117           3.2%
Total                   1,499       1,804        2,207        2,372     3,520       3,724         100%
Yep we in the good ole USA use lots of coal, 13.5% of the total.  Coal use in the world has increased by 2225 million tons of oil equiv. since 1970 and China is responsible for 75% of that total.   So far in 2012, the USA total is down about 17% below 2011 levels…and China and India continue to grow rapidly.
The Endangered Species Act will always only impact the USA.  The USA is no longer the big player in the coal/carbon dioxide game, China is.     So why sue the USA?    If the Center for Biological Diversity is right about the science (which is not a given), then they need to get China to change their ways or they will fail.
The lawsuit…from the seals point of view…is a waste of time.

Energy Security — Not a Renewable Energy Story

I have just finished reading an article in Bloomberg News  titled Growing U.S. Energy Supply Alters Political Debate.  While I liked the article, I was disappointed by the inclusion of renewable energy rhetoric in an article about shale oil and gas drilling.

The first three paragraphs linked shale oil production to energy security and then linked renewable energy to a discussion of energy security too.   The remainder of the article talks about the changed political landscape that shale oil drilling has created.   So what’s my beef?

Renewable energy has very nearly nothing in common with oil production…..and they are constantly linked together by the press and global warming hawks.   Renewable energy is an alternate electricity source.   Oil is a transportation fuel.   Windmills may reduce the amount of coal or natural gas burned in power generation, but it has no impact on oil use or security of supply.

Security of supply is all about international politics.  Electric power comes from 5 main sources in the USA and they are all domestic.   As domestic supplies, foreign supply concerns are not an issue.

According to the  EIA (US Energy Information Administration) website

Notice, petroleum at less than 1% of supply.

Here is data for the first half of 2012, released last month by the EIA.

  • Coal                                 35.4%
  • Natural Gas                  30.4%
  • Nuclear                           19.5%
  • Hydro                                7.9%
  • Wind                                  3.8%

Coal is fading, natural gas is coming on strong, and wind is a small but growing part of the story.  Solar….forget about it.

Energy independence is all about imported oil   How do we reduce our reliance on foreign supplies?  Lets take a peek at the Bloomberg article.  The very first paragraph has problems.

Ever since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the US has been obsessed with energy security , including the desire to rely less on foreign oil and produce as much as possible at home.

Supply has never been the issue it should be in the USA.  Every President since Nixon has talked the good story…but domestic energy production  is now and always has been a secondary issue.  Production peaked 40 years ago and had been in steady decline until shale oil showed up in 2009.

USA Oil energy policy has been a story of a country attempting to protect foreign supply while arguing wildly about when and where oil should and could be produced locally.  ANWR, the coast of California, the Arctic Ocean, offshore in Florida; the notion that we would produce as much as possible at home is wrong.  There is no national consensus on this issue and there never has been.

The next paragraph sets the link between oil and gas and alternative sources of energy with the following statement

For just as long, the energy debate in the presidential election years has been over the need to take better advantage of our own natural resources: extracting more oil, gas and coal, on the one hand, or promoting conservation along with alternatives such as solar and wind power.

Conservation is a big part of our oil independence strategy, but wind and solar are not.   The third paragraph continues the link between energy security and renewable energy  and makes it sound much more important than it really is:

Discoveries of shale deposits and the rise of new energy technologies have reshaped the energy marketplace.  Big increases in renewable energy as well as domestic oil and gas production — combined with a declining market share of coal — change the terms of the old production-verses- conservation debate.

Big increases in renewable energy?   Sure.  But from a small base.   Renewable energy plays only a minor role in energy supply(see chart above).  The article intentionally makes renewable sources sound more important than they are and then incorrectly links them to the production-verses- conservation debate.

My only other complaint about the article is that it underplays the importance of natural gas in the renewable energy debate.   Natural gas is abundant and clean and could be used as a transportation fuel too.   Natural gas prices have collapsed, accelerating the switch from coal to natural gas and slowing the need for other clean choices…..Wow….another blog subject….stay tuned….