Tag: Fossil fuel power station

You don’t have to be mad …

… to live here, but it helps!

This was a guest post sent to me by regular contributor, Chris Snuggs, back in May.  It somehow slipped between the cracks, so to speak, and only came to light when I was trawling through a pile of draft posts.

Despite, or even because of, Madam Merkel’s re-election it still seemed a valuable post to publish.  Chris lives in Germany and has a very good perspective on things.

It may also serve as an interesting reflection on the IPCC’s report when it is published later this week.

Over to Chris.

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“Angela Merkel would seem to want it both ways.” (“Der Spiegel”)

The above comment caught my eye as I browsed through “Der Spiegel” this morning. Frau Merkel is delaying difficult decisions on energy production and “carbon backloading” until after the September elections in Germany.

Nothing earth-shattering in itself, of course. It is human nature to want it both ways, and examples do not lack.

One does somehow feel, however, that it has got worse in recent years. Kids want a highly-paid job without working their way up through the company hierarchy. Spain et al want to enjoy German prosperity by using EU “structural funds” without actually doing the boring hard work over decades. And politicians of course want growth and prosperity and a vast state apparatus plus a voter-bribing welfare system but without debt – or indeed troublesome whinging from the voters. However, as the proverb goes: “You can’t have your cake AND eat it.”

However, this article quoted is about something more serious than mere short-term greed, which is not exactly new in the history of Mankind. No, we are now applying the illusion that we can have it both ways in an area that threatens life on the planet – Global Warming of course.

As a concerned member of the “We don’t want to die from Global Warming Brigade”, I am more worried than ever about what is going on, and Germany is a symbol. Whatever the Germans do, they tend to do thoroughly and efficiently. They have a fairly large Green Party, a large investment in solar power and until recently seemed to be setting an example to Europe and the world. However, …..

•    Germany will this year start up more coal-fired power stations than at any time in the past 20 years as the country advances a plan to exit nuclear energy by 2022. Two coal-fired plants opened in 2012 and six more will open this year, adding up to 7 percent of Germany’s capacity. A dozen more are on track to open before 2020.  Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, rose 1.6 percent last year as more coal was burned to generate power, the Environment Ministry said two days ago.

•    With the current carbon price, utility companies that have invested in low-carbon electricity generation such as wind and nuclear are losing market share to companies that produce energy using coal. Some companies are already acting on the low price of carbon in Europe. E.ON, for example, one of Germany’s largest utilities, announced recently that clean-energy investments will be cut to less than €1 billion in 2015 from €1.79 billion last year.

The thing is, if serious and efficient Germany is backsliding on emissions what are the chances for the rest of the world, with standards of living far below Germany and desperate to catch up?

An understanding of the problem of CO2 emissions is hardly new, yet it seems to me true to say that nothing serious is being done about it. There is lots of talk, noble efforts by Al Gore et al, international conferences, carbon-trading schemes and so on, but all the time CO2 emissions are increasing. Last week we learned that atmospheric CO2 has now reached 400 parts per million, a level not seen for 4 million years.

Despite this (and the consequences predicted seem to range from merely uncomfortable to threatening to life on Earth), the search for, exploitation and use of fossil fuels are all increasing. A student of logic would surely say that this is irrational; we are lowering ourselves to the level of lemmings, except that they can’t help it but we could.

We are completely hooked on fossil fuels; that is the problem. We have one minister ranting on about “saving the planet” and another proudly announcing new oil-wells, new areas earmarked for shale-fracking, developing countries opening new coal-fired power-stations. Industry in the west is making some efforts to clean up its act but these are being predictably swamped by growth in the developing economies.

It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. A few years ago “experts” talked about the end of oil as resources ran out but as we get cleverer at extracting it from more and more difficult places the availability of fossil fuels is actually going up! On top of this the melting poles (and Greenland) are opening up new areas for exploitation by the oil companies.

“Oil companies”. Yes, the Big, Bad and Ugly Culprits … and yet the last time I checked oil companies do not actually run the country they are based in. (Conspiracy and “Plutocrats run the World” theorists will certainly disagree with this, but that is another story!)

No, governments rule their countries, and while some are dictatorships and plenty of others are totally corrupt, there are a good number of democracies involved in this headlong rush to disaster. Worse, we are in a massive generalised recession and yet emissions are still creeping up. What will happen once “growth” takes off once more – as it will, these things going in cycles.

Living in Germany, I have personally been horrified by the decision to phase-out nuclear power. The Green movement is politically significant here and the government reacted rapidly and negatively to the Fukushima incident. This was indeed terrible, but does not change the facts:

– Nuclear is totally free of CO2 emissions.
– There has never been a serious accident in Western Europe.
– France still today derives over 70% of its electricity from nuclear.
– Nuclear designs are far safer than they were years ago.
– Nobody in their right mind would build a nuclear power station in an earthquake zone as the Japanese did – though if they want nuclear (and they have few natural resources) they don’t have a lot of choice
– Europe of course is an earthquake-free zone, except for Southern Italy.
– Nobody either would build one where the cooling pumps could be flooded by a tsunami – as the Japanese (usually so clever) ALSO did.

There are nonetheless dangers in nuclear of course, but:

– ONLY nuclear can currently provide enough power to satisfy our needs without CO2 emissions. Solar and wind are feeble pinpricks in comparison.
– There is no sign of a Deux ex Machina on the horizon that will solve the emission problems associated with fossil fuels.

My personal conclusion is that without nuclear we are doomed, since we seem totally incapable of reducing CO2 without it. On the contrary, now that shale-fracking has come on stream the emissions seem likely to rocket, with a presumable corresponding increase in Global Warming. And as far as that is concerned, it does seem to me – as a layman, like most of us – that we are involved in a vicious circle: the more the poles and Greenland melt, the more radiation is absorbed by the oceans and the more CO2 is released. People have talked about a “tipping point”, but it could just as easily be an “explosion point” – after which a geometrically increasing temperature in an unstoppable feedback cycle takes us to a Venusian scenario.

Not wishing to be to gloomy, but Frau Merkel’s procrastination is worrying. Politicians do things with such short-term considerations. She seems to be waiting till after the elections, but excuse me Frau Merkel, saving the planet can’t be put on hold.

Yes, whatever Europe does is pointless if India, China and South America are going to steam ahead, but someone has to set an example, and at the moment, Germany is burning much more coal AND opening new coal-fired power stations just as we should be cuttting back.

What is the solution? Nobody seems to know. If they do, they aren’t acting up on it. It is rather depressing. All Europe’s politicians are talking about at the moment is increasing growth = burning more fossil fuels. Even France is cutting back on nuclear ….

WHO WILL SAVE US?????

Finally, a few facts about emissions:

•    The world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy in 2010 – up 6.7% on the year before.
•     The world emits 48% more carbon dioxide from the consumption of energy now than it did in 1992 when the first Rio summit took place.
•    China and India together are building four new coal-fired power stations per week
•    China – which only went into first place in 2006 – is racing ahead of the US, too. It emitted 8.3bn tonnes of CO2 in 2010 – up 240% on 1992, 15.5% on the previous year.
•    China now emits 48% more CO2 than the USA – and is responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions. Chinese per capita emissions, however, are still around 60% lower than in the USA (now involved in extensive shale-fracking)
•    Global coal consumption grew by over 5% in 2010; gas by over 2%.
•    Renewable energy accounted for only 2.2% of global energy output in 2011, despite all the fanfare over wind turbines and solar panels.

See:

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/08/fossil-fuel-consumption-still-rising-globally
http://www.thegwpf.org/china-india-building-4-coal-power-plants-week/

I tried to get a handle on some of these statistics. 31.8 billion tons of CO2! I went into the garden yesterday and tried to imagine the volume of gas that would weigh one ton. Impossible of course, so I looked it up: it is apparently 556.2m3 or a cube with sides of 8.3m.

Another amazing stat from this site (http://www.icbe.com/carbondatabase/CO2volumecalculation.asp) is that every year the United States emits a 33.14cm high blanket of carbon dioxide over its entire land area.

HAVE A GOOD DAY!!!!!

Chris

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Make your voice heard.

Center for American Progress Action Fund plea to all Americans

Friends,

For the first time in history, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to limit industrial carbon pollution from new power plants. This important action will slow the growth of the major pollutant responsible for global climate change. These new limits will have far-reaching public health impacts.

It’s up to all of us to demonstrate strong public demand for clean air: Make your voice heard now in support of carbon pollution limits for new and existing power plants

Power plants dump more than two billion tons of carbon and other toxic pollutants into the air each year—nearly 13,000 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the United States. With the proposed standard, though, a typical new coal-fired power plant would have to reduce its carbon pollution by 40 percent to 60 percent. Natural gas power plants should be able to comply with this standard without additional controls.

President Barack Obama has endorsed limits on carbon pollution from motor vehicles, which will ultimately reduce tailpipe emissions by six billion metric tons over the life of the program.

More than 120 health organizations have urged the government to reduce “the threat to public health posed by climate change and to support measures that will reduce these risks.” These health groups include the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, and others.

I proudly served as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for eight years, and I know from experience how vitally important it is that citizens who support proposed public health standards that reduce pollution make their voices heard. Certainly, many of the companies emitting the pollution and other interests that oppose clean air standards will do so.

During the first month available for public comments, more than one million Americans took action to express their support for cleaner air, but we need your voice today!

Will you join us and more than one million Americans calling for cleaner air? Make your voice heard—click here to submit a favorable comment to the Environmental Protection Agency today! Thanks again! 

Sincerely,

Carol M. Browner
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Just in case you want a reinforcing viewpoint, please do read this article from the Key Correspondents (KC) team website.

Coal-fired power damages health and the environment

Coal-fired power generation damages people’s health and contributes to climate change, according to a new study by academics at the University of Pretoria.

The study shows how coal-fired power stations run up large costs as a result of coincidental but often unavoidable side-effects electricity generation.

These ‘externalities’ include the creation of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur oxide, mercury and a wide range of carcinogenic radio-nuclides and heavy metals during the combustion process.

The Business Enterprises department of the University of Pretoria conducted the study for Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace International at Kusile power station in Emalahleni in September 2011.

According to the report: “In the generation of coal-fire power, the objective is electricity production, yet, as a side effect, emissions are also produced.

“Various epidemiological studies found that the mentioned pollutants contribute to the incidence of mortality.”

The study also measures the cost to the environment by determining the amount of potentially damaging emissions from a power station.

According to the report, Kusile power station emits 30m tons of carbon dioxide per year, on an annual consumption of 17m tons of coal.

The analysis provides strong evidence of the need for Eskom, the largest energy provider in Africa, to invest in alternative renewable energy sources and for the government to support such investment initiatives.

But Eskom is building more coal-fired power stations to add to new power stations in Kusile and Medupi in Lephalale, Limpopo, with the support of the Department of Energy.

Building new power plants also requires the construction of new coal mines and the expansion of existing coal mines.

There are fears that coal fired power plants like Kusile in South could severely contribute to climate change.

Just re-read that sentence above that spoke of Kusile power station, “Kusile power station emits 30m tons of carbon dioxide per year, on an annual consumption of 17m tons of coal.

So, please, if you are an American who cares for the future of your children and grandchildren, take action.

The potential for the USA!

A powerful ‘good news’ story.

I am republishing in full a recent report from the Earth Policy Institute.  It underlines how wringing our hands in the face of so much doom and gloom, while perfectly understandable, can hide the fact that mankind can and does change, frequently for the better.  This EPI report is a tad ‘dry’ but still a great read.  As an incentive, let me show you the final sentence, “If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Here’s the full paper.
NOVEMBER 02, 2011
U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 7 Percent in Four Years: Even Bigger Drops Coming
Lester R. Brown


Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent. In contrast, carbon emissions from natural gas use increased by 6 percent. The net effect of these trends was that U.S. carbon emissions dropped 7 percent in four years. And this is only the beginning.

The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both. For coal, the dominant force is the Beyond Coal campaign, an impressive national effort coordinated by the Sierra Club involving hundreds of local groups that oppose coal because of its effects on human health.

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1950-2010, with Projection for 2011

In the first phase, the campaign actively opposed the building of new coal-fired power plants. This hugely successful initiative, which led to a near de facto moratorium on new coal plants, was powered by Americans’ dislike of coal. An Opinion Research Corporation poll found only 3 percent preferred coal as their electricity source—which is no surprise. Coal plant emissions are a leading cause of respiratory illnesses (such as asthma in children) and mercury contamination. Coal burning causes 13,200 American deaths each year, a loss of life that exceeds U.S. combat losses in 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The campaign’s second phase is dedicated to closing existing coal plants. Of the U.S. total of 492 coal-fired power plants, 68 are already slated to close. With current and forthcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality regulations on emissions of mercury, sulfur, and ozone precursors requiring costly retrofits, many more of the older, dirtier plants will be closed

In August, the American Economic Review—the country’s most prestigious economics journal—published an article that can only be described as an epitaph for the coal industry. The authors conclude that the economic damage caused by air pollutants from coal burning exceeds the value of the electricity produced by coal-fired power plants. Coal fails the cost-benefit analysis even before the costs of climate change are tallied.

In July 2011, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a grant of $50 million to the Beyond Coal campaign. It is one thing when Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, says that coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg, one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, says so.

The move to close coal plants comes at a time when electricity use for lighting will be falling fast as old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs are phased out. In compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, by January 2012 there will be no 100-watt incandescent light bulbs on store shelves. By January 2014, the 75-watt, 60-watt, and 40-watt incandescents will also disappear from shelves. As inefficient incandescents are replaced by compact fluorescents and LEDs, electricity use for lighting can drop by 80 percent. And much of the switch will occur within a few years.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that residential electricity use per person will drop by 5 percent during this decade as light bulbs are replaced and as more-efficient refrigerators, water heaters, television sets, and other household appliances come to market.

Even as coal plants are closing, the use of wind, solar, and geothermally generated electricity is growing fast. Over the last four years, more than 400 wind farms—with a total generating capacity of 27,000 megawatts—have come online, enough to supply 8 million homes with electricity. (See data.) Nearly 300,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects are in the pipeline awaiting access to the grid.

Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity in the United States, 1980-2011

Texas, long the leading oil-producing state, is now the leading generator of electricity from wind. When the transmission lines linking the rich wind resources of west Texas and the Texas panhandle to the large cities in central and eastern Texas are completed, wind electric generation in the state will jump dramatically.

In installed wind-generating capacity, Texas is followed by Iowa, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. In the share of electricity generation in the state coming from wind, Iowa leads at 20 percent.

With electricity generated by solar panels, the United States has some 22,000 megawatts of utility-scale projects in the pipeline. And this does not include residential installations.

Closing coal plants also cuts oil use. With coal use falling, the near 40 percent of freight rail diesel fuel that is used to move coal from mines to power plants will also drop.

In fact, oil use has fallen fast in the United States over the last four years, thus reversing another long-term trend of rising consumption. The reasons for this include a shrinkage in the size of the national fleet, the rising fuel efficiency of new cars, and a reduction in the miles driven per vehicle.

Fleet size peaked at 250 million cars in 2008 just as the number of cars being scrapped eclipsed sales of new cars. Aside from economic conditions, car sales are down because many young people today are much less automobile-oriented than their parents.

In addition, the fuel efficiency of new cars, already rising, will soon increase sharply. The most recent efficiency standards mandate that new cars sold in 2025 use only half as much fuel as those sold in 2010. Thus with each passing year, the U.S. car fleet becomes more fuel-efficient, using less gasoline.

Miles driven per car are declining because of higher gasoline prices, the continuing recession, and the shift to public transit and bicycles. Bicycles are replacing cars as cities create cycling infrastructure by building bike paths, creating dedicated bike lanes, and installing sidewalk parking racks. Many U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York, are introducing bike-sharing programs.

Furthermore, when people retire and no longer commute, miles driven drop by a third to a half. With so many baby boomers now retiring, this too will lower gasoline use.

As plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars come to market, electricity will replace gasoline. Ananalysis by Professor Michael McElroy of Harvard indicates that running a car on wind-generated electricity could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-a-gallon gasoline.

With emissions from coal burning heading for a free fall as plants are closed, and those from oil use also falling fast—both are falling faster than emissions from natural gas are ramping up—U.S. carbon emissions are falling.

We are now looking at a situation where the 7 percent decline in carbon emissions since the 2007 peak could expand to 20 percent by 2020, and possibly even to 30 percent. If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Lester R. Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of World on the Edge.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute