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We're Using Natural Gas All Wrong for the Climate

Harry Saunders's picture
Decision Processes Inc.
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  • Apr 27, 2015
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The natural and immediate inclination of emissions reduction practitioners and policy-makers is to substitute gas directly for coal in the power generation sector.  But this is a deeply flawed prescription.  For maximum advantage, we should rather use every single cubic foot of gas we possibly can to displace electricity in end uses.  Attention to this issue by policy makers can save untold gigatons of carbon emissions over the coming decades.

Natural gas is far from a perfect fuel.  Burning it creates GHG emissions.  Yet coal is far worse, and until the day is upon us when electric power systems have eliminated coal entirely, gas will play an important role in restraining its use.

Coal use is forecast by a number of international organizations to increase in the next decades, especially in large developing countries like China and India.  According to the Asian Development Bank developing Asia will increase its coal use by over 60% in the next 20 years, and the ADB forecasts that developing Asia alone will by 2035 create more carbon emissions than is believed sustainable for the entire planet, half of it from coal.

Growing recognition of the massive carbon emission consequences of such forecasts has unleashed a worldwide movement to displace coal-fired power generation with natural-gas fired generation wherever possible. 

But there is a demonstrably better way to displace coal-fired generation using gas, one more far-reaching and far more effective across all relevant dimensions; and one particularly germane to the developing world:

Rather than displacing coal-fired generation with gas-fired generation, countries should instead deploy gas as deeply as possible into end uses in place of electricity.  Such opportunities are large and abundant, as shown later.  This is an entirely practical prescription that can easily multiply the climate change mitigation benefits of natural gas.  Further, the prescription promises to reduce the overall financial cost of energy supply systems.  It is a less costly, not a more costly solution.

The Rationale

Arecent article in Energy Efficiency lays out the rationale in more detail.  But the core of the argument is that even newer, highly efficient gas-fired plants still waste 40% or more of the gas energy in the form of lost heat – energy that could instead be used to back out fossil fuel-generated electricity at the point of use.  In particular, a cubic foot of gas used to displace electricity in end use backs out more coal burned for power than the same cubic foot used for the same purpose in gas-fired generation.

The point is somewhat subtle, but a graphic depiction will inform your intuition. 

Figure 1. The benefits of substituting electricity with gas in end uses to displace coal-fired power generation

Figure 1. The benefits of substituting electricity with gas in end uses to displace coal-fired power generation  
Source: Asian Development Bank.  Reproduced with permission.
 

Figure 1 (drawn from an Asian Development Bank study and also appearing in a recent book) illustrates.  Coal-fired generation operates at 40-45% efficiency for state-of-the-art super-critical coal plants.  Taking the 40% figure as illustrative, the top panel of Figure 1 shows that the coal energy used to produce electricity destined for final use suffers roughly 60% loss in the form of waste heat.  More critically, that waste heat has required in its production some 60% of the emissions involved in generating a unit of usable electric energy.  If this waste could be eliminated, so would 60% of the coal-based emissions.

The bottom panel shows how to do this.  Simply by using the gas directly for end uses that electricity might otherwise serve (about which more below), both energy losses and waste heat-associated emissions are eliminated.

The result is that each cubic foot of gas used to displace a unit of end-use electricity displaces about 2 ½ times the energy-equivalent amount of coal.  But if the gas is instead used in a 60% efficient power plant (CCGT, for instance), about 40% of each cubic foot is lost as waste heat, and so it takes 1/0.6 or 1 2/3 cubic feet to deliver the same unit of end-use electricity. The coal use saved via direct end-use application of gas expressed as a ratio to the coal saved by using gas use in power generation is therefore 2 ½  1 2/3 = 1 ½. 

Alternatively stated, if the objective is to replace coal use with gas, it is 1 ½ times as effective to deploy gas in end uses for displacing coal-based electricity as it is to deploy it directly in gas-fired power generation.

The Practicalities

At the outset, it must be stipulated that in circumstances where coal-fired generation is located close to densely populated areas, displacing such generation with gas-fired capacity is entirely rational.  We see this happening in certain locations in China, for example.  Local pollution from coal plants and the attendant serious health concerns demonstrably justify this course of action for power plants near urban centers.

But the larger climate change mitigation problem calls for a correspondingly larger, more broadly-construed engagement with this fundamental opportunity.

The first practical question that arises is, “what, practically-speaking, are the opportunities for displacing electricity in end uses with natural gas?”

As it happens, the opportunities are decidedly large.  Gas can be used in numerous end-use applications including certain industrial processes; space heating and cooling; water heating; and powering appliances such as cooktops, ovens, clothes dryers, and refrigerators. Longer term, as fuel cell technology develops and becomes more cost-effective, it is possible to envision entire communities fueled by gas alone, with highly efficient gas-based fuel cells delivering the electricity to service electric lighting, televisions, electric motors, computers, modems, routers, servers, and all manner of communications devices.

The Energy Efficiency article referenced above analyzes this question in detail (ignoring the advent of fuel cells), showing that in the United States, some 64% of household use of electricity is in principle substitutable by gas, as is 32% of commercial building electricity use and 30% of electricity use by manufacturing.  These are enormous numbers in absolute energy use terms.  While the corresponding numbers have not been cranked (to my knowledge) for the developing world, it would be a major surprise if similar opportunities do not make themselves evident there.

Once fuel cells become economically available, regional microgrids can rely on variable renewable technologies for electricity supply, but instead of depending for backup from the electricity grid, can instead rely on a gas supply infrastructure for such backup – the gas grid.  And permitting ourselves to look at the very long term when fusion technology enables the supply of hydrogen for the “hydrogen economy,” a natural gas infrastructure already incidentally put in place can meet every single energy end-use need, electric or otherwise.

The opportunities available in industrialized countries are more limited, owing to rigid legacy infrastructure and legacy regulatory systems, but this is not the case for developing countries who in large part are building energy supply infrastructure from scratch. 

The second practical question has to do with the economics of this proposed prescription.  Here we find a result to be relished by those who look to cost-effectiveness as determinative of the practicality of energy solutions.  Using gas in end uses instead of for power generation will save significant financial resources, resources in scarce supply for developing nations.

Looking at Figure 1, consider two alternate supply chains, one where domestic gas is supplied directly to end users and another where it is supplied to a power plant.  To supply gas to end users, the gas will be gathered and processed (usually in the field, to extract the natural gas liquids if it is “wet” gas).  Then it will be sent to a transmission pipeline (and sometimes to a storage facility) from whence it will be sent to distribution pipelines and then to individual lines that feed individual residential, industrial, and commercial establishments.

If the same gas is instead supplied to a power plant, it will likewise have been gathered and processed and delivered via pipeline to the power plant, so these costs are the same in the two alternatives (somewhat more for the power option, actually, as it needs 40% more gas to deliver the same end-use energy).  From there, the costs are not at all comparable.  It is much cheaper to then deliver gas to end users than to convert it to electricity in a high capital-cost power plant, send it across an expensive high-voltage transmission line, down-convert it to lower voltage in a costly sub-station, distribute it along an expensive distribution line, down-convert it again to end-use voltages, and deliver it to a household or other establishment.

Thus, using gas to displace electricity in end uses promises to substantially reduce the financial resources required to supply the same end use energy needs.  This, even while reducing emissions.

The third practical question that arises is, “what happens to this prescription when a country has limited gas supplies?”

In this case, the prescription remains unchanged.  Whatever gas resources a country may have available, it is clear that such resources can be extended for maximum benefit by using them to supply end uses.  Used instead for power generation, such resources will suffer losses in the form of waste heat.  Better to use scarce gas resources in a manner that extends their inherent energy value and lifetimes by deploying them in end uses where they suffer far less in the way of energy losses to the creation of waste heat.

On top of this, gas scarcity is unlikely to be problematic as the natural gas resources of the developing world appear to be massive.  In fact, the ADB study cited previously, relying on analysis from the US Energy Information Administration, reports that the Peoples’ Republic of China has the world’s largest technically recoverable shale gas resources.  Canada, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa fill out the top 5, while India, Pakistan, and Indonesia boast large resources of unconventional gas in the form of coal bed methane.  But limited gas supply, if it happens that such resources prove difficult to develop, does not negate the wisdom of using whatever is available to displace electricity wherever possible.

The Energy Efficiency articlecited previously addresses a number of other questions that may have arisen in your mind.

Another Illustration of the Phenomenon’s Benefits

To drive the point home, consider the hypothetical case where gas has entirely displaced coal in power generation.  What, then, is the best use of a new cubic foot of natural gas?

Figure 2 illustrates for gas-fired generation assumed to be state-of-the-art 60% efficient:

Figure 2. The benefits of substituting electricity with gas in end uses to displace gas-fired power generation

Figure 2. The benefits of substituting electricity with gas in end uses to displace gas-fired power generation 
 

Even in an electricity supply scenario where gas is the only remaining fossil fuel used, deploying it in end uses instead of using it for power generation saves 40% of the energy (and eliminates the emissions associated with useless waste heat generated in power generation).  Accordingly, a cubic foot of gas used to displace the energy-equivalent electricity displaces 1/0.6 or 1 2/3rds the gas that would be used to generate that electricity.

Alternatively stated, if the objective is to minimize gas-based emissions, it is 1 2/3rds times as climate-effective to deploy gas in end uses displacing electricity as it is to deploy it directly in gas-fired power generation.

The unavoidable conclusion is that the movement to displace coal-fired generation with gas-fired generation is an understandable but flawed one, given that abundant opportunities exist to more effectively displace coal by using gas in end uses.

Conclusion

Using whatever natural gas is available to displace electricity in end uses stands to spare the global climate gigatons of carbon emissions.

There is an urgent need for policy makers and energy/sustainability practitioners to engage this issue and to entertain the corresponding new policy choices.  Urgent. 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 27, 2015

Harry, it’s your prescription which is exactly wrong for the climate.

According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), fossil fuels must be completely absent from our energy diet by 2100 to have any chance of keeping global warming to 2°C. We need to electrify everything, using nuclear and renewable energy where available, and cut fossil fuels and the damage they’re causing completely out of the picture. We need to do it as soon as possible.

Your scenario would keep us dependent on fossil fuels indefinitely, and could best be described as suicidal.

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on Apr 27, 2015

I agree completely with your vision, Bob, and share your concern about locking us in to fossil fuels, which would be disastrous.

Nuclear + renewables is the only sensible end state for delivering on the goal.  “Electrify everything,” as you say.  Should this vision happen quickly enough, you can scratch my suggestion.

But that is not what we see happening.  Even the most optimistic, aggressive forecasts (e.g., IIASA’s Global Energy Assessment) see a major role for coal and natural gas in 2050.  Others forecast much greater roles based on announced plans by countries such as China and India.  You and I can hope that nuclear will displace all this, but this will require a huge, and rapid, shift in attitudes and country energy policies.

The article instead aims at the currently visible reality.  Developing country policies are promoting expansions of fossil-based power generation much of which becomes unnecessary to the extent my suggestion is implemented.  As for your (implied) worry about today building gas delivery infrastructure that becomes obsolete when your vision becomes reality, it then will be far cheaper to scrap this infrastructure than to scrap the now obsolete fossil-based generation capacity added unnecessarily in the absence of my suggestion.  In the meantime, we reduce emissions.

 

The quicker we can make your vision a reality, the less we will have to worry about this.  I applaud your fervor.

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on Apr 27, 2015

Nice.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 27, 2015

Harry, all points well-taken, and I admit in my fervor I occasionally can’t see the trees for the forest – the end result obscures the best path to arrive at it.

There’s no doubt it’s going to be a balancing act. Sometimes I wonder if the most important element isn’t the strong leadership which would enable us to choose one route or another, instead of the commitment-free fumbling about we’ve been engaged in heretofore.

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Apr 27, 2015

Harry, I certainly agree with your title “We’re Using Natural Gas All Wrong for the Climate”. We should be using fission to generate electrticity and gas to substitute for oil in transportation until non fosil transportation becomes practical.

I think you are overestimating the potential savings. My home, and many others, has a gas stove, water heater, furnace and dryer. Heating and cooling with direct gas powered adsorbsion systems may have no better round trip efficiency than a high effenciency electric heat pump using fossil generated electricity. Direct gas lighting is far more dangerous and less efficient than electric/led lighting.

I would love to have a fuel cell and eliminate one utility bill; sometimes the fixed billing cost exceeds the fuel cost. But if everybody did it there could be big problems during a heat wave or cold snap.

David Katz's picture
David Katz on Apr 27, 2015

Much of the article shows the loss of the heat from gas fired generation so in addtion to the fuel switching suggested increased use of combined heat and power systems may accomplish the same over all efficiencies if taken from a holistic perspective.

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on Apr 27, 2015

Would be nice to have a clear, agreed path forward, that’s for sure.

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on Apr 28, 2015

Your point about heat pumps is a good one, Bill.  Went back to look at the analysis in the underlying article cited in the post to see how this would change things.  Turns out that if the entirety of space heating and cooling is eliminated from the analysis, the portion substitutable by direct use of gas falls from 64% to 38% for households, 32% to 14% for commercial buildings, and 30% to 21% for manufacturing (US numbers).

These are still large numbers, but of course overstate the case as you say, if indeed the “round trip” efficiency of heat pumps is better and they can be widely deployed. It’s not clear to me that the “round trip” efficiency will be higher but it could be.  I understand there are serious limitations to deploying heat pumps in colder climates. 

In any case, it seems clear that the lower numbers cited two paragraphs above would define a lower bound on what could be saved by direct use of gas if heat pumps were to take all the load for space heating/cooling.  Still a buncha gigatons of emissions at stake here, wouldn’t you agree?

And yes, let’s pray for the rapid development of fuel cell technology to make it cheap.

 

P.S. I find it intriguing that heat pumps can use gas instead of electricity.  Evidently not as efficient as electric ones, but back out even more fossil-based electricity than standard gas furnaces or air conditioners.  Probably something there…

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on Apr 28, 2015

Was actually thinking about this the other day, David.  CHP may provide a comparable solution in certain localized settings, I agree.

My understanding is that it’s difficult to efficiently and cost-effectively transport the heat very far from the plant. Also, the CHP waste heat usage would have to be close to 100% to match direct substitution of gas for the heating services provided.

It’s a pretty solution, but I suspect will be limited in its deployment relative to the massive generation developing countries propose to deploy across broad geographies.

 

But, do it where it makes sense, is what I would say. Likely that’s what you mean by “in addition.”

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 28, 2015

“On top of this, gas scarcity is unlikely to be problematic as the natural gas resources of the developing world appear to be massive.”

But that does not imply we can afford to use all of them either directly as heat at the point of use or to generate additional electricity.

If there is a fixed GHG/CO2 emissions budget, more reserves just imply more grease that we have to keep in the ground. And the potential for partially effective Carbon Storage and Capture to extend the amount of energy that we can extract from natural gas within that budget seems to be mostly restricted to large, fixed NG generating plants … it does not seem that it will be as readily available for the distributed uses of direct methane burning.

And finally, there is the issue of stranded assets. The argument “Coal use is forecast by a number of international organizations to increase in the next decades, especially in large developing countries like China and India.  According to the Asian Development Bank developing Asia will increase its coal use by over 60% in the next 20 years, and the ADB forecasts that developing Asia alone will by 2035 create more carbon emissions than is believed sustainable for the entire planet, half of it from coal.”

… implies that we are not on a policy track to avoid catastrophic climate crisis. But the proposed shift does not provide a clear track to avoid catastrophic climate crisis either … at best it diagnosis a problem of long-term suicidal behavior and offers a prescription of slowing the rate of suicide.

We know that we have a range of existing no and low carbon technologies for producing electricity. Most of the empirically founded controversy on this site regarding the prospective make-up 100% no and low carbon economy hinges on the cost of various ways to acheive that goal in electricity production. So investment in more efficient ways to use electricity to meet our needs involves assets on the consumption side that immediately inherit any reduction in GHG emissions intensity that is achieved for the grid.

Meanwhile, a pedal to the metal investment in natural gas substitutes for electricity consumption is investment in infrastructure that sometime within the next fifty years requires us to either produce methane as a biofuel or sustainably powered electrofuel, or else abandon that investment.

 

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 28, 2015

“Turns out that if the entirety of space heating and cooling is eliminated from the analysis, the portion substitutable by direct use of gas falls from 64% to 38% for households, 32% to 14% for commercial buildings, and 30% to 21% for manufacturing (US numbers).”

How much of these shares are amenable to efficiency improvements? How much can be replaced by dispered solar thermal?

Part of the opportunity for direct use of gas is natural gas powered refrigerators. But American refrigerators typically use an inherently inefficent upright design, because substantial cooled air is replaced by warmer air every time the door is opened, where a well insulated bin refrigerator unit that is accessed from top is far more efficient.

Part of the opportunity for direct use of gas is natural gas powered AC. But in many US structures, improvements in insulation and weatherproofing can substantially decrease the share of total energy use required by AC. And in much of the eastern part of the US, “its not the heat, its the humidity” … a solar-assisted dehumidifier can substantially increase the comfort range in the shade in the summertime, and allow a much higher thermostat setting.

And at residential and rural suburban densities where heat pumps can be connected to a “geothermal” heat transfer loop to beneath the seasonal thermocline, heat pumps heating with a 50 degree heat source will be more efficient than gas heating, and the air conditioning cycle with a 50 degree heat sink will be extremely efficient.

And for low income developing areas that do not already have large household refrigerators, and central AC, there is no “efficiency gain” to be made along the path of substituting NG-powered equipment for mains-powered equipment … it is a direct emissions increase to provide a supply of NG and NG-powered refrigerators and AC, and establishes another income drain for agrarian areas, where there may be more sustainable alternatives that also offer an opportunity to be an income source for agrarian areas.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 28, 2015

Harry,

We are using ALL fossil fuels “all wrong”, not just natural gas.

Fossil fuels are HIGH ORDER fuels that are readily converted into all sorts of useful products, including electricity. That is the reason they are used, and used up, all over the world.

This led to world gross product increasing by a factor of 410 compared to 1800, and population increasing from 1 billion in 1800 to 7.3 billion at present.

Unless a very high WORLDWIDE energy tax, $/Btu, is imposed, nothing significant will change until fossil fuels become too scarce and too expensive. That is when the s… hits the fan.

However:

– Biofuels, such as corn to ethanol, are LOW ORDER fuels that require a lot of resources (land, etc.) and subsidies BEFORE they can be converted to useful products.

– Harvesting wind and solar energy are LOW ORDER energy sources that require a lot of resources (land, etc.) and subsidies, before they can be used to make electricity at 2 to 5 times wholesale prices.

The costs of these LOW ORDER energy sources would be significantly higher, if the subsidies were removed.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 29, 2015

Fossil fuels are HIGH ORDER fuels that are readily converted into all sorts of useful products, including electricity. That is the reason they are used, and used up, all over the world.”

They are also massively subsidized, in that they are not charged for using the atmosphere as a CO2 dump, where we have come to learn that the atmosphere is not, in fact, a cost-free CO2 dumping ground.

Harvesting wind and solar energy are LOW ORDER energy sources that require a lot of resources (land, etc.) and subsidies, before they can be used to make electricity at 2 to 5 times wholesale prices.

The costs of these LOW ORDER energy sources would be significantly higher, if the subsidies were removed.”

Source? The EIA levelized costs for wind and utility solar are $80.30/MWh and $130.00/MWh pre-subsidy. The cheapest NG combined cycle in the list is the cheapest (uncharged emissions, therefore subsidized) fossil fuel power sources in the list are $64.40/MWh for NGCC and $95.60/MWh for conventional coal, which is, for unsubsidized wind vs subsidized fossil, 1.2 times and 0.84 times, and for unsubsidized solar vs subsidized fossil, 2 times and 1.4 times.


Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 29, 2015

 Bruce,

You, as do many people, are comparing apples and oranges.

Wind and solar energy cannot exist without traditional energy to balance it and when they are insufficient.

People should know by now, in New England and Germany:

– Wind energy is zero about 30% of the hours of the year (it takes a wind speed of about 7 mph to start the rotors), minimal most early mornings and most late afternoons, about 60% of all wind energy is generated AT NIGHT.

– Solar energy is zero about 65% of the hours of the year, minimal early mornings and late afternoons, minimal much of the winter, and near-zero with snow and ice on the panels.

– During winter in New England, solar energy, on a monthly basis, is as low as 1/4 of what it is during the best month in summer; 1/6 in Germany.

– Often both are at near-zero levels during many hours of the year. See URL, click on Renewables. in the Fuel Mix Chart to see the instantaneous wind and solar %.

– Germany has excellent public records for the past 12 years showing the variability and intermittency of wind and solar energy, i.e., denial/obfuscation of the facts is not an option.

That means, in Germany and in New England, ALL other existing generators must be kept in good running order, staffed, fueled, ready to go, to provide varying quantities of energy almost all hours of the year, including for balancing the variable solar and wind energy.

The end result: Two energy systems to do one job.

!http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2219181/increased-wind-energy...

Here are ACTUAL costs in Germany, not some IEA estimates.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/338781/high-renewable-energy-...

Here is an article about the effectiveness of reducing CO2 by means of wind energy.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/89476/wind-energy-co2-emissio...

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 29, 2015

Wind and solar energy cannot exist without traditional energy to balance it and when they are insufficient.”

Yes, wind and solar alone are, indeed, not a complete renewable portfolio on their own, and they do require dispatchable energy and/or demand for the difference between the variable harvest and variable demand.

That does not imply that they require “traditional energy”. We have built our system on the basis of dispatchable generation, so that the status quo response when dispatchable demand is required is to turn to traditional energy resources.

However, we have also built our system on the basis of what turns out to be a massive subsidy to fossil fuel generation. The appropriate price for CO2 emitting fossil energy is a price that ensures that we stop using it within the coming half century, so over the long term the most economic dispatchable energy to complement variable renewables will not be our traditional CO2 emitting fossil energy.

People should know by now, in New England and Germany:

– Wind energy is zero about 30% of the hours of the year (it takes a wind speed of about 7 mph to start the rotors), minimal most early mornings and most late afternoons, about 60% of all wind energy is generated AT NIGHT.

– Solar energy is zero about 65% of the hours of the year, minimal early mornings and late afternoons, minimal much of the winter, and near-zero with snow and ice on the panels.”

And that New England borders on Quebec, which has substantial hydro resources that can balance variable renewables in New England (where a pure balancing resource is using the storage capacity of the reservoir to time-shift and not as a net supply) and additional hydro resources that they are presently developing, which can be used in part to supply power to New England.

And New England wind is far from the most cost-effective wind resource in the country. Indeed, its economic value increases if wind power is imported from higher quality wind resource regions further west, just as the volatile Pacific Northwest wind power, which BPA treats as a pure energy resource witrh no capacity credit, has greater economic value and increases the capacity value of wind if it cross-hauls with the higher CF and less volatile wind resource to the east of the Rockies.

So an economically rational roll-out of renewables for New England would not be restricted to New England wind and solar resources and New England balancing resources alone, but would also include the import of renewable resources and balancing from areas that have surplus capacity to their own needs.

That means, in Germany and in New England, ALL other existing generators must be kept in good running order, staffed, fueled, ready to go, to provide varying quantities of energy almost all hours of the year, including for balancing the variable solar and wind energy.

The end result: Two energy systems to do one job.”

The incremental costs of keeping Quebec hydro staffed, “fueled” and ready to go to provide varying quantities of energy almost all hours of the year, including balancing the variable and solar energy, is quite low, given that the rapid response available from reservoir hydro means that there is are available power quality service benefits to keeping some hydro capacity in the system, even when the hydro is generating at a low level of maximum capacity.

However, note that this article is not about how to power New England. It is about how to power the entire world. Those people who wish to have one-size-fits-all silver bullet solutions find renewable energy a frustrating topic, because the appropriate renewables portfolio is different for different parts of the world. But there is no reason to presume that the world is constructed in such a way that one-size-fits-all solutions are actually ever the most effective solution worldwide.

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 29, 2015

Bruce,

What you write has truth in it, but it is not reality, not in New England and not the world. I provided references for you to read before replying. 

Here is an article that shows how much the WORLD has done these past 12 years. It is practically nothing, no matter how much spin is put on it.

 http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/2146376/renewable-energy-less-effective-energy-efficiency

 

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 29, 2015

“… Others forecast much greater roles based on announced plans by countries such as China and India.  You and I can hope that nuclear will displace all this, but this will require a huge, and rapid, shift in attitudes and country energy policies.

The article instead aims at the currently visible reality.  Developing country policies are promoting expansions of fossil-based power generation much of which becomes unnecessary to the extent my suggestion is implemented.”

Note that “announced plans” have a political component to them. China, for example, has an announced plan that reflects a roll-out of nuclear and renewables over the coming decade that is about as fast as might be expected, with confidence, to be achievable … and then at the point where a continued rapid expansion of those roll-outs would begin to lead to a decrease in total coal output, the acceleration moderates, and is plotted as proceeding at a pace that leaves coal output stable.

Which suggests that the planned roll-out of nuclear and renewables over the coming decade is on a pace to permit a faster roll-out in the out-years, but the present government does not wish to draw a projection that shows a decline in total coal output, and receive the kind of pushback which that might elicit. And there is no incentive to push against that projection from the nuclear or “environmental sector” (as they call it here), if the actual immediate actions are in fact compatible with a more rapid roll-out in the out-years than is drawn, since its the immediate actions that will become facts on the ground, and the longer term projections will not be facts on the ground ten years from now, when the decision whether to adopt that approach as immediate policy is actually required.

With 70% of coal production in 2050 in at least one projection projected to come from China, India, Indonesia and Australia, there is substantial scope for uncertainty regarding actual policy decisions that will be made in the coming two decades by the governments of those four countries, which introduces a substantial degree of policy-uncertainty into any projection of coal use in 2050.

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Apr 29, 2015

Here is an article that shows how much the WORLD has done these past 12 years. It is practically nothing, no matter how much spin is put on it.”

What the world has done these past 12 years is not the topic under discussion here. The world in the past 12 years has not adopted a pedal to the metal replacement of electricity from the grid with natural gas use from consumer natural gas pipeline networks, so if we adopt “what we have done before is what we will do in the next 12 years”, there is nothing to discuss here. The topic is what, among the things that we haven’t done, are things that we ought to do.

Indeed, if we continue over the next 24 years as we have done the past 12 years, we highly likely to be toast, so even if we are most likely to continue over the next two dozen years as we have done in the past dozen, there is very little benefit in adopting that as a premise of analysis … the constructive work is in working on raising that likelihood of changing our behavior, and that remains true whether that likelihood is 80% or 40% or 5%.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Apr 29, 2015

 

I have one of those furnaces that brings in cold air through a pipe and emits the exhaust through another pipe.

I found myself wondering this: Would it be feasible, if there were a price on carbon, to have a device in place that attached to the exhaust to run it through a cartridge of sodium hydroxide that would bind the CO2?

Then on “trash day” a version of a “garbage truck’ would come and the “trash man” would replace my cartridge and take the spent one to a facility to extract and sequester the CO2.

 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 30, 2015

Bruce,

You still have not read my articles.You are repeating what most of us already know.

I agree, the next 12 years, etc., should not repeat the past 12 years, but it would mean diverting at least say 5 times the $2.1 trillion invested in RE systems over the past 12 years, or $10.5 trillion, and invest that in RE systems during the next 12 years.

How much did the world economy invest in its energy systems over the past 12 years? What was the percentage of that invested in RE systems? We know that RE percentage is equivalent to $2.1 trillion over the past 12 years.

How much could be diverted from existing fossil investment trends and how much would have to be added to RE investments to achieve a desirable fossil energy decrease and RE increase during the next 12 years? Those are the real questions. 

The $2.1 trillion has produced energy at a cost of about 4.0 – 4.5 times annual average wholesale prices, based on Germany’s published data regarding its 12-year ENERGIEWENDE program. Does anyone think most other developed countries can do better than Germany?

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/338781/high-renewable-energy-...

Germany is rich enough to afford adding increasingly greater quantities of such expensive RE to its energy mix, because much of its mix still is low-cost nuclear and low-cost fossil energy. Other nations are not rich enough.

What if Germany’s mix goes from the present 25% RE and 75% nuclear/fossil to 50% RE and 50% nuclear/fossil, and then to 75% RE and 25% nuclear/fossil? Would Germany’s products and services, including those that are exported, not become more expensive? Would that not lead to job losses? If other countries followed Germany’s lead, would not their products and services become more expensive? What would Germany’s and the world’s economic growth become? Would families still be able to afford their lifestyles and to have and raise children?

Partially because of RE added to the mix, Germany’s economic growth percentage has decreased in recent years. Losing much of the lucrative Russian market to East Asia would be another headwind, not just for Germany, but all of Europe. China is smiling.

http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/368081/russian-gas-exports-and-western-encroachments-russia 

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 29, 2015

Jim,

Taking energy from the ocean in that manner would be expensive and upset flow patterns, which likely would have unforeseen consequences.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on Apr 30, 2015

Harry,

You make a strong case for end-use gas substituting for electricity, and other than for our clothes dryer my family has maximized this. However, one of your assumptions under the “second practical question” can’t be taken at face value without additional cost estimates.

“If the same gas is instead supplied to a power plant, it will likewise have been gathered and processed and delivered via pipeline to the power plant, so these costs are the same in the two alternatives (somewhat more for the power option, actually, as it needs 40% more gas to deliver the same end-use energy). “

Certainly the gas would have to be gathered from wells, processed and delivered to the regional market in both cases. However, it is not at all clear to me that a 40% larger gas pipeline to feed a power plant would cost more than the signficant investment required to build a complete gas distribution network (reticulation) down to individual homes and businesses, if it didn’t already exist. My guess is the infrastructure for the former would actually cost quite a bit less, and could be constucted faster if permitting weren’t an issue.

In the developed world, most such comparisons would involve only incremental costs, which for putting more gas into local distrition would be modest. However, in developing countries lacking a “last mile” gas grid, particularly those relying on expensive imported gas, the comparison of these two alternatives would have to be worked out rigously on a full-cost basis.

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on May 1, 2015

Hi, Geoffrey:

Your comments are always reliably worth paying careful attention to, as I’ve learned (along with no doubt many others).  

However, in this instance I think the real issue is that the cost comparison has to be done on an incremental basis for *both* alternatives (especially in the developing world).  That is, even ignoring *altogether* any cost increases associated with delivering 40% more gas to a power plant, the appropriate comparison then becomes the incremental costs of energy delivery downstream of that. 

As I tried to argue in the post, “build[ing] a complete gas distribution network (reticulation) down to individual homes and businesses, if it didn’t already exist” (to use your words) would cost far less than building or expanding the power transmission/distribution network required to deliver the same added end use energy.  Power transmission/distribution networks are in general far more expensive than gas transmission/distribution networks.  In much of the developing world, either network would have to be built from scratch.

I’m wondering if I’m missing something?  Knowing you (from reading your numerous posts), I’m worried I am.  Help? 

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on May 1, 2015

Harry,

If we’re talking about an entirely new pipeline to feed the power plant, you may be right. But if we’re comparing the cost of making the same pipeline 40% bigger, using the same right of way, construction resources, etc., to the cost of an entire, brand new regional gas distribution.reticulation network, I don’t see it as an obvious choice without running the numbers on both. But then maybe I’m too focused on what it would cost to put in a new distribution network in a developed country, where that cost has likely already been incurred years ago, vs. what it would cost in a developing country now, with cheaper labor, etc.

Even if it did cost more to deliver the gas to individual users than delivering the larger quantity of gas to a power plant, I suspect the difference would be defrayed over time by the benefits you describe elsewhere in your analysis.

Sid Abma's picture
Sid Abma on May 1, 2015

This discussion is all about the exhaust, whether it be coal or natural gas it is about this wasted energy that is going up all these chimneys into the atmosphere.

Wasted energy is combusted energy that has not yet been given a purpose.

The heat energy in the exhaust can be Recovered with the technology of Condensing flue gas heat recovery and utilized. Then Cool exhaust will be vented.

The US DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s of heat energy recoved from combusted natural gas and this heat energy is utilized back in the building or facility where it was combusted, 117 lbs of CO2 will Not be put into the atmosphere.

The CO2 can also be Transformed into useful – saleable products with a Carbon Capture Utilization System.

The Water that is being created during the condensing flue gas heat recovery process can be used for many purposes. In every 1 million Btu’s of combusted natural gas are 5 gallons of recoverable distilled water.

Let’s give all this combusted exhaust a purpose! Problem Reduced.

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

You are missing the leakage.  NG is 25 times more potent as a GHG than CO2.  Even with low estimates of 5% leakage through the supply chain asuming a 50% carbon rate under combustion compared to coal then using NG with extant extraction and pipeline tech means NG fully loaded GHG emmisions are actually worse for the next 100 years (the period we really are concerned with) with a rate of 1.75x the warming capacity of coal through 2050.

Would be nice if energy “experts” were not constantly cherry picking the info they provide.

The transmission savings of in-city NG might counterbalance a fair bit of that but saying NG is less of a problem than coal is simply ill-informed.

 

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

why do NG buff’s always forget the leakage?  NG is 25 times more potent uncombusted than coal.  Assuming 5% leakage — .05*25= 1.25 + .5 (combustion CO2 rate of NG compared to coal) = 1.75x coal.  Switching to NG completely from coal would actually increase warming emissions (full-cycle) albeit the species does not last as long.

god forbid anyone actually suggested solving the generation problem by finding a power dense RE or digging in on latest nuke tech.  but as long as we misinform ourseleves we can feel what was it you said…

 that our generation was up to the task, and that we weren’t a generation of ‘wafflers’ after all.”

at least we will be dead by the time the next generations realize how deliberately clueless we were.

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

wow someone that actualy summarized the central issue.  nicely done.  

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

subsidies for fossil are a fraction of RE subsidies on a per unit basis which is what you are quoting above, like 1/50th.

also RE is additionally subsidized by states which fossils are generally not.  the fossil subsidy is a fraction of a cent.  solar and wind can range anywhere from 3 cents to 15 cents or more in some states.

what he is talking about is the supply capacity per m^2 of horizontal land use.  There is no need to argue about the “low” and “high” effect in the increasingly urban energy landscape.  “High” wins every time.  NYC is already in a 60% in-cityNG lock-in for primary supply.  80% of energy use is in cities.

you may ask how that can happen in a liberal state with active RE programs.  because transmission is very expensive (especially on top of extant trans and dist o&m expenses) and RE cannot supply more than 5% at the point of consumption.  therefore in-city NG which can supply 100% of demand at the point of consumption wins and does it cheaper without any subsidies.  Same thing is happening in Shanghai and other cites around the world.

everyone (including most here) is having the wrong conversation and foused on the wrong crap.  Extant RE is useless. Whether you call it expensive, low order, or to use V. Smil’s term low power density, 30 years and all it has achieved is to guarantee an NG lock-in.  

Now thanks to poor analysis and policy we will need in 5-10 years to not only beat the LCOE of NG but the fuel cost alone after the NG $600 per KW installed is paid off.  So after 30 years of failing to beat the full cost what is the likelihood the current tech is going to beat just the fuel cost?  0%.

But keep having meaningless conversations about this.  

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

subsidies for fossil are a fraction of RE subsidies on a per unit basis which is what you are quoting above, like 1/50th.

also RE is additionally subsidized by states which fossils are generally not.  the fossil subsidy is a fraction of a cent.  solar and wind can range anywhere from 3 cents to 15 cents or more in some states.

what he is talking about is the supply capacity per m^2 of horizontal land use.  There is no need to argue about the “low” and “high” effect in the increasingly urban energy landscape.  “High” wins every time.  NYC is already in a 60% in-cityNG lock-in for primary supply.  80% of energy use is in cities.

you may ask how that can happen in a liberal state with active RE programs.  because transmission is very expensive (especially on top of extant trans and dist o&m expenses) and RE cannot supply more than 5% at the point of consumption.  therefore in-city NG which can supply 100% of demand at the point of consumption wins and does it cheaper without any subsidies.  Same thing is happening in Shanghai and other cites around the world.

everyone (including most here) is having the wrong conversation and foused on the wrong crap.  Extant RE is useless. Whether you call it expensive, low order, or to use V. Smil’s term low power density, 30 years and all it has achieved is to guarantee an NG lock-in.  

Now thanks to poor analysis and policy we will need in 5-10 years to not only beat the LCOE of NG but the fuel cost alone after the NG $600 per KW installed is paid off.  So after 30 years of failing to beat the full cost what is the likelihood the current tech is going to beat just the fuel cost?  0%.

But keep having meaningless conversations about this.  

pyrroho empricus's picture
pyrroho empricus on May 25, 2015

Geoffrey and Harry,

The NG is well on the way to being delivered to the same place.  Contectualize your model.  80% of use is in cities in the US and with increased urbanization and population growth through 2030 that figure will be 65% globally within a few decades.  

Every pop dense city is increasing the use of in-city supply to avoid transmission build out.  The only viable in-city supply right now is NG.  

NG delivery systems in cities already exist and in most areas the pressure in the pipeline is usually sub-rating because they cannot get enough gas into the pipline to meet demand so where are you going to get the extra gas without additional infrastructure.

NG’s 60% thermal capacity has to do with turning it into something useful to do work.  Whether it is electricity or a primary driver is somewhat meaningless as both require a converter and the converter is where the 40% loss takes place.  That would be the same whether it is at the plant or in the home.  Having a prime mover in your house combusting the NG sounds a little dicey.  Also micro-turbines compared to combined cycle are far less efficienct so whatever gain you might get in going direct to end-use will be lost unless it is a community system.

Regardless NG’s GHG rate is just as bad as coal so what exactly are you actually discussing?

We need a dense RE or very fast movement on advance small scale nuclear.  Nothing else is going to mitgate anything.

 

 

Harry Saunders's picture
Harry Saunders on May 25, 2015

Not missing the leakage.  The Energy Efficiency article cited in the text, on which this post is based, includes an extensive analysis of this question.  When comparing gas used for power generation vs. gas delivered to end users, the latter wins hands down as regards GHG emissions.  The article also deals with gas vs. coal with respect to leakage.  Suggest you read it.

Geoffrey Styles's picture
Geoffrey Styles on May 26, 2015

“NG’s GHG rate is just as bad as coal”

That’s incorrect. Numerous studies, including those used by the US Dept. of Energy and EPA, show lifecycle savings of around 50% in power generation vs. coal, even with some methane leakage that can be managed better going forward. That’s also true whether the source is shale or conventional gas reservoirs:

http://theenergycollective.com/geoffrey-styles/290701/study-sheds-light-environmental-impact-shale-gas

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