Helpful Thoughts About Coal

Posted on December 10, 2014
Posted By: Ferdinand E. Banks
 

"Coal is a dead man walking" -Kevin Parker (Deutsche Bank Executive)

Well, I don't know about that, Kevin. On a billboard greeting travellers at the airport in Ranchi (India), the capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, 'Welcome to the Land of Coal' is present in block letters, and in case you are seriously curious you will not have any difficulty finding someone influential in that country to proclaim that coal is the way to go, and such will be the case for many years in the future. India needs more coal, and apparently will continue to need it in order to maintain the momentum of economic development. Moreover, in the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook for 2011, it was easy for my students to detect and comment on a pronounced failure of aggregate coal output to match the accelerating demand.

In the film 'The Formula', Marlon Brando informs a Swiss colleague that, "Today it's coal. In ten years it will be gold". As owner of a large part of the hard coal deposits in the U.S., as well as a superior process for producing synthetic oil from coal, the Brando character may well have known what he was talking about. Of course his time frame was very likely wrong: it wouldn't be ten years, but several decades before the billions of dollars started to roll in, although in terms of historical time it hardly makes a difference. Besides, in showing that they know something meaningful about the future importance and use of coal, the writers, directors, producers, and maybe even the actors involved with this film gave the impression that they were better informed about coal than many (and perhaps most) energy economists.

I'm sure that my opinion of Hollywood is similar to that often expressed by Mr Brando in his more articulate off-screen moments, but one thing the movie decision-makers must be given credit for is that they understand the way that some political and industrial celebrities take care of real business: hypocrisy, public relations, bribes and taking advantage of the naiveté of drowsy voters. If you study game theory, an introductory course might emphasize players, payoffs, and strategy, but more comprehensive game theory literature pays particular attention to information, and in particular incomplete information, which is a condition in which some players can have access to very important information which is not in the public domain. As David Lloyd-George, prime minister of England during the First World War, said of the general public at one particularly traumatic point during that struggle: "Of course they don't know - how could they know." What he didn't say was that this arrangement suited him perfectly.

As I often mention when the subject is coal, the largest Swedish utility, Vattenfall, is/was building a pilot coal-burning installation in Germany in which CO2 emissions into the atmosphere are supposedly close to zero. This facility of 30 megawatts - as compared to a thousand megawatts for most new nuclear (and probably some coal) installations - may not be ready to be evaluated for perhaps ten years. If the news is good, a 250 megawatt demonstration plant will ostensibly be constructed. In other words, the (unspoken) intention was that the financing of these new, quantitatively inconsequential installations, will not interfere with the bonus program initiated some years ago by Vattenfall, and just as important, will not interfere with the flow of cash to the owners of Vattenfall. Among these owners we find the Swedish Government, who need this money to pay their dues to perhaps the most grandiose parasitical organization in the industrial world, which is the European Union (EU). Exactly what contribution these efforts will have to the reduction of 'greenhouse gases' remains to be seen - although, in all fairness, it may turn out to have a great deal if admirers and taxpayers are prepared to wait a few decades - or even to mid-century - to judge the results.

Now for the statement by Mr Parker at the top of this note. It so happens that in the U.S. in the two years 2009-2010, construction was not commenced on a single coal fired power plant, and coal use (= 498 million tons oil equivalent in 2009) showed an 8% decline since 2000. But in India (and also China) the dead man was (and is) in wonderful health, as indicated in the opening paragraphs of this contribution.

Please make an effort to believe that it is also in good health in Denmark, the Promised Land of Wind Energy, although e.g. many office holders, bureaucrats, busybodies and amateur energy economists believe that coal's day is over, and it is time to move on to something else. As they are almost certain to find out, the truth is that there is no something else where this issue is concerned: globally, the demand for energy continues to increase, and there is too much energy in coal for the remainder of that resource to be cast aside like clothes or shoes that have gone out of fashion.

A former Swedish prime minister called nuclear energy "obsolete", and the present U.S. president apparently has similar thoughts about coal, but the objective macroeconomic situation in the world economy is going to change many minds in the U.S. and elsewhere, and perhaps sooner rather than later. Without adequate energy, the competitive strength of the U.S. economy could be drastically weakened, and since this is well known to many (but not all) decision makers and their advisers, coal will remain a major producer of electric power in the U.S. and elsewhere for the foreseeable future.

And not just electric power. In the book 'The Global Economy' (1993), we were told that "oil and gas will probably be exhausted first, after which coal will increasingly be converted into liquid and gaseous fuels until it too is used up." I won't bother to go into the details of that process here, but I hope that Senator Lisa Murkowski - a future boss of the U.S. Senate Energy Committee - is made aware that the exhaustion of liquid and gaseous fuels will take place long before the music commences at the New Year's Eve parties welcoming the 22nd Century into a world that might contain ten billion persons or more. Accordingly, the experts who assured her and 'similar spirits' that other than a paltry export of U.S. oil and gas made economic and political sense, now or later, may have lost the plot! In fact, a sharp limitation of the exports of energy (or exhaustible energy resources like oil and natural gas) should become part of the culture, and not just for the U.S.

In economics there are many trivialities, and I am genuinely afraid that many colleagues and their students remain too occupied with these trivialities and esoteric analyses to obtain the information they might need about important topics like energy economics. The argument being presented above is that sooner or later there is going to be a huge increase in the use of coal, with much of this increase taking place in countries where coal use is presently condemned, and what happens as a result of this situation is left for students, teachers, and interested readers of the energy economics literature to investigate as soon as possible, and to make their findings as widely known as possible.

REFERENCES

Allen, Zach (2005). Comments and observations on coal. (Stencil).
Baltscheffsky, Susanna (2009). Koldioxidutsläppen når rekord höjder. Svenska Dagbladet. (December 3).
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2010). 'An unfriendly comment on another Green Fantasy: Roadmap 2050'. 321 Energy (April).
(2000). 'The Kyoto negotiations on climate change: an economic perspective. Energy Sources (Volume 22, July).
(1985), The Political Economy of Coal. Boston: Lexington Books.
Berry, Brian J., Conkling, Edgar C., and Ray, Michael D. (1993). The Global Economy. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Goodstein, David (2004). Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. New York and London: Norton.
Hilsenrath, Jon (2009). 'Cap-and-trade's unlikely critics: its creators'. Wall Street Journal (August 13).
Hung, Joe (2010). 'Coal: the contrarian investment'. 321 Energy (April 10).
Roques, Fabien and William J Nuttall, David Newbery, Richard de Neufville, Stephen Connors, (2006), 'Nuclear power: a hedge against undertain gas and carbon and carbon Prices'. The Energy Journal (No. 4).
Rose, Johanna (2010). 'Drömmen om rentkol'. Forskning & Framsteg (March).
Schaefer, Joseph L. (2012). ' A skål to old King Coal'. Seeking Alpha (March 21).

 
 
Authored By:
Ferdinand E. Banks (Uppsala University, Sweden), performed his undergraduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology (electrical engineering) and Roosevelt University (Chicago), graduating with honors in economics. He also attended the University of Maryland and UCLA. He has the MSc from Stockholm University and the PhD from Uppsala University. He has been visiting professor at 5 universities in Australia, 2 universities in France, The Czech University (Prague), Stockholm University, Nanyang Technical
 

Other Posts by: Ferdinand E. Banks

Climate change: A short note - December 16, 2015
A Nuclear Energy Update - March 13, 2015

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Comments

December, 10 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

"Sexting scandal". And to Think they had the nerve to expell me from engineering school after my first year because I failed math, physics and technical drawing TWICE. Well, I ended up in South Carolina too, at Fort Jackson to be exact, and the thing I remember most about that post were the sexy 'goobers' of snot and spit on the pavement where we did pushups every morning at revile.

December, 10 2014

Michael Keller says

It is possible to make coal much cleaner from a CO2 emissions standpoint. Unfortunately it ends up being significantly more expensive, in most cases (but not all).

Seems to me "green" fanatics need to consider the morality of dooming large numbers of the planet's population to continued poverty because they are not "allowed" to use a reasonably priced energy (that would be coal). All this in the name of a theory (i.e. global warming catastrophe) that classical science is simply unable to prove. Hence the use of lies, distortions and bullying by the “green” zealots to scare the population into going along with their self-serving efforts to line their own pockets with everyone else’s money.

December, 11 2014

Richard Vesel says

Wrong here, too, Mr. Keller...

December, 11 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I dont know what my thinking was when I wrote this article, except for one thing: a lot of coal is going to be burned in the future. I consider this unavoidable, and I would like to know just how bad this is going to be. I want someone to tell me using the kind of language that is used in this site, but apparently that is not going to happen. It is not going to happen because the president of the United States of America is too ignorant to insist that it happens. What I wonder about now is what will the situation be in a decade - or perhaps slightly under - when the nuclear reactor that Bill Gates is financing is ready. I don't know much about Mr Gates, except that I don't expect to encounter him down at the Welfare office if I move back to the Big PX, but his decision to finance that 4th Gen reactor means that all rich men are not hopeless. We need that reactor and a president who can sell it to the tens of millions of Americans who are in desperate need of it and the energy it can provide, but who don't know it or refuse to admit it.

December, 11 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

A refreshing and realistic look at coal Fred. The people that expound the phasing out of coal are usually those sitting in nice comfortable armchairs in the West with homes heated by natural gas and electricity provided by coal plants and a few feelgood windmills. The reality for people in India, China and Africa is that without cheap coal energy they are destined for lives of backbreaking hard work and early death. Walking miles to get water. Doing backbreaking soul destroying work in parched fields because there is no means of irrigating their fields.

We proclaim in our high and mighty wisdom that burning coal is bad for the planet becaasuew the world may get warmer. Those in Asia and Africa are already living that dream. They do not need to wait for starvation - they already have it.

They wonder why the armchair pontificators in the West whose various empires were built on cheap and dirty coal are now the ones telling them that this is now - all of a sudden - bad.

The reality is that coal use will indeed outstrip supply and neither India nor China is going to give up their chance at an inkling of the standard of living we have because the world will be possibly hotter than it is now. Things could hardly be any worse for them anyway...what have they got to lose.

Don Hirschberg has calculated that a 1000MW plant needs to come on line every week for the next 50 years to provide 7 billion of us even a basic electricity supply of a few tens of watts. Do we really think that the 2.4 billion people in China and India are going to stop burning coal. Not going to happen.

Apart from nuclear there is no other source of energy available on the scale necessary except coal - that is the reality for most countries.

So for us westerners to tell people who are already malnourished and who are unlikely to make it to 2050 due to food and water shortage that they cannot burn coal because the planet iwill be so much warmer by then is pure hypocrisy. They are not going to listen to you.

Of course if you listen carefully to the prognostications of the GW folks we are already past the point of no return so does not matter now how much more coal or oil we burn. We are done like a dinner.

We shall see.

Malcolm

December, 12 2014

Richard Vesel says

Malcolm,

So let's take a look at projections by IEA regarding the claim that the world needs 1GW per week of new capacity, i.e. 52GW per year.

http://www.iea.org/Textbase/nptable/2014/MTrenew2014_t1.pdf

In this chart, you see the growth of renewable capacity alone is 860+ GW over 8 years, or 108GW per year. As it is renewable and much of it variable in nature, I will allow for an average 50% capacity factor for a net 54GW new capacity per year. (Remember coal's capacity factors are typically 70-85%, so it is not on-line 100% of the time either.)

So this alone exceeds the projected needs (at least per Don's estimate, yes?).

Debating where the new capacity is going to come from seems to be the far less necessary question. Rather, how to continue to encourage it, adapt the T&D and consumption components to work with it, and how to add to the stability of it with new generation nuclear facilities, as well as utility scale storage. THAT is how coal will go away.

RWV

December, 12 2014

Michael Keller says

+860 GW that only occasionally and intermittently shows up. From a planning perspective, seems like a really poor asset to rely on, unless you're a 3rd world nation that only has the power on occasionally anyway.

December, 12 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Richard, when you say that the CF of coal is 70-85%, i won't say that that is wrong because you probably know more about that than me. But it doesn't sound right. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and the only trouble I can remember with coal is having the Money to buy it.

Incidentally, what my students will have to know is that in Denmark wind only supplies 26% of the electricity, Why not one of my favorite numbers, 30%, or maybe 27%. The other 74% comes from coal and imports, and a nice slice of the imports originated in nuclear facilities.

As I understand it though the ignoramuses at my unniversity have become unnerved by my use of the English language, and so I may only be able to reach what I call my students with my new book.

By the way, I am no champion of coal, but coal aint goin nowheres soon! India and China are burning the stuff like there was no tomorrow, and Germany is burning more soft coal this year than in any of the past 20 years. Moreover, they will probably burn more next year, otherwise somebody might ask about those lies they are telling about solar..

December, 13 2014

Michael Keller says

As far as the coal plant capacity factor, somebody has to back down as the grids requirements vary (a lot). The coal plants can reduce load, nuclear plants cannot while the natural gas plants back down or shut down over night and on the weekends.

When the parasite renewable plants show up on occasion, everybody else has to back down because renewable energy is "mandated" by the leftist politicians kowtowing to the "green religion" mafia. Trouble is, the consumer get's to pick-up the higher costs.

Renewable energy should get the market price for being unreliable - that price is not very much.

December, 14 2014

Len Gould says

So, imho there are a few facts that all participants in the debate need to acknowledge.

1) The present system of renewables generation on the grid can only survive as long as they are "mandated". Remove the mandates and no investor will install another watt because there is no rational economic case possible to make for the sale of their output into a wholesale free market.

2) The mandating strategy cannot force the grid as presently operated anywhere to accept more than about 20% of total load from intermittent sources. (Denmark only goes slightly higher because it is embedded in a much larger grid).

3) TOU metering alone is not sufficiently persuasive to make a difference in the above problems, see Ontario where recently the auditor general has declared it a $2+ billion experiment which has failed.

4) Increasing the atmosphere's CO2 contents (now 390 ppmv) significantly above the range within which they have fluctuated for the past million years (180 ppmv to 280 ppmv) is a stupid and unnecessary experiment on the only space ship we know of which can support our species. Agreed no-one knows the consequences of this action but the possibilities (drought, floods, storms esp. affecting undeveloped regions) should provide at least some jabs to the conscience of even the most hardened neo-con.

December, 14 2014

Len Gould says

I'll see if these links still work. It's is still the only real solution I have seeen to all of the above.

Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Preliminary Business Case

Independent Market for Every Utility Customer - Part 2 - Market Operation

December, 14 2014

Michael Keller says

You are right, no one knows what increased CO2 will do to the planet. Could be bad, could be good, could be of little consequence.

We do know renewable energy is a sub-par solution. We also know a reasonably good approach: better efficiency in energy generation and use. Lowers emissions and costs. That is where we should be placing our bets; much better bang for the buck.

Doubling CO2 needs to be viewed in broader context. 280 PPM is 280/10^6. Doubling a vanishingly small number is still a vanishingly small number.

December, 15 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Well, looks to me like I have Another page in my new book. Thanks guys.

December, 15 2014

Richard Vesel says

I would be happy to have more direct efficiency-based set of rules on power plants, if it were practical. However, saying everything had to be 40% or more efficient rules out most solar, ALL nuclear, all simple cycle gas turbines, and all existing subcritical coal-fired generation. What is left then? Only gas combined cycled, ultrasupercritical coal fired boilers, and wind and hydro on the renewables side.

Reducing the options to those few? I think everyone in the group here would say that can only lead to trouble...

280 ppm is not a vanishingly small number. Your drinking water purity is regulated to ppm and ppb for many substances for example, all with good reason. Oversimplifying the effect of CO2 because is SEEMS to be such a tiny number is absurd. Your whole $25000 car can come to a grinding halt due to the failure of many different $5 parts (200ppm on a cost basis)...

Len, on your short list: 1) We'll have to agree to disagree for now, as we are at the knee in the cost curve, and in less than 10 years, you'll be entirely wrong.

2) Iowa gets 40% plus of its electricity from wind. Texas and Kansas will likely surpass 20% in the near future. In 2013, Texas generated almost 36 TWhr from wind. Yes, that's a "T"...

3) No progress is made without failure and redirection forward. Progress is never achieved by moving backwards.

4) On this, we agree in the extreme. That makes your 1-3 irrelevant, eh?

RWV

December, 15 2014

Michael Keller says

280 ppm = 0.000280 or 0.0380 %. That IS a vanishingly small number that you are getting upset about. There is no conclusive proof (although there is a lot of nearly hysterical conjecture) that the planet will come to a grinding halt from such an inconsequential number.

Just because we can measure to great accuracy does not mean (1) we need to and (2) we need be concerned with what amounts to bug dust. Regulators (and I&C engineers) would do well to remember that.

Kansas get over 80% of it's energy from coal, as easily verified from the generating statistics that are available on-line from the major power providers, Weststar Energy and Kansas City Power and Light. Renewable is a few percent. Doubtful that renewable energy will get to 20% because I'd say the is a very high probability that the Kansas legislature will void the renewable mandate later this year.

Simple cycle machines are heading well past 40% efficient, with combined cycle units heading towards 60%. Gasification technologies are moving towards 45%. There are other technologies that do significantly better using fossil fuels

All generating machines are more profitable with better efficiency, with a happy byproduct of less pollution, either directly or indirectly. Couple that with better efficiency in using the energy and you've got a winning solution. Good for the consumer. Good for the investor. Good for the environment. Common thread, however, is economics being the major driver.

December, 15 2014

Michael Keller says

Should be 0.0280%. I'm a little dyslexic with keyboards!

December, 15 2014

Len Gould says

Micheal - "Common thread, however, is economics being the major driver." -- I would agree IF economics acknowledged the tragedy of the commons.

December, 15 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Welcome back Len. It is always good to have your perspective on things although I expect we disagree on the climate file. Nevertheless your opinion is always respected. this particular bit piqued my interest when you said.....

"Agreed no-one knows the consequences of this action but the possibilities (drought, floods, storms esp. affecting undeveloped regions) should provide at least some jabs to the conscience of even the most hardened neo-con."

Droughts, floods, storms, - let's throw in Tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes - have been doing their best to eradicate our species from the planet for millennia.The weather has delivered devastating blows to mankind throughout history. We seem to have survived quite well since there are now over 7 billion of us and counting. That, I suspect is a far bigger problem than the weather. The severity of the weather has not changed much..but the consequences will always get worse of course as we build more infrastructure in the way of weather events. The Sahara desert was once a tropical region but Mother Nature over the years has chosen to drop rainfall to near zero and convert this part of North Africa to a parched sand dune. It was not always so....and that occurred long before CO2 was on the agenda as being the bad boy of weather.

Some interesting stuff from Mars recently should cast doubt about the ability of humans to change the planet as opposed to natural occurrences.It is seemingly very likely that Mars once had vast oceans comparable to Earth but all has since vanished. Have found no evidence of civilization on Mars so one is drawn to the conclusion that such a catastrophe (loss of all the planetary water supply) was the work of natural causes. Suggest the climate folks direct their attention to the impact of solar activity on this planet. There is a large body of eminent scientists that are studying this and disagree entirely that CO2 is anything but a small player in climate effects.Their data (hardly a mention on any media outlet) correlates very closely with what is observed without the need fo fudge the data.

So only when more of the climate catastrophe predictions fail to materialise and we have spent vast sums of money for zero result will we look at the real science of what affects our earths systems.

Personally I can't wait for palm trees in Toronto. I can reduce my carbon footprint by not having to travel miles to get to somewhere warm and won't have to burn cubic miles of natural gas to heat my house.

Bring it on....but if I extrapolate all of the dire predictions made in the past into the future I am afraid Canada will still be a really cold place a hundred years from now.

As evidenced by the lower than average number of hurricanes(6 as opposed to the average of 6.4) in 2014 if the Atlantic is supposed to be warming up it is not making a hill of beans difference to hurricane activity. Worst activity was 15 hurricanes so looks like things are improving not getting worse. Taking a look at 2013 we find that this year was the lowest activity of ANY hurrican season on record. There were NO major hurricanes and only 2 events that were classed as hurricanes in 2013. Hardly good supporting data for the increasingly catastrophic events predicted by IPCC. I wonder why they failed to predict that. Perhaps they do not really know what is going on.

Need to look to space to understand.

Malcolm

December, 15 2014

Michael Keller says

Len, glad to see you back!

Economics should be the key driver, but not the only consideration. My general thesis is that the market place will winnow out inefficiencies and lead to reasonably clean and reasonably affordable solutions much more rapidly than heavy handed government bureaucrats who have no real skin-in-the-game" (other than empire building).

December, 16 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Come on Richard, this is ENERGYPULSE and not CNN. All nuclear ruled out? When Sweden was on a nuclear Construction binge the price of electricity in this country was among the lowest in the World, and I Think that it might have been at the bottom because of the combination of nuclear and hydro. It would be the same thing today if the government worked with the nuclear producers instead of against them. As for wind, Denmark has the highest electricity price in Europé, but Germany should Catch up with them soon, thanks to the Energiwende.

The trick is for the government to work with the Electric firms. Give them their very very very very high salaries, private jets. trips to the Alps to ski, etc, but work with them. Why is it so difficult to understand that? It worked during the war, so why not let it work now Before the Chinese take Everything.

Hi Len.

December, 16 2014

Richard Vesel says

Fred,

If you read my comment CAREFULLY, I was responding to the idea proposed that all regulations should be based upon efficiency arguments, rather than pollution or carbon-footprint. So, if all generation had to meet a 40% efficiency threshold, all BWR and PWR stations, which have thermal efficiencies from 33%-37%, would be eliminated. THEREFORE, an efficiency threshold does us no good as the SOLE CRITERIA for allowing or disallowing a generation technology...

Obviously, I am not an anti-nuke guy. You should know that by now, yes? Reminders: I am a former member and standards committee member of the American Nuclear Society, and spent five years of my controls career in design and testing of non-1E safety systems, as well as plant simulators (at the two units now sitting on the site of the original Shippingport plant).

RWV

December, 16 2014

Richard Vesel says

Malcolm,

The Atlantic isn't the only ocean bounded by land on the planet. Strong storms are best studied by statistical increases over time since one year of data above or below the mean is about as useful as saying our current week of near-50's weather here in mid-December is PROOF that anthropogenic global climate disruption is a lot of hooey.

Can we stay out of the narrow and absurd, and focus on a planetary view?

Also, your remarks about Mars are not at all relevant. The ability of a planet in terms of mass, temperature, and blanketing atmosphere density and composition are all related to its long term ability to retain surface water. If we used your simple approach, we could point to the fact that Mars' atmosphere is 96% CO2, and is devoid of surface water and life. Therefore CO2 is a terrible terrible gas...

NOT!

Superficial analysis leads to erroneous superficial conclusions, pretty much all the time.

RWV

December, 16 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Sorry Richard. I probably didn't read it carefully.

December, 16 2014

Richard Vesel says

2013: Kansas total generation (not capacity) was 19.4% wind-sourced

http://www.awea.org/MediaCenter/pressrelease.aspx?ItemNumber=6184

This release contains a pretty decent map and state-by-state statistics.

2014 is likely to show even greater penetration. Wind power is here to stay, even if states "adjust" their renewable portfolio requirements. If the local state adjusts down, I am sure a neighboring state that doesn't adjust, or adjust upward, will work to sign purchased power agreements to take up any local drop in demand.

RWV

December, 16 2014

Michael Keller says

I think you will find that the power companies in Kansas use very little wind, as it is a minuscule part of their generation resources (explains the very small amount of wind energy generated by the regulated power companies). The wind farms are not, for the most part, owned by the major utilities in Kansas. The wind energy in Kansas appears to be largely directed to regions where there is some form of mandate as there really not much of an economic justification for renewable energy in Kansas. The state generally requires that the "least-cost" power be provided by the regulated utilities.

Should remember that to the extent that the regulated utilities do not use their own resources, then debt repayment on their not fully used generating assets must necessarily be added onto the customers bills.

The Pacific Northwest is a good example of what happens when unneeded wind resources are forced into the grid, thereby causing higher rates to service the debt accrued from building the region's hydroelectric dams (which do not emit any CO2). Just plain idiotic.

December, 16 2014

Don Hirschberg says

The history of man's energy is the history of making CO2.

Carbon compounds + O2 goes to CO2 +water + energy.

This energy kept our ancestors from freezing. Making CO2 produces the energy of muscles – whether man's or that of oxen or horses. Energy from the sun ran the whole system by supplying the energy to make these carbon compounds by photosynthesis. The “Carbon Cycle” worked quite well until we used carbon compounds made long in the past which allowed population to increase after hundreds of thousands of years at about 0.6 billion

It is a very recent thing. Thomas Edison died in 1931. I remember 1931. World population had already risen to 2 billion and for the first time food supply allowed expo national growth. It has been runaway growth like a rampant cancer ever since. It is our only problem.

December, 18 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

It is a bigger probalme than most people Believe, but the word OUR may be incorrect. If the voters were taught how to Think, people in the Big PX might be OK. The Place is over populated, but not as bad as it will be next year.

December, 18 2014

Richard Vesel says

Don, without saying it explicitly, you seem to hope that somehow there will be some huge correction in population levels. What are you hoping for? Mass extinction from an asteroid? Global thermonuclear holocaust? A new Plague?

In the late 1890's, mankind was already burning 500 million tons of coal per year - with what population? (Ans: 1.6 billion) With current population nearly 5X larger, we are currently consuming over FOURTEEN times as much coal, even though we have many other sources of energy integrated into the mix.

Combustion for stationary power is 19th-20th century technology, and should be limited to application only where absolutely necessary, no matter what the population size is. The economies of it should no longer be the sole consideration. Consider combustion to have been the mother's milk of industrial civilization. We now need to be weaned from it so that we can grow in a healthier fashion...

RWV

December, 18 2014

Richard Vesel says

And, to pre-empt any absurd replying argument, I am not talking about overnight changes. I am talking about this "weaning" process needing to take place over the next two generations, or about 50 years...

RWV

December, 18 2014

Richard Goodwin, Ph. D., P.E. says

The Edwardsport IGCC incorporatesing CCS, has just been operating for a few months, but is CAPEX ~ $$5100/kw. Compare this cost to Sunflower’s expected CAPEX ~$3310/KW.

Capital Cost of CCS its at least 30% and, based on above analysis, 50% greater than conventional advanced coal-fired power plants. Electric utilities must determine if the interest payments on higher CAPEX for CCS can be recovered via rate increases and if the cost of Natural Gas exceeds $6/MMBTU the minimum tipping point for new coal-fired vs. new NG plant construction i.e. lower fuel costs offset the higher debt service.

Natural Gas is expected to stay between $4-4.5/MMBUT until 2020. At this level electrical utilities will continue to switch to natural gas. Developing countries e.g. China, India, Eastern Europe may continue to rely on coal for energy until natural gas or LNG becomes cost-competitive.

Richard W. Goodwin West Palm Beach FL 12/18/14

December, 18 2014

Don Hirschberg says

Richard, your comment was not as much comment to mine as a quiz. Fair enough but a proper response would be something the size of the Manhattan phone book. I'll not attempt that. But here are a few thoughts evoked:

I find it inane to down-grade making CO2 to produce energy as old technology. It predates even the earliest creatures else they wouldn't have evolved. Could hardly call it technology until some men could control it and later “make” fire. It is still the most significant from of energy and cannot be replaced until like is based on another element, Si? Today, hardly anything moves on earth except by CO2 generated energy. Flies and jet planes.

If CO2 based energy is old technology is a bit lee poor mouthing the multiplication tables as old technology.

Not only important. Every day we use it not only more but more per capital! – every day more. Not just coal but oil and gas and every bit of food and feed consumed.

And there has not been an inch of progress. We have ;more people without electric service today than the all-time record number we set just Wednesday.

People are fond of asking what I would do about excess world population. As if there are answers to problems in the back of the book. And as if there were a Boss of the Planet who could implement such a plan, if there were one.

A while back I offered “A Modest Proposal” without getting a single out-raged reply. To stop the annual increase we need only set off 100 A-Bombs per year that kill an average of one million each. This would also supply a great number of jobs rebuilding the ancillary damage.

Only”yesterday “(i.e.about 1967) world population was half of today's 7+ billion. I suspect that if man could cope with the problem that chance is now past. Reduce CO2 emotions? Hell, we can't even bend the accelerating curve over. -whilst the problem increased greatly.

December, 18 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Richard - the point I was trying to make - simplistic or not - is that there is much research ongoing right now (which you carefully never mention) that points to a different cause and effect than Carbon Dioxide.

As usual you divert attention from the Atlantic where there has been a complete failure of the projections of severe hurricanes to the Pacific. You need to explain why all (and I do mean ALL) of the predictions of hurricanes were not met. 2013 was the lowest seson for hurricanes on record. Why? Instead of telling me that there were some in the Pacific what you should be explaining is why the climate model is getting this wrong. According to you the increased temperatures in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean should be generating more frequent and stronger hurricanes. The facts show the opposite is occurring.All I am asking you in my simplistic way is why these predictionbs based on "infallible" climate models are not predicting anything with any degree of accuracy. It should be a clue to you that something is wrong with these models. These same models also failed to predict the increase in Antarctic Sea Ice.

Regarding the need to study what has gone on elsewhere in the planetary system we inhabit - it ought to be obvious that planets have completely changed their atmospheres over millennia with no interference from humans and it ought to be important to you to want to understand those processes as they may well be affecting the earth as they did on Mars.WSould it not be the ultimate irony to have all our CO2 emissions well under control and fins that the real cause was solar wind interaction with the upper atmosphere.

I certainly do agree with you that without oxygen and water CO2 is indeed a dangerous gas from a human perspective. Not toxic but we would all suffocate in a Martian atmosphere. Important to understand what happened to Mars - maybe we can understand what really goes on on Earth. M

December, 18 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Don, It should be obvious to everyone that population is the most serious problem. It is an exponential function and appears to be uncontrolled. However in response to the question how to control it - nature always corrects the problem for all populations whether they be bats,elephants,dinosaurs or humans. When the population exceeds the available food and water supply the population dies off. Humans have the unique ability to modify and adapt the food and water supply chain which other species are not able to do. That is what has enabled the human population to grow so rapidly. However that just defers the inevitable. Sooner or later there will not be sufficient food or water to feed us all.

Whether that occurs at a population of 7 billion, 21 billion or 100 billion who knows. What is known is that exponential population growths always come to an end when one or more of the essentials to life of the organism is curtailed. It will happen to us.

Whether you are a Stephen Hawking, an RVW or Me we all require the same things to stay alive. Oxygen, water and food.

Take any one of those away and we eventially die.

An interesting report today in Canada said that since 1990 women have extended their life expectancy by 6.5 years and men by 5.8 years so the number of people on this planet seems likely to continue to increase unabated.

The rest of our problems are trivial by comparison.

I think it does bear repeating Don's point that there are more people without electricity (and everything else) than ever before in history. We are kidding ourselves if we think things are getting better. They are not.

It has taken me some years to digest what Don has been saying here but I think it has finally sunk in. Despite all of our technology and all that has occurred in China and India there are more people that do not have clean water, electricity and everything else than ever before. Hard to make the argument that anything is really improving.

And that from an eternal optimist.

Malcolm

December, 18 2014

Don Hirschberg says

Malcolm, yes, and in nature it's called a die-off. When conditions favor survival creatures multiple toward their pun destruction. Bacteria in a Petri dish multiply to their own death, happy until the last bit of agar agar is eaten. Another example I witness in my own yard. Deer eat every GD flower bud. I guess my few cultivars are better nourishment ;than my acorns and bark – we have too many deer and nobody wants to kill Bambi. The city will have to lift the ;no-hunting ban. Else we will have starving deer causing a big increase in food supply for our vultures already numerous.

It used to be more effective for humans than today. When a child the news reels t the Saturday matinee would show starvation in China. Now starvation prompts the shipping in of free food by the UN which will only make things worse next year. Case in point, the newest county, South Sudan. (Do you suppose the South Sudanese would agree to reduce their CO2 emissions?) sick joke, but with a message - sand they are few. The ability to feed people depends on manufactured and shipped fertilizers and fresh water supply. Once these start to crumble I see no way to recover. Africa could become 50 countries such as South Sudan.

I can't believe you are an optimist Malcolm. I still consider Optimism the doctrine that things have been arranged for the best, not the curtest happygolucky usage. I have difficultly thinking you believe the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs or tens of millions of years later the Holocaust were scheduled for the best. ..

December, 19 2014

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Interesting. In my book Scarcity, Energy and Economic Progress (1977), I say early on that population is the big problem, and the time to do something about it was NOW:

That didn't go over so good. You see, in every society there are a number of inveterate gamblers, and some of those players Believe that excess population will be good for their bank accounts and/or their intimate lives. I found that out the second day I was in Sweden.

A few of those inveterate gamblers now occupy high offices in governments, and they have lost Control of the situation. That means lies instead of intelligence, and so I see no reason to be over optimistic about this population business.

And incidentally, isn't that one of the reasons for the anti-Russian nonsense that we have to put up with now. In that book, or a later one, I say that Russia is the richest country in the World, by which I meant that they had Everything to work with, if they got their act together. I had the same belief about Canada until I attended a lecture in Australia in which a Canadian bureaucrat assured her audience that Everything possible was being done to increase the immigration into her country. But maybe the numbers are still in Canada's favor.

I tell you what... if you can buy a green card for Australia, Canada, or Russia, dont Think. BUY. The odds will be on your side for a generation or two.

December, 21 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Ha ha Don....I have - correction - had - a whole family of rabbits that were doing a great job of eating all the dandelions in my grass (cannot use herbicide any more here). All over the place - dozens and dozens of them. Unfortunately thay depleted the dandelion supply but still wanted to multiply ad infinitum so they ate all my flowers as well. However mother nature to the rescue as Mr and Mrs Fox wanted a family of their own and the rabbit population was a perfect food source. Have seen very few rabbits but numerous fox sitings. Now the rabbit population is in decline it appears that local cats are now the target as I have seen a marked decrease in those over the last few months.

I have to be an optimist Don - the alternative is to be a pessimist and be rather miserable about things.

I do what I can to promote the obvious solutions even though I see few moves in that direction by the people who supposedly have the levers of power. But, when I see the depths of depravity to which the human race can descend I certainly do wonder why I am optimist as it seems to me that the direction in which we are headed is the wrong one for survival. I think you have seen enough of it in your lifetime to not have much optimism.

On the plus side - despite all of our many weaknesses - humans seems to have survived quite well. All of our attempts to destroy each other seem to have failed since there are more of us now than ever before.

But in the timespan of the Earth, humans are still just a blip. Whether we are able to sustain that remains to be seen. Sooner or later Mother Nature will fix things for us. We may not like what she has to offer for a solution...just like the rabbits....something may take a liking to us for all the wrong reasons.

All the best.

Malcolm

December, 21 2014

Malcolm Rawlingson says

On the subject of Canadian immigration, it does make you wonder why the country is so small by population yet so large by land area. We only have a population of 32 million or thereabouts yet are the second largest country by land area in the world....the first place belonging to Russia.

But as you know Canada is - for the most part - an inhospitable place climate-wise so we are jammed in the few miles above the 49th parallel and the warmer bits of Southern Ontario. Despite that I am always amazed at the people who are lining up on the front doorstep to come here.It is not for the weather that is for sure.

But compared to most places in the world Canada has much to offer and I would not want to live anywhere else since I know that my best chance of survival is likely this country....because it is so big.

Also if RVW is correct in his assertions about climate change Canada would likely be one of the few countries - along with Russia - that would benefit. Some coastal areas might get flooded and - according to various progniostications - we may get more severe storms but we can likely cope with that (we do now).

So I think you are quite correct in saying that Australia, Canada and Russia are the likely destinations for folks wanting to survive. However I would probably rule out Australia since it already has a desperate fresh water shortage which is only getting worse as its population grows and exceeds the capcity of the natural environment to supply fresh water. Canada on the other hand has the largest freshwater supply on earth with Russia not far behind.

The main limitation to population expansion is going to be water supply. It already is in many parts of the world and we cannot even fix that simple problem. We know how to build pumps and pipes and water treatment and desalientation plants but do we - no. Much rather watch people suffer than actually do anytyhing about it.

Perhaps I shopuld be more pessimistic but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break.

Malcolm

December, 24 2014

Richard Vesel says

There actually ARE "artificial" solutions to the population bomb:

Education, especially for 3rd world women, where a large part of the issue exists Economic advances and the accompanying technological "diversions" Voluntary birth-control and family size decisions

Birth rates are MUCH lower in vibrant economies of industrialized nations. Japan is a perfect example, and is projected to have a serious population decline over the next 50 years. They are already strongly looking at non- growth oriented economic models - an era of "sustainability" as opposed to an era of growth. I suspect they will be very innovative in their approaches to a shrinking GDP and population. They may also finally decide to admit immigrants in a very controlled way...

Mr. Keller - regarding wind in Kansas: I have worked quite a lot with Westar in the past, and would like to update you with regards to their own internal purchases of wind power, and with the demands from their customers for more renewable energy.

http://cjonline.com/news/business/2014-12-16/westar-announces-new-wind-farm-partnership

Malcolm, please read CAREFULLY: CO2 generation/recycling within the confines of the biosphere, is the foundation for most of the life on this planet. No argument there, and no reason to raise this part of the cycle as a red herring argument against limiting anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The emissions of concern are rooted in the mining of, pumping/extraction, of fossil carbon. Carbon that was long ago sequestered by nature before nearly all animal life was to appear on land. Yes, plants do well with higher levels of CO2. However, we are not exactly encouraging the reforestation of this planet, are we? Quite the opposite is true...

We are geo-engineering Earth, but not in a positive manner, as far as our progeny are concerned. Technologically, we have to collectively decide to cease large destructive practices BEFORE they pose a serious threat. Not cease overnight, but to now recognize these destructive practices for what they are BEFORE their effects are irreversible, and to approach the creation of alternative practices with some due urgency and diligence, so that we soon stop our wholesale destruction of certain natural situations and processes before what remains of humanity relegated to living in a barely tenable sterility.

Someone above mentioned that Canada might be a beneficiary of a 4-deg C gobal temperature rise. Really? Wow - Siberia, too then, eh? How about a mass migration of several billions heading to Canada, Siberia, and the Scandanavian countries. What a concept!

RWV

December, 24 2014

Richard Vesel says

Australia will NOT benefit - they are already cooking, and it's getting worse... Projection maps for temperature increases put Australia in a very bad place, and they will get there sooner than the rest of us. You might rethink after looking at a globe, and where Australia lies, latitude-wise, eh?

http://www.arpansa.gov.au/images/uvrg/uvindex_sites.gif

RWV

December, 28 2014

Richard Vesel says

Malcolm, To what "research" are you referring? Links to legitimate sources please? (i.e. no blog sites, or research performed or sponsored by fossil energy companies) RWV

April, 08 2015

Len Gould says

Boring generator/pumping tunnels through the short distance from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, then allowing lake Erie levels to fluctuate 1/2 meter (19") would provide sufficient pumped storage to back up the grids of the entire central US and Canada. Also requires flow management gates at the mouth of the Niagara river, and a superHVDC grid, all do-able (if not for the ridiculous fragmentation of US private generation industry).

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