Comments by Tom Konrad Subscribe

On Shale Gas: Not Clean, Either?

Thanks for the clarification Geoff.  I did not know the % of gas supply coming from unconventional, and assumed it was lower.

Assuming that the overall leakage numbers are accurate, you are right that it would be hard for overall leakage to fall if shale gas had a higher leakage, it would be hard for the overall number to fall with the growing contribution.

 That said, how do we know the overall leakage numbers when we basically have no idea what the leakage numbers for unconventional gas are, esp when unconventional gas accounts for more than half of production?

April 7, 2010    View Comment    

On Shale Gas: Not Clean, Either?

I do want to add that one of your statements is potentially quite deceptive, however.  You said,

 The EPA greenhouse gas inventory  indicates a more than 1/4 reduction in aggregate US CH4 emissions from natural gas systems since 1995, despite production from unconventional sources such as shale gas more than doubling in the interim. 

This is a meaningless statistic without further data.  If methane leakage from conventional drilling (the large majority of drilling and hence CH4 emissions) decreased over the period in question, methane from unconventional drilling could have more than doubled over the same period, and we still could have an overall decrease. The bottom line is that we don't know, and if you are trying to imply that methane from shale gas is insignificant, you are making the same mistake as you worry that shale gas opponents will be making, but in the opposite direction.


April 6, 2010    View Comment    

On Shale Gas: Not Clean, Either?


   I agree with everything you say, especially that these numbers are too preliminary to base assertions about the lifecycle impacts of shale gas.  I hope my post came across as asking the question,  not as an assertion (hence the question mark in the title, and the heave use of the subjunctive tense.)

   What I got out of this paper is that it's too early to assert anything about the lifecycle impact of shale gas drilling... We need to assess the impacts of shale gas leakage from shale gas, and apparently coal as well before we can say much about lifecycle emissions.

April 6, 2010    View Comment    

On The Cost of Transmission

    I agree that we could reverse the solar/nuke sentence easily. My argument for transmission mostly rests on wind, which is here and inexpensive today.  If Gen IV nukes appear, are safe, don't contaminate the environment, and are cheaper than solar, I will prefer them to solar.  I just don't think that we should do transmission planning based on hopes for any technology that's still in the lab.  Most of our planning should be based on what we know about: wind.  I think that solar is more likely to be viable than Gen IV nuclear, but I agree that it's possible to take other points of view.  A fully integrated national transmission grid will make it easier to meet national demand with wind plus either solar or nuclear.

Consider: in Wisconsin, peak demand is in the middle of the winter.  Nuclear or solar there would produce excess power in the summer, which could be sent to the Southwest, where peak demand is in the summer.

I don't have details on China's load breakdown.  I learned about the load shape at a presentation from a National Renewable Energy Lab scientist, but did not get any more details than I gave above.

January 2, 2010    View Comment    

On The Cost of Transmission

   Regarding the cost of solar, please re-read my comment: "Solar could easily become low cost before experimental nuclear does."  Current nuclear, next-gen nuclear, and solar are all currently expensive on a kWh basis, but solar shows the quickest cost reductions.

    Wind, geothermal, incremental hydropower, and biomass power are all currently cost competitive with natural gas fired generation on a per-kwh basis, and they are all cheaper than nuclear.  For third-party cost estimates, see:

     Regarding your comments about China using PHES and HVDC to support nuclear, I agree.  This is a good way to go, and said in my first comment above that "Even nuclear will benefit from transmission."   Of course nuclear benefits from transmission and storage.  So does coal.  This just shows that storage and transmission are extremely useful resources to have on an electric grid.  The only type of generation which can get by without these resources is dispatchable generation.

    Something you may not realize about China is that they have a very flat demand curve relative to the US (most of their demand is industrial, not commercial and residential) and so baseload generation such as nuclear is more suited to their grid than it is to ours.
January 2, 2010    View Comment    

On The Cost of Transmission

    We understand improved transmission far better than experimental nuclear reactors.  All the types of transmission shown in the graphs above have been built and operated at a commercial scale for decades.  Sure, careful planning for transmission is necessary, including sophisticated models, but I find it surprising that a nuclear proponent uses the need for sophisticated modeling as an argument against an investment.  Perhaps you think "Generation IV nuclear reactors" should be built using only unsophisticated models?  How comforting.

    Transmission makes up only 7% of the national transmission bill.  According to the REDI report linked to at the start of the article, no currently envisioned transmission expansion scenario would bring that to more than 10%. 

    Experimental nuclear will only be "low cost post carbon generation" when it has been proven at a commercial scale.  Until then, it's just low-cost hope.  

    For now, the only "low cost post carbon generation" sources we have are wind, geothermal, biomass, and waste-to energy.  The last three are limited in supply relative to demand, while even distributed wind  requires transmission investments.  Solar could easily become low cost before experimental nuclear does, and it too requires long distance transmission even when placed near demand.  Again, see:

While the size of the needed transmission investment is huge, is also tiny in comparison to our electric bills as a whole, and any investment in generation, be it nuclear, wind, solar, or even coal.

Regarding ERCOT, one grid expansion that would benefit not only ERCOT but the other 
January 1, 2010    View Comment    

On The Cost of Transmission

    This is not a discussion of building transmission lines to link remote renewable production to the grid, which seems to be what you are talking about.  This is a discussion of the benefits of better connections between renewable producing regions, which include both supply and load.  Such transmission produces benefits because dispersed wind and solar farms will be producing electricity at different times.  Even your pet nuclear technologies can benefit, because better connections between regions mean that demand will not fluctuate as much (as a percentage) over a broader region.

    For a much more in-depth discussion of the benefits of inter-regional connections, see  In that article I touch on the benefits both on transmission lines from the Great Plains to the midwest, and to the west coast.  Flows on such lines are likely to be bi-directional (at different times and season, often varying from hour to hour), and much higher than the simple unidirectional flows you posit in your comment.
December 31, 2009    View Comment    

On Tom Konrad: We need transmission!

   Thousands of miles of transmission lines are exactly what Texas needed in 2008... because the whole country was not experiencing the unique combination of cold temperatures and low wind experienced by Texas at the time.  

   Sure, just saving Texas from the problems from such a rare event would not justify those lines, but they would also allow Texas to help other state when they are in trouble.  And even when there is not a critical event like the one we are talking about, all states would gain from trade in electricity. 

November 26, 2009    View Comment    

On Tom Konrad: We need transmission!

Charles B, 

The problem is not long range transmission, it's a grid controlled with 100 year old technology.  A smarter grid could compensate for the disruptions you worry about by re-routing power.

In any case, my point is to show that long range transmission makes even local renewable energy more economic.  A purely local system is absurd because of the cost, so we have to find the right balance between security and affordability.

RE Nuclear, how exactly does increasing the availability of bomb-making material and radioactive waste make us more secure?
November 24, 2009    View Comment    

On Is There a Tradeoff Between Economics and the Environment?

    I agree with you as to lost economic activity IF the renewable power is significantly  higher.  However, the best CREZ sites shown are competitive with fossil fuels with wind and geothermal.  There is the further advantage that capital spending tends to be more productive in terms of economic activity than spending on fuel, and renewable energy basically substitutes capital spending for fuel spending.  See:

    So, renewable energy will probably lead to a little more economic development even if the price is *marginally* higher than that for fossil fuels.  If the price is *much* higher, however, there will be an economic cost, as there always is for wasteful spending.
November 20, 2009    View Comment    

On Managing the Peak Fossil Fuel Transition

Agreed current batteries also need technical improvement.

If you can raise the RTE of the hydrogen cycle to over 75% (comparable to batteries) by substituting gasification for electrolyisis, then hydrogen becomes excellent in a energy storage cost basis, but very expensive on a power basis.  This means that Hydrogen vehicles will be appropriate for low power, endurance applications, such as the generator on a range-extended electric vehicle, such as the Volt.  Hydrogen will probably need to be combined with a somewhat larger battery pack than used on today's hybrids, but this may indeed be a good way to replace gasoline... hydrogen from biomass is probably also has a better EROI and EIRR than most biofuels.

In other words, I think you have a point, although there remains the problem of CCS and building a hydrogen infrastructure.  The question is, which will come first (if either): better batteries, or CCS and hydrogen infrastructure.

My guess is that neither will come in time, and we'll need to stop using individual automobiles nearly as much as we currently do.
November 14, 2009    View Comment    

On Managing the Peak Fossil Fuel Transition

   Try refreshing your browser to see the new graph.
   I agree that EE is not sufficient to make the transition, but I have doubts about the hydrogen economy unless the efficiency of electrolysis can be improved.  

   I really don't think that carbon sequestration will work out on the economics, although if it does, your proposed route to a hydrogen economy makes more sense than electrolysis.

The Round trip efficiency of changing electricity into hydrogen and back into electricity via electrolyzers and fuel cells is below 50% as shown in the bubble graph above.  I think taking the same electricity and charging batteries in an EV will work much better.  Hydrogen may be twice as efficient as gasoline today, but batteries are four times as efficient.

Your gasification + carbon sequestration route to hydrogen will improve things over electrolyzers, and that may make hydrogen competitive with batteries. But batteries (and electrolyzers for that matter)  have additional advantages in the ability to smooth out fluctuating electricity supply from variable sources such as wind and solar that will probably lead them to win the day.  Batteries also have the advantage of being existing commercial technology, while sequestration is much earlier in the technology cycle (same argument as above regarding advanced nuclear.)

But I could be wrong, and I'll be happy if we get either one: my batteries or your hydrogen.
November 13, 2009    View Comment