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On China's Continuing Renewable Energy Revolution

I am puzzled by Tan's claim that I misrpresent his views. 

His Ecologist article claims: "The growth of [China's] electric power system – that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country – is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels.’"  His own Figure 8 shows that this claim is incorrect, even including hydro; fossil edged out renewable power additions in 2013. If we take hydro out, which accounts for half of China's "renewable" power additions, Tan agrees with me in his Figure 7 that new China fossil additions in 2013 edged out modern renewables (wind and solar) by more than three fold.

Why take hydro out? The large scale hydro projects of the type China is building -- such as the Three Gorges Dam mega-complex, with their myriad ecological and social effects, and even greenhouse gas emissions (from impoundement methane) -- is hardly what people think of when they think of "renewables" and is not cause for celebration and is arguably unsustainable at current levels of scale-up. Nor does it represent some kind of new environmental or industrial policy commitment by the Chinese, as Tan implies; China hydro additions have been steady since the mid-1990's, not an era anyone asociates with environmental epiphanies by the Chinese leadership. By lumping the tail end of an older and ecologically insensitive large scale hydro building program in with modern renewables, Tan confuses the issue. 

In any case, Tan misses the fundamental point of my blog, which was not to say that modern renewables are not being added to the China system in large numbers, which is a good thing, but that the fossil momentum is still substantial and will require serious attention to CCS.  Notwithstanding that new renewables may be growing as a share of new power, fossil additions are projected to continue in absolute numbers. While the percentage of coal in the Chinese power mix may plateau in the 50% range by 2030, the absolute amount of coal power is projected to grow well beyond that time. And it is the actual coal carbon -- not percentages -- that will damage climate unless we apply a CCS solution.

I encourage interested readers to read my blog -- http://theenergycollective.com/armondcohen/330961/coal-renewables-and-china-headlines-and-bottom-lines -- rather than Tan's characterization of it.

 

April 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Coal, Renewables, and China: Headlines and Bottom Lines

Josh -- I see that Bloomberg says 12 GW but the China government website. says 3.6 GW. I assume China's government wouldn't have reason to understate. I'll go with the China government numbers for now but will investigate,

January 27, 2014    View Comment    

On Peak Coal in China, or Long and High Plateau?

Ned,

With respect to your statement, "Let's make an important distinction between CCS and enhanced oil recovery (EOR).  EOR doesn't produce oil that would be produced anyways.  It produces oil that is unlikely to be "recovered" without the emissions" -- there is substantal evidence to the contrary. Elasticities of suply are reasonably strong and OPEC producers have historically tended to compensate for new supply with reduced production; there is a substantial literature on this point. Given the significant amount of CO2 needed to produce one barrel of oil, the carbon balances look negatve on most scenarios. Even if that weren't the case, EOR is very useful as a transition phase to commercialize CCS; the ultimate payoff is in the paying down of the infrastructure for capture, transport and injection into saline aquifers, which exist below EOR fields and other locations.

Your second point -- "For real CCS the capital cost plus the energy penalty (the energy needed to compress the gas to a liquid, which is necessary to get it into a stable formation is about 70% of the cost of a new coal plant.  (about 40% and 35% respectively).  Given this, wind and PV are likely to be cheaper than retrofitting new or old coal plants" -- is not supported by the evidence, except in the case of onshore wind. For example, the latest EIA AEO 2013 pegs even greenfield coal CCS at a lower cost than PV, solar thermal and offshore wind; retrofit will be less expensive. See http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/er/electricity_generation.cfm.  This is also true if you look at it from the standpoint of carbon abatement costs.  See  http://www.catf.us/resources/factsheets/files/CO2_Abatement_cost_comparison.pdf.  Unless you believe 25-35% capacity factor onshore wind can replace all coal and gas plant electricity production in China and globally (with some kind of zero carbon storage replacing natural gas load following), or that solar PV at < 20% capacity factor will do so, taking CCS (or nuclear) out of the running crimps your chances for a zero carbon energy system.  I wouldn't take that bet.

Finally, you attrbute great opportunity for further decreases in the cost of wind and PV, while not allowing for similar potental with CCS.  There is in fact a solid literature showing substantial learning curves on abatement technology and large thermal plant construction.


Armond

Armond

October 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Peak Coal in China, or Long and High Plateau?

Nathaniel -- These issues are alluded to in the reports but not quantified. The water issue is serious, but not a showstopper for thermal power. Dry cooling and water recycling technolgies are commercially in place on thermal plants worldwide. They cost more, but coal power is so cheap relative to other options in China that, should the Chinese become seriously concerned about water supply, these technolgies can be added without hugely affecting unabated coal's relative economic position, sadly.

October 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Peak Coal in China, or Long and High Plateau?

Robert --

With respect to your first point, I am well aware of the higher thermal efficiency of the new SCPCs and USCPCs; whether Bloomberg or Citi took them into account is not clear, as their reports tend to be opaque on assumptions. That said, if the plants' actual efficiencies are higher than assumed, this would tend to INCREASE rather than DECREASE the reports' estimated amount of coal TWh -- although, as you properly note, less coal and CO2 per TWh would result. The offsetting factors could be a wash and, as you say, it hardly matters, as the CO2 levels are so high in either case.

I disagree with your second statement that CCS is not commercially in play.   Large, integrated CCS projects began in the United States in the 1970 and 1980s at industrial facilities where CO2 was sold for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).  These facilities still operate, capturing between 1 million and 5 million tons of CO2 each year, depending on the plant. From this beginning at industrial facilities, CCS has migrated to power plants where it can reduce CO2 emissions by greater than 90%.  Plant Barry in Alabama is already capturing and storing its carbon in a demonstration project. SaskPower is adding CCS technology to an existing pulverized coal plant at Boundary Dam that will capture 90% of its emissions (1 million tons/year) for EOR and deep saline storage.  Start up of the CCS plant will begin later this year and be fully operational in the spring of 2014.  Southern Company's 582 MW Plant Radcliffe in Kemper County, Mississippi is set to open early next year and will capture 65% of its emissions and store them deep underground.  Outside Odessa, Texas, Summit Power's Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP) is expected to break ground later this year, and will turn coal into base load power, fertilizer and capture 90% of its CO2 emissions and pipeline them down the road to depleted oil fields for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), with the CO2 remaining permanently underground.   So to say "all [CCS] projects have stopped" is incorrect.

I have admired your writing on advanced nuclear, and hope you will be a little more careful when you address this companion carbon mitigation option.

 

Armond

 

October 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Peak Coal in China, or Long and High Plateau?

Robert --

With respect to your first point, I am well aware of the higher thermal efficiency of the new SCPCs and USCPCs; whether Bloomberg or Citi took them into account is not clear, as their reports tend to be opaque on assumptions. That said, if the plants' actual efficiencies are higher than assumed, this would tend to INCREASE rather than DECREASE the reports' estimated amount of coal TWh -- although, as you properly note, less coal and CO2 per TWh would result. The offsetting factors could be a wash and, as you say, it hardly matters, as the CO2 levels are so high in either case.

I disagree with your second statement that CCS is not commercially in play.   Large, integrated CCS projects began in the United States in the 1970 and 1980s at industrial facilities where CO2 was sold for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).  These facilities still operate, capturing between 1 million and 5 million tons of CO2 each year, depending on the plant. From this beginning at industrial facilities, CCS has migrated to power plants where it can reduce CO2 emissions by greater than 90%.  Plant Barry in Alabama is already capturing and storing its carbon in a demonstration project. SaskPower is adding CCS technology to an existing pulverized coal plant at Boundary Dam that will capture 90% of its emissions (1 million tons/year) for EOR and deep saline storage.  Start up of the CCS plant will begin later this year and be fully operational in the spring of 2014.  Southern Company's 582 MW Plant Radcliffe in Kemper County, Mississippi is set to open early next year and will capture 65% of its emissions and store them deep underground.  Outside Odessa, Texas, Summit Power's Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP) is expected to break ground later this year, and will turn coal into base load power, fertilizer and capture 90% of its CO2 emissions and pipeline them down the road to depleted oil fields for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), with the CO2 remaining permanently underground.   So to say "all [CCS] projects have stopped" is incorrect.

I have admired your writing on advanced nuclear, and hope you will be a little more careful when you address this companion carbon mitigation option.

 

Armond

 

October 11, 2013    View Comment