Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: A long, long time ago in a land far, far to the north, during a training class the instructor told a parable of twelve donuts. Eat one, you are not full; eat two, still not full. But eat all to the twelfth and you will be full. So why not just eat the twelfth donut? Because in all forms of reality, one must make a series of steps to achieve one’s goals. So it is with the energy transition; you have to have several steps and can’t just jump to the last one (candlelit cave dwelling organic farming for all).
Thus, I am saddened by the many Social Justice Warriors (SJWs), especially the most righteous ones in Canada, who demand that all forms of fossil fuel consumption must cease immediately in order for the planet (peoplekind) to survive. That won’t work without instantly throwing society into chaos and jeopardizing peoplekind of all genders, creeds and irrationalities. To achieve the goals of energy transition, one needs a vision and a path, a series of attainable steps. One must also work with existing technology while developing new technologies. A significant first step can be using natural gas as a transition fuel to replace more intense carbon emitting technologies. Natural gas must not be so quickly dismissed by intersectional SJW saboteurs.
Burning Natural Gas for Power Instead of Coal will Cut CO2 Emissions by a Lot (Step 1)
As noted in a prior OWOE blog, the big reason that CO2 emissions have fallen in the U.S. is that coal power plants are being rapidly replaced with gas power plants (which in turn are begin chased out of business by wind turbine and solar power plants). To produce 1 kWh of energy by burning coal produces about 820 grams of CO2 emissions, while burning gas produces about 490 grams of CO2. That’s a CO2 reduction of 40% using gas instead of coal. In 2018, approximately 26% of all the world’s energy was provided by burning coal, and burning gas provided another 23% of the world’s energy (Fig. 1).
In 2018, the world used about 1.61E14 kWh of energy of which coal provided about 4.18E13 KWH and gas provided another 3.70E13 KWh. Calculating how much CO2 was produced by burning coal or gas to supply that energy yields the values in Fig. 2. The combined total in 2018 was about 52,000,000 million tonnes. That’s a lot. But notice that for almost the same amount of energy produced, burning coal emitted almost twice as much CO2 as burning gas.
Now consider that a rational society replaces every coal power plant with a gas plant. The same amount of power could then be produced while reducing CO2 emissions by 13,800,000 tonnes, approx 26% (Fig. 3).
By 2030 the world needs to reduce CO2 emissions by about 23.5 million tonnes in order to stop further global warming. Ergo, using existing technology and swapping out all coal power plants with gas power plants will put us over half way there to meeting this lower CO2 emissions target. Step 1 – no more coal power, use gas instead.
Who Still Uses Coal Power Plants?
With absolute certainty, the number one coal power nation in the world is China, followed much farther back by India and the U.S. (Fig. 4).
The U.S. is rapidly closing coal power plants, Germany is phasing out coal and South Korea is phasing out coal and nuclear. But the elephant on the planet is China. China needs help. China needs LNG imports from Australia, Qatar, Canada (I joke) and piped gas from Russia.
When protesters in Canada shut down LNG projects and gas pipelines, they really are doing more harm to the world than whatever good they intend. More about Canadian energy follies in an upcoming blog.
Gas Plus Hydrogen (Step 2)
In the Orkney Islands, excess renewable energy is being used to generate hydrogen which can then be distributed in existing gas networks. Adding hydrogen, produced using renewable energy, can further significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Firms are developing facilities to produce and supply green hydrogen to the international marketplace. In Australia, the technology to export hydrogen to Japan is being developed, and the world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier (ship) launched just a couple of months ago. Step 2 – blend green hydrogen into existing gas networks.
What Next (Steps 3 and 4)?
Using gas, the world has a technologically doable and quick means to start reducing CO2 emissions. A gas turbine power plant can be built in months and there is a supply glut of natural gas on the world markets that makes gas very cheap and very available now and for quite some time to come. Add some geothermal power (Step 3) and even more CO2 emissions can be cut or avoided using existing technology. But what comes next?
Solar and wind energy are Step 4. In the U.S. we’re already seeing that both these forms of renewable energy are now cheaper than gas power. Globally, developers routinely speak of hundred mega-watt solar power plants, and wind farms, on land or offshore, are already in the GW size range.
What’s Still Missing (Step 5)?
Large scale, long duration means of storing energy for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow is still missing from the solution. Presently, there are two approaches to solving this, grid scale batteries or micro-scale batteries (Tesla Power Walls, or equivalent ). For longer term storage durations of weeks or seasons, energy storage using hydrogen can fulfill a critical role, though a bit more research and development needs to be completed before hydrogen technology is ready for widespread applications. In 2017, personnel from OWOE and VLO spoke with Shell about linking renewables and hydrogen and since then have been happy to see the progress that Shell is achieving toward hydrogen technology. Step 5 – develop energy storage technology, including hydrogen.
The world is undergoing a change in energy production and consumption. It remains to be seen whether new power replicates industrial scale grid applications, such as in the OECD nations, or whether networked micro-grids, such as those popping up in non-OECD nations, will be the best solution in the long run. It’s a question of grid down (Ma Bell) with homeowners paying or networked up (ISPs) with homeowners selling.
Vive l’Alberta Libre!
P.S. My apologies for using 2018 data, as this is the most recent free data available. Most publicly available energy data lags by about one year and is published in late fall or in early winter of the following year. If any OWOE reader would like to share more current data, we would be very grateful.