Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: As some people, including most notably the Prime Minister of Canada, are confused about greenhouse gas emissions, both during production of electricity and during transportation, I feel that it is time to write a quick blog about this. I will focus mostly on CO2 emissions, which are believed to be the predominant greenhouse emissions driving global warming, even though the effect of methane (CH4) emissions on warming are roughly 20 times as potent (see edf.org, greenplanet.org, and Scientific American), and some other industrially produced gases that are ubiquitous in modern life are yet exponentially more potent.
CO2 Emitted during Electricity Production
Electricity is produced in several ways, including from coal burning power plants, nuclear fueled steam power plants, to windmills and hydropower. Comparing the average amount of CO2 emitted during electricity production by each of these methods (Fig. 1), we see that, by far, coal burning power plants are the worst ways to produce electricity.
What is obvious in Fig. 1 is that burning stuff to make electricity is the most carbon intensive means of doing so. Secondly, if the world really wants to make a fast reduction in CO2 emissions, it needs to quickly switch from coal burning to gas burning. I say this because even though every technology to the right of Biomass is very low carbon technology, none of those, save perhaps nuclear and wind, are available in sufficient quantities in the short term to supplant electricity produced by coal, while gas is immediately available and of sufficient quantity to make a really big impact fast.
CO2 Emitted during Passenger Travel
Comparing amount of CO2 emitted per passenger per mile traveled yields Figure 2.
It should be noted that the amount of CO2 produced varies a bit by distance travelled because of such things as airplane take-offs. During take-offs, airplanes are at max power and max CO2 output, but once cruising are sipping fuel, and, thus, CO2 emissions fall. For longer trips CO2 emissions per passenger per mile decrease, but not of sufficient amount to move airplanes further to the right in Fig. 2. For almost any travel, an airplane is the worst way to go. Worse yet is going by private jet.
So what can be done quickly to reduce CO2 output, save the earth and make money doing it? Burn less coal and burn more gas, while providing opportunities for the other clean power technologies to grow and flourish.
For transport, as Greta Thunberg has shown, fly less, and get people out of large cars into smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. This will work in Europe and Asia with their superb rail networks and preference for more fuel efficient vehicles and nascent surge of interest in EVs. But America needs to catch up, with its limited rail network and where folks still prefer to drive a big truck or SUV for solitary commuting and the occasional bag of groceries. It’s a bit more complicated than that though, but Americans for the most part still prefer displays of conspicuous consumption rather than building financial security. All other things being equal then, if time is no worry, travelling by train and by bus is the way to go. Most importantly, don’t fly by private jet.
How Are Countries Faring with Reducing CO2 Emissions?
It was the best of governments and the worst of governments: A time of pomp and vanity, versus resolve and obstinacy. It is Canada versus the United States in terms of CO2 gas emissions. While we’ve just entered 2020, the most current data that I can find for both nations is up until 2018. Fig. 3 compares the per capita CO2 emissions between Canada and the United States.
A few things are surprising. Firstly, since 2005, the year of the Paris Accord to reduce GHG emissions including CO2, the United States has decreased per capita CO2 emissions by 17.6% while Canada has only been able to achieve a reduction of 7.0%. The second thing is that by 2015 the United States passed Canada in lower CO2 emissions. Surely the data must be wrong? The data is not wrong.
In the United States, the big reduction in CO2 emissions has come about mainly by replacing coal fired power plants with gas turbine power plants. Some additional reductions in CO2 have been achieved by better vehicle fuel economy and other efficiency gains in using power in the economy. Going forward, the rapidly expanding wind and solar power plants in the U.S. will start eating into the gas turbine power supply, and we can confidently expect further reductions in CO2 emissions per capita. All this in spite of an administration in Washington that is keen on supporting coal and hostile towards alternative fuels. Yet in spite of this hostility, in the United States, utilities have realized that gas and renewables are now the lowest cost and most profitable means to supply power.
Compare this then to Canada, which since 2015 has been governed by a Liberal, neo-communist government that champions environmentalism and green energy. Why then can’t Canada achieve similar reductions as that greedy, capitalist state to the south? Well, therein is a big part of the answer.
Vive l’Alberta Libre!
P.S. It is very likely that CO2 emissions per capita in Canada have climbed even higher in 2019. Last December the Federal Liberal Government in Canada released, then quickly removed from public access, its annual GHG emissions report. If CO2 emissions have climbed higher, then expect the Liberal Government to increase carbon taxes to try to hammer CO2 emissions down. Instead it will be Canadians that in the long run will be hammered – the chocolate rations have been increased and the carbon emissions have decreased – until Canada’s utopia equals Ingsoc on all levels.
P.P.S. Forthcoming blogs:
It’s a new year and a new decade and time to make a bold prediction regarding developments in the energy industry and associated transportation industry. The last few years have been a wild ride for electrical vehicles (EVs) with Tesla continuously in the headlines. Will Tesla go bankrupt? Will Tesla change the way the world views automobiles? Is Tesla stock a good buy at $250/share (2019) or $550 (2020)? But other automakers have made their own headlines: Jaguar began sales of its iPace EV, Volkswagen began sales of its eTron, and Ford introduced its Mustang Mach-E. A prediction concerning EVs is warranted, but OWOE is going to go beyond EVs and make a prediction concerning the broader automobile industry: Within this next decade one of the three US legacy car makers will cease to exist.(more…)
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: If the world wants to move quickly to a lot of renewable energy, then maybe money laundering is the key to getting it done.
It’s been well known for some time that money laundering is a significant driver in real estate ( see theweek.com and boingboing.net) Such shenanigans with real estate began way back in the 1980s in Florida, with cocaine cowboys literally knocking on home-owners’ doors and offering cash for homes at above market value. From there, it moved to California, Hong Kong and Dubai, Vancouver, and of course London…until a large chunk of high-end real estate was infected somewhat by illicit money. There are of course other means to launder money. Cash flow businesses such as restaurants or car washes have also been havens, i.e., anything that can provide a large, difficult to trace production output and revenues versus costs and volumes of input: Was that 1lb of pasta used to make 5 dishes or 6?(more…)
With the news that this past July was the hottest month on earth since record keeping 140 years ago, satellite images of the Amazon and State of California burning, the most powerful hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida, carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere rising again to near record levels after a brief leveling, and Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s stirring call to action while staring down both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, climate change has been a hot topic in 2019. While the scientific community remains nearly 100% aligned that global warming is driven by the burning of fossil fuels, a relatively small, yet powerful, group of naysayers fights the science. Who are these very powerful people, and why do they fight? One common characteristic – they are mostly baby boomers = the generation of Americans with an insatiable appetite for consumption and a strong resistance to change.(more…)
Guest Blog by S. A. Shelley: In the matter of the transition to renewable energy, there are some nations and governments which do it quite well, e.g., Denmark, some that don’t appear to care, e.g. the US, and then there’s Canada. Canada claims to be very concerned about the environment and about the need to dramatically cut carbon emissions and transition quickly to a fossil-fuel-free economy. However, it has failed on a number of fronts and will most likely continue to fail.(more…)
Every week seems to bring another attack by the Trump Administration against laws and regulations that have been instituted by prior administrations to protect the environment and fight climate change. The most recent is the campaign to deny California the right to set stricter automobile emissions standards than federal limits. It has caused yet another uproar among environmentalists and liberals and glee among climate change deniers and conservatives and will undoubtedly lead to many years of legal battles. But what is reality? In fact, this move, and all the others, are just meaningless actions that do little more than pander to the Administration’s fossil fuel campaign contributors and excite the hardcore Republican base ahead of the upcoming elections. The reality is that technology and market forces are driving the world inexorably and at an increasing pace toward a renewable energy future, despite the last-ditch efforts of the President and his supporters. Let’s look at some of the higher profile actions.(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: No doubt about it, the world runs on energy (and money). Nearly 80% of all the world’s energy is still provided by coal, oil and gas though this fossil fuel proportion of the energy mix is now shrinking and in just under 10 years, the world’s energy mix will look markedly different. I hope that in addition to coal, oil and gas the OWOE reader is familiar with some of the other large energy sources such as nuclear, wind, solar, hydro and wave. Here at OWOE we try to bring useful and relevant knowledge and ideas about energy to the reader, and one big potential and virtually zero carbon energy source that has been overlooked by a lot of people including the OWOE bloggers is geothermal energy. Well no more. After a bit of research this OWOE blogger has gone gung-ho for geo for good reason.(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: The amount of energy consumed to light our modern civilization would surprise most people. In the not too distant past, residential and commercial lighting consumed about 20% of all electricity produced. Basically, every fifth coal, nuclear or gas turbine power plant built was used to just to light cities, factories and homes. However, since the advent of the LED, there has been a remarkable drop in the amount of electrical power required to light our modern world. Depending upon where you live and work, recent data suggests that residential and commercial lighting now consumes only between 7% to 12.5% of all the electricity produced. That’s a drop in energy consumption for lighting by almost 1% per year over the last 10 years. The good news is that the energy for lighting continues to decline and will only get better as more LED lighting replaces inefficient technologies (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2).(more…)
Guest blog by SA Shelley: I try to avoid writing about oil too often for three reasons: 1) the oil markets are well observed by more than enough highly paid analysts, 2) the changes in energy technology and distribution are more interesting (and still largely misunderstood by highly paid analysts) and 3) I try to build anticipation for my oil industry supply and demand blog in January of each year. But because of some recent peculiarities that have arisen in the oil markets, a short blog about oil now seems warranted.(more…)
SA Shelley, WH Luyties: OWOE is a small site, with just a few dedicated and experienced staff who follow energy technologies, economics and policies. Occasionally, OWOE bloggers dare to forecast energy developments that tend to be contrarian, and, much to everyone’s surprise, they have been very good at forecasting trends correctly and ahead of much larger analytical organizations. Are we that good at more quickly analyzing publicly available information along with some insight and soft analysis? Or do we have access to the dark arts such as whiskey and voodoo?(more…)