Thursday, December 27, 2012

We'll Never Get to Where We Need to be This Way….


 The above graph (static version) is from the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) (see http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/tablebrowser/) a part of the US Department of Energy (DOE). It displays the anticipated energy output from a set of renewable energy systems, based on the real data up to 2011, coupled with the best estimates of what is likely from EIA experts. The EIA gathers lots of important statistics and makes them available to the public, and a tiny portion of the EIA does future estimations of energy consumption and energy production, as well as estimates of how much this energy will be priced at. It is the prognostication part of the EIA, which has a lot of influence in the US and world economy (especially with their "cousin", the International Energy Agency (IEA) that we need to concern ourselves with (great, more stuff to worry about...).

This graph tells a really sad tale - basically, this assumes we surrender to the inevitability of Global Warming, and decide to do essentially nothing about it. The "Other Renewable Energy" category is composed of the following - electricity from landfill gas, biogenic municipal waste (biogas), wind, PV and solar thermal, as well as the heat from active and passive solar. The energy units are quadrillions of British Thermal Units per year (Quads). For reference, in 2010 the US made an average of 29.34 GW electricity from hydropower (257,052 GW-hr/yr, from http://www.eia.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/hydroelec/hydroelec.html,  or 2.98 Quads, as there are 9.84 GW per Quad). Most of that "other renewables" is composed of wind turbine sourced electricity - about 84% in 2010. In 2012, this is likely to be close to 90% wind turbine based.

So what is seen in this top graph is pretty much the end of new additions of DELIVERED renewable electricity (MW-hr/yr) at the end of 2012 in the US (the end of the PTC/ITC incentives which, with the MACRS tax avoidance subsidy, allows wind sourced electricity to be sold at "grid prices" of between 3.5 c/kw-hr to 4.5 c/kw-hr). This leads to horrible graphs like the one below (actual or estimated CO2 pollutant emissions per year for the next 25 years). While on the positive side at least the CO2 pollution rate does not increase, it does not decrease, either, at least to any significant extent.


This is a disaster, climate wise, because if the US persists in powering up in such a reckless manner, much of the world will not change their evil ways and evil trends (in the climatic sense), either - notably China and India (it is assumed that Europe will continue onwards with its renewable energy trend). And if there is more CO2 put into the atmosphere than is taken out by dissolution into the oceans (as is the present case), then CO2 concentrations will continue to INCREASE at a rate of between 2 to 3 ppm/yr, at least. And if CO2 concentrations just stay constant, things will keep going from bad to worse. But, if CO2 concentrations INCREASE, well, "worser" will come faster, and at an accelerating rate, too. Uggh!!!!

But, this fast trip to more or less permanent weather disaster (floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes more severe, more common, and pretty much the extinction of most trees in the western part of the US due to forest fires that can't be brought under control due to super-intensive droughts, and then coastal flooding to beat the band) is only made a more likely event through the inability to install more renewables. And in this piece of EIA science fiction (a nasty, dystopian version, too), electricity from polluting sources is made possible to the exclusion of all else via cheap natural gas, which keeps coal prices ALSO cheap.


Right now, fracking provides about 30% of the 24 trillion cubic feet per year (tcfy) (see http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9736#more) we use in this country. Four years ago, that was less than 5% of the US Ngas supply. Fracking was not chosen as methane source because it is cheap; it is about 5 to 10 times more costly than conventional methane extraction approaches. But, those conventional sources are rapidly depleting, and these presently cannot supply 24 tcfy in the US - only about 16 tcfy. Prices need to be in the $10/MBtu range, at least for tracking based Ngas, to justify the average added risks and costs, and due to the way the natural gas market is structured in this country, almost ALL natural gas gets this price if any gas gets that price, even the stuff from old conventional fields which is incredibly cheap to produce. To maintain a consumption rate of at least 24 tcfy without resorting to imports (why go to the US when Ngas in Europe goes for $11/MBtu and $16/MBtu in Japan…), MORE Ngas has to come from fracking over the next decade, not less.

But most tracking wells are losing money at present prices (this week the spot price (Henry Hub) is around $3.30/MBtu, though a small minority of prolific fracking Ngas wells are profitable at these prices. If the average tracking well needs $8.30/MBtu and is only getting $3.30/MBtu, this loss (8 tcfy * $5/kcf = $40 billion/yr) is projected to last for at least 10 years, but it will rise to $80 billion/yr (16 tcfy from tracking). This scenario of cheap fracking sourced Ngas just does not compute…

Cheap Ngas also begets cheap coal prices. Cheap coal and Ngas prices lead to low cost electricity, and increased electricity usage (why bother being efficient, since it is SO cheap…..). And cheap electricity from pollution based fossil fuels prevents renewables from providing increasing amounts of electricity that also result in less CO2 pollution. Such trends are exemplified in this graph:


 And with effectively no jobs in the manufacture of renewable energy systems when the wind turbine installation rate is effectively zero, there is unlikely to be any economic rationale to make more renewable energy systems, and specially the most cost effective ones, commercial scale wind turbines (made so by the incredible US wind resources). And above all, there will be no POLITICAL drive to keep the 75,000 now employed in the wind biz and the up to 1 million people who COULD BE employed in this sector of the economy. Or all the people who would be employed by the 75,000 or if the 1 million people WERE employed in the wind biz.

So there is a lot involved in the climate nightmare that is a logical conclusion of the EIA forecast of the end of the wind biz (as shown in the top graph) and of significant new renewable energy DELIVERED to our country (remember, capacity to make electricity is not the same as electricity made). For the time being, almost all renewable energy made that is not biomass or hydropower sourced is wind sourced - PV has a negligible effect on prices and is no threat to Ngas consumption, nor does it exert any significant downward effect on electricity and especially Ngas prices. But wind turbines do such things, and that is why a lot of effort is being directed to kill off this young industry before it spreads and does some serious good with respect to employment, economic activity, real wealth creation and CO2 pollution mitigation. Maybe you should take up this obtuse issue (EIA future energy trends with respect to renewable energy) with your elected officials. Or better yet, do something about why pollution based energy gets loads of subsidies, but the wind biz should either get none (and thus go extinct), some (like the bizarre but better than nothing PTC) or else a sane pricing system that does note NEED tax avoidance subsidies like Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) or at least the less effective than FIT mandatory quota systems, which at least DO work.

Your world (got another one - yeah right, not too likely), and your choice (well, you and a lot of others, and maybe not much chance of affecting things much, either, but what's the alternative?). As Quicksilver Messenger Service  famously stated "Whatcha gonna do?"(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ-O4HsP_-o), well, that's also a good question about both our economy and what we want to do about our electricity supply. Our future ahead may be a rough ride, but why make it worse by putting the peddle to the metal with respect to CO2 pollution and its result, Global Warming? Why not at least try to make the world a better place? Why settle for the doom that  is this EIA vision of horror? And hey, maybe there needs to be some proverbial kicking of butt in the EIA? Let's start with the upper management: http://www.eia.gov/about/senior_executive_bios.cfm

BTW, this (see picture below) is the one of the main ways that we can have a sane and functional climate in the near future and still have electricity at a significant scale and quantity. Without these (and lots of these), we can have electricity but not a sane climate. And with 7+ billion people in the world, achieving a sane climate but without sufficient access to energy is probably not a good space to be in. And this is why the top graph represents such a really bad idea..... and why this image below represents a much better alternative..


from http://renews.biz/wp-content/assets/Vestas-v100-wind-turbine1.jpg





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