No Minister

Energy Charades

A previous post, Energy Realities, showed in clear, graphical detail, the status of energy production and consumption, both globally and for two key nations; the USA and China.

In this post I’ll link to a number of detailed reports, all published recently, that provide more context to the graphs presented in that previous post.

But first there are a number of points about the current energy situation that can be taken from those graphs and their data:

  • As of 2019, almost thirty years after the Kyoto Treaty was signed, the world still overwhelmingly relies on fossil fuels for its energy needs, from electricity production to transport, to the tune of 87%.
  • Renewable energy forms a small percentage of global energy, and the majority of that is traditional biomass and hydro.
  • Nuclear power forms an even smaller fraction.
  • In the USA, fossil fuel dominance is at 80%, even as coal has fallen to about 11% of total energy production.
  • Despite this, the USA’s CO2 emissions per person is 18% less than it was in 1949 and 50% less than the peak in 1973.
  • China’s coal production has exploded in the last twenty years by a factor of almost 400%.
  • The efficiency of wind power is very low, with actual output being a small fraction of installed capacity, and often falling to zero. The same is true of solar power.

So let’s look at some of the reports from just this year alone that explain those graphs, noting that fossil fuels already generate 86% of China’s primary energy consumption.

China’s 2020 coal output rises to highest since 2015:

The world’s biggest coal miner and consumer produced 3.84 billion tonnes of coal in 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday.

China’s new coal power plant capacity in 2020:

China put 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, according to new international research, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world

Including decommissions, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity rose by a net 29.8 GW in 2020

There’s more to come:

China will invest more in coal to power its economy over the next five years, according to a government plan released Friday that only modestly increased renewable ambitions.

Two specific reports on that.

China’s Economy Is Based on Fossil Fuels:

China plans to build 250 gigawatts of coal-fired generating capacity to add to its current coal-fired fleet of over 1,000 gigawatts—more coal-fired capacity than the entire U.S. generating fleet. Last year, China opened the $30 billion Haoji Railway line, a 2,000-kilometer (1,243-mile) conduit to haul 200 million tons of coal a year directly from central coal mining basins to regions in the southeast.

The Chinese gap between Green and coal:

China approved the construction of a further 36.9 GW of coal-fired capacity last year, three times more than a year earlier, bringing the total under construction to 88.1 GW. It now has 247 GW of coal power under development, enough to supply the whole of Germany.

It’s sad to see in that last article, the claim being made that China is still holding to its commitment for reaching peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and the claim that these coal plants will become stranded assets, even as those actual figures are shown. Nobody, not even in infrastructure investment-mad China, would be stupid enough to build assets costing tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars that will be “stranded” within a decade. These things are built for thirty to forty years of life.

And it’s not just China.

Asia snubs IEA’s call to stop new fossil fuel investments:

Asian energy officials on Wednesday disputed the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) call for no new oil, natural gas and coal investments for the world to be able to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, viewing that approach as too narrow.

Europe turns to coal-fired generation as gas prices rise:

Europe is so short of natural gas that the continent — usually seen as the poster child for the global fight against emissions — is turning to coal to meet electricity demand that is now back to pre-pandemic levels.

Coal usage in the continent jumped 10% to 15% this year after a colder- and longer-than-usual winter left gas storage sites depleted

The return of coal is a setback for Europe ahead of the climate talks in Glasgow later this year. Leaders of the world’s biggest economies failed to set a firm date to end coal burning at the meeting of the Group of Seven at the weekend in Cornwall, U.K.

I assume this means the EU will be giving Poland less shit about its refusal to trash 65% of its energy supply as they attempt to recover from four decades of Communism and reach the wealth levels of the Western EU nations.

INDIA – Coal projected to be its largest source of power in 2040.

Coal is projected to remain the largest single source of electricity in India in 2040, according to Michelle Manook, Chief Executive, World Coal Association.

You would expect such a person to make such a claim, but their energy minister sounds like he’s backing it up, according to the BBC:

India lambasted the richer world’s carbon cutting plans, calling long term net zero targets, “pie in the sky.” Their energy minister said poor nations want to continue using fossil fuels and the rich countries “can’t stop it”.

As a result the following analysis is probably right on the money:

The world’s coal producers are currently planning as many as 432 new mine projects with 2.28 billion tonnes of annual output capacity, research published on Thursday showed, putting targets for slowing global climate change at risk.

China, Australia, India and Russia account for more than three quarters of the new projects, according to a study by U.S. think-tank Global Energy Monitor. China alone is now building another 452 million tonnes of annual production capacity, it said.

More stranded assets I guess!

You need to understand that the developing world is not simply being obstructive in all this. It’s not just that they need to develop their economies fast and that fossil fuels will power the way forward just as it did the West, it’s also the simple fact that renewable energy cannot do the job because of its inefficiency and base load instability, both a result of laws of physics that cannot be avoided, no matter how low the cost of wind turbines and solar panels fall.

Moreover, these nations are beginning to notice some of the problems arising in Western nations and regions that have pushed hard into renewable energy. Some more headlines:

GERMANY – Chipmakers lament high taxes and levies on electricity:

“The high electricity price makes the location unattractive,” Christoph von Plotho, head of chip supplier Siltronic, told Handelsblatt. Another main reason were high personnel costs in Germany. At the same time, a spokesperson of Germany’s largest semiconductor producer Infineon told Handelsblatt that a secure power supply without fluctuations was also a major factor in keeping production in Germany and Europe.

That comes after Germany has spent twenty years and some 500 million Euros in its Energiewende program to build a wind and solar power system. This has resulted in a huge amount of installed capacity that just does not produce and actually requires the old power system to continue beside it:

In 2000, Germany had an installed capacity of 121 gigawatts and it generated 577 terawatt-hours… In 2019, the country produced just 5 percent more (607 TWh), but its installed capacity was 80 percent higher (218.1 GW)

The new system, using intermittent power from wind and solar, accounted for 110 GW, nearly 50 percent of all installed capacity in 2019, but operated with a capacity factor of just 20 percent. (That included a mere 10 percent for solar, which is hardly surprising, given that large parts of the country are as cloudy as Seattle.)

The old system stood alongside it, almost intact, retaining nearly 85 percent of net generating capacity in 2019. Germany needs to keep the old system in order to meet demand on cloudy and calm days and to produce nearly half of total demand. In consequence, the capacity factor of this sector is also low.

The average cost of electricity for German households has doubled since 2000.

All this has not been helped by their insane decision to shut down nuclear plants. The result is that coal still generates some 37% of electricity and Germany has missed its CO2 emission reduction targets. This won’t get better either:

Germany’s solar farms will have to be rebuilt every 15-25 years. The wind farms will need to be rebuilt every 20-25 years.

Higher investment costs, higher running costs, both short and long-term, resulting in more expensive electricity – and all to deliver poorer CO2 reductions than the USA, which has done nothing nationwide like the acclaimed Energiewende.

But while the USA has largely relied on switching from coal to gas for generating electricity (thanks frackers) , California has been another of these “Green Energy leaders” – and the results are the same, Blackouts Loom in California as Electricity Prices Are ‘Absolutely Exploding:

Two inexorable energy trends are underway in California: soaring electricity prices and ever-worsening reliability—and both trends bode ill for the state’s low- and middle-income consumers.

Texas is not as well known for pushing wind power but it has, and the results – blackouts – were already seen during the February cold snap, and could be seen again with this summer’s heat.

New York is also not well known for Green Energy, but they’re trying. On April 30 it closed the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which reliably produced 1,036 MW of electricity.

And so just the other day…

There is no way that China and India or the rest of the developing world are going to accept the same results.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 4, 2021 at 7:08 am

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