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Heinberg: No: The Economics Simply Don’t Work And Will Get Worse

Alternative Energy

For years, Americans have seen commercials touting “clean coal,” while politicians on both sides of the aisle have extolled its promise. The technology to capture carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants has been tried and tested. Yet today almost none of the nation’s coal-fueled plants are “clean.”

Why the delay? The biggest problem for “clean coal” is that the economics don’t work. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is extremely expensive. That gives the power industry little incentive to implement it in the absence of a substantial carbon tax.

Why would implementing CCS be so expensive? For starters, capturing and storing the carbon from coal combustion is estimated to consume 25% to 45% of the power produced, depending on the approach taken. That translates to not only higher prices for coal-generated electricity but also the need for more plants to serve the same customers. Other technologies designed to make carbon capture more efficient aren’t commercial at this point, and their full costs are unknown.

And there’s more. Capturing and burying just 38% of the carbon released from current U.S. coal combustion would entail pipelines, compressors and pumps on a scale equivalent to the size of the nation’s oil industry. And while bolting CCS technology onto existing power plants is possible, it is inefficient. A new generation of plants would do the job much better—but that means replacing roughly 600 current-generation power plants.

Altogether, the Energy Department estimates that wholesale electricity prices with the initial generation of CCS technology would be 70% to 80% higher than current coal-based power.

The discussion of CCS technology in a recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains too many qualifiers to be interpreted as a declaration that clean coal will be competitive with renewable fuels.

Long term, the economics of coal are likely to get worse, with or without CCS. Coal is nonrenewable, finite in quantity and therefore subject to depletion. Rates of production from most regions of the U.S. are in decline. And as depletion forces the mining of lower-quality resources, production prices will rise because of the need for more-sophisticated extraction technologies. Declining output is inevitable sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the price of electricity produced from solar and wind power is steadily dropping. The only thing that keeps coal-based electricity cheap today in relation to power from renewable sources is the industry’s ability to shift the hidden costs—environmental and health damage—onto society. If, as climate regulations inevitably kick in, the coal power industry adopts CCS as a survival strategy, any lingering economic advantage over wind and even solar will disappear.

CCS also doesn’t address the full range of coal’s impact on society. It won’t banish high rates of lung disease, because it doesn’t eliminate all the pollutants from the combustion process or deal with the coal dust from mining and transport. It also doesn’t address the environmental devastation of “mountaintop removal” mining.

This is not to say that “clean coal” has no future whatever. Coal plants with CCS will be built where captured carbon dioxide can be used to generate extra income—for example, by using it to stimulate old oil wells or make cement. But even a dramatic increase in such uses would put only a small fraction of carbon from coal to work.

A full transition of today’s coal power industry to CCS is extremely unlikely unless the economics substantially change for some currently unforeseeable reason. And other technological advances, like more-efficient coal-fired plants, can only slow the growth of harmful emissions at best.

In all likelihood, the real future lies elsewhere—with distributed renewable energy.

WSJ



37 Comments on "Heinberg: No: The Economics Simply Don’t Work And Will Get Worse"

  1. Plantagenet on Mon, 24th Nov 2014 7:38 pm 

    Heiberg is right.

    The Obama administration has wasted billions on “clean coal” that isn’t clean. Its time to be a little bit smarter about our research program, and prioritize the things that will really work and really have a chance of reducing our carbon output while dropping the pretense that there will ever be “clean coal.”

  2. Makati1 on Mon, 24th Nov 2014 7:45 pm 

    Or the pretense that renewables are the answer. They are extenders that will die off not long after oil disappears. The future is a lot less energy powers. Maybe something near the 1800s in America. Mostly muscle power.

  3. ghung on Mon, 24th Nov 2014 7:54 pm 

    Plant: “….dropping the pretense that there will ever be “clean coal.”… and running the risk of crashing the US coal markets. Not very smart that, if you’re the President. Like oil, coal is a huge driver of our economy. Unwinding any of these fossil fuels from our economic mix is a bit more complicated than it’s dirty shit and we have to stop burning it, even if it sounds good from the cheap seats.

  4. Norm on Mon, 24th Nov 2014 8:00 pm 

    “Clean Coal’ means sticking a cork stopper into the top of the smokestack.

    Seems like a dumb idea.

    I’ve heard of efficiency wins from feeding pure oxygen into the burners… Meanwhile ‘clean coal’ is just hype & propaganda. Let the coal plants run how they already were running.

  5. adamx on Mon, 24th Nov 2014 10:32 pm 

    Well, ghung, it IS dirty shit that we have to stop burning. Even if you can’t say that as President. No bones about it, that’s what it boils down to.

    Honestly, the economy is going to be a bad joke at the end of this game no matter how it’s played. The current system will probably last much longer than anyone expects and explode much more colorfully than most would imagine.

    I honestly am not sure what to make of the world. People who say “muscle power and horse power are the future” have a point, but at the same time the techniques of industry are well ingrained and widely distributed. Materials will not be rare if things really get bad as every car is a several tons of useable metals and wire is available in quantity. Electricity is simple to make in useable amounts (if not “power millions of homes” amounts), and industry of various sorts can be done even without electricity. If you have machines you can make machines with the machines.

    But Florida is in for a bad time in the next 100 years. And that is going to hurt, no matter how many machines you can run. Transportation is going to take a big hit when the oil really starts to get expensive. Renewables might keep the worst away and allow electricity to remain in common use (even if not in today’s quantities). Or not. We can’t know in advance.

  6. coffeeguyzz on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 1:51 am 

    Heilberg is wrong.
    Two separate, yet simultaneously evolving trends are emerging. The ongoing evolution of vastly more efficient CCS, coupled with the soon-to-be insatiable need for CO2 for EOR in the oil business. The article’s author is well aware of this as can be readily seen if one re-reads the last sentence in the third paragraph above.
    CO2 acts with extreme efficiency in recovering the 50/60% of still-remaining oil in “old” reservoirs. More significantly, the shale oil fields are presently leaving upwards of 95% of the oil still in place. As these shale fields become more fully developed, there will be a multitude of parralel wellbores – each a mile or two long just a few hundred feet apart from one another. As the current laboratory models of CO2 EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) are implemented in the field, huge increases in hydrocarbon recovery will occur. Pilot tests are right now in the early stages of proving this.

  7. Davy on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 5:05 am 

    Adam, several great points. The issue of coal is a fundamental issue of BAU. Don’t be deceived that there is any hope of BAU or anything near BAU without it. Should we seek to lower coal? Of course. I would rather see an exerted effort to reduce coal as a tradeoff to liquid fuels i.e. dirty & expensive unconventionals. I agree with Short the whole oil sector has a limited life due to the thermodynamics of oil extraction but we have a short window to transition to a hybrid postindustrial society. If we are going to have a soft landing liquid fuels are critical. If we are going to successfully mothball multiple NUK reactors liquid fuels are a must. If we are going to build out significantly more AltE, build lifeboat communities, and mitigated food/fuel shortages we must have liquid fuels.

    Your point on what’s next is something I think about all the time. It will likely be a hybrid world of new and old if we manage a soft bumpy descent with an eventual stable reboot at an acceptable level to carry on a degree of complex society. We have an accumulation of knowledge, technology, and infrastructure if maintained and used right will be essential to the transition from 7BIL people to a hybrid postindustrial much lower population.

    AGW is the big question. I feel we are long past safe AGW. My thoughts are at this point all activity accept agriculture would need to be halted to get to a proper CO2 mitigation level. That is absurd so our whole effort to have a BAU and stable climate is absurd. We can struggle to reduce carbon in a descending world which IMO is the best and only scenario on reducing carbon. I say struggle because if you are hungry and cold you are going to give a shit about climate. Descent will eliminate multiple energy intensive lifestyles, activities, and population growth. People are going to die in this transition probably a painful amount. AGW is too broad a condition and too dispersed and in reality a species issue that threatens human extinction but on a personal level it is beyond our capability. At a society level it appears to be beyond our abilities at least utilizing BAU.

    The only alternative is rapid degrowth of industrial man and population. There is no way to predict the change ahead. We can opine on a range of possibilities at least in the various global locals. The honest science and knowledge is there. The BAU corn porn is nothing more than delusion and deception. Most scientist are honest enough in their hearts to understand the dangers ahead. The problem is specialization verse generalization. You must be a specialist generalist to piece together the many problems and come to the conclusion we have a predicament of BAU.

    Every angle tells us that BAU cannot go on much longer. This is true systematically, thermodynamically, and ecologically. The corn porn is nothing more than advertising to keep BAU together. Confidence is liquidity and liquidity is vital when you have 7BIL people relying on each other. TPTB will do everything in their powers to maintain their property. Nature will dictate what comes next not TPTB. It is my hope a crisis will hit soon that will cause the top to question BAU and do something to mitigate this predicament instead of making it worse.

  8. Davy on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 5:16 am 

    Coffee, that is exciting and I pray this technology can get started asap to help in the bump descent down. Your prescription IMO is one for a transition not a reasonable BAU enhancer. Short has made it abundantly clear the cost of these oil efforts are thermodynamically a retirement party. The issue of the giant oil fields depletion and cost of the new sources overwhelming. Just as important is the systematic predicaments of BAU and over population. There is little hope for the systematic issues. Debt will be the end of our critical global financial system. There is no hope for continued BAU. Without continued BAU there is no hope for complexity. Without BAU complexity and capex your CCS applied to unconventionals and even giant oil fields is doomed. Yet, in the next 3-5-10 yrs it may be essential in adding something to the vital liquid fuel supply that will be needed in the mitigation of a BAU descent. We can’t solve problems nor mitigate predicaments at this point without FF especially oil.

  9. shortonoil on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 6:02 am 

    Short has made it abundantly clear the cost of these oil efforts are thermodynamically a retirement party.

    All the low energy, high cost hydrocarbons will be gone in five years. That includes Arctic, Shale, Bitumen, Ultra Deep Water, and high sulfur Extra Heavy. Conventional has been carrying these low-energy sources for many years, but Conventional no longer packs the punch it once did. The economy can no longer afford hydrocarbons that do no supply energy.
    That is why the price of oil is declining, and it will continue to decline until the low energy non-conventional sources are priced out of the market.

    http://www.thehillsgroup.org/depletion2_022.htm

    http://www.thehillsgroup.org/

  10. rockman on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 6:43 am 

    “The biggest problem for “clean coal” is that the economics don’t work. Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is extremely expensive. That gives the power industry little incentive to implement it in the absence of a substantial carbon tax.” True.

    “Yet today almost none of the nation’s coal-fueled plants are “clean.” About to become much less true. There is a pipeline currently being constructed in Texas from the second largest single source of GHG in the US. The line is being run 60 miles to an old of field where the CO2 will be injected. Still unclear how much will be used for EOR and how much strictly sequestered.

    The power plant has 6 burners: 3 NG and 3 lignite. And yes: the feds are helping by paying 50% of the cost of the line. The utility has its own incentive: the ongoing battle between the state and the feds over cross-border pollution. The justification for tax payer contribution: while the power plant might be privately owned the e- is sold to the public thru various local utilities. Shut the plant down due to developing regs and the public loses a major source of power in SE Texas.

    As far as alts go I’ve already pointed out in detail Texas is the big leader in wind power. But it hasn’t been developed to replace ff plants but to supplement them. The Texas economy is booming: about 450,000 new non-farm jobs have been created here in just the last 12 months. Electricity demand in Texas is projected to increase significantly in coming decades so there’s been incentive to not only build out wind but also maintain fossil fuel fired plants. Especially true in the case of coal (lignite) resources: based on current consumption Texas has over 100 years of lignite to burn. And it will burn it as long as the regs will allow it. Given this long future consumption it makes economic sense to develop sequestration efforts as well as continuing to expand alts. Which IMHO why Texas has become a leader in such efforts: it’s certainly not because Texans care more about global warming: it’s because we have the economic justification. A justification that other economies around the country lack due to slow or no economic growth potential.

  11. ghung on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 8:29 am 

    Big investors’ war on coal

    http://money.cnn.com/2014/11/25/investing/coal-companies-divestment/index.html?iid=HP_LN

    “Nobody wants coal for Christmas, and a growing number of big investors don’t want it at any time of the year.

    KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund manager, is the latest global player to take a stand against coal. KLP will sell all of its coal holdings and put an additional NOK 500 million (roughly $75 million) into alternative energy.

    “We are divesting our interests in coal companies in order to highlight the necessity of switching from fossil fuel to renewable energy,” KLP’s CEO Sverre Thornes said in a statement.

    That means KLP will cut from its portfolio any stocks or bonds from companies that derive more than half of their revenues from coal or related activities such as coal-fired power plants.

    Growing movement: This has been a big year for foundations and pension funds ditching coal and, in some cases, fossil fuels entirely….

    …. Ethical investing on the rise: These divestments are occurring as so-called socially responsible investing, or “SRI,” is growing in popularity.

    Over $6 trillion in assets are now held in U.S. funds that have some sort of social, environmental or corporate governance screening process, according to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

    “Client demand is driving so much of this,” said Lisa Woll, CEO of The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. “It’s really a practice that is cutting across all asset classes.”

    There’s more than one way to skin a coal cat, eh?

  12. Kenz300 on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 9:19 am 

    “In all likelihood, the real future lies elsewhere—with distributed renewable energy.”

    The transition to safer, cleaner and cheaper alternative energy sources continues around the world. Climate Change is real….. we need to deal with the sources or we will deal with the results.

    ——————-

    Wind Energy Provides More Than Two-Thirds of New US Generating Capacity in October

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/11/wind-energy-provides-more-than-two-thirds-of-new-us-generating-capacity-in-october

    ——————-

    Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/business/energy-environment/solar-and-wind-energy-start-to-win-on-price-vs-conventional-fuels.html?emc=edit_th_20141124&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=21372621&_r=0

  13. Kenz300 on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 9:20 am 

    NRG Energy and its commitment to reducing carbon emissions………..

    ———————

    Committed to Carbon Goals – NYTimes.com

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/opinion/joe-nocera-committed-to-carbon-goals.html?emc=edit_th_20141125&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=21372621&_r=0

  14. steve on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 9:42 am 

    Davy I like your thinking…optimism sprinkled with a dash of pessimism and realism…it is the kind of thinking our leaders will need in the future…sites like our finite world are very poignant but the main theme there is “we are all going to die a very horrible death soon” and there is not a damn thing you can do so sit and wallow here with us……seems like a huge waste of time to me…spending an inordinate amount of time to convince people that they are doomed and there is no hope…but I still will admit we are in the bottom of the ninth with two outs……

  15. steve on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 9:47 am 

    Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings,
    we have entered upon a period of danger. . .  The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now. Churchill

  16. JuanP on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 10:30 am 

    We will keep burning everything we get our hands on that burns for as long as we exist. CCS is like recycling, it is mostly to help us feel like we are doing something useful while we keep destroying the biosphere. CCS? No CCS? Same difference.

  17. Davy on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 10:37 am 

    Steve, on a macro level many of us are going to die. I see no way to avoid this. If I have optimism it is locally and individually. It is in your heart that your attitude will reveal itself. You can be constructive, destructive, or cannon fodder. The same is true for your family, tribe, and local. Beyond those layers we see large bodies that surely will not survive intact the coming descent of energy intensity and complexity. Whole regions that are living only be FF acquiescence will dissipate into ruins. Mega cities and mega population corridors have little hope. I could go on and on. The important point is “You” individually can have hope or despair.

  18. Aspera on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 11:26 am 

    I’m with Ghung: hard to imagine exiting fossil fuels early. But taught to ask the question as: “what are the conditions under which…” we might exit early?

    To wit, upcoming book on the topic (and MIT Press is no slouch).

    ENDING THE FOSSIL FUEL ERA.

    edited by Thomas Princen, Jack Manno,
    and Pamela Martin

    Abstract: Not so long ago, people in both North and South had little reason to believe that wealth from oil, gas, and coal brought anything but great prosperity. But the presumption of net benefits from fossil fuels is eroding as widening
    circles of people rich and poor experience the downside.

    A positive transition to a post-fossil fuel era cannot wait for global agreement, a swap-in of renewables, a miracle technology, a carbon market, or lifestyle change. This book shows that it is now possible to take the first step toward the post-fossil fuel era, by resisting the slow violence of extreme extraction and combustion, exiting the industry, and imagining a good life after fossil fuels. It shows how an environmental politics of transition might occur, arguing for a politics of deliberately choosing a
    post-fossil fuel world.

    June.
    $28.00S paper
    978-0-262-52733-0

  19. Apneaman on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 11:58 am 

    Everything was bang on except your last line.
    “You” individually can have hope or despair.
    Sounds like Oprah and all the other “Brightsiders” society has had to endure the last 25 years. It’s not a simple choice like Coke or Pepsi. Circumstance (like having money) and ones innate personality/temperament play the biggest roles. Yes you can work it, but that is small change. Would you tell some half starving farmer in Bangladesh with 5 kids who’s rice field is being flooded from sea level rise because whitey had a 250 year fossil fuel party that he never got invited to that he should try and “individually” have hope? Hope for what? Reality is much different when your rich & white.

    http://us.macmillan.com/brightsided/barbaraehrenreich

  20. Perk Earl on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 12:36 pm 

    “Conventional has been carrying these low-energy sources for many years, but Conventional no longer packs the punch it once did.”

    Short, sounds like a great boxer carrying a late replacement, less stellar opponent for a few rounds to give the people some additional entertainment value. Once non-conventional hits the canvas, reliance solely on conventional will ring to start the last round. When the bell rings to end the oil age, the fans will begin a harsh process of musical chairs.

  21. rockman on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 1:05 pm 

    Big investors’ war on coal: “That means KLP will cut from its portfolio any stocks or bonds from companies that derive more than half of their revenues from coal or related activities such as coal-fired power plants.” We do understand that KLP selling their positions won’t have any effect of the operations of any coal producer, don’t we? The only way for any shareholder to affect how a company operates is if they control enough stock to influence the board. Selling their positions essentially silences KLP’s voice in any aspect of how those companies do business. It might make the folks at KLP feel more moral but it has no effect on the coal business. KLP wasn’t invested in mining coal: it was invested in a company that invested capex to mine coal.

    If enough shareholders decide to dump a coal companies stock all it would do is drive down share price. Lower share prices would mean lower outflow of cash to pay dividends which would leave the company with two options: expanding operations with that extra revenue, buy back their own stock at a big discount or a combination of both. Essentially it would encourage a company to invest in even more in coal mining as well as providing more funds to do so.

  22. ghung on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 1:42 pm 

    Aspera quoted: “A positive transition to a post-fossil fuel era cannot wait for global agreement, a swap-in of renewables, a miracle technology, a carbon market, or lifestyle change.”

    ….but waiting we are, collectively. Some of us began the transition years ago while watching society-at-large increase its consumption with childish glee. It’s an irksome Jevonsesque reality. Greenish, over at TOD, described us well: Pyromaniac Apes.

    Children playing with fire were always destined to get burned eventually.

  23. louis wu on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 2:04 pm 

    Toatlly agree with you rockman on the shole divestment movement.All of these investment companies and individuals are still getting at least some ot the electricity they use from coal.If the really want to make an impact significantly reduce their own energy use all ways around and that would lead to an actual reduction of the coal companies revenue stream and the share price.Of course that would mean a reduction in lifestyle depending on what their current lifestyle is.

  24. Davy on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 2:14 pm 

    Right Lewis, the key is less with less instead of more with less coal. Coal and BAU are here to stay. We know China has no way in hell to transition away from coal in any significant amount.

  25. Davy on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 2:20 pm 

    G-man, in some ways we are the tip of the spear for transition or ready for the nut house. I am a happy doomer. How about that incongruous juxtaposition. Not only that I am a spartan stoic 1%er silver spoon loon. So as you can see don’t trust everything I say. IOW I am certifiable as abnormal.

  26. GregT on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 2:52 pm 

    According to Leslie Glustrom, coal is not here to stay, and we have much less of it available than what the EIA has been leading us to believe,

    Peak Coal: US Coal Supply Limits: Economic and Energy Constraints
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0y3KPmM22g

    We are facing the same issues with coal, as we are with oil. Leslie estimates that there is less than 2 decades worth of profitable coal left in the ground in the USA.

  27. peakyeast on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 4:28 pm 

    @Shortonoil: I like your bold graph showing such pronounced declines in oil in such a short time from now.

    If the graph holds true it WILL be a disaster as far as I can see.

  28. peakyeast on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 5:46 pm 

    sry miswrote: I meant pronounced declines in max consumer price

  29. Makati1 on Tue, 25th Nov 2014 7:25 pm 

    GregT, you are correct and the time is even shorter as I doubt there will be oil to power the machines for the next 20 years. They move mountains to get coal many places. That takes oil power, not wind or solar. 100 ton trucks don’t run on batteries. Besides the fact that we are not getting anthracite, we are getting lignite, or at best, bituminous coal many places now. Lower energy values, just like the crappy oil from frak wells or tar sands. EROEI still dictates net energy use/production.

  30. Speculawyer on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 1:40 am 

    Ghung . . . “Unwinding any of these fossil fuels from our economic mix is a bit more complicated than it’s dirty shit and we have to stop burning it” . . . actually, it really isn’t that much more complicated. The total market cap of all the publically traded coal companies in the USA is only around $24Billion. Throw in some private companies and related industries to double that and it is still less than $50Billion. That is not really big money.

    If we build a few nukes, change a bunch of coal plants to natural gas and install much more onshore wind, solar PV, geothermal, hydropower, and offshore wind . . . we could be rid of coal. The hard part is just getting everyone to agree that “it’s dirty shit and we have to stop burning it”. Once everyone is on board with that, the rest is easy and will create lots of new jobs.

  31. Davy on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 5:27 am 

    Spec, I am with you on getting rid of coal 100% but the dollars do not explain the relationship coal has to the economy and our energy mix. $50BIL does not relate to the cost to build out all that infrastructure. The alternative cost and size of the build out needed by AltE and gas is enormous. We know from our talk here on PO gas has its limitations in economic and physical ways. How much gas can we safely use a year without exposing us to dangerous shortages. We are talking a fuel that heats our home and provides fertilizer for our food supply. The infrastructure needed to boost gas to such a huge level is enormous. AltE is another area where the amount needed to replace coal is frankly beyond the scope of our present circumstances. We are already struggling with a build out. I don’t care what the percent increases we have had AltE is still an ass pimple to what is needed. The grid is not ready for so much AltE power. The grid would need a massive amount of upgrade on top of the normal maintenance needed which is large.

    Coal is money in the bank for our economy because the resource is in place with the infrastructure to deliver it. It is paid for and ready to burn. All we really have is the cost of extraction and normal profits. If things were different and we did not shoot our wad with debt. If things were different and society would do less with less. If society would agree to radical lifestyle and attitude changes turning to seasonal eating, local production and intermittent power lifestyle adjustments. Industry would need to adjust and work when the power is optimal. We are talking changes that will destroy an already shaky BAU to get coal out of the mix. The talk of Peak coal is correct IMO but there is enough coal to see BAU through for a few years. BAU has a shelf life that is near so the end of coal is near.

    We are also dealing with no time no money predicament. The time it would take to build out this infrastructure is 10 to 20 years considering the current economy. There is no money period. We are broke as a species. Our financial system is drowning in debt now. The payback from this build out is so far in the future we would never see the return. Oil is depleting so quickly the whole project is doomed to begin with. Oil’s depletion will end these efforts in 5-10 years.

    The “ONLY” alternative now for AGW is to embrace a descent with mitigation and adjustment strategies. We know we are on a bumpy descent now ready to dive down to who knows where. We need to quit fighting this process and accept a prescription for the end of growth, diminish diminishing returns, and mitigate AGW. It means less with less. It means a crisis to end all discretionary high energy intensity activities and lifestyles that serve no function for actual human survival. They are in effect just entropic decay of high quality energy for human diversion and waste. It means pain, suffering, and death of many people. Let’s not sugar coat the prescription. You can fight the current or flow with it. Fewer will die flowing with the current of the energy gradient than fighting it by trying to maintain the unmaintainable.

    Any change whatsoever at this point has consequences and unintended consequences. Small changes can magnify several fold due to the systematic interconnected nature of our economy. We are in a brittle state of resilience and sustainability. We have to maintain growth and energy intensity to maintain BAU sustainably with resilience. Any changes to that can destroy BAU in short order.

    We have few plan B’s except maybe for the military. But plan B’s to get people back to the land, lower population, and massively reduce energy intensity are basically nil. So it comes down to do you want BAU or not. We could shut down coal tomorrow and bring on collapse. The other issue is China is the biggest emitter. No action outside China is going to matter unless they change. China has little room to maneuverer. It is a catch 22 predicament and one that will likely not end well.

  32. ghung on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 8:14 am 

    Speculawyer: “The hard part is just getting everyone to agree that “it’s dirty shit and we have to stop burning it”. Once everyone is on board with that, the rest is easy and will create lots of new jobs.”

    It goes beyond that. Even, while admitting to the pollution factor, whether or not govt. can regulate these emissions without compensating industry is being challenged:

    “The declining coal industry was dealt another blow when the EPA announced its intention to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, like power plants. Compliance with these proposed standards would be impossible for coal-fired plants without implementing an expensive and carbon capture and storage system, which injects captured Carbon Dioxide into underground geological formations for permanent storage.

    As the Supreme Court considers whether the EPA’s can implement these new greenhouse gas emission standards, some have wondered if these heightened regulations could rise to the level of a regulatory taking.

    The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution holds that private property shall not be taken for public benefit without just compensation.

    Courts have held that some regulations which destroy property values or expected returns on investment require the government to compensate those impacted by the regulation. Although the standard for regulatory takings is high, the rapid decline in domestic coal energy may justify such a holding.

    http://newjurist.com/the-future-of-coal.html

    It gets even more complicated:

    “The Case for a Regulatory Taking:

    In Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, the US Supreme Court found that a Pennsylvania coal mining regulation constituted a regulatory taking.

    The regulation forbade a coal company from mining underground coal in such a way that would cause the layers of rock above to fall. This resulted in a “taking” of the valuable coal left in the mine, which could no longer be extracted and sold. The Court held that the regulation created an undue interference with the coal mining operations, which rendered it “commercially impracticable to mine certain coal.” This holding resulted in a severity test, wherein a court considers whether the regulation goes “too far” in infringing upon the use and enjoyment of owned property.

    Under this standard, the coal industry may argue that the new regulatory regime constitutes a Fifth-Amendment taking.”

  33. steve on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:22 am 

    “We are also dealing with no time no money predicament. The time it would take to build out this infrastructure is 10 to 20 years considering the current economy. There is no money period. We are broke as a species. Our financial system is drowning in debt now.”

    You know economist said that about WW1;the war would not last very long because the countries would be broke in no time. I believe his name was John Maynard Keynes…..but to their surprise the war lasted a long time and built a lot of wasted resources…Our we naive to think we have a”free market” system with a closed loop?

  34. Davy on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:41 am 

    Steve, BAU may bump along in a shallow descent more than we may suspect. This is possible maybe even likely. My point is building out new large scale global infrastructure is likely finished. We will be lucky to take care of what we have now. This is why it is so dangerous to mothball good infrastructure when we can’t afford to build out new. Don’t kick a sleeping dog. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you got one that works.

    We must determine is the build out going to save that much carbon? I have done some efficiency changes that probably when all is said and done will not save me money. The cost of that change was more than the return in savings. This is why I mention constantly the facts of diminishing returns with efficiency efforts. AltE build out will not be cheap and the industry and construction involved is carbon intensive. What will be the useful life of any AltE build out? I know the corn porns believe in a continued BAU albeit with more AltE, efficiency, and smart controls. In reality we may have 5-10 years or less. Will that build out ever pay out and will there be carbon savings?

    I am in no way a coal lover but my point is we need to be realistic in what we can do with society’s resources. I know BAU and its corn porn leadership will never admit that the end of BAU is near but for us here let’s assume it is. Will an attempt at a huge AltE build out not actually make the whole situation worse? Would we not be smarter to keep what we have that is still a good investment and focus the resources on sweet spots and mitigation efforts? Let us build out some AltE as is a good fit with high returns. Would it not be better to change lifestyles and attitudes to do less with less. I know that will likely never happen until we have a crisis. In any case a crisis appears to be near and when the crisis hits you can kiss goodbye any large projects. The struggle will be reactions to failures everywhere.

  35. steve on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 9:54 am 

    yes I am afraid you are right….America has so much waste…conservation alone could probably produce 40 percent more energy but it is hard to blame the individuals there because when I am there the news is always running stories about how much of a glut of energy there is…I don’t know why there is a concerted effort on the part of media to portray this story…it is really strange because the higher up people must know…America, no offense, is a neurotic country that is easily manipulated by their media.

  36. JuanP on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 11:23 am 

    Davy “The time it would take to build out this infrastructure is 10 to 20 years considering the current economy. There is no money period. We are broke as a species.”
    I would argue that we still have both the time and the money, as well as the energy. What we lack and have always lacked is human capabilities. Most of us are psychologically and biologically incapable of controlling our breeding and consumption habits. And I don’t want to be offensive, but the majority of humans also lack the necessary intelligence, education, understanding, and mental health to grasp the consequences of their actions.

    How many people think of the global consequences of their actions before having children? A very small minority, that you and I that have been snipped are obviously a part of; most people never give population problems a thought.

    The problem is not lack of time, money, or energy. The problem is one of human limitations and I don’t think it can be solved, so it is, here comes our favorite word, a predicament.

  37. steve on Wed, 26th Nov 2014 11:27 am 

    maybe we could develop the “flux capcitor” it would give us 1.21 gigawatts….each!!

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