Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Energy mix

Let's have a look to world energy consumption, with a focus on electricity.

According to the Energy Information Administration's International Energy Outlook 2009, the world's electricity generation is expected to increase by 77% from 2006-2030. Much of this is going to take place in the developing countries where increases of per-capita income and a general rise in the standard of living is going to push up the demand for power in developing countries the world over.

Now, let's breakdown the sources/fuels from which this electricity is produced and will produce this expected, staggering increase:

Todate and in the foreseeable future, coal continues to fuel the largest share of worldwide electric power generation. In 2006 coal accounted for 41% of world electricity supply whereas in 2030 it is expected to increase to 43%(!) if the business as usual policy towards coal continues. This is disasterous news for the environment as coal fired generation emits the highest levels of carbon to the atmosphere and are a major contributor to global warming. The good news is that with using the right tools (cabon taxes) as there are tremendous opportunites for reducting CO2 and all we need is for a true price on carbon to be imposed the world over to bring into play some attractive no or low emission technologies for making coal cleaner.

Gas powered generation - natural gas is equal to only about one half the total production of coal. There are many advantages for using natural gas to produce electricity. Its efficiency, operating flexibility, short planning and construction time and relatively low capital costs. Only a few days ago, Powermag reported huge new natural gas finds in the US which should push gas powered generation in the short and mid term in the US.

Liquid fuel and petroleum - one of the least efficient, most polluting and most expensive ways to produce electric power. The expected rising price of petroleum and peak oil is going to cause a significant fall in electricity produced from petroleum both in percentage wise and in absolute numbers.

Nuclear power - nuclear power being carbon neutral (if we don't count the emissions involved in mining uranium) is going to increase in use over the coming 20 years. Development in N-power technology are showing higher capacity utilization. On the other hand, issues of plant safety, radioactive wast disposal and nuclear weapons concerns. It should be noted that the same peak oil idea that Hubbert developed for oil is also relevant for all minerals and though not often considered as such, Uranium is also a finite resource.

And now to renewables: there is little doubt that this is the fastest growing source of electricity. Therefore, the 2009 Outlook expects the share of renewables (Hydro, wind, geothermal, and other) to grow also in the percentage of the global production from 19% in 2006 (mainly large hydro) to 21% in 2030.

But, the EIA concludes with the following position which, as I discussed in the Linkedin Discussion, is fully mistaken:

"Although renewable energy sources have positive environmental and energy security properties, most renewable technologies other than hydroelectricity are not able to compete economically with fossil fuels during the projection period outside a few regions. Solar power, for instance, is currently a “niche” source of renewable energy but can be economical where electricity prices are especially high or government incentives are available."

As long as the US and other goverments do not understand the issue of negative external costs we are pretty much in a tangle. Until governments the world over do not accept the fact that current fossil fuel energy cannot continue to be subsadized by the tax payer as a way of keeping fossil fuel energy prices down and renewable energy prices high, we are not going to see a change in the numbers outlined above. Only by imposing strict emission taxes on emitters is there any hope for leveling the playing field and tipping it in favor for low emission energy.

It is time for all of us to get more involved. We must tweet, blog, e-mail, network, communicate, petition, discuss, convince, write, open support groups in facebook and elsewhere and speak to our friends, neighbours, co-workers, representatives and anyone willing to listen. It is time for us, citizens of the planet, to demand from our goverments and Parliaments to do what it takes to reduce CO2 emissions. If they don't know what to do we must propose. If they don't listen, we must replace them with those who do.

To end on a positive note, NY Times reported on 30th of December that the French Constitutional Council turned down a proposed carbon tax due to it being too lax on emitters and with too many exemptions on polluters and sent it back to goverment for revision.

There is no time to lose and there is everything to win!

1 comment:

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