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Renewable Energy in Germany: Growing Slower Than You Think

The Energy Transition

This is the second column in The Energy Transition series by Robert Wilson. This series, exclusive to theenergycollective.com, will take a critical look at the prospects of a transition away from fossil fuels, and promises to abide by the advice of Richard Feynman that reality must take precedence over public relations.

Historically energy transitions have been drawn out affairs that took many generations. A rapid transition to renewables in Germany is often portrayed as being a reality. The evidence however indicates an energy transition no faster than its historical predecessors.

What percentage of Germany’s energy needs comes from solar power? If you spend too much time reading environmental websites you could be forgiven for believing the figure to be anywhere as high as 50%. The actual figure is 2%, according to BP’s latest statistical review of global energy. Wind power fares slightly better at 3.3%. This figures make it rather clear that if Germany is showing how we can get to 100% renewable energy, it has a long way to go. And the rate of growth of renewables is not anywhere close to what is needed for rapid de-carbonisation.  As George Orwell once observed “Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.” Here I will have to re-state the obvious, and will leave it to the reader to ascertain whether I am an intelligent man.

The basics of German energy

Germany is a rather typical modernised country. It uses oil mostly for transport, coal mostly for generating electricity and natural gas mostly for heating and electricity.

Last year, Germany’s total energy consumption was equivalent to 312 million tonnes of oil, generally written as tonnes of oil equivalent (toe). In power terms this is roughly 430 GW. And of this the energy mix was as follows: Oil was 35.8%, natural gas 21.7%, coal 25.4%, nuclear energy 7.2%, hydro-electricity 1.5% and non-hydro renewables 8.3%.

(A brief note: coal and gas are converted to oil equivalent by estimating the amount of oil that would provide the equivalent thermal energy after combustion. We don’t burn a fuel to get electricity from wind or solar, so there is always an ambiguity in how to convert energy from wind and solar to tonnes of oil equivalent. The approach taken by BP is to estimate how much fossil fuel on average would provide the equivalent amount of electricity and work out the oil equivalent of this. Alternative approaches exist, however for my purposes here this will give us figures that can be compared on apples to apples basis.) byFuel Despite some growth in renewables, and a decline in nuclear in the last decade Germany’s energy mix has undergone much less change in the last decade than in previous decades, a point I will return to later. Natural gas and coal in particular have barely budged in the last fifteen years. Germany

Quantitative projections of future energy demand are rarely worth the paper they are written on. However two trends need to be considered when thinking about future energy consumption in Germany. The first is that per capita energy consumption has been remarkably flat for the last two decades, and may now be in decline. Germany

The second is that German women are not having enough babies – the current average is 1.4 babies per woman – to increase Germany’s population in the long run. And this is not a prospect for the future, Germany’s total population is already in decline: Population Even under the United Nations Population Division‘s highest scenario for future birth rate, population in 2050 will stay roughly the same as today. However it is more likely to be significantly lower. projections Large future increases in energy demand therefore are unlikely. However whether Germany will achieve its hoped for reductions in energy consumption remains to be seen. . For now these reductions merely exist on paper, and any considerations of how to meet future energy demand should not assume it will be at a particular level. Wishful thinking is never good policy.

Wind and solar

Let’s begin by considering annual growth of capacity of wind farms in Germany. Since 2000 Germany’s total wind capacity has gone from 8.8 GW to 31.3 GW, an annual average growth of 1.9 GW. windcapacity As the above graph makes clear wind power capacity has not been growing exponentially. This is very much a linear trend. In fact, surprisingly, peak growth in German wind capacity came a decade ago. The three highest years were 2001, 2002 and 2003: windannualcapacitygrowth For a few years solar power was acting as if exponential growth was possible, rising from almost 0% of German electricity demand to nearly 5% by 2012, and a total capcity of 32 GW. solarcapacity This rate of growth however stalled in 2012, and new capacity additions in 2013 now look likely to be significantly lower than in 2012. Exponential growth has died its inevitable death.

Looking at the annual increases in average power output from wind and solar shows a much more sober reality than the excessive hype regularly pumped out by some of the Energiewende’s more enthusiastic promoters. In the last five years the annual increase in average power generated by wind and solar has averaged 0.7 GW per year. This is only 1% of Germany’s average total electricity demand of 70 GW. Therefore at current growth rates Germany will not get more than 50% of its electricity from wind and solar before 2050 without a significant acceleration of the build up of wind and solar.   windandsolar The Whole Equation

If we are to stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million we will need to see a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the next few decades. This transition will be historically unprecedented in both speed and scale. A key way to measure its progress therefore is to compare it with previous energy transitions. In Germany’s case the two most recent energy transitions involved gas and nuclear energy, which commenced in the 1960s and 1970s respectively.

Here are some quantitative comparisons. In 1965 natural gas supplied 1% of Germany’s energy demand, and one decade later it supplied 12.3% of Germany’s energy. Nuclear power first supplied 1% of Germany’s energy  in 1974. One decade later it supplied 6.8% of its energy. Non-hydro renewables first supplied 1% of Germany’s energy demand in 2001, and a decade later supplied 7.8% of its energy. The transition to non-hydro renewables is therefore currently slightly faster than that of nuclear, but significantly slower than that towards natural gas. yearsfrom1 And consider that statistic. Non-hydro renewables only increased from 1% to 7.8% in a decade. If Germany keeps that pace up it will have 100% renewable energy sometime a century from now.

As Vaclav Smil has extensively documented historical energy transitions have been protracted affairs that took many generations. The evidence from Germany so far does not indicate that a transition to renewable energy will be any faster than what has come before.

Content Discussion

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on August 26, 2013

Solar pv doesn’t compete with base load power, it competes with peaking power.  It is DESTROYING the utilities most valuable peak assets.

You also fail to mention the average size of installation.  It is very different in Germany compared to the US and other countries.  In Germany most of their installations are going to residential and smaller systems.

You’re also using old data.  2010 data is horribly insufficient when dealing with solar pv, that data doesn’t include about 20+ GW of solar pv installed in the last 10 quarters.

 

Maybe you should look at how many new coal and gas plants are going up in comparison to new renewables, you know a fair comparison.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on August 26, 2013

Thanks for that clear eyed presentation, Robert. The ideological appeal of renewable energy (and all the hype it generates) often obscures the objective facts and it is good to see some hard numbers showing that there is nothing special about the rate of this transition in comparison to others. Globally, the rate of penetration of non-hydro renewables has also greatly lagged the rapid penetration of nuclear in the ’70s. 

Another important factor to discuss is the reasons for the relatively sudden end to every introduction of a new energy source (e.g. natural gas in the late 70s and nuclear in the late ’80s in your graph above). There always comes a time when further penetration of a new energy source just becomes impractical and, despite all the hype, this will probably be no different for renewables. Factors that will influence this include the intermittency issue, the rising cost burden on consumers and the practical limits of bio and onshore wind energy. My guess is that history will repeat itself and choke off renewable energy growth in Germany at substantially lower levels than most expect. 

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 26, 2013

Josh

I am not using old data. Every single one of the graphs in the post goes up to 2012, and they also have the number 2012 clearly on the x-axis.

The average size of installations appears rather irrelevant to how fast renewables are growing.

As far as new coal goes Germany is opening about 12 GW between 2011 and 2015. Average output for these plants will be around 6 GW. This is double the output of all of its solar panels.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 26, 2013

Schalk

I’ll be doing comparisons for every country in an upcoming post. Long story short: the current transition to renewables is currently happening slower more or less in every country. What’s really striking is that despite incessant talk of energy revolutions, the energy mix in almost every modernised country has undergone less change in the last two decades than any time since 1950. The changes in energy mixes due to the diffusion of gas and nuclear where far more significant. Of course even if low carbon energy repeated that kind of speed we would be nowhere near reducing emissions to get close to 450 ppm.

The suddent end of growth for nuclear and natural gas has clear lessons for renewables. Growth of solar has obvious limits in cloudy countries, despite what some fantasists believe. Growth of renewables in the EU is most likely to be limited by the political difficulties of getting enough onshore wind built. Again there are fantasists who imagine there is no problem running densely populated countries like Germany on onshore wind, but you can’t do much about them. Once Germany hits a saturation point for onshore wind, and it will hit it, it will have to go with offshore wind. So, long term, a hell of a lot is riding on whether costs can come down for offshore wind.

Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on August 26, 2013

The notion that it’s a good thing to destroy the most valuable peak assets of utilities is rather amazing.

Maybe you as an individual despise them and just want to spit in their face, but actually non-renewable power sources runned by utilities have provided 78% of German electricity in 2012 (all no-wind, non-solar represent 87% of it), so bad news for them is bad news for all German people who would rather hope that when they come home, they will have electric power. As well as for industries that hope electricity will be available to run the factories.

As Robert has shown here, renewables are not ready to replace all other energy sources, and won’t be for a rather large timeframe. This means that German can’t afford to stop the conventionnal power, so the utilities problems are their problems. If the utilitier end up unable to economically run their plant, Germans will have to foot the bill. And they have already started with the agreement to pay Irsching 5 to run, cf http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSL6N0DC47N20130425?irpc=932 “The talks to keep Irsching open are focused on the methods of funding it as a reserve plant, which will determine how much will have to be paid out by TenneT and how much will be recovered by a charge borne by consumers.”

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 26, 2013

Philip

The majority of non-hydro renewable energy throughout the EU is some form of biomass. You can see the EU statistics here:

http://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/graph-of-the-day-biomass-in-the-eu/

Germany currently devotes 17% of its arable land to biofuels, which is quite remarkable. There are also plans to expand it quite a bit. This is not a good idea. Most Green groups oppose biofuels in the UK, and there is now little political support for them. I’m not sure what the position is in Germany.

I might do a post in the future about the extent of biofuels in the EU.

http://www.erneuerbare-energien.de/en/topics/biomass/general-information/?cHash=816f8cc23fe06c8f81ed0897140ba585

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on August 26, 2013

Expect that the Energiewende Thought Police will be out in full force on this one.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on August 26, 2013

Great data and analysis, but I would offer a slightly different interpretation.  Each energy technology rises toward a technolgy specific asymptope, not generally towards 100% as one might think or hope. (In the language of electrical engineering, it’s like a “step function with an RC filter”.)

For example, I would argue that in absence of a strong local fossil fuel industry, nuclear power tends toward a 60% electricity market share (baseload); wind energy energy tends toward an electrical penetration approximately equal to its capacity factor,  and PV in temperate areas tends toward a value slightly higher than the capacity factor, due to the load correlation. 

By this metric, renewables are doing remarkably well. LBL-6356 reports that in Germany the wind penetration is 10% of electricity, and in Texas it is 8% of electricity. [several other US states show much higher penetration, but these are all small states that can sell power into a much large “balancing area”, the Midwest ISO, that includes areas with much lower wind penetration.]

Of course, future technologies such as PV with batteries or wind with fuel synthesis might someday allow higher penetration (up to 100% of all energy with fuel synthesis).  However, these technologies cost so much more than fossil fuel that they have seen negligible deployment thus far (even in Germany), and there is no particular reason to expect dramatic price reductions in the future.  Making matters worse, an efficient railroad system for hauling coal and pipelines for transporting natural gas means that all parts of the continental US have access to cheap fossil fuel.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on August 27, 2013

Robert

I was just thinking about a comparison with the recent shale gas expansion in the US as well.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on August 27, 2013

I noticed a slight mention of “biomass” in this critique so here goes some “reality.”

I live in a forested area that is larger than the UK. I watch the heroic efforts to put out current forest fires in the US, spewing CO2 and toxins that don’t appear on your charts. The history and trajectory of energy and CO2 is also not on your charts.

Early European explorers paid the US natives to exterminate the beaver, thus drain wetlands. Later pioneers eliminated the bison that freely roamed by the 10s of millions managing biomass. So 200 years later we ask, “Why are things getting dry, hot, and burning?” Our end of summer tradition, the Minnesota State Fair, is off the charts for too hot.

Large parts of forested Europe are the envy of Minnesota foresters; Well managed, productive, and providing increasing value for air, water, climate and energy.

Large parts of our agriculture have become too aggressive transforming land and water to produce meat, poultry, dairy dietary needs to a demanding world. This is often charted as “food to fuel ethanol.” However, labor and chemical inputs are dropping dramatically, while waste utilization is developing as fast as possible for environmental protection and energy.

I’ve seen the dramatic, if largely useless, 150 foot windmills grabbing attention. And the solar panels on rooftops like a signboard for moral superiority. But it still comes down to water, air, and plant biology, and some ass kickers willing to do something better than put out forest fires. Large parts of Europe and America have a lot to be proud of. Not glamorous work, but reality.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on August 27, 2013

If the German population keeps trending downward as the post suggests, they won’t be around to see the outcome of their experiment anyway.  If there was ever a justification for short-tem thinking, this is it.

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 27, 2013

“Quantitative projections of future energy demand are rarely worth the paper they are written on.”

This is often true, but there are certain trends that one can not ignore when discussing the future of energy.

Important trends:
1. Energy Efficiency in Buildings
Germany has quite strict building codes that make the future energy demand of buildings quite predictable. In Germany people aim for a 60-80% reduction in space heating demand when they refurbish their home.
Of course it remains to be seen if future German governments manage to get the refurbishment rate up to 2+% of the building stock up from 1%. 


2. Heating systems
Back in 2000 approx. 90% of all new buidings used “primitive” fossil fuel based heating-only systems (gas & oil). In the first quarter of 2013 their share is down to 43% (gas). So not only is the heating demand of new buildings 60-80% lower than for old builings, they are also using heatpumps, CHPs, district heating and biomass instead of fossil fuels. 

3. The coming transformation of the transport sector. 
Germany is currently in no ways a leader in terms of getting electric vehicle on the roads, but there is a public consensus that the future belongs to electric mobility. The lead scenarios used by the government predict the extinction of the petrol powered internal combution engine in the 2040s. 

In additon our fuel prices are quite high, which offers an additional incentive to  switch, once electric vehicles become more common & affordable. (Currently it seems that Japanese, French & Amercian automakers lead the charge on this front) 

Overall, the public awareness of the challanges and possibilities is very high over here. Perhaps that’s why I often feel that you miss the point… many of your post suggest that you think that the public is made up of the uninformed & ignorant. Is that truly the experience you have in your home country?

As a consequence you often seem to mainly “educate the stupid about conventional energy wisdome”. I would wish that you focus more on showing possible ways forward, because most people know that it’s difficult and many even think it’s impossible.

So why don’t you focus more on confronting conventional wisdom instead of re-enforcing it? 

Because quite frankly your sole focus seems to be discussing the past and present. 
————
On a side note:
Why do you not compare / look at the nuclear & renewable contributions to the final energy demand for a change? Last time I checked it was 4% to 13% in 2012.  

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on August 27, 2013

 What’s really striking is that despite incessant talk of energy revolutions, the energy mix in almost every modernised country has undergone less change in the last two decades than any time since 1950.”

That is striking! Looking forward to the next post in this series.

Jesse

Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on August 27, 2013

The trouble is that Germany is not doing what you suggest here, since they are currently replacing older coal plant by more modern ones, to the rate of several GW of plants each year.

Last year a large 2.2 GW lignite plant was put on-line, and this year it’s a 750 MW unit at Luenen, and a 725 MW one at Walsum, and the 912 MW RDK 8 unit. The latest state as of 22 Juli 2013 is 4,5 GW coal added for the year, and only 560 MW removed : http://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Sachgebiete/ElektrizitaetundGas/Unternehmen_Institutionen/Versorgungssicherheit/Erzeugungskapazitaeten/Kraftwerksliste/kraftwerksliste-node.html

Michael Berndtson's picture
Michael Berndtson on August 27, 2013

Since Germans will probably choose diesel over EVs for automotion, solar and wind won’t push out transportation fuels anytime soon. The oil equivalent exercise for comparing PV solar to coal or oil over the entire energy spectrum is kind of silly at this point. 

Here’ some interesting information from GE on Germany’s energy landscape:

http://visualization.geblogs.com/visualization/germanenergy/

2010: coal, 23%, oil, 33%, gas, 22%, Nuke, 11%, renewable, 10%, other 4%

2030: coal, 12%, oil, 30%, gas, 24%, Nuke, 0%, renewable, 31%, other 3%

From BDEW (German Assoication of Energy and Water Industries)

And here’s the 2011 net electricity generation for Germany plants: nuke, 18%, hard coal, 18%, lignite, 24%, fuel oil (for pump storage), 5%, wind, 8%, biomass, 6%, water, 3%, PV, 3%, waste, 1%

Renewables above equaul to 21 percent.

http://www.bdew.de/internet.nsf/id/0AB381E4EC443E9BC1257A7600404535

 

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 27, 2013

The change in the percentage of energy coming from gas in the last 5 of so years was a bit greater than the change in renewables in Germany. This isn’t quite an apples to apples comparison. Growth in natural gas in the us was mainly due to increased production and use of existing gas power plants. So I would be careful saying one is faster than the other. 

David Jeffries's picture
David Jeffries on August 27, 2013

The fallacy is that people are likely measuring an increase of renewables with a decrease in coal, but in one of our graphs above, it’s clear that the decrease in coal has coincided with an increase in the use of natural gas, which also pollutes AND is non-renewable.

Anyone wish to join me in a sigh?  lol

At least renewables seem to be slightly above nuclear.  That’s progress, right?

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on August 28, 2013

Definately a qualitative comparison. On the one hand some of the new gas reserves in America could be directed towards existing infastructure. On the other hand it probably had a more direct contribution towards reduction in coal use (at least accorsing to EIA).  

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thomas

This is a very strange comment. Either what I am saying is correct or it is not. You say I should confront conventional wisdom instead of re-informing it. Yet, what I have said this is post is very much confronting the conventional wisdom on renewable energy in Germany. Do you ever read the environmental press about Germany? Lots of people imagine Germany is getting far more energy from renewables than it is. And of course your own writings don’t exactly go out of their way to paint a realistic picture, only helping to exagerrate levels of renewables.

It is also noticeable that you did not address a single thing in the article about the growth of renewables in Germany. I’ll take it from this that you acknowlege that it’s not growing anywhere near as fast as you and others like to imagine. Otherwise you would have provided a counter argument to what I wrote.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Michael

These 2030 figures are just fictions. People have no idea what energy consumption will be in 2030, let alone what its sectoral composition will be. All this tells us is what a bunch of people in a room agreed they would like Germany energy to look like in 2030.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on August 29, 2013

No thats not progress at all, nuclear has lower lifecycle emissions than PV according to the IPCC.

George Stevens's picture
George Stevens on August 29, 2013

“If we are to stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million we will need to see a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the next few decades”

Nuclear can contribute to de-carbonization as well for the ‘we’ that are not German citizens, lets not omit that.

“So, long term, a hell of a lot is riding on whether costs can come down for offshore wind”

There is also a lot hanging on energy storage solutions. Severe under-utlization of back-up fossil generation and redundant capacity of generation infrastructure is non-economic, and that is the direction Germany is already well on its way toward. Perhaps Germany can remain economically viable having much higher comprehensive prices for energy generation, but the rest of the world cannot.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thomas

Again, these are silly criticisms. You and others have repeatedly exaggerated how much energy Germany is getting from renewables. Can you explain to me the purpose of doing this? Instead of criticising me for providing realistic appraisals of the current position of renewable energy you should ask yourself why you have actively done the opposite.

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 29, 2013

Robert, 

thanks for replying. If you actually care about discussing the facts, I am all for it. 

I am not exaggerating how much energy Germany is getting from renewables. It’s 12.6% of the final energy demand, nuclear provides 4% and fossils still provide 83.4% of the German energy needs – down from 92.3% in 1990.  

I wonder why you exagerate the relevance of nuclear power (by looking at it in terms of primary energy) and play down the importance of renewables? 

Since renewable energy utilization began to increase in 1996 it’s contribution in the energy supply grew from 2.1%  to 12.6% in 2012 in terms of final energy consumption. In absolute terms that was an addition of 258 TWh in 16 years (that’s electricity, heating & transport fuel). 

In nuclear terms that amounts to adding one working EPR every year for 16 years and it’s more than all nuclear power stations that are currently under construction in China will provide.
If you think that this is slow or irrelevant, I wonder what would be relevant… especially since the UK is struggling to build a single one of those.


You call Renewable energy growth “slower than people think” – without giving a source for the supposed comments or  telling us who “those people” actually are. Nor do you provide  a compelling argument why the alleged opinion of “those people” matters to the energy debate.

There are however many so called “energy experts” who wrote papers & studies that underestimated the possible growth and the technological potentials for future growth. They were proven wrong after just a few years. 

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thomas

Again, you are tiring me out. You accuse me of actively exaggerating the role of nuclear power. These are BP figures, close to the most often quoted figures for energy consumption. If I wanted to choose an international data set that would have made nuclear higher and renewables less I would have chosen the International Energy Agency’s. I did not. In BP’s statistics 1 kWh of nuclear is the same as 1 kWh of wind and solar. 

And you say you don’t want to exaggerate how much energy Germany is getting from renewables, but follow this statement with a sentence doing exactly that. As I said, this is tiring me out.

You ask me to point out who is exagerrating renewables growth. Did I not make it clear that I thought you are one of them? Do you not read your own stuff? Do you not report only record high solar production, but never averages? Anyone who reads what you write would think Germany is getting far more energy from solar than it is. Is this perhaps what offends you abou the article?

I’m sure you know your own material, but here are a couple of recent pieces by you which actively exaggerate how much energy Germany gets from solar.

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/04/16/solar-power-record-in-germany-22-68-gw-infographic/

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/07/12/sunday-solar-sunday-germany-solar-power-record-in-depth/

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thanks Jesse

There have been a lot of reports recently in the environmental press which deeply misrepresent how quickly renewables are growing. I am sure you have seen them. “Renewable energy to become number 2 source of global energy by 2016” etc. 

These exaggerations clearly serve a purpose, but I fail to see what it is. In the UK we are constantly told that renewables are cheaper than gas for electricity, yet people are up in arms when subsidies might get cut. Yet people don’t seem to realise that a perception that renewables are cheaper than they are etc is more likely to result in subsidies being cut. The same goes for exagerrations of how much energy we get from renewables, especially the continuing failure of people to think electricity supply and energy supply is the same thing. These things only seem to breed complacency, whereas an honest look at reality might be a greater spur for action.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thomas

This is getting silly. In BP’s statistics 1 kWh of electricity generated by nuclear is the same as 1 kWh of electricity generated by wind and solar. If you were anti-renewables instead of anti-nuclear you would be attacking me for the same nonsensical reasons and telling me that I should use the IEA’s figures, instead of BP’s.

Your rather rabid opposition to nuclear power is quite astonishing. This piece is entirely about renewables, and barely mentions nuclear. In fact when I compared the current transition to renewables with earlier transitions I very clearly stated that renewables were growing faster than nuclear did at that stage. If I was actively trying to make nuclear seem better than renewables in this piece then why would I point this out? It would be rather silly of me to want to make nuclear seem better than renewables, but do a comparison where renewables come out better.

 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on August 29, 2013

Thomas and Robert, both Germany and the UK do seem to agree on the absolute need for reliable energy. If one chooses nuclear, the other coal, different countries are different.

I admire the German PV and North Sea wind ventures. And I was struck how beautiful, green, and infrastructure rich the UK was.

Perhaps using the anarchist terminology, “intermittent renewable energy,” or “clean energy” is the problem. If we instead call it “unreliable energy” or “arbitrary energy” and ask how that converts to “unreliable cooking and refrigeration” of food, or “arbitrary welding” of a bridge beam, the burden then again rests on the anarchists to have a product we can sleep on and work with in peace.

 

Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on August 29, 2013

For this year, 2013, it’s very hard to reconcile them. It doesn’t make economic sense to add 4GW of coal.

Trying to understand what’s happening, it appears that after former Chancellor Schröder decided to phase out nuclear, the utilities decided the replacement would be coal and started the construction of many coal plants. It takes a long time to build them, for example the modern lignite BoA technology plants were significantly late and harder to build than initiallly planned (with certainly high overcosts, but the only technology for which people care about unplanned construction overcost is nuclear), so the one that are coming oneline currently were all decided at that time, and have been under construction a long time.

The period during which Merkel cancelled that plan was actually very short. The laws to reinstall nuclear were voted in October 2010, and as we all know just after the Fukushima event in March 2011, everyone could easily understand nuclear phase-out was back on the table. So at most the utilities had slowed down, or frozen their coal construction project a few month, but certainly not cancelled them.

The current economic situation, the low electricity demand, was not planned beforehand by the utilities, for the plant that are coming online this year, and obviously most of the construction cost was already paid by the time they realized those plants were not really needed. They certainly hope that the economy will rebound soon so that it’s alway better to have the plant ready by then. Also many gaz plants have been mothballed, so that in winter the remaining capacity is likely to be insufficient. It seems that the utility would prefer to have the new coal built ready, instead of having to restart gas units.

Another point is that when you look at the Frauhofer report you can see that the hard coal units are doing a lot of load following. This is abnormal. Coal plants are not made for that, it will age them a lot faster. But actually a report by Spiegel is that Germany has developped new technologies to make coal plants follow load more easily : http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/new-coal-fired-plants-could-be-key-to-german-energy-revolution-a-854335.html

So it’s likely that the new plant are much more efficient for this load following, and the point of having them is to use the older ones only in times of high demand.

At the end, the final result is that Germany is the only European country to add so much coal to it’s grid currently, foreseing a future a large increase in dependance on coal is built in it’s grid.

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 29, 2013

Robert, 

obviously one kWh of electricity from nuclear is the same amount of energy as 1kWh from wind or solar. Just like 1 kg of dirt is as heavy as 1kg of gold. The problem is, that your charts don’t reference the TWh of electricity generated by nuclear energy. They reference the theorethical thermal energy content of nuclear fuel aka “Primary Energy Consumption”.

Here’s from wikipedia (a quick & dirty english source): 
The concept of primary energy is used in energy statistics in the compilation of energy balances, as well as in the field of energetics. In energetics, a primary energy source (PES) refers to the energy forms required by the energy sector to generate the supply of energy carriers used by human society.”

The actual energy demand of our human society is measured in final energy, which is the technical useable energy. What we can put into the machines that do what we need. (Electricity or fuel.) 

Just look at your stats:
At the end of your graph nuclear provided about the same share as renewables. 
We know that nuclear only provides electricity to actually meet our needs. In 2012 it provided 30% less electricity than renewables. That’s 100 TWh from nuclear vs. 136 TWh from renewable. Yet the graph doesn’t show a 30% difference. Mhhh strange, isn’t it?

BUT renewables also provided about 10% of the heat demand and 5% of the transportation fuel demand. That’s another 180 TWh of energy that actually met peoples needs… 

If 1kWh of nuclear is exactly the same as 1 kWh from renewables in your statistics, the renewable share in 2012 should be 3x higher than the nuclear share. But it doesn’t, because primary energy statistics are nothing more than a statistical concept – it applies muliplicators to get from final energy to a theorethical primary energy value. 

If you don’t get that, I am sorry for you. But most energy scenarios on the future of energy look at final energy and how efficiency can reduce our final energy demand while providing our needs. 

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 29, 2013

Ok, I checked your data source (BP Statistical Review of World Energy) and I must say that source sucks. You should definatly put more work into your research Robert. 

BPs report is very well designed and looks cool, but the data is completly useless.
The 26 MTOE value for renewables which you quote is a calculated value (as you stated). However it appears to be completly based on renewable electricity generation. 

But as you are obviously aware, electricity is not the same as total energy.
BP completly ignores renewable fuels for heating. Since it’s the biggest chunk of renewable energy in the German energy supply, that’s quite a miss. 

 

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 29, 2013

Robert, yep there are 12 GW of bad investments coming online. 

But no matter how many coal power stations are added, the average output of all fossil power plants is determined by what is needed, not what is available. 

In 2015 that’s propably 340 TWh which translates into an average output of 39 GW … approx. 5-8 GW are from natural gas, leaving an average output of 31-34 GW for the then 46GW of  installed coal power capacity.

 

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 29, 2013

Thomas

OK, BP exclude renewable heat. Perhaps I should have included this. This of course would have made Germany look even worse. Devoting 17 per cent of Germany’s arable land to biofuels seems pretty indefensible from an environmental and humanitarian point of view. Bio-energy sources such as this or burning trees have dubious environmental benefits and are completely unscalable. In fact you have just made me realise in future I should make sure to split out biofuels from other renewables because it makes it seem I am giving them tacit support.

So yes, perhaps I should have split this up into “good renewables” and “bad renewables.” But please can we end this now? I will be looking at biofuels in an upcoming post, so if you want to to explain why Germany devoting 17% of its arable land to biofuels or burning trees for energy then you can do it then.

http://www.erneuerbare-energien.de/en/topics/biomass/general-information/?cHash=816f8cc23fe06c8f81ed0897140ba585

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 30, 2013

Robert, 

I thought you wanted to base your arguments on facts not opinion. You used invalid data as the basis of your entire post, so I thought you would retract it and redo it. 

Now I see that you don’t mind the fact that you are discussing fantasy numbers, because they apparently suit your needs… that’s why you propably looked at oil company numbers instead of any others.

“Good renewabels, bad renewables”… for a guy who claims to remain objective you make quite alot of “enviromental press” like choices in your subjective assesments.

That’s not to say that I agree with all forms of bioenergy. But I wouldn’t just leave them out in order to make my case. 

BTW: If you call the current use of wood for energy in Germany “bad” you are incredible ignorant of how forestry works.

We can end this if you begin your next post with: “This is why I think renewables aren’t as great as people think…” .
But you choose to write pseudo-objective representations of data mixed with unfounded opinions here & there. 

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on August 30, 2013

Perhaps I can help clear up some misunderstandings here.

Robert works with BP statistics where all electricity is converted to primary energy by dividing the kWh generated by a factor of 0.38.

My guess is that Thomas works with unconverted energy measures, i.e. one kWh of electricity from a wind turbine is valued identically to 1 kWh of heat released when someone burns some wood in a stove at home. 

When looking at unconverted energy measures, statistics in this presentation suggest that biomass is by far the dominant source – providing more than quadruple the output of wind in 2011. However, if wind electricity is converted to primary energy via the 0.38 conversion factor, biomass only contributes about 50% more than wind. 

Luckily, the aforementioned presentation also gives the share of renewables in terms of total primary energy. I don’t know the conversion factor between electricity and primary energy used here, but I would guess that it is close to the 0.38 used by BP. According to the presentation, Germany got 10.9% of its total primary energy from renewable sources in 2011.

According to BP, Germany’s primary energy consumption in 2011 was 307 Mboe. Of this, 4 Mboe was hydro, 4.4 Mboe was solar PV, 11.1 Mboe was wind, 9.2 Mboe was biomass and geothermal, and 2.8 Mboe was biofuels. This sums to 31.5 Mboe which is 10.3% of the total primary energy. It therefore appears as if the sources are fairly consistent.

I don’t think BP includes traditional biomass (i.e. burning wood at home) in its energy calculations. This might account for some of the difference.

On the topic of this article – the speed of energy transitions – the presentation linked above shows a fairly linear growth in German renewable energy as a percentage of total primary energy of about  8% per decade. This is significant, but certainly not revolutionary. 

Another important point raised in earlier comments is that BP valued intermittent renewable energy similarly to dispatchable baseload power. Thomas’ comment that 1 kg of gold is the same as 1 kg of dirt is a good analogy to use here. Yes, 1 kg of gold might weigh the same as 1 kg of dirt, but it is worth much more to society. Similarly, 1 kWh of intermittent wind power driving electricity prices negative on a windy night is worth much less than 1 kWh of thermal power that can be dispatched when demand is greatest. 

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 30, 2013

Thanks for replying. 
There is not really a misunderstanding about the BP statistics anymore though.

At first I though they were typical primary energy statistics as they are used by the IEA, OECD,… basicly everyone including the German government. 

On closer examination it revealed that BP does exactly what you said. Yet I would argue that BPs numbers are amateurish nonsense, since they completly ignore 60% of the renewable energy used in Germany by focusing only on electricity. They hide this lack of insight by their number games in order to come close to usual primary energy values, but that doesn’t really make their data more accurate. 

All in all, this is a good example why it’s not really helpful to look at primary energy statistics when we talk about the relevance of different energy sources in a given country. 
Primary energy consumption is nothing more and nothing less than a statistical indicator for the energy industry. It shows how much primary energy is used to provide final energy.  

In simple terms: The fact that there are multiple ways of calculating PE consumption should make everyone second guess the relevance of this indicator for the given analyisis. 
For example PE-Consumption of fossil energy sources is a relevant indicator for calculating carbon emissions, but the primary energy consumption of nuclear or solar is a silly indicator to discuss the actual importance of those energy sources for meeting our actual energy needs (heating, movement, mechanical work,…)


This is not my simple opinion, that’s text book energy knowledge. 

That’s why I choose to look at final energy consumption when discussing the actual relevance of different energy sources to a countries energy supply. It represents the technical useable energy we can actually use to power our machines & appliances. 

————
The actual “value” of an energy source depends on a wide range of considerations. These have never been a part of primary energy statistics, so lets not start doing this here. 

You would properly say “Well solar is unreliable because it is not a dispatchable power plant” (looking at the hourly electricity supply as the most important aspect) and I would say “Solar is very reliable when looking at the annual, monthly and even weekly energy yield over several decades” (discussing solar as a methode of energy “extraction” to “fuel” the renewable energy system – not a dispatchable power plant in the current system)

One could also declare all fossil TWhs useless, because using them apparently destroys the foundation of human civilization. 

So on So on. 

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on August 30, 2013

Thank you very much Thomas for exposing this (what might be a good word here?) error.

People and the earth display a rare science in the universe; biology. More people on the earth will need more biology on the earth.

It would be fun to someday elaborate new methods to convert biomaterial waste to value added electricity and liquid fuels. But it is clear that many intend to deny the most basic features of biology; birth, growth, death, decay, regeneration.

They have no carbon capture, they have no sustainable fuels or reliable electricity. They do have colorful charts that (what might be a good word here?) confuse.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 30, 2013

Thomas

This conversation is now becoming tiresome.

On the strange accusation that I have chosen BP’s statistic to make renewables look better than nuclear.

First, I only made one comparison of nuclear with renewables, and renewables came out better. If I had a nuclear is better than renewables agenda then you would think I would have chosen a different comparison in the piece.

Second. Thomas seems to suggest I should have used the IEA’s statistics instead. In fact if I wanted to make nuclear seem better than renewables I would have chosen the IEA’s data set over BP’s. The method they use, which I linked to in the piece, is the physical content method. In this approach 1 kWh of nuclear is literally given three times more value than 1 kWh of solar, wind or hydro. Instead I used BP’s approach which gives electricity generated by nuclear, wind and solar equal weighting. As I said in the piece this is a more apples-apples approach than using IEA’s which results in 1 kWh of wind and solar being more than two times less value than 1 kWh of nuclear or fossil fuels. Instead I am getting attacked for choosing statistic that make renewables look bad. All rather absurd.

And Thomas this sentence tells me a lot about your mindset: “that’s why you propably looked at oil company numbers instead of any others.” I explained at the start of the piece why I used BP’s numbers instead of the IEA’s. I guess you believe however that I am actively pushing an oil industry agenda. In this case I’ll just stop engaging with you in future because your ideological attacks are now taking on a conspiracy theorist tone.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on August 30, 2013

Schalk, “biomass” is not just “someone burns some wood in a stove at home.”

When I was pushing that fiber-optic thing in the early 1980s, it was partly from the abandoned warehouse district, downtown St. Paul Minnesota. They allowed me some space mostly to bring warm bodies in to help clean up the mess left from the 1940s.

They transformed the downtown to district heating, from the old coal boilers; St. Paul is the farthest north navigable port on the Mississippi River. They include “biomass” in the fuel, and later had trouble matching the beautiful 1900s brick after the coal scum was cleaned off.

President Bush II visited and advocated the St. Paul District Heating plant, and the Republican National Convention was held there in 2008. Now the beautiful marble St. Paul Union Depot is becoming a key rail hub again; both for metro and national.

I could list many other examples. But my criticism with the St. Paul plant is they use green wood chips because property cured wood burns too hot.

Don’t diminish success.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 30, 2013

Schalk

It’s ridiculous that you need to explain this to Thomas here in the comments. I have a paragraph in the article explaining how BP compares energy from renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels. I also provided a link to the International Energy Agency explaining alternatives. Thomas however is acting as if he is uncovering a grand mystery, finding out “on closer inspection” what BP statistics actually mean. Well, if he had read the piece fully before attacking me he would have known what they mean.

It’s also worth noting that in the statistics you link to wind is 2% of final energy consumption in 2011 and solar is 0.8%. In contrast in BP’s stats wind was 3.5% and solar was 2%. This actually shows that the way to make wind and solar make a lower contribution to energy consumption is to take the approach Thomas advocates. 

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 30, 2013

Robert, 

the sentence about using BP was inpired by this comment of yours:
OK, BP exclude renewable heat. Perhaps I should have included this. This of course would have made Germany look even worse. Devoting 17 per cent of Germany’s arable land to biofuels seems pretty indefensible from an environmental and humanitarian point of view.” 

You basically said that you did not care about the quality of the data you used to build your claim. It appeared to be accurate and it appeared to be balanced, so you build your case on the basis of these numbers. The fact that it is presented by an oil company should have made you question the accuracy, which you didn’t. That’s almost as well researched as sourcing your knowledge from an meme saying “Germany gets 50% of it’s energy from solar”.

Read my comments again. My overall argument is that using the “primary energy consumption”-indicator to discuss the energy input of a countries energy system is inadequat. 

It’s really no rocket science. Germany consumes 2450 TWh of final energy to meet it’s current electricity, heating and transportation needs. Those are the mountains of energy we use to power our factories, melt iron, fuel our cars and heat our homes. When doing so one notices renewable electricity provides only 5.5% of the German final energy demand in 2012, while nuclear supplied 4%. This looks alot worse then the BP figures for both nuclear and renewable electricity (solar, wind, biomass & hydro), but I don’t have a problem with that, because it’s a value worth discussing, when keeping in mind that electricity represents only 25% of our current final energy demand. 

This is the playground where most people (professionals aka scientists) discuss the future of energy. Here we can look at the effect of efficiency and changing technologies. At the end one has to take a look back at how much gross energy we would need to meet the future final energy demand, but simple mulitplicators (x2.6) don’t provide a useful insight.  

Again, not that hard nor my opinion…

You can keep portraying people who challange the value of your work as crazy & naive “enviromentalists”. You can keep saying “I don’t care that BP ignored most of the renewable energy supply. What ever! What Ever! I do what I want!” 

Or you could actually challange your own position and ask yourself – am I truly smarter on energy issues than all those institutuions & scientists, enginieers & inventors who have worked for decades on these issues and have published peer-reviewed papers. 

Keep in mind, that you also give insights into your mindset by adding little comments to your posts. Just like this one from your first column:
Things are even worse in Japan and South Korea. 
[…]
This calculation makes it clear that these countries can only be predominantly powered by renewable energy through the large scale utilisation of the more power dense solar energy.” 

You write this based on your own number games. You feel very smug about them, yet there are comprehensive studies that looked at Japan a decade ago and showed how a 100% energy supply would be possible. Including simulations using detailed whether data and so on. 

Are you actually that confident in your rough analysis based on the current primary energy consumption values, to make & stand by such claims?

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on August 30, 2013

Great point Robert.

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on August 30, 2013

Thomas, I really don’t understand your repeated comments regarding the use of the BP data set. You want Robert to use a final energy consumption based analysis. He used a primary energy consumption based analysis. Clearly both are quite valid means of analysis. If you want to repeat his analysis using a different data set, and see how it changes (or if it changes) his conclusions, please do so in another article. We would love to publish that at TEC.

However, its a perfectly valid method to convert energy sources to primary energy equivalents, so as to compare BTUs on a roughly equal basis. A BTU of potential energy locked up in a carbon-carbon bond is clearly less valuable than a BTU of heat, which in turn is less valuable than a BTU of electricity or a horsepower of motive force, which in turn is less valuable than a BTU of focused energy in a laser, etc. Second law of thermodynamics and all that. So analysis that compares BTUs on a final enery consumption basis in essence treats a BTU of electricity as equal to a BTU of high pressure steam as equal to a BTU of low-grade heat etc. This is fine for some purposes, but there are clear reasons why an analyst might prefer to take a different approach in other cases: e.g. to convert all values back to primary energy terms, which means accounting for conversion efficiencies etc. The trick then is how to deal with things like nuclear and renewables, which don’t consume carbon-carbon bonds like most other fuels. In this case, many analysts will convert a BTU of final energy as renewable electricity to an equivalent BTUs of carbon-based combustion energy at a typical combustion efficiency level. This is clearly an approximation, but its a well accepted effort to get things into apples to apples terms.

So please, if you want to focus on different analytic methods, go ahead and show us why one method versus another really matters, rather than insinuate that BP’s statistical review — a widely cited data source — is bogus or nefariously trying to make one fuel look better than another, simply because it is published by an oil and gas company. At the Energy Collective, you’ve got to go beyond making guilty-by-association type arguments like that.

Thanks,

Jesse Jenkins
Digital Community Strategist
TheEnergyCollective.com

Jesse Jenkins's picture
Jesse Jenkins on August 30, 2013

Thomas, please refrain from making accusations about the motives of other commenters or implying that they are using “oil company numbers” to suite their uses. The BP statistical review is a widely cited data set and isn’t invalidated simply because it was published by an oil and gas company. That would be similar to invalidating any data you’ve cited in your articles from renewable energy companies or trade groups, simply because they were renewable energy companies. Data is data. Please keep comments substantive and focused on the numbers. If there are errors in the numbers, focus there. As I said elsewhere, this kind of “guilty-by-association” line of argument isn’t acceptable at the Energy Collective.

Perhaps its time for both you and Robert to take a breather from this conversation and focus your energy elsewhere — say to your next columns, where each of you can explore these issues in more substantive detail. Thanks,

Jesse Jenkins
Digital Community Strategist
TheEnergyCollective.com

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on August 31, 2013

Hi Jesse, 

I’ll be happy to provide a different view. 

To be clear on PE vs Final Energy:

I am not arguing that there aren’t valid primary energy consumption based analysis. I am just saying that using them the way Robert does is borderline silly. 

In his last post he looked at whether or not several countries could meet their current primary energy consumption with different renewable energy sources. Based on this silly comparison he concluded that a transition to renewable energy would be obviously impossible for many countries. 

By making this conclusion he willfully ignored the fact, that a renewable energy system will entail several changes to the technologies with which we consume & convert energy. Thus change our final energy demand, which would in turn require a different gross-energy input.

About BP:
I did not make an guilty-by-association type argument. I simply pointed out that a one should verify the accuracy of the data used. Especially when it’s from a private / corporate source instead of an intergovernment organisation (OECD, IEA). 

I took the time to look at BPs methodology and their data. These numbers might be widly cited, but that doesn’t make them accurate. As it turns out, their “Primary Energy by Energy Source”-data completly ignored a huge portion of the total renewable energy used in Germany. 

To be precise they only looked at the 136 TWh of renewable electricity. This is a rather strange flaw in their data don’t you think? 

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on August 30, 2013

Thanks Jesse

The piece makes very clear that there are difficulties comparing renewables with fossil fuels, and is completely transparent in how it is done. I explain how BP compare 1 kWh of renewables with 1 kWh of fossil fuels. And I also explain why I prefer this approach to the IEA’s, which despite what Thomas is saying actually results in renewables such as wind and solar having lower percentages, and nuclear having a higher one. So, if I wanted nuclear to look better than wind and solar I would have chosen the IEA’s data and simply compared historic growth of nuclear with recent growth of wind and solar. However, as I said BP’s approach gives you a more apples to apples comparison.

Looking to the future. There is of couse an issue of how much renewable energy is needed to supply a future energy system. Some imagine energy requirements will be much lower because of the higher conversion efficiency of electricity into kinetic energy in cars etc. This however rests on some very dubious assumptions. A rather obvious problem is the need for storage of renewables, along with curtailment. So, on the supply side you will have reductions in efficiency due to curtailment and losses during storage. A second issue is the likely need to convert electricity into chemical energy. A good example of this is power to gas, which is getting a lot of attention now in Germany and Denmark. The idea is simple: you convert excess electricity into methane (I won’t go into the details.) This causes a problem because 1 kWh of wind electricity is giving you 0.5 kWh of energy in methane. And there are many more examples.

An alternative approach to BP’s, and one I think has a lot of merits, is that used by David MacKay in Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air. In his approach 1 kWh of electricity the same as he would 1 kWh of gas going into a gas furnace, or 1 kWh of diesel going into a car. 

But the key thing with this is to be transparent in how you approach the issue, stating clearly how you compare renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear, and acknowledge there is no “correct” approach. This is what I did in the piece, which is often not the case when discussing levels of penetration of renewables.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on August 30, 2013

Jesse, I realize I’m an uninvited guest here. But a little energy option example might help explain why converting apples to apples does not solve the energy-climate-war crisis we are in.

Several years ago I attended a Norwegian sponsored renewable energy conference at the U of Minnesota. The consulate emailed me, and being a rare biophysicist, I showed them how we might burn hydrogen rich fuel and simply use the spectral emission (photons) to generate electricity. She then sent that email to the head of the U’s program (and others) who called wanting to know more about “fuel cells using light.” He also said when he took that job he didn’t know he was getting into a war. So I asked them both to call Rep. Collin Peterson’s office. I also later got cussed at by an ethanol scientist, so I referred him to the physics department and “solar biofuels.”

I don’t go to that stuff anymore. Insulting people is incompatible with the task at hand. I prefer spending time learning the German opensuse Linux. I never know what I will learn next; I like learning without being called ignorant. I’m grateful Thomas introduced the already big “bio” and took the heat for it.

Phil Hughes's picture
Phil Hughes on August 30, 2013

We have been advancing an American Carbon Dioxide Manifold (ACDM) and an analogous European Carbon Dioxide Manifold (ECDM) that will take CO2 by the Persian Gulf States allowing them to buy what they wish for purposes of Long Term Recoverability and then taking the rest to Ethiopia and Kenya and later across Northern Africa for the production of Algal Fuels. In that regard, cultivators can make algal ethanol for $1 per gallon and sell it for around $2.50 per gallon. Although Algenol rests mostly on its Algal Ethanol process which is currently over 9,000 gallons per acre per year, a process for Algal Fuel Oils is on its way and is stated to be competitive at $100 per barrel oil (Algenol.com).

And $14,000 per acre per year is an excellent profit for those in Eastern and Northern Africa on land determined to be otherwise useless. Actually, it would be excellent here in the US on rich farmland.

Within reason, we need those Coal Fired Plants. The cost-sensitivity to feedstock prices is very low. Assuming even $45 per tonne, feedstock is only $0.28 per gallon. All other costs are ROI, Depreciation and Maintenance. We could pay $35 per tonne of CO2 as delivered to the ECDM and sell it for $45 per tonne and everyone will do splendidly. All of these feedstock prices could go up $10 per ton and it would still work in the case of Algal Ethanol. Matter of fact the Coal plants remaining will be quite an asset.

 If the west does not take the lead in this, China with its multitude of Coal Plants and just 0.5% of its land area, will take it on and the resultant cascade will be totally disastrous to an oil and oil service industry which allows itself to become lax and accustomed to $125 per barrel oil. And it is still more an extremely compelling reason for Carbon Dioxide flooding which at least in the case of oil must be done prior to Fracturing lest the CO2 bypass the rock in the Fractures. The oil industry has not been doing with very little CO2 because they want to, they have been doing with little CO2 because they have had to.

 

Phil A. Hughes

HughesSynergies.com

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on August 31, 2013

Robert and Willum, in your analysis of bio fuels, you look at the carbon dioxide emitted, which seems to be comparing apples with apples, but is not taking into account an important fact.

This is that biological material, wood, waste, etc, almost all breaks down naturally and produces that carbon dioxide whether we like it or not, (worms, bacteria, etc. fart it out).

To the degree that the burning of wood heats, – a house, a cookstove stove, a boiler to produce electricity, it is replacing coal, oil, gas, etc. in that function.

As with digestors, gasifiers, etc.

It should therefore be analysed as to what carbon dioxide (from fossil fuels arguably) it prevents from being put into the atmosphere, – I realise in the context of BP’s report there is not really a place for this, but realistically it is happening, burning wood is using wood that would otherwise produce carbon dioxide by breaking down to break it down by burning and produce usable energy that otherwise would be provided by burning coal etc.

This is an argument resisted fiercely by some extremist tree huggers but for quite other reasons if one looks closely.

The point is important because in my understanding (from admittedly old statistics), approximately 100 Billion tons of carbon dioxide circulates between the atmosphere and the approximately 750 billion-ton reservoir in land plants annually. 

This compares with the what is it this year) 6,7,8,9,Billion tons we are throwing into the atmosphere this year from burning fossil fuels, and it this extra that is the problem causing rise in parts per million of C02.

Arguably then, if we could convert eg. 9 billion tons of that carbon dioxide which would otherwise return naturally to the atmosphere by burning it to produce our energy requirement, (and then going on it’s way which it would anyway) we would halt global warming CO2 addition from fossil fuel, and to the degree Wood/waste, sewage digestors, etc. intercept that natural carbon dioxide progression and also direct Solar Hot Water heating, as it has the same function, (ie keeping the coal in the ground,) it should be part of these sorts of reports.

Otherwise you just don’t have the whole picture and the possibility of the bio contribution is just ignored despite evidence pointing to that it has really a big potential, possily the biggest potential.

Don’t get me wrong, I design and sell Wind, Solar and Hydro systems, my main business is really not in that field (OK I sell a couple of wood stoves a year :).

I can understand why a company like BP would not even have such things on their radar, which is probably why they don’t analyse it, – and also it is quite complicated if you include all the third world cow dung cooking etc. and that may well be behind some of the conflicts on this thread, but seriously I believe it must be included.

Sweden with it’s wood, India with it’s 10 million? digesters, certainly have immense effects in those countries.

An analysis of those two without those factors would be worthless, but other countries also important to include.

Willem Jan Oosterkamp's picture
Willem Jan Oosterkamp on August 31, 2013

It is not only in Germany that coal plants have been build in the last few years. Four big coal plants are nearly completed in the Netherlands for the German market. Gas powered stations are presently uneconomic.

It is a pity that the units for primary energy for coal, gas and biomass MJth are the same as for the lectricity generated from wind and solar MJe. And in this discussion the units are freele mixed giving rise to much confusion and personal attacs.

Biomass as an energy source is in a first approximation CO2 neutral. Second order effects exist e.g. a reduction of carbon content of the soil when planting maize(corn) for biogas and in the forest, but these are in the short term minor.

 

 

 

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