Big Picture Burning Money Carbon Capture Carbon Commodities Climate Change Cost Effective Emissions Impossible Nuclear Nuisance

The Eleven Year Time Horizon

[ UPDATE – part of my argument about Coal got garbled. I have bolded changes.]

McKinsey Carbon Cost Abatement Curve

Over the Late Spring Bank Holiday Weekend, I had the unintentional opportunity to spend some recreational time with someone employed by the Government of the United Kingdom. I am not going to divulge details.

This person had clearly been to Brainwashing School and was on-message consistently, even in the relaxed and non-formal setting. They repeated, almost verbatim, rationales I have been hearing for several years.

For this person, Offshore Wind Power was clearly the better option when compared to Onshore Wind Power – despite the extra deployment, cabling and maintenance costs involved.

And of course, according to this person, we have a duty not to abandon any technology – Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) had to stay a part of the diversity of the “energy mix” – despite the fact that funds directed to CCS would be much better spent on Energy Efficiency and a mass programme of building insulation.

It’s “fingers crossed” as regards CCS – it may never be deployed widely enough to count. It may turn out that there are not high volumes of suitable economically viable storage options.

I did agree with the Government person in some matters. China, of course, is a supreme worry because of their Coal-burning. But China is responsible for controlling Chinese Carbon Dioxide Emissions in my thinking, not Europe.

And how much of China’s emissions are due to trade, huh ? Besides the 35% or so directly related to trade, there’s the knock-on effect of all that export income raising expectations of Development in China, which all leads to extra emissions.

The effects of the Economic Squeeze, and the fallout from the bursting of the Property Bubble have had an enormous, and, I would hazard, lasting negative impact on domestic infrastructural development. Regeneration is dead. The wormhole starts here.

In the future, Energy-wasteful models of consumption are bound to suffer. For example, my prediction is that many of the Supermarket developments (with their “affordable housing” component) proposed around the country will just not happen.

And the signs are that Supermarkets are already starting to withdraw the fabled “product choice” from us. Soon all Supermarkets could be merely warehouses stocking random quality, randomly supplied goods.

The reason is that their retail operation is very dependent on Carbon Energy – wasting Energy on transportation, lighting, heating, chilling, packaging.

And the future points to a high price for Carbon Energy. Pricing Carbon Emissions will automatically add to the prices for Carbon Energy, and squeeze everybody’s budgets.

So the future of Construction and Development is constrained. And in this atmosphere, where companies are pulling back from investment in new infrastructure, it seems highly unlikely that big ticket projects such as CCS and new Nuclear will ever make it off the drawing board – or out of the CAD package – to use a more modern metaphor.

The UK Government has already committed funds to Carbon Capture and Storage. A bailout for the coal-burning industry.

And now the new Nuclear developers have put out the begging bowl (or the “Donate” page on their websites) :-

“Today’s warning from EDF about the need for more financial support for nuclear power shows that there is still a long way to go.”

Something like 90% of the budget for the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change is dedicated to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

This is a hidden public subsidy of the privatised nuclear industry.

It points to the fact that Nuclear Power is not really economically viable.

We might think it’s a good use of public money to clear up the Nuclear Waste. If we’d paid for it in our Energy bills it might have stopped people using electricity so wastefully, but anyway, there’s no use crying over spilt windfalls.

My argument is that the Carbon Capture and Storage drive may suffer from a similar predicament to the one the Nuclear industry has fallen into.

If say, in 2020 or 2025, we find that Carbon Capture and Storage projects are only capable of squirrelling away 15% to 20% of Carbon Dioxide from coal-burning worldwide, where do we go after that ?

How much more money would we then need to throw at solutions for Coal that CCS cannot provide ? We need to come up with 80% or more Carbon Reductions, after all. And that means pretty much 80% reductions for Coal emissions.

And if CCS is not “it”, the “magic bullet” for curing Coal, in that case we may need to have public money to decommission all the coal-fired plants and their CCS equipment. The CDA – Coal Decommissioning Authority ?

In eleven years’ time, in 2020, it is unlikely that any new Nuclear Energy plants will be up and running, in operation. The current scheme for new Nuclear is just a replacement programme, not the provision of added capacity. So it won’t answer any Climate Change targets, unless it can form a “baseload” for the grid taking the pressure off Renewable variabilities.

If neither CCS nor Nuclear have helped us towards our Renewable Energy targets and our Emissions Reductions Commitments in 2020, what will we do then ?

Why aren’t we doing something more simple ?

We do need to start choosing technologies. Expensive, complex plant like CCS and Nuclear Power poses implicit risks : both risks of failure and risks of failure to address the targets on Carbon and Energy.

The management consultants McKinsey have told us what we need to do, in language that everyone should be able to understand, even Government drones :-

Cheapest first !

And by doing the cheapest first, CCS and new Nuclear could be entirely avoided, and a Carbon Price won’t be necessary.

This might be a Good Thing, since there is a continuing struggle between those who want stable Energy prices and those who want to charge for Carbon Dioxide emissions :-

“Energy ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries urged their governments and the rest of the world on Monday to keep investing in new and cleaner energy sources, despite the economic crisis. Concluding a two-day summit in Rome, G-8 ministers and officials from 15 more countries said governments and businesses must also work to keep energy prices stable or risk hampering the economic recovery.”

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