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Coal on limited lifespan as CCS hopes go up in smoke

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The coal industry is facing a new crisis point as a group of leading scientists call for the construction of new coal generators to cease within three years, and as the industry’s flagship “clean coal” and carbon capture and storage project went up in smoke in the US.

As reported elsewhere on this web site, the US energy utility Southern Co finally gave up on its much-vaunted Kemper coal gasification and CCS project, after costs soared from $US1.8 billion to more than $US7.5 billion ($A10 billion), and it realised it wasn’t going to work.

On Wednesday, US time, it announced it would cease operations immediately on the coal component of the project, and just use the asset as a gas generator. Shareholders already saddled with $US3.1 billion of losses face a further $US3.4 billion write down if Southern Co can’t convince regulators to pass those costs on to consumers bills.

The spectacular failure of the Kemper facility – more than $US7.5 billion for a 582MW plant, the most expensive in US history per MW – comes amid a renewed call for new coal generation to be stopped in its tracks, and for existing coal generation to be wound back rapidly.

In an article in Nature magazine, more than 60 scientists and prominent leaders, including the former UNFCCC secretary Christiana Figures, and former ACTU president Sharan Burrow, now general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, say the world has three years to set emissions on the right course.

carbon crunch

It recommends a six-point plan, including no new coal generators post 2020, accelerating wind and solar and other renewables, retiring all coal-fired generators and boosting electric vehicles.

“The climate math is brutally clear: While the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence until 2020,” writes co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Action by 2020 is necessary, but clearly not sufficient – it needs to set the course for halving CO2 emissions every other decade.”

He drew an analogy to Moore’s Law, which states that computer processors double in power about every two years, by saying that the ‘carbon law’ can become a self-fulfilling prophecy to mobilise innovation and market forces. “This will be unstoppable – yet only if we propel the world into action now.”

The call by the group echoes a similar, if slightly more cautious warning by the International Energy Agency last month. But even the conservative IEA said that coal generation – if continued at current rates – could only have a life-span of 14 years if climate targets were to be reached.

Yet in Australia, conservative forces are pushing for more coal-fired generators to be built, and to be funded by government because the private sector has made it clear that they are not interested in such adventures.

The calls for new coal plants intensified this week from former prime minister Tony Abbott, Coalition MP George Christensen and many conservative media commentators.

They want them to be built in Queensland and Victoria. Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said it “would be nice” to see a new “state-of-the-art” coal generator in Australia.

The Coalition has also threatened to impose financial penalties on states than ban “fracking” by reducing their share of the GST take. “I think it needs a fair dinkum look,” Morrison told the Australian.

The Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the Coalition was in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. “They’re simply doing the fossil fuel industry’s bidding by trying to underhandedly overturn fracking bans and moratoriums endorsed by the community.”

The scientists writing in Nature said that “all countries should adopt plans for achieving 100 per cent renewable electricity production, while ensuring that markets can be designed to enable renewable-energy expansion.”

They said “those in power must also stand up for science”, and saw the upcoming G20 summit as a moment to do just that, despite the attempts by the Trump administration to keep climate off the agenda.

“There will always be those who hide their heads in the sand and ignore the global risks of climate change,” the scientists write. “But there are many more of us committed to overcoming this inertia. Let us stay optimistic and act boldly together.”

Ironically, the Kemper failure came on the same day as the coal industry was effectively abandoned by a leading climate denier group, which suggested that CCS was little more than a “utopian dream” and would never be competitive.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation, led by former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson, and whose advisory board includes Australian geologist and climate denier Ian Plimer, said CCS had been promoted for too long on the basis of wishful thinking.

“Successive governments haven’t thought their policies through. The focus on renewables is making CCS – already a marginal technology – even less viable. A coherent strategy could reduce carbon emissions at a fraction of the current cost by switching to gas with the option to install CCS if/when it makes economic sense.”

In other words, it suggests that coal plants be abandoned in favour of gas, because it would be cheaper to reduce emissions. The GWPF is no fan of renewables, but it accepts it has put CCS, and coal, out of business.

And in even more depressing news for the Australian coal industry, the GWPF acknowledged that major markets like India are likely to wind down coal imports in favour of gas (and we would suggest renewable energy).

The Climate Council’s Andrew Stock, who oversaw the construction of the last three large gas power stations on Australia’s east coast, said the news about Kemper should serve as a serious warning as the Federal Government continues to flag potential plans for “clean coal” in Australia.

“Coal is always polluting, regardless of whether the technology is “ultra super critical”, “high efficiency low emissions” or “carbon capture and storage. The Federal Government’s must instead urgently transition to clean, affordable and secure renewable energy and storage technology.”

   

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  • johnnewton

    Won’t work? Cost billions? That won’t stop the fossil fools in Canberra.

    • Andrew Roydhouse

      Sounds like the CBD & South East Light Rail in Sydney. Cost blow-outs by $1bn, operating cost blow-out more than $500m *before it is even running), and it actually results in over a 60% cut in public transport passenger capacity between Kingsford/Randwick and Central /Circular Quay vs the 20 bus routes it is to eliminate.

      Longer journey times, 0ver 70% reduction, per 100 passengers capacity, in disabled seating, etc etc.

      Seems facts and figures do not matter when it comes to wasting tax payer funds in Australia.

      The next question will be on whether it is one or two new Coal plants…

      Anyone care to bet against that?

      • DJR96

        None. The coalition won’t get reelected for as long as they keep coal on there agenda, therefore won’t be able to make it happen.

      • Steven Gannon

        Too bad they killed the city to Eastern suburbs trams in the 60’s. The killing off it the tramlines was not an isolated case and is about the only ” conspiracy theory” I have found plausible (one notable exception of course). Several tram depots here and in the US caught fire not long after.

      • Steven Gannon

        What odds are you offering? I’ll plonk if you’re offering evens.

  • Rob G

    Canavan is going to be so upset.

    • Ross Flint

      Nah … he’ll just say it’s fake news!

      • Gold Eagle

        And he would be correct.

        • Joe

          Canavan, “The Rescuers Minister” will bring out his lumps of CLEEEEEEEEN COAL just to prove us all wrong !

  • cardigan
    • Shane White

      When those messages cease what will you do?
      And so what to conclude from that article?
      That there is considerable scientific reticence and the future is bleak.

  • Shane White

    “The coal industry is facing a new crisis point…”.
    Civilisation and nature are facing a crisis point, not coal Giles. Watch this (just click play…) – http://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/the-business/

    Smiles all round; even Elysse Morgan is happy and smiling.
    Difficult to fathom. Serious mental health issues but I digress.

    • Ren Stimpy

      Sounds like current (not new) coal supply will just be diverted away from South Korea and Japan to China (which btw is in the process of closing many of its own low quality coal mines and freezing a lot of coal power station development).

      This will probably encourage South Korea and Japan to accelerate their transition to clean energy.

      • Shane White

        Japan being the largest financier of coal on the planet, I consider your optimism somewhat unrealistic Ren.
        http://www.behindenergy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/coal-finance_wwf.png

        • Ren Stimpy

          At the rate the coal industry is being disrupted, 2014 might as well have been a decade ago. Things are moving way too fast to quote a 3 year old chart.

          • Shane White

            Okay Ren, here’s a one year old chart. Is that recent enough for you? See Pg 8.
            https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/swept-under-rug-coal-financing-report.pdf
            GO JAPAN!!!!

          • Ren Stimpy

            OK so it looks like they added $1billion of coal financing in 2015, having added an average of $2.6 billion in each of the 8 years prior to that. It’s slowing down fast (if that makes sense). Got any 2016 numbers Shane?

          • Shane White

            C’mon Ren, you’ve seen enough of my comments to know the task ahead for a safe climate is a nightmare – emission reduction rates beyond historic precedent beginning in 2020 and still passing on a massive negative emission burden to young people. The supposed transition you identified is not happening in this context. We’re still pouring billions into coal.

            We need to encourage CCS of coal. Yes it’s a bitter pill to swallow but all that matters is a safe climate. Solar and wind alone will not ensure this.

            “From 2007 to 2015, the G7 collectively provided more than $42 billion in support of coal projects. During this period, Japan—host of the 2016 G7 conference—emerged as the worst offender with $22 billion in support for coal projects. Germany came in second with $9 billion. Perhaps worse, G7 nations are trying to sweep their support for dirty coal under the rug.” https://www.nrdc.org/resources/swept-under-rug

            http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/EnergyConsump/GlobalEnergyConsumpPct.png

            http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/EnergyConsump/WorldPrimaryEnergy_line.png

          • Ren Stimpy

            So no 2016 numbers?

            It’s pretty clear from your charts that coal use shrank between 2014 and 2015. Your lower chart probably represents the coal peak. Your upper chart shows a pretty spectacular breakout of wind and solar coming from such a low base – i.e. near zero ten years ago, but doubling in volume every two years.

            Show me the 2016 chart and we can get closer to the truth of the trend.

          • Shane White

            The trend Ren is as it ever was; for politicians to kick the can down the road, to continue with Business As Usual at the behest of the Moderate Public. You see, we must fly drive, and make coffee using those little pods AT ALL COSTS! Oh and little Timmy is ready for me to drive him to his evening violin lessons. All imperative.

          • Ren Stimpy

            …and not the wishing and hoping.

          • Ren Stimpy

            You have to rule out wholesale changes to human behaviour as a solution to climate change. People are NOT going to stop driving their little Timmy to violin lessons because of climate change.

            The good news is there’s an ECONOMIC transition now well underway, and soon enough those people will be driving little Timmy to violin lessons in an EMISSIONS-FREE car.

          • Shane White

            And back we come to Green Capitalism and bold claims.

          • Ren Stimpy

            No it’s just plain capitalism. They’ll be driving that emissions-free car because it saves them MONEY.

            Have you factored into your solution the cost of all those bronze statues of Vladimir Lenin?

          • Shane White

            There you go again, running about stating things without any reference or any objectivity.
            You are being a bore and not Quite Interesting.

          • Ren Stimpy

            I have to admit it’s a lot of fun.

          • Shane White

            Fun for you, a nightmare for those already suffering. Callous.

          • Ren Stimpy

            ‘Suffering’ compared to Somaliland? Get a grip.

          • Shane White

            1. You’re
            2. No, not me. Well not yet.
            3. Somaliland?
            4. Huh?
            5. And this is your idea of fun?

          • Shane White

            Clear? You must be sitting *very* close to your screen for such optimism.

          • Ren Stimpy

            It’s all in the numbers Shane…

          • Shane White

            Yeh, relatively 0.

          • Ren Stimpy

            to just a few

          • Shane White

            Look at all the bumps along coal’s share in the charts above. What you claim is “clear” I claim is “noise”. There is no clear signal, apart from the tens of billions of dollars that continue to be invested by the G7.

          • Ren Stimpy

            But do “tens of billions” continue to be invested by G7??? Do they really?

            I think that fossil fuel sources can GO FUCK THEMSELVES!!!!

          • Shane White

            The public love coal. How else could so much of their money be invested in it?

          • Ren Stimpy

            Do the public love coal or do YOU love coal?

          • Shane White

            Hey, I didn’t have $44 billion kicking about.
            I think everyone loves coal don’t they? I haven’t heard any complaints from the public.

          • Ren Stimpy

            $44 billion in dead end 20th century tech? It’s time to grow up.

          • Shane White

            Tell that to the voting public. Good luck; they’re too busy enjoying the high life.

          • Ren Stimpy

            i.e. life

          • Shane White
          • Ren Stimpy

            Yea every asthmatic loves coal ??? You haven’t heard any complaints because you are a single-minded Liberal gob-shite selfish f**k who doesn’t listen to his community!

          • Shane White

            No, you’re wrong; I’m just being objective.

            Where are these complaints? Last I checked everyone’s too busy to give a sh1t, whether working or playing. Feel free to enlighten me.
            And what are the emission reduction policies of the Coalition, Labor and the Greens?

          • Shane White

            Maybe I’m just a reasonable person who understandingly doesn’t expect the following below to occur and thinks we should have a plan B?
            From CoalSwarm’s report –

            Existing plant retirements (Paris 1.5°C scenario): In China, 15,000 MW of capacity is retired annually through 2021, rising to 25,000 per year through 2027, then rising again to 61,914 MW per year from 2028 to 2040. In the EU28 and the OECD, the following capacity is retired annually beginning immediately and ending in 2030: 12,147 MW per year in the EU28 and 33,238 MW per year in the OECD. In the rest of the world, retirement at the rate of 29,716 MW per year begins in 2030 and ends in 2050.

            I you think that’s going to happen, then I would claim you’re the oddball. But as usual, you Brightsiders cling to every little dribble of tenuous good news about a possibility as if it’s a sure and massive thing.

      • Alastair Leith

        Unfortunately South Korea’s big switch to renewables is only 15% by 2030 or something marginal. Fossil gas will replacing most of the coal.

  • Alastair Leith

    “Coal is always polluting, regardless of whether the technology is “ultra super critical”, “high efficiency low emissions” or “carbon capture and storage. The Federal Government’s must instead urgently transition to clean, affordable and secure renewable energy and storage technology.”

    You’d think a man who had installed three gas plants would know that sometimes the fugitives from fossil gas and even LNG CO2 venting make it worse than some coal plants in terms of GHG emissions. Maybe he didn’t want to say too much?

  • Miles Harding

    Giles, this is one of the best examples of a Seneca cliff that I have seen.

    Those steep lines represent disruption, needless hardship and expense.

    The more successful the coal trolls are at distorting policy, the more problems they will cause for society when the inevitable decline of coal is forced upon us. (should we order the casket now?)

    Of course, there are profits to be made NOW.

    This also goes to illustrate the irony of technological prowess, particularly I’m thinking of oil here, but metals and minerals are also showing the same signs. Fracking, tight oil, deepwater, arctic and infill drilling and mountain-top removal only serve to prolong the plateau and will have the effect of steepening the decline as the cushioning reserves will have been used up maintaining the fiction of sufficiency. This decline will be extremely disruptive and unrelenting when it occurs.

    • Rod

      Some expect the decline in oil and gas reserves to be very steep.
      http://www.oil-price.net/en/articles/shale-high-depletion-rates-in-bakken.php

      • Miles Harding

        Hi Rod,
        This is very worrying particularly with analysts like Steven Kopits oberving that a very small oversupply, in the order of 0.5M barrels per day in 2015 was suffcient to crash the oil price from $100 to $50.

        The your link have may have been a bit ahead of its time, but I’d have to think that the exposure of ‘US Oil Independence’ as a fiction must be close now.

        The (fake) news continues with a story here:
        http://www.businessinsider.com/comeback-of-us-shale-2017-1?IR=T
        The Business insider links this years’ low production costs to efficiency. (a rosy future?)
        Whereas this oilprice story:
        http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Tech-Miracle-In-US-Shale-Is-A-Media-Myth.html
        Sees the same as a sign that rig operatore are desperate, the result of a 40% downturn in drilling. (hardly sustainable or reassuring)

        Also, the Oil price story has a troubling graph that indicates the 2016 Bakken well decline rates are steeper than previous years, which is expected as the best spots are drilled out and new wells are drilled into increasingly marginal territory.

        Back in 2010 or 12, a satellite survey revealed massive in-fill drilliing in the Saudi Ghawar field, which was seen as a means to maintain production as the field depletes. Likely the end of this field will be a rapid decline. This could be offset by Iraq being welcomed back in to the supply tent, but for how long?

        We should be expecting the oil over supply to reverse sometime soon, but the price may not soar as the likes of Citi predict, and may be limited by the consumers capacity to pay. In late 2014, Steven Kopits provided one of the most lucid explanations for this in a lecture:
        http://energypolicy.columbia.edu/events-calendar/global-oil-market-forecasting-main-approaches-key-drivers