18 November 2009

Meantime, In the Real World

As people wonder if the Copenhagen conference will lead to any significant outcomes, the dramatic expansion of carbon-intensive infrastructure continues with little apparent worry about the effects of climate policies. From a quick tour of news from Asia over the past day or so:

From India:
JSW Steel Ltd., India’s third- biggest producer, may spend $500 million buying coal mines overseas to secure supplies for its local expansion.

The company is seeking mines in nations including Australia and South Africa, Managing Director Sajjan Jindal said in an interview in Mumbai. JSW Steel plans to source half of its coal overseas, he said.

Indian steelmakers are expanding as local demand is expected to grow by about 10 percent in the second half of this financial year. JSW Steel is looking at new locations after failing to find coking coal at its exploration project in Mozambique.

The company plans to raise capacity by more than 33 percent to 10 million metric tons at its Vijayanagar plant in South India by 2011 as demand from customers including Larsen & Toubro Ltd. and GMR Group increases, Jindal said in the interview yesterday. Later, JSW aims to build a mill in West Bengal state with an initial 3 million ton capacity, he said.

And also from India:
Top Indian power-equipment maker Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL.BO) said on Wednesday it has signed a joint-venture pact to build a 1,600 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

The power plant at Khandwa will be equipped with supercritical technology, which helps lower coal consumption and leads to lower emissions.

State utility Madhya Pradesh Power Generation Co Ltd and BHEL will initially have an equal share in the joint venture. Their stakes will later be diluted to 26 percent each, with the rest held by financial institutions and other partners, BHEL said.

BHEL has been promoting joint ventures with state utilities to set up and operate supercritical thermal power plants. It has set up joint ventures with the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Earlier this month, leading Indian power producer NTPC (NTPC.BO) said it would set up a 2,640 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant under a pact with the Madhya Pradesh state government and the MP Power Trading Co.
And from Bangladesh:
Bangladesh plans to set up a fund that will invest as much as $10 billion in energy and power projects within the next decade to resolve an electricity shortage, a senior official said.

The 11-month-old government also is seeking to attract about $4 billion of investments in power plants and a liquefied- natural-gas import terminal, and will meet potential investors in London, New York and Singapore in December, said Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, 64, energy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed who also holds the post of energy minister.

“The potential demand for electricity is maybe twice as much as we are producing now,” Chowdhury said in an interview in Dhaka yesterday. “It’s not just trying to meet today’s gap; it’s trying to stay ahead of the curve, which is going to be very difficult.” . .

The fund will invest in the equity and debt of coal, oil and gas companies as well as power projects along with companies, he said. The government is still working on the structure of the fund, including how it will be securitized and whether it will be traded, he said.
From Australia:
The Federal Government has put Waratah Coal’s proposed $7.5 billion ‘China First’ coal project in the fast-lane, yesterday granting it Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status.

According to the company’s chief executive Peter Lynch, MPF status will the give the central Queensland development access to a more a timely and efficient approvals process.

Waratah, owned by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, is planning to build a thermal coal mine near Alpha, in the Galilee Basin.
The lesson from these vignettes? The world needs more energy. Much more. Reducing emissions is the wrong focus, the expansion of carbon free energy is more appropriate. But until the costs of alternatives are lower than fossil fuels then news stories like the above will continue to appear around the clock and around the world.


  1. Ratio of energy returned on energy invested. This is the maths that must work for alternatives.

  2. Hi Roger,

    You're missing an "s", final paragraph, 2nd sentence: "The world *needs* more energy."

    I hope you're well!

  3. In my mind, the sooner Hyperion, NuScale, Toshiba 4S, B&W mPower, Adams Atomic Engines and the different LFTR designs can be brought to market the better.

    Imagine not needing a railroad to deliver daily supplies of fuel, no soot or other particulate emissions. What a difference that would make for the economy, the environment and the marketplace.

  4. As Daniel says,

    Nuclear has a clear advantage to replacing coal for those genuinely concerned about co2. I don't share Dr James Hansen's concerns about dangerous warming but at least he has endorsed LFTR et al as a viable alternative to coal.

    LFTR (thorium uranium fuel cycle) is actually an old technology that was dropped in the 70's to focus on the uranium plutonium fuel cycle (at a time when having lots of plutonium was viewed as a good thing).

  5. My opinion has always been that global warming is a convenient opportunistic back door to globalisation.

    Fifteen years ago there was large scale opposition accompanied by demonstrations to globalisation on the basis of AGW. Not only did Kyoto introduce carbon trading as a windfall for oil companies and banks , it also accelerated globalisation by creating an energy cost differential between the developed world and the cheap labour world.

    Faced with higher energy costs, a company can either accept lower profits or borrow money from a bank and relocate to the democracy, civil rights and trade union free Elysian fields of China.

  6. Here is an interesting fact

    World's 15 Biggest Ships Equal Pollution of 760m Cars


    So, why do we never hear about this from the media and politicians ? Because that's how your dvd player gets from the investment bank's Chinese slave labour camp to your home.

  7. Roger,

    Here’s some more real world:

    “California is expected to implement energy-conserving regulations any day now that manufacturers and retailers say will in effect ban the sale of big-screen TVs in the state. Other states are likely to follow the Golden State’s ‘green’ initiative in the months ahead.

    But a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 66% of Americans oppose a law that would effectively ban the sale of big-screen televisions to save energy. Sixteen percent (16%) favor the idea, and 18% are not sure.”

    What? Only 16% want to save the planet? Oh nooooooooo!

    I guess the Left want their “money for nothing” AND their MTV (on a very big screen).

    Regardless of whether we’re talking about “need” or “want”, the demand for energy will continue to grow. If (and only if) government stays out of the way, we will find efficient and effective alternatives to carbon in due time (decades from now).

    Meantime, AGW is nothing to worry about.

  8. A solar thermal plant project was cancelled in California. Why? Environmentalists and a senator were concerned that allowing this 5130-acre plant would harm migration through the 500,000 acre Broadwell dry lake. Solar thermal is en route to becoming cost competitive with coal fired plants. Seems to me that carbon issue is more about control and feelings other than science and progress.

  9. -9-WisdomKurk,

    Remember when the so-called “environmentalists” were worried about how drilling for oil on the North Slope would impact the Caribou?

    The Caribou did just fine. And, Alaskan bears found the pipeline to be a great paw warmer. But the eco-lawyers fared best of all.

    In the end, it’s ONLY about the money (and totalitarian politics). For the so-called “environmental” advocates, it’s only about enriching themselves at tax payer expense. Okay, they also get loads of cash from the terminally gullible.

  10. -9-

    Solar is ALWAYS "en route" to becoming cost competitive with coal. In the 1970s, solar was going to be competitive in the 1980s. In the 1980s, solar was going to be competitive in the 1990s.

    The costs of building solar facilities and transmitting electricity from solar is drastically higher than for coal. Solar is en route like a sloth - you'll die before it moves enough for you to notice.

  11. Strictly speaking coal for steelmaking isn't just about energy. You need a chemical reducing agent to smelt metals. There was a time when wood was used. Alternatives can mitigate some of the energy demand, but the smelting process is one of removing oxygen from the ore, and you need something that will do that. Aluminum and a few other metals are reduced electrically, but iron needs an oxygen sponge.

  12. When I saw the photo, I wondered if it was a 'caption competition.' "Shovel faster, Al Gore's switching the lights on in his mansion." Did I win? :-)

  13. Paul:

    Photo Contest! Yes, you win!

    Speaking of the photo, you have to love the high-tech loading system and for the delivery system…..are those heavy duty Kenworths awaiting to be loaded? Wonder how the Mule is doing down in the mine.

  14. I agree with your accessment of solar cell history. What I'm talking about is solar thermal: mirrors used to focus the sun onto a boiler and the resultant steam used to turn turbines. I like simple and direct in engineering.

  15. -7-eric144

    Mind you, this comparison between the 15 largest ships and 760 million cars refers to nitrogen and sulfur oxide, not CO2. It's not a comparison of their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

  16. Before anyone else talks about the viability of energy distribution systems for solar power they should look again at the picture at the top which shows the distribution system for getting coal to the power stations in the first place. The overall costs of ancillary coal operations are rarely factored in when there's debunking to be done. And that's just part of the process because the coal had to be cut out of the ground in the first place then onsite it must be conveyed, pulverised, milled, separated and the resulting ash handled and dumped and flue gases scrubbed. Solar fuel makes it's own way to the generators with no fuss and no mess to clean up afterward. Easy to be lop-sided in your analysis.

  17. Thanks Laurens. The link I had implied Co2. It will teach me not to overvalue my own competence.

  18. jgdes,

    But solar is diffuse, highly variable and requires large areas of collectors. Coal is energy dense, continuously available and, in the developed world anyway, mining and delivery is heavily mechanised and very efficient. Unless you put the collectors in geosynchronous orbit or develop some magical energy storage facility, solar will never be more than a regional supplemental energy source. You'll still need the same base load generating capacity and some other form of peak load generating capacity. Right now your only choices for those are fossil and nuclear powered.

  19. DeWitt
    I'd agree except that deserts are a perfect place to stick them in and there really is no shortage of space out there. The variability issue has already been alleviated with modern grid hardware. Notwithstanding that we use minimal electricity at night, funnily enough though I read recently that we can mow manage to capture radiation energy from the atmosphere at night too. Plus we routinely and rapidly lay hundreds of miles of pipelines and cables through the most inhospitable places on earth, so I feel that distribution should be a non-issue. Of course you can even stick them on your roof if you live in a Sunny locale and be energy independent. Payback is improving each year and will continue to improve as more supermarkets like Walmart buy them up.

    I'd remind you that energy storage, far from being magical, is quite prevalent already and even for coal or nuclear systems it makes far more sense than just wasting the base load energy when consumption drops. Plus it's also quite handy for avoiding blackouts or the use of peaker plants.

  20. jgdes,

    I'd like to see the reference on capturing energy from the sky at night. That would seem to be a Second Law violation at first glance.

    Some power plants make use of pumped storage of water to a reservoir at higher altitude during off-peak hours, but it requires the right combination of available water and local geography. AFAIK, it's not common. If you have information about large scale storage for wind or solar electricity that can be used anywhere, I'd very much like to see it.

    Btw, where I live, electricity use in the winter peaks at night because most homes heat with electricity, either with heat pumps or resistive heaters.

  21. jgdes,

    As far as locating solar plants in the desert, I refer you to comment #9 above.