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Renewables industry lobby group REN21 has published a new report “Renewables Global Futures Report 2017“. The report is written by Sven Teske who used to write similar reports together with the industry lobby groups for Greenpeace (some content has been copied from there). For this new report Teske et al. interviewed a bunch of “renowned energy experts” who were selected by asking for suggestions from…REN21! As a result of this careful selection process, they created a nice safe space of experts whose interests and preferences likely align well with the objectives of REN21. Success guaranteed!

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Weird…

Strangely they then explain how they ranked each candidate according to their level of faith, but as far as I can see, nowhere do they either explain what their ranking was or how it was used. There is some discussion that seems to indicate that faith was strong mainly among europeans and among these germans and greens seemed to be strangely well represented. Go figure.

Ren21_demand 2017-04-07 at 14.23.40.png

Increased demand. Those thinking demand will be lower in 2050 are outliers.

Now it is not too surprising that those interviewed have a relatively high level of faith in renewables, but it is more interesting to explore how their expectations actually align with serious climate policies. This report ignores actual emissions implication almost entirely and one can only wonder why? It is not, however, difficult to see the implications. First of all, even most of their carefully chosen experts foresee substantially increased energy demand.

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“Expert debates within the climate and energy communities take place largely within their own silos…”

Bizarrely the report then seems to criticize its own experts by speculating on why they are wrong. So who were the renowned expert? Teske or the people interviewed?

Ren21_RESshare.png

More renewables, but lots of other stuff as well and how much of this is things like biofuels?

As for the share of renewables of the overall demand there were varying opinions, but it seems that median expected share in 2050 was around 50%. So lets put things together. Around 40% demand increase, maybe 50-60% RES share and we are left with maybe 30% emissions reductions from energy production by 2050. So sad. So their carefully selected experts do not, in fact, believe that renewables can deliver the kind of emissions reductions we need. Why didn’t Teske or REN21 highlight this? It does not promote happy talk for sure, but maybe time for happy talk is over and we should start feeling inspired by policies that would actually be meaningful. Grownups see the need for action on a broad front with all possible tools on the table.

PS. The report has also weirdly misleading spin. See below for an example. For those familiar with Teske’s past behavior this is not too surprising. When IPCC made the mistake of giving him the microphone when their SREN report (on renewables only energy issues) was released. He promptly used this as an opportunity to promote Greenpeace’s and industry’s E[R] scenario as representative of the SREN scenarios while ignoring contributions from most other authors. In reality  E[R] was an extreme outlier even in the context where most authors were probably more kindly disposed towards renewables than the average.

Correction added 8.4: I misintepreted the below figure. (I thank Ikemeister for pointing this out.) The text talked about doubling (from 28%) so the claim is correct (although phrasing/spin could be clearer IMHO). I cannot resist pointing out how the text accompanying figure on RES share of final demand was crafted. Note that more than 60% share was guessed by about 49%. Text quotes higher figures by using subsamples from India and Europe. Desire to spin the right narrative was stronger than desire to use all the data.

REN21_Poll_Notheydidnt 2017-04-07 at 14.22.31.png

No they didn’t. About 41% did. (note correction)

Added 8.4.2017: Note also how skewed the distribution of experts is. About half seem to be from  few west european countries (most are germans), from Japan, or US. That is less than 10% of global population and from rich countries that are unlikely to determine the energy trends for humanity in the next decades.

Addition 13.4.2017: I will add a little news on the issue of “spin” since this happened almost at the same time as this post. Reuters relying on some Greenpeace report announced that China will spent a lot on solar and wind etc. Being a sort of guy who likes to go to actual sources, I tried to find it. I found a press release announcing this, but then had to follow a link to a Greenpeace-China page . Then from the very bottom of this chinese page I eventually found a link to the actual report (in chinese). I almost got a feeling they didn’t want people to actually read it. So of course I had to have a look and ran it through a translator. Below is the reports vision on chinese electricity supply and demand until 2030. The vision implies substantial increases in the use of fossil fuels. Increases in low carbon sources is inadequate to even cover the rising demand let alone decarbonize. One would think this would be relevant piece of information for public to know, but clearly Greenpeace thought otherwise.

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Vision implying climate failure. 

 

In the earlier post I summarized my estimates on the limits to capacity utilization if production is done either with wind or solar power.  Here I will (over)think implication a bit further.  mthOn their own wind and solar power implied strong restrictions on achievable utilization rates. Overbuilding generation capacity (and associated distribution system) could increase utilization rates, but at the expense of ever increasing amount of wasted power and underutilized power lines. Storage could also help, but smoothing out the production profile would require large amount of underutilized storage capacity. There doesn’t seem to be away around this. Low capacity factor of variable power source has cascading effects elsewhere. If not fixed capacity utilization of end users would be strongly constrained and most likely too low to enable profitable business. On the other hand attempts to fix the problem would imply underutilized generators, power lines, and/or storage. Technical developments will not change this since the problem is not due to specific technology or costs.  Are there ways around these problems? Of course…

If you are planning to invest in a new plant producing for example solar panels and you find production to be unprofitable with utilizations rates implied by solar power, your first choice is simply not to invest. If economic preconditions do not exist, production never materializes even if we might find such production desirable or even critically important. Production would either not happen or move to a place where higher utilization rates are possible. Various shades of gray might also exists as they do today especially in the developing world. If production process is such that you could for example store some parts for later use, it might be possible to outsource only those phases which require reliable power elsewhere. Of course, this still opens up possibilities for those not saddled with the same constraints.

Another option is not to rely solely on variable renewables, but to have a fleet of dispatchable generators delivering the power services variable renewables cannot deliver. Today this most likely implies burning fossil fuels, but in principle hydro and nuclear power would work as well. This again implies overbuilding infrastructure and is unlikely to be economically optimal. However this fundamental reliance on existing infrastructure is the order of the day in the developed world.

Visions where variable renewables dominate are aspirational marketing material while on the ground unholy alliance seems to have quietly developed between many renewable and fossil fuel lobbyists. Cozy reliance on fossil fuels enables somewhat more variable renewables to be built before technical limitations become apparent. Supporting this modest buildup (with public money) buys fossil fuel industry social licence as well as removes long term threat of actual decarbonization. Petty about the climate, but the constituency for whom this is actually a priority is weak.  This is welcome also for many politicians who are only too happy to project an appearance of activity (at relatively low cost) while their policies imply changes which have a marginal impact on the actual problem. This relates to deep decarbonization in a same way as “champagne socialism” relates to revolution of the proletariat.

I recently read a very interesting book “Fossil Capital” by Andreas Malm on the history of industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. (Note: book is only worth reading until chapter 12. There the author got tired of thinking.)  Malm focused on the question of why coal and steam engine won over water power in the early decades of the 19th century. Remarkably coal did not win because water resource would have been insufficient. There was still plenty of untapped potential in the UK. Also coal did not win because it was cheaper. In fact, mechanical power from steam engines was more costly and many were of the opinion that it was also of worse quality. So what happened?

There were many overlapping reasons. For example, factories followed labour to the cities. In the early 19th century it was already clear from the demographics that labour was to be found in the cities. Water power was dispersed and getting meek labour to run the machines in the middle of nowhere was harder. In fact, owners of water powered factories were relatively more dependent on the apprenticeship system providing them with, what can apparently with some justification be called,  slave (child) labour. Water power was also more variable than steam, which made it even more important to have well behaved labour that would be willing to work long and irregular hours.

However, it turned out labour did not think their position was optimal (go figure) and started to make noise. This resulted in legal (and actually enforced) restrictions on working hours and gradual improvement on workers position. (It also induced technological change that made large number of especially troublesome workers redundant, but let us not talk about that here.) Owners did not of course like these limitations and lobbied against them, but relatively speaking those using steam found it easier to adapt. They could live with the shorter and more regular working week since reliable power could enable high productivity during working hours. Coal became the backbone of british industrial might and the road was opened for more broadly shared economic growth.

So can we learn something from this? I think we can since economic and social arguments for why coal won have not disappeared. If you listen to todays renewables promotion, you will be constantly bombarded with statements about how huge the potential energy resource is and how cheap it is…or is going to be any day now. Might it be a cause for concern that these two reasons were also promoted by water proponents in the 19th century Britain just when coal was taking over? Might there be a risk, we are discussing beside the point? If excessive reliance on variable renewables end up limiting capacity utilization, is there not a similar risk that water power faced in the 19th century? Who bears the cost of lower utilization? Labour? Lower salaries and/or more irregular working hours anyone? Vacations in the winter since solar power produces mainly in the summer?  If push comes to shove and such questions have to be asked, I am quite sure any techno-fetishes we might have, will evaporate.

To me conclusion seems clear. It is unlikely humanity will ever be primarily powered by variable renewables. If fuel etc. costs for dispatchable generators are high compared to the cost of electricity from variable renewables, wind and solar might be economically justified as a part of a more diverse fleet of generators. However, it is also possible that on economic grounds they will remain niche producers whose existence is dependent on subsidies and political good will. Future will tell.

This will probably be a fairly long post mainly summarizing findings from my simple toy model….so proceed at your own peril.  For a while I have been interested in how the properties of the power source affect the end user. For the consumer different power sources deliver very different value, but the public discussion is typically centered (more or less honestly) on costs. I think one issue of great relevance is the capacity utilization and the aim of this post is to record my studies on the matter. In particular I wish to explore the variable power sources such as wind and solar in the context of capacity utilization. My thoughts are in the end closely related to “capacity factor rule” discussed by John Morgan, but I approach the issue from somewhat different angle.

What is a capacity utilization  and why it matters?

Capacity utilization compares realized production with what could be possible. The concept seems to be somewhat fuzzy since theoretically maximum output could be defined in different ways. However, for an advanced economy capacity utilization is high, for example, in EU it is typically higher than 80% with a scary dip during last financial crisis. In an undeveloped country capacity utilization is lower, for example around 55% in Bangladesh. This makes sense, since things like poor infrastructure hamper production that might have otherwise happened. High capacity utilization is needed especially when lots of capital is spent since otherwise production could not cover capital costs. If high capacity utilization cannot be ensured, investments requiring large amounts of capital will not happen (unless one finds someone to pay for the losses).

In a developed economy capacity utlization is not really limited by the power supply. We get power from the plug whenever we need it. Capacity utilization is limited more by things like rising labour costs if one aims for maximum production or perhaps uncertainty on whether or not a buyer can be found for the product. However, our electricity production follows the demand and not all power sources can do that. Some view it desirable that consumers should in fact adjust their consumption according to weather. This raises the question: “How will this limit the capacity utlizations?”

This is a hard question and I can only scratch the surface here. I assume a “machine” or factory that can use certain amount of power and what is produces is proportional to its electricity consumption. I will then either use wind power or solar power as a power source and also add a storage to help even out the power variations. If there is excess power and storage is not full, we fill it. If power supply is lacking, we drain the storage. (I assume 80% round trip efficiency.) How much power machine can use, is a variable. It probably makes no sense for this to be higher than the wind or solar capacity, but if it is reduced utilization rate for the machine can probably be increased. It should be noted that the estimates below do not (of course) use the economists definitions for capacity utilization. This is more likely to give an estimate on the additional limitations on capacity utilization on top of all those other factors that are operating in any case.

So let me quickly summarize what I find…

Figure 2: Wind power source limited capacity utilization as a function of “machine capacity” (i.e. what fraction of power source capacity it can use) and storage (days at average wind production). Wind power data from UK 2013.

Figure 3: same as Figure 1, but using solar power as a source. (Production data from Germany 2015.)

Figures 2 and 3 show my rough estimates for the “capacity utilization” as a function of machine capacity and amount of storage (hours of average power production). If machine capacity is equal to the capacity of the power source, capacity utlization is limited by the capacity factor of the power source. As machine capacity is reduced and/or storage is added capacity utilization can increase. However it is very hard to get to a situation where power source would not be a factor substantially limiting the overall capacity utilization.

In terms of capacity utilization wind power tends to beat solar power which has strong seasonal production profile. Removing that is hard since it would require massive amounts of seasonal storage which would (by definition) be used only by about once a year.

As machine capacity is reduced, the “factory”can run at a higher capacity utilization, but then certain fraction of the produced power will be wasted although waste can be reduced somewhat by storage. If we aim for high capacity utilization, wasted fraction can unfortunately be substantial. The unit cost of useful energy will rise with increasing waste.

Figure 4: Fraction of wasted wind output.

Figure 5: Fraction of wasted solar output. (Once daily variation is covered it is very hard to change things by adding even more storage.)

Waste can be reduced with storage, but then the question arises that how efficiently this storage is being utilized? Figures 6 and 7 illustrates this. If we add so much storage that capacity utilization is high and amount of wasted power is low, we tend to have a large amount of under utilized storage capacity lying around. Storage that is combined with solar power tends to be more efficiently used because of regular daily variation.

Figure 6: How efficiently storage is being utilized with wind power. (Here the scale is more arbitrary. I assumed full utilization amounts to one full cycle a day.)

Figure 7: Same as figure 5, but with solar power.

I suspect that these estimates are in fact too optimistic. If I choose a point from figure 2 with relatively high “capacity utilization”, the power supply for the machine is still quite erratic as seen in Figure 8.

Figure 8: Example power input to the machines when machines powered by wind had a capacity of 0.26 of wind capacity and system had 36 hours of storage at average wind output. Still a mess.

Maybe there are processes that do not mind this, but there are  also plenty of industrial processes where steady power supply is needed and where abrupt power cuts will undermine the economics of the plant. (It would be interesting to have real world examples of production economics as one changes between power sources. Do you know any? I suspect that current way of delivering power to industries in developed economies is close to optimal for their needs.)

I think I will stop here and discuss later what I think this will imply. Main point here is that nature of the power source will affect the capacity utilization and have economic consequences that are not accounted for when myopically computing the “cost” of electricity for the power sources.

Many celebrated the Paris climate meeting as being a turning point and were extatic of the new “ambitious” 1.5 degrees warming target. This target will be quickly reached and then exceeded massively. I think it is a cynical move to avoid acknowledging the colossal failure of the policies during past decades. If we are to have a reasonable change to stay below 1.5 degrees, cumulative emissions should stay below approximately 1000G tons. We have already emitted about 600 and are adding more at a rate of about 40 Gt per year so the “ceiling” will be crossed in short order.

NGO:s have been especially excited on the new target and for example Greenpeace kindly suggests their own plan (+GWEC+SolarPower Europe lobby groups) as a way forward.
We will push our beautifully simple solution to climate change – 100% renewable energy for all – and make sure it is heard and embraced. From schoolyards in Greece, to the streetlights of India, to small Arctic communities like Clyde River in Canada, we will showcase the clean, renewable solutions that are already here, and pressure our governments to make them available for everyone, fast.Kumi Naidoo

However, since GP plan implies much greater warming than 1.5 degrees, it is unclear why this plan should be followed. Let me elaborate.

Energy [R]evolution scenario is in fact quite critical of bioenergy. While this doesn’t often translate to consistent behavior at the organizations grass root level at least some understanding does exist. Report says:

  • Any bioenergy project should replace energy produced from fossil fuels. considering the entire production chain, above- ground and below-ground carbon stock changes and any indirect land use changes (ILUC), the net greenhouse gas emission reduction of such a project must be at least 50% compared to a natural gas reference, 60% compared to an oil reference and 70% compared to a coal reference. This net emission reduction must be realized within 20 years.
  • “Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of indirect land use change (ILUC) must be integrated in the greenhouse gas calculation methodology of crops (including trees) for bioenergy, grown on agricultural land, by determining crop- specific ILUC-factors.”

They continue…”Despite this, all bioenergy is accounted for as climate neutral leading to an enormous carbon accounting error. Therefore, carbon accounting schemes should stop assuming ‘carbon neutrality’ of bioenergy and account for the net direct and indirect greenhouse gas performance of bioenergy as outlined in the sustainability criteria for bioenergy presented in this document.” (As an aside for my Finnish readers I would like to point out that GP sustainability criteria effectively exclude pretty much all forrest bioenergy here. It remains to be seen how long it takes for this realization to diffuse into local Greenpeace and other NGO:s.)

This is great and I agree! But then… why is that on pages 317-318, where E[R] scenario numbers are given, climate impacts of  bioenergy and biofuels are absent?

Emissions also from outside energy sector

Emissions also from outside the energy sector.

The report is also very silent on the emissions outside energy sector. For example, large fraction of the GHG emissions are due to agriculture. If we add the GHG emissions that Greenpeace+friends do not count, this would probably add roughly 10Gt of CO2 emissions a year.

I conclude with a short movie summarizing what Greenpeace+GWEC+SolarPower Europe figures actually imply. The first two columns are based on CO2 emissions reported in E[R] scenario. Third one adds 10G tons of GHG emissions that the report seemed to brush aside. It has always been clear that Greenpeace scenarios are widely unrealistic (for large number of reasons), but as is clear, E[R] scenarios are also inconsistent with the 1.5 degree target they celebrate. In fact, given that large fraction of emissions are unaccounted for the scenarios are unlikely to be consistent even with the earlier 2 degrees target. Other scenario builders typically add massive amounts of CCS with bioenergy to get negative emissions later on the century. Greenpeace is opposed to CCS (well of course) so we can safely assume the cognitive dissonance will only get worse.  Since the substance is lacking on NGO proposals, should we really be outraged if substance is also missing from the official policies? Is anybody actually serious about this?

Estimate of the cumulative emissions in Greenpeace E[R] scenarios. (3rd column adds 10Gt of yearly GHG emissions from missing bioenergy emissions, agriculture etc.) Last column indicates the level below which we have reasonable chance to stay below 1.5 degrees.

Note added 2.5.2016: Careful commenter pointed out few stupid mistakes in the original post. There was a confusion between C and CO2 on the one hand and on the other the earlier limit for cumulative emissions was too high. The mistakes had a tendency to cancel each other out. Now the underlying data is fixed accordingly. E[R] advanced scenario has some change of staying below 2 degrees by 2050, but as mentioned before it leaves out a large fraction of existing GHG emissions and thus cannot be used to estimate actual climate impacts.

I have written before how IEA sometimes hides politically inconvenient results in their reports. Now IRENA has published a new report “REmap: Roadmap for A Renewable Energy Future: 2016 Edition”. It naturally has a myopic focus on renewables which is the purpose of the organization. Nevertheless I was somewhat interested in their cost and capacity figures. In the next 15 years their REmap plan calls for a total investment of about 6000$ billion into wind and solar.
Costs

What does this spending buy? According to IRENA it buys about 1600 GW of wind power capacity, 1585 GW of PV capacity, and an explosion of installations into concentrated solar power so that its capacity would increase from about 4GW today to 110 GW at 2030.

Capacities

If we assume an average global capacity factor for wind power to be about 25%, for PV about 15%, and CSP about 40%, we find that added wind and solar production corresponds to about 690 GWe of continuous production over the year. With 25 year lifetime, this means an electricity production of about 151 PWh. So without discounting etc. we would pay about 8.7$ billion/GWe for delivered (average) power. Capital costs would imply (without discounting and other expenses) about 4 cents/kWh cost of electricity.

IPCC 5th assessment report median nuclear overnight costs 4300$/kW. Let me again ask the naughty question since IRENA refused to compare options (1,5). What could we get, if we were to plough the money IRENA desires to spend for wind and solar into nuclear? I will round the cost to 5000$/kW for nicer figures. It really doesn’t matter. We could buy 1200GW of capacity which implies about 1100GW production at 90% capacity factor. Much more than than the 690GW IRENA bought. With 60 year lifetime, the actual production and reduced emissions are larger by a factor of about 4 and correspondingly the cost per kWh from non-discounted capital costs is around 1 cent. Estimates are so far apart that fiddling with details is not going to change anything.

Savings from external costs according to IRENA

Savings from external costs according to IRENA


IRENA also finds that their plan costs more than reference scenario (which is also not a cost minimizing option), but makes it alright by assigning externalities to the reference case (10,11, and 12). Outdoor and indoor pollution would be reduced by poor people burning less dung and biomass and some (smaller) savings also appear from reduced CO2 emissions. These are all savings that can just as well be assigned to the nuclear build-up sketched here except that savings would be considerably higher by hundreds of billions every year. Just sayin… (Of course I understand that at this point rules must somehow be changed.)

IRENA also states:

“Avoided investments in non-renewable power capacity alone are estimated at USD 1.5 trillion to 2030, or about USD 100 billion per year on average in the 15-year time period. Almost half of these savings would come from not building coal-fired power plants; another 30% from nuclear investments seen as no longer necessary. “

Mind boggles. No longer seen as necessary since authors proved themselves willing to impose additional costs on others? You do see that in the plan I outlined we would get much more savings in avoided investments than in the IRENA plan? Why settle for lower emission reductions? Have we been reducing emissions too rapidly? If you want to promote wind and solar, that is fine with me. But could you please make a case that somehow makes sense? Claiming that plans are economical even when it is manifestly clear they are anything but, undermines your message outside your echo chamber. Hopefully the plan is not dependent on everybody living in the same chamber. Not really my cup of tea. I rather stand in the rain outside.

P.S. Justifying climate action with external costs from indoor biomass burning and outdoor pollution is a dubious idea. Most of those costs can also be avoided by switching from dung and biomass to fossil fuels especially if appropriate pollution controls are used. Implicitly IRENA et al. base their logic on things NOT improving outside their chosen set of tools. This makes no sense.

I noticed a new Greenpeace report “Great Water Grab” on how coal use is deepening a water crisis. I glanced at the report and used it as an opportunity to learn new things about a topic I don’t follow closely. What struck me first was the authors clear unwillingness to put the water footprint of coal into a broader context. Report reads as if coal is THE reason for water stress. Even I know that almost all the water humanity uses is used in agriculture, but this you will not learn from this report. Even though it is by far the largest driver of water consumption, the word “agriculture” (and variants of it) only appears 12 times and then in the context that coal water use conflicts with agricultural use. Incidentally “coal” appears 448 times. So I googled to learn how much do we actually use or withdraw water. The first figure shows the result…

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.40.47We seem to extract around 4000 cubic kilometers of fresh water a year and this is massively dominated by agricultural use. We can dig a bit deeper and learn from FAO that, for example, despite rapid economic growth  and modest population growth Chinese water withdrawals have only increased moderately, by about 10% since 1990. India has seen more substantial increase in withdrawals, but essentially all of this increase has been in agriculture and their growth in water consumption corresponds closely to the population growth. Greenpeace report tells that the coal use is  responsible for about 7% of all withdrawals, but if we look at the water consumption this relatively small number is reduced even further. I am sure there are places so close to the edge that even small extra withdrawals are relevant, but are there any places where water use for energy is the main cause of water stress?
Withdrawals

Consumption

Coals water consumption (includes mining) was 22.7 km3 according to Greenpeace. (Never mind  the last decimal point.)


What about household use? We (finns) use on average 155 litres per day for household use. Our household of four consumes about 10kWh of electricity a day, which might consume around 5 litres of water per person. Following figure illustrates the relative importance of different ways we use water. “Great Water Grab” on the left.

  
 I don’t like coal, but just attaching any apocalyptic concern on it is bad form. The real issues are serious enough and we should aim to give a fair overall picture. I don’t think the report does this, but maybe “Relatively Minor Water Grab” would have been too boring title and we all have our preferences.

And then there is the usual promotion of chosen alternatives without actually demonstrating improvements in a meaningful way. “Switching from coal to renewable energy is one of the most effective and actionable ways to save water, and ensure clean water supply for people, agriculture and environment.” Sigh… Report gives an estimate of water consumption of various power sources. The source for the graph seems solid and probably the data is reliable (although Meldrum et al. report very large ranges for consumption figures, so large uncertainties exist) Notice how concentrated solar power tends to have the highest water consumption of all. According to the latest incarnation of Greenpeace E[R] advanced scenario world is supposed to get roughly twice as much electricity from CSP at 2050 than we get from coal today. Now what am I missing? If we produce twice as much power from something which has higher water footprint, won’t this mean dramatic increase in water consumption? Would not these CSP plants be predominantly located in areas with high water stress like deserts?

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Water use of different sources of electricity according to Greenpeace based on Meldrum et al 2013. (Notice, however, that several nuclear power plants actually use seawater for cooling and for example Diablo Canyon power plant in California desalinates seawater for its use. Plant has excess capacity for desalination and this could be used to reduce water stress elsewhere. If desalination requires about 3kWh/m3, desalination would require about 10kWh of electricity for each MWh produced. Doesn’t seem like a deal breaker.)

What about bioenergy? Greenpeace+GWEC+SolarPower Europe E[R] scenario actually relies less on bioenergy than some other scenarios loaded with renewables. Nevertheless, in power production bioenergy goes from 379 TWh (2012) to almost 3200 TWh (2050). Biofuels for transport about triples to about 8000 PJ/a and in heat supply there is an increase of about 12000 PJ/a from bioenergy. Energy crops can consume 70-400 times as much water than coal so the bioenergy increases Greenpeace promotes will likely require massively more water than coal use requires today. The energy requirements for desalination are so high that for energy crops it is unlikely to make any sense.

Why do I get a feeling that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing? Maybe my mistake is to actually read these reports assuming that they are intended to reflect a coherent plan as opposed to myopic lobbying effort. Both coal and water use are serious challenges, but in this report water problems are used as a tool to attack coal and (incoherently) lobby for E[R]. In doing so attention is drawn away from the real causes of water stress which does disservice to an important issue that needs to be addressed. World is a complicated place and to make wise decision we need to acknowledge the complexities and trade-offs and try to navigate among alternatives as well as we can. 

Few weeks ago I noticed with some interest news that Greenpeace was bidding for the Vattenfall brown coal powerplants in Germany with the intention of shutting them down. The move did appear as trolling, but at least one should congratulate Greenpeace for being prepared to put their money where they mouth is and actually pay for the “divestment” they promote.

Englishsummary

In some news stories Greenpeace also managed to get out the message that they accept donor money for such a purpose.

Juha Aromaa, a Greenpeace spokesman, said the final price may be affected by climate policies focused on phasing out coal. The organization could finance a potential acquisition with donor money, crowd-funding and other sources of financing, he said.

“Mostly, we would believe it would be our supporters who would be interested in such an acquisition to save the climate,” he said.”

After plenty of publicity, it turns out Greenpeace did not actually have an idea of “buying” the power plants. Their idea of buying involves Vattenfall giving Greenpeace 2 billion euros after which they would shutdown the power plants.

But Greenpeace also made it clear that it wouldn’t pay Vattenfall anything – but instead was demanding money for phasing-out brown coal. The organization argued the “real value” of the Vattenfall division was more than minus-€2 billion (minus-$2.2 billion) because of the costs of winding down brown coal operations.

Handelsblatt

As a result, Greenpeace is now barred from the sale since they were not considered to be a serious bidder. While Greenpeace promoted earlier story actively, their web pages are now silent on the new twists.  Compared to earlier media visibility, reaction to real actions seems muted. Why is self-correction so hard?

I glanced at the IEA report “Energy technology perspectives 2012”. (There is also a 2015 version, but I didn’t have access to that. Annoyingly IEA charges dearly for these reports so that even though they are commonly referred to in discussions, they are not widely available.) In their baseline 2DS scenario IEA estimates cumulative saving (savings in fuel minus investment costs) over 6DS scenario of 26 trillion US dollars by 2050. Interestingly enough they also have a “high” nuclear scenario where they tolerate more nuclear power than in the baseline. In this scenario the savings are largest, 27.9 trillion. Strangely enough this result was buried to the page 384 of the report. Wouldn’t it have been useful to highlight this since there are plenty of people and (believe it or not) politicians who don’t know this? After all this ignorance might make them promote policies that are counter productive in fighting climate change.

IEA_ETP2012_TableOfScen 2015-06-02 12:42:18_mod

We can also look at the required investment level to follow the 2DS scenario. Here IEA assumes large cost reductions for renewable energy sources. This might or might not happen, but let us just accept this for now. I highlight some relevant numbers from the report in the following table.

IEA_ETP2012_NeededInvestments2015-06-02 12:34:38

Source Investment 2030-2050 per year (billion) Production 2050 (TWh) TWh/billion
Nuclear 119 7918 66.5
Wind 167 6145 36.8
Solar 232 5988 25.8
Wind+solar 399 12133 30.4

 

As you can see, even though IEA has baked in massive cost reductions assumptions into solar and wind by 2050, they still deliver less than half as much electricity per investment than nuclear (for which IEA didn’t seem to assume learning effects). IEA 2DS baseline is not a cost minimizing scenario, but presumably reflects sufficiently conventional wisdom that authors believe is more palatable for IEA funders.

What would happen if we were to simply divert investments spent from more costly decarbonization options to nuclear? That 399 billion for wind and solar would then enable about 14000 TWh/year more carbon free electricity than the 2DS baseline. This would be enough to eliminate coal, coal+CCS, natural gas, natural gas+CCS, biomass+waste, and biomass+CCS from the electricity mix at 2050 with more than 1000 TWh left over. As these sources of electricity disappear, more than 100 billion a year is also saved in investment costs and lots more in fuel costs. Based on the difference between IEA 4DS and 2DS scenarios, I estimate around 20 trillion additional cumulative savings in fuel costs. Not bad, I would say given the speculative nature of CCS technology, environmental and social impacts of bioenergy schemes, and the need to decarbonize also other sectors than electricity production. (Incidentally, it tells something of the absurdity of current energy discussions, that many celebrate large investments as a good thing. It doesn’t seem to matter what the investment actually buys. More expensive the better, because that means more investment and larger business opportunities in “cleantech”.)

Do I think this will happen in the near future? Of course I don’t. If there would be a wartime-like urgency, who knows, but as it stands such scale up is not going to happen. However, even if unrealistic this option is MORE realistic than the renewables-only party line. It is more realistic economically, technically, and in terms of material limitations. Since it is not going to happen, (as I have said many times before) we can look forward to much more than 2 degrees warming.


I found an article by Krausmann et al. on how human appropriation of primary production has evolved in the past 100 years or so. Human appropriation of net primary productivity (HANPP) has about doubled since early 1900 so that in 2005 humanity appropriated about 25% of all primary production on the continents. This has been one of the main causes of the ongoing wave of extinctions.

The article also showed some positive trends. Even though HANPP has doubled the population has actually grown by a factor of about 4. This means than HANPP per capita today is much lower than it was a century ago. This reduction has been possible thanks to improvements in land use efficiency (mainly due to modern agriculture). Today we produce much more food per unit of area than we used to. This positive development has nevertheless not been enough to reduce the total footprint of humanity.

Authors conclude with some possible extrapolations into the future. Earlier I wrote about my adventures among the IPCC mitigation scenarios (see also this). I focused on the way modellers dealt with nuclear power, but I was also tempted to highlight the crazy assumptions on bioenergy (with carbon capture) that many modellers made. Kraussmann et al. noted the same in their paper. Many mitigation scenarios casually imagine bioenergy use of around 300EJ/year (some assume much more. GCAM up to 862 EJ!).  Figure 4 from the paper sketches what this implies for human impact on the biosphere. It would mean another doubling in HANPP and in a much shorter period of time.If you thought human have been causing serious environmental damage during the past century just wait what is going to happen in this one if we follow modellers fantasies!

Finally humanity came up with a climate policy that has real impact.

I have tried to find some serious discussions on the ecological impacts these models imply, but to no avail. Can somebody help me with this or is it really true that there is none? It seems that if primary productivity (tons of biomass or whatever) is assumed to be same before and after human meddling, modellers call meddling sustainable. There seems to be no discussion on biodiversity impacts, extinctions, erosion etc. etc. For that matter there seems to be very little discussion on impacts for food production either.

Maybe I am missing something, but ambitious IPCC mitigation scenarios assume a carbon price that rises to the level of 1000$/tCO2 (or much more) by the end of the century. If a hectare of land ties down let us say 5 tons of carbon per year, the revenue from CO2  capture schemes could be almost 20000$/year. If the same hectare produced 7 tons of wheat at about 250$/ton, revenue would be about 2000$/year… an order of magnitude less. Wouldn’t this create a very strong incentive for farmers to move from food production to BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) game? Since the food is nevertheless needed, its price must start tracking the carbon price and increase massively during this century. I have a nasty feeling that modellers haven’t thought this through.

450ppm really is possible!

It is a cause for concern when modellers feel it safer and easier to build these kinds of scenarios rather than inform people that (thanks to colossal policy failures) 2 degree target is essentially unfeasible. It is about time modellers stop providing fig leaves for the policy makers.

“The beginning of all wisdom is acknowledgement of facts.”: Juho Kusti Paasikivi, the 7th president of Finland after Finland had lost a war against Soviet Union.

In its latest assessment report IPCC concluded that in order to get climate change under control world needs massive expansion of nuclear power, renewables, energy efficiency, and CCS. I am a numbers guy and therefore I was delighted when I found a useful database for many of the mitigation scenarios IPCC relied on in its latest report. There is a database for the scenarios and additional information and assumptions used on many scenarios can be found in another database. I found this very interesting since articles reporting on the scenarios often explain the underlying assumptions of the models poorly. I will focus now on how the modellers approached nuclear power. I didn’t have the patience to go through all scenarios and I focused on those with 450ppm CO2 target that contained all technologies optimally (allegedly). I found that quite a few modellers dealt with nuclear power in a way that left me wondering if their modelling is simply poorly disguised ideological propaganda.

Some main approaches used to influence how well nuclear power does in the models relative to variable renewables (wind and solar):

  1. In many models nuclear capacity increases massively. Hundreds and hundreds of reactors are constructed, but amazingly nobody learns anything! Capital costs for nuclear power are typically kept almost constant throughout the decarbonization pathways. On the other hand learning effects and technological evolution are assumed for other energy sources. For wind and solar power these are often assumed to be very dramatic and there are learning effects even for fossil fuels. So this tough love only seems to apply to nuclear power.
  2. Many models assume large cost reductions for wind and solar. In the end, this is not much more than a wishful guess.
  3. Some models assume anomalously large capacity factors for wind and solar. See for example, “Message Ampere2-450-FullTech-OPT” scenario. Capacity factors for wind are almost 40% while for solar power they use about 25-31% over the course of the century. Since real figures are more like half of the assumed figures, the model drastically underestimates the costs for wind and solar. (IMACLIM scenarios seem to do the same)
  4.  Some models (IMACLIM in particular) assume very low capacity factor for nuclear.  “IMACLIM Ampere2-450-FullTech-OPT” has a nuclear capacity factor of just 45% in 2100 while for wind and solar they have 36% and 38% respectively! This doesn’t just roughly double the cost of nuclear in these models, but also underestimates the costs for wind and solar.
  5. Some models (REMIND and MERGE-ETL) postulate a world running out of uranium together with no technology development for nuclear. This “peak uranium” then limits the role nuclear power plays in decarbonization.
GlovesOn

Figure 1: Nuclear power in Remind Ampere2-450-FullTech-OPT scenario. Massive increase and then…

Let me discuss the sillyness of the last trick in more detail. Figure 1 shows what REMIND scenario got for nuclear power when all technologies were used “optimally”.  So massive increase in nuclear power until middle of the century and then rapid decline. Decline is caused by uranium supplies running out as soon as light water reactors with once-through fuel cycle have used 23 million tons of uranium. This is very strange for several reasons.

First, this number doesn’t seem to bear any clear connection to known uranium resources which are about third of this figure. Modellers probably felt that using known resources as an upper limit would have been too stupid to pass the laugh test.

Second, mineral resources have a habit of increasing together with demand since increasing demand stimulates increasing investment in exploration and technology development.  In the past one hundred years copper production has increased by an order of magnitude. All this time world has been “running out” of copper in about 40 years. Uranium is not especially rare element and there is no reason to believe we are running out of it anymore than we have for other metals such as tin which has about the same crustal abundance.

Third, from where does the assumption of no technology development come from? Wasn’t this supposed to be a scenario where all technologies are allowed? For nuclear power technologies that that improve the fuel efficiency by about two orders of magnitude are already known.

Fourth, why is there resource constraint only for nuclear power? The resource constraints are more severe for wind and solar power (and for bioenergy). In Figure 2 I show an image I picked up from a european study on critical metals for energy technologies. The elements with greatest supply risks are used in the construction of wind and solar power. (By the way, the only nuclear related element on the list is the low risk hafnium for control rods.) Figure 3 I picked up from a fairly recent Alonso et al. paper. Authors estimated that dysprosium (used in magnets) demand in renewables heavy mitigation scenarios is expected to be a whopping 2600% higher than projected supply already in 2035!

JRC_Bottlenecks

Figure 2: Critical metals for European “strategic energy technologies” according to European commission Joint research centre study.

Figure 3: Expected demand and supply for Dysprosium according to Alonso et al.

Figure 3: Expected demand and supply for dysprosium according to Alonso et al. (2012).

What would happen if we were to apply modellers approach for renewables? Let us just take silver as an example. Silver reserves are estimated at about 530000 tons. Let us assume that “real” resource is 4 times this (remember uranium resource was set at 3 times the known reserves) and that half of this can be used for photovoltaics. There are after all other uses for silver as well. Since 1GW of solar power requires about 80 tons of silver, this means that at maximum we can have about 13TW of solar capacity as opposed to almost 90TW cumulative capacity REMIND modellers extrapolated. Instead of being the largest contributor to the primary energy supply its contribution would fall into 5-10% range. The amount of silver required to construct the solar power in REMIND FullTech scenario is about 13 times larger than the estimated global silver reserves. Now can there be ways around these constraints? Probably there are and maybe we could use less silver, but using substitutes might imply higher costs and worse performance and furthermore, if one was not permitted to use already demonstrated technologies for nuclear power why should imaginary advances be permitted for other alternatives?

What might we get if we remove this silly constraint from the model? Obviously I cannot repeat the exercise with the tools I have available, but we can get a rough estimate. Lets take the growth rate (4.8%) for nuclear power REMIND modellers established between 2020-2050 and just let it grow with the same rate until the end of the century. This is not extraordinary in the context of this model since for wind+solar the growth rate through the century was 7.6% even though capital costs are such the nuclear power seems to have a lower levelized cost of energy (5% discount) throughout the decarbonization pathway. I show the result in Figure 4. Nuclear power would end up dominating the energy supply.

I have a feeling that resource constraint was introduced specifically for this reason. Modellers first did their calculations without the constraint and ended up with a result that they found distasteful. They did not want to go on record with the scenario that might “rock the boat” or give people funny ideas. By introducing the resource limitation for nuclear power they could clip its wings and keep it supposedly as an option while limiting its role to the margin. In fact that strange 23 mton uranium resource limit seems to suggest that over the century LWR:s cannot produce more than maybe around 5% of the primary energy. I suspect that modellers worked backwards and set the resource limitation based on the maximum share of the energy supply they were ready to grant for nuclear power. Not cool.

Figure 4: There, I fixed it!

Figure 4: There, I fixed it!

Then there is PRIMES…sigh. This is a model I encountered few years ago as I was reading EU:s 2050 energy strategy. I remember glancing at the referee report and being troubled by the brief remark on page 6. Referee had asked about rather optimistic cost assumptions to which response was that if capital costs for wind are set higher then the future learning curve can be steeper. To me this suggested that modellers were perhaps fitting model to the fantasy. In the AMPERE database PRIMES scenarios for EU are also included. I was naturally most interested in the Ampere5-Decarb-AllOptions scenario which according to authors is a scenario “with all technological decarbonisation options available and used according to cost optimality; this scenario provides the least cost decarbonisation pathway for the EU.” Sounds interesting! However, as you look at the actual results you notice something weird. The capital costs assumed are such that nuclear (again) has the lowest LCOE throughout the decarbonization pathway. Despite this modellers claim that nuclear generation in EU will decline by 20% by 2050. How is this even possible?

Then I noticed a strange footnote on page 15: “PRIMES assumes that nuclear development has been significantly affected in the aftermath of the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011. Both PRIMES and TIMES-PanEu impose national constraints regarding nuclear, such as countries’ decisions not to use nuclear power at all…” Please tell me that I am reading this wrong. They didn’t just exclude nuclear power from large parts of EU in their “all options” scenario for political reasons and then sell it as the cost optimal one?

I have now outlined several ways in which scenario modellers seem to suppress nuclear power from their reference scenarios where all options and technologies are supposedly on the table. This has also consequences for the other scenarios and comparisons between them. Since modellers suppressed nuclear power already in “the tech neutral” scenarios adding additional anti-nuclear policy, can be presented as not really having major cost consequences.

Figure 2: The box on the left has nuclear power in it and the box on the right had it removed. Amazingly it looks almost the same as the other empty box!

Figure 2: The empty box on the left has nuclear power in it and the box on the right had it removed. Amazingly it looks almost the same as the other empty box!

Since I am a bad boy I will conclude with some rough estimates on what would it take to replace (gasp!) solar and wind power at the end of the model scenarios with nuclear power that generates the same amount of electricity. I simply estimate the required nuclear capacity (90% CF) and use modellers assumptions about capital costs. Required yearly outlay is roughly total capital required divided by the lifetime of the plant. I will use 30 year lifetime for wind and solar and 60 years for nuclear. (Numbers are in billions of 2005$…I think.)

Model Wind+solar capital Nuclear capital (Wind+solar)/year Nuclear/year
Remind 450-FullTech-OPT 74540 62753 2485 1046
Message 450-FullTech-OPT 40620 64150 1354 1070
IMACLIM 450-FullTech-OPT 5680 5765 189 96
Primes Decarb-AllOptions (EU) 1430 826 48 14
Primes HIEFF-NoCCS-NoNUKE (EU) 1555 900 52 15

In all models the required yearly outlay (at 2100 or 2050 for PRIMES) for energy supply is dramatically lower if we replace wind and solar capacity with nuclear power. This despite the fact that MESSAGE and IMACLIM assumed unrealistically high capacity factors for variable renewables. It is remarkable than even though this kind of chicanery was going on behind many models, IPCC still ended up concluding that nuclear power must expand massively. This is perhaps partly because not all scenario builders were intellectually dishonest about this issue and some models ended up, for example, with ten fold increases in nuclear capacity. On the other hand I am afraid that all 450ppm scenarios are utterly unrealistic….and don’t get me started on their absurd bioenergy projections. 

P.S. I spent some time copying the data I was interested in from the database. Interface seems a bit uncomfortable for that. Here is a link to some of the data I extracted.

P.P.S.  For laughs you might want to check IMACLIM model with 550 ppm goal and CCS excluded. Since the original one was very strongly dependent on CCS one would imagine that ruling it out would have interesting consequences for the energy mix. See what modelers assumed for the capital costs of nuclear here to suppress that out of control (critical?) nuclear growth early in the century.

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