Obama’s CO2 Deception

On August 3rd President Obama made a speech* detailing his plans to decarbonise the US electrical power generation sector. While the legality of this move has been challenged in certain quarters, in this post I want to focus on the technical details and competence of the President and his advisors at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Let me begin by focussing on what the main target is:

to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030

*Note that the quotes throughout are lifted from the White House narrative to the speech rather than the speech itself.

So what does a 32% reduction in CO2 emissions mean in practical terms for US power generation and CO2 emissions? A good starting point is to look at the electricity generation mix and how it has changed since 2005 (Figure 1).

Figure 1 US electrical power generation 2005 to 2014 as published by DOE-EIA.

The key observations are as follows:

  • Electricity generation (i.e. electricity consumption) has been flat since 2005.
  • Fossil fuel based generation, coal + natural gas, has been flat to falling slowly
  • Coal fired generation has declined to be replaced by natural gas
  • Hydro and nuclear combined make up 26% and have been flat since 2005
  • Other renewables (wind, solar, biomass etc) have increased from 2 to 7% since 2005

Figures 2 and 3 show how the generation mix has evolved from 2005 to 2014:

Figure 2 Pie chart showing the percentage distribution of electricity generating sources in the USA in 2005. Data from DOE-EIA.

Figure 3 Pie chart showing the percentage distribution of electricity generating sources in the USA in 2014. Data from DOE-EIA.

Put simply, the key trend is substitution of coal by natural gas and other renewables. The CO2 intensity of coal is 2.13 pounds of CO2 per KWh and natural gas 1.21 pounds of CO2 per KWh (data from DOE-EIA). Hence the substitution of coal by natural gas reduces CO2 emissions quite significantly.  DOE-EIA has already documented this achievement, which is founded on the fracking revolution and the ‘drill baby drill’ mantra (Figure 4).

Figure 4 The chart is from an EIA report titled Lower electricity-related CO2 emissions reflect lower carbon intensity and electricity use. Note that while the Y-axis has a zero on it, it is not zero scaled.

The DOE-EIA report (Figure 4) reiterates my key observations above but puts some hard numbers on them:

  • 2005 electric power emissions = 2417 million tons (Mt)
  • 2005-2013 lower demand = 402 Mt reduction (16.6% reduction)
  • 2005-2013 substitution of coal with gas = 212 Mt reduction (8.8% reduction)
  • 2005-2013 addition of low carbon sources i.e. other renewables = 150 Mt reduction (6.2% reduction)

Thus the reductions already achieved = 31.6%. Job already done?!

So what’s going on here? Have the EPA and President Obama set out to deliberately dupe the US and global populations with this deception? I don’t know, but this gaffe will come back to haunt them. Let me be charitable and assume that the savings from reduced demand growth are not included in the calculation to date. Then the CO2 reductions so far, amount to 15% over 8 years leaving 17% to be achieved over the remaining 15 year period to 2030. For one supposedly deeply concerned about the effect of CO2 on climate change this represents a totally underwhelming level of ambition.

But I’m not sure that the EPA and The President should be let off the hook so easily. The President’s plan includes future energy efficiency gains and one must surmise that past energy efficiency gains should also count. Note that nuclear power is also in the Green arsenal of what is effectively an anti-coal policy.

All low-carbon electricity generation technologies, including renewables, energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear and carbon capture and storage, can play a role in state plans.

Impact on Total US Emissions

Figure 5 shows that in 2012, 81% of total US primary energy came from fossil fuels and that 40% of total energy was used in electric power generation. 67% of power generation is from FF (Figures 3 and 5), hence we are talking about 67% of 40% which = 27% of total US energy consumption that is targeted by this part of Obama’s energy plan.

Hence Obama wants to reduce 27% by a third (32%) and that equals an 8.6% reduction in emissions grossed up to the whole energy economy and all or half of that has already been achieved depending on how the numbers are sliced and diced. At best this plan reduces US total emissions by 4.3% by 2030, at worst by nothing at all. It’s not exactly the same as making a commitment to send a Man to the Moon, is it?

Figure 5 From the EIA Annual Energy Review (in this link click on “graph”).

Impact on US Economy and Population

From Obama’s speech*:

Due to these improvements, the Clean Power Plan will save the average American nearly $85 on their energy bill in 2030, and save consumers a total of $155 billion through 2020-2030, reducing (typo?) enough energy to power 30 million homes.

Paul Homewood recently published this chart (Figure 6) that shows the relationship between electricity prices and renewables penetration in Europe.

Figure 6 Chart from Paul Homewood Electricity Cost v Renewable Capacity. I have not yet had time to check the data that underlies this chart but have no reason to doubt them. It is further understood that renewables capacity excludes hydro.

[Note that the x-axis on this chart should read “Installed Renewables Capacity W / capita” and that the original version may have been produced by Willis Eschenbach at WUWT. HT Joe Public.]

It is plain to see that adding intermittent renewables to a grid increases the cost of electricity. Does the EPA not know this? In Europe this is in part down to consumer paid renewables subsidies. But it also reflects the substantial costs of maintaining grid integrity that include:

  1. Maintaining, and paying for when not in use, 100% fossil fuel backup
  2. Building power lines and inter-connectors everywhere
  3. Expanding energy storage
  4. Buying expensive balancing services from neighbouring countries like Norway

Coal powered electricity is currently by far the cheapest and one of the most reliable forms of electricity generation known to Man. To suggest that replacing this with intermittent wind and solar or carbon capture generation will somehow reduce American’s electricity bills is either delusional or plain stupid. Or is the intention to deliberately deceive?


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65 Responses to Obama’s CO2 Deception

  1. Dave Rutledge says:

    Hi Euan,

    I cannot tell from the President’s fact sheet that the EPA is including the demand growth as a reduction.


  2. pyrrhus says:

    On June 29, 2015, SCOTUS rejected the EPA’s theory that it did not need to consider the costs of regulating air pollutants. Consequently, any new rules will need to explicitly address those issues. I assume the EPA will do so in some manner, but that will open other doors for litigation.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      There are many aspects of how this policy is formulated and presented that I don’t like. Telling folks that this plan will reduce their electricity bills is one of the most distasteful.

      Take carbon capture for example. You have to double the size of the physical plant and use at least 25% of the energy produced in the process. How on Earth can that make your electricity cheaper? In the USA at least you will use the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery and in doing so will create a huge market for CO2 consulting where CO2 captured in one state is piped to another where it is used to produce more oil, in a total process that is about CO2 neutral.

  3. Jeff Edzier says:

    Off topic but significant,

    “Saudi Arabia plans $27bn in bond issues”


  4. For those wondering how much Obama’s emission cuts will shave off global warming, less than 0.03C by 2100 seems like good estimate. More at http://judithcurry.com/2015/08/03/president-obamas-clean-power-plan/

  5. Joe Public says:

    Hi Euan

    Paul H’s chart came from here:


    When Willis first published that post, the X-axis was labelled “Nameplate MW per Head of Population”. That was because it’s label was sourced from an earlier WUWT posting (the 9th chart down from the Top):


    However, a number of commenters on Willis’s posting observed that the label should be “Nameplate kW per Head of Population”, and also suggested it be changed to “Installed Capacity Renewables (watts/capita)” – so Willis subsequently corrected the units and renamed the axis.

  6. facepalm says:

    ” 1. Maintaining, and paying for when not in use, 100% fossil fuel backup”

    Thats something the energy -Lobby wants you to believe.

    It would require not only complete darkness (solar), but a complete near continent-wide calm, water stopping flowing downwards in pumped storage hydro power stations (and rivers stop flowing, if you include standard hydro), heatflux from earth stopping in geothermal power stations, bacteria stop working in bio gas plants, and so on.

    In europe, there is the n-1 rule – saying that there must be instant backup for the probable loss of the greatest factor in each net and subnet. E.g. the loss of the biggest power plant, or the loss of the largest powerline.

    When the largest plant is a 500MW-Coal-Plant, there must be backup *up and running* for 500MW. So even now there IS a lot of backups running, and even more in standby.

    And thats not even acccounting for the predictability of calms and darknesses (something that is called “night” in most cases)

  7. jacobress says:

    And, always remember: 1 KWh produced by renewables does not imply 2.13 pounds of CO2 saved (or 1.23 if it’s gas).
    Coal or gas plants, that run in balancing mode to renewables, have a lower efficiency, they burn some extra fuel when in stand-by mode, or when ramping up.
    So, if you have, say, 20% electricity produced by renewables, you get an emissions reduction of maybe 10% or 15%, not 20% .

    • Willem Post says:


      Ireland has an island grid (good for doing studies) with a minor connection with the UK grid. Eirgrid, the operator of the grid, publishes ¼-hour data regarding CO2 emissions, wind energy production, fuel consumption and energy generation. Several analyses of the Irish grid operations data by Dr. Udo and Wheatley offer clear evidence of the offset percentages increasing with increasing wind energy percentages.

      The Wheatley study of the Irish grid shows: Wind energy CO2 reduction effectiveness = (CO2 intensity, metric ton/MWh, with wind)/(CO2 intensity with no wind).
      Ireland = (0.279, @ 17% wind)/(0.53, @ no wind) = 0.526, based on SEMO data.

      If 17% wind energy, wind energy promoters typically claim a 17% reduction in CO2, i.e., 83% is left over.

      If 17% wind energy, actual performance data of the Irish grid shows, 0.526 x 17% is reduced = 8.94%, i.e., 91.06% is left over.



      • Joe Public says:

        Thanks Willem, very interesting.

      • Peter Lang says:

        Whoops, didn’t see your comment before posting mine. However, my comment explains the importance of CO2 abatement effectiveness for correctly estimating CO2 abatement cost.

    • Peter Lang says:


      “So, if you have, say, 20% electricity produced by renewables, you get an emissions reduction of maybe 10% or 15%, not 20% .”

      We have some excellent studies of empirical data that gives the figures.

      EirGrid, 2011, 17% of electricity produced by wind gave an emissions reduction of 9% – I.e. Wind power was 53% effective at reducing emissions per MWh of energy supplied by wind.

      Australia, NEM, 2014, 4.5% of electricity produced by wind gave 3.5% emissions reduction – I.e., 78% effective.

      Australia NEM, projected 60% effective at 15% electricity produced by wind (similar to Ireland).

      A study of ERCOT 2007-2009 gives 78% effective at 4.7% of electricity produced by wind.

      The CO2abatement effectiveness is very significant for correctly estimating the CO2 abatement cost. Most estimates of CO2 abatement cost assume wind and other intermittent renewables are 100% effective at avoiding emissions. The correct emissions abatement cost is calculated by dividing these estimates by the CO2 abatement effectiveness.

      For example, in Australia’s case at projected 60% effective at 15% penetration! then the abatement cost estimated assuming wind is 100% effective must be divided by 60% to calculate the correct abatement cost. If the estimated abatement cost was $60/tonne assuming 100% effective, then the correct abatement cost is $100/tonne ($60/60%).

      • Bill Treuren says:

        Very likely that at low levels you get one to one but as this will fall as you increase the percentage intermittent generation.
        Note also that wind has a hidden CO2 emission of 50 to 60% due to process consumption which is conveniently ignored.

  8. While Obama’s Clean Air Plan has ignited a firestorm, the plan the US submitted to the UNFCCC earlier this year passed almost totally unnoticed. With this plan the US formally announced to the world its intention to reduce its total CO2 emissions by 17% by 2020 and 26-28% by 2025 relative to 2005. The plan is described as “ambitious” and ”part of a longer-range, collective effort to transition to a low-carbon global economy as rapidly as possible.”

    If implemented, however, the plan will cut global warming by only ~0.03C by 2100, always assuming that the IPCC is right about climate sensitivity being 3 degrees C and not 1 degree C.

    There are also questions as to whether it will in fact achieve any real cuts, because the graphic that accompanies the US submission shows that it’s actually little more than business-as-usual:

    All-in-all a “non-plan”, I would say.

    • It is not a plan for the US to make a “fair” contribution towards cutting global GHG emissions, but it is a political plan to make sure that the US plays a leading role in gaining a global agreement to “save the planet” in Paris at the end of this year.
      The overall requirements for cuts in GHG emissions are laid out in the IPCC synthesis report.
      In particular look at the latter pages of the presentation, to be found on the bottom right of the page.
      Slide 24 onwards shows the relationship between cumulative emissions and warming, along with the global policy options.
      Slide 33 states the more extreme scenario. If future (i.e. 2012 onwards) emissions are greater than 1000 GTCO2 we are in the realm of two degrees of warming. 2000 GTCO2 has already been emitted, and annual emissions are still increasing by 2-3% per annum.
      Slide 20 shows that in 2011 global emissions were around 45GTCO2.
      If any global agreement is implemented in from Jan 2018, then cumulative future emissions can be just 700GTCO2. If the US average emissions are 5GTCO2 per annum through to 2030, then 2.5GTCO2 through to 2050, it that is taking up 20% of the global total from 4% of the global population.
      If global leaders were really serious about preventing a rise in temperatures above two degrees they would work out a budget for emissions for every country. But then you realise the numbers do not stack up.

  9. Willem Post says:


    The clarity with which you demolish claims by high-level CO2 hypocrites is clearly demonstrated again.

    I particularly like the graph of increasing electricity cost, c/kWh, versus installed RE capacity intensity, kW/capita.

    I have been making that statement “the more RE systems, the higher the electricity costs”, for some years.

    I have been derided by RE idiots who say RE costs are coming down, because of efficiencies.

    This graph shows delta RE cost (c/kWh)/delta RE capacity intensity (kW/capita) installed is a CONSTANT.

    The RE idiots’ argument of “increased efficiencies” is BULL manure.

    • Willem Post says:

      Addition to above comment.

      I have added this section to the beginning of my article:


      The first URL has a graph of increasing electricity cost, c/kWh, versus installed RE capacity intensity, kW/capita, for 18 European countries. The graph is based on data from the second URL, which, in turn, is based on data from the third URL.

      The graph shows the ratio of delta RE cost (c/kWh) / delta installed RE capacity intensity (kW/capita) is a CONSTANT.

      RE aficionados have been claiming RE system costs, $MW, and renewable energy costs, c/kWh, are coming down, because of efficiencies, but the graph shows that is NOT THE CASE AT ALL, and that, despite “efficiencies”, the RATIO REMAINS A CONSTANT, whereas it should have been declining.

      This should give pause regarding increased RE build-outs, such as wind turbines, in New England, when other RE alternatives, such as low-cost, low-CO2-emitting hydro from Canada, is available RIGHT NOW, at much less capital cost, and much lower energy cost, as is clearly shown in this article.


      • Willem Post says:

        Addition to above comment.

        The US real GDP was 13.95 $trillion at end 2014 and 16.29 $trillion at end 2014, for a growth rate of 1.55%/y over 10 years.

        This should be compared with Europe’s growth rate to determine the relative economic impact of RE follies in the US and Europe.

        Over that period, Europe’s growth rate may have been zero or negative, making the economic impact of its RE follies/capita even more egregious.

        • Willem Post says:

          Addition to above comment:

          Europe’s heavily subsidized RE sector, which produces expensive energy has been a growing, 15-year debility on its economy, causing it to grow less and have high unemployment.

          Some other decades-long debility factors are:

          – Adding countries with third-rate economies under the European umbrella.
          – Having economic policies, which led to bailouts of SPIGI and quantitative easing.
          – Dealing with the growing Muslim problem; Chunnel tie-ups, boat people.
          – Rebuilding NATO, because of the “acquisition” of Ukraine
          – Losing the LUCRATIVE Russian market.

          Other readers may add to this list.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Willem, this is one of the more important charts I’ve seen – so I made my own. I can’t see any relationship with other generation sources, e.g. nuclear. Hence it seems that the most important variable in Europe that determines the price of electricity is per capita installed capacity of wind + solar.

      I just grabbed GDP growth data from World Bank. This will be more complex since we know that Germany has one of the strongest growth rates in Europe. But it’s interesting to note that SPIGI are well along that line.

      Notably, the part of the European medicine for Greece was to deploy more renewables – and the only natural energy resource they have is lignite.

      • Willem Post says:


        Your graph is even better, because it clearly indicates the greater the installed wind + solar capacity intensity, watts/capita, the higher your total HOUSEHOLD electric costs, c/kWh, will be!!

        Please add sources of the data and generate a URL so I can use it in my articles.

        The US has about 1 million MW of total generating capacity and about 300 million people, or about 3330 W/capita.

        Also, I want to point out many costs related to 1) integrating wind and solar into existing systems and 2) operating with them on the grid have been socialized, are not included, or only partially included, in household electric costs.

        If all these costs had been included Germany and Denmark would likely have 50 c/kWh household electric costs.

      • Owen says:

        This is a terrific graph, may I use it on my blog ?

      • Mike Parr says:

        For the chart to show a real link between RES and residential electricity, you would need to extract: distribution & transmission costs and VAT (UK levies 5%, places such as Germany, Belgium 20%). Also when you compare energy only costs (btw the numbers used look like Eurostat numbers) you find the UK having the most expensive elec in Europe (16eurocents) and Germany on 8. Of course this does not tell the whole story – but including only costs related to RES – would paint a somewhat different picture and, I hypothesise, give a more heterogeneous result.

  10. Robert Doyle says:

    Pierre Gosselin has posted several articles on the tragic German experience with renewables. I thought they would become viral. Go figure. Here’s one.


  11. ristvan says:

    Euan, the DOE- EIA numbers for relative pounds of CO2 per KWh simply cannot be correct. Consider the following easily verifiable facts.
    1.Combustion of one molecule of methane CH4 produces one CO2 and two H2O, consuming two oxygen molecules (2O2). The equivalent oxidation of coal consumes two carbon atoms to produce two CO2 from 2O2. Methane produces half the CO2 for equivalent oxidation.
    2. The heat energy content of methane is 23811 BTU/pound. US steam coal averages about 11500BTU/pound. On an equivalent weight basis, coal combustion produces about half the thermal energy of methane.
    3. The average thermal efficiency of the US coal fleet is about 34% according to EIA (only one USC plant in the US–Turk at 41%). The thermal efficiency of new CCGT is 61% according to GE.

    Therefore the correct ratio of natural gas (methane) generation CO2 to coal generation CO2 is about 0.5*0.5*(0.34/0.61) = 0.14. Natural gas produces 1/7 , one seventh, the CO2 of coal for an equivalent amount of KWh of generation.

    • ristvan says:

      On point 2, the US steam coal energy estimate may even be high. The widely used low cost (strip mined) low sulfur sub bituminous coal from the Powder River Basin is only 8800 BTU/pound.

    • Euan Mearns says:



      In the first reaction it is C-H bonds that are broken. In the second C-C bonds. The bond energy for C-H is 411 KJ/mol. The bond energy for C-C is 346 KJ/mol. A mol of C-H weighs 13g and mol of C2 weighs 24g. So 1000g of C-H will yield 1000/13*411=31,615KJ. 1000g of C2 will yield 1000/24*346=14,417KJ.


      So the energy yield for C-H seems to be 2.19 times larger than C-C – I gotta admit I’m surprised by this. Your ratio is 23811/11500 = 2.07 – I gotta admit I’m surprised by this 😉

      Taking your efficiencies for coal and CCGT (the CCGT seems a bit high) 61/34 = 1.79

      So 2.19 * 1.79 = 3.92

      And the C-C reaction produces twice the CO2 that the C-H reaction does. So you end up with 2*3.92=7.8 times as much CO2 from coal than nat gas.

      When I read your comment initially I thought it had to be wrong. I have family round for dinner, had a few glasses of wine and so reserve right to wholly amend this comment.


      • Sorry, chemistry was always my worst subject. But my immediate reaction is that you & Rud have made a mistake somewhere. I can’t see how we could have gotten gas emissions this wrong for so long without someone noticing. Or could we?

        Anyway, I’ll do some scouting around and let you know if I find anything.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Yes, that was what I had in mind when I began scribbling my reply.

        • Okay. Gone as far as I’m going to go

          • Everyone agrees that natural gas emits a little more than half as much CO2 as coal.

          • No one ever seems to have questioned this.

          • This is the only article I found that gives any details on how the calculations were done:


          • Euan Mearns says:

            Roger, tks for sleuthing. With respect, your link looks like BS. If this is how we are working these days no wonder we are in trouble. The simple explanation I have always carried for coal producing twice as much CO2 as nat gas is that C-C produces 2CO2 while C-H produces CO2 + H20 – half the amount of CO2. Factoring in the bond energies, molecular weights and power plant efficiency gives the result in my (and Rud’s) calculation. OK, so we must be wrong. But I’d like to know where. I’ll send a note to Clive.

          • Euan: FWIW, here is how I believe CO2 emissions for different types of fuel are presently estimated:

            1. Calculate the quantity of oil, coal, gas etc. needed to generate 1kWh

            2. Calculate the contained carbon in these quantities.

            3. Assume that the contained C is released to the atmosphere when the fuel is burned.

            4. Multiply by 3.67 to get CO2

            You might try this to see what you get.

      • ristvan says:

        Euan and Roger, a very mild rebuke. My initial stoichiometry is correct. Just count atoms on both sides of the chemical reaction. Methane is CH4. One carbon can only produce one CO2 by combining with one oxygen molecule– which is comprised of 2 oxygen atoms. Four hydrogens can only make two H2O water molecules, since each water molecule needs two hydrogens. And that uses precisely one more oxygen molecule.

        On CCGT efficiency, not only does GE market its ‘Flex500’ (not designed for baseload only) as 61% efficiency down to 80% of design load (when it falls to 60%, E.ON ran Irsching 3 ( a Siemens 800 MW CCGT IIRC) at 61% for a full year. Both E.ON and Siemens announced the record some time ago.
        Regards to you both.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Rud, one of my dinner guests just happens to be a physical science scholar. And he points out that the first fundamental flaw in what I wrote is that breaking bonds consume energy (positive enthalpy) and forming bonds releases energy (negative enthalpy) and it is the net enthalpy of the reaction that counts.

      Having checked, we will continue to assume that the simplified chemistry of methane and coal is:


      And bond enthalpies are:

      C-C = 348 kJ/mol
      C=O = 1072
      O=O = 495
      C-H = 413
      O-H = 463

      For methane

      CH4 + 2O2 —– CO2 + 2H2O
      4*413 + 2*495 —– 2*1072 + 4*463
      2642 kJ/mol in to get 3996 kJ/mol out
      net energy per mol C = 1354 kJ

      For coal

      We need to simplify to:

      C+O2 —- CO2
      1*348 + 1*495 — 2*1*1072
      843 — 2144
      net energy per mol C = 1301 kJ

      Normalising for energy efficiency of power plant

      Methane 1354 * 0.61 = 826 kJ / mol CO2
      Coal 1301 * 0.34 = 442 kJ / mol CO2

      Coal produces 826/442 = 1.9 times the CO2 as does methane

      The main difference does not lie in the chemistry but in the efficiency of the power plant!

  12. Wm Watt says:

    1. Looks like all of those energy sources are domestic. US power prices are regulated by state legislatures which tend to please consumers by not allowing sufficient return on capital to maintain and replace plants. As coal plants wear out new money has to be borrowed to replace them, usually with natural gas. Natural gas is costly to ship overseas so tends to stay domestic. Years ago I profited from buying gas shares when aging US coal plants were being replaced by gas driving up demand. A lot of gas has been found since then driving down the price but I was out by then.

    2. In addition to the chart showing cost of renewable energy one can look at reports to shareholders from energy producers. A few years ago I posted on Facebook the cost per household of two energy projects completed by TransCanada Corp showing the much higher capital cost of wind power over gas, even ignoring standby cost. I was “unfriended” by one person for doing it. 🙂

    3. The US government might be thinking of increasing efficiency by running another “cash for clunkers” to get rid of older appliances -, ‘fridges, furnaces, stoves, and air conditioners – along with upgrading standards like they do for automobiles. (The fans on furnaces in forced air heating systems are one of the bigger household electricity users.)

    4. Cost per hour of electricity consumption needs to include both capital and operating at all levels – producer, distributor, and consumer. I’ve seen reports distort true cost by ignoring capital investment and maintenance, and just using operating. I don’t know what costs were included in the President’s address.

    5. I agree the President’s numbers look pretty suspicious. If they had decent schools perhaps they’d get decent government. Maybe he just can’t add?

  13. Luís says:

    Coal powered electricity is currently by far the cheapest and one of the most reliable forms of electricity generation known to Man.

    What is the purpose of assertions like these Euan? Your blog is becoming ever more political and ever less technical. Perhaps it gets you more visits but is a sorry sight for those interested in objective energy analysis.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Luis, you have become adept at being critical without ever providing any substantial evidence to back up what you say. Here you claim I am politically motivated and lack obectivity – that is sad. I made that statement because I believe it to be true. If you know otherwise then please enlighten us.

    • Owen says:

      modern civilization would not exist without coal powered generation. its as simple as that.

      • William says:

        it wouldn’t exist without horses and carts either, but that doesn’t mean we must go on using them.

  14. William says:

    “It is plain to see that adding intermittent renewables to a grid increases the cost of electricity”

    No, it is not. The graph just shows a correlation. To show causation you would need to show that electricity prices have increased more rapidly in countries that installed more renewables. That may well be true, but you need to prove it not just assert it.

    “Coal powered electricity is currently by far the cheapest and one of the most reliable forms of electricity generation known to Man.”

    To satisfy marginal demand (i.e. the extra unit on top of what is already being used), the cheapest solution is efficiency measures, not coal, wind or solar. That is not strictly speaking “generation”, but for the marginal supply it comes to the same thing. Also the “cost” of coal generation claimed as the cheapest does not include the cost of climate change. It is admittedly very difficult to estimate that cost, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

  15. Charles Hall says:


    As usual good blog and good discussion:

    But am I the only one to be concerned with this question:

    Coal vs gas:

    Natural gas is an extremely useful and flexible resource, far more so than coal. As a fuel natural gas can propel many things (tractors, cars, whatever [maybe two thirds as useful/energy dense/whatever as gasoline]) (Coal directly is OK for locomotives, very awkward elsewhere). It is also a great fuel for e.g. baking, heating houses and schools, clean industrial processes and so on and the preferred feedstock for the Haber N fertilizer process (keeping most of us alive), good and bad agrochemicals, plastics and so on. Both coal and gas can make electricity; gas a little more efficiently, coal maybe a little cheaper (depending on where).

    But coal is roughly and perhaps arguably ten times more abundant globally than gas. Art Berman and Dave Hughes, both of whom I respect greatly, indicate the future production and economics of U. S. shale gas is much more constrained than EIA projections. Production of conventional gas in US has declined greatly, and without the shale gas we would be up gas creek without a piddle (or whatever it would be).

    Will our grandchildren damn us for using up the premium fossil fuels for the pedestrian process of making electricity? Somehow climate change, to my astonishment, has captured center stage to the exclusion of resource availability, which I (and Randy Udall and others) found an at least equally and probably more important issue for society. I just think this perspective should be part of the analysis/equation. But it is totally ignored.

    A second issue

    An examination of efficiency over time in the economy requires that our inflation rates be accurate. According to shadowstatistics there are various reasons and procedures (e.g. changing the market basket in certain ways) for “government” to turn in low estimates of inflation. If inflation for the past 30 years has been 4 percent per year, as apparently shadowstats thinks, rather than the official 3 percent estimated through CPI, all efficiencies in energy use would melt away. Perhaps real efficiency downstream is being compensated to some degree by declining resource quality (e.g. declining EROI) upstream. I have no idea how to resolve this issue, but it needs some very sophisticated and thoughtful analysis.

    We will soon announce a new Journal that will be interested in these and other questions.

  16. Euan Mearns says:

    Charles, as you are aware in this debate all issues are subordinate to the CO2 God. Reliability, availability, cost, environmental impact etc just don’t matter any more. But its not quite as simple as that since nuclear is also a bad guy. The safest form of power generation has been turned into a bogey man that many are terrified of.

    The shale revolution hasn’t helped in analysis of resource availability. In Europe we are still running down indigenous nat gas about to get a whole lot worse with the constraints on Groningen. If we can’t produce our own, well Hell we’ll just import it from the USA, the only schizophrenic country in the world that has both LNG import and export facilities.

    One aspect of the shale revolution you are perhaps unaware of is that the vast price differential that existed between Japan / Korea and the rest of the world has evaporated – dragged down by low oil prices.

    I’m not sure I get your point about energy efficiency gains and metering of inflation. If a car does 60 mpg now compared with 30 mpgs a decade ago that is independent of inflation. Likewise energy consumption standards of appliances and insulation standards of homes. It is possible that improved energy efficiency is deflationary though.

    • Willem Post says:


      “It is possible that improved energy efficiency is deflationary though.”

      Well, since 1800 we are doing things about 14.5 times more efficient. That enabled a population explosion and Gross World Product explosion.

      In 1800, the Gross World Product, GWP, was $175.24 billion; population 1.0 billion.
      In 2012, the GWP was $71,830 billion, 407 times greater; population 7.0 billion.

      GWP/capita in 2012 = 407/7 = 58 times greater than in 1800

      In 1800, world per capita energy consumption was 20 GJ. In 2010, 80 GJ;

      10,000 J = 9.486 Btu
      20 GJ/y = 18,956,342 Btu/y; 10 – 15 million Btu/ cord of green wood.

      With 4 times the energy use per capita, 58 times the GWP/capita is achieved, i.e., energy/capita is used about 14.5 times* more effectively than in 1800.

      GWP multiplier from 1800 to 2010 = 4 x 7 x 14.5 = 407; an indication of environmental impact.

      The GDPs of the US and Europe are about 1/3 goods and 2/3 services, of China it is about 2/3 goods and 1/3 services. The GWP can be assumed to be 50% goods and 50% services in 2012.

      That means, compared to 1800, the goods GWP increased about 407/2 = 203.5 times, or 203.5/7 = 29.1 times per capita, as the population increased about 7 times.

      A summary table is as follows:

      Population, billion………………….1.0…………….7.0…………….7
      Energy/capita, GJ………………….20……………..80…………….4
      – Biofuel/capita, GJ………………..19……………….8
      – Other/capita, GJ……………………1……………..72
      GWP, $billion……………………..175.24 ………71,830………407
      GWP/capita, $……………………175.24………10,261………..58
      Goods/capita, % of GWP…………90…………….50
      Services/capita, % of GWP………10…………….50

      NOTE: The wildlife animal population decreased 50% from 1970 to 2014, while the human population and GDP/capita, and CO2/capita increased!!

      NOTE: Steam engines were 3% efficient, modern CCGTs are 60% efficient; Dutch wind mills were 2-4% efficient, modern wind turbines are at about half of the theoretical maximum of Betz’s Law of 59%; wood/peat OPEN fireplaces of 1800 had negative efficiency. Lay people usually do not get that point, as they know little about the efficiency of engineered systems.

      Because of the present effective use of energy, much more goods and services can be produced for consumption and more damage is done to the environment that debilitates the fauna and flora.

      It is a fantasy to think RE build-outs by mostly developed nations will reverse this situation, because underdeveloped nations continue to increase their use of fossil fuels, i.e., GW is a given for as long as fossil fuels are available.

  17. luc says:

    A very interesting paper by Dr John Topper, Managing Director of the IEA Clean Coal Centre, remains us that the most efficient coal fired power plants emit almost 33% less CO2 than the power plants that run at about 30% efficiency.

    Clean Coal Technology for Power: Global Status and Prospects.

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  19. A K Dart says:

    To reduce CO2 production to ’30 percent below 2005 levels’ would be the same as a return to what year? Prior to World War II, or the industrial revolution? Where does one find CO2 emissions data going back that far?

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