Friday, April 29, 2016

No more new natural gas plants in developed countries

I'm sure there's a fact-laden and long version of this post, but the title almost suffices.

Whatever the merit of the argument for natural gas as a bridge fuel may be (never quite decided myself), that bridge is a lot more frayed now than when people started making the argument a decade or so ago. Newly-constructed plants will have a lifetime of 20-50 years. It's unlikely that the developed world would need the additional capacity of new gas plants in 20 years, regardless of whether currently-existing, gas-fired plants will be useful to the grid. We shouldn't need any gas or other fossil fuel plants, new or existing, in much less than 50 years from now. Power variability from renewables could be addressed through storage, hydro, larger power networks, existing nuclear baseload, and lastly through existing natural gas plants. We don't need the new ones, and having the not-fully amortized plants around would tempt people to keep running them when they shouldn't.

I suppose there's always an exception like islands where the need argument might be stronger. New natural gas might run coal out of some regions slightly faster than otherwise, but overall renewables would deploy faster with a near-universal rule of no new natural gas plants.

Obviously there should also be no new other fossil fuel plants, and coal and bunker oil should be shut down in a decade or so.

The case against new natural gas in developing countries is weaker. New coal plants are being built there, so if gas truly is better than coal despite fugitive emissions, then new gas has additional value. The power needs in their near-future will also be far greater than today, so today's existing natural gas infrastructure won't do as much to address power variability as it does in developed countries (and developing countries generally have little or no existing nuclear baseload power to help out). The developed world would have to help financially to make new gas unnecessary compared to more-environmental options.

And yes, an adequate price for carbon/methane would make this command-and-control idea unnecessary.

UPDATE:  edited for clarity.

30 comments:

Focus Engineerrs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fernando Leanme said...

What do you mean by "natural gas plant". This term usually refers to plants which process natural gas streams near the field site. They separate the condensed water, dry the gas, separate the natural gas liquids, and compress the final product to introduce it into the natural gas pipeline.

As regards an electric power generation plant using a combined cycle turbine, they are extremely cost effective, can exceed 60 % thermodynamic efficiency, have a small footprint, and are an excellent fit to work in tandem with wind power.

I suspect your lack of engineering knowledge leads you to a very dogmatic and unsound position. Reminds me of the children's crusade.

Brian said...

Thanks, Fernando!

Ken said...

Thermodynamic efficiency no longer has any relevance. GHG efficiency is now what matters. Renewables are all hundreds (thousands?) of times more GHG efficient than any fossil fueled electricity generation.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Brian - I really have no idea what this post is about. I think that you are advocating for something, but I don't know what. No energy generation from natural gas? No production of natural gas?

For Ken: You be nuts, dude.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

You can produce, sell and burn as much natural gas on this planet as you want there Pigman, as long as your plan B is Mars colonization.

Because your Plan A won't work in Paradisistan.

E. Swanson said...

Sir Pigman is probably right about Mr. Ken's characterization of renewable energy sources. For example, ethanol derived from corn represents only a small gain in net energy, since the energy required to produce the corn and then process it into ethanol is quite large relative to the energy stored in the ethanol. Also, building a power dam requires lots of concrete, which is usually produced by burning fossil carbon in one form or another. Even firewood isn't carbon neutral, since there is some (considerable ?) energy input to cut, process and transport the wood.

One point often lost in such discussions is that humans don't "make" energy, we only convert it from one form to another form which we find more useful. And, at each processing step from primary source to end consumer, efficiency is always less than 100%. Fossil fuels were a great boon for humanity, but the resulting "side effects" are serious problems which may ultimately destroy civilization. LINK..

Brian said...

CIP - okay, I edited to clarify. My point is that regardless of the controversy over whether natural gas is currently good or bad, we don't need more of it.

EliRabett said...

It's a bit more complicated than that Fernando, including scrubbing out the CO2

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/NatGasProcessing.png

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Brian,

I think that you are optimistic about storage and existing baseload. Very little untapped hydro exists in the developed world, and a lot of existing baseload is coal or rapidly aging nuclear. More nuclear is almost certainly a crucial component of any attempt to get free of GHG production.

E. Swanson said...

Sir Pig appears to like nukes, even though it's claimed that renewables are now cheaper than nukes, which should give a true capitalist reason to reject nukes. Sir Pig apparently fails to understand that there are quite a few issues still unresolved with nukes, like, what to do with the radioactive waste products. So, Sir Pig, here's a solution. If you and each of your capitalistic pig buddies were to eat a spoon full of the high level waste, that could kill two birds with one swallow as the waste would be swiftly buried along with the dead pigs. You may find this solution unacceptable, however you appear willing to accept the prospect of untold numbers of life forms (including people) experiencing the same result over many millennia...

Canman said...

E Swanson:

"even though it's claimed that renewables are now cheaper than nukes"

So it's claimed, but the Breakthrough crew doesn't agree and they make a very good case:

http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/issues/nuclear/not-dead-yet

Renewables are anti-dispatchable and I see no evidence that they can adequately scale. They need fossil fuel backup and if you use nuclear for backup instead, they are superfluous.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

E. Swanson - You don't seem to be totally ignorant, but you are very rude. Do you really think that is an effective mode of argumentation/persuasion, or are you just another Koch machine provocateur?

Gibberish name (8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df) I keep waiting for you to make a point - any point whatsoever. You might consider just listening while the adults talk.

Hank Roberts said...

The path avoiding hell is paved with good inventions.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Everybody but you seems to be able to understand the basic point here, but let me attach some numbers to it. 3000 Gt of carbon remaining after 500 Gt already emitted has put us in severe danger with a projected 10 billion humans by 2050 where suddenly we are looking at a current 1.5 C anomaly and an average global top of the atmosphere radiative forcing of over 0.5 Watts per square meter. You be fucked. A global mass extinction and the collapse of civilization is already underway. I guess you just missed that in your current orgy of wealth which from a US government perspective has you at $20 trillion in the hole.

You can either fortify your fortifications or begin to evacuate into space. I'm not sure if a Maginot line will save you this time either.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

It's going to get significantly warmer over the next 50 years, whatever we do right now - that's already baked in the cake. If we care about the future, we can do something how much it warms over those decades and especially about what happens after that. That means thinking realistically about alternatives. Shouts and insults might feel good, but I'm going to guess that they won't help.

Unfortunately, I don't think Brian is being realistic about replacing natural gas in the immediate future, especially if you take nuclear off the table. We know nuclear has its risks, but so does every other alternative, and right now coal is the greatest threat. Only coal has enough carbon to push us directly toward apocalypse.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Blah blah blah, you don't have a clue about the freight train coming straight at you. You are an impotent fool.

E. Swanson said...

Sir Pig, you appear to be suffering from the notion that the future must be like the past. By that I mean our energy consumption patterns. We've enjoyed free storage inherent in fossil fuels, which has made it possible for the energy supply companies (as in electric power generators) to "dispatch" electricity to meet the changing demand thru the electric grid. This model won't work with an all nuclear supply system, since the large plants are run as the base load with fossil and hydro energy used to meet the variable portion of demand. I submit that humanity isn't locked into this system description, especially given that renewables are already dispersed and available to the individual consumer if they desire to make use of it. Other nations which don't have our level of grid build out may simply bypass the grid model, especially tropical nations which don't need to contend with seasonal heating loads.

Why is it that the capitalist mind refuses to think "outside the box"? The Breakthrough Institute's nuclear dreams haven't passed the test of real world operation and until they do so, it's all smoke and mirrors, just like the earlier promise of electricity that would be "too cheap to meter".

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Here is a clue: Even the most modest environmental measures in the US are out of reach as long as Charles and David Koch (and their allies) control the Congress, and there is virtually no prospect of that changing anytime soon. There is no issue they care about more than defeating environmental controls on energy.

If Hillary wins, which might even be probable, she is unlikely to control the Senate, and virtually certain not to control the house. For sure nothing will happen as long as idiots like some of the more deranged and ignorant commentators here concentrate their fire on those of us who are trying to decrease carbon. consumption.

Canman said...

E Swanson: "The Breakthrough Institute's nuclear dreams haven't passed the test of real world operation and until they do so, it's all smoke and mirrors, just like the earlier promise of electricity that would be 'too cheap to meter'"

You don't think France, with %80 of its electricity from nuclear "passed the test of real world operation"? Germany sure hasn't passed this test:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClHUtlZgtVg

E. Swanson said...

Canman, I doubt that you understand what the Breakthrough Institute is proposing. It's not more of the very large units, but smaller ones which can be factory build. Besides, the nuclear industry isn't doing well, given the low cost of natural gas.
And the French are having trouble building their latest version.

Here's much more.

Brian said...

CIP - it's probably worth a separate post, but existing hydro could be treated (within limits) as dispatchable rather than as baseload. I'm not opposed to continuing existing nuclear and maybe even relicensing if it can compete economically, and that can partially help with power variability from renewables. I'd even revisit my skepticism about new nuclear if it can keep up with cost declines for renewable power. Last but still on the table would be continuing existing power plants using natural gas, maybe even with refurbishment.

I just don't see the need for new natural gas power in developed countries.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Can: Renewables are anti-dispatchable and I see no evidence that they can adequately scale.

BPL: That would be news to the Danes. Or the Swedes. Indonesians. Icelanders. Spaniards. Portuguese...

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Can: You don't think France, with %80 of its electricity from nuclear "passed the test of real world operation"?

BPL: France doesn't think so, as they're moving away from nuclear.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/france-loses-enthusiasm-for-nuclear-power/

Canman said...

BPL: "... the Danes. Or the Swedes. Indonesians. Icelanders. Spaniards. Portuguese..."

The Danes have a bunch of nearby hydro and nuclear from ... Sweden for backup. Iceland is swimming in geothermal unlike the rest of the world. Spain is having a renewable fire sale:

https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/05/02/greens-reframe-spains-green-bankruptcy-fire-sale-as-renewed-interest/

I don't know much about the Indonesians and Portuguese, but I would doubt that their situation is much different.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I'm pretty sure that the right way to go is a carbon tax. A lot of other issues will sort themselves out if that can happen - of course that won't be easy.

Nigel Franks said...

What is this special form of electricity called " baseload", that renewables apparently can't supply?

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Nigel - Wikipedia is your friend for baseload and dispatchable electricity.

Phil Hays said...

There are limits to how dispatchable hydro power can be.

Running the stream dry is usually frowned upon by the fish.

Flooding the stream banks could make lawyers very happy.

Brian said...

Phil - those are good points, which is why I say dispatchable within limits. The point though is that they're not operated as dispatchable backup to renewable sources, they're operated as baseload. That should change.