How Natural Gas and Wind Decarbonize the Grid

Updated Analysis of US Regional Power Generation, 2007–2015

In 2014, Breakthrough conducted an analysis of US regional power generation data that demonstrated the preeminence of cheap natural gas in displacing coal from 2007 to 2013. An update to that study with data from 2014 and 2015, this analysis shows that the coal-to-gas shift remains the leading driver behind power sector decarbonization. Wind, however, has also played a significant role over this timeframe, as has demand reduction. Despite these gains, it is important to recognize that none of the above—neither natural gas, wind, nor demand reduction—will enable us to meet our more ambitious deep decarbonization goals alone. Reaching 80% or higher reductions by 2050 will require a much larger toolkit of low- and zero-carbon technologies, including nuclear and carbon capture.

Here’s an analysis from The Breakthrough Institute.  Continuing to publish material with a different viewpoint~ctm

From Breakthrough Institute

July 13, 2017 | Michael Goff,

Cheap natural gas has reduced carbon emissions on the US electricity grid more than anything else over the past decade.

That’s the core conclusion of our new analysis. But while the coal-to-gas shift continues to lead power sector decarbonization, wind is playing a bigger and bigger role.

Over 2007–2015, the period we studied for this analysis, the replacement of coal with cheaper natural gas was responsible for a cumulative 443 million tons of carbon emissions reductions. That compares to 316 million tons of reduced emissions due to lower demand, and 294 million tons due to increased wind generation. See Figures 1 and 2 for details.

Figure 1: Decarbonization benefit of new generation and demand reduction in 2015, compared to 2007 emissions

Figure 2: Cumulative decarbonization of new generation and demand reduction, 2008–2015, relative to 2007 emissions

These conclusions build on a 2014 Breakthrough analysis in which we found that the decline in coal was overwhelmingly due to natural gas, while wind replaced a much more diverse base of resources over the 2007–2013 period.

How can natural gas, a fossil fuel with significantly greater emissions than renewable sources, decarbonize the power sector more than wind?

If natural gas generation replaces coal generation while wind replaces hydroelectric, then gas has a greater decarbonizing benefit. And that does happen, for instance, in the American Midwest, where gas has displaced a lot of coal, while wind has displaced some hydro in the West. But on average, a megawatt-hour generated by wind reduced more carbon than one generated by gas. The biggest reason that gas has reduced carbon emissions more than wind is simply that there’s a lot more new gas generation than wind.

It’s a complicated question, and we need more than national data to answer it. So, as in our 2014 analysis, we broke down annual generation into the 10 North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) regions. Although the NERC regions do not perfectly represent autonomous electricity markets, they allow for more precise analysis of the evolution of the grid than would be possible from looking at US electricity as a whole.

Similar to the 2007 to 2013 change, in 2014 and 2015 we continue to observe major declines in coal production and increases in natural gas. Wind was the second largest source of growth in generation. Solar saw big growth in 2014 and 2015, mostly in the WECC (Western Electricity Coordinating Council) region, but remains under 1% of total electricity nationally (our figures, taken from the EIA Form 923, count only utility-scale solar and not distributed solar).

In each of the mainland NERC regions, coal production fell, while gas production increased in all regions except WECC (gas and solar also fell in ASCC, the Alaska Systems Coordinating Council). Gas was the largest source of new generation, while wind was the second largest. Changes in each major source are illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3

To estimate the greenhouse gas benefit (or detriment) of new power sources, we first estimate the intensity of displaced sources by taking the average of the carbon intensities of all sources that decreased, weighted by the amount of decrease. The greenhouse gas intensity benefit or cost of a fuel that grew on the grid is the difference between the displaced intensity and the intensity of that fuel. If a power source that grew has a greater carbon intensity than the sources it displaced, then the greenhouse gas benefit is negative, or, in other words, deployment of the source led to re-carbonization instead of decarbonization.

This calculation is based on the assumption that a power source that grows displaces sources that decreased in the proportions by which they decreased. However, if a grid grows in size overall, then only a portion of the increase in a power source displaces other sources, and the remainder satisfies new demand. The benefits or costs of adding new sources are reduced accordingly.

To calculate the total decarbonization benefit of a given source over all eight mainland North American grids, we take the weighted average of the decarbonization benefit over all grids for which that source grew, weighted by the amount of growth. Emissions factors for each power source are noted in the Appendix. These decarbonization benefits are shown in Table 1.

Table 1

So as a whole, each megawatt-hour of natural gas reduced carbon less than an average megawatt-hour of wind or solar. But due to the sheer volume of natural gas generation, compared to the relatively smaller amount of wind and still pretty negligible amount of solar, natural gas reduced more carbon in absolute terms over the eight-year period we looked at.

From 2007 to 2015, overall generation fell in all grids except FRCC (Florida Reliability Coordinating Council), TRE (Texas Reliability Entity), and SPP (Southwest Power Pool). As seen in Table 1, that demand reduction is responsible for a significant portion of reduced emissions. But obviously, demand reduction reduces emissions more on grids with higher carbon baselines, and as the country has emerged from the Great Recession, demand reduction has slowed.

Meanwhile, wind energy is doing a lot more decarbonization work than it has in previous years.

All of this is good news. Carbon emissions are 14% lower now than they were a decade ago in the power sector, mostly as a result of the shale gas revolution, the build-out of wind energy, and demand reduction. As we look toward deeper decarbonization, there are some important implications.

For one, there’s only so far that demand reduction can take us. Much of the “decarbonization” of the last decade was actually just slower economic growth following the Great Recession—that’s something we cannot (and, we think, should not) hope for in the future. Further, as other sectors of the economy—including transportation and industrial sources—electrify, total electricity demand is almost certain to go way up this century. With that in mind, we need to double down on low- and zero-carbon power generation to reach deep decarbonization.

Two, the coal-to-gas transition will run out of runway eventually. If we want to reach the 30% reductions by 2030 envisioned by the Clean Power Plan, then coal-to-gas is a good way to get there. If we want to reach 80% or higher reductions by 2050, we’ll need to replace that natural gas with renewables, nuclear, and/or carbon capture in the long term.

Three, renewables—especially wind but also solar—are a growing force for decarbonization. That will continue as wind and solar get steadily cheaper with further deployment. But even as wind turbines and solar panels get cheaper, greater penetration on electric grids leads to value deflation. That’s because greater penetrations of intermittent renewables fluctuate between zero generation and overgeneration on a grid, which leads to increased costs. You can read more about this challenge here.

If we put all that together, we arrive at our ultimate conclusion: we need better tools, technologies, and policies to meet our ambitious climate goals. Follow our work in the future for more on deep decarbonization.

The author would like to thank Eric Gimon for a fruitful discussion and helpful suggestions on this project.

 

 

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120 thoughts on “How Natural Gas and Wind Decarbonize the Grid

  1. This entire article is WORTHLESS, for it is based on the completely baseless assumption that human CO2 emissions cause significant shifts in the climate zones of the earth.

    One can, thus, answer this article’s assertion,

    All of this is good news. Carbon emissions are 14% lower now

    , with this:

    CO2 UP. WARMING NOT.

    • Bang on! A massive load of hogwash about a blind cult of adherence to a harmful political pogrom. Go drink this kool-ade somewhere else

    • I agree with Janice. CO2 is not the problem, so why worry about it. Real pollution is a problem which the USA has dealt with. Other countries like China and India should maybe learn from the US how to deal with real pollution which they and other developing countries are not addressing…just sayin…I live in Mexico and polluting cars are just not addressed, there are no car inspections, at least here in the Baja…and the power plants here try to hide their polluting emissions by releasing them into the air early in the morning before dawn so not to many will see it. I am told by a native here.

      • Not just cheaper, but energy deployment on demand—and especially when the wind isn’t blowing. If a new battery technology becomes commercialized on grid-scale levels then let’s talk.

        Oh, and move those butt-ugly things waaaay offshore, over the horizon’s line of sight. The planet is covered 70% with water, so make use of the space that isn’t used and isn’t valued for living space. Or simply go thorium and/or kill off 80% of the planet’s population because as the number of our species continues to skyrocket, our energy demands will continue to increase.

    • CO2 UP. WARMING NOT.

      Yup:

      Having emissions drop by 14% is bad not good.

      There’s zero evidence that CO2 affects climate temperatures, but there’s ample evidence that higher levels of CO2 provide huge benefits across the globe, including the increased greening of the world. Interesting that the fear mongering Chicken Littles keep crying wolf about how agricultural production would take a devastating hit from global warming “climate change.” Well, they’ve been saying that for over 30 years, and by now we are supposed to be suffering from major famine because of mass crop failures. Instead it’s 100% the opposite, and this is largely a result of increased CO2:

      • I find your first graph misleading. If you make the temperature axis 4 times what is shown…

    • If we put all that together, we arrive at our ultimate conclusion: we need better tools, technologies, and policies to meet our ambitious climate goals. Follow our work in the future for more on deep decarbonization.

      That statement no longer has any meaning or relevance since US has said it is pulling out of Paris “agreement” and thus does not have any “ambitious climate goals” to meet.

    • Thank you Janice and all for your informed comments.

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/07/20/alarums-and-excursions/comment-page-1/#comment-2559727

      RE a successful predictive track record. We published the following in 2002*.

      “The ultimate agenda of pro-Kyoto advocates is to eliminate fossil fuels, but this would result in a catastrophic shortfall in global energy supply – the wasteful, inefficient energy solutions proposed by Kyoto advocates simply cannot replace fossil fuels.”

      We also wrote in the same article, prior to recognition that the current ~20 year “Pause” was already underway:

      “Climate science does not support the theory of catastrophic human-made global warming – the alleged warming crisis does not exist.”

      Regards to all, Allan

      * Source:
      PEGG, reprinted in edited form at their request by several other professional journals , The Globe and Mail and La Presse in translation, by Baliunas, Patterson and MacRae.
      http://www.apega.ca/members/publications/peggs/WEB11_02/kyoto_pt.htm
      http://www.friendsofscience.org/assets/documents/KyotoAPEGA2002REV1.pdf

  2. Now that the greenhouse effect has been debunked and replaced by the pressure induced thermal effect..

    All this talk of CO2 being other than beneficial is pure baloney.

  3. According to an “Oil & GAS Investor” article dated 7-13-2017, coal just took overtook natural gas. Perhaps not for long, but if coal is dying, it will be a slow death.

  4. Gas has the advantage that can be both baseline and peak dispatchable. Wind offers neither; if the wind blows too hard, you have to shut it down to avoid damage to the windmills; if too little, you need fossil power peaking plants; if you don’t need the power when the wind speeds are within the sweet spot, it can go to waste.

    • “it can go to waste…”

      Actually.. it has to got rid of somehow..

      In Germany’s case, its usually by dumping on another country, destabilising their grid.

      • Andy, you are correct; however, that is a feature of the regulatory environment, which, given the goals in most countries of maximizing the intake of renewable power to the grid, requires the grid operator to take all available wind power, even when not needed, and then figure out what to do with it. That has often meant selling it at a loss to operators of interconnected neighboring grids.

        While wind power is not dispatchable on demand when there’s no wind, the grid operator could conceivably require operators to adjust output to demand by shutting down a part of their fleet. Of course that would defeat the goal of reaching for the Holy Grail, so operators and ratepayers are stuck with selling at a loss.

      • In fact day ahead prices in W Europe are set for electricity based on predicted renewable output and countries connected to the grid queue up to buy the electricity…

        German power generation and power exports both increased in 2016.

  5. Another wasted activity brought about by the false perception that CO2 has a significant effect on climate.

    Meanwhile, what actually does pose a threat is the continuing rise in water vapor. The WV trend is increasing about 1.5% per decade. It has increased about 8% since 1960. The warming is welcome (WV is a ghg. Its increase is countering the average global cooling which would otherwise be occurring as a result of declining net effect of ocean cycles and a declining proxy which is the time-integral of SSN anomalies) but the added WV increases the risk of precipitation related flooding. How much of recent flooding (with incidences reported world wide) is simply bad luck in the randomness of weather and how much is because of the ‘thumb on the scale’ of added water vapor?

      • The air in polar regions is usually cold – it contains very little water. The air over tropical seas is very wet. The “water vapor departure from averages (percent)” is meaningless unless you specify details. Is four apples and one orange 25% more than four apples?

    • Now that the El Nino is over, water vapor levels have fallen back down to about 2.0% above normal (1948-2016) while it was as much as 6.0% above normal in March 2016 (4 months after the peak of the El Nino).

      Water vapor levels are very closely controlled by the ENSO (lagging 3 months behind it on average).

      Since there is NO trend in the ENSO, there is very little trend in water vapor either.

      The chart above starts in 1987-88 which was the biggest La Nina on record and hence water vapor was at its lowest on record. Literally, the value in the chart for March 1989 (La Nina reached its low-point in December 1988) is the lowest monthly anomaly in the record going back to 1948.

  6. I don’t understand your Figure 2. Take “million tons CO2 saved in 2015, compared to 2007, Wind, 76.7”. What exactly does it mean? Surely not that “wind supplied enough energy to save 76.7 million tons of CO2 compared to hydro”. What does it mean?

  7. Meanwhile, the useless turbines continue to destroy hundreds of thousand acres of open space, doing more damage than even the Gold Rush and other greed-motivated activites have done environmentally. They are a blight. Nothing says “I hate the environment, wildlife and human beings” like a wind turbine. I am surrounded by the monstrosities, Wyoming is losing thousands of acres of open space that used house sage grouse, black footed ferrets, elk and so forth. I cannot think of anything short of the damage done by the refining of the rare earths for these monsters that has done so much damage to the planet. Oil fields were absolutely nothing compared to wind turbines.

  8. So I am genuinely curious, but you guys dispute that CO2 itself has any effect at all on global climate? My understanding (as an amateur) is that scientists are about 99% sure the planet is warming and that the warming is being caused by human-released greenhouse gas emissions, but that where the science veers off into becoming more of a theology is when they start making claims about how the increased climate will wreak havoc on the Earth and destroy civilization and so we must “ACT NOW!” and force onto the population all of these socialist-seeming schemes.

    • I like the articles here, but most of the comments seem to be an enclosed audience trying to signal to one another just how passionately they love fossil fuels, and just how even-more-passionately they hate The Other Guys.

      Change “fossil fuels” for something else and you have most internet comments sections, really.

      • I like the articles here, but most of the comments seem to be an enclosed audience trying to signal to one another just how passionately they love fossil fuels, and just how even-more-passionately they hate The Other Guys.

        Not really.
        (From the post)

        If we put all that together, we arrive at our ultimate conclusion: we need better tools, technologies, and policies to meet our ambitious climate goals. Follow our work in the future for more on deep decarbonization.

        There is no need to “decarbonize”.
        CO2 emissions are NOT a problem or a pollutant.
        Their “ambitious climate goals” were set to solve a non-problem. They are misguided and not worth the cost.
        (And by “cost”, I don’t just mean in other people’s money.)

      • “I like the articles here, but most of the comments seem to be an enclosed audience trying to signal to one another just how passionately they love fossil fuels, and just how even-more-passionately they hate The Other Guys.”

        Actually most posters here have a background and degrees in Science and hate pseudo-junk-climate science. That’s the motivation.

        Your strawman argument is not only pathetic but ultimately without merit.

    • You can always find a “scientist” who is 99% sure. The problem is that Mother Nature does not follow their predictions – excuse me, for that very reason they don’t make predictions any longer, now they make “projections”. Eerily similar to astral projections.

    • 100% of competent scientists are sure the planet is warming; 1850 was the end of the Little Ice Age. Conveniently, its called “the end” because it started to get warmer.

      However, thus far, 0% of scientists have been able to conclusively prove what component is natural and what is man-made.

    • Hello, Kyle . It is good to be curious .
      I do not believe we dispute ” that CO2 has any effect at all on global climate ” and I am sure we agree that the world is warming .
      The cause of this warming is not certain .
      Google the CERN “CLOUD ” experiment for another perspective .
      There is much to be learned , please continue to be curious !

      • I have to question the statement “I am sure we agree that the world is warming”. Since warming seems to have taken a hiatus for the past 20 or so years, I believe the proper way to state it is that “the world has been warming.” Since we cannot foresee the future, at least when it comes to climate.

      • I disagree with the notion that the world is warming, too. In fact, I don’t think the “global temperature” actually has any physical meaning.

    • Your understanding that scientists are about 99% sure the planet is warming and that the warming is being caused by human-released greenhouse gas emissions is simply wrong. Yes the climate is warming — we are exiting the LIA (Little Ice Age); this is nothing new or unexpected.

      The climate models\predictions however have failed miserably trying to prove that some (any) of this warming is caused by human activity. Belief is not science. Show me one, and just one, climate model that has successfully forecast the global temperature over the last twenty years — you can’t; there are none..

    • Here you go, Kyle. Now, you can look into this 99 97% matter for yourself:

      ….The 97% “consensus” study, Cook et al. (2013) has been thoroughly refuted in scholarly peer-reviewed journals, by major news media, public policy organizations and think tanks, highly credentialed scientists and extensively in the climate blogosphere. The shoddy methodology of Cook’s study has been shown to be so fatally flawed that well known climate scientists have publicly spoken out against it,

      “The ‘97% consensus’ article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country [UK] that the energy minister should cite it.”

      – Mike Hulme, Ph.D. Professor of Climate Change, University of East Anglia (UEA)
      The following is a list of 97 articles that refute Cook’s (poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed) 97% “consensus” study. ….

      (Source: http://www.populartechnology.net/2014/12/97-articles-refuting-97-consensus.html )

      • Excellent article. I’ve always described the Cook et al paper by drawing an analogy to asking a follow-up question of those people who believe strawberry ice cream is the best ice cream whether or not strawberries are necessary to making strawberry ice cream.

        A. You’ve eliminated everyone who doesn’t agree with the null hypothesis of strawberry ice cream being tops.
        B. Embedded in the query is a requirement for agreement (save for those who prefer an artificial flavour.)

        Of course you’re going to wind up with at least a 97% consensus, but that doesn’t mean that the results are meaningful.

    • Re:

      any effect at all

      Seriously, Kyle?

      Well, juuuust in case you really thought that might be the case: No.

      An effect which is overwhelmed (so far as we have been able to measure it with observations) COMPLETELY by natural drivers (mainly, water vapor (Use search topic: Coupled Ocean Atmosphere System))

      is not a controlling variable.

      Further, human CO2, the crux of the problem “{us} guys” have with the posted article about “carbon,” is usually estimated to be about 6% of total CO2. Whatever effect CO2 has on climate, the human part is highly likely to be negligible.

      Finally, bear in mind that ice core proxies show CO2 lagging temperature by a quarter cycle (~800 years).

    • Kyle, try listening to what is described as a Galileo moment for climate science:

      The bottom line is that the greenhouse effect does not exist. The warmth is pressure induced. Pressure is solely a function of the mass of atmosphere, not composition.

    • Kyle August 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm
      So I am genuinely curious, but you guys dispute that CO2 itself has any effect at all on global climate? My understanding (as an amateur) is that scientists are about 99% sure the planet is warming and that the warming is being caused by human-released greenhouse gas emissions,

      Mr Layman here.
      Is the Earth warming? Sure, but not much in the last, what?, 16?, 20? years. And not as much as Hansen et al’s models have said it would with our current CO2 levels.
      Is Man’s CO2 contributing to the atmosphere’s CO2 levels? Sure. Might Man’s emissions even contribute to a bit of warming? Theoretically, yes, but not enough to measure the difference between AGW and NGW. (Natural Global Warming)
      It’s nothing to worry about. No need to wage a “War on Coal” or any other combustibles.

      • Why restrict yourself to Hansen’s models? The Warmists love to repeat the long history of research underlying their beliefs. They love to cite Arrhenius and Callander, and all sorts of old scientists who laid the groundwork.

        But they won’t mention that the lab effect of CO2 was fully solved very early in the 20th century. They knew what CO2 does in a test tube environment, the only question was what CO2 would do in the future. Keeling provided the measurements and predictions they needed. So, in 1965 with a complete understanding of CO2 in the lab with precision offered by computer calculations, and with a solid prediction of CO2 rising inexorably into the future, the world’s experts joined together and produced a report titled “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment.”

        In this report they predicted that by the year 2000, atmospheric CO2 would rise by 25% (this was very accurate, actually), which would cause a 7 degree increase in temperatures, coupled with a 10 foot rise in sea levels.

        The predicted even further into the future that post-2000 we would experience complete meltdown of both Greenland and Antarctica, which would cause sea levels to rise another 400 feet over the next 400 years. They also offered an alternate scenario that complete meltdown might instead take 1000 years, so that sea level rise would proceed at only 4 feet every ten years.

        So, if we should have 10 feet of sea level rise by Y2K, and another 4 to 10 feet of sea level rise every decade after that, their sea level rise predictions were only off by 16.8 to 27 feet. And again, these predictions were made based on the exact same understanding of the basic physics of CO2 radiative behavior that we still have today. So next time a Warmist cites the long history of the physics of global warming, remind them of the equally long history of failed predictions.

      • KTM August 6, 2017 at 10:36 pm
        Why restrict yourself to Hansen’s models?

        Guess I should have put the “et al” in quotes. I was trying to use a figure of speech, “a part for the whole”.

    • Kyle hardly anyone disputes C02 has no effect, its mans minuscule contribution that is the issue. There is no science proving mans contribution is having an effect. Again hardly no one disputes the planet has warmed since the the little ice age the problem is has man contributed? Actually there has been no statistically significant warming for about the last 20 years.

    • Your understanding is, I regret to say, the result of three decades of carefully crafted political and commercial propaganda from those with a vested interest in rent seeking subsidies and taking control of energy politically.

      Scientists are not 99% sure of anything. All the ones I know in physics and earth science are 99% sure that CO2 induced catastrophic climate change is complete bunk, but they have wives and families, so you wont see them say so.

      Without the necessary positive feedback (which would in any case render the climate far more unstable than the geological record shows it is) AGW becomes so minuscule its really lost on the noise of other climate effects. And indeed this is precisely what the last 150 years of records shows. Almost no real correlation with CO2 at all. Only if you pick 1968-1998 does the case begin to look plausible. And only if you introduce ‘positive feedback ‘ for which no evidence has ever been found, can the case be made, but then that same positive feedback makes nonsense of the post 1998 data sets.

      The basic form of the climate change equation

      ΔT= log(ΔCO2).λ

      where λ is a multiplier representing positive feedback cannot be made to fit both the ‘warming period of around 1970-1998 AND the ‘hiatus period post 2000 or so.

      In order to match both time series you need not positive feedback of unknown magnitude but another variable (at the least) operating independently of carbon dioxide.

      ΔT= log(ΔCO2).λ + X

      Unfortunately if you introduce such, the value of lambda is now so low as to render the whole CAGW proposition meaningless. CO2 is now a second order effect and something else is what is driving climate.

      A most inconvenient truth.

      Which is why the whole ‘data adjusting’ fraud is ongoing, to preserve monotonic increase in ‘temperature’ with CO2 to put the correlation back. Even ‘hiding the heat in the oceans ‘ is not ultimately helpful, because for all we know the late 20th century warming could then be argued simply as ‘heat being released’ from the oceans.

      And that is the crux of the matter. 17-20 years of ‘hiatus’ completely disproves CAGW. Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again, and all scientists who can think critically are aware of this.

      85% of scientists know that CAGW is probably bunk. But they work for governments for who that is a most inconvenient truth. They wont be shouting it from the rooftops

    • Go away, troll, and take your straw man, and Appeals to Consensus irrational arguments elsewhere. They won’t fly here.

  9. … renewables—especially wind but also solar—are a growing force for decarbonization. That will continue as wind and solar get steadily cheaper with further deployment.

    I would say that most of the low hanging fruit has been picked. Costs won’t get steadily cheaper. They will decrease logarithmically and approach some lower limit.

    Naive people point to Moore’s law. I point to Eroom’s law.

    If Moore’s law applied to automobiles, the family car would weigh five pounds, go a thousand miles per hour and get 10,000 miles per gallon. Clearly, Moore’s law doesn’t apply in most situations. :-) The desktop PC I bought circa 1980 had around 1MB of memory, two floppy disks at 360 kB each and had a clock speed somewhere around 4 MHz. If you take multicore CPUs into account, everything has improved around 10,000 fold. Nothing else I can think of has improved that much. Many things, drug breakthroughs for instance, have stagnated. It is really really naive of the greenies to think that Moore’s law, or anything approaching it, might apply to renewable energy.

    • The arguments for something like Moore’s law for solar have relied on how they’re basically a large piece of electronics, no? Also the recent cost falls, which I’m sure will be pled against somehow or other?

      • Solar is a surface area play. Moore’s Law is irrelevant in this context. All that matters is quantum efficiency. At its heart Moore’s Law is just about scaling widths which basically has no impact on that.

    • Clearly you don’t drive a semiconductor car.

      Seriously, mechanical engineering is a mature technology – and a wind turbine is a mechanical engineering. A marvel of it. But as you say, a low hanging fruit has been picked in a mature technology.

    • About the only way Moore’s law applies to “renewable energy” and “decarbonization” would be in the context of the subsidies and targeted regulations needed to make them “affordable”.

  10. I don’t know enough to argue about the truth of the statistics shown; however, I don’t need to know that, for I do know that CO2 is not a pollutant, but plant food; and reduction of CO2 is not good for plant life, nor indeed for the planet. It is sad to see so much work and thought expended on a non-issue.

  11. Boy I sure would like to see how much money has been spent on Wind Farms since about 1990 (or before), including construction, materials, subsidies, and infrastructure (power lines, etc.).

    How many nuclear power plants could have been built (with the same amount of $s) which emit 0, zero, CO2, and how much electric power would they supply compared to all these windmills? Windmills are good on Amish farms as they pump water out of the ground for farming and indoor plumbing…

    • US wind projects spent approximately $140 billion in the last ten years (per AWEA). The government paid out approximately $20 billion in wind production tax credits in that same period.

      That $20 billion would buy you exactly zero nuclear power plants in the US.

      The four nuclear power plants presently under construction in the US southeast, known as the Four Fiascos, just pulled the construction plug on two reactors after the cost-to-complete skyrocketed to $23 billion. And there was no assurance that was the final number.

      The other two are also likely to stop construction, as their cost-to-finish is approximately the same, $23-25 billion.

      • The four nuclear power plants presently under construction in the US southeast, known as the Four Fiascos, just pulled the construction plug on two reactors after the cost-to-complete skyrocketed to $23 billion. And there was no assurance that was the final number.

        And much of that cost was due to government imposed regulations and nothing to do with the technology. It is amazing how easy it is to make things unrealistically expensive if you can regulate them. The same was about to happen to coal fired power generation and would probably have been followed by regulation of all ‘fossil fuel’ power generation. . At least the current Administration is removing politically motivated regulations.

      • ” It is amazing how easy it is to make things unrealistically expensive if you can regulate them. ”

        Can you imagine if Russia had “regulations” requiring a containment building for reactors? Can you imagine if the Chernobyl plant was required to have a containment building by “regulations?”

      • @ Ralph Dave

        I don’t think the US would build “Chernobyls”. Things have progressed since then, and nuclear power has never killed anyone in the US. And like stated above, the extra cost is because of government regulations. The safety factor has been dealt with. We would not build any Chernobyls…

      • Ten years ago in 2007 the federal wind subsidy was on the order of 690MM. According to EIA wind received subsidies of 5.4BB in 2010 increasing to 5.9BB in 2013. And it didn’t stop then.

        Wind has received far more than “approximately 20BB” in 10 years. So, yeah, no.

      • Roger go back to your offshore wind farm post, nuclear has been explained to you in the comments section.

  12. Like many others, I need to see the data. What exactly is meant by a ton of carbon? How was the relative generation capacities measured? Are we talking about installed capacity, or are we talking about effective power delivered to the system? A one megawatt capacity gas generator will deliver many times the energy to the grid over a year than a megawatt installed capacity of wind generation which produces no more than 20% or its rated capacity. There are too may corners to cut in a study like this without a full disclosure of data and methodologies employed. Maybe I missed something, but I couldn’t find the data on their web page.

  13. “…….Meanwhile, wind energy is doing a lot more decarbonization work than it has in previous years……”

    I am left wondering about the author’s claim given that fossil fuel power plants have to back up wind turbines for those times when the wind isn’t blowing.

    Is it not so that backup FF power plants are less efficient and emit more CO2 when they have to ramp up and down in response to the intermittent nature of the wind? If so, then I wonder from were the author gets his claim that wind (and solar for that matter) can make some meaningful contribution to decarbonization efforts when it has priority on the grid and causes the FF backup plants to emit more?

    I skimmed through the piece and found no mention of this.

    • …….And did they take into consideration the amount of coal that the steel mill uses to produce the steel for the wind turbine? Doesn’t the steel mill emit a considerable amount of CO2 from coal and other sources when making the steel for the turbine? And what about the cement base of the turbine? Does the turbine prevent more emissions than was needed to manufacture it and put it in place?

      • That is the point
        Ramp up/ ramp down operation is akin to driving a car in the city/urban environment and in which the car consumes far more diesel/gas/petrol compared to freeway/motorway driving.
        Steady state operation of a fossil fuel plant where it is run to provide energy 24/7 52 weeks per year is the equivalent of extra urban driving/freeway/motorway diving where fuel consumption is far lower.
        Thus assuming that wind provides energy for on average 23% of the time, to see how much CO2 is saved, one needs to compare the fuel consumption of 100 miles of freeway/extra urban driving with the consumption of 77 miles (100 – 23%) of city driving/urban driving.
        When this comparison is done there is insignificant savings in fuel consumed and hence no significant saving in CO2 emissions.
        The CO2 emissions associated with backup emission is never properly considered in studies such as this.
        Incidentally Germany has been unable to significantly reduce its CO2 emissions these past 8 to 10 years because of this very issue, is, the extra CO2 produced when fossil fuel generation is being deployed in ramp up ramp down mode to overcome the intermittent and non despatchable nature of wind.

    • My reply below was intended to be a comment upon the point made by CD in Wisconsin

      I am left wondering about the author’s claim given that fossil fuel power plants have to back up wind turbines for those times when the wind isn’t blowing.

  14. More propaganda sophistry masquerading as research.

    From the fake “breakthrough institute’s” paper:

    “To estimate the greenhouse gas benefit (or detriment) of new power sources, we first estimate the intensity of displaced sources by taking the average of the carbon intensities of all sources that decreased, weighted by the amount of decrease. The greenhouse gas intensity benefit or cost of a fuel that grew on the grid is the difference between the displaced intensity and the intensity of that fuel. If a power source that grew has a greater carbon intensity than the sources it displaced, then the greenhouse gas benefit is negative, or, in other words, deployment of the source led to re-carbonization instead of decarbonization.

    This calculation is based on the assumption that a power source that grows displaces sources that decreased in the proportions by which they decreased. However, if a grid grows in size overall, then only a portion of the increase in a power source displaces other sources, and the remainder satisfies new demand. The benefits or costs of adding new sources are reduced accordingly.

    To calculate the total decarbonization benefit of a given source over all eight mainland North American grids, we take the weighted average of the decarbonization benefit over all grids for which that source grew, weighted by the amount of growth. Emissions factors for each power source are noted in the Appendix. These decarbonization benefits are shown in Table 1.”

    This alleged spreadsheet manipulations and calculations are hand waving, smoke and mirrors.

    Each “decarbonization” assumption is drawn from other groups or organizations operating on a CO2/fossil fuels are evil basis. Confirmation bias at full throttle.

    Wind requires substantial carbon intensive industries for the construction of wind turbines; along with ongoing fossil fuel equipment and constant fossil fuel usage to maintain wind farms.
    Non-trivial initiating and continuous carbon dioxide generation.

    Of course, wind electricity generation numbers treat wind turbines as miraculous machines of virginal origin and needs producing electrical power just to reduce mankind’s carbon dioxide emissions.

    More researchers seeking CAGW groupie fame fortune and glory.

    Cut off their funding.
    May they enjoy their deserved CAGW career burdens for many decades.

  15. According to an article in The Economist a few months back (take my word for it) There has still not been any net reduction in CO2 emissions through the development of wind and solar

    Mining, transport, manufacture, installation and maintenance goggles up any advantage. The same goes for electric cars, apparently

    Savings will “Occur sometime in the future” – Ha!

  16. According to the charts above, the USA had a delta of minus ~300 Mtons per year difference for 2007 and 2015. Yay USA!

    China, in that same period, changed from ~6,500 Mtons to ~11,500 Mtons, or a positive 5,000 Mtons. A whole order of magnitude more in the other direction.

    source: http://www.climateactiontracker.org/countries/china.html

    Since a lot of those reductions in emissions (wind and efficiency) are capital equipment, both of which China has a large part in manufacturing, one could argue that all that efficiency and wind capacity has likely burned a net positive of carbon for the planet by direct manufacturing using coal energy and indirect effects (feeding China’s economy).

    Or one could argue that what we do is in the noise compared to what China does. So it’s largely irrelevant, we should do whatever saves us money (cheap saves us money. Wind assuredly does not).

    Either way, the metrics in these charts are irrelevant to global C02.

    Peter

  17. ‘Decarbonization’ is much more than AGW environmental flatulence.
    Ultimately, ‘decarbonization’ is environmental suicide for all flora and fauna on the planet.

  18. Wind turbines are not going to get any cheaper – they have been manufacturing them for decades
    and haven’t gone down much in price and the turbine is only a portion of the cost – building and errecting that mammoth tower and pouring that enormous concrete base (which will probably never be removed) and those labor costs are only going up, not down. As one analyst said : wind tubines are not something that can be mass produced on an assembly line. Solar panel prices have come down a lot, but panels represent less than half the cost of a solar roof installation – labor and accessories like inverters have actually increased in price as has the labor required. And good locales for wind do not suddenly crop up. Wind turbine sites these days are less productive than the earlier ones and wind turbines are environmentally pretty obscene – their geographic footprint is hideously enormous. Regardless, wind is simply not suitable for a grid and its unreliability introduces the need for duplicative capacity and that means higher grid costs and higher power prices. Uncontrollable power generators cannot satisfy uncontrollable consumer demand.
    Why anyone even suggests a future of turbines and solar panels when molten salt nuclear reactors are right around the corner, capable of producing power cheaper than ANY current technology
    remains a mystery, solved only by assuming a basic ignorance of energy technologies.

  19. the problem here is the base assumption on which this article rests, that decarbonizing the grid is worth doing. once you realise that it is an idiotic assumption the rest is futile.

  20. A couple of disappointing things from the Breakthrough (BT) peoples on coal, natural gas, etc.
    1) They should have explained simply that coal at ~100% carbon makes the most CO2. Natural gas CH4 produces energy by converting its “C” into CO2, but also produces energy by converting its “H” (hydrogen) into water vapour when the fuel is burned. Therefore it generates a lot lower CO2.
    2)It’s almost good news for these guys to get decarbonation by reducing demand in the economy (reducing jobs).
    3)Hydro gets low billing by BT – Old green prejudice. Heck virtuous NY and much of the NE US is electrified from Hydro Quebec. MI, Dakota’s also get hydro power from Canada.

    • I think to help keep us honest and avoid “group think”.
      It may even help to do the same for those willing to post a “different viewpoint”.

  21. The entire article is worthless because the relationship between deployment of an intermittent zero carbon technology like wind or solar, with reduced carbon emissions from that which it displaces, is not 1:1 nor easy to calculate.

    It is simply inadequate to aver – as the advocates do – that every MWh of renewable energy displaces a MWh worth of carbon emissions from fossil fuel sources when those sources are deeply involved in cooperative generation to provide the dispatch that the renewable source is unable to provide itself.

    Running fossil plant on hot standby or spinning reserve and ramping up at sunset to cater for losses of solar energy, for example, is not conducive to low wear and tear, nor high efficiency in that plant.

    In a recent study done in Ireland, deployment of wind energy reduced the efficiency of the co-operating plant enough to render half of the putative fuels savings null and void.

    A study some some years ago where the backup plant was burning coal and bunker oil concluded that there would be no savings at all.

    Only where wind and solar can be co-operated with hydro, which is very fast to come online, and is zero emissions itself, is it possible to say that the combination will actually close down fossil plant for good. And unless fossil plant is closed for very long periods, the fuel saving of reduced output in (load-renewable) following mode are very low. (And fixed operating costs actually rise due to extra wear and tear operating in “whores’ drawers” mode).

    Renewable energy never displaces hydro either. The opportunity cost of hydro is approximately zero, being down solely to the maintenance costs of the turbines, so hydro can out compete any resource if it has to. Hydro is always run to the full extent of the annual rainfall available.

    On the other aspect of the article, yes, gas does reduce emissions, because per unit thermal energy it generates less CO2 (and lots of H2O) than coal, and due to its nature is easily burnt in gas turbines where the high primary operating temperatures, coupled to the secondary steam plant low final temperatures, give efficiencies better than 50% or even 60%, compared to the best pure coal steam plant operating at perhaps 35%-37%.

    And gas is a like for like replacement for coal with altogether better operating characteristics – it is faster to get online and less energy is wasted in doing so.

    The UK despite far less renewable percentages than Germany and far less access to hydroelectricity nevertheless achieves a better carbon intensity than Germany even with its Energiewende, by dint of having replaced nearly all coal with natural gas, retained its nuclear and not wasted its money on virtue signalling windmills, and solar plant, whilst actually relying (as Germany does) on NEW ‘braunkohl’ – lignite/brown coal – plant to load follow and actually keep the lights on.

    If the USA wants to actually achieve lower carbon intensities in its electricity generation it should immediately stop subsidising renewables. Once they are removed from the grid lower priced nuclear and gas can take over the baseload, using the hydroelectricity as the primary load following technology, along with gas where hydro is not available.

    Not that it will make a great deal of difference to US emissions given the huge fuel burn in aircraft and road vehicles.

    Not that emissions are in any way a real issue, as Janice points out somewhere up there^….

    Ultimately ‘renewables’ are a solution that doesn’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    • “retained its nuclear and not wasted its money on virtue signalling windmills, and solar plant”

      You are misinformed: UK has 10 GW of solar installed and rising, with a sunny day delivering a peak of 8GW out of 35 GW demand to the grid. It got 11% of all electricity in 2016 from wind – more than from coal.

      Just today a new 1.2 GW offshore wind plant was approved.

  22. Does anyone know if any alarmist sites are now saying “even WUWT is on board with renewable energy”?
    Also: “It’s almost good news for these guys to get decarbonation by reducing demand in the economy (reducing jobs).” Yes already happening in South Australia. The Holden (GM) plant is closing and is being celebrated as reducing demand so the lights may stay on.
    Wonderful. My country is being wrecked by this sort of garbage and it is very disappointing that WUWT is publishing these articles.
    Breakthrough Institute is an “organization that advocates putting progressive values to work to solve problems.” –– New York Times. (from the Breakthrough Institute website). Another bunch of progressive loons.

  23. Wind is getting cheaper with the more we build? Not. Showing. Up, In. Bills. But… they’re saying we can stop with the wind subsidies? Silver lining of the article, then.

  24. What is the effect on the local weather/climate down wind of a wind turbine farm? The turbines obviously extract energy from the wind so are altering the normal wind patterns in the area. Just wondering. I do that sometimes.

    • Griff should have to live in that farm house, adjacent to the massive rotor and its intermittent and unpredictable low frequency beat. Think of it as a ‘direct experience, learning opportunity’……

  25. Writing as a non-scientist, I see no mention of the CO2 generated during the extensive construction process, of wind-powered generators, or of the depletion of exotic metals used in their construction. The day is coming when they will be mining those ugly things for those metals.

    But the real thing missing is that there is currently no reason to be alarmed by the CO2 being generated. Windmills are an economic nightmare in construction and maintenance and not environmentally friendly. That is all there is to it.

    • a wind turbine saves the CO2 from its entire lifespan, build/construction/operation/maintenance and decommission within months of its construction. 18months would be a good average for UK onshore.

      • Charles, it would be nice to have someone from The Breakthrough Institute to show us why Link, please.our comments are wrong. Could it be somehow possible?

      • Griff, in the absence of your reply I made some crude back-of-the-envelope calculations. They are based on some hugely imprecise numbers. The most imprecise assumption is that the cost of a wind turbine is approximated by electricity that went into its construction – raw material mining, processing, manufacturing, transportation of parts, heating and lighting by workers etc. These activities take place in different countries. It can be easily off by a factor of 10.

        That said, I take as an example the Block Island 30 MW system in the US, which cost US$300 million. How does the $300M convert to MWh? I take a wholesale price estimate of $30/MWh=$30k/GWh=$30M/TWh, so it consumed approximately 10 TWh for the construction. That produced a lot of CO2, which I don’t even have to estimate. It will save that CO2 when it produces 10 TWh of electricity.

        How long will it take? Let’s assume a generous capacity factor 50%. It produces 15 MWh/hour, 360 MWh/day, 131 GWh/year, 2.63 TWh in 20 years. It will start saving emissions after 76 years of operation, assuming zero emissions related to maintenance.

  26. How many apples in a barrel of grapes?
    Much of the basis for their analysis is pretty dim. There is not a lot of sense in trying to calculate “carbon emissions” saved when one source is claimed to displace a certain source while a compared third method of generation is claimed to displace a fourth type. If they took their calculations to Germany, where nuclear is going to be displaced by…something, then they would get a wholly different set of results again.

  27. Why are they comparing wind to hydroelectric? Hydro has zero carbon emissions. I have never figured out why greenies are going after hydro. I know their stated reasons but given their determination to eliminate carbon, you would think hydro would be part of their solution.

  28. Charles, it would be nice to have someone from The Breakthrough Institute to show us why our comments are wrong. Could it be somehow possible?

  29. Put coal back on a level playing field, THEN come tell us how much cheaper gas is than coal. Natural Gas and coal are natural competitors, and competition is good for everyone.

  30. People REFUSE to acknowledge the success we have already achieved. The author says, ” Much of the “decarbonization” of the last decade was actually just slower economic growth following the Great Recession—that’s something we cannot (and, we think, should not) hope for in the future.”
    The IEA has discovered that economic growth has decoupled from emissions growth. http://www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/pressreleases/2016/march/decoupling-of-global-emissions-and-economic-growth-confirmed.html. Moreover, this is confirmed by the US reaching it highest emissions of Green House Gases in 2007 and has decrease by almost 2% per year since then. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks
    Europe has been even more effective in lowering its emissions http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/greenhouse-gas-emission-trends-6/assessment
    I wonder why they do not celebrate that GHG global emissions have been flat for the last few years. For what it is worth, we are already winning this war. You would be think the environmental community would be shouting it from the roof tops.

    I wonder if Townsend’s anecdote as related in this BBC documentary has any bearing

    TOWNSEND: I was making a speech to nearly 200
    really hard core, deep environmentalists and I played
    a little thought game on them. I said imagine I am the
    carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. We can get rid
    of all the carbon in the atmosphere, take it down to
    two hundred fifty parts per million and I will ensure
    with my little magic wand that we do not go above
    two degrees of global warming. However, by waving
    my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of
    physics not with people, they will be as selfish, they
    will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger,
    the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over
    the place but there will be no climate change. And I
    asked them, would you ask the fairy to wave its
    magic wand? And about 2 people of the 200 raised
    their hands.

    RADIO 4

    CURRENT AFFAIRS

    ANALYSIS
    ARE ENVIRONMENTALISTS BAD FOR THE
    PLANET?

    TRANSCRIPT OF A RECORDED
    DOCUMENTARY

    Presenter: Justin Rowlatt
    Producer: Helen Grady
    Editor: Innes Bowen

    BBC
    White City
    201 Wood Lane
    London
    W12 7TS

    020 8752 7279

  31. Coal Rankine produces about 2,100 lb CO2/MWh.
    NG Brayton or Rankine produces about 1,100 lb CO2/MWh.
    NG in a CCPP produces about 650 lb CO2/MWh.
    So a CCPP that replaces coal produces 30% as much CO2/MWh.

  32. Riddle me this: Why is there a picture of two OIL pump jacks at the top of an article dealing w/gas and wind? Gas wells are not pumped.

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