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Sat Jul 2, 2016, 04:35 PM

The fastest growing source of US electricity has lead to large CO2 reductions for US electricity.

Recently it was my pleasure to attend a scientific lecture (on the subject of concrete and carbon dioxide emissions) in which reference to the famous Socolow and Pacala paper published in Science in 2004 was made. This is the paper that refers to the use of "stabilization wedges" to slow carbon dioxide emissions using technology which the authors claimed were already available at that time.

The full text of this paper from the primary scientific literature is readily available on the internet, and for convenience, here is a link to one of the many places you can read it:

Pacala and Socolow, Science 305, 968 (2004) The paper is entitled: "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies."

We are now 12 years into the "Next 50 Years" that the authors included in the title of their paper.

Have we stabilized the climate, or made significant progress toward doing so?

Before I turn to giving my answer to this question, let me start off by giving us some good news:

In the last ten years, the United States has significantly reduced the amount of carbon dioxide it releases to generate electricity. The reduction has been impressive. Using the process I will briefly outline below, I estimate that the reduction in US electricity carbon dioxide releases to generate electricity has amounts to 431 million tons of carbon dioxide per year from 2005 to 2015. Moreover the chief means by which it did so is indeed by employing one of the Pacala and Socolow "existing technology" "stabilization wedges."

"Which one?" you may ask.

If one opens the paper linked above, in table 1 one may see a list of the "existing technologies" that would save the day. One may peruse the list to see the list of possible "wedges" advertised as a "current technology" (in 2004) in order to review the candidates that helped the US to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions for electricity in the last ten years.

I will work from the data published at the US Energy Information Agency's website to examine this point. The data may be found at the Electricity Data Browser page at that website. I used the "Download" button in the upper right hand corner, selected the *.CSV table format, which I loaded into Excel for convenience in calculation.

In order to explore the point of from whence the carbon dioxide reductions came, I utilized the figures found in a scientific paper written in 2005 by renewable energy advocate Paul Denholm, who was writing a paper on the subject of how wind energy could be stored for use as base load power in the form of highly compressed air. (The "compressed air energy storage system - "CAES" - would receive a boost by heating it using dangerous natural gas in a Brayton cycle system.) The reason I used a paper written by a "renewable energy will save us" advocate is because the reader who is familiar with my views will be aware that I am hostile to so called "renewable energy" which I contend will never be as safe, as sustainable, or as affordable as nuclear energy, nuclear energy being the form of energy for which I am a passionate advocate. Thus in using the data from an advocate of wind energy - which I oppose - I am trying to be "fair."

One may note that the number of utility scale CAES wind systems built in the last 11 years since Denholm's paper was published is zero, but nonetheless the paper has been cited 76 times according to Google Scholar. Speculation about the potential of so called "renewable energy" is always popular.

The paper is this one: Emissions and Energy Efficiency Assessment of Baseload Wind Energy Systems (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2005, 39 (6), pp 1903–1911)

If one is a subscriber for this useful journal or accesses it a a good scientific library, one can use the data in Table 2 on page 1909 to see the putative range of carbon dioxide emissions for four forms of electrical generation that I will discuss, dangerous coal, dangerous natural gas, wind (with no storage) and nuclear energy, since these four forms of energy have the most relevance. I have chosen the upper limit in all cases, and have ignored that many dangerous natural gas plants are not "combined cycle" plants which have higher efficiency than simple dangerous natural gas plants. (All combined cycle plants operate at lower efficiency at start up, which they are required to do if they are replacing wind plants that have stopped producing because the wind has stopped blowing.) Conversely I have chosen the "typical" coal plant as opposed to the supercritical water type coal plant, some of which operate, with SO[sub]2[/sub] and NO[sub]x[/sub] scrubbers, the latter plant being slightly less noxious than the former in terms of air pollution including carbon dioxide.

The figures are as follows: For Nuclear Energy, I have accepted 25 g CO[sub]2[/sub]/kwh; for wind energy I have accepted 25 g CO[sub]2[/sub]/kwh; for dangerous natural gas, I have accepted 500 g CO[sub]2[/sub]/kwh and for dangerous coal, I have chosen 1100 g CO[sub]2[/sub]/kwh.

First the numbers:

The United States was generating and consuming 14.71 exajoules of pure electricity in 2015; in 2005 it generated and consumed 14.6 exajoules of pure electricity. (The emphasis on “pure” reflects the fact that the consumption of total primary energy was much higher than this figure, with typical coal and nuclear plants operating at about 33% efficiency, and gas plants – at least combined cycle plants – having efficiencies in the 50% region.)

Translating these effects using Denholm’s numbers for carbon intensity, in 2005, dangerous coal burned in the US for electricity resulted in the dumping 2.21 billion tons of carbon dioxide waste into the planetary atmosphere to produce 7.25 exajoules of electricity; in 2015, dangerous coal burned in the US for electricity resulted in the dumping 1.49 billion tons of carbon dioxide waste into the planetary atmosphere to produce 4.88 exajoules of electricity. Thus the reduction in the use of dangerous coal accounted for a reduction of 722 million tons of carbon dioxide dumped into the planetary atmosphere.

Thus the reduction in annual dumping of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide from coal was 168% as large the total reduction in carbon dioxide waste, meaning, if one is not a member of Greenpeace and is thus able to do simple math, that carbon dioxide releases from something else increased.

And that of course, is dangerous natural gas.

In 2005, US dangerous natural gas fueled power plants were producing 2.74 exajoules of electricity, and dumping 380 million tons of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In 2015, the dangerous natural gas industry, awash in enthusiasm for fracking and other “modern” technologies, was producing fuel for dangerous natural gas plants producing 4.81 exajoules of electricity and dumping 680 million tons of the dangerous fossil fuel waste into the favorite planetary waste dump, our atmosphere, the air we breathe.

And so we can see which of Socolow and Pacala’s 2004 “existing technologies,” the wedges, or wedgies, if you will, accounted for the overwhelming majority of the reduction in the release of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide into the planetary atmosphere. Referring to Table 1 in the paper we see it was:

5. Gas baseload power for coal baseload power.

By the way, with the possible exception of more fuel efficient cars, almost all over the other “existing technology” wedges in Table 1 in the paper are still more or less pipe dreams, the subject of trivial and silly demonstration projects here and there – for example wind generated hydrogen fueling cars – but have on a macroscopic scale, i.e. a scale that matters – proved useless.

So…um…um…um…so at least natural gas is wonderful, no?

Well that would depend on the generation in which you are living. For our selfish, self-absorbed, generation of self-indulgent and indifferent sybarites, well, I suppose we can feel all peachy and keen that we’re doing “something.” But, as I noted elsewhere, a recent commentary in the important scientific journal Nature pointed out that the real underlying assumption behind all of our energy related practices in modern times is that future generations are less valuable, less worthy, than our own. Nature:"Current models of climate economics assume that lives in the future are less important than lives today, a value judgement that is rarely scrutinized and difficult to defend..." (Nature 530, 397 (25 February 2016))

In 2005, the nuclear industry - an industry built by a previous generation and given to ours - in the United States, was producing more electricity than the gas industry, 2.82 exajoules of pure electricity, and by 2015 had risen only slightly, to 2.87 exajoules of electricity.

There is a set of people, not very bright, not very well educated, not interested enough in the world to engage in realistic analysis that might conflict with their rote pop mentality, some of which they’ve garnered from watching “Simpson cartoons,” who despise the world’s largest, by far, source of climate change gas free energy, nuclear energy.

These people have proposed inadequate, and frankly dangerous and oppressively expensive, and nevertheless massively subsidized technologies – I am of course referring to so called “renewable energy” - not as an alternative to dangerous fossil fuels, about which they couldn’t care less, but to nuclear energy.

So let's talk about the so called "renewable energy" industry. Is it replacing dangerous fossil fuel use, or is it causing dangerous fossil fuel use to continue unabated?

During the recent Presidential primary campaign we heard all kinds of noise from people who support so called "renewable energy" complaining about fracking.

Will so called "renewable energy" actually reduce the requirement for fracking, or is it possible it will make it worse?

So how does the wind industry compare to the gas industry?

In 2005, the wind industry was producing 0.064 exajoules of electricity; in 2015 it was producing 0.69 exajoules of electricity in the United States. It grew an “astounding” – if you listen to the rhetoric of its often delusional supporters – 1072% in size in ten years, and still managed to remain trivial on a scale that mattered. (This shows why the advocates of the failed, and incredibly expensive so called “renewable energy” program continuously use “percent talk” in their disastrous marketing: It is easy to double your money if you have 50 cents, very difficult to do so if you have 500 million dollars.) The reality is that the total electrical energy output of the wind industry in the United States, 0.62 exajoules - for those who can do math and thus are open to questioning this cockamamie useless Don Quixote redux – is just 33% of the increase in the use of dangerous natural gas in the last ten years, and just 14% of the total, rapidly growing, dangerous natural gas powered electrical generation industry overall. This means that the wind industry is not gaining on natural gas, it is in fact losing ground on natural gas. The reason for this is obvious:

The wind industry, since the source of its power the wind is variable, has not, cannot, and will not exist without backup power, a redundancy which advocates never include in the environmental and financial cost of this essentially useless, but expensive, industry.

Moreover, the power to replace wind energy if the wind stops blowing must be available for quick dispatch: When a coal plant is shut down – possibly because the wind is blowing – according to the “zeroth law of thermodynamics” the boiler will approach thermal equilibrium with its surroundings, with the result that it might need to burn coal for an hour or two before generating a single watt of electricity, in order to bring the boiler back up to its boiling point of pressurized water, which is higher than the temperature of water in a tea kettle or pot. (This effect will also apply to combined cycle natural gas power plants; necessarily these types of plants might operate at slightly more than half of their normal operating thermal efficiency after a shutdown for several hours after shutdown.)

In general, most power systems also operate power plants that generate electricity that is not actually utilized. This is called “spinning reserve” – power than can be dispatched in seconds if suddenly demand increases or another power plant trips suddenly, which obviously wind plants do all the time. One cannot use so called “renewable energy” as spinning reserve, since it is unreliable and the main requirement for spinning reserve is, in fact, reliability. In fact the only form of renewable energy that can serve as “spinning reserve” are hydroelectric plants – assuming there is water in the reservoirs behind the dams, an increasingly big “if” in the era of climate change.

Recently, Lake Mead hit the lowest level since it was filled. One can click on the excel link Electricity Generation by Resource Type (1983-2014 - Excel File) on the California Energy Commission's web page to learn that while California produced 51,665 GWh of hydroelectric electricity in 1995, in 2014, the state produced just 16,478 GWh of hydroelectric electricity in 2014 as a result of its unprecedented drought. This is the first time in history that wind power generation in California actually approached to within 80% the level of electricity produced by the hydroelectric industry, 78.9% as much, 12,058 GWh, not because the wind industry in California is successful, but because the hydroelectric industry is experiencing a failure.

California is well along on a nuclear phase out, lead by fear and ignorance in that State. At its peak in the year 2000, the nuclear industry in California, using reactors in two buildings, one at San Onofre and the other at Diablo Canyon, 43,533 GWh. In 2014 production in the state's sole remaining reactor, Diablo Canyon, produced just 17,027 GWh.

It is telling that in one building however, the nuclear industry was able to produce more energy than all the wind farms in the entire state, strewn as they are across vast stretches of the landscape. The fact that one small building is able to produce as much electricity as wind farms strewn across thousands of square miles ought to make some very obvious points about the environmental impact of land use, but unfortunately we live in very stupid times.

As for spinning reserve, since, as in the case of California there are places where hydroelectricity (or the trivial but much hyped concept of "pumped storage" doesn't cut the mustard, that leaves gas as the source of "spinning reserve."

A great deal has been written about the effects of so called "renewable energy" on grid stability and "spinning reserve."

I may review this issue at some future point.

Suffice it to say that people who incorrectly call themselves “Friends of the Earth” or, even more absurdly, “environmentalists” have been agitating, unfortunately successfully to shut California’s last operating nuclear plant. The problem, according to these self-described “environmentalists” who in fact know nothing at all about the environment, is that the last remaining nuclear plant in California is too reliable, meaning there isn’t room for wind power or solar power when those rare moments occur when they are actually producing at an appreciable fraction of their rated peak power. Therefore reliable power, even power that releases no carbon dioxide is unacceptable in the “minds” of these terrible people.

And when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?


That’s right folks, one of the things that is causing the increasing reliance on gas is, in fact, precisely and totally involved with the unfortunate popularity of so called “renewable energy.” Without gas, the wind industry and the solar industry are even more useless than they already are, and as uselessness goes, these industries are avatars.

The decision to embrace dangerous natural gas by this generation is a crime against all future generations. Anyone who represents that the so called “renewable energy” industry is an alternative to dangerous fossil fuels is either lying to you, lying to themselves or both. There is zero probability that wind and solar energy, no matter how much money is thrown at them in a quixotic effort to make them significant, will lead to a reduction in the use of dangerous fossil fuels.


As for US reductions in dangerous fossil fuel waste dumping to generate electricity and its effect on the the accumulation of these wastes in the planetary atmosphere, it has nothing at all for the planet at large. It is at best, a transient effect until the world either runs out of dangerous natural gas or places in the atmosphere to dump its waste, and efforts by people around the world to attempt an approach to the "American Life Style" have easily overwhelmed any signature the switch from coal to gas has had.

The latest data from the Mauna Loa Carbon Dioxide Observatory shows that in 2016, the accumulation of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide is growing at the fastest rate ever observed, an accelerating rate, a terrifying rate. I covered this point elsewhere in this space:

All time record set for week-to-week annual measurements of annual CO2 increases at Mauna Loa.

If you're grilling dead animals on a gas grille this weekend, I hope I'm not spoiling your fun. Enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend.

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Reply The fastest growing source of US electricity has lead to large CO2 reductions for US electricity. (Original post)
NNadir Jul 2016 OP
kristopher Jul 2016 #1
NeoGreen Jul 2016 #2
LouisvilleDem Jul 2016 #3
hunter Jul 2016 #4
NNadir Jul 2016 #5
NNadir Jul 2016 #6
kristopher Jul 2016 #7

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat Jul 2, 2016, 07:38 PM

1. Solar Farm Developer on Track for 5GW-10GW's of Projects for 2017

Solar Farm Developer on Track for 5GW-10GW's of Projects for 2017

ASHEVILLE, N.C., July 2, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Innovative Solar Systems, LLC (ISS) continues to rapidly expand while hiring additional engineering staff and Executive Management personnel on a weekly basis now as the company's yearly pipeline of projects has grown from approximately 500MW per year to approximately 10GW's per year. John Green, President and CEO of ISS states that the company will have approximately 300 projects ranging in size from 20MW to over 200MW in the company's pipeline that will be fully developed and moving to construction in 2017. ISS already has bragging rights in that they were the first company to develop and get constructed some of the largest projects this side of the Rockies which include an 80MW (AC) Solar Farm project in Hope Mills, NC. The company also has many other 35MW-80MW projects in the East currently in various stages of construction.

Investors have become very comfortable with these types of Utility Scale Solar Farm projects as long term investments due to low risk and high returns. There are few investments available in the financial community that can yield these types of returns and that can require billions of dollars of investment capital for bundled portfolios. A single 20MW solar farm project may require $40MM in total capital while a 200MW project could require anywhere from $300MM to $400MM. As stated, ISS has approximately 300 large scale projects in the company's pipeline for the next 12 months which could require upwards of $15-20 Billion dollars in equity and debt money. The beauty of these solar farm projects is that they provide solid returns for upwards of forty years due to the reliability of PV Solar Panels.

ISS is probably...


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Response to kristopher (Reply #1)

Sat Jul 2, 2016, 08:49 PM

2. Please post this in its own thread...

...so I can REC it.


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Response to kristopher (Reply #1)

Sat Jul 2, 2016, 10:23 PM

3. Question

How much power does a 200MW solar project actually produce in the course of a year? I understand that the capacity factor for most solar is around 20%,..

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sun Jul 3, 2016, 02:39 PM

4. The innumeracy of many self-proclaimed environmentalists is horrifying.

I cringe every time I see the German renewable energy schemes celebrated. German heavy industry chugs along 24/7 powered by cheap dirty coal. Nothing has changed.

The "success" of Germany's aggressive solar, wind, and conservation schemes are largely creative accounting and greenwash.

Good numbers are easy to obtain and the numbers are not pretty.


An economy truly powered by solar and wind energy would look nothing like the economy we now enjoy. Imagining solar panels and wind turbines were free, the infrastructure required to bind them into a modern power network is still expensive.

The only way to quit fossil fuels is to quit fossil fuels. If we don't quit fossil fuels then solar and wind will always be supplemental power resources.

Nuclear power can displace fossil fuels, solar and wind power will not.

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Response to hunter (Reply #4)

Sun Jul 3, 2016, 09:53 PM

5. Thanks for that interesting link; I wasn't aware of it. n/t.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Thu Jul 7, 2016, 08:48 PM

6. I didn't include "utility scale solar" in the OP text, mostly because it's absurdly trivial.

However, we now have a post in this space called, um, [link:http://www.democraticunderground.com/1127103141|
Big solar is leaving rooftop systems in the dust]

All of the data for total electricity produced in the United States as pure generated electricity - and not as primary energy - is found in the opening post. The figure for total electricity in 2015 was 14.71 exajoules as calculated by the means I described above.

Of this, 0.095 exajoules or 0.64% was produced by utility scale solar energy.

Seen as average continuous power, this is the equivalent of three average sized (1000MWe) power plants running at 100% of capacity utilization - something that solar plants can't do; they are lucky, extremely lucky, to reach 20% capacity utilization. More typical is half that.

The entire solar industry in the United States, constructed at enormous expense over a period of half a century, and covering huge swathes of land, could disappear tomorrow and no one would notice.

I very much doubt that the industry could actually run the servers from which websites saying how great the solar industry is, or all the computers devoted to contemplating blog posts about the solar "miracle."

The solar industry is a tremendous failure, and a tremendous waste of money. Faith in this absurd solar fantasy is yet another reason why we are observing the fastest ever accumulation of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in our favorite waste dump, the planetary atmosphere.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #6)

Thu Jul 7, 2016, 08:56 PM


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