by Tyler Cowen
on March 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm
1. Charles Mann on China and clean coal. Excellent piece.
2. Tokyo fashion icons.
3. Why Wu Tang will release just one copy of its special album.
4. Very good five minute video clip about the building of 17th century Amsterdam and the origins of liberty.
5. Behind the scenes at the robot Olympics. And how robots and drones are transforming wildlife documentaries.
6. Generic brand video (pretty awesome, hat tip Yana).
Mann is wrong in my opinion- CCS will never be a significant player. The world will continue to burn more and more coal without capturing the carbon dioxide.
Well, that’s true if you believe job killing pillage and plunder of burning natural capital is sustainable with ever rising numbers of idle workers suffering at the hands of the job killers who claim to be creating jobs through the destruction of capital of all sorts.
Yes, they call themselves capitalists, but they refuse to pay for the labor to build capital assets, so they seek the free lunch of killing jobs or paying less that subsistence wages in the expectation that consumers will save them by access the free money that free lunch economics promises consumers will produce if the supply of laborless goods and services is increased by just burning capital.
Burning coal made sense in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century because the technology did not exist to support the huge labor force of the industiral revolution relying on the labor intensive charcoal economy. Europe had optimized charcoal production, but it was labor intensive requiring many men to maintain pollard groves, harvest the wood, and then convert it to charcoal to supply the iron workers. Coal was very inferior until the invention of coke steel making – except for certain coals, the sulfur in the coal made the iron/steel weak.
Today steel making is increasingly using electric furnaces because its asuperior technology. Electricity doesn’t add in impurities that must be removed or countered. Coal can’t be used for aluminum or titanium refining, and both compete head to head with steel in all the high volume products.
And the only way that coal can compete with wind is by being burned without regard to the future measured in decades. To keep coal cheap, mountain tops are blown off and pushed into valleys. destroying the value of the land for hundreds of years if not longer. Restoring the land to something approaching its value before the mining makes the coal too expensive. Its becoming too expensive to even do the investment in infrastructure that was standard before the Clean Air and Water Acts. “Freedom” industries was counting on free capital – the storage tanks it used were way past replacing, but they were used anyway to make profit even as the decayed and leaked. Replacing the tanks would have required paying workers – as all capital assets do – so the CEO went for the job killing consume the capital as long as possible.
Of course, the reality check is that cutting labor costs MUST cut GDP unless the corporations are going to fill warehouse after warehouse with laborless production that can’t be sold because consumers have no jobs and thus no income and thus no money to buy the production of robots. The only thing preventing a real economic crisis is the government policy that Bush instituted of government helicopter drops of cash with instructions to go shopping. That plus spending lots of money on grossly inefficient government contractors, mostly military, who produce nothing anyone needs to buy: destruction, waste, friction in the economy, all in the name of security, but it does create jobs that allow workers to go shopping.
But in any case, the coal industry is devoted to killing jobs by burning capital to generate profit with the government to bailout those harmed.
“Today steel making is increasingly using electric furnaces because its asuperior technology. Electricity doesn’t add in impurities that must be removed or countered. Coal can’t be used for aluminum or titanium refining, and both compete head to head with steel in all the high volume products.”
Where do you think the electricity comes from?
Why is Mann’s piece deemed excellent? The truths about clean coal are simple: today, right now, it is technically possible to implement CCS. It is not cheap, but it can be done. So why isn’t it done? There are no good reasons except the capture of political systems by incumbents and the reluctance of states to provide low cost finance to keep electricity prices low.
It isn’t done because it is expensive to implement- you need go no further than that.
It isn’t that it’s absolutely expensive; the issue is that not using CCS receives a massive implicit subsidy from the government.
A subsidy we have no real way to calculate. The subsidy might well be zero or even negative.
Clean Coal aka CCS does not work when underground, as too many leaks occur. The latest trial experiments done in the USA confirm that, as a journal article pointed out (some other CCS underground techniques were canceled). What does work is if you pump CO2 into the deep ocean, since the natural specific gravity of CO2 under very high pressures in the ocean turn it into heavier than water liquid and it actually will sink and stay sunk.
Just the facts ma’am. I’m in favor of Clean Coal–just not this version–as well as geoengineering as well as carbon taxes.
Somehow oil and gas was able to stay confined in underground reservoirs for many millions (hundreds of millions) of years at very high pressures. Why can’t this be true of CO2?
Not a scientist, but I’d assume that it’s because unlike oil, CO2 is neither hydrophobic, nor liquid under atmospheric pressure.
As an intermediate step for storing CO2, I’d like to see something like Green Freedom ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/science/19carb.html?_r=0 ). It doesn’t make GF carbon-neutral, but it gives us double-use of the CO2 emitted by coal, and it makes GF cheaper (a lot easier to concentrate CO2 from a coal plant output than from the atmosphere). It will give both technologies time to figure out if they could be doing something better.
(I’d love an edit button!)
I meant, sticking Green Freedom at the end of a coal-burning plant, so the CO2 goes into gasoline instead of into the air.
There is no thermodynamic free lunch. It’s simply a way of transforming electrical power into liquid fuels, no different than Iceland’s Carbon Recycling International using renewable electricity from geothermal and hydro to make methanol. The carbon dioxide is emitted anyway, and valuable energy is consumed in the process.
The key question is this: why bother sticking a nuclear power plant next to a coal plant just to make some gasoline out of their carbon dioxide emissions when you can simply get rid of the damned coal plant and have the clean electricity? You have the balance the premium that liquid, energy dense, high quality transportation fuels have over forms of energy that don’t share these characteristics with the cost of building the system. It’s a lot less than the NYT suggests it is. The economic question of why we do or don’t do something like this has nothing to do with emissions – and frankly, even if there were a price on carbon this would simply shift the fee away from a power plant and ultimately onto drivers.
Of course the CO2 ends up in the air. I said it was only getting us a double-use of CO2, not making it go away. And if GF can’t work right at the end of a coal plant, it won’t make sense anywhere else, so it’s where you would experiment (if only on paper) to see if it’s feasible.
For transportation gasoline has tremendous advantages over electricity. Maybe it won’t forever, but it does for now. You can think that the choice is EVs or carbon-neutral gasoline, but it’s more likely the choice is the situation right now or less carbon-intensive gasoline. Maybe Musk can make EVs good enough that people choose them, but if he fails you need a better backup plan than “oh well.”
No disagreement with anything that you said… but frankly I see the utility of carbon capture for something like this as basically nil. There are other and better sources of fuel liquids. I’d even back corn ethanol over this, and that’s saying something.
Economically the value premium of liquid transportation fuels over the cost of production for electricity is there but in my considered opinion isn’t nearly high enough to cause people to make money on these ventures. Delivered cost of electricity, on an energetic basis, is more expensive than gasoline in most regions of the country. In New England the figure is well over 50% higher than gasoline. The idea of taking that valuable source of energy, taking efficiency losses to convert it into a fuel blendstock, and then selling it depends on your not throwing away value, and that’s exactly what this idea does.
I’d compare it to Karl Smith’s asinine claims that the Renewable Fuels Standard is the only thing that’s stopping American steam crackers from producing billions of gallons of ethanol from NGLs via direct hydration of ethylene. Sure, they could make a profit, but they’d be throwing away well over $300 a ton of potential petrochemical value in order to sell into a low-profitability market. Why would you do that?
The laws of thermodynamics:
1) you can’t win
2) you can’t break even
3) you can’t get out of the game.
We have known about entropy and the second law for a long time and yet people still think they can invent perpetual motion machines.
If we were going to convert coal into gasoline using electricity from a nuclear reactor then it would probably be more efficient to do so directly from the coal rather than first burning the coal and then converting the CO2 into gasoline. What we really need are better safer cheaper nuclear reactors. Modular thorium reactors anyone?
>Modular thorium reactors anyone?
Umm, you realize that LFTR is sort of Holy Grail for fanboys (sorry if you meant some more down to earth design, when someone mentions thorium, they mostly mean this one)? Better safer cheaper AND used en masse sooner than in 20-30 years means following the path of the least resistance, evolutionary designs of previously operating reactors or at least tested concepts, i.e. lightwater+uranium (mPower, NuScale SMR, CAREM), lead/lead-bismuth+uranium/plutonium(BREST, SVBR), gas+uranium (PM-HTR) or sodium+uranium/plutonium (BN series, S-PRISM, 4S). There’s Indian prototype in Kalpakkam, but it’s part of long term 3-stage program and not modular, if I recall correctly.
Frankly, I’m satisfied with current types for today’s and tomorrow’s build-up. Superstition, bureaucracy and regulation creep worry me more and should worry everyone concerned about economy of power production.
As a longer term solution, thorium apparently holds out the hope of safer reactors with less radioactive waste. Given the lead times and the stakes, governments really should be putting more money into reactor research. After Chernobyl and Fukushima, uranium fueled nuclear reactors are a tough sell in the developed world.
“Modular” (regardless of fuel) because of the lead times to design and build conventional nuclear plants. Standardized mass produced modular plants (think the power plants being put in the new aircraft carriers), producing something like 250 MW each, should reduce lead times and construction costs.
Unless we have a major breakthrough in battery technology, something like modular thorium seems the best energy bet fifty years out. Even with a battery breakthrough some form of nuclear is still likely to be very important.
Dutch liberty > Anglo liberty
True …that’s why I get teary-eyed every time I’m in Amsterdam
And Venetian liberty before that. Good thing prince william left holland for london though and guaranteed the bill of rights. No way to compete with a French land army on the continent in the long run. Even Britain almost perished.
I get misty-eyed every time I see Edam cheese. Makes shopping embarrassing.
The selective history seems pretty good too:
2. Those look very typical of how sizable subcultures of girls in Tokyo dress, or more exactly, do dress-up … what is rebellious or out of the ordinary about them? They are the very picture of how much of the world, through mass media, imagine Japan to be.
These people are conformist, not rebellious. Dressing like that is like having a tattoo. It shows you’re part of a group.
Why so upset and intent on denegrating them and acting like they are already tamed or are mere conformists? I think the “rebellious” angle is only pushed a bit in the three paragraphs of context provided on the web page, to begin with … but, anyway, is there anything wrong with believing that the motivations of some — maybe not all — of the participants in Harajuku/Shinjuku/Shibuya street fashion may be playful rebelliousness?
I’m not upset by it. Their talent, their claim to fame if you will, is that they’re very good at conforming. They know and understand trends far better than I ever will.
FWIW, I don’t think I did any denigrating. I don’t think star did either.
I think calling them “conformists” is, in the context of your comments, pretty denegrating… or at least was intended to be. And the purpose of your comment, and Star’s, looks to me to be about smacking these women down and putting them in their place.
I don’t think that’s correct or fair.
This comment forum would be a better place if people would lay off the mind-reading and motive-inference.
Isn’t this just a subset of cosplay?
Bio-CCS is even better: grow biomass, which pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere, then burn it for power, THEN scrub the CO2 out of the stack and sequester. Huge net negative emissions, + power. But (sigh) without a price on carbon, it’s significantly more costly than just burning coal.
Burning biomass for thermal value is ridiculous. The cost per BTU is very high, the energy density is low, the carbon benefits are dubious (the devil’s in the logistics), the flame temperature and therefore efficiency is low, and the fuel is full of ash. Basically all sources of thermal fuel, including coal, have a cheaper cost even under a carbon pricing regime. The usefulness of biomass is not its heating value. If you want to use biomass industrially use it for something that has a premium over heating value: energy-dense liquid transportation fuels, chemicals, paper, certain types of food products… anything that chases a good value proposition, that uses the solid, molecular nature of biomass to produce some physical benefit will give it the edge. Just don’t use it for heating value. All of the oxygen in biomass is thermal dead weight.
+1 and most of the other energy commenters on this thread would do well to be as knowledgeable as Mr. adiabats.
3. That album’s getting leaked on bittorent. I guarantee it.
“Japanese fashion” just means raiding Europeans’ closet. What Thomas Card captured is essentially Japanese female drag. These adult women are trying to look like white girls ages 8-13 and in doing so exaggerate certain things. It is not new. All the women had extensive plastic surgery, btw.
I did like the cute Fascist one though.
Time travel drag. White girls aged ~150 years old.
No evidence of plastic surgery that I can see – perhaps you can illuminate some telltale signs?
Take a look at common plastic surgeries East Asians get.
1. Australia will never build another coal plant. This is because new coal cannot compete with renewables. Electricity from wind is now cheaper than electricity from new coal plants and thanks to Australia’s high retail electricity prices point of use solar is the cheapest source of electricity available to Australians. So if conventional new coal plants are uncompetitive then new plants with the added cost of carbon capture and storage will be even more uncompetitive. While China’s renewable energy resources are not as good as Australia’s, China can build renewable capacity at considerably less cost. They can also build coal capacity at less cost but new coal generating capacity will require improved pollution controls which will raise the cost of new coal power and China’s low cost of capital favours high capital low fuel cost generating capacity. Renewables now appear to be competitive with coal in China. When environmental costs are included they certainly are. This means new coal plant construction in China will slow and then stop and as older and less efficient plants are closed coal generating capacity will decrease. This will not happen immediately but it has already started. The increase in Chinese coal consumption slowed to 2.6% in 2013. China is serious about expanding its renewable capacity and has a target of 14 gigawatts of solar capacity to be installed this year. And here is an article with a graph showing how rapidly China has increased its wind capacity:
I am the author of the piece. I believe you are incorrect.
Coal provides more than two-thirds of Australia’s electric power and a third of its overall energy supply. Meanwhile, wind and solar provide roughly 1% of the country’s power: http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=AS
Wind and solar *are* rapidly expanding capacity in Australia, but even if their share rises by a factor of 20 — a huge increase — the great majority of Australia’s electricity will still be provided by coal (along with a substantial fraction of its total energy). Those plants won’t be shut down soon. No Australian government will leave the citizenry in the dark. As a result, the country is going to have to do something about coal — even if, as you say, no new coal plants are built there (a prospect that depends less on renewables than on whether the Coalition scraps the carbon tax),
Moreover (same source), Australia is the world’s second-biggest coal exporter. Australian coal is being burned all over Asia, and THAT coal will have to be dealt with as well, though not by Australia.
The cost of renewables in China is indeed dropping. But even if China’s coal growth stops, the installed base of coal plants will remain, and that fleet will still be the largest in the world. It isn’t going anywhere–most of the plants are new, and China, a poor nation, couldn’t possibly afford to scrap them in favor of some other kind of power plant.
In any case, according to most analysts — see, e.g., Bloomberg, “The Future of China’s Power Sector”, Aug. 2013 http://about.bnef.com/white-papers/the-future-of-chinas-power-sector/ — China won’t stop putting in coal plants. Indeed. Bloomberg projects that 343-450 gigawatts of new coal generation will be built in China over the next fifteen years, more than the total capacity of the entire US coal base (300 gigawatts). China’s power needs are so big that even if it installs solar and wind facilities faster than any other nation has ever emplaced them, the nation will still bring online 1 large 500 MW coal plant *per week* from now until 2030.
Even if somehow China *could* build enough solar and wind plants in time, it still would be building coal plants, too. The basic reason is that solar panels in China typically produce <20% of their annual peak capacity (China has few sunny regions) and wind 80% of peak capacity and do it all the time, so to get reliable power you have to build vastly more peak capacity from renewables than coal, and China can’t afford that.
Charles C. Mann
Hello Charles. Thanks for your reply.
Your reply makes me think you are not aware of the situation here in Australia. No new coal plants will ever be built here regardless of whether or not our current carbon price is kept. There are two main reasons. The first is that financiers are fully aware that a carbon price or restrictions on emissions will almost certainly be introduced in the future and respond accordingly. And the second more important reason is that even without a carbon price new coal plants are not competitive in Australia. No government action needs to be taken to prevent new coal plants being built here. If new capacity needs to be built it is cheaper to build something other than coal and those in charge of building new capacity in China are starting to find themselves in a similar position.
I live in the state of South Australia which gets one third of its electricity from wind and solar. It took less than 10 years to get from almost no renewable capacity to this point. The Snowtown II windfarm currently under construction will generate electricity at around at around 4.5 Australian cents per kilowatt-hour using a 5% discount rate. Thanks to Australia’s high retail electricity costs rooftop solar is the cheapest source of electricity available to Australian households and is expanding rapidly. During our recent heat wave rooftop solar provided over 10% of electricity use during the period of peak consumption in half of Australia’s states. South Australia will get about 5% of it’s electricity from solar this year and this year Australia as a whole may get around 3% or more of its electricity from solar. There is nothing particularly special about South Australia, all states have good wind rescources and whole place has plenty of sunshine. I guess the only thing different is that South Australia has no cheap coal and as a result got a head start on the other states and has demonstrated that new renewable capacity is cheaper than new coal in Australia and integrating large amounts of renewables is not difficult and renewables can improve grid reliability.
So in China planners are starting to be faced with a choice between coal or cheaper renewables and they are going to go with the cheaper option. Just to be clear again, this won’t happen instantly. It will take time to transfer resources from coal capacity manufacture to renewable capacity manufacture, but it’s a process that takes years, not decades. And if renewables are the cheaper option then all else equal building renewables would be the more efficient use of resources. So new coal plant construction will slow and then stop because other options will be cheaper and require less resources.
And just to be clear again, I do not think that China’s exisiting coal generating capacity will disappear. However, they will shut down plants that are no longer economical to run. In fact, this is what they have been doing. They have been building new coal plants while shutting down older less efficient ones. Unfortunately it may take a long time for them to get around to shutting down their existing capacity.
So, carbon capture coal plants are unlikely to be built in any large numbers because the competition is cheaper than coal and history both in modern China and the world shows that once the competition becomes more cost effective than the incumbant change can occur quire rapidly. China won’t immediately stop building new coal plants but the change will occur a lot sooner than many people expect.
agree the cost of clean energy is declining however the issue is the scale of energy requirements by China means that the transition from clean to coal will be over a longer period time than anyone is expecting. Hence in the interim period, the energy needs is still required to be met and that is through coal.
If clean energy cost declines faster than expected then less coal would be required, however the transition is not instantaneous. The cost from economic and environmental perspective would still be massive.
John, I certainly agree that China’s installed capacity is not about to disappear and its environmental implications are extremely troublesome. However, I do think that the decline in new coal plant construction will happen quite quickly as renewables outcompete coal on cost. We’ve already seen that China is quite good at rapidly expanding its renewable production.
Natural gas is cheaper than coal — for now.
This situation could quite easily change, in which case new coal plants will start popping up again.
One of the problems with saying that solar or wind is now cheaper than coal in Australia is that it is only true at the margin. It may indeed be cheaper to add an extra kw of power to the existing ‘always on’ grid from renewables than it is to add an extra kw from coal. But it doesn’t follow that an all or mostly renewable energy system would be cheaper than the current mostly fossil fuel based system. Mann notes one reason for this: to go all renewable you need to massively overbuild your peak capacity to capture enough energy when the sun is shining or wind blowing to cover for the times when it’s not. For solar, the ratio of peak capacity to average capacity might be about 5 depending on location (it is about 6 in Chicago). The other (huge) cost is storing that energy. Batteries are way too expensive to do this right now in any kind of scale. Pumped water works but it requires big hills and lots of water and lots of capital investment plus there are losses from pumping and then regenerating the electricity. There are other ways to store energy but they are all fairly expensive. I have not seen any analysis suggesting that when you account for the need to a) overbuild peak capacity and b) the need to store energy, renewables come out ahead without a stiff carbon tax (which I strongly favor in the fee + dividend flavor). Either nuclear power (preferably modular Gen III and IV) or carbon capture and sequestration or both are going to be necessary to get us off of fossil fuels in the intermediate term (next fifty years), especially when you consider that we also need to get off of the fossil fuels we use for heating, transport, industry and agriculture.
Jdm, I am saying that China’s new coal plant construction will soon rapidly decline thanks to renewables beating new coal on cost. (Including costs of And by costs of air pollution, China’s carbon trading schemes, water use, and other considerations.) China’s existing coal capacity will of course still be there. But China using renewables to generate 25-30% so its per capita electricity production is equal to that of Italy is quite doable. Where I live in South Australia we get a third of our electricity from wind and solar and it has lowered our wholesale electricity prices and increased grid reliability and we are continuing to expand our renewable capacity. So China getting almost 50% of its electricity to bring its per capita electricity production up to Japan’s seems quite doable. After China stops building new coal plants, what will replace its existing coal plants I could not say for certain, but I am pretty sure it won’t be new coal plants. Even in the very unlikely event that there aren’t cheaper options than coal at that point in the future, China will be a rich developed country by then and its people will have better things to do than inflict further global warming on themselves.
#6. It’s just not inclusive enough. No dogs or handicapped people.
There are a lot of predictions in that article, and a lot of quotes to the effect that something like rebuilding all of the world’s cement plants is unimaginable. Why? It’s not as if we don’t have a good idea what the world will be like on its current carbon budget. Why aren’t those conditions factored into the predictions?
If it had to, modern civilization could continue without cement. It can’t continue without food.
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