From the comments, Charles Mann on Chinese coal

by on March 29, 2014 at 3:03 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

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.

There is more, including more from Mann, here.

Ray Lopez March 29, 2014 at 4:03 am

I am hurt my comment was not selected, I even pointed out how Clean Coal does not work on land, but only when injected deep underwater.

I guess Big Coal got to TC, huh? Conspiracy of silence… what does PA say?

dan1111 March 29, 2014 at 4:55 am

If you want your comment to be selected, next time be the author of the original piece that Tyler linked to.

Yancey Ward March 30, 2014 at 12:02 pm

LOL!

dan1111 March 29, 2014 at 4:51 am

Forget the global warming science debate. This is why the West’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions are a colossal waste of resources. China simply isn’t going to play ball, and without them, everything else is just fiddling at the margins.

Banging your head repeatedly against a brick wall is dumb. Even if you really, really need to get through the brick wall.

Ray Lopez March 29, 2014 at 7:09 am

Not true at all. If the USA was to impose carbon taxes by way of an import duty on Chinese goods the Chinese would take instant notice.

BTW, by Third World standards roughly 1MW of power will supply 1000 people (in the USA it’s 4x to 10x less I think). So 343 to 450 GW of power is roughly, by Chinese standards (they turn off lights and are frugal) enough power for roughly 343 to 450 million extra people. You also half to figure that roughly 50% of coal is ‘wasted’ due to the second law of thermodynamics in converting coal to electricity, so the amount of coal consumed is more than you might expect from a straight conversion. Lots of greenhouse gases there, that somebody will have to experience.

Sean March 29, 2014 at 8:16 am

Remember that a lot of that power will be going to industrial expansion, rather than home use. We can also assume that, as they become wealthier, the Chinese will use more power per capita.

Where do you get the 50% figure, out of curiosity? It must be lower in China than in the States and Europe, both because of the quality of Chinese coal and the quality of Chinese power plants.

chuck martel March 29, 2014 at 8:28 am

” If the USA was to impose carbon taxes by way of an import duty on Chinese goods the Chinese would take instant notice.”

Sure they would. As would American consumers. Punishing the Chinese power industry by punishing Chinese manufacturing is really punishing at least part of collective America, not to mention ordinary Chinese working folk, who might not accept that developed-world utopians with cars, washing machines, televisions, etc. have a right to strangle the rise of the Chinese standard of living.

Z March 29, 2014 at 8:51 am

But isn’t outsourcing of industry to slave labor camps just cost shifting? Throwing a bunch a Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons onto the dole so you can get cheap soma has a cost. It may be indirect and difficult to quantify, but it has a cost. It has to have a cost.

If I follow the reasoning of the environmental economists, and I’m not going to pretend it is possible, the US has merely shifted the pollution costs of consumerism over the horizon, where they are out of sight. If the thick layers of smog were over our lands, people would insist on taxing industry to pay the cost of remedying it. The true cost of making your cheap crap would show up in the price of your crap. Therefore, tariffs on polluters like China are sound economics.

ummm March 29, 2014 at 10:43 am

did i read the last sentence correctly? I thought you supported Cosean free market economics

Dan Weber March 29, 2014 at 8:56 am

There are two ways forward.

1. China decides, for its own self-interest, that limiting carbon emissions is in its self-interest.

2. Europe agrees to go in with the US on carbon emissions. The US acting without Europe is useless, the US acting with Europe is a very strong force. Right now the US and Europe have slightly more immediate concerns, though.

dan1111 March 29, 2014 at 10:29 am

Given the cost differential between coal and renewable energy, the level of import duty required to make it worth China’s while to change their energy policy would be extremely high. This would have massive economic repercussions for the entire world, and even if the West had the will to bear our portion of the cost (which we don’t), I don’t think the Chinese government would respond positively to this. They would be far more likely to see it as an act of aggression and refuse to meet our demands.

Granted, the worldwide economic and political chaos might have a reduction in carbon emissions as a side effect. But you seriously have to wonder whether the medicine is worse than the cure.

Ronald Brak March 29, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Dan111, here in Australia we are concerned that in the future China may impose trade sanctions on Australia for doing too little to reduce carbon emissions. China already has provincial carbon trading schemes in place while the current Australian government is working to eliminate ours.

ummm March 29, 2014 at 6:37 am

Oil could go to $120 or higher by the end of 2014 due to speculation, continued tensions in Russia, stronger than expected economic growth, and retaliation from Russia from sanctions

Tom Donahue March 29, 2014 at 6:42 am

There’s also the problem that it would make the deep oceans highly acidic, when ocean acidification is already a major problem. You can say that the carbon will sink and stay sunk, but water from the deep oceans does rise, eventually.

Sorry, but there is just no way that status quo of dumping carbon waste into the environment can continue. As I said yesterday, predictions have to consider what the world will be like a few decades from now. The North China plain is one of the world’s major grain producing regions, and already it is being affected by droughts. If they have to choose between coal and food, they are going to choose food.

Or go with carbon storage, no matter what it costs. If it costs too much, there will be massive incentives for developing new technology. And if they can do it, more power to them. I agree with Mann there.

Tom Donahue March 29, 2014 at 6:43 am

Sorry, that was a reply to Ray Lopez’s comment.

Ray Lopez March 29, 2014 at 7:13 am

I agree to a degree. If you worry about deep sea creatures, then deep sea storage of CO2 is a non-starter, but if you worry about ‘greenhouse gases trapped in the ocean’ you have much bigger worries, such as methane hydrate trapped in deep underwater in solid form, which, if it rises to the top, will create dinosaur-era like CO2 levels in the atmosphere. So, as a second best option, dumping CO2 into the deep sea is a good bet to doing nothing (or depending on lame half-measures like the symbolic Kyoto treaty).

ChrisA March 29, 2014 at 8:12 am

Tom
Do you have any references to your fear of ocean acidification? The sources I have seen suggest that the amount of acidification that could result from CO2 sequestration is trivial. Genuinely interested.

Tom Donahue March 29, 2014 at 12:06 pm

The problem is that we really know very little about the deep oceans. In 2005, the IPCC issued a special report titled “Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage — Technical Summary”, in which they estimated that it would take at least several centuries for ocean mixing to bring it to the surface. Of course, this would be far preferable to simply dumping it into the atmosphere. On page 38 of the report.

lxm March 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Here’s some anecdotal info for you: 10 million scallops dead from acidification – http://www.pqbnews.com/news/247092381.html

ChrisA March 30, 2014 at 12:58 am

From this site; http://www.seafriends.org.nz/oceano/seawater.htm#gases
We can see that the total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere is 510E12 kg versus the amount of CO2 in all the worlds oceans of 12.2E16 kg. So if we removed all of the CO2 from the atmosphere, and stored it in the sea we would increase the physical amount of CO2 in the sea by 0.0008%. I suggest this is not going to be catastrophic for Ocean ecology.

I don’t think people realize the relative mass of the sea versus the oceans. In fact the mass of all the worlds atmosphere is equivalent only to four feet depth of the worlds seas.

Also, Matt Ridley had an article in the Wall Street Journal recently where he pointed out that the pH of the Ocean varies widely anyway locally, even down to very acidic levels with apparently no detrimental effects. We must also remember that CO2 was very significantly higher in past times, yet, as evidence by the very large amounts of limestone and chalk rock, the oceans were able to survive.

Adrian Ratnapala March 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

You can say that the carbon will sink and stay sunk, but water from the
deep oceans does rise, eventually.

My understanding was that at ocean already holds far more CO2 than we could hope to pump into the atmosphere, so at equilibrium the ocean would stabilise concentrations even if we burned every last fossil. The reason we are not saved is that top layer if the oceans don’t mix with the lower layers.

That said, my understanding could be wrong, and perhaps someone on this site can give a clear explanation of why it is wrong.

Hadacol March 29, 2014 at 8:32 am

The US strategy should shift from dependancy on plant power generation to on-premise generation with renewables. Particularly for the household/retail and small-scale commercial/wholesale. Personal solar units produce enough power to run our daily electrical needs, and sure, have grid connectivity as backup if you want. Further redirect incentives to the on-premise market and the price continues to fall into range for new home construction and middle class conversions.

Royy March 29, 2014 at 8:38 am

As an earth scientist I am far more worried about ocean acidification than global warming. I am not entirely alone in this opinion. The only reason I could imagine supporting carbon taxes is ocean acidification. Adjusting to warming in arctic and temperate zones is less expensive than shutting down industrial civilization, but ocean acidification might just possibly completely change that calculation.

Krigl March 30, 2014 at 4:12 am

Your needs maybe. I access internet from home, not public library. I also cook on the electric stove and use electric kettle not firewood. As for the small scale commercial generation supplied by PV, that’s 24 carat tinfoil-hattery. Your redirecting incentives are just smokescreen for ordained deindustrialization and regressive pauperization. Try some of the numbers from this book for a size, before championing inane non-solutions.

CMOT March 29, 2014 at 10:07 am

You ain’t seen nothing yet. China is building a truly gargantuan coal-to-liquid fuel capacity (which Mann mnetions), whose carbon footprint by 2030 might be greater than its coal fired electric power generation.

Ronald Brak March 30, 2014 at 2:53 am

Yes, this is certainly a concern, Mr Dibbler. However, the economics of coal to liquids aren’t particularly impressive. Though I can imagine officials in a province with lots of stranded coal pushing for investment in such an area. But with the water supply being in a pretty critical state in much of China running these plants is going to be difficult and costly. Hopefully the suggestion that the capacity they do build will mostly sit idle barring war, oil embargo, or oil price spike is correct. Also, the gradual electrification of transport should ease the pressure to build these plants.

john personna March 29, 2014 at 10:13 am

A future where people leave Los Angeles for Chicago … for the weather.

Brian Donohue March 30, 2014 at 10:24 am

As a Chicagoan, I find this prospect more chilling than Angelenos do.

mulp March 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Either China has too little labor and thus needs to burn capital to make up for the labor shortage,…

Or no one is willing to pay for employing the idle labor so they are burning capital and killing off the people to cut down on the idle labor force.

If China were awash with labor, it would logically devote all the idle labor to building capital assets to produce a cleaner economy. If as is argued, it is impossible to supply power by solar PV, then the labor would be directed at real clean coal capital creation so coal is burned without any pollution that kills people or harms China’s future – keep in mind that China sees its self as a civilization with a three thousand year history, so its future is the next three thousand years.

But to build more coal burning plants as China has done for the past decade is clearly pillage and plunder of China’s natural, human, and cultural capital, and can’t end well.

See http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/26/3419489/china-smog-cities-failing/

“The news was especially poignant, as Bloomberg reported the same day that pollution levels in China’s capital city were ten times what experts consider safe. Specifically, the concentration of PM2.5 — a form of particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels like coal — in Beijing’s air hit 242 micrograms per cubic meter. PM2.5 is a key component of smog and other forms of air pollution, and exposure to it increases risks of cardiovascular disease, lung inflammation, asthma, and premature death.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) considers 24 hours of exposure to PM2.5 concentrations of a mere 25 micrograms per cubic meter to be the safety limit; one-tenth of the level hit yesterday. Concentrations above 300 are considered hazardous.”

Krigl March 30, 2014 at 6:26 am

But to build more coal burning plants as China has done for the past decade is clearly pillage and plunder of China’s natural, human, and cultural capital, and can’t end well.

Not building them in their past situation wouldn’t end well as well, sometimes world doesn’t offer nice solutions. And take note that the newly build supercritical and ultra supercritical plants are much cleaner and more efficient than the old ones, most of which is in dire need of sending to scrapyard (and too small to boot). There seems to be no way to burn coal without any pollution – coal is simply flammable dirt – but these new ones are completely different beasts than what you’d expect and are sorely needed to supply electricity to regions still relying on wood stoves (or coal stoves, but you can imagine efficiency of that) for cooking and heating. Anyway, further expansion of coal will probably run into limits of how fast it is possible to expand already overloaded transport system and/or already overloaded transmission lines.
As for gas, Chinese government has supported fracking exploration but as far as I’ve read, execution and results were pretty Socialist, so don’t expect boom anytime soon and conventional sources probably won’t be enough to change situation on a scale that matters (maybe if Russia and Iran overflow them with their gas? Is there even capacity for anything remotely like that?). In the long run, hopefully, gas will start replacing coal someday.

Nuclear in China is alive, well and lively building up but getting the percentage from 2000′s next to nothing to at least USA’s 20% is long run: 1100-1200 GW total installed capacity now and 200 GW in nuclear planned for 2030 (1400 GW in 2050 looks better, but it’s 2050…). No short time panacea here, either.

Lot of undeveloped capacity in hydro, but with the same problem as coal: too far from population and industrial centers. Nothing insurmountable, I guess, but also in the end limited. Most of those sites will be nothing like Three Gorges’ 22 GW and if you are concerned with natural capital, Three Gorges destroyed one of the world’s wonders, other sites will come with heavy environmental price as well.

And I’d personally recommend being wary of ThinkProgress, their articles, at least those I’ve tried, made me feel dumber and misinformed just for reading them.

Joe Smith March 30, 2014 at 11:31 am

“wary of ThinkProgress”

Anything that opposes industrial progress in China because it will involve “pillage and plunder of …cultural capital” is not worth the effort to read.

Ronald Brak March 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Right now, per capita, China is producing almost three quarters as much electricity as Italy and more than half as much as Japan. To increase China’s electricity production to Italy’s level using renewables is pretty trivial. Here in South Australia we get a third of our electricity from wind and solar without difficulty and this has lowered our wholesale electricity prices and increased grid reliability. Currently we are increasing both our wind and solar capacity and given that the cost of renewables is certain to continue to decrease, it appears we will have no real problem getting 40 or 50% of our electricity from renewables with no need to massively overbuild their capacity to provide reliable power. Our renewable capacity, particularly solar, has increased our grid reliability. So China getting 25-30% of its electricity from renewables to reach Italy’s per capita consumption is clearly something that can be done and getting close to 50% of its electricity from renewables also appears quite doable. It’s not a question of can China afford to build a large amount of renewable capacity, the question is rather, why wouldn’t they if it’s cheaper than coal?

Currently China is installing renewable capacity faster than any other nation ever has and in many places there renewables now appear to be cheaper than new coal plants. Transportation costs, lack of water for cooling, and the cost of air pollution can all combine to make renewables the cheaper option. As renewables continue to decrease in cost and the cost of coal increases as more provinces introduce carbon trading schemes, renewables will become clearly cheaper though out most or all of China. And where renewables are cheaper and integrating them with the existing fossil fuel capacity is not a problem, then in general renewables will be built. It would be kind of crazy not to. It will take some time to switch over, but it will happen. So within a few years we will see a significant decline in the rate of coal plant construction in China and we will continue to see an extensive buildout of renewable capacity. Now this does not mean that China’s existing coal capacity will suddenly disappear, but it does mean it will stop expanding.

chuck martel March 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

Then there’s really nothing to worry about, right?

Ronald Brak March 30, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Chuck, if tigers were eating everyone in your village would you feel all relaxed if you discovered that the rate at which they were eating people was no longer accelerating?

Joe Smith March 30, 2014 at 11:27 am

“Right now, per capita, China is producing almost three quarters as much electricity as Italy and more than half as much as Japan.”

Looks like you are overstating Chinese electrical production but the disparity between China and the developed world was less than I thought it would be.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.ELEC.KH.PC

Ronald Brak March 30, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Joe, those are figures from 2011.

Joe Smith March 30, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Where do I find current numbers? What is the industrial / industrial split on electricity use in China vs. Japan vs Korea vs. Germany?

Ronald Brak March 31, 2014 at 12:08 am

Joe, here’s a list of country’s per capita electricity consumption for 2013 from the CIA fact book. I presume it’s pretty accurate:

http://www.photius.com/rankings/energy/electricity_consumption_per_capitia_2013_0.html

China’s residential electricity use is quite low compared to the average developed nation and the lion’s share goes to industry. Since China is following a roughly similar economic development path as Japan it may be reasonable to expect it’s electricity use use will follow a similar path. However, China has the benefit of being able to use more efficient modern technology which may affect how things go. And it’s hard to predict just what will happen in the future. In just a few years China may have a considerable number or electric vehicles on its roads which will increase the demand for electricity but also make it easier to integrate large quantities of renewables into the grid.

Ronald Brak April 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Sorry Joe, I just checked that link I gave and it doesn’t seem to work. But I guess there are enough terms there for you to throw into a search engine and find what you’re looking for.

Chip March 30, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Can someone point me to a consistently correct model on global warming?

There are predictions and then there are empirical data.

Ronald Brak April 4, 2014 at 2:07 am

This sort of thing:

http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/victorian-food-wholesaler-taps-solar-cut-costs-risk-28186

A food wholesaler installing a 200kw rooftop solar system because it’s cheaper than grid electricity is an example of how modern renewables can greatly reduce the need for additional coal capacity. While China doesn’t have Australia’s high electricity prices or as much sunshine, they do have inexpensive labour and very low capital costs and, for China, a generous feed-in tariff that appears to be designed to kick start their rooftop solar industry. The inability of Chinese people to get a positive return on their savings will make rooftop solar a popular investment as putting money in the bank has a negative return. While photos of modern China may give the impression most people live in huge apartment blocks, the satellite view on google maps shows plenty of lower density housing with a lot of roofspace available for point of use solar.

power April 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

For the last 3 years in Europe the power from renewables went up to 12.5% . As a result the power from gas went down, but the share of power from coals went up.

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