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Only a mug punter would bet on carbon storage over renewables

January 9th, 2015

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Conversation. The key point

To sum up, if investing in energy storage is like backing every horse on a race, investing in CCS is like a parlay bet, which pays off only if we can pick the winners of several races in succession.

When you think about it like that, it’s not surprising that the smart money is on storing energy, not carbon.

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  1. January 9th, 2015 at 21:02 | #1
  2. Ikonoclast
    January 9th, 2015 at 21:37 | #2

    First, a note on neologisms – To “get strochi” means to start saying vociferously and repeatedly “See, I was right all along.” JQ will know what I mean.

    Now, I hate to get to all strochi on ya, but if people look back in JQ’s blogs they will see that I always said pushing CCS was flogging a dead horse. My main arguments were and still are that it is technically unfeasible / unscaleable for full implementation and that the energy overheads and thus cost overheads would be such that renewables and energy storage would be a better bet.

    Honesty compels me to admit I was also sceptical about the full value of renewables (though not as sceptical as I was about CCS). I knew renewables were mandatory if we were to avoid global warming but I did not believe that renewables would have enough EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested) to sustain a full industrial civilisation but rather some lower level. I was operating on old data about solar and wind energy in particular and it took me a while to modify my “priors” in the arena, However, I did modify my “priors” and I thus lay claim to not being a total “derp”.

    Another issue I lay claim to being right on is that ETS approach to CO2 emissions would fail. To date, I have been correct. I continue to assert that a different form of pricing (yes, I know its all pricing) would be more successful, more direct, involve less compliance costs, less brokerage and overhead costs and less opportunity for gaming (though still subject to politicking). That form of pricing is the direct carbon tax and the concomittant removal of the large perverse subsidies for fossil fuel use.

    So JQ was right on solar and wind power EROEIs. I was right about CCS. That’s 1-1. Then maybe JQ will soon come round on the carbon tax like he has on CCS. That would make me 2-1 up but you know I am not a person who keeps score. 😉

    Footnote on funny neologisms.

    My favourite from the past comes from a satire on Vince Lester, the famous “Minister for Walking Backwards”. The comedian (I forget who) said that Vince had given two new words to the English language.

    “To vince” meant to look at or survey superficially. “To lester” meant to walk backwards.

    He then gave an example of useage.

    “At the Louvre, I vinced all the paintings then I lestered out the side door.”

  3. Donald Oats
    January 9th, 2015 at 22:20 | #3

    Plenty of mug punters who’ll double down—in this government. Coal is calling last drinks, and here we are pouring Queenslander (and no doubt some Federal) money into…coal.

  4. January 10th, 2015 at 00:53 | #4

    Come on John, you were betting on CCS until recently. What’s changed?

  5. Ikonoclast
    January 10th, 2015 at 01:33 | #5

    Despite my earlier quibbles and saying “I told you so,” that is a good article. And faustusnote, we should note that JQ is not a derp. He can change his view, if necessary, when new facts are finally confirmed.

  6. James Wimberley
    January 10th, 2015 at 03:20 | #6

    Two niggles about a good piece.

    It’s true that wave energy has made little progress, but that’s not true for tidal,inherently much more manageable. 1Mw tidal steam turbines are being deployed off Scotland, and planned for the Alderney Race. Tidal lagoons as in Korea do not pose major technological challenges. The big problem with tidal power, of either type, is the very limited number of suitable sites.

    A major storage option JQ does not not mention is conversion to gas: initially hydrogen, more practically (but with additiional) effort methane, which can be stored and distributed through existing fossil gas networks. Making such synthetic gas with surplus renewable electricity, and burning it later, is carbon-neutral. Germany is putting a lot of effort into power-to-gas, or P2G, partly because of Putin, partly in preparation for the renewables-dominated era. One Fraunhofer scenario for 100% renewables posited the need for 2 weeks’ storage to cover winter calms. Australia’s backup alternatives, geothermal and CSP-with-storage, aren’t really available.

    Finally, you can get to 100% renewables without any storage at all if you have enough hydro or geothermal to cover the predicted gaps. OK, perhaps a few flow batteries for voltage regulation. Brazil and Iceland are in this position. Storage is a valuable bonus for generation. For electric transportation, it’s the essence.

  7. rog
    January 10th, 2015 at 06:34 | #7

    There is a tidal generator near St Malo, France, not a significant producer nor a producer of significance. Big tides are experienced along both sides of the English channel.

  8. rog
    January 10th, 2015 at 06:38 | #8

    Pumped hydro linked with solar is doable, IMO

  9. Hermit
    January 10th, 2015 at 06:55 | #9

    The Germans say this synthetic methane will cost four times as much as their (mainly Russian) natural gas which makes it very expensive by our standards. One input CO2 is limited if the source is scrubbing from fermentation biogas. The other input H2 is costly to produce by electrolysis of water. If the unsubsidised economics were attractive it would be further ahead than what it is now. Such high energy costs might be affordable if we all lived like the Jetsons. Now with 7bn of us half battling economically we need something more affordable.

  10. ZM
    January 10th, 2015 at 07:01 | #10

    Very good article. Mark Diesendorf’s book suggested biogas turbines for cloudy still periods in winter – just as a back up not regular energy source.

    Disappointing article in today’s Guardian that the QLD ALP have said they support continued coal mining for fuel in the state – although at least it is Mulherin and he won’t be back again

    “Responding to research quantifying for the first time the scale of disruption faced by Australia’s coal industry to avoid a 2C warming, the outgoing deputy Labor leader, Tim Mulherin, said coal remained “an important and vital energy source for Queensland and the rest of the world”.”


  11. Hermit
    January 10th, 2015 at 08:34 | #11

    The Brits estimate that 10% of their current gas use could be replaced by biogas or methane from fermentation of organic wastes. See poo bus. The estimate for California is 5-20%. Therefore use of biogas for backup electricity generation, heating and transport fuel will be limited to a fraction of what we currently use natural gas for. Batteries would be the simplest solution but they are not there yet.

  12. January 10th, 2015 at 10:45 | #12

    Ikonoklast, I have argued here repeatedly that simple economic measures like a carbon tax by themselves won’t get us to zero carbon, and many others including john have responded that ccs and trees will do the heavy lifting. The recent nature article accounting for global carbon reserves makes the point that ccs will barely change our carbon accounting requirements. What are the implications of this for people like john who up to now have insisted we can decarbonize through a tax alone? I am interested to hear.

  13. John Quiggin
    January 10th, 2015 at 10:48 | #13


    I used the same racing metaphor six years ago.


    CCS was always a long shot, but it would have had a big payoff (particularly for Australia) if it had worked. It’s now clear that it won’t work.

  14. ZM
    January 10th, 2015 at 11:18 | #14

    “The Brits estimate that 10% of their current gas use could be replaced by biogas or methane from fermentation of organic wastes. See poo bus. The estimate for California is 5-20%. ”

    I think the idea is save up all the biogas and just use it in lengthy grey and still spells – Diesndorf’s team ran computer simulations of weather over a whole year and found it can be met by renewable energy with this biogas backup idea

  15. Dave Lisle
    January 10th, 2015 at 13:34 | #15

    It is interesting that the above discussion takes it for granted that the pursuit of CCS was a genuine search for a solution and not a ruse. CSS was certainly a silver bullet solution, but clearly for coal rather than for climate.
    The main concern articulated in an early report on the ‘greenhouse effect’ from the Office of National Assessments (in 1981) was the fear that public alarm over carbon emissions could harm Australia’s export markets. Thus the protection of big business has always been foremost in the policy responses and helps to explain Australia’s generous funding and international promotion of CCS – why would anyone not want to have their cake and eat it too?
    While CCS is just one of many attempts to turn ‘clean coal’ into something other than an oxymoron (Australia’s black coal has occasionally been bestowed that label because of its relative cleanliness) it is wrong to suggest that CCS has failed. It has indeed achieved its primary objective of being a stalling tactic – a smokescreen behind which the coal industry could continue its expansion. This has come at a considerable cost to the mug taxpayer punter although I guess it created some good research jobs.

  16. Hermit
    January 10th, 2015 at 14:01 | #16

    Quick start open cycle gas turbines (essentially bolted down jet engines) have lower capex (40c per watt) than PV. However they have higher CO2 and fuel cost than combined cycle gas plants which have a steam boiler and steam turbines to capture exhaust heat. Ceramic fuel cells are more efficient at converting gas to electricity or heat but the capital cost is $7-$8 per watt (see Wiki article on Bloom servers). To remain in standby mode would require hefty staffing costs.

    Conceivably you could have a battery free grid based on high build wind and solar with expensive backup from bio/syngas. Expect electricity to cost several times what it does now. The reality is we’ll burn every last ounce of coal with no CCS before that happens because it’s cheaper. I’d prefer an intermediate cost and more compact solution particularly when coal and natgas burning power plants need to be replaced.

  17. Hermit
    January 10th, 2015 at 14:22 | #17

    Another way of looking at it that the public just threw out the carbon tax minor addition to power bills so they are in no mood to pay a lot more. Suppose an all renewables system cost four times more (which some say is impossibly low) than what we have now. That means the public must be thinking
    – 6 to 8% on power bills is unacceptable get rid of that imposition
    – 300% increase sure why not?

  18. Dave Lisle
    January 10th, 2015 at 15:39 | #18

    Hermit, I accept your basic premise that Australians increasingly vote with their hip pockets. But the idea that the carbon tax was rejected by the public is more suspect. Exit polls from Sept 2013 showed a small (can’t remember 5-7%??) number of people who rated the carbon tax as the most significant issue. Labor were kicked out for many reasons. Saying that the Australian people threw out the carbon tax sounds like Abbott speaking about mandates. Moreover, the carbon narrative – if that is what voters were responding to – was a story of towns being wiped off the map and a society thrown back into Medieval depredation. It bore little resemblance to the “minor addition to power bills” that you describe. Nevertheless, your point about lowest economic (as opposed to environmental) cost is taken.

  19. John Quiggin
    January 10th, 2015 at 16:02 | #19

    @Ronald Brak

    D’oh! Fixed now

  20. John Quiggin
    January 10th, 2015 at 16:05 | #20

    Faustusnotes :
    many others including john have responded that ccs and trees will do the heavy lifting.

    Link for this claim? Compare it to what I wrote in 2009, linked above, which was v sceptical about CCS.

  21. January 10th, 2015 at 16:27 | #21

    @John Quiggin
    I also would be interested in the names of anyone who suggested that trees or CCS could do the heavy lifting of emissions reduction

  22. January 10th, 2015 at 16:31 | #22

    @Dave Lisle
    Dave, it is also amazing that Australians “tolerated” electricity prices rising by more than 100% over the past 7 years only to find a “6-8%” increase from the carbon price unacceptable.

  23. chrisl
    January 10th, 2015 at 17:11 | #23

    You could take out the nonsense about CCS and substitute Copenhagen with Paris and you could submit that op-ed again

  24. frankis
    January 10th, 2015 at 17:19 | #24

    JQ “… the smart money is on storing energy, not carbon” – nice quip!

  25. zoot
    January 10th, 2015 at 18:12 | #25

    @Ronald Brak
    I believe it is the unshakeable belief of our current Federal Government.

  26. BilB
    January 10th, 2015 at 19:59 | #26

    That is exactly right, RB#22, and not a boo mention when after the removal of the carbon price, not a single cent reduction in product prices or electricity prices. This is the lucky, and gullible, country.

  27. BilB
    January 10th, 2015 at 20:04 | #27

    Wait for the howl from the fossil fuel sector when the next, post Abbott, Carbon Price is applied, but with the stipulation that prices must not rise, as the industry has already made the accommodating price adjustment.

  28. January 11th, 2015 at 01:18 | #28

    Sorry Zoot, I should have added the proviso – “…and is not part of the coal industry or desperately and stupidly in love with it.”

  29. rog
    January 11th, 2015 at 04:04 | #29

    @Ronald Brak That’s easy, it was an LNP “core” promise last election.

  30. James Wimberley
    January 11th, 2015 at 07:26 | #30

    South Korea is building a 1.3 GW tidal lagoon plant at Incheon. That’s not a misprint.

  31. TerjeP
    January 11th, 2015 at 08:30 | #31

    I’d say the smart money is on neither. Battery technology will certainly move ahead by leaps and bounds and make electric cars and mobile phones better and better. But I don’t expect them to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of stationary electricity supply any time ever. And I’ve never thought much of CCS and always regarded it as mostly a figleaf promoted by sections of the coal industry for political purposes.

  32. TerjeP
  33. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 11:10 | #33


    Fair dinkum TerjeP, if you put any credence in anything you read in Forbes online magazine I am worried for you.

  34. January 11th, 2015 at 12:22 | #34

    John, in this thread you suggested CCS and trees would do the heavy lifting. Ronald Brak (specifically here in this thread wondering who on this blog would ever advocate such a thing) said in that thread:

    “Japan can go carbon neutral by putting a carbon price of $120 a tonne on emissions and then paying that money to Australia to remove and sequester the CO2 released into the atmosphere”.

    In that thread also Ken Miles, Nick, Watkin Tench,

    In that thread John Quiggin leaned heavily on trees, as the solution to keep carbon below 450. How is that looking now? John also wrote this comment, responding to someone who pointed out carbon would need to be sequestered for at least 300 years:

    That would certainly be difficult, if not impossible. I’m assuming we aim for stabilization at 450 ppm.

    So I want to know from the carbon taxxers here (Ronald Brak, JQ, et al): now that you have ruled out carbon capture, how is it possible for a carbon tax alone to get the world to zero carbon? How are you going to deal with the intrinsically carbon-emitting industrial sectors: jet travel, coking coal, and cement? What additional measures do you think will be necessary to get to zero carbon? It seems to me that it is a mathematical fact that if there are going to be intrinsic carbon-emitting industries, we need to restrict the total carbon emitted by all the remaining sectors of the economy to below the maximum of our budget, in a very short time frame. In the above thread I gave calculated examples to show that a carbon tax is not going to achieve that goal quickly enough compared to direct legal interventions. I gave specific examples here.

    It is time for the economics profession to get serious about climate change, and to stop this silly everyone-gets-a-unicorn assumption that a mild tax will lead to sufficient innovation to magically disappear the carbon in the atmosphere. It’s not going away and we are heading towards a civilization-ending catastrophe if we don’t do something about it rapidly and effectively.

  35. January 11th, 2015 at 12:23 | #35

    I just put a post up with a link to a thread in which Ronald Brak and John Quiggin explicitly argue for carbon capture and sequestration. Ronald, in this thread you’re wondering who was supporting these technologies. The answer: you. Once my comment is freed from moderation you can enjoy the spectacle of yourself arguing vociferously in favour of a technology that now, a few months later, you have completely disavowed …

  36. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 12:32 | #36

    Hi, Terje.

    “…anytime ever”?

    I think that you do not appreciate the immense capacity of distributed energy resources. On the generation side the total energy conversion capacity of Australia’s 17.5 million vehicles amounts to around 2,500 Gigawatts. This against our 35 gigawatt electricity generation capacity.

    On the storage side, things we take for granted, the small things, laptops, the total amount of battery storage in laptops in Australia amounts 1.32 Gigawatt hours of stored energy. Add to that another .3 (to 1.6 Gwhrs) for smart phone energy storage and you can see that the amount of stored energy at any one time is quite a significant figure when it is seen as a whole. Vehicle batteries have a total storage of around 30 Gigawatt hours.

    The point here is that total storage capacity accumulates as people solve their individual energy storage needs, and they fund that storage out of their own pockets because it gives them performance benefits, freedom and autonomy.

    As we move forward into our new renewable energy reality people will buy battery storage, initially at a modest level of perhaps 8 kwhrs for their homes and personal energy needs. They will do this to minimise their grid energy dependency and to improve their rooftop solar functionality. When there are 10 million homes with 8 kwhrs, total storage capacity will rise by another 80 Gigawatt hours, and all funded by individuals, for their own personal benefit. This is the market at work. In time the total energy storage capacity will far exceed the total need, just as our total energy conversion capacity far exceeds our basic needs.

    So how will 80 Gwhrs of stored energy be used? The information is all in this excellent resource defined for Australian households….


    It only takes a little bit of thinking to separate out the consumptions that require storage from those that can be managed to utilise the energy when it is being converted from sunlight during the day. Water heating, refrigeration charging, cooling, pool operation, clothes washing, half of power standby, half of dishwashing, etc can all be shifted to day time operation. Cooking is best done with gas for various reasons, as can night time heating backup. Lighting, half of dishwasher, half of power standby, TV, home entertainment, home office, computer operation, and half of miscellaneous, are all night time loads that must be catered for whether by grid connection or battery storage. That storage need however is a mere 3000 kwhrs per year per household, not the mammoth amount that some denialists suggest.

    In the stand alone domestic household Rooftop Solar Model that I am evaluating (4.5/9Kw PV/T with 4Kw absorptive air conditioner, 12 kwhr battery with 2.5 kw LP engine gas powered backup, gas for cooking) it works out that 25% to 30% of the generated power (8 to 9 kwhrs daily) needs to be stored for non solar use and this fairly well matches the battery capacity with reserve.

    Of course all of this relates to residential consumption and small business primarily, Industry will find its own rationale for emissions reductions which will mostly be a partnership with grid energy providers and cogeneration/solar. Do not underestimate businesses interest an ability to transition to renewable energy models, including energy storage in many forms.

  37. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 12:49 | #37


    I await that post with interest. I guess it depends on the detail of what J.Q. and Ronald said. They might have argued for it but the context might reveal they backed other things too and this other backing might have been less, equal or more and of course “several” as in spreading bets. Also, they cannot be criticised for holding a view and then changing it based on new information. What is to be hoped is that they are not now being historically revisionist about their own claims. I am not saying they are just hoping they are not (because it’s a little embarrassing not because it’s a great big crime).

    I have always argued on this blog for quite some years that CCS would never work. My reasons were related to both technical obstacles in piping, trucking and storage, lack of scalability and the objection that the energy cost would be so high it would be energetically and financially unfeasible. I predicted other solutions, like renewable energy would be feasible to some extent but CCS never. It was clear to me from basic phsyics and some basic research I did at the time that CCS was a really bad bet, literally like betting on a horse with a broken leg to win a race with many starters.

    On the other hand, I WAS WRONG about the EROEI of renewables. I thought they would be marginal for producing enough energy profit to run a modern industrial civilisation albeit a much more electric one. Staggering advances and developments in PV solar and wind rapidly proved me wrong. J.Q. was way ahead of me on this issue so kudos where kudos due.

  38. January 11th, 2015 at 13:00 | #38

    Ikonoklast, my point is not to say that JQ et al are idiots or hypocrites, but to ask the boosters of carbon pricing to be more realistic about the limitations of such weak instruments as a policy tool. The new Nature paper (about which I’m just writing a post on my blog) indicates that 80% of coal, 50% of oil and 33% of gas needs to be kept in the ground if we’re going to stay under 2C. Given the existence of industries such as coking steel and jet travel that depend on the use of some proportion of the extractable coal/oil/gas, we are going to need some really fast and strict policy constraints on the use of these resources for other more discretionary purposes. And meanwhile, copmanies are spending 600 billion dollars a year on prospecting for more essentially unrecoverable fossil fuels.

    This is madness, and I have repeatedly stated that I don’t think a carbon tax will stop this madness. In the past, JQ et al have argued it will spur innovation that will make sequestration possible. If they now admit it won’t, what implication does this have for their policy ideas? What is the time frame for moving beyond carbon taxes to real limits on carbon use?

  39. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:11 | #39

    Footnote to my above post.

    J.Q. on this blog tolerates more diversity of opinion and more opinion contrary to his own economic and other views than I have seen anyone do on any other blog. He also provides open posts (Monday Message Board, Weekend Comment and Sandpits) which give people extensive free forums for their own ideas, expositions, pet theories and idees fixes. He also responds and interacts more then most economic blog writers and most Professors do for that matter.

    I can be a difficult, contentious and even combative blog writer and thus no doubt a trial for the host and others to tolerate. Thus far J.Q. has tolerated me. I need to remind mysef more of what I wrote in the my above paragraph so that I become a more reasonable and balanced blogger whilst not resiling from certain very firm views. I guess we do need to try to remember these sort of things.

  40. Hermit
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:26 | #40

    I’m inclined to agree with Terje. On current specs batteries are not a disruptive technology for most high power applications. If Tesla can make lithium ion batteries as cheap as they say the big problem is limited working life, say 500-1000 cycles and later on the need for a streamlined process to recycle lithium. Cars and homes are unlikely to install more than the 85 kwh currently largest battery. For home appliances (not cars) that is just a few days electricity for typical Australian families. In rainy weeks rooftop PV could generate just 20% of sunny weather output so that the home with limited roof space for excess panels will require either a generator or remain at the mercy of grid connection. In my opinion the use of diesel or petrol generators won’t go over well in the suburbs. That and gas or LPG for heating and cooking completely negates the avowed aim of low carbon.

    Therefore I think the phrase ‘utility death spiral’ will go down in folklore like the apocryphal phrase ‘too cheap to meter’. If the power companies installed and replaced home batteries for a reasonable deal maybe there is something in it. Until then I regard reliable centralised power generation at an affordable price as a public good like schools and hospitals.

  41. Dave Lisle
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:28 | #41

    Iconoclast – in light of the emphatic defense of free speech in other recent threads, I am certainly glad that “J.Q. on this blog tolerates more diversity of opinion and more opinion contrary…….”. Might be kind of weird otherwise!

  42. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:30 | #42


    Your Forbes link is the is what you get from a Lawyer/ Journalist commentator. Very good at looking at what is in front of them but disastrous at perceiving what is missing. In this case this is an article written by someone heavily engaged with the grid energy side of the argument who has written on a very narrow information profile and who has used the prestige of the publication name for credibility. This article is what I would have expected from Peter Lang five years ago. The information and technology appreciation is way out of date.

  43. January 11th, 2015 at 13:35 | #43

    Forbes is a straight-out denialist website, BilB. No point in engaging with anything written there.

  44. Nick
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:46 | #44


    Which are cheaper – PV panels or batteries? Look at the graph in the article you linked to.

    Judging by their electricity usage, this family obviously has a pretty large house. Hence, there’s likely to be roof or pergola space for a lot more panels than the 7kW system they currently have.

    If they wanted to go all solar + batteries, no natural gas or diesel backup, and could afford to spend $100,000 on batteries – do you think they might consider spending $5-10,000 upgrading their pv system first, if that meant needing $50,000 less batteries?

  45. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 13:53 | #45


    Ah, but now you have changed subjects. First you were talking about CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) and now you are talking about Carbon Emissions Pricing (which I can’t call CEP because that means Clean Energy Plan).

    Carbon Emissions Pricing is a separate topic. This is true except in the sense that CCS (if it worked) would in essence be a price scheme that entailed emitting and then immediately paying to sequester all CO2 to prevent negative externalities.

    I agree with you, mostly. An ETS was always a bad solution in my opinion. It created an artificial market in a diffuse, global negative externality. “Natural” markets in removing local non-diffusing or slow-diffusing pollution do exist. Rubbish removal and industrial waste removal are obvious examples. The “artificialness” of the CO2e market would and did encourage in my opinion rent-seeking, gaming, broking and other overhead costs. Compliance oversight and administration costs are also arguably higher.

    It seemed clear to me that ETS proposals like CCS proposals were meant as opportunities for rent-seeking if they came to pass but more primarily as delaying and finally fully obstructing tactics meant to ensure nothing would ever be done. Neoliberals are extremely clever strategists and tacticians and they have all the bases covered. They also negotiate in a complete lack of good faith. They are deceptive and Machiavellian in the extreme.

    I favoured a direct tax as a carbon price. It would be simple, direct, effective and almost ungameable though still politickable. Compliance issues and administration costs are also much less. In addition, a direct tax would have represented a little less further financialisaton of the economy as an ETS adds another layer of brokerage, dealing and financial on costs.

    Direct legislation, eg. banning the construction of any new coal thermal power plant, would be highly effective. A prohibitive tax on CO2 emissions would have the same affect. I would have favoured and still do a high and effective CO2 emissions tax starting price rising to a prohibitive price in stages consistent with de-carbonising our economy in a time frame where concomittant decarbonising of the world economy would have (still?) keep us well under +2 C warming and indeed to more like +1 C warming at the maxiumum.

  46. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 14:15 | #46


    There you go again

    “In my opinion the use of diesel or petrol generators won’t go over well in the suburbs. That and gas or LPG for heating and cooking completely negates the avowed aim of low carbon.”

    ….living in the past and flouting misconceptions.

    For starters a backup energy system designed for fixed and permanent installation will not be a “Bunnings spot special” bargain item, nor should it use a liquid fuel where there is another fuel system available at the footpath, ie natural gas. Generator technology is about to get an upheaval with from the Liquid Piston engine which has all of the properties for silent and efficient power generation.

    Secondly your “opinion” on gas is clearly uninformed. Cooking amounts to 5% of the household energy budget, a very small CO2 emission compromise which in the medium term can be close looped utilising bio-gas as a source. On heating: a 2.5 kw water cooled 30% efficient gas powered generator has an additional 70% times 2.5 kw of energy available for heating, or 5.8 kw which is a reasonable amount of heating for an average house. So one very small piece of hardware solves four problematic functions at a very low cost. The rainy week is solved, the battery backup is solved, the space heating on rainy days is solved, and the electricity over demand problem is solved.

    You really have to start seeing this hardware as being high volume and modular just as air conditioners have become. It take volume demand to get to that level, and we are nearly to that stage with distributed energy systems. I predict, as a product designer, that domestic battery systems will be completely modular externally mounted containers which will include the backup power generator. The Liquid Piston motor will be flat manifold mounted in such a way as to enable its removal for refit with the ease of opening a cover, removing 3 screws, and fitting the new motor in reverse order. I design my own products with this functionality, it is easily achieved with small generator systems.

    The CO2 emissions from the backup generator and the cooking, amount to about 20% of the current total household emissions, so an 80% reduction from the current total household emissions is a huge step forward, and far from “completely negating the avowed aim of low carbon”. When our government finally takes the emissions problem seriously bio-gas recoverable from sewerage alone will bridge a large part of this gap, and gas from other waste areas is more than sufficient to completely close the loop. But that takes commitment, something we do not yet have.

  47. TerjeP
    January 11th, 2015 at 14:18 | #47

    BilB – I appreciate the way you frame the issue. But some of your numbers seem unlikely.

    For instance in the context of Australia you say “Vehicle batteries have a total storage of around 30 Gigawatt hours”. A standard 12V car battery stores about 40 amp hours of juice. So thats 480 watt hours. Lets say 1000 Wh to be genereous. Your claim thus implies 30 million cars in the country. Which seems unlikely.

    The point though is not what is possible but what is economically practical. Batteries will become cheaper. But the price gap they would have to close is enormous.

  48. January 11th, 2015 at 14:54 | #48

    I think you misunderstand me, Ikonoklast. I’m not switching the topic from CCS to ETS or carbon tax schemes, I’m pointing out that defenders of the latter were relying on the former to make their schemes viable. In the moderated comment you’ll see the thread I’m referring to is full of people arguing a carbon price will get us to zero carbon because it will encourage CCS. The people making that argument then (just a few months ago) are now accepting that CCS is not viable. Which raises the question, how are we going to stay inside our carbon budget given that some industries (steel production, air travel, some aspects of the martime industry, agriculture and cement) require carbon emissions to continue? The people boosting ETS/taxes as a solution to AGW need to explain how they will get us to zero.

    As I see it there is only one practically possible approach that we can take given current technology. We have to stay within a fixed budget for the next 200-300 years, and that means we have to massively reduce our emissions as quickly as possible to ensure that we can remain within that budget and still maintain essential industries such as steel production and air travel. Doing this means rapid decarbonization of the rest of the economy, much faster than a carbon tax will achieve, and reforestation to partially offset the emissions from that part of the economy that cannot decarbonize. On the thread I linked to above I gave clear calculations showing that decarbonization just will not happen rapidly enough under any viable carbon tax or pricing scheme, but the ETS+CCS boosters on that thread refused to engage with my examples. If we follow the policy framework recommended by these boosters we will see a very slow decline in emissions to an unacceptably high level (probably 50% of current emissions in 30 years’ time) which means that we won’t stay inside the budget. When I pointed this out a few months ago everyone’s answer was the same: we will use CCS to make up the shortfall. Now the people saying that accept that CCS is a bad bet, so the question becomes: what are we going to do?

    The current policy ideas from the mainstream economists who even bother to look at global warming are clearly insufficient to avert catastrophe. They aren’t taking it seriously, and the main policy ideas are a tax now and a magic pony later. They need to recognize that there will be no magic pony, and they need to start coming up with more serious immediate solutions than a tax that will only work when the magic pony comes along.

  49. Hermit
    January 11th, 2015 at 15:33 | #49

    Why would you bother with all this rigmarole? If electricity from the grid was low carbon, affordable by the poor and available to flat dwellers and in all weathers none of this possibly malfunction prone hardware would be necessary. Case in point Ontario Canada with 44 grams of CO2 per kwh. Contrast with Queensland Australia 820 grams per kwh as we speak per empower.me website.

  50. John Quiggin
    January 11th, 2015 at 15:58 | #50

    @faustusnotes I checked the thread and couldn’t find any reference on my part to CCS. As far as I can see in this thread, you started by saying I advocated CCS, then switched to CCS + trees, then “proved” your point by linking to a mention of trees.

    To restate my longstanding position, a combination of carbon pricing and regulation (eg energy efficiency rules) can eliminate most CO2 emissions. That includes eliminating fossil fuel power stations, which means that CCS is irrelevant (as well as infeasible). Tree planting and improvements on other greenhouse gases (notably methane, which has a short residence time) can get us back to zero net greenhouse gas emissions after 2050

  51. John Quiggin
    January 11th, 2015 at 16:09 | #51

    And in a similarly dubious move, you go from “JQ supports CCS” to “JQ and others support CCS”, then “prove” yourself right by showing that “others support CCS”.

    I’ve checked further and note that just before the thread you cite, I had written a very negative post on CCS

    In summary, you have deliberately misrepresented me. Feel free to keep commenting, but I’m not willing to engage with you any further in the absence of a retraction and apology.

  52. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 16:35 | #52


    I have sympathy for your position believe me. However, I have also come to a realisation over time that JQ’s position on decarbonisation was more nuanced and robust than I originally gave credit for.

    OK, I differ from J.Q. on which pricing system would be the best. I have a strong, and I believe logically argued case, for preferring a carbon tax over an ETS. It’s to do with ancillary but still important issues and a strong ideological bias (and pragmatic bias I believe) on my part against using markets for certain purposes. Be that as it may, a fully effective ETS or a fully effective tax would be both work. The case is the same with regulation. A full regulatory system, a full price system or a hybrid system would all work. The hybrid system of serious regulation plus serious pricing would work best. It would be more flexible and allow the targeting of more aspects of the problem.

    J.Q. is serious about AGW. The current world capitalist system major players are not. Or at least the major players have not been serious up till now. Are they serious now? I don’t know but being a mere armchair reformist and inveterate cynic I still doubt it. J.Q. has chosen to be an active reformist and an optimist. I mean if they had followed J.Q.’s ideas things would be starting to work now. We can’t blame people like J.Q. for the fact that they (oligarchs and governments) were too benighted to follow good advice.

  53. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 16:39 | #53

    Clarification: I have sympathy for faustusnotes position of concern about climate change. I do not have sympathy for his particular attempts at criticism of JQ on the issue of CCS and ETS etc.

    A full reading of my post will show that.

  54. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 16:41 | #54

    Unlikely, Terje? I picked a 70 amp hour battery as the centre point as the battery in my 1200 vehicle is 40 amp hours. I think 70 amp hours is in fact conservative. It does seem a little high but I made allowances for truck and farm vehicle batteries which are considerably larger. It is illustrative rather than deep research, though I do try to be as factual as possible.

    I’ve been watching “Hopscotch”, a very special action movie, while keyboarding here. Are there any other Walter Matthau fans out there?

  55. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 17:20 | #55

    Good question, Hermit.

    The reason is simply that I, along with millions of others, want to limit my reliance on large greedy corporations, on the one hand and reduce my energy vulnerability while being as responsible an environmental citizen as possible, on the other.

    The cost issue represents the treadmill that we all eventually want to get off, and in preparation for retirement most rational people are looking at their recurring costs. Electricity is a huge one, and one that by recent experience can vary hugely for no justifiable reason. State governments are hell bent on divesting themselves of their energy assets, our energy assets, and throw us, the customers, to the crocodiles.

    Governments have also demonstrated that Climate Action is an ideological football, and cannot be relied upon to take the essential actions that we the public instinctively know to be urgent.

    Roof top solar is the best way that I can see to limit my exposure unpredictable costs, improve my standard of living, meet my environmental obligations as I see them, know that I am improving the prospects for my daughters to live something of the life that I have, and generally feel better about my impact on the world.

    I LIKE the idea that energy comes from the sun and I can use that on a daily basis to power my lifestyle, rather than waste it.

    You are still conflicted over the cheap nuclear energy thing. It does not matter how cheap that electricity can be achieved, it still has to be distributed through the hands of retailers, and the production cost of the product today has absolutely now bearing on the retail price. It did when the whole system was in government hands and was being run for the common good, but that time has gone. It is now being run for how much profit the system can make for share holders.

    I like the idea of catching energy from the wind, the sun, and the rain. That is all there is to it. I like sailing too.

  56. BilB
    January 11th, 2015 at 17:26 | #56

    Oh, and CCS was just a stupid idea from day one.

    Economists had to evaluate it from and economic view point, hence the discussion, but I judged it from a conceptual viewpoint, and it failed every consideration. I was incensed when Beattie handed over $500 million of Queenslander’s money, then promptly retired.

    Nothing more need be said.

  57. Ikonoclast
    January 11th, 2015 at 17:48 | #57


    I agree. Well said. Since installing rooftop solar PV (nameplate 5.5 kW system) and evacuated tube hot water in Brisbane, I can’t believe how dang good the system is both summer and winter. We are a 4 adult household who make no real efforts to curb power use but neither are we ridiculously proligate. On three years numbers after installation, we make enough power for 1.75 households like ours.

    Yes, we use the grid as a giant battery. We pay connection costs. We also get large power rebates not bills at all. Yes, we get a subsidised rebate. People can debate the fairness of that. When the subsidy ends (in about 9 years I think) I will seriously consider going off grid. There should only be my wife and me at home by that stage. We have a private pole to bring in power off the street. For what I could save in not getting the private pole replaced (and it will probably need replacing in 9 years time at a total age of about 25 years) I could get my battery pack. Simple! Just like the meerkat says.

    If the big power corporations want to play games and extort people for grid power (and they do) then I say “Two to the Valley to them!”*

    It will become very economic for many people to make their own power.

    As Marx said, “In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations.”

    A very new future could arise when we can make at our homes; all our energy, all our small utensils, knickknacks and gadgets (3D printing); shoes and clothes (apparel makers) and maybe even grow a propotion of our food. Whole swathes of centralised manufacture for small articles could be replaced by home manufacture. I hate to give capitalism ideas but selling these machines would be a new field on top of now traditional white goods and kitchen equipment.

  58. January 11th, 2015 at 19:17 | #58

    John, I’m not trying to misrepresent you. I interpreted your response to a direct point about CCS as endorsement. You said it shouldn’t be difficult in response to a direct point about CCS picking up the slack. I may have misinterpreted a vague point by you but that’s not misrepresentation and it’s not deliberate. It’s simply my understanding of your position based on two long threads here (one of which I can’t find).

    The “JQ and others” shift was a response to Ronald Brak who, after my comment, said he didn’t remember anyone advocating CCS; so I responded to that by finding a thread that reports his and others’ support for it.

    In another thread here I responded to your faith in trees by pointing out the IPCC’s position on how much they can achieve, though sadly I’m unable to find the thread.

    I’m happy to be proven wrong about your past opinion on CCS; I don’t think it’s evident in that thread, and I’m sorry for suggesting based on those interactions that you supported CCS. I’m happy to retract the suggestion!

  59. Ben
    January 11th, 2015 at 20:19 | #59

    I was interested to see that when he was in Australia, Steven Chu didn’t mention CCS at all. His talk on the US situation highlighted the extraordinarily low cost of wind power in the midwest US ($30/MWh, plus the production tax credit). Chu said that the US wind industry has stated that they can compete against conventional generation (mid-merit gas, I believe) without subsidies in two years.

  60. Hermit
    January 12th, 2015 at 08:10 | #60

    BilB self sufficiency seems to be a state of mind. I recall someone who made a sandwich with industrial amounts of meat, dairy and grain then added a lettuce leaf from the garden. Voila self sufficiency. Silicon panels and lithium batteries will take a massive industrial support system to continue and it is far from clear that system can self replicate.

    I was watching Sherlock on the telly until it got too ridiculous and switched to The 10 Million Pound Challenge. There a presenter got airborne in a battery propelled glider thereafter to seek thermal currents to continue flying. London to Sydney was not in the flight plan. Both that presenter and another said batteries may never be up to the demands we place on them.

  61. Ikonoclast
    January 12th, 2015 at 10:27 | #61

    It is a secondary law, derived from the primary laws of the physical and biological systems we are dealing with, that whatever level of economy we are left with long-term, it will be that level which is maintainable by renewable, sustainable and recycling methods which at the same time enable the retention of a biosphere that is a habitat liveable for humans.

    Given that all exhaustible (non-renewable) resources will not “run out” but will become practicably unrecoverable and unusable in energetic and economic terms, then we must develop an economy comprised entirely of renewable, sustainable and recycling processes. Given current costs and benefits and also taking into consideration unacceptable negative externalities like severe climate change (above about 2 degrees C warming), it is now clear that the main sustainable energy sources long term will be solar power and wind power though many others will have a real role to play.

    It is not clear that such an economy will provide all the luxuries we are currently accustomed to like mass international air travel. If this is true then so be it. International travel for tourism purposes by the middle classes is a luxury not a necessity. Pointing out that some luxuries might disappear under the physically and biologically mandated limitations of a renewables economy is no argument against it when the alternative is the extinction of humankind.

  62. January 12th, 2015 at 14:51 | #62

    Faustusnotes, you asked, “So I want to know from the carbon taxxers here (Ronald Brak, JQ, et al): now that you have ruled out carbon capture, how is it possible for a carbon tax alone to get the world to zero carbon?”

    You have asked me and others a question, but I am at loss as how to reply, as you have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to understand what I write. The question itself demonstrates this. So however I respond, I have reason to believe that you won’t understand. Despite this, I will try once again and respond to just the final part of your question, “…how is it possible for a carbon tax alone to get the world to zero carbon?”

    Answer: By making activities that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases more expensive than substitutes that don’t. If some emissions still exist when the carbon price (carbon tax) reaches the cost of removing the remaining emissions from the atmosphere, then that is what will be done. The ability to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere puts an upper limit on the carbon price required to reduce emissions to zero.

  63. Nick
    January 12th, 2015 at 15:30 | #63

    “Both that presenter and another said batteries may never be up to the demands we place on them.”

    Nope. They said batteries will most likely never be up to the demands that you place on them. Namely, that they should be able to power passenger jets.

    Most things can’t power passenger jets, Hermit. That includes coal, gas and nuclear reactors – unless you’ve invented some novel way of not having the passengers sitting a few metres from a 100 MW reactor core.

  64. Hermit
    January 12th, 2015 at 16:05 | #64

    I believe airline fuel can be made in different ways from each of coal, gas and nuclear. We have coal-to-liquids now prominent in South Africa and China but pioneered by WW2 Germany. We have gas to liquids such as the plant in Malaysia. Then we have synfuels like dimethyl ether that can use hydrogen input preferably much cheaper than from electrolysis of water; that’s where high temperature nukes could help.

    I recall a couple of years back when Qantas and Virgin got very enthusiastic about bio jet fuel. That went quiet suddenly. Some say the Philae lander on comet Rosetta would be sending us pix now if they’d used a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to top up the batteries. My hunch is decades from now celebrities, sportspeople and politicians will be flying around in planes powered by coal based liquid fuel. The rest of us will take the bus or steerage on cargo ships.

  65. Nick
    January 13th, 2015 at 00:39 | #65

    Hermit, that wasn’t really my point. But you’re right.

    Air travel is likely to become more emissions intensive in the future, not less.

    All of those processes have extremely low EROEIs. To the extent they can be scaled up, they simply cause the fossil fuels they’re derived from to run out faster.

  66. January 13th, 2015 at 05:47 | #66

    Assuming a total efficiency of 50%, to produce enough hydrogen to fly a person from Sydney to Paris would cost about $300 worth of electricity at the current Australian average wholesale electricity price. That’s not cheap, but all up it may be cheaper than kerosene when oil was $147 a barrel. And at the current prices as I write this in South Australia it would cost less than $150 worth of electricity. One of the effects of having wind and solar capacity is that wholesale electricity prices often drop very low for extended periods of time. So if the electricity used to generate hydrogen costs one cent a kilowatt-hour it would cost less than $100 to produce enough hydrogen to fly someone from Sydney to Paris. Note there would be capital costs from the production and storage of hydrogen on top of that, but the point is that even if all fossil fuel stopped air travel would not have to stop.

    At current oil and electricity prices it should be cheaper for jet flight to go carbon neutral by using kerosene and then paying to remove and sequester the CO2 released into the atmosphere, but the point is that fossil fuels are not required for flight.

  67. January 13th, 2015 at 05:56 | #67

    And for people for don’t pay attention, I will point out that I did not write that I think using hydrogen for flight is a is a good idea. I think it is a bad idea. But I was not giving my personal opinon, I was just pointing out that there are non-fossil fuel options that should not be so expensive as to end air travel for those who already engage in it, particularly if our future is one in which low cost electricity is frequently available.

  68. Ikonoclast
    January 13th, 2015 at 15:50 | #68


    I kind of agree on that. Fossil fuels especially oil and gas derived fuels or ones synthesised from coal will end up just powering some emergency vehicles, police vehicles, the military, military aircraft and a rump airline industry for rich people and government leaders.

    Let us hope at the same time that either LTG (Limits to Growth) or simply “leaving most of it in the ground” will stop us using too many fossil fuels overall. I think this can happen. Solar and wind and the full electrical economy with much mass transit will be better for the “little people”, you know us rustic and even town hobbits.

  69. BilB
    January 13th, 2015 at 16:41 | #69

    I think that the photo is just fine.

    I would like to be able to put the face, the voice and the ideas together into one total impression though.

    To me the information in the interview suffered from a sincere attempt to put a good case forward being mangled a little from the compression. But then that is more a criticism of my comprehension of the subject matter.

    I’ve looked at the report, and now I have to say that I am a bit confused as to what is being sold. Furthermore I have trouble believing that that asset parcel returns just 1 billion to the government.

    If that is all those assets can return to their owner, one has to ask why would anyone want to buy them, but then having bought them what do they have to do to make them give realistic returns? No doubt the answer is put the prices up. If that is the case then that is precisely what the Qld Govt should do, and then they do not need to sell the assets.

    Frankly, I think that the returns figures have been falsified to tell a story to justify an action. In this case the sale of the assets. Vote No, then get some honest business people onto the boards.

  70. BilB
    January 13th, 2015 at 16:43 | #70

    Oops computer jumped back a thread. This is normally an engineering type problem.

  71. Hermit
    January 13th, 2015 at 17:46 | #71

    Leaving FFs in the ground will need an implicit or explicit carbon price if the raw fuel price stays low. I wonder now if different approaches have different psychology. With carbon tax we had an explicit price of $25.40 per tCO2 but the punters rejected it. Apparently the RET has a 70% approval rating but according to ACIL Allen the implicit carbon price is $59. Go figure.

    This issue is well illustrated by Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. The subsoil there a.k.a. brown coal costs about $6 a tonne to dig up and there is said to be 500-800 years supply at present usage. Electricity made from it is a third the cost of what new nuclear would be. I see no way without carbon constraints or penalties we won’t be mining brown coal in the next century. Same holes in the ground different power stations, maybe with some toy CCS or algae growing for politician photo opps.

    As you hint perhaps Peak Oil will kick the bucket from under coal demand. Coming before 2020 I reckon. Even $6 coal could be too expensive in a depression. That’s why I like the idea of a floating carbon price under an ETS if only politicians could refrain from special deals for their favoured constituents. The Latrobe Valley can be used to grow spuds.

  72. Fran Barlow
    January 15th, 2015 at 10:04 | #72

    There being no current open thread …

    Stanford study suggests social cost of CO2 may be $USD220tCO2e rather than $USD37tCO2e


  73. Chris Short
    January 15th, 2015 at 10:25 | #73

    After cogitating for 24 hours, I still remain uncertain what the point of the article is.

    It can’t be an either/or argument as that’s never been the scenario for CCS in considered analysis.

    It can’t be that CCS doesn’t work – existing projects are/will store (some are finalising construction as we type) more than 3 times the change in Australia’s emissions for the last two years. This for a technology that in for its CC purposes is at a nascent demonstration stage.

    It could be well justified scepticism that the costs of CCS relative to limited global mitigation policies means CCS will always be ‘in the future’.

    It could be that if consideration was limited just to electricity generation and not that other large share of energy use, heat for industrial applications, renewables will ‘win’ that race.

    Though it looks like a bet that in the face of global mitigation policies sufficient to keep us near the 2 degree target will result in relative cost of energy storage options falling quicker and below that of CCS.

    But on that later point, this remains a chicken and egg argument to me. Sufficiently stringent policies will bring private CCS R&D back to (and above) the levels observed pre-Copenhagen. Further the key analog for the technology was the large falls in the capture costs of SOx/NOx following the US Clean Air Act amendments in 1990 that established a market in SOx/NOx- at a time when the cost of the existing technology was both high and not falling under the previous command and control approach to regulating SOx/NOx emissions (and so being implemented in a very limited way).

    Scepticism around technologies claims is warranted – and CCS perhaps more than most as beyond the research community, the NGOs, the technology suppliers and governments, there is no doubt that the use of the term ‘clean coal’ by the fossil fuel industry has many purposes – and not all of them in the global interest.

    At this stage – in a world where the use of renewables such as wind and solar account for a very very small share of total world energy consumption – it remains unclear why options should be closed off at this stage.

    CCS isn’t a ‘savior’ of the FF industry – the additional amount of FF that can be consumed with the technology relative to what must be left in the ground is well less than 10% (iirc) – but its use does make a significant different to the total cost of global mitigation (that’s a statement with many assumptions isn’t it :-).

    I remain sceptical that sufficient global action can be achieved in a timeframe sufficient to manage the multi-decadal process of changing our energy systems enough. But I live in hope I’m wrong.


  74. Fran Barlow
    January 15th, 2015 at 10:27 | #74


    Since you now ask how we can deal with the emissions of FHC that are unavoidable and quote a thread you say is germane I will quote some of what I contributed to that thread:

    While I don’t see algae to fuel as the shining light I did for decarbonising transport systems and providing firming for intermittents I did a decade ago, I certainly think that for $100 per tCO2e you could remove a lot of CO2e from the atmosphere and store it in the atmosphere and store it in ways that would be stable for hundreds if not thousands of years — long enough for humans to decarbonise energy, transport and industrial systems nearly completely and return concentrations to those obtaining 120 years ago.


    I’d also like to see us make use of algae to draw down CO2 and having done so, dry it blend it with some cheap relatively inert substance, compress it, and dump it at depth in the ocean, where the lack of heat, light, and the high water pressure ought to sequester it for eternity. That seems to me likely to be the cheapest method for drawing down CO2. If this could be done at around $100 tCO2e that would put it at around the community cost of CO2e and make it similar to the alleged cost of CC&S. There would surely be a compelling case because CC&S was going to require massive new energy, inexhaustible aquifers and an escalating delivery infrastructure, so its price was going to rise. And there was always the risk of uncontrolled massive releases of CO2 in concentrated form.

  75. John Quiggin
    January 15th, 2015 at 13:01 | #75

    t could be well justified scepticism that the costs of CCS relative to limited global mitigation policies means CCS will always be ‘in the future’.

    That’s pretty much it

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