Only a mug punter would bet on carbon storage over renewables

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.

75 thoughts on “Only a mug punter would bet on carbon storage over renewables

  1. 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.

  2. @faustusnotes

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. @BilB

    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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. “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.

  14. @Nick
    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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. @Hermit

    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.

  19. 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.

  20. @Ikonoclast
    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.

  21. 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.


  22. Faustus

    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.

  23. 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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