CO2 emissions levelling out?

Preliminary estimates from the International Energy Agency, released in March, suggest that energy-related emissions of CO2[1] were unchanged in 2014 compared to 2013. Countries experiencing notable drops in emissions included China, Britain, Germany and the EU as a whole, but not, of course, Australia[2]

This has happened before, but only in years of global recession, whereas the global growth rate in 2014 was around 3 per cent. Of course, there are plenty of special factors such as a good year for hydro in China. Still, after looking carefully at the numbers, I’ve come to the conclusion that this really does represent, if not the long-sought peak in emissions, at least the end of the link between rising living standards and CO2 emissions.

The most striking feature of 2014 in this context was the behavior of fossil fuel prices. Coal prices had already fallen a long way from their peak levels in the years around the GFC, and they kept on falling through the year, even as coal mines began to close and lots of projects were abandoned. Oil prices remained at historically high levels until the middle of the year but then joined the downward trend, which has continued into 2015. Natural gas is a more complex story, since there isn’t a global market, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

Still, it seems to me that the 2014 outcome is a consistent with a story in which most growth in demand for energy services will be met by a combination of renewables and energy efficiency, and in which coal continues to lose ground to gas. The lack of demand implies that fossil fuel prices are likely to stay permanently below the levels anticipated when most recent projects were initiated.

Behind all this, it seems as if the various piecemeal measures introduced with the aim of switching away from fossil fuels are working better than almost anyone expected, and with minimal economic cost. Hopefully, this will encourage world leaders to set more ambitious targets, consistent with stabilising the global climate at temperatures 2 degrees or less above pre-industrial levels.

fn1. This excludes, for example, the effects of land use change, on which the IEA doesn’t collect data
fn2. At least after the repeal of the carbon tax

236 thoughts on “CO2 emissions levelling out?

  1. @Ronald Brak

    you have already been told that a horizontal square metre averages 2 Kw per day over a year if efficiency is 40%.

    At 20% (more realistic) you get 1 kw per day or 365 per year per sq metre.

    If per capita need is 13,346 KwHr per year (using US 2011 data

    Then you need 36.3 square metres per head.

    This is a row of panels 1 m high running for 36.3 metres (120 feet).

    This only applies to DC power. So household appliances would need to operate on 48 volts DC.

    For AC power you need to increase the need by around 1.25 (using data from Moree tracking farm).

    So if you are using 240v AC you need a run of 45.38 metres (150 feet) of panels in perfect situations.

    So for 22 million people on 240 AC – you need

    36.3 X 1.25 X 22 million square metres.

    In short

    1 billion sq metres

    And this is only perfect situation, open plain, facing north (or equivalent).

    As there are 8.6 million households in Australia (ABS data)- each needs minimum of 116 square metres.

    That is if the take-up is 100%.

    Fantasy.

  2. Ivor, the United States has a population 14 times larger than Australia and using your figure of “…around an average 600 million KwHr every hour,” I came up with 22 billion square meters. So, since we come to about the same conclusion, I’d like to know, what on earth have you been complaining about? Remember how I wrote you seemed confused? This is why. (Well, there are other reasons, but this is a big one.)

  3. @Ronald Brak

    You were specifically asked:

    “What is the calculation or assumptions that show: ‘About 22 billion square meters of panels.’ will generate 600 million KwHr every hour, rain or shine????”

    You have tried every trick in the book to avoid this.

    You have produced no assumptions, you have done no calculation.

    If you now agree with my calculation, then rooftop solar is a fantasy.

    Using per capita figures means that the size of the population is not relevant.

    Solar farms with wind and with CO2 capture with new technology (eg graphene sheets) may contain CO2 increases.

    But this will not stop global warming.

  4. No, Ivor, you did not specifically ask me to do that, and even if you did, I am not your slave. You asked if there was a calculation and I said yes because I had just quickly done one. And I gave you the answer, very roughly 22 billion square meters of solar panels. A thank you for doing that would be appreciated. Then you started asking me questions that made no sense because if you had bothered to actually check the result I gave, you would see we were in rough agreement. If you can’t be bothered to check whether or not my calculation agrees with your figures, then that’s your own look out. So now that realize your figures roughly agree with mine, it would now be appropriate for you to appologise for not bothering to check whether or not you actually agreed with my result.

  5. Per capita, at any given moment, we currently require 1.8kW of power. Readily accessible solar and wind energy can provide per capita power of 90kW. I have seen attempts to work this out, and most of them fall into the same ballpark, same order of magnitude or better. In total terms, the current mob use 12.5TW, and in 2030 BAU and population growth takes this to 16.9TW. The current readily accessible solar and wind energy sources could provide 630TW. Note that the consumption figures are maximum power drawn at any given moment of the day or night. Average power figures would be considerably lower, but this seems to be a common way of provisioning, i.e. using peak power figures.

    Anyway, even in 2030 with our increased power requirements under BAU, the readily accessible solar and wind energy sources are almost two orders of magnitude larger.

    People have worked on whether we have the physical resources to construct the necessary equipment, and we do.

    Sadly, we are ignoring some opportunities to make the task significantly easier: aim for population decline, increase energy efficiency of everything we do, plan our electronic equipment for recycling, find alternatives for high energy density products like aluminium where possible, use feet and bikes more than we do now, require apartments and high rise to meet stringent environmental conditions, passive cooling and heating where possible, etc. Cut out some of our wasteful activities. This would all be a lot easier if we had federal governments which accepted the reality of the problem looming large. Sadly, we don’t have that government.

  6. @Ronald Brak

    I suggest you read your own post of April 16 at 15:32. The first 4 or 5 lines clearly demonstrate that you knew you were specifically asked.

    You were also specifically asked for the calculation at 18:02 on 15 April.

    You have produced nothing to back up your claim and it therefore has no credibility.

    Please do not plagiarise my work. However you may accept it as reasonably correct if you like.

    I would not claim it is necessarily correct until it has been independently corroborated.

    However it does appear to be better than your attempt which you have kept secret.

  7. @Ivor
    Your wish is my command: for the power estimates, see this Scientific American article, “A path to sustainable energy by 2030”, by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucci, pp 58–65, November 2009. The numbers are given early into the article, or numbers which can be converted readily enough. For population figures, there are numerous sources, but Wikipedia is probably good enough.

    The IEA “2014 Key World Energy Statistics” has conversion tables, and plenty of breakdown tables, for energy production, consumption, etc. You can find it here.

    As an aside, my daily electricity use is 8.56kWh/day for the previous quarter, which includes a chunk of Summer—and air-conditioner use. I don’t heat the apartment in winter as there is no need. I don’t have solar PV, just straight mains power.

    That is probably an over-estimate of my annualised per day rate, but if we use it as a starting point, that gives 3.1244MWhr/a electricity use (from the utility only), or approx 11.25GJ/a, where I have converted from MWhr to GJ, using 1kWh = 3.6MJ, i.e. 1MWh = 3.6GJ. Multiply that by 7 billion people (i.e. 7×10^9) and it gives approx 80EJ/a, as a world electricity consumption per annum. This is pretty close (ballpark) to the figures in the IEA report for 2014. Metric system prefixes available here.

    Going the other way, my power consumption averages 350W = 350J/s. For someone in the western world, this is okay, although I’d like to shrink it further.

    Depending on sources, whether grid electricity or just fossil fuel generated electricity is used, the figures obviously vary considerably—but still within the same order of magnitude.

  8. Rog, I’m afraid that all that’s happening there is AGL is admitting the reality that new renewable generation is now cheaper than new fossil fuel generation and that their existing fossil fuel capacity won’t last forever. As now, they will oppose carbon pricing and rooftop solar if they see a pecuniary advantage in doing so. But I suppose this is good news in that they could have instead said something vague about how coal is the future or worse, started a PR campaign to convince everyone what a great planet Venus is.

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