Scuttlebutt: Energy

Scuttlebutt: Energy

     In my never-ending quest to bring you news that is not about our crazy, but dangerous, national circus, I would like to point out a potential breakthrough in energy production.  A company called NET Power has developed a method to burn natural gas while capturing all of the CO2 that results and having no emissions other than some water vapor.  

     Typically, power plants burn natural gas to make steam to turn a turbine.  The resulting CO2 is released into the atmosphere or expensive scrubbers are used to clean the exhaust.  NET Power's system burns natural gas with pure oxygen instead of atmospheric air to produce high pressure CO2 that is used to turn the turbine.  The system recovers most of the CO2 for reuse and the rest is captured and sold as a industrial product. This is done by means of something called the Allam Cycle.  I read a lot about it, but it is quite technical, so you amateur physicists out there can look it up online*.

     Toshiba is building the specialized turbine and other companies are involved to provide other aspects of the project.  NET Power's project in La Porte, Texas achieved first fire of its supercritical carbon dioxide (CO₂) demonstration power plant  at the end of May.  The La Porte success will allow NET Power to build larger facilities, each of which is envisioned to be commercial-scale 300 MW natural gas plants. 

     Calling NET Power a “game-changing carbon-capture power plant,” MIT Technology Review reported that “the technology could provide a cheap, clean, and flexible source of power for the grid, capable of ramping up and down with demand more easily than standard solar and wind plants can.” Earlier this year, MIT Technology Review also listed NET Power on its 2018 list of 10 breakthrough technologies.

     The economics are favorable to NET Power in that they do not have to have expensive equipment to clean their discharges.  Also, it would be possible to have  plants closer to users, since they will not be emitting pollution into neighborhoods.  This would  save the substantial transmission loss associated with huge centralized power plants or distant solar or wind power sources.

     This solves the problem of pollution at the generation site, but does nothing about the significant methane releases that occur as a result of extraction and pipeline transportation.  Unless natural gas producers take seriously their obligation to prevent methane leaks, we are only partly out of the woods and should still be looking toward greener sources..

     Way back in 1976 after the first oil shocks hit, Barry Commoner, an economist, ran for President while espousing the idea that natural gas should be our transition energy source while renewables were being worked economically into the energy grid (which by now has happened).  His theory was that you are not going to get the oil corporations to throw up their hands and walk away.  Their economic and political power is such that they must be included somehow in the energy picture and Commoner felt using natural gas instead of coal or oil was a much better way to go.  NET Power's technology makes that even more viable.

     I'm still hardcore about renewables, but I'm not so naive as to ignore Commoner's logic.



     Remember when the climate change deniers and fossil fuel defenders used to say that it doesn't matter what the United States does about CO2 and other pollutants because China was despoiling the atmosphere at such a rate that our efforts would be a waste of time and money?  Well, another one of their excuses for inaction has fallen by the wayside.

     It turns out that China is currently the  world’s leading investor in renewables. In 2014, China increased its investment to  $89.5 billion, up 32% from the previous year. This was nearly 73% more than the US, the next largest investor.  By 2020, the world’s largest energy user plans to have 100 GW of solar and 200 GW of wind installed.  The U.S. is currently fourth worldwide behind Germany and Japan with just over 50 GW.  In fact, from 2008 to January 2012, China held the top spot in clean energy investment and this year has instituted the world's largest cap and trade system covering some 7000 factories.  

     China's emerging middle class is demanding a reduction in air pollution while the government sees renewables as a source of  energy security since they import much of their oil.

     The Twelfth Five-Year Plan, the current plan, also places great emphasis on green energy.  Detailed incentive policies and programs include the Golden Sun program, which provides financial subsidies, technology support and market incentives to facilitate the development of the solar power industry.  On October 30, 2016, China formally joined the Paris Agreement, along with the United States.  It pledged to peak emissions “by around the year 2030,” with best efforts to peak significantly earlier, while planning to invest  $361 billion on renewable power generation by 2020.

     The IEA cut its coal growth outlook for China, reporting that the country’s coal consumption peaked in 2013.  In January 2017, under their Blues Skies Initiative, the Chinese government canceled the construction of  more that 100 coal-fired power plants across 13 provinces.  In just the first four months of this year China has had a drop of eight percent in coal consumption and a reduction in CO2 emission by five percent

     China is already investing more than $100 billion in domestic renewables every year. That is twice the level of US investment in domestic renewable energy and more than the annual investment of the US and the European Union combined.  This has positioned China as the  world's leading country in electricity production from renewable energy sources, with over double the generation of the second-ranking country, the United States.  

     It is not all smooth sailing for China's conversion to renewables.  The construction of solar panels and wind farms in China has outpaced the capacity of its electrical grid that now requires significant upgrades, but that is also in the planning stages.  The same need to upgrade the distribution system exists here.

     China still uses lots and lots of coal, but at least their government has acknowledged the leadership role their federal government must play to move away from fossil fuels.

     Can the same be said of our federal government?

. . . and then our tools shape us.

. . . and then our tools shape us.

Tiny Colossus of the Ocean Realm

Tiny Colossus of the Ocean Realm