Kyoto – A Perspective (Part 36)

Posted on Wed 06/11/2008 by



I’ve included this pie chart again because I want you to look at with more than just a cursory glance, and to achieve that aim, I’m going to refer you back to it a couple of times during this post.
I’m a cautious guy, and if I commit something to a post, then I really like to be absolutely certain of my facts. I sort of trust the Internet because it is just so huge that anything can be verified from other sources. I’ve learned to change the wording in the search engine box to cover numerous bases, and hope that I can find that further verification.
That’s why I love the most boring site I’ve found in constructing this Kyoto series. That site is the US Government Energy Information Administration website. It is a huge site and is chock full of statistics. There would have to be hundreds of pages and you need to work hard to make head or tail of it. For people with no background in electrical engineering, the site is meaningless, except for some of the diagrams.
One diagram you see above. This is from the March quarterly report. This pie chart is interesting, but not for long once you work your way around the slices. To different people the chart means different things. To the uninitiated, it could be used to engender false impressions.
However, it’s still just a diagram you wouldn’t dwell on for long, and that’s why I have specifically come back to it with the idea of doing just that. Dwelling on it. Explaining it. Pointing things out from the chart that look innocuous, until someone uses it to refer to other facts which put this chart into a greater highlight.

I mentioned earlier that I like to use numerous sources to verify things before I post. The one single thing that gave me cause for concern was this.
I just couldn’t believe when, way back in Part 11, I explained how a coal fired plant worked. I said that one of the large baseload power plants generating 2000MW used on average 10,000 tons of coal per day, and on hot midsummer days, might actually burn 30,000 tons of coal. That caused me some consternation because it just ‘didn’t sound quite right’. So, I checked, and then checked again, aware that website B might have got the fact from site A, thus perpetuating the mistake. At every independent place I checked, that fact was borne out. I also came across further facts proving the original one to be true, with none better than the Bruce Mansfield Plant in Pennsylvania which burns 6.5 Million tons of coal each year, averaging at a tick under 18,000 tons of coal per day, for the whole year.
Why I’m concentrating on coal is because that’s the thrust of the Kyoto Protocol, draconian reductions in CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants.

Look again at that pie chart.
Power from coal fired plants is 48% of the total.

Now I want you to read the following slowly, and then when you’ve finished reading it, go back and read it again.
The US produces one quarter of all the electrical power on Planet Earth. (Read it again)

Keep that fact in mind.
Now, like the 10,000 tons per day, there’s another fact that just doesn’t sound right, but believe me, I went and checked in as many places as I could, and it’s true.

Of the total power generated on Planet Earth, the power generated by coal fired power plants is 65% of the total.
In the US it’s 48% and going down. That Planet Earth total of 65% is rising.
Look at that pie chart now with different eyes.
Working through the math component here, if the US produces one quarter of the Earth’s total, and you were to take that US quarter out of the total, then the rest of Planet Earth is producing just on 72% of it’s total power from coal fired power plants, and that percentage is rising at a fairly even rate.

Wait a minute, you say. The UN directly pointed the Kyoto protocol at the US, saying that they were a profligate user of coal to make electrical power, something they did not to harm the environment, but as an essential of life. The UN directs the US to pay for the developing Countries of the World to have that essential of life, to pay a tax for burning that coal, and to replace those coal fired plants.

The US. 48% and shrinking.
The rest of Planet Earth. 72% and rising.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds suspiciously to me like the US is being a good citizen, actively doing all it can to bring that number down, while the rest of the World is hell bent on burning coal, chasing that essential of life.

This is even further borne out by the following.
I mentioned earlier that coal fired power plants are falling out of vogue in the US, and you can see why. Environmentalists would scream blue murder if plans came to fruition to actually construct one of them.

So let’s look at some forward estimates, shall we.
Between now and 2012, for the next 4 years, the plan in the US is for thirteen large baseload 2000MW plants to come on stream. That’s thirteen, and three of them are carried over from 2007 and 2008 that were due to be finished, but aren’t yet. In China alone, they are bringing on line one large coal fired plant per week and will be doing so for possibly the next five to eight years. Those 13 plants over the next 4 years mooted for the US will be surpassed in the next three months in China, actually before the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

While that’s sinking in, go back to the pie chart. Look across the chart to the area that says 3%. That shows the percentage for renewable sources of power. The total in this area for the rest of the World is right on 1% and staying fairly stationary, not because nothing is happening, because two things ARE happening, and they need to be read in conjunction with each other.

Because Coal is increasing so rapidly, the percentage for those renewable sources for the rest of the World is shrinking. What is keeping it stable is that in the US, renewable sources of power are virtually expanding while you watch. So, what is happening in the US is what is driving the rest of the Planet.
Consider this when environmentalists yell at the top of their voices that not enough is being done.
When renewable sources are taken into account, different countries around the World are in the top position as implementing the use of that renewable source for the production of power. In half a dozen areas, different countries are at number one. However, the US is in the top three for all of them, and that is what is keeping that average rising in the US.
The move away from coal in the US is pronounced, but what is more pronounced is this.
The number of power plants constructed using renewable sources in the US for the last two years has been just under 8,000. When you look at the figures for further years, the numbers are not the same, but the reason for that is this. Those plants are virtually all being constructed by private Companies, and the reason they do not yet appear is because of commercial confidentiality, and just in the last 12 weeks of chasing around looking at power sources shows me that good US citizens fronting up US Companies are producing these plants in numbers.
Therein lies part of the solution in my eyes. Numerous smaller plants, boutique plants if you will, all feeding onto the grid to take up the slack from the reduction of coal.

The US is also leading the push in combined cycle turbines using natural gases and other gases to run the turbines, and over the next four years, 46,000MW of power will be coming on line onto the grid, the equivalent of around 20 of those large baseload plants. Admitted this might still be fossil fuel power production, but the CO2 emissions from these plants are barely the smallest fraction as from coal fired plants.

Now look at the number for nuclear power plants on the pie chart. 19.4% That number will only be going one way. Down. You know how many nuclear power plants are proposed to come on line over the next five years? Not one, and keep in mind, it takes 7 to 10 years to construct one of these. Incidentally remember how I mentioned France has the cleanest air of any Industrialised Country on the planet, and that’s because the bulk of their electricity is produced by nuclear power, nearly 80% as opposed to coal fired power plants producing only 4% of the total.

So, a simple pie chart that barely rates a second glance now becomes something of a badge of honour as opposed to an accusatory finger being pointed at you. See how context now becomes so important. People point at those coal fired power plants and say shame.
I say look at the pie chart and see just how the US is not only driving the World, but is doing it more responsibly than the rest of the World.