Archive for November, 2011

Germany: feed-in cost versus results

November 6, 2011

Dr.-Ing Helmut Alt is a professor of the  Electromechanical and Informatics department of the FH (Fachhochschule = Technical University) Aachen, and an outspoken realist on climate and energy problems (whose writings I always find very interesting). In a recent presentation he shows a nice diagram which gives the evolution of the yearly sums spent as feed-in tariff for renewables (red curve, left axis) and the percentage of renewable energy produced in Germany (blue curve, right axis):

A question that comes immediately :  is the relation-ship linear (i.e.  is the cost proportional to the result) or is the relationship more complicated ? The usual statistical test to compare different mathematical models is to calculate for each model the goodness of the fit squared (normally called R2, which gives the fraction of the variance explained by the model. R2 = 1 would be a perfect match, R2 = 0 if the model is totally inadequate). I entered the numbers in my Statistica software, and computed 3 different models:

1. an affine model: cost = a + b*percentage

2. a quadratic model: cost = a + b*percentage + c*percentage^2

3. an exponential model: cost = a + b*exp(c*percentage)

Here are the results, rounded to the 3rd decimal:

linear model:…………….R2 = 0.986

quadratic model:………R2 = 0.991

exponential model:……R2 = 0.992

All R2’s are rather high, but the calculation confirms what eye-balling suggests: the costs seem to rise faster than the result; the exponential model reigns!  This comes as a surprise, as the common political wisdom tells that expanding renewables will become cheaper with time. Germany’s  BMU* data show that this is not the case, at least for the time period 2000 to 2010.

It will be interesting to follow this rather unwelcome evolution during the coming years; if the exponential model holds, Germany could run into an unbearable cost wall sooner than expected!

*BMU = Bundesumweltministerium

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CCS – Is ArcelorMittal betting on a dead horse?

November 5, 2011

Carbon Capture and Sequestration was a big subject  in environmental policies up to a couple of months ago. The IEA sees CCS as one oft the most indispensable technologies to limit atmospheric CO2 concentrations (see Newsletter from Sept. 2010).

Meanwhile, things are not running smoothly at all. Environmental groups see CCS as unacceptable, and for once I do share this point of view. Prototype and tests projects are biting dust one after the other: the latest victim is Norwegian Aker Clean Carbon company, which is closing its test side in Scotland (read here). Another  one is AEP (American Electric Power which shut down its  CCS test side in West Virgina.

In Europe Vattenfall continues to run a very small 30 MW pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe (Germany); this miniscule plant would prepare the way for a larger 300 MW facility added to the existing Jänschwalde power plant. But these plans are also on a rough path, as told by the Spiegel in a July 2011 article. Indeed, when the German  Länder become the deciders for permitting or forbidding CCS on their territory, the future for Jähnschwalde will be bleak.

In a report dated April 2011 Lawrence Berkeley National Lab on China’s energy outlook for 2050, write “ If CCS were implemented … with 500 Mt CO2 captured and sequestered by 2050, total primary energy use would increase by 36 Mtce to 5517 Mtce in 2050 due to CCS energy requirements for carbon separation, pumping and long-term storage, but carbon emissions would decline by 4% in 2050″  . This means that as a CO2 removal technique,  CCS would be only a very small contributor. The gigantic investments surely are more pain than gain.

ArcelorMittal is making big cuts in its European steel works, and will probably shut down major part of its Luxembourg and French mills in the (very) near future.. To sweeten the pill, the French are promised a rosy future for its Florange plant based on ULCOS (Ultra low carbon-dioxyde steel making) which mandatory needs CCS.  So even if ULCOS is quite an exciting project, its reliance upon CCS might be a neck breaker.

The big question remains: Do we really need CCS ? Would it not be possible to direct the research to a route that will use the inevitably emitted CO2 as a fodder for algae that may be converted into hydrocarbons, and give a fuel that while still emitting CO2 would better the overall balance.

The decade long stillstand in global temperature (or ocean heat content, which might be a much better metric for global warming) tells us that the simplistic and politically correct relation-ship between CO2 emissions and global temperature change seems to be more of a virtual than a true type of reality. The obvious conclusion is that there is no hurry to rush into costly and complicated CO2 removal technologies. Alas, A floundering ULCOS  would still not be good news for Florange .

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Update 15 Dec. 2011:

Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde CCS project has been scrapped: read here.

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Update Dec. 2012:

Now comes the news that Florange has also officially withdrawn its funding application, leaving exactly zero CCS projects in the running for the �1.5 billion that was available from Brussels. In other words, CCS in Europe is now totally flat on its back.” (European Energy Review)