April 26, 2007
China Greenhouse Emissions Pass US In 2007 or 2008

International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol says China will surpass the United States in greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 or 2008 at the latest.

Mr Birol, of the Paris-based IEA, which advises governments on energy policy, said: "China's economic growth and use of coal production over the last few months has surprised us all.

"If they continue to surprise us in terms of very high economic growth and corresponding coal production, China will overtake the US much earlier than 2009 - more like this year or the next."

China doesn't just overtake the United States and then stop. In 10 years time China's emissions might be double the US. Think about what that means. Projections of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations might be low. Efforts of industrialized countries to reduce emissions might get more than cancelled out by growth in China, India, and other Asian developing countries.

China is turning on a new coal-fired electric power plant once every 4 days.

Latest data shows China is building a coal-fired power plant every four days, British foreign ministry official John Ashton said on Monday.

China's rate of coal plant construction could even accelerate as compounding effects of economic growth increase the absolute amount of economic growth per year.

The attempt by European countries to decrease carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions counts for little compared to China's rapid expansion in coal mining and burning.

Growth in the emerging Asian giant's emissions puts in perspective Western efforts to fight climate change, Birol said.

"What we do in Europe may be with good intentions, may be very ethical... but if you put it in terms of numbers its meaning is very limited."

The international treaty approach to emissions is not going to work. The less developed countries are basically arguing that the more developed have polluted so much and the less developed are basically saying "you should stop so we can have our turn".

Poorer people are less concerned about pollution than richer people. Poorer people want more stuff. Richer people have enough stuff that they turn more of their attention to fulfilling other desires such as better esthetics and health.

In China the levels of conventional pollutants are way higher than what you'll find in industrialized countries. The Chinese aren't going to find it in themselves to care about CO2 emissions. They haven't even yet placed much importance on conventional pollutants which have much direct and immediate effects on health.

If human-caused global warming is a problem then the most efficacious way to slow and reverse CO2 emissions is to greatly accelerate the rate of development of clean energy technologies. The Chinese would give up coal and embrace cleaner sources of energy if those cleaner sources were cheaper than coal. Sufficiently advanced technologies will lower the costs of photovoltaics, wind, nuclear, and other non-fossil fuel energy sources. Prices will drop so far that market forces alone will cause a phase-out of fossil fuels use.

Clean energy technologies that cost less will provide many benefits. Even if you count yourself a global warming skeptic keep in mind that cheaper clean energy technologies will reduce conventional pollution. Also, lower costs mean higher living standards and less money sent to the Middle Eastern Muslim oil sheikdoms.

Some populations will subject themselves to carbon taxes and other costs to lower carbon dioxide emissions. But most won't. Even the countries that have imposed higher energy prices on themselves have limits to how far they'll go to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But cheap ways to produce clean energy could solve this problem. We need a big push to develop the needed technologies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 April 26 10:44 PM  Energy Policy


Comments
Pete said at April 27, 2007 12:51 AM:

.....Clean energy technologies that cost less will provide many
benefits. Even if you count yourself a global warming skeptic keep in
mind that cheaper clean energy technologies will reduce conventional
pollution. Also, lower costs mean higher living standards and less
money sent to the Middle Eastern Muslim oil sheikdoms.....


The sheiks get paid in US$ for their oil. The oil customers gain access
to this currency by selling their goods and services to the US. This US
currency circle is completed by channelling the sheiks' dollars back to
the US (of course there is some compensation business happening).
Meaning the US gains goods and services and get their dollars back
through providing fire power, military personnel and protection,
delivery of industrial goods etc).
It's clear the US economy is based mainly on oil. I don't have to
mention that technological advancement goes hand in hand with the
strength of the economy.
Is it therefore really in the best interest of a technologically
advanced US to have less dollars flowing in this circle thus risking to
loose the technological edge?

Reality Czech said at April 27, 2007 7:07 AM:

China cannot sustain its carbon boom by itself.  It is a big importer of coal and the second biggest importer of oil in the world.  A squeeze on those imports (say, by some problems in Australia or a cutoff of Somali oil) could put the brakes on Chinese emissions and perhaps bring its financial house of cards down too.

Jake said at April 27, 2007 7:21 AM:

However unlike the US, China is acting. They have plans to build 40 nuclear power plants in the near future. This will double the nuclear electric generation capacity in the world.

These plants are being constructed in a joint venture between China and Westinghouse. The latest technology will be used, and lessons learned will enable them to dominate the nuclear plant construction industry in the future.

Nick said at April 27, 2007 8:43 AM:

Pete,

"It's clear the US economy is based mainly on oil."

No, the US economy is DEPENDENT on oil, just as it's dependent on steel, and other commodities. Oil provides only 40% of our energy, and we would be much better off if we replaced it with renewables (and nuclear, if necessary).

Reality Czech,

"China...is a big importer of coal"

As of 2005 China imported a very small % of it's consumption because it was cheaper to import coal by water to the coast, than transport from the interior. Exports were still higher than imports.

They will have little difficulty burning quite enough coal to make OECD CO2 emissions reductions irrelevant.

Jake,

One objection I have to nuclear is that it's less useful or appropriate for places like Africa, or even India. I would mount an Apollo project to develop renewables.

Jake said at April 27, 2007 9:45 AM:

Nick:

Actually the US recently signed a deal to provide India with nuclear power technology and the Indian government is committed to build many power plants.

These plants are vital to the planet as there is a severe electricity shortage in India forcing people to use open dung and charcoal fires for cooking and heating. These open fires create horrific air pollution and India is constantly covered with a brown cloud. This cloud is definitely a weather changing mass.

It is ironic that with the China and India nuclear power deals, the Bush Administration has done more for the world environment than all the environmental organizations have done since the dawn of man.

rsilvetz said at April 27, 2007 10:28 AM:

For the obvious alternative, this week we send you this take on the best way to save the Earth.

CO2 is a non-issue. Once we know that the other planets seem to be warming, you know that neither man nor CO2 is the cause. Thankfully more and more scientists are coming forward to put the brakes on this Kyoto insanity.

As to particulates, which are a local threat, the first round of children with asthma and the first round of emphysema patients will force particulate precipitators into every coal plant. Japan will most likely pay for it like the last time, with zero-interest loans.

Personally I hope China and India absolutely break the back of the whole greenie movement. Bringing these two nations into the productive fold will improve, in the long term, everyone's standard of living.

Pete said at April 27, 2007 3:23 PM:

@REALITY CZECH

......A squeeze on those imports (say, by some problems in Australia or a cutoff of Somali oil) could put the brakes on Chinese emissions and perhaps bring its financial house of cards down too.....

Despite of Australia's massive exports of minerals and coal they manage to accrue a huge trade deficit (from top of my head it's the world's second largest behind the US' - something like over 80% of GDP). Almost all consumer goods Australia imports are made in China. AUS (and other Nations) would be thrown back into the stone age if something happened in regards to China's energy/raw material supply. Hence there will never be a "problem in AUS" in this regards, they are not a suicidal nation.
China's financial house of cards? Mum and dad investors' fund managers just won't stop enjoying their two digit growth rate....you get my drift.

@NICK

........No, the US economy is DEPENDENT on oil, just as it's dependent on steel, and other commodities. Oil provides only 40% of our energy, and we would be much better off if we replaced it with renewables (and nuclear, if necessary)......

The 40% are still there because it doesn't make economic sense to reduce this figure otherwise it'd been done by now.
So where is the logic in saying "we would be much better off..."?

Nick said at April 27, 2007 4:12 PM:

"it doesn't make economic sense to reduce this figure otherwise it'd been done by now."

It didn't make economic sense when oil was $15/barrel, but it does now. Oil has only been expensive for a couple of years. Last time oil was expensive (1970's) the US reduced it's consumption over a period of roughly 10 years (it didn't regain it's 1970's level until 1993). This reduction would have continued and accelerated if the price of oil hadn't collapsed, due largely to market responses to high prices: a reduction in consumption, and expansion of production.

It takes time to develop substitutes, and people have to be convinced that the change is long-term before they make large investments. It's tougher to convince people of that (especially the oil industry) because of the last collapse of high oil prices. Many people in the 70's assumed the change was permanent, and got badly burned. Many oil companies were forced out of existence (largely in the form of mergers).

Oil consumption at $60/bbl will start falling because consumers will find alternatives: there are too many alternatives that are cheaper. Unless oil supplies fall as fast as does consumption, prices will fall. Of course, if oil supplies peak and fall faster than consumption, prices could still rise temporarily, but eventually fuel-switching and efficiencies will largely eliminate oil consumption at that price.

Of course, there are costs not figured into oil prices, such as GW, pollution, security concerns. If you price those in, consumers will switch even faster.

Pete said at April 27, 2007 5:18 PM:

@NICK

No doubt oil alternatives will have to outpace the price decline of oil in order to become the preferred long term alternative. I just can't see any alternatives which have these qualities.

Besides, if those alternatives really exist, is the world going to pay for them in US$? (see my first contribution).

Randall Parker said at April 27, 2007 7:12 PM:

Reality Czech,

China has nearly half as much coal as the United States and the US coal reserves are enormous.

The distribution of coal reserves around the world varies notably from that of oil and gas, in that significant reserves are found in the United States and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) but not in the Middle East. The United States with 26 percent and the FSU with 23 percent account for nearly half of global coal reserves. China (12 percent), Australia (8 percent), Germany (7 percent), South Africa (5 percent), and Poland (2 percent) also have significant amounts of the world's recoverable coal reserves.

If China imports coal that is a fairly recent development and probably reflects a delay in getting more coal mines into production. China's actual coal reserves might be several times its currently confirmed coal reserves.

China has proven, recoverable coal reserves estimated (as of January 2005) at about 125 billion short tons, and potential reserves of as much as 4 trillion short tons. More than half of this is bituminous and anthracite, and most of the reserves, including almost all of the highest-quality coal, is located in the northeastern part of the country.

China is presently the world's greatest coal producer and accounts for about 30% of the world's total annual coal production. China is also the world's greatest coal consumer, accounting for more than 28% of the world's total annual coal consumption. China's consumption is sufficiently less than its production that China is now a major coal exporter.

Jake,

China's planned 40 reactors (over how many years?) is the equivalent of less than the coal plants they'll bring on line in the next 6 months. I'll be impressed by China's nuclear plans when they decide to stop building coal plants and build only nuclear plants. Though all that'll do (if and when it happens) is slow their total growth in CO2 emissions, not stop or reverse it.

Randall Parker said at April 27, 2007 8:51 PM:

Jake,

Also, 40 nukes will not double world nuclear electric generation capacity. The US has 103 nuclear power plants. The world's existing 435 reactors have 370 GW of capacity. Even if the Chinese plants are 2 gigs each (my guess is less than that) that'll only add up to 80 GW.

BTW, nukes supply 16% of world electric capacity. In the US coal supplies over half. My guess is in China coal's a much higher percentage of total electric capacity. But maybe someone else wants to google on it. Real facts are really handy to use in arguments...

Peter said at April 27, 2007 9:16 PM:

@JAKE and RANDALL

The horrifc air pollution from burning dung etc also serves as a reminder. The harder the direct consequences of pollution are felt, the higher the pressure to clean up the act.
Polluting countries usually rely heavily on their own work force. Their growth is increasingly hampered by environmental factors and there is a point in time when it's platoed out. The Chinese population probably has to endure a few more coal fired power plants among other things before they achieve maximum output under these 'dirty' conditions.
The pressure for cleaner power rises with every new coal plant going online. If they feel clean coal power can ever be achieved, then this development will come from within. If not, then there will be enough time and (Westinghouse) knowhow to increasingly go nuclear.

Pete said at April 27, 2007 9:30 PM:

forgot something:

China apparently has no significant uranium resources. Australia quickly jumped in to fill this gap.
Hmm, US technology for the reactors and fuel which is traded for US$?
No wonder, China is slow to take this path.

Nick said at April 28, 2007 7:32 AM:

Pete,

"I just can't see any alternatives which have these qualities."

Ground transportation uses roughly 2/3 of US oil, about equal to our imports. The first, easy alternative is efficiency: the US CAFE is about 22 MPG, and the Prius gets at least double that. We could cut our consumption in half with minor, cost-effective capital expenditure.

If necessary, a 2nd alternative is conservation: internet enabled car-pooling could quickly cut commuting-related consumption by 75%, with some inconvenience but almost no additional cost.

The 3rd alternative is electricity: plug-in hybrids can cut oil consumption by 90%. They are likely to have a life-cycle total cost of ownership which is less than current ICE vehicles even at current gas prices, but they will take several years to ramp up: the batteries are ready, but engineering the battery packs and power controls will take a couple years. Because they provide schedulable storage, they are a perfect match for intermittent renewables like wind & solar.

Nick said at April 28, 2007 7:37 AM:

Randall & Reality Czech,

Both the US and China import minor amounts of coal in coastal areas where it's cheaper to import coal by water than transport it a long distance over land. Both countries export more than they import.

Randall Parker said at April 28, 2007 9:54 AM:

Nick,

There's a fourth alternative: synthetic liquid hydrocarbons.

I'm increasingly thinking that liquid hydrocarbon fuels that aren't derived from fossil fuels will have a big future. Liquid hydrocarbons have such large storage advantages (energy per unit weight, ease of storage, length of storage, ease of distribution) that it does not make sense to abandon them.

The question in my mind: Will the diffuse nature of CO2 in the atmosphere make the capital costs of atmospheric CO2 extraction too high? I'm picturing a nanomaterial that takes sunlight energy and uses it to split hydrogen from oxygen in water to then attach the hydrogen to carbon in CO2.

One way I can see to make such a system work: Have the nanomaterial generate hydrogen and electricity and have the ratio be dynamically adjustable (by flipping a nanoswitch). If the winds are blowing and bringing more CO2 into contact with the material then more CO2 could get extracted from the atmosphere to get reduced into CHx chains.

Now, all this requires many many scientific and technological advances to make it possible. But it seems well within the realm of the possible. So it will become doable some day.

Ramona said at April 28, 2007 12:46 PM:

Kyoto is dead, and China means to see that it stays dead!

Reality says that fossil fuels will supply most of the world's energy for the next century. By the end of the century, nuclear fission will probably overtake fossil fuels, including coal. By the end of the next century, nuclear fusion will be the dominant supplier of energy to human societies. In all that time, renewables will never exceed 30% of total production.

Nick said at April 28, 2007 1:03 PM:

Ramona,

"In all that time, renewables will never exceed 30% of total production."

Do you have evidence for this, like a quantitative, detailed analysis, or are you just assuming something, like that renewables have too much intermittency?

Randall Parker said at April 28, 2007 1:50 PM:

Ramona,

Peak oil and peak natural gas will ensure that of the fossil fuels only coal and maybe oil shale can provide a major portion of our energy needs any time beyond 30 years from now. Coal has a big short and medium term future. But I'm having a hard time believing it has a big future beyond 30 or 40 years from now.

I think the costs of non-fossil fuel energy sources will decline a great deal. Photovoltaics in particular has the biggest potential for cost reduction because nanotubes in photovoltaic paint will make photovoltaics not much more expensive than painting a house.

I expect fuel packaging advances to boost energy per nuclear power plant by 50% or more and without a big increase in capital costs. I expect other materials advances to lower nuclear power costs.

Wind power has fallen quite a lot and keeps falling as the propellers get bigger. How much farther does wind's cost have to fall? Another factor of 2?

Nick said at April 28, 2007 3:59 PM:

Randall & Ramona,

"Coal has a big short and medium term future"

There's a fascinating article about coal in the current BusinessWeek. In it the CEO of Peabody coal (the largest coal producer in the world) argues for the future of coal. The argument is presented that coal will likely get some kind of carbon surcharge, perhaps around $27/ton, but that coal would still be viable because it would still be cheaper than natural gas.

I'm fascinated by this logic. I think that $27/ton amounts to about 2 cents per kwh (exact calculations, anyone?), and that would raise the cost of coal from around 4 cents/kwh to about 6 cents, well into the range of the cost of wind, even now. Wind is likely to fall from about 6 cents (plus or minus 2 cents) to about 4 cents in the next 10 years, with bigger blades, cheaper manufacturing (IIRC the blades are almost hand-made now), and cheaper offshore platforms (and, yes, Randall, I wouldn't be surprised to see 3 cents sometime reasonably soon thereafter). Wind is going to eat coal's lunch.

Randall is right about the future of PV, but if you're skeptical about relying on future advances you can look to things like Nanosolar, which promises to dramatically cut the cost of PV in the very near future.

Peter said at April 28, 2007 4:45 PM:

@NICK

Peabody may appear to be biased, but I think they're spot on.

Ask yourself how renewables are seen through the eyes of a developing country which needs to build a new coal plant every four days to satisfy its hunger for energy. That's 90 new plants per year. Assuming an output of 1Gig per plant, that's 90Gigs per year. With this capacity they can produce an additional 90Gig*6000hrs=360 trillion Wh of energy every year.

Solar:
To produce one Wh of solar enery you have to install PV which costs about 1 $ for the panel alone. One would have to fork out 360 trillion $ plus cost for inverters and cabling. Because the sun only shines for half a day (weather conditions permitted) you'd also have to invest heavily in huge battery storage. This could bring the cost of installation to close to one quadrillion $. And this does not include the cost of production facilities for the PVs.

Wind:
Take an average wind generator's rated power of 1 Meg. Under real life conditions this machine produces about 5 MWh per day. You'd need to install 72 thousand machines per year or about 200 every day. Again, because they are spread over a wide and remote area, cabling costs become enormous.

What's easily overlooked:
Coal is not only used for electricity generation.
Coal is also one of the main ingredients for steel.
Meaning no coal no steel, it just becomes impossible to try and spend trillions on alternative electricity sources if you can't even produce the supporting hardware.

Last but not least, renewables do not qualify for the condition I raised in my first contribution (top of thread).

There just ain't no substitutes for coal. There is just no development/progress without coal. Not now, not in the past and not in the future.

Randall Parker said at April 28, 2007 4:56 PM:

Nick,

I can see coal getting used for peak power instead of natural gas. But if a coal carbon tax boosts the cost of coal electric by 2 cent/kwh then nuclear becomes cheaper than coal for baseline demand.

BTW, I see a bigger future for nuclear power in the US southeast because winds are weakest there.

Coal, nuclear, and wind are the players now for new electric generation capacity. Eventually solar will become a player too. But I don't have a good feel for when that'll happen.

Randall Parker said at April 28, 2007 6:01 PM:

Pete,

Donald Sadoway at MIT (who I've quoted in the past on the prospects of battery research) may have found a way to make steel without coke.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and holder of 13 patents, Mr. Sadoway, 55, has researched how NASA might extract oxygen from moon rocks for the space program. He believes that the same process, similar to the way aluminum has been made for more than 100 years, can be used to make iron. Moreover, the process will create another marketable commodity -- oxygen -- instead of polluting carbon gasses, Mr. Sadoway said.

He's not just blowing lunar gas. He's persuaded the American Iron and Steel Institute to take a closer look and to pay him to do the looking. The industry trade group, mindful of growing efforts to tighten industrial plant emission standards, has given Mr. Sadoway $500,000 for a two-year study to see if his concept -- known as molten oxide electrolysis -- can be commercialized.

Electricity from a nuclear power plant could operate a steel mill without any coal involved and without CO2 emissions.

Peter said at April 28, 2007 6:06 PM:

@RANDALL

.....Coal, nuclear, and wind are the players now for new electric generation capacity.........

The whole developed world is currently looking at how to prevent climate change. Presuming it's all man made, then nuclear for electricity baseload and coking coal for steel with electricity cogeneration seems to be the way to go. Yes, wind too as a decoration.

But what about the supply side of things?

The US apparently have both.
What about India and China though?

Are we going to help them out by letting them have cheap access to uranium?

If not, then our own efforts toward carbon emissions will be dwarfed by their increased output....

solar_man said at April 28, 2007 9:14 PM:

"Eventually solar will become a player too. But I don't have a good feel for when that'll happen."

If you look at the historical trend, solar should be extremely cheap by 2025 or so. But it could have an impact by 2020. Because it has been on an exponential curve, there should be a huge differrence between 2015 and 2025.


Nick said at April 28, 2007 10:58 PM:

Peter,

Where the heck did you get $1 per watt-hour? The correct figure is about $.3 per kilowatt-hour, or $.0003 per watt-hour. On the other hand, no one is suggesting solar PV for Chinese central power generation, as it's direct costs are clearly 3-10x higher (depending on a lot of variables) than for competing sources, especially coal. That's just for the moment, though.

Wind in the US has a capacity factor of about 30%, not 20% (5 hours divided by 24). Offshore is higher.

Randall & Peter,

There's a very high probability that PV's costs will fall to under $.10 per kwh in the next 10 years, and that in about 10 years that production volumes will rise to about 60GW per year, enough to account for more than half of peak generation capacity needed. Peter, don't forget that PV competes with retail, peak power prices, not wholesale average prices. At $.10 per kwh it will take the market by storm. Utilities will be unable to stop consumer-side installations.

Nick said at April 28, 2007 11:05 PM:

"Last but not least, renewables do not qualify for the condition I raised in my first contribution (top of thread)."

Peter, I didn't understand your condition. Are you trying to say that we need to buy oil, in order to give oil exporters money, so that they can send that money back to us? Why not just keep the money in the first place??

Nick said at April 28, 2007 11:11 PM:

Randall,

"I see a bigger future for nuclear power in the US southeast because winds are weakest there. "

Wind surveys are in a constant state, including some at higher altitudes that are finding much highe speeds. The latest surveys off the coast of the East and SE US found very good wind resources there, more than enough for their power needs.

Pete said at April 29, 2007 5:46 AM:

Thanks Nick, for bringing this up - let me go through this again.

If you increase your yearly energy supply capability by 90GW*6000h=540 10^12 Wh and one PV Watt costs $ 4 and your insolation is 4 PSH per day then you'll get the following bill: per year your $ 4 installed 1 Watt PV panel will generate 4*365Wh=1460Wh, if you divide the 540*10^12 Wh by 1460 Wh and multiply by 4 $ then you'll get....close to 1.5*10^12 $, or 1.5 trillion bucks worth of PV panels you'd have to install. Thus, 1 kWh in this scenario will cost you around $2.8.
Now we are ballpark. Yes of course it should have read $1 per kWh in my previous post.

If your prediction of $.10 per kWh within 10 years turns out to be true then this would be wonderful. No more pesky coal fires nor irradiation dangers nor global warming - and no more need to use oil for transportation because by that time we'll have better battery technology.

You ask about the petro dollar circle?
This is easy to understand. Everyone on this planet who wants to buy oil has to pay for it in US currency. Saddam Hussein who started selling his oil for Euro dollars was ousted shortly after. The Iranians briefly intended to do the same but suddenly had second thoughts. Hugo Chavez who started barter trading his oil with some other South American nations narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. You could say, oil no matter where it comes from must not be sold for anything else than USD.
But why?
Because if you want oil and have to find USD to pay for it then you have to come to Uncle Sam first and do a deal with him. Uncle Sam will friendly ask you what you've got for him. You show him your goods and he will pick what he likes and give you some money in return. With your pocket full of dough you go to someone who's got oil and buy some of him. Since you and the OPEC guy you're buying from are not suicidal or otherwise willing to loose big time, you pay for the oil in USD.
Everyone is a winner, but Uncle Sam has won twice.
First he got your goods and then he gets the money back from the OPEC guy who Uncle will reward for this. And Uncle makes sure he'll always get all the money back because there are so many others who want his money for buying oil....

Nick said at April 29, 2007 11:16 AM:

Pete,

Don't forget that PV panels last for 30 years. Now, we can't make the (very)common mistake of forgetting the time value of $, and just dividing by 30. No, you have to use something between a 10 and 15 year payback, which gets you a cost per KWH of around $.25.

Don't forget that there are such things as currency markets. Oil buyers can change their yen into dollars, 15 minutes later buy the oil, and 15 minutes after that the oil seller can convert the dollars back into yen (or euros, or whatever). It's not what currency you BUY the oil with, it's what currency the oil sellers INVEST their earnings with. If Saudia Arabia buys T-bills, the US is happy. If it buys Eurobonds, or builds facilities in China with Renminbi, then not so much.

Randall Parker said at April 29, 2007 11:17 AM:

Nick,

I've yet to see numbers on the costs of putting windmills out to sea. What is the cost of the underwater structure? I know that those drilling towers which oil companies use in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Or could anchored shops be used?

Or could buoys attach to flying wind mills?

Randall Parker said at April 29, 2007 2:04 PM:

Nick,

Suppose photovoltaics become supercheap because Nathan Lewis at CalTech figures out how to make TiO2 nanotubes for cheap photovoltaic paint. I see a few consequences:

1) Electricity will become by far the cheapest way to power cars. For any trips short enough to fit within battery range anyone living in a house with a large enough roof will use electric cars for all but long trips.

2) It is not clear whether this works against nuclear power vis a vis coal. Nuclear has higher capital costs. Suppose photovoltaic electric becomes so plentify that all electric power plants have to shut down during the daylight hours. That costs nuclear more than it costs coal.

3) There'll still be a need for peak power in the late afternoon and evening. So peak power will cost more since the capital equipment for providing it will not be able to operate for as many hours. This'll reduce the demand for peak power. The reduced demand for peak power will help nuclear power since nuclear is baseload power.

Pete said at April 29, 2007 5:34 PM:

@RANDALL

sorry to be off topic again, this should be my last ramble on this.

@NICK
yes there are all sorts of markets, and my explanation was as simplistic as it gets.
In your market scenario above, every time currencies are exchanged some third party gets a small share of the deal (wonder who that might be), meaning you're left with less and less money the more often you change its currency (speculative timing excluded or broken even with this time, for simplicity).
Now back to your market example.
Once the seller has pocketed the USD from the buyer he's not interested in changing his USD back into yen (or euros, or whatever) because this'll cost him money. And once in possession of USD, he can buy other stuff like minerals which too happen to be traded in the same US currency.
Once the seller (someone like the Saudis) have bought all their phat cars and other luxuries (some from the US) and they still have some USD left, then they go and buy T-bills, which essentially closes the circle pleasing Uncle at the same time.

You can see very clearly now that even if the US wouldn't already benefit from direct Saudi oil deliveries, there'd still be a healthy net profit for UncleS from all other oil trades taking place in the world - as long as the juice gets traded in US denomination.

I think it's important to keep an eye on these things when trying to spend megadollars on researching away your own cash cow. F.e. wind and solar is available everywhere and cannot be used/controlled in the same way as oil.

Nick said at April 29, 2007 9:14 PM:

Randall,

Offshore wind curently seems to be more expensive to install than onshore. This is balanced by the stronger, steadier winds. All in all, I believe onshore is currently slightly more attractive, unless reduced transmission costs (offshore wind resource near urban consumption) trumps installation costs. Germany and other European countries including the UK are moving to offshore because they have limits on onshore wind resource (especially Germany).

The interesting opportunity for offshore is floating platforms using oil rig tech http://www.techreview.com/Energy/16801/
which can sharply reduce costs, facilitate larger turbines, and allow installation out of sight of the coast.

re PV:

I agree, cheap PV will certainly help EV/PHEV's, though I don't think they need it. Electricity at 150% of the average current price would be only 3 cents per mile.

If PV is cheap enough it will make sense to coat cars with it. An average vehicle cross-section might be 10 sq meters, which is 10 kilowatts peak. That's 2 to 6 KW, depending on efficiency, which is more than enough to power a car in urban driving. A PHEV will generate power at 25 cents/KWH, which shouldn't be hard to beat with cheap PV even with low utilization.

Don't forget the power of Demand Side Management (DSM). The majority of what we call "baseload" is daytime Industrial Commercial power demand that was shifted to nighttime by primitive DSM (e.g. peak "demand charges" - these really are primitive: they're just the peak measurement, and if you've reduced that as much as you can, you have no incentive to reduce further). If PV provides really cheap day time power that demand will return to the day time. Much of the late afternoon and evening demand can be shifted earlier by DSM such as residential time-sensitive metering, and more sophisticated I/C DSM. Think A/C and refrigeration, with thermostats that change set point depending on price.

Tom said at May 1, 2007 11:55 AM:

Alternate headline:

China Per Capita Emissions To Be 1/3 of US In 2007 or 2008

...those buggers!!!

pjgoober said at May 2, 2007 9:28 PM:

Alternate Alternate headline: Chinese Emmissions Per Dollar of GDP are 5 times that of the United States. When each dollar of Chinese GDP causes 5 times the emmissions of each US dollar of GDP, those buggers indeed!

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