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Warm Globe, Cool Profits

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  • Warm Globe, Cool Profits

    Hi Guys

    Got this in my InBox today. Makes interesting especially the part about China building 500 new coal burning power stations.

    Warm Globe, Cool Profits
    By Dan Denning

    The New Year is here. What will it bring?

    Black lung, probably, if you live in the Chinese city of Datong. Datong, about 260km west of Beijing, is the coal capital of China. And coal is most definitely king in the Middle Kingdom. "The Chinese plan to build no fewer than 500 new coal-fired power stations, adding to some 2,000, most of them unmodernised, that spew smoke, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere," writes Michael Sheridan in today's Australian.

    China estimates that pollution from coal-fired power plants results in 400,000 premature deaths...each year. Yet there are 21,000 coal mines in the country and coal output has doubled in the last five years. China's Shanxi province produces more coal than Britain, Russia, and Germany combined.

    Coal production is so high because coal is not oil. We know, it sounds simple. But the simplest explanation is often the best. Oil is expensive. It is cheaper for China to power its economic wunder-economy with coal it can dig from it's own dirt, rather than oil it must import from the sands of Arabia.

    Cheaper maybe, but certainly not cleaner, healthier, nor if Al Gore is right, better for the future of the planet. Yesterday we squirmed in a wiry, narrow seat at the Astor Theatre (our favorite local cinema) to watch Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

    Gore's movie is pompous and pedantic. And to that extent, it's pretty nauseating. It's also condescending, using cartoon animations to explain climate change, and a computer-generated polar bear drowning in a sea without ice to show us children of the Nanny State just what we're dealing with. But that doesn't mean there isn't an underlying argument to the movie worth considering. That argument is simple: the world's economy can't afford to keep growing by using old fossil fuels and old ways of burning them for energy.

    We know a little about history and biology. But we don't know much about science books, the French we never took, or how many parts per million of carbon dioxide are supposed to be in the air and how much they are contributing to rising temperatures on the planet. But we do know that burning pulverized coal to produce electricity produces particulate emissions in the air that turn the delicate lining of your lungs into sludgy, black, phlegm.

    It was true in London in the early 19th century, Pittsburgh in the late 19th century, and it's true in China in the early 21st century. The direct human cost of coal-fired electricity is already enormous, while the direct environmental costs are mounting. (We will ignore for a moment the theoretical, indirect costs of global warming). These two inconvenient truths may not hinder China's coal-fired ambitions any time soon. But much of the rest of the world is scouting around for viable alternatives.

    Nuclear energy presents itself as a leading alternative. Nuclear energy seems destined to provide a growing share of the world's energy needs. In the logical chain of events, the energy future of 2007 and beyond comes down to an acronym we made up this morning: MESI.

    It describes what people are going to do as the coming energy crisis blooms like a grotesque flower...

    "M" is for more, as in more oil and gas. This includes the exploration for more oil and gas reserves to replace those already produced. But it most likely means a bidding war for known oil and gas reserves. For example, we read this morning in the Asia Wall Street Journal that,"China, which is aggressively seeking overseas energy assets to fuel its booming economy, said Sunday that one of its biggest conglomerates has bought the Kazakhstan oil assets of a Canadian company for US$1.91 billion...China's CITIC Group bought the oil assets of Canada's NationsEnergy Company Ltd." It's China's third-largest acquisition of overseas oil assets in history and, "The Karazhanbas field in Western Kazakhstan has proven reserves of over 340 million barrels of oil." More, sir.

    "E" is for efficiency. We can reduce total emissions, while also depleting existing energy resources more slowly, if we are more efficient in producing them and using them. This means more efficient extraction, enhancing recovery rates from existing and new gas and oil deposits. But it also means improved fuel-efficiency standards in cars and more efficient household appliances. At the power-generation level, look for improvements in the industrial capital used to produce electricity, too.

    "S" is for substitution. When bananas went to $14 per kilogram, your editor switched to apples. Consumers, the price-sensitive ones, are not stupid. As prices rise, they begin to look for lower-priced substitute products that deliver roughly the same good or service at a lower price.

    In the energy markets, this means renewables and alternative energy...things like biofuels, wind, solar, thermal, and hydro. None of these things, mind you, even taken all together, can produce the same kind of energy we get from oil and gas with reliability and regularity. But that just means the economic model that relies on industrial-era, large-scale energy generation and transmission is being modified. And that means opportunities. Which brings us to...

    "I" is for innovation. Problems of scarcity and depleting resources are often accompanied by dire predictions of "the end of the world as we know it." Which is true. The world as we know it always ends. But it rarely ends catastrophically. Nevertheless, we read today that Barclay's Wealth in the UK has recently told high net-worth clients that, "Given the likelihood of natural resource depletion and climate change it is feasible the next decade could represent the high watermark for wealth generation."

    Wow! So the rising cost of energy inputs into the economy has reached such a level that the world is simply going to cease generating wealth at this level. Hmmm. It's possible, I guess. There are the laws of physics to consider, which determine how much energy you can get from carbon, and how efficiently you can turn that energy into production. But thus far, human beings, when confronted with an apparently natural limit on growth do what the species does best: adapt and innovate.

    Just because we've succeeded before doesn't mean we'll succeed again. That is, just because technological innovation has improved crop yields, produced life-saving medicines, and lowered the cost of energy over the last 100 years doesn't mean it will solve all future problems. But not all innovation is whiz-bang gadgetry.

    Generally speaking, people prefer living to dying. So they adapt when they have to, whether it means inventing something newer or better, or living more conservatively and efficiently. There is a lot of fat to cut in the energy diet of the average Westerner. Some of it's going to be trimmed in 2007.

    Beyond that, we have no idea. Nuclear makes sense because once the "social cost" of carbon emissions is paid by some human body, coal is not as cheap as it first appears. Neither is oil, once its geopolitical cost is counted. Nuclear is not exactly cost-free. The spent fuel must be stored.

    And there is always the issue of plant safety. But energy consumers worldwide are going to pay more for energy either way: from clear-burning but more expensive coal plants, or from carbon-free nuclear plants with their radioactive by-products.

    Black lungs or glowing rocks... Take your pick.
    "There's one way to find out if a man is honest-ask him. If he says 'yes,' you know he is a crook." Groucho Marx

  • #2
    Burning coal....check this out

    It could be a load of crap ... but the website basiclly states that coal has minute amounts of radioactive stuff in it and as we burn such large amounts of coal we relase a measurable amount of radoiactivity into the atmoshpere .... more than an equivalent nuclear powerstation.

    It goes on to say that, in theory, if we extracted the radioactive stuff from coal and used that to power a nuclear powerstation we would to generate more power than by burning the coal.... ie burning coal is a waste of enrgy as well as harmfull to the enviroment.

    Well, that didn't work... The good news is that there are other ways to find what you're looking for. Try the resources listed below. If you still can't find what you need, let us know and we'll try to track it down for you.

    It doesn't say that nuclear power is a good thing just that it would be better in a lot of ways than burning coal and if the coal powerstaions had to meet the same eviromental standards as nuclear-stations. Then nuclear power would be as economical as coal is now.

    It all could be a load of cobblers though ....but it sounds plausible