Archive for May, 2007

Huizi said to Zhuangzi “Your words are useless!”

Zhuangzi said, “You have to understand the useless before you can talk about the useful. The earth is certainly vast and broad, though you use only the area under your feet. If, however, you dug away all the earth from around your feet until you reached Hades, then would it still be useful?”

“No, it would be useless,” replied Huizi.

“It is obvious, then,” said Zhuangzi, “that uselessness is useful.”

惠子謂莊子曰:”子言無用.” 莊子曰:”知無用而始可與言用矣. 天地非不廣且大也,人之所用容足耳. 然則廁足而墊之至黃泉,人尚有用乎?” 惠子曰:”無用.” 莊子曰:”然則無用之為用也亦明矣.”


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Statoil’s Sleipner carbon capture and storage (CCS) project was the first commercial venture of its kind. In 1996, Statoil began sequestering CO2 captured from natural gas processing in the Utsira saline aquifer 1 km deep in the subsurface of the North Sea off the coast of Norway. About 1 million tonnes of CO2 are sequestered annually. The Petroleum Act and the Pollution Control Act require monitoring of CCS sites and annual reports to the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority. Time-lapse seismic monitoring has shown that the CO2 is still contained within the target reservoir.

There are plans for 3 more CCS projects in Norway. One will be joint venture between the government and Statoil to capture and store CO2 from a natural gas-fired cogeneration plant. Partial CCS will be operable by 2010, with full CCS in effect be 2014. Another project will involve retrofitting a natural gas-fired power plant. The third project will be an offshore enhanced oil recovery joint venture between Shell and Statoil.

In March 2007, the Norwegian government established a state owned company responsible for CCS projects. The Minister of Petroleum and Energy Odd Roger Enoksen stated that “We put a lot of attention on CCS and realise that in the beginning this will not be commercial, so public money has to be put in at the early phase.”

There are several factors that might be influencing the Norwegians’ interest in CCS. Norway is an exporter of oil and gas, yet 99% of its power generation is from hydroelectric projects. In order to meet its greenhouse gas emissions cap under the Kyoto Protocol, Norway has to focus on cutting emissions from fossil fuel production and processing since it does not use them for electricity generation. A carbon tax adds additional incentive for CCS. Moreover, Prime Minister Stoltenberg surely remembers how the previous PM lost his position–he resigned over plans to build to gas-fired power plants.

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The idea of sequestering carbon by introducing iron into the ocean to fertilize phytoplankton blooms has been around at least since John Martin began advocating it in the 1980s. Several experiments have been conducted without success. Now that CO2 emissions are beginning to have a cost, and emissions reduction patents could bring millions in profit, iron fertilization is being revisited. It seems so simple, dump some iron in the ocean, phytoplankton gobble it up, die, then sink to the ocean floor. Yet the complication are myriad. Read this entry and comments on the Real Climate blog. Here is the Wikipedia article. The issue of ocean acidification is not unrelated. Don’t fool with Mother Ocean.

Update: Researchers have found that the Southern Ocean is nearly saturated with CO2. See also Science magazine’s online news for 17 May 2007, which includes the story “Don’t Bet on Bloomin’ Plankton“. The story explains that recent research questions the role that plankton blooms play in sequestering carbon. Plankton might actually be a net source of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Moreover, despite what the U.S. president says, GHG emissions appear to increasing.

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Several reports of great stature predict the future development of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (2005), the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) by the British government, and MIT’s The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon Constrained World (2007) all state that CCS can be employed safely at a large scale. The only gaps in knowledge noted by these reports relate to monitoring and verification, and the only unresolved issues are the development of regulations and long term liability.

Despite positive projections by the experts, some questions remain. An example of general skepticism can be found in the article “Important! Why Carbon Sequestration Won’t Save Us” at treehugger.com. Some of the author’s criticisms of CCS are not likely to be fatal flaws. To be fair though, I don’t think the author claimed to have any expertise. The only source cited was Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers, not exactly a treatise on CCS. The author’s broader concern, however, cannot be easily brushed aside. The article voices concern over the possibility that token amounts will be invested in CCS in a effort to buy time for continued investment in coal rather than renewable sources of energy. Whether CCS is practicable, or whether it is a significant distraction, a diversion, or a red herring (but probably not an ignoratio elenchi) is an issue that deserves debate.

Rau and Caldeira have a different concern (“Coal’s Future: Clearing the Air” in Science 4 May 2007). They feel that CCS is prematurely being treated as the most viable of the “clean coal” technologies. They point out that post-combustion chemical or biological uptake of CO2 from the air, combined with conversion of the CO2 into stable chemical forms would avoid some of the drawbacks of CCS. Namely, such forms of CO2 emissions mitigation would avoid the large energy cost of capturing, concentrating, compressing, transporting, and injecting CO2 into the subsurface. In addition, removing CO2 from the air and mineralizing it would be a much more cost effective way to deal with emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

Carbon emissions from coal to liquids facilities are even more problematic, even when carbon is captured during the conversion process. Here is a brief overview.

NRDC presents a policy package aimed at clearing the air. In “No Time Like the Present: NRDC’s Response to MIT’s ‘Future of Coal’ Report”, NRDC advocates CO2 emissions standards for all new power plants. The standards could resemble California’s SB 1368 (2006), which places emissions standards on all electricity providers who contract to sell power in California even if the generation is out-of-state. Alternatively, the standard could be similar to a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Instead of mandating a percentage of all electricity be generated from renewable sources, a low carbon generation standard would only mandate a level of GHG emissions, not the method by which the emissions are avoided. The standard would be set low (perhaps 20%) during the initial period, then gradually increased. Crediting emissions avoidances would be tradable. Thus, electricity providers could meet the standard by investing in renewable electricity generation, coal-fired generation with CCS, removal of CO2 from the air, or by purchasing credits from other firms that made such investments.

NRDC argues that either of these policy packages would initiate competition to determine which of the GHG emissions mitigation technologies are most viable. There would be incentive to either immediately deploy CCS or drop it like it’s hot.

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On 8 May 2007, the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to adopt its staff recommendation of a wind/natural gas hybrid electricity generation plant. The PSC decision directs Delmarva to open negotiations with Bluewater Wind to build an offshore wind farm in the 200-300 MW range, and with Conectiv Energy to build a 150-200 MW natural gas plant as a backup. The door is still open for negotiations with NRG Energy for an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant that would employ coal as a fuel instead of a natural gas, however, because three other Delaware agencies must approve the plan. Governor Minner appears to prefer the latter plan (see Legalectric‘s 11 May 2007 blog entry). Here is Carolyn Elefant’s take on the decision.

Delaware deregulated its electric utilities in 1999. In other words, the PSC allows retail customers access to the wholesale power market and allows the wholesale power market to set the price for energy. Prices were capped until 2006. When the price caps were lifted, the utility provided standard offer service (SOS) to its customers at market rates. The utility in question is Delmarva Power & Light, a subsidiary of Pepco Holdings Inc. When Delmarva customers began paying market rates, their bills increased substantially (a 59% increase for residential customers and up to 100% for commercial and industrial customers). In response, the legislature passed the Electric Utility Retail Customer Supply Act of 2006 (EURCSA). The statute required Delmarva to conduct integrated resource planning (IRP) in order to stabilize electricity prices, create more local electricity generation, and to lessen environmental impacts. It was this IRP plan that the PSC voted on.

The PSC’s plan fits the bill. It calls for renewable energy (a wind farm) to be produced in Delaware with a natural gas plant for times of peak load or if wind is not available. Taken together, wind and natural gas can fulfill Delaware’s electricity needs instead of a coal-fired baseload generation plant. If these generation facilities are built, Delmarva customers will also have a source of electricity that is independent of PJM prices. PJM is a regional transmission organization (RTO) that operates a wholesale electricity market in all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia. In the words of the Delaware PSC staff: “Staff recommend a course of action that gives back to Delaware more control of its energy future through a supply portfolio that satisfies the EURSCA’s intent.”

The PSC noted that any added expense caused by the wind farm would be outweighed by the positive environmental impact, the use of existing transmission infrastructure, the promotion of fuel diversity, and by enhanced reliability. One of the environmental benefits explicitly cited was a reduction in GHG emissions. The use of wind generation “will help to mitigate global warming and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.” “If Bluewater and/or Conectiv do not support Staff’s recommendations…a renewable-only RFP is appropriate.”

The PSC’s decision has broader implications than just a one-off promotion of renewable energy. The PSC is advocating an energy portfolio approach to planning. Beyond building additional generation assets in Delaware, the PSC calls for development of demand response programs, energy efficiency programs, renewable distributed generation, short- and long-term bilateral contracts, and market purchases. Delmarva will be given the option to manage its energy portfolio, but a portfolio planning approach is important enough that “…should Delmarva decline its responsibility, the state should issue an RFP for energy management services, at Delmarva’s cost, to mange the supply options sough in Delaware’s portfolio.”

The Delaware PSC’s decision relates to carbon capture and storage (CCS) in that one of the bids it ruled out was for an IGCC plant with CCS capability. As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), with limits on CO2 emissions, the PSC determined that it would be better for Delaware to go with the wind/gas hybrid in this case. One of the reasons cited was that IGCC and CCS are still new technologies. Another concern was that the IGCC generation unit would pass on environmental compliance costs to customers. Delaware’s obligation to reduce GHG emissions as a member of RGGI was also cited as a reason for rejecting Delmarva’s suggestion that it rely on a proposed 500 kV transmission line running from West Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula. The PSC staff pointed out that the electrons running through this line would be generated by coal-fired plants in Virginia and West Virginia.

The decision of the Delaware PSC is one that will be made in other public utility commissions in the future. Let’s hope they are all as well-reasoned and forward-looking. States with a greater amount of coal in their electricity generation portfolios and with large potential carbon sequestration reservoirs may be more receptive to CCS, but the Delaware PSC seems to have made the right choice for Delaware.

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The last of a trio of summary reports by the IPCC is out. There will be more to discuss in a later blog entry, but for now I want to focus on carbon capture & storage (CCS). The report states that “there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades.” In the short term, early application of CCS (e.g. from natural gas processing) will be one part of a mitigation strategy. Before 2030, CCS (for gas, biomass, and coal-fired electricity generation facilities as well as cement, ammonia and iron manufacturing plants) will become a key mitigation option. The IPCC Working Group 3 summarizes the potential of CCS: “CCS in underground geological formations is a new technology with the potential to make an important contribution to mitigation by 2030. Technological, economic and regulatory developments will affect the actual contribution.” In short, possible but not certain.

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The Department of Energy released “Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants” on 1 May 2007. The report reveals that coal is still king in the minds of many planners. In the U.S., 151 coal-fired power plants (some of which may have multiple generation units) have been proposed. These new plants would produce around 90 GW of power, and represent approximately $145,000,000,000 in investment. Although coal is currently the least expensive fuel for producing electricity, as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions become a liability, the cost of burning coal will rise. If all of these proposed units are actually built, the U.S. will be committing itself to many more decades of increasing GHG emissions. The only positive note in the report is the fact that of the 151 proposed plants, 34 are meant to be integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC). Carbon capture equipment for IGCC plants is less expensive than for other types of coal-burning plants.

Of the states with proposed plants, here are the “top” ten:

IL 16 (3 IGCC)

WY 11 (3 IGCC)

FL 9 (3 IGCC)

KY 7

MT 7

OH 7 (3 IGCC)

PA 7

NV 6

TX 6

MN 6

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