More Mitigation Metrics For Climate Change

The other day it seemed as though the metrics I showed were painting us into a corner. It appeared that the only way we could reduce CO2 emissions was by constructing a vast armada of 600 nuclear power plants, something that would cost at least $12 trillion dollars.

Then we looked at a list of 2% solutions that might add up to the emission totals we need to exorcise from our diet–portion control and exercise…

Today we’ll approach the issue from a third perspective, by looking at how we use the fuel we consume. This time we’re going to use 2011 figures from the DOE EIA, as that’s the latest year they have figures for.

This is essentially a ‘no regrets’ approach at improving the efficiency of the machines we use and which consume large quantities of energy. It is sneered at by some, most of whom have already shown that they are math deficient. Watch it work.

In 2011 the EIA estimated world energy consumption at 524 quads (in our previous posts the 2012 figure was 542.) For convenience we’ll use the same figure of 73.8 million metric tons of CO2 for each fossil fuel quad. Remember that in 2011 we generated about 56 quads without emitting CO2–thanks to hydroelectric power, nuclear and wind/solar. So the 468 quads from fossil fuels produced a total of 34,538 mmts of CO2.  The total we would like to reach is 90% of 1990 emissions, 16,700 mmts. In a world where energy consumption grows every year, that’s an ambitious target–but that’s the target.

I’m sure readers understand that coal emits more than natural gas, but I hope for this exercise that isn’t too important.

Here’s the EIA table:

End-use sectors Energy end use2  Electricity losses3  Total energy use4  % of total
Industrial 200
Total end-use sectors
Electric power sector4

Obviously, when 27% of your entire energy consumption is wasted while generating electricity, you have an existing problem and a clear target for a solution. If we could eliminate this waste it would save 10,479 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. It’s quite a bit more now, as the developing world has been increasing its use of coal.

Of course that just leads us back to the conclusion of my previous post, that eliminating coal-fired power plants is where we should look first. But the EIA’s table also shows other areas where we can improve.

It is a commonplace that about a third of the energy used in homes and offices is wasted–that we could use existing technology to eliminate most of that waste and that it would actually pay for the cost of improvements in a short period. That number is rarely disputed. What’s much discussed is why it doesn’t happen. Again, I’ll glide over that topic as something that we could solve if we decided it absolutely needed to be solved.

If we reduced energy consumption by a third in both the residential and commercial sectors it would reduce global emissions by 1,972.6 mmts of CO2. Not as much as we might have hoped for, but still significant.

Can industry help? Well, in 2004 a study conducted for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy indicated that yes, industry can contribute to lower emissions.

Loss Factors for Selected Equipment Energy System Percent Energy Lost Steam systems

  • Boilers – 20%
  • Steam pipes and traps – 20%
  • Steam delivery/heat exchangers – 15%
  • Power generation Combined heat and power – 24% (4500 Btu/kWh) Conventional power – 45% (6200 Btu/kWh)
  • Energy distribution Fuel and electricity distribution lines and pipes (not steam) – 3%
  • Energy conversion Process heaters – 15%
  • Cooling systems – 10%
  • Onsite transport systems – 50%
  • Electrolytic cells – 15%
  • Other – 10% Motor systems
  • Pumps – 40%
  • Fans – 40%
  • Compressed air – 80%
  • Refrigeration – 5%
  • Materials handling – 5%
  • Materials processing – 90%
  • Motor windings – 5%

The study charted how losses could be reduced cost effectively, with a payback on money spent on increasing efficiency of between 3 and 8 years.

If extrapolated across the world (which means assuming the rest of the world is currently as efficient/inefficient as the U.S.) in only six industry sectors (that account for 80% of industrial energy consumption) the global energy savings would be 25 quads, further reducing emissions by 1,845 mmts of CO2.

Which brings us to the transportation sector, which in 2011 consumed 101 quads and was responsible for 7,453.8 mmts of CO2 emissions.

Jet aircraft are now being built that use 20% less fuel than their predecessors. Well, the same is true for cars and ships. Just by telling companies and people to use best of breed vehicles would have dropped consumption by 20 quads, reducing emissions by a further 1,476 million metric tons.

This low pain scenario, mostly consisting of doing things we should do regardless of global warming, would have reduced 2011 emissions by a total of 15,772 mmts of CO2. Subtract that from 2011’s total of 34,538 mmts and this ‘no regrets’ policy would have left emissions at 18,766.4 mmts, only 2,000 mmts above our Kyoto goals.

There are a number of problems with this simplified scenario. Savings are never 100%, implementation is never immediate and solutions bring problems of their own, trailing behind.

But I think this shows that we could make major savings in emissions without ruining the economy, letting the lights go out or destroying the industrial base of the world.

The coal companies won’t like it. And I feel some sympathy for them and a lot more sympathy for their employees. Coal powered us for many years and created much of the good we see in modern economies today.

But you could say the same of wood and even whale oil. Coal has had its day. Let’s retrain the workers, offer compensation for stranded investment to the shareholders in coal companies and move on.

3 responses to “More Mitigation Metrics For Climate Change

  1. 600 nuclear power plants, something that would cost at least $12 trillion dollars.

    I will quibble with you on this one. I would suspect that design, engineering and testing is much of the cost of nuclear plants. These costs would be spread out over the “armada”.

    As for making industry more efficient, what is the status of accelerated depreciating schedules for energy conservation?

    The other thing is cement production. I have heard that it is the most energy intensive of all industries. You have to wonder whether cement operations try to capture waste heat for electrical co-production or district heating.

    • I have read that 5% of human CO2 comes from cement production.

      On 23 May 2015 at 22:53, The Lukewarmer's Way wrote:


  2. Pingback: Meditation on Mitigation | The Lukewarmer's Way

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