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Climate Wars: Science, Climate Emergency Network & “gas is dirty energy” vs Environment Victoria’s "gas"

by : Dr Gideon Polya
Friday July 9, 2010 - 08:32

Climate Wars: Science, Climate Emergency Network (CEN) & “gas is dirty energy” versus Environment Victoria (EV) “clean energy” marketing spin & PR incorrectly implying that "gas is clean energy."

The excellent, science-informed, Victoria-based Climate Emergency Network (CEN), the leading Victorian environmental activism group Environment Victoria (EV) and other climate action groups (CAGs) have joined forces in a campaign to replace the Victorian Hazelwood power station , one of the World’s dirtiest coal-fired power stations, with (assertedly) “clean energy”. [1, 2].

However a row has erupted between Climate Emergency Network (CEN) and Environment Victoria (EV). EV has a “Replace Hazelwood with Clean Energy by 2012” proposal that includes 33-62% natural gas by 2020 as a major energy component whereas CEN, correctly recognizing that gas is dirty energy and is not renewable, states that it wants to cooperate with EV but wants a campaign to “Replace Hazelwood with 100% renewable energy”. [1, 2].

Of course EV is utterly incorrect in its implication that “natural gas is clean energy” - natural gas (mostly methane) is not “clean energy”; natural gas is dirty energy; and indeed, depending upon the degree of industrial leakage, natural gas can be dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) production. [3-9].

Hazelwood power station, located in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, is Australia’s dirtiest power station. In generating 11,770 GWh of electricity per annum Hazelwood produces more than 16 million tonnes CO2-e (CO2 equivalent) of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution each year ( 1.4 t CO2-e/MWh and 15 percent of Victoria’s annual greenhouse gas emissions). Hazelwood’s annual water use is 27 billion litres. [10].

Environment Victoria (EV) is leading a campaign to replace Hazelwood, with “clean energy” by 2012, quote: “Environment Victoria is spearheading a major campaign calling on the state and federal governments to close Hazelwood Power Station by 2012, and replace it with a combination of renewable energy, energy efficiency and as a transition fuel, gas”. [2, 11, 12].

EV directs those interested to a Report it commissioned from Green Energy Markets entitled “Fast-tracking Victoria’s clean energy future to replace Hazelwood” [10].

However the Report contains numerous implications that gas is “clean energy” (notably by its very title “Fast-tracking Victoria’s clean energy future to replace Hazelwood” ) while admitting in several places that gas, a key part of its Plan, is a fossil fuel that generates CO2 on combustion.

Indeed the Report shows that the carbon pollution currently ranges from 1.2-1.5 tonnes CO2-e/MWh for major Victorian brown coal-based electricity plants and 0.6-0.9 tonnes CO2-e/MWh for existing Victorian gas-based electricity plants.

The Report’s proposed “mix” of energy options to replace Hazelwood” is 62.1% combined cycle gas, 37.9% renewable energy (2020 Scenario 1) and 33.3% combined cycle gas, 37.5% renewable energy and 29.2% efficiency and management savings (2020 Scenario 2). The Report and Environment Victoria ignore any GHG contribution due to gas leakage (a major GHG item according to Professor Howarth of Cornell University and others). [3-9].

Unfortunately, while clearly aware that gas is a fossil fuel, is not a renewable energy source and is a major component of its proposed energy mix, EV then asks for tax-deductible donations to “Help replace Hazelwood with Clean Energy by 2012”. [12].

A quick look at the Science is useful at this point.

Natural gas (mostly methane, CH4) yields carbon dioxide (CO2) on combustion as does black coal (mostly Carbon, C) and brown coal (65% water, H2O).

The molecular weights of CH4 and CO2 are 16 and 44, respectively. The atomic weights of oxygen (O), carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) are 16, 12 and 1, respectively.

Burning 16 tonnes of CH4 yields 44 tonnes CO2 (i.e. burning 1 tonne of natural gas yields 2.8 tonnes CO2).

Burning 12 tonnes of C yields 44 tonnes of CO2 (i.e. burning 1 tonne of coal – assuming it to be 100% carbon – yields 3.7 tonnes of CO2).

Brown coal (that is burned to produce most of the electricity in Victoria, Australia) has a water (H2O) content of about 65% and thus burning 1 tonne of brown coal would yield 0.35 x 3.7 = 1.3 tonnes of CO2, or about 46% of that produced by burning 1 tonne of natural gas (2.8 tonnes of CO2).

Clearly, on a weight basis, burning natural gas (CH4) yields twice as much CO2 as burning brown coal. However proponents of gas burning assert that it is only 50% as polluting as black coal and only 30% as polluting as brown coal in terms of grams CO2 generated per million joules of energy.

In reality, in Victoria the carbon pollution currently ranges from 1.2-1.5 tonnes CO2-e/MWh for major Victorian brown coal-based electricity plants and 0.6-0.9 tonnes CO2-e/MWh for existing Victorian gas-based electricity plants – but this does not take inevitable industrial leakage of methane (a gas) into account .

A US EPA-based estimate of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution from global leakage of industrial methane is 4,395 Mt CO2-e annually (methane being 72 times worse than CO2 as a GHG on a 20 year time scale), this being 77.2% of the GHG pollution from natural gas burning. [13, 14].

Accordingly, societal burning of 1 tonne of natural gas (methane) is actually associated with emission of 2.8 tonnes CO2 (from burning) plus a further 0.772 x 2.8 = 2.2 tonnes of CO2-e (from methane leakage) for a total of 4.0 tonnes CO2-e (CO2 equivalent) as compared to 3.7 tonnes CO2 from burning 1 tonne of black coal.

If we assume that on an energy yield basis natural gas yields 0.5 tonne CO2, as compared to 1.0 tonne for black coal, to produce the same energy then we find that factoring in the effect of methane leakage (and ignoring methane leakage from coal mines) this becomes 0.9 tonnes CO2-e from methane (0.5 tonne CO2 from methane burning plus 0.772 x 0.5 = 0.4 tonne CO2-e from methane leakage) versus 1.0 tonne CO2 from black coal burning in producing the same amount of electricity.

However the US EPA estimation of 2.2% gas leakage is an underestimate [14].

Accordingly, we can readily see that gas burning can indeed be dirtier than coal burning, depending upon the amount of industrial methane leakage.

The Climate Emergency Network (CEN) has put out the following statement.

“Replace Hazelwood with 100% renewable energy. A statement from the Climate Emergency Network and other campaigners for circulation within the climate movement. Sign on statement: The undersigned groups and individual climate campaigners support an inclusive campaign to urgently Replace Hazelwood with 100% renewable energy, including baseload solar thermal energy (as presented in the Beyond Zero Emissions, Zero Carbon Australia 2020 report). The undersigned: strongly support the Replace Hazelwood campaign; support using renewable energy sources and increased efficiency to replace 100% of energy currently supplied by Hazelwood; particularly support the use of proven baseload Solar Thermal technology; and reject the use of fossil gas as an alternative fossil fuel. When CEN members and other groups who support this statement use the Replace Hazelwood campaign logo, we will make it clear in our statements that Hazelwood must be replaced with unequivocally clean renewable energy by inclusion of wording such as “with 100% renewable energy”. The undersigned urge others who support this position to do likewise.”

Environment Victoria (EV) has responded with a very lengthy statement that makes the following key points: “ Many of you will have seen the “Replace Hazelwood with 100% renewable energy” sign on statement that is circulating. .. Our concerns about moving away from the agreed ask at the [national, Canberra 2010] Climate Summit which was “Replace Hazelwood with clean energy by 2112” are : (1) A 100% renewables solution would most likely would [sic] delay the closure of Hazelwood …(2) Highlights movement disunity to the public and narrows public support for the campaign…However we are also concerned that the choice of wording will also narrow public support for the campaign. Time after time communications research has shown that “clean energy” is better received by the public than “renewable energy”… Our focus group testing showed that there is high support for renewable energy, but that people didn’t believe you could achieve high level of replacement with renewables in the short term.”

Again we must return to Science for guidance and EV is found wanting – marketing spin and what the woefully ignorant and scientifically illiterate Australian electorate thinks are very poor substitutes for expertly determined scientific and technological reality.

Top electrical engineer Professor Peter Seligman (University of Melbourne, a major player in the development of the Bionic Ear) has written a very important book entitled “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers”, inspired by “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” (SEWTHA) written by Professor David J.C, MacKay FRS (professor of natural philosophy in the Department of Physics at the prestigious University of Cambridge and chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change). It is an Australia-specific offshoot of Professor MacKay’s analysis of sustainable energy for the UK and sets out how Australia can meet the challenge of the worsening climate emergency by rapidly switching to 24/7, base-load, 100% renewable energy. [15. 16].

Chapter 5 of “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers”, entitled “The Bill”, estimates that “including the cost of the pipes and turbines, to convert our existing electrical power system to completely renewable sources, we will need … $253 billion … over say 25 years. That’s about $10 billion per year or about $500 per person per year or $1.40 per person per day”. The breakdown is $198 billion (wind, solar and geothermal power stations), $20 billion (high voltage DC power lines), $33 billion (for turbines and pipes associated with hydrological storage of power by pumping sea water to Nullabor Desert storage ponds) and $2 billion (construction of coastal Nullabor Desert storage pond dams). This chapter successively considers the bill, job creation , feasibility of 100% renewable energy, the cost of the electricity (12 cents /kWh), CO2 production associated with construction (payback 1 year), security of supply, thermal storage with concentrated solar (currently applied internationally) and feasibility (cf the US industrial transformation from cars to tanks, Liberty shops and bombers in World War 2). [15, 16].

Further, a team Beyond Zero Emissions will next week publish a detailed report entitled “Australian Sustainable Energy. Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan” by a team of 20 engineers that costs 100% renewable energy for Australia (electricity supply plus replacement of oil with electricity for cars, freight rail and passenger rail transport) at $370 billion. The breakdown is $175 billion (concentrated solar thermal, CST), $8 billion (back-up hearers), $6 billion (bioenergy supply from crop waste), $72 billion (wind power), $92 billion (HVDC and HVAC transmission), and $17 billion (off-grid CST plus backup). [17].

Conclusion.

The excellent, science-informed, Victoria-based Climate Emergency Network (CEN), the leading Victorian environmental activism group Environment Victoria (EV) and other climate action groups (CAGs) have joined forces in a campaign to replace the Victorian Hazelwood power station , one of the World’s dirtiest coal-fired power stations, with “clean energy”.

CEN correctly recognizes that gas is dirty energy and is not renewable, wants to cooperate with EV but also wants a scientifically-infomed and correct campaign to “Replace Hazelwood with 100% renewable energy”.

EV has massaged the science with a marketing-based but false approach of “Replace Hazelwood with clean energy” that involves massive use of natural gas, ignoring the realities that “gas is dirty energy” and may be even dirtier than coal.

EV compounds incorrectness by offering a pathetic joint campaign compromise of “Replace Hazelwood” that is reminiscent of Fawlty Towers’ “Don’t mention the war” in an unspoken massive part replacement of coal with gas.

EV is utterly incorrect in its implication that “natural gas is clean energy” - natural gas (mostly methane) is not “clean energy”; natural gas is dirty energy; and indeed, depending upon the degree of industrial leakage, natural gas can be dirtier than coal in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) production.

Further , top Australian engineers have shown that replacement of Hazelwood with a substantial gas component is not only disastrously wrong but is also unnecessary. Top Australia electrical engineer Professor Peter Seligman’s “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers” demonstrates that Australia can have 100% renewable-based electricity for a mere $253 billion in 25 years at a cost $1.40 per person per day. [14, 15].

The 20 expert engineers of Beyond Zero Emissions have demonstrated in their initial Summary Report “Australian Sustainable Energy. Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan Synopsis” that Australia can have 100&% renewable energy for transport and electricity supply for $370 billion within 10 years at a cost of $8 per household per week.

The Climate Emergency Network ( CEN) has won the Climate Wars hands down. The otherwise excellent Environment Victoria (EV) should get back onto the path of righteousness, forget the marketing, focus group and PR spin, embrace the science and unequivocally demand 100% renewable energy by 2020 (as indeed recommended by 140 Climate Action Groups at the 2008 Australian National Climate Action Summit: “The united Community Climate Action Groups will campaign for outcomes on these objectives: Prevent the CPRS [ETS] from becoming law as it will fail to make emission cuts necessary to stop the climate emergency. Build community-wide action to demand green jobs, a just transition for industry workers and 100% renewable energy by 2020. Aim for stabilisation at 300ppm CO2 in the atmosphere and strong international agreement in line with what science and global justice demands”). [18].

[1]. Climate Emergency Network: http://www.climateemergencynetwork.org/ .

[2]. Environment Victoria: http://www.environmentvictoria.org.au/ .

[3]. Gideon Polya, “Correcting the Australian Government – natural gas is NOT clean energy”, Open Forum, 7 February 2010: http://www.openforum.com.au/natural... ).

[4]. Gideon Polya, “Gas can be dirtier than coal but Government and NGOs falsely assert that gas is clean energy”, Open Forum, 23 June 2010: http://www.openforum.com.au/content... .

[5]. Gas is dirty energy & may be dirtier than coal – Oz Labor’s “gas is clean energy” means Put Labor Last, Bellaciao, 10 June 2010: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?ar... .

[6]. Kevin Bullis, “Natural gas may be worse for the planet than coal”, Technology Review (MIT), 16 April 2010: http://www.technologyreview.com/blo... .

[7]. Robert W. Howarth, “Preliminary assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing”, Cornell University, 1 April 2010: http://www.technologyreview.com/blo... .

[8]. Gideon Polya, commenting on Mike Littwin, “Bark, when a fierce bite is required”, The Age On-line, 18 June 2010: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/po... .

[9]. Gideon Polya, “A filthy fib”, The Age, Letters, 14 June 2010: http://www.theage.com.au/national/l... .

[10]. Green Energy Markets, “Fast-tracking Victoria’s clean energy future to replace Hazelwood”, 2010: http://www.environmentvictoria.org.... ).

[11]. Environment Victoria, “Replace Hazelwood”, 2010: http://www.environmentvictoria.org.... .

[12]. Environment Victoria, ““Fast-tracking Victoria’s clean energy future to replace Hazelwood”, 2010: http://www.environmentvictoria.org.... .

[13]. Gideon Polya, “Gulf oil & gas disaster, lobbyists, Obama and huge threat of natural gas (methane) to Humanity and Biosphere”, Bellaciao, 19 June 2010: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?ar... .

[14]. Andrew Revkin, Clifford Krauss, “Curbing emissions by sealing gas leaks”, New York Times, 14 October 2009: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15/b... .

[15]. Peter Seligman, “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers”, available for download: http://energy.unimelb.edu.au/upload... .

[16]. Gideon Polya, “Review: Peter Seligman’s, “Australian Sustainable Energy - by the numbers”. Climate catastrophe avoidable. Bellaciao: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?ar... .

[17]. Beyond Zero Emissions, “Australian Sustainable Energy. Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan Synopsis”: http://media.beyondzeroemissions.or... .

[18]. Climate Action Summit, Canberra , 2009: http://www.greenlivingpedia.org/Aus... .



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