“… the undisputed benefits of increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere because of its photosynthetic and growth effects (fertilization) on plants need to be considered in energy policy decisions as well.” (- Lars Schernikau and William Smith, below)
Today, a webcast Q&A — Climate Impacts of Fossil Fuels in Today’s Energy Systems — is being hosted by the American Coal Council (registration here).
“With increasing global energy demand projected over the mid to longer term,” ACC states, “the practical realities of energy supply include the continuing role of fossil fuels in global primary energy and for electricity generation.”
Coal is definitely in the mix, as today’s record production and usage confirms.
The webinar concern a new paper, “Climate Impacts of Fossil Fuels in Today’s Energy Systems,” by energy economist Lars Schernikau and climatologist William Smith. Exploring the greenhouse gas impacts of fossil fuels (CO2 and methane in particular), their paper makes a case that
The abstract of the paper follows:
Oil, coal, and gas account for ~80% of global primary energy, but only a portion of total airborne CO2eq (~40% at GWP20 to ~60% at GWP100), even though they account for 95% of total measured CO2 emissions. Benefits of these energy sources as well as their related costs are not all incorporated in current energy policy discussions. Global greenhouse gas policies must include documented changes in measured airborne CO2eq to avoid spending large amounts of public funds on ineffective or sub-optimal policies.
The authors examined airborne CO2, which is less than half of emitted CO2, as well as reported CH4 emissions and the global warming potential of CH4 as published by the IPCC for coal and natural gas. The surprising conclusion is that surfaced-mined coal appears “better for the climate” than the average natural gas and all coal appears beneficial over LNG.
Therefore, current CO2-only reduction policies and CO2 taxes are leading to misguided consequences and the switch from coal to natural gas, especially LNG, will not have the desired impact of reducing predicted future global warming, in fact, quite the contrary. A large portion of human-caused global warming is attributed by the IPCC and IEA to CH4, while it must be noted that CH4 emissions from natural sources account for ~40% and agriculture for ~25% of annual global CH4 emissions. Energy accounts for ~20% of documented CH4 emissions.
CO2 contributes only ~35% of annual airborne anthropogenic GHG emissions after accounting for CH4, over a 20-year horizon. At a 100-year horizon, CO2’s contribution increases to ~60%. Energy policy that does not consider all GHG emissions along the entire value chain will lead to undesired economic and environmental distortions. All carbon taxation and CO2 pricing schemes are incorrect and need to be revised.
At IPCC’s GWP20 a ~2% higher loss of CH4 across the value chain prior to combustion of natural gas versus coal will lead to “climate parity” of coal with natural gas. Analyzing public data, natural gas value chains have high CH4 and undocumented CO2 losses. On global average, using only IEA documented CH4 data, natural gas emits ~15% more CO2eq than surface-mined coal, over a 20-year horizon. This difference increases as the use of shale gas and LNG expands.
Investors should support all energy systems in a manner which avoids an energy crisis, including intermittent renewable energy systems where they make sense. If CO2 emissions need to be reduced, one of the most effective ways would be to install ultra-super critical power plants with CCUS technology.
However, the undisputed benefits of increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere because of its photosynthetic and growth effects (fertilization) on plants need to be considered in energy policy decisions as well. The authors suggest that future research and development should concentrate on reducing net emissions of fossil fuel power plants and providing cost effective and reliable conventional new power generation, utilizing clean coal and clean natural gas technology.
There are issues of relative contributions to the enhanced greenhouse effect that I will leave to the specialists. But this ‘politically correct’ paragraph needs clarification or pushback from a free market perspective.
Investors should support all energy systems in a manner which avoids an energy crisis, including intermittent renewable energy systems where they make sense.
The caveat “where they makes sense” would mean off-the-grid. Solar can be the best energy alternative in remote, mobile applications. As for central station electricity, wind and solar are naked without special government subsidies.
If CO2 emissions need to be reduced, one of the most effective ways would be to install ultra-super critical power plants with CCUS [carbon capture, utilization and storage] technology.
Modern generation technology–Ultra-Supercritical & Advanced Supercritical Technology — makes coal an environmental product. But such capacity must compete against natural gas/LNG-fired combined-cycle plants. And carbon capture additions ruin the economics of coal quickly.
May the best technology win as judged by consumers with taxpayers neutral.
 Schernikau, Lars and Smith, William, ‘Climate Impacts’ of Fossil Fuels in Today’s Energy Systems (November 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3968359 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3968359.
Note: This is paper has been peer-reviewed and will be officially published in March 2022. Please contact the author for a complete draft paper.