Do you have any questions for McKinsey about their updated GHG cost curve, which (still) finds stabilizing at 450 ppm has a net cost near zero?

I have written a great deal about the terrific work of McKinsey & Company (see “McKinsey 2008 Research in Review: Stabilizing at 450 ppm has a net cost near zero” and links below).

So I was excited and delighted to be invited by The German Marshall Fund to be the respondent for a roundtable discussion Monday in DC (details below) on their updated cost-curve, which I have an early glimpse of for Climate Progress readers [click to enlarge]:

Nobody has as detailed a set of “bottom up” numbers as McKinsey — though I certainly have some issues with their work.  Too little concentrated solar thermal power — and it is not a little cheaper than PV, it’s a lot bigger.

Anyway here are details of the event, in case you are in DC and can make it.  And again, I’d be interested in ideas for responses or questions to McKinsey.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States  cordially invites you to a climate policy briefing to discuss “Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy” featuring

Jon Wilkins, Partner
McKinsey & Company, Inc.

Dr. Joseph Romm, Senior Fellow
Center for American Progress

Monday, May 11, 2009
12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Charlie Palmer, 101 Constitution Avenue NW

The German Marshall Fund of the United States is pleased to host a roundtable discussion on the costs of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in different sectors around the globe.  Leaders in many nations are discussing ambitious targets to reduce GHG emissions.  The EU is planning to cut its emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and will aim for a 30% reduction if other countries with high emissions take on similar targets. At the same time, an intense debate is underway on the technical and economic feasibility of different target levels, which emission reduction opportunities should be pursued, and the costs of meeting the targets.  This event will provide an opportunity for an open discussion on the latest global cost curve analysis by McKinsey & Company, Inc., including the modeling assumptions and policy implications.

Please RSVP by e-mail or telephone to Guido Zucconi at 202-683-2670 or

Come if you can, comment if you can’t!

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42 Responses to Do you have any questions for McKinsey about their updated GHG cost curve, which (still) finds stabilizing at 450 ppm has a net cost near zero?

  1. Jim Beacon says:

    Am I missing something here, or doesn’t this graph rely very heavily on the idea that sometime within 30 years or so that the promise of “clean coal” (now renamed “carbon capture and storage (CCS)”) will finally be realized? This promise was originally made to the public by the coal industry 40 years ago and yet the best evidence indicates that we are still no closer to “clean coal” being a reality. What reason is there to seriously believe that the promise will finally be realized in the next 30 years? If we buy into the fairy tale once again, it seems likely the only real result will be to allow another 30 years of dirty coal burning to take place while we wait for our prince to come.

    [JR: I think you are missing something. “Heavily” is the wrong word. CCS is a small part of this graph (there are a whole bunch of undefined bars on the far right). But yes, I will definitely mention this flaw in the chart — there won’t even be that much CCS by 2030.]

  2. Martin Hedberg says:

    McKinsey writes in their conclusions: ”Capturing all the potential will be a major challenge: it will require change on a massive scale, strong global cross-sectoral action and commitment, and a strong policy framework.” (

    Yes indeed. Is it realistic to think we will ever do the right hand side of the graph? Or put in another way: What will it take?
    Why I raise the question? Well, obviously we aren’t even doing things with large negative abatement costs, the left hand side. What will it take to do the right hand side?

    Don’t misunderstand me. It is a great graph and some great conclusions. I just wonder what it will take to fulfill it. In time.

  3. Leland Palmer says:

    I notice that retrofit and CCS of coal is near the top of his curve, in cost per ton of CO2.

    Several related questions:

    Have he and his collaborators included potential increased Carnot efficiency from increased temperature of oxyfuel combustion and a HiPPS topping cycle on the cost of coal /CCS retrofit?

    Have he and his collaborators evaluated the potential impact of carbon negative strategies such as biomass/CCS at all?

    The actions on the top of his cost list are the actions that would have the most impact, in terms of billions of tons of carbon added to the atmosphere. These are the most significant actions, and also the actions huge financial interests least want to perform. Is he getting his information from the coal industry?

    Who funds the McKinsey Global Institute?

    His numbers for 2nd generation biomass look reasonable, has he considered the possibility of burning biocarbon in existing coal plants, making them effectively carbon neutral? Has he considered the possibility of burning biocarbon in retrofitted coal plants, making them carbon negative?

    I should say, up front, that I believe that his numbers for coal/CCS retrofit are too high, and do not include the possibility of carbon negative strategies, increased Carnot efficiency from oxyfuel combustion, and topping cycles such as HiPPS.

  4. McKinsey has, indeed, done an excellent job with this model and report. Have they applied this methodology to a stabilization goal of 350 ppm? How does that change the net cost?

  5. Robert Brulle says:

    How does this reduction scenario handle a couple of items:
    1. First, is this based on 1990 levels of CO2 or 2009 levels. If it is 2009,
    don’t we need more than 30%?
    2. Is 30% still adequate, given the decrease in CO2 absorption by the oceans, transformation of vegetation from sink to source, and perma-frost melting?
    3. Is their any calculation of the so-called rebound effect, otherwise known as the Jevons Paradox?
    4. How does this treat increased economic growth? If new growth outweighs efficiency gains, won’t we still end up with an increase?
    5. What is to prevent carbon intensive manufacturing from relocating to non CO2 limited countries, and exporting their products back to the U.S. for consumption? That way, all we did was chase CO2 emissions around the globe.

    [JR: 1) X-axis is NOT percent — it is billion tons of CO2-e in 2030 compared to BAU!
    2) See above.
    3) Rebound is a small effect, perhaps reducing energy savings of a given measure 10%. Jevons Paradox doesn’t exist.
    4) See #1.
    5) This is global.

  6. Martin Hedberg says:

    To Leland Palmer:

    Yes, some of the companies they worked together with represent the coal industry.
    From McKinseys home page: “To provide a quantitative basis for such discussions, McKinsey & Company, supported by ten leading global companies and organisations – The Carbon Trust, ClimateWorks, Enel, Entergy, Holcim, Honeywell, Shell, Vattenfall, Volvo, WWF – …”

  7. Ronald says:

    Still waiting for LED lighting to be adequate for replacement of regular home lighting.

    Some city in our state did a test of using the available LED light bulbs for street lamps. I quess there were some complaints that the lighting was to low.

    LED I see has made good progress in signal lighting as I have seen them on newer trucks. you can tell LED lighting, it’s the lights that seem to be made from a bunch of individual bulbs. Apparently single LED bulbs don’t give off much light, they have to combine a whole bunch of them to get power lighting. That’s why they are simple to use on Christmas tree lights.

    Could somebody do an article on the progress of LED bulbs and lighting? There is potential there.

  8. Robert Nagle says:

    Can I ask a really stupid question? I have looked at this graph several times, and it looks very interesting. But can somebody explain it? Why do we have a positive and negative Y axis for abatement cost per tC02e. Also, what does tCo2e refer to?

    Also, what does the x axis refer to?

    Seriously, I have no idea what this graph means. Please tell me I’m not the only ignoramus here.

  9. Robert Nagle says:

    also, can you explain the title of this chart? What is an abatement cost curve? Seriously, the more I look at this chart, the more incomprehensible it seems to me.

    [JR: I suggest you go to my links on McKinsey if this chart is really incomprehensible to you. But I’ve looked at so many, it seems very straightforward. There is a business as usual emissions path that assumes a business as usual adoption of various technologies. If government adopts policies that accelerate technologies into the market, then emissions will be reduced compared to BAU. Efficiency tends to have a net negative cost. Things like nuclear and CCS have a positive cost. Some actions achieve a lot of savings (slices), some not so much (slivers).]

  10. bobham says:

    The point of the x axis is that many of these efforts should actually pay for themselves and a negative cost (below 0 on the x axis) is in essence a net profit. You create a net benefit when you take these actions. The low “cost” of reducing carbon in total assumes that these “profitable” actions are taken and brings the total cost down as a result. Who gets these benefits verse who pays for the costs of the other efforts (who pays for carbon capture?) is a complex issue…

    My question is related but more specific. Energy Efficiency is a huge part of the solution, as this blog has pointed out many times and so does the McKinsey piece. And these investments seem to more than pay for themselves. So why haven’t they happened? Mr U of Chicago economist would argue they clearly don’t pay for themselves or they would have already happened. I would be curious to hear with the McKinsey folks say about that. Because in theory all this should be happening but it isn’t.

    [JR: Read my book cool companies. Or the posts on utility regulations, which disincentivize the folks who sell those electrons.]

  11. bobham says:

    Correction, I meant the y axis in my above point. The x axis, lists the different actions that can be taken to reduce carbon output in order of most “profitable” to most expensive….

  12. Robert Nagle says:

    And so what do the numbers of the x axis refer to? (BTW, as a technical writer, my job is to ask these asinine type of questions). The key on right says ” abatement potential gigatons of Co2 emissions per year”. Does that mean switching light bulbs offers minimal abatement potential and that CCS retrofitting has more abatement potential than (for example) nuclear power?

    [JR: It means that the one thin sliver of lighting they show has less abatement potential than CCS. The don’t label all the slivers.]

  13. Mark Shapiro says:


    1) How can we listen in on the roundtable?

    2) This has to be my favorite energy graph of all time. For my money you could leave it up in the banner of your blog. (And it should be in every debate about the cost of abatement.)

    Now to keep pushing some of those boxes (like CSP, PV, hybrids) to the left . . .

    3) Robert Nagle is right to ask for clarifiation.

    4) It would be great for McKinsey to spell out the cost assumptions for each block. That could encourage vendors to compete by lowering costs. They could show their block moving to the left, into more profitable territory.

    5) As encyclopedic as the graph is, good design and good architecture has potential that isn’t shown. (I’m thinking of RMI, William McDonough, others.)

  14. Robert Nagle says:

    aha, 38 gigatons is the combined potential for all of the abatement beyond Business as usual procedures if all enacted in 2030? So width indicates how much benefit each sliver/slice gives. Like I said, there’s a lot of information in this chart, especially now that I can unpack it. Thanks!

  15. Mark Shapiro says:

    Pardon my gushing, but I think this is the holy grail of cost-effective GHG abatement, and hence AGW mitigation. Waxman and Markey should wave it in the air every time someone claims their bill will cost $3,000 per family.

    Joe, my question is: can McKinsey make this chart “open-source”? In other words, when a company demonstrates (or actually starts selling) a product or system, could they “apply” for a place on the chart? The applicant would need to demonstrate their cost and tCO2e abated relative to current technology.

    For instance, Project Better Place is making all kinds of claims about how cost effective their BEV model with battery charging and swapping will be. When they actually have a 100,000 cars or so operating, how big a block would it rate, and how far to the left would it be?

    And Joe, please congratulate Mr. and Mrs. McKinsey for me on their wonderful child.

  16. Sam Borgeson says:

    Joe, I’m surprised that you, a trained scientist, are so credulous. It is a wonderful notion that 450 for free is a possibility, but the McKinsey cost curve is based on so many unstated assumptions that we can learn very little of lasting value from it alone. As you well know, the cost and emissions associated with many technologies they feature are contested in both directions. A more transparent approach would focus on the details of their assumptions and feature large uncertainties along both axes. Even with those in place, the magnitude of their negative cost solutions should be a very strong indicator that a much broader analysis will be required to determine why those measures have not already been taken. Hint: they are not very responsive to prices.

    Please press your friends at McKinsey to make their modeling assumptions and inputs public so that they can undergo proper scientific review and be careful not to promote the overly simplistic notion that market efficiency alone can produce socially optimal levels of abatement.

    [JR: Not credulous. Their study agrees with IEA analysis and the entire economic literature review of the IPCC. And more important, their study underestimates the savings I have personally seen and documented in dozens of buildings, factories, and companies over the past 15 years.

    McKinsey does NOT say this would happen by itself. It would take a lot of policy effort. But not only do I think it is reasonable — it is inevitable.]

  17. hapa says:

    i don’t think public opposition to carbon abatement is about macro efficiency. people are worried they’ll get stuck with the bills while the benefits are skimmed off for insiders and fatcats.

    this is exactly how the crash bailout looks to most people — mansions getting new gold decorations while regular homes go into foreclosure.

    when democrats argue that macro efficiency lifts all boats… it hurts.

    so i don’t know what there is to ask. economic costs are small, so what. we have to do it. but will the jerks in DC end up using federal climate spending to attack social security and medicare and other general welfare programs? who’s going to stop “the green belt” from screwing over the rest of the country like the sun belt hung the rust belt out to dry?

    those are the costs people are worried about. what does mckinsey have to say about that?

  18. Mark Shapiro says:

    Sam Borgeson,

    You are right to be skeptical, but we should read the whole report, which Joe links back to from a June 2008 post for us. It has plenty of detail and transparency.

    And it is not simplistic — the fact that the extremely cost-effective efficiency measures have not been taken is direct evidence of market inefficiency. The question is how to help, or make, them happen. (Following your hint that they are not very responsive to prices, let’s raise the price!) In other words, cap – n-trade.

  19. Start Loving says:

    Hello friend. Brilliant work. I hope to attend Monday’s conference and post it on the site. Please KEEP IT UP!

  20. Modesty says:

    Many of the questions people raise above can be answered by downloading the whole 200-page “Version 2” report (incl. 30 pages of assumptions) available at the link Martin posted in his 3.10pm comment.

  21. Ken says:

    The left side of the graph doesn’t need carbon pricing via C&T or carbon taxes or whatever. All you need is creative financing — like the Berkeley FIRST program for residential solar, which is paying for itself.
    (Except that solar PV is not on the left side of the graph — it is way over on the right. I don’t get it. Could someone please explain why it works? And if it works for solar PV, why do we need carbon pricing?)

  22. Leland Palmer says:

    Thanks, Martin Hedberg

    “To provide a quantitative basis for such discussions, McKinsey & Company, supported by ten leading global companies and organisations – The Carbon Trust, ClimateWorks, Enel, Entergy, Holcim, Honeywell, Shell, Vattenfall, Volvo, WWF – …”

    The coal and oil industry funding for the McKinsey & Company makes the whole report somewhat questionable, IMO. This could be anything from an honest report to a report loaded with industry friendly assumptions and deliberately deceptive hidden conceptual frames.

    The bottom line of the graph seems to be that we can do lots of stuff which does not affect the core fossil fuel industries easily and cheaply.

    But to affect the core of the greenhouse gas problem would be prohibitively expensive, this report says.

    I’m not buying it, just yet.

    I think maybe the core assumptions of the report are somewhat flawed.

    If I had to write a deliberately deceptive report favoring the fossil fuel industries, I would emphasize the possibilities of innovation and invention in alternative energies, while leaving out the effects of innovation and invention in the fossil fuel industries.

    The coal industry, for example, has been locked in a profitable technological stasis for years. Many potential technologies, such as HiPPS, which could easily decrease coal usage by 10 percent (this was one of the Combustion 2000 project goals) have simply not been pursued because coal was so cheap there was no incentive to change.

    Vattenfall, among the funders of the McKinsey & Company, is doing great things with their clean coal oxyfuel pilot plant, but remains mostly a coal powered utility, I think.

    Any report which does not consider efficiency gains from concepts like HiPPS and oxyfuel, and does not consider the hugely synergistic effects of carbon negative energy strategies on the climate crisis is not a complete report, IMO.

    The somewhat thin slice of GtCO2 equivalent for coal conversion to CCS, and the high cost of this option, looks like a coal industry funded effort to shift the blame and exaggerate the costs of coal conversion to CCS.

    Of course it is possible to come up with such figures: exclude the possibility of technological innovation in your calculations, for those industries that you want to make change seem least cost effective.

  23. Ronald says:

    To Leland Palmer,

    Isn’t the jest of this report other than what you are saying? I get from the excutive summary of this report that we could change to a much less carbon fueled economy with a cost of from 0.6 to 1.4 percent of GDP. How is that helping the fossil fuel industry? Isn’t this report explaining that many of the things that we could do would actually benefit us or the final owner, such as Residential Electronics or Commercial Retro (Insulation), to actually do them and reduce how much fossil fueled energy is used?

    That the conversion to a low carbon economy would only cost 0.6 to 1.4 percent of GDP is not a high cost in my thinking. This report isn’t trying to say that to affect the core of the greenhouse gas problem is prohibitively expensive, it is trying to say that it is not prohibitively expensive to affect the greenhouse gas problem. What am I missing?

  24. Eric says:


    I don’t see anything here or in the report about basic solar thermal for hot water, building heat, building cooling and industrial process energy use. There is substantial opportunity for these technologies.

    I also don’t see heat recovery anywhere. Are their slices too small to measure? Are the included in other slices such a HVAC retrofit?


  25. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Ronald-

    The gist of the report seems to be that huge CO2 reductions are possible and affordable – in every area except for traditional huge fossil fuel energy monopolies.

    So, if I’m right, the deception is exaggerating the expense of changing our core fossil fuel industries, and perhaps exaggerating the benefits of alternative energy and efficiency strategies.

    So, if there is deception involved, it is deception aimed at promoting those things that do not interfere with the core business of fossil fuels.

    I think this might also be a corporate attempt to shift the blame from core fossil fuel industries to individuals. Many of the things on the left hand side of the graph require individual effort and sacrifice.

    I think it likely that this industry funded report overestimates the cost of changing our core fossil fuel industries, and underestimates the cost, complexity, and individual sacrifice needed to implement the left side of the graph.

    Which is why I don’t think our coal plants and oil companies should be left in private hands. I think we need to nationalize them all, in order to get at the truth about questions such as these, if for no other reason.

    We need to seize the coal plants, and convert them very quickly to biocarbon/CCS plants, making them carbon negative, for example.

    Punishment and revenge are also pretty good reasons to seize the coal fired power plants and oil companies, trace the wealth gained from these enterprises worldwide, and strip the owners of this wealth and of their historical profits and all enterprises purchased with those profits.

    Punishment deters bad behavior, and destroying a planet’s biosphere seems to come under that heading.

    Revenge could also be fun, and we ought to get what enjoyment we can from watching the rich people who caused this problem be stripped of their wealth and imprisoned.

  26. Bill Woods says:

    Ken: “… (Except that solar PV is not on the left side of the graph — it is way over on the right. I don’t get it. Could someone please explain why it works? And if it works for solar PV, why do we need carbon pricing?)

    [belated response:]
    If that PV solar system is saving 90% of $4200/yr, that’s $3780/yr.
    If the cost of borrowing $35,000 is $3300/yr, then the cost of the full $41k is $3866/yr — a net loss of $86/yr. It’s nice of his neighbors to pay for $6k of his solar bill, but that doesn’t make the cost go away.

  27. Leland Palmer says:

    If I’m reading this graph right, these guys are claiming that conversion of coal to CCS would only save a billion or two tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere per year.

    But the U.S. itself burns roughly a billion tons of coal, equivalent to roughly 4 billion tons of CO2, per year. Worldwide, we burn something like 6 billion tons of coal per year, equivalent to something like 22 billion tons of CO2 per year. Total production of CO2 from oil is roughly equivalent, I think.

    So, a lot of the coal being burned is not even being considered for CCS.

    Wouldn’t a true graph show huge bars on the right side, and very skinny bars on the left?

    What happened to the huge, wide bars on the right side of the graph?

    Isn’t this by definition a deceptive use of graphing?

  28. Ken says:

    Bill Woods:
    The article says he is saving $900 per year with the rebate, implying that the PV system is saving 100% of the 4200/yr. That would also imply that the savings would be $334/yr without the rebate.
    It’s not clear to me why the energy savings would be 100% — or 90%. (With net metering it might be more than 100%.)

  29. Martin Hedberg says:

    A problem with a report and graphics like this is that we tend to focus on the details and hence forget the boundary conditions. A boundary condition is something that by necessity has to be fulfilled, whatever the details say.

    A boundary condition for mitigating climate change is that there is a limit to how much more fossil carbon humanity can bring up from the ground. -Whatever is brought up will eventually turn up in the atmosphere and hence affect the carbon cycle, i.e. the climate and ecosystem. (We can talk about CCS when it is working, until then it doesn’t work. And when/if it works, it should be run on bio-fuel.)

    We tend to look at many details, cost efficiency, technological development, financial crisis, different incentives etc etc. Many of them are great, but since they are interconnected, positive and negative feedback’s, (on different time scales), irreversibility, non-linearity etc. (not so different from the climate system.) it is very difficult to do predictions about future outcome. And since this is a system involving humanity it also includes politics, prejudice, vanity, cultural behavior, religion, trust etc. Pretty difficult, not to say impossible, to do forecasts or scenarios about.

    Given the enormous complexity we can prove almost anything. From total success to total failure. Depending on how different groups define the system (initial systems, connections, feedback, dynamics etc) we get different results and hence will tend to argue for different actions and incentives. (Could there be a bias due to some special interest from official supporters to the report?)

    But whatever details we choose argue for, the boundary condition may not be passed. So I propose one should turn the question the other way around: ”Will the chosen incentives and actions make the coal, oil and gas industry only bring up a limited amount of carbon? Not per year, but a total amount for the following 100 or 500 years?” (Don’t look at the details, look at the whole picture.)
    If the answer is ”no” or ”we aren’t sure”… then we have to figure out other incentives and actions.

    I also think one should put the question even simpler: ”What will it take to make the coal, oil and gas industry to only dig up x gigatons of fossil carbon for the following 500 years?”

    Whatever is brought up from the ground will eventually turn up in the atmosphere. Given the long overturning of the carbon cycle we realise that there is a limit to the total acceptable emissions of ghg, hence also the total amount of carbon we can bring up from the ground.


    PS. Of course we also have to include the other greenhouse gases, not to mention the dynamics of the natural carbon cycle, ocean acidification, albedo-change etc.
    We must also realise that we may already have passed the acceptable limit of emissions.
    But thinking/arguing about Boundary conditions still holds. DS.

  30. Bill Woods says:

    Yes, $900/yr is the difference between his pre-solar PG&E bill of $4200/yr and his tax increase of $3300/yr, but that seems to overstate his savings, if the solar system is providing only “90 percent of his family’s needs.” (Also, the implication is that his utility bill was all E and no G — not impossible, but it seems rather odd.)

    Leland Palmer: “If I’m reading this graph right, these guys are claiming that conversion of coal to CCS would only save a billion or two tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere per year.

    But the U.S. itself burns roughly a billion tons of coal, …

    At a guess, the assumption is that CCS consumes a lot of the energy of the coal, so to get the same net output, we’ll have to burn a lot more coal, which reduces the net savings.

  31. Bill Woods says:

    By the way, this graph shows “power plant biomass co-firing” as much more expensive than “2nd generation biofuels”. Does that square with recent reports that using biomass by burning it to power electrical vehicles is more efficient than using it to make ethanol?

  32. Ken says:

    Bill Woods – You’re right. I had missed the “90 percent” in the news story. But still, $86/yr is practically zero (about 2% of the electricity cost). If you translate that into $/ton, I’m sure it would be well below the $20/ton in the McKinsey graph (and that’s probably for utility PV, not residential). What gives?

  33. Greg Robie says:

    Joe, I got up early on Mother’s Day to give this post some thought and a response. I had seen it just before going to bed and wanted to consider it, in addition to everything else Mother’s Day entails, yesterday. I got a 503 error from your server for a number of hours so considered engagement didn’t happen. Did your blog’s content trigger a denial of service attack?!? =)

    Anyway, it is now Monday morning and if I am to contribute anything before you head out to be on the panel, it will need to be brief, and not as well considered as I would like. Hence, and basically, the critique I have is that the concept of an economic “up” that appear to constitute the assumptions these calculations are based on is suspect.

    I’ve written about this before, and I know it is a hard concept to wrap ones mind around, but, simply, to fix the current economy, systemically, wages have to grow, and globally . . . and first (before anything else; above anything else). Fractional banking, even when “regulated,” does not have this need as a primary goal. I think the modeling behind this graph is based on the “realities” of the cheap credit, unsustainable consumptions, and US dollar denominated OPEC oil sales (and the resulting international pressures to keep the costs of goods and services depressed for the consumption of US citizenship; for a “reasonable” return on “investment.”).

    There are two parts to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and money that have been abandoned. The one that relates to what I am trying to point out in this comment concerns establishing the value of foreign coin. A viable social governance needs to control (establish the value of) both domestic and foreign coin. The assumptions of the central bank controlled fiat currency monitory system of global capitalism, which has reached its limits to growth, cannot be rationally used to estimate the cost of restructuring the economy to become an environmental, social, and economic sustainable one; for defining the concept of “up.”

    Until I see more of the underlaying assumptions for this modeling, and that they are based on the economic dynamics of a new, scientifically sustainable, paradigm, I retain what I feel is a rational understanding of what it will cost to tip out of our tip into klimakatastrophe: more than the privileged can imagine as rational.

  34. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Martin Hedberg-

    We can talk about CCS when it is working, until then it doesn’t work. And when/if it works, it should be run on bio-fuel.

    Well carbon storage works, at least so far. The oil industry has been using it for secondary oil recovery, especially in Texas, for years. Various locations around the world are doing it on small to medium scales.

    CCS should only be used for biomass derived carbon, and not for secondary oil recovery, which defeats the purpose by producing more oil.

    Long term, we need carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation, as proposed by Lackner and others.

    Its going to be hard to persuade fossil fuel industries to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because fossil fuels constitute stored solar energy, which is like coacaine to industrial societies. Cheap practical solar, nuclear, fusion, wind, OTEC ocean thermal, and so on might discourage fossil fuel use. Carbon negative energy ideas might allow some fossil fuel use, and be able to compensate for it, by putting carbon back into the ground, especially if coupled with mineral carbonation.

    Overall, though, at least in the short term, lots of regulation will be required, and the inherently hard to regulate properties of capitalism suggest that socialized energy production is the only safe way to go, at least in the short term.

    Which is why we need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them massively and quickly into carbon negative power plants, run by the government. Then we need to use our influence, worldwide, to ensure that all other countries do the same. To prevent capitalist interference with this program, we need to track down and confisticate fossil fuel derived wealth, IMO.

    We need to accept no information from the coal or oil industry, however well disguised, and simply make the maximum effort we are capable of as a species to return the climate to its former self-regulating state.

  35. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Bill Woods-

    At a guess, the assumption is that CCS consumes a lot of the energy of the coal, so to get the same net output, we’ll have to burn a lot more coal, which reduces the net savings.

    It still doesn’t seem to add up, Bill. There should be some huge, wide bars on the right side of the graph, for Coal/CCS retrofit, at some price attached.

    It seems apparent that they are leaving out a lot of current fossil fuel use from their graph, and considering it untouchable, for some reason. Perhaps there as assumptions in their work about what is “practical”, which depend on assumptions about how “business as usual” is conducted, leaving out the possibility of socialist seizure of coal plants, for example.

    CCS does not necessarily have to cost huge amounts of energy, especially if it is combined with innovations like oxyfuel, which can boost Carnot efficiencies, and topping cycles like HiPPS. Both oxyfuel and HiPPS can be retrofitted to existing power plants, and would more than compensate for the energy cost of CCS.

  36. I see the price per ton of CO2 used for the Coal CCS Retrofit bar is approximately $60. I presume that refers to post-combustion carbon capture and storage, retrofitted to existing pulverized coal plants. That sounds low, particularly for technology that does not yet exist. Chemical capture and underground storage are not scalable and still have unsolved technical and political problems. These were detailed in my previous, longer post, which still has not been cleared. This sounds like more “clean coal” smoke and mirrors designed to set a low price per ton for the cap auction.

  37. Bill Woods says:

    It still doesn’t seem to add up, Bill. There should be some huge, wide bars on the right side of the graph, for Coal/CCS retrofit, at some price attached.

    I suppose the timescale has a major effect on the width of the boxes. If CCS is widely deployed between 2010 and 2020, that’d only give it an average of about 15 years before 2030. I’d like to see a similar analysis extending out to 2050.

  38. Since my previous comment, from 9 PST last night has not yet been cleared, I will repost in chunks, each having only one link:

    According to the latest issue of POWER, India is planning an increase in coal-fired capacity in the range of 200 GW to 400 GW by 2030, up from the 77 GW today. Coal provides 52% of India’s electricity. India is a representative example of the developing economies: they are desperate for more power and they will be burning much more coal by 2030. issues/ features/ Powering-the-People-Indias-Capacity-Expansion-Plans_1858.html

    For India, and China as well, capacity must be increased just to keep up with anticipated and required growth in the economy. If plug-in cars are added, the need for more coal power will explode. And India is not even a major energy hog. In terms of electricity use, per capita consumption was only 480 kWh in 2005 — a quarter of China’s and 1/20th that of developed countries.

  39. A lot of confidence is being placed in CCS retrofit technology, which does not exist yet. Are they seriously talking about chemical capture out of flue gas, and underground storage? Clean coal is not a reality, but a dream.

    Presently, we have chemical capture (amine or chilled ammonia scrubbing) which has worked for natural gas but will probably not work with flue gas because of the large (75% of volume) N2 fraction (”nitrogen ballast”) which complicates makes mixing the chemicals in. Heat-stable salts scale the heat exchange surfaces. Fly ash sludge is another problem. Compressing the huge volumes of hot and dirty flue gas, with its nitrogen ballast, to liquefy the CO2 is obviously out of the question. Here is an alternative capture method: vortex gas separation by mechanically forced von Karman swirling flow in an open system.

  40. Disposal of the captured CO2 by underground dumping (”sequestration” to the snobs) is used deep under the ocean by natural gas producers, and it is being studied for use in the continental US. Sequestration would require an enormous pipeline infrastructure, and the liability issues for lethal gas storage are still unresolved. The GAO report on sequestration is not encouraging:

    Other than sequestration, there is mineralization, such as the Calera process which turns CO2 into CaCO3 for cement. But mineralization is slow, and the volumes of CO2 to be processed are huge, to say nothing of the nitrogen ballast mixed with the CO2. Remember, we are talking about a dilute and dirty stream of CO2, not a pure stream in a laboratory.

    An alternative to sequestration and mineralization is cracking the CO2 to make CO. The bond dissociation energy for taking off the first oxygen is 5.5 eV — in the same neighborhood as water electrolysis. Simultaneous CO2 and water electrolysis (”syntrolysis”) produces syngas (CO + H2) which can be burned or processed into vehicle fuel. So there is a way to make CO2 into a resource instead of a waste product. The difficulty is the energy required, which cannot come from fossil fuels because they emit more CO2 than they can crack.

    The solution is to use wind and solar energy to crack coal CO2. They could also crack the NOx and SOx at the same time. This gets solar and wind widely deployed while preserving the baseload power of coal. CO2 becomes the longed-for energy storage medium for renewables. Wind and solar are too intermittent to be relied on for baseload power, and wind is abundant at night, when there is already plenty of spinning reserve from coal and nuclear, so it would go to waste if not used for cracking. Hybrid power generation is how to reduce CO2 emissions while deploying wind and solar as fast as possible, without compromising the grid.

  41. Regarding post-combustion CCS using amine scrubbing for CO2 capture, a necessary unit process is regeneration of the “rich” amine after scrubbing to recycle a “lean” amine solution back into the scrubber. The heat required for regeneration would produce its own CO2 emissions. Does anyone know how much CO2 is added by the regenerator heat, and whether the cost of CCS for that additional CO2 has been taken into account in calculating the $60 per ton cost of CO2 mitigation?

    If the cost per ton is set low by policymakers, then it will make no economic sense to deploy technology that costs more per ton. Polluters will just pay the $60 per ton ticket and then go to their local PUC for a rate hike to cover their additional cost.

  42. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Bill and Wilmot-

    The type of CCS that I favor is oxyfuel combustion, rather than post combustion CO2 capture. Oxygen is separated from air cryogenically, leaving all of the nitrogen behind. Oxyfuel combustion produces an almost pure stream of CO2, which can easily have the water and impurities removed.

    There is an energy cost for cryogenic separation of air, and another energy cost for compression of CO2 for deep injection, resulting in an overall loss of thermal efficiency of about 11%.

    Oxyfuel combustion takes place at a higher temperature than air combustion, though, and so has the potential of greater Carnot efficiency. Oxyfuel combustion can also be retrofitted to existing coal fired power plants. Jupiter Oxygen Corporation and the National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) have done this, and have sucessfully run a 2MW coal plant on untempered oxyfuel combustion without exhaust gas recirculation, resulting in 6.7% fuel savings over air combusiton, without damaging the boiler.

    NETL and United Technologies have sucessfully developed a ceramic protected alloy heat exchanger for HiPPS, and are projecting HiPPS efficiencies as high as 55%, even without oxyfuel.

    From the National Energy Technology Lab, based on 30 years worth of research and pilot studies:

    Combining oxyfuel combustion, HiPPS, and biocarbon fuel should result in carbon negative power plants that are as thermally efficient (or more thermally efficient) than existing coal plants, and that can pay for the CCS by higher fuel efficiency. Such plants should work better with biocarbon than with coal, because biocarbon is much cleaner and easier to transport, and less corrosive to burn. Biocarbon log pipelines, for example, might actually purify their water rather than loading it with sulfur and heavy metals.

    If we leave it up to the coal and power industries, we never will have such power plants, and we never will have the ability to transfer billions of tons of carbon underground, and the climate will simply accelerate out of control, I think.

    The coal power industries do not want to change, and have a long history of resisting change.

    We need to simply seize the coal fired power plants and force their conversion to carbon negative power plants, on an emergency “Manhattan Project” basis, finishing the conversion in less than five years.