Tuesday, September 25, 2012

25 November 2011 – China’s coal rush

"Never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake."

- N. Bonaparte


"Son, a Russky don't take a dump without a plan."

- Admiral Joshua Painter (Fred Dalton Thompson), The Hunt for Red October


For most of 2010, carbon shares on the EU carbon market were trading at well above  €15/tonne, which is astronomical compared to the $0.05/tonne that US carbon shares crash-landed at a year ago, leading to the closure of the Chicago Climate Exchange.  Over the past few months, however, the European carbon market decided to follow its US counterpart and began a long, slow thundering in.


According to Bloomberg, that's the last 12 months.  Last summer, carbon shares peaked above €17/tonne, then plunged along with other shares when the European debt crisis started to gather steam in June, and continued to decline through the autumn.  Over the last two days, though, they plunged again.  Since May, they've lost nearly 60% of their value.

What happened over the last two days?  Well, unless you've been living in a hole or watching the mainstream media (sorry, I guess that's redundant), you're probably aware that an anonymous poster dumped another pile of emails stolen or otherwise acquired from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU).  Those who follow such things have dubbed this release "Climategate 2.0", and the collection doesn't disappoint; once again, some of the biggest names in the alarmist camp of climate science feature prominently, and are shown to be engaged less in science than in trying to figure out how to make science serve a political end. 

Don't take my word for it; go and read them if you like.  As always, the data speak for themselves.

Why does this matter?  Well, because the Durban climate talks are going to begin next Monday.  The email dump came just a few days before the Conference gets underway, just as the first dump (that launched the original "Climategate" and immortalized the phrase, "Hide the Decline!") came a few days before the Copenhagen climate talks began at the end of 2009. 

That's a little red meat for the conspiracy theorists out there.  Here's some more:

Nov 15-18, 2009: US president Barack Obama visits China
Nov 19, 2009: Climategate I emails released
Dec 2009: Copenhagen climate talks

Nov 19, 2011: US president Barack Obama visits China
Nov 22, 2011: Climategate II emails released
Nov 28, 2011: Durban climate talks begin

Is there an Obama-China-Climategate connection? To quote Dash Parr's gluteally-wounded teacher in The Incredibles, "Coincidence?  I think NOT!"

The China-climate angle is important, because what I really wanted to talk about is what we can expect from China next week.  It's funny how China keeps alternately being referred to and ignored in discussions of global warming climate change global climate disruption.  Last month, I attended a Centre for International Governance Innovation meeting entitled "China's Global Impact, How Canada Should Respond".  In the six hours I sat there, the word 'China' was used hundreds if not thousands of times, only slightly more frequently than "climate change" and "partner".  The word "communist", however, wasn't used once, not even in the context of the fact that the "Chinese Communist Party" is the state's governing entity, and has been for close to sixty years.  The ther term never so much as came up.

What was mentioned, though, was China's clear and unequivocal dedication to environmental stewardship.  One of the presenters, whom I shall spare identification (Chatham House rules and all that), claimed to have met with numerous Chinese government officials "at the Deputy Minister level", all of whom swore to him that China was merely waiting for the US and other industrialized countries to act to reduce carbon emissions, after which Beijing would immediately take draconian action to reduce China's own carbon emissions.  The speaker repeated this claim at least twice more during his presentation, and again during the lunch.

At this point I could cite chapter and verse to point out that China surpassed the US last year as the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter, and that the gap has exploded as the recession digs into US industry (as of right now, China produces 23% of the world's emissions to the US's 18%).  I could mention the legendary statistic that China, in addition to building nuclear power plants and planning to expand its wind generation capacity from 12 to 100 GW over the next eight years, is building "one coal-fired generating station per week".  I could mention that China is becoming a motorized society faster than any other on Earth.  I could also mention that 300,000,000 Chinese citizens have yet to benefit from any of these advances, so all of these changes are going to be going on for a long time - long after, in fact, China's carbon dioxide emissions have left US emissions in the dust, and have surpassed those of the rest of the world combined.  I could mention that China emits more CO2 in a month than Canada does in a year - and that the increase in China's emissions alone over the next year or so will surpass Canada's annual emissions.  We could return our entire country to the Stone Age tomorrow, and a year from now global CO2 emissions would be unchanged.  Except it wouldn't because in the Stone Age folks still burned wood to cook their mammoth burgers and, you know, survive winter.  But I digest.

Anyway, I don't need to mention all of that because we all know it, right?  And besides, it's all good, because just as soon as the US and Canada and Russia and France and Japan and Germany and Italy and whomever agree on a plan to reduce carbon emissions, China's going to jump right on board.  They'll get with the programme, and throttle those CO2 emissions...right?

Or maybe they won't.  Maybe they'll do what they've been doing for the past 20 years - bide their time, talk the talk, and watch in bemused astonishment as their strategic adversaries simultaneously a) work to hamstring their domestic ability to produce electricity and therefore support industry, b) create regulatory environments that force companies to move to China in order to be able to make a profit, c) rack up huge amounts of consumer debt to buy from those (now-China-based) companies the same products that until recently had been made at home, while d) enjoying a social safety net that is unsustainable from the now-shrunken tax base and must therefore be propped up by purchasing truly astronomical quantities of debt...from China.

But wait - China must be sincere about the whole "carbon reductions" thing, no?  After all, they're increasing their wind power capacity by a factor of seven over the next 9 years!  Okay - let's run the numbers.  Suppose they go whole-hog and deploy the full 88 GW of wind generation capacity.  At a capacity factor of 25% (the statistical average, although few wind farms ever manage to sustain that), that means they're actually likely to get about 22 GW of actual generating capacity.  At 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year, that translates to 192,720 GWh.  In 2008, the US produced 1,985,801 GWh of electricity by burning coal, and this generated 2,001,806,000 tonnes of CO2, for a ratio of 1008 tonnes of CO2 per GWh of electricity produced (statistics from the US Energy Information Administration).  Assuming China's coal-fired electrical generating plants are as thermally efficient as US plants (and they aren't), this means that China's planned wind deployments should save 192,720 x 1008 = 194,273,269 tonnes of CO2.  That sounds like a lot; after all, Canada's annual emissions in 2008 were 544,091,000 tonnes of CO2.  So you might argue that if China completes its planned wind power deployments by 2020, they'll be able to save an annual amount of CO2 emissions equal to about 35% of Canada's annual emissions.  That's good, right?

As of last summer, China was planning to build 234 GW of coal-fired generating capacity...to be completed by 2016.(See the figure below, and note A)  At a capacity factor of 90%, that's 1,844,856 GWh per year.  Yes, you heard right - between 2011 and 2016, China is already planning to increase its existing electrical generating capacity by roughly as much coal-fired electrical generating capacity as exists in the entire US

Take a close look at that graphic, and think about the fact that all US existing and planned coal-fired capacity is in red and yellow, whereas all of the blue and green belongs to China.  Moreover, the US is taking coal plants off line.  Now...who's got a "coal problem"?

(Source: Erik Shuster, “Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants”, National Energy Technology Laboratory, 12 July 2011)

So that 192M tonnes of CO2 they're saving by installing wind turbines ends up amounting to less than 10% of the 2B tonnes of CO2 emissions they'll be adding from new coal-fired generating stations.  And the new coal stations are going to come on line much more quickly than the turbines.  They're already pouring the cement.

What's my point?  They say that diplomats are folks who are sent abroad to lie for their country.  With an entire United States-worth of coal-fired generating stations due to come on-line by the last year of the second Obama Administration, just how credible are China's claims that they're "just waiting for the US" to take meaningful action to reduce GHG emissions before taking the plunge themselves?  And if the US is willing to further hamstring its economy through regulatory action...why get in the way?  Why on Earth would the Chinese interrupt their enemies while they're making a mistake?

By the way, those wind turbines they're planning to deploy?  Each one contains between 600 and 1000 kg of neodymium-iron-boron magnets.  Hitachi owns the patent on NdFeB magnets, and they used to be made in the US, by companies like Magnequench.  The problem was, after the early 1990s, when Molycorp - the US's only producer of neodymium - declined due to regulatory pressures to renew the license for its mine at Mountain Pass, California, the only remaining source of neodymium was the mine at Baotou, China.  So, in 2000, Magnequench moved its NdFeB magnet facility from Valparaiso, Indiana to China.  Shortly thereafter, Vacuumschmeize, a German NdFeB magnet producer located in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, relocated to China. They were followed two years later by Hitachi Magnetics, which in 2005 relocated its Edmore, Michigan magnet production facility to - you guessed it - China.  Today, nearly 90% of all NdFeB magnets are produced in China.  So even if the new wind turbines are a complete waste of time and money, the money's being spent in China, and the time being wasted is that of salaried Chinese workers.

It's almost like they've got a five-year plan or something.


A) http://www.netl.doe.gov/coal/refshelf/ncp.pdf