Copenhagen commitments

by John Quiggin on November 29, 2009

While Australia has been transfixed by the meltdown of the Liberal (=conservative) party over climate change, there have been a string of positive developments around the world, which make a positive outcome from Copenhagen, leading over the next year to an intermational agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, much more likely than it seemed two years ago, or even six months ago. Among the most important developments

  • Obama’s commitment to a 17 per cent (rel 2005) target, which essentially puts the Administration’s credibility behind Waxman-Markey
  • China’s acceptance of a quantitative emissions target, based on emissions/GDP ratios, but implying a substantial cut relative to business as usual
  • The change of government in Japan, from do-little LDP to activist DPJ
  • EU consensus on the need for stronger action
  • Acceptance of the principle of compensation for developing countries, and acceptance by countries like India that they should take part in a global agreement and argue for compensation

    A notable consequence has been the announcement by Canadian PM Harper that he will go to Copenhagen, having previously said he wouldn’t. Canada is a hotbed (coldbed?) of climate science delusionism, and Harper has reneged on Canada’s Kyoto commitments. That was fine while Bush was in, but now Harper finds himself on the outer with Obama and threatened with suspension from the Commonwealth. More serious measures, such as trade sanctions, are being kept out of view for the moment, but they are already being discussed in both EU and US circles. (I should say that coverage of Canada in the Oz media is very limited, so if I’ve got all this wrong, I hope readers will correct me).

Harper’s embarrassing backflip is an indication of the silliness of the idea, common among discussions in the Liberal Party here, that Australia is in danger of “getting in front of the rest of the world”. If the fruit loops led by Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin get any share of political power in this country, even the partial veto associated with control of the Opposition, we run the risk of finding ourselves at the back of the pack, and paying a hefty price.

It now seems virtually certain that the Liberals will dump their current leader, Malcolm Turnbull, who negotiated a very emitter-friendly deal on an emissions trading scheme with the Labor government, and replace him with a moderate (as these things go), Joe Hockey, who strongly supported the deal. But the price for Hockey will be going back on the deal.

At this stage, Labor PM Kevin Rudd appears willling to wait until after Copenhagen and bring the bill back then. But it seems unlikely that anything will have changed.

As with most international agreements, the outcome from Copenhagen will prove far short of ideal. But once the world is on the right track, and it becomes evident that the costs of stabilising the global climate are far smaller than the delusionist doomsayers have pretended, it should be possible to improve. With luck we will be in time not just to save ourselves from the worst-case disasters but to give vulnerable systems like the Great Barrier Reef a chance at survival.



aaron_m 11.29.09 at 8:40 pm


“China’s acceptance of a quantitative emissions target, based on emissions/GDP ratios, but implying a substantial cut relative to business as usual”

I have only checked out a few reports on China’s proposed targets but they seem to indicate that they are close to China’s BAU plans. Would you point to the relevant analyses?



John Quiggin 11.29.09 at 10:11 pm

BAU, in the way it’s normally used in this debate means “no mitigation policy”. Given China’s stage of development, I would think BAU would imply emissions growing roughly in line with GDP, not the 40 per cent plus reduction being offered.

My understanding is that the Chinese targets are an advance on existing policy, which is already much more active than a lot of discussion has recognised. Here’s a link with a similar view


alan 11.30.09 at 12:49 am

I’d like to think that it’s the Canadian government, rather than Canada as a whole, that’s “a hotbed (coldbed?) of climate science delusionism” but perhaps I’m just trying to cheer myself up.


bm 11.30.09 at 1:40 am

As regards China, this might be a tad over-optimistic, since the Chinese promise for “notable” progress on CO2 per unit of real GDP could be consistent with contininued rapid growth in CO2 emissions themselves. However it partly depends on what period you use to judge Business As Usual (BAU).

Data on China’s CO2 emissions in the World Bank World Development Indicators go through 2005. Let’s take 1980 as the starting point of the reform period, which marked a structural break in most aspects of China’s economic performance. In the period 1980-2005 China’s CO2 emissions per unit of real GDP fell by 4% per year – probably a record pace, cumulating to a total 64% fall over the 25 year period. At the same time, because of fast economic growth (9.4% per year), CO2 emissions themselves increased by 5.4% per year – i.e. they almost tripled over the 25 years! This was BAU! Going forward, China will be hard pressed to achieve anything like the 4% per year decline seen in 1980-2005.

There’s some value to looking at sub-periods. All of the improvement in CO2/GDP efficiency occured in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 2000s, though, efficiency gains came to a dead halt and CO2/GDP ratios even began growing again by around 1% per year. Combined with fast GDP growth this meant that the pace of CO2 emissions growth jumped to around 11% per year. I take this to mean that the efficiency gains of the 1980s and 1990s were mostly a one-time improvement, associated with the move from socialism to the Chinese version of capitalism. Since the government was not much concerned with CO2 or energy efficiency in this transitional period, you can put down most of that gain to the shift from sheer stupidity to more profit maximizing behavior. (In this kind of epochal shift the normal negative environmental externalities associated with market based profit maximizing behavior would be very much 2nd or 3rd order phenomena).

Now – to pursue this story – the one time “easy” efficiency gains have run out. Further improvements in CO2 efficiency will require much harder and costlier policy actions such as energy taxes, technology subsidies etc., (although, of course, because of externalities, the social benefit/cost ratio of these actions would be positive). Let’s say that, with honest, painful policy efforts, China achieves a 2% per year reduction in CO2/GDP going forward. Let’s also assume China’s long run GDP growth rate slows to 7% a year (say because of the rotten global environment, or because because China is now much closer to the global knowledge frontier than it used to be). CO2 emissions would then be growing at around 5% a year – a lot better than the 11% growth in recent years but about the same as in 1980-2005.

You and I no doubt agree that reducing China’s CO2 emission growth from 11% to 5% a year would be a very worthwhile contribution to global actions to curb climate change. But your average American or Australian politician? I have my doubts.


Billikin 11.30.09 at 4:29 am

Err, commitments?



Ken Houghton 11.30.09 at 5:23 pm

Harper’s embarrassing backflip is an indication of the silliness of the idea, common among discussions in the Liberal Party here, that Australia is in danger of “getting in front of the rest of the world”

Uh, Australia should be in front of the rest of the world; it has the most to lose.

It’s a pain in the arse to reach, even from “nearby” countries. And, what, 90% of the continent is desert so there are Rather Limited Places to Go and See.

So when/if the Great Barrier Reef disappears/becomes bleached, the natural Australian tourism declines significantly. (People may want to see, e.g., the Sydney Opera House, but you don’t go there every day for a week and see Something Different.)

If the Liberal Party of Australia wants to go back to being a prison colony and make Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good” the national model for life, then they should just admit it and try to close the borders now. Otherwise, they should protect reasons to travel 12 hours from Beijing or Tokyo, let alone two days from the Western U.S. or Europe.


Wrye 11.30.09 at 9:24 pm

Canada as a whole isn’t, but the Canadian Oil industry/Alberta is, and the Harper Gov’s powerbase is in Alberta and the Oil Industry. We get constant ads and radio show guests denouncing climate change science, and on the whole Harper is trying very hard to roll public opinion into his camp, while the opposition is fragmented and incoherent. (And yes, it’s a long story)

That said, suspending Canada from the Commonwealth would get the government’s attention in a big way.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.01.09 at 11:30 am

The most likely outcome of chinese energy policy over the next couple of decades is an extremely rapid rollout of nuclear reactors – New reactor build in china currently costs well under 2000 dollars/kwh (due to low labour costs, and a very rapid planning process) and at that price building anything else is economic idiocy, even ignoring emissions and pollution, so we can expect the plans for new nukes in china to be revised upwards again and again untill they end up with a French energy mix. This implies that reducing the carbon intensity of their economy isnt going to be an economic sacrifice – Simply building nukes in place of coal is a win-win, as they get cheaper electricity and no emissions.
This logic also holds for India.
Which means that in 20 years, the major sinners on the carbon front is very likely to still be the western nations who rely on coal.


Valuethinker 12.01.09 at 4:31 pm

Thomas Jorgenson

Without deeply compromising safety, it is unlikely the Indians and the Chinese can get radically below western cost levels for nuclear reactors.

So $6000/kw. Say the Chinese do 40% better then $3600.

There is not easily the scale in the world for the Chinese to build, say, 104 operating reactors, which would only put their capacity at current US capacity (X 1.5 say, to allow for the larger 3rd Gen reactor size).

At that rate this would be c. 15%-20% of Chinese electricity consumption in 2030, say, about the same level as the US now. Beginning say 6 years from now, that’s still finishing a new reactor about every 1.9 months (figure 84 reactors 2018-2030 ie 7 pa having built 20 before then)– as much as the US managed at the absolute peak of commissioning in the 1970s,

Over to India. The problems are far, far greater. The economy lacks the necessary infrastructure. Much of the key capital equipment would have to be imported which would seriously hamper the construction due to macro issues eg trade balance, nationalism etc.

If you visit India you will quickly realize how difficult it is to build quality infrastructure in anything. that’s why India’s success has been in ‘asset lite’ businesses like software. Their nuclear programme is a prestige thing tied into their military efforts.

So 104 Indian reactors is probably unattainable by 2030 (40 might be doable, but it’s more of a stretch than 104 Chinese reactors). 20-30 is probably what is practical. Again, not more than 20% electric power consumption.

Nuclear fission is tomorrow’s answer, and always will be. The ‘nuclear revival’ will be about replacing the existing 480 power reactors in the world, with some sectoral shift between the US/UK/Europe and Asia.

There will not, in 2030, be more kilowatts generated by nuclear means than there are now (given the rundown in existing fleets).

Note the projected costs for the new Darlinton Reactor in Ontario, the ones in Florida, the 4 being bid to the US DOE, the Finnish 3G reactor and Flamanville in France, are all 3 times what was projected in 200o at the beginning of the ‘nuclear revival’.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.01.09 at 6:17 pm

Look up the actual construction costs of recent Chinese reactor projects. I did not pull those 2000 bucks/kwh capacity out of thin air, China is consistently bringing nuclear capacity online below that cost. – This means that the kwh price on nuclear power in China kicks coals ass so badly its not even funny. Despite this, the current plan for the scale of nuclear capacity in China is modest, but honestly, the infrastructure requirements nessesary to fuel Chinas future power requirements with coal are so insane that the current plans will be thrown out in favor of “more nukes” – Expanding the supply chain for nuclear build will cost money, but it will cost less money than an entire new rail network solely dedicated to moving coal from the inland mines to the costal cities.

Indias nuclear plans are *anything* but modest, as they are aiming for 500+ gigawatts of cheap fast breeders by 2060, and theyve been revising that upwards after they gained access to international suppliers..


Valuethinker 12.01.09 at 7:31 pm


‘Cheap fast breeders by 2060′. Nobody has made breeder reactors work in a safe and economic fashion. Maybe they can by then, but to also build 600 GW+? India does not now, and will not in the next 20 years, have the kind of infrastructure to make that work. India changes, but never as fast as one would like. I suspect they’ll build 20-50 reactors in the next 30 years or so.

Given that these thorium breeder reactors don’t even exist yet, the possibility that India will scale that far is remote. India just doesn’t work like that: they can’t get existing consumers to pay for electric power.

Remember, price of solar cells is currently halving every 5 years. Assuming that rate falls (the price of wind power is dropping by 15% with each doubling of world capacity. A normal learning curve for a moderately mature technology) you’re still in a position where the levelized cost of solar power is well below that of nuclear power (a very mature technology) by 2040 if not earlier.

Breeders are one of those ‘holy grail’ technologies that we have been kicking around for 50 years, that just doesn’t work. Not well enough, and safely enough, to be useful.

I’m interested in your Chinese ‘cost’ estimates, in a country where cost is not a simple question. It’s not a free market economy, and in the regulated sector (ie electric power) there’s no ‘market’ that gives us a realistic cost. I doubt the Chinese even know what the true cost of electric power generation is.

$4,000-6,000/ kw is where new western reactors are coming in. It’s reasonable to assume that on an opportunity cost basis, the Chinese will face similar costs:

- capital is cheaper but that cannot go on forever (it’s part and parcel of their monetary bubble)
- labour is cheaper so that is a saving, but skilled labour is not really cheaper (opportunity cost again)
- cement and concrete is somewhat cheaper (but cement is a global industry so the floor price is the input price)
- complex nuclear components cannot be cheaper (some even imported). They may succeed in reengineering these costs down

There will be significant learning curve effects on the 3rd Generation reactors, but remember they are still fundamentally Pressurized Water Reactorss, and PWR is a (very) mature technology: Shippingport PA was 1958 from memory, and the naval programme even older.

(we will not see a true 4th Gen PWR this side of 2035 I suspect, and could be even later– none of the proposed designs are that convincing from a safety/security/ proliferation point of view).

What the Chinese nuclear programme smells of is the same factors that propelled the UK nuclear programme and the Soviet one. Massive cross-subsidisation (the French, the same) by the state, ignoring future costs (waste disposal, decontamination). That does put something of an economic cap on the size of the nuclear power sector (even the Chinese state cannot keep this up– forever).

I’ll stick with my core estimate. One can see 100 3G reactors aka c. 140GW capacity in China by 2030. This is big, no doubt about it and implies a very high completion rate. It’s almost absurdly ambitious. It won’t be cheap (although if they standardize designs, they will get some of the economies of scale the French reaped). It’s unlikely to be more than 20% of Chinese electric power production in 2030.

By which time, technologies like solar and wind will be fully mature (actually, solar won’t- -we’ll be onto technologies you and I cannot imagine). Which doesn’t mean they are the entire answer, but they’ll be huge (all those rooftops will become thin film solar collectors) and we’ll have more handles on the power storage problem. There’s ocean power, geothermal etc. as well– quantities unknown (but China well placed to do those, just as it has the second best onshore wind resource in the world, and the scale and capability of industrial capacity to exploit that- -Xinjiang and Guansu etc. are very big places).

The great virtue of wind (and concentrated solar etc.) is that they scale, and scale easily, because the unit of production is quite small (1-5 MW). More wind power on a site simply equals more wind turbines. You can build the damn things in a factory and ship them to the site, and heh presto, gentlemen we have a power plant. (power lines are another matter, but the Chinese have fewer scruples than most countries).

On coal, yes, but. They do have a huge logistical problem, true, but that’s more crackable than the logistical problems of building that many nuclear reactors.

The ringer is Carbon Capture and Storage, whether it can be done economically, and fast enough, and whether ‘post combustion’ processes which can be retrofitted to existing power stations, can be made to work.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.01.09 at 9:21 pm

Point the first: The costs cited for chinese nuclear build are from turn key projects by western and Russian suppliers. I wouldnt want to even take a stab at what the costs of the chinese builders are, but areva is walking away with a profit from contracts at this price point, and south korean build prices arent much higher.. – The issue isnt that china is hiding costs, the issue is that american costs are freakishly high. And it specifically *is* american costs. The Fins are taking a good hard look at oikoluto 3 and saying “We want another three of those”.

You are aware what the population density of china is ? No matter how cheap solar gets, it will play absolutely no significant role in the future energy mix of either it, India, Japan or Europe, it simply would occupy to much land area which is already in use. Solar is a technology that will only ever pay off for countries with large amounts of land that can be paved over with mirrors or solar cells. (yes, rooftop. At which point installation and maintainance costs make it more costly than nukes even if the cells themselves are literally free.) Wind – sure. sticking a windmill in a ricepaddy or a cornfield does not stop you from continuing to farm there, so the effective “footprint” of wind is very low, but again, there are only so many ricepaddies and cornfields, so wind will likely cover some 10-15 percent of demand.
CCS is a bondoggle in the worst way. Even with the cost overruns, the capital cost of okiluto 3 is much lower than any estimate I have seen of a comparably sized coal station with full CCS, and such a plant would consume a third more coal than current power stations for the same output, and it adds failuremodes to your powerstation that makes chernobyl look pedestrian.
Step one: Pump carbon dioxide into the underground below your centrally located combined heat and powerstation.
Step two: Wait 10 years.
Step 3: Catastropic breech and venting from underground structure.
Step 4: your entire city dies instantly by choking. Kill count: million +

And that sequence of events is more likely, by orders of magnitude, than major disaster at an EPR.


John Quiggin 12.02.09 at 1:32 am

I don’t have a firm view, but the failure (so far) of the nuclear renaissance in the US, at a time when wind is booming and solar growing strongly, suggests to me that the economics aren’t very good. For the last 20+years, nuclear plants have been constructed almost exclusively in countries where it’s reasonable to infer a state/military cross subsidy.

In any case, the main thing is to get a high price on carbon. At that point, market processes will do most (not all) of the work of picking the cost-effective technologies, including conservation, and discarding the rest. A bit of policy intervention to support infants like solar PV might be justified, but nuclear has had its fair share of this kind of support and much more.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.02.09 at 8:51 am

Projecting from the US example is not particularily telling-
Nuclear cost estimates for US build are much, much higher than either projected, or actual costs from anywhere else. Okilouto 3 (in Finland – not exactly a lowwage, or cross subsidising economy) is very frequently cited as an example of extreme cost overruns and the perils of restarting build with a construction sector that has lost all embedded skills at this kind of job, but the important thing about okilouto is that the KwH/capacity cost *including the cost overrun* is 3000 euros (4500 dollars..) which would be considered a laughably low estimate for US build.
Honestly, it looks to me like vendors are flat out citing “I dont really want to work for you unless you bludgeon me with sacks of cash” prices to US utilities because there is more than enough projects for them to work on in jurisdictions where activists do not have a history of successfully derailing construction projects halfway via courtroom harrasment.

Which is a problem with nuclear as a solution to climate change- the current supply chain needs to get a lot bigger and a lot more competetive.


James Wimberley 12.02.09 at 10:00 pm

Valuethinker in #11: “Remember, price of solar cells is currently halving every 5 years.”
This trade site says that the factory gate price of solar PV modules has only fallen, unsteadily, from $5.40 to $4.20 a watt in the last 8 years, a drop of under 4% a year. PV is held up by a single big problem, the cost of adequately purified silicon feedstock. It’s reasonable to expect that the efforts going into this will crack the problem (it’s only several orders of magnitude easier than making fusion power economic) and the price will go down with a bump, but let’s not mistake hope for reality.

Also, lets’s see a mention of solar thermal. Like wind power, this is a straightforward medium-scale technology where everything works OK and we can expect economies of scale and learning by doing to drive a steady cost reduction similar to wind. Since most of the world’s poor countries are also hot, and many of them dry as well, it’s going to be useful where it’s most needed. The latest designs in Spain build in heat storage so the generation can work 24h. Yeh, yeah, intermittency. Even Almeria gets a few dozen cloudy days a year.We’re going to have to live with and manage this.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.03.09 at 7:49 am

The central thing I dislike about banking on solar and other renewables is exactly that people confuse hopes with certainties. I can find a nearly arbritiary number of predictions from the seventies that solar would dominate power generation come the year 2k, many of them from people who still advocate an “all renewable future” today, like Amory Lovins. And the thing that nags at me, is this. “what if they are wrong again?” – If 2040 rolls around and baseload solar is still 30 years away, and the world is therefore still burning coal, the planet is fucked. We have existing examples of zero carbon electricity grids in operation today – They all rely either on favorable geography for large scale hydro, or on fission. Fission will work. It might not be cheap, but it will keep the lights on no matter what the weather is, and it will allow us to dynamite the coal plants. And that is what seperates an effective plan from a dream. If coal doesnt go out of buisness as a result of your climate change mitigation plan, its not much of a plan.


Matt 12.03.09 at 1:31 pm

ixnay on Hockey, looks like it’s Fruit Loops all the way with Abbott and company. My Australian friend’s twitter updates have more or less been a constant stream of increasingly incredulous rhetorical questions, along the lines of: “Really? Did they really just do that?”


Valuethinker 12.05.09 at 11:12 pm

James Wimberley

I am sure I have seen a chart showing solar cells halving every 5 years. Must look again.

it’s a blip, arising from overcapacity in the semiconductor industry. But it’s real. However I must go back and source a number.

suggests a 50% fall in solar panel costs (different from cells) 2006-10 but that’s a forecast, I realize. That was the number I was thinking of. says about -15%

Agree CSP a very promising technology as costs are engineered down. In some ways more scalable than photo-voltaic.

Thomas Jorgenson

The crux of our disagreement is about nuclear power costs in China. I’d have to look into your data.

The US cost is due to the financial risk. The contractors will not provide price guarantees (remember Westinghouse and GE originally did so in the 60s) without a price that protects them. The utilities will not sign (see the interview with the CEO of Exelon in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) unless they get those price guarantees. The US government is being told $18.5bn of loan guarantees will not get the first 4 built. So we are seeing some pretty big subsidies to get any built. Ontario Hydro got quotes 3 times what they were looking for for the next Darlington Station. That will NOT be due to local litigation: that’s not how Ontario works. Once the environmental assessment is done, the plant gets built. You can’t tie it up endlessly in court as in some US cases.

The ‘nuclear renaissance’ is better known as the ‘nuclear aftershock’ in that it’s not going to be huge in any country: 30-40 in the US, 8-10 in the UK etc. You really shouldn’t buy into huge numbers the Indians throw around (they always have)– the country is not now, and will not be in the next 25 years, capable of that level of construction of nuclear plants. 100, yes. 400 not bloody likely. I doubt even in the next 50 years.

On the Finns, I believe they are coming in at c. 4000 euros/ MW of capacity?

On solar, China is a big country. And yes, rooftops. They already are the world’s largest user of solar energy (for water heating) so the rooftop problem is hardly insuperable. You can’t just assume it away as ‘too expensive’.

China is 9.6m km2. Even if we assume only 20% is suitable for solar power solutions you still get to an incredible amount of solar energy (you do so if you just use the rooftops).

On wind in China, it’s called Xinjiang, and it is huge and has a population of 20 million people. All of that NW corner of China is highly suitable for wind power. 1.5m km2 in Xinjiang alone so could easily be up to 500-750k wind turbines.

As I say, I don’t doubt the Chinese can (and probably will) build 100 nuclear reactors. Maybe 200. You don’t, then, I don’t think, get to electricity from nuclear as more than say 20% of total production.

On CCS you overestimate the geological risks. Huge clouds of methane, aka natural gas, do not explode and destroy cities. They are stored geologically. There is a political issue (people confuse CO with CO2) but the safety issue is not huge: CO2 is already schlepped around the country in pipelines.

As to the economics of CCS they are very difficult to know in advance. But there’s no technology within CCS that doesn’t already exist, the problem is scaling (and higher operating costs). Learning curve effects will be significant.

McKinsey has put CCS in a similar cost bracket to nuclear (and their nuclear numbers are low– haven’t reflected the Moody’s and other recent forecasts) and both below offshore wind.


Thomas Jørgensen 12.06.09 at 5:54 pm

Its not easy to get accurate numbers on the finnish project, but the initial bid is widely held to have been 3.2 billion euros for 1.65 GW electric. Cost overruns arent actually the fins problem, since it was a turn key contract, but they amounted to another 50% on top of that.
This is known, because said overrun showed up rather noticably in arevas budgets! Total cost per kwh capacity electric is then 3200x 1.5 /1.65 = 2909 euros/kwh , or basically, 3000 euros/kwh. Inclusive of the overrun, and a margin for error. Not 4000. Flamanville 3, which is the same reactor type is coming in at 2500-2750 euros/kwh or so, inclusive of the smaller overrun there.
Which begs the question why, exactly, areva quoted such an astronomical price at the canadians, now, I dont work for them, so I cant be sure, but I strongly suspect that this is mostly down to the diffrence between adding reactors to an existing nuclear site, which is what is being done in both finland and france, and working greenfield. – IE: A lot of that astronomical cost is powerlines and roads that need building, not actually plant.

Re ; Moodys estimate. I read that. And ehh.. Either they are overdoing the cocaine, or radiation killed the writers dog when he was seven. Honestly, that is the only way I can get that piece of writing to make sense, it was depressingly detached from all reality or examples of actual build.

Re: CCS: I dont actually expect major catastrophies from this (mostly because noone sensible is going to pump CO2 into the underground below habitation centers) , but containment breeches of the storage geology are certainly possible, and since the main reason people object to nuclear power in the first place is that there is a fear of highly unlikely, but somewhat nasty accidents, and longlived waste, using a diffrent
technology that has exactly the same issues, only worse, in its place is daft.. And I felt a need to point this out.
My main objection to CCS is that I flat out do not belive that it will ever amount to anything but cosmetic whitewashing of coal power – The volumes are quite simply insane if we captured all the carbon we emitted from coal power, CO2 transport would dwarf all other transport that we do. Including food, water, ect. This is not likely to actually happen, and no, this will not ever be a cheap solution to climate change. – The energetic overhead alone of compressing the CO2 for storage will raise the cost of coal based electricity by 20%, even before considering any hardware costs whatsoever. And those will not be trivial.


Valuethinker 12.06.09 at 9:06 pm


Thanks for the european 3Gen data which is very interesting. I believe the Moody’s estimate was professionally prepared. In my experience, bond analysts are usually much more cautious than equity analysts.

The Areva price may have been because they think the Canadians are sure to go with GE or PWR or CANDU or simply because Ontario Hydro (Generation One or whatever it is these days) refuses to take any price risk (Darlington was in its original, the biggest cost overrun in nuclear history).

On CCS, a breach means a dispersible gas only toxic in relatively high concentrations (about 7% I believe). So it shouldn’t be the end of the world– it’s not Chernobyl. Although I agree the politics of location could make it so.

On actual volumes, they are large I believe, but not insuperable. If the world pumps out 23bn tonnes CO2 pa, and coal is 9bn tonnes pa of that (c. 35%) then that’s not an insuperable number to store. Nor is the energy cost (say 40% all told).

On fission generally it is cost, and scalability. Cost will come down (not huge gains due to experience curves, but gains). Scalability: I believe the world peaked at c. 7 reactors pa in the US, and therefore 20-30 worldwide. Even to get back to that level is a reach.

So I can see another 500 3G reactors, which post the scrappage of the existing fleet is a 50% increase. Twice that would be a stretch, but must be at least theoretically doable. But that’s something like 30 reactors a year every year to 2050. Even if the Chinese are 10-15 of those, that’s a heck of a lot of reactors. And it wouldn’t move the world proportion of electricity from nuclear hugely off 8% now (16% in US, now).

If you look at wind, we are already putting in (from memory) 12GW pa. That’s the equivalent of 2-4 3Gen stations, and we have only just begun to go offshore.

On solar, it is a very different technology than it was 40 years ago. Wind of course has moved much much further (there was no viable wind power in 1980) and is now competitive.


Vasi 12.07.09 at 7:35 am

I think it’s safe to say that most of the Canadian populace is in favour of greenhouse gas reductions. In the last election, 60% of Canadians voted for parties supporting some sort of carbon pricing (pigouvian tax or cap-and-trade). A recent poll bears this out. Of course, thanks to our wonderful electoral system, the 38% who voted for Harper are running the country right now.


Neil B ♪ 12.07.09 at 2:05 pm

Copenhagen can’t accomplish anything if there is widespread doubt caused by “Climategate.” If anyone bugs you about “Climategate,” try the following for rebuttal (but appreciating rebuttals takes intelligence and admitting to them takes honesty …):

1. The modern theory of AGW (increasing CO2 absorbs more IR and leads to warmer temperatures) was laid out way back in 1896 in a seminal paper by future Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius. He wasn’t trying to promote socialism or be a flunky for Al Gore, indeed SA thought the warming would be beneficial – so he didn’t promote the theory to scare people.

2. Even in a case of actual cheating and cover-up, or even fabrication don’t disprove an idea itself. Look at prosecutors “framing guilty men” by “improving” evidence to ensure conviction, look at the Piltdown hoax which sure doesn’t mean evolution is false and other evidence couldn’t be rounded up. (BTW what CRU did wasn’t even that bad anyway, this just shows its irrelevancy to the material point. In my bitter experience conservatives are very into projecting from personal factors into imagined objective ones.)

3. CO2 is a stimulus similar to lowering interest rates are for an economy: the effect is not direct and linear, there are variations and other influences. Tell someone who says, “how come it got cooler during the last ten years” (it may not have, but play along here): How come it got cooler during April, before summer came along? Does that make you doubt the idea that changing axis angle causes seasons?!

4. Most of the things we would do to lower CO2 are good for the economy and national interest anyway: save money on gas and other non-renewables, reduce dependency on other nations (including Muslim ones!), it will run out anyway in decades to centuries, etc.

5. An effect doesn’t have to be “certain” or uniformly and highly damaging to be worth trying to avoid – what about terrorist threats, the irony of Cheney et al’s “One percent doctrine” etc.

6. The skeptics and doubters are way more dishonest and controlled by money interests. (You need to dig for the evidence there.)

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