Home » Climate Change » Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Category Archives: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Worldwide Carbon Dioxide Emissions Holding Constant

A recent article in the New York Times by Eduardo Porter (here) points out that if one considers only carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from the combustion of fuels, then worldwide emissions have been flat for 3 years in a row.

Figure 1. Source: International Energy Agency, 2017b.

The finding comes from a news release issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Figure 1 shows the data. Between 1980 and 2014, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion grew from 17.7 billion metric tons to 32.3 billion metric tons. However, in 2015 they stayed at 32.3 billion metric tons, and in 2016 emissions were 32.1 billion metric tons. (IEA 2017a, 2017b)

Since 2005, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have declined in the OECD from 12.8 billion metric tons to 11.7 billion metric tons, a decline of 8.6%. In the United States, emissions declined from 6.71 billion metric tons to 5.00 metric tons (a decline of 25%). That’s good work, however it needs to be put in context. Compared to 1990, OECD emissions in 2016 were 6.4% higher, and USA emissions were 4.1% higher. (IEA 2017a)

I don’t have breakouts by country for 2016, but in 2015 the world’s largest emitter of CO2 from fuel combustion was the People’s Republic of China (mainland China), at 7.28 billion metric tons. Even China is reducing its emissions, however, by 1% in both 2015 and 2016. (IEA 2017a)

Emissions from fuel combustion may be the best estimate of worldwide emissions available. They constitute the largest percentage of emissions, and it is virtually impossible to inventory how much methane is being released by every bog or permafrost around the world, or how much nitrogen oxide from farm chemicals, etc.

Figure 2. Source: Earth Systems Research Laboratory, 2017.

In August I posted that the American Meteorological Society reported that in 2015 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere averaged above 400 ppm for the first time ever. It was my opinion that this was terrible news: 400 ppm was something akin to a threshold we needed not to cross in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We crossed it decades before anybody thought we would. Further, the concentration of greenhouse gases was continuing to increase, and the rate of increase seemed, if anything, to be growing over time. Figure 2 repeats the chart showing the trend over time.

How can one reconcile that post with the new findings? Imagine you are on the Titanic, and an hour ago the ship struck an iceberg. The ship’s crew happily reports that the amount of water getting into the ship is no longer increasing minute-by-minute. Well, that’s nice to hear, but water is still pouring into the ship, and unless you can stop the water getting in, the ship will still sink. The CO2 situation is similar, but in reverse. The rate at which the world is putting CO2 into the atmosphere may not be going up, but we are still putting billions of tons of it into the atmosphere every year. It is more than enough to cause climate change. We don’t need emissions to flatten, we need them to decrease to a fraction of what they are today.

So, it is good news that worldwide emissions have not grown over the last 3 years. Perhaps it even tends to validate the efforts we’ve been making: maybe moving away from fossil fuels, especially coal, has helped stabilize emissions. But we have a long way to go before we stop this vessel of ours from sinking.

UPDATE: The Global Carbon Project released a report published 11/13/2017 (after this post was written) that projects 2017 carbon emissions from combustion of fuels will increase 2% from 2016. If their estimates prove correct, then the period of flat emissions will be over, and emissions will have resumed their upward climb. (Global Carbon Project, 2017)

Sources:

Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017. Full Mauna Loa CO2 Record. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends.

Global Carbon Project. 2017. Global Carbon Budget: Summary Highlights. Viewed online 11/15/2017 at http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/17/highlights.htm.

International Energy Agency. 2017a. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion: Highlights. Downloaded 11/09/2017 from https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/CO2EmissionsfromFuelCombustionHighlights2017.pdf

International Energy Agency. 2017b. IEA Finds CO2 Emissions Flat for Third Straight Year Even as Global Economy Grew in 2016. Downloaded 2017-11-09 from https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/march/iea-finds-co2-emissions-flat-for-third-straight-year-even-as-global-economy-grew.html.

Advertisements

Why 543 ppm CO2e Matters

In the last post I reviewed a report from the World Meteorological Organization; it said that in 2015 the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reached 400 ppm for the first time. The methane and nitric oxide concentrations were 1,845 ppb and 328 ppb. Combined, I calculated that the 3 gases had a radiative forcing equal to 543 ppm CO2e.

[Note: When first published, this post contained a typographical error: in the title and in the first paragraph, I reported the CO2e as ppb (parts per billion). Parts per million (ppm) is correct, and I have made the change.]

More recent data from the Mauna Loa Observatory indicates that, since 2015, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has climbed to 409.65, meaning that the combined radiative forcing is now even higher. But what do these numbers mean? I will try to explain.

Most scientists studying climate change have emphasized that it is already too late to avoid its effects entirely – they are already happening. My recent posts on the declining snowpack of the western United States are just one example. I’ve also published numerous posts documenting the increase in temperature in Missouri and other states, the USA as a whole, and the world as a whole.

Figure 1. Source: IPCC 2014.

Scientists have also emphasized that the effects of climate change will depend on how much the temperature increases. The more the temperature increases, the more severe the effects will be. Figure 1 illustrates the conceptualization. In the chart, each column represents a system that climate change will affect. The 2 y-axis scales represent temperature change, the scale on the left relative to the period from 1986-2000, the one on the right relative to 1850-1900. The color coding of the columns represents the degree of risk that is projected. White and yellow represent less risk, red and purple represent more. There are no cut-off points in this graph, but you can see that as the temperature increases more than 2°C (relative to 1986-2000), the risk grows from moderate to high or very high.

How much the temperature will actually increase depends on how high radiative forcing goes, which will depend on the atmospheric concentration of GHGs. Carbon dioxide is the principal GHG.

Figure 2. Data source: Earth Systems Research Laboratory 2017b.

Figure 2 shows the average annual carbon dioxide concentration measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory from 1959 through 2016 in blue. During the last 10 years, the concentration grew an average of 0.57% each year. In red, Figure 1 projects the carbon dioxide concentration through 2100, assuming that it continues to grow at that rate each year. By 2100, the carbon dioxide concentration will have reached 651 ppm.

The future atmospheric concentration of GHGs depends on how much we continue to emit. To study the possibilities, scientists use a series of scenarios that range from sharply reduced emissions, through a middle ground, to very high emissions. They have changed the names they give these scenarios, and now call them RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6, and RCP8.5. RCP6 is associated with a carbon dioxide concentration in 2100 that is similar to the 651 ppm projection I calculated above. Thus, if emissions continue to grow at the same rate, the earth will approximate the RCP6 scenario.

Now, as I noted in the last post, the growth in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide seems to be accelerating. Thus, there is some question regarding whether the earth really is following the RCP6 scenario or something worse. For now, I will stay with RCP6.

Figure 3. Projected Temperature Increase Under Four RCP Scenarios. Source: Collins et al, 2013.

Figure 3 shows the mean temperature increase that is projected to occur under each RCP scenario, with RCP6 in orange. By 2100, a temperature increase of about 2°C is projected to occur. (One additional thing to note about this chart: the temperature increase under RCP6 and RCP 8.5 does not stabilize by 2100 – the temperature will continue to increase thereafter.)

Okay, now we’ve got what we need to draw some simple conclusions. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing at a rate that, if it continues, will approximate the RCP6 scenario. That scenario is associated with a temperature increase of about 2°C compared to 1986-2000, and an even higher temperature thereafter. At that temperature increase, unique and sensitive systems will already be experiencing severe risk. And at that temperature increase, the global aggregate risk will grow from medium to high.

Well, if you come away thinking it is all a bit complex and vague, if not downright mealy-mouthed, I wouldn’t blame you. Climate scientists used to speak more directly, but then they came under attack from those who wanted to destroy them, and those days are gone. If you want to think further about the implications of all this, then think about these questions:

  1. What does it mean for the health of the planet, and for the health of our species on this planet, that we are following a course that puts unique and vulnerable systems under high risk? It’s already happening, just look around.
  2. What does it mean that we are following a course that will cause moderate-to-high aggregate global risk? What will the impacts be, and how will human life be affected?
  3. What does it mean for the health of the planet, and for the health of our species on this planet, that the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide is not decelerating, but continuing to accelerate? The Kyoto Protocol was signed 20 years ago, and it was 11 years ago that climate change burst into widespread consciousness with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. What does it mean that we have known for so long that we need to address this problem, yet atmospheric GHG concentration growth continues to accelerate?
  4. What does it mean that, in the face of these facts, we elected a President who is hostile to the idea of climate change, and he appointed an EPA Administrator who is, also.
  5. Even absent our current President and EPA Administrator, have we shown any sign of being willing or able to undertake and accomplish the large-scale changes that will be necessary to address these problems?

The reality we face is becoming more dire each day, dear readers. We are passing danger signs like they mean nothing. We will have to live with the consequences for a very long time.

Sources:

Collins, M., R. Knutti, J. Arblaster, J.-L. Dufresne, T. Fichefet, P. Friedlingstein, X. Gao, W.J. Gutowski, T. Johns, G. Krinner, M. Shongwe, C. Tebaldi, A.J. Weaver and M. Wehner, 2013: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Com- mitments and Irreversibility. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017 b. Mauna Loa CO2 Annual Mean Data. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends.

IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

IPCC 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

World Meteorological Organization. 2016. WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: The State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere Based on Global Observations through 2015. Number 12, 24 October 2016. Downloaded 6/15/2017 from http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/arep/gaw/ghg/GHGbulletin.html.

World Carbon Dioxide Concentration Above 400 ppm. for the First Time Ever


In 2015 the concentration of carbon dioxide was 400 ppm, for the first time ever. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) was 543 ppm.


Figure 1. Atmospheric Concentrations of GHGs in 2015 and Radiative Forcing from 1979-2015. Source: World Meteorological Organization.

In this post I will catch up with the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin published by the World Meteorological Society in October, 2016. It concerns atmospheric GHGs during 2015.

For the first time ever, the global concentration of carbon dioxide averaged 400 ppm, while the concentration of methane rose to 1,845 ppb, and the concentration of nitrous oxide rose to 328.0 ppb. These represent growth from 2014 of 0.58%, 0.60%, and 0.31%, respectively. The concentration of carbon dioxide is now 144% of what it was in 1750, while methane is 256% and nitrous oxide is 121%. The data are shown in Figure 1.

The report does not calculate the carbon dioxide equivalent of the three combined, but simply multiplying methane and nitrous oxide by their global warming potentials yields a combined carbon dioxide equivalent of 543 (using the 100-year global warming potentials published in the IPCC 4th AR).

Radiative forcing (the warming effect) of these GHGs was approximately 3.0 watts per meter in 2015 above 1750, compared to approximately 1.7 in1979.

.

.

..

 

 

Figure 2. Source: Earth Systems Research Laboratory, 2017c.

Figure 2 shows the recent data on carbon dioxide concentration as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. The red line represents the actual measured value, and the black line represents the trend. This location is often taken as the best place to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations because it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far away from large local sources of carbon dioxide, high in the atmosphere, and buffeted by almost constant trade winds. The chart shows that the concentration of carbon dioxide surges each winter, then ebbs each summer. This seasonal effect is due to the summer greening of the Northern Hemisphere, where the bulk of the world’s land mass is. Once it has greened, the vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide and converts it to oxygen as part of the process of photosynthesis, pulling it out of the atmosphere. After the vegetation goes dormant during the winter, it does not absorb carbon dioxide, and the concentration increases.

The reading for May, 2017 was 409.65 ppm.

Earth Systems Research Laboratory, 2017 a.

Figure 3 shows the same data going back to the late 1950s. Though the concentration of carbon dioxide surges and ebbs each year, you can see that the trend is irrevocably upward. The peak each winter is higher than the previous winter’s high, and the low point each summer is higher than the previous summer’s low. At no time has this trend ever reversed, in fact it has never even slowed. If anything, the trend is curving upward, meaning it is increasing faster.

In the next post I will discuss what these findings mean.

Sources:

Forster, P., V. Ramaswamy, P. Artaxo, T. Berntsen, R. Betts, D.W. Fahey, J. Haywood, J. Lean, D.C. Lowe, G. Myhre, J. Nganga, R. Prinn, G. Raga, M. Schulz and R. Van Dorland, 2007: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017a. Full Mauna Loa CO2 Record. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017b. Mauna Loa CO2 Annual Mean Data. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017c. Recent Monthly Average Mauna Loa CO2. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends.

World Meteorological Organization. 2016. WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin: The State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere Based on Global Observations through 2015. Number 12, 24 October 2016. Downloaded 6/15/2017 from http://www.wmo.int/pages/prog/arep/gaw/ghg/GHGbulletin.html.

Invisible Pollution


You can’t always see air pollution in a photograph.


In the previous post I counted down the industrial facilities that are the 10 largest GHG emitters in Missouri, providing photos. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is colorless and odorless: you can’t see it. What, then, do the photos I posted show? Here are a few more photos and a discussion of what can and can’t be seen in them.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards for atmospheric concentrations of 6 common air pollutants (aka criteria air pollutants). They are ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and two classes of particulates: particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in size (PM2.5), and those between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10). (See here.) They are by no means the only air pollutants emitted by large industrial plants. Among the 10 largest GHG emitters in Missouri, other pollutants include carbon dioxide (of course!) plus as many as 15-20 toxic compounds, most commonly heavy metals like lead and mercury (EPA TRI Explorer). Heavy metals are contained in coal and released when it is burned, and are toxic even in small amounts.

At least 5 of these pollutants are colorless gases: ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. You can’t see them in the plume emitted by an industrial facility (or by your car, for that matter), they are invisible. The remaining compounds are contained in escaping particulates.

So, several of the pollutants can’t be readily seen in the plume of an industrial plant, but they are dangerous none-the-less. Generally, only escaping particulates are readily seen. Lets look at some examples:

(Click on photos for a larger view.)

Figure 1. The Sioux Energy Center Before Dawn on a Winter Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 1. The Sioux Energy Center Before Dawn on a Winter Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 2. Mississippi Lime Co. Ste. Genevieve Plant on a Winter Morning. Photo by John May.

Figure 2. Mississippi Lime Co. Ste. Genevieve Plant on a Winter Morning. Photo by John May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the Sioux Energy Center and the Mississippi Lime Company Ste. Genevieve Plant. The photos show dramatic white plumes belching from the chimneys of these two plants. Those white plumes sure are dramatic, but they are not the problem. They are mostly steam – water vapor. It condenses when it hits the air on a cold morning, forming dramatic white clouds. The dark parts of the cloud are simply shadow where the cloud has become thick enough to block the sun.

The problem is what is hidden inside the white plume. That is where the air pollutants are. In addition, if you look at the buildings in Figure 2, you can see a gray haze. Those are particulates. I don’t know if they are PM2.5, PM10, or even larger particles, or perhaps a combination of all 3. While taking the photo in Figure 2, I noticed a definite rotten-egg smell. That is usually caused by sulfur dioxide, and it suggests that sulfur dioxide was being emitted by the plant. You can’t see it, however, it is colorless.

The Labadie Energy Center on a Spring Morning. Photo by John May.

Figure 3. The Labadie Energy Center on a Spring Morning. Photo by John May.

The Labadie Energy Center at Dawn on a Fall Morning. Photo by John May.

Figure 4. The Labadie Energy Center at Dawn on a Fall Morning. Photo by John May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

Figure 3 shows the Labadie Energy Center on a warm day in May. No billowing clouds of steam are visible, it wasn’t cold enough to condense them. With the naked eye you could barely make out a slight plume coming from the chimneys. By using a polarizing filter, I could make it just a bit more obvious. Here we have a photo of the real pollution being emitted by this power plant. I think it is probably fly ash – those PM2.5 and PM10 particles the EPA tracks. Figure 4 is a photo of the Labadie Energy Center on an October morning. If you look very hard, you can see a slight discoloration above the stacks, but man, is it hard to see! Unless the emissions are backlighted, or unless the photo is enhanced, it is very, very difficult to see the pollution that belches forth from these facilities.

Figure 4. The Thomas Hill Energy Center at Dusk on a Fall Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 5. The Thomas Hill Energy Center at Dusk on a Fall Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 6. The Hawthorn Plant on a Fall Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 6. The Hawthorn Plant on a Fall Day. Photo by John May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5 shows the Thomas Hill Power Plant and Figure 6 shows the Hawthorne Plant. The plants were pumping out electricity, which means the boilers were burning, but no plume is visible above the chimneys. The conditions just weren’t right to be able to see it.

If you look at all the photos of power plants, you can see that they share one characteristic: a tall chimney. The one at New Madrid is 800 ft. tall, Iatan, Rush Island, and Labadie have stacks that are 700 ft. tall, Thomas Hill’s stack is 620 ft. tall, the Sioux Energy Center stack is 603 ft. tall, and so forth. Tall chimneys like this are expensive, so there is a reason for them. Most of the pollutants emitted out of the chimneys are poisonous. If they were emitted at ground level, they would blow with the wind and cause harm. In addition, almost all of them are regulated by the EPA. If the chimneys were less tall, there is a chance that the pollution could reach the ground at concentrations still high enough to put the plant in violation. By building very tall chimneys, the company ensures that by the time any of the pollutants reach the ground, they have been diluted sufficiently so that they don’t create a violation. If you look at the photo of the Mississippi Lime Co. Ste. Genevieve Plant, you can see that its chimneys are much shorter, and perhaps that is why I could smell the sulfur dioxide.

In one sense, this is a good strategy: people and property in close proximity aren’t exposed to high concentrations of the pollutants. In another sense, it is a bad strategy: it puts pollutants into the environment, where they accumulate and cause widespread damage. Thus, pollution from facilities here in the Midwest contributes to smog, acid rain, mercury accumulation in fish, and GHG build-up in the atmosphere.

Figure 7. The Labadie Energy Center Seen From Midtown St. Louis at Dusk on a Winter Day. Photo by John May.

Figure 7. The Labadie Energy Center Seen From Midtown St. Louis at Dusk on a Winter Day. Photo by John May.

One final photo: Figure 7 is a photo of the Labadie Energy Center taken on a winter day from the top of a building opposite Forest Park in St. Louis. Expand the photo and you can see the chimneys on the horizon. The plant is some 30 miles away from the camera. The plume rises more than 2,000 feet into the air before the steam evaporates. How much higher than that does the column of polluted hot air rise? I don’t know, but I would expect quite a bit. Even this visible plume dominates the otherwise empty sky and horizon.

These plants come with important economic benefits, which I reviewed in the first post of this series, and we couldn’t do without them. But their pollution is also a big deal.

So, the point is that you can’t necessarily see the pollution being emitted by a large industrial emitter. If the sun is in just the right spot, you might be able to barely make out some particulates. But the other pollutants are all invisible. On a cold day, the plant will emit billowing clouds of water vapor. Water vapor itself is mostly harmless, but it stands as a reminder of the invisible pollution hidden within.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. TRI Explorer, Release Facility Report. Data accessed 12/21/2016 at https://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.facility.

May, John. 2015. “Air Quality Update 2014.” Mogreenstats.com. Viewed online 12/21/2016 at https://mogreenstats.com/2015/11/06/air-quality-update-2014.

Wikipedia. List of Tallest Buildings in Missouri. Viewed online 12/21/2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_in_Missouri#Missouri.27s_tallest_structures.

Countdown of the Top 10 GHG Emitting Facilities in Missouri


In the previous post, I summarized information about the 10 GHG emitting facilities in Missouri. In this post, I will count them down and profile them.


When possible, for each facility I will give the date the plant entered service, the amount of GHG emitted, some of the economic benefit derived from the plant’s products, and closing plans that have been announced by the plant’s owner. Typically, closing plans for industrial facilities are not publicly discussed, but they are required by Integrated Resource Plans that public electric utilities must file. They often extend a decade or two into the future and have been formulated partially in response to EPA clean air regulations. Thus, as economic and regulatory environments change, and as technological alternatives become more or less feasible, I would expect closure plans to change with them.

And now, the countdown:

(Click on photos for a larger view.)

10. Meramec Energy Center. GHG emissions 2015: 2,324,558 MTCO2e.

Figure 1. The Meramec Engergy Center. Photo by John May.

Figure 1. The Meramec Engergy Center. Photo by John May.

The Meramec Energy Center is located in southeastern St. Louis County, at the confluence of the Meramec and Mississippi Rivers. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 831 MW. In 2009, it generated 5,362,000 MWh (data from CARMA, www.carma.com). If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Meramec Plant produces enough electricity to power 496,481 homes. It is owned by Union Electric Co., a subsidiary of Ameren Missouri.

It began operation in 1953, and according to an article 7/12/2014 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ameren announced plans to close the Meramec Energy Center in 2022. If emissions remain at the current level, by then it will have emitted an additional 13,947,348 MTCO2e into the atmosphere.

In 2015, the Meramec Energy Center emitted 2,324,558 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

9. Mississippi Lime Company. GHG emissions 2015: 2,430,415 MTCO2e

Figure 2. The Mississippi Lime Co. Ste. Genevieve Plant. Photo by John May.

Figure 2. The Mississippi Lime Co. Ste. Genevieve Plant. Photo by John May.

The Mississippi Lime Company is located just west of the city boundary of the City of Ste. Genevieve. It produces a variety of calcium products that are related to cement, but not equivalent, such as quicklime and hydrated lime. The output of this plant is unknown. It is a privately held company with headquarters in St. Louis.

Specific information about the plant is in short supply, but the history of the company on the company’s website indicates that the site was purchased and the kilns constructed during the 1920s. Future plans for the plant are unknown.

Greenhouse gases are emitted in 2 ways during calcium processing. To produce quicklime, for instance,
quarried limestone is crushed, and then heated at about 825°C in a kiln. Fossil fuel, most often coal, is burned to heat the kiln, releasing carbon dioxide. In addition, in the kiln, the limestone undergoes a chemical change that converts it to quicklime. This reaction releases carbon dioxide. The Mississippi Lime plant released 2,430,415 MTCO2e in 2015.

A footnote on the EPA website says that some of the CO2 emitted by the plant is captured and reused, not released into the atmosphere, but the amount is not specified.

8. Holcim Ste. Genevieve Plant. GHG emissions 2015: 2,598,048 MTCO2e.

Figure 3. The Holcim Ste. Genevieve Plant. Source: Holcim USA publicity photo.

Figure 3. The Holcim Ste. Genevieve Plant. Source: Thanks to Holcim (US) Inc. for supplying this photo, as I was unable to take one myself.

The Holcim Ste. Genevieve Plant is located on the Mississippi River at the northeastern corner of Ste. Geneieve County. Though across the county line, it is physically adjacent to the Rush Island Energy Center (see below). It is a cement manufacturing plant, and claims to have the largest single kiln line in the world. It is claimed to have the capacity to produce 4 million metric tons of cement per year. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Interstate Highway System contains 48 million metric tons of cement, so the Ste. Genevieve Plant turns out about 1/12th of that amount each year (USGS 2006). The plant is owned by Holcim US, a subsidiary of Holcim Ltd. of Switzerland.

The plant entered service in 2010, and future plans for the plant are not known. The Ste. Genevieve Plant received the EPA Energy Star Award for energy efficiency in each year from 2010-2015. It has also received Gold Certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council for its wildlife conservation efforts.

Greenhouse gases are emitted in 2 ways during cement production. Cement is produced by quarrying limestone, crushing it, and then heating it at about 1,500°C in a kiln. Fossil fuel, most often coal, is burned to heat the kiln, releasing carbon dioxide. In addition, in the kiln, the limestone undergoes a chemical change that converts it to cement. This reaction releases carbon dioxide.

The Holcim Ste. Genevieve Plant emitted 2,598,048 MTCO2e in 2015.

7. Hawthorn Plant. GHG emissions 2015: 3,145,642 MTCO2e.\

Figure 4. The Hawthorn Plant. Photo by John May.

Figure 4. The Hawthorn Plant. Photo by John May.

The Hawthorn Plant is located along the banks of the Missouri River in northeastern Kansas City. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 565 MW. In 2009, it generated 4,174,900 MWh (data from CARMA, www.carma.com). If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Hawthorn Plant produces enough electricity to power 386,565 homes. It is owned by Kansas City Power and Light, a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy.

In the photo, to the right of the main structure stand several small boxy structures. Those are natural gas peaking generators. Though they still emit GHGs, they are cleaner than the coal-burning main plant. In addition, they can be started when electricity demand is peaking and turned off when it is slackening, compared to the coal-burning main plant, which cannot.

The Hawthorn Plant was built in stages between 1951 and 1969. The peaking generators entered service between 2000 and 2003. Regarding future plans for the station, in reply to a request for information, the company referred me to their website, where I could find none. (The company does not publish its Integrated Resource Plan, deeming it to be confidential.)

In 2015, the Hawthorn Plant emitted 3,145,642 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

6. Sioux Energy Center. GHG emissions 2015: 4,314,760 MTCO2e.

Figure 5. The Sioux Energy Center. Photo by John May.

Figure 5. The Sioux Energy Center. Photo by John May.

The Sioux Energy Center is located in northern St. Charles County, along the banks of the Mississippi River. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 970 MW. In 2009, it generated 5,760,500 MWh (data from CARMA, www.carma.com). If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Sioux Plant produces enough electricity to power 533,379 homes. It is owned by Union Electric Co., a subsidiary of Ameren Missouri.

It began operation in 1967, and Ameren filed a plan indicating it would be closed no later than 2033. If emissions remain at the current level, by then it will have emitted an additional 73.4 million MTCO2e.

In 2015, the Sioux Energy Center emitted 4,314,760 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

5. New Madrid Power Station. GHG emissions 2015: 5,815,694 MTCO2e.

Figure 6. The New Madrid Power Station. Photo by John May.

Figure 6. The New Madrid Power Station. Photo by John May.

The New Madrid Power Station is located along the banks of the Mississippi River six miles southwest of New Madrid, Mo. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 1,200 MW. In 2009 it generated 7,246,800 MWh of electricity. If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the New Madrid Plant produces enough electricity to power 671,000 homes. It is owned by the Associated Electric Cooperative. AEC provides electricity to 51 local electricity cooperatives throughout Missouri and in parts of Oklahoma, and Iowa.

It’s two units entered service in 1972 and 1977. Regarding future plans for the station: in reply to a request for information, the company stated that it had no plans to close or convert the fuel source for the plant (Viquet 2016).

In 2015, the New Madrid Power Station emitted 5,815,694 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

4. Rush Island Energy Center. GHG emissions 2015: 6,833,938 MTCO2e.

Figure 7. The Rush Island Energy Center. Photo by John May.

Figure 7. The Rush Island Energy Center. Photo by John May.

The Rush Island Energy Center is located at the southeastern corner of Jefferson County along the banks of the Mississippi River, adjacent to the Holcim St. Genevieve plant (see above). It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 1,180 MW. In 2009, it generated 8,017,200 MWh (data from CARMA, www.carma.com). If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Sioux Plant produces enough electricity to power 742,333 homes. It is owned by Union Electric Co., a subsidiary of Ameren Missouri.

It began operation in 1976, and Ameren’s 2014 Integrated Resource Plan stated that the company had “developed assumptions for an evaluation of retirements of Labadie and Rush Island Energy Centers.” (Ameren Missouri 2016) I don’t understand this statement to indicate that Ameren is considering closing the facility, only that they have developed a set of assumptions that will be used in an ongoing fashion to monitor its viability.

In 2015, the Rush Island Energy Center emitted 6,833,938 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

Note: On 1/23/17 the U.S. District Court for Eastern Missouri found the Rush Island Energy Center in violation of the Clean Air Act because Ameren Missouri had performed major modifications to the facility without installing required pollution control equipment. Ameren had tried avoid its obligation by characterizing the work as routine maintenance.

3. Thomas Hill Energy Center. GHG emissions 2015: 7,506,076 MTCO2e

Figure 8. The Thomas Hill Energy Center. Photo by John May.

Figure 8. The Thomas Hill Energy Center. Photo by John May.

The Thomas Hill Energy Center is located on the banks of the Thomas Hill Reservoir, about 12 miles northwest of Moberly. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 1,135 MW. In 2009 it generated 7,379,800 MWh of electricity. If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Thomas Hill Energy Center produces enough electricity to power 683,315 homes. It is owned by the Associated Electric Cooperative. AEC provides electricity to 51 local electricity cooperatives throughout Missouri and in parts of Okalahoma, and Iowa.

Thomas Hill’s three generating units entered service in 1966, 1969, and 1982. Regarding future plans for the station: in reply to a request for information, the company stated that it had no plans to close or convert the fuel source for the plant (Viquet 2016).

In 2015, the Thomas Hill Energy Center emitted 7,506,076 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

2. Iatan Generating Station. GHG emissions 2015: 8,911,498 MTCO2e.

Figure 9. The Iatan Generating Station. Photo by John May.

Figure 9. The Iatan Generating Station. Photo by John May.

The Iatan Generating Station is located in northwestern Platte County, along the banks of the Missouri River, between Kansas City and St. Joseph. It is a coal-burning electricity generating station with a nameplate capacity of 1,576 MW. It is the second largest generating station in Missouri, and the state’s second largest GHG emitter. The second unit at Iatan entered service after 2010, so generating statistics for 2009 are irrelevant. It is owned by Kansas City Power and Light, a subsidiary of Great Plains Energy.

Iatan’s 2 generating units entered service in 1980 and 2010. Regarding future plans for the station, in reply to a request for information, the company referred me to their website, where I could find none. Given that the second unit was completed only 6 years ago, I would expect the company plans to continue to operate the plant for the foreseeable future.

In 2015, the Iatan Generating Station emitted 8,911,498 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

1. Labadie Energy Center. GHG emissions 2015: 14,754,371 MTCO2e.

Figure 10. The Labadie Energy Center. Photo by John May.

Figure 10. The Labadie Energy Center. Photo by John May.

The Labadie Energy Center is located in Franklin County along the banks of the Missouri River east of Washington. It is Missouri’s largest coal-burning electricity generating station, with a nameplate capacity of 2,372 MW, about half-again as large as the Iatan Station. In 2009, it generated 17,238,000 MWh (data from CARMA, www.carma.com). If the average home in the United States consumes 10.8 MWh per year (Energy Information Administration), then the Labadie Energy Center produced enough electricity to power 1,596,111 homes. It is owned by Union Electric Co., a subsidiary of Ameren.

It began operation in 1976, and Ameren’s 2014 Integrated Resource Plan stated that the company had “developed assumptions for an evaluation of retirements of Labadie and Rush Island Energy Centers.” (Ameren Missouri 2016) I don’t understand this statement to indicate that Ameren is considering closing the facility, only that they have developed a set of assumptions that will be used in an ongoing fashion to monitor its viability.

In 2015, the Labadie Energy Center emitted 14,754,371 million MTCO2e (EPA Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool).

As you have read this post, you probably noticed that some of the photos showed billowing white clouds gushing out of a chimney, some showed a thin plume, and some showed no plume at all. I think the differences make for an interesting discussion, and they will be the focus of the next post.

Sources:

Ameren Missouri. 2016. Integrated Resource Plan. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at https://www.ameren.com/missouri/environment/renewables/ameren-missouri-irp.

Energy Information Administration. Frequently Asked Questions: How much electricity does an American home use? Accessed 10/20/2016 at https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3.

EPA. Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool. http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do. Data downloaded 10/20/2016.

EPA. 2015. EPA Fact Sheet: Social Cost of Carbon. Downloaded 12/10/2016 from https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/EPAactivities/social-cost-carbon.pdf.

EPA. 2015. Facility Profile Report: Ameren Missouri Labadie Energy Center. Retrieved online 12/10/2016 at https://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/release_fac_profile?TRI=63055LBDPWNO10L&year=2011&trilib=TRIQ1&FLD=&FLD=RELLBY&FLD=TSFDSP&OFFDISPD=&OTHDISPD=&ONDISPD=&OTHOFFD=.

Genova, Marcus, Area Environmental and Public Affairs Manager, Holcim (US) Inc. Email message to John May 1/10/2017.

United States v. Ameren Missouri. Case 4:11-cv-00077-RWS, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Missouri. Viewed online 1/25/2017 at http://www.moed.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/Ameren%20Memorandum%20and%20Order.pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau. Quick Facts: Missouri. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/29.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2006. Materials in Use in the U.S. Interstate Highways. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3127/2006-3127.pdf.

Viquet, Mark, email message to author, 12/12/2016.

Ten Largest GHG Emitters in Missouri


Missouri’s 10 largest GHG emitting industrial facilities reduced emissions by 5.6 MTCO2e between 2013 and 2015.


In early 2015, I reported on the 10 largest point source greenhouse gas emitters in Missouri. Nine out of 10 were coal burning electricity generating stations, and together Missouri’s big three public electric utilities (Ameren, Great Plains, and Associated Electrical Cooperative) accounted for 73% of all Missouri large source GHG emissions. The original post is here.

I thought that I would update the information and add a little more depth. What follows is a 3-post series on Missouri’s 10 largest single-source GHG emitters. The first post discusses the data in general, the second counts down the 10 facilities, and the third post discusses what is revealed and what is hidden in photographs of these facilities.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

Figure 1. Data source: EPA Facility Level Greenhouse Gases Tool.

Figure 1. Data source: EPA Facility Level Greenhouse Gases Tool.

Figure 1 shows emissions for the 10 largest point source GHG emitters in Missouri in 2015. They are the same facilities as in 2013, except that the Montrose Generating Station has dropped out of the top 10, and the Mississippi Lime Company Ste. Genevieve Plant has joined it. It’s not surprising that the list hasn’t changed much – major industrial plants like these aren’t built every day. Every emitter on the list reduced emissions between 2013 and 2015. As a group, emissions were 5,621,792 MTCO2e less in 2015 than in 2013. (MTCO2e = million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. An explanation of carbon dioxide equivalent can be found at Wikipedia.) As a percentage, the New Madrid Power Station reduced emissions the most (-21%), and the Hawthorn Plant was second (-15%). I don’t know the reason for the decreases.

These plants each represent hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, perhaps even more. They produce economic benefits through the jobs they provide and the products they produce. There is no way I can catalog all those benefits. No single statistic can do them justice, but the following may give some idea of their scale: data on the amount of electricity generated yearly is available for 7 of the 8 generating stations in the list. Summed, it totals to over 4 million megawatt hours (MWh). It is enough to provide electricity to almost twice as many homes as there are in Missouri. (U.S. Census Bureau) Take these power plants away, and that many homes go dark: no lights, no refrigerators, no heat, no air conditioning, no washing machines, no computers, no internet, no TV, and probably no phones. You get the picture: we simply couldn’t do without them.

At the same time, added together, these facilities emitted 58.6 million MTCO2e. GHG emissions cause about $36 of damage per MTCO2e (EPA 2015). Thus, the estimated damage from one year’s carbon emissions from these plants would be $2.11 billion. And they emit roughly that much CO2, causing that much damage, every year.

In addition, these plants release a host of other toxic compounds. For instance, the EPAs Toxic Release Inventory Explorer includes the following compounds among the Labadie Energy Center’s releases: arsenic compounds, barium compounds, chromium compounds, cobalt compounds, copper compounds, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, lead compounds, manganese compounds, mercury compounds, nickel compounds, polycyclic aromatic compounds, sulfuric acid, thallium compounds, vanadium compounds, and zinc compounds. (EPA 2011) These compounds are toxic, and they contribute to illness and premature death, which, in addition to being personal tragedies, also carry an economic burden of their own.

The point is this: these facilities create harm, but be careful about villainizing them. The products they produce are essential. We must find ways of living that take the heat out of climate change, but it is hard work, and the onus falls on us as much as it does on these industrial plants. As the saying goes, there’s nobody here but us chickens.

In the next post I will count down and profile each of the top 10 emitting facilities.

Sources:

Ameren Missouri. 2016. Integrated Resource Plan. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at https://www.ameren.com/missouri/environment/renewables/ameren-missouri-irp.

Energy Information Administration. Frequently Asked Questions: How much electricity does an American home use? Accessed 10/20/2016 at https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3.

EPA. Facility Level Information on Greenhouse Gases Tool. http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do. Data downloaded 10/20/2016.

EPA. 2015. EPA Fact Sheet: Social Cost of Carbon. Downloaded 12/10/2016 from https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/EPAactivities/social-cost-carbon.pdf.

EPA. 2015. Facility Profile Report: Ameren Missouri Labadie Energy Center. Retrieved online 12/10/2016 at https://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/release_fac_profile?TRI=63055LBDPWNO10L&year=2011&trilib=TRIQ1&FLD=&FLD=RELLBY&FLD=TSFDSP&OFFDISPD=&OTHDISPD=&ONDISPD=&OTHOFFD=.

U.S. Census Bureau. Quick Facts: Missouri. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/29.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2006. Materials in Use in the U.S. Interstate Highways. Viewed online 12/10/2016 at https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3127/2006-3127.pdf.

Video of Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere

The brilliant folks at NASA have created a video showing carbon dioxide as it travels through our atmosphere for a year. Click on the embedded video to view it. The video models not quite a full near, starting in mid-November, 2014.

 

.

The data used to create the video comes from NASA’s OCO-2, a satellite that monitors carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is not the first video NASA has created to show CO2 in the atmosphere, but it is the first one in 3-D.

Source:

NASA. 2016. Following Carbon Dioxide Through the Year. Video posted on YouTube. Downloaded 12/18/2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syU1rRCp7E8.

Opinion: We Could Do It, If Only We Wanted

In the preceding posts, I have done some “back-of-the-envelope” calculations of how much land would be required to generate enough electricity using wind and solar energy to cover total energy consumption in the USA or in Missouri. I found that to cover total United States energy consumption would require wind farms on land equal to the size of South Carolina, or solar farms on land equal to almost the size of Texas. Alternatively, it you put solar panels on rooftops, it would require roughly six time as much roof space as exists in the entire country. To cover Missouri’s energy consumption would require wind farms on land equal to the size of Iron County, or solar farms on land equal to about 7% of the state.

I didn’t consider the need for storage, redundancy, peak demand, additional capacity to cover times when the wind wasn’t blowing or the sun wasn’t shining, or losses during delivery of the electricity to customers. All of this means that my estimates are bare minimums, and the actual land required would be larger. How much more? I don’t know.

The International Panel on Climate Change has estimated that we need to reduce GHG emissions 41-72% by 2050 in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. If the United States were to attempt to meet that goal entirely through converting to renewable energy, then only 41-72% of the land I estimated would be required, plus the extra land required for the reasons cited above. Perhaps the end result would be in the rough vicinity of my estimates.

But the United States doesn’t have to make renewable energy the only possible way of reaching the goal. Other strategies might (and probably should) include reducing how much energy we consume and increasing the efficiency of the energy we do use. These are obvious strategies, they are far and away the most cost-effective ways of reducing GHG emissions, and there are no technological hurdles stopping us from getting started. The only thing stopping us is our refusal to do it. Like smokers with lung cancer who still smoke, we continue to emit GHGs despite their harmful effects.

Two other strategies are also possible, though significantly more controversial: nuclear power and population reduction. Nuclear power is one of the most efficient, most reliable forms of generating electricity that has been invented. It has virtually no GHG emissions. The problem is that, in its brief history, every 20-30 years something somewhere has gone spectacularly wrong, and the consequences have been devastating. Entire regions have been made uninhabitable, the costs have been in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and remediation has been virtually impossible. The Ukraine is still working to seal-off the Chernobyl Generating Station, and that accident was 30 years ago. Nuclear power seems to me something we can’t live without, but something we can’t live with, either.

The other strategy is population reduction. I personally believe that in 100 years human population will be significantly less than it is today. Whether that will come voluntarily or involuntarily, I don’t know. It is seems to be common wisdom these days that Malthus and Paul Ehrlich were completely wrong, and that Malthusian sorts of analyses are all off base. I don’t think so. Malthus and Ehrlich were spectacularly wrong in the specifics of their predictions; the dynamics of population and the world’s capacity to support life were influenced by factors they did not understand. The fundamental logic behind their analyses, however, is that you cannot infinitely increase population in a world with finite limits. Duh! That still seems cogent to me. People use resources and generate waste and pollution. It all puts the earth under stress, and the results show up in hundreds of ways that are plain to see if one only reads the newspapers. We have shown remarkable ingenuity in stringing this along for much longer than Malthus and Ehrlich thought we could. How long we can continue to do so, I don’t know. There are numerous important ecological systems that appear to be nearing tipping points, and unless we take the stress off them, sooner or later they are likely to start collapsing. Or so I believe.

Our population could be reduced through wars, famines, or plagues. These are the historical ways in which human population has been reduced, and these are the methods that nature uses to reduce population among other animals. These would all be terrible disasters, and any sane person would hate to see such a thing happen to the human race.

Planned population reduction has never been tried for an extended period on a global, or even a nation-wide basis. It comes with serious economic and demographic problems that people the world over have been unwilling to face. But they are better than population reduction through war, famine, or plague. I personally believe that if we don’t do this, then nature will do it to us. I don’t look forward to that time, either for myself, or for my child, or for my child’s children.

Climate change is just one of the stresses. Others could be named, such as changes to the ocean, desertification, water scarcity, or the mass extinction of species that is currently occurring. But the last few posts have been on renewable energy, so I’ll end with this:

Reducing GHG emissions through the use of renewable energy would be a big, expensive task. We would have to cover large areas of the country, and we would have to solve a number of thorny technical problems. But in terms of the land available, it is possible. We could do it, especially if we also used the other strategies like reducing consumption and increasing efficiency.

Addendum: This post was written in early August. On October 3, the New York Times published an article saying that  this year the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere at Mauna Loa Observatory was measured at greater than 400 ppm., and is likely to remain above 400 ppm. for the immediate future. While 400 ppm. is not a catastrophic tipping point, it is a milestone. Those who had hoped to limit the effects of climate change had hoped to keep the carbon dioxide level below 400 ppm., or at least delay (by decades) the day it was exceeded. Well, we have blown by the milestone faster than almost anybody anticipated. It is not a tipping point, but it is a sign that the world has yet to take climate change seriously, and has yet to make the changes needed to head off its worst effects.

Source:

Chernobyl Disaster. Wikipedia. Viewed online 8/4/16 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Economic_and_political_consequences.

Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking.

Ehrich, Paul. 1968. The Population Bomb. Sierra Club/Ballantine Books.

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Table SPM.1.

Malthus, Thomas. 1789. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Public domain, viewed 8/4/16 at the website of the Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project, http://www.esp.org/books/malthus/population/malthus.pdf.

A Wind Farm the Size of Iron County


To satisfy energy demand in Missouri would require a wind farm the size of Iron County, or a solar photovoltaic farm 7% the size of the state, or a combination of both.


In the past 3 posts I have constructed “back-of-the-envelope” estimates of how much land would be required in order to meet the USA’s energy needs from wind power and solar photovoltaic power. In this post I bring it back to Missouri: how big a wind farm, how big a solar photovoltaic farm, would you need to meet Missouri’s energy consumption?

I won’t go through all the calculations like I did in the previous posts. I’ll simply say that total energy consumption in Missouri was 557,946,666 MWh in 2014.

http://www.eia.gov/state/seds/data.cfm?incfile=/state/seds/sep_sum/html/rank_use.html&sid=US.

To satisfy this demand using wind farms would occupy 556 square miles. That’s a square less than 24 miles on each side. It is roughly the size of Iron County or St. Charles County. The largest county in Missouri, Texas County, is twice as large.

To satisfy the demand using solar photovoltaics would require solar farms occupying 4,819 square miles. That is a square 69 miles on each side. It is larger than any Missouri county, but only about 7% of the state.

As in previous posts, I must here caution that the examples I drew upon to construct my analyses, the Alta Wind Farm and the Topaz Solar Farm, are located in locations with strong wind and solar resources. Wind and solar farms elsewhere would be trying to reap lesser resources, and thus, would require more land to generate the same amount of power. Thus, my estimates represent the lower limit of the land that would be required. Still, they give some estimate of the size of the task involved.

.

.

So what does all this rumination mean? First, let me reiterate that these are very rough “back-of-the-envelope” estimates. But they may be useful in demonstrating the size of the task required to convert to renewable energy.

Second, given current technology, it isn’t possible to cover the nation’s entire energy consumption using either wind power or solar photovoltaics. These technologies generate electricity, and a significant portion of the nations energy requires petroleum and natural gas. There are also engineering issues regarding the stability of the electrical grid that need to be solved

Third, it isn’t necessary to cover the nation’s entire energy consumption to have a significant effect. If we could derive 30%, 40%, 50% of the nations energy from renewables, it would make a significant impact on GHG emissions.

Fourth, converting to renewable energy would reduce air pollution, acid rain, and mercury poisoning, because all three come primarily from burning fossil fuel to create energy.

Fifth, it would also reduce our balance of payments deficit by reducing the amount of petroleum we have to buy from other nations. And it would enhance our energy security by making us less dependent on on foreign nations for our energy.

And sixth, it would take the money we currently send overseas to purchase oil and reinvest it here, in this country, possibly stimulating our own economy.

.

.

My analysis suggests, that from a land coverage viewpoint, converting to renewable energy would require a lot of land, but not a prohibitive amount. Very large wind farms and solar farms have already been installed and are generating electricity. We would have to continue installing them, but the land exists.

We would have to have a national consensus that this is an appropriate way to use our land, however. And then the technological and economic issues would have to be resolved. Many of them already have been, but some remain, and those would be the issues that would make or break the project.

Too Little Real Estate on Rooftops?


To generate enough energy with rooftop solar panels to cover total energy consumption in the USA would require more than 6 times as much rooftop space as exists in the whole country.


In the previous two posts I have constructed “back-of-the-envelop” estimates of how much land you would have to use to satisfy the USA’s energy consumption with wind and solar power. I discovered that to do it with wind power would require at minimum wind farms occupying land the size of South Carolina. To do it with solar would require at minimum a solar farm at almost as big as the state of Texas.

What if solar was distributed around the country, on every building in the country? Obviously, not every building is suitable for solar power – they are shaded by trees or other buildings, they are oriented the wrong direction, or the slope of their roofs isn’t good for solar panels. Still, this is an interesting exercise to demonstrate the size of the requirement.

There are an estimated 113 million residential structures in the USA, totaling an estimated 180 billion square feet. There are an estimated 4.7 million commercial buildings totaling 68.5 billion square feet. Combined, they total 248.5 billion sq. ft.

https://www.aps.org/energyefficiencyreport/report/energy-bldgs.pdf.

The average new residence in the USA has 1.6 stories, and I will use that as my estimate for all housing. Thus, the average size of the roofs would be 180 billion / 1.6 = 112.5 billion = 112,500,000,000 sq.ft. This is probably an overestimate, because it does not account for multifamily buildings, but it will have to do.

https://www.census.gov/construction/chars/highlights.html.

I could find no data regarding the average number of stories for commercial buildings. However, there is data that buildings over 50,000 sq. ft. constitute half of the entire square footage, even though they represent only about 6% of all buildings. Obviously, some very large skyscrapers are going to account for a lot of internal square footage, but have comparatively small roofs. It’s just a guestimate, but I’m going to say that the square footage of commercial building roofs is only 1/4 that of their total square footage.

68.5 billion / 4 = 17.1 billion sq. ft. = 17,100,000,000 sq. ft.

https://www.eia.gov/consumption/commercial/reports/2012/buildstock/.

Thus, I estimate the total amount of roof space in the United States to be 112,500,000,000 + 17,125,000,000 = 129,625,000,000 sq.ft.

In 2014, total energy consumption in the United States was 98,385.2 trillion Btu. = 28,833,750,564 MWh.

http://www.eia.gov/state/seds/data.cfm?incfile=/state/seds/sep_sum/html/rank_use.html&sid=US.

The Desert Southwest has the strongest solar resource in the country, while northerly latitudes with lots of cloudy days have the weakest. The Wikipedia article on solar efficiency says that in Colorado, one could expect a solar panel to generate 440 kWh/sq.m./year, while in Michigan, one could expect 280 kWh/sq.m./year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides a map of the solar resource across the country in kWh/sq.meter/day, but I could find no resource that gave a nationwide average. Since I am assuming solar panels installed on every building across the country, I must use a national average.

http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/map_pv_national_lo-res.jpg.

“Eyeballing” the map, it is clear that Colorado does not represent the strongest solar resource in the country. On the other hand, the area that does have the strongest solar resource is relatively sparsely settled, meaning there are fewer buildings there than in, say, the Northeast. I will assume that these factors balance out, and that one may estimate the annual yield from solar panels by averaging the figures from Colorado and Michigan.

Thus, I estimate the average annual yield from a solar installations to be (440 + 280) / 2 = 360 kWh per square meter per year = 33.4 kWh per square foot per year.

Therefore, the total potential energy production that could be achieved by completely covering every roof in the country with solar panels would be 129,625,000,000 * 33.4 = 4,335,324,557,000 kWh, = 4,335,000,000 MWh.

The fraction of national consumption that could be met would be 28,833,750,564 / 4,335,324,557 = 15%. Put another way, we would need more than six times as much roof space as exists in the USA to meet our energy consumption using rooftop solar photovoltaic.

Some thoughts on where Missouri fits in all this and what it all means in the next post.