Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lily Pads On The Pond

Before I start, I just wanted to note that economist Richard Tol is conducting a survey on science and related topics here: , which I mention because of the title of this post.

One of the preliminary questions in his survey is something I use in defense of solar. Solar power is routinely attacked by skeptics as a niche provider of power, which is certainly true.

But, if lily pads grow on a pond by doubling the area they cover every day and it takes 48 days to cover the pond, how much area is covered by lily pads on the 47th day? (Sorry, Richard–hope I didn’t blow your survey.) The answer is 50%, of course.

Solar power is the lily pad of energy.

The amount of energy it provides today could best be described as an asterisk, the reason other totals don’t add up to 100%. In the United States in 2014 it produced 0.4 of the roughly 100 quads Americans consumed that year. The amount of solar energy used in the world is so small that it doesn’t even show up in totals of renewable energy produced worldwide–it’s still an asterisk.

In most of the world solar power is more expensive than almost any other type of energy you can think of and must be subsidized by government or charity to be even taken seriously.

Worse, it is an intermittent source of energy–things like night really have an impact on solar. To a lesser extent, so do clouds. And when the sun is shining brightly and a panel produces more electricity, if the grid doesn’t need it at the moment, where do you put it until you do need it? (Roy Scheider was misquoted. What he actually said was ‘We’re going to need a bigger battery.’)

And yet I am convinced by looking at the data that solar power will be the energy source that we will be depending on in the future.

Solar power keeps getting less expensive. In the U.S., one of the most expensive markets for solar (we pay those rooftop installers pretty well), prices for installed residential solar systems declined 11% over the course of 2014. The cost for commercial installed systems declined by 14% in 2014. And prices globally are dropping significantly as well.

This significant improvement in the price performance curve isn’t exactly new:



And it isn’t expected to stop any time soon.

Jan. 30, 2015 “Putting a new kind of photovoltaic material on top of a conventional solar cell can boost overall power output by half. Researchers at Stanford University added a type of material known as a perovskite to a silicon solar cell, validating an idea for cheaply increasing the efficiency of solar power that was first proposed several years ago.”

Way up above I wrote that solar provided only 0.4 quads of the energy Americans consumed last year. What makes that number interesting is the fact that in 2013 the figure was 0.2.

Globally, analysts expect another typical year for solar–growth of about 20%. That’s not 50%–the lily pad analogy is never perfect–but installations of solar did double in 5 years worldwide. While dropping in price by more than 70%.

Critically, for free market enthusiasts who seem almost horrified at the success of solar (okay, that’s an exaggeration), solar power is winning in the marketplace even though it is (for the moment) more expensive than alternatives. This is because there are more signals in the market than price. Many people who can afford solar are also environmentally conscientious and wish to use green energy. Many NGOs and charities are pushing solar into regions where conventional electricity cannot go. Many governments that wish to lessen their dependence on imported oil are happy to switch subsidies from fossil fuels to solar (and wind, of course).

Postscript: Solar won’t really win in the marketplace until the issue of storage is settled. Consumption of energy is not limited to sunny daylight hours, so we need better batteries. That will be my next topic.

Future Plans For This Blog and The Lukewarmer’s Way

I’ve been posting quite a bit since I un-retired around the first of the year, and much of what I’ve been doing is to try and catch up with figures published since I went dark and to take a closer look at CO2 emissions and concentrations.

When I get done with that I’m going to re-visit themes such as internal variability within countries regarding energy consumption, try to configure a sane fuel portfolio for major emitting countries and wait as patiently as I can for the spring release of the DOE International Energy Outlook.

For my companion blog The Lukewarmer’s Way,  want to look more closely at NGO messaging, something I think has been a major factor in preventing reasonable dialogue and intelligent action. That should take me through February for The Lukewarmer’s Way.

I also need to make time to clean up my blogroll. Link rot is there and it is evil.

For both blogs, I am open to suggestions on topics of interest to readers. Way back when I did a guest series over at Jeff Id’s blog comparing climate blogs–one skeptic vs. one consensus blog at a time. If there’s interest, I could do something along those lines for 2015. Anybody want a side by side comparison of Jose Duarte vs. And Then There’s Physics?

What Drives Human-Caused Climate Change?

When looking at the ways humans cause climate change, it is good to remember that we are talking about more than just emissions of fossil fuels. Humans change the land cover of the planet, planting, cutting down trees, putting up reservoirs and paving over land for roads. We also emit conventional pollution, causing black soot and aerosols that have differing (and debated) effects on climate.

There is one human factor that drives all of this. It’s not technology and it’s not GDP. It’s population growth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only incorporates global population size and growth into its emissions projections, without disaggregating or differentiating between the emissions levels of different social or demographic groups. Poor people cause climate change by cutting down forests, slash and burn agriculture, burning wood and dung, burning kerosene, etc. There are far too many poor people (that is, more than zero). Rich people cause climate change by using appliances, driving cars, flying in airplanes, building dams. There are far too few rich people (that is, less than all).


Because the IPCC (and folks like Nicholas Stern) don’t treat population seriously when they measure and project climate change and its impacts, their documents are not as helpful as they might be. For example, when Stern did his famous review he used an IPCC scenario that had 15 billion people living on the planet in 2100. This naturally caused him to think we would both emit more CO2 and suffer more from the consequences.

So it’s always a good idea to refresh our view of what is happening with global population. Fortunately, the UN periodically publishes updates to its projections.

“According to the 2012 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections, the world population of 7.2 billion in mid-2013 is projected to increase by almost one billion people within the next twelve years, reaching 8.1 billion in 2025, and to further increase to 9.6 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100 (figure 1). These results are based on the medium-variant projection, which assumes a decline of fertility for countries where large families are still prevalent as well as a slight increase of fertility in several countries with fewer than two children per woman on average. ”

Their high variant yields a projection of 16.6 billion in 2100 while their low variant shows a prediction of 7 billion (rising and then falling over the remainder of the century). You pays your money you gets to pick which variant you believe–or which variant supports your position on issues affected by population.

Fans of population studies (both of you…) will already know that the UN adjusted its population figures upwards in 2010, mostly because fertility wasn’t decreasing as fast in some African and Middle Eastern countries as had been forecast previously. We’ll see.

The UN now says, “At the country level, much of the overall increase between 2013 and 2050 is projected to take place in high-fertility countries, mainly in Africa, as well as countries with large populations such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United States of America. ” Notice who isn’t on their list? China…

We’ll talk about this more in the future, but I’m interested in hearing what people think about the UN’s predictions. I’ll leave you with this quote from a UNFPA publication, Population Dynamics and Climate Change (which is well worth reading, by the way):

“It is impossible to understand and reduce vulnerability without taking population dynamics into account. From acute, climate-related events like storms and floods to long-term shifts in weather patterns and sea level patterns, the impacts only become clear through an understanding of who is at risk, what the risks are to people rather than just to places and how these risks vary within and across populations. Vulnerability is unevenly distributed between men and women and between the young, the middle aged and the elderly.”

Climate Commenter Of The Year, 2014

It’s difficult–but important–to acknowledge quality work from the other side of the fence. It’s a bit easier with blog writers–when I awarded Gavin Schmidt Blogger of the Year a couple of years ago, nobody on the skeptic side even grumbled.

It’s tougher with commenters, as the odds are that you’ve sparred with them more than once.

Respect Your Opponent

But this year’s winner deserves the award. He comments prolifically–but doesn’t spam the same comments across the blogosphere.

He’s (usually) not vitriolic, although like all commenters (including myself when I’m at other venues) he can be a bit acerbic at times.

He’s usually on point–he doesn’t go after personalities very much. His usual tactic–asking for sources from those he opposes–is something we could use a little bit more of here in the climate blogosphere.

The gentleman’s name is Hank Roberts. I think he very much deserves the award for 2014 Climate Commenter of the Year. I hope that’s at least one thing we agree on this year.

I’ll leave you with one of his most recent comments on Real Climate, where the topic is ‘Thoughts On Ongoing Temperature Trends”.


  • Ah, Victor?

    Victor, did you ever talk to a reference librarian? The questions you ask are good — but asking them of the wind, or typing them into the computer, does not get you the help for which you appear to be crying out.

    Talk to someone near you who understands statistics.

    Please. Otherwise you may — as appears so far — mistakenly convince yourself that ignoramus necessarily means ignorabimus.

    At Azimuth, the topic that Jan Galkowski points to, ends with:

    Working out these kinds of details is the process of science at its best, and many disciplines, not least mathematics, statistics, and signal processing, have much to contribute to the methods and interpretations of these series data. It is possible too much is being asked of a limited data set, and perhaps we have not yet observed enough of climate system response to say anything definitive. But the urgency to act responsibly given scientific predictions remains.


The Present, The Plan and The Fear

Previously I posted on the DOE EIA’s estimates of current energy usage by the 5 largest consumers.  I also posted on what the EIA projects their consumption to be in 2030.

However, long-time readers of this blog will know that way back a few years ago I estimated energy consumption on my own. I felt that both the EIA and its sister organization the IEA were not paying attention to rising energy consumption in the developing world.

What I did was take estimates for GDP rise for future years, look at the energy consumption per capita for countries that currently have achieved that level of GDP, pro-rate the per capita energy consumption for the emerging countries using the UN estimates of future population, and came up with a much higher level of energy consumption. I later did the same for OECD countries and came up with a coherent, if not necessarily correct, global total that shows future global energy consumption to be 3,000 quads in 2075. Hence the title of this blog. For reference purposes, the world used about 510 quads in 2010.

Now, the EIA keeps bumping up their estimate every time they re-do their study, as I pointed out here. But not by enough.

So with that as preamble, here are EIA estimates for current consumption for the five biggest consumers, their projections for the same countries in 2030 and my projections for 2030.

2013 EIA 2030 Fuller 2030
China 124.9 198.9 246.6
USA 119.8 102.3 108.5
Russia 30.6 38 31.65
India 26.9 42.6 84.57
Japan 21.4 23 19.4
Totals 323.6 404.8 490.72

Readers will note that I actually forecast lower consumption than the EIA for Japan and Russia, based primarily on slowdowns in population growth and lower GDP growth. However, the dramatically higher total is due principally to continued growth in energy consumption in China and India.

The EIA predicted global energy consumption would reach 721 quads in 2030. My figures show 952.3 quads.

If I am correct (and I have a standing invitation to anyone who can suggest where I am mistaken) it has implications for global warming. In part because the EIA and IEA are estimating lower totals, planners are not planning for a higher level of energy consumption. This makes it likely that when demand for energy rises it will be met with the cheapest and quickest source available–coal, guaranteeing much higher levels of emissions and a larger contribution to global warming, no matter how low atmospheric sensitivity is.

But we’ll also see other effects. My fear is that many cities in the developing world will start to resemble Beijing on a bad day. And the consequences of that will be even more immediate than global warming.


Costs and Consequences of Transforming Global Energy Sources

Judith Curry and I were discussing the  ‘wicked’nature of addressing climate change. I said I don’t think it’s a ‘wicked’ problem, in that if we decide to reduce our emissions we have all the tools available to us–nuclear power plants, hydroelectric facilities, renewables, etc. I posted about it at my other blog here.

During the discussion I rashly said I would try to quantify the costs of transforming our energy portfolio and that I thought converting to cleaner fuels would cost an order of magnitude less than continuing to burn fossil fuels.

So I’ll try to do so here, but you’ll have to overcome a couple of heroic assumptions on my part if what follows is to make sense.

  • The title of this blog is 3000 Quads for a reason. I believe that the world will consume 3000 quads of primary energy in 2075. So the total costs and consequences I will be working towards understanding are of that total, not current usage.
  • I will not be considering any climate adaptation or mitigation costs. If I’m right, this monumental conversion will be a ‘no regrets’ policy that is a logical course of action no matter what happens to the climate.
  • The global economic picture will show most people living (or trying to live) at a standard of living at or beyond today’s levels.

If we in fact consume 3000 quads in 2075, most of it will be generated by coal. The reason is simple–international agencies are underestimating future consumption. Even when they update consumption figures and increase the totals, they are silent about it, not telling planners and investors that the developing world really wants to consume energy at the same level as the developed countries.

A very conservative estimate of the coal that will be burned in 2075 is enough to generate 1,000 quadrillion BTUs of energy. One quad is the energy liberated by burning 38,000 train cars full of anthracite coal. about 30% of global energy consumption is coal today.

Some of the costs of coal have been computed. Let’s look at real costs, the ones climate skeptics and Republicans would grudgingly admit. There are costs that are disputed–the value of human lives lost during mining or due to pollution–that I won’t include because of disagreements on how to value those lives or even measure their loss. Similarly, things like reduction of IQ due to exposure to mercury are speculative about their impact.

From Wikipedia: “In 2009 the National Research Council released a report on the “external costs of coal” caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle, from extraction to production to use and emissions, effects not factored into the market cost of the fuels. The report Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use was released in October 2009. Requested by Congress, the report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. Putting together a diverse committee of experts including scientists, economists, and geologists, the committee estimated the use of fossil fuels had a hidden cost to the U.S. public of $120 billion in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The estimate was derived from monetizing the damage of major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and particulate matter – on human health, grain crops and timber yields, buildings, and recreation.

The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize.”

The OECD estimated in 2012 that global GDP in 2075 will be about $675 trillion USD.

The $120 billion in U.S. costs was associated with 20% of our consumption being powered by coal, close to 20 quads.

Again, if you accept my heroic assumptions above, the (non climate, non-fuzzy) pollution costs from 1,000 quads at $6 billion per quad shows a cost of $120 trillion USD in constant 2005 dollars.

In the U.S. in 2011, nuclear provide about 17 quads of primary energy from 124 nuclear power plants, about .13 quad per plant. For 1,000 quads from the same average output, we would need 7,692 plants, about as many as normal power plants exist today.

In China, Areva just built a nuclear power plant for 3 billion Euros. Assuming that each power plant we built cost that amount, the total cost would be 23.07 trillion USD.

So it’s not an order of magnitude cheaper. Just a lot, lot, lot cheaper.





Changing Forecasts Is A Good Thing–Unless You Don’t Tell Anyone

Because my own forecasts see energy use climbing much higher than the agencies charged with making official predictions on the subject, you would think I’d be happy when one of those agencies revised their forecasts upward. That is, unless you know me… I’m not happy for two reasons. But first, here’s what happened:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration publishes a document called the International Energy Outlook every couple of years. In it they project future energy consumption, among many other things.

Their predictions have changed for 2030 global energy consumption:

So, on to the two reasons for my unhappiness. First, I don’t think they changed the forecasts by enough. My prediction is total global energy consumption will reach 925.3 quads, based entirely on accelerating consumption in the developing world.


Secondly, I’m unhappy because the DOE isn’t telling anybody about it. The total of their changes–42 additional quads–is an amount of energy equal to the combined consumption of India and Japan last year.

It should be ringing alarm bells for politicians, planners and even those involved in the climate debate.

But the DOE EIA isn’t telling people. Those who looked at an older forecast and haven’t checked the newer one will be operating and making decisions based on out of date information.

That isn’t good. There will be a new version out in the spring of 2015. I hope they are more open about changes in their forecasts this time around.

The Energy Future For The 5 Largest Energy Consuming Nations

Ahh, no wonder I get so much traffic with headlines like that.

Currently the 5 largest energy consuming nations are China, the U.S., Russia, India and Japan.

energy image

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (DOE EIA), in 2014 the consumption of these countries was:

(Quadrillion BTUs, taken from the US DOE EIA International Energy Outlook for 2013)

  • China        124.9
  • USA           119.8
  • Russia        30.6
  • India           26.9
  • Japan          21.4
  • Total:     323.6

That’s 58% of the 558.7 quads the entire world is estimated to have consumed last year. The same top 5 countries accounted for 19,642 million metric tons of CO2, 59% of the 33,186 mmt’s the world emitted in 2014. (China accounted for almost 30% of global CO2 emissions last year–wow.)

The acronym soup that is the DOE EIA IEO projects energy consumption through 2040. Let’s look at what those countries are expected to do in 2030:

  • China        198.9
  • USA           102.3
  • Russia        38.0
  • India           42.6
  • Japan          23.0
  • Total:     404.8

That would amount to 55.5% of the 729.2 quads the entire world is estimated to consume in 2030. The same top 5 countries will account for 25,404 million metric tons of CO2, 61% of the 41,464 mmt’s the world is projected to emit in 2030. (China is expected to emit almost 34% of global CO2 emissions that year–wow again.)

Although I have written frequently on this blog that I believe these figures are severely underestimating the energy future, for now let’s let that go.

It is clear that any action we take to reduce fossil fuel consumption and/or CO2 emissions must focus on the five countries that are doing the most consuming and emitting.

Of those five, all have active programs to move towards green or greener fuels and to work on lowering emissions. India gets a lot of power from hydroelectricity, as do China and the U.S. The U.S., China and Russia are doing a lot with nuclear power–Japan was as well, before Fukushima. China and the U.S. are active in solar and wind and the U.S. is still producing a lot of ethanol.

But if temperatures start to rise rapidly or the extreme weather that alarmists are falsely claiming is already here actually shows up, their efforts are likely to prove insufficient.

Russian Energy Consumption–The Surprisingly Good Citizen

When people talk about Russia and energy, it’s usually about their exports of oil and gas and the political games they play with both. From expropriating resources from domestic companies to leveraging supplies, Russia is painted (with no little justification) as the bad guy in the Great Game.

But Russia is also the world’s 3rd largest energy consumer, with almost 6% of global energy used in this huge country. In 2012 Russia burnt about 33 quads, half that of the U.S. or China, but more than 4th place India, which burnt 32 quads and gets a lot more attention because of it.

Partly that’s because Russia’s population is declining, as is their industrial base. They really don’t do much in Russia anymore, besides fossil fuel extraction. So their energy consumption going forward is not anticipated to be a major factor in the global picture.

But really, the other reason is that so much of Russia’s fuel consumption is provided by either natural gas (56%), hydropower and nuclear energy. Only 77 of their power plants are powered by coal.

Russian energy_consumption

Russia exports huge quantities of oil, gas and coal (they are the world’s sixth largest exporter of coal)–but they’re relatively clean inside their borders.

Now if that doesn’t go against everything you’ve heard about Russia, tell me what would.


Climate Blog (and blogger) of the Year

I know this is mostly anti-climatic for most of you who are eagerly awaiting my award for Climate Commenter of the year, but herewith we present our award for Climate Blog of the Year. (Drumroll, please… no, wait a minnit…)

Readers will remember the winner of the first award was Gavin Schmidt of Real Climate, following his bravura performance following the release of the Climategate emails. He responded politely (and to a large extent accurately) to hundreds of comments on RC in the week after the release of the emails and earned a place in blogging history books just for that.

The second winner was Climate Audit’s Steve McIntyre, who in his tenure at CA has shown persistence, patience and consistency in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Paleoclimatologists may curse the day McIntyre developed and interest in their subject. However, paleoclimatology is immeasurably better because of it.

Our Blog (and blogger) of  2014 was similarly consistent and patient, enduring criticism from the opposite side of the policy fence, dealing with 109,000 comments from 750,000 visitors, posting almost daily, with almost all posts relevant to climate science and the policy issues that science entails.

This blog was one of the few I could access during my self-imposed exile in mainland China, and it was an oasis of sorts for me. I not only enjoyed it, I learned from it.

Congratulations, Judith Curry and Climate Etc.


Warming May Be Global. Fixing The Problem Isn’t

CO2 mixes well in the atmosphere and spreads across the world. Whatever it does–a lot, a little, something in between–it does without regard to borders.

However, the top 5 energy consumers consume half the energy produced. That’s China (21%), the U.S.A. (19.3%), Russia (5.9%), India (4.5%) and Japan (3%). Those 5 countries account for almost 51% of all energy consumed globally. Countries 6-10 consume a total of 11%.


Focusing on coal is a lot easier. You don’t need to count to five. Three countries account for 75% of coal consumed in the world–China alone burns 53.4%, followed by the U.S.A. with 13% and India with 9.1%.

If CO2 emissions are a global problem, the rest of the globe should be talking sternly to 5 countries. If in addition we are concerned about pollution, the people in the hot seat come from only 3 countries–with an emphasis on China.

India’s Energy Consumption

India is the world’s 4th largest consumer of energy, behind China, the U.S. and Russia. But whereas China and the U.S. each consumed over 100 quads in 2012, India consumed 32 quads. That’s not very much energy for 1.25 billion people.

However, their energy consumption has doubled in the past 10 years and if that keeps up they will be at U.S./China levels by 2035. Or sooner… It’s important to note that while their energy consumption doubled between 2002 and 2012, their GDP tripled…

Much like China, India uses a lot of coal. 54% of their installed electricity base is coal-fueled and 67% of planned addition to generating capacity is also to be coal-fired.


But unlike China, India’s increasing reliance on coal is actually an improvement over current conditions. Over 800 million Indians burn dung or sticks for fuel when they can’t afford the kerosene that is their fuel of choice. Nonetheless, the 744.5 million tons of coal they burnt in 2012 was almost 10% of all coal burned that year worldwide.

These combustible renewables like dung and sticks (we’re not talking about sophisticated ethanol products, biofuels or cute little wood pellets–it’s mostly dung and it’s burned inside and it kills millions) amount to a quarter of India’s energy consumption.



In a 2011 census, 85% of rural households were wholly dependent on traditional biomass for cooking. Only 55% of rural households have access to electricity. There were 167.8 million rural households in India in 2011.

So what of the future for India? The DOE’s EIA projects their energy consumption to rise to 55 quads by 2040. However, the EIA projected their 2012 consumption to be 24.9 and it reached 32… so your actual mileage may vary.

Worse (much better for the Indians, just worse for folks like me worried about global energy consumption…sorry…), the GDP of India is expected to grow from $469 billion in 2000 to $12.4 trillion in 2040 according to the Goldman Sachs Road to 2050.

Gee. We have two countries with about that level of GDP right now… and both are consuming more than 100 quads per year… And if 70% of that comes from coal in the same way 70% of China’s energy comes from coal…

Is The DOE Boiling The Frog?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration is raising its estimates of future energy consumption. But it isn’t announcing the rises to us.

boiling frog

I’ve been writing for some time that their estimates seem far too low. In 2011 the EIA projected global energy consumption would amount to 721 quads in 2030. At the time I was upset because my projections showed a total of about 921 quads.

Their 2013 International Energy Outlook now shows a projected energy consumption of 729.2 quads for 2030. As energy consumption is already surpassing their previous estimates, this is only natural.

But they don’t seem to be mentioning the increase in any of their publications.

Worse yet, in my opinion, is that they are not raising their projections by enough. Their 2011 estimate for 2012 was 519 quads. Their 2013 estimate for 2012 was 540.3 quads. So their adjusted projected rise of 8 quads for the period ending in 2030 has already been exceeded by a real rise of 21 quads in 2012.

Energy consumption is growing pretty much in line with my estimates, not theirs. If they continue to just nudge the figures up in every edition of the International Energy Outlook they will be doing the world a disservice. Planners and politicians worldwide use their product to make important decisions.

If they continue modest adjustments without notifying us, we will be like the frog in a pot of water warming up to the boiling point. If we need to speed up our adaptation and mitigation efforts it is their responsibility to inform us.

Models are not perfect and the world changes in strange ways. Correcting your estimates on a bi-annual basis is a very good thing. But the DOE should be telling people that energy growth is happening faster than they previously thought.

More Catching Up–China’s Coal Consumption

I missed the chance to blog about some interesting things last year, due to being in China and not having access to WordPress.

In May of 2014 the DOE’s EIA published a report on China’s coal production and consumption. Given that China recently made an agreement with the U.S. about future emissions, the DOE report is worth another look 8 months later.

“Chinese production and consumption of coal increased for the 13th consecutive year in 2012. China is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, accounting for 46% of global coal production and 49% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the rest of the world combined. …China’s coal consumption increased by more than 2.3 billion tons over the past 10 years, accounting for 83% of the global increase in coal consumption. …Coal accounts for most of China’s energy consumption, and coal has maintained an approximate 70% share of Chinese consumption (on a Btu basis) since at least 1980.”

China coal

In 2012 China consumed about 103.6 quads, close to 20% of the world’s total. 70 of those quadrillion BTUs were produced by burning coal.

China intends to double its energy consumption between 2014 and 2026. The EIA projected that China would burn about 162 quads in total by 2030 and that China’s reliance on coal will drop to 63%. If they are correct, the quads produced by coal in China will go from 70 in 2012 to 102.5 quads in 2030. That is a lot of coal to be burning. For perspective, the entire world including China used coal to generate 157 quads last year.

However, I think it is actually worse than that. I project China’s energy consumption will rise to 246.6 quads in 2030 and that coal will provide about what it does now–70% of the total or 172.6 quads.

That’s because I believe China will continue to accelerate their consumption of energy until they match Western per capita levels. They were at 59 mbtu per person back in 2010. The U.S. was at about 309 mbtu. Do the math.

That would mean 172.6 quads produced by burning coal. By China alone. Just to remind you all, that’s why I’m worried about climate change. Even with a low sensitivity of the atmosphere to concentrations of CO2, at some point there’s just too much CO2.


International Energy Outlook 2014

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration released its 2014 International Energy Outlook while I was inconveniently located in mainland China and unable to access this blog.

It turns out that that’s okay–the EIA has changed to doing a full report in odd-numbered years and a shortened version in even number years. So the 2014 report does not cover very much of what interests me. It is focused instead on production of (and a bit on demand for) oil and other liquid fuels.

I don’t know when they finished writing it, but it looks like they hit the publish button about two minutes before the price of oil started falling through the floor.

“In the IEO2014 Reference case, world oil prices fall from $113 per barrel (2012 dollars) in 2011 to $92 per barrel in 2017, then rise steadily to $141 per barrel in 2040.” The price of Brent right now is about $47.


You’ve gotta feel for these guys. They probably thought they were being brave to put a decline in their reference estimate. Their Low Price estimate showed prices falling to $70 by 2016, and again they probably thought they were sticking their necks out.

As for their macroeconomic outlook, (I don’t mean to sound snarky–I like what these people do) they finally noticed the slowdown in India and started including it in their models for growth. Unfortunately, my models think they did this right when India hit the floor. Their new prime minister Modi, in my opinion, is going to spur growth there almost immediately. They took the opposite tack on Brazil, projecting strong growth there just as the Brazilian economy took a nose dive. You can’t win.

Brazilian economy

As for China, they sold 18 million new cars last year and the EIA quite properly notes that liquid fuel consumption will probably double by 2040. (I wonder if that will show up in their 2015 estimates of future global energy consumption…)

I think the overall situation is too (please forgive me) fluid to really make strong assertions on liquid fuels. All consumers are benefiting from Saudi Arabia’s war on American shale. As a consumer, you should root for a long and bloody struggle. As an environmentalist, I can only say this is the perfect time to end subsidies and raise taxes on liquid fuels. When prices are low, people won’t notice.

Speaking of which, is there a luckier politician anywhere than Indonesian Joko Widodo (Jokowi)? He took office hoping to find a way to lower fuel subsidies, which take up a fifth of Indonesian government spending. The crash of oil prices allowed him to remove the subsidies altogether–and right now fuel prices in Indonesia are lower without subsidies than they were a month or two ago with subsidies. If Jokowi spends this windfall properly, Indonesia might replace Australia as ‘the lucky country.’



I like him because he reminds me  a little of Barack Obama. Pity Obama never had that kind of luck.

Decadal Rises in CO2 Emissions

Taken from NOAA data starting in 1959.

1959-1969: 8.65 ppm

1970-1979: 11.1 ppm

1980-1989: 14.39 ppm

1990-1999: 13.98 ppm

2000-2009: 17.85 ppm

2010-2014: 8.7 ppm

There are those who say that it is the actual introduction of new CO2 into the atmosphere that causes the temperature to change. There are those who say that the concentrations play a larger role.

Whatever the case, concentrations are not only rising, they are rising more quickly than in the past.

Surprising information about CO2 concentrations–something important here… but it’s halfway down the post…

In yesterday’s post I briefly mentioned Alexander Cockburn’s writing about the lack of correlation between CO2 emissions and concentrations (hat tip to pottereaton, who flagged this up in a comment to a previous post). Cockburn wrote, “Now imagine two lines on a piece of graph paper. The first rises to a crest, then slopes sharply down, levels off and rises slowly once more. The other has no undulations. It rises in a smooth, slow arc. The first wavy line is the worldwide CO2 tonnage produced by humans burning coal, oil and natural gas. It starts in 1928, at 1.1 gigatons (i.e., 1.1 billion metric tons), and peaks in 1929 at 1.17 gigatons. The world, led by its mightiest power, plummets into the Great Depression and by 1932, human CO2 production has fallen to 0.88 gigatons a year, a 30 percent drop. Then, in 1933, the line climbs slowly again, up to 0.9 gigatons.

“And the other line, the one ascending so evenly? That’s the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, parts per million (ppm) by volume, moving in 1928 from just under 306, hitting 306 in 1929, 307 in 1932 and on up. Boom and bust, the line heads up steadily. These days it’s at 380. The two lines on that graph proclaim that a whopping 30 percent cut in manmade CO2 emissions didn’t even cause a 1 ppm drop in the atmosphere’s CO2. It is thus impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric CO2 stems from people burning fossil fuels.”

Although Cockburn didn’t extend his research to more recent times, it’s relatively easy to do. The NOAA publishes annual mean CO2 concentrations and the DOE’s CDIAC publishes annual emissions data. And in fact, the lack of 1 to 1 correlation between emissions and concentrations is surprising.

CO2 concentrations have climbed from 338.68 parts per million in 1980 to the current level of 398.55, a rise of about 60 ppm in 35 years, or a bit under 20%. However, although CO2 emissions have varied significantly, the rise in concentrations has in fact been very steady. The average annual rise has been 1.76 ppm (but hold that fact in mind as you read below. It’s important.)

The years with the largest increases in emissions also had most of the largest increase in concentrations, which is a bit reassuring given what follows. The highest increase in concentrations was in 1998, 2.94 ppm and the lowest was in 1993, 0.69 ppm.

We noted yesterday that in 9 years since 1980 that emissions actually fell. In none of those years did concentrations drop. What Cockburn noted about the Great Depression is also true today. In 2009 during the Great Recession, emission declined by 43 million metric tons, due to energy consumption falling by 5 quads and GDP falling by $3 trillion dollars. But concentrations rose by 1.78 ppm, higher than average. In fact, in four of the nine years when emissions fell, concentrations rose by an amount higher than the average.

The beginning of the 80’s was marked by four consecutive years when emissions fell. During those four years CO2 concentrations rose by 6.25 ppm, 10% of the entire rise in concentrations during the period we’re looking at. I find this surprising–I can understand a one-year disconnect between emissions and concentrations, but four? That’s odd.

However, I noticed something else odd in the data that troubles me even more. When a journalist ‘buries the lede’, it means that the most important information in an article is not at the top of the story, but buried deep inside. To an extent, that’s what I’ve done here.

Because looking at the data, I notice that the mean rise in concentrations from 1980 to 1993 has a fairly modest average of 1.45 ppm. However, the average from 1993 to 2013 jumps to 1.96 ppm. Early in the data series, there is only one year over 1.6 ppm increase. In 1994 the increase jumps to 1.75 ppm and from 1994 to 2013 there are only two years with an increase below 1.6 ppm.

Although concentrations have not shown much, if any, effect on surface mean temperatures (the pause is real, after all, even if James Hansen prefers to say temperatures have stalled), the fact that we are emitting very high levels of CO2 is showing up in concentrations.

Here’s the data:

Date Global CO2 Emissions Annual Change in CO2 CO2 Concentrations Mauna Loa Change
31-Dec-80 5315 <54> 338.68 1.9
31-Dec-81 5152 <153> 340.1 1.42
31-Dec-82 5113 <39> 341.44 1.34
31-Dec-83 5094 <19> 343.03 1.59
31-Dec-84 5280 186 344.58 1.55
31-Dec-85 5439 159 346.04 1.46
31-Dec-86 5607 168 347.39 1.35
31-Dec-87 5752 145 349.16 1.77
31-Dec-88 5965 213 351.56 2.4
31-Dec-89 6097 132 353.07 1.51
31-Dec-90 6127 30 354.35 1.28
31-Dec-91 6217 90 355.57 1.22
31-Dec-92 6164 <53> 356.38 0.81
31-Dec-93 6162 <2> 357.07 0.69
31-Dec-94 6266 104 358.82 1.75
31-Dec-95 6398 132 360.8 1.98
31-Dec-96 6542 144 362.59 1.79
31-Dec-97 6651 109 363.71 1.12
31-Dec-98 6643 <8> 366.65 2.94
31-Dec-99 6610 <33> 368.33 1.68
31-Dec-00 6765 155 369.52 1.19
31-Dec-01 6927 162 371.13 1.61
31-Dec-02 6996 69 373.22 2.09
31-Dec-03 7416 420 375.77 2.55
31-Dec-04 7807 391 377.49 1.72
31-Dec-05 8093 286 379.8 2.31
31-Dec-06 8370 277 381.9 2.1
31-Dec-07 8566 196 383.76 1.86
31-Dec-08 8783 217 385.59 1.83
31-Dec-09 8740 <43> 387.37 1.78
31-Dec-10 9167 427 389.85 2.48
31-Dec-11 391.62 1.77
31-Dec-12 393.82 2.2
31-Dec-13 396.48 2.66
398.55 2.07

Variations in fossil fuel emissions compared to variations in global energy consumption

This blog is a frequent user of DOE energy data–I’d like to thank them once again for their hard work, even if I am occasionally critical of their findings. (It’s appropriate to thank them as I get visitors from their site here.)

Usually I am taking data from their Energy Information Administration. Today I am going to compare the EIA’s figures for energy consumption with another branch of the DOE called CDIAC, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. I will also compare these variations with World Bank figures for global growth in GDP later.

I got an additional 15 minutes of blogosphere fame last year when I pointed out that according to CDIAC we had emitted a third of all human emissions since 1998, the start of the ‘pause’ in the current warming period. I may have been the first to do so. I made the point then (and repeat it here) that although this doesn’t ‘disprove’ global warming (the globe has warmed and during this warming we have gone from about half a million cars to almost a billion, from about 500 coal-fired power plants to about 23,000–I’ll let you tell me about the growth in the numbers of airplanes, washing machines and data centers…), it is a fairly straightforward argument against high sensitivity of the atmosphere to increasing concentrations of CO2.

I noted previously that global energy consumption , while rising dramatically since 1980, has not risen uniformly (or monotonically, if you prefer). There have been years with very low growth and 4 years with an actual decline.

The same is true for CO2 emissions (CDIAC actually adds up fossil fuel emissions, gas flaring and cement production to get their totals.) Although our measurements of CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa are pretty much monotonic, our emissions have a lot more variability.

[This is something that leftist writer Alexander Cockburn noted before his death–that during the Great Depression, CO2 emissions fell but there was no change in the growth in CO2 concentrations. This led him to write an article critical of the climate consensus, for which he was promptly labeled a denier, senile and all around bad guy. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Cockburn.]

In 1980, CO2 emissions, flaring and cement production amounted to 5,315 metric tons of carbon. (To convert to CO2, multiply by 3.667. I don’t know why CDIAC reports in this fashion, but I will keep their figures without conversion.)

1980’s 5,315 metric tons of carbon was a decrease of 54 metric tons in 1979. And 1980 was not much of an exception. In 9 years between 1980 and 2010, emissions declined (see below). However, the increases were larger than the declines and in 2010 our emissions had increased to 9,167 metric tons of carbon. The nine years of decline were all in the 80’s and 90’s (including the famous 1998, when CO2 emissions declined by 8 million metric tons… go figure). The median figure was growth of 142 million metric tons.

In two years, 2003 and 2010, emissions increased by more than 400 metric tons. However, while 2010 showed corresponding growth in both energy consumption (which grew by 28 quads, the highest one-year growth in the time series) and GDP (which grew by $6 trillion, the second highest in the series), 2003 was very ordinary in terms of energy consumption (13 quads) and GDP growth ($4 trillion).

I think I’m going to try and expand on Mr. Cockburn’s observation about emissions not being closely linked to concentrations. But that’s another post…

Here’s the data.

Date World GDP GDP Growth Quads Growth in Quads Global CO2 Emissions Annual Change in CO2
31-Dec-80 11.16 2 283.1474 0 5315 <54>
31-Dec-81 11.45 0.5 280.9213 <3> 5152 <153>
31-Dec-82 11.35 0 280.5326 0.5 5113 <39>
31-Dec-83 11.6 0 284.3379 4 5094 <19>
31-Dec-84 12.04 0.5 299.6706 15 5280 186
31-Dec-85 12.66 0.5 308.0872 9 5439 159
31-Dec-86 14.98 2 315.773 7 5607 168
31-Dec-87 17.04 2 325.6042 10 5752 145
31-Dec-88 19.08 2 338.0998 13 5965 213
31-Dec-89 20.02 1 343.8671 6 6097 132
31-Dec-90 22.52 2 346.983 3 6127 30
31-Dec-91 23.64 1 348.0959 2 6217 90
31-Dec-92 25.31 2 347.7992 <1> 6164 <53>
31-Dec-93 25.74 0 342.6242 <5> 6162 <2>
31-Dec-94 27.69 2 356.0476 14 6266 104
31-Dec-95 30.64 3 364.511 8 6398 132
31-Dec-96 31.3 1 373.7722 9 6542 144
31-Dec-97 31.21 0 376.7177 3 6651 109
31-Dec-98 31.09 0 378.8662 2 6643 <8>
31-Dec-99 32.24 1 387.075 9 6610 <33>
31-Dec-00 33.28 1 398.276 11 6765 155
31-Dec-01 33.09 0 400.5864 2 6927 162
31-Dec-02 34.33 1 408.0402 8 6996 69
31-Dec-03 38.56 4 421.4558 13 7416 420
31-Dec-04 43.41 5 441.3221 20 7807 391
31-Dec-05 46.96 3 455.1495 14 8093 286
31-Dec-06 50.88 1 467.5628 12 8370 277
31-Dec-07 57.33 7 478.7327 11 8566 196
31-Dec-08 62.86 5 485.7181 7 8783 217
31-Dec-09 59.54 <3> 480.0048 <5> 8740 <43>
31-Dec-10 65.22 6 507.9768 28 9167 427
31-Dec-11 72.14 7 520.2721 12.5
31-Dec-12 73.51 1 528.7973 7.5
31-Dec-13 75.59 2 0

Bang for our bucks–what do we get from a quad?

I’ve done a couple of posts now on variability in global energy consumption. It’s about time to start thinking about the figures on display.

Assuming the World Bank is right about GDP and that the U.S. Department of Energy is right about global energy consumption, we can confidently say that USD $60.54  trillion dollars in GDP growth is correlated with 245.5 quads in additional energy consumption. Whether energy consumption enabled GDP growth or additional GDP growth enabled energy consumption is of course, like the tallness of aunts, something the reader can choose for her/himself.

Growth in energy consumption and GDP is shown by the figures in earlier posts to be roughly correlated but with some surprises. Make no mistake, the correlation is rough, but very clear and strong.

The top years in GDP growth also show robust growth in energy consumption. However, years like 1987, 1988 and 1994, which showed high growth in energy consumption and little growth in GDP, mean that there is not a 1 to 1 relationship between the two.

The top 5 years of GDP growth added USD $30 trillion to the total, half of all GDP growth in the period we’re discussing. But those same years saw only 78.5 additional quads in energy consumption, less than a third of the 246 ‘new’ quads that were consumed.

Similarly, the bottom seven years taken together subtracted $3 trillion from GDP, but nonetheless added about 1.5 quads to energy consumption.

I suspect that macro-political and economic effects play a large role in all of this–my suspicion is that armed conflict has a lot to do with it. I’ll try and explore it later. But I also want to look at correlations between the growth in energy consumption and CO2 emissions, to see if they move in lock-step or not. So that’s what I’ll do next.

Trying to explain variability in global energy consumption

Another sexy blog post title, right?

Yesterday I showed DOE EIA figures exhibiting large variation in annual global energy consumption from 1980 to 2012. I am now going to spend some time looking for correlates with this variability to see if we can find one with explanatory power.

The first and obvious choice is global GDP. While energy consumption grew from 283 quads in 1980 to 529 quads in 2012, GDP grew from $11.16 trillion to $73.51 trillion in constant U.S. dollars.

During the 33 years covered, energy consumption grew at a 1.91% annual rate, while GDP grew at a 5.88% annual rate.

Two years grew at $7 trillion each (2007 and 2011), one at $6 trillion (2010), two at $5 trillion (2004 and 2008) and one at $4 trillion (2003). The median was $2 trillion and six years showed essentially zero growth. Analysis to follow


Date World GDP GDP Growth Quads Growth in Quads
31-Dec-11 72.14 7 520.2721 12.5
31-Dec-07 57.33 7 478.7327 11
31-Dec-10 65.22 6 507.9768 28
31-Dec-08 62.86 5 485.7181 7
31-Dec-04 43.41 5 441.3221 20
31-Dec-03 38.56 4 421.4558 13
31-Dec-05 46.96 3 455.1495 14
31-Dec-95 30.64 3 364.511 8
31-Dec-13 75.59 2 0
31-Dec-94 27.69 2 356.0476 14
31-Dec-92 25.31 2 347.7992 <1>
31-Dec-90 22.52 2 346.983 3
31-Dec-88 19.08 2 338.0998 13
31-Dec-87 17.04 2 325.6042 10
31-Dec-86 14.98 2 315.773 7
31-Dec-80 11.16 2 283.1474 0
31-Dec-12 73.51 1 528.7973 7.5
31-Dec-06 50.88 1 467.5628 12
31-Dec-02 34.33 1 408.0402 8
31-Dec-00 33.28 1 398.276 11
31-Dec-99 32.24 1 387.075 9
31-Dec-96 31.3 1 373.7722 9
31-Dec-91 23.64 1 348.0959 2
31-Dec-89 20.02 1 343.8671 6
31-Dec-85 12.66 0.5 308.0872 9
31-Dec-84 12.04 0.5 299.6706 15
31-Dec-81 11.45 0.5 280.9213 <3>
31-Dec-01 33.09 0 400.5864 2
31-Dec-98 31.09 0 378.8662 2
31-Dec-97 31.21 0 376.7177 3
31-Dec-93 25.74 0 342.6242 <5>
31-Dec-83 11.6 0 284.3379 4
31-Dec-82 11.35 0 280.5326 0.5
31-Dec-09 59.54 <3> 480.0048 <5>


Variations in Annual Global Energy Consumption

Even my critics will admit that I come up with the sexiest post titles ever.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration helpfully lists global energy consumption by year back to 1980. As you would expect, it has risen from 283 quads in 1980 to 529 quads in 2012.

But the rise hasn’t been even. In fact, in four years there were slight declines.

The median rise in energy consumption during this period has been 8 quads. The highest was in 2010–a stonkingly  huge 28 quads. The second highest rise was in 2004, with a rise of 20 quads. The third, oddly enough, was in 1984 with a rise of 15 quads.

I’d be happy to be enlightened about potential reasons for those years having such dramatic rises. Any thoughts?

Easing back into this

Hi all

After an extended pause, I am going to try and re-start blogging here (as well as at my other blog, found at (I keep the blogs separate because this is the site where I annoy the skeptics and The Lukewarmer’s Way is where I annoy the alarmists.)

In case you’ve forgotten, the overall theme of this blog is that expert agencies charged with forecasting our energy future are consistently underestimating the path of future energy consumption.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Energy published forecasts for global energy consumption, using a ‘reference’ (mid-range) estimate, another based on low economic growth and a third based on high economic growth.

The low economic growth estimate for 2012 energy consumption was 514.71 quads.

The ‘reference’ or mid-range estimate for 2012 was 518.95 quads.

The estimate based on high economic growth was 523.44 quads.

Actual global energy consumption according to their later figures for 2012 was 528.7973.

I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether global growth since 2010 has been low, mid-range or high. But to fall this far behind in a 25-year forecast after only two years would make me as a forecaster quite nervous.

Figures for 2013 have yet to be published, but here are the EIA’s forecasts from 2010:

Low economic growth: 521.47

Reference (mid-range): 527.18

High economic growth: 533.57

We’ll see.

Did anybody miss this blog?

If so, let me know and I will re-start it. I’m now in Taiwan, where I can actually work on it.

The International Energy Outlook 2013 has been partially released

After taking 2012 off, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration has published the charts and tables for its 2013 International Energy Outlook.

They should have taken another year…

On the other hand, they waited until the day I returned from China to do so, which means I can blog about it (I can’t get to WordPress from China). So if I have any spare time I’ll be blogging about the report right up until the day I return to China. I think there’s a lot to say.

They’ve bumped up their estimated CAGR for energy consumption, from 1.4% in their 2011 report to 1.5% in 2015. They estimate energy consumption will grow from 523.9 quads in 2010 to 819.6 quads in 2040.

This is despite the fact that during the Great Recession since 2008, growth has been 1.88%…

They still think energy consumption in the U.S. will only amount to 0.3% per year, despite robust projections for population growth and increased GDP and income per person.

In other words, I can write pretty much the same things about this report as I did the last–I just have to change a few numbers.

The DOE is again dramatically underestimating the growth in consumption in the developing world, going flat against the national statistics agencies for the countries involved.

Suntech down, solar not out

The bankruptcy of Suntech Power Holdings, one of China’s (and hence the world’s) largest solar panel manufacturers, might seem like bad news for the solar industry. It’s not. It’s just bad news for Suntech shareholders.

Suntech made a huge mistake, purchasing an 80% stake in Global Solar Fund in 2008. Turns out that was not only a bad investment, Suntech was essetially defrauded. They lost $683 million on the deal and they needed that money to make payments on their debt. When they couldn’t, they had to file for bankruptcy.

So the mighty fall. Suntech was number two in the world in manufacturing as recently as 2011. But does this signify the end of solar? No.

The only impact this will have on the solar industry will be a temporary easing of market conditions for other manufacturers. There’s too much product floating around out there–and until some entreprenurial company buys Suntech’s remaining assets, there will be a little less of a surplus. This means a bit better margin for the rest of the solar universe, which is very much a good thing. Module manufacturers have been skating on thin-ice margins for two years.

Like the flurry of bankruptcies that afflicted Western solar companies over the last year and a half, this is very much normal operations in a young and quickly growing industry sector.

Compassion for Suntech–continued optimism for solar–and back to work, everybody.