English remake of this blog (in Dutch) from september 10th, 2010

“Despite all I will talk about tonight regarding carbon capture and renewable energy, I am expecting a continued failure to achieve a global CO2 reduction”

This remarkable caveat was the opening statement of Dr Mark Jaccard, IPCC author and renewable energy expert. Jaccard has been an advisor to the Chinese government for over 15 years, and is involved in the planning of the future Chinese energy mix.

Dr Jaccard spoke at a seminar on the topic of “The Chinese energy revolution” and the very important lesson that can be learned from his lecture is that there is a solid connection between China’s energy policy and worldwide CO2 reduction.                            

IPCC author and China expert Dr Mark Jaccard

Ominous expectations

China-researcher Bram Buijs of Clingendael Asian Studies, Dutch IPCC climate negotiator Hugo von Meijenfeldt and Jaccard painted an image of the future energy production in China, that did not rejoice the audience of environmental experts of the VVM. In the last 50 years China has increased it’s CO2 emission from marginal to more than that of the USA, while per capita it still has only a fraction of the CO2 emission in comparison with the western countries. If China’s growth continues as in the last decade, it’s CO2 production will almost triple within one generation, thus becoming the highest in the world, and together with India more than the rest of the world combined.

Strong linear growth of energy use in China

This calculation still ignores the fact that China has no oil, and has no choice but to use coal for transport fuels, using the coal-to-liquid process (which produces twice as much CO2 as normal diesel or gasoline), or switch to electrical vehicles, requiring more coal plants, which will also extra increase CO2 production.

In China there is an impressive development of renewable energy and nuclear power plants, but those nevertheless will remain marginal in the Chinese energy mix for decades to come, in comparison to fossil fuels. While at the moment 93% of the energy mix is fossil, in 2050 this will still be no less than 80%, according to all three experts.

This is the reason that the Chinese government has no intention whatsoever to commit to anything more in the field of CO2 reduction, than to the improvements that they already planned for environmental or energy efficiency reasons anyway.

Can China actually reduce it ‘s carbon footprint?

As a final question of the seminar I asked the experts: “Is there, in your opinion, a realistic pathway thinkable for China to keep growing and nót double it’s CO2 production in the coming 30 years?”

At first I did not get an answer, although Buijs confirmed that that was indeed the essential question. But afterwards I had a long talk with Dr Jaccard, and he was very clear: there is no option for China to avoid drastically increasing it’s CO2 production. The only option to control CO2 emissions to a certain extend is massive CCS (carbon sequestration and storage).

But he added that even that is not a realistic option, because that technology will take decades of development before it can be used on a large scale. And then the CCS process will seriously increase energy consumption, which is unacceptable for a country with very limited fossil fuel resources. That is why Jaccard expected a continued failure to achieve a global CO2 reduction.

Being an IPCC author, he is convinced that this will cause a dramatic climate change. He expected that the only motivation for the Chinese government to seriously reduce CO2 emissions could come from the occurrence of an apocalyptic disaster, resulting from climate change. But in my view there are no disasters that can be attributed to climate change only, so I think also this extreme option cannot be seen as a realistic scenario.

CCS energy cost

Dr Jaccard was under the impression that CCS is possible with only 10% efficiency loss, but in my view that is illusionary. My information is that CCS will take between 30 and 50% more energy, depending on which percentage of CO2 you want to remove. It is important to realise that if the efficiency of a power plant drops with 33% because of CCS, you need 50% more fuel to get the same amount of electricity. So one extra power plant for every two power plants that are equipped with CCS.

Not only the sequestration takes energy, but also the compression, and the transportation. For the vast amounts of CO2 that we are talking about here, there is no safe storage available that is close to the power plants, which of course are concentrated in heavily populated area’s. So transport over at least hundreds of kilometres is unavoidable. I think that a 30% energy penalty for CCS is by far the most optimistic estimation possible, even for the far future. Not to mention an over 50% cost penalty.

The other experts agreed that it was not realistic to expect the Chinese government to accept these penalties any time soon. Von Meijenfeldt even referred to the expensive de-sulpherisors that are installed on new Chinese coal plants, paid for by the western countries by the way, that are immediately switched off after the start up of the plants, because they decrease efficiency with a mere 6%. Even though this contributes considerably to the immense smog problem in China.

So what do you expect for CCS installations, of which the switching-off has no noticeable detrimental effect, and that cost over 30% of the efficiency?

The worldwide CO2 reduction illusion

From the above, based on the professional opinion of the most knowledgeable IPCC China expert, we can conclude that, independent of all attempts of western countries to reduce CO2 emissions, whether successful or – more likely – not, worldwide CO2 emissions will continue to increase for many decades to come.

The UN panel on climate change IPCC claims that an immediate worldwide CO2 reduction of 50 to 80% is necessary in order to prevent a dramatic climate change.

If their own China expert, based on present and future Chinese energy policy, explicitly states that any worldwide CO2 reduction is an illusion, let alone a 50 to 80% reduction, we can only conclude that the hundreds of billions that Western Europe spends every year on failing attempts to reduce CO2 reduction, are a complete waste of money. There is no other option for humanity than adaptation to a possible climate change, whether it would be global cooling or global warming.

For a more comprehensive view on future energy supply, read my article about the world’s energy supply in 2050.