Perhaps this will be the stake through the vampire of the Howarth study and birth a serious push to develop carbon capture and storage technology.
The United States Department of Energy published yesterday a definitive comparative life cycle study entitled: "The Role of Alternative Energy Sources: Natural Gas Power Technology Assessment." The Report looks at the carbon, other air pollutants, land, and water impacts of natural gas and coal, as well as offering tantalizing cost numbers for CCS. It debunks Howarth one more time and becomes the sixth study to reach diametrically different conclusions from Prof. Howarth.
Possibly more important to the future than more findings debunking Howarth are DOE's cost numbers for the deployment of gas plants equipped with CCS. DOE puts the cost of such gas plants at 8.1 cents per kilowatt-hour. As recently as 2008, when the wholesale price of electricity was about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, 8-cents power would have been attractive.
The CCS cost analysis indicates that the cost of installing carbon capture and storage equipment on gas power plants may well be manageable and hints how natural gas could become a near-zero carbon fuel. That would be a game changer, indeed.
Concerning issues manufactured by the Howarth study, DOE's finds that gas power plants, without CCS, emit less than half of the carbon of a coal plant on a full life cycle basis. It concludes that gas emits less carbon, whether or not a 20-year or 100-year Global Warming Potential factor is used.
The IPCC uses a 100-year GWP. Professor Howarth of course rejected the IPCC science and used a 20-year GWP as doing shifts results in the direction that Howarth wants.
DOE further finds that there is about a 1% difference in the carbon footprint of shale gas and conventional gas. The DOE finding supports the conclusions of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University who also found negligible differences between carbon emissions from shale and conventional sources. By contrast, Howarth alone found that shale gas was much dirtier than conventional gas.
Finally, DOE calculates the cost of gas-fired electricity to be 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, assuming a gas cost of $5 per thousand cubic feet. That price is great news for consumers and the economy.
And to make matters even better, the cost of new wind generation (without subsidies) is today about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Low-cost gas and wind create a real competitive advantage for America in the global economy.