Friday, August 24, 2012

DOE Issues Major Natural Gas Life Cycle Study That Debunks Howarth & Boosts Carbon Capture and Storage For Gas

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.


  1. Read an interesting article from Germany's Der Spiegel Online International entitled "Grid Instability Has Industry Scrambling For Solutions." It explains that German government renewable energy mandates are wrecking havoc on German Industry due to voltage problems associated with solar and wind because of their unpredictable and intermittent nature. Industry is demanding compensation for damages to equipment and loss of revenue. Hydro aluminum is threatening to leave the country if the situation is not fixed because they cannot operate profitably in the current environment. The same thing will happen in the US if we continue to push similar mandates.

    1. Concerned ScientistAugust 27, 2012 at 7:57 AM

      I have read that in England, only 30-40% of the power generated by wind ends up getting used. I think it is for the grid problems mentioned above. This seems like a big issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

  2. Concerned ScientistAugust 27, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    Good to see Howarth going down in flames. Unfortunately, because of the Howarth paper, people still say "some peer-reviewed research suggests that shale gas may be as bad or even worse than coal from a GHG emissions standpoint." May being the operative word. Of course most people who are already convicned on an emotional level that oil companies are doing the devil's work will read that as "peer-reviewed research suggests that shale gas IS as bad or even worse than coal from a GHG emissions standpoint." That was the goal of the Howarth paper - to give anti-shale gas people something to support their emotional response to the issue.