An argument for clean fossil fuel investment

By: Darrell Stonehouse/Editor
Published: Oilweek- October Issue

       Replace fossil fuels with renewables like wind and solar. Almost years after the Kyoto Protocal first attempted to tie countries around the world to greenhouse gas reductions, this argument remains the only scenario that global green groups can come up with to stem the flow of emissions into the atmosphere.

        Yet despite almost a quarter century of hyperbolic alarmism, warnings of catastrophe and trillions of dollars in renewable investment, those emissions just keep on rising.
         In developing economies, coal-fired power plants continue popping up like weeds and cars continue populating the landscape like ants as global poverty slowly recedes and more and more people get a taste of the better life.
         And oil and gas and coal supplies keep climbing to meet this demand.
         Maybe it's time for a different strategy, one that accepts the world is going to be using fossil fuels for a long time so it better get a lot more efficient and greener in how it does it.
         This isn't to say the world should stop looking for renewable solutions. It should, and  it should implement them as they become cost-effective. It is simply a statement of reality: fossil fuels will continue dominating the energy mix for at least the next 25 years, with most forecasters expecting them to remain 80 per cent of the total energy mix in 2040. Renewable will grow from current levels of three per cent to nine per cent of the energy mix.
         If climate change is a serious issue and must be dealt with now, the world needs to find ways to burn fossil fuels cleanly.
         Who carries this responsibility?
          Almost 90 per cent of emissions come from four sectors: power generation (30 per cent), transportation (26 per cent). industrial uses (21 per cent), and commercial and residential heating (12 per cent).
          In global power generation, coal is king, generating over 40 per cent of electricity. Oil accounts for over 90 per cent of transportation emissions, and petroleum dominates in the industrial and residential heating categories. Right now, the only area renewables are having a measurable impact in is power generation, and that impact is minimal as growth in energy demand is driving construction of new coal plants in emerging economies.
          Research is underway to clean coal emissions. One example is an effort by MIT to combine two existing technologies - coal gasification and fuel cells - to increase plant efficiency and reduce emissions by 50 per cent. More investment like this is needed.
          Approximately 99 per cent of vehicles on the road in 2035 are expected still run on internal combustion engines, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast. There are a variety of technologies like forced induction (supercharging) and cylinder deactivation (only using half of cylinders when on light duty) that show promise in increasing efficiency and cutting emissions. Here is another good place to invest.
         You get the point.
          If we are going to deal with climate change now, we are going to deal with it through investing in clean fossil fuel technologies. There turnover to renewables is a long way off, even if they were ready for prime time now, which they are not.
         The premier of Alberta and the prime minister of Canada need to think about where they are going to invest their carbon tax windfalls. Clean fossils fuel technology is a good place to start.


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