Guest contribution by Eric Worrall
It is almost as if the Australian government does not believe in the obligation to shut down coal-fired power plants and end the use of steel and alumina in industry.
Failure to model the cost of climate change for coal, gas “begs the faith”
By Mike Foley and Nick Toscano
June 29, 2021 – 5.00 a.m.
Australia’s 40-year economic outlook predicts falling demand for some of the country’s most valuable exports, including coal and natural gas, after China, Japan and South Korea announced net-zero emissions targets.
But prominent think tank Grattan Institute said Monday it was “incredible” that the Morrison administration’s modeling failed to make predictions about the extent of the loss of export revenue or the effects of global warming such as drought and natural disasters.
Australia’s mining and energy exports are expected to hit a record high of $ 310 billion this fiscal year. The country’s largest export, iron ore, accounted for an all-time high of $ 149 billion, while fossil fuel exports of coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) totaled $ 71 billion, helping keep the economy amid a deteriorating trade dispute with China to base and a global pandemic.
However, Monday’s 2021 Generation Report by the Treasury Department warned that export revenues from the emission-intensive commodities would decline as global efforts to combat climate change accelerate. It found that countries, including key trading partners Japan and South Korea, have committed to net zero emissions by 2050, while China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060.
“These pledges from other countries, if fully implemented, will likely reduce demand for undiminished fossil fuels for several decades,” it said.
Read more: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/failure-to-model-costs-of-climate-change-to-coal-gas-beggars-belief-20210628-p584x3.html
One question – if Australia’s coal, iron ore and other exports go away, what exactly will governments use to make all the wind turbines and solar panels they want to use?
Solar panels are particularly coal-intensive. Converting quartz or high-quality sand into silicon metal, which is used to make solar cells, takes huge amounts of coal, a process very similar to using a blast furnace to reduce iron ore to steel. And of course the solar panels need glass, plastic, aluminum oxide, stainless steel and concrete brackets.
Wind turbines will likely need even more coal. A wind farm built in Ohio in 2013 required 30,000 tons of cement, + what steel reinforcement was required for all of that cement. All of that cement was used to produce just 304 MW of electricity. Enough to supply a small town, at least when the wind is blowing right.
A 2017 Chinese study found that wind farms are struggling to provide 15% of the stated capacity, but let’s be generous and let’s call it 15%. So 15% x 304Mw x 365 x 24 = 399,456MWh / year.
The total US energy consumption is around 25,155 TWh / year. Multiply by a million to convert to MWh, the US needs to produce 25,155,000,000 MWh / year to replace the current energy supply.
How much cement do you need? If you scale the Ohio wind farm to meet the US energy needs with wind, you need 25,155,000,000 / 399,456 = 62,973 wind farms with the same capacity as the Ohio wind farm in 2013. Multiply by 30,000 tons of cement per Ohio-scale installation , and you need 1,889,190,000 tons of cement to build enough wind farms to meet America’s energy needs.
The USA currently produces around 100,000,000 tons of cement annually. If the US wants to achieve net zero, we need 1,889,190,000 / 100,000,000 = 18 years of cement production. Spread this out over 30 years to meet Biden’s net-zero target by 2050 without reducing supplies to other end users (you don’t want people going homeless or bridges and buildings collapsing for lack of civilian cement), and that means for In the next 30 years, US cement production should increase by 60%.
And of course, we haven’t even considered all of the cement needs for new pumped storage and other infrastructures like gravity storage or even cement walls for new battery buildings in an attempt to deal with the hourly disruption of renewable energy sources.
With a few exceptions, other countries aiming to achieve net zero are in a similar position.
Cement production is a very energy-intensive process. Large amounts of coal or natural gas are required to overheat the raw limestone matrix (calcium carbonate) and other raw materials and break them into oxides and silicates, which are components of refined cement. By breaking up the raw materials, large amounts of chemically bound CO2 are released, even without all of the CO2 released by burning any fossil fuels you choose to provide heat.
Assuming Australia maintains its share of commodity exports, Just to deliver the global net zero push, Australia expects mineral exports to grow 60% over the next 30 years.
So I suggest that the Australian government shouldn’t have to worry for a period of 30 years. Either the world will continue its business as usual, in which case mineral exports will grow more or less at their current pace, or the world will really try to reach net zero, in which case the demand for mineral exports will increase by 60% for 30 years, then the additional supplies needed to maintain all of the new concrete and steel infrastructure. Either way, Australia’s coal and iron ore export industries are winning.
What happens after 30 years? That is, frankly, someone else’s problem. Anyone who thinks it makes sense to make economic predictions over 30 years into the future must read the great horse manure crisis of 1894.
Why are economists making absurd predictions that ignore this apparent net-zero-driven surge in industrial demand?
As far as I can tell, economists ignore the industrial effort required to reach net zero in assuming that government unrealistic carbon emissions targets are absolute and will be achieved regardless of human cost. To begin with, if you assume that government regulations are set in stone, you have to assume that any industrial activity that would cause government goals to be missed will be eliminated. If there is no industry consuming Australian exports, there will be no exports.