Energy Management

Does coal replacement with gas have a big enough impact on GHG emissions?

Peter Garforth responds to a reader's letter.

By Peter Garforth

This month's Energy Expert column comprises a letter from a reader and Peter Garforth's response.

Dear Mr. Peter Garforth,

I have seen an article that you authored talking about “cheap gas” as an energy solution. However, as an old nuclear folk, I encourage clear indications that fossil fuels are the main contributors to the CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, because I am observing worldwide some misinformation with respect to energy GHG emissions.

Some people are looking to gas as a replacement for coal, and this is wrong from the CO2 reduction. Gas has 50% (circa) of the coal GHG emissions, but still too high for a real action against the global warming and Earth Δ T decrease.

The only base load electricity generating source that is not having GHG emissions is nuclear energy: 30 times lower than coal and 15 times lower than gas.

ghg emissions

Perhaps you already know it, but I consider it useful to attach this report from the World Nuclear Association. Better to avoid leading people about using CO2 emitters as an electricity source, unless you want to see the glaciers and Earth ice poles melting faster.

Ing. Oscar A. Mignone
Head of Development & Construction Nuclear Plants
Nuclear Technical Area, ENEL Engineering & Research
Rome, Italy

Dear Sr. Mignone,

Peter Garforth heads a specialist consultancy based in Toledo, Ohio and Brussels, Belgium.Peter Garforth heads a specialist consultancy based in Toledo, Ohio and Brussels, Belgium. He advises major companies, cities, communities, property developers and policy makers on developing competitive approaches that reduce the economic and environmental impact of energy use. Peter has long been interested in energy productivity as a profitable business opportunity and has a considerable track record establishing successful businesses and programs in the US, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Indonesia, India, Brazil and China. Peter is a published author, has been a traveling professor at the University of Indiana at Purdue, and is well connected in the energy productivity business sector and regulatory community around the world. He can be reached at peter@garforthint.com.

Subscribe to the Energy Expert RSS feed

Thanks for reading the column in Plant Services. It actually prompted me to reread my own work, since my thesis had been very close to yours — relying on one fuel is a high-risk strategy that fails to meet comprehensive greenhouse gas reductions approaching 70 to 90 % two to three decades from now (or ideally sooner). Maybe I was too subtle!

If you read my columns as a total, you will see an underlying theme that that always prioritizes efficiency, followed by heat recovery, then energy (thermal and electric) distribution efficiency, and then a low carbon portfolio of efficient energy supply — again both thermal and electric.

Nuclear generation obviously meets the definition of a low (no) carbon source of electricity. Paradoxically it is also a huge source of low carbon heat waste and, other than long-term strategic conversation in Helsinki, I am not aware of any serious efforts to use the waste heat from nuclear reactors to substitute fossil fuel based heat. This would be a good use for the wasted two-thirds of nuclear fuel.

If we look a little deeper at electricity use, we see further waste of nuclear, and other, generating fuels. In the United States, it’s really ugly. Seventy percent of all electricity goes into homes and buildings, which in turn are more than twice as inefficient as their EU counterparts. So our American U235 has about 60% waste in heat at the reactor, and then a further 50% less efficient end use than the EU. And the EU could do better as well. Add in the T&D losses, which are also much higher here than in the EU average, and we generated very low emissions but wasted about 80% of the fuel. This picture is pretty much the same for coal or gas based electricity generation, except where there is a decent amount of cogeneration.

Peter Garforth

Read Peter Garforth's monthly column, Energy Expert.