Tom Evslin: Zero net emissions does not require zero use of fossil fuels – continued

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

In 2008 fracking came into widespread use in US gas fields.  Between 2008 and 2020 we reduced our CO2 emissions by 25%. This reduction was largely a result of substituting low-cost low-carbon natural gas for dirty coal in electrical generation. In 2008 49% of our electricity was generated from coal and 22% from natural gas. By 2020 only 19% of our electricity was generated from coal and the natural gas share increased to 41%. During the same period inflation adjusted-electricity prices actually declined because, thanks to fracking, natural gas was now cheaper than coal per kilowatt of electricity generated.

Tom Evslin

Renewables also substituted for coal. From 2008 to 2020 the percentage of electricity generated from solar and wind went from 1% to 10%. This increase is significant; however, it wouldn’t have happened if natural gas weren’t available when the sun didn’t shine and the wind didn’t blow. Because natural gas generators can spool up and down quickly, they are an enabling companion for sun and wind. Cheap natural gas also sheltered ratepayers from the above-market rates paid to renewable generators; but the total cost of wind and solar have come down quickly; so further deployment of renewables makes sense — as long as we have natural gas to back it up.

What happened in 2021?

If you look carefully at the graph above, you’ll see that energy related CO2 emissions spiked back up in 2021. So did electricity prices. Why? Because we shot ourselves in the foot! US natural gas supply decreased substantially almost entirely because of government hostility to drilling and pipeline building after the 2020 election. If you don’t continuously drill new wells, supply decreases as old wells go dry. We didn’t notice at first because the pandemic cut demand. Once the economy emerged from shutdown, we didn’t have enough natural gas. Coal for electrical generation usage went up from 19% to 22% as natural gas prices shot up and regional shortage developed. Natural gas usage went down from 41% to 38%. Electricity prices went up for the first time in more than a decade. Wind and solar did increase their share but not enough to offset increased CO2 from more coal burning. Several regions came perilously close to grid shutdowns because there wasn’t enough natural gas to back up the increased wind and solar.

And now there’s a war

Europe is learning its lesson thanks to a powerful slap from Putin. What’s happening there is a terrible object lesson in the harm that’s done to people, the economy, and the environment from an attempt to ban all fossil fuels indiscriminately and before substitutes are available. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel, anti-fracking advocates were able to dissuade European nations from developing new supply or even maintaining the flow from existing fields (which always requires new drilling). The result: Europe is burning much more coal than it has for years just to keep the lights on. The skies of Europe may be literally black with coal smoke if there’s a cold winter.

Europe is pledged to add carbon-free electricity sources to their grid. However, they can’t add more wind and solar without a supply of natural gas to provide backup any more than we can here. Battery technology and capability is not nearly at the point where excess solar and wind can be stored for future use in any meaningful quantities. Brussels has now recognized natural gas as a green “transition” fuel and investments in natural gas infrastructure are allowed again. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has announced an end to that country’s ban on fracking and her intention to grant a 100 new oil and gas leases.

We and our European friends can and must build electrical grids where natural gas backup power as well as nuclear are integrated with a renewable buildout.

But what about the environment?

Each year forests and other vegetation absorb up to a third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. The implications are clear: if we reduce emissions from fossil fuels by two-thirds and preserve our vegetative cover, we will be at zero net emissions. We will not be increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. If we reduce emissions a little further or plant more trees, we’ll start to reduce the concentration of CO2 and temperatures should start to decline if atmospheric models from the UN are correct.

Even if natural gas remains part of the generation mix forever and is not replaced by hydrogen or batteries or nuclear fusion, we can achieve the 2/3 reduction in emissions necessary to stabilize atmospheric CO2. We can relatively cheaply eliminate coal (twice the CO2 emitted per kilowatt generated). We can build new nukes and deploy more renewables. We can electrify further with a clean enough electricity supply. But, at least for now, we must allow ourselves to use natural gas to balance the renewables and replace the coal.

Insisting that “all” fossil fuel use be eliminated has resulted in more coal being burned and a dangerous reliance on Russian fuel. A two-third reduction in net emissions in a reasonable time is doable if not easy. The world as we know it doesn’t have to end. Good news.


Image courtesy of Public domain

8 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: Zero net emissions does not require zero use of fossil fuels – continued

  1. Tom,
    Please read the articles I sent you and thousands of others
    I am an energy systems analyst with about 40 years of experience in the power industry

    Any cost and CO2 analysis of wind has to include natural gas, because wind cannot exist on the grid without natural gas plants.

    The more wind system capacity, MW, the more natural gas capacity, MW, for counteracting.

    The more wind, the less efficient the gas plants, due to frequent start/stops, and part-output operating required to be in counteracting mode, 24/7/365

    The two dance together, on a less-than, minute-by-minute basis, 24/7/365.

    The same holds true for solar

  2. Warm mongering is the biggest waste of money since Johnson’s “Great society”
    feel good program that cost trillions for no change. As stated by Williams post more
    co2 is put in the air by volcanoes then man made will ever be put in the atmosphere.
    The methane being spewed by the American supported terrorist blowing up of the
    Nord stream pipe line is a prime example of fighting a lost cause along with bidens
    illegal war in Ukraine which is causing the euro’s to burn more coal wood because of
    the embargo on Russian fuel for their energy.. now the fools of the left are even
    suggesting maybe nukes can reverse the climate hoax… the stupid is getting

  3. Tom,
    Here is a sobering article regarding CO2.

    Carbon Dioxide; Where Does it Come From?

    Ian Rutherford Plimer is an Australian geologist, professor emeritus of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne, professor of mining geology at the University of Adelaide, and the director of multiple mineral exploration and mining companies.
    He has published 130 scientific papers, six books and edited the Encyclopedia of Geology.

    Where Does the Carbon Dioxide Really Come From?
    Professor Ian Plimer could not have said it better!
    If you’ve read his book you will agree, this is a good summary.

    PLIMER: “Okay, here’s the bombshell: The volcanic eruption in Iceland .
    Since its first spewing of volcanic ash, in just FOUR DAYS, it has NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past FIVE years to control CO2 emissions on our planet – all of you.
    Of course, you know about this evil carbon dioxide that we are trying to suppress – it’s that vital chemical compound that every plant requires to live and grow and to synthesize into oxygen for us humans and all animal life.

    I know….it’s very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished, while:

    suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids,
    buying fabric grocery bags,
    sitting up till midnight to finish your kids “The Green Revolution” science project,
    throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies,
    using only two squares of toilet paper,
    putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir,
    selling your SUV and speedboat,
    vacationing at home instead of abroad,
    nearly getting hit every day on your bicycle,
    replacing all of your 50-cent light bulbs with $10.00 light bulbs…..

    Well, all of those things you have done FOR FIVE YEARS, have all gone down the tubes in just four days.

    The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere in just four days – yes, FOUR DAYS – by that volcano in Iceland has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon.

    And there are around 200 active volcanoes on the planet spewing out this crud at any one time – EVERY DAY.

    I don’t really want to rain on your parade too much, but I should mention, when the volcano Mt Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had emitted in all its years on earth.

    Yes, folks, Mt Pinatubo was active for over one year – think about it.

    Of course, I shouldn’t spoil this ‘touchy-feely, tree-hugging, moment, and mention the effect of solar and cosmic activity and the well-recognized 800-year global heating and cooling cycle, which keeps happening despite our completely insignificant efforts to affect climate change.

    And I do wish I had a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud, but the fact of the matter is, the bush fire season across the western USA and Australia this year alone will negate your efforts to reduce carbon in our world for the NEXT TWO OR THREE YEARS. And those fires are happening every year.

    Just remember your government just tried to impose a whopping carbon tax on you, on the basis of the bogus ‘human-caused’ climate-change scenario.

    Hey, isn’t it interesting how they don’t mention ‘Global Warming’ anymore, but just ‘Climate Change’ – you know why?

    It’s because the planet has COOLED by 0.7 degrees in the past century, and these global warming bull artists got caught with their pants down.

    And, just keep in mind that you might yet have an Emissions Trading Scheme – that whopping new tax – imposed on you that will achieve absolutely nothing except make you poorer.

    It won’t stop any volcanoes from erupting, that’s for sure.

    But, hey, relax……give the world a hug and have a nice day!”

    • Right on. Man Made global warming is the biggest fraud in human history….and it costs into TRILLIONS $…for what? Mother Nature controls almost all of it….human caused is minimal. How come the clueless & CULTISH Enviros never mention the SUN and it’s activivity of solar cycles and sun spots? What about ocean currents that change with El Nino and El Nina? And volcanoes? there is also massive UNDERWATER volcanic activity worklwide that seeps to the surface. Ocean bottom volcanic activity was also seen in the Artic……ice shrank from it. It is ALL a fraud, and the head of the UN created IPPC stated it. They created “climate change panic” to REDSISTRIBUTE the worlds wealth to poorer countries. it has nothing to do with actual “climate”. if you want to see w/ your own eyes the FACTS of just HOW Liberals created this massive fraud, this 12 mins video by Tony Heller shows just how they did it…a MUST SEE and share …it’s all FAKED or maniupulated DATA!

    • It is important not to misread.

      The scientist Plimer was comparing the small annual CO2 reductions by a part of mankind (most of mankind is not participating, because it is too poor to engage in follies) with the very large CO2 and other emissions by the world’s 200 active volcanos.

      Whatever we do regarding annual CO2 reductions, is much more than wiped out by volcanos.

      We could, by spending $ trillions more, have greater annual reductions, but most of the world, i.e., BRISC+, with faster-growing economies than the NATO bloc, would not go along with it.

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