Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can 2020 equal minus 17?

Today we ponder whether 2020 can equal minus 17? President Obama will attend the climate conference in Copenhagen in early December and he will offer up the proposal that the USA will reduce its carbon emissions in 2020 by 17% from their 2005 level. Sounds like an achievable plan right? Sweet seventeen is a small number and we were burning fuel like there was no tomorrow back in 2005 when the US still had an economy and folks had positive equity in their homes. After Copenhagen the president will go to Oslo to collect his Nobel Prize that he so richly deserves for all of his first year accomplishments in the office of the President of these United States.

A standard measure of energy consumption is called a Quad. A quad equals one quadrillion (ten to the power fifteen} British Thermal Units (BTUs). A BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water by a temperature of one degree Fahrenheit. A gallon of gasoline has approximately 125,000 BTUs of energy content so a Quad of energy is contained in 8 billion gallons of gasoline or about the amount of gasoline the USA uses in about 20 days. The Department of Energy reported the following usage of hydrocarbon fuels back in 2005 when old GW was the boss: Petroleum Liquids 40.739 quads; Natural Gas 22.583 Quads; and Coal 22.841 quads.

When I look at these numbers from all sides of the quadrilateral I have sincere doubts that the USA will reduce natural gas usage by any amount. Therefore all of the reduction in carbon emissions will have to come from reductions in Petroleum Liquids (mainly oil) and coal. Coal is primarily used for electric power production as we hardly produce much steel with coke anymore. The problem for old Obama is that one third of the new power plants being constructed between now and 2014 are slated for coal as their energy source. Therefore unless many older less efficient coal power plants are shut I doubt that coal consumption can hit a 17% reduction target. But let’s assume that indeed we in the USA can lower coal consumption by this figure. Consumption of Petroleum Liquids will also reduce over the next decade but the 17% figure will indeed be difficult to achieve. My prognostication is that we will achieve a 10 to 12% reduction in oil usage but Liquid Petroleum Gas consumption will in fact increase. Therefore a 10% targeted reduction in Petroleum Liquids is plausible. As coal is more carbon intensive than petroleum liquids and in turn natural gas, the US should be able to achieve a 10% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels in 2020.

The politicians will use Copenhagen as their pretext of doing environmental good and will impose carbon taxes left, right and center to pay for their grandiose political agendas. On the emissions front Obama in his first year in office is off to a good start. Through the virtual destruction of our economy we will reduce carbon emissions by 5.6% in 2009 compared with last year. In 2020 I will be 68 years old, social security will be bust and I will hardly be able to afford a bus ticket let alone drive a car so my carbon footprint will reduce by 50% from 2005. Obama will be travelling in his private jet and will buy carbon offsets from Alfalfa Gore. You my friends will also have to do your part.


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