The Weekend Wonk: The Carbon Bubble will Pop in 2020s

March 13, 2021

More from Tony Seba.

The guy is definitely on the far end of clean energy techno-optimism, but if you listen to his projections from 10 years ago, he’s been prescient. The risks of getting this wrong are not just to the climate system, but the global economy as well.

16 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: The Carbon Bubble will Pop in 2020s”

  1. These guys are full of baloney. The problem with their projections is that they’ll run out of places to add a minor fraction of wind and solar to, and then … they’ll run into the physics of intermittency and batteries:

    • Let’s see your past record of predictions in respect of renewable energy. Theirs is publicly available and pretty good.

      Now go back under your bridge

      • Mark Mev Says:

        It is not a prediction of his but maybe a failed analysis at best (but only if you want to waste some of your time):

        • Interesting that Dombroski ignores the facts:
          wind turbines in MI don’t freeze up;
          low environmental temperatures lower transmission pressure in gas pipelines;
          low environmental temperatures increase the viscosity of fuel oils;
          coal heaps freeze up;
          unfrozen water is essential to the operation of gas, oil and nuclear power stations.

          Do you think Mr Dombroski has some sort of agenda?

          • Yes I have an agenda. I’m a Cornucopian! I’m for Alex Epstein’s human flourishing. I’m for more nuclear power and against environmental Malthusianism.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            I think Mr. Dombroski has some sort of learning disability. Or moral failing. It’s impossible to tell which from here, but it’s almost certainly one of the two.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Renewable Energy
      = wind, PV solar, thermal solar, hydro, geothermal and potentially nukes
      Wind turbines can be placed offshore or in working farmland, solar farms can be usefully placed over pastureland (a break for cows in the Texas sun) and cropland. Both are waterless, can be put up in short order and require much lower maintenance than plumbing-intensive thermal plants. Neither require purchasing fuel.

      = pumped hydro, pumped gas, hydrogen fuel, biofuel, liquid air batteries, redox (both nasty vanadium and somewhat less efficient but less nasty organic) and Li+ in car fleets.

      – EVs are much more efficient than ICE* vehicles (besides not giving off waste heat, they aren’t consuming significant power at stoplights). EVs draw more electric power (including home solar) but we’ll get some power back from extracting, refining and transporting oil and gasoline. EVs are cheaper to assemble and maintain, and their most expensive component, the battery pack, is becoming cheaper year by year. EVs don’t spew toxic gases and CO2 everywhere they go.

      – Newer buildings and lighting tech are increasingly efficient (with the side effect that the replacement of incandescent bulbs also saves on air conditioning in hot regions).

      What are you recommending and why aren’t investors going for it?

      *If you currently use gasoline refined in the Houston area, you’re driving a coal-powered car.

      • All that crap is expensive and very far from being practically or economically demonstrated. All you have to do is look at France and Germany. France has demonstrated that electricity can easily be mostly nuclear. All the rocket scientists in Germany have managed to do is make electricity twice as expensive and still produce an order of magnitude more CO2 per watt hour (not hyperbole) than France.

  2. John Oneill Says:

    Seba talks a lot about the effective capacity of ‘conventional’ plants being driven down to the point of insolvency. That is what has happened to nuclear in California – the state mandated 50% renewables by 2025. It’s physically impossible for just solar to do that without taking nearly all the power market during the day, which left the one remaining nuclear plant with a gigawatt of power it couldn’t sell. Gas has a completely different cost profile – the plants are cheap, the fuel costs four times as much as uranium per watt/hour, so they can easily run at a profit during the inverse of solar’s ~20% capacity and winds ~40%. Even if solar and wind are overbuilt, there will still be room for gas, and by that time the main competitor for new solar and wind plants will be the existing ones. The four hours of storage cited won’t even make it to the end of the evening power peak, let alone make it through the night, or through a Texas scenario.
    I’ve read speculation that the lack of winterisation in Texas was a deliberate ploy – that power and gas companies knew that if enough of their plants were taken out, the market as rigged would push prices to the $9,000 cap, and the ones that were working would make a killing. Likewise, the supposed miracle of cheap fracked gas has been touted as a saviour for the US economy and the environment, but it has been losing money by the billions. By now, the oil majors have bought out most of the early fracking pioneers. If the government rescinds Trump’s waiver of regulations on methane leaks from the wells, that will be another nail in the coffin of the smaller operators, who can’t afford it. If the gas suppliers are playing the long game, they will keep gas prices at their current low levels – well below world prices – until most of the coal plants and all the smaller nukes have to close, and any prospect of a nuclear renaissance has been dismissed. Then they can lower the boom. Suddenly, perhaps because of increased liquid natural gas export facilities, or fewer drillers, or pipeline constraints, whatever, the almighty market forces will take gas from the 2 to 3 dollars of the last few years, to the 8 to ten dollars of most of the first decade of the millenium. At that point, the negative power prices during midday in summer won’t matter to the fossil merchants’ bottom line, they’ll clean up for the rest of the year.
    The Biden administration had definitely better clamp down on methane, though, or gas could be worse for the climate than coal. Not just because of the greenhouse emissions – coal puts enough crap into the air to reflect some sunlight, and so partially offset the CO2. The effect is even stronger for shipping, which burns dirty sulfurous bunker oil, a bit lower in carbon than coal, and with enough SO2 in the smoke to seed cloud tracks behind the ships visible from space. That reflects more incoming light than their CO2 absorbs in heat on the way out of the atmosphere.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      A note about aerosols blocking sunlight: Increasing aerosols while maintaining the same level of CO2 may cool the planet (or slow warming), but remember that ocean acidification is faster at lower temperatures. Some people propose geo-engineering projects that work to reduce warming by blocking sunlight, but unless you address the CO2 ppm, acidification is still a problem.

      [It occurs to me that it might still be worth it to attempt cooling before we can get a handle on CO2, as we are in a race with accelerating permafrost melt.]

      • John Oneill Says:

        I think shipping is only net negative in the short term – the SO2 cools more than the CO2 warms, but the gas stays in the atmosphere for years, while the particulates wash out in weeks or months. Solar radiation management should still be worth it, since it’s much quicker both to set up, and to have an effect, than CO2 removal. Converting the whole world’s economy away from fossil fuels will take decades at least, and even more to seriously draw down carbon dioxide from the air, and/or dissolved CO2 from the oceans ( they equalise , so the effect is the same.) Stopping the Arctic ocean from going ice-free in the meantime has to be done, and we know, from volcanic eruptions, that it should be possible. If we lose all the floe ice, the permafrost and other feedbacks will be very hard to handle.

      • J4Zonian Says:


        we’ve got a long way to go to reduce human GHGs enough to balance the ever-accelerating feedback-induced GHG increase.

        Some people are crazy. With very few exceptions (white roofs, eg) geo-engineering is at best a mad gamble, more like blindly hammering on a too-slow watch hoping to make it work better.

        Unless we rapidly reduce our emissions from fossil fuel burning, agriculture, forestry, and industry, and use forestry and agriculture to go quickly and massively carbon negative, all that other stuff won’t mean much. Picking and choosing, ripoffsets, incremental changes, technology that doesn’t exist, the terminal selfishness of the rich, conservatives leading a single country in the world (OK, Liechtenstein could get away with it)… it’s too late for all that. We have to do everything we can, all out, everywhere in the world, for the rest of our lives, to have any chance at all that civilization and even a significant minority of life on Earth will survive the next century. Our children and grandchildren will have to do the same, with much less wealth of all kinds in their lives.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Oneill’s usual twisted cherry picking of facts according to the industry/ideological test, anti-logic, and ignoring of everything else.

      Yes, if we don’t build enough solar and wind (and hydro and geothermal and ocean energies and a little bioenergy…and including CSP and offshore wind) there may still be demand for other sources. That’s like saying if we

      If enough solar and wind and hydro, and geothermal, and etc. are built, otoh, there will of course be no room for gas, (and certainly none for coal or nukes) and when storage inevitably gets cheap enough (probably in about 2 years) for enough of it to be added, it will displace any gas that survives the wind and solar sufficiency, despite the also inevitable inertia and corruption we’ve seen with coal and nukes.

      Close to ¾ of the coal and nuke burners in the US are already losing money and that’s increasing. The gas industry has turned into a pyramid scheme; even a little more drop off in either demand or supply is likely to implode the whole industry. And since both are almost inevitable within a few years, there is as usual no validity to Oneill’s argument. As is always the case with ARFs, all we have to do to invalidate their main argument against clean safe renewable energy is to build enough.

      There’s nothing wrong with solar producing almost all the energy needed during the day (with storage and demand response to adjust it) although that will only leave discharging storage, wind, hydro, CSP, geothermal and a little bit o bioenergy and maybe some ocean energies to supply needs after sunset.

      However will we make it?

  3. Ian Graham Says:

    True enough, basic beggar your neighbour strategy will drive the losing ventures out of the market and then the survivors will raise prices at will, citing supply and demand.
    But what if governments intervene as they should to protect the public, with limits on prices? (But actually energy prices should steeply increase to incent consumers to reduce by the 6 to 8% global average that Pottsdam Institute shows is necessary to reach 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 and the mythic net zero by 2050.)
    Or even better what if carbon tax makes all sectors pay their share of the cost of carbon pollution (and clean up costs too I might add)?
    Or best of all, what if governments really did the right thing and rationed energy consumption, not by pricing in a carbon tax. Brilliant British economist David Fleming worked out this in is TEQs model of tradeable energy quotas, aka rationing.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Yes, except we need to get to essentially zero emissions AND beyond to negative carbonicity by 2030 or we risk rapidly rising chances of utter collapse of civilization and nature.

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