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Upstream carbon emissions

LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
I'm trying to inform myself better as to the real differences in carbon impact between ICE vs EV and also between different choices in other aspects of life, like home heating.

It's easy enough to estimate from a certain point in the chain onwards. So tailpipe emissions of an ICE and emissions associated with running an EV from published grid carbon intensity numbers to miles travelled.

However I am drawing a blank on upstream emissions. Is anyone aware of data from which can be drawn some estimate on the emissions impact of extracting, refining and transporting a litre of eg diesel to the pump?

One method would be to take the emissions associated with the oil and gas industry as a percentage of the country's (or the world's) whole, same for road transport, allocate a percent of each to the car and then use the ratio between those numbers to multiply up the tailpipe emissions. However so many unknowns - so I'm not sure this approach works. (I read that UK oil and gas industry is about 3% of country total but I don't think that refines the oil or tankers it to the local Texaco; equally, it's mostly gas - conclusion: not the right info).

Equally I'm unsure on whether "grid carbon intensity" (I read average 180gCO2/kWh in 2018 UK) is just the emissions from the power station or whether it includes upstream and associated activity. I suspect it excludes upstream gas, construction of power stations and more besides but it's probably still a much lesser impact than the missing number on the side of petrol/diesel to the pump, because "upstream" in ICE is everything upstream of the petrol station, plus it's all fossils, whereas in electricity we've already gone back to the power station so missing is just upstream of that, plus much of the generation is non-fossil.

Dozens of reports on this but the conclusions range from "EV saves 90%" to "EV's a bit worse than ICE." Which is clearly a range so massive that at least one of those extremes has almost certainly to be plain wrong. And none of these people show their workings.

So at risk of being flamed here is a snapshot of my simple analysis, which gets me to a starting view that UK grid charged EV is about half of ICE emissions before we look at upstream. First stab...

Electricity and EV carbon - table as pic.png


ICE carbon - table as pic.png


If I could fill in the two numbers highlighted yellow I think i'd have a "complete" (but not to say correct - plenty of subjective points and maybe human error) analysis.
 

phillcom3

Member
Jul 27, 2019
566
106
preston
there's one thing I was told about yesterday to take into consideration somewhere with all this. when the wind turbines come online, and I mean when the connector from generator to grid goes live there is an arc this arc is prevented by using a sulphur based molicule9cant remember the name) that acts as one of the best insulators known to man however its then either vented or not captured and it has this little issue of being 1-2k times more effective at being a greenhouse gas than co2.

evn then tbh I still think its cleaner ( not a pollutant if its only a greenhouse gas and not as poisonous etc.

either way, good effort on what you are trying to do id look to narrow it down stage by stage first it will be a lot of information trawling at first, and don't forget you are going to have to take into account energy brought in from abroad too and how that's generated on average.
 

WannabeOwner

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
5,758
2,896
Suffolk, UK
however its then either vented or not captured and it has this little issue of being 1-2k times more effective at being a greenhouse gas than co2.

I don't worry too much about these sorts of issues, in the short term, so long as it turns out that they were unforeseen / short term unavoidable consequences of trying to move to A Better Place ... and they then get fixed for the longer term. I think there are "bound to be some" and tolerance may be necessary in order to actually get from A-to-B on changing ICE for something better. On a similar vein I'm happy that money is thrown at all potential solutions, short term, until a clear winner is apparent. Not sure when Hydrogen should fall out of the race ... maybe soon :) but I'm not bothered if that carries on for some time to come Belt and Braces.

There are so many "what if's" in trying to decide the right thing ... for example, we should NOT be making ANY new bricks. Bricks will be used in buildings which are likely to stand for hundreds of years, so the carbon in manufacture is spread over a very long time ... but right now Carbon is a problem, so we should not make any that we absolutely don't have to. In 50 years time, when the whole Carbon things has been solved (hopefully!) then making bricks again will be fine.

And in that vein installing Solar Panels on the roof is a similarly bad idea. We should put all our efforts into getting North Sea Wind online, and all just use the Grid leccy from there - that will, overall, be far more Eco than each making our own juice from our very own PV panels.

But, that said, I struggle to persuade myself that PV panels are bad, and that waiting [for enough North Sea Wind] is good ...
 

Adopado

Active Member
Aug 19, 2019
3,810
2,916
Scotland
there's one thing I was told about yesterday to take into consideration somewhere with all this. when the wind turbines come online, and I mean when the connector from generator to grid goes live there is an arc this arc is prevented by using a sulphur based molicule9cant remember the name) that acts as one of the best insulators known to man however its then either vented or not captured and it has this little issue of being 1-2k times more effective at being a greenhouse gas than co2.

Gas insulation is routinely used in electrical transmission systems and is certainly not specific to wind turbines. It has been used for many many years. The gas used is indeed regarded as being a "greenhouse" gas but as far as I know it is not vented willy nilly. Some example info: Gas-insulated switchgear | ABB
 

LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
Gas insulation is routinely used in electrical transmission systems and is certainly not specific to wind turbines. It has been used for many many years. The gas used is indeed regarded as being a "greenhouse" gas but as far as I know it is not vented willy nilly. Some example info: Gas-insulated switchgear | ABB

This sounds very much like one of those things that needs to be taken in full context and probably hasn't been. Eg how much of it is put into the atmosphere over time and to what end? i.e. It rather sounds like it's done in the name of either saving energy or ensuring low carbon energy can be used, so I'd expect the engineers concerned to have considered that, like it turns out they have in the other similar examples of things that can come out the wrong side of a daily mail headline.

Other obvious examples - all those emissions made in making the turbines aren't paid back! They're paid back in about a year. They cut out when the wind really picks up! Only in very very high winds to the extent that the reduction in annual output is miniscule. Etc etc.....
 

Avendit

Member
Apr 18, 2019
817
535
EDI
Gas insulation is routinely used in electrical transmission systems and is certainly not specific to wind turbines. It has been used for many many years. The gas used is indeed regarded as being a "greenhouse" gas but as far as I know it is not vented willy nilly. Some example info: Gas-insulated switchgear | ABB
It's not vented. Its used but occasionally leaks, which is bad and not tracked very well. 'Dirty secret' gas boosts climate warming. I can only imagine that both the use will reduce and tracking improve over time because that is how industry works, as long as someone is looking over its shoulder. Bit of a case of short term nastyness we have to put up with to green the grid. Coal etc use this too, just with many smaller generators wind uses a bit more.
 
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LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
And in that vein installing Solar Panels on the roof is a similarly bad idea. We should put all our efforts into getting North Sea Wind online, and all just use the Grid leccy from there - that will, overall, be far more Eco than each making our own juice from our very own PV panels.

But, that said, I struggle to persuade myself that PV panels are bad, and that waiting [for enough North Sea Wind] is good ...

I'd be interested to understand this point a bit more. I'm not sure I get it. And I'm looking at installing some...

We should, collectively, put "all" our effort into installing the most impactful technologies (probably meaning a strong focus on wind and nuclear), agreed, but as things stand those efforts are limited by many factors. We have to get permissions, build turbines, wait for the installing ships etc etc. Meantime don't we, collectively, have time and resource to put into the second best option, and so on?

Or do you suggest that UK domestic PV is not a positive contributor over the lifetime of a panel once manufacture, installation and other negatives are factored in? Although this is not implausible I don't think it's the case.
 

LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
This is a few years old now but worth a watch...from fully charged...


And this is a bit of a long read...

The 6 kWh electricity to refine gasoline would drive an electric car the same distance as a gasser?

That page is a really interesting addition to the debate. The industry seems to argue that while such an amount of energy is used in the refining it's not from grid electricity but from the burning of natural gas and other less saleable fractions of the refinement of oil. Implication being that that's somehow better (!). I think it's reasonable to estimate that the 6kwh per (US I'm pretty sure) gallon here is from, on average, gas at 490gCO2/kWh. That would increase my ICE emissions result by 25% and it's probably still reasonable to say that other emissions not yet factored in on the ICE side exceed those not yet factored in on the electric side.

6kWh/Gallon US, at a natural gas carbon intensity of 490gCO2/kWh, adds a further 777gCO2/litre petrol.

Life cycle carbon intensities from here:
Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources - Wikipedia
Which also offers more info - IPCC numbers on life-cycle emissions by energy source, life-cycle including mining, construction, decommissioning etc. I wonder whether the Grid Carbon app and others use life-cycle emissions numbers?
 
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WannabeOwner

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
5,758
2,896
Suffolk, UK
I'd be interested to understand this point a bit more

Hopefully I'm correct in thinking it goes like this:

Manufacture and Transportation of a PV panel produces e.g. CO2

It is crucial that we produce as little CO2 as possible, until we figure out how to solve Climate Change (then we can produce as much CO2 as we like, provided everything is in balance)

After you have owned the PV panels for X years the CO2 in manufacture will be less than the CO2 generated in making your "regular grid electricity" (even if you buy renewable electricity THAT had CO2 created in the manufacture of the equipment)

However, North Sea Wind is so efficient, and efficiencies (bigger blades / whatever) are increasing at such a rate, that using North Sea Wind electricity will have less embodied CO2 than your PV panels. But (as I understand it) we aren't quite there yet ...

... but the sums can be done that say that using regular grid now, until North Sea Wind is sufficiently CO2-clean, and then using North Sea Wind will mean that you, personally, have a smaller overall CO2 footprint than if you bought some cheap Chinese PV panels today.

I think that most people I know are doing diddly squat, and me doing anything & everything is probably OK without over thinking it ... but ... maybe they are outsmarting me by sticking to Grid whilst not even lifting a finger?
 

WannabeOwner

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
5,758
2,896
Suffolk, UK
That would increase my ICE emissions result by 25%

I've not rewatched that video since I first saw it ages ago, and maybe it specifically makes the point, but I have read that your EV will go further on the energy needed to make a gallon of "Gas" than the ICE would drive ON that same gallon of "Gas" :)

There is also an article on an Australian, fed up with people telling him that his EV was using filthy electricity, who charged his car from a regular (old and tired) generator and drove further on electricity from a gallon of fuel than a reasonably equivalent modern ICE. (Generator running at optimum revs, car having to handle emissions control at a range of revs etc.). (I know where to find the article if you want the reference ...)
 

LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
Hopefully I'm correct in thinking it goes like this:

Manufacture and Transportation of a PV panel produces e.g. CO2

It is crucial that we produce as little CO2 as possible, until we figure out how to solve Climate Change (then we can produce as much CO2 as we like, provided everything is in balance)

After you have owned the PV panels for X years the CO2 in manufacture will be less than the CO2 generated in making your "regular grid electricity" (even if you buy renewable electricity THAT had CO2 created in the manufacture of the equipment)

However, North Sea Wind is so efficient, and efficiencies (bigger blades / whatever) are increasing at such a rate, that using North Sea Wind electricity will have less embodied CO2 than your PV panels. But (as I understand it) we aren't quite there yet ...

... but the sums can be done that say that using regular grid now, until North Sea Wind is sufficiently CO2-clean, and then using North Sea Wind will mean that you, personally, have a smaller overall CO2 footprint than if you bought some cheap Chinese PV panels today.

I think that most people I know are doing diddly squat, and me doing anything & everything is probably OK without over thinking it ... but ... maybe they are outsmarting me by sticking to Grid whilst not even lifting a finger?

Wikipedia link above adds a bit to this. life-cycle CO2/kWh wind is 11-12 against PV 41-48. Nuclear is 12 too. Grid average 180 (but is that life-cycle? Not sure). I think about it this way - I can add some panels at 41, which on average over their life should be a positive addition vs grid power. I can't put up a proper wind turbine but if I could I would!
 

WannabeOwner

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
5,758
2,896
Suffolk, UK
I can add some panels at 41, which on average over their life should be a positive addition vs grid power.

But wouldn't you be even better (lower lifecycle CO2) if you purchase North Sea Wind on the grid?

There isn't enough for everyone, yet, so maybe that makes an exception for PV in the short term ... I don't know enough to know how to calculate that equation though
 

LukeT

Member
Apr 9, 2019
729
336
UK
I've not rewatched that video since I first saw it ages ago, and maybe it specifically makes the point, but I have read that your EV will go further on the energy needed to make a gallon of "Gas" than the ICE would drive ON that same gallon of "Gas" :)

There is also an article on an Australian, fed up with people telling him that his EV was using filthy electricity, who charged his car from a regular (old and tired) generator and drove further on electricity from a gallon of fuel than a reasonably equivalent modern ICE. (Generator running at optimum revs, car having to handle emissions control at a range of revs etc.). (I know where to find the article if you want the reference ...)

Implication being that these kWh should increase my numbers by much more than 25%? I need to have another look at my maths to correct or explain the difference...
But wouldn't you be even better (lower lifecycle CO2) if you purchase North Sea Wind on the grid?

There isn't enough for everyone, yet, so maybe that makes an exception for PV in the short term ... I don't know enough to know how to calculate that equation though

If I purchase North Sea wind electricity, those who purchase source-agnostic grid electricity will have their emissions go up by the amount mine goes down. Net effect zero.

If enough people buy 100% renewables tariffs longer term then it might force action but I don't think the UK government's renewables incentives/pricing schemes help that position anymore. Under the old Renewables Obligation there was room for this (arguably). I'm not sure there really is now with Contracts for Difference.
 

WannabeOwner

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
5,758
2,896
Suffolk, UK
If I purchase North Sea wind electricity, those who purchase source-agnostic grid electricity will have their emissions go up by the amount mine goes down. Net effect zero.

Good point.

So I think that is where my point (made to me by someone else, its not my original thought :) ) is that in short order there will be more North Sea Wind, sufficient with even better CO2 numbers, that you should use dirty-grid for now, North Sea Wind in a couple of years, and not incur the CO2 embedded in PV panels at all (which will have longer offset / higher lifetime value)

But i'm installing more PV ... you too by the sounds of it ...
 

phillcom3

Member
Jul 27, 2019
566
106
preston
I was only made aware of it the other day hence the comment :). my thoughts were it is probably very closely monitored but the leakage is not so does need to be taken into account. sort of like when we discovered cfcs from fridges.

I don't think its as much as an issue as I initially thought as otherwise with the number of windmills going up wed be killing ourselves from that alone. what I did pick up on was that its sued as the cheapest method for the job not necessarily the absolute best. so like normal a trade study should have been done and this would have been the result. its a necessary evil and one liveable with as there is not a single industry or system in the world (even organic) that can not completely "not effect" the atmosphere.
like most things scare tactics. the same as oh all evs are plugged into gass stations and dirty power plants.. we all know that power plants are a lot cleaner and more efficient than the ICEs so we live with it as the best of two evils.

AT LEAST WE ARE TRYING GUYS!
 
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p_iv

Member
Jul 8, 2019
51
33
UK
The problem with the "domestic PV can't compete with North Sea wind" argument is that it isn't always windy. Even in the North Sea. So at that point it's better to have a load of PV panels than fire up the coal/gas plants again. For weather-dependent renewables diversification is the name of the game... and domestic PV is a pretty low-impact way of generating power, especially if you're bolting it to an existing roof.

I think there's also mileage in small-scale hydro, like at a few locations on the Thames (e.g. Windsor), where there's currently wasted energy pouring over weirs that we could be running through a turbine.

That and some more nuclear plants should help wean us off our current dependence on natural gas... but even so, we've made much bigger strides in decarbonising the grid electricity over the last 10-15 years, way more than most of us would have thought possible. And (hopefully!) it's only going to get better. So the EV you buy today is only going to get greener over time :)
 

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