Replacing Old Coal with New Natural Gas Plants Can Reduce CO2 Production to Less Than a Third Per Plant

It is well known that since natural gas generates half the CO2 for the same energy produced as coal in current plants, that replacing old coal plants would reduce CO2 pollution by a half for the switched plants.  Those calculations assumed the present efficiency of energy generation of both coal and natural gas plants at the same 33% as at present, for steam generating plants.

However, reading an article by Richard Muller, “Fugitive Methane and Greenhouse Gases” , has made me aware that new combined cycling natural gas plants can be up to 60% efficient.  We redo that method comparing CO2 from replacing an old 33% efficient coal plant with a 60% efficient natural gas plant.

CO2 is proportional to fuel usage per molecule or atom, since coal is mostly burning carbon atoms C, and natural gas or methane, CH4, also contains only one carbon atom.  The extra Hydrogens in CH4 oxidize with Oxygen to form water, but generate about the same amount of energy as oxidizing the Carbon atom in CH4 to CO2.  Thus the factor of twice the energy from burning a methane molecule than a coal atom.

Taking a coal or carbon atom at 33% efficiency, means that you need 1 x 1/.33 = 3 carbon atoms to burn to generate the amount of electricity contained in burning the atom itself.  For a natural gas molecule, you need only one half a molecule to get the same starting energy, but then for 60% efficiency, you need a factor of 1/0.60 more, giving the comparable fuel usage of 0.5 x 1/0.60 = 0.83 molecule.  The ratio of CH4 to C fuel usage is then 0.83 / 3 = 0.28.  That is also the ratio of CO2 pollution, since one C atom comes from each.

So instead of the ratio of CO2 from methane over coal being a half for present plants, the ratio is actually between a third and a quarter for a new combined cycle natural gas plant and an old coal plant.





Posted in Climate Change, Natural Gas | Leave a comment

Southern California Edison 2013 Power Content Mix

Southern California Edison 2013 Power Content Mix

It’s that time of year when energy mavins await their California utilities power content label. SCE’s arrived in my electrical bill. Since I couldn’t yet find it on Google, I took a picture of it with my iPhone. Here it is:

sharper 2013 sce power mix

The San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down in 2012 after the replacement steam generators had serious vibrations problems due to errors in design. This also led to steam dispensing some radiation. Faced with the delay to again replace the generators, waiting for approval to run one reactor at 2/3 power, the coastal commission blocking an ocean sonic earthquake fault survey, and an intense nuclear safety protest after Fukushima, Edison decided to shut down the plant permanently. California still has two nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon, and one of the three Palo Verde reactors out of state. So we still get 6% pollution free nuclear power. This is down from 7% in 2012 and 24% in 2011, when San Onofre was operational. This is a loss of 18% in clean nuclear. While nuclear protest organizations are happy that renewables have replaced this, the large state and federal investment in renewables was made with an intent to replace polluting coal and natural gas power, not to replace already clean nuclear power.

The amount of power listed as unspecified sources is out of state power, that doesn’t have to be broken down. It could include out of state clean nuclear, solar and hydro, as well as dirty coal. This makes it impossible to give an accurate CO2 emissions profile from SC Edison. This means that all of the electric car buyers and users in our area cannot brag about how clean the power they use is from SC Edison. In 2010, unspecified was only 13%, or an eighth of total power. In 2011 it was 15%. In 2012 it soared to 41%, and in 2013 it declined to 34%, or a third of our power.

California has been a leader in developing renewable power, and has all sources available. This is due to plate collisions that built up the Sierra Nevada mountains that provide rivers and dam locations to generate hydro power. The faults also provide geothermal vents, not available in most other states. The San Gabriel mountains, again a result of plate collisions, provide high wind passes to generate wind power to Southern California. The mountains also cause unoccupied deserts to the east, which allow for enormous solar cell and solar thermal facilities.

The 2013 SCE Power Mix has renewables at 22%. Geothermal is remaining steady at 9%, same as in 2012 and 2011. Wind power is at 10%, growing from 8% in 2012 and 7% in 2011. Large hydro is at 4%, where it was in 2012, having fallen from 7% in 2011. Biomass and waste, which are renewable but not pollution free, stay steady at 1%. Many people and organizations thought that new solar power would replace San Onofre nuclear power. Yet solar has remained at only 1%.

Coal is at 6%, dropping slightly from 7% in 2012, and 8% in 2011

Natural gas is at 28%, increasing from 21% in 2012, but almost restoring the 27% from 2011. Since we still have 6% coal, it would be nice to replace that by cheap natural gas, which only emits about half the CO2 as coal does for the same amount of electricity. The persistence of coal may be due to long range contracts. Our local Huntington Beach natural gas plant has been replaced by a new one that can vary power more rapidly to replace fluctuating wind and solar power when needed.

So the main changes are the growth of natural gas by 6%, and the decline in unspecified power by 7%. These are probably related.


Posted in California Power Mixes, Climate Change, Fossil Fuel Energy, Nuclear Energy, Renewable Energy, San Onofre, Solar Energy, Wind Energy | Leave a comment

Investors’ Fossil Fuel Company Activism, Rather Than Divestment

As a dynamic treatment of fossil fuel companies by environmental investors, much could be accomplished to lower carbon emissions through activism, rather than the passive act of divestment. This would involve universities and foundations that hold fossil fuel stocks to collaborate on their strategies,  and to pool their votes at shareholder meetings, and in the election of boards of directors.

An example of this is to lower emissions by switching from coal to natural gas by carefully managed fracking in appropriate areas. One account I read said that there are 50,000 drilling companies carrying out fracking.  The major oil companies are starting to acquire companies in this area.  If almost all fracking was done by the few major oil companies, the companies could responsibly, uniformly, and economically regulate where fracking was done and how.  Government inspection would also become effective and economical.  Sites would be chosen out of any zones where earthquakes could be caused.  Fracking wastewater would be cleaned rather than injected in deep wells, or injected only in safe areas.  The safest combination of chemical additives would be chosen.  Delivery pipelines would be of the best quality to prevent leakage.  Burning of waste gas would be carefully monitored, as per new government regulations.  Replacing coal by lossless natural gas treatment would reduce carbon emissions for electricity generation by half, where coal is replaced.

Simple divestment will lower fossil fuel stock prices a little, only to be picked up by investors only interested in profits, and not environmental safety.

The plans for divested stocks to be replaced by buying wind and solar stocks may not produce greater profit, or even supply more money to those companies. Only if the company is giving a public offering to raise money or selling stock that it has held will the company get investment money.  The continuance of at least solar investment depends on the continuance of large government subsidies that are being challenged every year, and could easily disappear with Republican control of the Senate or the next Presidency.  The vast number of wind turbines needed to generate a gigawatt, like a nuclear reactor does, is 1,000.  Wind farms are meeting resistance in many areas in which the electricity is used.  Otherwise, a new country-wide grid is needed to distribute wind power from the mid-West to the coastal areas.  Both solar and wind have problems with fluctuations, and must be backed up by natural gas plants anyway, as a condition for their usefulness.

Universities and foundations, whose investments can be guided by the smartest people with environmental sensitivities, should consider how to actively cooperate and use those investments for guidance in lowering emissions, rather than just passively giving them up.

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Electric Power, Energy Efficiency, Fossil Fuel Energy, Natural Gas, Oil, Renewable Energy, Solar Energy, Uncategorized, Wind Energy | Leave a comment

California Colleges in the Top 200 Student Choice Rankings, 2015

The college application website has ranked the favorite college choices among applicants using their website and system.  The rankings are based on more than 440,000 acceptances.  Here we just pick out the ranked California colleges in the top 200.  The previous articles were focused on California universities.  This article includes all colleges that students prefer.  The top 10 of the nation are listed first.

1 Stanford


3 Harvard

4 Yale

5 Princeton

6 Caltech

7-8 U. Penn

7-8 US Air Force Academy

9 Middlebury College

10 Duke

17 Pomona College

19 UC Berkeley

23 Harvey Mudd College


28 USC

43 Art Center College of Design

49 Pitzer College

70 UC San Diego

73 Scripps College

75 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

79 UC Irvine

80 UC Davis

81 Masters College

83 U. Redlands

84 UC Santa Barbara

103 St. Mary’s College of California

108 Claremont McKenna College

124 UC Riverside

137 San Diego State U.

138 Pepperdine

140 tie

UC Santa Cruz

Chapman U.

145 Occidental College

179 Santa Clara U.

182 Loyola Marymount




Posted in California University Rankings, Education, UC Irvine | Leave a comment

California University Applicants’ preferences for Students with Multiple Admissions is a website that allows prospective undergraduate students to apply to multiple universities with the same forms.  It also keeps track of who is admitted where, and what their final choice is.  We show how that works out for a few California Universities.


For those admitted to UC Berkeley and Stanford, 82% chose Stanford.


For those admitted to UCLA and other Universities, the choices were:


UCB 58%

USC 41%

UCR 12%

UCSD 11%

UCI 10%

UCD 8%


For those admitted to UC Irvine and other Universities, students chose:


UCB 96%

UCLA 90%

USC 84%

UCSD 69%

UCD 56%

UCSB 45%

UCSC 21%

UCR 19%


For those admitted to USC and other Universities, students chose:


UCB 67%

UCLA 59%

UCSD 32%

UCI 16%

UCSB 10%

Stanford 9%


UCD 7%


For those admitted to Stanford and other Universities, students chose:


Harvard 46%

Yale 39%

U. Chicago 37%

Caltech 27%

MIT 26%

Vanderbilt 20%

Princeton 19%

UCB 18%

USC 9%




It seems that students have a ranking of Universities similar to national rankings, and make their choices along such lines.

Posted in California University Rankings, Education | Leave a comment

Physics Graduate Programs in 2015 US News and World Report Rankings


We list the top 43 Physics graduate programs, which include most of the California campuses.


2 tie





    UC Berkeley

7 tie


    U. Chicago

9 U. Illinois – Urbana – Champaign


11 tie

    U. Michigan – Ann Arbor



14 tie

    U. Maryland – College Park

    U. Texas – Austin

16 tie

    U. Pennsylvania

    UC San Diego

18 tie

    John’s Hopkins


    U. Colorado – Boulder

    U. Wisconsin – Madison

22 U. Washington

23 tie

    Ohio State

    Penn State

    Stony Brook U. – SUNY

26 tie

    U. Minnesota


    Northwestern U.

29 tie

    UC Irvine

    UC Davis

    Georgia Institute of Technology


    Michigan State U.

    Brown U.

    Duke U.

36 tie

    U. Florida

    New York U.

    Carnegie-Mellon U.

39 tie

    UC Santa Cruz

    U. North Carolina

    U. Arizona

    Indiana U.

    Boston U.

Posted in Education, Physics Departments, UC Irvine | Leave a comment

Rankings of California Universities Among Public Universities, 2015


US News and World’s Report College Rankings, 2015, separates a list of public universities. Here are California Universities in the rankings.

Since rankings don’t really give the relative strengths in the criteria used, I also include in parentheses the overall score for each University.

1 UC Berkeley (79)

2 tie UCLA with U. Virginia (76)

8 UC San Diego (65)

9 UC Davis (64)

10 UC Santa Barbara (63)

11 tie UC Irvine with U. Illinois – Urbana-Champaign (62)

35 tie UC Santa Cruz (49)

55 tie UC Riverside (43)

78 tie San Diego State University (34)

Another way to say this is that UC takes one and two. Also 5 of the top 10 are UC campuses, and UC Irvine is tied for eleventh.

The overall score of UCLA is close to that of UCB. The overall scores of the next four UC campuses are also sequential in overall scores.

The student to teacher ratio for the UC campuses is mostly quoted as 17:1. That for San Diego State University is 28:1, but tuition is about half the cost of the UC campuses.

Posted in Education, UC Irvine | Tagged | Leave a comment

California Universities in US News and World Report 2015 Best Colleges


First we list the top 10 nationwide to give them their full credit, and for comparison. In the list, first is their ranking, then their name, then in parentheses their overall scores, then their student to faculty ratios, and finally their acceptance percentage.

Top 10 Nationwide

1 Princeton (100), 6:1, 7.4%

2 Harvard (99), 7:1, 5.8%

3 Yale (98), 6:1, 6.9%

4 tie at (95)

    Columbia 6:1, 6.9%

    Stanford 5:1, 5.7%

    U. Chicago 6:1, 8.8%

7 MIT (93), 8:1, 8.2%

8 tie at (92)

    Duke 7:1, 12.4%

    U. Pennsylvania 6:1, 12.2%

10 California Institute of Technology (91), 3:1, 10.6%

After Stanford and Caltech, the California Universities are:

20 UC Berkeley (79), 17:1, 17.7%

23 UCLA (76), 17:1, 20.4%

25 U. of Southern California (75), 9:1, 19.8%

37 UC San Diego (65), 19:1, 36.8%

38 tie UC Davis (64), 17:1, 41.3%

40 tie UC Santa Barbara (63), 17:1, 39,8%

42 tie UC Irvine (62), 17:1, 41.1%

85 tie UC Santa Cruz (49), 18:1, 51.9%

95 tie U. of San Diego (47), 15:1, 48.9%

113 tie UC Riverside (43), 9:1, 60.2%

149 tie San Diego State University (34), 28:1, 37.2%

Posted in Education, UC Irvine | Leave a comment

The ill logic of the phrase “We’re recording this call for quality purposes”.


I of course assume that they are calling to get me to somehow commit to buying something, so I usually beg off by saying something about just not responding to such calls. I used to cite civil liberties. Now I just say that my agent doesn’t allow me to recorded without them arranging to pay royalties.

If the case is for “quality purposes”, I could imagine it is to check that the caller is not just charging their employer for a call that wasn’t completed, or that was answered by an answering machine, Following that line though, an employer can find out almost anything about a prospective employee to find out if they are honest, before hiring them. So the recording would mean that they are hiring an employee that they didn’t trust. If the employer doesn’t trust the employee, than why should I?

The latest call was a survey by the National Fisheries to ask how many people in my family fish. What kind of quality are they looking for in how that question is asked? It is rather straight forward. Are they evaluating the “quality” of my response in how I say none, or one, or two? How dare they!

If, as I suspect, the taping is to tape my agreeing to, or being trapped into buying something, then the caller has lied to me at the outset. Why should I trust them at all after that?

In this day when everyone is concerned about the privacy of their calls from government surveillance, (and they should be more concerned about unknown industries taping them), there must be many people who decline such calls. If the call really is for a survey only, why turn off many recipients by taping in the first place.

So, logically, there cannot be a good outcome for the caller, if they indeed are just calling for a survey, by taping me, and claiming that it is just for quality purposes.

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Freedom of speech, knowledge, and net neutrality

Is freedom of speech and knowledge transference going to be helped or hurt by the abolition of net neutrality? Net neutrality means everything gets the same priority without extra charges over the usual provider access charges. Its loss would mean priority would come with a charge.

The providers of massive video services such as Netflix and Youtube (Google) would like to have equal priority without having to pay extra. Their argument is that ordinary users with simple written websites would have less priority if Netflix was paying for priority. The fallacy of their misleading argument is that for-profit video services (think Youtube ads) are using up half the internet bandwidth for free, and usually not for freedom of speech content or knowledge content, but for entertainment. If they were to pay for their bandwidth, hopefully by the size of their files, they would have to charge for it, and their use of the available bandwidth would decrease. This would actually allow users for reading opinions or knowledge articles easier access, still for free. Netflix is really not arguing for the freedom of speech rights on the internet, but to avoid raising rates for its users.

Netflix and Youtube can of course spend small amounts of money to buy great influence in Congress, so it is unlikely that net neutrality will be abolished. They only need to spend a fraction of a percent of possible priority charges to influence Congressmen. The companies of course can spend as much as they want in PACS, since they are “people”.

Of course, if your main interest in the internet is to watch Netflix, you should consider that you are not getting a bargain for a pay like channel for about $7 a month, when you consider that you may be paying $45 a month for cable internet access. Also, the movie offerings on Netflix are hardly the latest or most popular movies shown on cable channels.

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