Peak farmland?

Nearly 40% of the land surface of the earth, or 5 billion hectares, is used for agriculture. Crops are grown on 1.5 billion hectares and there are 3.5 billion hectares of pasture and meadow.

According to FAO land use statistics, global agricultural land area peaked in 1998. This apparent fall is due to a decrease in area used as permanent pasture and meadow, while the area classed as “arable land and permanent crops” has been relatively static.

FAO also collate annual harvest area data for 178 crop types. Total harvest area of all crops may give a truer picture of the trend in demand for cropland. It turns out that global harvest area has continued to increase strongly (8.1 MHa/y i.e. about the area of Ireland per year), even though the nominal cropland area has grown much more slowly (1.4M Ha/y) over the past two decades. The increase is due primarily to oil crops such as soybean (often used as animal feed).

The two measures of cropland area give rise to alternative “global agricultural area” curves shown below. The upper curve suggests that “peak farmland” occurred in 1998, while the lower curve shows no peak. The curves cannot cross because harvested area is always lower than the cropland area.


The recent convergence trend between nominal cropland and actual harvest areas indicates increased pressure on croplands. It raises doubts whether peak farmland has really been reached yet.


July 26, 2014 · joe · No Comments
Posted in: Agriculture

Quantifying CO2 savings from wind power redux: Ireland 2012

The Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) have a new report which looks at CO_2 emission savings from wind energy in 2012. The electricity grid is simulated using \frac{1}{2}-hourly system demand, known outages, and inter-connector flows as boundary conditions. One simulation is done using actual wind generation in 2012 while another sets wind generation to zero. The difference in total CO_2 corresponds to emissions savings. The SEAI study was carried out using off-the-shelf PLEXOS dispatch modelling software.

Here is a summary of SEAI’s findings (Table 4 p 31 of the report):

Rendered by

The savings for RoI is far lower than SEAI’s earlier number 0.49tCO2/MWh. In terms of “effectiveness”, 1 MWh of wind generation displaces the CO_2 equivalent of 0.65MWh of average thermal generation. The earlier SEAI number corresponds to approximately one-for-one displacement. So this is a big change.

SEAI’s simulation findings can be compared to results based on empirical estimates. This method (described here and here) uses the commercially metered generation data from SEMO to calculate grid CO_2 emissions. An ARMA model then relates these emissions to wind generation and other variables. Very good fits to the empirical CO_2 time-series can be obtained.^*

Here are findings using the empirical method for 2011:

Rendered by

The NI CO_2 savings number is much lower than found by SEAI. In fact, SEAI’s 2012 savings of -0.8tCO_2/MWh is hard to understand, because only \approx \frac{1}{3} of NI generation came from coal.

Simulation and empirical approaches each has advantages and disadvantages. Both are sensitive to imperfections in the wind generation/system demand dataset. However SEAI make a number of claims about the 2011 empirical method results which seem to me to be wrong. Firstly, system constraints and outages are automatically taken into account  in the empirical method. Secondly, despite the absence of pumped storage  and reduced inter-connector flow in 2011, emissions intensity was lower compared to 2012. This is because 2012 fuel prices favoured coal relative to gas. If anything the grid was less flexible in 2012.

^* System demand, tie-in flows between RoI/NI grids and Moyle interconnector flow are included as additional regression variables.


June 24, 2014 · joe · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Uncategorized, Wind Energy