Coal Is Here to Stay

Perhaps not in the United States, but globally, as energy guru Robert Bryce points out:

A look at coal and electricity demand in locations from Hanoi, Vietnam to Dusseldorf, Germany shows that the rest of the world is not going beyond coal. In fact, just the opposite is happening.

Between 2001 and 2010, U.S. coal consumption fell by 5 percent and domestic carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 1.7 percent. But over that same time period, global coal consumption soared by 47 percent, or the equivalent of 23 million barrels of oil per day. Put another way, over the past decade or so, global coal consumption increased by about the same amount as the growth in oil, natural gas, and nuclear combined.

Coal use is soaring because demand for electricity is soaring. Between 1990 and 2010, global electricity production increased by about 450 terawatt-hours per year. That’s the equivalent of adding one Brazil (which used 485 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010) to the electricity sector every year. And the International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about one Brazil per year through 2035.

Perhaps the best example of growing electricity demand can be seen in Vietnam. Between 2001 and 2010, electricity use and coal use in the country increased by 227 percent and 175 percent, respectively. And more coal is on the way. Last September, Virginia-based AES Corp. finalized a deal to build a $1.5 billion, 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province.

Or consider China, which uses more than three times as much coal as the United States. About 70,000 megawatts of new coal-fired electric generation capacity will likely come online in China over the next two years. And the world’s most populous country has plans to build another 270,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. Over the next two decades, India will likely add another 72,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. For comparison, the total of all U.S. coal-fired electric capacity is about 317,000 megawatts, and that capacity is declining as generators switch to natural gas, which, in some regions of the country, is now cheaper than coal.

Environmentalists have worked overtime to reduce the use of coal fired power plants in the United States. While they have arguably had a lot of success here at home, the global outlook is another story. As numerous countries around the world grow richer and begin to industrialize, the use of coal increases dramatically. It will be interesting to see how these countries respond to the increasingly shrill voices of environmentalists seeking to minimize the human impact on the world, while the world as a whole demands increased human impact and the associated benefits of that impact to human health and wealth.

Unfortunately, getting rid of coal isn’t a free lunch, as CNN points out, electricity bills are headed through the roof:

Over 90% of the executives surveyed believe that rules requiring the use of more renewable energy and a cut in pollution from coal-fired power plants will lead to higher monthly utility bills for consumers.

Over half said these bills will rise significantly.

No definition of “slightly” or “significantly” was provided in the study. But Black & Veatch said “slightly” in industry parlance usually means a 1% to 3% increase, while significantly could mean up to 10% or so.

The average American household spends $111 a month on electric bills, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It will be interesting to see how voters react to increased energy prices.



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