Coal The United States has been called �the Saudi Arabia of Coal,� because it has among the most abundant coal reserves on the planet. At their present rate of use, these reserves will last for centuries.
But coal is politically incorrect. Though cheap and abundant, it has been labeled dirty and environmentally unacceptable. We are told that coal-fired plants �spew�, not emit, smoke and fumes responsible for acid rain, ozone destruction, greenhouse gases and declining public health.
But the realties of coal are far removed from the politically correct myths. Coal is being burned more cleanly and efficiently than ever. Drive past any modern coal-fired power plant and you will rarely see smoke because almost 100 percent of it has been removed from the flue gas. Emissions of nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and other undesirable compounds, are, on a per-kWh basis, lower than ever and still falling.
Production costs for coal-fired power plants are about only 1.8 cents/kWh, and space requirements are a fraction of those of renewable processes. And most coal-fired plants are havens for fish, birds and other wildlife.
Coal alone could supply all our energy needs for hundreds of years. But because we have deemed it to be politically incorrect, we ignore the easiest solution. Money wasted on unworkable renewable energy projects would be far better spent on clean coal research projects.
You are absolutely correct hawkeye. This country has at least 400 years worth of coal in the ground. There are very few states in the union that do not have coal that can be mined. You are also correct in the burning of coal has been made very clean compared to just 15 years ago. Scrubbers are better than ever and are continually being improved. I believe we will have to soon turn to this abundant resource in the near future if we're going to maintain our dominance in the world.
Renewable Energy Renewables are the darlings of the so-called green energy movement because they do not consume conventional fuels, do not deplete natural resources and have few or no emissions. They include solar, wind, tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal, as well as various types of �biomass� power production. Renewables are quite politically correct.
But why? In spite of the ostensible advantages, they have significant disadvantages, including high capacity and production costs and, perhaps surprisingly, dire environmental consequences.
Let�s start with solar, which converts direct sunlight to electricity by either photovoltaic action or interaction with a heat transfer medium. While sunlight is absolutely free, the cost of capturing and converting it is not. Solar capacity costs about $10,000 /kW of installed capacity, and production costs average about 2.1 cents/kWh.
The locations which receive the greatest amounts of solar radiation are rarely near large metropolitan areas which need the energy the most. And available solar radiation varies with the season and the weather. Lacking some efficient means of storing the energy, we cannot depend on its being available when needed.
But suppose, in spite of these drawbacks, we decide to meet just 20 percent of the present growth in demand with solar capacity. Within 10 years, we will have covered about 2,200 square miles of land with solar facilities, the equivalent of almost one third of the State of New Jersey, irreparably altering landscapes and devastating plant and wildlife habitat in the process.
An equivalent amount of wind turbine capacity would cost only about $3,000/kW, with production costs of about 1.2 cents/kWh, but would require the construction of about 5,500 square miles of wind turbine farms. The Sierra Club calls wind turbines �Cuisinarts of the Air� because of the large numbers of birds they slice and dice. Many erstwhile supporters of wind power, after witnessing its blight on the landscape, have lost their enthusiasm for this politically correct option.
Biomass would use living plants or animal wastes for fuel or the manufacture of fuel. Living organisms absorb and store the sun�s energy, which biomass seeks to recover. But going back to our solar battery analogy, we note that while fossil fuels are very highly-charged batteries, biomass is not. Fossil fuels are dense, highly concentrated forms of biomaterials which, pound-for-pound, hold 8 to 40 times as much stored energy as their living counterparts.
In order to truly renew our biomass supply, we will have to constantly replant and harvest the raw materials. Hundreds of millions of acres of land will be needed for fuel-i-culture, and millions of tons of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals will be needed to ensure good crop yields. Although perhaps politically correct, this is potentially an environmental disaster.
The main beneficiaries of biomass are those who will receive federal subsidies for growing the fuel. Looking to biomass to save our environment is like looking to amputation to lose weight.
While renewables may well have a place in the energy economy, they are by no means the answer to a secure energy future. And so far, we have addressed only 20 percent of our present electrical demand growth. Where will we get the remaining 80 percent?