Tag: "coal"

01/04/13

  07:55:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 207 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar News, Climate Change

Who Pays for Coal? Earth!

Yesterday we wrote about articles questioning the benefits of solar power to utility rate payers. But another story should provide some context - Coal is set to become the dominant global energy source by 2022, with serious repercussions for all life on Earth.

Coal-fired power plantWriting over at the Greener Ideal blog about a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), th post -  The Future of Coal. by Susmita Baral - is full of sobering facts about the increasing use of coal throughout the world, particularly in China and India.  If changes are not made, coal will equal oil as a global energy source by 2017.  By 2014, according to the blog post, China will account for half of the world’s coal consumption and India will consume more coal than the U.S.  Indeed, the U.S. is the only part of the world forecast to actually reduce its consumption of coal over the next decade, driven largely by the availability of cheap - sometimes fracked - natural gas.

This coal consumption comes with a terrible price in terms of CO2 emissions and subsequent climate change.  One possible solution - introducing a price on carbon emissions like the cap and trade program that California has now implemented with the first auction of carbon credits taking place last November.

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11/13/12

  09:28:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 595 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Climate Change

"Ripe for Retirement" - Coal

Coal-fired power plantCoal-fired power plants produced a staggering 42% of the electricity used in the U.S. in 2011, but a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists says that many of those plants are Ripe for Retirement and should be shut down.  The health, environmental and climatic consequences of burning coal are well known and for many provide ample arguments for their prompt removal from the grid.  But 42% of U.S. electricity is a big nut to crack and one that won’t be solved quickly.

UCS takes an unusual approach to making their case against coal.  They begin by acknowledging all of those well documented problems associated with burning coal for power: sulfur emissions that lead to acid rain, mercury poisons fish and causes neurological damage in children, soot creates smog that causes lung disease and triggers asthma attacks, combustion leaves behind toxic ash, coal mining wreaks havoc on the land and the people who mine it, and coal-fired plants are the single largest source of CO2 emissions in the U.S.  While all that is undeniably true, the Report makes the compelling case that these relic plants are simply no longer economical to operate and should be shut down in favor of cleaner, more sustainable - and cheaper - options.

UCS looked at 1,169 coal-fired generation units around the country and calculated their present operating costs to their operating costs once they had installed modern pollution control technology on four pollutants: sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM or soot) and mercury.  They then compared those revised costs against the operating costs of natural gas combined-cycle (NGCC) plants to determine economic viability.  To develop a range of economic thresholds, they calculated costs for new NGCC plants (where capital costs had to be included) and old NGCC plants (where capital expenditures had already been recouped).

Those competing thresholds provided a low estimate of 153 coal-fired generators that were ripe for retirement (accounting for 16.4 GW of production capacity) all the way up to some 353 units representing 59.0 GW - a range of 1.7-6.3% of current U.S. electrical generation.  (This is in addition to the 288 coal units already scheduled for retirement by their operators which collectively account for 41.2 GW or 3.8% of existing capacity.)  But even if all of those units were shut down promptly the lights would still stay on - “the U.S. is projected to have 145 GW of excess capacity by 2014 above and beyond reserve margins required to maintain reliability at the regional power grid level,” the report’s authors found.

Because these Ripe for Retirement coal units are the older, less utilized and dirtiest units in the fleet, replacing their combined 100 GWs of capacity with cleaner alternatives could cut CO2 emissions by anywhere from 245 to 410 million tons annually, depending on what resource replaces the coal.  That would account for 9.8 to 16.4% of 2010 CO2 emissions from the power sector!

Beyond a doubt, energy efficiency and renewables must play a major role in the replacement of this capacity.  The good news is, they already are: “Over the next eight years (that is, by 2020) we project that existing state policies requiring the use of renewable electricity and energy-saving technologies will generate or save more electricity than would be lost (100 GW) through the closure of retired coal generators.”

That is the good news.  The bad news is that even if all of these “Ripe for Retirement” units were shut down over the next eight years, we still have another 229 GW of coal-fired generators out there - belching CO2 into the atmosphere.  The challenge will be to provide the regulatory - and political - environment where it becomes economical to shut down those plants as well.

10/02/12

  03:12:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 483 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Tax Incentives, SEIA, Ranting

Q: What is more popular than Solar? A: Nothing!

In this intense election season, we are accustomed to seeing lots of polls tracking the day-to-day changes in the “horse race” of the political process. But while various candidates struggle to “break out” of the pack, solar energy is an overwhelming consensus winner with strong support from 92% of the electorate - and when was the last time that 92% of us agreed on anything?  Given that tomorrow night’s debate turns on domestic issues, it will be interesting to see how this issue plays, if at all.

We base our observation on a poll that was recently conducted by Hart Research Associates (Hart) for the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).  (You can find the poll results here.)  The Hart poll got responses online from 1,206 registered voters, including an oversample of so-called “swing” voters (people who did not indicate a strong or consistent partisan voting history).  The margin of error was ±2.8%.

Solar Enjoys Unprecedented Bi-Partisan Support

Support for solar among voters cuts across party lines.  98% of Democrats and 95% of Independents think it is very important or somewhat important for the U.S. to develop and use solar power - but even among Republicans, support was at a very impressive 84%. And voters think that energy issues should be a factor in this year’s Presidential election with 27% saying such issues are one of the most important while another 47% say they are very important.

Coal is Upside Down

Despite an aggressive and well-funded ad campaign to support the quaint notion of “clean coal", of all of the different energy sources surveyed, only coal is upside down on its favorability rating: 34% of the electorate has an unfavorable view of coal, compared to only 32% with a favorable opinion.  Solar energy, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum, with 85% having a favorable opinion and only a miniscule 4% unfavorable.  Here are the overall results:

Chart of favorable-unfavorable ratings for different energy types

Interestingly, the three greenest energy sources are at the top of the list while the two dirtiest, coal and oil are at the bottom.

Talk is Cheap, It Takes Money to Buy Solar Panels

As nice as it is to be supported, perhaps a more pressing question for policy makers/candidates is this: Which, if any, of these forms of energy should the federal government support through tax subsidies?  Once again, solar energy was the clear winner with a full 64% of all voters (67% among swing voters) supporting federal tax subsidies for solar.  In contrast, only 8% overall support subsidies for coal (4% of swing voters) and just 13% for oil (9% among swing voters).  Yet subsidies for the coal and oil industries dwarf those provided to all renewable energy sectors overall and solar in particular.  Here’s the overall chart:

support for energy subsidies

These results, if not surprising, are nevertheless gratifying, particularly in an election year.  We can only hope that voters will determine where the candidates stand on support for all energy sources, particularly solar, and use that knowledge to inform their vote next month.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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