Eliminating coal from the electricity equation

This caught our eye — but would it work? From Energy Smart: … Very simply, 50% of US electricity comes from coal at this time. This is a serious portion of the overall US carbon load. It is also a major source of mercury and other pollutants worsening our lives. Now, the United States is referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Coal”. So, how can we eliminate the US dependency on coal-fired electricity while improving the economy and not increasing dependency on foreign energy sources?

The United States’ greatest reserve of energy potential is not our coal, but our wasteful energy use patterns. Inadequate building standards (inadequate insulation, leakage, windows), inefficient appliances/electronics burning up vampire power, McSUVs and McMansions, etc …

Efficiency: The United States can achieve, without any leaps in technology required, a 20+% reduction in current electricity use via energy efficiency even accounting for projected economic growth over this time period. (If the United States becomes quite serious, with a “culture of conservation” joining aggressive efficiency, this is likly a serious understatement of what could be achievable.)

A shift in transport: A large-scale penetration of Plug-in-Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), Electric Vehicles (EVs), and electrification of rail helping to “end our oil addiction”. This would increase electricity use, perhaps in the range of 5%. A where are we moment. This 5% increase would mean a net 15% reduction from today’s electricity or 30% reduction in coal-fired electricity.

Combined-Heat-Power (CHP): One of the interesting challenges before us/US are all of the regulatory and such barriers that need to be changed so that “making the right choice is the easy and preferred choice” when it comes to energy issues. One of those obstacles are the obstacles that ’small’/’medium’ producers can face in selling to the grid. Many industries require significant amounts of heat. The energy burned for heat could be making electricity as well as that heat. But, other than it ‘not being how business has always been done’, selling excess electricity (and moving it around) isn’t necessarily easy. If we could change this non-technological barrier, these “heat” requirements could be combined with electricity generation (not just in industry, but in many large institutions related to, for example, their hot water heating). With sensible regulatory change, CHP could provide 5% of today’s electricity (low-end of potential). That 5% puts US to a 40% reduction of today’s coal power.

Renewable Power: Okay, it is time to take renewable power seriously. Very seriously. Wind Power is growing at 25+% per year. Solar is 40% and, from the contracts going out, actually looks to be accelerating. Ocean systems are emerging. And, there are some bright prospects for Geothermal.

Wind power penetration: 15+% penetration, now at a minimum of 70% elimination of today’s coal-fired electricity

Biomass/waste electricity: 10+% of today’s electricity, now at 90% elimination of coal.

Solar (PV, CSP, hot water (displacing electric water heaters)); Ocean (tidal, current, wave power); Geothermal; other …: 10+% of today’s electrical demand, now at 110% of today’s coal-fired electricity…..

Image of coal from US Geological Survey and Mineral Information Institute, Wikimedia Commons

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