Tag Archives: coal

Map of coal and oil-fired power plants in the United States

In 2010, coal-fired power plants represented 45% of the electricity generated in the United States and oil a smaller amount, 1%. Combined together they are the dominant air polluters and facing tough new restrictions from the EPA.

Unfortunately, they have a few years to clean-up and that doesn’t help if you live in one of the toxic twenty states. Visit the previous link to see how your state compares, or scan this map to see if any of the polluting power plants are close to you.

 

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How old are U.S. power plants?

We have an aging fleet of power plants:
  • 51% of all generating capacity is 30+ years old.
  • 73% of all coal plants are 30+ years old
  • 24 out of 25 oldest plants (60+ years) are hydropower
  • Nearly all nuclear plants are 20+ years old

Here is a graphic from EIA with more detail. The pie chart shows how much generating capacity comes from each fuel type. The graph shows capacity by year the plant was built.

Notice that hydropower was the first energy source built, the creation of coal plants dominated from 1950 to the mid-80s, and it’s been all natural gas since then.

 

 

But, age may not matter when it comes to operating power plants, from Wiki Answers:
In a nutshell, it is not correct to assign human attributes (e.g., lifetimes) to inanimate objects. Consequently, the operating span of a coal fired power plant can be unlimited since any degraded or failed component can be replaced with a new one. The decision on whether to make a refurbishment, or to build a new plant, is merely a question of relative economics and investment risk. For example, the cost of a single replacement part is almost always less than the cost of replacing the plant. However, in an old plant, there is a risk that many additionally worn parts also will need replacement soon. Plant owners evaluate these tradeoffs each time a major component fails and make the decision whether or not to retire the plant.

The United States continues to go green – CO2 emissions near 1990 levels

CO2 emissions in US drop to 20-year low

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Isn’t that great news?

I think we need some uplifting climate change news with all the “doom and gloom” stories out there. Let’s keep it going.

The United States has cut its CO2 output more than any other country in recent years, with our output dropping since 2007.  We are now close to 1990 levels and may be able to fit in with the Kyoto Protocols.

Of the fossil fuels, natural gas releases the least amount of air pollution and CO2. It is a homegrown source which improves our energy independence and stability, as well as keeping our money at home.

Coal has gone from producing half our energy to only one-third.

Good news!

 

** Fracking for natural gas – it is unknown how destructive this new, hugely popular process is. 

 

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Wind is cheaper than coal? — Fact checking this statement

The other day I heard in passing, “wind is now cheaper than coal.” If true, this symbolizes the holy grail of renewable energy. It would mean that a turning point for not only cleaner energy, but global warming, climate change, pollution, foreign oil dependence, and more.

To fact check this, I pulled up the top 20 results from Google and narrowed them down to the below articles (most were duplicates pointing at these 5 stories).

Not at all definitive but it does give you an idea of the state of the industry. Just keep in mind that the prices may or may not include subsidies or tax breaks, which can drastically change the costs quoted below.

 

Jul 2012 - In India, wind is cheaper than coal in Indi (w/out subsidies) (Bloomberg Business)

The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India for the first time as improved turbine technology (from GE) and rising fossil-fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc (GKO) said.

 

Mar 2012 – In Michigan wind is cheaper than coal (American Wind Energy Assoc.)

The Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) recently issued a report that finds that electricity generated from renewable energy sources, at an average cost of $91 per megawatt-hour (9.1 cents/kilowatt-hour), is almost one-third cheaper than the cost of electricity from a new coal-fired power plant ($133 per MWh, or 13.3 cents/kWh).

Further, the report notes, “The actual cost of renewable energy contracts submitted to the Commission to date shows a downward pricing trend.

 

Feb 2012 – In California, prices doubled in the first decade of 21st century, since 2011 are dropping to parity with natural gas (SF Gate)

The price of renewable power contracts signed by California utilities more than doubled from 2003 through 2011 but has now started to plunge…

The cost of buying electricity from a new natural gas power plant…(in 2011) ranged from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 12 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on the length of the contract…The cost of renewable power from wind and solar facilities averaged between 8 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

 

Nov 2011 – Investigation of Bill Clinton’s claim that wind/solar are cheaper than nuclear (Politifact)

  • Conventional Coal – 94.8 (dollars/MWh)
  • Wind – Onshore – 97
  • Nuclear – 113.9
  • Solar – Photovoltaic – 210.7
  • Wind – Offshore – 243.2
  • Solar – Thermal – 311.8

Source: DOE’s Energy Information Administration

 

Nov 2011 – Google retires its initiative RE

It’s not clear here if Google feels this is already won and moving on, or if they have had enough and are quitting. One thing is certain, Google invested nearly a billion dollars ($850 million) in renewable energy last year.

This initiative was developed as an effort to drive down the cost of renewable energy, with an RE<C engineering team focused on researching improvements to solar power technology. At this point, other institutions are better positioned than Google to take this research to the next level. So we’ve published our results to help others in the field continue to advance the state of power tower technology, and we’ve closed our efforts.

 

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Why do experts always lowball clean energy projections?

Last month, Michael Noble of Fresh Energy put up a fascinating list of projections made by energy experts around 2000 or so. Suffice to say, the projections did not fare well. They were badly wrong…

What should we take from this?

The projections weren’t just off, they were way off. You can find similarly poor projections from the ’70s that underestimate the spread of energy efficiency and other demand-side technology solutions (They thought they were going to need hundreds of nuclear plants). Similarly terrible projections were also common in the early years of cell phones.

What do cell phones, energy efficiency, and renewable energy have in common? One, they are dynamic areas of technology development and market competition, which makes straight-line projections pretty useless. And two, they are distributed, with millions of loosely networked people and organizations working on them in parallel. Distributed, human-scale technologies come in small increments. They replicate quickly, so there’s more variation and competitive selection, and thus more evolution.

 

Keep reading: Grist - Why do ‘experts’ always lowball clean-energy projections?

 

 

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Coal power plants are going offline, in favor of Natural Gas plants

“In the past year, coal plants have been facing a perfect storm of falling natural gas prices, a continued trend of high coal prices and weak demand for electricity,” Susan Tierney wrote in the report.

Tierney wrote that those factors have combined to make coal a less desirable fuel source.

Coal-generated electricity has been waning over the past few years, dropping to its lowest level on record in March of this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At the same time, natural gas-powered plants are becoming increasingly popular as the price of the fuel falls to record prices and few emissions emitted by natural gas.

According to Doyle Trading Consultants, the trend is expected to continue as more than 41,000 megawatts from coal-fired power plants could be retired by 2020. If true, the coal-fired fleet would be cut by 17 percent in eight years.

 

ViaPerfect storm sinking coal-fired generation, report says

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Apple, Amazon, & Microsoft build data centers around dirty energy

The current explosion in cloud computing offered by major IT companies is driving significant new demand for dirty energy like coal and nuclear power, according to a new report from Greenpeace International.

The report, “How Clean is Your Cloud?” shows a growing split within the tech industry between companies that are taking steps to power their clouds with clean energy, like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft who lag behind by choosing to build their growing fleets of data centres to be powered by coal and nuclear energy.

“When people around the world share their music or photos on the cloud, they want to know that the cloud is powered by clean, safe energy,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst. “Yet highly innovative and profitable companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are building data centres powered by coal and acting like their customers won’t know or won’t care.”

The report research found that if the cloud were a country its electricity demand would currently rank 5th in the world, and is expected to triple by 2020.

“While many IT companies have made great strides in efficiency, that’s only half the picture – they need to make sure their energy comes from clean sources,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International Senior Policy Analyst.

Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are beginning to lead the sector down a clean energy pathway through innovations in energy efficiency, prioritising renewable energy access when siting their data centres, and demanding better energy options from utilities and government decision-makers.

 

keep readingApple, Amazon, & Microsoft choose dirty energy

Over 100 coal plants have closed in U.S. – since last year

Two utilities announced the planned closure of nine coal plants in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, bringing total retirements (executed and planned) since January 2010 past the 100 mark to 106.

A combination of high domestic coal prices, low natural gas prices, new air quality regulations, coordinated activist pressure, and cost-competitive renewables are making coal an increasingly bad choice for many power plant operators. Along with the 106 announced closures, 166 new plants have been defeated since 2002.

More information – Clean Technica