Skip to comments.Energy execs: Donít eulogize coal yet
Posted on 03/07/2013 1:44:53 PM PST by thackney
Coal-fired power may be on the wane in the United States, but reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, energy executives said Thursday.
The bluster about coals demise came as the end of IHS CERAWeek approached and delegates mused about the diversity of the United States power mix.
Were talking about coal going from 42 percent of generation in 2010 to about 33 to 35 percent in 2030, said Barry Nicholls, vice president of power systems sales for Siemens Energy North America. I dont think going from 42 percent to 33 percent means coal is going away. I think thats a shift, not a huge change.
Also overblown, according to IHS CERAWeek panelists: Predictions that natural gas will overtake all other forms of generating electricity, even as environmental regulations and costs make it very attractive to utilities.
Instead, the U.S. will continue to support a diverse power mix, said Charles Greer Rossman, the forecasting and model development manager at Southern Company.
We can begin to quantify what the value is of having a large, diverse fleet, Rossman said, noting that in 2012, Southern developed only 36 percent of its electricity using coal fuel sources compared to about 45 percent from low-cost natural gas. The drop in gas prices and the ability to move to gas-based power proves the benefits of having a fleet that has enough flexibility in it enough optionality to be able to take advantages in changes in relative fuel costs.
Siemens, which makes natural gas turbines, has benefited from a move to replace coal-based electricity generation with gas facilities. Even so, Nicholls said, our position is we need a diverse portfolio of environmentally friendly generation technologies.
That includes a whole lot of things, Nicholls added. Were not advocating, nor would we ever advocate a 100 percent focus on any single technology, whether its wind or nuclear or gas.
U.S. utilities have already announced they will retire or have already taken offline some 60 gigawatts of existing coal generation, noted Mark Brownstein, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund. And another 60 gigawatts also could leave the marketplace.
Roughly a third of the nations coal capacity is likely to go. From an environmentalists standpoint, that is a really good thing, Brownstein said. That is cleaner air; that is less carbon emissions; in some cases, it is less water consumption; and it creates new market opportunities for energy technologies that are more suited to a low-carbon world than what we have been using.
But, Brownstein added, Americas new natural gas supply comes with considerable risk to the public health and environment. Among the concerns, Brownstein said, are fugitive methane emissions from wells all the way through the gas distribution system and the potential for water contaminations at drilling sites.
Even small leaks at the point of production or along the distribution system can work to undo much of the benefit you think youre getting when youre substituting natural gas for coal or oil, Brownstein said.
Coals future amid new constraints on heat-trapping carbon dioxide gases likely hinges on technology that is still being developed to sequester and store those emissions. Southern Company is building an integrated gasification combined cycle plant in Mississippi, with the goal of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from the coal used at the facility.
The biggest challenge of such carbon capture and sequestration initiatives isnt gasification (as facilities in China are already doing that), Brownstein said. Its ensuring the emissions can be safely stored underground.
If coal is to have any kind of future in the power mix in a world where we need to significantly educe carbon dioxide pollution then its going to be technologies like what Southern Company is developing in Mississippi that are going to make that happen, Brownstein said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is on track this year to finalize emissions standards for new power plants that effectively rule out new coal-fired facilities without some kind of carbon capture element.
Hitching the U.S. power supply to natural gas comes with additional risks, executives noted on Thursday. Previous boom-and-bust cycles show even promising supplies sometimes turn out to be false. And the natural gas boom in the United States today could be short-circuited if there were major environmental damage traced to the drilling technologies that are unlocking it.
If theres a major environmental or safety issue at a drilling site or a pipeline that obviously is going to change things, Nicholls said.
A single screw up could taint the entire drilling industry, Brownstein observed, noting that unlike the relatively small nuclear power industry, natural gas producers dont have a shared sense that their fortunes (and reputation) are inextricably linked.
It is entirely possible you could have an operator that does something fundamentally wrong in terms of the quality of the well casings or the handling of wastewater at the surface, Brownstein said. If so, the entire industry will pay the consequences of that.
When you have a major accident, it colors how everybody sees the entire industry.
I think China is importing lots of US mined coal, isn’t it?
They are one of the smaller importers of US coal. Very small compared to ours and theirs domestic use.
Sorry, I need to correct that. They have recently become one of the larger importers of US coal. Historically they were small.
For comparison, we exported about 1% of our total coal production to China.
About 13% of our total production is exported to several countries.
Not to mention that natural gas electric generation is a terrorist risk. Take out a pipline and you get a blackout.
Most coal plants have 60 days of fuel stockpiled.
***Most coal plants have 60 days of fuel stockpiled.***
About 40-45 years ago there was a massive snow storm in the mid west that shut down traffic for several weeks. The coal fired and nuke plants continued to run as Natural Gas plants had their supplies diverted to provide for home heat.
Coal will come back someday.
There will be no choice.
I’d read that coal can be convert to gasoline and “cooked” to produce NG.