I’m not sure if “funny” is the right word here—maybe something more like “tragic”—but here’s a good new website that clears up the fiction of clean coal: Thisisreality.org. It’s worth checking out if you have the stomach for killing the same canary again and again. You’ll see what I mean.
As I am fond of saying, clean coal is like a unicorn: it may be a groovy fantasy but it just doesn’t exist. So everyone should shut up about its “promise.” (That goes for you too, Obama.) The only people who have any business promoting clean coal are the coal lobbyists themselves — and then only because their job descriptions include a line about “hastening the demise of the planet.”
Anyway, go check out the website. It’s better with the sound on.
I saw an ad for these guys on CNN around lunchtime ET today… I was chuckling to myself as I watched.
It seems to me, since there are ~50k coal-fired power stations around the world, and they’re not going away anytime soon, that one of the most important things to focus on if we’re serious about combatting GHG emissions is clean coal. I mean, it’s fun to laugh at the evil polluters/global warming deniers, but it doesn’t help us any if we just leave these power stations to emit CO2 for the rest of time.Based on your “moving from a big SUV to a small SUV is better than a Corolla” theory, shouldn’t we devote as much money/research effort as we can to clean coal technology?
I support spending research dollars on carbon sequestration from coal-fired power plants, although I’ve studied the issue less than Eric.So, I’d liken clean coal not to a unicorn but to a price-competitive home-scaled hydrogen fuel cell.Not impossible. Just not a good basis for current energy supply. Worth public research dollars.
Eric de Place
Foo, I like where you’re coming from in terms of trying to obtain the big win for the small investment. And you’re right that I shouldn’t try to wish away coal plants just because I don’t like them—that would be “unicorns” in reverse! So, sure, it would be nice to figure out how to capture and sequester the co2 from existing coal plants. I think that is worth research dollars, but I tend to think that those dollars should be private investment dollars—the kind of investments that will be spurred by a firm cap on carbon emissions. And maybe those investment dollars would seek out coal CCS but my hunch is that they’ll flee to the clean sources of power that we already know how to generate at a reasonable cost: wind, solar, geothermal, and efficiency. Betting on CCS seems to me to be akin to betting on cold fusion—maybe it’ll pan out, but the technology just isn’t there yet and doesn’t appear to be coming soon.Anyway, if I were the world’s Climate Czar my policy on coal plants would be to retire them forever once they get depreciated and replace them with clean power, efficiency, or conservation. Coal’s horribly nasty for a whole bunch of reasons unrelated to climate. (Then again, if the Climate Czar depended on electoral votes from key coal-dependent swing states, maybe I’d waffle…)BTW, my “big SUV to small SUV” theory is mostly a point about the curious math of MPG ratings—there’s a bigger difference between 15 to 18 mpg cars than between 50 and 100 mpg cars—and how it misleads us into making unwise choices. It’s a point about measurement and about doing what we already know how to do easily, not pinning our hopes on future technology or developments that may or may not come to pass.
I see it like this. Power stations last a very long time. Several thousand coal-fired power stations have been built in the last few years (~1000 in China alone). Most countries where these are being built don’t have the technology, the environment or the money to invest in alternative energy sources (solar/wind). Even if they had the money and the will to do so, they’ve just built several thousand coal-fired power stations, so they’re not going to!Sure the US could shut down its coal-fired power stations. But a better approach IMHO, is for the country with the most money, ie the US, to spend massively on ways to mitigate the emissions of coal-fired power stations. Then spread the technology to those people who are going to be operating these things in great numbers for at least the next 30-50 years.This fits the “big to small SUV” theory, because by far the “easiest” way to reduce GHG from coal-fired plants is to develop clean-coal technology. Saying “retire all coal-fired plants” is, to my mind, approximately the same as aiming to solve vehicle emissions by introducing hydrogen cars. Not gonna happen. However much we might like it.
Eric de Place
Maybe this is a better way to think about it… we both agree that the US should spend massively on carbon reduction. The question is: how? What’s the right investment?(In other words, I don’t think the question is “how do we reduce emissions from coal-fired power?” but rather “how do we reduce emissions? and which ones?”) I see coal CCS like I see hydrogen cars. They would be awesome—truly awesome—but they’re not available and there appear to be some huge and expensive engineering hurdles to make them a reality. So I’d prefer to do low-cost stuff that we already know for sure will work. And I’d argue further that in both cases the stuff we already know is just as effective in reducing emissions, if not more so. So when I think about investing and spreading technology, I’m not convinced that coal CCS is the best buy. In any case, I’m pretty sure that the gov’t shouldn’t be the one picking winning and losing approaches. I’d rather get the high level stuff right—fully auctioned cap & trade, in my book—and then let private capital and innovation fill in the details. Perhaps that’ll turn out to be CCS and I’ll eat crow.