The international climate conference in Copenhagen addresses an array
of interconnected environmental, energy and economic issues. One crucial topic on all three fronts is the use of coal. A dangerous pollutant that is also the source of about a
quarter of the world's energy, coal is a bugbear to environmentalists and a key component of the American, Chinese
and developing economies. Coal cannot simply be abandoned, of course,
but how can the world rethink its use of coal for energy in a way that
reduces its detrimental environmental impact? A few ideas and prognostications for the future of coal:
- Store Carbon In Concrete The idea that carbon by-products of coal should be stored underground is nothing new. But Huffington Post's Alexia Parks says
we should consider concrete. Parks profiles Brent Constantz, founder of
Silicon start-up Calera that tested the idea. "The world needs
concrete. It also needs a real-time solution to sequester flue gases
from coal-fired power plants," she writes. "his business solution would
eliminate the need for the U.S. Department
of Energy to spend billions of dollars to test the concept of carbon
sequestration in the earth."
- Regulate Coal Ash The Huffington Post's Bruce Nilles asks
of the coal by-product, "How many people have to be sickened or killed
before we get strong coal ash regulations in the U.S.?" He writes, "We
know that coal ash is becoming increasingly toxic, with harmful
levels of arsenic, selenium and other pollutants; we know that those
living near coal ash sites face an increased risk of cancer, damage the
nervous and reproductive systems, and other serious illnesses."
- Truly Clean Coal Clean Air Task Force Director Armond Cohen thinks
it's a possibility, even though so-called "clean coal" being used today
is not what it claims. "Those projects include: an older coal plant in
West Virginia that is
capturing and sequestering a portion of its carbon dioxide, and a new
kind of power plant under construction in Tianjin, China, that is
designed from the beginning to produce near-zero-carbon power." Cohen
says innovation should focus on coal because developing economies will
continue to rely on it and wind power is not yet economically feasible.
- India Will Lead Innovation Christian Science Monitor's Kurt Waltzer, P.R. Shukla and Semil Shah insist,
"India has no choice but to transform into the world's most innovated
in climate technology and clean energy. Cash isn't the problem - it's
the lack of a comprehensive, long-term plan and India's long-term use
of coal power. India
and the US should collaborate to actively leverage and focus
engineering talent and financial resources to create cleaner low-cost
energy technology." Though "coal will remain the major energy component
for the foreseeable future" for India, technologies like "underground
coal gasification" promise to reduce pollution. The Times of India agrees, adding that China would benefit from such innovation.
- China Will Lead Consumption Heritage Foundation's Derek Scissors reports, "Coal now provides 70 percent of the PRC's energy and almost 80 percent of its electricity, with both figures higher
than they were a decade ago. These shares may barely shift for decades
to come. For better or for worse, transportation is not particularly
important in Chinese energy use, so oil is far less important than
coal. And while the PRC has a much-touted goal of 15 percent of energy
from renewables, U.S. government projections have the proportion of
Chinese electricity generated by coal remaining at 75 percent in 2030"
- Indonesia's Coal Boom The Economist explains,
"For power stations on the coast of China, it is often cheaper to
coal by sea from Indonesia than from mines in the interior. The same
goes for many Indian consumers. Japan and South Korea, both big
importers, are also close--putting Indonesia at the heart of an Asian
coal boom." This may explain China's willingness to reduce domestic
coal mining. "Indonesia's coal is of better quality. The Chinese
government, meanwhile, is shutting down smaller mines."
- Go Nuclear! NASA climate scientist James Hansen says
he boycotts Copenhagen because of its insistence on cap and trade,
which he sees as merely mitigating the use of coal rather than
eliminating it altogether as he believes it should be. He tells a Times
of London reporter the world must embrace "a new generation of nuclear
power." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan agrees: "Why is this country's political system unable even to contemplate the
most obvious, cleanest, simplest response to this emerging problem?"
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