New Reports Bury Coal
Corporate cheerleaders claim coal
is cheap, copious, and can be "clean."
The evidence shows they're wrong.
Powerful new evidence demonstrates that coal is not cheaper than alternative fuels, not abundantly available, and is not now or in any likely future environmentally friendly. As two new reports detail, coal is expensive, scarce, and dirty in every conceivable way.
Peak Coal? Writing in the prestigious journal Nature, PCI Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg (and author of Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis) and PCI Fellow (and Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist) David Fridley project that "peak coal" will hit within a decade, and that coal extraction will grow ever-more expensive in short order. Links to summaries and video interviews are here (the full article is available only to Nature subscribers).
Cheap Coal? A forthcoming study (summarized here and here, and due out the end of February) by Paul Epstein of Harvard Medical School (with PCI Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg among the co-authors) find that the full lifecycle costs of extracting and burning coal are more expensive and damaging than previously known: an estimated $345 billion annually in health, environmental, and other costs in the United States alone. The direct financial costs, the report reveals, add close to 18¢ for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated from coal.
Carbon Capture & Sequestration?
The promise of "clean coal" has been based not only on pie-in-the-sky capture technologies, but also on the long-term viability of storage techniques. Now, with evidence mounting that the world's largest carbon capture project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan is leaking, PCI Fellow David Hughes
(formerly with the Geological Survey of Canada) recently appeared on Canadian television to debunk both of these false premises of "clean coal."
So where can we turn?
To Washington? President Obama claimed in his State of the Union address that "clean coal" is part of his goal of 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2030, and Congress seems to be at a dead end with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats apparently unwilling to mount a serious effort.
To natural gas? Many are considering unconventional natural gas as a possible short-term alternative to coal, but just how much natural gas is economically recoverable? What are the real greenhouse gas benefits versus coal? And what are the human and environmental health concerns with unconventional natural gas production? Watch for a new Post Carbon Institute report by PCI Fellow David Hughes and others this summer that tackles these very questions.
To Post Carbon Institute? We hope so, for compelling, evidence-based analyses of how we can build a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable world for all.