Archive for the ‘coal’ Category

New carbon capture solvent is another stab at optimism in a stagnant industry

February 19th, 2019
CO<sub>2</sub> being released by mild heating of the BIG-bicarbonate solid.

Enlarge / CO2 being released by mild heating of the BIG-bicarbonate solid. (credit: Neil J. Williams and Erick Holguin)

Capturing carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere is a white whale for the fossil fuel industry.

In theory, if a power plant or a factory could easily eliminate carbon emissions by filtering them out of flue gas, then the plant would be able to pursue business as usual with some simple retrofits—no threat of future regulations mandating lower emissions, no push to switch to completely new technologies.

The problem is that carbon capture is energy-intensive and expensive, it doesn't capture all the carbon dioxide being released, and it's not always clear what to do with the gas after it's captured. (The current best option is to find underground caverns in which the carbon can be stored, or sell the CO2 to older oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.)

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TVA board votes to close coal plants despite Trump tweet

February 14th, 2019
Paradise coal plant.

Enlarge / A coal train passes beside two cooling towers during unloading operations at the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Paradise, Kentucky, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned utility that operates in Tennessee and Kentucky, voted 5 to 2 to close two coal-fired power-generating units by 2023, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The decision includes closing the last coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant by 2020, as well as closing the coal-fired Bull Run Steam Plant by 2023. On Thursday morning, the TVA tweeted: "The TVA Board votes to retire Paradise Unit 3 and Bull Run within the next few years. Their decision was made after extensive reviews and public comments and will ensure continued reliable power at the lowest cost feasible. We will work with impacted employees and communities."

The TVA announced back in August that it would review the viability of the two generators. According to the Times Free Press, the TVA's Chief Financial Officer John Thomas estimated that "the retirement of the two plants will save TVA $320 million, because the plants are the least efficient of TVA's coal plants and are not needed to meet TVA's power needs."

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Coal production may have reached a point of no return, per projections

February 6th, 2019
The Black Thunder mine in Wright, Wyoming produces 90 million tons of coal a year, which is distributed by rail throughout the country.

The Black Thunder mine in Wright, Wyoming produces 90 million tons of coal a year, which is distributed by rail throughout the country. (credit: Robb Kendrick)

In President Trump's State of the Union speech last night, he didn't mention coal once, while touting oil and natural gas as having "unleashed a revolution in American energy."

The president, who has baselessly challenged the science behind climate warnings, was not expected to address renewable energy or climate change. But his omission of coal in his speech last night was notable, given that he campaigned vigorously on bringing back coal.

Just one year ago, in his 2018 State of the Union address, the president claimed that his administration “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

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It’ll cost $45 billion, but Germany proposes to eliminate coal in 19 years

January 28th, 2019
Cooling towers at German coal plants

Enlarge / The Jänschwalde lignite-fired power plant of Lausitz Energie Bergbau AG. (credit: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB)

On Saturday, a German commission made up of federal and state leaders as well as industry representatives, environmentalists, and scientists agreed on a proposal to close all of Germany's 84 remaining coal plants by 2038. The proposal is expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The closures would be compensated with €40 billion ($45.7 billion) in government aid, which would be directed toward communities hardest hit by coal closures. Currently, coal is a major component of Germany's energy sector. Last year, it provided the country with 38 percent of its energy, according to the Fraunhofer Institute. The country is situated near substantial resources of cheap lignite coal.

Germany has been making strides to reduce its carbon footprint, and last year, renewable energy surpassed coal as part of the country's energy mix for the first time. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biomass resources together produced 40 percent of Germany's energy.

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Coal will remain part of the US grid until 2050, federal energy projections say

January 26th, 2019
Dumptruck full of coal drives through strip mining area.

Enlarge / GILLETTE, Wyo.: A truck loaded with coal is viewed from the Eagle Butte Coal Mine Overlook which is operated by Alpha Coal. The area is a large producer of coal. Gillette uses the moniker of "The Energy Capital of the Nation." (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its 2019 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which contains projections about trends in energy—from the amount of fossil fuels produced and sold, to the growth of renewable energy—out to 2050.

This year, against the backdrop of recent warnings from top scientists about the urgency of climate action, the EIA's projections don't look great. Coal, one of the most carbon-emitting sources of energy, is still projected to provide 17 percent of the United States' electricity in 2050, and that's assuming that no carbon-capture technology has been made mandatory. Natural gas—a fossil fuel that is less carbon-emitting than coal but still a problem for climate change—will increase its share of US electricity production from 34 percent to 39 percent.

These projections are from the EIA's "reference case," which omits any predictions about unplanned policy changes. But they do contain assumptions about how technology will change and the economy will grow. In the EIA's own words (PDF), "The AEO2019 Reference case represents EIA's best assessment of how US and world energy markets will operate through 2050, based on many key assumptions. For instance, the Reference-case projection assumes improvement in known energy production, delivery, and consumption technology trends."

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Posted in annual energy outlook, Biz & IT, carbon emissions, coal, Energy, natural gas, Policy, renewables | Comments (0)

After a boom year for new natural gas plants, renewables set to retake the lead

January 14th, 2019
Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado.

Enlarge / Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado. (credit: Getty Images)

In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That had been the trend between 2013 and 2017, but last year new natural gas-fired power plants outpaced renewable additions to the grid. As a result, US carbon emissions increased, notably from the power sector, despite the rapid retirement of coal plants and a growing consciousness about the necessity of low-carbon energy.

EIA expects 2019 to be a more modest year for new energy capacity compared to 2018, with only 24 gigawatts (GW) of total capacity additions predicted for 2019 compared to the 34GW of capacity additions predicted for 2018. In 2018, EIA predicted that 21GW of natural gas plants would come online, with roughly 11GW of new renewables coming online, making 2018 the first year since 2013 in which renewables didn't make up the bulk of the new capacity added in the US.

A recent report from the Rhodium Group shows that actual installations in 2018 track with the EIA's 2018 estimate: between January and October 2018, 14.9GW of natural gas capacity were added to the US grid, while only 7.9GW of solar and wind capacity were added. More power plants were likely turned on between October and December, and the ratio of natural gas to renewable installations is comparable.

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Posted in Biz & IT, coal, Energy, natural gas, nuclaer, renewables | Comments (0)

Renewables, led by wind, provided more power than coal in Germany in 2018

January 4th, 2019
Several offshore wind turbines.

Enlarge / Gode wind farm off the coast of Germany. (credit: Ørsted)

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany's renewable power sector produced more electricity than coal in 2018 for the first time ever, with renewables providing 40 percent of the year's produced electricity and coal providing 38 percent.

Of course, "renewables" include an aggregate of different sources—solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biomass—while coal is just a single fuel source (renewable energy has not yet displaced all fossil fuel use in Germany, you'll note). But coal has long been a staple of the country's energy mix, and Germany looks poised to reduce the amount of coal-fired power on its grid significantly, even shutting down its last coal mine in November. From now on, coal for the approximately 120 coal-fired power plants that still power the German grid will be imported from the US, Russia, or Colombia, according to Bloomberg.

The massive year for renewables was led by continued expansion in the wind energy sector. German wind power output was up 5.4 percent year over year, and output is expected to increase again in 2019. Alone, wind contributed to covering 19 percent of Germany's 2018 electricity demand, the largest source second only to lignite coal.

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EPA says regulation of mercury emissions not “appropriate and necessary”

December 29th, 2018
Uncovered coal trains

Enlarge / An eastbound Norfolk Southern Corp. unit coal train passes through Waddy, Kentucky. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Friday, the Trump Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it did not think that current mercury emissions rules placed on coal-fired power plants were "appropriate and necessary," based on the agency's revised look at the costs and benefits of the rule.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule has been in place for years, and energy companies that own coal-fired power plants are already in compliance. The rule places limits on the amount of mercury that a power plant can emit. Mercury emitted into the air can end up in soil and water, where it has "toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes," in addition to causing developmental defects in children and babies, according to the World Health Organization.

But the coal industry has blamed the MATS rules for killing the power plants it sells to. Indeed, when the rule went into full effect in 2015, 30 percent of coal plant closures were tied to the cost of compliance with the rule. Today, coal plant closures continue not because of the MATS rule but because coal can't compete with cheaper and relatively cleaner natural gas.

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EPA to keep Obama-era mercury rules, but make it harder to tighten them

December 26th, 2018
Smokestacks at Pacificorp’s 1,000MW coal-fired power plant on October 9, 2017 outside Huntington, Utah.

Enlarge / Smokestacks at Pacificorp’s 1,000MW coal-fired power plant on October 9, 2017 outside Huntington, Utah. (credit: George Frey/Getty Images)

According to a report from Bloomberg, the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not considering a roll back of Obama-era rules regulating industrial emissions of mercury. When the rules were codified in 2015, they required coal plants to add expensive technology to minimize the amount of mercury spewed into the air. Despite this change of course for the regulation-averse EPA, the agency is reportedly considering a rewrite of the legal justification for the mercury rules that would make it harder for those rules to be tightened in the future.

Trump campaigned on rolling back supposedly onerous regulations on coal plants. His appointees, including former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, targeted the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as a key reason for the decline of coal in the US. However, while the coal industry was the most vocal in opposing the 2015 rules, in the subsequent years surviving coal-burning power plants have largely adapted to the regulatory environment. Coal mining companies like Murray Energy are among the firms still pushing the Trump administration to roll back the mercury rules, while utility and energy companies with coal plants, having already made the necessary investments, are pushing the administration to keep the mercury rules.

Per Bloomberg, keeping the three-year-old mercury rules intact while weakening the justification behind them is the Trump administration's attempt to appease both sides of this issue. While power companies would keep mercury reduction technology on at their plants (and not face competition from potential new plants without such technology), the EPA would also "recalculate the cost and benefits of the mercury rule in a way that dramatically shrinks its estimated potential health gains," Bloomberg writes. Changing the official cost/benefit analysis of the rule could make it easier for opponents to prevent stricter mercury rules in the future. 

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King Coal isn’t dead—he’s just been exiled from the US

December 20th, 2018
Coal power plant in India.

Enlarge / A general view of a coal-fired thermal power plant belonging to Essar Power in Salaya, some 400km from Ahmedabad, on October 4, 2016. (credit: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

In the US, coal is decidedly on the decline despite the current administration's attempts to save it. US coal plant retirements doubled in 2018, and demand for coal dropped to the lowest level in more than three decades. But the International Energy Agency's (IEA) annual coal report (called Coal 2018) reminds us that the forces that have sent coal into a free fall in the US don't exist elsewhere in the world. In fact, demand for coal is growing globally for the second year in a row after a few years of decline, driven by high demand in India and Southeast Asia.

In the US, cheap natural gas has been a primary driver in coal's fall from grace. (This was the conclusion of the Department of Energy's 2017 "baseload study.") But in other parts of the world, coal remains the cheapest and most available energy source. Declines in the US, Canada, and Europe have been counter-balanced by coal growth in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Pakistan, the IEA wrote.

China, too, "accounts for nearly half of the world's coal consumption," although the Chinese government has taken steps to control the growth of coal in recent years.

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