Coal-based power has had a rough run lately:
A decision on whether to build Britain’s first coal-fired power station in more than 20 years has been deferred to a later date.
Energy giant E.on UK sought permission from Medway Council to replace existing coal-fired units at Kingsnorth power station in Medway, Kent.
E.on UK says the £1 billion investment to build two new cleaner coal units would produce power from coal more efficiently and more cleanly than ever before in the UK.
The units would produce enough energy to supply about 1.5 million homes and lead to a cut in carbon emissions of almost two million tons a year, E.on UK says.
However, more than 9,000 people have objected to the plans.
Activists staged a protest at the plant last month by climbing a 200m-high smokestack and chaining themselves to the station’s conveyor belt to prevent it burning coal.
I have said before that I think we will see a lot more coal in our future. Not that I want to see more coal, as it is the wrong direction to go if we are going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But until consumers are willing to pay a premium for greener options – or unless society becomes more tolerant of nuclear power – I see a lot more coal in our future. This was my major point in XTL: Promise and Peril. I am afraid we will turn to the cheap and dirty options before we embrace the cleaner, more expensive ones.
A recent Wired interview with Stanford’s Jeremy Carl from their Program on Energy and Sustainable Development sums it up:
WN: Can you give us an idea of the scale of coal power? Can you put coal in context as an energy source?
Carl: Only oil makes a bigger contribution to global energy. In terms of energy in the industrial world, it’s about 40 percent of electricity production.
WN: How dirty is coal?
Carl: Coal is as dirty as it gets. Coal has every element in the periodic table. And depending where in the world you get it from, “coal” can mean 100 different substances. If you sent the sort of coal you might use in a typical Indian plant to a supermodern boiler in Japan, it would shut the place down.
WN: But there’s got to be good things about coal.
Carl: It’s cheap.
So, as oil depletes, what else are we going to turn to? Solar? Wind? Tidal? Geothermal? Yes, to some extent. But are the masses going to be willing to pay a premium for these options? Are they going to be willing to take draconian conservation measures? No, I don’t think so. Not unless they are forced to. They are going to scream for cheap power. That’s why we can’t get gas taxes increased in the U.S. Even though people in theory want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they don’t want to do so if there is any significant personal cost.