By Brent Bennett, Ph.D. and Michael J. Nasi, Life:Powered
The drumbeat of press about the declining costs of installing wind and solar generators has led most of the public and our policy-makers to believe that an energy transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar is just around the corner. However, this belief overlooks the fundamental physical limitations of producing electricity from wind and solar. There is a wide gulf between using wind and solar energy for marginal electricity production, as we are doing now in many places, and relying on it for the majority of our electricity.
In this piece, we will elaborate on the two biggest challenges of generating electricity from wind and solar – energy storage and energy density – and explain why making the energy transition a reality is not just a problem of technology but primarily one of physics and scale.
Almost anywhere you go in West Virginia or Kentucky, you probably aren’t too far away from a reminder that great herds of elk once roamed the region. In fact, the Elk River flows past the town of Elkview before joining the Kanawha in West Virginia’s capital city of Charleston.
Those herds haven’t been seen in perhaps 200 years. They were wiped out across much of the country. However, the states of Kentucky and West Virginia are working very hard to bring those herds back, and they are using former coal mine lands as their initial reintroduction points.
“Reclaimed land is a great canvas for elk habitat,” said Steven Dobey, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s (RMEF) eastern conservation program manager. “With a little improvement, elk do just fine. We’ve seen it take place in Kentucky, and I’m sure we’ll see it in West Virginia, too.”
Known as the Wapiti Woods Project, the primary point of introduction in West Virginia for elk restoration has been the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County, one of the largest coal-producing counties in the state.
Industry Helps Restore Elk to Former Appalachian Range
Al Lardieri, a roof bolter with Greenbrier Minerals, has been a member of the Central Appalachian Mine Rescue Team for the past four years. Prior to his mining career, Lardieri was a sergeant in an armored unit of the U.S. Army. Lardieri said he loves being part of a mine rescue team. In many ways, it reminds him of his time in the military.
“The sense of camaraderie is the same” Lardieri said. “The way we all have to work together and trust in each other to get a job done. That’s the reason I joined the rescue team and it’s the reason you’ll find a lot of veterans who now work in the coal industry get involved in mine rescue teams. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment when you help someone who needs it.”
Mine Training – As Real as it Gets
Post-combustion carbon capture and storage (CCS) is impartial. It is a suite of technologies that can be applied – yes, to coal – but likewise to other industries also wanting to see substantial cuts in their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
One of the misconceptions of the drive toward climate action is the oft-misdirected targeting of sectors. Alternatively, it is the emissions associated with sectors that are the center-point to lessen anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs). As coal, along with oil and gas, are bastions in power and energy, so are cement and steel for industrial areas. So, to achieve global emission reductions goals while also fostering prosperity, rapid and wide adoption of large-scale CCS is needed across sectors.
Next Generation CCS – Beyond Coal
In March of this year, as COVID-19 began its upward climb, the State of Pennsylvania chose to include coal mining among its “essential” activities.
This decision presumably didn’t sit well with those wanting to ban coal altogether due to environmental concerns.
The problem with their position is two-fold.
First, we can’t get rid of coal. It is essential to this nation.
As Gov. Jim Justice of neighboring West Virginia said at the time, “Coal is so essential it is unbelievable. We have to have good electricity flowing into our homes.”
In an increasingly carbon-constrained world, it is easy to overlook the positive contributions that modern coal activities make to today’s society. This is predominantly the case in the developing world, yet these impacts often go undetected by the media in the West. A lack of access to energy services is a barrier to tackling many aspects of poverty, including improving health and education outcomes, productivity and economic development. Worldwide, one billion people still suffer from energy poverty due to a lack of access to electricity.1 New energy investment must reflect local conditions, and it is no coincidence that countries afflicted by energy poverty have turned to coal-fired power. Furthermore, Western governments must not lose sight of the commitments they made to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build better livelihoods for the world’s poorest (see Figure 1). This means recognizing the role of coal as a dependable and affordable source of electricity.
Building Prosperity with Coal in the 21st Century
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report falsely accusing electric utilities of harming ratepayers. UCS alleges that harm is caused by utilities deciding on their own when to turn coal-fired electric generating units on and off, rather than leaving that decision to independent system operators (ISOs).[i] UCS has raised this issue of “self-commitment” (aka “self-scheduling”) before, as have the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations that are opposed to the use of coal to generate electricity.[ii] Each time this accusation is made, it has been refuted by grid operators, utility commissions, and utilities.
Well, it’s déjà vu all over again.[iii]
Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story
by Mike Nasi | June 05, 2020
The terrible situation caused by the coronavirus shutdowns across the world has led to an interesting experiment in air quality. What happens to the environment here and abroad when worldwide transportation and industrial production drop off significantly? Reading the news, the improvements seem to be significant. News reports with headlines such as “Coronavirus Got Rid of Smog” abound, and CNN posted some eye-popping before and after photos of cities such as New Delhi.
But photos can be deceiving. That CNN article compared a photo of New Delhi in March 2020 to one from November 2019, but for the one U.S. city it profiled, Los Angeles, it had to go all the way back to 1998 to find an appropriately smoggy photo. A closer look at the data shows how transportation and industrial production reductions don’t move the needle nearly as much in the already-safe American environment as they do in other countries with much more polluted air.
It sounds like a news report out of yet another dystopian novel: Mexico is halting grid connection for new solar and wind power projects. In a world rushing to produce clean energy, Mexico has suddenly stood out like a sore thumb. But, as usual, there’s more to the story.
Washington — US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Bernard McNamee will not seek another term after his expires at the end of June, potentially adding pressure on the White House to advance more nominees to maintain a quorum and a Republican majority at the commission. Read more here.