Coal – Unstoppable future….

Posted on August 6, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Does coal have a future?
Despite environmentalists’ concerns, energy companies say they are racing to meet demand for coal, especially in developing countries where the fuel is cheap and plentiful even in a year where coal price rises have outstripped those of oil.

For protesters, the shiny black lumps of fossilized wood and plants are contributing to drastic climate change. For traders, coal is an energy no-brainer which offers a ray of hope for 1.6 billion people living without electricity.
They’re probably both right.
By mid-century, the world may have an extra 3 billion people and four times the wealth but somehow it must also at least halve carbon emissions from its main energy source — fossil fuels — to rein in dangerous global warming, scientists say.
Power generation accounts for about two-fifths of global emissions, from burning fossil fuels, of the main man-made greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and coal for most of that.
“You’ve got to say — ‘Right, here’s the line in the sand, we’re going to stop it here because it’s madness to continue’,”
“It doesn’t paint a very good picture of the future for carbon emissions but there is no other real choice — coal is one of the few fuel sources which has a real capacity to expand,” said Francisco Blanch, head of global commodities research at Merrill Lynch.
Despite such apparent setbacks, coal’s future looks safe.
In the United States utilities are building 28 coal-fired plants and another 66 are in early planning, as gas price hikes motivate new interest.
In developing nations, growth is rampant. Poor grid access coupled with frequent blackouts, rapid economic growth and plentiful fuel are driving a frenzy to build new power plants which take just 21 months to build in China.
Over the past three years, China has added each year new coal plants equivalent to Britain’s entire electricity-generating capacity. India has approved eight “ultra mega” plants which will add nearly half again to its present generating capacity.
Even in the oil-rich Middle East, the United Arab Emirates ordered the Gulf’s first coal plant last month.
The biggest brake on these plans is not climate protests but a shortage of steam turbines, with a three-year backlog in the U.S. and Europe following exceptional demand and a 12-18 month lag between order and delivery in China, say utilities.
Confronted by this scramble, politicians and scientists are reviewing an untested technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS) which could trap and bury underground, in disused oil wells and coal seams, the carbon emissions from coal plants.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) says CCS equipment must be fitted to all the world’s coal plants to halve carbon emissions by 2050, widely held as a minimum climate change goal.
But the agency’s own scientists express personal doubts that this is achievable.
“I don’t think in my lifetime I will ever see more than 50 percent of the coal-fired plants in China being fitted with CCS,” said 45-year-old Sankar Bhattacharya, senior IEA coal analyst, adding that many of China’s new power plants will be in centers of population far from potential CO2 storage sites.
CCS is untested for good reason. The technology will add about $1 billion to the capital cost of a power plant, not including efficiency losses which will demand a quarter more coal burn just to maintain output, and extra water for steam to make up the lost power.
Read full here (Reuters) – By Gerard Wynn and Jacqueline Cowhig


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