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Technological Obsolescence and the End of Coal

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Stan Kaplan's picture
Energy Consultant KeyLogic

B.A., 1974, History, Rutgers University M.A., 1977, Public Policy, Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at AustinExpertise: Electric power and fuel marketsStan has...

  • Member since 2006
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  • Jul 9, 2020

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Coal is dying in America, and it is disappearing for the same reason that led to the end of fax machines and typewriters. Coal is obsolete. Across all technical dimensions coal technology has been comprehensively surpassed by more modern natural gas and renewable electricity systems.

Technological obsolescence has stuck the coal industry before, in the rail, space heating, steel, and industrial markets -- all of which have shrunk to near inconsequential size. Now technological obsolescence has struck coal in its last big market, electricity generation. The result is that coal-fired power is too expensive to survive.

Nothing is more characteristic of dynamic American capitalism than technical progress forcing change. It is time to move on from coal.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 9, 2020

Haven't had the chance to read through this all yet, but it's quite interesting thus far-- so thanks for sharing, Stan. I think the technological obsolescence is, unfortunately, only half the battle. We're seeing how much coal has become a political issue to keep coal-dependent economies alive-- what we need to see is political effort spent in transitioning these economies to 21st century tech so that they can be viable as coal erodes away and the local/state elected officials won't be seen as pariahs for advocating for an end to coal

Stan Kaplan's picture
Stan Kaplan on Jul 10, 2020

Yes,  the politics are key.  The technology and economics provide the underpinning for the political battle.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Jul 10, 2020

Well done Stan. Outstanding work.

Stan Kaplan's picture
Stan Kaplan on Jul 10, 2020


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