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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 28, 2020
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The problem for coal power is not a war on coal, but the cost of coal-fired power generation. Coal generation is too expensive compared to modern combined cycle plants burning fracked natural gas. Can this situation change?  In summary, short of government intervention to support the industry, the era of coal-fired generation in the U.S. is probably coming to an end. The economics argue against coal.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 28, 2020

Do you think coal still plays a role in the 20-30 year future? Will it be relegated to niche/seasonal fuel, or is it destined to stay in the ground in the coming generation?

Stan Kaplan's picture
Stan Kaplan on Jul 29, 2020

My guess is that it stays in the ground. Even without climate legislation, it will be substantially phased-out of power generation in 15 years or so due to the lower cost of natural gas, solar, wind, and batteries.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 29, 2020

I'm inclined to agree-- whereas oil and petroleum products will likely have a role in certain applications (whether we're talking aviation fuels or plastics or industrial uses or otherwise), the usefulness of coal and and likely will be replaced with more affordable, efficient, and clean fuels

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 31, 2020

Matt, natural gas (methane) is hardly a clean fuel.

"Coverage of natural gas, even in the most serious mainstream press, too often reads like it’s lifted from the fossil fuel industry playbook. 'Natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil.' You’ve heard this so many times that it honestly just seems, well, natural.

An industry with profit on the line has effectively marketed natural gas as a clean, affordable fuel—even warm and fuzzy, forward-thinking, and environmentally friendly. But natural gas has dirty secrets that news—and energy—consumers ought to hear."

Natural Gas Has a Dirty Secret

Tom Baxter's picture
Tom Baxter on Jul 30, 2020

Stan,

I'm no fan of coal but I found this CCS project interesting.

https://www.projecttundrand.com

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 30, 2020

When it comes to CCS, I often wonder whether the time has sailed on that. It could have been immensely valuable if we had the tech at the turn of the century when coal was king, but as we press on coal as power generation is getting less and less competitive (even before considering potential carbon pricing policy or clean energy standards). Adding the costs of CCS can theoretically save it from being nixed out on pure carbon terms, but it will undoubtedly make the economics harder in the end. And many of the technologies being explored still need time to develop-- time that will make the situation more dire for the coal industry. 

Do you think it's prudent to press on and work on those solutions, rather than going all in on shifting away from coal, with the precious spare time we have left to address the problems? 

Carl Bozzuto's picture
Carl Bozzuto on Aug 1, 2020

You will need CCS for gas and probably for air capture as well.  BECCS is another technology advertized as having "negative" CO2 emissions.  Also, while many coal plants in the US have become displaced on the load duration curve, coal is still the low cost producer in placed like southeast Asia and parts of China.  They will need CCS as well.  Finally, you still have industrial sources of CO2 such as fermentation, cement production, steel making, and others that will need CCS.  While we may invent substitutes for some of these products, those new technologies are much less further along than CCS.  Right now, in natural gas production, we capture CO2 from the gas before it goes into the pipeline and vent most of it.  The problem with CO2 is the scale.  The world emits something like 37 gigatons of CO2/yr.  The world doesn't use 37 gigatons of any one product.  Some of that CO2 will have to be captured and returned to the earth.

Stan Kaplan's picture
Stan Kaplan on Aug 1, 2020

It would certainly be good if it works out but widescale implementation would almost certainly require massive government support.  In addition to the capital cost a CCS system consumes around 25 percent of the power output from the generating station -- in summary, a very expensive solution.

The Energy  Mix's picture
The Energy Mix on Jul 31, 2020

Folks, a two-gigawatt solar project has just been confirmed at the absurdly low price of 1.35¢ per kilowatt-hour.

https://theenergymix.com/2020/07/29/abu-dhabi-project-sets-new-low-price...

And there's talk this week that plummeting wind generation costs could make "green" hydrogen cost-competitive with the fossil-generated kind by 2023 -- less than a month after another analysis suggested 2030 as the crossover year:

https://theenergymix.com/2020/07/29/plummeting-wind-costs-could-make-gre...

Not every solar site will have the same advantages as Abu Dhabi, and the 2023 projection for wind and hydrogen came with some caveats. But on the other hand, the back-and-forth conversation about the strict economics of coal vs. fracking usually leaves out the health, environmental, and climate devastation that are baked into both.

So, hell, this is what's got me stumped -- if there's a package of alternatives (let's add energy efficiency to the mix, first and foremost) that are all practical, affordable, and ready for prime time, cost less than what we've been doing, and create ±3 times as many jobs per unit investment when countries are trying to chart a course out of the COVID recession...c'mon, why would we want to adopt those crazy new technologies when we can have so much fun with a perfectly good debate about coal vs. fracking, with the added cost and performance of unproven CCS technology thrown in for bonus points? (Yes, sorry, I should have put a sarcasm alert at the beginning of this paragraph, not the end.)

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 31, 2020

"Folks, a two-gigawatt solar project has just been confirmed at the absurdly low price of 1.35¢ per kilowatt-hour."

Mitchell, aren't we missing some costs here? To be competitive with dispatchable power plants, even in Abu Dhabi, you'd need to include the cost of backup power - and its emissions.

John Gage's picture
John Gage on Jul 31, 2020

With effective climate legislation coal has less than a decade left. The price of coal more than doubles with a modest price on carbon of $20 per ton of CO2 (https://www.resourcesmag.org/common-resources/calculating-various-fuel-p...). We need a global price of $75-$100 on CO2 by 2030 to be on a relatively safe emissions reduction path. 

Forty-six countries are already pricing carbon, including the EU, which has a $26 per ton price on CO2 emissions (see pgs 24-28: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/33809/9781464...). The EU price is significant because in 2023 they will begin using Border Carbon Adjustments to put their price on imports from countries that don't match their price.  That will energize the push for carbon pricing around the world.

The WEF, World Bank, IMF, IPCC, and most leading US economists all say a steeply rising price on CO2, applied at the source (well head, mine, or port of entry), is a critical part of successfully reducing climate pollution: carboncashback.org/carbon-cash-back

Rather than be forced to do this through the leverage of border carbon adjustments from our trading partners, the US aught to become the global leader in carbon pricing, and get the additional benefits of explosive growth and private investments in clean energy innovation that will result.  How can the US retain its global leadershiptthis century? By being a leader, and reaping the benefits.  How do we do that and protect households? With cash-back carbon pricing (http://citizensclimatelobby.org/basics-carbon-fee-dividend). 

Here's a great first step: https://energyinnovationact.org/

If you own a business, please endorse that bill at https://energyinnovationact.org/endorse 

If you are a citizen who wants the US to lead in the 21st century transformation to clean energy, please tell Congress you support this bipartisan solution: cclusa.org/write

Thank you! 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 31, 2020

John-- can you share what the biggest hurdles are that remain in the U.S. pricing carbon? Who are the main actors fighting against it and what advantages do they have to keep fighting back? Or does it come down to the public simply not pushing on it so it's not a priority for most lawmakers? 

Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Jul 31, 2020

What, if anything, has the current administration done to get coal back on its feet? 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 31, 2020

Put on a hard hat and given lip service to the industry as it dies out, maybe print some signs to be held at West Virginia rallies. Not much beyond that?

Stan Kaplan's picture
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