April 30, 2007

COAL? YES, COAL:

Despite the fact that coal is known to be one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, Boyce, 52, is banking on a future in which America burns a lot more of it. With the country’s huge reserves, he argues, coal should be doing much more than its traditional tasks of making electricity or steel. “We’re moving into an era where we’ll be driving our vehicles based on coal-derived fuel. We’re going to be flying on it,” Boyce declares. . . .

The Energy Dept. predicts overall electricity demand will grow by 45% between now and 2030. It also forecasts that coal-fired plants, today 51% of the market, will grow to 57% over the same period. Coal is cheap and plentiful. And there aren’t a lot of easy alternatives for replacing it anytime soon. Just to maintain nuclear power’s 20% of the U.S. energy market, 35 to 40 new plants will have to built in the next 20 years. Renewable sources such as hydropower, wind, and biofuels face similar challenges scaling up to meet market demand.

Burning coal is filthy. I’d rather see lots of nice, clean, greenhouse-friendly nuclear plants, with coal going to liquid fuels and chemical-industry uses. On the other hand, an upside is that coal doesn’t come from Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Venezuela.