Future Earth

Why we are all facing a Carbon Future

8 Comments 04 April 2011

As the fallout from the nuclear disaster in Japan continues to worsen, many countries have announced moratoria on further nuclear power development. This is sensible. However the cynic inside me suspects that once the horror dies down, at least in the public consciousness, nuclear power plant construction will be back on the agenda.

Surprisingly (to me, anyway), green stocks have experienced a bounce as a result of Japan’s nuclear crisis. Green technologies tick a box that nuclear fails to, but – as much as it pains me to say it – I can’t see green energy being a long-term winner out of the Japanese disaster. Here’s why:

  • Hydrogen has numerous problems, a critical one being the lack of a stable and functioning distribution network.
  • Wind continues to face huge barriers as people can’t seem to decide if the technology is effective. There is additional resistance from those who claim that wind farms cause “visual damage” as they are unsightly.
  • Sun has never been an option in the UK. I wonder why!

So, what’s left?

Coal of course. And I truly believe that it will be the long-term winner of the disaster in Japan, particularly if coal companies can credibly sell the concept of “carbon capture” to a sceptical public. It’s also cheap, plentiful and has a powerhouse of lobbyists at its disposal. Rising oil prices also tilt the balance in favour of coal – and will continue to do so if the price of oil continues to increase.

I read an illuminating interview with Fred Palmer in the Guardian recently.  Fred Palmer is the senior vice-president of government relations for Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. Peabody Energy shipped 246 million tons of coal in 2010, which equated to nearly $7 billion in revenues. The company claim that their coal products fuel 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation and two percent of worldwide electricity. Fred is quite clearly pro-coal, but his argument is so succinct that even I, a green-conscious consumer, find it difficult to disagree with:

“There are billions of people on earth who don’t have any electricity at all and a couple billion people who don’t have adequate access to electricity. The thing that people don’t understand about energy is scale. You can make it with a windmill, or solar, or biomass, but you can’t do without coal. It’s just maths: more people living longer, living better. It’s not complicated. There are limited ways to deliver that scale of energy. Renewable will have an increasing role, but it will remain on the margins next to coal, oil, gas and nuclear. All recorded human history says that. Coal has grown faster in the last 10 years than everything else combined even as there’s been this massive push for ‘anything but coal.’”

So, according to Peabody Energy, the Coal vs. Green argument comes largely down to scale. Making particular reference to nuclear and oil, Fred indicates that given the price and supply scares, coal is left as the long-term energy generator of choice. He goes on to say:

“China uses coal the way the world uses oil. Last year, China did 3.5 billion tonnes of coal. When I started at Peabody 10 years ago, they were at 1.5bn tonnes. They’ve grown by [the equivalent of] two USAs in the last 10 years. I don’t think we’ll ever experience peak coal and here’s why. There’s obviously not unlimited metallurgical coal and there’s not unlimited high-quality thermal coal, but when you get to the lower ranked coal such as lignite you just need to put gas fires on them. You can either generate electricity there, or turn it into pipeline quality natural gas or liquid fuel. The Dakotas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas all have large, large amounts of lignite. Or in western China and Mongolia you have lower-ranked coals. So I don’t think there’s a peak coal problem. I think Xinjiang province in the west of China where they say there’s a trillion tonnes of resources will be the new Middle East.

“Anyone who has the notion that we’re going to move away from fossil fuels just isn’t paying attention. I’m not trying to be provocative. I’m just telling you how we see it. And I want to be absolutely clear that we are in the low-carbon coal camp and we need to drive that. China could easily tell the world that they’re not going to do anything on climate. But they are not doing that. They are a major coal user.”

So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. We all face a carbon future, whether we like it not. I would love to disagree with Fred Palmer, but right now I am struggling to find a comeback.

Is he right?

This post was selected for Everything Home Blog Carnival for the Month of April 2011, hosted by My DIY Home Tips.

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8 Comments so far

  1. Mark says:

    What you say is true, but a big portion of the scale up has to do with continued subsidization of the old fossil fuel industry. There is just too much lobby money in those industries to make a dent. It’s inevitable that it’s going to happen. The fact that people don’t have electricity means nothing if they can’t afford it.
    Mark recently posted..FXPro Review

  2. pola says:

    i agree with this.. i hope that people would be more aware on what’s happening around us especially to our environment..
    pola recently posted..– ONLINE DATING TIPS

    • OC Heaton says:

      Pola -Thanks for the post. I’m not sure people are. And if they are I’m not sure they know what to do about it. Heck I research this stuff and write thrillers about it and I struggle! However I guess the starting point, as with everything, is knowing and then at least we can make our own minds up.
      OC Heaton

  3. DawnN says:

    Definitely true, We even just an ordinary people can help in our environment in a simple way.
    DawnN recently posted..How to trade forex

    • O.C. Heaton says:

      Hi Dawn – couldn’t agree more. Its going be the simple things. I call it green guilt. That little nag in the back of your mind that makes you turn off lights, take your foot off the gas, unplug your laptop, packing less when you travel etc etc. They all add up.

  4. Sarahsie says:

    Right, people are ordinary and they can’t do easy way.
    Sarahsie recently posted..angry birds games

    • OC Heaton says:

      Hi Sarahsie – I suspect you’re right. Day to day its probably not up to people. The majority can only use what is available Their governments yes and also corporations.

  5. Bianca says:

    Very interesting! I all agree to all that you said.. Excellent job!
    Bianca recently posted..Calculate Credit Card Minimum Payment

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