Tag Archives: Coal

CO2 from Coal in the US: Good News

Carbon dioxide emissions from US power generation have declined by over a quarter since 2005, according to a recent report from the US government. The largest part of this reduction is from reduced demand, with switching around among fossil fuels that are less vs more dirty and adding non carbon sources combine to make about the same difference. Like this:

From the US Department of Energy

The following graph shows the total generation and the total CO2 output of the US electricity generation system, comparing 2007 and 2017. Solar and wind don’t show up in 2005, but are a nice little chuck in 2017 (progress but too slow). Combined, non-carbon (still with nuclear as the largest part) went from 28% to 38% at the expense of fossil fuels. Within fossil fuel, there was a husge shift from coal towards natural gas. What we need to do now is to stop switching to methane, and start switching only to wind and solar. Right now.

From the US Department of Energy


The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

Carbon Brief has produced a US based (sorry, rest of the world) interactive graphic that accesses an extensive underlying database that shows everything about the electricity generation that there is to know. Each generation plant, each type of electricty, capacity, etc. and you can view the information by state, by type of energy, and with some other toggles.

Here is an example. Continue reading The Best US Electricity Generation Graphic Ever, No Kidding

NGS Coal Industry Documentary Free For A While

There is no free lunch, but you can watch a normally unfree documentary for free on the usual streaming networks for a little while.

Click here to get to the NGS site

From Hollywood Reporter:

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, says, “Coal affects our lives and planet in important ways, but people often take positions on it without seeing the full picture. So this week, National Geographic is making From the Ashes available for free on a number of platforms. We encourage family and friends to watch the film and join the CrowdRise campaign to support organizations that are helping create new jobs in coal country.”

The film premiered earlier this year at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and then had a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles before its global broadcast debut on National Geographic beginning Sunday. National Geographic will continue to roll out the film globally across 171 countries and 45 languages.

Bloomberg Philanthropies also organized a worldwide screening tour of From the Ashes, hosting viewings in several cities including Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, San Francisco, Vancouver and Washington, as well as stops in Brussels, London, Mexico City and Paris. The film has also been screened at more than 200 colleges and universities nationwide.

Should you buy an electric car if you live in a coal state?

If most of the electricity used to charge your electric car is made by burning coal, is it still worth it, in terms of CO2 release, to buy an electric car?

Yes. And you will also save money on fuel.

Don’t believe me? Want me to show you? What, are you from Missouri or something? Fine. I’ll show you.

A few years ago, when there were no affordable electric cars that were real cars, we decided to look into buying the next best thing, a hybrid. We wanted to get the Toyota Prius because it looked like a good car, had long proven technology, and all the people we knew who had one were happy with theirs.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance, also noting that I expected that we would save money on fuel. His response was that we would never save as much money on reduced fuel use to justify the extra cost of this expensive car. Just look in any car magazine, he said. They all make this comparison in one issue or another, he said. You are crazy to do this, he said.

I disagreed with him about the crazy part. Failing to do something that you can afford to do that would decrease fossil CO2 emissions was the crazy decision. You know, given the end of civilization because of climate change, and all. But, I was concerned that we would simply not be able to afford to do it, so I resolved to look more closely into the costs and benefits.

Sure enough, it was easy to find an article in a car magazine that analyzed the difference between buying a new internal combustion engine car vs. a Prius, and that analysis clearly showed that there wouldn’t be much of a savings, and that we could lose as much as $500 a year. Yes, each year, the Prius would save gas money, but over a period of several years, the number would never add up to the thousands of dollars extra one had to spend to get the more expensive car. Buy the internal combustion care, they said.

But the article said something else about “green energy” cars that set off an alarm. It said that cars like electric cars would never catch on because they were quiet. Everybody likes the sound of the engine, especially when accelerating past some jerk on the highway, even in a relatively quiet and sedate car like a Camry.

Aha, I thought. This article is not about making rational decisions, or decisions that might be good for the environment. It is about something else entirely.

Hippie punching.

Then I thought about my acquaintance who had suggested that the Prius was a bad idea. And the hippie punching theory fell neatly into place.

So, I continued my quest for information and wisdom. I learned years ago that when you want to buy something expensive, contact a seller that you are unlikely to buy from to ask a few questions. Don’t take up too much of their time, but start your inquiry with a business that sells the product you want, but that you will walk away from in a few minutes. That lets you discover what the patter in that industry is like, what the game is, how they talk to you and what you don’t necessarily know, without it costing you dumb-points along the way. This way, when you talk to the more likely seller (in this case, the Toyota dealership on my side of town, instead of the other side of town) you are one up on the other noobs making a similar inquiry.

So I made the call, and said, “I’m really just interested in trying to decide if the Prius is worth it, given the extra cost, in terms of money saved on fuel.”

“OK, well, it often isn’t, to be honest. And I won’t lie to you. I sell the Prius and I sell non-hybrids, and I’ll be happy to sell you either one.”

Good point, I thought. He doesn’t care. Or, maybe, he just tricked me into thinking he doesn’t care! No matter, though, because I’ve already out smarted this car dealer with my “call across town first” strategy.

As these thoughts were percolating in my head, he said, “So, it really depends on the numbers. So let’s make a comparison. What car would you be buying if you didn’t get the Prius?”

“Um… actually, it would definitely be a Subaru Forester. That’s the car we are replacing, and we love the Forester. No offense to Toyota, of course…”

“Well,” he interrupted. “Everybody loves the Forester. But, it does cost several thousand dollars more than the Prius. So, I’d say, you’d save money with the Prius.”


We bought the Prius. From him.

And now the Prius is getting older. It is still like totally new, and it will be Car # 1 for a couple of more years, I’m sure. But as the driver of Car #2 (an aging Forester) I am looking forward to my wife getting a new car at some point so we can further reduce CO2 emissions, and I don’t have to have a car, for my rare jaunt, that is likely to need a towing.

And, when I look around me, and ask around, and predict the future a little, I realize that by the time we are in the market for a new car, there will be electric cars in the same price range of that Prius, if not cheaper. So, suddenly, buying an electric car is a possibility.

And, of course, the hippie-punching argument that we will have to deal with is this: Coal is worse than gasoline, and all your electricity for your hippie-car is made by burning coal, so you are actually destroying the environment, not saving it, you dirty dumb hippie!

There are several reasons that this argument is wrong. They are listed below, and do read them all, but the last one is the one I want you to pay attention to because it is the coolest, and I’ve got a link to where you can go to find the details that prove it.

1) Even if we live in a state that uses a lot of coal to make electricity, eventually that will change. Of course, my car might be old and in the junk yard by then, so maybe it is still better to wait to by the electric car. But in a state like Minnesota, we are quickly transitioning away from coal, and in fact, the big coal plant up Route 10 a ways, that makes the electricity for my car (if I had an electric car), is being shut down as we speak.

2) Even if the electric car is a break even, or a small net negative on carbon release, it is still good, all else being nearly equal, to support the energy transition by buying an electric car and supporting that segment of the industry.

3) It is more efficient, measured in terms of fossil CO2 release, to burn a little coal to transmit electricity to an electric car than it is to ship the gasoline to the car and burn the gasoline in the car. This sound opposite from reality, and many make the argument that making the burning happen in your car is more efficient than in a distant plant, but that is not ture. While this will depend on various factors, and burning gas may be better sometimes, it often is not because the basic technology of using electricity driven magnetic energy is so vastly more efficient than the technology of using countless small controlled explosions to mechanically drive the wheels. Electric motors are so much more efficient than exploding liquid motors that trains, which are super efficient, actually use their diesel fuel to generate electricity to run their electric motors, rather than to run the wheels of the train.

4) Reason 3 assumes an efficiency difference between internal combustion and magnetics that overwhelms all the other factors, but it is hard to believe this would work in a mostly coal-to-electricity setting. But there is empirical evidence, which probably reveals the logic of reason number 3, but that I list as reason number 4 because it is based on observation rather than assumption. If you measure the difference between an internal combustion engine and an electric engine in a coal-heavy state, you a) save money and b) release less CO2.

And to get that argument, the details, the proof, GO HERE to see How Green is My EV?, a tour de force of logic and math, and empirical measurement, by David Kirtley, in which David measures the cost and CO2 savings of his Nissan Leaf, in the coal-happy state of Missouri.

I’ll put this another way. The best way to be convinced that an electric car is a good idea in a state where most electricity is generated by burning coal is if someone shows you the evidence. Where better to examine this evidence than in the Shoe Me State of Missouri???

So go and look.

What we need to do to stop global warming

Obviously, we need to stop the human enhanced extra greenhouse effect. There are a number of ways to approach this. Let me say right away that taking CO2, the main greenhouse gas of concern long term, out of the atmosphere is NOT one of the ways. Here’s why: It takes energy to put Carbon into solid or liquid form. You get energy back when you move the Carbon into a gas form (as CO2). That is something of an oversimplification but long term, large scale, it is correct. Since, for the most part, the greenhouse effect is caused by the the generation of energy for use, which causes the movement of solid or liquid Carbon compounds in fossil sources to gas Carbon compounds (CO2), it is not possible to solve this problem by adding energy demand to the system to put that Carbon back. Again, I oversimplify, but that is the big picture.

One approach may be to increasingly use “clean energy” such as nuclear, solar, wind, and so on, while we otherwise allow the fossil fuel industry to do whatever it needs to produce our energy, either in support of electricity generation or as stuff we burn directly in vehicles or buildings. That, however, is also NOT a viable approach.

There has been a sense among experts for quite some time now that there is only one way to address climate change: Keep the Carbon in the ground. We need to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep the Carbon currently in solid or liquid form, or as gas trapped in the ground, in place.

So, the very first thing you need to do that is to NOT build more pipelines NOT drill more wells, NOT start up new coal mines.

Check out: The IKONOKAST Science Podcast. Excellent interviews with top scientists.


At the same time the other first thing you need to do is to STOP building any sort of new electricity generating plant that uses fossil fuels. No more coal plants, no more methane plants.

At the same time the other other first thing you need to do is to NOT build any more infrastructure that processes fossil fuel into usable products. No more refineries, etc.

And now, there is a current report that backs up this sense, and tells us how important it is to NOT do these things.

The rpeport is by “OilChange” but produced in cooperation with 350.org, Amazon Watch, APMDD, AYCC, Bold Alliance, Christian Aid, Earthworks, Équiterre, Global Catholic Climate Movement, HOMEF, Indigenous Environmental Network, IndyAct, Rainforest Action Network, and Stand.earth. Here are the bullet points (summarized here):

Key Findings:

  • The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.
  • <li>The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.</li>
    <li>With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.</li>

    Key Recommendations:

    <li>No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.
  • Some fields and mines – primarily in rich countries – should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.
  • This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.
  • I am being told by experts that I trust that these findings are probably substantially correct. These are experts who have made similar studies and are now reviewing this important report. If they produce any posts or articles about this, I’ll insert them here.

    <li>Ashley Braun  at DESMOGBLOG writes: <a href="http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/09/21/nations-embrace-paris-agreement-world-s-existing-fossil-fuels-set-exceed-its-goals">As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set to Exceed its Goals</a>

    Meanwhile, you can download the report here, and read it for yourself. Pick it apart, tell us what you think.

    No Coal in Minnesota

    Governor Mark Dayton has called for the elimination of coal as a source of energy in Minnesota. Doing so is, clearly, essential. Having a governor call for it is a new thing; we are only seeing this sort of policy being developed recently.

    From MPR News, Dayton said to a group of energy policy ad business leaders:

    “Tell us what a timeline would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen,” …

    Dayton’s comments came during the state’s first-ever Clean Energy Economy Summit. He said converting coal plants to users of natural gas should continue, along with investments in renewable energy.

    Only 46% of the state’s electricity is currently generated by coal, and alternative energy sources have been growing in their contribution. Over 14,000 Minnesotans are employed in the clean energy business, much of that in the area of energy efficiency.

    Refocusing on clean energy is good business sense.

    David Mortenson, president of Mortenson Construction, said his company and others are embracing renewable energy as a cost-competitive solution. He said the cost of wind and solar has dropped while coal and natural gas markets become increasingly volatile.

    “And when you can guarantee the price of delivering a kilowatt 20 years from today, because that’s what you can do with solar and wind, you have a competitive advantage because coal, natural gas, they can’t tell you want the cost to produce power in six months will be,” he said

    Interactive Graphic: growing fossil fuel reserves v. shrinking global carbon budget

    This just in:

    New Oil Change International interactive graphic shows growing fossil fuel reserves in contrast to shrinking global carbon budget

    WASHINGTON, DC – New analysis by Oil Change International shows that global fossil fuel reserves continue to expand while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific and industry analysts repeatedly show that our remaining budget for burning fossil fuels has shrunk to less than one third of existing reserves.

    The Oil Change analysis shows that fossil fuel companies gained access to more than twice as much in fossil fuels as they produced between 2007 and 2011. They replaced the 377 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) consumed and added another 415 billion BOE on top of that.

    The numbers are presented in a new interactive online graphic, which can be found at http://priceofoil.org/hole

    “The first rule of holes is simple: when you’re in one, stop digging. We are in a huge hole when it comes to the climate and yet we continue digging our way to climate catastrophe,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. “There is no logical reason to continue expanding our fossil fuel reserves; doing so only continues to line the pockets of Big Oil, Gas and Coal executives while putting our communities and planet in peril.”

    Oil and gas companies in particular continue to spend billions to explore for new reserves, bolstered by massive subsidies from governments. Recent estimates of subsidies for fossil fuel production range from the hundreds of millions to many billions per year.

    “Our governments continue to use massive amounts of taxpayer dollars to incentivize exploration for new oil and gas at a time when science is telling us we already have far too much to burn,” said Kretzmann. “It’s time our leaders put an end to fossil fuel subsidies, starting immediately by ending subsidies that encourage the expansion of fossil fuel reserves.”