The state of play in the post-carbon transition was summed up in the two lead stories in Wednesday’s edition of the Greentech Media daily newsletter: a U.S. coal baron claiming people will “die in the dark” if coal- and nuclear-powered generating stations don’t receive an emergency bailout, followed by news of a new offshore wind turbine that can power a UK home for a day with a single turn of its 8.8-megawatt blades.
First up was Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, pointing out to Tuesday’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit that coal supplied 53% of U.S. electricity when President Barack Obama took office in 2008, compared to about 30% today. Along the way, the U.S. shuttered 531 coal-fired generating stations totalling 55,000 megawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with another 13,000 to 20,000 MW set to close in the next five years.
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“The steep decline has been caused by the increased utilization of natural gas, tremendous taxpayer subsidies for so-called renewable energy resources, and excess regulation of coal mining and utilization by the Obama administration—much of that illegal,” Murray said.
If coal use goes any lower, he warned, “people are going to die in the dark.” Against the available evidence, he claimed the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous refusal earlier this year to dictate a massive coal and nuclear bailout “puts the U.S. grid on the brink of collapse,” Greentech reports.
(In fact, it’s Murray’s company that was reportedly close to collapse, after the White House denied his request that it prohibit any additional coal plant closures for at least two years. Murray himself was presumably expecting better after donating US$300,000 to Donald Trump’s election campaign.)
The Greentech coverage picks up the continuing debate in the U.S. over the ability of fossil or non-fossil sources of electricity to keep the grid operating reliably during periods of severe weather or other forms of stress. “There are only two types of baseload power generation: nuclear and coal,” said Murray. “You cannot store wind at a power plant; you cannot store solar at a power plant; you cannot even store gas.”
One recent report by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory found that “coal provided a majority of the daily power generation required to meet emergency energy needs” during the “bomb cyclone” crisis that recently hit the U.S., Greentech notes. But “clean energy advocates and grid experts have pointed out that renewables coupled with energy storage can offer reliable electricity during emergencies. At the same time, coal and nuclear have their own failings. During the 2014 polar vortex event, many coal piles froze over, rendering coal plants unusable, while a nuclear facility had to be powered down during the nor’easter in January.”
It was a very different story off the coast of Scotland, where Sweden’s Vattenfall announced it had successfully installed an 8.8-MW Vestas wind turbine at its European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC). “Just one rotation of the blades can power the average UK home for a day,” said EOWDC Project Director Adam Ezzamel.
The 11 turbines in the 93.2-MW Vattenfall development will produce 312 gigawatt-hours per year, enough to power nearly 80,000 homes, meet 23% of the electricity demand in Aberdeen, and displace 134,128 tonnes of carbon dioxide, Greentech reports. And the 8.8-MW machines will soon be decidedly run of the mill, with Vestas already planning a 9.5-MW device and the average rating in the UK’s offshore wind market expected to hit 12 MW by the end of 2024.
The Aberdeen wind farm is the same one that made Donald Trump a loser in 2015, after the UK Supreme Court unanimously dismissed his effort to block a project located just 3.5 kilometres from his Trump International Golf Links resort.
“History will judge those involved unfavourably and the outcome demonstrates the foolish, small-minded, and parochial mentality which dominates the current Scottish government’s dangerous experiment with wind energy,” the Trump Organization said at the time. The wind farm’s developers described the project as “an example of the type of development that could help to deliver significant and long-term economic benefits to the region and help to cement Aberdeen’s reputation as a global energy city.”
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