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Despite Growth In Renewable Energy, More Coal Plants Being Built: More Global Warming on Horizon

2017-07-06

 

Despite the precipitous drop in prices for solar panels and wind turbines, companies worldwide are planning and building some 1,600 coal-fired electric power plants.  The addition of these plants would increase the world’s coal-fired power capacity by 43 percent and make it impossible to meet the terms of the Paris climate accords, which aim to keep the world’s average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  China has entered the renewable-energy competition, but it is primarily aimed at reducing pollution in cities and less on overall emissions reduction.

The reason for this continued growth in coal-fired electric power plants?  The motivations are unclear.  Demand for infrastructure development is high in developing countries, and in places like Egypt and Pakistan, electric power supply is limited.  Many African countries get by on four hours of power a day.  It appears that the overall supply of new electric power generating capacity is limited, and existing solar and wind power installation growth simply is not enough to supply the rising needs of developing countries.

The development of worldwide modern infrastructure is overwhelming the capacity of the environment to tolerate it.  Significant temperature increases are inevitable and development will continue to be spotty.  Predictions of future temperature increases over the next hundred years are probably conservative, meaning things are going to be worse than we think.

Source for coal power plant numbers:  New York Times July 1, 2017.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Berry permalink
    2017-07-09 20:07

    To begin with a rather bold statement, I believe the persistence of coal is because it serves the interests of investors and government leaders. For government leaders, the large number of people employed is a great talking point on the campaign trails. Coal mining is a traditionally blue collared job and supporting it can mask a candidate as a “man of the people” – case and point, Donald Trump. The negative externalities of pollution takes years to clearly manifest themselves, long after the candidate is out of office.

    As for investors, it’s a little more opaque, but hopefully I can make sense of what I mean. As we’ve seen in American drug and automotive companies, more money is made through continual contact with the customer – it fosters dependence and more predictable revenue streams. Drug companies strive to create long term treatments for diseases, not a one and done cure. Meanwhile car companies now create more complicated vehicles with many computerized bells and whistles, many of which require immediate professional service at the dealer when something inevitably fails.

    To bring it home, switching to green energy is a relatively stable long term solution with fewer inputs, cheaper and less frequent maintenance, and the tangible benefits are long term. By sticking with coal, government leaders can claim they support average Joe, meanwhile investors can continue investing in a continual stream of inputs and the infrastructure/system that supports it’s usage and trade.

    Switching to green energy would benefit the world, not the self-interested few; so how else do you think this whole thing is going to play out?

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    • 2017-07-10 11:21

      With bankruptcies among multiple coal companies in the US it is hard to imagine what pluses there are for investors; the same applies to miners, as their numbers have dwindled to 50,000 people and more jobs taken by automation when increases in mining do occur. Likely the coal powered plants being built now are due to investors with ulterior motives because those who can claim ignorance of economic realities are fewer and fewer. The fact is that solar is cheaper than coal and almost as cheap as natural gas. That makes coal a dinosaur and investments in it a sure loser. Why are plants still being built? I wonder– is there a simple explanation that doesn’t involve fraud?

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