What energy source will meet the growing demands of the world?
The War on Coal continues to advance smoothly except, of course, for the collateral damage done to the American consumer. Duke Energy has announced it will close five coal-fired power plants in Indiana as part of a settlement over a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. The five plants will be retired by 2018, resulting in the loss of 668 megawatts of power.
That amount will be added to the more than 50,000 megawatts of coal-fired power already taken offline or marked for retirement since January 2010, according to the Sierra Club.
And still the environmentalists aren’t satisfied. “While today’s settlement is a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure Hoosier families are protected from rising energy bills and ... enormous health threats,” said a club representative.
Where is this headed?
In 2012, 4,054 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity was generated in the United States, the largest percentage (37 percent) coming from coal. The next-highest amount was natural gas at 30 percent, followed by nuclear at 19 percent, hydropower at 7 percent, petroleum and “other gases” each at 1 percent at. All the other “renewables” – biomass, geothermal, solar and wind – amounted to just 5 percent combined.
The need for energy is just going to grow. Energy demand grew by 28 percent from 2000 to 2010 and is projected to grow by 20 percent more by 2020 and 47 percent more by 2035. The percentage of electricity coal has been declining. It was 52.8 percent in 1997 and 45 percent in 2009. As we rely less on coal, we have to look for other courses. Nuclear power is an obvious alternative worldwide but not in the U.S., where the same environmental zealotry dogging coal has made new nuclear plants problematic. Even a cursory look at the percentages for all other sources below the top three shows not much of the growing demand can be met from there.
That leaves natural gas, the brightest star on the energy horizon. Because of fracking, so much natural gas has been produced here that prices have collapsed. We’ve already reduced the amount of oil we import from 65 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in the first five months of this year. By some estimates, we could be energy independent by 2030, in small part because of alternative energies and in large part because of the oil and natural gas produced by fracking. But environmentalists don’t like fracking, either.
Energy independence and ever-cleaner air. What’s not to like? For some environmentalists, alas, nothing short of the purest air possible while we bicycle from cave to cave.