The US could deliver both the fuel diversity and emissions reductions voters want by embracing innovation and encouraging the adoption of advanced coal technologies, the National Mining Association (NMA) highlighted in a new report conducted by Wood Mackenzie and national polling conducted by Morning Consult, both issued on 23 January.
“If the US wants to maintain the diversity of its dispatchable electricity mix and reduce its emissions, the government should be doing more to incentivise the use of advanced coal technologies,” said Hal Quinn, NMA President and CEO. “Incentives have already maximised the growth potential of renewables, but they have also distorted the market to disadvantage the reliable, baseload sources of power that have long been the foundation of our electric grid. We are headed towards a precarious overreliance on one energy source that is dependent on just-in-time fuel delivery. Advanced coal technologies are being cost-effectively deployed around the globe as world coal consumption continues to grow. With smart incentives, they can be immediately deployed here to reduce emissions and preserve the diverse, secure electricity mix Americans desire.”
The case for an all of the above energy strategy
Americans expect reliable and affordable energy, powered by a diverse mix of coal, natural gas, nuclear power, oil and renewable sources. While most energy forecasts – and utility planning – project flat electricity demand, recent studies suggest there may be a looming spike in demand from deep electrification, including the rapid deployment and adoption of electric vehicles. Providing a range of tools to prepare for the uncertainty of future energy needs is essential to ensuring a reliable, affordable and secure supply of energy.
Reliability and resiliency.
Coal and nuclear power – which currently provide 50% of the nation’s electricity – offer extended on-site fuel storage. Unlike other dispatchable fuel sources, they are not dependent on a just-in-time fuel delivery. Coal plants, in particular, have proven their value in ramping up electricity production in periods of extreme cold when other power sources cannot. Specifically, during the cold snap in January 2018, coal plants provided 57% of the increased generation across the entire eastern US, while wind and solar provided none and natural gas only met 16% of increased power demand.
Through diversification, price increases or supply disruptions in any one fuel can be offset by another. With more coal reserves than any other country, the US is uniquely positioned to meet its energy needs with a low cost, secure source of domestic energy.
Emissions reduction potential
While much of the dialogue surrounding the need for emissions reductions focuses on technologies that do not yet exist, or solutions that the US power grid is not currently capable of supporting, high efficiency, low emissions coal technologies exist today that could considerably reduce emissions.
Power plant efficiency improvements increase the amount of energy that comes from a unit of coal. A one percentage point improvement in the efficiency of a standard coal plant, results in a 2 – 3% reduction in CO2 emissions. Using that calculation, improving the average efficiency rate of coal-fired power plants from 33% to 40% by using advanced high efficiency, low emissions technologies could cut US coal plant emissions by up to 21%.
Wood Mackenzie’s report for NMA found that Japan, Western Europe and China are currently leading the world in the use of advanced coal technologies that reduce emissions, leaving significant opportunity for deployment in the US.
Morning Consult polling conducted 7 – 9 January, of 2059 voters, with a +/-2 margin of error, found across the board support for policies that would further the adoption of advanced coal technologies. Specifically:
- 67% of voters support an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes coal (16% oppose, and 17% did not answer).
- 81% believe maintaining America’s diverse energy mix – including coal – to preserve the affordability of electricity costs in the US is important (6% do not believe it is important, 13% did not answer).
- 81% also believe maintaining America’s diverse energy mix – including coal – to preserve the reliability of the electricity in the US is important (6% do not believe it is important, 13% did not answer).
- 67% believe the US should prioritise investment in high efficiency, low emissions coal plants (13% disagree, 21% did not answer).
While the report recognises the obstacles that face coal plants in the US, it highlights opportunities for high efficiency, low emissions technologies, including the instability of natural gas prices and limitations on the penetration of renewables. The report also notes steps the government could take to encourage the development of high efficiency, low emissions technologies in the US, including leveling the playing field and financing support.