Monday, May 11, 2009

China and Coal

An article in today's New York Times, China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants, starts out by intimating that China's producing mostly "clean coal" power, mostly through much more efficient plants, and retiring one old dirty inefficient plant for each new "clean" one. They are evidently far ahead of the US in "clean coal" technologies, including gasification.

In addition, they are installing large numbers of wind-turbines and leading the world in production of solar panels - which I think mostly go to export, though. Furthermore, they have a number of nuclear plants under construction. All of these new installations will help keep their CO2 at a lower level than otherwise.

But is this a competition we in the US should take up to "better" China? That is, do we want to build more efficient coal plants and nuclear (at present almost all future U.S. construction of such plants are on hold) as our way to cut CO2? I personally believe that we can generate all the energy we need with sustainables, and gradually retire the oldest coal-fired and nuclear plants as the sustainables become the major sources if energy, while energy conserving buildings, appliances and vehicles lower our future needs for energy.

Obviously, China is in a different situation. Their population is yearning for consumer goods we take for granted, like cars and larger homes, all of which will use energy that wasn't needed before. So even if they have higher gas mileage requirements for cars than the US does, they will still be growing their auto inventory faster than we will, and thus produced CO2. Our market for large, energy consuming goods is at replacement, not introducing, as in China. Efficiencies here can lower our present usage, efficiencies there will only slow their growth.

So does it make global sense for China to build nuclear plants, and to do a lot better with coal? Or would it be better for all of us to put all our financial resources into bringing sustainables (including conservation!) into the mainstream, lowering their costs drastically.

Sustainable, renewable methods can be brought online much faster than either new coal or nuclear power plants, and if you add in the costs of externalities, like polluted air causing asthma and mercury-related damage besides climate change, sustainables win on cost hands down.

I just received an appropriate Dr Seuss quote with today's Daily Ray of Hope:
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
-- Dr. Seuss

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