Tuesday, December 7, 2010

James Fallows on Coal and Energy Use

James Fallows, "Dirty Coal, Clean Future," The Atlantic (December 2010):

Overall, coal-burning power plants provide nearly half (about 46 percent this year) of the electricity consumed in the United States. For the record: natural gas supplies another 23 percent, nuclear power about 20 percent, hydroelectric power about 7 percent, and everything else the remaining 4 or 5 percent. The small size of the “everything else” total is worth noting; even if it doubles or triples, the solutions we often hear the most about won’t come close to meeting total demand. In China, coal-fired plants supply an even larger share of much faster-growing total electric demand: at least 70 percent, with the Three Gorges Dam and similar hydroelectric projects providing about 20 percent, and (in order) natural gas, nuclear power, wind, and solar energy making up the small remainder. For the world as a whole, coal-fired plants provide about half the total electric supply. On average, every American uses the electricity produced by 7,500 pounds of coal each year. Precisely because coal already plays such a major role in world power supplies, basic math means that it will inescapably do so for a very long time.

More here. The "green revolution" might peter out unless it creates products that impact coal use.

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