Is Coal winning the energy battle?

energy-plugged-in-coalGuest essay by Mike Jonas

In an absurd articleFull extent of global coal ‘binge’ is hidden, say researchers“, the BBC’s Matt McGrath argues that instead of modelling actual and expected CO2 emissions from coal and gas power plants, it should all be counted in the power station’s first year. [You couldn’t make this stuff up].

The climate impacts of the world’s fossil-fuelled power plants are being underestimated because of poor accounting, say researchers.

Governments would get a truer picture if they included the lifetime emissions of a facility in the year it goes into production

This is obviously ridiculous, because the climate cannot be affected until the CO2 enters the atmosphere, but maybe the article does have significance : does it show an-increasing level of desperation among those who are trying to use climate alarmism to shut down the coal industry?

Barack Obama declared war on coal in 2008: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”.

The intention had been to use a cap-and-trade system to squeeze the life out of the coal industry. When attempts to introduce cap-and-trade failed, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations were used instead. Within the USA, there were some successes in Obama’s war against coal, as some coal companies folded and US coal production fell.


But globally, demand for coal continued unabated. Other countries filled the production gap, and global coal production grew steadily.


[Coal production graphs by index mundi from United States Energy Information Administration data.]

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects coal production to keep rising: “Coal use has never stopped increasing and the forecasts indicate that, unless a dramatic policy action occurs, this trend will continue in the future.“. The EIA continues with a (surely inappropriate) statement showing bias against coal and misusing the word “clean” – but I digress.

The simple fact is that in spite of Barack Obama’s and the climate alarmists’ best efforts, coal production and consumption continue to increase globally, and are expected to continue increasing.

Yes, Coal is winning.

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August 27, 2014 12:21 am

CO2 is a basic constituent of plants. The greater the CO2 in the air the greater the yield of wheat. see http://www.theeuroprobe 2012 – 015

August 27, 2014 12:29 am

BBC losing the climate plot yet again. Quelle surprise.

August 27, 2014 12:48 am

Of course coal is winning. It’s abundant, relatively cheap, modern coal power plants are highly efficient and fairly “clean” with all the add-on pollution abatement technologies.
You’d be a fool not to use it for power generation.

Reply to  Johan
August 27, 2014 3:40 am

Unfortunately the UK and EU as a whole is run by fools. We are closing coal fired power stations in favour or wind and PV. (PV in the UK???)

David Smith
Reply to  Johan
August 27, 2014 8:01 am

How can having access to an abundant energy source make someone a ‘loser’?
I’m afraid the “think of the children!” histrionics doesn’t get much traction here at WUWT Peter. You should take your alarmism over to Climate Progress.

Reply to  Johan
August 27, 2014 10:20 am

Yeah, they’d be a lot better off shivering in the dark.

Reply to  Johan
August 27, 2014 10:39 am

Florida Power uses coal imported from Columbia instead of from Appalachia, the reason – price. $15 per ton delivered vs. $25 per ton delivered.

Reply to  pyeatte
August 28, 2014 10:26 pm

Coal from Indonesia was able to be landed in Florida cheaper than similar coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Not because there was any significant difference in the price of coal at the mine mouth, there is a world price for it, but it all comes down to transportation cost. The cost of transport across USA whether by rail or river is very expensive.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Johan
August 27, 2014 11:24 am

Tell that to sub-Saharan Africa’s poor. They poach and cut down their tropical forests to make what????? Char-coal to sell as a cooking fuel in the cities and to villages. There are no IPCC police nor carbon tax that is going to stop that. But the free-market could stop that by importing high quality mined coal, improve their lies by allowing them to use more money for food and healthcare, and to save their forests, their ecosystems, and thus their future prosperity as they move to more secure power sources.
Our children in the developed world will not be better off if they are poor because we de-carbonized to slay a non-existent CAGW dragon.

August 27, 2014 12:57 am

Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent at BBC News, trots out these types of alarmist articles at regular intervals. He is just another alarmist who repeats press releases and the likes with absolutely no understanding of the content and without asking any questions as to whether it makes any sense..

Reply to  phillipbratby
August 31, 2014 8:14 pm

Well said phillipbratby. We have a similar fellow here in Australia. Peter Hannam, the Environmental Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald, has just reissued a piece from a World Bank envoy saying “Rich nations have a moral duty to help island nations..”
Usual rubbish “extreme effects”, “rising sea levels”, “ocean acidification”, “falling salinity levels around Antarctica”, “migration from coastal areas”, “thinning of Antarctic ice”. Yes, its all there. Just a shame he can only reiterate the same old claptrap.
No mention of the recent admission by BOM that Antarctica has been cooling for last 30+ years or that the sea ice is at a record level.

August 27, 2014 1:02 am

We don’t know what is going to be the Chinese and Indian baseload and intermediate load generating capacity of the future…as the future hasn’t happened.
If I do and look at early 1970’s projections for electricity production from oil I will see huge increases..because at the time…oil was a cost effective method for intermediate load production.
My brother in law build one of the last ‘new’ intermediate load oil fire generating stations in the US. By the late 1970’s it was consigned to ‘seasonal extreme peak’ only service…I.E..a few hours a day a few days a year.
Given Chinese Nuclear and Hydro well as coal pricing in China…it would be a plausible assumption that Chinese ‘base-load’ coal fired plants will end up serving as ‘intermediate load’ plants well before their useful life had expired.
The problem with EIA and Climate-activist projection is that they don’t forecast the changes in utilization that happen to many electricity generating plants over their lives.

David Smith
Reply to  harrywr2
August 27, 2014 8:03 am

What type? Airfix?

Reply to  harrywr2
August 27, 2014 10:49 am

I am bemused by the importance some people give climate models. (paraphrased) – Richard Betts, IPCC author, climate scientist

August 27, 2014 1:12 am

Johann: “You’d be a fool not to use it for power generation.” Unfortunately that just goes to prove that in the UK we are governed by fools. But we know that anyway.

M Courtney
August 27, 2014 1:36 am

Coal is the most reliable and economical means of electricity generation.
So is this article really asking, “Is economics winning the energy battle?”
It seems strange to me that anyone thought the proven environmental risks would outweigh the benefits of cheap energy.
“BBC News” and “thought” may be an optimistic combination.

August 27, 2014 1:37 am

Why in the heck is the coal industry disaster in Britain over the past 4-5 years not in the news?Adding to that the “floods” that should have never happened, Am I missing something? Can some one point me in the right direction? All I hear is snippets and I would like to get more info, thanks beforehand.

August 27, 2014 1:48 am

The problem with phasing out fossil fuels is that Big Wind and Big Solar utterly depend on them. Imagine Earth Hour or some other international orgy of ingratitude without all the energy and by-products from fossil fuels? How would you process and cart woodchips from America to the UK to replace fossil fuels – without fossil fuels? From your pet green project to your organic/Fair-Trade acai smoothie…it all comes to you courtesy of those stupendously efficient fossil fuels.
Look at the BBC. You even need fossil fuels to tell everybody that fossil fuels are naughty.

michael hart
August 27, 2014 2:34 am

I could model you China’s reply to Matt McGrath and the BBC, right now. But it might not get past moderation.

August 27, 2014 2:51 am

China isn’t worried. Most of the rest of the world is worried what China will do. Here in Australia there are “jitters” in the ore mining business on fears of a downturn in Chinese industry. The Chinese are planning to build about 300 nuclear reactors for it’s future needs. They are of a new design where uranium fuel is encased in graphite spheres. The reactors are cooled by helium and cannot meltdown. I forget the name of this type of reactor but it is still relatively new.

Reply to  Patrick
August 27, 2014 5:54 am

It will never happen in Australia, sadly. Never! Nuclear “power” in Australia was ALWAYS about making weapons grade fissile material thanks to the British. A vast land were tests could be conducted, and then handed back to the natives. And the fear around that perpetrated by alarmists and the left-leaning media. The US had provable thorium nuclear technoology in the 1950’s.
I can gaurantee you that people’s in developing nations are not looking to windmills for reliable power (Liberia in Nigeria…is an unusual case).
Having travelled in rural Ethiopia these people want power, not the dung we have to endure from the likes of the BoM, NIWA, UK Met Office, the IPCC etc etc etc.

Reply to  Patrick
August 27, 2014 8:05 pm

Colorado had a helium cooled nuclear power plant that ran from 1979 to 1989. Wikipedia:

Reply to  Patrick
August 28, 2014 2:12 pm

I believe the reactor you are reffering to is called a ‘pebble bed’ reactor. I’ve seen them mentioned in sci fi stories in the last 10 years.

Reply to  schitzree
August 28, 2014 3:11 pm

I don’t know from nuclear reactors. From the Wikipedia article:
The reactor fuel was a combination of fissile uranium and fertile thorium microspheres dispersed within a prismatic graphite matrix.

August 27, 2014 3:31 am

The “debate” has been entering the “slash and burn” phase of the public attitudes. People will acknowledge, at least intellectually, that burning acres in the rain forrest to grow crops is not desirable but if you ask those that slash and burn you’ll find it’s very personal since it’s how they exist. Following the Greens “solutions”, for most, means real pain, real suffering and, in the third world, real death. Just a fact of existence. People are just realizing the choice is one of following the Druids while they try to drive off the Sun or avoid freezing and starving.
Very Darwin and all that.

August 27, 2014 3:44 am

If CO2 and Carbon is so toxic, why don’t the Green groups and the US Government mandate carbon free, or even low carbon diets? Eliminate all sources of carbon in diets. And. As animals, we produce huge quantities of CO2 and Methane – this could be easily and cheaply captured.Such policies would would very quickly solve the problem, CO2 is an essential nutrient for more than just plants. It would have the same impact as stopping the poor from having heat in winter.

Reply to  PeterD
August 27, 2014 10:52 am

Why “unfortunately”? Do you still believe in the IPCC’s climate models that have failed for 17 years now?
These models are unvalidated and have never shown predictive skill. They are, as we can now say, WRONG. Why is a different matter. But we can say that billions in funding have not produced climate models with predictive skill. We don’t have to speculate whether the climate modelers are cheats or incompetent, it doesn’t matter. The models are junk.

August 27, 2014 3:45 am

The climate obsessed increasingly do not allow rational thoughts, facts, truth, ethics or Constitutions to get in the way of imposing their will. This article is a nice example of that.

Ursus Augustus
August 27, 2014 3:49 am

Shows you how dumb these CAGW schmuks are. They are losing an argument to fossilised, sub sentient organisms that died millions of years ago. Now THAT is karma.

August 27, 2014 4:47 am

Impatience. The first world wants to move on, but fails to realize the rest of the world has to get there before everyone can move on. It is fine if a country wants to commit slow suicide by pricing its energy out of the reach of its citizens. But they fail to realize that poor countries just want to GET energy. They can worry about inflating prices for it once it is established. And so far, it is not.

Donald Mitchell
August 27, 2014 4:47 am

There might be some merit in looking at the total expected carbon dioxide emissions if you include the total carbon dioxide emissions which resulted from the building of the facility and then included total lifetime expectation of electrical power generation.
I wonder how windmills or solar installations would fare in these comparisons if actual lifetimes based on proven experience were used rather than pipe dreams which appear to be the norm.

August 27, 2014 5:07 am

At least a coal power station can provide a stated output 24/7/365. I feel irritated when a solar or wind farm is said to be able, for example, to provide 20, 000 homes with power. But the figure is usually only the optimum amount for brief periods. If insolation or the wind varies then the 20, 000 homes number just becomes a goal rather than the norm. But too many fall for the line.

August 27, 2014 5:41 am

Why did you first disbelieve in AGW?
For me the light went on when I was informed that hydro power wasn’t Green.
In society the most efficient solution to a need wins the race. Only intentional blocking can delay the use of this solution. …. Temporarily .
I wish I owned a coal mine.

Reply to  latecommer2014
August 27, 2014 9:02 am

I’ve been skeptical of CAGW for some time now, since about 2005. When I was a child in the 1970’s there was the global cooling scare and now it’s flipped. I don’t see how a trace gas can have that much of an impact on the climate.

August 27, 2014 6:28 am

A large portion of the global increase is due to China. Are you aware of how their environment/air quality is doing these days?

Reply to  Benson
August 27, 2014 7:01 am

Yes. I lived through the pea-soupers in the UK. The UK cleaned up its act then, and why wouldn’t China clean up its act now. But this is not exactly relevant to the CO2 argument of Matt MsGrath’s article.

James the Elder
Reply to  Benson
August 27, 2014 10:00 pm

Depends on what part of the country you’re in. South and west are good air quality but dangerous water. Eastward to Guandong and north to Lioaning’s Rust Belt, the air gets progressively intolerable, but the water gets better. Go figure.

August 27, 2014 7:05 am

If the enviros actually cared about the environment they would demand large scale wind be ended, support development of cleaner coal, support nuke energy development, and ignore large scale solar.

Jim G
August 27, 2014 7:50 am

The war on coal is really a war on carbon fossil fuels. The hand full of states that produce the vast majority of these products need to put a huge sales tax on these fuels to pay their states and citizens back for what is being done to them and teach the idiots that support this war a lesson. The inflation that this would cause might result in some changes of attitude not to mention changes in who is elected at the national level in the US. A different type of transfer of wealth would result than what is being attempted.

August 27, 2014 7:57 am

One of my deepest regrets with our misguided obsession with CO2 reduction is that by spending all of our time tilting at this windmill we’ve abandoned real environmental and ecological concerns. I wish we’d spend some of that time and money that we threw away chasing CO2 on, say, coal ash treatment.

DD More
August 27, 2014 9:31 am

Matt McGrath argues that instead of modelling actual and expected CO2 emissions from coal and gas power plants, it should all be counted in the power station’s first year.
Well it would be about the only way they could get to show CO2 change actually leading a temperature change.

steve mcdonald
August 27, 2014 9:34 am

Solar and wind can power 40 thousand homes. ( every now and then in an unpredictable way).

more soylent green!
August 27, 2014 10:38 am

Coal isn’t winning in this country, but in the emerging economies it’s the go-to power source — another reason Emperor Obama’s climate policies have no chance of success.

August 27, 2014 10:55 am

The War on Coal is about making more Americans pay more for OPEC oil. It is that simple. And yes, one could call it treason.

August 27, 2014 11:21 am

Coal – the once and future king.

August 27, 2014 3:55 pm

Did anyone else notice the image associated with this article, has a socket, not a plug connected to the lump of coal? That means the electricity needed to run the coal lump comes from somewhere else. Right?

Reply to  Abuzuzu
September 2, 2014 1:10 am

But I think a “sucket” means it is actually getting power out of the coal?

August 28, 2014 9:03 am

The whole point is to debilitate the WEST (and the white race, of course).

August 28, 2014 9:08 am

Even at 400ppm, CO2 levels are still too low. 1,500 is a more normal level for modern life on earth. Coal will help get us there. And we might finally see 1C of warming and delay the return of the ice sheets. We are still in a very severe ice age, after all.

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