18 August 2010

A Resurgence of Coal Power in the US

The AP describes the continuing presence of coal power in the United States:
Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry's standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.
But like everything related to the energy and climate, it is useful to have a sense of proportion.  So have a look at the figure above, which comes from a US DOE presentation earlier this year (PDF).  The figure shows the coal power build rate - actual and planned -- for the US and China.

The red parts of the bars for 2008 and 2009 (and perhaps part of the yellow for 2010) are what the AP article is describing.  The broader context are the blues and greens.

9 comments:

Tom said...

Erm, shouldn't the "Under Construction" figure for one year be equal to the difference between the "Operational" figures for that year and the next? How has China's operational coal capacity increased by a factor of seven between 2002 and 2006 without any construction in that period?

Craig 1st said...

Perhaps "cost" has something to do with the choice: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html

Ignignot said...

I strongly suspect that they are counting coal fired units as if they were "plants". There are roughly 30 new coal fired units in 2010 ( and some retirements) but if you count total plants in service by year, assuming plants under construction are completed, the total number is actually falling over time (although it does go up by 2 this year). The MW capacity is increasing of course, but the overall heat rate is dropping.

Anyone with Energy Velocity can verify this themselves pretty trivially.

Ignignot said...

An addendum: units are individual boilers, plants are entire facilities.

Harrywr2 said...

There are no coal fired plants under construction in Washington State or west of the Rockies for that matter. There was one proposed but it died in the permitting stage.

Construction of the Pee Dee coal fired power plant in South Carolina was halted last August.

Harrywr2 said...

comments:

Tom said... 1

"Erm, shouldn't the "Under Construction" figure for one year be equal to the difference between the "Operational" figures for that year and the next? How has China's operational coal capacity increased by a factor of seven between 2002 and 2006 without any construction in that period?"

The chart is a snapshot status. The number of plants that became operation in a single year increased by a factor of 7 between 2002 and 2006.

China's coal generation capacity increased by roughly 300,000 megawatts from 1998 to 2008. The US has 330,000 megawatts total coal generating capacity.

Stephen said...

I too have trouble with the graphic - how come Chinese "Operational" drops so dramatically between 07 and 08? Would not this have somewhat serious consequences for the economy?

Also, the title is "Coal-Fired Build Rate" - how does a distinction between "Operational" and "Under Construction" fit into that? If it's "Build-Rate", should it not only record "Under Construction"? What is an (implied) "operational build"?

Thanks!

Harrywr2 said...

Stephen said... 7

"I too have trouble with the graphic - how come Chinese "Operational" drops so dramatically between 07 and 08?"

The number of plants that 'became' operational dropped between 07 and 08. The total number operational grew by 60,000 megawatts.

Stephen said...

Harrywr2

Thanks for making this clear.

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