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Coal Renewable Energy – How Green Energy stacks up vs Black Coal

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Coal is a dominant source of energy for humans accounting for almost for a quarter percentage of human energy consumption and majority of the global electricity production.However Coal is considered as the Dirtiest form of Energy as it leads to Air Pollution,Mercury Poisoning,Global Warming.Renewable Energy is considered as the solution with its non-polluting characteristics,energy security,freedom from peak everything.However Renewable Energy is way more expensive than Coal Energy making it difficult for Renewable Energy to take over Coal.However growing Global Warming Costs will weigh in the future making it inevitable that Green Energy catches up.Here is a list of the pros and cons of Green vs Black where Green represents Renewable Energy and Black represents Coal.Note Green Energy will ultimately win in the end,its only a question of how soon because if the realization comes too late then Climate Change might go far enough to cause catastrophic damage.

Coal Drawbacks vs Renewable Energy

1) Global Warming– Coal is the Biggest Contributor to Global Warming generating billions of tons of carbon dioxide during combustion.Global Treaties have failed in putting a Cost on this,though individual countries are tying to account for this through Carbon Taxes and Cap and Trade.Most Renewable Energy Sources have very little Carbon Footprints.They are the biggest Drawback of Coal compared to Renewable Energy.

2) Coal Mining Deaths – Coal Mining has resulted in thousands of deaths each year ever since man discovered coal.Note Coal Deaths happen not only in countries which don’t have good safety regulations like China but also in developed countries like USA and New Zealand.Renewable Energy does not lead to any deaths in the like Coal Mining does.Nuclear Energy is the only other Energy which has such dangerous tail risks though it does not lead to regular deaths like Coal.The low importance given to lives in the developing countries is one of the major reasons why coal has been so successful in those countries.

3) Devastation of Earth and Scenery Near Coal Mines – Open Cast Mining of Coal has resulted in destruction of the habitat and destruction of the scenery.It leads to removal of trees and pollution of air and water in areas surrounding the mines.Coal Mine Fires have burned for hundreds of year underground and make living in those areas hazardous.Renewable Energy also leads to Environmental Degradation in some cases.Large Projects are the leading cause like large Hydro Projects,giant Solar Thermal Plants,Wind Turbine Noise etc.However small renewable energy projects cause no such problems and coexist easily with nature for eg.rooftop solar panels,run of the river small hydro projects.

4) Emission of Harmful Substances – Thermal Plants emit harmful substances such as Mercury and Sulfur Dioxide which cause health hazards among the surrounding population and Acid Rain.While modern equipment has reduced the emission of these harmful substances,it is still very harmful to humans.Alternative Energy does not emit harmful substances like Coal does.Only Nuclear Energy (if you consider it Renewable Energy) generates harmful waste  in the form of spent nuclear Fuel.Another big drawback of Coal compared to Renewable Energy

Coal Advantages vs Renewable Energy Advantages

1) Abundance – Coal is located almost universally,it can be found on every continent in over 70 countries, with the biggest reserves in the USA, Russia, China and India.Renewable Energy is also abundant in fact more so than Coal which is a finite resource.However the expense of using Renewable Energy is still quite high.

2) Continuous,Predictable,Reliable Source of Power – Coal Based Energy can be generated almost 24×7  unlike other forms of renewable energy like wind and solar that are intermittent in nature.Renewable Energy mostly is intermittent in nature.Solar Energy is only used during hours of sunshine while Wind Energy is highly erratic as well.Geothermal,Tidal,Biomass,Hydel Energy are very predictable but except for Hydel Energy the other Alternative Energy forms are resource constrained.

3) Low Capital Investment – The capital investment required for Coal based Power plants is relatively less at $1-2/watt of Thermal  Capacity.Note wind energy is slightly higher while Solar is even higher.Coal Mines are also quite cheap to build and Mine with Open Cast Mines providing Coal at a very Low Cost.Renewable Energy in general requires high capital cost.Solar Energy requires the highest capital investment amongst major Energy forms.Others like geothermal,tidal energy also requires long gestation time alongwith high capital cost.

4) Low Cost – Coal is one of  the cheapest forms of energy making it the energy of choice in developing countries like India and China.In India its possible to get cheap coal at just $20/ton while international prices of coal range in the region of $100/ton.Note Coal based electricity can be produced at 2-4c/KwH making it the cheapest electricity source.Most forms of Renewable Energy have much higher costs and that is the biggest Drawback for Renewable Energy currently compared to Coal Energy.The lower cost Renewable Energy forms like Hydel and Wind Energy not surprisingly have the highest installed capacity.

5) High Load Factor – Thermal Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shutdown for periodic maintenance.Coal Based Plants which have become too old or have been shutdown due to environmental concerns can still be used for backup power.Load Factor is low for renewable energy forms like solar,wind and hydel energy.Solar Energy has the lowest load factor currently with an upper limit of around 20% while Hydel also tops out at 40-50%.

6) Big Industrial Base – Coal Energy has been present since the start of the Industrial Revolution with the development of the Steam Engine based on Coal .The technology and industry of the Coal Industry and Thermal Power Plants is well developed and mature.This allows a rapid deployment of Coal Power in most places in the world.Hydel Power is the only Renewable Energy source to have a comparable industrial base while other Energy forms have almost non-existent bases.Wind Power has started to become more mainstream with blade,nacelle,tower,gear boxes becoming quite common.Solar Energy is also getting though it has far to go.


Abhishek Shah

One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Gordon patton

    Cost of coal is hidden, coal ash pits are simply holes in the ground ! The effects on ground water and run off not taken into account. Further coal ash is classified as a non hazard waste, despite the drop to less than 10PPM for arsenic exposer for drinking water.. Now coal ash pits in North Carolina are being dug up and transferred to lined disposal sights.frens that have a affinity for arsenic uptake planted on some sights. Duke energy is looking for help from its friends in government for this. What is the cost. Per KW now?