Coal: Fading in the U.S., But Not in the World
The recent NY Times article entitled, “As Coal Fades in the U.S., Natural Gas Becomes the Climate Battleground”, extends the ongoing debate around U.S. coal, natural gas and renewables under the rubric of climate change.
There’s little argument that coal consumption in the U.S. is declining as the U.S. electric power sector continues shifting from coal to inexpensive natural gas. While this shift, along with penetration of renewables, has resulted in decreased CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector, some, as noted in the NY Times article, contend that the U.S. should be offsetting coal with renewables rather than natural gas—again, due to concerns about climate change. Rather than arguing against the belief in a 100% renewable energy portfolio, it’s worth noting the reality that the U.S. simply isn’t a climate island and cannot isolate itself from what’s happening in the rest of the world—particularly emerging markets where coal consumption continues to increase. While belief systems have a valuable place in our society, that place isn’t in the U.S. power grid.
The two graphs below, one with China and India included as emerging markets and the other with China and India excluded, illustrate that increases in coal consumption in emerging markets offset decreases in coal consumption in the U.S.
The point being that there’s a floor to the U.S. decline in coal consumption and, if coal consumption and CO2 emissions are the global issue, then global attention must turn toward decreasing coal consumption in emerging markets. Coal is in fact fading in the U.S., but it’s coming into full relief in emerging regions looking to stand up their economies on reliable energy resources. However, to do so, those countries need an alternative that’s both reliable and low- or zero-carbon.
And the zero-carbon alternative is nuclear.