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Research Council Reports Coal with CCS Outperforms Alternatives
Coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) offers the best long-term potential to serve U.S. electricity growth by 2035, providing more than three times the generation of nuclear power and nearly triple the power of hydroelectric, wind and solar sources combined.
The report’s authors, including U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Stephen Chu, call for the construction of up to 20 retrofitted and new CCS plants in the United States by 2020.
That’s the conclusion of “America’s Energy Future: Technology Opportunities, Risks and Tradeoffs,” a study released by the National Research Council, a group that includes the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The study committee features numerous distinguished academic leaders, including Chair Dr. Harold T. Shapiro of Princeton University; Dr. Mark S. Wrighton, Vice Chair of Washington University in St. Louis; U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu; and Dr. Lester B. Lave of Carnegie Mellon University.
The Council estimates that the current coal fleet could be retrofitted to capture and store carbon to generate 1,200 terawatt hours of energy annually by 2035, while new CCS plants would add another 1,800 terawatt hours of power to the national energy grid. This compares to just 794 terawatt hours produced by nuclear plants and 1,100 for multiple renewable sources. Taken together, CCS technologies have the scale and low cost to meet much of the projected power consumption needs in the United States: “In combination, the entire existing coal power fleet could be replaced by CCS coal power by 2035,” the authors write.
The Council’s key finding: Broadly developing and deploying CCS technology must be an urgent priority if the United States is to meet growing energy demand and address unprecedented global price volatility during the coming decades. The report’s authors call for the construction of up to 20 retrofitted and new CCS plants in the United States by 2020.
“There is no technological ‘silver bullet’ at present that could transform the U.S. energy system,” the Council cautions. A balanced portfolio of existing and new energy technologies along with greater energy efficiency is needed. The authors identify coal with CCS as the best low-cost, low-carbon option to address America’s energy security, economic and environmental needs in the 21st Century.
The authors conclude that, while natural gas is an important source, it is not clear that it can meet growing needs at competitive prices. Indeed, the authors find that increased use of oil or natural gas could hinder America’s energy independence goals and drive up costs: “The United States needs to lower its dependence on fragile supply chains for some energy sources, particularly petroleum at present and possibly natural gas in the future, and avoid the impacts of this dependence on our nation’s economy and national security.”
Changing how Americans generate, supply, distribute and use energy will be an immense undertaking and requires swift action, according to the study. The Council urges policymakers to expand tax credits and loan guarantees and to provide the regulatory certainty necessary to support energy innovation: “Even with the most enlightened policies, the overall energy enterprise, like a massive ship, will be slow to change course… The urgency of getting started on these demonstrations to clarify future development options cannot be overstated.”
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