An extensive Christian Science Monitor analysis reveals that "nations will add enough coal-fired capacity in the next five years to create an extra 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year."
In all, at least 37 nations plan to add coal-fired capacity in the next five years — up from the 26 nations that added capacity during the past five years. With Sri Lanka, Laos, and even oil-producing nations like Iran getting set to join the coal-power pack, the world faces the prospect five years from now of having 7,474 coal-fired power plants in 79 countries pumping out 9 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually — out of 31 billion tons from all sources in 2012.
We are screwed, yes?
A glimmer of hope, supposedly:
But the cliff can be avoided, some researchers say, without having to reduce the world’s energy consumption.
If carbon dioxide gas could be captured at power plants and then pumped underground and permanently "sequestered" in layers of rock, then coal might continue to be used without damaging the climate, concluded a major report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released last week.
Here’s the thing, though: coal gasification and sequestration (CCS) projects involve enormous, incredibly expensive centralized generation plants with unproven technology. I suspect that no reasonable, politically possible price on carbon (via tax or cap-and-trade) will be high enough to make CCS economically viable. No company will build these plants unless they are forced to do so by their respective governments. That, in essence, is what Al Gore proposed — ban dirty coal plants, thereby forcing coal companies’ hands.
What are the chances that all the relevant national governments are going to force their coal industries to do this, especially since the more governments do it, the more competitive advantage any given country can get by not doing it? Color me skeptical.
Ultimately, the only thing that will save us is an alternative to dirty coal that’s — given some modest price on carbon — cheaper and easier than dirty coal. With the proper technological and regulatory tweaks, I believe R&E (distributed renewable generation coupled with efficiency and conservation) is that alternative.
I also believe that if it’s not, we’re f**ked. Full stop.