Why do Coal Power Plants Still Exist?
Energy… What would we do without it? We use it for lights, traveling, agriculture, industry, heating etc… And we’ve been increasing our demand for energy exponentially ever since the Industrial Revolution. At first, farming by human labor was the way to go but then came machinery with the advent of the steam engine. Goodbye human labor, hello increased production and lower costs. Inventions brought new ways to harness energy and with that, an evolution in the use of different energy resources. And yes, coal would be one of the first widely used fossil fuels. Coal would in time power trains and heat water and provide us with all the electricity we needed.
With the advent of the locomotive, people were able to travel many miles faster. Cities grew larger and more cities were built along rail roads. Enter the Internal Combustion Engine and cheap oil along with Model T Ford and boom, another widespread use of fossil fuels which again revolutionised how we traveled and transformed how cities and suburbs grew.
We became more and more addicted to oil and coal, so much that almost 80% of the energy would come from them. And yes, a bulk of power stations used coal (and of course oil and gas but mostly coal).
But why coal? Well, it’s extremely abundant in many areas around the world and there are huge reserves, thus making coal very cheap and great to get emerging economies off the ground. This makes coal the go to fuel when it comes to electricity generation.
And yes, the world loves it so much…
I mean look how beautiful the Earth looks at night!
But the “dark side” to this is that most of these lights get their juice from coal fired power plants, because simple economics says “there’s a large supply in coal” so there’s plenty for everyone. It’s a dark side literally. Coal is dirty, highly polluting; in fact, it releases 3 times as more CO2 than gas, and has many impurities like sulphur.
Cheap and abundant energy is needed for development so coal’s cheap price is a magnet for developing economies like China, India and many in the African Union, to get them off their feet and enter the global economic playing field. Cheapness and abundance are two important aspects when it comes to energy, but that crucial ingredient which coal and all non-renewables lack in order to attain true Energy Security is the sustainable supply; for humanity to continue to use these resources further into the future.
True, coal would last like 250 years or so, but we’d have ruined the planet by the next 50 years that it would be nonsense to use coal for that long. Same goes to other resources like oil and gas. Yes we have many unconventional sources which would last long, but do we really need to risk spewing out more CO2 and noxious gases into the atmosphere, heat it up and cause havoc in our climate systems, and slowly but steadily destroy in the process?
Well, that’s food for thought…