The Backbone of the Electric System
“Energy policy” and “clean energy” may be political hot buttons this year, but the technological realities and challenges to achieving energy and environmental goals are seldom discussed. There is strong public sentiment that the U.S. should decrease our reliance on fossil fuels because of concerns about pollution, global warming, ecosystem damage, and energy security. Although a domestically abundant energy source, coal power is imputed as being a major contributor to smog, acid rain, and global warming. High-profile accidents associated with coal mining and coal ash management have further damaged coal’s reputation. Grass-roots campaigns to replace coal as a major source of electricity claim that wind, solar, and geothermal power could replace retired coal capacity.
In 2011, 42% of the electricity generated in the U.S. was from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration. Although coal generation for 2012 is projected to fall 15 percent, coal is still expected to represent a significant percent of the nation’s generating capacity through 2035. Reducing reliance on coal faces challenges beyond policy and market economics. What are the technical constraints of the U.S. electric generating system, what role does coal power play, and how can we further incorporate renewable energy sources?
via Scientific American – Dawn Santoianni
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