Within the context of South African energy development, and less so within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), I often find myself being misunderstood as to the role coal plays within the energy economy.
I recognize, on the surface, many observers and colleagues alike, may gather an impression I am advocating for the unequivocal closure of all coal assets and the direct economies they support. Nothing could be further from the truth, and although my knowledge and experiences tell me, coal’s impacts on the global climate are negative, with dire human and economic consequences, I have long since passed the days of being an ‘environmental crusader’, motivated by heart, not facts and reality.
Ending all coal fired electric generation tomorrow, if this was my position, would be pushing for the closure of currently operational power stations and ceasing the capital flow of hemorrhaging new builds under construction, struggling to meet project deadlines and cost projections. My pragmatism steers me clear of any designs that risk a near certain economic collapse regardless some “ideal energy world” I may dream up.
“Solar”, regardless the generally considered meaning of it, as PV, also includes Wind, Ocean Currents, Hydroelectric and Solar Thermal, to name the primary forms we can harness to supply our needs.
Solar Thermal also has two distinct forms; one for the heating of water for residential and commercial needs, relatively common throughout much of the world and an idea that died during the 80s here in the U.S.; and another, super heating a fluid medium to spin a turbine producing electricity, the giant often circular plants full of mirrors and a central tower, made notable in Spain, Australia & the Mojave Desert of California.
Author’s note: This is a beta format, temporary post. 7/23/14 I find myself needlessly having to explain these limitations countless times, effectively wasting time explaining the reality of PV to those unfamiliar with these real world limitations. Under current implementation trends, and infinite variability, residential solar rarely breaks a threshold of 30% nameplate capacity (adjust for region and day of the year) that can be considered baseload, reliable input to the grid.
Current trends, especially in the U.S., of PV’s effective implementation, are proceeding down a pathway that are counterproductive to maximizing our investments with the overall goal being to significantly reduce our release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
If we do not do this second part with an altruistic twist, those less fortunate will attempt to come up to our standards through whatever means possible. As seen in China, those “whatever” means will be through “cheaper” means, most likely conventional fossils fuels or enormously expensive large scale hydro.
In “Ending Energy Ignorance – Part I” I introduced us to my primary concern, the general ignorance or apathy of the U.S. populace in understanding energy on the basic levels. You do not have to take my word for it alone, the famous oilman and land speculator, T. Boone Pickens has claimed the same for years, and outside his Picken’s Plan there are no other national figures championing for a greater awareness of energy understanding.
Years ago, I was in full agreement of his message, in particular I was in love with the potential of wind energy and it was one of his key selling points. But a grain of salt was required. Extremely successful or not, T. Boone’s reputation was not established in philanthropy.
In order for us to forge forward, we need to look at our past. It does us no good dissecting the mistakes and ills of the past, the results are with us today. However, understanding our history and what lead us to the problems we are facing today, is key to minimizing those short comings in the future. Hind sight is twenty-twenty, and we would be wise to learn from it.
How did we get here?
In the U.S., the abundance of domestic coal has made it the de facto “King of the Castle” for electricity production, doubling nuclear energy’s consistent 20 per cent national production since the 80’s.